Jason Lawrence Bell
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06-17-19 PT 1 Finding The Face

06-17-19 Part 1           PUSH ARROW TO BEGIN AUDIO

‘Own me if you want the best.’ ‘Treat your inner child’. ‘Your better half desires better’. Read a few signs from the luxury car dealership in New Port Beach. Each new car model had its own marketing campaign. This dealership sold primarily to the rich and famous and used the company slogan ‘if you need to ask, you can’t afford it.’ The dealership thrived. Apparently, there were endless numbers of people who wanted to impress strangers with their expensive rides.

With one interesting exception, the owner and chairman of the board, Saul Freedman. He drove a twenty-five-year-old VW bus as his primary transportation and lived in a modest home in Gardena. Saul was a very private man, who few people really knew, but he kept a very active role in his many businesses. Saul had attracted the attention of a human-interest television reporter, Helena Brennan, when she did a report on ‘Rides of the Rich and Famous’. She had mistaken Saul for a maintenance manager when touring the massive grounds of the dealership. She tried to interview the owner as a look at the insides of the famous dealership, but was startled to find the simply dressed man was the owner.

Saul would not consider an interview, but Helena’s interest was sparked. She needed to know more about Saul. So, she investigated. She found Saul owned 10 businesses that were varied, but had a common theme. They all catered to the wealthy. He owned high-end clothing stores, real estate companies specializing in ocean front property, head hunters for butlers and maid services, and even a dating service for the elite. All the businesses were hugely successful. And yet he lived so modestly. Saul and his wife, Greta, lived in a two bedroom 1800 square feet home that was built during World War 11. Greta’s car was as plain as Saul’s. Helena was fascinated by this couple’s obvious contradictions.

One day she followed the couple to the market and approached them. She introduced herself by reminding Saul of the television special she produced on the dealership. Saul recalled meeting her but said they were private people. She immediately offered up her idea to feature them in a human-interest story about their simple lives amongst the glitter of the rich. Saul and Greta were not impressed and asked her to only speak to their lawyers and walked off quickly.

Helena was confused. This could only help their business, why the reluctance? Helena was not deterred. She started investigating Greta. Quickly she found that Greta was just as accomplished as a Saul, but in a much different way. She also had a long list of businesses. When Helena investigated their personal lives, she found that Saul met Greta at San Diego College in 1968. She found photos of them as hippy activists with long hair and loose flowery clothes. They were a team even then. They produced anti-war moratoriums that had speakers that were black and Hispanic radicals, women’s rights and counter culture leaders. They were fighters for the good.

Then there were many years, where there was little information about them to be found. When the businesses were getting bigger, information about Saul and Greta marginally appeared. There was no record of children. They seemed to be childless. Helena was becoming almost obsessed with the couple and decided the book she always wanted to write would be about Saul’s and Greta’s journey. The more she learned about them, the more they fascinated her. She saw the list of businesses that were under Greta’s name, were very different from Saul’s businesses. There were homeless programs where they taught the homeless skills for needed jobs. They were half way houses for drug related offenders to get back on their feet. There were re-entry programs for recently released prisoners with felony convictions. She had businesses to create support-homes for unwed mothers. Even a business for tattoo removal. Helena’s fascination for Greta was changing to respect and love.

Yet Greta and Saul wouldn’t speak to her. Helena decided to contact their lawyers and hopefully make a meeting, but she insisted Saul and Greta would need to be there. After a couple of persistent calls, the meeting was made. There on the twentieth floor in an exclusive Century City office building, the lawyers, Greta and Saul and Helena met. The lawyers made Helena sign a non-disclosure agreement before they began.

Helena took a long breath and started, ‘I know you are private people and I am sorry if you consider this an evasion of your privacy. But I became fascinated with your lives. First, I thought a human-interest story of faces behind businesses would be interesting. Then I learned more of your selfless organizations and I thought ‘this’ would be the perfect book the world needs to read. Two hippy activists who created successful businesses. Saul the brilliant business mind and Greta the open-heart that was dedicated to the helping the disadvantaged. Opposites that lived humble lives.’ Saul stopped her. ‘Not opposites, it’s all the same cause. But first, you should know, we will never want a book written. So, do you still want to make this meeting?’

Helena slowly responded, ‘I was going to say that I have grown to respect you both and now wish to be like you. The book idea had faded from my desires, but what had replaced it, was this humbling wish to follow in your footsteps. You are what I want to be.’ One of the lawyers interrupted, ‘she is obviously some kind of groupie wanting a job or something. Should we stop this now?’

Greta spoke for the first time, ‘no, but we would like to speak to Helena privately’. And she asked the lawyers to leave the room. Greta turned to Helena, ‘what do you mean follow in our footsteps?’ Helena began ‘as I investigated your lives, I saw a dedication to goodness that I never see. First, I was fascinated, then admiration replaced that and now pure dedication to the path you have created. I truly want to contribute like you. But I don’t know how. Maybe this is a job interview. I will work hard for you; I will protect your privacy. I just need to learn from you.’

Saul and Greta looked at each other. Saul asked Greta, ‘is she the face?’ ‘I think so. Open heart, kind eyes, very sincere. Comfortable with the public,’ answered Greta. Again, Greta turned to Helena, ‘yes, we are old hippies, who still live the values. Saul is really the more compassionate and I’m more the business mind. But the idea is the rich pay for the needy. So, we overcharge the rich to finance the aid centers. It has been successful, but neither of us wants to be a public figure. Our organizations have grown and hopefully they are ready to be examples for others to follow, but we haven’t found a way to step out of the shadows. Would you be interested in being that public figure?’

Helena’s heart filled with joy. She wasn’t certain what that meant to be the ‘public figure’. But somehow, she felt she could do this and work with the people she admired the most. Saul and Greta happily accepted Helena’s addition to their organization. Ten years later Helena had taken their organization public and the concept of giving back became a common activity for the wealthy. Having aid centers was just as prestigious as owning a Rolls Royce. Peace***

6-18-19 is part II.