The Art of the Short, Short, Short Con ::: The Art of Being Taken In

Last night outside the pub after having said goodbye to the rest of our party, I was giving my friend Tanya a ride home. We walked down the street with the wind blowing wildly, the sky about to rain at any moment. Just as we were about to get in the car a lady a half a block down the street, who was closely followed by a man in a motorized wheelchair, yelled and asked me, “Sir, do you have a dollar bill I can have for four quarters?” I just happened to have a bunch of dollars to potentially do laundry some time this month (groan), and so reached for my wallet. She ran on ahead to us and made the transaction. Just as it was ending, and while the 4 quarters were still sitting stacked and heavy in my fingers, providing the satisfaction that a solid stack of coins is wont to provide, the man in the wheelchair rolled up and asked me, “Sir, do you have any spare change?” I was a bit at a loss as to what exactly to say to such blunt work at the con, so I just said, “Um, yeah, sure. Here you go.” A moment later and we were in the car laughing at the blantant lack of subtly of it all, with the image of the pair moving down the street, once again together, in the rearview mirror. Who knows, it was late, it was getting ready to rain, they may have thought, “What the heck, let’s give it a shot.”
The rest of the ride home was a discussion on the con-people we have known in and around St. Louis, and I am sure if you live here you could add many other examples to a discussioin, which while often humorous, of course also has a rather serious side to it. What does one do, after all, when someone asks you for money, particularly if you are a sensitive (neurotic?) sort who gets overly worried about doing the right thing, particularly when the $1 you give to a panhandler is exactly 1/51st of the amount that you and 4 friends just spent at a bar). I imagine, though that a consideration of this question is equally important for our more hardnosed counterparts who perhaps sometimes too easily brush off such requests, based on any number of rationales, and rarely do anything all.
First of all, I am challenged and encouraged by the fact that people who I admire a great deal, who live and work with the poor, are sometimes quite hardnosed themselves with panhandlers. I am not saying that they are necessarily hardnosed all the time or are necessarily right when they are, but it is a healthy antidote to either my literalist Jesus-said-to-give-to-whomever-asks-you mentality or to my bleeding-heart tendencies.
One approach to take, particularly in light of last night’s pub and panhandler proximity, might be that of St. C.S. “Jack” Lewis:
“Also memorable was Jack’s ‘enormous compassion and charity.’ Douglas recalls a story where Jack and a friend were walking to a meeting one day when they were approached by a beggar. The beggar asked them for some spare change whereupon Jack gave him everything he had. Once the beggar had gone, his friend said, ‘You shouldn’t have given that man all that money Jack, he’ll only spend it on drink.’ Jack’s reply – ‘Well, if I’d kept it, I would have only spent it on drink.'”
Now as much as I love Jack Lewis, this would hardly be a practical approach much less a very wise and loving one in all circumstances. Still, perhaps it is a helpful story in understanding the relative expenses for the things we hold important vis a vis those who have far less. Going farther down that road, especially considering those in other countries, might even provie a further corrective, one, though, that can sometimes become unhelpful if we allow it to paralyze us or make us dour misers who rigidly ensure that we spend money on nothing that is frivilous, because of course that slippery slope goes down a long way. There will always be someone who has less than you, who lives a simpler lifestyle, and who has relatively far less, no matter how much we might choose to renounce. Of course, this is too often used as an easy out, but nonetheless there is some truth here.
I suppose with panhandlers, the best approach I have found is to try to take them at their word. If they say they are hungry, take them to a restaurant and buy them something to eat and sit with them, if you have the time, and have a chat. If they need clothes, give them some of yours, if you can manage it. If they need a ride, buy them a bus fare or give them a ride if you deem it safe. These are challenging things to do, because we are giving something away which we value a great deal, our time, along with some of our resources, but also because such an approach asks for us to connect and engage, when it is far easier just to see “problem folk” coming ahead and cross the street (guilty as charged) or say “No, I can’t help you” and walk on (ditto) when “won’t” might be a truer verb.
Engaging people, and doing it sincerely and not simply just to get them off your back, also affords the person the opportunity to act with integrity and dignity. If they are really scamming you and are not interested in anything but cash for whatever they want it for, then it will become apparent very quickly. If they are hungry and are willing to go have a meal with you, well then you sometimes get to have the sort of conversation evangelism seminars strain to provide you techniques to achieve. Of course, I believe, that if you are genuinely offering someone a meal, it should not have to be a quid pro quo for them having to have to listen to you give them a gospel outline. Treat people conversationally like you would want to be treated and see where it goes.
Now, of course, these are just some thoughts which barely scratch the surface. There are other questions to ask. Does one do these things even for the fixture on your block who seems, on some level at least, to be managing quite well? Are we ever responsible to do anything more for people? If so, what? How do we manage it? How much is that to interrupt our lives?
Well, a rather humorous story turned out into a bit of a serious blog post. I wonder what would have asked the woman what she need a whole dollar for instead of change or only given the man $0.50 back 😉

