It makes my skin crawl, when the ads come on television. I feel like a sinner in church, sweating in the back pew. They show children all covered in a thin layer of dirt standing in puddles of mud. They’re all photogenic, with big eyes that bare big tales of pain. Nobody smiles and the sun is always behind a thick wall of clouds. It feels like an ASPCA commercial. Adopt this dog. For just a dollar a day you can save his life. You’re so happy and warm and there are people and places and things that will never experience the simple joy of the things you have come to take for granted. It makes my stomach turn. They show a shot of an emaciated baby, a neglected dog, with sagging skin and thin bones, oversized skulls on skeletons. I’ve been hungry for an afternoon. They’ve been hungry for life.
Pay your penance sinner. Pay.
No one says it out loud but they say it with the sad music and the camera angles and the expressions on their faces and the flies around their noses and mouths.
The reason I don’t want to watch is because they’re right.
I threw out a carton of strawberries yesterday, a half a quart of milk today. I bought a blouse that didn’t fit me and it’s still sitting in the back of my closet right now, unreturned, unworn. When I get a house of my own I want HBO and Showtime and central air, three bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms and a dog from a breeder. I want to be a writer because it’s a cop out of a job. It’s what I’d normally do except with money involved. I want to be at least moderately wealthy because it’ll make my life so much easier. I’m sick and tired of worrying and I don’t see why I should have to worry about that when I’ll worry about everything else no matter what. I want to go to a grocery store and buy what I need with my good looks. I want my unusual knowledge of Allen Ginsberg poems and contemporary literature to mean something. It only means something here, in the place where trivia can make you fat and happy. I have hundreds and hundreds of books in my house that I’m dreadfully afraid to part with. Let’s call them all 12 dollars a piece on average. You do the math. People always say something about it and I cite the deep emotional connections I have to Jonathan Harker and Lolita and Chuck Palahniuk and the dead trees I have them trapped in. They let it go because it’s true.
And I look at the kids on the TV and they probably can’t read. Most of them will never see the inside of a school. The ones that do probably didn’t see a good one and won’t stay for long.
They go to the bathroom in open holes and when it rains it all goes to the same place. They’ll drink it later and another million will die of waterborne illness again this year.
We still have a Brita filter in our kitchen despite the fact we live in New York City, the municipality with the cleanest water in the country. It’s essentially bottled water. We ride the subway and complain about train delays. I’m on a diet because I have the financial ability to be either fat or skinny. I’m trying to figure out which one makes me happier. I have those options—like skipping school or not going to the dentist. It’s amazing. A couple next to me talks about their upcoming camping trip because it’s invigorating to sleep out in the open when you have mosquito repellent and a GPS and house to go back to at the end of it.
A white man with white hair and khaki pants kneels down next to a young boy with no parents and no money and younger siblings to take care of. With my help, the man tells me, he can be saved.
And I will give money. It may not be a dollar a day but I will give something. And they say that’s enough but it never feels like it because I have no reason to be sad and they have no reason to be happy and yet we both are. There’s a confusing and insurmountable problem and my thirty dollars can only help thirty children for thirty days and the rest will starve in their beds tonight. I want to give them a home but I don’t want them to fuck up my sheets. And plus I need that money to buy business apparel for that new job that does nothing and means nothing and amounts to nothing but a pay check. I want so much and they need so much, and when it comes down to pulling for it, whatever it is, I guess I have stronger arms.
In the long run I will never be able to give enough to equalize all I’ve held onto just to make myself feel satiated for a little bit. I get off the couch and get a soda because I’m selfish and I know it. I just hate being reminded of it.