A monopoly on giving

Posted on December 17, 2012



Son, if you want stuff for Channukah, you’ve got to get rid of some of the things you don’t use anymore.

But I use everything.


Yeah, everything.

This busted baby toy? You mean to tell me you use this?

I was just about to.

And this thing?

It goes with my Chutes and Ladders game.

Dude, you haven’t touched that for 5 years.

Nuh uh, I use that all the time.

Really? When was the last time you touched it?

Well, I was gonna but I haven’t had time.

Too busy to play Chutes and Ladders? Come on, there are kids everywhere that would be thrilled to have even one toy to play with and you’re like some kind of toy hoarder. Let’s give some of this stuff to kids who need it.

Here. I’ll get rid of this.

It’s got one leg and it’s missing its head. I don’t even know what it is, or, um, was.

Duh, it’s a unicorn.

You know, a unicorn without a head is pretty much the same as a headless horse. It might as well be a horse. A one-legged, headless horse. Your generosity is truly inspiring.

This is my favorite one-legged headless unicorn, dad, and I’m giving it away. That’s a big deal for me. Can’t we just give them money?

Give who money?

The poor people. Then they can buy their own toys.

I’ll tell you what, why don’t we go down to the mall and you can try and raise some money to donate to the food bank.

So, like, I keep half and give the other half to the poor people?

No, like you keep none and give all of it to the poor people. I want you to learn how good it feels to help others.

I helped you wash the dishes yesterday. That didn’t feel good.

This is different.

Fine. I’ll go make a donation box.

That’s the spirit

The box said, “Please donate for the poor people.” It was colored with red and blue crayons and had a coin-sized hole in the top. I made the first donation–a dollar in quarters—and we drove to the nearest mall.

After the usual holiday parking hassles, Cheeky and I headed for the main entrance of the mall, figuring that would have the most foot traffic. As we approached, we could hear the rhythmic jing-jingling of bells and saw a woman sitting on a stool next to a fancy red bucket suspended on a stand. The stand was wrapped with a spiral of plastic holly and at its base was a small pile of cigarette butts, all within a shoe’s length from the woman’s heel.

She held a book in her left hand and was reading it in her lap. The bells were in her right hand, the palm of which rested on her thigh while she lazily raised and lowered the bells to ring them against her leg. She clearly invested the same energy in bell-ringing as she did in smothering cigarettes with her foot. A lit cigarette gently rocked back and forth between two fingers as it rode along with the bells.

Cheeky approached the entryway to the mall with his little box in hand and looked up at me, asking with his eyes, “What should we do now?”

“Let’s try a different door,” I suggested.

We walked through the mall and around to another entrance. As soon as we opened the door, we heard the bells. This time it was a man in a lawn chair. We turned around and headed for the third mall entrance. Taken. It was a man with a Santa hat, a cigar and a single dinner bell. As soon as he saw Cheeky’s box, he looked at me and shook his head only slightly but enough to be clear: this was his spot.

“Now what?” Cheeky was frustrated and was hoping I’d say, “Let’s just go home.”

“There can’t be someone at every entrance. Let’s go try another,” I said with a forced cheerfulness. I was going to teach my son how good it feels to help others even if we had to try every entrance in the mall.

We popped out a side entrance and found ourselves in front of a full brass band—cornet, flugelhorn, baritone, tuba, drum, red bucket and fancy stand.

We ducked inside and, with a quickened pace, headed for another entrance. On the way, we passed another bell-ringer in the central court then turned down another wing where shoe store glue fumes mingled weirdly with the sweet smell of Mrs. Field’s cookies.

A smiling woman with bells, a kazoo and red bucket opened the door for us when we reached the entrance. Neither of us knew what to do. We wanted to turn around and head for the next mall entrance but it seemed rude to leave that nice woman holding the door open for us. Cheeky reached into his box, pulled out a quarter, dropped it in her bucket, and we both bolted back the way we came.

We were nearly running now. I was beginning to hate these people with their red buckets and fancy stands. We hit the last two entrances in less than a minute. Both were taken: a guy playing a guitar with a red bucket hanging off its neck, and an elderly woman with a dog in a Santa hat. These bell-people had a monopoly on mall donations; it was no use.

We walked slowly toward the food court and grabbed a couple burgers to go before we left through the fire exit by the restrooms. I was ready to punch the next bucket-wielding bell-ringer I saw.

Once outside, we headed toward the car, then Cheeky stopped. He turned and grabbed the bag with our burgers. “Cheeky, why don’t you wait until we get home to eat—“ He had turned and was heading toward a stack of old pallets and cardboard where a man sat slouched with his head between his knees.

I stood and watched as my son kneeled and tapped the man on the shoulder. I couldn’t hear what, if anything, they said to each other, but Cheeky handed him the bag. The man smiled as he looked at its contents.

As he walked back to where I stood, Cheeky wore a proud, happy smile. Without a word, I put an arm around his shoulder and we both walked back toward the car. On the way, Cheeky deposited the remaining $.75 in a red bucket and I smiled at the bell-ringer as my son tossed his donation box in a recycle bin.