It came at dinner, as it always does. The male voice on the line had assumed that false heartiness instantly recognizable to the hearer, and I was suddenly on a first name basis with a stranger. His name was Steve; he was fundraising for a veterans' group, and could I see my way clear to a twenty-five dollar donation?
"Listen. . .Steve," I said. "I appreciate what you're doing, but we limit ourselves to supporting some local charities. I'm sorry, but I just can't do it right now."
A few seconds of silence, and Steve's voice lost its friendly tone. "You're kidding me, right? How hard is it to come up with a few bucks?"
Taken aback by his rudeness, I was prepared to blast him. But perhaps he was a veteran himself, which meant I owed him, at the very least, an answer.
"I just can't right now," I said again, "I'm sorry," and moved to hang up the phone.
"You know," he said, "I didn't lose my leg doin' something stupid on a motorcycle. I didn't get drunk and have a car accident." His voice rose. "I lost it serving my country, damn it."
Suddenly it wasn't a disembodied telemarketer on the phone. His anguish and anger came through all too clearly.
"And I'm grateful to you for that, please believe me," I said. "But I was polite to you. I didn't hang up. And do you know I can afford twenty-five dollars? What if I had a sick kid? What if I were taking care of an elderly parent? You don't know me any more than I know you."
He sighed. "You're right. I'm sorry. It's just so frustrating. You have no idea what it's like to call and beg people for money. They're rude. They hang up on me."
"As it happens," I said. "I am able to make a donation. But maybe not everybody can."
We talked for a few more minutes. I promised not to hang up on paid fundraisers. He promised to remember that times are tough for people right now. I thanked him again for his service. And I told him to put me down for twenty-five bucks.
Causes Rosemary DiBattista Supports
The Alzheimer's Association