This is not a “scold” column, or a guilt trip either. The fact is, like you I have enough stuff, but like many of us at the holidays, I was out shopping for even more stuff when I met Clint and his dog at the off-ramp of the westbound 101 Freeway at Laurel Canyon. Clint, his dog and his sign – “SOBER, HUNGRY AND OUT OF WORK” -- just happened to remind me that I have enough stuff, and that now is a good time to give stuff to people with less stuff.
And, no deadline here – if you happen to miss Christmas, Hanukkah or any other December holiday you tend to celebrate, people with less stuff than you have will still need stuff next year, too.
I probably wouldn’t have stopped if Clint had not been accompanied by his Old English Sheepdog. In fact, I didn’t stop on the way down the ramp because it would have caused a three-car pile-up; I parked a block or two farther South on Ventura and walked back with my donation clutched in one hand. I’m as quick as anyone to lock my car door or walk the other way if a stranger makes me nervous, but it never crossed my mind to be afraid of someone with a dog this cute.
Clint’s sunny-faced companion reminded me that even my dog has enough stuff. Heidi was, at that moment, enjoying a day at doggie day care, with decorations and even a Santa available for photos with lucky pets. I know Heidi well enough to know she’d be happy to share her stuff with this dog, including her column.
Clint’s story: He has two Sheepdogs. He calls this 9-year-old by two names: “Mariah when she’s good, and Shania when she’s bad” (apparently he’s a fan of women who can belt out a song). The dog at home is Lucky, age 13. These are not exactly mutts, and Clint, sober for 14 months, has a place to live and an Internet connection. Problem is, he and his wife were in a car accident about three months ago that has left both with injuries, mounting medical bills and lost jobs.
He may not be the single most desperate individual in Los Angeles, but this Sherman Oaks resident is a neighbor on the edge. “I’m just trying to make the rent,” Clint says. He also knows the effect of the dog: “There are a lot of dog lovers out there who wouldn’t be willing to help if I was just by myself.”
Now, I’m not suggesting that you give money to people who stand by the freeway if that’s not your thing, dog or no dog. I know there many who believe that folks you see asking for money on the street or by the freeway could be working somewhere if they weren’t so lazy. Personally I happen to think it has more to do with lack of ability or opportunity, or, frequently, mental illness (although I feel for business owners who have their own efforts hampered by people panhandling at their doors). I believe Clint when he says: “If I could find a way to work and feed my family the way I need to, I would.” But we don’t need to argue that point. Just find whatever avenue you prefer for giving, and give.
This is not to say you should stop buying stuff for yourself, and for other people you know who already have enough stuff. That’s good too, because it creates jobs for the people who make stuff to sell to you, and for the people have jobs selling stuff to you. Get an iPhone. Get an iPad. Get a whole iLife if you want one (even though there are so many bodies crowding the Apple store at Sherman Oaks Fashion Square right now that it actually smells like a locker room at a gym). It’s all good. Go buy stuff. Just keep in mind that it’s also good to give stuff away. That’s really all Heidi the dog and I have to say today.