Tuesday, May 05, 2009

"I claim to be an average man of less than average ability. I have not the shadow of a doubt that any man or woman can achieve what I have, if he or she would make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith"--Mahatma Gandhi

"Where's Mr. O'Leary been?"

The question from one of our longest-tenured servers catches me unawares. Mr. O'Leary is one of our most prized guests and one of the richest men in our generally very prosperous city. He is a legend throughout the local dining community--out to dinner six or seven nights a week, choosing from a small group of favored restaurants and literally showering them with his largess.

Every time I see Mr. O'Leary I think of the scene in "My Blue Heaven", an otherwise exceedingly ordinary comedy about a gangster stuck in middle America as part of the Witness Protection Program. Steve Martin plays the mobster, who attempts to tip his FBI caseworker [Rick Moranis] upon first meeting him--When Rick Moranis' character questions the action, the gangster responds matter-of-factly by saying, "Ay...I tip evvverrrrybodddy!"

Mr. O'Leary tips everybody as well. To use another gangster movie allusion, this one from "Goodfellas", when Mr. O'Leary is in the house, the bartender gets $20 just for keeping the ice cubes cold.

Once the server mentioned Mr. O'Leary's absence, it occurred to me that indeed we probably hadn't seen him for nearly six weeks--immediately I was both concerned and embarrassed. Concerned because while in good health, he is an older guy, and I was afraid something might have happened. Embarrassed because over the last few months my attention has been diverted by other things and my observational powers have suffered as a result--I hadn't noticed his absence at all.

After a few minutes on the phone with friends of mine from some of the other restaurants within Mr. O'Leary's favored circle I discerned that he wasn't going out to dinner anywhere, and indeed hadn't been seen in any of his favorite haunts in over two months. Now I was just concerned.

Calling his home number I got voicemail, calling his company I received non-committal responses about him not keeping office hours, and about it not being unusual for him to be absent from the office for months at a time.

A few days after the revelation that he had been gone, another one of our cherished guests came in to the restaurant for drinks. This particular man, a well-regarded attorney, was also a good friend of Mr. O'Leary's and someone to whom I could mention my concerns.

"Mr. Lasher, may I ask you a question?" I had hurried over to his table right after his first drink arrived, wanting to find out what was going on before others arrived to join him--Mr. Lasher being the kind of successful guy who always seemed to attract a crowd.

"How can I help you, Last One Home?"

"Well, I don't want to pry...but I know you have known John O'Leary for a long time and I know you two are close friends--is he OK? I mean, we used to see him once a week at least, like clockwork, but he hasn't been around in months--and no one else has seen him either--so I don't think its just because we pissed him off or something. He has just dropped out of sight."

"Can you sit down for second, Last One Home?"

At the question, my heart sank. I was sure that the news I was about to receive would have the word "cancer" or "stroke" or some other horror featured prominently in the text. Resigned, I pulled up a chair and sat down close to Mr. Lasher.

" I have known John O'Leary for a long time. He was my first client as a matter of fact, and I believe I was his first lawyer--I was a bad attorney and he was a deadbeat client. Over time we both improved--we both became successful and we got to be best friends. I talk to John almost every day on the phone, but even I haven't seen him in months--he won't leave the house."

"Is it cancer?"

Mr. Lasher's look was surprised, then he chuckled. "No, no, not cancer. His health is fine. I'm sorry, I probably should have led with that--now I understand how concerned you must be.

Last One Home, do you know the name R. Allen Stanford?"

When Mr. Lasher asked if I knew Allen Stanford, two things happened simultaneously. First, I knew instantly what the problem with Mr. O'Leary was, and secondly I remembered all of the times that Allen Stanford had dined in our restaurant, including a couple of times with Mr. O'Leary.

"He's frozen, isn't he?", I asked.

"John's frozen solid. He's been investing with Stanford for years, and the SEC has seized everything until they figure out what, if any, extra liability he might have. He had to go begging on the street for a line of credit to meet his basic obligations--he needs about $100,000.00 a month just to operate and take care of his family, and that doesn't include dinners, golf, travel, or any of the other small luxuries that make our later years bearable."

"He isn't upside down with the fund, is he?"

