Yesterday morning I threw myself a little ‘Pity Party’. Nothing too extravagant. Just me, myself and I and and an assortment of Valentine’s Day chocolate and cookies (courtesy of my four year old students and an impulsive shopping spree at the 100 yen shop) arranged across my tatami mat floor.
If that scene in my life were a movie, the soundtrack playing in the background would have been Celine Dion’s “All By Myself”. Yeah, I know…It was very Bridget Jones’s Diary. It was one of my “The Universe is conspiring against me / What the Hell am I gonna do?” Freak outs. You know, the usual.
I was all “I don’t have a job, I don’t have money, and I don’t have a boyfriend…all I have is this Dollhouse Cracker Box of an apartment that I’m about to be kicked out of.” Boo hoo. Waa. Waa.
But then, I don’t know. Maybe it was the sugar-induced high or the maybe it was just that I can never let myself fall into the “Woe is Me” mood for long, but I suddenly felt inspired to do something good for humanity. Help people. I mean, isn’t that what this holiday of love is all about? Bring peace and goodwill to all…or something.
Plus, there was the fact that I didn’t want this Valentines Day to be forever remembered as “The Valentine’s Day I Was Dateless, Jobless and Soon-to-be-Homeless”, because that’s just so…melodramatic. So I decided I’d rewrite history a bit and make this “the Valentines Day that Reannon Saved the World”. Or at least tried to.
That’s when I decided that I’d feed the homeless.
I figured that this was a good idea, mainly because the only person that I could think of that is worse off than someone who’s jobless, broke and soon-to-be-homeless, would be someone who’s jobless, broke and already homeless.
So I threw on a pink shirt especially for the occasion and headed to Sankus (the local convenience store) and spent all the money I would have spent on presents for my boyfriend and instead bought 20 dollars worth of Onigiri, trail mix and calorie bars…and headed to the park.
Okay, before you roll your eyes at me, I’d like to state that I was culturally sensitive enough to know that I’d have to be very careful about how I executed this. The homeless problem is something I’ve researched and written about in the past, and so I knew that they’re an extremely self-sufficient and proud group of people. I also knew that they might not react well to a random white person handing them a sandwich.
The plan in my head of how things would transpire went something like this:
I’d pick a spot in the park within the line of sight of one of the homeless people and make a show of sitting down to enjoy a picnic on this unseasonable warm winter day. After eating, I’d impulsively offer my uneaten onigiri to the homeless person with a casual, “I’m full so I’m not going to eat this. Would you like it?” Breezy. Indifferent.
He’d then take it with a polite nod or quiet ‘thank you’ and I’d be on my way.
Yeah, reality went a little differently.
First, because yesterday Tokyo was hit by some freak heat wave, every Tokyoite and their grandma was in that park that day. There were also a few rogue cherry blossom trees in bloom, which meant that hundreds of overly excited, wanna-be photogs had set-up shop in the bushes. In short, I just couldn’t seem to find a homeless person that wasn’t surrounded people. I knew if I was going to do this, I’d have to make sure that there weren’t any curious onlookers around when I did.
Secondly, half the homeless I spotted were either sleeping or seemed to be peacefully sunbathing on a park bench. I mean, what’s the proper etiquette in a situation like this? Wake them up? Carefully place the food on their cart for them to eat later?
I felt a little foolish and began to doubt this ‘grand plan’ I’d concocted. This was nuts. They didn’t even seem to need my food. It wasn’t like this was some third World population of hungry beggars. This was Japan…and these people could clearly fend for myself. Who was I to think that a rice ball from Sankus could solve their problems? Maybe if I found a way to magically put a stop to racial discrimination and ageism or donated a few million dollars to the government in support of a public housing or a job placement program, but short of that, I’d just be insulting them with half-assed handouts from a convenience store.
At this point, I was on hour number two in the park. It was getting dark…and cold and I had a bag full of food that I didn’t want to see go to waste. I’d made the decision to do this, I’d just have to hurry and get it over with. So I strode over to an elderly man who was sitting on the sidewalk and smiling slightly as he watched the children swing on a jungle gym.
I took a deep breath and launched into my spiel, but before I even reached the “dozo” (here you are) he’d started to vehemently shake his head and wave me away, like I was blocking his view of the TV. He never once looked at me or a food in my hand.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, hurrying away in embarrassment.
Despite the humiliating and awkward last exchange, I tried two more times. Both with similar results. One woman pretended not to hear me and another actually started shouting. I ran and hid behind a water fountain, feeling completely defeated.
I decided to stop while I was so obviously NOT ahead and go home, but there was still the little matter of the bag of uneaten food.
So I did the only thing I could think of. I made a show of slowly walking past a group of men sitting in a half circle drinking beers and placed the see-through bag of food next the garbage can.
My only hope is that one of them will find it next time they sort through the garbage for plastic bottles to recycle. Because if not, then I succeeded in spending my Valentines Day feeding calorie bars to Ueno Park’s population of roaches and rats.
On the way back home, I was stopped by a volunteer requesting that I donate money to an earthquake relief fund. I gave hime 3,000 yen and decided that I should probably limit my “Help People” efforts to donating money to those that actually know a bit more about what they’re doing.
I guess now I can christen Valentines Day 2009 as “The Day Reannon Made a Fool of Herself…Again.”