Hi. My name is Maggie. Well, Margaret. Margaret McGee. Or Margaret M. Silverstein, now, I guess. I was born in Brooklyn, to Catholic parents. My parents were of that new breed- the breed where both parents worked. But this was in the time before day care and other such things had really made it easy for parents of limited means to have a kid cared for while both parents worked.
As a result, I was on my own a lot and I had to learn to fight for myself on the streets of New York. I was always athletic, and perhaps a little bit of a tomboy. I liked to run, miles a day. That was how I vented my pent up anger on the world at large, among other things.
But, well, I was also a person who cared a little too much for her own good. Seeing people truly hurting, that bothered me. But that was a good thing, in the end, I suppose. But I am getting ahead of myself.
While I was athletic, and very strong, I wasn't pretty. And I knew it. If I didn't know it on my own, lots of people went out of their way to tell me. I never even tried to go after boys- I just didn't feel good enough about myself. My face was a little flawed, I suppose. And I was too muscular- girls weren't supposed to be muscular. Whatever.
When I graduated high school, I got a job working as a waitress at a restaurant in Manhattan, and got a little studio walk up not too far from Central Park. I kept running in the park every morning, as I worked the lunch shift. Junior waitresses just didn't get the more profitable night shifts early on in their career. I was making money, I was surviving ... but I was very lonely. I ran to keep my mind off of it, among other things.
After I had been working for a little over a year, I started getting the night shift at the restaurant. Which was a good thing, because I started to make more money. But it also meant that I crashed into bed at 1AM most nights, and didn't get up until noon. So I ran in the early afternoon.
Every day that I went running, at the place where I was deciding to end my run, there was a middle aged man. Salt-and-pepper hair, often not well maintained looking. But he wore expensive clothing, and that clothing changed every day. So he wasn't a poor helpless bum. The other thing about him, the thing that caught my attention, was he always looked sad. He was always crying. Always.
At first he was just a man I noticed as being always there. And then he was a guy I noticed as being very upset. Later, I started to realize this was a man who was very deeply upset. But eventually, when I started making a point of watching him, I began to realize he was a terribly broken up man who didn't have a shoulder to cry on.
But being gooey like that wasn't me, and so I didn't sit around and offer one for him to cry on.
But as the weeks wound on, and I kept seeing him there, well, he started to grate on me. I mean really grate on me.
Then, one day, I asked a cop who was always on beat in that area about him.
" ... You don't know who he is?" the cop asked, "Well, I guess you wouldn't. That's Geoffrey Silverstein."
"Who the fuck is that, mack?" I asked.
"He's the man who..." the cop paused, "Well, his wife, she was apparently a crazy bitch. And he watched her shove his son, and the son fell down a flight of stairs and was killed. He testified at her trial, and watched as she was put to death. Apparently, she had been abusive to him for years, and he just took it for that boy. He snapped. I mean this was all over the news."
"How long ago was this?" I asked.
"Oh, gee, it must have been 6-7 years ago," he said.
I kept ignoring him. I kept trying to tell myself that he wasn't my problem. I told myself this with such regularity and such increasing frequency, I realized that it had become my problem.
The next day after making my decision to get involved, I walked up to him.
"Mack?" I asked very softly. He didn't seem to hear me.
"Hey, Mack," I said with more sharpness, and he looked up at me, "Cheer up."
He looked at me with sadness in those eyes, and a good dose of irritation. For a moment, I thought perhaps he would physically attack me. Not that I was that worried- I was a very strong woman, and he was a fifty year old or so that looked like he hadn't eaten in months.
"Leave me alone!" he growled.
I stared back at him, and had taken all of his sadness I was ever going to be able to take.
"No way, mack," I insisted, "I've been watching you for weeks, and I am just not going to put up with this anymore."
I offered him my hands, and he, looking absolutely dumbfounded, took them, and let me pull him up to a standing position. He just came willingly.
Then an idea sprang into my mind. It might not have been a nice thing to do, but something told me it was the right thing to do this time. I led him to the fountain.
He looked at me oozing pure confusion.
"Gee golly, mack," I laughed, "I gotta lighten you up."
And with that, I gently pushed him into the fountain.
After a few moments, he surfaced, all wet, and looking even more befuddled, as if that was possible, and like a bedraggled dog. I couldn't help it. I laughed.
And then ... and then, he started laughing, too.
A few minutes later, when he was out of the fountain, being sternly looked over by some cops from a distance, he kept laughing for a few minutes.
"Feel better?" I asked.
"Lady, that's the first time I've laughed in, dear god, its been seven years."
"Seriously?" I asked.
"Yeah. Thank you."
"My pleasure," I said. And I meant it.