20,000 Comes and Goes…

…that is 20,000 actuations of my shutter. At least that is what it is going by the numbering of my pictures. I am not sure whether pictures which are taken and immediately deleted on the camera are counted in the numbering or not. I am guessing not. At any rate, the old, or not so old, xti has rolled over 9999 twice as of yesterday. Calculating from May 23, 2007 that averages to….wait for it…43 pictures taken a day, which, when broken down like that, does not seem all that impressive after all. Still.

Chicago, Chicago

Some times when I have taken a lot of pictures of an event or trip, the burden of sorting through them and weeding and deleting gets to be burdensome to me, and so I put it off and put it off and put it off. You get the idea. So it is only now that I am posting pictures of a trip I took with several friends to the Windy City, home of the juggernaut Chicago Cubbies.
I don’t know, but Chicago might be a great place to live (I think I could even manage the brutal cold); I know it is a great place to visit. Our trip and our pictoral chronicling of it (yes, I did not take all the pictures) begins on the wee hours of Saturday morning driving through Illinois farmland… takes a stop at Crackea, er, Ikea…hits up the wonderful Clark Street…swings by a very lively Wrigleyville where the Cardinals were thumping the Cubs for a change (make sure to look for the classic shot where a Cubbie fan disrespects Nathan’s T-shirt)…meanders down the lakefront, where it is proven that it is good to have friends who are posers, er, who like to pose…then it is on to a hip coffee shop and pizza…then back to the lake front from a different perspective for more posing. Whew! Then to bed (check here for good hotel deals)…wake up…visit the amazing, big, shiny bean thingy and is amazing surroundings…zip up the Magnificent Mile…zip up the Hancock building (Hint: if you go up to the Signature Room and get an expensive drink or meal you can avoid the commercial elevator and still get a great view)…back down the Mile…drive aimlessly around the southside looking for Greek town (which happens to be right next to downtown…Opa!…more cornfields…then snoozing. Well, for some of us anyway. Some of us had to turn in grades the next day.
Well, enjoy! And, yes, this is after I deleted several hundred shots. Groan.
And, all kidding aside, I love it when friends graciously pose for me, either seriously or in frivolity..

