Monday, December 3, 2012

Zero One Infinity: Christmas Needs

Tunnel bed

Riding through this tunnel along the Arizona Canal, I saw the coroplast campaign sign tucked in against the wall of blotted-out graffiti, and it caught my attention. I powered on past, enjoying the glorious Sunday afternoon weather, but kept thinking about it. Why was that sign there? Windblown, or purposely placed? If purposely, for what purpose?

Then I remembered the multistory car park (parking garage) in Blackpool. Back in my student days, hiking and bumming rides and otherwise getting around England as cheaply as possible, one November night in Blackpool, Plan A fell through, we missed the last bus back to our hostel in another town, and I found myself wandering around a closed-down town on a cold rainy night with my traveling companions. All low on money, and lower on sleeping bags or warm/dry clothing, we began to get pretty argumentative regarding our next move. Not that we had many choices. It was close to or after closing time for pubs, which back then was pretty early, and our desire to save some money for food for the next few days was overwhelming (for the moment) our chilly discomfort and fatigue. So we decided to try sleeping on the ground in a multistory car park, which would at least get us out of the wind and rain.

But sleeping on the pavement is even colder. The cement seemed to suck the heat right through our wet clothes. None of us had anything like a ground cloth or tarp in our bags, since we hadn't planned to spend the night in Blackpool anyway. We scouted around the area, and found some large cardboard boxes, which when put down in layers helped to insulate quite a bit, and was slightly softer than sleeping on the cold bare pavement. Or trying to sleep. After failing to do anything but shiver and get colder, we reluctantly decided to go back to a small hotel we had passed, and beg for a cheap room. The innkeeper turned out to be a friendly, motherly type, who took us in, gave us hot drinks and some food, and gave us a warm room for cheap.

So the memory of Blackpool clarified for me that the campaign sign is someone's bed. And I started to think, as the holiday season churns into full gear, I don't really need anything for Christmas. I asked myself, what do you really need? Some would say a bowl for food and a roof over your head is really all you need. I have quite a bit more than that, I suppose. And I'm not ready to start downsizing down to a bowl, a roof, and a coroplast bedroll, but I am certain that I don't need more stuff for Christmas this year.

It's dry down here, but cold air tends to settle in the lower areas at night

I think I will tell people to give me no-thing this year. Not "nothing," no-thing. I'm looking for empty boxes to unwrap, empty except for notes pledging to be kind in 2013, to practice tolerance, understanding, patience, amplify compassion, care for those in need, something along those lines. Donations to charities rather than gifts that aren't needed makes sense to me., Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, a local homeless shelter or food bank, local bicycle cooperative, these all sound like more worthy outlets for material wealth than a cyclist who doesn't currently need anything more. I get that part of the season is the giving part, so give me a note that says NO-THING on it, and feel good.

It could be that giving stuff is easier than giving no-thing. Is it easier to click the BUY button on an e-commerce site than to leave me a no-thing comment promising to try to be kind in 2013? Would my kids rather buy me a new tie than swear to try to be more patient and tolerant in 2013? Maybe. If so, perhaps I'll take them for a bike ride along the Arizona Canal, and show them the coroplast campaign sign bed. 

Christmas Eve, looking at the lighted candles, I'm going to be thinking about cardboard spread out on the cold pavement. And hoping for a inbox full of no-thing notes.

Sleeping rough, with down cushions for insulation, beats coroplast

Too far out? Unrealistic, not sustainable, not enough impact? I'm not going to Scrooge out on my family, either, they'll get stuff under the tree, this is a personal choice for myself. The title comes from the Zero One Infinity rule, which is supposed to apply to computer software, as in, you can have zero, one, or infinity of anything, just don't impose some crazy limit like "The maximum number of menu entries is 15." 15? Why not 12? Or 22? No one will ever need a date past 1999. No one will ever need more than 4,294,967,296 (232) IP addresses on the Internet. That sort of thing. In this case, I was thinking of it in answer to the question, what's the limit on how much more stuff I really need? Zero, one, or infinity? This Christmas, anyway, I'm looking at zero, the no-thing approach. We'll see how it turns out.


  1. A thought provoking idea.....
    How much do any of us really need.....


    1. Thanks Trevor, even the question "how much more?" seems counter-cultural, doesn't it?

  2. What a lovely sentiment. It is good to stop and think and just be grateful for all we are blessed with - especially at this time of year. Thanks for the positivity! :-)

  3. That is really in the spirit of the season. Thank you.


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