Naturally I was tempted to paraphrase a line from The Addams Family and say, “Yes, we need more pediatric diseases.” Instead I found myself stuck. Everyone was staring at me and I could feel the judgment, even from the kid bagging my groceries who I felt would look down on me even though I’m not the one stupid enough to drop a gallon of ice cream on a couple of bell peppers.
It’s not that I’m against giving money to charity. I have given money. I’ve also given my time and material things like food and clothing. Around the holidays the grocery store has pre-filled bags of food, usually with non-perishables because things like butter or eggs or cartons of milk would get smashed when the kids who fill the bags drop the jar of peanut butter in last. And I feel uncomfortable about doing this too. What happened to the good old days when you could buy a few jars of peanut butter and discreetly–and carefully–place them in a box by the door? That’s what we do in the office where I work. The box is left in the break room so you can slip in and drop that can of navy beans you can’t remember why you bought into it. Sometimes I walk by that box and think, hey, clam chowder, that sounds better than what I brought for lunch, but I know those items are for a whole different kind of needy person.
It’s not just that I think giving to charity should be a private thing that we do of our own free will and not because I hate feeling pressured to do anything, even if it’s the right thing. Even if it’s something I want to do I hate feeling like I’m being pressured to do it. And at the grocery store checkout the pressure is especially intense because when you give the cashier rings a bell. From the moment I stepped in I’d been hearing ringing. It was like a tiny fire alarm was constantly going off. Pavlov’s dogs would have gone nuts. In fact they probably would have gone for someone’s nuts, like maybe the meat counter guy who smells like raw beef anyway, but that’s another story. I don’t mind being the center of attention as long as I have time to put on some greasepaint and memorize my lines, but I don’t want to stand in the checkout line being the center of attention because the cashier is ringing a bell. “Whoo hoo! Mr. Generosity here just gave a dollar!” Actually they have set amounts starting at five dollars which is even worse. How are people who are barely getting by and can’t really afford to put aside five dollars supposed to feel? My problem really is minimal by comparison, but I won’t deny that if my wife gave on an earlier trip through or if I gave last time I feel uncomfortable saying that.
“I gave already.”
And they smile and move on, but their eyes say, “Sure you did you cheapskate bastard.” And they’re not going to ring the bell for someone who gave already, even if you pull out your last receipt as proof.
So, yes, I contributed to pediatric disease research, because I wanted to and not because I felt I had to. And the cashier rang the bell. Then, as I was walking out I heard the bell at the register where I’d just left. The guy behind me had just been buying a six-pack of beer, but I guess he gave a little as well. I hope he didn’t do that because of me.