Openly perched on a chair in my garage while trying to clear out the clutter, a finger-pointing inner voice disgustedly berated me for the abundant accumulation. Excuses for this predicament bubbled defensively out of my mind: “We’re busy, no time to deal with it” and the ultimate cop out, “everyone has stuff!”
However, the miscellaneous junk has taken over prime real estate, which fueled my resolve to purge. My goal was recycle and reuse, not fill up a landfill. In that frame of mind, I wasn’t mentally prepared to discuss a social dilemma worthy of Ayn Rand’s commentary. But soon, it was staring me in the face.
A falsely cheerful “Helloooo!” called out to me somewhere by the front door of the house. Quickly, I assessed whether it was a friend or solicitor. The latter I could ignore because I was too busy to stop my undertaking. Besides, it was clear to the world that I had enough without buying one thing more from anyone. Desperately trapped, I paradoxically hoped the stranger hadn’t noticed the boxes covering the driveway, which indicated inhabitance.
Unfortunately, this person, a solicitor I gleaned from his persistence, was heading undeterred over to me. My inner security shields immediately came up, coupled with acute wariness apparent in my body language. The twenty-something man tried to set me at ease by smiling, making eye contact, and projecting good will in a seemingly non-threatening way. He was pedaling magazines of course, but that fact was not something he wanted to get at right away. He spent a large amount of time trying to manipulate my acceptance of society’s obligation to help inner city kids in Mississippi or Louisiana who don’t have the advantages that my kids supposedly do. This would be achieved by buying magazines from him. If only all the world’s problems could be solved so easily.
He was trying his hardest to sell his ideas and magazines. I refused to be bullied into spending money I wasn’t convinced would get to where it supposedly needed to go. I began turning the conversation around.
I started by acknowledging how difficult it must be to sell magazines door to door anywhere, not just in Federal Way. He then relayed an ugly encounter in the Twin Lakes neighborhood that made me cringe. I apologized internally for the homeowner’s possible prejudicial, rude behavior, and explained to him that when he puts himself into situations where people feel violated by door-to-door sales, there will be slamming rejection. He’s making the choice to sell; I’m making the choice to uphold the American right to say “No thanks.” His resolve began to falter, and the reality seeped out in bits and pieces.
I suspected his story was incomplete, with the whole truth debatable, but he admitted to being a convicted felon. He insinuated that most business owners won’t hire people like him, and thus his options decrease to neighborhood sales.
I asked him if he used Federal Way’s Multi-Service Center, or the Tacoma Nativity House. He claimed not to have heard of either one. He’d rather sleep on the street than take charity, and he’d prefer to not eat if he had to stand in a line with those people. Besides, his personal items allegedly get stolen in the confinement of the shelters. Slowly, I saw through his proud facade while I tried to imagine his freedom in living without the trappings of the typical American dream: A home and family with responsibilities.
I resolved to learn the facts about what exactly the City of Federal Way offers in terms of helping families in need, as well as single homeless men, by reading the 2006-2010 Housing and Human Services Consolidated Plan on the City of Federal Way’s website. In the meantime, I gave the guy credit for trying to earn a living, which prompted his indignantly negative opinion toward panhandlers.
Here, in a nutshell, is the social dilemma I discovered while innocently sorting old toys: Standing on a corner begging for entitled handouts is viewed contemptuously, but so is a young adult walking around neighborhoods selling magazines no one seems to want. The truth is that we’re afraid of being scammed. Both situations make us feel uncomfortable, and the only difference is the quick mobility our cars provide as we keep driving. It’s harder to ignore the person when confronted in the comfort of our own home — or open garage.
My mothering instincts preach that life always leads back to our choices and that bad decisions often leave lasting consequences. I just wonder how long someone has to pay for their mistakes. Once again I think, “There but for the grace of God go I.”