You’d think giving money to charity would be easy—especially in the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas; the holiday season—but you would be mistaken. In a day and age where mysterious benefactors pay off layaway balances at department stores and food banks receive volunteers and donations, there are still those who just don’t see anything beyond their own selfish interests…

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On Friday, August 5th, I stopped by a restaurant in Iowa City and met with its general manager. For the past three years, I’ve thrown an annual “Comedy for Charity” show; last year’s event was held at this restaurant and was a rousing success, raising almost $5,000 for a family who had suffered medical tragedy.

The GM was more than happy to host this year’s show on December 3rd, and told me they had everything I needed: stage, lights, pa system, and a private room. The restaurant has two floors, and the reason I approached them in the first place is because they already host comedy shows upstairs on a semi-regular basis. It’s a win-win situation; we get a great venue, they get good publicity and bonus income in drink and food sales.

We shook hands; I took his business card and said I’d be in touch. The very next week, an associate from the organization receiving the money—an organization which funds pediatric cancer research—went in and had contracts signed locking in our date.

(As this is my gripe, I do not feel I am in a position to speak for the foundation and will respect their anonymity. I have been friends with their Iowa liaison for several years, which is why I wanted to give them the money this time around. I will also not name publicly the restaurant, because though the GM acted like a complete assclown I have no desire to do anything but tell my side of the story. Naming names does no good in such a situation.)

On November 28, a mere five-days before the event, the foundation’s liaison received a phone call from the GM I had shaken hands with: a customer had wandered in and asked about the charity show. Confused, the GM said he had no clue that was happening. Sometime in September a local sorority purchased the upstairs for a dinner/dance party. We weren’t on the calendar, so he wanted to know who we were and what we thought we were doing in his establishment.

When his memory was finally sparked, he started ranting on about how he hadn’t heard from me in months; how did he know we were still planning on coming? My immediate thought was, “Is he an insecure junior high girl? Was I supposed to call and placate him every Monday? ‘See you in 14 weeks!  See you in 13 weeks!  See you in 12 weeks!’” We had a signed contract confirming our date; there was no need for him to hear from me.

Plus, his story was a lie; I had several messages in my outgoing email folder to him he had never responded to. The foundation liaison also had emails left un-replied, as well as phone records showing she had attempted to contact him numerous times; it’s not that he never heard from us, it’s that he had actively ignored us.

Either way, the situation should have been a no-brainer; the venue made a mistake, it would be their error to fix.

Unfortunately, as they were donating the space to us and the sorority was offering money, the situation became very murky. We were asked to move; the GM said he found a new bar we could use for our show. Considering we had already promoted the event on four radio stations, two newspapers, on line, and had a live television spot lined up, this did not seem a very plausible solution.  To have people show up at the restaurant and see a sign: “Charity moved, please go here” was absurd. Doubly so considering the location they offered was almost a mile away. On the flip side of asking us to somehow turn the tide of publicity we had set in motion, how difficult would it be to move the sorority? One email and every single member would be notified: “OK, girls, we’re meeting at a new bar…” Easy peasy, as the kids say.

Not to the GM. He was near adamant that the paying customers be given the space, and that our little charity show fuck off.

To make things more amusing/interesting, on either the Monday or Tuesday before Thanksgiving—November 22nd or 23rd—I brought a poster to the restaurant for them to hang, one promoting the show. On November 28, as the shit started creeping toward the fan, the manager said he had neither seen nor heard about this poster.

His ignorance put a bug in my butt, a mystery I needed to figure out. The event that set all this confusion in motion was the fact a customer had randomly asked about the charity show. An idea entered my head, so the next morning I went to the restaurant and sure as shit: my poster was hanging in their display box. It had probably been there for a week, ever since I had dropped it off; the customer had seen it when entering and asked about the show. The GM who claimed he had never heard of our event or the poster apparently didn’t even notice what was being hung in his own business. A very head-up-your-own-ass form of existence, you could say.

