Many years ago, when I was just out of university, I found myself back in the big city of Vancouver to jump through some supplemental educational hoops. On the plus side, Valerie was able to join me and we took the opportunity to see the sights. As we walked along the downtown street, we passed by a busker. I don’t remember the song he was singing, but I recall that his guitar had just four of the normal six strings and was creatively tuned. So maybe busking is not the right word, more like semi-melodious panhandling with a guitar in hand.
His hat lay upturned on the sidewalk. As I passed by I reached in my pocket, withdrew some of Her Majesty’s shining silver and tossed it in the hat. The busker stopped his playing and singing to stare me down as I walked on and yelled: “One thin DIME?!!!”
Fair enough, by describing this as “some silver”, perhaps it seemed more generous. It was in fact a solitary dime. However, I felt that there was something unfair in the way this fellow was giving me crap. Could I have given him more? Well, I probably had more change in my pocket but also had competing needs for that change, like bus fare.
In absolute terms the busker probably had a higher net worth than me at that point in time. I was deficit financing the $0.10 I had contributed to the improvement of his well-being. Maybe he thought that by offering the “value added” of four-string guitar strumming and singing, the ante was upped on the traditionally expected coinage contribution. Not necessarily an unreasonable assumption, but music preference is pretty personal.
Valerie in particular has been haunted by this indignation vs. shame recollection. For about 25 years, every time I am cleaning change out of my pocket and only come out with a ten cent piece, it is “One thin DIME?!!!”. Cue the eye roll.
Thankfully, a couple of years ago I had another encounter that fleshed out my indignation vs. shame playlist.
I was in the produce section of a natural foods store, the kind where all the staff wear green shirts to make you feel extra environmentally conscious. You know, as you buy pineapples that came in yesterday on an aviation fuel-guzzling 747.
I hadn’t been to this particular store before. I scanned the bins for some fresh ginger and glanced at the tall kid with an Afro next to me. He was working over the kiwis in the bin at the end of the aisle. As I continued to scan the bins I asked him if he could tell me where the ginger is.
Silence, and a hard look back at me.
It startled me a bit, and when I looked back I noted that he was in fact wearing a red polo shirt, not green, and was loading kiwis into a shopping basket. “Oh, sorry!” I said. “I thought you worked here.”
“I DO work here.” He said, then walked away.
Hmm. I didn’t say anything but perhaps the best way to summarize my thoughts is: “Well I might be a racist, but you could be a little more helpful if you work here – I still can’t find the ginger!!!”.
Humans are extra good at rationalizing their thoughts, as will be confirmed if you follow politics or really any story involving former politicians, especially prominent former leaders of the “free” world.
But, if you are playing the mental game of “Who is the asshole here?” you should probably look in the mirror first. It doesn’t hurt, as it can provide some fodder for checking your pesky internal biases and motivations. If nothing else, you can write a blog post about it, get it off your chest and stop torturing your wife with your shame / indignation spirals.
Namaste, Mr. Busker. Here’s a mental toonie hoping you found those two missing guitar strings. And enjoy those kiwis Mr. Produce Guy, they are great this time of year. I’ll be over here trying to find that ginger, and some self-respect.