Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What's your motive?

So often I speak of life back home and a life once lived. I tell you tales of where I've been and what I've done and how I cam to be where I currently am. I talk of family and friends and area. What I tell you is just a small portion. There is such a sense of community and belonging in that area. It's geographical, it's cultural, and to a degree it's even religious. Italians and Catholics go hand in hand where I'm from. I don't see or feel that here. I'm not sure if it's a southern thing or a military thing or a little of both. I haven't been stationed north of the Mason-Dixon line nor had an opportunity to do my due diligence and narrow it down to a part of my subculture. It's quite possible that it's just me.

What I do know is that it's changed me. The quid pro quo in my life upsets me. I do, you do is the theme. Rarely, it seems, does someone go out of their way for another without expecting something in return. A few weeks ago, while I was laid up from surgery, my buddy Ty came over and cleaned my house because I simply was unable to. He didn't want anything in return. He then offered to invite me over to his house for dinner, again without looking for a thank you of equal value. I chose to buy the ingredients for dinner as a means to say thank you, but not because I was made to feel obligated to do so. Unfortunately, this is a rarity as of late.

Dr. Jim and I would often talk about the approaches to friendship in terms of money. He and I owe each other between $10 and $20 at any given moment. I buy beers, he buys beers. It doesn't always work out evenly. If we went out to eat, we'd split the check down the middle since there was two of us. Did we consume $25 each? Not always. The money works out over time between friends and if it doesn't, who cares? It's not like I'm buying Jim a $200 iPhone and he picks up a pack of smokes for me which creates a disparity of about $194. It's a few bucks between lifelong friends.

I don't expect everyone to think like I do on this matter. Plus we all come from different financial backgrounds. I may say "aw hell, what's 20 bucks?" and someone else may not readily part with that. I will say that I find it's easier when the natural ebb and flow of money between friends runs it course instead of nitpicking. The check at a restaurant seems to be the biggest. Smartphone calculators or apps for splitting to the penny sometimes come out. "You owe $19.37 and I only owe $17.55." That's petty squabbling in my opinion. In the end, I'm gonna drop a $20 bill and be done with it anyway. (Tip notwithstanding. I'm generalizing).

I don't care about the money. People with money rarely do. I look at people like my dad or Alan, who work their respective tails off to be successful. They aren't successful because they watch every penny. They have no problem spending money, but they take huge issue with wasting it. I'm the same way. Locally, to my insular society in the military, I feel fairly unique. As a result, I end up being withdrawn in my approach and buy my own beers at the bar and don't let people pick things up for me because I don't like  being made to feel like I'm beholden to someone over it. So I take care of myself and let them do the same.

Unfortunately, these behaviors affect me because I'm on love with sociology. I look at the "whys" of people's behavior. I think "why" is the most important question in life. So, everyone once in a while someone does something nice that is totally unexpected and for no reason at all and my first reaction is to wonder, "what's in it for them?" when in reality, they're just being thoughtful. This happened today.

Anyone who knows me is aware of my sweet tooth. I'm no big on chocolate or candy bars, but put cake or a cupcake in front of me and you better be sure to get those fingers away in time. I'll fight someone over cheesecake - try me. Here in Biloxi we have a place called Frostings. They are totally decadent cupcakes and instead of icing on top only, they have a big divot in the middle and the frosting goes inside. They are rich and sweet and more than one at a time is sure to put you in a diabetic coma. I stay far, far away because even looking at the building kicks the insulin production into overdrive. I think you get the point.

Because of my transparency online, everyone knows most of what I do. Some people don't understand why I share so much, but that's besides the point. Out of the blue today, someone told me they had something for me. My first reaction was to hope it was a) a gorgeous woman, b) a duffelbag full of cash, or c) a gorgeous woman holding a duffelbag full of cash. It was none of the above, but it was a cookies n' cream cupcake from Frostings and it appeared on my desk at work while I was teaching.

Here is why this is important. It was purchased by someone I've known since I first got here in Mississippi, however not someone I see often or really at all. We speak on Facebook or when we happen to be in the same company by happenstance. We've never really be particularly close, but always get along well enough. I work with her husband. She must have been up at or near Frostings and knows I'm a big fan of moist chocolate cake slathered in vanilla buttercream with crumbled Oreo pieces mixed in (honestly, who wouldn't be? Communists, I tell ya). It's not expensive - just a couple of bucks. And even though I'm sure this person was already standing at the counter for her own purposes and did very little to add my cupcake to her order, I feel she really went out of her way to think of me.

And there's the rub. In today's society and my particular section of it, when something so small and innocuous happens, my first thought is "what don't I know?" and that really sucks. Are we all so self absorbed that we don't think of anyone else, so when someone things of us we are mistrusting? Maybe there are some people left who do nice things for nice people for no real reason other than to just, simply, be nice. That is what happened today, for sure.

I guess I just hate that this such a rarity that a simple nice deed comes with cynicism. I hate that it's a big enough even to spawn a 1180 word blog post about it. At the same time, it's nice to be pleasantly surprised like this and have some faith in the thoughtfulness of people restored (before some bonehead chips away at it again).

Anyway, the cupcake was delicious and a wonderfully simple surprise that was very unexpected both in timing and by the individual. So... thanks Angela.

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