Leakinesses

good will boating.JPG
“Leakinesses,” because there are several different types, even if Mr. Gates’ Word will not permit my pluralizing of it (and yet it does permit “pluralizing”). Still, there are several different sorts. There is the sort of leakiness which the man in the boat experiences in Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s brilliant movie Good Will Hunting. The man in the boat is actually only in a painting in the movie, a painting painted by Will’s psychologist, played by Robin Williams. Will analyses it like this, “Maybe you were in the middle of a storm, a big fuckin’ storm– the waves were crashing over the bow, the Goddamned mast was about to snap, and you were crying for the harbor. So you did what you had to do, to get out. Maybe you became a psychologist.” Will is deflecting attention and being flip and very soon our attention is rested away to the amazing way in which the psychologist threatens Will for insulting his beloved, deceased wife, and yet I think Will’s assessment of the painting and the use of the painting by the filmmakers itself is quite effective. In such situations, we feel desperate terror from the leakiness of our boats, the sheer inadequacy of our tiny vessels. The water slaps over the gunwales, seeps up darkly through the bottom of the boat, and we can begin to despair.
There is another sort of leakiness, though, too, a sort which may indeed occur concurrently with the first type in a sort of perfect storm, adding water to the pool in the bottom of the boat, but which may also happen in seemingly calm seas. This is the sort where the water leaks out and not in. And sometimes even up until the very moment before it begins to leak we are not aware that it will. Sometimes the leak is like a trickle; sometimes it is like a storm; sometimes it is like a force of nature, like water seeping up through the ground for days and days, and we don’t know why. Talking to a friend the other day, I said I think it is kind of like osmosis, though really I think it is more like water finding its proper level, equalizing its pressure with the outside. And it is a powerful force. It will have out, either now or later.
Now, sometimes I think this all happens simply for very prosaic reasons. If you are very, very, very tired, your chances of becoming weepy are much higher, unless perhaps if you are an Army Ranger, and I bet even they get leaky from time to time. For some of us who struggle with depression it can be fairly common. It can serve as a sort of rain gauge, helping us know when things are off kilter. When the water reaches a certain level, say when you have gotten leaky at a random commercial on television, well it may be time to pay more attention and tweak a couple things. And, yes, I did include such weepiness from depression in the “prosaic” category. That is not to say it is always prosaic, but it can be when you have recognized that you are prone to it, when you know it is a factor, when you can say to yourself “Right, right. That’s why that is happening.” And that realization is one that needs constant re-realizing, but, nonetheless, can really help each time.
There are other times, though, the when the leakiness comes and stays, for a day, a week, a month, or more, and then it is anything but prosaic. In these times, there seems to be some long term equalizing process that is going on, some long term balancing of pressures, concentrations. My point here is not to sink some wells and figure out what causes these occurrences. There can be so, so many things that do, things that are long term or newly felt. I guess what I am really interested in is what do we do collectively when one of us is so afflicted? What responsibility do we have to one another? And, yes, particularly how does this work out for single people, who, by necessity or choice, have become very good at containment, at creating secret drains to hide the run-off?
When the leakiness does make itself evident, when the systems fail and it comes pouring out, it seems that many of us are simply afraid of getting wet, afraid of either squarely facing the potential of the same catastrophe in ourselves or the prospect of facing sadness again and again and again, sometimes day after day after day. I fear sometimes we have taken to heart too well, and wrongly, the adage to not feed codependence. We are, after all, a pop psychologically literate population, and we know how to spin those adages to our advantage, to, frankly, sometimes let ourselves off the hook, to sometimes validate our selfishness and fear. And so we walk away. I don’t mean to discount the wisdom of truly not making folk dependent on one another, but I simply think that being on the fostering codependence end of the spectrum is generally not where most people are located.
I write this piece not really certain of the answers. I do believe that ultimately Proverbs 14:10 is true, at least, perhaps, until the coming of the New Earth (and then will we even remember sorrows?), that “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.” And yet that is not to say that we are not called to be with each other in the experiencing of each of these contrasting emotions. We are exactly called to do just that by Paul in Romans. And, yes, sometimes that mourning may take a long and tedious while.
When the leakiness of external storms occurs for a friend, it is fairly clear what one must do, get in and help bail out the water. It may be harder to see what one can do with the second form of leakiness, but at the very least we might strive to be better observers, askers, and, yes, when necessary, people who stick around. Ultimateyl, it is God who collects our tears, but maybe, just maybe, some times, perhaps in some seasons oftentimes, we might be called to hold the bottle.
IMG_9757small2.jpg

