Monday, April 11, 2011

A deficit of empathy? Or a realization of encompassing greed?

Forgive me as I write and post this; It's mostly train-of-thought. I hope you can follow.

A left-wing blog submitted to multiple sources what I'm sure they felt was a heartfelt distress-cry over the national mood. The gist of it was that, as a country, our children are not in danger from our debt and deficit...but they are in danger from a "deficit of empathy." It was the bleeding-heart liberal rallying cry on full display. "You're meanies...and we're not." 

It made me think of a situation in my own life a few years back. I'd like to tell you about it. 

Times have certainly been lean, but we all struggle. Some are born very blessed, others rise to a certain level of comfort, many are happy with what they have and some are poor. I live in a poor neighborhood. One day, I was cleaning out my car and a neighbor lady came up to me. 

She said, "Honey, can you help me? My car isn't working and I can't get it fixed right now, but I really need to go to the store to get my medication. I'm diabetic. It's just the Walgreen's up the road."

I said, "Sure. Give me a minute to get my purse and I'll be out and take you to the store."

So, off we went to the Walgreen's. I waited outside and when she came out she said, "Would you mind taking me over to the payday loan place over there? And would it be ok to go to the grocery store? I haven't eaten and I'm a diabetic."

I took her to those places and waited outside the grocery store for her. She had a number of bottles of distilled water and some food and was carrying another bag with a couple of bottles as she exited the liquor entrance and walked to the car. I helped her put her groceries in the trunk. Then she wondered if I could swing by McDonald's so she could get a hamburger, since she hadn't eaten...and she was diabetic.

She was very, very thankful and repeated to me several times that people "around here are mean." She said she was going to move back to Chicago as soon as she could because, there, people would be having barbecues all out on the street and they'd invite you over and everything was free. People where I live, well, "they aren't nice people."

When we got home, I helped her into the house with her groceries and she asked me to sit a little and chat. Turns out that her mother, Miss Lily, lives in the same neighborhood about a block away. My neighbor, let's call her Janice ... would occasionally have Miss Lily over to her place since Janice had an air conditioner and Miss Lily didn't. Janice had followed Miss Lily back to the area from Chicago. There's family both places. Janice had certainly had her struggles in life and told me all about them. She also told me about how terrible everyone in the neighborhood is. She said she, "Keeps to herself and doesn't want anyone messing with her."

Janice told me about her favorite thing to do. She just LOVES the gambling boat. Now Janice is on Social Security Disability, but she goes to the boat at least three times a week. She asked if I wanted to go to the boat with her sometime. I said, "I hate the boat. It's just not my thing."

After a chat, I excused myself and went home. This was not the end of the story. Janice decided that I was now her best friend. She'd knock on my door every evening. Usually, she would come in and sit and bitch about everything for at least an hour.

Through her explanations of things in her l came to an internal understanding that this person wasn't really very nice. But could I shake her off? No.

It was hard to put my finger on the exact nature of Jan's character. She invited me over one day to meet her mother Miss Lily and we had a very nice conversation. Another night she knocked and asked me over to listen to some music. Blackstreet and Teddy Pendergrass and a litany of stories about the glories of Chicago.

She told me about a guy she met on the computer. They went on a date to the boat. She had been comped two free buffets, so they had dinner and went to do some gambling. He ran out of money and wanted to go home before she was ready. He insisted, so she told him he was going to go to a cash point and get out $20 to pay her for the buffet he ate or she was going to "bust him in his face." He, apparently, drove to the cash point.

It was hard to know what to make of her. One day we did some grilling and I provided the chicken wings and a salad. About a week later, she told me that she'd been to a church function and she won a whole freezer of steaks in the raffle. She wanted to have a barbeque with Miss Lily the next day. I asked if I could provide anything and she suggested some brats and some pork chops.

I showed up and gave her the brats and the pork chops and she said to me, "These are not the good brats. You better go back to the store and get some of those Johnsonville brats." I told her that I wasn't going back to the store, I'd had the brats I brought and they were pretty good. She was not happy. She had some chicken legs and we ate the pork chops, the brats and the chicken legs ... no steak left the freezer ... and, as I'd noticed was her tendency...she kept all the leftovers for herself...

