Mourning in the morning
I can’t remember when I fell in love with the night. I know that I am a true night person. I have to work too long and too hard through too many daylight hours for that to be truly the case. But it must has been more than long ago that the night became a part of my life.
I cannot tell you when I became enamored of reading and writing and thinking and loving and dreaming in the middle of the night. I just know that it is a part of me, and that nighttime will always be a part of me.
And so it is no surprise to me that I am wide awake, without the benefit of caffeine or anything else, wondering about the wonder of it all. I am not usually given to boundless introspection, but I have noticed certain changes in my life and myself as of late.
In another room, on an upper floor in the Harlem townhouse that is my home, is the absolute treasure of my life, my baby son, Paul Jr., now two years old – “the last gasp of the baby boom” some of my friends have called him – and yet, it was just over three years ago that my life began to change, forever. My story begins on a very specific day that I will always remember.
There was a memorial service scheduled for that day. But as I attended my friend Winner Tomlinson’s memorial service on a cold January morning, new beginnings and baby boys were definitely not on my mind. Far from it.
After all, I was a member of The Pride, that select and pre-selected group of black investment bankers, corporate executives, government officials, lawyers, entrepreneurs and assorted professionals who were determined to make it in America. We stalked the majestic canyons of Wall Street and prowled the murderous halls and treacherous boardrooms of corporate America. And we have more than survive, we have prevailed and succeeded, beyond even our wildest dreams.
And, although I have hated funerals and memorial services for my own personal reasons, I planned to attend the Tomlinson memorial service at the Riverside Church that day, because Winner had been my friend and because, as a charter member of The Pride, it was all about business. I simply had to be there.
Actually I am getting a little ahead of myself, and if I am going to tell this story right, I have to go back down the stairs of my Harlem townhouse and pour myself a proper glass of Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Porto (1984). Once cannot very well tell a good story without at least a few glasses of good port wine – that’s a given.
Also, before starting, I want to look in on my son, just because that’s what my father would do, and because it’s what all fathers do – look in on their sons and daughters and make sure that everything is alright. Even when they know that everything is alright, it still makes sense to check.
Paul Jr. is resting comfortably and Miles Davis is going through his progressions of “Seven Steps to Heaven” on the CD player in his nursery. Paul Jr. has been listening to good music on a regular basis since the third month after his conception. He has been listening to Beethoven, the Soweto String Quartet, Cesaria Evoria from the Cape Verde Islands, Wayne Shorter, Horace Silver, John Coltrane, Gary Bartz, Dave Brubeck, Thelonius Monk and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. It is no wonder that the boy loves music, as does his daddy (and his mommy, but to a significantly lesser extent).
As I go back to my study to savor the port wine and consider the beginning of my story, I feel very much in the mood for Stan Getz, “Desafinado” conjuring up the right mood. I have always found this Stan Getz selection to be melodic and mysterious in a samba-like way.
It begins at the memorial service at the Riverside Church for Edwin “Winner” Tomlinson, undoubtedly the most successful black businessman of his. And now, at the age of fifty-one, in the newborn infancy of his prime, he was dead.
Who was he? He was a black lawyer in New York City just like me. He was a friend, running buddy, drinking companion and sometime professional colleague. But he was so much more.
Sometime in the eighties, in the heyday of the capitalist era, Winner decided that billing life by the quarter hour and hunting and gathering clients was not the life for him. He left the life of ordinary lawyering to saps like me. And he never looked back. Not for a single solitary moment. At least that’s how it always seemed to me.
With luck, consummate skill and the nerve of a one-eyed river boat gambler, he managed to parlay his part-ownership of a barely profitable UHF television station in Charlotte, North Carolina into a controlling interest in one of the largest home furnishing manufacturing companies in the world, with facilities throughout the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America and Asia. He died with plans waiting for his approval for plants in Nigeria, Indonesia, the Czech Republic, Morocco, Cuba and South Africa on his desk.
I always believed that Winner’s success was all the more remarkable because he accomplished his most important early corporate coups with the support and assistance of the now-defunct investment banking firm of Wilson, Pearson & Borderon. WPB whose very own Master of the Universe, Jake Dusenberg, had gone down in flames before the onslaught of the myriad of junk bond transaction investigations directed by then-U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani.
