Damn, but it's hard to be good.
Not the kind of good that seems to elude Bill Clinton. I mean being conscientious, careful, a citizen consumer in the vast dollar democracy, where every dollar spent is a vote for something, some policy or practice, and a dollar not spent or spent elsewhere is a vote against it.
At the market, I check my do-gooder booklets. Are table grapes OK to buy now? Is this shampoo tested on animals? Chinese goods? They might be made by prison-camp labor. Brazilian shoes? Are rain forests still being razed to graze cattle for hides and burger meat? Made in Korea? No place that puts dogs in a soup bowl gets my money. Iceland has stopped killing whales, right? What of India and Pakistan--could this carpet, this soccer ball, be the product of child labor? And weren't a half-dozen Southern California clothing contractors just fined for labor violations?
It's laborious, but spending money, like giving it, is still easier than spending or giving time, easier than the pitch-in, help-out practices of the volunteer cadres among us. To the excuses of the rest of us--having no time, no idea where to go, no idea whether it does any good--John T. Boal has some answers. No, not just answers--choices. It's more American that way.
The tale of the beer vendor and the base- ball star began at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh when the beer vendor, moonlighting from a job in advertising, was bold enough to walk up to Roberto Clemente on autograph day and talk to him in college Spanish. The beer vendor ever after thought of it as a "tattoo moment"--it stays with you forever. Clemente gave him his whole attention, even though "I was a beer vendor and he was a superstar."
Six months later, on New Year's Day 1973, the beer guy, John T. Boal, a Glendale-born kid stuck in the Rust Belt, woke up to a radio telling him that Clemente had died in a plane crash while helping victims of the Nicaraguan earthquake--dying, says Boal, "a volunteer."
It was the first point for the graph line that Boal would plot over his life.
What he learned writing an April 1983 cover story for an airline in-flight magazine--that socially responsible corporations could do well while doing good--was the next dot on his rising line. Then in 1992, Boal was back here, living in Burbank, when he read about another of the vicious and pointless killings that seem to punctuate city life--a thief who murdered Stanley Diamond, "Uncle Stan," the kiddie-train engineer at Travel Town in Griffith Park.
"That one said to me, 'We've got to start changing our ways.' "
Boal had gone back into public relations and advertising and had begun working for nonprofit groups, sometimes at discount rates, sometimes for no pay at all. His daughter was attending Burroughs High School in Burbank, and in the fall of 1993, Boal offered to donate $500 seed money to the school's drama department to stage "West Side Story"--a lesson of young love and young hate--for the kids, but the production never came to pass. "I said to myself: 'I have to do something to get the word out that there are great programs out there and people who want to help.' "
So began 2 1/2 years of culling through eyeball-killing foundation reports, nonprofit newsletters, grants, Internet sites. "It was like panning for gold--I knew there were programs with verifiable solutions that, if replicated, could make a better place." He culled what he found into a book, partly a do-good goad, partly a how-to handbook, titled, "Be a Global Force of One!"
Now the kind of global force most publishers are interested in is the Tom Clancy sort, so Boal pulled $14,000 out of his retirement fund to publish the book himself. A dollar from each $14.95 copy he sells (and sales have not yet cracked 200) goes to the Roberto Clemente Foundation in Pittsburgh to assist at-risk youth.
The book breaks its 202 programs into four topics: community efforts, business undertakings, K-12 school programs and individual opportunities. Almost any interest--reading, sports, animals, arts, computers--is matched with a volunteer program. Alternatives to spring-break college booze binges--doing shopping and delivering for the elderly, planting trees, counting birds or fish for wildlife projects. Sure, a guy's gotta work and bring up his kids, but there's always some time for a little "a la carte volunteering."
"The big battle is for our leisure time. Instead of Disneyland or Magic Mountain this Saturday, factor these good groups into your life . . . it's a long reach to think people will do this but . . . at the end of this century, the best we can do for spending our time is the Spice Girls and three channels of World Wrestling Federation?"
You can clean up your own litter on the hiking trail, neuter your dog, recycle your plastics, take Navy showers and still not have moved beyond yourself. Archimedes was speaking of engineering, not human nature, when he declared: "Give me a lever and a place to stand, and I will move the world." But the principle--a small effort, strategically placed, exerting an immense force--that principle is as true for the man as for the lever he moves.