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Did you miss me?

I would be surprised if anyone did.

In my family’s eyes, maybe I haven’t been the best ex-husband and father these past two years. But I know that I was! After all, it’s not everyday that an innocent man goes to prison in order to protect his family. A real man has got to do what a real man should have done.

Marcus Logan was never a real man. I just imagined that he was. In body, Marcus existed.

In promises kept? Well, no, that Marcus never existed–except in my hopes and dreams. The Devil is more beguiling to a man like me. To the inmates behind bars with me, the Devil just blends right in–unnoticed.

Now that I’m finally out for good behavior and time served, I don’t feel as safe as I did behind bars with all the other murderers.

Thanks for waiting until I got out. I bet you still want to hear my story…

[Author’s note: Go here into the Archives for January 2011 for the true beginnings of my story.]

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OK, not true. But, at the very least, Skype is the devil’s way of delivering a message to you.

Most of us can resist the Devil’s temptations. There’s nothing terribly damning listening to anything the Devil has offers. These are character building moments actually. Much of our personal character and integrity are derived from how and when we resist him.

Ever since that final day at Rockmount handcuffed in a conference room with my boss, Ernesto del Rosario, nobody has tempted and tested me in a very long time.

With Marcus now out of my hair, I went through my usual weekday morning routine. I still wake up bright and early. I still put on a tie and suit. By the time the financial markets have opened, I’m busy on my laptop perched atop the most pathetic excuse for a desk (two still-yet-to-be unpacked boxes stacked on top of each other). Yes, that’s me–preparing for the deadlines, meetings, and interviews that I don’t actually have yet. That’s the power of positive thinking at its worst.

Yes, I realize that I’m kidding myself. That’s how hope works, don’t you know that? I must fool, trick, and manipulate myself sometimes, otherwise normal logic would convince me that I will never find gainful employment again on account of my publicity ties to Rockmount and Ernesto. I wouldn’t need to pour through online employment boards like CareerBuilder and Indeed if I had helped Ernesto hide my life savings.

For awhile that particular morning, I found myself just gazing at my screen-saver: a photo of me, Valerie, and ZoElizabeth at a happier time. There were very few of those happier times after ZoElizabeth was born due to the over-consuming FinCEN investigations into Rockmount and Ernesto del Rosario. That’s why my screen-saver photo is so special to me. Family should always be your one true safe place. Take family away, and what do you have left?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I can’t even afford my pride. That scares the crap out of me.

Marcus scares the crap out of me, too. Oddly enough, letting Marcus walk out and possibly never hearing from him again scares me even more. There’s opportunity for me somewhere underneath the white sunglasses and rosary beads.

It hits me now—I don’t know how to reach Marcus. Fuck. We never exchanged business cards, nor emails, nor cell numbers. In my sudden anxiety, I can’t even remember his exact last name. Despite his constant bragging and babbling, I didn’t know enough about Marcus. You can know a lot about someone without really knowing what they’re all about. Does that make sense?

I didn’t know enough to pursue him. And I didn’t know enough to stay away from him.

Damn, I couldn’t get the little bastard off my mind!

So I sat there, like a fireman all dressed up and ready to go. Waiting for the next fire alarm so I could spring into some sort of action.

That fire alarm came in the form of an incoming Skype call.

Because as it turns out, Marcus never logged out of his Skype account on my laptop. Should I answer it? What are the ethics issues about answering someone else’s Skype calls? Someone needs to publish an etiquette book for business communications and social networking tools. Is it wrong if the Skype account is still open on my computer!?!?

There’s an unwritten rule in the world we live in today. Everyone knows it’s wrong to read someone else’s personal email account. Even when it’s your wife’s email account. Especially when it’s your wife’s email account! Some things are better off not knowing.

I take an eternity to ponder the ethics involved with answering an incoming Skype call meant for a scumbag who purposely—and easily–hacked through my laptop security password. And when I mean an eternity, I mean a whole four rings.

For once, I do something unethical. It may be the first time I’ve ever done something this unethical. Remember, I was totally innocent at Rockmount Capital. Yet nobody cared if I was innocent. Guilty by association. From this day forward, nobody will ever give me the benefit of the doubt. Nobody…not even those who trust me the most.

With a touch of the mouse, I answer the incoming Skype video call. I remain outside the camera view. The first words that I hear come from a very thick European accent. Any accent–that isn’t a New York accent—sounds the same to me. Trashy!

“Anyone fuckin’ there? Looks like I’m staring at some fuckin’ crack house!”

I remain silent. Partly from embarrassment. The bare furnishings of my bachelor pad could very well be confused with a crack house. I lean over to peek at my laptop screen. I’m spotted.

