For Whom the Bell Tolls

The blog has been a little overwhelmed lately with the Heifer Fundraiser. And while that’s a good thing, I thought I’d take a day’s break and post up something funny. Expect more news and prizes in a day or so….

This is a column I wrote for the College Survival Guide. I thought I’d re-post it now because it seems timely for several reasons….

I wrote this back when I was going to grad school in Washington State. When the end of that semester rolled around, I was overwhelmed. I ended up staying in Washington four extra days so I could finish a paper, and that meant that I missed my family Christmas. I felt awful about it. I still do.

But what’s funny is that my sister cut the column out of the Pointer (the college paper that originally printed the Survival Guide) and took it home for Christmas. Then, when everyone was gathered at home on Christmas eve, Jamie read the column for the family.

General agreement was that it was just as good as having me there. Probably even better in a lot of ways.

*****

Dear Pat,

Well. I see in the Pointer that if we have something to piss and moan about, we are supposed to let you know. So here we go.

The other day I was walking past the University Center. I was cold, but I knew I had to get to the next building for my next class. I was tired, but I knew I had to keep going and make it through the day. I was hungry, but I knew I would have to wait until I got home because I had no money.

While I was approaching the UC building (dreaming about what kind of food I wish I could go and buy) I hear a bell ringing and thought to myself, “No way, they don’t have a Salvation Army guy here at the college.” But sure enough, I got a little closer and I saw that friendly old guy waving his bell in front of his cute little collection pole.

I couldn’t help but glare at him in the way that said “I hate you” and I did, at that moment, hate that man, whoever he was. I glared at him the whole time until I was passed him. I made damn sure he saw me glaring too, I don’t care what he thought.

I am broke. Isn’t everyone here at the college????

I am a full time college student (who happens to live alone) and I work close to 40 hours per week at some cheesy restaurant trying to pay my bills and get an education. Rent, car payment, bills, you know what I mean. No matter what, I never can get ahead enough to even feel like I can treat myself to a nice hot meal.

All the money we students are spending here at college, not to mention the (expensive) parking meters, and yet the college has enough balls to set up a collection for more money. I don’t even have enough money to support myself. You stand here wanting us to help out the less fortunate when we are the less fortunate. We have nothing.

Well. If ya like my piss and moan story-that’s great. I feel confident that you know what I mean here and I hope you help in writing something up on this in your paper, maybe the bell guy would then go away.

Marie

Well Marie, I had a strong response to your letter. Actually, I had two responses, each of them utterly irreconcilable with the other. Luckily, due to an end-of-the-semester psychotic break, I have two fully formed personalities willing to give their opinions on the matter.

Nice Pat’s Response

I know for a fact that the Salvation Army guy isn’t a new thing. I used to see him there in front of the UC every year, and I’ll admit my reaction was somewhat similar to yours. I felt put-upon.

As my dad always said, you can’t get blood from a stone, or pity from a freshman during finals week. Why were they trying to milk me when I was already dry?

Truth is, even well-intentioned college students are usually strapped for cash, especially at the end of the semester. Because of that I always felt the bell ringer could have been put to better use somewhere else. In the mall. Outside Wal-Mart. On the square at bar-time. Onstage, next to that big pole at the New Yorker….

[editor’s note: The New Yorker is a local strip club. Or at least, that’s what I’ve heard.]

(This column’s illustration from the anthology)
Evil Pat’s Response

Marie, it’s not that you’re poor. It’s that you’ve has been trained to drool when the bell rings. What do I mean by that? I mean this: You’ve bought into the system, and the system has made you its bitch. Sure I feel sorry for you, but the fact remains that it’s your own damn fault.

I understand that you work 40 hours a week in addition to school. Fine, but don’t expect pity from me just because you follow some outmoded protestant work ethic.

“But I need the money!” I hear you cry.

Bullshit. You think you need the money. The truth is you spend your money on non-essential items. Just like everyone else who’s been inculcated into the three-step easy-bake American dream.

1) Work hard to get money.
2) Use money to buy things.
3) Use things to achieve happiness.

“But I don’t have things! I’m barely making it from bill to bill!”

Bullshit. I know that you’re living in some manner of extravagance because as an undergrad I made on average of 6000 dollars a year. And with that colossal sum I paid my tuition, had my share of hot meals, bought presents for my girlfriend, and still had enough to drop a couple of bucks in the bellringer’s bucket come Christmas time.

How did I achieve this miracle? Well, I never had a car for one thing. I survived nearly a decade in Stevens Point without one, walking to my various jobs and carrying my groceries home.

