Thursday, October 7, 2010

Give It Away, Give It Away, Give It Away Now

Something that has often struck me is the paradoxical difficulty of giving things away for free. Having had most of the tickets to Dodgers home games at one time, I can tell you two things: first, not even season ticket holders attend more than a fraction of the games, and second, unloading unused tickets is unimaginably tough. I can easily see why it would be a challenge to sell them. Paying for them is a hurdle surpassed only by people that are fans on at least a certain level, and there's no end of competition among sellers. Free tickets, however, are at least as hard to get rid of if not somehow more so. It's that way with a lot of things, somehow- desirable things. I don't know if I'll ever understand that.

Something I can understand somewhat is the level of apprehension we faced among some the other day when when my friends and I went downtown to dole out free bottles of water on a sweltering day during a record-breaking heatwave. It did not take long to run out of water, as virtually everyone was delighted to take some once they had been assured that there would be no charges levied against them. People already holding drinks were taking water, and some boldly requested more than one, citing a friend nearby. It was pleasant to do something nice, as much as the slowness to believe we would irked me. Most people were glad to take water, that aside.

A handful did decline free water during the hottest part of the hottest day in downtown Los Angeles on record. It's a curious thing, and I can't say why everyone would do so. Some people may just never have been able to bring themselves to accept that there would be free water just when the need was greatest. We're a skeptical lot, and a cynical one as well: what motive might we have for giving away free water anyway, I can imagine them trying to determine. Some others gave me the impression that they were simply too good for free water. For many, accepting anything that sounds like a favor or charity is not going to happen. It's too bad that pride might get in someone's way. Again, though, I'm merely speculating.

Something perhaps not especially germane to this line of discussion occurred to me. I got nervous about openly distributing free water whenever we got near someone trying to make a living on food and drink. Trouble doing what we had set out to might arise from the unintended consequences of charity meddling with the forces of a free market economy. In any case, people were by and large prepared to accept a gift of water, and that basically felt good. People who declined made me feel bad. I guess I take that personally, for some reason, even though someone who breezes by dismissively as people sometimes did probably never saw me as a person exactly in the first place. At least I never saw someone take a water and then throw it away as they might the card for a taxi service.

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