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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Clark: Bell-ringing stint not just a drop in the kettle

Confessions of a (neophyte) Salvation Army bell ringer …

Take One – I arrive at the South Hill Safeway a little before 5 p.m. to find a surprise awaiting me.

Another bell ringer is stationed in the store’s main foyer.

The nerve!

Salvation Army officials had assured me that my two-hour effort to entice shoppers to drop coins and bills into a red kettle for this terrific charity would be a solo gig.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no ding-dong diva. I just don’t want anyone comparing my novice efforts to those of a professional tinkler.

Take Two – Sheila Geraghty, the Salvation Army’s business administrator, arrives to resolve this turf tiff.

I’m in luck. Meho Mesanovic, the 27-year-old bell ringer, turns out to be a really nice guy who is only too happy to yield. He tells us that he’s been ring-a-dinging for hours, and you can see it in his tired eyes.

Meho can’t wait to go home and see his wife, who, he tells us, is having a baby soon. Best wishes to all of you!

Take Three – Everything we all say about Spokane being Smallville is true.

Geraghty, for example. Turns out she’s a daughter of Jack Geraghty, one of my all-time favorite targets, I mean mayors.

Sheila, bless her heart, doesn’t appear to be holding any grudges.

Or maybe she wasn’t reading the paper back when I was helping her dad become a one-term Spokane mayor.

Take Four – Ed Russell and his wife, Carol, have come to see me and visit my cherry red 1967 Vista Guzzler, which I parked near the other Safeway entrance.

What a couple of cool cats.

After feeding the kettle, the Russells tell me they’ve been married 50 years and dig my column.

The night is cold, but I’m feeling warm and squishy.

Take Five – The sign on the stand holding my red kettle says: “Making Spokane Better Since 1891.”

What a sweet gesture for the Salvation Army to make.

I almost hate to tell Geraghty that the sign needs some editing.

My column has only been making Spokane better since 1984.

Take Six – Uh-oh. Here comes trouble.

In the form of Tom Stanley, that is. Stanley is a Safeway pharmacist, a South Hill fixture, and one of the funniest guys around.

He extends a strange object for my inspection.

“Know what this is?” he asks.

Well, Tom, you’re obviously holding some sort of small dead tree. And an empty brass shell casing has been stuck on one of the skinny, denuded limbs.

And … Oh. No.

“A cartridge in a bare tree,” Stanley chirps.

And I let this loon give me a flu shot.

Take Seven – A well-intentioned visitor extends his hand for a shake. Normally that’s no problem. I don’t have one of those Howie Mandel germ phobias, after all.

Except that …

Moments before, I saw the gentleman vigorously mopping his runny nose with a tissue that looked to be, well, definitely not on its maiden voyage.

Oh, well. Being fussy won’t help anything.

We shake the convivial shake of friendship.

After he leaves, however, I practically dive into the store’s complimentary tub of sanitary hand wipes and give myself an antiseptic sponge bath.

Take Eight – “You need a bigger bell,” advises Karen Byrne after making a donation. “How can you be Doug Clark without a bigger bell?”

Karen, Karen, Karen.

It’s not the size of the bell that matters. It’s how you use your clapper that counts.

Take Nine – The night is filled with surprises.

Especially when Calvin Martin drops by.

To the amazement and delight of shoppers, he pulls a harmonica out of his pocket and begins expertly playing a set list of classic holiday tunes while I lay down a jingle jangle rhythm track. How Christmas cool is that?

Take 10 – Two hours of doing my bit to help the Salvation Army are up. I turn in my locked bucket to customer services.

Next day the news arrives via e-mail:

I took in $97.17, or $48.58 per hour.

My new pal, Geraghty, pronounces the effort as “excellent.”

“Our average for a good bell ringer is $28-$35 an hour,” she explains.

Santa Clark. Making Spokane better since (fill in the blank).

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at
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