Saturday, December 21, 2013

The night before I left Lafayette I went to the grocery store to pick up some cat litter. I also got some beer, cat food, a cylinder of oatmeal, and three frozen pizzas. The cashier asked me if I babied my cat, and I said not really, and mumbled something about him sleeping a lot. I really baby mine, she smiled and said as she put my groceries into plastic bags. I put the bags into the cart and reached back to get the cat litter which was still sitting on the conveyor belt. It was heavy, and I quietly grunted as the lady behind me in line stood watching. "That's why I don't have cats," she said to no one in particular. I turned and pushed my cart towards the exit and as I was walking, thinking about that lady, about Indiana, a guy hands me a piece of paper folded into thirds. I said thanks, and continued walking out the doors, through the parking lot to my car.

I figured the piece of paper was some kind of religious message, as the guy seemed a little sheepish giving it to me. In my experience its an unusual event in Indiana to have someone actually put something into your hands. "Indiana nice" as far as I can tell, is a kind of hands off politeness. Opinions are offered but not put upon you. The mysterious and un-articulated discourses of the mid-west. I turned the car on and unfolded the piece of paper. A hundred dollar bill fell out. I looked at it making sure it was real and wondered what the catch was. I read the letter:

I thought, wow. My next thought was about the guy. And then I thought about what I was going to do with the money. I don't consider myself to be someone in need so the question was who I was going to give it to. 

I got home, put away the groceries, and went over to my neighbors to return some dishes and chat. The whole experience made me think, kind of like a performance that demands audience participation. Only in this case instead of an art world impetus, the kind of activist art that I became familiar with living in the uber-political Bay Area, the gesture seemed to come out of a religious impetus. The two oddly similar in their thought and guilt provoking effect. So I talked about it with my neighbors, and because I didn't want to randomly profile "people in need," and couldn't think of any people I knew off the top of my head who needed a hundred dollars more than the next person, they suggested giving it to the food bank located at the end of the street. A little bit the opposite of what the man who handed me the money was doing, putting himself out there. The next morning on my way out of town I gave the money to the lady at the food bank's desk. I told her the story and said, "weird huh?" And she said yeah. And then I got in my car and drove to Wisconsin. The only part about this experience that made me feel "good" was getting rid of the money.