The Story of Ray Markman-Part 10
by John Jonelis
My office door swings open and in walks Loop Lonagan holding a bottle of scotch by the neck. “Hadda settle for da cheap stuff,” he says. “Where’s Alex?”
“Sent him to the club to warm up.” I pull two drinking glasses out of my beat-up old WWII Air Force desk.
Lonagan pours a jigger or two into our tumblers, leans back and inhales the aroma of the scotch. He grins. “Warmin’ up won’t do ‘im no good.”
“That scotch won’t do you any good, either.” From his sloppy speech, it’s clear to me that Loop’s has too much alcohol in his belly already.
“Shuttup ‘n’ drink it. I know what I’m doin’.” He downs his and pours another, then pulls out his notes. “Lemme give ya what I got left on Ray Markman. Where d’ya want I should start?”
“Tell me why he leaves Britannica.”
The Fear of Risk
Lonagan flips a page of his notes. “Okay, by dis time, Ray’s da executive veep at Britannica. If he sticks another 8 months, he’s gonna be president. Deeze guys is payin’ ‘im hundreds o’ thousands o’ dollars and givin’ ‘im every perk a guy can get. First class travel ‘round da world, unlimited expense account, cars, clubs, seasons tickets to da Bears, da Bulls, da works.”
It sounds like a good life to me. “So why doesn’t he stay with the company?”
Lonagan thumps his notes. “He wants to get da company into video—dat’s da up-and-coming tech play at da time. Dey already got every subject in the world between da covers o’ Britannica—a wunnerful resource—and dey got a name dat holds incredible prestige. Nobody can compete with ‘em. So Ray pitches video and alotta udder good ideas fer products not even on da market yet.”
He scoots his chair closer and leans forward on my desk. “Ray really studies da video business. So far, it’s just mom and pop stores. But he knows it ain’t gonna end there. It ends with da big guys musclin’ out da little guys. Dat’s how it always ends and dat’s what’ll happen here. Britannica’s da big guy.”
“Is all this reliable, Loop? Can you back it up?”
“Naw, it’s second, third hand. But it sounds like Ray t’ me. Wanna hear it?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
He clears his throat and reads Ray’s words from his notes: Some of these guys are interested in just one thing—retiring. That’s all they care about—that’s all they ever talk about. Who wants to retire? I don’t want to retire. I said, ‘Why do you want to retire?’
I tell them, ‘The risk of DOING is less than the risk of STAYING PAT. I can’t convince them. They have all this money. They’re buying bonds, not stocks. They’re looking in the rear-view mirror. They can’t visualize. I quit and start my own video company.’
Lonagan looks me in the eye. “You see ‘is problem? Deeze guys is worried about risk. They’s at dat time in life when it’s too late to recover from a big loss. We all reach dat point if we don’t get hit by a truck er somethin’. Ray just sees it different is all.”
I lean back in my chair and close my eyes. That’s thirty years ago and Ray still doesn’t want to retire today. I find these words wonderfully revealing. It seems a shame that so few of us relish our work the way Ray does. People actively seek to escape it. He finds joy in it. This is a man at home with his business environment.
On the Loose
Lonagan clears his throat and breaks me from my reverie. “So Ray’s on da loose with ‘is partners and whadaya think? Britannica comes back to ‘im and wants ‘im to do their video business. Dey had ‘im on da inside. Dey turned down da idea. Now dey hire ‘im as a consultant. ‘Course, he charges a huge fee. And they pay it!
“So he gets into da video business, doin’ real good right from da get-go.
“He calls his company Heritage Home Video and does lotsa udder projects. All sorts o’ how-to videos. Then he gets ahold o’ dis Jane Fonda video ‘n’ makes it by far da #1 seller at da time. You remember that one.”
I grin to myself, recalling Jane Fonda on the cover of that tape. They even advertised it on television.
“Back then, ever’body rented video. But Ray ain’t rentin’ any o’ da Jane Fonda stuff. He figures, it don’t do no good to rent it ‘n’ watch it one time. It’s an exercise video. You gotta watch it over and over. So people is payin’ 59 bucks for dis thing. Then there’s videos on how to play baseball, golf, basketball, a lotsa others. So Ray and his partners get all dis video business that coulda belonged to the big company.”
Lonagan’s slams his fist on the desk. “Y’know how I see it? Britannica rules da Internet today if dey keep up with technology. But dey throw it all away just like Sears and Monkey Wards throw away their catalogues dat ever’body relied on fer years ‘n’ years. And doze guys coulda ruled online retail the way Amazon does now.
I nod. So Ray saw it that far back.
“Remember dis, John—Fear o’ risk strangles yer vision every time.”
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