There are a lot of ways to raise money for charity. Some people host bake sales or maybe car washes. Some people run in charity races. I’ve known people who threw parties or hosted karaoke nights. These are all fine, but I opted for a different method: I chose to humiliate myself at work by doing whatever my co-workers told me to do — for one whole week.
Why would I do such a thing? Actually, I was raising money for Red Nose Day, which is all about ending child poverty through the power of humor. When you buy a Red Nose — only available at Walgreens — that money helps to end child poverty. Also, on Red Nose Day on May 25, there will be an NBC broadcast special where you'll see lots of actors, comedians, and musicians doing all sorts of funny, weird, and entertaining things to get you to give money to a really good cause. So my very silly fundraising efforts are in good company.
To that end, I laid out the plan to my co-workers: For one week, I would do whatever silly or bizarre thing they asked me to do, so long as they put $5 in our office’s Red Nose Day jar.
My co-workers are also writers at BuzzFeed, so they’re creative enough to make this worthwhile. In fact, it was like simultaneously telling kids they could get
anything they wanted in a toy store and also telling sharks there was
blood in the water.
“Wait, you’re really doing this?” asked Kirby. “I can bring a camera,
“There are just so many intriguing options,” said Justin. “I can’t
decide if I want you to cover yourself in brightly colored powder like
you just robbed a bank, or if I want you to put your hair in cornrows
and act like it’s completely normal.”
“No! Not cornrows!” interjected Hannah. “Make him cut his
hair like he’s a medieval monk.”
Clearly, they had no intention of making the coming week easy for me.
When I arrive Monday morning, there is a red onion sitting on my desk. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch Hannah smirking. She pulls out a $5 bill and puts it into the Red Nose Day jar.
“Good morning, Patrick,” says Hannah. “We’ve got a meeting in about 15 minutes. Would you be so kind as to eat this raw onion during the meeting? If anyone asks you why you’re doing that, act like it’s no big deal and it’s the most natural thing in the world.”
It has begun. I nod to Hannah and then go to wash my mid-morning “snack.” Once we’ve all sat down and the meeting has begun, I wait until about halfway through the meeting before pulling out the onion and taking a big bite. I’m relieved that it doesn’t cause my eyes to water, but I’m also taken aback by just how bad a chunk of raw onion tastes.
“Is that an onion?” asks Matt.
“Mmmm hmmm,” I manage to utter.
“Why are you eating that?” asks Kirk.
“What? It’s just a snack,” I try to say casually as the grimace on my face totally betrays me. I would love to say I'm doing this for charity, but I know I can't. So, I just swallow and take another bite.
“Wait, don’t swallow it!” yells Kirk. “I don’t think it’s okay for your body.”
I shrug. I have no idea if what Kirk is saying is correct, but I also know that it’s going to take me so long to chew this terrible onion storm in my mouth that it might not matter. Mercifully, the meeting ends, partially because I have grossed everyone out. I spit the rest of the onion into a nearby trash can, and despite the use of copious amounts of gum and mints, everything I eat or drink for the rest of the day tastes a little bit like onions.
When I arrive back at my desk, there is another surprise for me: a tambourine and a note from Justin. “I put $5 in the jar,” the note reads. “Now, you have to carry around a tambourine, and every time you end a conversation, rattle it and scamper away like some kind of mythical creature.”
Let me go on record as saying that carrying a tambourine around the office is loud enough as is. The simple jangling as you walk is enough to cause people to glance your way. It is so, so much more disruptive to actually rattle it and scamper every time you stop talking. This is especially true when people like Justin and Kirby now find excuses to talk to me, simply so they can force me to scamper. I am loud, I am disruptive, I am very self-conscious, and I have to do this all. Day. Long.
Tuesday goes a little more smoothly for me than Monday did. I imagine this is partly due to the fact that if my office mates ask for things like “eat an onion” or “jangle a tambourine,” they’re also going to be held victim by whatever smells or sounds come out of my antics.
But, of course, I’m not entirely off the hook. Kirby puts $5 in the jar and informs me that I have to meow every time someone says hello to me. It’s early in the day, so a lot of people are still coming into the office. People say “hello” a lot, and so I meow a lot. Most people ignore this because it’s too weird to deal with on a Tuesday morning.
By lunchtime, the novelty of my meowing schtick has worn off. Eileen is bored and throws money into the jar.
“Any time you see someone eating something, you have to ask them if they’re going to finish that,” she declares.
We have an office-wide catered lunch today, so I’m going to be asking a lot
of people if they're going to finish their food. Once lunch is served, I’m
literally going around to every person in the office, asking if I can
eat their lunch before most of them can take their first bite. It goes
about as well as you might expect. Oh, and also I’m still meowing
whenever they say hello to me, so I’m what they refer to in the business as a “double threat.”
Justin was so enthralled with his tambourine bit on Monday that he’s decided to throw another $5 in the jar and play again. This time, he’s created a protest sign that says, “Enough with the cats, BuzzFeed!” He tells me that I’m to take this sign outside and protest the company we work for.
As I begin the protest, I’m not really sure what I should be chanting as I hold the sign. All of the usual protest standards don’t really work. The call and response of "Show me what democracy looks like / This is what democracy looks like" doesn’t really work when you replace “democracy” with “digital media company.” Also, a call and response won’t work when you’re literally the only guy protesting. Eventually I settle on: "Hey hey! Ho ho! / These kitty memes have got to go!"
By this point in the week, many people at the office are aware that I’m raising money for charity by doing silly things. However, the security guards are not yet aware of this, and I am asked to leave by several different guards. I sheepishly explain that I work here and that this is for work. Sort of. The guards bid me farewell with a healthy amount of side eye, and then I’m back to chanting about kitty memes.
