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.

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