Over the past two columns we have been pursuing the theme that whatever the L-rd does is for our good. This expression is usually invoked when matters which appeared catastrophic are later revealed to have been very beneficial. This time I would like to highlight the not entirely obvious realization that good things are also for our good, and yet they too can initially be glossed over.
This story takes us all the way down under to Sydney, Australia some 30 years ago. It was then that my good friend Paul Meyer (real name) commenced his career as an electrician.
Starting off in a competitive field requires a chain of customers, good connections, and a battery of referrals. Paul Meyer had none of those. He was starting off from scratch. He had not inherited the enterprise, and was not apprenticed by a franchise that was throwing him a portion of the business, nor did he have one solid customer such as a hotel, school, or restaurant. He was just a good, competent, honest Jewish boy wishing to be gainfully employed.
For those not familiar, in Sydney, whether you own your apartment (read: have a huge mortgage) or are paying rent, you had better have a well-paying job. As far as expensive cities to live in, Sydney is about 11 on a scale of 10.
So, innocent and eager, Paul had nothing going for him in the realm of financial security. But he did have debts. You cannot be an electrician without a van, equipment, and material.
Fortunately, he also had an idea that was ahead of the curve in the late 1980s. Virtually every business, from a bakery to a shoemaker to a tax consultant to a dentist, needs to display a shingle. Paul’s electrician-esque head contrived a handsome display in a lighted case that would convert a drab shingle into a lighthouse. And best of all, each display that he installed was an advertisement for the next one. Until his competitors caught up to him (and would overtake him), he had cornered this market.
It really was a good idea and it brought him business. Not as much as he needed, but once he was there installing a lighted display, the firms that hired him would often need some other electrical work and he would pick up some side jobs along the way. And yet, even with a toehold in the market, it seemed that his burgeoning family, which already had day school tuition as part of its accounts payable, was not going to make it.
What was he to do? Time was running out to determine if he had embarked upon a useful parnassah or an expensive failure. It was on those days of vacillating fears that he had to make a delivery to a hairdresser where he had previously done a small job. Paul stepped into the hair salon, and felt like any religious boy would: very uncomfortable. There was the hum from all of the dryers, toes being pedicured, nails being manicured, facials, waxing, threading and (I couldn’t make this up) mud baths. Paul would have given anything to have been anywhere but there, but a quick escape was not to be. There was no one behind the counter so he had to scan the joint to see who might be free and able to help him.
The lady who was giving the massage was blessedly busy, so there was no need to interrupt that interaction. The woman engaged in hair removal was deep in epilation nirvana and so that was also a non-starter, thank G-d. The woman doing the manicure seemed like a great candidate as her filings looked like a procedure that could be interrupted in the middle with no damage or side effects. Alas, the manicurist and manicuree were clucking so loudly together it was impossible to get her attention.
Paul was awash and sinking fast. Remaining in the beauty parlor had all the enticement of eating dirt. A nearby customer, on the eve of entering her golden years, was having the evidence eliminated from her scalp. She waved in a vigorous attempt to get Paul’s attention. The electrician instinctively fumbled in his pockets trying to look very busy. But just as he pulled out a crumpled receipt from his pants, he made the same mistake that got Lot’s wife into trouble: he looked back.
And there was that little old lady smiling away and waving him over. Suddenly Paul’s situation deteriorated from deeply awkward to mortifying. At least where he was he had his island of solitude at the counter. Granny was asking him to navigate the vexatious rapids of humiliation.
“Sonny,” she beckoned with the kind of smile funeral directors would pay good money to master. What could he do? Avoiding her was no longer an option. But the detestable idea of traversing the floor of the hair salon settled in the pit of his stomach like indigestible grease.
“Sonny,” Granny repeated with a garbled Melbournian accent, sounding as if she was halfway through a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. “Sonny!” she waved urgently, with a C’mon! C’mon! in her tone. Paul submitted to his fate and embarrassingly sulked over to the Reaper innocently disguised as an old lady. Granny was surrounded by a clot of beauticians. “Whatcha doing here?” she pressed.
“Oh, I am just an electrician,” Paul fumbled, “and I have to drop off something to the proprietress, whom I cannot seem to find.”
“Don’t you worry about that,” Granny comforted. “Just leave it with me and I’ll get it to her. Now, you say that you’re an electrician. That’s wonderful – please give me your card.”
“That is, ehh, err… well, very nice of you to request,” Paul stammered insincerely. “But I am, ehh… afraid I am far too busy and cannot take on any more new jobs.” Factually, he was not too busy, and would have done anything to take on new jobs, but just a few weeks into the profession he had learned that these old ladies don’t really have any business; they only call you in the middle of the night when their light bulb burns out. Unable or unwilling to replace it, they call for help. True, this sounds like a racial joke, but there are actually people who call an electrician to replace a light bulb, and then decline to pay for the visit as the service was so elementary. “Surely,” they say, “you do not expect payment for changing a light bulb, do you?”
Every synapse in Paul’s electrician head was firing, “Warning: Light Bulb Lady!” And then the Normandy Invasion of alarms sounded in his head: “She’ll give the card out to all her Light Bulb Lady friends!”
Paul handed the woman his small package, smiled his thanks, and then headed outside. A storm was in full throttle. The sky was jagged and full of bad electricity, and in the short drenching run to his van, the thunder once again cleared its throat, with a little more authority this time. As he drove, Paul tried to dismiss the humiliating, shamefaced encounter he had just experienced but his conscience would give him no rest. “You are just starting out,” the inner voice proclaimed, “and in no position to turn down a potential customer.”
Paul set his windshield wipers to high and drove back to the beauty parlor. He stepped inside, looked neither right not left, and handed the lady, now submerged under a bulbous hair dryer, his card.
The very next day, Paul got a call from this lady for a job, a real job that entailed several well-paying hours of work. And that was just the blessed beginning. The woman never stopped calling. She was the matriarch of a very well-heeled family that has properties – commercial and residential – throughout the most populous city in Australia.
Thirty years later Paul Meyer Electricians (known as PME) still does all the electrical work for this family concern which comprises the lion’s share of PME’s work. Granny’s previous electrician had just retired the day before her beauty parlor appointment.
So the take home message is the same as before: G-d has our best interests in mind – you just have to know when to answer the door when you hear the knock.