All the Small Things

I was thinking about homeless people the other day.

Well, actually, I guess I was thinking about happiness and how it is such a completely subjective term.

No, that’s not quite right, either. It started with me thinking about how much I love and need my pets.

Or was it how important the little things are? Yeah, I think that was the seed that grew into this tangled vine of a blog post. Let me see if I can straighten this mess out a bit…

All the Small Things

There are these seemingly insignificant joys we get out of life that, in truth, have remarkably significant effects on our lives – on the very way in which we perceive our short existences and on the methods by which we personally define terms such as “happiness” and “despair”.

I am by no means what contemporary First World society would call “affluent” and I definitely know what it’s like to make the precarious two-week leap from paycheck to paycheck wondering if this is the jump that will result in a desperate, flailing-arms plummet into a sea of high-interest debt. I’ve had to borrow large sums of money from my parents before – an act that carries with it no small amount pride-pummeling.

Through it all, there has always been this recurring obstacle. Every time the brass tacks are examined (which is pretty much a prerequisite when making financial agreements), it always comes out that there are expenses that could be cut, freeing up funds for other “more important” affairs. And while this makes perfect sense on paper, the spreadsheet unfortunately lacks a slot for “personal happiness”. There is no column designating the monetary benefits of stress relief, no header entitled “Net Morale Variable”.

This is because there is simply no number one can put on (for lack of a better term) The Small Things. We can try, but we’d fail. I challenge the highest IQs among my readers to tell me what the unconditional love of my dogs is worth compared to food, license and veterinary costs and how that then weighs against my relatively low annual health care costs. Don’t forget to factor in the fact that I’m bipolar and a recovering alcoholic!

It’s not just that factors such as animal companionship or treating yourself to a fancy cup of coffee have no inherent monetary figure associated with them; it’s also, ironically, that these Small Things have inherent value that fully surpasses measurement. The cup of coffee might have, on paper, been worth $5.13, but the resulting boost in personal mental health might be priceless, especially if the day happened to be a mountain of shit from the get-go.

What’s more, nothing can effectively lower the high inherent value of The Small Things – not race, not gender, not sexual orientation, not even social status…

People love to judge homeless guys, like, “If you give him money, he’s just gonna waste it. He’s gonna waste the money.”

“Well, he lives in a box! What do you want him to do with it? Save it up and buy a wall-unit? Take a little run to the store for a throw rug and a CD rack?”

– Greg Giraldo, as quoted from Søren Nystrøm Rasted's, Underwear Goes Inside the Pants

I’ve always had a soft spot for homeless people because I honestly think that being hungry is one of the worst forms of physical suffering there is. Being cold is a very close second. And we could get into all kinds of debate about whether transient beggars deserve the help of hard-working stiffs, but what I started thinking about as I stared at Marley and contemplated this notion of Small Things was that there was no way I could look down upon a homeless man for spending 20% of the sawbuck I just gave him on a bottle of Thunderbird. How could I? Just as that latte got the single mother of three through another hell-on-earth Tuesday, so too did the fruity nip of fortified wine help the hobo cope with another cold night in a tent. The five bucks spent on coffee wasn’t going to make a significant contribution to the poor woman’s insufficient rent money any more than the two bucks spent on a cheap bottle of booze was going to turn the transient’s life around if properly invested.

It’s the same whenever you see a homeless person with a dog. Often people will choose not to help such a person, reasoning that the unfortunate sot could first help himself by giving up the panting, four-legged expense. This does not take into account The Small Things. It fails to factor in the most complicated column on our spreadsheet.

Every one of us has The Small Things in our lives. They are, of course, completely different for each individual but the concept is universal. The Small Things are invaluable and it is silly to expect people, no matter their situation, to give them up.

Regardless of how hard things were to ever get for me, I would have Marley by my side until the natural end and the numbers added to the spreadsheet as a result will simply have to be factored into the budget because, well, it would be downright foolish to turn down such a phenomenal deal!

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About kirkstarr

I draw pictures for a living.
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15 Responses to All the Small Things

  1. Lauri says:

    Terrific and thought provoking as usual. I, too, reached the conclusion a few years ago that I don't care what a homeless person does with whatever money I give them. I freely give it and it is their decision what they do with it. I always um…"make a wish" or "say a prayer", however you want to express putting a blessing on whatever I give in the hopes it will do some sort of good for the person, in whatever way they need it. Ha, there is my Cult of Ambiguity shining through again!The TV show "Raines" was about a murdered homeless woman this week. The thing that jumped out at me was that her spirit wanted someone, anyone, to realize that homelessness is not always a "choice". She had mental/emotional illnesses and her son was all pissed that she had abandoned the family and was a crappy mom. Her spirit told Detective Raines that she appreciated him realizing that she had no control over her actions as far as being Ms. Perfect Mom and Wife went.It was a very well done tv show, I thought. I had never seen it before. Thanks for the thoughts, Kirk!

