Nabbed throwing my few cents in
YOU know how you feel guilty when you pass one of those little red Salvation Army pots and don't drop in any money? The person ringing the bell smiles at you, not holding your stinginess against you and thereby making you feel even worse. Well, I took the guilt trip to an entirely new level the other day.
First of all, I do drop money into the Salvation Army pots, usually the ones at the entrance to Safeway in Kaneohe, where I do my shopping. And if I go to the mall, I'll drop in some more money. But I don't drop money into every single pot I pass, and I still feel guilty about it.
So the other day I'm passing one of these Salvation Army outposts at Tamarind Park in downtown Honolulu. There's a band playing on the park stage, and a lot of people are around. I figure this must be the official launch of the Salvation Army collection drive. I walk right past the donation pot because I'm short on time. I've got to drop of some papers at my lawyer's office and then get back to Bestsellers bookstore to sign copies of my new book.
But on the way back to the bookstore, I see the red bucket looming ahead at Bishop and King streets and decide I'd better drop some money in. I reach into my pants pocket, and all I have is about 43 cents. Now, I could go to the wallet and whip out some green, but I'm a bit rushed. I figure I'll just drop the 43 cents in the pot and maybe it will sound like more. Then I'll make up the deficit at the Safeway Salvation Army stand later.
NOW HERE'S where it gets weird. It's really Charleyworld stuff. As I approach the little red pot with the 43 cents in my clammy mitt, I suddenly recognize the two people who are ringing the bells: Gov. Linda Lingle and Mayor Mufi Hannemann. Great. Both of them greet me by name, like, "Hey, Charley! How ya doin'?" Smiling. And then I notice there's a TV camera filming them. I mean, what are the odds that I end up ready to drop 43 cents in a Salvation Army collection pot with the mayor, governor and a television news crew looking on? How perfect is that? What? The Dalai Lama wasn't available? The Rev. Billy Graham couldn't be on hand to witness my charitable largess? Where's the gaggle of little soot-faced waifs to really lay the guilt on with a trowel?
No, just the governor and the mayor to watch me drop my measly 43 cents into the pot. Please, sound like a lot, I pray. But there's a crumpled dollar bill blocking the slot, and so my donation doesn't even sound like 43 cents. It sounds like a dime and a couple of pennies. I look weakly at Mufi and Linda, shaking their hands. They smile the "smile." The, "man, newspaper humor columnists are such tightwads" smile.
I want to explain about the Safeway Salvation Army pots I traditionally contribute to. Explain that I am not an ungenerous person, I'm just a little pressed for time and never expected to run into the Salvation Army Center of the Universe just at this point in time with TV cameras looking on.
I consider digging into my wallet and getting out a $20 bill, but figure that would be grandstanding at this point. So I mumble something about the pending book signings and hustle down the sidewalk to the bookstore, feeling like Scrooge. There I gather my wits enough to sign copies of my book for the mayor, governor and, realizing that President Bush would be landing in Hawaii later that afternoon to meet with Lingle, I sign a book for him, too.
Then I asked the publicist for the book publisher to hustle the books down to the corner and hand them out. Shameless, I know. But no more shameless than dropping 43 cents into a Salvation Army caldron while the world looked on.
I DON'T KNOW if the governor actually gave my book to the president. When my first book came out years ago, Gov. John Waihee gave a copy of it to President Clinton. I got a nice computer-generated note from Clinton with a computer-generated signature telling me how much he and Hillary had enjoyed the book. I don't think Clinton actually read the book, but the sentiment was nice. And I know no one from Clinton's office even thumbed through the book before sending the thank-you note. If they had, they would have seen that one of the columns was kind of a snide piece about a time Clinton visited Oahu and tied up traffic for hours. We'll put up with a lot of discomfort in Hawaii, but we don't like people causing traffic jams. Even the president of the United States. Take a helicopter, for crying out loud.
I don't have any anti-Bush columns in the new book, so, who knows, maybe I'll get a little computer-generated note from Bush's office. Or maybe after the governor saw that I only put 43 cents (or, from the sound of it, 12 cents) in the Salvation Army pot, she chucked the books into the nearest rubbish can.
On this Thanksgiving Day, we should all remember that it's good to give to charities but that it can be a tricky thing. Try to be generous, especially if any high government officials or TV cameras are around. I plan to drop money into every Salvation Army pot I come across from now till Christmas. Of course, no big shots will be around to see that. That's the way it is in Charleyworld.
, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org