Giving Everybody A Nice Word

July 28, 2009|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,

Anyone who thinks flattery will get you nowhere should consider the case of Brett Westcott and Cameron Brown. The two Purdue University students have been riding their campaign of relentless pleasantries to cities north and south, to appearances on National Public Radio and Good Morning America, and to Baltimore's Inner Harbor and Camden Yards, where they spent Monday afternoon telling people nice things about, well - just about any old thing.

"Sir, that's a very nice hat you have. ... I like that your shirt matches your shoes. ... I love your tie-dyed tank top. ... Love those blue sunglasses. ..."

For hours in the blazing sun, the two slim rising juniors in shades and shorts tossed verbal orchid after orchid into a continuous stream of passersby at the National Aquarium, near the World Trade Center, on to Harborplace, making their way to the ballpark.

Westcott, a civil engineering major from outside Chicago, launched this adventure on the Purdue campus early in 2008, standing out at the same spot every Wednesday afternoon with a big sign and complimenting everyone in sight. He wrote in this past Sunday's New York Times that he was seized at the outset with the urge to "do something nice."

Soon Brown joined the effort and the two kept it up every Wednesday at the same spot through rain, shine and snow. They have become known as the "Compliment Guys" and, aside from a few nasty gestures and dirty looks scattered along the way, they have been met by a gush of good vibrations that continued flowing in Baltimore.

"I love the floral pattern on your shirt. ... Hey, nice mustache. ..."

Nice mustache?

That seemed fine to the wearer of the salt-and-pepper 'stache, Tony Teoli of Newark, Del., who responded with a smile and a high-five, as suggested by the modest, hand-lettered sign the two young men carried: "FREE COMPLIMENTS -- (HIGH FIVES WELCOME)"

Teoli was waiting for tickets at the National Aquarium when he got the good word.

"They said, 'You, with the mustache.' Cool. That's awesome. Better an optimist than a pessimist."

They also got a high-five from Susan Schoenenberger of Howard County, owner of Mt. Airy Mattress, who was pleased the guys shouted out about her curly hair. They said something like "Hey, nice curly hair."

Did they really mean it? Does it matter?

"Who doesn't want free compliments?" said Schoenenberger, who was down at the harbor with her daughter, sister, nieces and nephews. "I can use as many as I can get."

"This stop has been absolutely amazing," said Brown, a management major from Toledo, Ohio, referring to the trip so far to Washington and Baltimore, stops No. 6 and 7 on a 10-city tour sponsored by Kodak that started in New Orleans and will head from here to Philadelphia and New York, where the duo is scheduled to appear on The Today Show Sunday morning.

The stop in D.C. took them to a Saturday night Washington Nationals game, enough to challenge even their good cheer. How do you compliment the team with the worst record in the majors?

"Well, they all looked great," said Brown, who was given the privilege of jumping up on a dugout before the first pitch and shouting "play ball," a phrase that conveys a certain ominous ring at Nationals Park.

Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but the Nats took two straight from the San Diego Padres over the weekend.

The guys were not taking credit. Nor were they necessarily seeking fame or fortune in this crusade. The local papers in Indiana picked up the story, then the Chicago papers, then of course someone posted a video on YouTube, then the national media got into the act. They did Good Morning America in March and were supposed to appear on Oprah, but were pushed out in a scheduling squeeze.

Kodak got in touch to see if the guys would be interested in taking their act on the road in a sponsored tour. And so they were in Baltimore with two public relations people and their own videographer in tow.

"That is the coolest green shirt I have ever seen. ... Those are some really cool pink Crocs. ..."

Tr? Monroe of Washington was in town to bring his 8-year-old son, Tyler, to the Orioles game Monday night, his first Major League Baseball game. Monroe got into the spirit instantly with high-fives.

"I see 'Free compliments,' that's cool," said Monroe. "A lot of people just walk past each other like nobody's there. Why not say 'Hello'?"

Or, for example, "nice beard," which was tossed out to Fred Posey of Atlanta, a husky fellow in a black "Fueled by Wings & Beer" T-shirt. What exactly did that do for him?

"Nothing, really," said Posey, who wears a full beard and longish hair.

His companion, Sandi Braswell, said she was thinking "I don't know you. What do you want?" and assumed it was a college prank of some sort.

The guys say they intend to keep it up on campus until they graduate. Two more years of weekly affirmations, a couple of hours a week, depending on the class work load, said Westcott. He responded quickly when asked if he ever tires of the project.

"Never, never ever," he said. And he pressed on toward the Harborplace pavilions, undaunted even when ignored by a young woman hustling by, locked into her cell phone.

"Hey, enjoy that phone call. ..."

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