“You ain’t Marcus. Where the fuck is fuckin’ Marcus? Does fuckin’ Marcus know you’re answering his fuckin’ computer?”

Why do most European men pick up most of their English from the movie PULP FICTION? I must sound like SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE to them.

“Your excellency doth protest too much. The gentleman they call Marcus of Logan doth go thither not hither.”

(That’s probably what they heard. What I really said was, “Mark’s not here anymore.”)

“That clever bastard never answers his cell phone, and his voice mailbox is always full. So you give that genius punk a message. Tell him he’s got until the day we arrive in Miami to close this deal, or we’re yanking our collateral off the table.”

“What collateral exactly?” I ask. I couldn’t help myself since he put such a heavy emphasis on the word.
“He knows which collateral, asshole. Cash-backed collateral.”

The exchange that followed would have only happened if I had nothing to lose. I lean into the laptop camera so close that they can only see my tonsils.

“You need us more than we need you, so you better tell me which collateral you’re uptight about.”

“What are you working for Marcus now?”

“Ever think the kid now works for me? I’m the one with all the private money sources here in New York.”

Silence. No more cursing. I got their attention.

There’s a lot of off-camera whispering on their end.

Eventually, he returns with the calmest, most sincere threat. “One-hundred million lined up by the time we touch down in Miami next week, or we walk with our collateral. Make sure Marcus gets the message. Please.”

The Skype Devil disconnects.

I snoop through Marcus’ Skype account. I see the huge Skype credit balance that he keeps to place all these overseas calls to the kings of Collateral. I soon discover both his email address and his cell number. I see a history of his most recent video chats, conference calls, and SMS messages. Skype is a paper trail—minus the paper.

I stop. This is wrong. This is no different than the authorities like FinCEN snooping on Rockmount’s records. If I’m a judge, I would consider all of this ill-gotten information to be inadmissible for my decision-making.

There must be another way to reach Marcus.

Whatever he’s doing with this cash-backed collateral, I want in. This isn’t your normal collateral. It’s not a piece of land, or a solid gold watch. Cash-backed collateral is special, and in this recession, it opens doors.

I know what I need to do. I may not be very street smart, but I’m Wall Street smart.

I call Marcus’ cell phone. The voice mailbox is full. Instead of texting, I now realize that I need to get my hands on him so he doesn’t get away.

I call the midtown hotel where I first met Marcus. They have no records of a Marcus Logan staying there. Something tells me, however, that I should head back to the hotel anyway. My gut is telling me Marcus doesn’t stray far from those few things that he’s familiar with.

I’m betting on that.

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There is an inverse relationship between technology skills and people skills.

Every day, there’s a new gadget or online tool being released which further erodes our interpersonal skills.  Statisticians can probably chart the growth of WiFi & broadband networks and see how it mirrors the growth of divorce rates and hate crimes in our society.  Really, this correlation isn’t too preposterous.  Texting, IM’ing, and update posting have replaced the need to communicate in complete sentences and look someone square in the eye.  If you don’t believe me, think about the last conversation you had with a cellphone-owning teenager.

I get that same feeling when I’m having a conversation with Marcus.  His most intimate relationship is between him and his Blackberry.  If he had a girlfriend, he’d probably dump her as if he were changing cellphones—frequently upgrading to the newest model.  His Blackberry is the last face he sees before he goes to sleep, and the first face he greets each morning.  They even share the same pillow.

So it came as no surprise when I woke up at 5:05am to Marcus yelling obscenities at someone on his phone.  Yeah, don’t mind me.  I’m only sleeping.  Here in my own home.

I raise my head to shoot him one of my best “WTF?” faces.  He sees me.  He doesn’t care.  In fact, he’s so disrespectful that he’s using my laptop.  My laptop had a security password, but he seems to have cracked that rather easily.  (Note to self:  create new password that isn’t your child’s name.)

Pretty soon, Marcus makes an international call on Skype using my laptop.  But it’s not even the same conversation.  Two different conversations, two different devices, simultaneously.  This is why teenagers are so savvy:  they can probably ignore their parents using two different technologies simultaneously.

I begin hearing Skype conversations with heavy Eastern European accents.  The Frankfurt financial markets open four hours ahead of the New York financial markets.  But I’m more sleepy than curious, so I bury my head in my pillow.  I exaggerate my hints with plenty of added tossing and turning, until finally, Marcus takes my laptop into the bathroom.  I can’t hear anyone else’s voice except Marcus’.  Ever notice how yelling in the bathroom creates a louder echo than anywhere else in your home?

Normally, at 6:30am, even while unemployed, I awake to the natural, meditative sounds of a babbling brook on my iPod alarm clock.  Today, it serves more like a backdrop to two roaring grizzly bears fighting over the same salmon.  I have to kick Marcus out of the bathroom so that I can take a piss.  He shoots me a look like I’m kicking him out of his own office.

