It was Christmas Eve in 2006 and I had been online as an entrepreneur for almost six months.
I took a call that was intended for a family member who had just recently started a handyman service. I answered and the voice on the other end said…
“Is the handyman available this afternoon or evening? I have some computers and equipment that need to be set up. I do realize it’s Christmas Eve.”
I hesitated. This was something I’d be more likely to be able to do than Eric. He had very little knowledge about computers. Maybe I could do it.
“What kind of computers? Are they new?”
“Yes, thank you. I just came from the new Apple store at the mall. I bought two computers, a printer, and two monitors. Somehow, I thought I could do this. They’re for my son, for Christmas.”
“Well, it is the holiday, but I have time. I’m more of a computer person than the handyman is, so it’s better that I answered the phone.”
He sounded grateful. Yes, I would be there in less than an hour. No, he wouldn’t need any tools. Yes, he could pay me in cash for the time it would take for me to set everything up and make sure it was working properly.
I had no idea what to charge this man. We would discuss it before I started, once I had seen what he had purchased.
The home was in a new development called Bridgeport. I’d driven past it when I first came to the area, and then through it a day later to see what it was like. There was a man-made lake with a lighthouse, a clubhouse for residents, and roundabouts at every turn. Two areas were gated and those homes much larger with backyards facing the water.
It was dark now, but still easy to navigate to the street I needed. It was a townhouse created to look like it was in New England. I parked on the street and went up to the front door. Before I could knock or ring the bell, the door opened wide and I was greeted by a tall, handsome man who looked like a movie star.
“Thank you, thank you for coming. I’m Brad. Come in.” I hesitated, and he mistook this as fear of going into a strange house with someone you don’t know.
“I’m sorry.” He stepped outside and closed the door behind him. I had heard music coming from upstairs and it was still wafting through the air. “I’m gonna give you my love. Want a whole lotta love…”
“Led Zeppelin. Whole Lotta Love. I saw them do that live at Madison Square Garden in ’74, no ’73.”
“Wow. Come in.” He opened the door and then stepped aside to usher me in. “Again, thank you for coming.”
“Of course. If someone got me new computers for Christmas I’d want to get started on them right away.”
There was a moment of silence, as he and I sized each other up. I checked in with myself to gauge how I felt about being in a strange house with a man I didn’t know. What had I been thinking? Yes, the money. He had promised to pay me in cash. I broke the silence.
“Why don’t you show me what you bought. Did you say your name is Brad?”
“Yes, Brad.” He stepped forward and shook my hand. It was an awkward move, but he saw it through. I met his handshake with an equal embrace. I’d gone to a few Rotary meetings in my new city and several people had told me I needed to have a firm handshake to be taken seriously.
I followed him up the winding staircase. There was a fire burning in the fireplace and the crackling sound made me feel safe. Then the music stopped, there was some commotion from upstairs, and a teenage boy emerged.
“Are we ordering the Chinese food soon? I’m kinda hungry and I don’t know how later they deliver here in the ‘burbs.”
“Jackson, this is Connie. She’s come to set up the computers. Please say hello.”
“Hey, Connie. Want to have Chinese with us?”
I wasn’t sure. “Yeah, okay. But I need to start working on the computers first.”
“No problemo.” Jackson disappeared back into the room he’d come out of. Brad led me into another room where the computers were out of their boxes and plastic wrapping and propped up against the wall.
“These are cool! I knew Apple was coming out with these, but I didn’t get into the Apple store to see them yet. Yes, I can get these all connected. You have internet and I see the cables here and…”
At this point I was pretty much talking to myself. This was going to be fun. We hadn’t talked about money but I estimated it would take no more than three hours for me to set everything up and have Jackson try them out.
“You’re welcome to have Chinese food with us. Or maybe you’d prefer to take some home. Your call.”
Brad smiled and I could see into his soul. He sat down on the bed and watched as I spread everything out all over the floor and mumbled to myself to keep each part straight in my head.
The music started again. This time it was King Harvest with “Dancing in the Moonlight” and I was tempted to sing along. I was a teenager when this one was popular, Jackson’s age but in a difference space and time.
