Thursday, January 24, 2013

Dana's Guidelines for Beggars

I'm a sucker. I fully admit it. I give money to pretty much anyone who asks me - with disturbing results. I've given money to so many different charities that my mailbox is now a treacherous land mine of emotionally scarring, manipulative mail pieces, the likes of which actually, literally, give me nightmares. I would say 60% of the mail I receive is pictures of African babies with their ribs jutting ominously from their chests, puppies who have had their heads bashed in with hammers, and various kinds of cripples with big, sad, entreating eyes. As a result of all of this "marketing", I am no longer psychologically equipped to handle the mail - Phi has to presort it for me.

So suffice it so say, when beggars come up to me and ask me for some spare change, I generally comply, as long as I am able to do so.

However, recently, I have had some bad begging experiences. Namely, I've met some really unlikable beggars who are, frankly, doing it wrong. Like, so wrong that even I denied them money - and that's saying something. And so, here are some general guidelines I would like to put out there for people who - for whatever reason - are begging for handouts.

1) Don't make your children do your dirty work for you.

The other day at the gas station, a girl - about 12 years old - came up to me and pointed to her mother and gave a long, rambling story about how her mother needs money for gas. The story was delivered with the dead eyes and blank stare of the "former crack heads" who come to your house selling magazine subscriptions (By the way, can we talk about how fucked up that is? Are these guys seriously implying that their staying off drugs is somehow our responsibility?) Her recitation had an overly-rehearsed quality that was really off-putting.

So here are my issues with this. The mother was sitting right there. Why can't the mother do her own begging? Does she think her kid is so cute that no one will be able to resist her charms? Because she wasn't that cute, and she was the worst actress in the world. Or is the mother just that lazy - so lazy she can't even beg?

I don't judge her for being a begging mother. I understand that sometimes shit happens in life, and you may find yourself in a situation where you need to rely on the kindness of strangers. But does she really think that this is setting a good example for her child? Does she think that this is an acceptable activity for her daughter to do? If you have to beg, fine, beg. But don't make your kid do your dirty work for you.

2) Don't assume that I share in your worldview, particularly if your worldview is kind of messed up.

Just today, a man came up to me - again at a gas station - and began telling me a long story about how "black guys" stole his backpack and he needed money to get home. Aside from the fact that his story was overly long and somewhat unbelievable, I couldn't get past the fact that he kept referring to the guys to stole his backpack as "black guys"

Why did he need to keep referring to the race of the guys who supposedly stole his backpack? There was no reason to keep continually bringing it up to me, since I'm not a cop and wasn't asking for a description of the guys. The only reasons he could possibly keep bringing it up were these:
A) He assumed that, as a white woman, I'm obviously afraid of black men stealing my shit, and he hoped to get me on "his side" - united in our fear of victimization at the hands of black guys.
B) He assumed that I don't like black people and that his being victimized by two black people would make me feel sorrier for him than if people of another race had victimized him.
C) He's just one of those douchebags who always refers to peoples' races, regardless of whether it has any relation to the story. While this has no bearing on me - it bodes poorly for him.

My point is, don't make assumptions about me before you talk to me and ask me for money. Especially if those assumptions are insulting.

3) Don't start out by saying "I"m not a bum".

Lots of times people begging you for money will start out their speeches by saying "I'm not one of those bums" or "I'm not a bum".

First of all, yes you are. But ok, whatever, let's say you're not. Let's examine why it's wrong for you to start out that way.

When you say "I'm not a bum, but...give me money" the implication is that there is something wrong with being a bum, and you and I both know it. You're trying to lump yourself in with me - an obvious "non-bum", while simultaneously trying to bum money off of me. You're implying that I have a problem with bums, and yet you're asking me to give you a handout. Do you see why that's weird? Yeah. It's weird.

Once I had a guy ask me for $4. He told me I could call his mother and she would pay me back the $4, because he "wasn't a bum". If you don't have $4 to your name, and your mom has to pay your $4 debts to strangers, guess what? You're a bum.

4) Don't say you're a veteran.

I don't freaking care whether you're a veteran or not. Why would that possibly matter? Are you somehow more deserving of my dollar because you were in 'Nam or whatever? You deserve it more than, say, a former doctor who spent his summers deworming orphans in the Congo and got his legs crippled in a car accident?

Are there people out there who say "I see a dude in a wheelchair begging for money. I would like to give him a dollar, but what if that lazy bastard never served his country? I need to know how he lost them legs before I give him my hard earned cash. I mean, what if the pussy lost his legs in a skiing accident or some shit? I'll slap that skiing pantywaste and spit in his coffee cup!"

My point is, veteran status has nothing to do with whether or not a person needs help. If a person needs help, whether or not he served in the military is not a salient issue.

5) Do try to be funny, if you can.

