Excerpt: 'Obscure & Irregular' by Eli S. Evans
On the Kindness of Others
On the other side of a bridge in need of repair I drive past a peculiar gentleman. On the back of his bright yellow jacket the words “Volunteers ARE Superheroes” – just so, with the “are” underlined and in all capital letters – have been written in black paint, and with a pair of gloved hands he holds aloft a cardboard sign on which he, or for all I know someone else, has written, with probably the same black paint, “Thank You, Volunteers!” A couple of days earlier, and at a different time of the day, I saw the same gentleman walking along the edge of a busy highway, wearing the same jacket and holding the same sign; it is very cold out, but he must be spending a lot of time doing this, and covering a lot of ground. Now, I glance in my rearview mirror and although there is not another car in sight, he is still holding the sign as high above his head as the length of his arms permits.
By chance, I am on my way to a café I often go to in order to write, a daily labor the performance of which provides me with that regular experience of challenge and subsequent accomplishment that is, according to recent research, crucial to the attainment of personal happiness. As I have never earned a taxable quantity of income from this labor, I ask myself, might the time I spend writing not be considered a form of volunteerism? I would very much like for this to be the case, in particular because the same recent research indicates that altruistic activity also contributes to the attainment of personal happiness. But there exists a certain presumption that volunteer work, in order to be considered as such, must be of some kind of service to someone other than the person performing it, and I am forced to admit that in this regard my work as a writer likely falls short.
It occurs to me that much the same could be said of this peculiar gentleman’s no doubt equally unremunerated work walking the local highways and byways with his painted sign and yellow jacket were it not for the fact that, in so doing, he has given me something to write about, in so doing making a valuable contribution to my attainment of personal happiness.
Excerpted from Obscure & Irregular by Eli S. Evans © 2021 Moon Rabbit Drinking Club & Benevolence Society
Illustration by Patrick Giroux
Photograph by Jeramey Jannene: Streets of Milwaukee, 2006 (CC)