When I drop my protest sign and return to my desk, I find another sign waiting for me. This one is a big, two-sided sandwich board that features a blown-up version of my headshot surrounded by the words: “Make me famous. Make Patrick Baker your next ‘talent!’”
“Why is ‘talent’ in quotation marks?” I ask.
“Because it’s hilarious. Now get to it.”
Walking down Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood with this sign on is without a doubt the most embarrassing thing I’ve done so far. In LA, there are absolutely people who buy out billboards that say, “Hire me as an actor!” or paint their cars to say, “I’m a filmmaker! Go to my website to see my films!” Personally, I always feel a little embarrassed for these folks whenever I see their shameless acts of self-promotion, and now I find myself full-on joining their ranks. I try to remind myself that I'm doing this to help end child poverty. This helps me for a moment, but the embarrassment comes back in full force once I hit the streets.
During my walk, most people just stare me down with a look that screams, “Oh man, really?” Other people just yell out, “Nice, bro!”
One guy insists that he take my picture so that he can “make me famous on social media.” We both know he’s just making fun of me.
Perhaps the most forward person I encounter is a man on a large tricycle who sees me and says, “How about I punch you in the face? Maybe that’ll make you famous.” It would not, and thankfully, he does not. I manage to get through this ordeal with my face un-punched, but my ego is very, very bruised.
By this point, I’m fully expecting to see something simply insane sitting on my desk when I arrive at work. I am not disappointed. I am greeted with an enormous pair of khaki pants and an XXXXL pug T-shirt.
“Hey man, put on those clothes,” Ari cheerfully says as he drops money in the jar. “If anyone asks why you’re wearing giant clothes, you tell them that they’re not giant, you’re just shrinking.”
“Yeah, okay. Do you have a belt for these pants?” I ask.
“Absolutely not!” Ari chirps as he walks away.
The good news in all of this is that, by Thursday, most people in the office know better than to ask why I am doing something nuts, so I don’t have to have many discussions about how I’m shrinking. I do, however, have to keep one hand on my pants at all times to keep them from falling as I walk. I contemplate buying a belt from one of my co-workers.
Once again, we have catered lunch in the office. This is great, except that putting food on my plate while also not dropping trow requires me to maintain the widest leg stance I possibly can while standing in the food line. Once I have my food, I eat standing up, using the kitchen counter to hold up my pants. Because I am a cool, cool guy.
When I show up on Friday, there’s nothing on my desk. I breathe a little sigh of relief. Perhaps everyone’s grown tired of the make-Patrick-look-like-a-fool bit?
Within five minutes, that is proven to be completely untrue. Tara has arrived, and she is carrying swim trunks, flippers, a snorkel, and a swim mask that I’m to wear all day. Alex sees this and is immediately inspired. She throws $5 into the jar right after Tara.
“Once you’re in the snorkel stuff, you have to go around asking people if they’ve seen your son, who is a fish!” Alex blurts out.
This is clever, because unlike the “I’m shrinking” thing from yesterday, Alex has phrased this in such a way that I’m the one who has to actively go to people and ask if they have seen my son, the fish. She’s devious, that one.
I suit up and begin inquiring after my lost and fishy son. All the responses are a mix of “um, no” and just straight-up laughter in my face. Perhaps the worst part of this is that the stairs up to my desk are particularly precarious while wearing flippers. Every time I have to go to the bathroom, which is downstairs, I say to myself: "This is for the kids." And then I brave the stairs all over again.
Since I still have to do my job while also running around and asking about my son, the fish, I’m going up these stairs a lot.
I find an elegant solution to this problem: I set up camp outside on our patio. There, I can do my work without going up and down those darned stairs. Also, whenever someone comes out for some sun, I can casually go, “Hey, sorry to bother you, but have you seen my son? You’d recognize him immediately. He’s a fish, you see.” At least I might get a tan out of this silly scenario.
The week was trying in a lot of ways. Begging people for their food, eating a raw onion, and wearing flippers while still trying to be proficient at my job were all difficult tasks in their own ways. However, all in all, the week was really good. There were numerous co-workers who donated money, even if they didn’t ask me to do anything dumb. Bless those loving souls. Each of the things I did for money only cost my co-workers $5 a pop, but we ended up donating around $100 total because so many other people were down to give once they understood what I was doing. As an office, we had a lot of laughs, and we raised money to end child poverty. It’s hard to see that as anything but a big ol’ net positive.
This is something more offices should do. It could be anything, really: an office swear jar, a bowling tournament, a bake sale. Whatever sort of Red Nose Day fundraiser would fit your particular office, you should do it. For my co-workers and me, it was an experience that made us all feel really good and like we're part of a team. Sure, they devised incredibly embarrassing things for me to do, but it was in the spirit of charity and good fun.
At the end of the week, I took the money we raised down to our local Walgreens on Sunset (the very same one I paraded past in a sandwich board on Wednesday) so they could pass off the money to our friends at Red Nose Day. It felt good to know that the antics I pulled all week will help make the lives of kids better, both here in America and around the world. While I was at the Walgreens, I grabbed a Red Nose from the counter. After all, we did all of this stuff before the actual Red Nose Day on May 25, and I certainly want to support the cause on the day — maybe in my own pants this time.
There's still time for you to set up a Red Nose Day office fundraiser before May 25! And whether you do the office fundraiser or not, you can grab a Red Nose from Walgreens to show your support.
Photographs by Aubree Lennon / © BuzzFeed 2017