I ALWAYS give money to a bum if she can make me laugh. I'll, like, find an ATM if I have to. That's how effective this is.

Once I saw a guy with a sign that said "Family killed by ninjas. Need kung fu lessons". I totally have him money. That's awesome.

Once, in Bellingham, I was stopped at a stoplight and saw two guys with a sign that said "Running in Place for Money". They had a baton. They ran back and forth, passing the baton to each other. They would occasionally do flying chest bumps or leap up in the air and give each other enthusiastic high fives. They were so joyful and excited and merry that I couldn't help but find them charming. EVERYONE gave them money- their exuberance was contagious.

6) If you can't be funny, be brief.

Nothing is more awkward than listening to a stranger's sob story as she begs you for money. I don't want to hear it. The fact that you're begging for change on the side of the road already tells me that life didn't work out the way you planned. I've already inferred that mistakes have been made. I KNOW that there is a very, very sad story there. I don't want the details. I really don't. I'll give you the money - I will. Please don't haunt my nightmares.

7) Do use good manners.

"Please" and "thank you" never go amiss, especially when asking for money. If you go above and beyond and compliment my beauty, I'll probably even give you extra money. I also appreciate a "God Bless You". Thank you! I would like God to bless me for helping you!

Once I gave money to an unemployed woman I know. She was not homeless or anything - but she was going through a rough time and she asked for some financial help. I gave her some money. She NEVER said thank you. Not even in a text or Facebook message. Seriously? Not even a thank you? I don't demand that she pay me back or do me a favor in return or anything like that - but a thank you would have been freaking nice.

She will not be getting any more money from me.

So those are my basic guidelines for appropriate begging. I feel bad for beggars, for the most part. I totally hate those guys who see beggars and snarl mean things at them like "Get a job!" (It's not always that easy, if you're mentally ill or otherwise disabled) or who accuse them of using the money to buy drugs and alcohol (Why do you care? Either give her the money or move on.) I hope that my guidelines will help beggars everywhere to be more successful and likable so they can avoid the terrible people who treat them badly.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

On Profanity

I love profanity. If you know me well, you know that I have a decently foul mouth -I swear often, and with relish. Many people say that using swear words is a sign of a limited vocabulary, or a limited intellect, but I find that nothing could be further from the truth. Those people have obviously never listened to the podcasts of Greg Proops or spoken to my ex-boyfriend, who could paint a verbal masterpiece of profanity and 64 dollar words, the likes of which should have been typed and framed and placed in the Louvre.

The only anti-profanity rule with which I agree is the one against taking the Lord's name in vain. I never take the Lord's name in vain and here's why - if you are a religious person, then calling upon the name of God is a powerful, meaningful activity, and it isn't one that should be taken lightly. So by refraining from using the Lord's name in vain, we are practicing our religion, and showing respect for our God.

But as far as I'm concerned, all other swear words are on the table. As long as it's used well, there is nothing inherently rude about profanity. If the waiter brings the wrong drink to my table and I shout at him "Fuck you you stupid motherfucker!" then yes, I'm being rude. But if I'm telling a story to my friends about being attacked by a mountain lion, and I say "The fucker came out of nowhere!", I am not being rude - except perhaps to the mountain lion. But do you see the distinction? Of course you do, because you're a reasonable person. If you're using profanity - or any language for that matter - to be MEAN to someone or to make her feel bad, then you are being rude. If you use profanity to pepper up your speech or to make a point, you are not being rude, you are simply utilizing strong language.

Here's the thing. I have always associated severe aversion to swear words with mental illness. For instance, when someone complains about profanity, I always think of Annie Wilkes making Paul Sheldon burn his manuscript for "Fast Cars", or shouting "COCKADOODIE! CACA CACA POOPY DOOPY!" Alternately, I think of Rod and Todd Flanders with their wussy, overly sheltered cowering. Either way, all I can think of is mental instability, and a generally unhealthy outlook on the world.

Because, when you think about it, there is no good, rational reason to be opposed to using words like "fuck" or "ass". They're just words, like any other word. Strong words, yes. But sometimes, strong words are appropriate. Sometimes "Darn you, you bad man!" just isn't what you mean to say. In fact, "darn you, you bad man!" is so soft, that it could even be a lie, depending on the circumstances.

And if you ask people why they think it's wrong to say "shit" or "damn" or whatever, their reasons are vague and irrational. They'll say things like "I was raised not to swear" or "It's rude" or "It's the sign of a limited vocabulary". They have no solid, rational reason for opposing swear words; they just think it's wrong to swear... because it's wrong to swear. Their mothers told them so, so it must be true.

