LAKE FOREST, Il. Chuck Schwermer is a 52-year old unmarried video game aficionado who writes code for Aviatrix Technology, a leading maker of air traffic control software. “It’s not a job that exercises the full range of my intelligence,” he says, “but it sustains me while I implement my five-year plan for world domination.”
Viewed as a loner, Chuck is nonetheless subject to a constant barrage of charitable appeals from colleagues, a fact of life in the modern workplace. “If employers would simply bar employees from fund-raising on the job, we wouldn’t have to outsource jobs to Upper Volta or Indiana,” notes Illinois Department of Labor economist Martin Gyorgy.
But Chuck and others like him are at the forefront of a new trend that is addressing the problem of intrusive office charitable appeals in guerilla fashion by using a sort of mental jiu-jitsu to repel donation-seekers. “I put the onus on them to change the world, one Chuck at a time,” he says with a sardonic smile.
“Has anybody seen my giant pen? I need to write the amount in my giant check register.”
Alison Boul is a relative newcomer to the company, and she approaches Chuck with a request that he sponsor her participation in a Saturday “Walk to End Shin Splints.” “That sounds like a good cause,” Chuck says as he eyes the leggy 26-year-old, “but I don’t have shin splints.”
“Oh, you don’t have to, Mr. Schwermer,” the woman begins, but he cuts her off. “You know, there’s a Star Trek convention downstate in Danville this Sunday,” he says. “That’s about 150 miles each way. Most guys won’t have dates. I’d pay you–I don’t know–$1 a mile for your shin splint charity if you’d come with me.”
The fun she’s missing out on.
Boul is taken by surprise, and begins to backpedal from Schwermer’s cubicle. “Uh, thanks, but I think I’ll still be pretty sore from the walk,” she says.
“Not a problem,” he responds. “We’d drive down and I could carry you fireman’s style around the convention,” but the woman is gone, having fled down the hallway as fast as office decorum permits.
Fireman’s carry: A real turn-on for some guys.
Other “charity refuseniks” resort to deception to repel solicitations, such as Ned Philburn of the Keokuk, Iowa, Consolidated Water District. “I’ve never understood why I have to support your damn kid’s Pop Warner football team,” he says as he takes a bite of a Snickers bar while watching a pressure valve fluctuate. “I’ve got enough problems of my own,” he adds just as Jim Vlisbek, a father of twin girls, rounds the corner carrying a box of chocolate bars.
“Hey Ned,” Vlisbeck says as Philburn crumples up his candy wrapper and tosses it in his wastebasket. “I’m selling chocolate bars to raise money so my daughters’ U-12 soccer team can go to Disney World,” he continues. “It’ll be the trip of a lifetime for us, so I hope you can buy a couple.”
“Gee, Jim, I’d love to,” Philburn says as he wipes his mouth with a napkin, “but I’m diabetic.”
“Oh, gosh, Ned, I had no idea,” Vlisbeck says with a look of concern on his face. “You’re a real trouper the way you come into work every day and never complain.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Philburn replies with a look of contrived humility. “I tell you what though–my gutters still need cleaning from the fall and we’re supposed to be getting snow soon. I’ve got a bad knee so I really shouldn’t get up on a ten-foot ladder, but maybe your girls could come over this weekend and earn some money that way.”
“Gosh, I think that would be kinda dangerous, Ned,” Vlisbeck says with an air of fatherly concern.
“Well, you don’t want me to climb up there and risk my neck, do you?” Philburn asks in an offended tone. “Isn’t my life just as valuable as your kids’?”
“Yeah, sure, you’re absolutely right,” Vlisbeck says sheepishly. “They’ve . . . uh . . . got a tournament this weekend, so they’ll be busy.”
“Well, maybe in February if I get ice dams,” Philburn says, and Vlisbeck is visibly relieved at this cue that the conversation is at an end. “Sorry I can’t help.”
“Sure, Ned, sure. I’ll talk to you later,” Vlisbeck says as he waves and scurries away.
Alone again, Philburn pulls out another Snickers bar and gives himself up to a contemplation of our imperfect world. “You know if everybody would just give a little bit,” he says reflectively, “we could accomplish so much.”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “The Spirit of Giving.”