The other evening as I exited my place of work, a man said, ‘Excuse me, miss,’ and asked me for the amount of thirteen dollars, which he told me he needed for his night’s accommodation. After listening to his story, I gave him the sum requested. I did so because, first, his honest face made me think it was conceivable he wasn’t merely ‘grifting’ me; and, second, the explanation he gave me about why he needed the money was a refreshing change from the Sydney junkie’s shakily voiced plea of ‘My mum’s sick and I need to get the train to Newcastle’ and the Melbourne junkie’s shakily voiced plea of ‘My mum’s sick and I need to get the train to Geelong’. Ultimately, though, I gave this man money less because it would make me feel good about myself, than because I would possibly feel commensurately worse about myself if I didn’t.
Therefore, the heart of the matter is that I handed over the notes because it was the easiest thing for me to do; I could do it and presumably never see him again, and also not have to worry that I’d condemned him to sleeping on the streets, when, let’s face it, nobody could call July nights in Melbourne balmy. By opening my wallet, our business was done and dusted. In contrast, I am sorry to say, there are many times when I don’t buy a copy of The Big Issue for the sole reason that I just can’t stand the thought of there being anything else lined up for me to read. While The Big Issue is an excellent publication, there have been a lot of occasions when its vendors would have had a better chance with me were they peddling giant foam shamrocks. Thus, we have the sad situation that a man who was perhaps spinning me a cock and bull story did better out of me than does the average friendly, hardworking Big Issue vendor, because me giving the man in question money wouldn’t lead to me having to exert myself any further with the written word. Naturally, none of the above means that I didn’t still feel a stab of regret at having to pay thirteen bucks to gain peace of mind. I can assure you that even as I handed over the cash, I was having several thoughts along the lines of ‘If only I hadn’t stopped to read the comments under that article about online dating agencies for domestic animals, I would have avoided this encounter’ and ‘I could have spent that money on a Logan’s Run DVD’.
The other factor was that because this exchange happened outside my office, part of me was hoping that a coworker might see me engaged in a generous act. This then got me thinking of other means I’ve employed to feel and look like a terrific person. The surefire one has always been making sure that, as much as possible, I have the correct pronunciation of movie people’s names at the tip of my tongue. There were countless terrible things about living before the Internet, such as having to wait passively to read, for example, the latest thoughts of Green from Scritti Politti, but one of the main ones was not having a ready tool to check how to pronounce the names of the famous. Thus, in the old days, I would read articles about certain Hollywood individuals and keep careful mental notes of how to pronounce, for example, ‘Joaquin’, ‘Coppola’, ‘Liotta’ (as an aside, Liotta has allegedly admitted to doing Operation Dumbo Drop only for the money) and ‘Basinger’, and then pray that these people would come up in conversation. The ultimate triumph for me in this area is witnessing even the professionals falter in a way that I have tried never to do, like the night, long, long ago, that I heard Margaret Pomeranz make the fatal error of pronouncing ‘Joaquin’ the way in which it is spelled.
Another tool I have employed to feel like a terrific person is taking time out to read glowing feedback about myself on eBay, of which I was once a very enthusiastic customer. I remember that in one particular buying frenzy I spent a week on tenterhooks while bidding for a box of cocktail forks; a lavish black and white booklet celebrating the marriage of Princess Margaret to Lord Snowdon; and ‘Starstrips’, which were the product of once mighty Sydney radio station 2SM. The Starstrips are black and yellow pieces of cardboard dated 1977, and I believe the concept behind them was to peel off a strip to reveal the name of a star – such as, I assume, the great Pussyfoot or greater Noosha Fox – and somehow win a prize: of a cassette deck or some transfers, no doubt. (Incidentally, the only person I’ve ever known who won a prize on the radio did indeed do so by listening to 2SM, but the prize was tickets to and the soundtrack album from Australian film The Chain Reaction, which had as its subject a leak at a nuclear storage waste facility.) As, however, I am keen to keep the Starstrips in their original state I don’t really have any idea what happens when you begin peeling bits of them off. Anyhow, whenever I made such a purchase, I was careful to pay my money promptly, so causing my eBay identity to have a run of positive feedback, which I would then consult on a daily basis. Unfortunately, though, I’ve now forgotten my password for PayPal, so eBay is as lost to me as those marvellous wrappers they used to have on Club Chocolate that featured the silhouette of a sophisticated gent sitting in a chair.
My final way to make myself feel like a terrific person and to look like one in the eyes of the world, is to have others witness me cry at something it is highly acceptable to be seen crying at. This would be, for example, at a classy piece of music, rather than at the skilful employment of James Taylor’s ‘Fire and Rain’ on the Dawson’s Creek soundtrack after Dawson’s dad died in a head-on crash having, from memory, bent to retrieve a scoop of ice-cream that had fallen off a cone; or when Jimmy Osmond, while playing a young man who was, as they used to say, ‘simple’, sang ‘Penny Lane’ in the television series of Fame. If I’m with someone I want to impress and I can’t manage actually ostentatiously to cry at what’s going on in front of me, I’ll have recourse to thinking about something that really did make me cry, such as when they played ‘Fire and Rain’ in Dawson’s Creek or when Jimmy Osmond sang ‘Penny Lane’ in the television series of Fame.
It is certainly not out of the question that the man I gave the thirteen dollars to was just ripping me off, and took my thirteen dollars and went and drank imported beer. Luckily, I’ll never know because, even though, yes, I could afford to give him the money, so who cares really, if I found out he had been spinning me a web of deceit, I would feel like a chump. Not as much of a chump, on the other hand, as I feel at having forgotten my PayPal password.