When we were kids, my parents would occasionally take us to play in a park that had a jungle gym. My sisters, two and four years younger than myself, would love nothing better than to mount the monkey bars, traversing from one end to the other, hand over hand, swinging like orangutans all the way. Fat and lazy, I had no interest in any activity remotely athletic, and would look about for somewhere to sit and watch. My father would record the action on black and white film or with a Super 8 movie camera, occasionally swiveling around to zoom in on me, sitting at a picnic table and staring off into space.
At home, we had a standard issue suburban swing set in the back yard. My favorite part was the glider, because the bench was wide and I didn’t have to perch as one must on the swings or teeter-totter. Big plus: It was nearly impossible to fall off the glider.
My sisters, by contrast, preferred flying as high as possible on the swings, preferably in a standing position, or grabbing the top bar to perform all manner of one-handed and two-handed flips and gyrations. When not on the swing set, gymnastics was their thing. They could do cartwheels and somersaults and walk on their hands, but our mother wouldn’t allow them to do the split, claiming it would damage their insides and give them trouble when it came time to have babies.
When my grandparents came to visit, Grandpa and I would sit on the back deck or descend the stairs into the yard, watching my sisters’ acrobatic antics all the while. “Can you do that?” he’d ask me sarcastically upon observing some gravity-defying flip. I’d glare at him with hatred. If only I’d had enough guts to ask whether he could imitate my sisters.
Among my sisters’ most amazing feats, at least in my opinion, was the headstand. They’d often ask me to hold their legs so that they could get into the proper position without tipping over. Then I’d step back and they’d be able to hold the pose for longer than I thought humanly possible.
I was reminded of this recently while playing with my little grandniece, holding her legs up so she could stand on her head on the soft couch. I guess I’ve always found something appealing about flipping upside down, standing on one’s head to view the world from a different perspective.
One thing I’d like to invert and stand on its head is the Suspended Coffee movement that has gained some press in recent years. The idea is to help the poor by performing a particular random act of kindness, namely paying for an extra coffee so that someone who cannot afford one can later come into the coffee shop and get a drink for free. It’s supposed to be a feel-good kind of thing, not unlike paying for the order of the car behind you at the Starbucks drive-through. Even though this costs businesses nothing (the “free” coffee being given out has already been paid for), most coffee shops won’t have anything to do with suspended coffees. Certainly the big chains, such as Starbucks Coffee and Peet’s Coffee and Tea refuse to get involved. I’ve read that coffee shops complain that it is takes too much time and effort to keep track of how many coffees have been paid for in advance. Even in the shops where suspended coffees are available, I can’t help wondering whether a homeless person dying for a cuppa joe must settle for plain black, or whether he can actually glom onto a caramel macchiato.
Today I looked up the nearest location at which I might purchase a suspended coffee for someone in need. The place is 116 miles away. Despite the fact that some businesses around the world have latched on to the suspended coffee movement, the fact is that in most places it simply is not available.
Considering that the coffee is paid for first and poured later, the reticence of coffee shops irks me more than a little. After all, we’re not asking them to donate anything. Not that asking them to donate to the poor would be out of line, when one realizes the obscene profits that the coffee chains earn each year.
I say let’s stand the suspended coffee movement on its head, much as my sisters loved to do as kids. Let the coffee be given out to those in need, and let a mark be made on a chalkboard or in a ledger for those who wish to contribute to pay for it later. After all, there are a few establishments where those with little money can have a snack or a meal and pay what they are able. Panera Bread has done this successfully in some locations, giving the lie to the notion that huge corporations must necessarily value profit over community. Those who can afford to pay more than the cost of their meal do so, which offsets the cost of the food of customers who can pay little or nothing. Some economists insist that this model cannot work in the long run, while others shy away from the pay-what-you-can idea as “socialism.”
Slogans for the pay-what-you-can movement include “take what you need, leave your fair share” and “so all may eat.” The idea that food should be a right, not a privilege, is an old one. That this is viable within a profit-making businesses, courtesy of generous customers, is what is new.
And yet food service businesses balk and scoff. Why give out a free coffee and hope that someone else will pay for it at an unspecified later time when such time may never arrive? This attitude indicates a lack of faith in our fellow man.
National chains (and small local establishments, too) justify their actions by claiming that they engage in charitable giving annually and that it’s their choice to stay away from the pay-what-you-can “gimmick.”
But what do you expect? When coffee shops refuse to join the suspended coffee movement in which products are paid for in advance, I suppose it’s unreasonable to expect them to stand on their heads and give out food that may or may not be paid for by others.
The bottom line is that it’s just so much easier to simply say “no” to those in need.