Leakinesses

good will boating.JPG
“Leakinesses,” because there are several different types, even if Mr. Gates’ Word will not permit my pluralizing of it (and yet it does permit “pluralizing”). Still, there are several different sorts. There is the sort of leakiness which the man in the boat experiences in Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s brilliant movie Good Will Hunting. The man in the boat is actually only in a painting in the movie, a painting painted by Will’s psychologist, played by Robin Williams. Will analyses it like this, “Maybe you were in the middle of a storm, a big fuckin’ storm– the waves were crashing over the bow, the Goddamned mast was about to snap, and you were crying for the harbor. So you did what you had to do, to get out. Maybe you became a psychologist.” Will is deflecting attention and being flip and very soon our attention is rested away to the amazing way in which the psychologist threatens Will for insulting his beloved, deceased wife, and yet I think Will’s assessment of the painting and the use of the painting by the filmmakers itself is quite effective. In such situations, we feel desperate terror from the leakiness of our boats, the sheer inadequacy of our tiny vessels. The water slaps over the gunwales, seeps up darkly through the bottom of the boat, and we can begin to despair.
There is another sort of leakiness, though, too, a sort which may indeed occur concurrently with the first type in a sort of perfect storm, adding water to the pool in the bottom of the boat, but which may also happen in seemingly calm seas. This is the sort where the water leaks out and not in. And sometimes even up until the very moment before it begins to leak we are not aware that it will. Sometimes the leak is like a trickle; sometimes it is like a storm; sometimes it is like a force of nature, like water seeping up through the ground for days and days, and we don’t know why. Talking to a friend the other day, I said I think it is kind of like osmosis, though really I think it is more like water finding its proper level, equalizing its pressure with the outside. And it is a powerful force. It will have out, either now or later.
Now, sometimes I think this all happens simply for very prosaic reasons. If you are very, very, very tired, your chances of becoming weepy are much higher, unless perhaps if you are an Army Ranger, and I bet even they get leaky from time to time. For some of us who struggle with depression it can be fairly common. It can serve as a sort of rain gauge, helping us know when things are off kilter. When the water reaches a certain level, say when you have gotten leaky at a random commercial on television, well it may be time to pay more attention and tweak a couple things. And, yes, I did include such weepiness from depression in the “prosaic” category. That is not to say it is always prosaic, but it can be when you have recognized that you are prone to it, when you know it is a factor, when you can say to yourself “Right, right. That’s why that is happening.” And that realization is one that needs constant re-realizing, but, nonetheless, can really help each time.
There are other times, though, the when the leakiness comes and stays, for a day, a week, a month, or more, and then it is anything but prosaic. In these times, there seems to be some long term equalizing process that is going on, some long term balancing of pressures, concentrations. My point here is not to sink some wells and figure out what causes these occurrences. There can be so, so many things that do, things that are long term or newly felt. I guess what I am really interested in is what do we do collectively when one of us is so afflicted? What responsibility do we have to one another? And, yes, particularly how does this work out for single people, who, by necessity or choice, have become very good at containment, at creating secret drains to hide the run-off?
When the leakiness does make itself evident, when the systems fail and it comes pouring out, it seems that many of us are simply afraid of getting wet, afraid of either squarely facing the potential of the same catastrophe in ourselves or the prospect of facing sadness again and again and again, sometimes day after day after day. I fear sometimes we have taken to heart too well, and wrongly, the adage to not feed codependence. We are, after all, a pop psychologically literate population, and we know how to spin those adages to our advantage, to, frankly, sometimes let ourselves off the hook, to sometimes validate our selfishness and fear. And so we walk away. I don’t mean to discount the wisdom of truly not making folk dependent on one another, but I simply think that being on the fostering codependence end of the spectrum is generally not where most people are located.
I write this piece not really certain of the answers. I do believe that ultimately Proverbs 14:10 is true, at least, perhaps, until the coming of the New Earth (and then will we even remember sorrows?), that “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.” And yet that is not to say that we are not called to be with each other in the experiencing of each of these contrasting emotions. We are exactly called to do just that by Paul in Romans. And, yes, sometimes that mourning may take a long and tedious while.
When the leakiness of external storms occurs for a friend, it is fairly clear what one must do, get in and help bail out the water. It may be harder to see what one can do with the second form of leakiness, but at the very least we might strive to be better observers, askers, and, yes, when necessary, people who stick around. Ultimateyl, it is God who collects our tears, but maybe, just maybe, some times, perhaps in some seasons oftentimes, we might be called to hold the bottle.
IMG_9757small2.jpg

