Posts Tagged ‘Seattle’

Counting My Blessings

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

I’m feeling a bit blue for some complicated, personal reasons. It’s nothing I won’t be able to get over in time with my usual grace and aplomb. It really is a First World Problem. Nevertheless, I find it helpful to count my blessings. Well, blessings is the wrong word, since I don’t believed that anything is blessed. Count my perks? Enumerate the things about my life that I enjoy. We’ll go with that.

I have a loving wife. Somebody who’s there for me, even when I’m being bone-headed or pig-headed or just screwing up. The best part is that she’s my best friend, and I still get many years to find more reasons to love her. And maybe even create a few new lives with, to mold in my own image (stop reading this over my shoulder while I’m writing, darling&hellip)

I have an awesome family. And most of them are nearby. Almost every parent out their believes that their kid is the bee’s knees. I know my parents are. I feel very blessed to have (not-so) randomly wound up with Mom and Dad to raise. Throw in an awesome kid sister and baby brother, and it just sweetens the deal. Plus I have so many other fun, supportive, kind, caring relatives around. Then, I get to count my in-laws, too!

I have a fantastic set of friends. So awesome that they broke into my house on my wedding anniversary to leave Carrie and me a cake. So awesome that they’ll drop what they’re doing to play a few board games or go to the pub. So awesome that they’re willing to lend their singing voices to my latest hare-brained recording projects. So awesome that they let me help them move… well, I’m sure they’ll reciprocate someday when Carrie and I find some other place to live. And I’ve got plenty of opportunities to make new ones, too.

I have a job I love. I like what I do for a living, and am compensated fairly for it. I like the people I work with, and look forward to seeing them each morning. I get to write software for a living; that’s pretty cool. And it’s used by lots of people every day. I don’t work unreasonable hours and I don’t have an inhumane boss and I don’t have a dehumanizing commute. I have a say in what happens day-to-day.

I have a hobby that keeps me interested. I love listening to music and making it. If I get tired of playing or if I get blisters on my fingers, I can listen to records for a while. There is a nearly endless supply of the stuff to keep my ears occupied, and there’s a nearly limitless wellspring of creative energy inside me to keep me occupied for the rest of my life. This is also something I’ll be able to pass on to my kids someday, and that’s something to be excited about, too.

I live in an awesome city. Aside from marrying Carrie, moving to Seattle was probably the best idea I’ve ever had. I love living here. There’s so much to do, so many people to meet, and so many sees to see everything. Want to touch the ocean? The sound’s right here. Want to get away from the buildings and commune with nature? Half an hour to the east. Want to see a show? Pick from hundreds. Want to go to a bar? Close your eyes and turn in a random direction. The only thing I’d change is the luck of our baseball team, and even then I’d have to think about it. It’s kind of nice having underdogs to root for. Plus there isn’t anywhere else to go but up, really.

I live in a free country. Sure, I’m not satisfied with everything that happens. I really hate that civilians in other countries are killed in the name of my safety and security. I really hate that we won’t grow up as a country and allow loving, consenting adults to marry whoever they want. I really hate the bickering and infighting that I have to be exposed to in order to participate in politics. But aside from those complaints, it’s a nice place to live. And these things give me something to work toward to make my country even better.

I have my health. And it’s getting better every day. I’m eating right, and exercising, and I have no major complications or history of medical problems.

I’m satisfied with my place in this universe. It’s just staggering, really, the odds against me being here. And I don’t need a personal deity to make sense of it all. I’ve got a nearly boundless sense of wonder about the universe, and adding some supernatural factor just cheapens the experience for me. Instead, I believe in love and curiosity and peace, and that’s enough for me. I don’t have much time here, cosmically speaking. But that’s okay, because I can still do so much over this little chunk of life that my parents have given me.

I have a strong desire to make things better. Not just for myself. For everyone I know and love. I’m paid enough that I can spare some of what I earn for helping others, and believe I can really make a difference this way. I’ve got the urge to improve myself too, which means I am improving myself, bit by bit. I’m becoming a better husband, brother/sister/son, friend, coder, musician, Seattle resident, and passenger on Spaceship Earth one day at a time, slowly but significantly.

Not everybody has as much to be thankful for as I do. When I think about things this way, my silly little sadnesses feel a lot less significant. That’s the whole point.

On Charity

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Tonight Carrie and I went to a Reddit Board Game Night on Capitol Hill. Apparently there was a power outage, so the place it was going to be at, B&O Espresso, was closed for the evening. The gaming got moved to Caffé Vita at the last minute, so it was a tinier, more intimate crowd. Unfortunately, we’d already parked once and it was Capitol Hill, Hades of Parking, so we had to walk a fair distance to get to the coffee shop. It was worth it, though — we played Elixer and Cosmic Encounter, and everybody had a blast.

Things wrapped up around 10:30 or so, and we packed up our games and took our leave. Since the venue had been moved, we had quite a ways to walk to our car (don’t get me started on the horrendous parking in Capitol Hill; we’d be here all night!). A few blocks down Pike we were stopped by a disheveled-looking young woman. She looked about twenty to twenty-five years of age.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” she said. “My car is out of gas and my purse was stolen, and I need to get back to Bellevue. Could you give me a few dollars for gas money?”

