Sunday, February 24, 2008

Marked



Marked

Wilkins wasn’t the kind of person who normally quoted cultural theorists. Nothing kills a party like saying, “Well, Baudrillard would say….” If you’re busting out a line like that, Wilkins liked to joke, you better hope you hate getting laid.

Wilkins didn’t like sounding pompous, and he certainly didn’t like quoting things he didn’t fully understand. And yet, ever since working for the internet non-profit, he’d been thinking a lot about Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others.

On Monday morning, Wilkins poured himself some coffee. Then he put on his putty-colored headset and dialed the phone. “Hello Mr. Phelps,” Wilkins said. “I’m calling on behalf of the Improved Life Foundation. Would you like to make a difference in the life of a child for the small donation of only a few hours’ wages?”

A complicated sigh from the other end of the line: agitation, displeasure, guilt. “Listen,” the potential patron said, “I’m on food stamps right now and between jobs. Can you just send me some pamphlets and I’ll get back to you?”

“Of course, sir, thank you for your time,” Wilkins said.

Back when he first started, Wilkins had joked about the people he telephoned. He had called them “marks”: “I sweet-talked this mark and got a grand out of her.”

Now, he just called them “patrons.”

He put a note in the database to send potential patron Phelps a pamphlet that afternoon. After lunch, Wilkins slid the glossy brochure into the business envelope. Before sealing the envelope with his soft, yellow sponge, he removed the shiny, high-resolution brochure and studied it.

There are so many photographs of suffering, but the human being only has so large a reserve of empathy.

After sealing the envelope, Wilkins stepped out to the gray parking lot for a break. He watched the smoke of his cigarette climb upward as he felt the nicotine refuel his body. How big was the world, he wondered, in relation to the size of his cigarette? He could understand the cigarette, but not the size of the world.

8 comments:

k's mumbo jumbo said...

Today was a good day. I know you may not believe that. I know that what you see is someone living in squaller. A mud home, a cooking fire and a single pot of rice to cook on it. Ragged clothes that are decades old, shoes made from old bottle. I have no television, computer, video games. I don't even have running water.

But today was a good day. I have a mud home, rice to cook in my pot. I have water to cook my rice with. And I have clothes on my back and shoes on my feet. Today, I did not bury anyone I love. I did not hear a child crying in hunger, or see a mother raped.

Today was a good day.

Cynthia said...

Walk a mile in my shoes.

Well, I dare you.

I found these soda bottles, tied them to stay on my feet, and walked to get water.

What did you do today?

Cynthia said...

"Mom, I want those sneakers."

"No way."

"But all the kids are wearing them."

"I am not spending $125 on a pair of sneakers you'll grow out of in six months. I don't spend that on my sneakers. No."

"Fine. All the kids will make fun of me. You're the worst mom ever."

Anonymous said...

We marched fifteen miles the first day, twenty miles the next. The youngest children and the elderly we had left behind us long ago. I wore rags tied around my feet, and the fabric wore away, and then the skin on the soles of my feet.

In the camp, they had no medicine for me, but a healing women made a salve of cool leaves, and they say I cried out for my mother in fever.

My feet will always be tender, but I will never wear rags again. One day, soon, I will even have shoes.

Brooke Arnett said...

Wilkins wasn’t the kind of person who normally quoted cultural theorists. Nothing kills a party like saying, “Well, Baudrillard would say….” If you’re busting out a line like that, Wilkins liked to joke, you better hope you hate getting laid.

Wilkins didn’t like sounding pompous, and he certainly didn’t like quoting things he didn’t fully understand. And yet, ever since working for the internet non-profit, he’d been thinking a lot about Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others.

On Monday morning, Wilkins poured himself some coffee. Then he put on his putty-colored headset and dialed the phone. “Hello Mr. Phelps,” Wilkins said. “I’m calling on behalf of the Improved Life Foundation. Would you like to make a difference in the life of a child for the small donation of only a few hours’ wages?”

A complicated sigh from the other end of the line: agitation, displeasure, guilt. “Listen,” the potential patron said, “I’m on food stamps right now and between jobs. Can you just send me some pamphlets and I’ll get back to you?”

“Of course, sir, thank you for your time,” Wilkins said.

Back when he first started, Wilkins had joked about the people he telephoned. He had called them “marks”: “I sweet-talked this mark and got a grand out of her.”

Now, he just called them “patrons.”

He put a note in the database to send potential patron Phelps a pamphlet that afternoon. After lunch, Wilkins slid the glossy brochure into the business envelope. Before sealing the envelope with his soft, yellow sponge, he removed the shiny, high-resolution brochure and studied it.

There are so many photographs of suffering, but the human being only has so large a reserve of empathy.

After sealing the envelope, Wilkins stepped out to the gray parking lot for a break. He watched the smoke of his cigarette climb upward as he felt the nicotine refuel his body. How big was the world, he wondered, in relation to the size of his cigarette? He could understand the cigarette, but not the size of the world.

K Jones said...

The schoolmaster said to line up. To choose teams, he said. I felt silly in my shoes and I knew I could not kick the football, but I lined up by the other children. They had no shoes. I was not chosen first. Salim is always chosen first, but I was not chosen last either. The schoolmaster laughed when I joined my squad. He called me a peculiar lad. I will learn to kick the football. He will see.

Brooke Arnett said...

Thanks, R.F. editors, I'm flattered. Also excited that you are updating again with prompts.

FTR, it's "Arnett," not "Arnette."

I cross-posted this story in my fiction blog. I chose a different title, though; thanks to whoever at R.F. provided the creative contribution of "Marked." Here it is:

http://storyaday.net/2008/05/03/34-non-profit/

JFS said...

Touching picture.

http://humboldtparkacademy.blogspot.com/