Giving and Receiving

Photo courtesy of Gregor McEwan on

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. The following took place in the weeks leading up to it. You will please note that I am still sorting it all out. 

I received on Thursday, November 7 an invitation to an email casting call for extras to be used in a feature film. The invitation requested a headshot, a full-length photo, my name, telephone number, height, and weight. I was advised that if I were chosen I would receive an email on Monday, November 11, with instructions for the time and location of the scene shoot on November 12 and 13. 

I didn’t receive an email. That’s okay. It wasn’t my first rodeo. Anyone who has ever been involved in the arts in any capacity either gets used to receiving rejections or finds something else to do. Life goes on. 

Flash forward a week or so. It was a cold and rainy day, the type where Churchill’s black dog runs off its leash. I was coming out of my local supermarket of choice and walking to my car when I saw a guy sitting forlornly on one of those motorized shopping carts which was stopped by a car, parked in a handicapped spot, with its trunk open. The shopping cart contained, among other things, a fifty-pound bag of dog food. Folks were hurrying by in both directions with their heads down. I couldn’t blame them. We’re all in a hurry even on the best of days and that day wasn’t one of them. There was also something about the tableau that was a little off. I’m still not sure what it was. But. But. I walked over anyway and asked the gent if he needed some help. “I sure could,” he said. The guy was disheveled. He looked like he’d been living rough. He also had a speech impediment which made him difficult to understand. I picked up the bag and put it into his trunk, placing his other smaller purchases in there for good measure. He got off the cart seat, took a couple of steps, and hugged me. Closely, cheek to cheek.  I hadn’t really signed up for gratitude, particularly of this nature,  but I kind of hugged him back and started to politely disengage. Just before he let go he whispered in my ear — no speech impediment present — and said, “What you wanted will be yours. Thank you.” I nodded and smiled — the type of smile you give to a stranger who you are attempting to politely leave behind — before walking to my own car and driving home.

I spent the remainder of the day working. UPS did not deliver a five-pound box of money. Sandra Bullock did not call to ask me to drive down to New Orleans and keep her company. A soon-to-be-published, world-wide best seller-to-be did not materialize on my computer in “Joe’s Manuscripts.” The phone, however, did ring at 10:20 PM. It was a representative of the talent agency which had sent me the email on November 7. They had another shoot scheduled for the same film-in-progress on November 27 and they wondered if I would be available. 

I told the representative “no.”

I’m kidding of course. I told him “yea, yea, and yea again” and found myself on the day appointed driving to Cleveland at 3:30 AM so that I could demonstrate my acting skills by pretending for several hours to act cold, wet, and forlorn on a suburban Cleveland street corner on a rainy and windy day. And yeah. What I wanted was mine. 

I believe in coincidences in the sense that a coincidence is a higher power acting anonymously. Maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe not. My younger brother told me that it was nothing more or less than me helping a stranger on the same day that the agency decided it needed what my brother called “an affable fat f**k” for the scene in question. A very wise friend of mine, however,  said with all of the assurance in the world that I had been tested by an angel. That conclusion is above my pay grade but he may be right. Or not. 

I have the foregoing — and so much more — to be thankful for this week and every week. As always I am thankful for friends like you and for family. I couldn’t ask for any more than that at this stage of the journey.

That’s all I have today. Thanks for dropping by. Enjoy your weekend. And don’t be surprised if you’re tested as well. 

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About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

36 thoughts on “Giving and Receiving

  1. Joe, similar incidents have happened to me often enough that it can’t be coincidence. In some woo-woo way, through simple acts of kindness to others, you receive unexpected gifts in return. Casting bread on the water…

    Let us know when we can catch your heartfelt portrayal of cold, wet, and forlorn.

    • Thank you, Debbie. I agree. It comes around sometimes. Regardless, doing the act is almost always its own reward. Sometimes — as occurred in my case — you receive some form of lagniappe.

      I am being coy about the title of the movie because I had to sign a confidentiality agreement involving social media and the like, but I will definitely let everyone know when it shows up at the local multiplex.

    • Thanks, BK. Sharing here is a privilege and a blessing that I take for granted far too often.

  2. Wonderful story, Joe. Thanks for starting our day out on such an inspirational note. Glad you got the acting part. I look forward to hearing when the movie is out.

