A new twist on Minnesota nice

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 14, 2013 - 5:20 PM

It takes a transplant to redefine Minnesota Nice to a level that puts the natives to shame.

You might define the concept as “smiling tightly and speaking calmly when angered,” or “waving someone into line as you try to get out of the MOA parking lot,” but chances are you’ve never thought, “If I was really a nice person, I’d make an enormous cake and distribute it to the high-spirited folk spilling out of an Uptown drinking complex at closing time.”

Jennifer Prod has been doing nice things all year — partly as “art experiments for positive change,” as she puts it, and partly just because it’s a hoot.

“I planned this cake party for Friday night. I made a three-tier cake, and we went down to Hennepin in Uptown when the bars let out, and handed out slices of cake. People crowded around, wondering what was going on — then one guy said it was his birthday, and the crowd started singing ‘Happy Birthday.’ ”

This wasn’t the first time for unexpected confection-based charity; she also has walked around Hennepin giving out cookies. Another time she handed out flowers at the Farmers Market. Then there was that downtown hula hoop competition a friend suggested.

“I was skeptical of that one, but we met a group of people who were doing a modeling campaign for Polaroid, and they started challenging each other, and then people in business suits came over and started hula hooping.”

One might suspect this is guerrilla marketing, an ad campaign? C’mon, there has to be a gimmick. Who goes around doing nice things for no reason? But there is a reason.

“Before we moved here, I worked at a community action agency in Wisconsin, and we had a number of homeless shelters and food pantries. The mood could be pretty downcast, and I felt every day I wish there was something more to do to give people hope. So I decided one day that I was going to write little poems on balloons and stick them around the community, and it was fun. I thought, ‘I’ll do another project,’ so I gave out cookies for Thoreau’s birthday.”

Thoreau, of course, being the fellow who coined the exhortation to commit random acts of kindness. Also, senseless acts of beauty:

“We had a temporary tattoo project, where we went to various bars on Lyndale and asked people if they wanted little smiley-face tattoos. I thought 80 percent would said no, but 90 percent said yes.”

Is that a typical reaction?

“Maybe 10 percent of the people I meet are really cynical and think I’m trying to poison them with cake. Twenty percent are too busy to care, and the rest are really nice. They think it’s awesome and say they’ll go do it for someone.”

What’s next?

“Last weekend we handed out cookies to Salvation Army bell ringers. And I’m thinking about doing something for the ice fishermen. I have some paint to make murals in the snow. Or maybe we’ll bring out those sloppy Joe snow cones!”

So if you’re sitting in an icehouse waiting for the bobber to twitch, and there’s a knock at the door, open it. Random sloppy Joe cones: Wouldn’t that be nice?

 

JAMES LILEKS

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