A few years ago, a woman proudly posted on social media that she had participated in a 36-Car-Long Pay It Foward Chain at a Chick-Fil-A in Tampa, Florida. At the time, I remember thinking, “Well, I guess that’s nice.” After all, when you use the phrase “Pay It Forward,” in relation to anything, it brings to mind Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt. They’re wonderful actors. Just thinking about Kevin Spacey dominating the screen as Keyser Söze or Frank Underwood, I can’t help but feel all warm and fuzzy inside. How can you not love the guy who put Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in a box?
Now, that’s paying it forward.
Of course, serial killers aren’t typically big do-gooder types, so it wasn’t until Spacey portrayed Eugene Simonet, social studies teacher to Adorable Haley Joel Osment, in the film Pay It Forward, that Spacey’s charm convinced us to do nice things for other people with one caveat: the recipient of the charitable act must pay it forward by later performing an altruistic act for another person – when and how they choose. Hey, ain’t nothing for free, right? And it worked. Onscreen, a tsunami of human kindness started in Las Vegas and ended with Adorable Haley dying of stab wounds incurred while defending a classmate. In his case, paying it forward got him killed. It’s okay; I’m sure the fictional kid whose life he saved went on to pretend to cure make-believe cancer.
Still, despite the film ending with Adorable Haley being dead people, as opposed to seeing dead people, I could get behind the Amway of Good Deeds concept. True, you might get shivved, but that can happen when you’re being a selfish jerk, so you might as well die while helping someone else. No one wants their headstone to read: Beloved Father, Son & Self-Serving Douchebag. However, thirty-six people buying each other dinner at Chick-fil-Hate is not something that typically kills you.
Nor is it anything to brag about.
“Whaaat?” you ask. “What’s wrong with multi-level marketing philanthropy?”
Where to start?
Everyone in that Good Deed Chain Gang was operating a motor vehicle. It was a drive-thru, after all. Apparently, in order to pay it forward, you must own or lease a car, scooter or motorcycle. As most banks, pharmacies and restaurants insist cyclists come inside to conduct business due to safety concerns, if you’re one of those bike-riding do-gooders, trying to save the environment by leaving an ecological footprint the size of lentil, you may not participate in the Pay It Forward Drive-Thru Pyramid Scheme. To participate, you must also have either a driver’s license or a driver, so if you’re younger than 15, don’t have at least a learner’s permit, have no friends, or can’t afford an Uber, you must wait until you’re either old enough, popular enough or rich enough to pay it forward in this manner. Don’t worry, you can still defend a weaker kid at school and get shanked.
Everyone who participated was capable of paying for the food they ordered. Chick-fil-A isn’t known for giving away anything gratis except unadulterated judgment, so it’s unlikely any do-gooders were expecting a freebie. They didn’t need anyone to buy them dinner. Unlike people in line at, say, a soup kitchen. But, by all means, I understand if you prefer your acts of kindness to be convenient and free of contact with people’s whose primary offense is being poor. However, buying chicken strips for the dude wearing a Ed Hardy t-shirt while listening to Kanye in the Maybach behind you and quantifying it a good deed is kind of like donating your shit-stained underwear to Goodwill and expecting to be sainted for it.
How do you know it’s not a total scam? Theoretically, a bunch of college students living on ramen, bananas and expensive craft beer, but craving waffle fries and bad chicken, could fill multiple cars with six, strapping fraternity boys each, wait in the Chick-fil-A parking lot at lunchtime, and then, one by one, sandwich in the sole drivers of expensive cars in the hopes that their victims will pay it forward. Trust me. Frat boys are taking notes as their girlfriends read them this blog. And explain the big words.
Finally, how much does it suck to be the dude in the 37th car? Imagine driving up to the cashier’s window, only to be informed that your meal is FREE! For a moment, you think, “The universe isn’t conspiring against me, after all. Sure, I rolled in here on fumes and two flat tires with just enough in my pocket for a small order of waffle fries and a water, but now I can go to Dollar Tree and buy my lame child, Tiny Tim, a cheap plastic toy, which he will surely treasure like it was a new iPhone. Or legs that work.”
