What happened to Benny? What happened to his heart? And the ideals he once pursued…

I feel like I should preface this post by saying that when I lived in Indianapolis, I was fairly  involved in things that involved caring for others. I was on the steering committee for the Indianapolis branch of Friends of St. Jude for almost two years, where I helped plan events to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. I raised more than $800 for the Humane Society shelter in a cute dog photo contest. I was an “Emerging Leader” donor with United Way of Central Indiana for almost two years, which means someone who donates $1000 or more each year. I also attended UWCI events (like Oscar night, three years in a row), and participated in the Day of Caring volunteer activity (to get involved in any of this in Indy, and I think you should, go to www.uwci.org). I briefly volunteered as a Big Sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana, but my Little was unable to continue with the program after a few months.

My point is, I care about other people and animals. But today, I had to help my own little animal. Last night, I was cleaning the apartment, and I accidentally left the cabinet under the kitchen sink open. In that cabinet, we had a huge soup can that was filled with various meat greases- bacon, hamburger, steak, etc. Pretty much, all grease that’s been left in the pan after all meats have been cooked. From the last five months. The can was filled almost to the top, and probably should have been thrown out a while ago. We weren’t saving it for any purpose; just using it so we wouldn’t clog our sink. We don’t have a dishwasher or a garbage disposal. No big deal.

Well, it became a big deal when I walked back into the kitchen and saw Tinker standing on his hind legs with his head in that can of grease, eating it. I yelled at him and scared him off, but he had already eaten a pretty significant amount for his size. I immediately gave him some of his diarrhea medicine (basically pepto bismol for dogs), but I could tell this wasn’t going to end well. He pretty much spent the evening throwing up a thick, yellow mucous, in quantities that I didn’t think were possible from a 9 lb dog. All over his bed, my couch slipcover, my throw blanket, and the towel I had laid out for him. Disgusting. (At least everything was washable. We just got back from the laundromat.)

This morning, he was still throwing up and wouldn’t eat his breakfast (rare for him), so I took him to the PetsMart Banfield- in Harlem. He’s been on the Banfield pet health plan, which is $30 a month and includes checkups, teeth cleaning, and shots. There’s also a discount for any additional tests (like X-rays, or in Tinker’s case today, blood work). I could have taken him to a different vet, but it would have cost a lot more.

So, we took a $35 car ride to Harlem (I wasn’t going to do 2 subway transfers with a vomiting dog..). He had a checkup and some blood work done to rule out pancreatitis. He has some prescription, bland canned food (which he’s loving) that he’ll be eating for the next three days. I still had to spend about $60 for the blood work and the prescription food. He’s doing better now, but definitely laying low. Luckily, I was able to work from home this afternoon so I could check up on him and still get things done.

Here’s what he looks like right now. Pathetic.

(In case anyone’s wondering where Andy was during all this, he stayed up late cleaning up vomit several times, and this morning he was at home waiting for the landlord to fix our electricity in our bathroom).

The PetSmart in Harlem just opened in July. It’s in a nice shopping center with a SuperTarget, Costco, Best Buy, a few other stores, and a big parking garage. It’s all stores that most middle class people in the rest of the country shop at pretty regularly. However, it’s planted right in the middle of East Harlem, in an area that most middle class people would not feel comfortable shopping in. It’s a 10 minute walk to this shopping center from the subway, and that walk involves going through an area that most people I know would classify as “shady.”

I’ve heard that the shopping center is an attempt to gentrify the area. Target has donated a lot to build parks in the area and generally clean it up. It’s the only Target in Manhattan, so naturally they have reason to want to get people to go there.

As I was leaving the store, wearing my nice green tailored coat, carrying a Coach purse and a fancy looking dog carrying case with a purebred pomeranian in it, a woman approached me. She first asked me for money, and when I said I didn’t have any cash (I did…), she asked if I could go to the corner store across the street and buy some baby formula for her kid. I asked what the kid’s name was, and she said Jason. I asked how much the formula was, and she said $2.98. Now, I had just spent $3.50 getting a salted caramel hot chocolate at Starbucks, and I think a felt a little guilty about that when there are little Harlem babies who could eat a day’s worth of food for that same amount. So I agreed to buy the formula.

We got in line at the crowded bodega, and she turned to me and said, “I’m going to go ahead and get two since they’re so cheap. Also, can I get a banana?” I told her that I would buy her one can, and no banana. When the guy behind the counter handed us the can of formula, he said it would be $7.98. At this point, I really felt like I was being swindled. They lady did look slightly too old to have an infant, but I’m not that great at guessing peoples’ ages, so it was hard to tell. I told her I wasn’t buying it because she had said it would be half that cost. I only had a $20 bill and about 45 cents, so I gave her the change and walked to the subway.

