By Stephen Tobolowsky
We had a routine at the Tobolowsky house early on Saturday mornings. Coffee. Lots of it. And if there was foam, even better. I was usually the first one up, so I would round up lattes and muffins for Ann and myself, and some sort of nasty sweet rolls for my kids.
My son, Robert, who was five at the time, was also an early bird. Whenever I had a morning chore he was eager to “come with.” He was good company. He was a master of navigation. He sat like an Admiral strapped into his car seat, barking out directions, and reading street signs.
We were driving by our local park when Robert pointed over to a cluster of benches and said, “Daddy, look. There’s a man.”
I slowed down the car and saw he was right. There was a man in his late thirties/early forties, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and reading the morning paper. At his side were stacks of soda pop, and an ice chest with bags of ice, and balloons.
I stopped the car and said, “Robert. Do you know what that is?”
“No, Dad,” he said.
“That is one of the saddest sights you could ever see. That’s a daddy. See all of the drinks and balloons?”
“They have to be for a birthday party. You can’t reserve picnic tables at the park, so he has to sit there to make sure his little son or daughter has a place to have the party later today.” I looked at my watch. “Wow. It’s only seven. You know the party can’t start for at least three hours, probably more like four. But he’s going to sit. He’s going to sit there all morning so they can have a party.”
Robert got a very sad look on his face, “That’s awful.”
“I know, Robert. Being a dad is terrible. It’s hard work.”
Then I got an idea about turning this into a teaching moment. “Robert, you know how we light the candles on Friday night for Sabbath?”
“This is a perfect example of what Sabbath is. It is a big thank you to the universe. We say “thank you” for our food and our life and our children. We do it every week, in good times and bad. It makes our lives better. It’s like that man. He doesn’t expect anything. We are going to be the Sabbath and make his life better.”
Robert looked at me with a mix of excitement and confusion, “How?”
“We are going to get him a coffee and a muffin, too! We’ll bring it to him.”
Now, Robert was excited. It almost sounded like a prank.
We bought coffees and muffins and drove back to the park. Robert and I got out of the car and started walking toward our man who was still reading the newspaper. As we approached his “zone of protection” he looked up from the sports page. He saw Robert walking towards him holding the cardboard tray with a grande cappuccino and a blueberry muffin. He went into “Daddy defense” mode.
“This place is taken,” he said. “We’re having a party later. You’ll have to go to another spot.”
“We know,” I said. “We saw you sitting and thought you could use a snack. You would probably have a long wait. When is the party?”
“11:30,” he replied.
Robert walked up with a huge smile and handed him the tray with the coffee and muffin. The man looked a little shocked. He said, “Thanks.” He reached for his wallet.
I told him, “No. It’s on the house.”
In the car Robert was laughing so hard about how surprised the man was. I said, “You see, that’s the lesson. Sometimes goodness can come from nothing.”
I was very happy with my Sabbath experiment. But I was unprepared for what followed. Sometimes we may think the experiment is over – but the experiment didn’t get the memo. It keeps on going.
Two years later, I was in the bike store looking for a first bike with training wheels for my youngest son, William. I felt a presence lurking behind me. I turned. There was a pleasant-looking man with a trim beard. He was grinning. He said, “You don’t recognize me do you?”
I smiled apologetically and said, “Sorry, I don’t recall.”
He said, “I’m the guy you bought coffee for. In the park.” Robert elbowed me and started laughing at the mention of that morning. He said, “After you left, I recognized that you were in movies. I told my wife about it and she said we should do something for you. We went online and ordered all of your movies so hopefully you may get a few pennies in residuals down the line. So when you open one of those checks and get $122.03 for Groundhog Day, just imagine the three cents was from us – your unofficial fan club.”
And I ended up learning another message of the Sabbath. Thanking someone, and being thankful isn’t an event. It’s a process. It keeps working long after the thank you card has been tossed away. It is one of the few tools we have at our disposal to make life better. Anyway, that’s my three cents worth.
Stephen Tobolowsky has appeared in over 200 movies and television shows: including Groundhog Day, Memento, Californication, Silicon Valley and the newly released Welcome to the Men’s Group. He wrote and performed Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party, which premiered at the HBO Comedy Festival in Aspen.
His new storytelling concert film The Primary Instinct is available on Amazon, iTunes, and several VOD outlets. He wrote and recorded his true stories on “The Tobolowsky Files.” They can be heard at Slashfilm.com, iTunes, and on national radio. His first book of short stories, The Dangerous Animals Club, was published by Simon and Schuster in 2012. His second book of stories, My Adventures with God, will be released in the spring of 2017.
See Stephen in Welcome to the Men’s Group, support the movie release and choose your Perk in their Indiegogo Funding Campaign.
Photo: Getty Images