So I have a kid now.
I was looking for a bathroom after having one of the more depressing lunches of my life at Port Authority, where I was killing time waiting for my doctor's appointment. Between me and the bathroom happened to be a remarkably cute and charming black girl with a million kitten smile and excellent teeth.
"You made eye contact," she said, coyly, "now you have to talk to me."
"I know the rules," I said.
So I walked over to her, and she began her pitch for Children International. I wasn't really listening, so I held my hand up.
"Shh. Just tell me what you need."
I assumed a donation or an email would do and let me continue to the bathroom, but it turned out there was a much more complicated application process to begin a sponsorship process. She complimented my handwriting as I filled out my name, contact details, and credit card information.
Then it got a little tricky. I was supposed to choose where I wanted my child to be. I looked at the list of countries, which were universally countries I knew nothing about, except that they were all countries where they supply the child models for commercials about poverty and starvation. She directed me to the "Emergency Fund" checkbox, where they'd just pick the next neediest country.
Next, she asked, with her charming voice, if I'd like a little boy or a little girl. This was my exact thought process: Well, I'd far prefer more women than men in this world, and little girls grow up in the most delightful ways. Do I really want to admit that I checked a gender box on charity program application because I like having sex with girls? No, probably not. But do I want to tell anyone that I ever uttered the words "I'd like a little boy" in a non-ironic context? Definitely not.
"Uh… I don't know how to answer that question."
"That's okay, you can just circle both and they'll pick for you."
So I wrapped up the application, thanked her, and went for the bathroom. It was appalling, there was no toilet paper, and there appeared to be a resident population I was getting in the way of, so I left. I pondered that there probably should have been a checkbox for New York City on the application, but that wouldn't really be Children International. It made me feel good about my country, and I'd never thought of it in these terms, that there are charities exclusively dedicated to other countries.
That good feeling lasted until my doctor prescribed me Klonopins, which I probably won't take.
Yesterday, I received the information on my child. They gave me a little boy in Honduras named Jose Armando Vasquez Lopez, and he is the cutest little boy in the entire fucking universe and I'll kill anyone who says otherwise.
They sent me a bunch of information on Honduras that made me feel like an asshole for not knowing, but that I've really had no good reason to know until sixteen hours ago. Honduras is the "Land of Paradise and Poverty" which reminded me a lot of Maine, the "Land of Vacations and Alcoholism." Naturally, there is sharp disparity in resource distribution, and a 25% illiteracy rate. Clinics and hospitals are overrun, of course. They like futbol. This is all completely abstract to me.
But Jose is different, somehow, probably because I have his picture and family information sitting next to my laptop. Jose was born on June 29th, 2001. He's 3 feet and 7 inches, and weighs 42 pounds, and his favorite subjects in school are grammar and math. I liked math when I was 9, but hated, and still hate, grammar. He likes playing with toys and cars (I'm not sure if these are toy cars, or if he plays with real cars, which I imagine is difficult at 3 foot 7), and singing and drawing.
His father abandoned him and his two sisters and three brothers, so he lives with his mother, whose job is listed as homemaker. The family monthly income is $105. This gives me a little pause, since I spent more than that closing my last bar tab. He lives in a two bedroom house with the rest of his family. It's made of bamboo, with a corrugated metal roof and dirt floors. I think about my inability to clean cat litter off my floor with appropriate regularity. Their cooking stove runs on wood. The sanitary facility is listed as "open field."
I cannot express how cleverly and completely Children International has slashed through my cynicism. I still don't care about "the starving children in the world" but hell if I don't want Jose to get proper medical care and an education. I want to send him books and maybe skip a few glasses of wine to send his family another twenty bucks a month. I see him growing up to be a poet or an engineer, a world famous athlete, or president of the goddamn world.
The poor have never been invisible or disturbing to me, since I'm almost a socialist in the capitalist lie machine, and I know some people need help, and I've needed help before, too. There's a line of logic saying that you'll need less help if you don't give help, but if that were followed to the letter, only the lucky and the powerful would live, and those people very rarely have anything interesting to say. I've dropped as much as twenty bucks to the homeless performers on the New York streets. Do I need that money? Sure, and I'm pathetically broke for the amount of money I make, due to habits like this, but if you can argue that someone without a home needs a given twenty dollar bill less than I do, power to you. I'd like to hear your case. I've said before and I'll say again, if I get to the point where I want to drink myself to death, I hope some passing strangers will help me, and I would help another man do it without judgement.
But that's all a philosophical and ethical stance that I only enact in the moment. I consider caring about the worlds a world away to be a form of false empathy, which detracts from the immediate, interpersonal empathy that would do our species so much more good. Which is why this organization is so clever; Jose's a person now, a person to me. I'll get letters from him. I'll see him grow in yearly increments when they send new pictures. Most importantly, I don't feel like I'm condescending to a person who didn't ask for my help, since the desperation of the situation and the impersonality of the organization managing the transaction eliminates all the awkward and inconsistent etiquette involved in helping strangers.
Maybe the fact that I'm a confirmed bachelor with no intention of having kids, but with a nagging desire to be proud of someone besides myself, suits me to this kind of charity. The stress of having a kid would surely kill me, but the responsibility of feeding my cats and now helping pay for Jose's medical expenses probably do more to keep me functioning than Klonopins ever would.