See sign, get out your wallet

October 17, 2007|By KEVIN COWHERD

I am standing in the checkout line at the supermarket with a can of tuna - one little can of Bumblebee, that's all - when they draft me into the war on cancer.

It starts when the guy ahead of me asks the cashier: "What's with the pink signs and balloons?"

"We're collecting to fight breast cancer," she answers in a voice that can be heard in New Hampshire.

She points to a big, plastic jug filled with bills and coins and adds: "Over there, if you'd like to contribute."

Oh, yes, this guy would like to help.

After he pays for his groceries with a debit card, he makes a big show of pulling out a money clip and peeling off a few bills.

Then he drops the bills into the big, plastic jug with a flourish, as if they should name a hospital ward after him, scoops up his groceries and leaves.

OK, guess who's next in line at the register.

As the cashier scans my tuna, I can feel her studying me. I can feel the others in line studying me, too.

Collectively, they are sending out this thought-wave: OK, pal, let's see what you're all about.

Are you going to do the right thing and fork over a few bucks for this very worthy cause?

Or are you some cheap, heartless jerk who doesn't care about this horrible scourge - or about women, for that matter, or even about the human race in general?

I turn and give them a reassuring smile.

The smile says: Of course, I want to help in the fight against breast cancer.

Who doesn't want to see this terrible disease wiped out in our lifetime?

The worst person in the world - Osama bin Laden, say, or Charles Manson or the head of your local cable company - I bet even they want to see it wiped out in our lifetime.

That's what the smile says.

But the truth is, I'm also stalling for time at the register. Because I've got a little case of compassion fatigue going here, what with all these different charities calling the house and all these civic and service organizations hitting me up for donations, too.

Now even stores and businesses are getting into the act, setting up their signs and balloons and donation boxes for charities, and the message is: Give, give, give.

Even as you spend, spend, spend.

And, look, I want to give. And I do give.

But if I gave to everyone with a hand out, pretty soon they'd be starting a charity for me.

It would be called: Help Kev Pay the Mortgage.

Or: Help Kev Pay That College Tuition, something snappy like that. You understand what I'm saying here.

A few days earlier, I passed a car wash with a big sign that said: "Part of the proceeds go to fight world hunger."

And there was a guy out on the sidewalk waving a pennant, shouting at people to pull in, get your car clean and maybe wash-and-wax that guilty conscience of yours, too.

I smiled as I passed him.

The smile said: Of course, I want to help fight world hunger, pal.

Who doesn't want to help fight world hunger?

The worst person in the world - that fool president of Iran, the Son of Sam, even the studio honcho who first signed Adam Sand- ler to a movie contract - I bet even they want to help fight world hunger.

But I didn't pull in.

And as I drove past, I could feel the guy's eyes boring into me.

Maybe he thought: Oh, he doesn't care about world hunger.

He doesn't care about starving people all over the world.

Hell, he doesn't even care about keeping his car clean!

But it wasn't any of those things, pal. I was just tapped out that day.

Now here at the supermarket, I have to decide whether to give a couple bucks to help fight breast cancer. And I have a wife and a daughter, after all, and a mom and sister.

So in the end, I do give.

I don't know if it's the cashier studying me or the people in line checking me out that seals the whole thing.

I don't know if it's all the pink ribbons and pink balloons and pink signs with singer Melissa Etheridge's mug staring earnestly at me, urging me to join the cause and help educate and find a cure.

All I know is, I throw a couple bucks into the big, plastic jug, scoop up my little can of Bumblebee tuna and leave.

Before I do, the cashier smiles at me.

The other shoppers in line smile, too.

I wonder if they'll name a hospital ward after me someday.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

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