My name is Self-Appointed Expert, and this is my blog. It is part memoir, mostly fiction, and above all just trying to be funny. Some of is based on stuff that happened to me, some is based on stuff that happened to people I know, and a good deal is just entirely made up. So, if you find yourself offended, just remember - it's a joke. When you give me that look, it's a joke. Consider it my homage to the Secret Life of Walter Mitty, A Million Little Pieces, John Hodgman, and Christopher Guest.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

*Hitler, after all, was a vegetarian.

I caught myself having a long conversation tonight about a mutual friend. It was 23 minutes of detailed, biting, and intensely mean-spirited analysis of the friend's personality attributes. Not just his flaws, mind you, but his attributes in general. I mocked the things about him that he probably liked the most about himself. In fact, I probably mocked those bits the most. In the end, I concluded two things: my friend is a loser, and I am a bitch. But I wondered: am I also a bad person? I'll try to answer that question with a story.

This weekend I was waiting for a train at the subway and a man walked up to me and my friend. He started going into some story about how he had some $3 metro card that he couldn't use, and he needed us to trade him $1.75 in cash for it, and how he'd talked to like 4 or 5 other people and they'd all blown him off. What did I do? Blew him off. "Sorry," I said through pursed lips. "Don't have any cash." And this wasn't the first time that I'd done something like this. One time in Boston a lady came up to my mother and I and then launched into a detailed story about how she had been robbed, and she was stranded, and she needed a specific amount of money to take the commuter rail, and how she had no one to call and so we had to help her. "Sorry," I said. "No cash."

My personal rule of thumb is that I don't open my wallet for anyone who approaches me on the street. I know that sounds harsh - but it actually goes double for people who approach me with very detailed reasons for why they need my help. "I just got a call from my wife and she's in the hospital, but I took her car to work this morning so I don't have my cellphone, but then I got in an accident and now the car doesn't work, and I really need cab fare, and I live around the corner and I could FedEx you a check tomorrow, if you please just give me money now." Frankly, I don't buy it. For the lady in the subway, why not call the police and have them let you use their phone to call your friends? For the dude on the street, do you really think I'm giving you my cash AND my home address? For the man in the subway, if you really have a subway card worth three dollars, surely a Metro employee will lend you a hand to get you where you need to go. The way I see it, there's never any reason in the world that a normal person needs to get cash from another normal person off the street. (Unless, maybe, they're in a foreign country and they don't know how to call the police after they've been mugged of every cent (riyal, pound, etc.) to their name.) (And in that case I probably couldn't understand what they were asking me to do in the first place. El walleto? I have no idea what that means.)

My theory is that in cases like these, involving people who claim to be normal people who aren't beggers or con artists, but just need money now because they're in a crisis, the more detailed your story is, the more likely it is to be fake. And every time I've met a person in such a crisis, they've been fucking James Joyce. So, my new rule, a corollary to the wallet thing, is that unless I can see you bleeding, I'm not helping you. And even then, the most I'll do is plug your wounds and call for help. The wallet will remain firmly in tow.

So my question is this: Does this make me a bad person, or a smart person? I don't look at the homeless with disdain. I always say thank you to the guy at CVS who opens the door for me. I smile at the guy asking me for change outside of the liquor store opposite North Hall. I say good morning to the lady giving out newspapers at the subway. I always say "thanks - and have a nice day!" to the random passers-by (homeless or not, male or not) who tell me in various iterations that I'm beautiful or that they'd like to have sex with me. Granted, I never give them change or buy them booze or take their newspapers or date them, but I'm nice about it. But I wonder, can you be nice and still be a bad person?* I'm just not sure. I hope not, or at least, I hope I'm both nice and not bad.

Actually, I take that back. It's more than possible to be nice and a bad person. Bad, as in, a bad quality person. A person who won't say anything mean about another person, who won't say anything interesting at all, really, in the interest of being nice or being polite. A person, who in other words, sucks the personality and the soul out of you with every breath they steal from their more interesting and worthwhile co-inhabitors of the earth.

So yeah, if that's the standard, call me a baddie. I may be going to hell, but at least I won't be sucking the personality out of everyone around me on my way down.


Blogger Joe said...

Dammit, I was hoping you'd date me if I gave you a newspaper. Or at least buy me booze.

11:59 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

These things never change.30 years ago I heard a sob story from a guy in Grand Central and gave him a dollar.He said he had to get to Boston and had run out of money.After I went about my business I returned to the station and he was still there.After watching hiom for an hour I walked by him again.Hearing the same story I had heard hours before I reminded him of my previuos generosity.Also telling him how much I had just seen him getting.More than the cost of a ticket to Bosten.(you do that back than)
Keep up your blog.

9:58 AM


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