By the time that I emerge from the bathroom, Marcus is already collecting his belongings and lacing up his shoes.  He’s cursing.  Are you kidding me?  You woke me up.  You broke into my laptop.  You were a fucking drunk last night.  And you’re cursing at me?

I didn’t really say any of that out loud.  That’s the kind of guy that I am.  Valerie used to love that about me.  Nowadays, she tells our couples counselor that my propensity to speak my mind—after the fact—is part of our problem.

I would eventually learn that Marcus wasn’t cursing at me.  He doesn’t even realize he’s cursing.  If there’s anyone who needs to awaken to the sounds of a babbling brook, it’s Marcus.  To him, cursing is like the morning pep talk that you give yourself as you sit at the edge of the bed trying to will your legs to the bathroom before you can fall back onto your pillow.

I attempt some polite small-talk so that I don’t have to hear his cursing anymore.  I make references to the church services, because quietly, I’m still eager to learn more about these gemstones.  Marcus curses even more.  He believes that he missed his daily church services yesterday.  I remind him that I actually accompanied to him church after we left happy hour.  He didn’t remember that at all.  He doesn’t seem surprised.  He admits to remembering very little when he drinks a lot.  Lightweights are like that.

I wondered if and when he would remember donating the gemstone to the church collection plate.  Or will he think that I stole it from him while he slept?

Marcus opens the door.  Not even a thank you or a goodbye.  Then again, you would only expect that sort of courtesy from a friend.  What exactly do you call someone that you wouldn’t want as a friend, but that you have a morbid curiosity to see again?

“Are you some kind of thief?”

I can’t believe that I blurted out what was on my mind.  Valerie and my couples counselor would call this progress.

I look him square in the eye.  Because that’s how real people have real conversations.

I try to sound like the caring friend that I am not.  “Are you doing anything illegal?”

Before Marcus looks away, I spot his unique smile.  Walking out my door, this Cool Hand Luke boasts, “Dude, you have no idea what I’m all about.”

I respond, “I’ve seen your type before, Marcus.”  I’m lying.  Marcus is the last of the originals.

At that moment, Marcus seems to receive a text message.  He looks annoyed.  More annoyed by the text message than by my line of questioning.  He seems to text the exact same response that he gave me moments earlier.  “Dude, you have no idea what I’m all about.”

Still can’t look me in the eye.  Yup, what we have here is a failure to communicate.  Even the closest relationships couldn’t possibly survive that.

I have this strange mix of hope and despair.  Opportunity didn’t just knock—it walked right out my door after spending the night and waking me the next morning.  I sit back on my bed.  I meditate to the sounds of the babbling brook.  I hear the brook taunting me.  Without a job or any other opportunities, do I really have a reason to get out of bed today?

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Marcus won’t shut up long enough to tell me which hotel he’s staying in, so he accompanies via taxi cab back to my place in Brooklyn.  He complains about the bankers and other business types who haven’t taken him seriously on this business trip to Manhattan.  He complains about the complexity of the Manhattan Subway System because he still doesn’t understand how to distinguish an express stop from a local stop.  He complains even when he’s happy.

I didn’t want him around at this point, but then again, I was afraid I’d lose him to.  Right now, I felt responsible for him.  Seems like a natural instinct for a father like me—to take care of those who need it. One of many flaws.

After stumbling through my front door into my studio apartment, Marcus rummages through my kitchenette in search of something more to drink.  I’ve never been around someone so drunk off of so little.  He’s like a lightweight zombie on a mission.  This has me wondering:  if a zombie gets drunk, doesn’t he get more lively, or does he turn into even more of a zombie?  I don’t know whether to encourage or discourage him.  If he finds more booze, then maybe he’ll stop tearing my kitchenette apart.  All he’ll find are Cheerios, apple sauce, and goldfish crackers.

In many ways, he is like a fussy child.  I pay him no extra attention, and eventually he grows bored and tired by his own antics.  He flops down on my tiny two-seater sofa, and whips out his Blackberry to drunk dial someone.  All I know is, I’m glad I’m not on the receiving end of that call.

“Hey, it’s me,” he murmurs, “stop calling me, you crazy bitch.”

And just like that, he is fast asleep, with the Blackberry still glued to his ear.  I finally take his phone.  I listen to see if there’s anyone on the other end.

“Hello,” I ask.  “Sorry about that.”  And then I hang up.  I’ll pay a price for that.  But that’s for another time.

Marcus isn’t a tall guy, but my sofa is so tiny, his legs dangle over the side.  I pull off his silver sneakers so that they won’t scuff up my sofa.  He’s really out cold.  He could even be dead for all I know.

