Ice Bucket Killjoys

Today is Friday, the day I talk about the issues.  Today’s issue is that there are people out there being killjoys about the Ice Bucket Challenge.  In case you’ve been living in such a way that you could find this obscure blog but miss the social phenomenon that has taken over every form of social media and the news, the Ice Bucket Challenge was a fun publicity stunt designed to raise a lot of money and awareness about ALS research.  The idea is that if you get challenged by someone, you have to send $100 to ALS research.  If you don’t have $100 or don’t want to send $100, you can instead dump a bucket of ice water on your head and send only $10 instead.  Then you chain letter 3 other folks and make them do it.  It seems that most folks opted for the ice bucket and then sent the $100 anyway.  As a publicity stunt it worked wonders!  Celebrities got involved, the public got involved, and for the month of August it was all the rage.  There were more than 739,000 new charitable donors and raised $41.8 million dollars in the space of one month (double what they got last year).

Of course, we can’t have a giant phenomenon where millions have a good time, lots of disposable income is pushed to a good cause, awareness of the terrible disease is increased, a readily replenishable resource is used, and people are temporarily discomforted for the amusement of others without the killjoys raising their voices in protest.  The killjoys are a group of folks that have to be outrageously upset about something that doesn’t impact their lives in the slightest bit.  They are obstinate gadflies who just want to poo-poo whatever it is that their pretentious ire is aimed at.  I’m not sure if it is out of spite, out of jealousy, out of a need for attention, or out of a dark soul that bemoans goodness and joy in any form, but the killjoys are here to talk bad about the Ice Bucket Challenge (IBC).  It’s just so easy to sit there, doing nothing, and complain about something while other people are out doing something.

The first thing that the killjoys latch onto is that the IBC is “wasting water”.  I’m not sure what to say about that, because the idea is really stupid.  These folks are acting as if the Conservation of Mass was not in effect, that once the water is dumped out it is gone forever.  The Earth has 321 million cubic miles of water, and even if the water from these IBCs did disappear from the universe, we’d be fine.  Of course, the water does not disappear, it rejoins the water cycle.

Maybe these folks aren’t scientifically illiterate and are more concerned that we are taking water and dumping it on the ground.  The USGA predicts that 2.08 billion gallons of water are used to irrigate all the golf courses in the US every day.  To put that in perspective, that is everyone in the United States doing the IBC with a 6 gallon bucket every single day.  Not for charity, but so that a few well-off suburban dads (mostly) can enjoy their really green playground that poor people aren’t welcome to.  Granted, most of that water for the nation’s golf courses is pulled from ponds, lakes, and it isn’t sanitized.  But that doesn’t stop Americans from dumping sanitized water on the ground all the time.  The typical American household has a sprinkler system that uses 265 gallons of water per hour.  They should only go for 15 minutes, which is literally taking sanitized drinking water and dumping it on the ground at the rate of 66 gallons every day, about 200 every week with 3 days of sprinkling.  That is, if they aren’t overwatering (which is a widespread practice).  If wasting water really offends you, start the campaign for outlawing lawn watering.

How about just dumping water down the drain?  A typical load of dishes uses 20 gallons of water if you do the dishes by hand and leave that pesky faucet on, 10 gallons of water if you are using a modern dishwasher.  3-ish gallons per toilet flush if your toilet isn’t new, 1.6 gallons per flush if it is.  A full bath can be about 40 gallons of water, a shower is 5-ish gallons per minute (Americans average a 50 gallon shower).  I haven’t even talked about washing the car, cooking food, actually drinking water, laundry, or many other water intensive activities.  A nice little water-conservative family of 4 living in suburbia USA uses about 280 gallons of water a day, 1,960 a week, and 8.4K gallons a month.  It’d be such a shame if 6 gallons of water went to a charity event.

Really, if ‘wasting’ water bothers you that much, you could instead do a charity of your own where you donate $88 dollars to buy someone with an older toilet (3-5 gallons per flush) a high efficiency toilet and another $29 on a WaterSense shower head (2 gallons per minute as opposed to the average of 8).  You’ll save about 42 gallons of water per person that uses that bathroom exclusively.  It would require effort, though, and that’s why I don’t expect the killjoys to take this idea and run with it.  It’s a shame, because I’ve got a great plan to kick-start this charity.  Let’s have folks dump 42 gallons of ice water on their heads to show how much water could be saved a day with just a donation of $117 dollars.  That’d definitely raise awareness!  Or have an Office Space moment where people take baseball bats to the old toilet.  I bet all sorts of people would watch toilet destruction videos.  Of course…then the killjoys will say that everyone is being wasteful and over-burdening already full landfills.  They just have to be offended by something.

