What I learned about humankind by canning for DM
    Something tells me I’m doing this wrong. (Photo illustration by Aaron Gale / North by Northwestern.)

    I did a lot this quarter. I wrote some articles, applied for a few internships, discovered the joys of Teddy Grahams dunked in Funfetti frosting (it’s just like Dunkaroos!). I even learned how to play Guitar Hero. Unfortunately, one thing I did not do was raise the $800 required to participate in Dance Marathon. Oops.

    My partner and I are dancing for DM through Bobb-McCulloch, so the dorm’s exec board funneled a few hundred dollars into our account. (You know things aren’t going well when you’re on Team Bobb and they’re covering your ass.) As of Friday, though, we were still $400 short. We didn’t want to disappoint Bear Necessities, a pediatric cancer foundation and this year’s DM beneficiary, so Ms. Badass Roommate and I (partners in housing, partners in dancing) went canning from 3 to 5 p.m. at the intersection of Skokie and Dempster. Two hours spent shaking a can and asking, “Kids with cancer?” — an awkward phrasing, in hindsight — taught me a few things about humankind.

    #1: People will do almost anything to avoid helping dying children.

    Apparently, some people would rather kill a child than save one. While canning, I almost got hit by at least a half-dozen cars. I’d say four out of five people I approached turned down the opportunity to donate. One lady buried her head in the steering wheel. When another girl saw me approaching, she began making out with her boyfriend to avoid coughing up the cash… and to keep me from stealing her boyfriend, I guess.

    Those people sucked, but at least I got a laugh out of it. What was really just mean was when someone would stare straight ahead and ignore me. I was wearing a seizure-inducing yellow smock — I know you saw me miming “pediatric cancer” outside your window. Others wouldn’t pull all the way up to the intersection line to avoid meeting me; then, they’d drive past me if I tried to approach them. Some simply held up their hand as if to say “HALT!” and about a zillion drivers were suddenly on their cell phones when I came a-knockin’.

    #2: Chivalry is not dead. But neither is being an asshole.

    Donations usually came in single dollar bills or some loose change, but one nice guy in the right-turn lane gave me $3. I thanked him, turned to the car in the middle lane, and got snubbed. The light changed, and as I bustled back to the median in a desperate attempt not to die in Skokie, I heard manic honking. The nice guy was yelling at the snubber, “Hey, don’t be an asshole! The nice lady in the yellow [that's me — the nice lady in the yellow] is trying to help!” In retrospect, it’s a little sad that the modern-day Knight in Shining Armor is a dude in a Jeep giving me three bucks. But at least he still exists.

    What also exists is the occasional douchebag. When I asked a 20-something guy to donate, he asked, “What do I get?” Confused, I said, “Well, it’s for kids. With cancer.” To which he replied, “So I don’t get anything then?” This isn’t the human slave trade, man.

    The greedy douchebag was vastly outnumbered, sadly, by the sex-crazed idiot. Come on: cat-calling, honking at or otherwise demeaning the girl canning for kids with tumors? That’s got to be a sin or something.

    #3: Awkwardness is a successful money-making strategy.

    In journalism, you learn to allow for long silences during interviews because people feel awkward and obliged to fill them. They talk more, and the reporter gets better quotes. Now apply that to me staring inside your window, shaking a tin can and smiling like I might just use it to smash the plexiglass and steal all your earthly possessions. Soon enough you’re emptying your change purse. And you thought you were saving those quarters for the laundromat.

    Once I thought a woman was rummaging through her purse to find some money, so I approached with my cheer-face on. I waited patiently for about 10 seconds until she, um, found her lipstick. Got a dollar out of that. Another fella said he had “only big bills.” I told him the kids with cancer wouldn’t mind. Another girl removed a $5 bill from her wallet while she searched for singles. When she didn’t find any, she pretty much had to give me the $5. Awkwardness helps another pediatric cancer patient! (Side note: I did kind of feel like a super hero with my yellow smock-thing billowing in the wind behind me. But it’s more likely that I just looked like a dumbass in a yellow smock-thing.)

    #4: Rich women with thin lips don’t like to donate money.

    If I had a million dollars, I hope that I would convert it all to pennies and dive through my mountains of money á la Scrooge McDuck. And when the college chick who is so cold she can’t feel her organs asks me to donate to Bear Necessities, I’d probably give her $20 (or at least a free jump into the money pit). But apparently that’s not the way real rich people think.

    The people driving the nicest cars were the least likely to acknowledge my existence, let alone donate money. I took particular notice of aging white women with dark sunglasses, dye jobs, penciled-in lips and, oh, Mercedes-Benzes. Truck drivers and people driving more modest cars were much more likely to roll down their windows or at least feign that they didn’t have any money.

    In all fairness, maybe the thin-lipped ladies weren’t being mean. Maybe rich people just can’t see anyone who makes less than $100,000 a year.

    #5: In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.

    I didn’t hide from Nazis in an annex (well… that’s a whole ‘nother article), but I did get treated like crap by a lot of people. But you know what? For every four people who acted like I was cancer, there was another who was a truly gracious human being. Several drivers thanked me “for doing this” and wished me luck. Others worried that I’d get sick, and told me to stay warm. People rolled their windows down and flagged me over to donate anywhere from a few pennies to $5. Some even held up green lights. “Thank you so much. I really appreciate it,” I told them. And I do.

    My partner and I raised about $140 that afternoon, thanks to the generosity of some really kind people. So even though a few drivers stared me in the eyes and tried to gun me down… I still got that warm, fuzzy feeling of climbing back into a heated car. I mean, that warm, fuzzy feeling of doing a karmically good thing. Right.

    And that’s the beauty of karma: what goes around, comes around. So to the girl who french-kissed her guy instead of saving sick kids: I got your license plate number, and I’m stealing your boyfriend, Avril-style. I’m taking him to Red Lobster. It’s going to be delicious.


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