While I’m getting myself ready for bed, I can’t help but wonder if he has any more gemstones in his pockets.  I may be ethical, but I’m also damn curious.

I rifle through Marcus’ pockets without waking him.  Lo and behold, I find a few more gemstones wrapped up merely in a piece of paper; it’s a Google Map for a place called “Gemstone Capital” on Madison—not too far from the hotel where I met Marcus earlier in the day.  Heck, he keeps these gemstones like he was keeping a wad of stale gum in its original wrapper so that he can throw it away.

I inspect the gemstones up close.  They look real enough.  I hold them up to the light above my bathroom mirror, as if believing that I know how to gauge the quality of a real one from a fake.  I try to recall the Four C’s of diamond education.  Yeah, like any smart guy, I went to Tiffany to get a free education on diamonds before I bought a less expensive engagement ring elsewhere.  Because a smart guy knows that you’re paying twice the amount of money at Tiffany just so your fiancée can boast about the little blue ring box that some 8-year old in Thailand made for twenty-five cents per twelve-hour work day.  I bite on the gemstone.  I even try to scratch my bathroom mirror, until I remember that my landlord might take that from my security deposit, so I stop.

A fake could fool me.  A fake probably wouldn’t have fooled Cary Grant in the classic movie, “To Catch A Thief”.  You had to believe that Cary Grant would ever be a jewel thief in the first place.  It was already hard enough to believe that a woman like Grace Kelly would need her father’s help to find a suitable husband.  So, is the movie right?  Does it really take a thief to catch another thief?

My curiosity doesn’t end with the gemstones.  I wonder what else I can find out about Marcus.  You can always tell something about a person by what he carries in his pockets.  (This only works on men.  Women don’t put anything in their pockets besides their hands.  Probably so that it doesn’t form bulges or wrinkles in their clothes.  Afterall, these same women get horrified if you can see their panty lines underneath the pants.  That’s how handbags were invented.  Or at least that’s the story that you find on Wikipedia when you look up the origin of purses.)

Inside Marcus’ pockets, I find some clove cigarettes.  Yuck.  I find a sliver money clip with a jeweled dollar sign as its logo.  Tacky.  I find the money clip filled with Benjamins.  Insecure.  I find a claim check for the Howard Johnsons Hotel in Queens near JFK airport.

Yes, my first question is the same as yours.  “They still have Howard Johnsons?”

I should have many more questions beyond that, but it’s late.  I’m tired.  And Marcus starts snoring.  At one point, I want to smother him with my pillow.  But that would be like killing the Goose That Laid The Golden Eggs simply because I was hungry for a little white meat.

Looking back now, my life would have been so much simpler if I had smothered him right then and there.  Even Cary Grant would have done it if he partnered up with Marcus Logan!

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Growing up, both my parents worked full-time. The TV reruns were a cheap babysitter for me. I turned out OK, but my wife and I agreed that when we started our own family, Valerie would stay home with our kids. I would have some great six-figure job in Manhattan with a fabulous Upper West Side home overlooking Central Park. And maybe have a nice Connecticut retreat like Tony Danza found in “Who’s the Boss?”

But before “Who’s The Boss”, there was “Taxi”.

If you ask any New York City taxicab driver, there are two types of fares to avoid. The first is anyone accompanied by a crying infant. And the second type of fare to avoid is a drunk who looks like he might throw up in the back of the cab.

Among taxi cab philosophy, there’s a very fine line when it comes to drunks. The optimist taxi driver hopes for a drunk, wealthy passenger who will simply pass out on the ride home—allowing the driver to circle the block several times in order to beef up the total fare. The pessimist taxi driver fears the drunk, loud rambler.

Our driver would get both.

Let’s just say, after we left the church, I made Marcus flash a lot of cash before any cab pulled over for us. No doubt, that taxicab driver still regrets it. Even if we promised to pay him with another gemstone. We only needed to ride about 20 blocks, but it seemed like an eternity in hell, since Marcus wouldn’t shut up.

And Marcus wouldn’t make any sense either. He’d start complaining about the Wall Street suits who dissed him earlier that day. Two minutes later (at the end of the very same long-winded sentence), he was reminiscing about a recent deep sea fishing trip. He couldn’t finish a single thought he had started!

Fortunately for me, Marcus directed his entire ramblings through the plastic window partition toward the taxicab driver. It was probably no coincidence that the driver kept pumping the brakes—causing Marcus to repeatedly bang his forehead into the partition. It takes a lot more than that to stop his mouth from running.

Poor ZoElizabeth. The herky-jerky ride made her sick, and on top of her tired cries, she began spitting up the milkshake. A better father should have known that would come back to haunt me. I couldn’t reach for a cloth or blanket fast enough. I got most of it all over my suit. It’s not as though I have any other job interviews lined up this week.