  2. bouche says:

    I have to admit that sometimes I avoid people who ask me for money and
    while I cross the street or weave away. On occasion, I try to help and
    when I can, I bring in things to donate and purchase some extra food
    for drives. I have had a few unpleasant experiences, like being approached by one
    homeless person in one location and getting mugged by that same
    homeless person in a different, less trafficked location. Supposedly,
    he had a gun but I wasn't in the mood to question it… I've Been
    followed, shouted at, and hearing the worst lies by those who aren't
    homeless but are junkies who — if I gave them the money, if they got
    what might be a 'final fix' the possibility of contributing to that
    would weigh on my conscience forever (a nip of booze is one thing, a
    narcotic 'fix'… no way). There are a few I would feel comfortable
    helping, when I will finally be able to but thanks to a bad
    experiences, I'm careful with who I choose to help (which kind of makes
    me feel guilty).

    So far as value of pets, I completely agree. I got my parakeet, Louie last summer and he's become my pal… Helping me eat toast, sharing some pineapple, whistling at each other and flying to visit and play with me a few times a day (when I'm not visiting him) — he's my hero. A few weeks ago, I rented Parrots of Telegraph Hill, a documentary of a poor man who fed and cataloged the habits of Parrots in the San Francisco for years. Well, one of the followers in the flock was a parakeet who looked just like Louie. He was small, blue, spunky, and it was assumed that he was once a pet that 'escaped' and befriended the only Blue Conure in the flock. When they noted he went missing, it upset me because it made me worry about my bird and if he escaped. There would be no remedy, no quick fix, no replacing, and no fee reimbursed equaling or surpassing his pet store value that would make me feel better. You should check out that documentary, it was great.

  3. Marie says:

    Good post kirk!!
    Living beyond our means is a way of life for most of us. Therefore, unforeseen circumstance or financial disaster could find any of us living the cardboard lifestyle.
    I will say what I have always said…before judging someone else, we must first walk their shoes.
    We live on a main highway and we get beggars passing through all the time. Hitch-hiking their way to the hope of a better life. Maybe trying to make their way to a family member, or a bigger city.
    I have given money, food, pet food, clothing, etc. What they do with it is their business. Once I give it, it is no longer mine to decide how it is used.

  4. Dancing Bear says:

    Kevin and I live across the street from the Ladies Mission. I have probably 30 or 40 people a day approach me and I am that two week jump from the cardboard condo myself much of the time. I tried for so long to give what I could but it was as though I had set myself up for failure. So, if I have bananas, iced tea when it's hot, even a cigarette then I share what I can and money for those who I see need it the most. We have a friend Nathan that is homeless. He stops many weekends to visit and sometimes eat and watch football. I wrote him a sign the other day with a marker on a cardboard box so he could stand by the freeway for money. He always stops for water and we have an extra pair of shoes on the front porch in case he needs them. He was adopted from Korea as a baby and his parents tossed him away when he was19. So he is different from most of the local folks. He is a target among even the other homeless. Anyhow, I wave, toss things out of the car when I have something, offer clothes when he looks a bit raggy and offer food at my table rather than just hand it as he walks by. Homeless people with pets usually make sure they are fed first and feed themselves second. They are very unsafe and sometimes that dog may save them from being victimized. Lately by snot nosed suburban kids more than other street people. A dog gives a kind of love that humans are incapable of. I thank God every day for each minute I have with mine. I love to garden and my dogs love that I love to garden. It is "our" thing to do together. I plant, they wag. I cut, they roll. I water, they run for the door thinking a bath can't be far away. Whatever or wherever we find comfort there is no price too great for it. I carry dog food in my truck because whenever I see stray dogs I have it to dump out the window and maybe give them just a moments peace and a little respite from having to forage for food. I am the one who benefits from it. I cry allot over suffering. I wish more than anything that I didn't see what I see each day but know that things just are what they are and I can only do what I can. I guess I just wish I could do more. I'm also an alcoholic and have been sober since before I met Kevin. Gulliver however remembers when daddy was a drunk. He is the only one in my life that does because none of them are here any longer. They haven't been for awhile. When I think about what he went through with me I know that whatever I do to comfort him is just payback for all he always has done for me. I lay on the floor every night and tell him what he means to me because I never know when the day will come that he doesn't wake up. I want to make sure that he knows and I am sure he does. He melts when I walk in the room. I melt when I do and see his eyes light up just by my presence. Yeah, I'll take the little things. They are worth so much more than I make. I couldn't buy them if I wanted to. Gully is my Marley. I know you know exactly how I feel and I am comforted by that.

  5. Karyn says:

    Well said. Good comments also.

