For those who don’t know, Two Buttons Deep is producing a project called Do The Next Good Thing.
Along with creator Jeff Buell, we are handing out $50,000 over the next calendar year with the intent of showing the power of kindness, and the value of good conversation. We distribute the money $100 at a time to a random person in upstate New York, and we document all of their stories.
Here is what we encountered in week 4 of doing the next good thing.
“I got whooped with a pistol in New Jersey.”
Omar is missing a portion of the right side of his head. Standing face to face it looks like he got hit with a cartoon iron and the indent stayed. He’s standing near Monument Square in Downtown Troy smoking a joint and looking at his new surroundings. He moved here a week ago.
“The crazy thing about my story is I had no business for it to happen. I was in North Carolina and came up for Christmas and New Years… I saw my best, best friend with a big ass bottle of liquor. He said, ‘do I wanna drink?’ I said that was a stupid question. We cut from the same cloth, me and him, so we had to hit the bar after that.”
At the bar is where the trouble happened. He says it was the Bloods, though he’s not part of a gang. Hours later he was in the hospital. Then there was a surgery. But how did he end up in upstate New York?
“I came up here because my mother got her life together up here. I was born grown. My father died when I was 18 months old. My mother picked up crack immediately. She wasn’t taking care of kids. Me, I’m the oldest, and another one right under me… I had the biggest room in the house, right next to the kitchen, that’s where they were smoking their shit.”
Omar is 38 years old. And coincidentally 38 days older than me. He reminds me of a good friend that preaches loyalty above all else. It’s not lost on me the luck I had to have been born into the family I was, in the place I was, in the time I was.
“Check it out. My mother didn’t provide food for the house. I respect the blessing now that I’m older because I had to get out there and get that shit on my own. I was literally feeding my sisters. Literally. At four and five years old. I was born grown. That’s how I became a drug dealer.”
I tell Omar about our plan to meet random strangers and talk about the good they do. He unleashes a litany of positive expletives describing the good he does in the world. It’s not entirely coherent. He’s been drinking. And he’s high. But he’s no longer a drug dealer, he only does good he says.
To this point, I have not mentioned Do The Next Good Thing and the $50,000 I’m giving away.
When we started this project, I was very adamant that I did not care how people used the money we gave them. It’s their life to live. And now, in the moment, I’m faced with a choice. Stick to my principles. Or stick to my gut. My gut told me the inhumane thing to do was to hand Omar $100.
I ask him what apartment number is his. He tells me, and adds in how to spell his last name. The next day I drop off a $100 gift card to Price Chopper.
As he walks away from our random 20 minute interaction, he’s smiling.
“It was definitely a pleasure. I appreciate you guys. Now I gotta explain this shit to myself.”
MARY, HOOSICK FALLS
“I want to use it to feed the elephants!”
Perhaps we should start at the beginning.
Mary is sitting on a bench in the park that accompanies the Hoosick Falls village offices. She’s flanked by Carol on her left, the two of them part of the group watching over the HAYC3 after school program. Today there are 19 happy kids running around. Some are playing football, others enjoy the newly fallen leaves. Some are just talking.
Carole has been in Hoosick Falls her whole life. Mary a relatively short 35 or so years.
“It’s a great place to live,” she says, never taking her eyes off the kids. “We just did a pay it forward project and it seemed like everyone participated. Some people left $10 at the coffee shop for whoever walked in. Others just went out of their way to be kind to people. It was great.”
They then left cards wherever the good deeds occurred so that people knew it was their turn to participate. This is our kind of project. We tell Mary about Do The Next Good Thing and offer her $100. She does not hesitate with where it will go. She calls all the kids over and uses it as a teaching moment.
They form a semi-circle and she hits the finer points.
“So what we are going to do next week, we are going to get together and vote on how we should use it.”
I love it. And do what I think is right. I pull out another $100 and hand it to Carol. The kids realize what is happening and the ideas start flying…
“Candy, let’s get a lot of candy.” There’s laughter.
“We can buy a whole bunch of toys!”
That’s when a girl in the middle yells, “I want to use it to feed the elephants!”
Elephants?! My question goes ignored and more shouts come. The kids stop to pause for a picture. And we think the story has ended, but then…
“I think that we should give it to the homeless people.”
“Ummm… I think we should use it to buy a car for someone that needs to get to work.”
“I think we should buy a whole bunch of clothes, and put them in bags and drop them off where the homeless people are.”
The ideas of self-sacrifice flow hard after that. We walk away knowing the outcome of the vote will be worth it- whether it’s for someone that needs it desperately or the elephants. Mary gives me a big hug and promises to report back on what the kids decide.
“Excuse me, do you know what time the Dodgers play tonight?”
Bob is an 83-year-old Korean War veteran walking down Fulton Street in Troy with quite a story to tell.
“I just bet $100 on the Dodgers to win the World Series,” he says smiling. I surmise Bob is not the type of guy that has $100 lying around. I ask him how he saved the money.
“I threw $10 in my little coffee pot every month for ten months,” he chuckles. “You’re supposed to do that when you’re young. You need money to help with your pension. So that when you’re old you have some money.”