Like in “Star Trek”, if I could have beamed us out of there to escape instantly, I would have. But deep down, I knew that I wasn’t done with Marcus, and he wasn’t done with me.

I was thankful when the cab pulled onto a familiar street downtown. The street where I lived. Or rather, the street where I used to live.

I wonder if it’s a coincidence, but as I gave the driver directions to pull up in front of the building’s awning, Marcus passed out. As I climb out with ZoElizabeth, with my suit covered in milky yuck, I realize that Marcus isn’t going anywhere. I can’t send the taxicab along, as I have no idea where Marcus is staying in town. I probably could have fished through his pockets looking for his money clip, or a hotel key, but at the moment, I had to get ZoElizabeth upstairs to her mother. I had enough explaining to do as it is.

I assured the taxicab driver that I would be back shortly. He yelled something to me, but I pretended he was speaking to me in either Arabic, or Pig Latin. In any case, I fled inside past my 18-year old doorman, Sam, as he opens up the building door for me.

Sam points out the puke stains on my suit, as if maybe I didn’t notice that I had puke on me. Not the brightest doorman around, but for this building, we’re lucky to have even an 18-year old manning the front door. I always feel guilty when I see Sam. I wanted to tip him better last Christmas, but I rationalized that I’d make up for it as soon as I got a new job. Besides, that Christmas tip money went toward diapers. And couples counseling. Both of which were full of shit.

Upstairs, I get to our apartment door. My key doesn’t seem to work. This touches my last nerve. I keep my emotions in check. I always thought that was one of my strengths. In couples counseling, Valerie argues that keeping my emotions in check is one of my biggest faults.

As I’m stabbing the lock with my key, the door actually opens. I look up, but it’s not Valerie. Am I at the wrong door?

“Can I help you?” offers the sort of masculine voice.

At that moment, I don’t have the right words. Only syllables. None of which combined probably answer his question.

He closes the door. I examine the number on the apartment door. 8E. Yup, that’s right. Everything down the hallway looks right. Across the hall, I see the Tree of Life Mezuzah on the Sheinkopf’s door.

Maybe I was beamed away to some alternate universe after all. I can only hope, in this alternate universe, I’m happy, I’m employed, and my marriage is back to normal.

8E opens up again. This time, there’s a blonde head of hair peeking out from behind the half-open door. It’s Valerie. With her blue-green eyes sizing me up, I realize that, unfortunately, there is no alternate universe. I am not happy.

“We’re home,” I say, as if stating the obvious while un-strapping the Baby Bjorn. “But my apartment key isn’t working.”

ZoElizabeth sees her mother, and in an instant, her crying stops, as if the result of some maternal voodoo that taunts fathers. She reaches out for Valerie, who instantly switches into mother mode. Valerie reaches out for ZoElizabeth, and (dried vomit and all) smothers her with kisses.

I will say this about Valerie–despite all of our troubles, she never lays into me when we have ZoElizabeth between us. That’s especially nice with this unstructured caretaking arrangement that we have right now. Valerie plays fair. If I kept a list of the reasons why I still love my wife, playing fair ranks about ninth. There’s at least eight things even better. That’s how wonderful she was. How wonderful she is.

Valerie’s tone is careful to me. Not caring, but rather, careful.

“We changed the lock this afternoon,” she says, very matter-of-fact. The 8E door is still not completely open. Valerie stands there, blocking me from entering.

I ask for the new key. There isn’t one. There isn’t going to be one.

Up until now, the separation has been amicable. It has been informal. It has hopefully been temporary. We agreed that until I could restore more security and stability back to our personal life that I made more insecure and more instable, then I should be given some space.

Now, it occurs to me, maybe it was Valerie who really needed the space.

Changing door locks speaks volumes–even when Valerie’s words have no volume.

“Don’t read so much into this, Kevin,” explains Valerie. “You always read too much into things.”

She’s right. I know that much about me. I didn’t need some $300 per hour couples counselor to make me realize that. I read too much much into things, especially when a strange man answers the door.

“So, that guy who opened the door…”

Part of me wanted to ask. Part of me didn’t want to have to ask.

It’s like a game of chicken between husband and wife to see who flinches first. Valerie says nothing. Instead, at that moment, she makes funny faces that bring a smile to ZoElizabeth’s face. ZoElizabeth presses herself against Valerie’s bosom where it’s safe and warm. Same place that I would turn to feel safe and warm.

I sputter out a question, “Tell me you’re not seeing him.”

I said “seeing him”, but she knew I meant “sleeping with him”.