Drinking water isn’t a precious resource in the United States.  At my current rate in New York, where everything is expensive, I can get a gallon of water out of my tap for less than a penny.  We have plenty of infrastructure that lets us convert absurd amounts of water to be safe enough to drink.  6 gallons here or there doesn’t really matter.  That’s 6 cents worth of water.  The ice costs 25 times more than the water.

The second complaint I keep seeing is that there are lots of people without drinking water, and the IBC is affecting them in some way that…um… well the killjoys never seem to finish their thought.  It’s the same thinking that an American child needs to finish their vegetables because there are starving children in China.  The thoughts aren’t related.  I’m not sure why this complaint is a thing.  Are they mad because we dumped that readily accessible resource on the ground rather than boxing it up and sending it UPS over to some unspecified thirsty individual?  Are the killjoys mad that thirsty people without access to drinking water weren’t given a plane ticket so they could come over to participate in the fun?  What is the complaint?  You might as well get mad at those kids in Alaska for throwing snowballs at each other and wasting the snow when there are kids in Hawaii that have never even seen a snowflake.  One place has the resource in droves and the other doesn’t.

I can tell you what the complaint is: Inequality exists in the world.  Inequality in the world is a very serious topic and one that troubles me often, but saying that the IBC is making it worse isn’t valid in the slightest.  It’s tragic that people don’t have access to clean drinking water, but that isn’t affected by the IBC.  Wasting water here won’t hurt or help folks over there.  Preserving water over here won’t hurt or help folks over there.  Locking up 6 gallons of water in a shrine to be revered and honored for generations to come won’t hurt or help folks over there.  Really, the “we’re wasting water when there are people that don’t have water” argument is really dumb because any resource could be used here.  If it was the “Eat 5 Poptarts” challenge, killjoys would be mad about wasting food from a place with an overabundant supply of food.  If we did a “stay awake all night” challenge, folks would be mad because insomniacs everywhere can’t get enough sleep.  Some people just refuse to let a good thing go by uncriticized because they have to be offended.  They need to be offended.

Yes, inequality exists in the world, and one of the best ways to combat that is through charityCharities like the IBC are great to combat inequality.  If you want to talk about inequality, let’s talk about the tens of thousands of individuals suffering from ALS that could greatly benefit from some very expensive research.  If you want to talk about inequality, let’s talk about people in the richest nation on earth using their iPhones and internet connections to help redistribute $41,000,000 of their throw-away change to help people that have it worse off than themselves.

Are there valid criticism of the IBC?  Actually…yes there are.  Some folks don’t like it because ALS research is sometimes done with detriment to animals.  Some folks question where the money would be going to (does it go to actual research or some CEO of a research lab?).  Some folks think that ALS is hogging all of the charitable giving (the numbers haven’t come in on this yet, so I can’t say if it is true or not, but my feeling is that the IBC generated extra giving without cannibalizing a large percentage of donations).  These folks I can tolerate, because they’ve put thought into what they are doing as opposed to throwing an immature hissy fit/temper tantrum in order to gain attention for themselves (my favorite one so far calling the IBC a Satanic Ritual).

What has the Ice Bucket Challenge done right?  More than raising $41 million for charity, it briefly made charity cool again.  For a while, people were talking about charity and giving.  They were excited about giving.  That hasn’t been a common conversation in years.  My wife and I talked about how we’d been slacking off on our giving to our charities of choice and how it would be nice to start that up again (my favorite is Heifer Project International).  The IBC brought with it a spirit of generosity that’s been sorely lacking.  It showed that we are very capable of addressing social issues if we want to.

Final thoughts?  I have a few.  I don’t have any data to back this up other than my gut feeling, but charitable people tend to be really excited about folks being generous.  It doesn’t really matter what the good cause is, charitable people are excited that other people are putting their money into the cause they care about.  If you ever find a charitable person, ask them, and they will tell you all about their charity of choice because it matters to them.  That’s why I think the killjoys really don’t have a leg to stand on, because I don’t think they give to any charities.  They don’t have a dog in this fight.  I have trouble seeing someone with a charitable heart donating hundreds of dollars to one charity and mocking and jeering someone else for donating to something else they care about.  I have trouble seeing a charitable someone missing the point so completely while saying “you’re giving to ALS?  Well I give to cancer research, and they didn’t need a stupid gimmick, so I’m better than you.”  Charitable people don’t talk like that.  Killjoys do…except for that part where they give to something else.  It really just sounds like an excuse to remain selfish.

