Put yourself in my shoes for a moment.
It’s 3:37. Work ends at 5. You’re hungry. You want those Cheez-Its.
So, you go to the vending machine with your wrinkled dollar, but it only takes coins. You seem fine with the world and the state of things because there are two other machines at your disposal. This is your cue to slide over to the soda dispenser, pop your dollar in, press the coin return button to get your quarters and that two-oz. bag of cheesy delights.
It purges your dollar, as if to say nah, I’m good.
You then head to the essential ‘craft’ water machine and attempt to finagle some more coins. The dollar takes and so does the coin return. It makes promising noises, as if it were dispensing change. Nothing comes out.
That machine ate your fucking dollar.
You're livid. You run to the janitor to see if he can aid in suppressing your mid-day hunger, but you conjure up a sliver of remorse; he works two jobs and you’re complaining about a dollar. You keep the problem to yourself and head to your car to scrounge for some change.
On your way, a man in ragged clothes passes you by with a cart full of aluminum and a loaf of bread. In your mind, the image of a French baguette materializes inside a brown sack. You then realize you’re hallucinating from the lack of Cheez-Its, because those only exist on TV.
Part of you wonders where he’s going, where he’s coming from. Another part of you feels pity for him. The rest of you feels rotten.
If you’ve read my stuff before, you know that I complain and interview people. That’s about it. I groan over things my privileged existence shouldn’t groan over. In fact, the first article I had published, “I Am Privileged,” was the entirely about the concept of complaining as a straight, white guy. Lately, I’ve realized that I need to cut back.
I graduated from Wright State three months ago and I started working at Greater Dayton Premier Management. It sounds impressive, but I just file things and sort through mail. You know, things I’m overqualified to do. But, that’s okay; I do truly feel, sometimes, that I’m making a difference in peoples’ lives.
What this company does is give out housing vouchers for veterans, victims of domestic violence, the disabled, low income families, and the homeless. I go through different pieces of mail and determine if the applicants are eligible to go on to the next step in the process. Sometimes it’s hard to withdraw them, especially if the families are just slightly over income. Others, however, are withdrawn from the program for criminal charges, including sexual offenses. It’s a disturbing task at times, especially when dealing with the latter, but it can be rewarding. You’re helping people get their lives back in check. Maybe you aren’t the only factor, but you contribute to someone’s well-being in part. That’s certainly special.
A few weeks ago, they had me call a few applicants to attend a briefing, which is essentially the first step to get a voucher. I started out by informing them who I was and why I was calling, plus, snuck a little how are you today? in there. One woman responded with Crystal hasn’t had this phone for three years; why don’t you bother someone else? while another said I’m okay; just trying to stay warm.
I heard the wind through my headset. A chill tingled throughout hands. What she said was so impactful, but I felt hope in her voice when she thanked me for calling. Though we sometimes get people like Crystal’s mom to answer, there are some that know that we’re just trying to do a good thing.
It’s difficult getting the short straw. You want to feel like you’re the important one, that all eyes are on you or that some higher power is guiding you in the right direction. You want to get that housing voucher for a warm place to sleep. You want that loaf of bread so you can provide for yourself and family.
You want that bag of Cheez-Its.
Some problems are much larger than others. I've never dealt with those pressing issues, first hand. I've had a warm bed all my life. My parents showered me with toys as a kid and still support me as an adult. I was very lucky to have grown up the way I did. I am a privileged human being.
Still, I complain.
I worry about not succeeding with my degree, while others can only hope to go to college. We've all got different priorities.
I kept others' horrendous experiences in my peripherals, because I only cared about what was happening to me. Now, after seeing and hearing what folks have gone through, I’ve grown to empathize. The worst you can do is ignore the facts. Don't let them loom in the back of your mind. It'll haunt you. Open your eyes, just look at how privileged you might be. Not everyone gets to be so lucky.
Next time, don’t complain if your dollar is eaten by a vending machine. Be glad you had that dollar to begin with.