A Christmas Story – A Tale of Craig’s List and Two Frying Pans


“My brother will love these.  It’s the first time he has had a home in four years.  Thank you so much.”

He smiled, gave me a big, musky, hug, and drove away.

I wasn’t sure if I had just done a good deed, or been hustled by a Craig’s List scam artist.

This story actually begins months before – so let’s go back to the beginning.

This is a true story, with names changed by request.

My New Beginning

We were poor graduate students sharing a tiny one bedroom apartment in what you could kindly call a “less desirable” neighborhood.

That summer, my roommate and I parted ways as we both moved on to new places to live.  All I owned was my  mattress, guitar, computer and some clothes.

“Here,” he said “take these. You’ll like them – my new roommates already have a full kitchen.”

He handed me a pair of rusty frying pans, some tupperware, random mismatched utensils and spatulas.

It wasn’t much, but then I wasn’t much of a cook.

And it was better than nothing.

Presents From Mom

The next month, I visited my parents and told my mom how I rarely cooked, and about the mismatched items in my kitchen.

My mom was not amused and, being about as “mom” as they come, decided to go through her spare (and not so spare) cookware to fill out my kitchen.

She picked out some Cutco knives, Circulon pans, a large pot for boiling, a Vitamix Blender (which lasted me about 12 years before it died!) and various other high quality kitchen items that were far too nice for my little apartment.

I protested that my old kitchen stuff was fine.

I never was very successful at winning arguments with my mother…

So it was with a heavy heart, and heavy duffle bag, that I headed home with a literal “mother lode” (hah!) of kitchen goodies.

Time To Clean

Months later,  and short on storage space, it was time to throw things out.

I dug around in the kitchen and found my old rusty pans which I never used anymore (Anymore? I hardly used them at all!).

I felt bad throwing them in the trash, so I decided to put them on Craig’s list for free to see if anyone wanted them.

I couldn’t imagine anyone would, but why not? If nobody picked them up in a couple days, I’d just throw them out – and at least my conscience would be clear that I had tried.

The ad read  “FREE – Rusty Pans.  Use at Your Own Risk.”

Perhaps I could have used a more enticing headline.

Enter Carlos

Within hours of me posting, I had an email from someone asking if the pans were still available, and if he could pick them up that afternoon.

Carlos drove up in a beat up white truck filled with random junk – chairs, a plastic table, empty flowerpots.

He saw me waiting outside, with two rusty pans in my hands, turned off the engine and stepped out.  He looked a little dirty, smiled and appeared happy to see me.

I wondered how safe I was here with this stranger.

“Here’s the pans!” I said, and practically shoved them in his face.

He took them carefully from me and gently looked them over.  You would have thought my rusty pans were works of art.

“They’re perfect!”

I asked what he was going to do with them.

Enter Juan

Carlos explained to me that his brother, Juan had been living on the street, and had been disowned by his siblings, parents, friends – everyone but Carlos, who never gave up believing in him.

Carlos drove an hour each day after work to Venice where Juan was staying, and every day he’d walk around, find Juan, spend time with him, and take him to get some food – often his only meal that day.

On days that he couldn’t find Juan, Carlos would go home worried that something had happened.

His words struck me as sincere, and I was moved by his story.

Carlos told me he had been driving around all day collecting items for Juan’s tiny studio apartment (which of course he was renting with money Carlos was loaning him).

He excitedly showed me the flower pots, chairs and ratty old plastic table.

I wasn’t sure how successful Juan would be, but I decided it wasn’t my place to judge.

I was very touched by Carlos’ dedication, and wanted him to succeed.

“Just a second,” I heard myself saying “I think I may have more upstairs.”

I walked up the steps and wasn’t sure what I was looking for. I knew I didn’t have any other rusty pans.

As I reached my apartment, I decided if I really wanted to make a difference, perhaps I should try giving him something that would last.

I picked out a couple of Cutco knives, and a fancy spatula that I had never used.

I wrapped the knives in paper towels and headed back outside.

I went back to Carlos and handed them to him. “Be careful, I don’t have a sheath for the knives, they are very sharp.”

He beamed as he looked them over.  “My brother will love these.  It’s the first time he has had a home in four years.  Thank you so much.”

He smiled, gave me a big, musky,  hug, and drove away.

The End? Not Really…

Over the years, I told this story countless times to family, and friends.

We enjoyed speculating how it turned out and discussing whether I had actually helped someone in need – or was taken in by a con artist.

