That letter came like a pail of cold water dashed into my face.
It appeared the moment I got back home, after having taken a hundred and fifty dollars of YOUR MONEY out of my checking account and squandered some of it on myself. I bought two books at Borders ("Sugar" short-stories by A.S.Byatt, and one of the few Iris Murdoch novels I have not yet read "A Message to The Planet"), and went then to Skipjack's Seafood Emporium where I had a manhattan (straight-up), a Skipper platter of assorted broiled seafood, a key-lime pie, and coffee. I came home, and found this:
Subject: your little website
Date: Wed, 26 Jan 2000 22:57:50 GMT
From: "Spanky Sowhatty" firstname.lastname@example.org
Just wanted to drop you a note and tell you how offended I am by your little web site. To blatantly solicit
funds on a commercial web site for your own needs is in the poorest of taste. If you spent as much effort in
looking for a job as you did in promoting the theater you might not have to resort to pan-handling on the
Internet. You old Queen, get off your ass and go to work!
Makes you think, doesn't it?
Made ME think, anyway!
Y'see, it's still all Your money, after all.
So, before I say anything else, let me call the role of people who have sent me checks to keep The Mirror alive. I'll only use first names, and start as usual from the newest to the original contributors:
These are Special People and deserve the undying thanks of everyone who, however occasionally, looks into The Mirror.
I suppose I should say, though, that none of them expected to buy privileges this way --- nor did they. I shall continue to review their work as cruelly and insensitively as I always have, and I shall get their Special Announcements and Audition Calls up with the same indifferent, haphazard slovenliness with which I have treated everyone in the past. I do not love them any less merely because they have been so incredibly generous.
But I do want to explain to you all what I have done with their money --- our money --- your money.
I've put all those checks into my own checking-account. The first week or two, every time I made a deposit I sent a check to Lee VanderLaan for the exact amount of the total. (I did that because apparently the only way to pay TIAC for their hosting-services is with a credit-card, and I have never had, needed, or wanted one. Cash and an occasional check is the way I do business.) I don't remember the exact amount of those two checks, but as soon as they come back from my bank I'll let you know. The important thing, though, is that after he got the second check he called to say that he had not only been able to pay TIAC for A Full Year of Theater Mirror ($360) but to secure "theatermirror.com" as our domain-name for the year as well. (He's looking into ways in which he can reserve that name for ten years rather than one, so we can breathe easy about it.) And when I told him checks were still coming in, he suggested I spend some of it on myself.
Well, obviously, I have. I bought the books and the dinner. I also dropped $36.07 this afternoon at Purity Supreme for food --- but I can cover that with the forty dollars still left from January's Social Security check. And I must confess that a litre of Jim Beam bourbon I splurged for cost some four dollars or so more than the ten from my personal money I still had in my pocket. That means food and drink and a pint of Ben & Jerry's "Bovinity Divinity" came out of your account instead of mine. I can replace it on the 3rd of February when the Feds pay me their monthly $554 if any of you insist.
But I feel uncomfortable spending Your money on myself. My first thought was to pay it directly to Lee, who has foot the bill for over eighteen-hundred bucks so far, automatically and without question, during the past five years --- as well as supplying the Pentium and all the programming that make The Mirror possible. In a real sense he deserves it much more than I do. But he's as reluctant to take it as I am.
I think what I should do is open a Savings account with what's left, and deposit whatever contributions arrive in the future there. That way The Mirror will never be in danger of dying for lack of funds, your money will be earning interest, and I can keep your money separate from my money. And that way, if I do use any of your money on myself, I can tell you exactly how much and how. (I may want to buy a new shirt, for instance.)
Now, I'm sure Lee would say "Don't say how much people have contributed, because that will make them stop," but I can't do that. I am proud and incredibly grateful for this outpouring of support, and amazed at how huge a financial vote of confidence it represents. To date a total of Nine Hundred and Forty Dollars has rolled into The Theater Mirror's coffers since Lee asked for your help, and most of it is still untouched in the bank --- and that astonishes me. Thank you; thank you all!!
I came home full of succulent seafood bought with your money intending to tell you all of this, and so that letter of outrage really brought me up short and made me feel like a selfish, spendthrift embezzler. Here I am with all this money, spending it in expensive restaurants, and not deserving of a penny of it. And so I think the savings-account route is the best way to go.
But I don't want to damn a quick-tempered misjudgement by a newcomer to The Mirror so swiftly. I myself felt embarrassed at that appeal for funds that Lee had put there ... only the warmth of your amazing responses to it have softened me about that. I do think that anyone who looks into The Mirror does so out of an interest and a love of live theater that makes them, automatically, friends who should feel welcomed and comfortable. And so I'm glad to note that the letter below arrived this morning from someone I hope will find The Mirror interesting, lively, and useful as he returns, I hope often, in the future:
Subject: Re: your little website
Date: Thu, 27 Jan 2000 17:30:11 GMT
From: "Spanky Sowhatty" email@example.com
Dear Mr. Stark,
Terribly sorry about the previous e mail. I had no idea I was writing to an elderly gentleman who was living on social security. My most sincere apologies. If I were in a position to assist you I would do so. I truely hope things get better for you.
Thank you, Stephen. Don't be a stranger.