  6. Potty Mouth says:

    I lived in B'ham Alabama for a while in a high rise in the middle of the southside bar and restaurant district. There was a methodist church just below me that had this giant fountain that made one of the points in 5 points. The homeless gathered there as teh church handed out condoms, toothbrushes and toiletries daily plus the restaurants brought in people that they could beg money from and food in dumpsters that they could rummage thru. Anyway, there weren't many aggressive homeless there. I made friends with a large group of them, about 8 in all and about 2 times a week, I would stop on my way home and grab enough food to feed everyone, then I would proceed down to the fountain and eat dinner with them. They were always appreciative and polite and I really enjoyed being able to do this for them. The city government and all of it's wisdom decided to hold an "Operation Cleanup" which basically consists of cleaning graffiti off of the walls and buying the homeless 1 way tickets to any other city they want to go to or locking them up – their choice. Well, all of my nice non-aggressive homeless friends were swept away in one weekend. 2 weeks later, an entirely new set of homeless had shown up but these guys were aggressive and one tried to rob me as I got out of my car. It took quick thinking to get out of this. I told him that I had some money in my golf bag and he let me open my trunk. I grabbed my 7 iron and swung around with it catching him across the chest. he stumbled back and advanced on me again. I swung again and he turned to run. It was a scary and close call in a back alley parking lot.Gotta love governmental intervention.

  7. I used to give to homeless people, but a couple of years ago in Toronto, the press found out about one so called homeless lady who made so much from it she was living in a half million dollar condo, and her husband would pick her up every night in a BMW, and she kept going back to the street corner. This one person ruined it for alot of genuine homeless people, I for one will no longer give money, but I have been known to buy them a McDeal so they can at least get something warm to eat.

  8. little miao says:

    Excellent, thought-provoking post. I think you're right, no monetary value can be assigned to many things, especially not the love given to us by other creatures. I, for one, would sooner go homeless myself than see my (parents') cats suffer.On the topic of homelessness, I rarely never give money. Whenever I go past someone, I feel ashamed for being so callous and I avoid making eye-contact at all costs. I want to give, I want to give everything I have, but I don't know how or where to draw the line, especially considering my precarious status as a grad student. How can I give them a handful of change, instead of everything I have on me? And what good will this do, since the societal problems behind these kinds of inequality will persist no matter what I do? So I'm paralyzed and give nothing, usually I don't carry cash anyway so that makes my dilemma a little easier.Growing up in China, there were beggars everywhere (some homeless, some not), malnourished children on the streets and war amputees sitting on the curb hour after hour, day after day, with signs propped in front of them asking for money and food. They've "cleaned up" the streets in Beijing and other major cities for the Olympics and tourism – begging is illegal and enforcement is now strict. But things haven't changed that much in outlying cities (like my old hometown in the Northeast). Last summer, I saw mothers sitting in front of supermarkets with their deformed, starving children on display, begging for money. Everyone ignored them, so I did too, even though I think I should give them money. I visited another city on the border with North Korea, and a group of street children, none older than six (they could have been older, since they were all malnourished), actually ganged up on me, begging and pulling on my bag. I was with 2 Chinese friends who insisted I give them nothing, and my friends practically dragged me running through the streets until we lost the children. The children were so persistent it was alarming. Last summer, I didn't see a single Chinese person give money to a beggar – they'd just go along the streets without pausing, chatting on their cellphones and idly swinging their brand name shopping bags. Certain things are so easy to ignore, people forget that if the economic winds shifted (esp. in China), it could just as easily be them dressed in rags and facing a daily struggle for bare survival.

  9. Kirk says:

    Wow, this is wonderful! Thanks, everyone, for really thinking about what I was trying to say and offering up such well-thought and personal responses.See, this is what I love about my VOX 'hood: my peeps are so freaking smart and make such awesome contributions that my posts are transformed from random babblings into deep, meaningful discourse. I can't ask for anything better than that!

  10. andrawr says:

    Nicely done, the quote is pretty good too.

  11. jaypo says:

    Great post, Kirk! Everyone's comments are excellent and thought provoking. Too tired to say anything that can add to it…

  12. bouche says:

    Heh — while I was at the bus stop this evening, I was leaning up against a tree a few feet away from a telephone booth. I smelled what I knew was 'someone' and saw a homeless guy and I didn't know if he was about to motion for my backpack or the telephone … he never said a word as was within inches of either or. I think he saw me 'seeing' him and turned towards the phone, I walked to a building and leaned against it… He just looked at the phone, picked up the receiver, checked the coin return and walked away. Enough time had passed between my realization, walking away, and his checking of the coin slot to make me wonder if he was thinking what I thought he might. I hate to say it, but it seemed a bit shady for me. Luckily, all I had back there were work papers — if he did sneak a peek, he would have been quite disappointed. My pockets were even more disappointing — only bus fare.

  13. Sol says:

    reading your clever, well-thought and well-written posts is one of those priceless little pleasures of life. so, thanx!

  14. verbminx says:

    When my family was super-broke a few years ago, I ate tortillas with cheese on them a lot, along with stuff like store brand Rice-A-Roni, and spent around $15/week on groceries. But the cats and my dog always had their premium food, & I bought it before I bought my own and then scraped out what I could.
    I think that once you get a pet, you have a lifelong responsibility to it, period. Taking care of my dog has occasionally been difficult, but I wouldn't surrender her unless I literally had no other option. I worry more about feeding her than I do about feeding myself.

  15. Red Pen says:

    There's not much to add after so many great comments. I'll just say this: another great post.

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