I remember the time well, and Giuliani was to junk bond traders what Attila the Hun was to the Holy Roman Empire – nothing less than “The Scourge of Christ”. He left nothing but the bones and flayed skin of Wall Street bankers, traders and lawyers in his wake – a legacy that preternaturally ambitious Giuliani parlayed into becoming Mayor of New York City.
Nevertheless, WPB sought to defy the mighty Giuliani – and the entire firm, with its 5,000 employees went down without a trace like a small stone in a big country pond. And at the end of the day, Winner Tomlinson was still standing.
remain amazed by those particular facts to this very day. Indeed, the story almost defies the laws of nature as they exist in these United States of America.
There were some unattributed cocktail stories, the kind told after three or four free martinis, to the effect that Winner had somehow “cooperated” with the federal prosecutor’s office in return for what amounted to immunity from prosecution. These stories were invariably based on no known facts, only the repetition of rumor giving credence to the first rumor in the first place.
Of course there has never been any proof of such an arrangement. And now that Winner is dead you can pretty much bet that any such proof went to the grave with him.
There were also stories about the enduring hatred that Jake Dusenberg harbored for his former favored client. I myself have heard many stories about how Dusenberg, after he paid a record $4 billion fine and served thirty months in a minimum security prison, plotted and planned a spectacular revenge against Winner, even as he, Dusenberg, worked on high profile charitable endeavors in black communities around the country as part of his court ordered community service.
Once again, Winner came out the winner. He died before Dusenberg could implement whatever plot he might have been hatching. As was the case with a lot of things about Winner Tomlinson, the true story would always be the subject of conjecture, and much of that true story would be buried with him in the soil of his native Alabama, just outside of Birmingham.
It’s strange how memory works. I can’t remember the names of all the people that were on the conference call that I endured earlier this evening, but I can remember the details of that fateful day as if they were occurring this very moment. Almost like replaying a video.
Of course I did not know that it was a fateful day at the time. Then, it was just another day in the life of The Pride. It was a day full of the very routine and the very special.
I do remember that on that January morning it was cold as hell and that I had made myself get up at my normal time of 5:30 a.m. so that I could complete my morning workout and still get in some work time on my computer and telephone before going to Winner’s memorial service. Getting out of bed that morning was a little more of an ordeal than usual due to one Lisette Bailey.
It would be hard for me to forget Lisette Bailey. She was twenty-seven, five feet nine inches tall, lithe and slender with a tawny, café au lait complexion that perfectly complemented her auburn hair. That hair was spread across my pillow of as I strove to keep to my conditioning schedule despite the allure of her somnolent beauty.
Paul, could you really have a reason to get out of bed so early?” A mischievous smile danced across her face, chasing the sleepy look away, replacing it with an expression that promised to awaken dawning embers of passion. Fool that I was, I had thought that she was asleep.
“I am sure that I don’t have a good reason darling, its just that…..”, to this day I am not quite sure what I was going to say next, but I am sure that it would not have really made a difference.
“Its just that what? That you have a reason to do something other than this……? Is that what you are really trying to tell me?”, and with that she threw back the bedcovers with a flourish revealing her gorgeous body, entreating arms and long slender legs waiting to grapple with mine once more.
“Because if that’s the case, I can just get up right now and start getting ready for work, after all, you aren’t the only one with things to do this morning.”
The sight of Lisette, naked, warm and luminescent, virtually glowing in the pre-dawn rendered me temporarily speechless. For a few moments I thought that my routine would be broken. After all, I have always thought of myself as a man possessed of discipline and self-control.
I wish that I could tell you of the triumph of my remarkable discipline and that I simply continued with my workout routine for the day. Actually that is not my wish as I returned to bed and Lisette and I continued our lovemaking from the night before. And let me say that, as it always was with Lisette, it was wonderful.
A word about Lisette Bailey: just a few words actually. She is not Paul Jr.’s mother, and she is not my wife. My wife, Paul’s mother, is actually my ex-wife as well, and that is part of the longer story. Like one of those riddles that the Sphinx would tell.
It is enough for me to say that as this story begins, I was a single, divorced attorney, in his early forties, living alone in a luxurious, remodeled townhouse in Harlem. My library bar is now a nursery, my gym has been replaced by a guest room, and I now exercise in an unfinished basement with no skylight to brighten my morning labors.
