Monday, May 11, 2009

The Arbitrary Compliment Experiment: “Um, You’re a Nice Guy.”


Last Friday I blogged (kill me) about the drought in compliments in my life. Instead of just sitting on the sofa and continuing the daily beatings by the ugly stick, I decided to do something about it. Instead of working out, eating better and going to the tanning salon, I decided to pay people to say nice things about me. Yes, it’s a little unconventional, relying on the kindness of strangers to come through with some generous words, but the people giving me these compliments 1] will be getting paid for their words and 2] will probably need the money. Think of it like Trick or Treat for the marginalized. For the treat, they’ll need to do a trick.

Meet Ray. As I pulled into the gas station in West Oakland, I saw him cleaning windshields in one of the bays. He caught my eye and by the time I drive into a parking space, he was in front of my car, waiting for me. As I approached him, he said, “My name is Ray…” I interrupted, “I’ll catch ya on the way out.” As I went into the store, he cleaned my windshield.

When I returned, he was back in front of my car waiting for his cash. I gave him a dollar and said, “Ray, right? Ray, can I take a picture of you and will you pay me a compliment.” He was confused by the request. Anybody would be confused. He wasn’t your typical homeless guy. He didn’t appear to be a user or drinker, nor was he scammer, although he did show me a fistful of release documents from a hospital that said he had pneumonia. I’d seen this tactic many times. Regardless, he was the rare homeless person that had mental issues and multiple other problems but wasn’t a user (I think). I felt sorry for him. When I’m taken out of the Tenderloin, where I’ve worked for the last 15 years and have grown very jaded toward the population that frequents the area, my sympathy rating is off the chart. It’s very odd. I’m usually not like this.

“I’m sorry, Ray. Just say anything,” I replied, my left hand searching in my pocket for more money. “You’re a nice guy,” he finally said. It was sweet and ended the compliment experiment, thank God! I sure felt like an asshole for making this guy jump through hoops.

“Ray, give back the dollar and I’ll give you a five. I’m sorry,” I asked, hoping this new generosity would somehow alleviate my guilt. I gave him the $5.

Compliment: “You’re a nice guy.”
Cost: $5
Rule Change: When possible, keep the experiment in areas where I’m familiar with the local marginalized population. And, open the experiment up to random, adjusted people on the street.
Thoughts: This could end badly

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