To make things fun, I quickly bought a newspaper and took several “hostage” pictures of the poster. “You say you’ve never heard of it? Funny, it was hanging in your display case the very next morning before you even opened for business…”

To help try and smooth things over, the charity liaison and I asked to meet with the manager and the sorority representatives to see what could be worked out. Basically, I wanted to see what the girls were like. If they were the rich, spoiled, “omg-everone-wants-us-because-we’re-so-hot” sorority, then we’d play hardball.  If they were the overweight, insecure “Omega Moo” sorority, then they’d probably be up to working everything out.

The manager did not like this idea, as he did not want us to “guilt”—his word—the sorority into making any changes.

Really.

That was the kind of language being used: “guilt.”

I’m not sure how discussing contracts would make anyone feel guilty, but that was the GM’s mindset. More and more it looked like the he was saying dance party > cancer. He wanted to shove us aside and at one point even said I hadn’t held my 2nd annual show at his establishment. The charity liaison countered this statement with, “Yes, he did. I was at the show, and it was at your restaurant.”

Why the GM would try to lie about something written in historical stone is beyond me, but by this point he was doing everything he could to… Well, I’m not sure? Get us to walk away? Agree to move? Give up? Whatever he wanted, it was clear we were on his shit list and he wanted the guaranteed money.

Depressingly, it looked like lawyers would have to be involved. I asked the liaison if the foundation’s legal department was interested in giving the GM a call, and she said they would do so happily. And they would have, too, if not for the fact the legal department checked with their own bosses first. They were told to leave well enough alone, and when the liaison asked why was told, “We don’t like to make waves; can we move the event?”

So the lawyers knew we were in the right, but the big bosses didn’t care. Basically, they were hanging their own employee out to hang, and we could do nothing about it. If anything pissed me off, it was that. To go through all the effort to try and give them money and for them to not have our backs when needed? It was like a middle finger for the generosity.

Fortunately, somewhere along the way the restaurant GM must have understood what a signed contract was and did the honorable thing. Maybe he feared getting lawyers involved and that he was fighting a losing battle. Not that he actually contacted anyone to inform us he was giving in; he had actually stopped returning phone calls. I found out we had our night by going to see him in person, and when I did so I met a man barely able to contain his rage. I walked in three days before the event and stuck out my hand:

“Good to see you again,” I smiled.

“Been a long time,” he responded angrily.

“It has,” I said, and then cheerfully played stupid: “Hey, so I’ve been hearing all sorts of things about confusion here, and I just wanted to stop by and make sure everything was solid for Saturday.”

The GM gave me stone-faced, curt answers. “Yup.”

“So everyone is good to go? There was a sorority; they’re good?”

“No. They’re pissed.”

“Anything I can do?”

“Nope.”

“Maybe I could meet with them? This is my event, but I don’t care about credit. I know most sororities have to do ‘good deeds’ for their charter; I could take my name off this and we can donate the money in their name if they wanted. It would make them look good.”

“Nope.”

And so on, until I left and he did not offer to shake my hand a second time.

At the end of it all, though the restaurant honored their commitment, they screwed themselves out of money just as they had last year. We packed the house; it was standing room only and possibly an over-capacity fire hazard. Much money could have been made selling drinks, but for the second year in a row they neglected to schedule any cocktail servers. Maybe it was GM’s way of punishing us, but it only hurt his business. If you wanted a drink, you had to get up from your table, make your way to the bar, wait in line…

I’m sure they still did OK financially; it would be impossible not to given the volume of people there. But they could have made a ton more had waitresses been approaching people at their tables and asking if they needed anything.

As to the rest?

We raised somewhere in the neighborhood of $6,000 to the fight pediatric cancer. That night I sent an emissary to find the sorority spokesperson and reiterate my offer of donating in their name, and the response I got was, “They said thanks for the offer, but they’re not angry in the slightest; they’re happy downstairs and having a great time.”

Their outrage had been more lies by the GM, I guess.

Oh well, next year we’re using new location. No need to be treated poorly when bringing paying customers into a business.

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