Bob looks spry for his age. He tells us he has diabetes, but there is not anything else wrong with him. His story, like so many of his generation, is something to behold.
“When I was 17, I joined the service in 1951, stayed there 8 years,” adding that he was a jet engine mechanic for 4 of those years in the Air Force. “I got out. Then I looked where the best place to go for a job was, so I went to the Midwest. I went to career school for two weeks. I was supposed to go for 6 months. But I left and went to go take the welders test and they hired me!”
He laughs as if it were yesterday, throwing in a story about how he missed a job interview in Buffalo because they had 2 feet of snow one Tuesday morning. I ask the Rhode Island native where he lives now and he tells me.
“Why are you a maintenance man there or something?” I laugh and admit I dress that way.
Bob spends a lot of his free time at the VA hospital. He’s clearly proud of his service. I tell him about Do The Next Good Thing, and that coincidentally he is about to get his $100 bet back before the Dodgers even play a game.
“No I don’t want any,” he says with a shrug, not believing me. But then something registers. He starts laughing.
“Wait… Are you the guy!?! Listen… God is on my side… Oh you were on TV. I saw the story… Hey thanks a lot.”
He cannot quite figure out which emotion he wants to lean in to. He tells us excitedly that he is going to buy a cell phone with it. He’s been waiting for a free one from the VA, but now he will not need to wait.
“I feel so good about this… This made my year. I’m so happy right now. What a coincidence to meet you. God must be on my side today.”
And that was before the Dodgers won 3-1.
“Troy’s great, whatever, but I think Albany has all the character.”
Emily was born and raised in Guilderland, her father a professor at University at Albany, SUNY. But now that she’s in her late twenties she’s all about the walkability. A proud Lark Street transplant. In fact, she says what we think so few young people ever will about the area.
“I love living here. Everything is walkable,” she says. She splits her time serving at Savoy Taproom and bartending at Capital City Gastropub. “We get a lot of regulars who live in the neighborhoods. You get families. You get people that want to just stop in after work. I always said I want to live down here. Even growing up I used to take the bus down here.”
She is a people person, through and through. In fact, she’s doing exactly what she loves.
“I do love it. I’ve been doing this for 6 years. You get addicted to talking to people. It’s great meeting new people and networking. The money is great. Hearing stories from my original Lark Street people it used to be such a great spot. So yeah, some things are gone now, but there’s so much potential in this area. It doesn’t need to be just all nightlife and bars.”
On this night her conversation and meeting new people skills are going to pay off. As part of the launch of Do The Next Good Thing, I promised that the first 100 people who liked the Facebook page the opportunity to participate in the process. Up first is my dear friend Kristin Lowman. It’s Kristin’s birthday and she’s been searching the bar intently. She had already tried to give the money away to a heavily bearded fellow sitting at the bar alone, but he wouldn’t engage in conversation.
A former TV reporter, Kristin is looking for someone with the right energy. Ready to engage. Of Emily, she said:
“She was friendly right away. She let me be myself. I think the most important thing is you said to just feel comfortable with someone, that was immediately what I felt with her. I went away and tried to force conversation with someone else and that didn’t work. And then I realized I was comfortable the whole time with the waitress and thought why not her?”
Emily is stunned. She takes no time determining what she will do with the money. While she has spent her time raising money recently for the victims of the Madison Avenue fires earlier this year, and is engaged in a number of different local issues, it’s her parents that she wants to reward.
“This is really amazing. I think I may take my parents out to dinner. They love Athos Restaurant have been really wanting to go. It’ll be such a nice surprise. Thank you so much.”
Sarah is standing at the bus stop on 19th Street in Watervliet. She’s on her way home from class at University at Albany, SUNY, where she’s studying Information Sciences. She did her undergrad in her home country of India.
She’s from the City of New Delhi, which has 26,000,000 people. She’s waiting for a bus in a city of 10,000 nearly 8,000 miles from home.
I stand there thinking what a world we live in. She was the best back and forth we’ve had thus far. Because I scared her.
“Why are you asking so many questions?” She whispers this 4 minutes into the conversation.
Sorry, I didn’t mean to freak you out. We are just talking to people about what they do to help random strangers.
“Depends. If they’re being a little creepy I just walk by. But if someone needs a help on the bus I will of course help them.”
Am I creeping you out?
“A little, yes.”
I apologize for that and just jump into Do The Next Good Thing. She has a great, friendly vibe about her. So I just get to the point and hand her $100, knowing the reaction will be worth it. She starts laughing.
“No… I can’t!”
“I don’t want it!”
And finally she changes her joking tune and lets me off the hook.
“This is super nice. Wow. This is awesome. You’re not creepy. You’re just tall. I’m only 5 foot tall.”
Sarah talks about how she followed her brother over here and the idea that America is still the gold standard for foreign studies. She’s blown away by our project and thrilled to participate, though she can’t for the life of her figure out what she will do with the money.
So I make her a deal. Like the page and let us know. Which she has. And promise I’ll tag her in a non creepy fashion and she can tell everyone reading what she decided to do. So… Sarah… you’re on the clock!
BEHIND THE SCENES:
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