Thursday, September 15CDP Top 30 Of All-Time ('08-'10) - #16.
#16 - 'The Leukemia Nickel.'
(Originally published 1/19/09.)
Like most of you, I get letters in the mail every week from various organizations asking for donations of some sort. As someone who’s previously sent checks to Planned Parenthood, the ASPCA, HospiceCare, Anheuser Busch, Burrachos Mexican Restaurant, Wolf from American Gladiators and that guy who has photos of me drunkenly making out with a Torrid Clothing mannequin, I tend to get bothered around this time every year from folks that want me to once again pay up.
Their methods to entice (ie: guilt) you into making a donation are typically similar in substance. Usually it’s personalized return address labels, which I absolutely adore and appreciate. Mailing out somewhere in the neighborhood of eleventy dozen bills a month (rough estimate), I never thought I’d grow to appreciate return address labels as much as I do now. When I run out of them, the pedestrian nature of printing my name and address on an envelope becomes sheer torture for whatever reason. Never mind that it takes approximately 10 seconds or so longer than applying a sticker, but hey, time is money, and I have books of puppy and kitten-themed address labels to last me a lifetime and help speed the devolution of my own handwriting.
This week, I got something a little different in the mail. It was from the American Leukemia Association, or Foundation, or Hospital, or whatever they happen to call themselves. They’re the same place that uses Ziggy, unquestionably the unfunniest and most depressing cartoon character in the history of Mankind, as a whimsical mascot, and also has the cardboard quarter slots you see at every greasy spoon and long-forgotten gas station in the United States. They're usually right by the Lion's Club mints, or the gumball machine that hasn't been refilled since 1984.
I had never donated to these Leukemia folks before, which said to me that they were doing some sort of blast mail to thousands of random people in the nation, hoping for some sort of a bite. What got me was that, in addition to the Ziggy-themed return address labels (which I will never use, not even to pay bills-- way too embarrassing and tacky, even for a guy that used Halloween-themed labels for his Christmas 'Thank You' cards), they also included a shiny new nickel in which to use as a sort of 'free postage.' The idea here is to guilt people into sending back any type of donation with the nickel, as no self-respecting human being would be able to sleep at night knowing that they bilked five free cents from a place that treats sick kids.
Right off the bat, I knew I wasn’t donating. I was very charitable this Christmas, donated to a lot of different causes, and was trying to be a little tighter with my millions of dollars in 2009. Furthermore, I didn’t like the idea of being guilted into making a donation. As someone who was raised Catholic, Guilt was an emotion I understood well, and I abhor it when people try to use it as a weapon. The starving and emaciated dogs and cats on the ASPCA commercials, however, is a completely different story. To this day, I still wouldn’t mind smooching Sarah McLachlan a little bit if given the alternate-dimension opportunity. Shill those animals! Empty those cages!
This all left me with a weird little dilemma: What should I do with this nickel?
I mean, I couldn’t just throw it into my change pile and treat it like the rest of the money I’ve earned through hard work and late-night panhandling. I couldn’t just throw it in the garbage like a cold pizza or unwanted newborn on prom night. This was a dirty nickel. This was a cursed nickel. This was a Leukemia nickel, and I had no idea how to handle it.
Conjuring up the best compromise I could, I threw the 2009 nickel into a decorative tobacco box in my foyer that was full of pennies. There, the Leukemia nickel could rule the roost, feeling confident that they were the only piece of silver within at least a six-inch radius. Furthermore, safely within the confines of the penny pile, I knew that I’d never spend it by accident, and would probably forget about it entirely. 50 years from now at my Estate Sale, some antique collector on a jetpack will discover it and never fully understand why a single nickel was surrounded by thousands of copper lowlifes. This, however, was the only way that this was going to work for me.
Fast-forward to Friday afternoon, at work, in the Break Room. The half-pint carton of skim milk was staring back at me from behind the Plexiglass confines of the Wheel of Deliciousness. It looked so good in there, so beautiful, seeming to genuinely enjoy every second of its 360-degree ride back into my field of vision. I was meant to have that milk; to tear it open and savor every drop of goodness. To give it the attention and respect that it deserved. By this point, my breath was fogging up the Plexiglass; we couldn't stand to be apart for another second. I needed 50 cents, and now.
I galavanted back to my cubicle, shaking every last piece of currency from my messenger bag.
45 cents. This wasn't happening.
I checked my wallet. No bills at all, which is entirely too commonplace for me to be comfortable with. I stopped carrying cash on me almost nine years ago.
"Keep it together," I reassured myself. "Check the car."
I spent the next five minutes on my hands and knees, tearing apart the interior of the Wild Stallion amongst the -50 Wind Chill that has schools closed for three straight days. Shivering, shaking and defeated, I goose-stepped back into the office knowing that I was somehow being punished.
I knew I couldn't ask someone for a nickel. I just couldn't bring myself to do something so pathetic. As a means to save face, I instead embarked on one of the saddest, most downtrodden journeys of my adult life: wandering the hallways of my office building, looking for change on the floor. It was my own personal Trail of Tears; I did this for almost 10 minutes, before slumping back into my chair, a defeated, sad and thirsty man. By the time I got back to the break room, the milk was gone anyway.
I don't know how it happened. I don't know why it happened, and I'm pretty sure I don't know what happened, but I think that the Leukemia Nickel had the last laugh. I, on the other hand, had to drink out of the water fountain that afternoon.
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