Then the cashier informs you that the woman in the Escalade in front of you paid for your spartan meal – and that she was the 36th driver in a row to do so. “Would you like to pay it forward and buy dinner for the people in the vehicle behind you?” the perky brunette asks. “C’mon, let’s make it 37!” Inside the restaurant, the chanting begins. “Thirty-seven. Thirty-seven. Thirty-seven.” No pressure. You glance in your rear view mirror. Behind you is a cargo van filled with the entire Duggar family and endless yards of calico. The $1.68 in your wallet won’t feed the smallest of those J-named freaks.
At that moment, as you think about how much you’d suddenly like to see Kevin Spacey’s head in a box, you say, “No, thanks. I-I-I already paid it forward at McDonald’s yesterday. Really. I swear.” The dark-haired girl’s right eyebrow mocks you as she hollers to her crew, “That’s it! This loser doesn’t want to pay it forward.” You hear her hiss under her breath, “McDonald’s, my ass.” A collective sigh of disappointment wafts through the drive-thru window. As you drive away, four soggy, lukewarm waffle fries leaking grease onto the crotch of your only pair of tan slacks, you notice two dozen, Duggar middle fingers pointed at you in your rear view mirror. Christians, my ass.
Thanks to those thirty-six, goddamned, philanthropists-with-a-catch, you’ve been cast in the role of Chick McScrooge forever. It’s peer pressure at its worst – and you couldn’t even sneak off without damaging your car’s axle and taking out a giant, electric menu. Because the Duggars are always filmed – except when children are being molested – and you did drag an electric menu a good half-mile, your license plate has immediately been traced and, within minutes, that seven-year old photo of you in Vegas with only one eyebrow, nose dusted in cocaine, and two prostitutes framing you like cheap drapes is everywhere.
Everywhere. Your boss’ everywhere. Your wife’s everywhere. Your children’s everywhere. Meet Mr. I-Can’t-Pay-It-Forward. Driver 37. Las Vegas dumb ass. You are the new Pay It Forward Pariah headed for the unemployment line and a wicked divorce thanks to that thoughtless, selfish Good Samaritan – who, by the way, feels awesome about herself and her benevolent feat – and can’t wait to tell everyone on social media about it and how disappointed she is in that 37th driver. How will they ever break Starbuck’s record with so many miserly people in the world?
Just Got Real?
So before you start your own Fast Food Drive-Thru Pay It Forward Pyramid Scheme, think about the 37th guy. The LAST guy. There’s always a LAST guy. I bet he never thanks the financially-comfortable woman who started the whole Chick-fil-A situation by being so bloody generous. In fact, that 37th guy really hates being reminded about the events of that day. For him, everything in his life now is classified as having occurred before or after The Day He Couldn’t Pay It Forward. He hates the number thirty-seven. Thirty-seven destroyed his life. Thirty-seven haunts his dreams.
And there’s always that chance that, one day, you, too, could end up being the LAST guy. So do yourself a favor and don’t encourage philanthropy that comes with strings. Immediate and specific strings, anyway. You’re not Geppetto. The point of paying it forward is to encourage the recipients of a charitable act to later help someone else in need, thereby participating in an exponential pyramid of good deeds. Not buy the asshat in the Maybach behind you an 820 calorie peach milkshake. Or feed an exponentially spawning family with a TV show and a home the size of Ikea. Or increase revenue for a wildly-successful restaurant chain so they can donate it to anti-gay hate groups.
Or ignore the amputated veteran in a wheelchair just around the corner from Jesus Chicken. The guy holding a cardboard sign that reads: Please help. Starving family.
No, no. Don’t look away. Go ahead. Wave him over.
Now roll down your window and prepare to do something worthy of your chosen deity. If you’re an atheist, just roll down your window. Now, give the homeless veteran your meal. Or, better yet, a gift card to a less-bigoted restaurant chain.
Any idiot can make waffle fries.
Miss Snarky Pants is a humor and satire blog. Don’t get it? Try a picture book.
If you’re really a baller, donate a kidney. Thirty people did exactly that at Loyola University Medical Center in the longest Kidney-Transplant-Pay-It-Forward Chain in history. Only real heroes need apply.