    I have been on the other end of gifts of kindness, when I received anonymous gifts at times of need, like the time in grad school when I was down to my last pennies and a letter showed up in my college mail box with $50 in cash. I never found out who gave it too me.

    And there’s the subject of final rewards. We stay away from religion and politics here (a good idea), but I must slip in that the good book says “as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren…”

    Have a great remainder of the weekend. I hope there is yet more to “what you wanted” and it will show up in the coming weeks.

    • Thank you, Steve. I of course won’t embarrass you in a public forum by noting the many, many acts of good work and kindness which you have performed over the years in a professional and personal capacity…


      Anyway, thanks for stopping by and for the good wishes! Have a great remainder of the weekend.

  3. You absolutely were tested by an angel, Joe, and passed with flying colors. So happy for you! Your story warmed my heart this morning. Thanks for that. Hope you’ll let us know which movie it is once you’re able to do so.

    • Thank you, Sue. That means a lot. I will let everyone know about the film, I promise. Watch this space!

  4. I seriously doubt that angels, contrary to Brook Benton’s song, fear to tread anywhere. Seems to me that they are large and in charge in the matter of where we all stand in the universe. And where they decide–or are sent–to work, is something that we mortals are not privy to.

    I was scheduled to speak at a health conference on Friday morning. On Thursday night, I was driving through northwest New Mexico, trying to find the right road to get to the tribal conference center. I had landed, after a bad flight, in Gallup, rented a car, and drove off, believing that a sound mind, a map, and a couple of chocolate bars were going to get me to the center.

    The road I chose dead-ended in one little town. There was no place to go because there was no road beyond that. I got out of the car, waddled and slipped through the mud, into the only business I could find open: a little bar, quiet, maudlin, not at all where you would find aces and eights in the mix.

    I asked directions, got a bottle of Pepsi, and waddled and slipped through the mud back to Mr. Hertz’ car. The instructions had been clear enough. Go to the second road south of the town’s southern border, drive south to the second road, and turn left. On the road south of the town’s southern boarder, the second one, I turned left. That road was a slippery mess of mud-and-water, and I decided that no Indian tribe would build a conference anywhere down it. Holding my breath, I fought to get Mr. Hertz’ car turned around. I did, but the nightmare started. The wheels began to slip and spin–I was headed sideways. I stopped, then tried again. Rather than sideways, I was now headed DOWN into the mud. I needed traction, mud chains, or a helicopter landing somewhere close.I envisioned a long walk ahead: about 15 yards back to the paved road, then back tracking along to the SECOND paved road, carrying my suitcase and my brief case. (I would backtrack on a road, incidentally, on which I had seen no traffic at all in the hours that I had spent on it, driving from Gallup.) Faced with being seriously stuck, I again tried the brainless Great American One-More-Try option. I Pushed the accelerator forward.

    I swear this happened. Suddenly, the back end of the car dipped, as if a heavy hand had pushed it down. That move provided the traction I needed, and Mr. Hertz’ car climbed out like a champ. I got to the paved road,drove to the conference, spoke the next day, then hurried back to Gallup because I only had four hours to get there, or I’d miss the afternoon flight. (The barkeep’s instructions to the right road had not included the fact that he apparently meant the second PAVED road.)

    In the days and years after that incident, I have given thought to what happened, have talked it over with people I trust. One person was a friend who happened to be from the little dead end town.

    I have to come to believe the wise counsel of another very good friend of mind, a friend who has now gone on. “In that part of New Mexico,” he said, “you’ve probably only got three options for rescue at that time of night and in the circumstances you were in: bigfoot, a UFO, or an angel.”

    I prefer to believe the angel option. They can appear anywhere, apparently. Bigfoots and UFOs are just too unbelievable. Besides, Mr. Benton’s song doesn’t mention either bigfoots or UFOs.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing that terrific story, Jim. In case anyone hasn’t told you, you write like an angel. I felt like I was stuck in that car with you. I’m glad that you made it. And between us, I’ll take that angel option, too.

    • Chris: Thanks so much. And congratulations on your new two-book deal! What a way to end a year and start a new one!

    • Thank you, Sande. It’s always fun on set. In this case, a number of people had also worked on the set of The Avengers and I heard all sorts of great stories!

