Mr. Nice Guy

Our writing group at our farewell lunch for Sam, right.

Some friends and I just rekindled our writing group.

Years ago when it began, the four of us met weekly in the town library’s conference room and shared our masterpieces with each other. Besides stoking the creative juices and forcing us to write, the group taught us a lot about each other.

We rarely had assigned topics, so most weeks we just pontificated about whatever was on our mind. I credit the group with helping break a years-long bout of writer’s block, which can sneak up and torture you when you least expect it.

Our group broke up a few years ago when our fearless leader Sam decided to uproot and spend his winters in Vermont. We joked that while other seniors are flocking to warmer climes, Sam and his wife Margaret decided to head north to be closer to one of their sons and his family.

It made sense (well, sort of) and we all understood, but selfishly we were very sad that he was leaving. How dare he move away! I felt a bit like I did when I learned a beloved colleague was leaving in search of greener pastures: thrilled for them but disappointed that we were no longer enough. I’m pretty sure this is a universal feeling, though maybe I’m just overly sensitive.

Today, our group operates by email (no Zoom for us yet). It’s not the same as in person, but it’s better than nothing and it’s fun to see what everyone’s doing while self-isolating.

Sam’s latest piece is about his chronic loss of his reading glasses, another universal problem. (Didn’t this guy ever hear of a croaky?) But it’s really about the importance of being nice and cordial to others in these days of hostility, impatience and worst of all, incivility.

When he learned his new glasses would cost $970, Sam asked his comely optician if there was a senior discount. Incredibly, there was not. But then she noted that there was a 20 percent discount for being NICE and Sam certainly qualified. No real surprise there. Sam is an old-school gentleman, the type who stands when a woman enters the room and holds her car door open. OK maybe he doesn’t, but I assume he does. He’s that kind of fellow.

Here’s part of Sam’s piece:

Back at her desk, she toted up the cost, asked if I were a veteran – no (shame, because they get excellent discounts), and figured the cost – $970! “Phew,” I said.  Have you got any discounts or just being old? She smiled: “No,” she said, “ but I do have a 20% discount for being nice, and you qualify.” Stunned, I thanked her and left thinking, (my wife’s) not going to believe this. But she did – and that’s maybe the best part of all.  

So here’s the thing:

Don’t you wish that all stores and businesses had special discounts for people who are NICE, and could impose higher prices on people for being nasty? I love this idea and think it could go a long way in reducing the idiot factor plaguing our country, but I realize it probably wouldn’t work.

At the heart of it, it’s just too subjective and open to abuse. I could just see someone pitching a fit if someone didn’t think he was nice enough, or someone turning on the charm just to save a few bucks. I don’t know about you, but I can spot a fake from a mile way.

But it’s an interesting concept, this thing about being rewarded for being pleasant. I must admit, I’m prone to favoring people who are nice to me in my role as a volunteer for a non-profit gift shop. Just between you and me, I’ve been known to throw in a free gift bag or other token for people who are especially nice. I think that’s just human nature.

Since reading Sam’s piece, I’ve made a special point to be pleasant in my dealings with other people. I don’t consider myself rude, but I sometimes can come across as brusque or aloof when I’m in a rush. I’m trying to slow down and be a little more like Sam, who chats up waitresses and waves to strangers.

It’s not a bad way to be, and as Sam learned, being NICE pays dividends in more ways than one.