Sunday, April 11, 2010

Door to Door

One night last week around dinner time, our doorbell rang. It was a sweet young guy in a button-down shirt and one of those messenger bags with a seatbelt around the shoulder. He was canvassing for the ASPCA.

"Did you know that every year [x] thousand dogs lose their lives to barbaric dogfighting rings?" he recited from his script. "Another [x] thousand face unspeakable abuses in puppy mills and illegal breeding facilities."

"Sorry," I said, pushing Inez back away from the doorway. "I should probably stop you right there. We support what you do, but we don't keep cash on hand, so if you could give me something we could read over, we'd certainly consider mailing in a donation."

"Um, we're actually working really hard to get donations tonight," he said. "This is the only night we're in your area, and anything you can give would make a difference." He explained that they took checks and credit cards and urged us to consider a contribution right then and there, because the money could be put to immediate use.

This was a method I remembered from my telemarketing days: Never take no for an answer; push and push until you either wear them down or they hang up on you. I used to long for folks to hang up on me.

I sensed he felt the same: Please, I heard him thinking. Give me a contribution or slam the door in my face. Just put me out of my misery.

This, I realized, is the story of our economy: A young, educated guy, a likely casualty of layoffs at his company, taking whatever he can get to get his rent paid. It forces you to recognize what's happening to those with more significant barriers to employment. They're stuck with what's leftover, which could easily mean a long stretch of nothing, or turning to the underground economy. It's a sad and unsustainable situation with costs that haven't even begun to be tallied.

What I said to our canvasser was, "I'm sorry. We're just not comfortable giving a check or credit card at the door. I promise we'll check the website and see how we can contribute."

What I wish I had said was this:

- People have been scammed on this block repeatedly the last few months. The probability of our neighbors giving money to a stranger are painfully low.

- Why did they send you here tonight? Do they know there have been shootings and robberies? Why didn't they send you out with a buddy? Why did they send you after dark?

- The folks on this block are struggling in ways you can't imagine. Wouldn't they want to send you to areas with deeper pockets, where people aren't straining to pay their own bills month to month?

- You seem like a really sweet kid. Hang in there. I have to believe you're going to land on your feet.

Just before I left, I told him I knew he probably had a quota to make for tonight, and I was honestly sorry I wouldn't be able to help him make a dent.

"It's true," he said, springing down the steps to the next household, undeterred. "I do have a quota. But I just want to say this is a cause I actually believe in, so I really appreciate your support."

And with that, I wish I'd opened my wallet and showered him with whatever I might have found there. My checkbook and credit cards. Keys and gumwrappers. Random business cards and found pennies. The scarce couple of bills in my wallet. All of it swirling around him like rain. Because as much as I occasionally complain about my job, I don't have it nearly as rough as this kid. And in the grand scheme of things, he's actually one of the lucky ones.


tracy said...

Oh, do I share this dilemma with you! I have unreasonably complicated heartaches whenever someone comes to my door.

Rosemary said...

Ouch--yes, you really do capture the agony of these encounters here, Christy. I feel like I've been running into a lot of stories about the agony of the underemployed this week...which makes me wonder how economists and even our own President can suggest that the recession is over.