Readers of The San Francisco Chronicle will certainly be familiar with the columnist Jon Carroll, one of their few remaining writers of any skill or wit.
Jon Carroll is the brain behind The Untied Way, his annual call to a unique form of charitable giving. It works like this:
Go to your ATM and take out $100 in crisp $20 bills. The $100 figure is a suggestion only; $200 would be better and $40 would be splendid, too. What's one-five-hundredth of your annual gross income? Surely that's little enough to handle the need and want in your area.So for years now, Jon Carroll's "Untied Way" has become a tradition in the Bay Area and each year his column is repeated and new twists on the theme are developed and shared in his column. One of these new twists is the act of paying out the layaway account of strangers at stores like K-Mart.
Take these lovely bills and go to a busy area in your community. If your community does not have a busy area, downtown San Francisco is darned busy this time of year.
Walk along the street admiring whatever you choose to admire. When someone asks you for money, give that person a $20 bill. Repeat this process until all the 20s are gone. Voila and zip: the Untied Way.
Below the orange mistletoe, I will tell you what happened to one such reader, Robert H. Oliver, when he went to his local K-Mart to anonymously pay up several layaway accounts.
"Nixed the boxes with electronics etc. But found many with what can only be described as touching. Simple kids' toys, often with some clothing. Someone wanted to have a Christmas for their kids - but without the funds or credit card to immediately purchase.A soccer ball on layaway? What does this say about the depth of need in our country? What does it say when a family can't scrape together the funds to buy a single, lousy soccer ball for their kid for Christmas? On Amazon a soccer ball costs between $6.99 and $13.99.
"Result - I had tried to conform to your kind of suggestion - as I recall, maybe $200 or so. Well, the result was a substantially greater contribution than planned. Won't save the world, or even a life. But maybe the person who gets a little surprise when they go to pick up their well-chosen layaways will have their day eased a bit. And if none of that happens, I had a great time, and renewed appreciation for my good fortune - OK to have a selfish feeling, I hope.
"P.S.: Among all the boxes was a single soccer ball. On layaway. Man, as much as we might think we are worldly, and have a grip on our community, we really have no idea about the daily walk of many good folks."
At least there are a few good folks like Mr. Oliver and Jon Carroll and all the readers that they have inspired by their own decent example. But, goddammit, a soccer ball on layaway?