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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA



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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

The Charities of Strangers

Our neighborhood has been inundated in recent days. Not with rain — although, yes, also with rain. It’s unfortunate that the stupid weather couldn’t cooperate long enough for me to borrow ‘inundate’ for ten minutes to make one damned point about something else. But no. That’s how weather is. It’ll shiv you with a lightning bolt as soon as your back is turned.

Anyway, the other inundation going on around here lately is a flood of charity collectors roaming the streets, cheerfully greeting passersby and shaking them down for cash. I don’t mean panhandlers — these are apparently honest-to-goodness charitable volunteers for actual organizations, with all the accoutrements those positions entail. Matching ‘official’ work vests. Standard-issue clipboards. Grimly serious ‘important work is being done’ expressions. And the enthusiasm of a thousand sugar-buzzed junior high cheerleaders.

Frankly, it’s frightening.

In the past, when I’ve spotted a pair of these solicitors — they always work in twos, it seems — my first instinct was to cross the street to avoid them. Unless there’s one working each side of the street, in which case… well, I don’t know. Turn around and go home? Catch a cab for a block to get past? Hide in a mailbox until they’re gone? None of the options are good.

The other — sometimes only — choice is to walk briskly past, politely declining to hear about whatever they’re pushing as the Most Important Decision You Can Make Today du jour.

See, and that’s why I generally try to avoid contact in the first place. I’ve got nothing against charity. I like charity. I give to charity. I’ll probably receive charity someday, when I’m too old and decrepit to take care of myself. Could be next week, maybe. I’m walking a pretty fine line as it is.

“CAN I COUNT ON YOUR SUPPORT TODAY TO ‘BEE’ A GOOD SAMARITAN?!”

But I give to the charities that I choose to give to. I think about it, decide what’s important from my point of view, and then I mail in my check or cash or have a cup of coffee sent every day to starving rebels in Bolivia, or whatever the hell it is they ask for. The point is, it’s a considered decision. I may not catch all the details, or know how the money’s being used, or have any memory of the transaction a few days later and wonder how the World Wildebeest Fund managed to siphon cash out of my account. But for a brief lucid moment, I chose. On my own volition, fractured though it is.

That’s not how these charity urchins work. These people are the pop-up ads of charitable donations. You’re strolling along, minding your own business, and wham:

HELLO, SIR! DID YOU KNOW THAT NINETY-EIGHT PERCENT OF CHILDREN IN AMERICA UNDER THE AGE OF FOUR CAN’T READ AT EVEN A SIXTH-GRADE LEVEL?! WON’T YOU SAVE OUR YOUTH?! ONLY YOU, SIR, CAN EMBIGGEN OUR CHILDREN!!

Or:

HI, HOW ARE YOU?! HEY, THAT’S REAL SWELL! CAN WE TALK ABOUT IMMUNIZING AFRICAN HONEYBEES?! HONEY PRODUCTION IS AT AN ALL-TIME LOW DUE TO DEVASTATING BEE MEASLE EPIDEMICS! CAN I COUNT ON YOUR SUPPORT TODAY TO “BEE” A GOOD SAMARITAN?!

Or possibly:

ARE YOU AWARE OF THE CURRENT PLIGHT OF THE AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINALS?! GLOBAL WARMING HAS MADE THE OUTBACK WINDS SO STRONG, THEIR TRADITIONAL HATWEAR SIMPLY BLOWS AWAY! BLOWS! AWAY!! WE NEED MONEY TO PROPERLY HEADCLOTHE THESE GENTLE NOBLE SOULS! HOW DO YOU SLEEP WITH YOURSELF AT NIGHT, SIR?! HEY! COME BACK HERE, YOU HEARTLESS BASTARD!!

Now, these are all fine causes, I’m sure. Fine, ridiculous and utterly nonsensical causes. But they’re not my causes. And if I’m shambling to work or skipping home or just walking aimlessly around the neighborhood, I’m not looking for a new cause. That’s what late-night TV commercials with teary-eyed celebrities are for. Not sidewalks.

But many of these people won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Or ‘NOOOOO!!‘ for an answer. Some of them will take ‘LA! LA! LA! LA! LA! LA! LA!‘ for an answer, but not that many. And none of them will take it as a credit card number. I’ve tried that. Not so popular.

We’ve been so thick with these people lately that I’ve given up on avoiding them. And I feel like an inhumane asshole if I just walk away from them — mostly when they scream ‘YOU INHUMANE ASSHOLE!!‘ at me while I’m doing it.

So I’ve taken to the passive approach. When I see one of the vest-and-clipboard-and-concerned-eyebrows types, I don’t veer off. If they approach me, I engage and listen to their spiel. I just stand quietly — smiling and nodding as though my boss or wife or mother is telling me something they think should be important — and wait for them to finish. Then I wrinkle my forehead a little, as though I’m thinking about it, and toss them a short non sequitur. Something along the lines of:

My dog hates the water. Unless you put it in her mouth.

Your hair smells like spring cleaning.

If Abraham Lincoln were alive today, he’d be really old.

And then I walk away. I call it the “Ralph Wiggum defense”. Nobody’s ever followed me or called me names or said, ‘BUT DON’T YOU CARE ABOUT THE ALBINO MOUNTAIN YAKS?!?‘ They just move on, and so do I. It’s the most humane way for both of us to get back to our business, and frankly sort of entertaining.

I’m just waiting for one of them to ask for my contact information, so they can start a charity to help me. That would be sweet. So long as they hound for collections in somebody else’s neighborhood. We’re full up over here. And I’m running out of Wiggumisms. WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE WIGGUMSES?!?

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