My parents argued about money. The light bill, the gas bill, the rent. My mother spent nothing, but my father made nothing, He owned a carpet store in a multi ethnic, mostly Puerto Rican very poor neighborhood in Hartford Ct. He loved everyone and everyone loved him. My mother would take a bus from her second job as receptionist at Schultzes Beauty Salon and get to my father’s store at around six to find him sitting at his big oak desk smoking his Lucky Strikes. He would confess that he had sold the Grecian Key “from the looms of Mohawk” 100 percent wool, his most expensive rug in the place for below cost because “the couple was broke and adorable.” My poor mother had a Robin Hood on her hands except he was stealing from the poor (us) to give to the poorer (them).
My husband and I don’t argue about money. We don’t argue about which movies to go to what food to eat which friends to hang with.
We argue about the Ethicist from the New York Times magazine. This week the story began like this:
On public transportation a young man entered my train car and made an announcement requesting money to pay for medication he needed.. Three college–age men teamed up to contribute around $20.00. After the man left the car, a person sitting next to the trio told the men that the man was actually a scammer who used the pitch on a regular basis. Upon hearing this the men looked crestfallen. Did the onlooker have the right to devalue their charity? Should he have intervened while the money was being offered? Should he have stayed silent afterward?
I immediately say, "He never should have said a word."
Joel says, "Are you kidding me!!!! Of course he should have told them."
I said, "But why ruin the feeling the kids had of being generous?"
He says, "They have the right to know."
I say, "When would you have told them?"
"That’s a good question," my husband says. Thinking. "Well now you're talking confrontation," he says, "The guy could wield a knife or a gun or something, I guess I would tell them after."
Again, I repeat, "But why take away that good feeling of what they had just done?"
"Because," he says, "They won't make the same mistake next time."
Many years ago I was in New Haven on the way to the theatre with my son Josh. He was high school age. A young man came running up to us holding his broken glasses shaking and breathless. He said, "I was just mugged. They broke my glasses. They stole all my money. I need to get to Albany. I have no bus fare."
I said, "How much do you need?" and he said "forty-one dollars and 78 cents."
I immediately reached into my pocket and gave it to him. He thanked me profusely and I felt so lucky that I could help.
When we got to the play Josh said, "You know that was a scam, Mom."
I said, "No it wasn’t."
I kept thinking what if I had been scammed? At intermission I said even if it were a scam I’d rather be the one to fall for it than the one needing to do it. The play ended and as we were walking back to our car we saw the guy across the street holding his broken glasses talking to another couple.
"What did I tell you?" Josh said. I stood and waited for the guy to finish.
And then I crossed over and I said, "I just want you to know how hurt I feel and how wrong what you’re doing is."
He didn’t respond.
On the way home Josh said, "I hope you wont fall for stuff like that again."
And I said, "I hope I always fall for stuff like that again. And again."
" But mom," he said, "You just lost forty bucks."
And I said, "I didn’t lose anything. I didn’t lose my innocence which has no dollar value. I didn’t lose my optimism and I managed to not become a walking cynic. That guy wasn’t able to take the good feeling of giving away from me."
My husband is shaking his head now. Reminding me of that incident in new Haven.
And I am reiterating one more time I'd rather be scammed than walk around suspicious and wondering.
We can't agree on this one.
The Ethicist agreed with Joel.
Fine. Let the two of them wallow in their worry.
Me? I am grateful that we have the luxury of arguing about an article in the NY Times.
And not about the light bill.
Prompt # 4: What would you do in either one of these situations? Or write about the last time someone asked me for money.....
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