That phone call from D.J. changed my life.
I followed the directions he’d given me and found myself at a sleek, urban electronics shop called Digitz. D.J. was inside, assisting a customer. I browsed around, pretending to shop for a new computer, until at last he spotted me.
“Leon!” he cried. As his customers turned and stared, he bounded across the room to greet me. “How long have you been here in L.A.?”
“Around twenty years,” I said. “So, are you a salesman like me?” I looked around the shop, which was filled with computers, cell phones, and other electronic gadgets.
“Not just a salesman.” D.J. grinned and spread out his arms. “Digitz is my store. It has franchises all over the country.”
As I stood there, gaping, he explained how he’d gotten the idea while he was still in college. After graduation, he’d saved his money and opened his first shop. “It was slow at first, but then business took off.” He gave me a tour of the store and introduced me to his staff as his “long-lost brother from another mother.” Then he invited me back to his house for dinner.
Okay, house is an understatement. D.J.’s house is a sprawling mansion up in the hills. “Just relax, make yourself at home,” he said. I laughed. My home was one-third the size of his, and didn’t have an infinity pool or sweeping views of the Pacific. His was like the Nordstrom to my Walmart.
During dinner, I filled in D.J. on my life – Lindsay, the boys, the move to L.A., everything. I even told him about the hollow feeling that had overcome me since my sons headed out into the world.
“I understand well.” D.J. sat back, a thoughtful expression on his face. “We always circle back to Walden, don’t we? ‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ It makes little sense, doesn’t it? Especially after we gain it all – the family, the job, the dream. Yet still, emptiness.”
After opening his second store, D.J. had met his wife, Wendy.
“There was never a question,” he said. “Wendy was the one for me.” The two were married on the beach by a barefoot minister in a Hawaiian shirt. In time, they moved to their home in the hills, and enjoyed the life of luxury.
Wendy struggled for years to get pregnant. Then, with the help of a very expensive fertility doctor, their daughter, Kristina, was born.
“I had everything,” said D.J. “My life was perfect. Yet still, at the height of my success, I felt like something was missing.”
“So what did you do?”
“I learned to give back.” he said. “I learned to stop being a taker, living my life and spending my time and money in ways that only benefited me or my family. It’s not enough to have stuff, to make your life better. You have to find a way make other people’s lives better, too.”
It wasn’t exactly Walden philosophy. But it made sense. And it stayed with me as I left D.J.’s house and went about my life. My life was empty, because at one time, I’d made it all about my sons – getting a better job, earning more money, buying nicer things, all so that I could be a better dad to them. But I had already fulfilled that purpose. I had raised two great kids, and given them a better life. Now maybe it was time to pour that energy in a new direction.
Months later, Orangeview Community Park was opened. I attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony along with the other volunteers who had worked together to build a playground where there had once been an empty lot in an impoverished neighborhood. As I watched the local children play on the new equipment, I felt renewed. With my own two hands, I had helped to give these kids a safe place to play – something that I hadn’t had during my own childhood.
D.J. and I got together many times – often at his house. We occasionally went out to play golf, but I’m afraid I am as hopeless at golf as I was at basketball. I shared with him my efforts at helping to rejuvenate poor neighborhoods, and he gave me news about the charity he supported, which was an orphanage somewhere in Ethiopia. What were the odds of that, I thought?
Then one night, D.J. and I shared a couple of beers and good laughs about days gone by and old friends — including Keith, who, as it turns out, only stayed a gold statue for a few days before the golden touch spell wore off. He and what’s-her-name had woken up, bewildered, in the middle of that old antiques shop. Eventually, Keith moved back to Detroit, had learned of D.J.’s whereabouts from his parents, and contacted him. He had no idea that D.J. had accidentally turned him to gold.
“Hey,” said D.J., after our laughter had subsided, and the conversation turned more serious. “I got a couple of photos yesterday from the charity I’ve been supporting. Would you like to see?”
“Sure.” I leaned forward to look the photo on his cell phone, then froze.
There, on his screen, was a picture of you.