Seattle’s trendy university district is brimming with progressive, liberal and uniquely self-expressed youth. Its deliberate displays of activism are on every vegan restaurant, every store’s “End the War” sign, and every tattoo. On University Ave, you’re lost if you’re not proclaiming your rejection of popular culture with force and pride. Though I’m a native Seattleite, I glide through the shops with the eyes of a tourist. I may be wearing the trendy and oh-so-humanitarian Tom shoes that donate a pair for every shoe purchases (I got them before I knew they were in style, I promise!), but I am in no way a part of this crowd. The mere fact that I’m dressed modestly and pushing a stroller places me on the outskirts (my personal statement: “Go Motherhood!” Um, not so popular here).
I was having fun getting lost in the Ave’s anti-establishment culture, observing the punk undertone of the rainy city’s college students. Conscious of my outsider status, I stepped into a vintage-clothing shop. As long as I didn’t have to get involved and assert myself too much, this was a fun, no-pressure rendezvous.
But it was only a matter of time until the Ave tried to embed me in its culture of personal declarations. After finding a surprisingly ordinary skirt that I deemed essential to my wardrobe, I headed towards the nose-pierced, gothic girl behind the counter. She was friendly and we closed the purchase without any attention on my obviously lackluster identity. I signed a squiggly line with two dots for my name, smiled and took my bag. But a human interaction here could never be that simple, that monotone, so vain. Before I walked off, the store-attendant stopped me to let me know that, with my purchase, the shop would donate five cents to any one of their three listed charities.
She pointed to the three boxes on the counter. Each had a title and description, but I didn’t have the mind for reading. She noticed my pause and was quick to guide me. “This one’s for people, this one’s for animals and this one’s for land.” Way to break it down. Of course, she was able to give over each charity’s essence because that’s how people on the Ave work. They know without blinking – and screamed by the pins on their shirt – what they most align with. And now, in the guise of giving, I was being asked to declare my allegiance. I knew I couldn’t take this opportunity casually. I had to assert myself!
Everything from here on out was in slow motion. I must have looked insane, wavering my five cents back and forth over the charities. Never before had a nickel been so significant. Where did my loyalty lie? Do I feel more strongly for the cause of the people, the land or animals? Everyone else on University Avenue knows where they stand, who they identify with, what they support. But not me. I’m just a Jewish girl from Seward Park with no intrinsic statement.
I stared at the “People” box. My nickel hovered. Obviously, humans are more important than the land, and certainly more than animals. I looked at the “Land” box. Environment. Saving the trees. We take so much from the earth and how often do we give back? And then there was the animal charity. While I love animals and treasure a trip to the zoo, I don’t have a pet and I don’t really think that giving towards an animal cause will better the world. Internally, no heartstrings were pulled. As a human, I knew I had to choose “People” or “Land.”
I could feel Gothic Girl raising her antennas, sniffing me out. I knew my nickel would say a lot. But a lot about what? I quickly ran it through the air above the boxes and knew where I had to put it.
I dropped my nickel right into the “Animals” box.
If the cashier concluded I was a vegan, animal loving, PETA activist (of which there are many in this city), she was wrong. I gave to animals inspite of the fact that people and land are closer to my heart. You see, in the end, I chose the charity that was the least about me. In a place where people are consumed with expressing their identity and shouting their own save-the-world causes, I aligned myself with something that said nothing about my personal loyalty. So don’t say I never did anything anti-establishment, okay?
It felt good to give to a charity without any personal ties. Here, on the Ave, I took a stand for the essence of charity! To give for giving’s sake! Take that, Gothic Girl! As it turns out, even my nickel has something to say.
Mimi is the founder of LadyMama