A real hang-up about soliciting


Every night I get a half-dozen phone calls from people who want money from me.

Let's see, the firefighters want money, the police want money, the volunteer ambulance corps wants money, the animal rights people want money, the anti-drunk-driving people want money, the abused children advocates want money.

Not to mention the Heart Association, the Leukemia Society, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, as well as this and that organization for the homeless, the environment, battered women, etc.

And the thing is, you can't hang up on these people when they call.

Sure, you can hang up on the clod who calls to up the limit on your Visa card or to sell you the Disney Channel -- especially if he or she won't take no for an answer.

But you can't slam the phone down on some sweet young thing who tells you, in a voice cracking with emotion, that if her high school cheerleading squad can only raise a few dollars more, "we're close -- very close -- to going to the national championships in Dallas this spring."

Look, if I can help 15 girls fly to Texas, cram into two rented Dodge mini-vans, live on burritos and tear up a Holiday Inn for the weekend, I'm getting the checkbook out.

After all, I'm sure that's how Sandra Day O'Connor got started.

These people who call you at home for money can be very sensitive, too.

For example, if the state troopers call and you say: "Sorry, I just gave to the disabled veterans and now I have no money left to give," they get very upset.

Oh, they don't say they're very upset. They still tell you to "Have a nice evening," but now it sounds forced and hollow and you know they're thinking: "Fine, fine . . . but let's not hear any whining when we nail you with a speeding ticket."

One day I tried to explain my feelings to the woman who called for Alzheimer's research.

"You know," I said, "if I gave to every charity that called, pretty soon I'd have no money left to buy food and clothing for my family and pay the bills, and then when my 76-year-old mother calls and pleads, 'Sonny, could you spare a few dollars for medicine?' I'd have to say 'Sorry, Mom, my last 20 bucks went to the Friends of the American Bison. You'll just have to suck it up and go without those heart pills for a few months.'

"Then pretty soon the utility company would shut off my electricity and we'd all be huddled around a trash fire in the living room heating a can of beans until the sheriff arrives with an eviction notice and tosses us out on the street. Which is when we'd have to start a new charity called Let's Get Kev Back On His Feet.

"You see what I'm getting at here, don't you?"

There was a long pause on the other end of the phone.

Finally the woman said: "Each of us must look deep into our souls to determine how much we can give."

So I looked deep into my soul.

I went to Mass the following day, which happened to be a Sunday, and a man with sad eyes walked slowly to the altar and took the microphone and announced: "There will be a second collection today to benefit the Such-and-Such Order of nuns, who, as you know, are working with very sick children in the slums of Calcutta, sitting next to them on their squalid cots and listening to them wheeze and fanning their swollen, feverish faces in 100-degree heat while you lie on the couch wolfing down Cheez-its and drinking Mountain Dew and watching 'Step by Step.' Please be generous."

The point is, this is an unbelievable amount of pressure for the average citizen to deal with.

During dinner a few years ago -- this actually happened -- the phone rang and a woman said: "Sir, are you interested in helping blind children?"

I felt like barking: "No, lady, I wanna see 'em all locked up in cages! That's the whole problem with this country -- too many blind kids running around spoiling it for the rest of us!"

But all I said was: "Of course I want to help blind children. Who do you think you dialed, Pol Pot?!"

If memory serves, the very next caller was a woman who invited me to be an official sponsor of the symphony orchestra for $500.

I asked if I might just sponsor one of their folding chairs for $5, or better yet, if they would simply swing by the house and pick up one of my folding chairs.

Fortunately, the woman did not ask me to look deep into my soul.

She did, however, hang up on me.

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