Try This At Home

Three Cases to Delay the World’s
Slow Slide Towards the Dark Side

A retiring owner decides to give away his business to employees. A cab driver returns a wad of cash left in his car. A mayor who’ll spend a week on Food Stamps. These sound like cliche plots for yet another boring season of television sitcoms. Except that they’re not.
Joe Lueken is really giving his 46-year-old grocery chain away to his 400-plus employees. Las Vegas cabbie Adam Woldemarin did return over $200 grand to a twice-lucky gambler. And Newark Mayor Cory Booker is indeed set to try living on a meager stipend.
Before going any further, though, let’s get some debris out of the way. We don’t know any of these people, never shopped at Village Foods in Bemidji, haven’t ridden a cab in Vegas, or even cast a vote in Jersey. In fact, readers of this blog know we’re no cheerleaders for anyone or anything.
But, let’s face it, this sort of stories are in terribly short supply these days, and heaven knows they’re so few and far between, we wonder whether someone is not pulling our leg this time too. If they are, you probably know the drill better than we, that shame-on-them, shame-on-us business.
We’re sure that for much less, many have been called heroes, and may even have believed for a moment that they were indeed special, just for doing the right thing. Because in an ideal word, there shouldn’t be mention about these random acts of honesty, compassion, however you may call them.
It’s quite possible, though, that since there’s a politician among these examples, you may be feeling some itch on that cynical bone of yours, and that’s alright. Because our aim is to retell these stories as if we all could completely relate to them, with a full list of our own acts to add.

That’s the point, really: whether our own solidarity file is awfully empty, and dusty, with the last reports dating back more than a year or so. If that’s the case, it’s time to brush up your ‘humanese’ and get that pretty behind of yours behind some real humanitarian stuff real soon. Or write yourself a sitcom about it.
We don’t know whether that’s what’s behind 70-year-old Lueken‘s decision to pass the ownership of his three stores, two in Minnesota, and one in South Dakota, to his employees. It’s certainly not because he’s single, or has no next of kin: his wife and four sons have been always involved in the business.
But through a Employee Stock Ownership Program, he’s rewarding people who’re with the company since it opened in 1978, and we wonder what the former GOP presidential candidate would say about it, since he, not his dad’s employees, inherited a much wealthier business that set him up for life.
That itch bone of yours may get all tense up when you learn that Lueken has Parkinson’s Disease too. But according to Star Tribute’s Larry Oakes, the many offers for his chain, that could’ve given Lueken more money, wouldn’t really make the kind of difference he’s about to make in his community. Besides, since when falling seriously sick necessarily makes one more charitable?

Do you know how many laptops get lost and never recovered in New York? Neither do we, but the point is, try not to loose yours. Because if you do, chances are, you won’t be seeing it again ever. Not if you also left inside it a couple of hundred thousand dollars in cash. Fuhgeddaboudit, right? Well, not really.
If you were in Las Vegas last September, spent a whole night gambling, got lucky, hurried back to your hotel in a cab, in time to check out and fly away that same morning, things may have happened differently. And they did, for you were lucky enough to board Adam Woldemarin‘s taxi.
That’s because, despite the fact that you’ve forgot in that taxi your laptop with all your precious family and friends photos, addresses, sites you shouldn’t be surfing on under your password, oh, and yes, $221,510 in cash, someone called you with the second best news of the day.
That would’ve been someone from Woldemarin’s company, after the driver returned the money. And gosh, weren’t you happy about that call? As we said, this is not some utterly unoriginal idea for a new reality show. It just happened to a few people in Las Vegas and, grasp, didn’t stay there.
Now, to make you feel really crappy for not having returned that cheap pen in high school (hey, it’s the principle that counts), so now you’d be used to return everything, even when no one saw you picking it up: Woldemarin has already sent the unidentified man’s $2,000 tip to his family in Ethiopia. And went back to work.

Now let’s tread carefully with this story. After all, Cory Booker has a knack for being caught doing the right thing so many times, a professional gambler would easily give you the odds of something like that to happen again in a Newark minute. Last time we checked, he was helping a neighbor leave a building in flames, so you know what we mean.
But here’s the story, according to Politico’s Bobby Cervantes. After Booker tweeted that investing in ‘schools, nutrition, etc’ would ultimately save taxpayers’ money, a ‘self-described Army wife and veteran’ responded also on Twitter that ‘nutrition is not a responsibility of the government.’
That touched off a brief exchange that had, in the end, setting up a challenge, by Booker, for the author to join him: ‘Lets (sic) you and I try to live on food stamps in New Jersey (high cost of living) and feed a family for a week or month. U game?’ And that’s how it all stands so far.
The author of the reply, whose handle on Twitter is @MWadeNC, has taken upon the challenge, and apparently there are many offers to referee the pseudo-contest. Since many details remain to be discussed, not the least of them how much exactly should the Food Stamps value be set, no date has been determined yet.
But if you abstract the mayor’s cartoon-ish bravado display, and even whether that proves anything, it’s still a headline-grabbing effort to attract attention to those families who are indeed living off a couple of hundred dollars a week, and still get called ‘takers’ by millionaires.

As for us, what we may take out of these three earnest stories, however as imperfect as reality often is they may be, is that our file on humanity and solidarity and compassion and all that is really lacking. To be honest, we bet that the last time we added anything of substance to it we still had all our teeth in place.
That means that the thousand times we’ve petted stray cats on our way, or the overblown tips we give servers right after our few and far in between checks arrive, do not count. None of them. And all those ‘thankyous’ too, very nice and polite that they were, haven’t added much to our profile either.
At the same time, there’s no even a point in listing all the breaks we have caught only this past year, and the many instances when a complete stranger showed us how it’s done, and how often it can be done, and how it’s never too much to add an extra dose of care to everything we do for someone else.
Let’s face it, we haven’t learned much so far, and only hope that we may still have some time left to make up for some of our deficit. In the meantime, it’s advisable that we pay careful attention to that itch bone of ours, the one that makes our less than pretty behind move and get something good done, for crying out loud.
Not having a business to give away, or a big pile of cash to return to anyone we don’t know, our choices are rapidly dwindling to that week spent on food stamps. Maybe that was the sole purpose of including the last case here; it’s the only one still open to our contribution. Then again, you may hopefully say, we don’t even vote in New Jersey, so…

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