"Please, come back to my house for a meal," he said, "Its the least I can do."
I was hungry, poor, and broke. What could I do but accept?
"Sure thing, Mack ... but only if I know your name."
"Jeff," he said. So the cop was right.
Like most New Yorker's, Jeff walked a lot, and so we started walking towards the west side of the city, and down away from the park. We walked several miles, and we were just talking about nothing in particular. He seemed a lot more cheerful, which made me no end of happy.
Soon, we were walking down a street that had a lot of brownstone mansions on it, and I was utterly shocked when we went to a 3-story-plus-half-raised-basement double wide on what must have been 45 feet of width- not to mention alleys on both sides- and walked up the stairs. If that surprised me, I was even more shocked when he unlocked the door and opened it into the largest, grandest foyer I had ever seen in a private house, for that is what this must have been.
The floor was all marble, with a staircase that must have been, I swear, 8 feet wide taking up the whole rear center of what must have been a 40-foot deep and 20 foot wide room. The room was two stories high, with a balcony-style railing overlooking about three quarters of the rooms perimeter, also in marble. Off to the sides were rooms. He smiled as I rushed from room to room. One of them had a pool table, but the rest all looked like some kind of variation on a living room, all ornate.
Except for the bathroom, of course, which was huge, with ornate marble fixtures, with gold-colored plumbing. Each of these rooms had several large radiators.
He then walked me back past the stairs, whereupon I soon figured out that this huge foyer only took up about half the houses depth. I walked down a hall under the stairs, to a huge- ten feet wide at least- hall that led past two rooms, one to each side. One was clearly a dining room. The other one was- well it must have been a ball room.
In back of both of these rooms was a huge kitchen, where a man and a woman were both working on what smelled like it was to be a great meal. On one side of the kitchen was a 6-person table for eating off of. The rest of the kitchen was very traditional. All old school appliances.
"Oh, young Mr. Silverstein," the man said, "You didn't tell me we'd be having guests over for dinner. I would have made something a little more fancy."
"Its alright, James, I'm sure whatever you are making will suffice," he told him.
James plated the meals, and the woman, who James called Arlene, served us. Then they both retreated down a set of stairs to what I assumed was the basement.
"I didn't know you were rich," I said, somewhat confused.
"Oh, please don't patronize me," he said, "And besides, I'm as poor as a church mouse."
"How can you-" I started.
"Do you think money is wealth?" he barked at me, "Money is nothing but money. Wealth is having people you care about and who care about you! The only people who fucking cared about me are all god damned dead."
He had started crying again, really crying. I got up out of my chair and wrapped my arms around him. He was older then my father. But the man needed comfort, and I tried to provide it for him.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"Its ok, mack," I said, "but dear god, I don't think I have a fountain to dunk you in this time."
He looked up at me and smiled, although he was still upset. "I don't know what I can do to thank you," he said, "I can't possibly repay you for simply making me laugh. It felt, for a moment, as if there was somebody out there who cared."
I raised my hand back and slapped him hard across the face. He looked up at me with great confusion.
"You fucking idiot," I yelled at him, "Do you think, do you fucking think, that I would have walked up to a random person in this fucking city of depraved lunatics, who might have killed me, and tried to break him out of a funk, because I don't care about people?"
"I'm sorr-," he stuttered.
"You better be," I told him, "Because I fucking care. I kept running by you every fucking day watching you cry and cry and cry. Maybe I have too much fucking empathy. Maybe I have too big a fucking heart. But after a while, I started caring. And today, I cared so fucking much that I actually did something about it, to a stranger in fucking Central Park. I didn't know you were rich, and I didn't know you were fucking respected. I just didn't fucking know."
"What can I do to repay you?" he cried.
"First off, stop fucking crying," I snapped, "But-"
He looked down at the floor, and I just had to stop yelling at him.
"I'm sorry," I said, "It just makes me so angry that you are so upset you can't see caring even when it exists."
"No, I'm sorry," he said, "Now please tell me what I can do to repay you for helping me. I was so lost in self pity, I just shut off. For seven fucking years. You just turned me back on again. What can I do?"
"You know what, mack?" I said, "For as lonely as you are, I've been all alone all my life, just because I'm ugly. The best thing you can do to pay me back, is be my friend."
"You aren't ugly," he said, "You're beautiful. To me, anyway."
"Bullshit," I said, "But will you be my friend?"
"Of course," he smiled.
I left the house that night, of course. I liked that old man, for some reason. We started meeting in the park every day, and I stopped running. We just walked together, and talked. Slowly, we started picking up the pace until we were both running. He seemed to start getting back into shape.
One day, he asked me where I worked, because he wanted to take me out to dinner- it was his birthday. I told him that I worked nights as a waitress, and that he couldn't take me out to dinner. He then offered to pick me up the next morning for brunch from my house. I accepted.