So to you killjoys of the world, I offer you your own challenge.  You don’t have to dump water on your head or anything.  Just give a little bit of your spending cash to any charity you think is worthy.  $50 should do it.  If you are so offended by the inequality in the world that the IBC highlighted for you, I suggest giving to Heifer Project International.  If you were made aware of people without clean drinking water because of the IBC, I suggest giving to water.org.  I think the simple act of giving will change your heart a bit.  I wouldn’t put your money where your mouth is because I think that bragging about your charity is really just a self-promotional bit of advertising that still helps the cause but robs you of any personal growth you could have enjoyed.  It’s the difference between saying you care about something and proving it.  What will the challenge prove?  Not a whole lot, no one will really know that you did it, but I think it’ll change you for the better.  And if it doesn’t, you can tell me all about it and I’ll apologize to you personally for ruining the good name of killjoys everywhere.

Green Chip

I live in a more run down part of New York.  Maybe back in the 1940’s it was a captain of industry and commerce, but now it is more of a run-down neighborhood bordering “slum” status.  The largest buildings in the area are all condemned, the houses could all use a fresh coat of paint, and about every eighth building has been vacated and boarded up.  Albany has its rich spots and its poor spots, and the YMCA that I go swimming at is in one of the poor spots.  It’s smashed together up against a school, library, and municipal building of some sort.  It’s across the street from a fenced in garage/shipping complex and a house that I simply refer to as “The Dispensary”.  The Dispensary is a large yellow house that reeks of pot.  It has a drive-thru of sorts, as folks will pull up, walk onto the porch, do a series of high-fives and then they’ll walk away stuffing something suspiciously into their pockets.  Not my business, so I leave it alone.

I generally don’t like the people in the area of my YMCA.  I come here to use the pool, and more people means that there are less swimming lanes available.  While driving in, there were three kids spread out evenly across the road so I couldn’t get passed them.  They were shuffling along to the YMCA, and after ten seconds I honked so they’d get out of the road like a normal person.  They turned around, gave me nasty looks that were supposed to be nasty, but I interpreted it more as a clueless idiocy.  Pre-teens with attitudes don’t scare me, but god are they stupid.  It’s common around here for kids to be biking/skateboarding/walking down the middle of the street and blocking traffic when they have two perfectly good sidewalks on either side.  Again, I didn’t say anything.  If it doesn’t bother me, I leave it alone.

In the parking lot I saw my second exhibition of hopeless humanity.  There was some guy shout/talking with some lady.  The guy was wearing blue shorts, a blue shirt, and a baseball cap probably three sizes too big for his head cocked off to the left.  His shoes looked to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 dollars, but the rest of the outfit could be purchased with a $20.  I wasn’t sure if this is how he normally dressed or if this was his workout outfit, it’s how the kids in this neighborhood usually dress.  I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation as I crossed the parking lot.

“Come on Misha!  It’s been 3 months!”
“I don’t care if it’s been 3 years!  You ain’t getting any time with those kids!”
“Come on!  I got a part-time at the station.”
“Ain’t none of mine.”
“They are my kids too!”
“Yo kids?”  Misha launched into a very lengthy list of reasons why Misha’s kids were not the same thing as What’s-His-Face’s kids.

He stood there looking tough and frustrated as the conversation progressed.  What struck me is his left hand kept reaching forward at belt level, palm up.  It was an unconscious tick he did whenever he was trying to make a point to “Misha”.  It looked like he was giving a handout, maybe offering an invisible olive branch.  Maybe he was offering his hand for his small children to hold.  I don’t know.  It looked silly.  Misha turned in a huff towards the door, which I was by at the time.  She said some things designed to dig into What’s-His-Face’s soul and burrow there.  I opened the door and held it for her, taking a look at What’s-His-Face to see what he would do next.  I didn’t trust him.  He had one prominent cheap tattoo on his outstretched forearm, his facial hair was patchy and unkempt, he smelled something like the homeless men at the soup kitchen I used to volunteer at, and he was way too young to be a father of multiple kids.  Misha power walked into the YMCA, leaving me there holding the door, watching What’s-His-Face.  He swore once, looked at me uncaring, and then stormed off in the direction of The Dispensary.  Figures.  But again, it didn’t bother me, so I left it alone.

I did have a good swim.  It was a glorious swim.  I had the pool to myself, mostly.  The lifeguard kept changing the music on the radio whenever a bad song came on, and life was grand in that pool.  That pool is what makes this place glorious.  I did a full half hour in there, free-style the whole time.  I was refreshed, a new man, heading back into the locker room.  The only worry on my mind was that there are windows from the pool to the lobby where folks can see me parade my plus-sized self along the edge of the pool to the locker room.

In the locker room I rinsed off.  While in the shower, I heard someone trying really hard not to cry.  Another example of hopeless humanity, probably.  I ignored it and did my best to get the chlorine scent out of my beard, because it’s awful smelling that for the rest of the day.  The crying was still going on when I finished.  Not my business, so I tried to ignore it while I walked over to my locker, but I snuck a glance that I shouldn’t have.