--As a brief explanation for those who may not know. R. Allen Stanford is a billionaire Texan who oversaw a number of financial funds. Shortly after the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme hit the public eye, Allen Stanford was accused of similar fraudulent dealings. Because the amounts were generally lower and the victims generally less famous, not to mention far away from Manhattan [for the most part], Stanford didn't get much publicity after the initial government announcement, and only then because no one could locate him for a few days right afterward. Learning quickly from the Madoff case, government agents froze all the assets of many of the people invested in the funds--reason being that if someone had been invested for a very long time. they could actually have received more in "interest payments" from the Ponzi scheme than the amount they had on deposit--as a result, even though they would have lost their entire investment they could also possibly owe additional monies back--because the extra "interest" they received over time was actually someone else's principal. When I asked Mr. Lasher about Mr. O'Leary being upside down with the fund, I was asking if he might owe more back to the government than he had in frozen liquid assets. At the time Mr. Lasher and I talked, I was already aware of two other long-time guests of the restaurant who were in similar circumstances because of Allen Stanford and to whom the restaurant had extended house charge privileges--

"Oh no. Hell, no. John's probably got close to $60 million total--we figure his exposure to the fund is less than $5 million including the principal. The problem, actually, is that John doesn't have any hidden money--so when the freeze order came they got everything--and as you well know the government is never in as much of a hurry to give your money back as they are to take it. Now, John is a self-made man and he grew up poor. He will not spend an extra penny that he can't put his hands on...so he's been locked up like a hermit in that mansion of his."

I thanked Mr. Lasher and went about my business, comfortable at least in the fact that our guest wasn't dead or dying, but troubled still that someone so successful and intelligent who spent his life working so hard could have his entire existence turned upside down by such an event.

Now I would like to tell you that I always had a bad feeling about Allen Stanford, but I didn't. He came to the restaurant numerous times whenever traveling in our area and was often in the company of many of our best guests. Over the years I actually joked with him, cordially, about his penchant for donating to high-profile Democrats. He was polite and a big spender and we always looked forward to seeing him.

I have made a success of myself by doing the right things. Not a billionaire by any means, but I've definitely torn the shit out of the grading curve for "restaurant manager". I simply don't understand how so many people regularly mortgage their integrity, their self-respect, and the regard of their fellow man for the same gains that are readily available through proper action and in that way free of all the awful collateral damage.

I have an envelope sitting in front of me right now with $2000 cash inside. Originally, when I dropped the envelope in Mr. O'Leary's mailbox a month ago, it had $1000 inside--as well as an unmarked, unsigned note that said, "Go out somewhere and have a good time. You've been so generous to so many for so long. Please let those of us who have enjoyed your generosity give a little back." I figured that over the years I have pocketed $40,000.00 from this guy--and I wanted him to go out and have a good time at least once and know that he had made an impression on those around him.

Mr. O'Leary's money was released about a week ago. He immediately left town to attend to business elsewhere. He apparently got back his afternoon and came right here. He came alone, probably for the first time, had dinner at the bar, definitely for the first time, and on the way out made a bee-line for me, slipped this envelope into my inside jacket pocket, hugged me [ABSOLUTELY for the first time], and said simply, "if you do good when you don't have to, you should get back double. You brought a smile to my face..."

I haven't written in a long time--as I alluded to earlier I've had a lot on my mind. But as I sit at my desk tears are pouring down my face. I'm not the kind of person who generally seeks reward, glory, or notoriety. I have no idea how he figured out that it was me who left the money--maybe Lasher said something to him, maybe he's seen my handwriting before, maybe he saw me at the mailbox [although its like an eighth of a mile from his giant house]--but in such dark times it is really nice to know I was able to do a little good.


Blogger cd0103 said...

You don't write near often enough to make me happy, but when you do, it is always moving and tear jerking.

Thank you for being such a good friend to your customers and such a good story teller to us.

9:40 PM  
Anonymous Sheppitsgal said...

Good to have you back LOH.

Hope you're doing ok.

5:04 AM  
Anonymous Restaurant Gal said...

Very cool. Very, very cool.

5:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You gave a multi-millionaire a thousand dollars? What the fuck is your major malfunction?

8:31 PM  
Blogger redgirl said...

How lovely that there are still people of integrity out there. Thanks for sharing your story!
I'm so glad I discovered your blog :)

1:02 PM  

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