I never had the luxury of living alone either. Well….that’s not really true. For a year I lived in a one-room apartment with a bathroom down the hallway. It cost me $140 per month, everything included. My friends called it ‘The Pit.’ I stayed there because it was cheap, and that freed up my money for other things, like nudie magazines, leather pants, and grain alcohol.

Here is the unvarnished truth. If you’re poor and in college, you’re not really poor. You’re just indulging in certain luxuries beyond your means. However, there are people in the country that are genuinely poor. People who don’t have cars, or even nasty little one-room ‘pit’ apartments.

Most importantly, those people don’t have a support network of friends and family who are willing to help them out if something bad happens. What those people do have is The Salvation Army. They buy toys for poor-kids and shut-ins for chrissake. You can’t find any fault with an organization like that.

So pony up, pig-licker, and give some jingle to the bucketman.

*****

Years later, I know more than when I wrote this column, and because of that I can, actually find fault with an organization like th
e Salvation Army because I know they actively discriminate against gays. It’s sad, but I just can’t feel good about cheering them on anymore.

To an extent, any charity is better than no charity. But I believe that smart charity is the best charity of all….

More soon,

pat

This entry was posted in BJ Hiorns Art, College Survival Guide, Fanmail Q + A, My checkered pastBy Pat19 Responses

19 Comments

  1. Captain Joe
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 7:14 AM | Permalink

    I love the Survival Guide.So much.

  2. Murdoc
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 8:25 AM | Permalink

    My aunt did her undergrad work at UWSP a while back, where she became a fan of the Survival Guide. This fan-hood lead her to pick up a little known book by said column’s author, which she in turn gave as a birthday gift to her nephew.I too love the Survival Guide, for it lead me to The Name of the Wind.

  3. Ben
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 8:35 AM | Permalink

    I love it too. I shelled out 60 bucks to get one from one of those online collectable bookstores. It was worth every penny. I just wish Pat would publish some of the later columns in a new anthology. The book I have only goes up to Year 4. He wrote the column for 8 years, didn’t he?

  4. Anonymous
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 8:54 AM | Permalink

    We never had bell ringers on campus when i was in school, but they were like roaches climbing out of the walls in town. And it was a small town. There would usually be at least 10 set up within a mile and have strip of main street.

  5. Anonymous
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 4:00 PM | Permalink

    Bell ringers alway hang out in front of our Wal-mart. Unfortunately for them, I’m fully indoctrinated into the ‘cashless society’ idea; I’m not giving them my debit card, and I have no change.

  6. Anonymous
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 4:05 PM | Permalink

    i don’t think the psychotic break is unique to the pressure that comes from the end of the semester. I think it happened much earlier and just snaps awake when you’ve had too much ramen or too little…

  7. Steven Weyerts
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 5:01 PM | Permalink

    Finally. I’ve been dying here. Heifer’s great and all—wonderful thing you’re doing there—but the Survival Guide is great for <>me<>. It makes my mornings.Now, if you’ll excuse me. My Ramen’s over-boiling.

  8. Valentina
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 5:47 PM | Permalink

    It is true, Pat, they still discriminate against gays and even against other Christian religions (even though the Salvation Army maintains that they are strictly non-denominational). When I was homeless, sure, they helped me out but then they kicked me out after the staff eavesdropped on a conversation I had with a friend who was gay. It was the first time I ever, literally, slept out on the street. Mind you, it was on a Stevens Point street, but it was cold. Ever since that experience I’ve stopped donating to Salvation Army and instead donate food and money to the local Emergency Services — Operation Bootstrap. They’ve helped me many times while I recovered from hospital and didn’t have money to pay for food and lodging, much less my bills! There are so many other worthy causes to support that don’t discriminate out there, you know? But the bell ringers get the most attention. And sometimes a bell ringer job is the only one a homeless person staying at the Salvation Army Hope Center can get. So even though I don’t donate to SA, I at least tell the poor person ringing that bell in the freezing cold “Thank you.”BTW, I love the new fundraiser you got going! Good luck and hope you all reach your goals.

  9. Aaron LaPacz
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 9:29 PM | Permalink

    You know, Evil Pat’s response is really true. A lot of college students think they’re poor, but they’re really not. They’ve just tricked themselves into believing that certain luxuries like a car, internet and alcohol are essentials when they’re really not. Like Pat in the old days, I don’t own a car and that’s practically the only real exercise I get. Luckily my high metabolism offsets whatever exercise I don’t get, but that’s beside the point.Kudos, Pat, for giving us something to think about during the holiday season.

