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The Giving Season

The Giving Season

Note:  This was originally published in the Hypocrite Reader in September 2014.

Every morning Wentworth stakes out a corner of the Square because that’s where the out-of-towners congregate. He knows their patterns. With his pressed suit and slicked-back hair, clean shave and faint perfume, he gives these people exactly what they expect to see on the streets.

They idle by, each with a purpose. Men hunched over in dark jackets float around him like silent shadows on the wall. A woman in drooping rags pretends not to notice him there with his hand outstretched. His plight is obvious but they move on.

He tries different techniques. He holds a wad of cash in his hand, to show his generosity. He tries stacking the bills neatly in piles around his feet. He puts the big bills on top so they beg to be taken. He puts the small bills on top so he looks less desperate.

One time a child notices him presenting a solitary, crisp banknote in his manicured fingers. The child stops and outstretches his dirtier fingers to take what he desires. But his mother yanks him away with a rebuke. (At least Wentworth assumes it is his mother. He can never tell with these people.) They roll off with their shopping cart piled high with bags and old clothes and sandals. She steels her eyes forward.

The days go on, and sometimes Wentworth has some luck. Occasionally, he manages to give away some cash to a caring passerby or an older fellow. His clothes need constant replacement. His fingernails need constant trimming. Once in a while he does not go to the Square at all, but sits and weeps in the corner of his house, clutching his last remaining suitcase full of money. Every day the suitcase becomes lighter. Every day he walks a little quicker.

One winter evening he rests on a bench near his usual spot on the Square, and buttons his fur coat to the neck. The winds are whistling Christmas music. It is the giving season. He cannot remember the year.

The sound of rustling steps in snowdust catches his attention. He looks up to see several boys, seemingly restless with the slog of adolescence, approach him across the whitewashed plain. They drag heavy bags. Scraps of cloth hanging from their pants tickle the ground as they quickstep over. Tappity-tap, quicker and quicker, the soles of their shoes scrape the street as they snicker.

He has heard of such attacks, but they have never happened to him.

He doubles over as the first boy kicks him in the side. The other boys take turns on his stomach, his legs, his face. His nose is dripping blood on his pressed white shirt. His tie is ripped. His feet are swelling. One of the boys has a backpack that he has to lift with both hands as he brings it down onto Wentworth’s prostrate body. The bag bursts at the seams. The last thing Wentworth remembers is a shower of green money raining onto him. His eyes swell shut as the boys stuff the useless cash in his pockets, his pants, his collar, his mouth.

The next morning, he is awoken by the bells of the holiday carolers as they make their way ghostlike across the Square. They are speaking in hushed and excited tones. Wentworth peers through swollen slits at his pristine body ruined, his black and white turned green and dirty. He struggles to right himself as a wave of out-of-towners crests the hill and bustles past. They notice him but quickly avert their gaze and move on. He collects handfuls of green bills from his body. Some are covered in vomit. He stacks them all in neat piles. Then he exhales and pushes himself up on the icy ground. His corner on the Square beckons him only a few steps away.

He knows now he needs to start again. He needs a new suit and haircut and manicure and shower. He needs to put the money through the wash so it comes out clean. It will take a lot more work than before. But his corner is waiting. He will be back. After all, it is the giving season.

September 18, 2014Comments are DisabledRead More


I got a haircut yesterday, and it would seem to be just a normal everyday experience, except while I was sitting there staring at myself in the mirror it occurred to me that this was one of the few moments in my daily life where I am not being bombarded with visual or audio stimulation.

When I wake up, the first thing I do is check my email and morning social networks. When I am on the bus to work, I either read a book or play chess online. I spend a good ten hours out of each day on the computer. When I take a break, I am listening to or playing music. On weekends, if I am not socializing with friends I am talking on the phone or watching TV. When I eat, I usually do it in combination with some social activity or watching something or listening. Even when I am going to sleep, I often have a podcast playing in the background. In other words, there is hardly a single moment in my day where I am sitting silently, completely unconnected to any external stimuli. My haircut may be the only time that happens. This seems sad to me, and I’m sure it’s not a unique experience.

What has happened to me that I cannot abide any time by myself with my own thoughts? I don’t have anything particularly scary to think about, or anything that would prevent me from being introspective. I don’t usually feel lonely or depressed. Yet I always feel the need to be constantly engaged with, and when I am too lazy to do the engagement myself, I turn on a machine to do the engaging for me. Internet browsing and television are probably the worst distractions, because they provide no level of intellectual engagement. At least when reading, I am forced to exchange ideas with the author. Chess is a good game because it forces strategic thinking. And I enjoy educational podcasts like RadioLab and EconTalk. But even with educational engagements, I still am being led to think by something else, and don’t have the time to do my own thinking.

There was something about the experience of the haircut that made me think about all the thinking I *can’t* do when everything else is on.

When I was in middle school, I had a teacher that would take us outside for “sky writing,” where we were obligated to stare at the sky for 5 minutes and then write. It worked very well for me, as it gave me an opportunity to clear my head of distractions and even to change perspective for a second, to realize the vastness of the universe outside of my self. Perhaps it would benefit me to take 5-10 minutes each day to just meditate in the absence of distraction.

Or, I can just get haircuts more often.

February 24, 2013Comments are DisabledRead More