Article Date: 12/1/2005

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Christmas Spirit
A good practical joke beats a charitable donation any day?
JACK RUNNINGER, O.D.

Last year, on Christmas Eve afternoon, a very angry young woman called," wrote the late syndicated columnist Mike Royko. "She and some friends had just rounded up old clothes and toys to give away, but they couldn't find anyone to give them to. All the needy children had already been pretty much picked over.

"I suggested they wait until after Christmas to donate the clothes and toys, since they would be needed perhaps even more then.

"'But Christmas will be over,' the woman wailed, 'and it won't be the same.'"

It seems different

Giving doesn't seem the same as it used to. Nowadays, many folks seem to donate as a "feel good," rather than a helpful, activity. And many charities have become high-pressure businesses. My pet peeve is once you contribute to these charities, you then seem to get on a sucker list and become a target for constant bombardment by mail and phone to give even more.

That's one reason when I was in practice I always found it best, at this time of the year, to make out a budget for my contributions for the following year. Another reason is that it made it much easier to refuse suspect requests.

"I'm sorry, but we've already made our budget commitments for donations for this year," you can say. "If you'll submit your request by mail, we'll be happy to consider it for next year."

Another reason

The other reason I think of Mike Royko now at Christmas time is a description he once gave of a clever practical joke that tickled my funnybone:

A Chicago salesman became bored at the ritual of sending out Christmas cards. So he got an idea.

"You know how folks will write a few personal lines on a card? Well, here's what I did. If a guy had been in the service, I'd write on the card I sent him something like: 'Hi, Joe, old buddy. Got your address from Jim Scanlon (you remember the old barracks moocher). Me and the wife and kids are going to be passing through Chicago during the Christmas holidays, and we'll stop by and spend a night or two with you, so we can sip a few brews and rehash our days in the old outfit.'

"Then I'd sign it with a phony name, something like, 'Your old pal, Wilbur Crull.' I was driving south on a sales trip the next week, so I took the cards along and mailed them from small Southern towns.

A forgotten friend?

"You can imagine how people reacted when the cards came. Wives were yelling, 'Who the hell is this guy? They're going to move in with us during Christmas?!' Husbands were saying, 'For God's sake, I knew a hundred yokels in the army. He could be any one of them!'

"My wife and I talked to several of them after they got the cards. They were in a panic. One couple had such an argument about his lousy old-time friends, they almost got divorced. Another friend of mine wouldn't answer his doorbell if he didn't recognize the person outside.

"Next year I'm going to send them another card and say, 'Joe, old buddy. My pickup truck broke down and we couldn't make it to Chicago last year. But we'll be there for sure this year, ya' hear?'" OM

JACK RUNNINGER, OUR CONSULTING EDITOR, LIVES IN ROME, GA. HE'S ALSO A PAST EDITOR OF OM. CONTACT HIM AT RUNNINGERJ@AOL.COM



Optometric Management, Issue: December 2005