Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pay it Forward!

Pay it Forward. It’s the title of a forgettable movie starring an irritating kid whom the studio tried to make precious and cute, and failed. However, the fact that I couldn’t sit through the entire film in no way negates the message. The idea of “pay it forward” is valid and I was its recipient, then donor. Here’s the story.

A couple weeks ago I stopped in at one of my favorite second-hand stores, Someone’s Treasure at 5604 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago. If you want to call them to ask if they have that chartreuse sweater or black bowler hat you’ve been searching for, their phone number is 773-481-5911. They’re a fairly new business, opened in the last couple years or so. The place is neatly arranged, items are tastefully displayed and everything is immaculate. The place is filled with good vibes. The owners are the kind of people you would hope will succeed: intelligent, amiable and helpful.

I found a beautiful green vase decorated with gold trim and pink ceramic flowers. It matches some glassware that I bought years ago in Slovakia. Someone's Treasure was having a 30% off sale, and that vase, easily worth $50, was marked at $3.85 (plus Chicago's hideous 10.25% sales tax). I grabbed it. As I paid, I was digging through my change looking for a quarter. The woman behind me slapped a quarter on the counter. “Here.” The Cynic At Large joked with a smile, “You must really want me out of here!” “No,” replied the kind lady, “pay it forward.”


The opportunity arose a week later. A loyal patron of the restaurant I play at, Klas in Cicero, had planned to have his birthday celebration there on the following Sunday. He asked if I would be playing that day and I said no, I wasn’t scheduled. He was obviously disappointed, but after he left I began thinking about “paying it forward.” I checked my calendar for the date and time of his party; I had nothing else to do that evening except watch The Simpsons.


However, when I weighed the pros for the party: nice guy, good customer, always thanks me for playing his favorite tunes; against the con: missing two Simpsons episodes I had already seen, Klas won the battle. Without mentioning it to anyone but the manager, I scheduled myself to play for the party. Even though it was not to be a paid performance (like all professional musicians I charge a fee to play for parties), in the long run it wouldn’t make me or break me to "pay it forward" this one time.

I showed up about 10 minutes before the party and surprised the gentleman with “Happy Birthday” as he and his family walked in. I played all his favorite songs and got plenty of applause. But the cherry on top of the soda was that somebody tipped me a C-note!


So, did "pay it forward" ultimately result in a big tip? Not exactly. The idea behind "pay it forward" is that someone knows you did something nice, so they do something nice and it becomes a domino effect of good deeds. Sort of like a chain e-mail, but without the accompanying emotions of fear and greed. If I hadn’t been inspired by the nice lady who parted with that quarter out of her own kindness, I may not have thought of volunteering to play for the party. However, the diners at the party didn't know that I was volunteering; for all they knew I was being paid by the restaurant. So the tip itself was really more an example of "what comes around, goes around" (see my earlier post about the Silver Certificate: For a good deed to continue the "pay it forward" chain, someone would have to be aware that it was a gift.

Whatever. I'm still glad I stopped in at Someone's Treasure. At the least, I got a valuable piece of glassware, a good story to tell, and I took advantage of the opportunity to "pay it forward" - albeit semi-anonymously - myself.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Road Rage on the Lovely North Side

One forum where annoyed drivers, pedestrians and bikers can kvetch with impunity is Platewire ( I registered with them a couple years ago so I could vent about the behemoth in the SUV who road-raged me on Berteau Street when I dared bike the right way down a one-way street rather than taking a wider (but wrong-way) side street, or sissying along the sidewalk. That’s all ancient history and that huge blob with the purple face and the big pulsating vein in his neck is probably all dead and buried by now. There was another incident this morning so I crashed their site again and hastily put it on. They warned us posters that we had only 20 minutes to come up with our masterpieces, otherwise we’d have to log in again.

Not wanting to have to remember my password (“Is it ‘swordfish’?”) a second time, I decided to cover my bases by posting an additional and twice as sizzling rant right here.

It was 7:44 a.m. and I had just crossed Keeler Avenue northbound at Irving Park Road. It’s not a nice intersection. This is where the Kennedy Expressway feeder ramp is, and if you don’t mind your P’s and Q’s you could end up an ex-human. Getting across Irving and past the diagonal lane that feeds into Keeler just north of Irving is cause to make sure you’re wearing a helmet and your will is up to date.

So here I am, carefully making my way down a short but nasty stretch of Keeler, and there, right in the diagonal, blocking my access to safely cross the street was Mister X61 9421. Normally I would not post the license plate of an offender, but he was committing – in my opinion – the Number One Sin of the road. He. Was. On. A. Hand. Held. Cell. Phone. While driving. At a dangerous intersection. He was so engrossed in his call he didn’t notice that there were about three feet of space behind him into which he could have safely backed up, thus allowing me more than the sliver of bumpy road, broken glass and pigeon droppings in which to maneuver my bike between him and the passing cars on Keeler.

I got off my bike and slowly walked it right in front of him. I don’t think he noticed me giving him a pointed look, then giving his license plate a pointed look. Then back to him, then again peering at his license plate and writing in a notebook with a very serious expression on my face.

So, Mister X61 9421, what was so gosh-darned important? What were you blabbing about on that phone of yours before 8 a.m.? Lindsay Lohan’s latest romance? Joan vs. Bette? Boxers or briefs? Were you using that phone as an emotional outlet when you should have been paying attention to the road? I’ll tell you what, Mister X61 9421, Joan vs. Bette or that can’t-wait business deal just doesn’t seem so important when some kid’s body is flying up against your windshield.