Friday, January 30, 2009

There's No Pricetag On Happiness

Once, without even trying, we made a grown man cry.
I watched a couple of movies back-to-back last week, The Ultimate Gift and The Bucket List, that reminded me of this particular story:

During our starving-student years, while Jeff was at USC and I was working at UCLA, Jeff decided to take a part-time job working for this crusty, old mega-millionaire who fancied himself a filmmaker.

Curmudgeon might be too nice a word for this guy. We’ll call him Ron. He had successfully alienated a series of ex-wives, all of his children, and most of his employees. Now all he had was a couple of reluctant grandkids...and Jeff...to buy the fishing poles for the next obligatory outing.

Ron was the kind of guy who shopped at those appointment-only boutiques in Beverly Hills, where all the staff knew him by name. Four hundred dollars later he’d come away with an orange polyester turtleneck. (I swear this is true. Too much money, not enough taste). He lived in a high-rise penthouse on Wilshire Boulvard, and had his own limos and personal driving staff. He ate nearly every meal in the fanciest restaurants, and spent money like it was nothing.

Jeff would come home with hilarious horror stories of Ron throwing a tantrum at work, excoriating the staff with a string of profanity, firing people on the spot. And then begging them to come back once he regained his sanity.

I’d frequently ask Jeff why he stayed there under these conditions. Surely there was other part-time work to be found. And his answer was fascinating. “I kind of feel sorry for Ron.” In fact, after one particularly bad Ron-day, Jeff came home with the news that he’d invited Ron over for dinner.

“To OUR house?” The response flew out of my mouth. We lived in a one bedroom house-above-a-garage in the heart of South-Central Los Angeles...the Crenshaw Disctrict, as it was known to the locals. We affectionately referred to it as the ghetto. We had bars on all our doors and windows, recognized which ice cream truck was used for drug deals (it came around at midnight playing "Strangers In the Night") and were starting to get used to the police helicopters and the drive-by shootings. Home sweet ‘hood.

We loved entertaining, but we usually only entertained our other starving-student friends, who were also used to dodging bullets. Not penthouse-dwelling millionaires.
On the night Ron came to dinner, he told Jeff he was taking a cab to our house because he didn’t want to bring any of his cars into our neighborhood. I could tell things were already off to a great start.

But when Ron arrived, he seemed fairly gracious. Charming, even, in a Daddy Warbucks kind of way. We took his coat, invited him in. I played a little Chopin and Brahms on the piano for him while we waited for dinner to finish cooking. We sat down at the table, engaging him in polite conversation. Jeff offered a blessing on the food. He expressed thanks that Ron was joining us in our home for dinner. And then it happened. Ron started to cry. Like, seriously, put his head in his hands and sobbed like a baby.

There was an awkward silence, then we asked if he was okay. He said he was fine. Wiping his eyes, he said he just couldn’t get over how happy we were there. He couldn’t remember ever being surrounded by so much love. We were stunned. It all seemed pretty normal to us. It’s not like we put on some kind of show for this guy. And yet he sensed something unusual about the spirit in our home, and it touched him, deeply.

That evening is etched in my memory, permanently. It was probably twenty years ago, before we had any kids or owned a home, or had any money to speak of. In some ways we didn’t realize how much we had and how happy we were. But I’ll always remember that it took a bald, grumpy millionaire – who had nothing – to point out to us that our life was abundantly rich.

20 comments:

Kristina P. said...

What a great lesson. Money really does not always equal happiness.

The Mom said...

Wow. That is so cool. I cannot imagine being alone like that. Family is everything.

Luisa Perkins said...

This is an excellent post; I think it's your best ever. I keep saying that, but only because it's true.

breckster said...

That will be my new goal, keep my home homey enough that it could make an old rich guy cry. And then meet an old rich guy who will fund Justin's thesis film. (I've still got a long way to go in the not being overwhelmed by the no money aspect of student life.)

Marie said...

You've had all the best experiences!!! Thank you for sharing your vast knowledge and "unbelievable" stories.

Heidi Ashworth said...

Goose bumps! When are YOU going to write a book?

Kazzy said...

That is a story I have never heard! Wow! I do, however, remember the ice cream truck. LOL This was a cool post. Loved it!

Kimberly said...

This has me getting weepy too...why are the simplest truths the easiest ones to forget?

Melanie J said...

This is such a wonderful story and you are such a wonderful writer. Having a happy spirit in their home was one of the thins were most happy with accomplishing. Ours was the place everyone wanted to hang out because you just kind of walked in and felt loved. But people who came over a lot felt a little too loved because they got assigned chores on our chart. My brother's best friend was permanently in charge of taking the garbage out. Had his own chore card and everything.

Melanie J said...

I meant, one of the things my parents were most happy with. Sheesh.

Marivic_Little GrumpyAngel said...

We recently also watched The Bucket List. It's very hard to comprehend the lives and values of the super rich, and all the misery amidst such abundance. I still wish I were rich though :-) but also truly grateful for my real riches and the wealth of love in my home. Great post as usual, Charette. Your blog is always a great place visit.

Heather of the EO said...

WOW. I love this story. You have the most amazing stories because you are amazing people. So full of love and light.

Tammy Lorna said...

What a lovely experience. Thanks for sharing :)

(I always love reading your blog!)

xo Tammy

Jessica said...

this is beautiful. It makes me think of the verse about gaining the whole world but losing your own soul . . . how sad to have everything but nothing. And what a tribute to you and your husband who have found that rich and satisfing life.

Mrs4444 said...

So, did he leave anything for you in his will?

(Sorry, I just couldn't resist.)

I loved this story; it's wonderful. Did you have him over again?

Eowyn said...

Thanks for sharing this at a time when I need it. You are wonderful.

LisAway said...

What a lovely story. Sad and beautiful and lovely.

Abby said...

So, I'm new at the whole blogging thing...and I was pretty hisitant about it. But I really enjoyed reading this post. I think that you are an incredible writer and I just wanted to thank you for sharing that experience with the rest of us who needed to be inspired by you.

Mrs4444 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mrs4444 said...

Charette, will you please delete my last comment after you read it? With my luck, his boss would find that! I know that's crazy (he doesn't even know I have a blog, as far as I know), but he did do an extensive background check on Mr.4444 before he hired him, so anything is possible! :) Thanks.