My apartment is tiny, dingy, and, well, I'll admit it. Its a slum. I was embarrassed by it, but I tried to tidy it up so that it would at least look presentable.
When he came, and this was about a year after we met, he saw the apartment I was living in and he seemed shocked by it, but kept his thoughts to himself. He took me to the famous steakhouse Spark's for lunch, and the food was fantastic.
At the end of the meal, he was really looking at me contemplatively.
"Call your boss," he told me, "Call in sick today."
"I can't," I said, "I need the money too badly."
"How much would you have made today?" he asked, quite bluntly.
"I don't know. $15?" I said, somewhat confused.
He took $20 out of his wallet and handed it to me. I started to say something about how I resented him offering it to me, when he cut me off.
"Please," he said, "I just want to let you give me the birthday present I want."
"And what's that?" I asked.
"A little of your time."
"Ok," I said. I was a little worried.
When we got back to his house, he took me upstairs for the first time, and I was really worried. He seemed to be a little sickened by walking up those huge marble stairs- and I wasn't sure why. He took me into a room that I'd call a library, or an office. He sat me down on a huge leather wing chair across from a flickering fire, and he took the other seat.
"I've never told you the story about my wife," he said, "Did I?"
"Some cop told me it was something about your wife killing your son, or some such like that."
"That's part of it," he said.
He then started telling me the story of how he had a girl working for him, named Rachel. He had been horny- he was only in his 20s, so that was to be expected. She eventually seduced him into having sex with her, and she became his secretary. One day she came into the office and told him she was pregnant. She convinced him to marry her.
The problem with her was, as psychologists would later determine, was that she was both a little psychotic, and a classic psychopath. She wanted the marriage to get her hands on what she perceived to be a fortune. The thing is, Jeff didn't have a fortune. The business made him a nice living, but did not make him rich. When she finally figured that out, she was pissed.
At that point, he offered me a drink. He gave me a cognac brandy, a drink I had never had before, but quickly developed an immense liking for.
She cut off the sex immediately, and turned into the grandest bitch ever to roam the earth. There was money in the family- but it came from his grandparents. He then told me all about his mother and father, and how his father had killed his mother in a fit of drunken rage, and how the state had executed him for it. He also told me how his grandparents had taken him in and raised him.
He was never spoiled. Despite living in this huge house, he was never spoiled. Although they had servants, even then, he was expected to clean his own room, put away his toys, and do household chores. Not only that, but even though their servant, James, who had been here with his now-dead wife since Jeff was a little boy, knew how to cook, it was his grandmother who did most of the cooking. And how she loved him as if he was her own son.
When he graduated high school, his grandfather had given him enough money to start a small business. That business had flourished enough that when he married Rachel, he was able to move out into an apartment on his own. She hated that- she wanted to live in a mansion.
Still, while Rachel didn't seem to care about her son, and seemed to, in fact, blame him for all the pain she experienced when she was pregnant, Jeff loved him, and with all his heart. When his grandfather died, he was completely torn up. It was, to him, like his father and mother dying all over again. But when Rachel found out that the whole fortune was going to his grandmother, she flipped out.
Jeff just took it. Some years later, his grandmother died. All he had was his son. Oh, and the $25 million that his grandparents left to him, and this house. But he really didn't care about the money- he loved the house, though. The only thing that really mattered to him was his son. His son was the sole and event horizon of his life.
Very quickly, Rachel had ideas about how they were going to spend the money. Jeff had quite different ideas. He intended to keep James, his daughter Arlene, and her husband Joe, on in the positions they had held for many years. He intended to save the money so that he could leave his son with enough money to maintain the house until his dying day, so that it could remain in the family, like it had been for over a hundred years. Which meant, since the goliath building cost a mountain of money to maintain and pay taxes on, money had to be conserved.
She wanted to buy jewelry, go on trips by herself, and so on. They had fights about this. Endlessly. If it hadn't been apparent that she didn't want to leave Benny, his son, a cent, he might have given in. But he was fighting for his son.
Then one night, there was a bigger fight. He wanted to send his son to Harvard. Benny had gotten in, and Jeff was willing to pay for it. Rachel was not. They had a huge fight, and eventually, Jeff put his foot down, raced down the stairs, and had been planning on going out.
Rachel then called Benny over to her, saying she wanted to talk to him about college. When he got to her, at the top of the stairs, she gave him a mighty shove, and he fell down the hard marble stairs, to the bottom, his head landing with a huge crash on the hard marble floor. He was dead.
Rachel then said that, since he no longer needed to inherit the house, perhaps Jeff could let her spend some more money. That was why he couldn't even look at the stairs without feeling a little bit queasy.
