Friday, January 21, 2011

Just Right Around the Corner

We stretched three $20.00 bills out on to the table. I had retrieved them from our

secret hiding-place, and, quite honestly, thought there were more in there. We've been living on the contents of that hiding-place for the past week, and apparently we've been paying it more visits than I had realized. After looking over the next week's expenditures, we decided that we could part with some of it. Somebody needed it more than we did.

This could be the most depressing time of the year. In fact, I depress myself just thinking about writing about how depressed I am. The red and green Christmas decorations are an interesting veil that shields the horrors of winter from us, but once the New Year kicks in, Santa and his merry band of Yuletide followers can't run interference anymore. It's like a parent who finally drives away, reluctantly, leaving a child to walk through those doors to the classroom all by himself. No more trays of cookies, blinking lights, and continuous loops of both Nat King Cole and A Christmas Story. Now, the walls look blank and cold, easily transparent, revealing, outside, the frigid, blue-steel grip of January.

But life goes on. The Holidays, for some, act as a brief reprieve from the regular obstacles. Once passed, a startling slap in the face appears briskly and without warning. Such is the case with a friend of ours who, all of a sudden, faces an eviction. If somebody doesn't have the finances to stabilize their current living situation, how do they expect to enact a new one?

I'm not sure why we feel a need to help. I ask that rhetorically. Does it come from deep-seeded mores? From theological convictions? Does it just feel good? Or right? Or just necessary? I'm not sure. What I do know is that you don't have to go far to be able to put whatever it is that coerces us to do it to good use.

I'm not putting myself or Donna up on any morally lofty heights. I'm bad at helping. I can't count the number of Holidays that have passed where I continually tell myself that I'm going to volunteer at a soup kitchen this Thanksgiving, or I'm going to buy several gifts for an in-need family who's children may go without...and then I never do it. Last Christmas I even bookmarked several websites, such as United Way, Salvation Army, and Catholic Charities in anticipation of helping, but for whatever reason, something gets in the way and I don't follow-through.

This year, though, we did make a contribution to the Women's Shelter. When relatives came to visit, we bought a Honey-Baked Ham, partially purchased by way of a gift certificate that someone else had given us last Christmas. But this almost eight-pound ham was never touched. I asked Donna, "What are we going to do with a ham of this size?" We decided to give it to someone for Christmas. So, I called several places, left messages, but nobody ever bothered to call back. Finally, Donna suggested the Shelter. So, in addition to some clothing and other articles, I delivered a ham to a very appreciative woman on the near west side of Akron.

But as we spread those three $20.00 bills out on the counter, trying to decide what we could contribute to our friend's predicament, it occurred to me that the eight-pound ham, like this money, could have easily been given to somebody we already know. Just the other day, while driving to my allergy-shot appointment, I encountered a homeless person standing with a sign at the corner of Tallmadge Avenue and the off-ramp from Route 8 North. He was dressed not unlike Ted Williams, the now-famous "homeless man with the golden-throat". Before the light turned green, I motioned him over and handed him a few bucks. As I thought about that as Donna and I discussed the situation, I suddenly realized that I didn't necessarily have to drive to the Tallmadge Avenue off-ramp in order to help somebody in need.

We have family-members and friends who rob Peter to pay Paul. Who don't have enough food to get through the week. Who wait by the mailbox on Tuesday for "the check", knowing full-well that it won't arrive till Friday. Who don't eat dinner because they're saving it for tomorrow's breakfast. Who make regular calls to Ohio Edison or Dominion and plead for them not to shut off their heat. They're not strangers who have fallen on hard times or who hold a cardboard sign at a busy intersection. They're people we talk to on our phones, people we see at picnics in the summer or at a high school basketball game.

As we discussed this particular friend's dilemma, we both were fairly astonished at how many people, both friends and family, could easily use some of this $60.00. And that was depressing.

So I cursed. Cursed myself for not being more persistent and consistent about helping the people who are closest to us. Cursed myself for bitching about the lack of sunshine and the inability to go for a ride on my motorcycle, when so many people around us are in need. And I cursed myself because I know that there's a strong possibility that I'll curse myself tomorrow for feeling the same damned way that I feel today.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Teasing in the New Year

It was a February day back in the mid-90's. A group of us had just arrived at the airport in Las Vegas and were standing in Chris Royer's driveway. Donna's son was getting married and we traveled out west to celebrate it. As we were pulling bags out of the back-end of the rental car, I gazed around the neighborhood. Palm trees swayed in the gentle breeze. As temperatures hovered near the mid-70's, I realized how warm I was getting in my long-sleeved shirt and heavy winter coat. As I took some bags to the guest bedroom, I quickly changed into a t-shirt and some shorts that I had brought with me. Stepping outside, it was as if I was transported into a time-warp. For an instant, the reality of winter dissolved. I stared down at my pale, white legs, and I gasped. Was it really...February?

I thought of that moment the other day as I was tossing cardboard into the recycle-basket we have sitting by the back door. As I stuffed cardboard into it, I looked through the window down at the deck. For the past month, all throughout the Christmas shopping days, the deck was covered with a foot of snow that had accumulated since winter began. I'd occasionally carve out a path to the front of the deck so that I could dump things in Donna's compost pile below, but for the most part, the drifts remained un-touched.

But the same glowing feeling struck me on Wednesday of this past week as temperatures, for some reason, began to warm. Near the door, the snow and ice had dissipated, and I could see the red-hued deck-planks, the sun already having dried the ones exposed under the mounds of snow. And it transported me to April, when hope rose to the surface of every pore in anticipation of this being the last remnants of snow for the year.

Yes, it was false. But I preferred to let it become the reality of the present. I repeated the process yesterday as I carefully mounted my new motorcycle. After weeks of planning around schedules and, especially, weather, here it was sitting in my driveway. And for some reason, those same divinities that tossed a teasing glance at us that day in Las Vegas provided a sequel on the last day of 2010.

Trying to familiarize myself with the controls of a new motorcycle, I toured some of the nearby neighborhoods and pretended that it was a brisk but sunny Spring day. The few residual slush-piles at the end of driveways would turn to water by mid-afternoon, I told myself. In a few weeks, by the time I had become more accustomed to a standard-transmission again, I will have already removed the liner from my jacket in preparation of the first 60-degree day of the year.

Life's grand tease here in northeast Ohio. Are the Divinities being gracious, or are they cruel? On this first day of the New Year, I prefer to think it's both. We will be in the mid-50's today, but rain will accompany those temperatures for most of the day, which would make a ride for today questionable. And the rest of the week will be a solid whack of reality, a 2 x 4 to the head as these mild temperatures plummet downwards.

But that's alright. Like that day in Vegas, the New Year brought a gift, if only for a moment. Regardless of the year, January can be cruel. We'll take a burst of compassion whenever we can get it.