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Everyone’s looking for a handout

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With tax day approaching, citizens nationwide are grasping at straws from business lunches past, frantically searching coat pockets and dresser drawers for any evidence of forgotten deductible contributions. Coming up empty, their instinct will be to write a check to the nearest needy. Unfortunately, it's too late; like the Academy Awards, you had to do it last year to get credit for it this year.

While I certainly believe in giving to a worthy cause, I usually discover that, like many families, we gave most of our expendable income to the Disney Corporation last year and had little left over for anyone else. Admittedly, my definition of a worthy cause -- any disease I might get -- is somewhat narrow. It certainly excludes street performers who look to me for patronage.I met one of those recently when I parked my car right where a musician (and I use the term loosely) was attempting to play the guitar. As I was feeding the meter, he approached me with a big smile and said, "Hey, lady, I see you've got some spare change. How about a donation?"

I wondered why he thought it was "spare" change, when I was obviously using it to pay for my parking. Rather than challenge him on that point, I simply asked, "A donation to what?"

"To me. You support the arts, don't you?"

"You bet! In fact, I went to the Rolling Stones concert a few weeks ago and was supportive to the tune of $65, not counting the T-shirt."

"No, really," he continued, his smile fading, "can you help me out?"

"Well, here's an idea: Get a job, and then after work, you can relax and play the guitar without worrying about the weather."

The smile was replaced by an obscene gesture, which I thought was poor marketing on his part, since obviously I'd have to return to my car soon enough, and I might have softened by then. But, I wondered, was I wrong? Was I being uncharitable? What is charity, anyway? It may begin at home, but judging by the number of solicitations that come in the mail, on the phone and in person, it doesn't stay there for long.

The questions come almost daily: Would you like to buy a ticket to the policeman's ball? Big Brothers and Big Sisters will have a truck in your neighborhood -- do you have any used salable clothing? How many boxes of Girl Scout cookies can we put you down for? (If Thin Mints are tax deductible, I'm definitely getting a refund.)

And those are the little people. There are much bigger people, whole foundations full, suggesting "voluntary" donations in the triple-digits. For example, there's the Alzheimer Foundation. Judging from the amount of mail they send me, we're engaged.

Don't get me wrong -- Alzheimer's is my middle name. My mother's diagnosis in 1981 was cutting-edge, and since then, I have supported any organization that begins with an A, hoping a cure is found before I completely forget that I ever met The Beatles.

But I wish they would stop sending me blank greeting cards and instead spend my money in the lab before the researchers themselves forget what disease they're trying to cure. After all, scientists get old, too.

Guilt is a big tool in the charity business, and it certainly works with me. During the holiday season, I dread passing every Salvation Army bucket, even though I just stuffed a fiver in another one I passed a few blocks back.

Avoiding eye contact with the bell ringer, I usually mumble an apology and scurry away.

It's not just the charities and the IRS who want my money; these days, everywhere I go there's a hand out looking for a handout. Just last week, my son lost a 12-year molar and demanded payment. I claimed he wasn't entitled to a dime since he no longer believes in the Tooth Fairy. He explained it was hush money to keep the Tooth Fairy's reputation intact and that I was potentially hurting little children everywhere.

Looks like we've got a future tax attorney in the family.