  6. Thanks for reminding us that angels move among us, Joe. I genuinely believe they appear when they are most needed, whether we believe or not. I “talk to” my angels all the time, asking for help or direction. Around this time of year, I constantly call on my angels of safe travel. Every time another driver is in such a hurry they attempt to drive up my tailpipe, I invite those angels to climb out onto the back bumper with their flaming swords. And it’s always amazing to see how fast the tailgaters back off.

    And congratulations on the part in the movie. I’ll be watching for the title reveal.

    • Thanks, Suzanne. I like the idea of the angels on your back bumper. I might adapt that just a bit, inviting the heavenly host into the cockpit of the offender behind me and urging them to drop spiders on their lap from behind the rearview. Just to clear their sinuses, of course.

      Thanks also for the good wishes on the movie. Watch this space for the title and release date!

      • Oh my gosh! I just about choked on my coffee. Since I hate spiders I would never have thought of that. But I can just imagine how fast those roadhogs would get off the road to swat and stomp.

        • I had a spider drop from behind the rearview mirror when I was driving on the freeway about three weeks after I got my license. I almost wrecked the car. To this day I check behind the mirror every time I get behind the wheel.

  7. I have heard too many similar stories about kindness and miracles not to believe it was an angel or guardian spirit. Most of the gifts given are small but important to that person.

  8. Thanks so much, Marilynn. I have of course heard stories as well (in addition to my own experiences). There may be a spiritual component to it all, or it may be a higher life form that we can’t quite comprehend. Or both. Or neither.

    As but one example, I have read that cats perceive people as…larger cats with greater abilities because they are unable to comprehend us otherwise. I ask my own ungrateful owner, “Am I just an overgrown kitty with opposable thumbs, placed here on earth to do your bidding? Is that all I am to you?” He has yet to deign to answer. I’ll get back to everyone if/when he does.

  9. Thanks for this lovely story, Joe. Like everyone else responded here, I believe in divine intervention in our lives. Perhaps it is all the more profound because we can’t know it for sure, but we feel the effects that strengthen our faith and give joy to our souls.

    Btw, I believe you were alluding to Einstein’s quote: “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”

    Looking forward to the movie!

  10. Thank you, Kay. Re: the allusion…I believe you are right! Great minds run in the same channels. And then there is mine…

    I’m looking forward to the movie as well. I suddenly am seeing a number of articles about it. Hopefully, my few seconds of camera time will be make the cut…we’ll see.

  11. One very strange coincidence (?) I experienced was on a plane in Pittsburgh. I boarded the plane and found my seat. I was seated beside a small, older Chinese woman. The stewardess… er, excuse me, flight attendant came by to tell the woman that her bag was too large (did not fit under the seat) and that she, the attendant, would hold onto it up front.
    The Chinese woman failed to understand what was going on and panicked when the attendant grabbed her bag and marched off with it, followed her to the front of the plane where she argued with the attendant.
    The attendant got on the mic and said, “Can anybody on the aircraft speak Chinese? We’d appreciate your assistance.”
    At this point I’d been studying Chinese in university for two years and if you know anything about the language, that means I could ask for directions to the bathroom and little more. But nobody else raised a hand, so I decided to try to help.
    The issue was soon resolved and the woman thanked me many times before she fell asleep all the way to Detroit.
    Days later, I’m in Shanghai, at the university I’d gone to attend. Nothing was as I’d expected. I’d been robbed in the airport by the customs official (emptied my wallet). I was told I’d have to pay huge fees at the university for “placement tests” – payment to me made in US dollars, and my dorm room looked as though it had been transported from Skid Row. I was ready to say, ‘The hell with it’, and go home.
    I was in a student lounge kind of place looking for a can of soda (I’d carried the bulk of my cash in a belt) and I saw her. It was the woman from the airplane! She was a senior professor at the university!
    This woman was a terror in her own country and soon my fees were waived, I got a much better place to live, and I felt a great deal better. I had dinner with her family on several occasions after that and we still keep in touch.
    Coincidence? … I doubt it.

    • Carl, thank you so much for this story, which made my early morning. I have read it a few times, and on each reading I laugh at the line “The woman was a terror in her own country…” It doesn’t get much better than that. Thank you for sharing, and for the travel reminder: never put all of your money in one place. Actually, that’s a great tip for life in general, but that’s a topic for another time and place.

    • Thank you, Suzanne. I still remain surprised at things, though not startled. Best to you.

