Honolulu Lite
Charles Memminger

Salvation Army
loses beachhead

With major malls banning Salvation Army bell-ringers this Christmas season, I fear I will be deprived of a long-standing tradition: My Annual Holiday Guilt Trip.

It's amazing how simply walking past an elderly Salvation Army bell-ringer without dropping even a dime into the red kettle can take the jolly edge off a quick stop for a six-pack of beer. If you happen to inadvertently make eye contact with the ringer as you sweep into the store without remitting so much as a farthing to the pot, your shopping trip has been made miserable. As it should be. What kind of miser won't even disgorge the change in his pocket for a cause as worthy of an army seeking salvation?

The Salvation Army is on the front line battling poverty, hunger, speculative stock transactions and meanness to puppies. Actually, I have no idea what the Salvation Army does, other than employ out-of-work trumpet, trombone and clarinet players who have mastered the art of performing Christmas carols almost completely off key. But since the time the Salvation Army was just the Salvation Group of Lightly Armed Guys in Peculiar Uniforms, this group has boldly gone where few charities have dared to go: Directly between you and the entrance to your favorite store.

WHICH APPARENTLY is why all the major malls in Honolulu have banned them. Other charities figured out the Salvation Army's game and are demanding the right to position themselves in shoppers' paths. Fearing customers soon would have to run a gauntlet of bell-ringers, finger-thimble clangors and bongo drum bangers from groups like the Salvation Army, Hari Krishna Brigades, Happy Hanukkah Legionaries, Mohammed Mobilization Group and Bellybutton Contemplators Strike Force, mall managers nixed all seasonal begging.

It's sad because the Salvation Army is as much a part of the season as lights, carols and crashed cars parked on the side of the road by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. And the Salvation Army offers a chance for redemption as well as guilt. It's amazing how cleansed, uplifted and, frankly, superior to the rest of the selfish masses, one can feel simply by dropping 64 cents into the red kettle while fleeing to one's car with one's six-pack of Budweiser.

Charles Memminger, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail cmemminger@starbulletin.com

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