Over the next two hours I focused on the computers, speaking out loud at times to work out which cable went where and how to best set everything up to make it simple for Jackson, and perhaps Brad as well to make the most of this equipment.
But in between, I listened as Brad told me his story and I shared mine as well. Then the Chinese food arrived, and while we ate it was Jackson who shared his story with both of us. It was amazing to me how little father and son knew about each other, and fascinating to see them bond in what appeared to be a whole new relationship.
Brad was a producer and director, currently working on a show that was very popular. Yes, I had seen parts of a couple of episodes, but no, the topic (cosmetic surgery) wasn’t very interesting to me. He’d had great success in Hollywood over the past decade. Coming from a small town in the Midwest, it was all new and exciting and strange and confusing to him.
He married a model after two dates and Jackson arrived less than a year later. There were Hollywood parties, and drinking and drugs. His life became a blur and he was gasping for air to stay afloat. It was his fault the marriage didn’t last. She wanted to stay in Los Angeles, so he bought a house a few streets away from hers. But when she remarried, he could see his connection with his son slipping away.
Somehow, five years passed and he hadn’t seen Jackson. His career was on the rise, he was nominated for an Emmy, and all he could think about was the boy he didn’t know. They had moved thirty miles north to Valencia, an affluent bedroom community to Los Angeles where time had been frozen and life was more simple.
Last year, a friend had suggested he buy a place in Santa Clarita, adjacent to Santa Valencia. He had committed to every other weekend in this new house, and hoped Jackson would be willing to give their relationship another try. He couldn’t make up for the years lost, but he could devote the rest of his life to making up for it.
As we ate from the paper containers, I watched them together. They had an easy way about them and I could see that they loved each other deeply. Children can be very forgiving at times, and evidently Brad had been sincere with this new arrangement.
Jackson disappeared again, and Brad waited for me to share my story with him. It felt like someone else was doing the talking, as I had shared my story so many times over the past year. I’d been a classroom teacher in Los Angeles for twenty years, and worked in real estate part-time to make ends meet. When I found myself wanting a new life, I mustered up the courage to resign from teaching and introduce my real estate clients to people who worked full time in the industry and could better serve their needs.
I was still a little fuzzy on the details of how this new business on the internet was actually going to replace my previous income, but I was hopeful and optimistic. Yes, it had been rough these past six months. But I was sure I could make it work.
Another hour passed. It was time for Jackson to try everything out and tell me what he wanted changed before I left. He timidly approached the desk and slowly sat back in the leather office chair. Brad and I looked at each other. We waited. I was there for the duration and willing to make any adjustments to the computers, monitors, and printer. It didn’t take long. Jackson stood up and spoke in a serious tone.
“It’s perfect, Connie, just the way you set it up. Thank you.” I smiled and nodded. Then he turned to Brad.
“I love you, Dad. I can’t believe you did all of this for me. I love you so much.” He reached for his father, who already had his arms extended for a hug.
Then he hugged me, but not before asking me for permission. Then I hugged Brad, and suddenly we were all laughing and crying like we had known each other for years.
Jackson packaged up some of the containers of Chinese food and put them in a large white paper bag for me to take with me. And when I returned to the living room to say goodbye to Brad, he extended an outstretched hand to give me money for the work I had done. He counted out ten hundred dollar bills and I accepted them graciously. This money would make a lot of difference for me. I placed it carefully in my purse and then shook his hand with a firm and confident handshake.
And at that moment I had an epiphany of sorts. I was ready to move forward with my new life and business. No longer the person I had been just months before, I was sure of myself and knew that I could succeed. I had much to offer the world, and was excited to begin serving in a way that would make a difference. This evening had been a Christmas miracle I would never forget.
As I made my way down the sidewalk and out to my car, I heard music playing again. This time I took the liberty of changing the words to suit my mood and surroundings and sang loud enough for the neighbors to hear…
See the leaves gathered on the walkway, a little music from the room upstairs.
So I walk on out past the long driveway, slowly getting into my car.
Winter breeze, makes me feel fine, moving through the recesses of my mind.
I’m Connie Ragen Green, learning and remembering and growing and serving. Let’s connect, shall we, and see what the future has to offer us and the rest of the world.