I’d heard about this type of scam before. The best grifts depend on either greed or compassion, two opposite sides of the same shiny coin. What cold and indifferent monster wouldn’t want to help out in this situation? We’ve all run out of gas or nervously eyed the needle hovering over the “E”, so it’s a common enough vector for attack. You simply play on the victim’s own fear. Throw in the fact that you don’t have the money to buy a couple of gallons, and you can play on the victim’s sympathies, too. Who could resist such a sob story?

Well, it turns out I can. One of the first things I developed after moving into Seattle was a calloused sense of sympathy for people asking for money on the street. When you work downtown it’s not really a choice, unless you want to give cash for dubious causes every single day. This was especially true for me, as I got on my bus at Third and James, which was absolutely crawling with folk asking for handouts. I want to emphasize that I’m only unyielding to those who ask me for money and money alone. I’m just too skeptical to believe that you need a few bucks for the bus, or to buy some food. In fact, this skepticism led me to my stock response for such inquiries. “I don’t carry cash,” I say (I don’t), “but I can buy you what you need.” If they’re asking for money for food, I’ll offer to buy them a sandwich. If they want money for bus fare, I offer to swipe my Orca Card for them on the bus of their choice. Every time I’ve been approached downtown this way and I’ve offered to buy my solicitor what they need, they’ve turned me down.

So at this point I told this poor young woman that I didn’t have any cash, but I could buy her gas. If you are being scammed and things go this way, the grifter usually makes an excuse and bails out quickly, if not gracefully. But not this particular woman. “I’ll need to go get some gas cans from my friend,” she told us. This to me seems to be either her exit line or her please-don’t-inconvenience-me-I’m-already-out-of-gas line, but before we could start down either path she ran off across the street and disappeared into the shadows of the night growing from the QFC. Carrie and I waited around a while, board game boxes rumbling as we shifted them in our hands. We waited partially out of politeness and partially out of genuine concern. Carrie was becoming nervous that she was getting her “friend”, a 6-foot-3 rogue with an anchor tattoo, an eye patch, and grapefruit-sized biceps. Afterwards she told me that she was facing the opposite direction to me to get my back. It makes me feel better to know I wasn’t the only skeptical person involved.

[I’d like to make a digression and tell a related story from many years ago, right after Carrie and I started dating. We were crossing the footbridge from campus in Missoula to the Albertson’s on Broadway. This bridge was a notorious hangout for vagrants and vagabonds. As we stepped off the bridge, a man approached on a low-riding bicycle. He swerved from side to side in loping, teetering undulations. Each unsure turn brought him closer and closer to one of the concrete barriers lining either side of the bridge’s approach until with a sickrning thud he crashed into one and collapsed in a heap, bike on top. Carrie wanted to stop and help but I was convinced it was some sort of scheme and wanted to leave him there. It’s a good thing I listened and we stopped; he was really hurt. We called an ambulance and Carrie with her CNA training tended to his wounds. I had been certain that it was something they cooked up to elicit sympathy. I’m an optimist on paper but am pretty cynical when it comes to human interaction. Luckily he got the attention he needed, but it turned out he had Hepatitis C, so that was a little scary.]

After a short delay the young woman came running back with a gas can in each hand. She’d either called my bluff or she really needed the help. I was a little shocked because I didn’t expect to see her again. She met up with us on the corner, the light to cross the street the other way was mercifully short, and we headed to the Shell station to fill what she had brought. They must have been 1.5 – 2 gallon cans, because as I was filling them she told me to only put four dollars’ worth of gas into each can (which honestly is enough to get you across Lake Washington and back home in Bellevue). She thanked us two or three times as the cans were filling, then as I handed them to her. With some final words of gratitude she waked off with her eight dollars’ worth of gasoline, presumably to her exhausted car, and we turned back north on Broadway, the way we’d been going. It hadn’t taken more than five minutes.

Now usually I would have been feeling pretty good about all this. I’ve convinced myself that she really did need it. Maybe her purse wasn’t stolen, maybe she was destitute, or maybe she had misplaced it. Maybe she wasn’t trying to get back to Bellevue and she just needed it to get to work in the morning (or school, or wherever). But I’m pretty sure she wasn’t after a couple gallons of free gas. What would she do, re-sell it? Who would buy that? Weighing what I know, it looked as if we’d helped someone in need.

The only problem is that I lied. I was carrying cash. Enough of it in varying bills to give her what she needed, to the dollar. Now I’m usually a proponent of telling the truth, even if it’s unpleasant. But I always lie about not having cash whenever I offer my stock response to requests on the street. I could have a hundred dollars in my wallet, or a single one dollar bill. I’ll always say I don’t have any and offer to buy what they need. I started thinking about this as we walked the half-mile or so to where we’d parked our car. I can only offer one defense: my concern for our safety. After all, we may have grown up in Montana but we still know better than to blindly dig cash out of our wallets for anybody who asks. Things turned out okay, regardless. If I’d given her cash and she was a meth head then it wouldn’t have done any good. I can think of very few detrimental things she could do with the gas (okay, I suppose that’s not true. She could use it to burn down a building, for example). It’s not like she could have fenced at most three dollars’ worth of gasoline, though.

This is what it takes. In the best case, we helped a hapless if irresponsible woman get back home. In the worst case, we helped her drive to that next party. Either way I’m okay with it. When another human being asks, you’ve just got to help, whatever way you can.