Sunday, January 26, 2014

An Open Letter of Questionable Charity and Consumer Disappointment

To My Readers

To be a good person and a caring human being in the capitalist economy of the United States today, it seems only reasonable, even for one being of only lower middle income in New York City, to attempt to give 10% of one's gross income to charity. Sadly, Miss O' usually only manages about half that, or 5%. Some of that 5% isn’t even charity, but political donations, which I wouldn’t have to do if we could just get legislation to overturn Citizen’s United. But I digress. Not really. But onward to the task at hand.

Selecting charities over the years was a challenge, but I give reliably to Planned Parenthood, Gay Men's Health Crisis, NPR (various local affiliates over the many moves), WBAI independent radio in NYC, and Doctors Without Borders. I also fund cancer walks for my friends, and AIDS walks, and toss in ten bucks here and there as the need arises. I'm happy to do it, but all giving must be done with a full heart, or (at least in the view of Miss O') the giving will be tainted with bad blood. Yes, I really believe that. 

Another reasonable feeling for a human being is desire for products, that is, goods and services, of the highest quality we can afford. Cheap stuff is cheap stuff: It's terrible for us and terrible for the environment, even as it might amass big bucks for one or two guys working the racket from an island off the coast of Florida. When we find the perfect good or service of the highest quality, it is not unnatural to form a deep attachment; this is not a foolish attachment. That kind of attachment is reserved for lovers who are assholes.

Herewith two letters: Miss O' complains.


Tryin’ to Get Off the Smile Train

Dear Smile Train:

For the record: Yours was a charity I really believed in, and the importance of whose stated mission no one can question. Until I received that first mailing over a decade ago, I had no idea about the rampant problem of children born with, and dying from, cleft palates. Here in the U.S., this problem is taken care of to the extent that one hardly even notices the scars. I researched the charity, deemed it a good thing, and climbed aboard (to hold with your metaphor). My donations funded probably 5 or 6 cleft palate surgeries in full over the years. Only three times (when I was financially more stable) did I write checks for the full amount of one surgery, $250.  I’d like to have done more, of course. Who wouldn't? 

But in 2008 and more particularly in 2011, something happened in regards to Smile Train that really disturbed me. This article appeared in the New York Times:


For the last decade, Smile Train and Operation Smile have been the Hatfields and McCoys of the charity world.

Leaders of the two organizations, which work to repair cleft lips and palates of children in poor countries, have long been estranged. Even though Smile Train’s founders at one time served on the board of Operation Smile, they and its founders, Dr. William P. Magee and his wife, Kathleen S. Magee, ran separate charities with similar goals while remaining divided by their differences year after year.

….In the nonprofit equivalent of a putsch, Mr. Wang and four Smile Train board members who are also employees of his businesseses engineered the merger and presented it as a fait accompli at a regularly scheduled board meeting on Feb. 8, board members who opposed it said….

The controversial deal gives Mr. Wang oversight of the bulk of Smile Train’s roughly $160 million in assets, and it guarantees lifetime tenure at the new organization to the Magees.
Additionally, it commits the merged organization to put half of all the money it raises over the next three years into a fund under Mr. Wang’s control.

Based on this article, and the fact that since about 2009 I was INUNDATED WITH REQUESTS FOR MORE, MORE, MORE, I began to wonder where my money really went. I was not alone in noticing the changes.

And then this in 2014:

Solicitation Train
"Make one gift now and we'll never ask for another donation again!"
If you receive a solicitation in the mail from any charity that makes the above promise, you would be wise to be skeptical. No donor should ever feel obligated to make a contribution in order to not be solicited.
A fed-up donor contacted AIP to let us know that she had asked Smile Train, a charity well known for its ads of children with cleft lips and palates, in September and November of 2009 to remove her name from its mailing list. In early December of the same year she received a letter with Smile Train's promise that in exchange for a contribution they would cease further solicitations to her. So to get the charity off her back she sent them a contribution--yet she continued to receive Smile Train solicitations (one more in December and two more in April 2010) despite notifying Smile Train of her wish to be removed from their list each time she received a solicitation. Rubbing salt into her wounds, this May she received another solicitation with the same offer to not be solicited.

A Wink and a Smile Train
- published in the December 2008 issue of the Charity Rating Guide & Watchdog Report
100% of your donation goes toward programs -- 0% goes toward overhead.
Many AIP members have seen the above language in solicitations from Smile Train, a charity that treats children born with cleft lip and palate. One may wonder how a group that spends about $15.5 million or 34% of its cash budget on overhead, and receives a B- from AIP, can make such a claim.

