"If this doesn't make the blog, I'll be very upset" says Matti, with a half-grin that tells me he's deadly serious.
We are sitting around a large dining room table, filled with candles and flowers and wine for a Friday Shabbat dinner. There is pasta with corn and tomatoes, grilled vegetables with burrata, two kinds of challah (pretzel and chocolate chip, both indescribably delicious) and children and parents from my daughter's school. We are celebrating two seniors' last Friday night in Los Angeles before they fly to Wesleyan and Tufts. I am the honorary shiksa, and Matti takes great pains to describe why the eating of the bread is similar to communion.
Matti, a crazy branding genius (overuse of the word genius annoys me too, but in this case it would be a mistake not to call a spade a spade) believes very strongly in the words of Deuteronomy; that it is not just society's duty but our own to give to those less fortunate than ourselves. He takes this very seriously but believes that it is a point of honor to ensure that everyone who is given money does something for that money.
A very nice man at the table (who, incidentally grew up in the town of Weed, California -- a popular tourist destination with the Humboldt County crowd) recalled how a homeless man in Century City had told him such a good story and pulled so hard on the strings of his heart, that he had given him a twenty dollar bill. The next day, walking with a group of colleagues, he encountered the man again, who ignored everyone else but focused in on our friend, looking deep into his eyes and telling the exact same story, with the same heart-rending intensity. "I felt like a dolt" he said. "No, you're looking at this incorrectly" said Matti. "You should have said 'I gave you $20 for yesterday's story, because it was a good story, but if you want another $20 you have to tell me another story, a better story."
"You see, I not only give money to the homeless, but I give them marketing advice" he says. "I critique their signs. For example, a man on the Laurel Canyon off-ramp was holding a sign which said 'HUNGRY SANDWICH' and I explained to him that he was doing himself a disservice. If he is hungry he should just state, quite clearly 'HUNGRY'. The SANDWICH part is a distraction. It's confusing. What does it mean? That the sandwich is hungry?" We, of course, laughed. "No, this is serious" he went on. "I've changed his sign twice now, and he tells me that business has gone up 25% since I got involved."