Episode opens with Donna vacuuming the blinds. The doorbell rings and she goes to the door. A man and his son are standing there. The man introduces himself as Mr. Popkin and inquires as to Alex’s credentials. Donna lists them and the man seems unimpressed.
Mr. Popkin and son go in to meet with Alex. Alex examines the boy and prescribes a course of treatment. Mr. Popkin cannot afford the treatment. Alex offers several solutions: a payment plan, delayed payment, and no payment. Mr. Popkin finds each of these solutions abhorrent and makes long speeches about servitude. He decides to postpone treatment for his son until he can pay in full.
Donna feels bad for the son and inquires as to what Mr. Popkin does for a living. He is an inventor. Donna assumes this to mean he is handy, so she hires him to do some work around the house. The table he was to fix still wobbles and his attempts to fix the wiring end in his electrocution. Alex forbids him from doing anymore work around the house and he leaves dejected.
Donna goes to visit his workshop. It is filled with his many inventions, most of them useless. One however, an adorable, animated toy rabbit catches her eye. She asks if she can take it to see if the toy store would like to sell it. Mr. Popkin hems and haws and finally relents.
Donna brings the rabbit home and shares it with the family. Jeff in particular is quite taken with it. He sets up a booth downtown to try to sell the rabbits. He is quite a salesman, he even has Mary pose as an enthusiastic customer. A cop comes and tells him to move on as he does not have a permit to sell there. Mr. Popkin comes by and hassles the cop. The cop brings Jeff and Mary to the station. Mr. Popkin calls Alex and tells him to go get his kids out of jail.
Meanwhile, Donna is charming the owner of the local toy store into taking the rabbits. He agrees and places a rabbit in the shop window, along with other toys. Mr. Popkin comes by and is offended; he feels his rabbit is not the focus of the display. He and the shop owner have an altercation.
Back at home Alex has had enough with trying to help Mr. Popkin. He lays down the law and says he is immediately treating the son for free. Then there is a knock on the door. In come the cop and the owner of the toy store. The whole town wants the toy rabbits. The toy store owner presents Mr. Popkin with a contract. Mr. Popkin fumes about the unfairness of the contract and then decides to accept it.
Mr. Popkin visits the Stones with his new invention, a portable barbecue. Donna agrees to try it and it blows up in her face.
Principles are good to have, but they can leave you hungry.
The Mr. Popkin character is upsetting on many levels. He is a horrible cultural caricature and clearly exists to be the buffoon in this episode. Yet, I find myself still seeing truth in the lesson. We all want to live by principles. We all know that principles are supposed to be good and important things, guides to living well. Sometimes though, it seems that following certain principles can become a handicap.
My new city is a very interesting place. San Francisco is a place that prides itself on its principles. There is fierce independence and pride here and I, for the most part, find this to a wonderful part of life in this city. However, like every city San Francisco has its struggles. Like everywhere, the past few years here have been rocky economically. The job market is very tricky to negotiate. We have profound problems with homelessness and poverty.
I can’t begin to imagine solutions to these very complex problems, but I do find myself wondering how our problems and our principles are related. Are principles something that can remain forever unchanged or do we need to update or refresh our principles every so often? If the principles we live by are not giving us the results we desire, do we need to revisit those principles?
I have never been one for blind adherence to anything. I think questioning and examination should be lifelong endeavors. When I go too long without questioning, and then take the time to do so, I often find myself pondering, “Well, why am I doing that?” I often found examples of this in my teaching practice. As the year was wrapping up I would realize I had developed some sort of habit I had not deliberately intended. Sometimes this would be a good development, but often it was born from time constraints and not really in the best interest of my students, like merely skimming journals and thereby completely missing much of what my students were expressing. I needed that moment of self-doubt to get me back on track.
I find this in my personal life too. For years, Saturday mornings were when I cleaned and until the cleaning was done it was nearly impossible for me to do anything else. This made a bit more sense when I was working full-time, but I carried this plan with me cross-country. Now I have lots more free time and the only days my husband is free are Saturdays and Sundays. Now I get the cleaning done before the weekend so I can thoroughly enjoy the days we have free together. It’s a little thing, but it means a lot to us and the quality of our time together.
Principles are a funny thing. They can lead us down paths of enlightenment, but they can also get us stuck in a rut. Like any part of our lives, now and then we should examine them and make sure they are still working for us. They may be fine and just need a light dusting, or they may be so worn that they are a potential fire hazard and need to be tossed.
Plan Of Action
Schedule a spring cleaning of my principles.