Now, all of that being said, I do consider myself to be a polite person, and I DO care about the feelings of others. I don't ever WANT to offend anyone, even the mentally unstable. So if I'm around someone who I know is bothered by profanity (or who I suspect may be bothered by profanity) then I refrain from using it. It's not because I think it's immoral to swear, it's because I don't want these people to hate me and think badly of me. It's an easy sacrifice to make on my part, and so I do it.

I just wish I didn't have to make it. I wish there were not words that are taboo to use "just because". Profanity, when used well, enhances your speech and makes it more colorful. Profanity, when used rudely, is just rude. And it makes me sad that many people don't have the moral maturity to know the difference.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Plastic Surgery and The Latter Day Puritans

After I have a baby, I'm getting liposuction. Phillip has agreed that this can be my reward for going through the trauma of pregnancy. I can already hear the judgement of certain people, as they tilt their heads and narrow their eyes and say "But isn't the BABY the reward for the trauma of pregnancy?" No. Liposuction is the reward.

Anyway, I've been surprised by the reactions I've received when I tell people this. Mostly, people have negative reactions. They all say things like "Well, you should really just do it with diet and exercise" or the much more vague "I would NEVER have liposuction". And this is in Southern California, where you would think people would be more open minded about going under the knife! After all, we are a very image-conscious society here.

Well, I've spent some time thinking about it, trying to understand their points of view. Here are my conclusions -

1) Some women are naturally pretty and just don't get it.

Some of the women who have criticized my decision are gorgeous. They have the kind of effortless, unthinking beauty that makes the rest of us hate ourselves and want to crawl in a hole an die, because we know we can never, ever compete with them. These are the women who could steal our men with a curl of their fingers, if they chose to do so.

And they say things like "Beauty is on the inside" and "I think you look fine". Emphasis on the "I". They mean to be kind. But the fact of the matter is, because of their beauty, they have no idea what it's like to be anything other than beautiful. They don't see that the less beautiful are often treated badly, simply because of how they look. It's just not in the realm of their experience.

Dear pretty girls - please don't tell other, less pretty girls not to get liposuction. No one will take your advice seriously, because you just don't get it.

2) Some people have bizarre puritan beliefs about punishment and sacrifice.

It seems like a lot of people oppose plastic surgery simply because it's "the easy way out" or because it's "cheating". They say things like "Nothing good comes without a lot of hard work" and "You have to fight for it!". These are the people who encourage me to do "exercise and diet" rather than liposuction.

Here is my response: Why? If there is an easy solution to the problem, then why shouldn't I employ that solution? Diet and exercise is great, especially for those who can't afford liposuction, but it's terribly inefficient. Do you have any idea how much time and effort it takes to lose weight that way? It consumes your every waking moment, and every thought in your head. You don't have time to devote to your hobbies, your friends, or anything other than exercising and not eating. You can't go to a restaurant with your husband and just enjoy yourself. You can't watch a movie, because that's two hours that should be spent exercising. It utterly consumes you, and strikes me as a pretty unhealthy way to live.

The Latter Day Puritans seem to think that wanting to be pretty, and being willing to have surgery in order to be pretty, is a sin. They don't call it a "sin", they call it "being lazy" or "being shallow". But it's the same thing. They think that you need to SUFFER for your sins. They think you need to PUNISH yourself with exercise and starvation so you DESERVE your beauty.

I call shenanigans. Everyone wants to look her best, and there is NOTHING wrong with that. And I don't feel that I should be punished for the fact that the 'roids have made me fat. I didn't gain my weight by being lazy, or through any moral failing on my part - so why should I have to work hard to lose the weight? Why should I be punished?

Everyone deserves to like how she looks. Even if she doesn't like to exercise or starve herself.

3) Some people have unrealistic ideas about plastic surgery.

This category includes my husband, who thinks having liposuction will lead to me booking multiple surgeries that will surely bankrupt us and make me look like a bag of hardened chemicals, or like a taxidermy project gone terribly wrong.

I think a lot of people look at images of Donatella Versace, Jennifer Garner, and that crazy cat lady and think that's what happens when you get plastic surgery. No. You have to have some pretty deep psychological problems to get so much surgery that you start to look creepy.

The fact of the matter is, most surgeries are done safely and well, with no problems. Can you go overboard with it? Sure. But most people don't. It's like saying you shouldn't have a glass of wine, because some people are alcoholics. It's like saying you shouldn't go to Las Vegas because of that one guy you know who has a gambling problem. I flatter myself that I have enough self control to stop after I get the lipo, just like I have enough self control to have a glass of wine and then stop.

Basically, I think people need to be less judgmental of those who choose to have liposuction or other cosmetic procedures. Like me. It might not be the right choice for you, and that's fine. But try to keep an open mind when someone tells you that she's considering it for herself. It's not necessarily because she's "lazy" or because she's "shallow". She's just a regular woman who wants to change her appearance, and doesn't feel that she should have to suffer because of it.