  10. Anonymous
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 10:22 PM | Permalink

    Poor? You don’t know poor!Sounds like everyone is playing the one up game.“I’ve never had a car and I did it so you don’t need a car and there for are not poor.” As Kvothe once said to Ben “Don’t try to boldface your way through this one. That’s a fallacy. You taught me that yourself.”-Plucky

  11. marky
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 10:56 PM | Permalink

    Ha! That reminded me of this Monty Python sketch. Graham Chapman: We were evicted from *our* hole in the ground; we had to go and live in a lake!Terry Gilliam: You were lucky to have a LAKE! There were a hundred and sixty of us living in a small shoebox in the middle of the road.Michael Pallin: Cardboard box?TG: Aye.MP: You were lucky. We lived for three months in a brown paper bag in a septic tank. We used to have to get up at six o’clock in the morning, clean the bag, eat a crust of stale bread, go to work down mill for fourteen hours a day week in-week out. When we got home, our Dad would thrash us to sleep with his belt!GC: Luxury. We used to have to get out of the lake at three o’clock in the morning, clean the lake, eat a handful of hot gravel, go to work at the mill every day for tuppence a month, come home, and Dad would beat us around the head and neck with a broken bottle, if we were LUCKY!TG: Well we had it tough. We used to have to get up out of the shoebox at twelve o’clock at night, and LICK the road clean with our tongues. We had half a handful of freezing cold gravel, worked twenty-four hours a day at the mill for fourpence every six years, and when we got home, our Dad would slice us in two with a bread knife.Eric Idle: Right. I had to get up in the morning at ten o’clock at night, half an hour before I went to bed, eat a lump of cold poison, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad would kill us, and dance about on our graves singing “Hallelujah.”MP:But you try and tell the young people today that… and they won’t believe ya’.ALL: Nope, nope..

  12. Anonymous
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 11:03 PM | Permalink

    I’ve talked with someone who had done the Christmas bell-ringer gig at shopping malls and in front of supermarkets. They said the folks driving the SUVs, with bags from fancy stores or a cart overflowing with groceries are not the ones who give, or maybe they toss in a few quarters. The guy who throws in a twenty generally looks a bit worn around the edges, like maybe they remember being broke and hungry not so long ago.

  13. Chrys
    Posted November 25, 2008 at 1:28 AM | Permalink

    The Salvation Army used to be one of my favorite charities – we always, and I mean always, gave them money. And then I realized that to them, the fact that I love who I love meant that I was not worth the dirt on the bottom of their shoes – so now we give to the local battered women’s shelter. They do a lot of good, I’m sure. But they do it with hate in their hearts.

  14. Tangent
    Posted November 25, 2008 at 12:37 PM | Permalink

    Wow… I didn’t know the salvation army disciminated. Murdoc, what an awesome story! That’s something for an author to be proud of. Ha! Way to keep your head on straight Marky. I love Monty Python. :)As for me, considering what’s been said I’m glad I live in a small town and attend a community college. I’ll probably never be anything “great”, but I’m happy. Odd to say but, I hope I’m never really wealthy. I always wanna be free. Cliché, I know, but its better than playing the game of “have(s) and have not(s)”.Last of all: Pat, Pat, Pat,… what a can of worms. Somehow though, I get the feeling your enjoying the show. I’m new to the blog but I read The Name of the Wind a while back and then again and then I finally bought it. I hope to donate money for some honeybees before Dec 11. Anyway, all the conversation is quite amusing and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.Cheers, Aryanne

  15. Anonymous
    Posted November 25, 2008 at 5:43 PM | Permalink

    And I suppose that because they “actively discriminate against gays” it wipes out all the good that they do?

  16. Rob
    Posted November 25, 2008 at 7:12 PM | Permalink

    As a wise person once said, “It takes only one ‘oops’ to wipe out a thousand ‘atta boys'” The Salvation Army takes money from the federal, state, and city governments. Uses that money to lobby government for discrimatory legislation, actively discriminates against gays and people of differing religios viewpoints. That’s a no-no in my book. These governments are not allowed by law to discriminate. Yet, they fund an organization that discriminates. Something has to give. Either stop discriminating or get off the government dole. Be a private org that lives in the dark ages of humanity, that fails to follow its own purported Christian ethics for all I care. But I’m done with supporting that org in any fashion.As an aside….Happy Thanksgiving, Pat. Great book!

  17. Kendall
    Posted November 26, 2008 at 4:48 AM | Permalink

    wAnonymous @ 11:43, just ‘cuz they do some good, it wipes out the evil they do?! (eyeroll)

  18. Anonymous
    Posted November 28, 2008 at 5:35 AM | Permalink

    Do you really think they’re evil Kendall?

  19. Kendall
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 11:24 PM | Permalink

    Anonymous missing the point….

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