Using every bit of willpower Jeff had, he didn't kill her. He called the police. She was arrested. He testified against her at the trial. Although the only clear evidence was his testimony, she had been so cold, and he so impassioned and clearly torn up, that the jury believed his side.
He forced himself to see her execution. He had put her there, and he knew it. He felt it was just, but he also felt that if he was going to be responsible for the end of a human life, he was required to watch that life end. And he did. At first it gave him a little bit of closure.
But then he broke down. His son was dead. His wife's death didn't bring him back. He realized that he was just as much a monster as she was. And that had led him into this terrible depression that I had brought him out of.
Then he told me about his business. How he hadn't really been involved with it since the day his wife died. His office manager slash secretary had been running it. She was a good woman, and he realized, she also cared about him, and the people he employed. So she tried her best to keep the enterprise profitable, although she didn't have the skill, or the balls to run it as well as he had.
She was now a little over 70, and she had called yesterday to tell him that she was getting to the point where she just couldn't do it anymore. He didn't have anyone to replace her lower in the ranks. He didn't have anyone he could trust with it, or who had what it took to do the job.
Then he thought of me.
"Are you fucking crazy, mack?" I asked him, "I don't have a college degree, I don't know anything about business, I'm not very smart-"
"Bullshit," he said, "First of all, I don't have a fucking college degree, either. Second of all, you don't need to know anything about business, nor would I want you to. Mary and I will teach you, so that you know what you need to know about this business. Other businesses are irrelevant. Third, Maggie, you have the audacity to do this job, and do it fucking right."
"I don't have any audacity!" I replied.
"What do you call the quality about you that made you drag me off a park bench, and then shove my huge frame, bigger than yours, into a fountain?"
"I would call it chutzpah," he declared, "But that's because I was brought up by a woman who spoke Yiddish fluently. Rachel would call it unmitigated gall. But most people would call that audacity."
I looked deep into his eyes. He was alive again, and it made me happy. Extremely happy.
"I'll go with you to look at the place," she said, "but I'm not agreeing yet."
"Fair enough," he said.
As he said that, the huge and extremely ornate tall case clock in the office struck, telling us it was 2 AM.
"Since its so late, and we'll be going to the same place tomorrow, how about you sleep here?" he suggested.
"Do you have room?" I said, with a smile on my face.
"Lady," he said, "This house has over 10,000 square feet of space in it. Of course I have space for you."
He led me across the hall to a guest room. Well, it wasn't a guest room so much as a guest suite. It was quite large, with a huge bathroom with both shower and claw-foot tub in it, a large sitting room, a powder room, and so on. I slept quite well that night.
The next morning, we got up a tad late, and he came to get me. Instead of taking the stairs to the kitchen, though, he showed me that the house actually had an elevator. The elevator went to every floor in the house- the basement, the first, second, and third floor, as well as the gardens and solarium on the roof.
Breakfast was delicious, although the dish that he had for breakfast baffled me. It looked like a purple version of eggs Benedict.
We walked out of the house and to the B train stop. We changed at 42nd street to the F train, which took us to Avenue I. At Avenue I, in Brooklyn, we walked through the flea market, where he pointed out the area where his business operated. It was pretty busy, I must admit.
Then he took me to a building, and we walked up a set of stairs to an office suite. In the front room of the office was a waiting room, and it was staffed by a young woman who looked like a standard issue secretary. Jeff walked past her in to a room marked private, which turned out to be his office manager/secretary's office. I met her, she was an older lady. After a long discussion about the business, and the responsibilities, he led me back into his office.
He sat down in the bosses chair, and I sat down across the desk from him.
"Will you take the job, Maggie?" he asked me.
"Well, the first thing is a condition you have to agree to," I told him.
"And what's that?" he asked.
"You have to start working here as the boss again, mack."
"Ok, fine, I'll do that if you are willing to take the job, but only then," he said, "And what's the other thing?"
"What does the job pay? Duh."
"$40,000 a year, plus health insurance and a pension plan. And maybe something else."
"Well, that sounds good," I said, "But what's that something else?"
"Free room and board," he said.
"Where?" I asked, getting very suspicious.
"At my house," he said, sheepishly, "If you want it."
"Listen, mack," I said, "I am not going to become a glo-"
"Holy fuck, Maggie," he roared, "What the hell do you think of me? That's not what I want at all. Its just that we spend so, well we, I thought-"
"What?" I asked, very pointedly.
"Oh, damn it all to hell," he said, "Listen, when I spend time with you, just talking or having fun, well, I'm happy. And when you're not around, I'm sad. And I have all that extra room in that house and..."
"Sold," I said with a smile.