Valerie glares at me with those piercing blue-green eyes. Eyes inside which I felt both safe and lost while gazing at her across candlelight on many pre-ZoElizabeth evening. Back when we could afford to pick restaurant choices randomly from our Zagat Guide.

Valerie tells me that she decided that a temporary roommate could help us shoulder the costs of renting two crappy apartments instead of one crappy apartment. She tells me that she feels safer with another man around the apartment since I’m not around now. She tells me that Joe is a nanny who recently finished looking after someone else’s kid in the building. She tells me that she had always seen Joe around and he was good to people. She tells me that Joe has turned the living room into his own bedroom. She tells me that Joe is gay.

None of that really assures me whatsoever. I don’t really picture any guy named Joe working as a nanny, wearing pink, and watching reality TV shows on Bravo. But then, I remember Tony Danza on “Who’s the Boss?”.

And that has me really worried.

“Then why change the lock?”

“Joe feels safer that way.”

“Joe feels safer? Or you feel safer?”

“Stop making a big deal out of this,” Valerie says with a twinge of annoyance. It actually makes me happy that she might be annoyed. If I’m going to get annoyed, then she should get annoyed, too.

Valerie begins to sway back and forth, and sings a lullaby for ZoElizabeth.
We stare at each other. We’re arguing telepathically. I’m quietly losing this argument.

The silence is broken by someone jumping out of the elevator. It’s Marcus! He sprints toward me and practically leaps onto me like a puppy in bad need of obedience training.

But Marcus looks genuinely happy to see me. At least someone does. Even though we’ve only been separated for like 10 minutes. He woke up, paid the cab, bribed Sam to let him inside, and took the elevator to every single floor in search of me.

I return my attention to Valerie, but the 8E door is now closed. I can hear the new door lock click.

I have a key. It used to open up my former apartment—and my former wife. Now, it’s just a worthless keepsake.

Before he gets me into further trouble tonight, I push Marcus back toward the elevator. Instead of going to his hotel, he wants to follow me back to my other crappy apartment in Brooklyn.

On the taxicab ride home, while I ignore Marcus’ newest gibberish with the newest, unfortunate taxicab driver, I dream that I am Tony Danza. At least Tony found a job, took care of his kid, and found love again.

Damn it. I can’t get the theme song from “Who’s The Boss?” out of my head. It’s a wonder that I even remember it. Under the right circumstances, it’s amazing what you can remember that you didn’t know you already knew.

There’s a time for love and a time for living.
You take a chance and face the wind.
An open road and a road that’s hidden
A brand new life around the bend.

There were times when I lost a dream or two.
Found the trail, and at the end was you.
There’s a path you take and a path untaken
The choice is up to you my friend.

Nights are long but you’re on your way
To a brand new life,
Brand new life,
Brand new life around the bend.

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“I was supposed to be a priest,” Marcus tells me as we remain in our pew while the last of the evening church crowd filters out, “but the chicks wanted me too badly.” He says this with laugh. I thought he was kidding, since most of his other stories tonight at the bar seemed equally hard to believe. He is serious. I don’t know what to believe anymore. So for now, I believe.

Marcus grins at every exiting elderly nun type and the occasional naughty Catholic girl.  It seems his libido knows no age or boundaries.  “Probably here out of guilt,” he remarks.

“Which one?” I ask.

“All of them. Only the guilt-ridden Catholics go to church each day.”

There’s a pause. Marcus already knows what I’m thinking. (This can be a very dangerous talent between any two people who are not married). Before I can interject anything, he adds, “Other than me. And my mom. I come to church for a different reason. I’m only here to count my blessings.”

Must be nice to have blessings to count. I count only one these days, and she’s starting to slowly wake from her nap. I better start thinking about taking her back to her crib. The one at her mother’s place. But I’m still thinking about that gemstone in the collection plate.

I never get a chance to bring up the gemstone. Every time that I tried, Marcus wouldn’t stop talking about what he wants to talk about. He holds up both ends of any conversation, but never bores himself even when he’s talks in endless circles like tonight. Three more times tonight, he will have reminded me that he’s had sex with college cheerleaders, South Beach supermodels, and European flight attendants.  He dresses like a young drug dealer, so I imagine he just drugs all their drinks.  Only way that’s for real.

I pray to God that ZoElizabeth isn’t old enough to understand these words. If she ever repeats one of those naughty words around her mother and somehow remembers that she first heard them as a baby inside a church from a drunk priest-wannabe, then I may lose all future visitation rights. I realize that wouldn’t really happen, however, there’s no underestimating how sensitive I am when it involves my future with my estranged wife.

We will be a family again. If only I can succeed again. Valerie can love a failure. She can’t seem to love a disappointment. Why is a disappointment worse than a failure? Think about it. Failures result from things that happen to you…things that might be out of your control. They are usually only personal to you.

