Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Great Suburban Traditions No. 5 - Limited Guilt

Much of our time in suburbia is spent dealing with solicitations for money, either by post, telephone, or a personal knock on the door. It’s part of the tradition that the last two only call when you’re either dropping off for an afternoon nap (the interesting thing to do post-lunch in the 'burbs), or about to sit down to dinner, which may be irritating, but at least gives you an excuse to hang up or slam the door in their tired, hope-drained faces. I’ve never done it, but I bet that going door to door to raise cash or sell something is the quickest way to lose faith in the human race, aside from watching wrestling fans watch wrestling.

It’s logical that, in a country that mostly shuns the idea of the welfare state, the suburbs are targeted as a perceived area of surplus cash. And the great thing is, there are enough good causes to go around and make everyone feel that little bit less guilty about living in a privileged, if lifeless, neighbourhood.

The snag is, however, that once you’ve written a cheque to three worthy environmental causes, your name gets put on the Worthy Environmental Cause Suckers’ List. So rather than making you feel that you’ve done your bit, you just get more and more letters from organizations that desperately need your money NOW to stop a melting polar ice cap from flooding your front yard (at least it would wash away the dog crap – see Great Suburban Traditions No. 3). You give to a good cause, but end up feeling even guiltier because of all the other good causes you haven’t given to.

Even worse, once you’ve joined the Sierra Club, to quote a very worthy but particularly annoying cause, they sniff your cheque, sense there has to be more where that’s come from, and then bombard you with more money requests. Wait a minute, you planet-saving scum, I just sent you my annual membership, and now you want more already? Get off my case until next year and leave me alone. Don’t send me e-mails, and don’t send me the magazine - you’re wasting trees and I never read it anyway. It just makes me feel guilty about stuff like not turning off my computer at the wall every night and failing to cycle 3000 miles to my holiday destination.

Ultimately, though, your suburban sense of innate self-entitlement gets the better of you. There’s only so much room for guilt out here when there are lawns to be mowed and flat screen TVs to be installed. You decide that the best way of getting green is to grow your own vegetables, theoretically saving you a future trip to the supermarket. You also decide, “Screw them, I’m not going to give them anything if they keep asking me for more cash every second week anyway.” The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s fifth successive urgent appeal goes straight into the recycling bin, and I don’t even bother to open the envelope and take the free address labels out any more, though that’s mainly because I already have 600 Chesapeake Bay Foundation address labels, and I only ever post about three letters a year.

Paradoxically, the less you give, the fewer solicitations you receive. And as you hear no more appeals for help, you convince yourself that all must be right with the world, provided you don’t read the paper, turn on the news, pick up the phone, or answer the door. Not that anyone comes to the door since I dug that bear-pit in the front garden to catch the Girl Scout cookie sellers.


maryann. said...

A recent doorstep selling ploy in my part of England is some poor bloke from Poland or Kazakstan who thrusts a little card in your face as soon as you open the door saying something like "I am trying to make a living. Please buy something" and he opens a wee case containing dusters, wipes, brushes etc. I'm a sucker, I know, but I can't not buy something. Sometimes the young bloke (it's nearly always a bloke) says "I'm an ex-young offender, not proud of that but trying to go straight." and out comes the same wee case of dusters and household stuff. I only hope the little I buy does help.

Uncle Sticky said...

Stay-At-Home is right about getting on a do-gooders list. I once bought a potato peeler from one of the door step salesmen that Maryann refers to and for months afterwards was over-run with would be businessmen trying to flog their kitchen crap. Eventually it got to the point where one of them had a go at me for not buying and a potential 'chinning'* incident ensued.

* UK technical term for method of sorting out disputes with neighbours.