This whole incident really bothered me. After some comments on my Facebook status about it from a nurse friend, I’m fairly sure the formula she wanted wasn’t for a baby. Excessive drug use can mess up someone’s body to a point where it can’t digest normal food, so that’s likely why she wanted the formula. And yet, at the time, she still managed to make me feel horribly guilty for balking over spending $7.98. Maybe it was because I had just spent close to $100 on taking care of my DOG’s health.

I hate that as a a clean-cut, young, Caucasian girl, I’m such a target for people like this. Yes, I probably looked “rich” compared to most of the people hanging out in that area. I don’t consider myself “rich.” I live comfortably, and I’m able to support two adults and a dog in New York City (well, Queens, but still, a rent comma).  According to stats in Wikipedia,

“New York City has a high degree of income disparity. In 2005 the median household income in the wealthiest census tract was $188,697, while in the poorest it was $9,320.”

I’m somewhere in the middle, but definitely closer to the lower end. Right now, as much as I’d like to, I don’t have capacity to financially support others outside of my current chosen family here. New Yorkers are exposed to a constant stream of people asking for money or food. If I’m coming home from a restaurant and have leftovers, I’ll sometimes offer them up if asked for food, but I generally ignore people when they ask for money, especially on the subway. Most people do.

I don’t know what the best solution is for helping these people, and I’m feeling conflicted with whether or not I should care. Obviously there’s a problem, but who’s responsible for solving it? It’s tough for me to find the balance between being compassionate and not getting swindled, and I’m not sure how to do it. For now, I’m going to stick with Miss Manners’ recommendation– a regretful look and a simple, “Sorry.”


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3 Responses to What happened to Benny? What happened to his heart? And the ideals he once pursued…

  1. Marianne says:

    I think we all toss these concepts around in our hearts and heads,Kristin. Where I live, I am approached daily also. YOU are and always have been, kind, caring, generous and have a social conscience. Traits I admire and love about you.

    A few points…

    By world standards, you are rich. You are educated, employed, housed and loved and live in a country of opportunity and freedom. In this week of Thanksgiving you have much to be thankful for as we all do.

    To me charity does begin at home. You take excellent care of your family and should feel quite proud of that. Beyond that you have extended family, neighbors and community that you actually do know where the “help” goes. So, if you feel the need to contribute to the “greater good” you can do so and still feel comfortable that your help is being put to good use.

    I have reconciled myself to the concept that when I extend help to “whoever” or “whatever” person or organization it is coming from the love in my heart which is a pure form of giving. What they do with it is a factor of what is in their heart and I have no control over that. But, to me, my act of giving is about what happens inside my heart and what is done with that gift does not diminish the love I gave it with.

    Some of the best acts of “giving” are not in the form of money. A smile, encouraging word, acknowledgment, time, care can be much more valuable to the receiver and may often be the catalyst to help them solve their own problems.

    FYI, I personally choose not to wear labels or anything that “looks” like I might have something when traveling or visiting areas that I don’t know or feel safe in. From your post, you clearly see how you could be identified as a “target” (not the store) for theft or otherwise. Next visit maybe dress down a bit. I am thinking my holiday gift to you will be some self defense courses. Moms worry…not about poor people asking for help, but about those that might be more interested in hurting you. Not the NY experience you ever want to have.

    Much Love, Mom

  2. Kristin says:

    Thanks. I do try to give the non-monetary gifts as much as I can. I’m polite to everyone I interact with, and when tourists ask me for directions on the subway, I help them.

    I don’t feel like I’m flaunting anything with how I dress. While my purse is a designer brand, it’s not one that flaunts the logo everywhere. Someone would have to look at it up close to know what it is. And the thing is, the way I looked that day was pretty typical for a girl my age in the city this time of year (but I was wearing sneakers and straight leg jeans instead of boots and skinny jeans or leggings). In any given day, I can find myself in lots of different parts of Manhattan. If I had been dressed “down” in the neighborhood where I work, I would have looked like a tourist and thus become a target again. I think it’s more of a matter of being more wary of people. Maybe I’ll start carrying brochures for social agencies where people can get help and handing out that instead.

    Honestly, I haven’t felt like my safety’s been threatened any worse than it was in Indy. I definitely live in a safer area than I lived in at my last apartment there (although, I could go to the store in my car rather than having to walk or take public transit, so I didn’t have to interact with anyone else). The areas I spend the most time in for home, work, and ballet are actually pretty nice, and places that “riffraff” don’t even bother with for the most part.

    Next week, I have to take Tinker back for a followup (on Black Friday, no less- at least it’s at 6 pm when the crazy shoppers will be at home passed out!). I’ll definitely be more alert.

  3. Pingback: The one where Tinker is Ten Years Old | The Settlers Give it Passion

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