As a single man in New York City, I had an opportunity to enjoy the delights of the town, home to some of the most beautiful and sensual and intelligent and demanding- women on the planet. But my story is not about my romantic escapades and sexual adventures. Let it suffice to say that I did not work all of the time.
Later that morning, as the January sun actually began to insinuate its dull glow through the skylight of my townhouse, I began to push myself through the rigors of my typical morning exercises. For me there has never been an alternative in my universe.
I spend so much time sitting behind desks and luncheon tables, lifting nothing heavier than a telephone or a silver soup spoon or a martini glass, that without a regimen of regular exercise I am sure that I would have succumbed to stress or that I would have strangled an adversary, a client, a stranger, or all three by now.
The physical benefits of regular exercise were always known to me, but as I became more involved with my practice as a lawyer and a member of The Pride, I have found that I needed exercise to keep my brain clear and to have a chance at managing the stress attendant with being a lawyer and a member of The Pride.
Indeed, it has always amazed me that so many of my colleagues have been able to keep the pace that they do and that they don’t exercise. Of course, I was getting ready for a funeral of a colleague that morning, and I am afraid that there have been several more since then. And I know that there will be even more, sooner than later.
Interestingly enough, Winner Tomlinson didn’t die from overindulgence or lack of exercise. A week earlier he had died of liver cancer. No one saw it coming, least of all him. It had been diagnosed in August of the previous year. Quite simply, he was dead within six months and all the sit-ups and pushups in the world probably wouldn’t have helped him a damn bit.
It has been these intimations of mortality that have contributed to my general unease at funerals and memorial services during the past few years. And now that I had to go to yet another one I tried to exorcize my personal demons through exercise on that soon to be fateful morning, Bob Marley’s jammin’ on the house sound system punctuated my movements. The sounds of Lisette showering in the master bathroom and the CNN announcer were barely noticeable as I started to enter that “zone”.
Entering that zone had become more and more important as the years progressed. And it has been the mental health aspect that keeps me getting up at ungodly hours and doing certifiably insane things like leaving a warm Lisette Bailey in a warm bed.
Another reason I remember that morning is because I have such deep dislike for these ceremonies that celebrate death. So I felt like an extra surge of exercise would help me manage my way through what promised to be a particularly trying personal and professional experience. I remember that on that particular morning, I really pushed myself through a much more strenuous workout than usual.
Instead of one hundred sit-ups I did five hundred. Instead of bench-pressing for ten minutes, I battled those weights for almost a half hour. After thirty minutes on the stair master I added another fifteen minutes on the Nordic track.
I have my reasons for disliking death services. Almost two years to the day before Winner’s funeral, my father had had “minor surgery” to correct a slight gall bladder malfunction. I will never forget the doctor telling me that with this corrective procedure, my father, then seventy years old, would live to be at least eighty-five.
I guess you could say that the doctor miscalculated somewhat. My father was dead within forty-eight hours of the first incision. I vaguely remember the doctor mentioning something about complications from the anesthesia.
I never bothered to listen to the complete explanation after I was told that my father was dead. I had been biology major for my first two years of college and probably would have understood a good part of the explanation but I never saw the point in taking the time to clinically understand the cause of my grief.
My father was dead. What was the point of any further explanation? Like I said, I had my reasons for preparing for stress that day. As I battled with the free weights that day, my brain felt like the “kaleidoscope” mode had been enabled.
I started working out at an almost frenzied pace as I thought about too much. I thought about all of the wakes, funerals and memorial services that I had attended.
I thought about how I used to believe that the worse thing that could ever happen to me was delivering the eulogy at my father’s funeral. And, as the sweat poured off me that morning, I remembered that I had already found out that there could be something far worse.
By now any observer would have seen a six foot-plus dervish, moving feverishly from floor exercises to machines to weights, like some gym-bound Sisyphus. I barely heard Bob Marley telling me to Lively Up Yourself.
I know I don’t remember hearing Lisette leave, although I do remember that she had a seven thirty conference call with London that she had to attend at the Broad Street offices of Goldman Sachs in the Wall Street district where she worked. Once the business day started, passion and romance and lovemaking had no place in Lisette Bailey’s world. Of course, she
was not unique in The Pride, or on Wall Street for that matter. As I moved into the final stages of my workout, Lisette was long gone, and that was O.K.