Lately, the desperation of your charity has begun to show in more egregious ways. In November, this little item arrived:

On Friday, January 24, it was this:

I note the locations where these “gifts” were manufactured, because all I could picture were the tiny, suicidal fingers (can't you picture them jumping off those hands?) of Chinese factory workers laboring under horrific conditions to churn out these stupid, plastic products in order to help you entice a donor (for a children's charity) who WROTE YOU SEVERAL TIMES that SHE WOULD NO LONGER BE GIVING TO YOUR CHARITY because your money and egos seemed to be clashing with the mission.

Is there anything to which you will not stoop? PLATINUM PARTNER?
I never gave out of EGO. 
Jesu Maria.

I'm writing this HERE, on my blog, because you have ignored all my letters, complaints, and messages. Not that you will see this blog. But my friends will. And I'll just continue to recycle all the paper you are WASTING on this effort to lure me into your money pool. I have no idea what to do with calculator and bag. DAMN YOU.

I repeat (for what good it does): Miss O’ has respectfully told you, Smile Train, that, since the merger and the uncertainty of the way funds were being handled in 2011, she would no longer be donating to your charity, the aforementioned Smile Train. “Godspeed,” said I, “and I hope the children still get the important surgical care you are promising. However, I have decided to spend my $250/surgery, and double it, by partnering with Doctors Without Borders.” Is this ON?

Yours &c.,

Miss O’


If the Shoe (Gives You) Fits

Dear Naot:

Oh, Naot, how I will ever live without you I do not know. But until I have reassurances for the complaints below, live sans you I must. To my readers and to you, I must explain.

A woman searches her whole life for the perfect shoe brand. My mom, Lynne, told me from a very early age, “There is no such thing as ‘breaking in’ a shoe. The shoe either feels exactly right the moment you put it on, and comfortable as you walk around the store, or it doesn’t. Don’t kid yourself when it comes to shoes. And buy the best. Worry about how to pay for it later, if you have to; remember that one great pair is worth ten cheap ones.” And is she wrong?

Enter Naot, shoes made on a kibbutz in Israel; crafted with the best materials, for comfort and for durability, they just cannot be beat, as the old used car guys used to promise. The price was high, but so what? Once my feet fell into that footbed, it was love!

Around 1993, I found my first perfect shoe, in the form of your clogs pictured below, a style which you no longer manufacture. Sadly, the photo you see shows these 20-year-old clogs as they currently live in my kitchen, for porch duty (after 12 years of teaching duty); in New York I turned them into paint and project shoes. They've been great. Only in the last year have chunks of the sole begun to sort of fall off, and yet still I can walk in them, and comfortably. Naot Clog in a discontinued style, I cain’t quit you.

20 Years of Great Sole Soul

Over the years, at Mad, Mad World in Qccoquan, VA, and more recently, online, I have amassed Naot brand shoes in a variety of colors and styles for all occasions and seasons. In these shoes, I take long walks in the country, I walk the New York Streets from Times Square to the Battery, and they have the added fillip of looking good on the job and out at the theater. My personal style credo is that I want to be able to go to the compost heap, to work, and to dinner and a show in the same outfit, and still look fabulous. It’s been a real trick, and (mostly) I pull it off. Naot was the linchpin. Accessories do the rest.

And then a few years ago, something terrible happened. I wrote to Naot about it. Naot, I tried not to let it come to THIS blog: I explained. I described. I shared in private the pain I am about to share with my readers. I was met with, to put it plainly, indifference and unconcern. I was rebuffed. Here is what began to happen, in the space of about six months after adding to the boot and clog wardrobe.

ASTER CLOG (center right)

[Photos also show the brave attempt by Drago, a great family of cobblers in Penn Station, to save the split shoes.
Their good work did give me another year and a half…but that's it.]

The brown pair…


And no, Naot, this is not an “aberration” with “flaws” in the materials. This would seem to be a story of bad design, cheaper materials, and poor craft. See the Lynx boots below, the red ones? They are about 13 years old. I wear them in the city ALL THE TIME. Despite discoloration of the toes (all my own fault for wearing them in all weather), the soles are superb. See?

So you’ve left me high and dry, Naot. I will try to make the shoes I have left last as long as I reasonably can, because you know as well as I do that every “comfort” shoe brand out there is manufactured cheaply in China, that the “leather uppers” now are really “all manmade materials,” and that I will never walk as well again.

Have you at last no sense of decency, sirs? Where is your PRIDE?