Viva La Vida: How I Would Have Done It

I just saw the bombastic video for “Vida La Vida” by Coldplay and must say I am a bit disappointed, because I like the song a great deal and thought it deserved better. In fact, for the past month or so I have been constructing my own video for the song in my head (something I do quite often for a song I really love) and think, well, my version would have been miles better, even if it might have cost a touch more.
Music videos are tricky things. We live in a subtle age, in which art which is subtle seems to be the most valued. How this parses out in music videos is that it is generally uncool to simply represent the exact content of the words, especially in real time with the action immediately mirroring the last sung words (something the Chris Martin does in the new video quite often). Nevertheless, sometimes I think direct representations of some of the words in a song can be quite effective, particularly if these are nested in a story the video is telling.
First, for reference, here are the lyrics to “Viva La Vida:”
___________________
I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own
I used to roll the dice
Feel the fear in my enemy’s eyes
Listen as the crowd would sing:
“Now the old king is dead! Long live the king!”
One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt, pillars of sand
I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can not explain
Once you go there was never, never an honest word
That was when I ruled the world
It was the wicked and wild wind
Blew down the doors to let me in.
Shattered windows and the sound of drums
People could not believe what I’d become
Revolutionaries Wait
For my head on a silver plate
Just a puppet on a lonely string
Oh who would ever want to be king?
I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can not explain
I know Saint Peter won’t call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world
(Ooooh Oooh Oooh)
Hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can’t explain
I know Saint Peter will call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world
______________
First, in a nod to the end of the video for “Yellow” (a simply amazing video made more or less accidently) I would begin by having a blazing sun rising out of the sea, and then the camera would pan to the left during the opening music. The scene would be a hot Mediterranean morning with a hazy blue sea, and a dusty, sandy shoreline in the foreground. The shot would pan to a castle on the very edge of a cliff top, surrounded by a dusty, crowded city, but this would be seen from the distance. The camera would circle down to a hovel and shoot Martin in the hovel from the back, in silhouette against the sea, on a balcony, beginning to sing.
I am not sure of the sequence of these flashbacks but I would like these ones included.
Martin in a home with a regal interior with a Mediterranean (Greek, Turkish, or something like) woman. Some initial “in-loveness” scenes might be included, but there would need to be one scene of her trying to stop him from leaving as he dresses and arms himself, obviously on his way to start a revolution.
Somewhere we need a scene of the woman leaving, intercut with Martin becoming very severe and hard.
Then miscellaneous revolutionary, storming the castle scenes with Martin leading soldiers could be scene. Some of the other band mates can be his military cohorts. This might be followed by snippets of his reign of iron.
To depict his reign unraveling, a scene of him being chased through the castle by the band mates as former fellow soldiers, now revolutionaries would end with him being forced to and then off a precipice…you guessed it, into the sea. This could all happen during the Oooh, oooh, ooooh’s perhaps.
The flashback scenes would all be intercut with Martin as a humble cobbler, or whatever he is, wandering around the little hamlet where he lives, generally with obvious relief and joy on his face. Chris Marin can do some of his goofy dancing and gesturing here, but in a tasteful way. These sequences might also have a more serious scene where Martin walks sadly by a dusty church. At this point, perhaps the camera could zoom in on the face of a silent priest with piercing eyes who watches him as he walks by.
The video would end with the woman passing through the village (perhaps in a small entourage) and secretly recognizing him and staring at him and beginning to smile and him returning her gaze with serious/wistful/happy face. Then it would be back to the smile of the woman. You can’t go wrong ending a video with the smile of a beautiful woman. Perhaps she could be in front of the sea with the sun setting behind her (the castle and and city and village could all be on a narrow peninsula so it would make sense that the sun could rise and set in the same place) and we could pan out to the sun in a similar fashion to the way we began.
Well, that is what has been taking up some of my thought processes during my drives this month. The picture below taken in Chicago does not illustrate my video, but also reminded me of this song.
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