  12. That is an amazing story. I had goosebumps when the man stood and spoke to you without a speech impediment. I hope your scene escapes the cuts. What fun to be seen in a movie!

    I had a similar experience to yours years ago.

    I have been divorced once. After my abusive husband tried to kill me I ran with my two boys with literally nothing but the clothes on our backs. I have also been widowed twice. I needed give you that background for this story to make more sense. This is actually a short story I wrote for my blog. This occurred when my third husband was hospitalized with a cancerous brain tumor.

    The Unexpected Messenger

    I stayed until way past visiting hours, leaving my husband’s bedside only when the night shift insisted I go home. As I rode the elevator down to the ground floor, I fought back the tears, the fatigue, the sense of hopelessness. The cancer had spread, already encompassing one quarter of his brain. The prognosis was six weeks.

    I stepped outside into a biting wind, heavily scented with fresh snow. Maybe, with a little luck I might make it home before the storm hit, and with a little more luck I might have the dogs ran and fed too. Then I remembered we were out of dog food.

    I groaned. The last thing I wanted to do was put on a civil face and go to the market. I wanted to go home, crawl into bed, curl up in a tight ball, cry my eyes out, and fall sleep.

    The store parking lot was nearly empty. Surely that meant the check out lines would be short. I grabbed my purse, jumped out, shut the door – and froze. The keys were still in the ignition. A sob threatened to drop me to the ground and escalate into serious crying, but tears would only complicate my situation, not solve it.

    I considered my options. I had my purse and thus money and my cell phone. My parents had an extra key to the truck and were only fifteen minutes away. Fifteen minutes would give me plenty of time to make my purchase and be back out to the truck before they arrived. Since, the truck canopy was unlocked, I could put the dog food inside and sit on the dropped tailgate while I waited – if I needed to wait. And, it hadn’t started to snow, yet…

    In less than ten minutes the phone call had been made, the dog food purchased, and I was back outside, sitting on the tailgate. To entertain myself I watched the people entering and exiting the store, surprised so many others were out so late on a stormy night. Perhaps they had urgent purchases like I had.

    One held my attention longer than the others. Male or female? I couldn’t tell. The hair style, clothing and mannerisms could be either. The hair was a longish Pompadour. The shirt, slacks/trousers and loafers were not definitive of either gender.

    The person crossed the parking lot and then veered in my direction. I held my breath. Surely he/she did not intend on drawing me into conversation.

    He/she continued his/her course right up to my tailgate. “Are you okay?”

    “I’m fine. I’ve locked my keys inside but my folks are on their way with a spare.”

    “It’s not very safe for you to sit here alone this time of night. I’d better stay with you.”

    I thought, “God, no! Who will protect me from you?”

    To my horror, the person jumped up and sat next to me on the tailgate. What followed was the oddest conversation I have ever been a part of.

    “Do you remember an incident a few years back when a patient on the fourth floor of the hospital jumped out the window in a suicide attempt?”

    The fourth floor was the psyche ward. I swallowed. “Vaguely.”

    “Well I was that man.”

    I struggled to keep my face non-responsive.

    “Amazingly, I was not hurt in the fall, just bruised. It was then I realized God had a plan for my life or He would not have saved me in such a miraculous way. I needed to stick around and discover what that plan was. I continued with therapy and have since put my life back together. I have had steady employment for several years now, and I am a productive part of society again.”

    “I’m glad to hear that.” Surprisingly, I meant it.

    “And don’t you worry,” He told me. “God will give you the strength you need to deal with your current crises. I don’t know the details, but I know you are overwhelmed with great difficulties. I will pray for you.”

    I was touched. “Thank you.”

    My folks pulled in next to me.

    “Looks like the Calvary is here.”

    He jumped down, grabbed his cart and turned to me one more time, “I really do wish you luck.”

    And with a nod he walked away.

    I learned several important lessons that night. First, God sends the least likely messengers when we least expect them, and second, I needed to rely on God’s strength, not mine. He would carry me through the difficult circumstances, the infernos, and dark places. And third, all I needed was faith.

  13. Cecelia, that’s an amazing story, full of tragedy but shot through with hope as well. The takeaway is that, years down the road, you remember that person and an act of kindness that took him just a few minutes to perform. That’s an example for all of us. Thanks for sharing.

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