  • Did Juan manage to keep his apartment?
  • Did he end up back on the streets?  
  • Did Carlos just hustle me out of my expensive cookware?

We thought we would never find out what really happened (read on and you’ll find out), but it was always fun to debate – and it was a great story about how no matter how useless you may think your junk is, someone on Craig’s List will take it.

A Strange Phone Call

Years later,  I received a strange phone call from a blocked number.

Sometimes it is my family, and sometimes blocked numbers are telemarketers. I answered cautiously.

Them:  “Hello?”
Sid: “Hello?”
Them: “Is this Sid Savara?”

It wasn’t my family. “Telemarketer” I thought, irritated.

Me: “Who wants to know?  Who is this?  I am very busy right now”

There was a moment of silence and then.

Them: “I am sorry, I didn’t realize you were busy. Is your email address still _____?”
Me:  “Yes, who is this?  By law you have to tell me if I ask you.” (I don’t know if this is true, but it sure sounds good!)
Them: “Sorry to disturb you, I will email you.” [Click]

I waited to see if they would call again.

Nobody called, and nobody emailed.

I carried on life as usual, and went to sleep, having forgotten the phone call.

How The Story Finally Ends

The next morning when I woke up, I received an email titled “He Is Getting Married!”

I was confused.

I didn’t recognize the name – and with a bogus headline like that, how had it gotten past my spam filters?

I opened it up – and learned how this story, which started over five years ago, finally ended.

Yes – Juan did manage to finally hold down a job! And he managed to keep that same little studio apartment!  Now, finally, he was getting married – to a woman named Eva.

But the best part of the story was what Carlos explained later in the same email…

Eva’s Brother Ivan Has Suspicions

His fiancee, Eva, had asked Juan many times to tell her friends and family his story – because she was so proud of his past and that he had managed to make something of himself.

How he had survived living on the street, and how his brother had driven all over town to pick up free items from Craig’s List to furnish the tiny apartment when he finally started to pull his life together.

The ugly flower pots, the ratty table, the old rusty frying pans.

One day Eva, Carlos and Juan were sitting in his apartment and talking with Ivan, Eva’s brother – who not only disliked Juan, but believed him and Carlos had made the whole thing up because Eva had a soft spot for such stories of overcoming odds.

Ivan didn’t believe Juan, and had never thought he was good enough for his sister.

Ivan felt he was a liar trying to take advantage of her generosity and naïveté, and didn’t want them to be married.

During this particular evening, Ivan’s  snide remarks escalated to shouting and he let loose with all his accusations.  He called Carlos and Juan scoundrels, that there was no way such a far fetched story could be true, and told them he would do everything in his power to convince Eva to leave Juan.

Juan was angry and practically in tears.  He kept repeating “What else can I tell you? This is my life, this is who I am.”

Ivan was not having it.  Ivan wanted proof.

Unfortunately, by then so many years had passed that over time Juan (with help from his family) had replaced the furniture and random household items that strangers had given him.  The studio no longer was just thrown together hand me downs – it was a small, comfortable home.

Ivan started pointing things out in the apartment – “Did your brother pick up this couch? How about this table?  The chairs we are sitting on? No?   How can I believe your story?”

Ivan went inside the small kitchen and began again – “Look how new this toaster is. Look at this nice microwave.”

The yelling between Ivan and Juan continued, as both Carlos and Eva tried to plead with them to stop.  Neither would back down.

Ivan threw open the cabinets, he pulled out random food items, water bottles,  – and suddenly…. he stopped.

He stepped back, and looked at Juan, and back at Eva.

Juan had kept his home  relatively clean, but in all those years hadn’t cleaned out the cupboards.

Perhaps he had not done much cooking either in the studio’s little kitchenette area.

Ivan reached in the back of the cupboard, moved aside some containers, and pulled out two old, rusty frying pans.

My old, rusty frying pans.

Frying pans that helped change a man’s life, and now cemented an engagement.

And that was why Carlos had called me.

The End. Really.

The moral of the story?

“Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference.”
Helen James

And I would add…sometimes they make a bigger difference than we can imagine.

If you do want to take away some actionable advice from this, I would say the moral of the story is this:

Give away something on Craig’s List (or a Salvation Army, or Goodwill, or your local classified equivalent) that is just taking up space and not doing you any good – who knows what kind of difference it might make in someone’s life.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas.

Take care of yourself, and take care of each other.

What’s Next In Your Life?

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