A disappointment is felt by those closest to you. Disappointment is not something that you can ignore or bury. I made a choice. A wrong choice. Worse yet, I made a wrong choice when I fully believed that I was making the right choice. As the protector of my own family, it’s never reassuring to your loved ones to display such poor judgment. Valerie needs that reassurance from me. I need that reassurance from me even more, ever since that fatal collapse of Rockmount and the even more tragic collapse of my marriage.

I would probably sell my soul to protect my family. To lose my family, it cost me a lot less—to the tune of $1.6M from my own money invested in Rockmount dealings. I thought that would be worth maintaining my honesty. But in this horrible economy, honesty ain’t credibility. And honesty and ignorance can’t pay the mortgage.

To this day, that decision not to help Ernesto stall long enough to divert our assets—perhaps out of righteousness, perhaps out of spite—may prove to be my biggest sin.

The church is now empty. A hungry ZoElizabeth begins to fidget and cry. Her wailing reverberates off the marble. I get up to take her outside. Marcus stands, perhaps too quickly. Head rush. He stumbles out of the pew. Like a turtle on its back, he can’t seem to get up. I hope I don’t have to carry him to the curb. I can handle only one child right now.

I wait for him by the front entrance. He waves me off and grumbles, “Give me a minute, and I’ll spring for the cab.”

I’m so broke that cab fare outweighs a clean getaway.

Before turning my back on him, I notice him stopping at the hundreds of un-lit votive candles beneath the feet of a Jesus statue. The very same candles where you typically donate $1 to light one, and say a silent prayer. I can’t help but wonder if Marcus will whip out another un-cut gemstone in order to light every last one of them.

Marcus hollers out over ZoElizabeth’s crying.

“Did you know that my father wanted me to be a priest?,” repeating himself from before. With no remorse, he adds, “Yeah, then he died, and then I stopped wanting what he wanted.”

“Sorry” is all I can think of saying in that moment. I should have walked out the door five seconds earlier and avoided the remaining awkward silence. I could have avoided channeling my Inner Mentor.

“My father deserved to die. I may have even killed him.” Marcus kneels before the votive candles, murmuring as he fidgets with his rosary beads, “God rest his soul.” This was the most sobering comment Marcus would make that whole night. The next day, when he was sober, he wouldn’t remember confessing that to me.

I could tell Marcus wanted to say more. You can always tell when someone wants to tell you something that they’ve never told anyone else before. This would become one of the hallmarks of my relationship with Marcus. Just not at that moment. Marcus was prone to swearing when he got too emotional talking about his father.

But at least Marcus waited until we were no longer inside church to use that filthy language. He is capable of that sort of language when he talks about his father, the babes he’s fucked, and the businessmen who also fuck him by paying him no respect. A man in business (or a boy in life) like this can be capable of great restraint—only if he’s inside a church.

Eventually, I would pray that the whole world was a Catholic church when I was in Marcus’ company. Especially when the situation involved business and my credibility.

Marcus might be God-fearing. To this day, I am only Marcus-fearing!

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Only in New York City can you still find more churches per street corner than the number of Starbucks. So it wasn’t too hard to find one still hosting a weeknight service. There are few things that Marcus takes more seriously than daily church. You might not reach that conclusion seeing him stumble out of the happy hour bar.

Most God-fearing worshippers would never think about showing up to church drunk. Of course, most God-fearing worshippers aren’t anything like Marcus Logan. Looking back now, I would have dreaded being around Marcus if he couldn’t meet his daily church quota. Walking to the church, he thought he realized he had left his white sunglasses back at the bar. Before I could say anything, he had turned around and stormed back toward the bar, cussing out all the patrons there who probably stole his sunglasses, instead of doing the Christian thing and actually turning them into the bartender. He got about two blocks and twenty curse words before I was finally able to point out to him that his sunglasses were perched atop his head the whole time.

By the time we reached the Church of St. Francis of Assisi on West 31st Street, mass was more than halfway over. This wasn’t one of those huge ornate cathedrals like St. Patrick’s on Fifth Avenue across the street from Saks and Rockefeller Center.

Marcus went straight for a pew toward the back of the half-empty church. As I followed him inside, I couldn’t help but stare at the off-white statues hanging over seemingly every column. Their stone faces turning to shock at the sight of me coming to church again.

Because of this, I hadn’t realized that Marcus had taken a moment to genuflect in the aisle. I nearly tumbled over him. Luckily, I had enough self-control not to blurt out, “Shit”. Heads turned toward the strangers now among them. Marcus gave me a condemning look. Yet it was Marcus who made more noise kicking the wooden church pew a couple times as he slid down for me and ZoElizabeth.