Over the course of months, more of Jan's particular brand of swagger and aggressiveness made itself known. She'd show up wondering if I could spare a couple of eggs. I met her niece's kids and saw her scream at them. I witnessed her berating her mother...all while she consistently told me how bad people were and how unfair life was to her.

There was a seven-year old girl nearby who liked to see my pet cockatiel when I'd bring his cage outside and one day as Jan and I were talking, she walked by and waved and we exchanged hellos. Jan said, "She ain't nothing but a ho." I said, "She's SEVEN." Jan said, "She follows my little nephews all around. She's a ho. Momma will tell you she's a ho!"

One day Jan caught me going to the car to ask me, "Julie, I need a big favor...I am completely OUT of cigarettes...can you swing getting me a pack of menthols and I'll pay you back?" When I returned and knocked on her door to give her the menthols, she gave them to Miss Lily and Miss Lily said, "Finally!" Jan had a full pack of her own brand on the table by her chair.

At this same time, I had my OWN things to deal with. I had my own disabled mother living a couple of miles from me. But Jan quickly became a somewhat constant presence. Sometimes, I just didn't answer the knock at the door.

But she was diligent.

One day we had a historic storm here. They are called derechos and they do tons of damage. Virtually EVERYONE'S power was out, but mine stayed on. mom's was out and I needed to get her since it would be out for possibly a week. Some of the roads were impassible, but I got to her place and swung by the grocery store on the way back ... You couldn't buy anything from the freezers or cooling cases, but I had previously stocked up and I was able to get some dry goods and some fruit, pop ... snacks... the store was about to close down until the power was restored.

I got Mom back to my place, up the stairs and settled in. Then Jan knocked.

My mom was disabled with residual brain damage from post-operative trauma. She was able to function, pretty much, and lived in an assisted-living facility, but was in no mood for any company after what she saw as a very difficult day, having to pack up for a week...after losing power and having to evacuate her place because they had no generator...

She liked to visit my place, too ... but was most comfortable in her own armchair.

I went downstairs and explained to Jan that my mom was there and she didn't want company because she was in her nightgown. Jan asked me if I could spare a soda. I took down two and we sat outside my door talking a little about the storm. We did a little other chitchat and after a bit Jan said to me, "You know what I don't like about you?" I was taken a little aback...I said, "What?" She said, "You don't take ANYTHING seriously." She meant it...she seemed pissed. I said, "Well, it doesn't do any good to take everything TOO seriously." I just looked at her. She was honestly upset and scowling at me...aaand I'm thinking, "You're outside MY door ... drinking MY soda ... and you're ...." Then I did something I rarely do. I got pissed off. I said nothing.

Then Jan said to me, "You know what else I don't like about you?"

I stood up. I looked down at Jan and I raised my voice, "Whatever you don't like about me you can just take RIGHT BACK OVER there to your OWN house!"

And she did. And she hasn't darkened my door since. And guess what? She's still living there.

I guess Chicago didn't pan out for Jan. But don't pity her ... over where she lives she's got a washer and dryer the church gave her, a new computer with a big screen, a giant screen TV with premium cable and possibly...a freezer full of steaks.

I once told an abridged version of the story of Jan and me on a social site when making the point that sometimes the poor can take advantage and sometimes the poor can be greedy.

I was informed by a sanctimonious liberal that I lacked an understanding...a TRUE understanding of Jan's situation. The problem is, in fact, mine! See...Jan's POOR and if I underSTOOD the poor I'd understand that it's common for them to engage in hoarding and selfish behavior. They can't help it.

Oh. My bad.

See...I think that right now ... as a population ... we are kind of in the place I found myself with Jan. We can never do enough. There's always someone who needs something from us. It's our DUTY to be kind to our neighbors and if we get frustrated, well...dammit ... there's someone to tell you what your problem is.'s never the reality that's the issue. And we can always excuse away the reality as a pathology that you have misinterpreted anyway. It's always OUR fault.

Only, we're getting pissed off. We're a bit frustrated. We MIGHT have to raise our voices ... empathy be damned.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Make sure you get the sugar cookie recipe, Gil.

  3. Bien sur! Vous et moi, nous sommes parti sur le mauvais pied, peut etre que cela peut s'arranger.

  4. Je crois que vous ne comprendrez jamais. Nous avons des philosophies différentes.