There he was, What’s-His-Face.  The tough looking punk kid I saw a half hour ago had melted.  His hat was on backwards, now looking six sizes too big.  His eyes were red and tear stained.  His power-stance earlier had devolved into a heap of a person barely maintaining balance on a changing bench.  Everything noble, if there was anything noble about him, had gone out completely.  His spirit had left him.  Except his right hand.  His right hand was clutching something in front of his face.  Fiercely.  His arm was red from the strain of clutching it, shaking in front of his face.  His eyes stared into his fist at the object he was holding.

It’s something I haven’t seen for a long time.

A series of colored poker chips dangled from a chain he was holding.  He probably had a dozen silver chips and two red chips hanging from that chain, spinning in the air, their plastic ‘ticking’ against each other.  The chain hung from the chip he was clutching with all of his desperation, a single solitary green chip.  His eyes glued to it with unbelieving shame as tears unacknowledged trickled down his cheeks.

“Hey.”

I wasn’t sure who had spoken, until I realized I was the only other person in the locker room.  It was the green chip.  That worthless piece of plastic bought him membership into a very expansive and resolute club.

“Hey.   Guy.  I know it’s none of my business, but from where I’m standing, it looks like that green chip is the only thing you’ve got going for you in the entire world.”  I took a few steps toward the corner he was hiding in, well aware that I was going way out of my comfort zone in nothing but a towel and flip-flops.  The guy turned his blood-shot eyes over to me.  I wasn’t sure if he was hearing me or not, his eyes looked so dead.

I recalled an old and dusty memory off of the shelves.  “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  That seemed to get his attention, one line of poetry that let him know that he was dealing with alumni from his personal school of hard knocks.  It’s our school fight song.

“I know that this also isn’t any of my business, but you’re holding onto that coin as if you’re about to lose it, and I think I know how you’re about to lose that.  Kid, this is one of those low points.  It’s one of those things you cannot change.  But I’ve got the suspicion that you gave into your darker demons and did something foolish that you regret.  More than that, I’m pretty sure that you’ve got that darker demon in your pocket right or your gym bag right now.  That’s something, that if you really want to, you can change.”

The kid was frozen.  Other than his thumb absently rubbing against the back of his green coin, he sat stock-still.  The golden lettering had rubbed off the front of his coin and coated his thumb instead.  I’m not sure how long he’d been in this locker room.

“This moment right here…” I said, pointing at the floor as if to pin his rock bottom to the floor so that it couldn’t get him again, “…is step one.  ‘We admit we are powerless over our addictions’.  I’m seeing that right now, kid.  So how about we do something about it.  How about you give whatever it is you’ve got over to me.  I’ll carry this burden for you, because it looks like you aren’t going to get very far with it.  Let’s beat step one.”

What’s-His-Face broke down then, sobbing into the crook of his right arm, still clutching the green chip.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  He cried for a while, and I just stood there dripping dry.  I felt exposed.  I don’t like giving speeches.  I don’t fancy myself as a motivational speaker.  Monologue-ing to a stranger about their innermost demons while naked is a nightmare scenario most people only dream of.  I wanted to leave, but this moment right here was critical for What’s-His-Face, and my own personal key-ring of plastic chips demanded I see this through.  Besides, I wanted to see if he could succeed

What’s-His-Face continued to sob there, until finally his left hand thrust into his pocket and pulled out a plastic bag.  Rock bottom could be a painting of that moment.  His head hung in deepest shame, his hands both held above his head to me in complete surrender.  In his right hand was his collection of silver chips, evidence of at least a dozen attempts to restart sobriety, along with his greatest success of 90 days sober, the green chip.  In his left hand was a bag of drugs so illegal that I didn’t even know what they were, or the delivery systems that were also included.

I couldn’t see into his mind then, but I wish I could.  I wanted to dive in there and pull him back from whatever despair he’d covered himself in.  Here were both offerings.  I could take the green chip away from him, or I could take his demons.  Both hands were outstretched, palm up.  It’d looked pathetic before, but now, during the bravest moment of his past three months, he was truly offering something that’d make him a better person.

I grabbed the bag from his left hand and went straight to my locker with it.  I didn’t want him to try and take it back, and I didn’t want to be caught holding it in case someone came in.  I went straight back to him, though.  He was pressing the green coin against his head.  I crouched down with careful towel placement next to him.  “You get to keep this.  Alright?  You keep this going.  A month from now, you’re going to show me that purple chip and I’m going to be proud of you.  Okay?”

And What’s-His-Face finally broke.  We talked.  We talked for a long time.  When I was confident he was off the dark path, I went and got dressed.  As I left the locker room I just said “it works if you work it.  I want to see that purple chip.”  He smiled, and I left.  One unspecified trip to a garbage dumpster, well out of the reach of What’s-His-Face, and the demons were gone.