Today Fawn enlisted me as an aide to help her bring seven of her former students to Target in Gardena to buy Christmas presents for their families. Somehow she raised enough money to provide each child with a $100 gift card. We had to pick them up from Samuel Gompers Middle School in Watts, so I had my first glimpses of South Central Los Angeles as we waited for the kids (four girls, three boys) to be released from class.
We drove to Gardena, and Target. Before the kids were set loose in the store, we had to go over some guidelines. Since they were all twelve or thirteen years old, it was really important to set a few rules. They weren’t allowed to purchase any CDs, but they could buy movies or video games so long as they were approved by Fawn and myself. Also, they had to write out a list of the people they would be shopping for, and calculate how much money they wanted to spend on each person. It was sort of like an extracurricular math lesson.
Keeping the boys and girls close by proved to be rather difficult, as several of them were prone to wandering. It took about 2 hours to make our way through the store, but by the time we left, everyone had multiple bags of gifts and had spent almost all of their money. I think one of the boys had nine dollars left on his gift card, and that was the most of any of the kids. A few of them didn’t even buy themselves gifts, they spent all their money on family members. Others would spend $40 on a video games for themselves and ten dollars on a set of candles for mom. Oh well.
Perhaps the funniest moment of the day came towards the end of our trip. One of the boys picked an Old Spice gift set for his father that included cologne, shower gel and deodorant. A girl picked up a Britney Spears perfume gift set for her mother. Then one of the other boys noticed the fancy-looking gift boxes and decided he wanted to get one for one of his parents. He walked through the aisle, ten turned a corner down the toiletries aisle, and found what he thought was a suitable gift box. He brought it over to Fawn and I and asked, “What about this one, is this okay?”
He was holding a box containing two different kinds of personal lubricants and a long white applicator that looked remarkably like a dildo.
We both had to stifle our laughter while telling him that it wasn’t such a good idea for a gift. He asked why, and the only response we could muster was, “because it’s for adults.” I’m not sure how exactly we convinced him “because it’s for adults” meant it was wrong for his parents, but he decided to return the item to its shelf and continue looking for a gift elsewhere.
The process of checking out took quite some time. Everyone was told to keep track of how much money they had spent as they were going along, but this did not stop some people from overspending. One girl in particular probably had over two-hundred dollars worth of goods in her shopping cart as she began to have her items scanned.
Once everyone had their gifts bagged, the kids got pizza and hotdogs and popcorn and soda. Then they had to write thank you notes to the people who had donated money, and then it was time to leave.
I drove the boys and Fawn drove the girls home. We had to stop at all seven kids’ houses, which took us back through South Central and into Compton. It was pretty wrenching to see the types of places where they lived. One of the boys was dropped off at his aunt’s house in Compton, but she wasn’t home. We were on a tight schedule, and really didn’t want to leave him alone to wait for her, but we had to do just that. Another house seemed to be without power, and when the front door opened several cats ran out into the street. There were old, beaten mattresses spread across the kitchen floor. In another house, it was obvious that an entire family was sleeping in the same room. It was not the nicest way to conclude what was an otherwise fun, enriching day. I hope all the families do have a merry Christmas this year.
Congratulations, assholes. You’ve all banded together to form a kind of anti-Evan army, and you killed “Creative Writing Monday.” Thanks a lot. The one opportunity I took to share something creative and original with you, and you’ve all helped kill it. I hope you’re happy.