Fortunately, ZoElizabeth was fast asleep. Sitting there for the rest of the mass, I was envious of her.

Here, most everyone in attendance was Asian, since we were close to the Korean community in Manhattan. But the evening service was Tagalog. Fortunately, I knew a little bit of Spanish from my high school days, so I was able to understand bits and pieces of the Philippine language no thanks to conquering Spanish explorers like Magellan.

I could have sworn the priest slipped in a remark in Tagalog about Marcus and me showing up really late toward the tail-end of his sermon. Or perhaps my guilt just made me imagine that.

So, here I am, sitting in the Church of St. Francis Assisi, after a few happy drinks, with a napping baby, and a loquacious business whiz kid. This is not your average Wednesday night for me. Nor is this my first time in a Catholic Church, but it’s been awhile. Churches have great architecture, but they really have lousy interior designers. Most are rather cold, with few splashes of color. Where else but inside a church are stained glass windows actually considered tasteful. But definitely St. Francis of Assisi is the sort of church that suggests history. If you’re a guy like me–who is a stickler for detail–there are plenty of details to study as you study every stained glass window, every statue, and every Bible quotation chiseled into the marble.

I don’t know how Marcus follows along with the church service, since he understands Tagalog even less than me. Yet he manages to stand, sit, kneel and pray at precisely the right moments throughout. I follow his every cue. Except when he picks up a hymnal to sing along in the best fake tagalong he can muster. One thing that I always knew about church: if you sing badly, at least sing loudly, it eventually sounds like harmony with the actual good singers. But that only works with church hymns. It doesn’t work to Sinatra or Lady Gaga.

We reach the rest break in the church services. I call this part the rest break, because it was preceded by about 10 minutes of constant standing up, sitting down, kneeling over, and standing up again. I call them “Catholic calisthenics”!

Ushers march down the aisle to pass around the collection basket.

Marcus reaches past me to grab one of those collection envelopes for simple church donations. I’m not really paying much attention–until out of the corner of my eye–I notice the sparkle of something shiny and red. As I turn my head, Marcus shows me—it’s a ruby!!! About the size of one of ZoElizabeth’s Cheerios.

This is not the sort of ruby you’d expect to find at Tiffany’s. It’s not attached to any ring or necklace. It’s an un-cut ruby, so it’s a little rougher than that. And it’s not symmetrical yet, nor as shiny yet, as you are used to seeing in a jewelry store. Or around the neck of someone you love.

I never bought fancy jewelry for Valerie. Luckily, I married a woman who falls in love with the practical. She didn’t even mind that I had purchased the diamond for her engagement ring from a wholesale jeweler in order to save costs. Stores like Tiffany charge an astronomical mark-up for the same GIA appraised diamond, so what you’re really paying six month’s salary for is that cute blue box and the Audrey Hepburn fantasy. My wholesaler sent me my diamond via FedEx 2-day delivery. That, my friend, is practical!

Marcus lets me see the un-cut ruby long enough, before he drops it into the church collection envelope and seals it shut.

“Holy shit.”

This time, however, I said that out loud.

More thoughts were going through my mind, but “Holy shit” was the only one that managed to escape through my lips. Several rows in front of us, Asian heads turned. Great church architecture also means great acoustics.

“Dude,” as Marcus actually gives me a scornful look, “what’s your problem?”

I managed to spit out a logical question for someone in my well-worn business shoes. “Is that real?”

“I’m all about real,” is what Marcus answered. I’ll never forget that answer. “I’m all about real.”

The collection basket reaches Marcus, and he nonchalantly drops the collection envelope inside before passing the basket for me to hand the awaiting usher.

My next move (a relatively natural reaction) was probably the wrong move. My first of many wrong moves around Marcus.

Imagine this–the collection basket hovers there in front of an ethical man (once head of his idyllic household) who also once faced a sudden, brief decision to recover the bulk of his fortune before those assets were forever confiscated in FinCEN’s indictment of Rockmount Capital Management.

I couldn’t help myself. I fish out the collection envelope containing the un-cut ruby. I turn to Marcus. My facial expression must cry out, “Are you sure?” But Marcus isn’t even paying attention. He goes back to hymnal singing. Badly and loudly, as only he knows how.

Over the organ music and chorus singing, I can hear my usher clearing his throat at me. Dude, you are not UPS or Santa Claus. You’re just a church usher! It’s not as though you have a strict schedule to follow!

I didn’t actually say that out loud. That’s the kind of guy I am. Or at least the kind of guy I thought that I used to be.

I place the ruby envelope back inside the collection basket. For the remainder of the Catholic service, to the constant din of the Tagalog gibberish, I kept wondering, “Shouldn’t Marcus have at least asked for one of those tax-deductible receipt?”

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