Yours to command in body and sole no more,

Miss O'


The Play’s the Thing (It Usually Is)

Here's the event that really kind of sparked this post, which I've been promising myself I'd tackle for the past year. So last night I went to see a show in the Village, a revival of a long-lost black farce by a 1960s playwright. The show, it seemed to Miss O', had no idea what it wanted to be. When that happens, which is to say when a play is a farce, a black comedy, AND a political commentary, as this play was, the director of the play has to make choices. These choices have to do with 1) why he's directing it to begin with; 2) what the play IS first and foremost; 3) the acting style he wants to see; 4) guiding designers to his production concept; and 5) work in rehearsals, accepting input from all the artists and then making it all seem of a piece. The director of this show did not seem to make choices; or rather, he made LOADS of them. For example: The opening moment gave us a darkened stage, an old man staring into the middle distance as he sat in a plastic-covered wingback beside the casket of what must be his dead wife. It's a tragedy. Or is it? Apparently this naturalistic drama was supposed to turn to farce, BING!, when a fakey-acting blonde walked in and switched on the lights and delivered the lines, meant for him, to us. Huh? The entire audience, and not just Miss O' in the audience, shared that quiet, and the occasional uncomfortable chuckle, of the mystified; and finally, after several other entrances and oddly executed lines and fuzzily depicted plot points, the bored

At intermission, a very talented theater friend with whom I attended this play blamed the obvious failure on "bad writing" (it wasn't a good play, certainly), but he mainly blamed it on the audience: "How can the actors play to this?" he asked, gesturing to the people around us rising to head to the head. "There is no good will in the whole house!" I have never heard a quiet house accused in quite that way. After a pause, Miss O' cried "bullshit." In her day as a high school drama director, from musicals to dramas to comedies, one-acts and full-lengths, and hundreds of scenes from dozens of other plays in between, Miss O' learned that the only shoulders upon which the success or failure of a play rests are those of the DIRECTOR. (This director, as it turned out, was a friend of my companion's, but that is no excuse.) The director has to make it work. That is a director's JOB.

Audience “good will” has nothing to do with it. An audience’s good will should be the assumption, in that they’ve paid to be in that theater and don’t want to see their entertainment dollar wasted on crap. But if the director fails to pull off a great show—actors acting in at least three different plays; a cold lighting scheme even for a black comedy; a miscast female lead with a really bad British accent and a look more suggestive of a Real Housewife in L.A. rather than the competent nurse she was supposed to playing (the character was meant to be played by a young, female Bill Nighy—that’s what the role wanted: competent and sly with crack comic timing)—well, what can you do?

And this morning it hit me how all these disappointments are connected, and hence tonight's blog so fast on the heels of yesterday's blog. Just as a production cannot rise or fall by counting on an audience's "good will"….

Just so with a charity: Smile Train Charity, you cannot command my good will by plying me with flashy and unsolicited goods, repeated requests (at least two per month) for donations, or by showing pictures of the suffering, which is to say GUILT. You have to demonstrate your responsible, and need I add charitable, use of the hard-earned money donated to you with the full hearts of people like me, and make me WANT to give out of the real need you are supposed to be fulfilling. Right?

And just so with a quality brand company: Naot, my years of ecstatic shoe purchases—shoes of extraordinary comfort, variation of style, and marvelous durability—cannot sustain this buyer's loyalty when the shoes begin to go up in price and drop dramatically in quality. The company especially cannot continue to thrive when the complaints of a loyal customer of 20+ years are dismissed with, “Sometimes there are flaws…” and “if the purchase was made recently, you can return it to the merchant from whom it was purchased,” however your email phrased it. When the customer points out that three pairs of expensive shoes in one go were in fact flawing in precisely the same way, the flaws only to be discovered about four to six months after the purchase, one would think the big brand name company would at the very least promise to look into it. A GREAT company would send you a prepaid UPS label and ask to have the products returned for a full refund or replacement. And maybe offer that customer a coupon toward another purchase in the future as a sign of good faith.

To Smile Train and to Naot and to that stupid show last night, Miss O’ says: “Where is YOUR good will? Where is YOUR good faith?” To America and the Readers of the Miss O’ Show I say: When it comes to spending your money: Quality. Always quality.

A final point, from

Whew. NOW I can finally STOP THINKING ABOUT THESE ISSUES. Godspeed. Do better work. You have no one to blame but yourselves.

It's time to talk about CONGRESS, but fuck it. Typos? Sure. Fuck them, too. It's bedtime.

Yours &c. with kisses,

Miss O’

No comments:

Post a Comment