She Wanted to Help Strangers. Would They Take Her Up on It?


Thirty minutes later, Mr. Zahedi’s Roman gray wall was decorated with a row of wonky, half-smudged fleur-de-lis. As the crew refined their technique, each successive fleur-de-lis less wonky and smudged, Scarlett, alarmed by the powerful fumes coming from cans of gold spray paint, piled on KN95 masks.

“I have so many mixed feelings,” Mr. Zahedi said. “Remorse. Regret. Joy. Gratitude.”

At last, the job was complete: seven rows of gold spray-painted fleur-de-lis, and a single, lightly smeared emblem on the front door. Mr. Zahedi described the look as “I imagine, like, a villa in Venice.”

For the camera, Ms. Giaever asked Mr. Zahedi what he thought of her project. “I think helping others is the center of life,” he said. He said he thought “Free Help” was “trying to explore the center, which is good.”

Ms. Giaever asked him to “rate your customer satisfaction on a scale from 1 to 10.”

“Well, just in terms of coolness and kindness, 10,” Mr. Zahedi answered. “In terms of design, perfection? Three.”

That night, however, he texted her an amendment. “I really love the wall,” he said. “It took a while but it is growing on me.”

After her afternoon with Mr. Zahedi, it began to dawn on Ms. Giaever that some people might question whether her desire to help was more self-serving than it was genuine, particularly with her film crew in tow. Back in Union Square, Ms. Giaever found herself tailed by a young man in a hoodie with an aggrieved expression.



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