The Story of Ray Markman – Part 2
by John Jonelis
Friday, 1:30 am
Ray Markman claims, ‘I never worked a day in my life.’ Now I wait for Alexander Harbinger and Loop Lonagan to give their analysis based on boxes of old documents and memories. The clock reads 1:30 when Loop and Alex finally file in. They each carry thick note pads and plunk down in soft chairs across from my desk. From the way Loop pats his belly, I know they’re straight from some heavy lunch spot.
Lonagan is first to speak. “Me and Alex want you should go first.”
“What?” I say. “There’s some problem?”
Harbinger responds in his heavy German accent. “Vee are at a point of disagreement. Perhaps, Yon, you vill set ze right tone for this meeting.”
I lick my lips. That sounds like trouble and I hesitate a moment wondering what’s under the surface. Each of us started with a bulging box of documents and I like what I found in mine. Finally: “Okay, I’ll kick it off.” I glance at my clipboard of notes. “Ray Markman is living one of the most interesting business careers I’ve ever researched. Right from an early age, I get the picture of an enthusiastic entrepreneur, just playing with the world. He attends Erasmus—first public high school in the country. Barbara Streisand is there. Ray sees Sid Luckman play high school football. Lainie Kazan, some Nobel prize winners, and other luminaries come out of that program. Ray runs the school paper. He figures he can get a scholarship to an Ivy League college but the faculty sells him on the University of Missouri—the first formal school of journalism in the world. Lots of illustrious figures go there. He sees Walter Cronkite. Meets the head of CBS, the head of NBC—all those guys. Connections that pay dividends later on.”
Harbinger shakes his head. “Zat is veak. You vill not prove your point based on such information. Have you nussing from his vork life?”
“Well, yeah.” I turn a page. “This one’s interesting. He creates the Britannica Achievement in Life Award—you remember that. The award goes to people like Louis Armstrong, Hank Aaron, Ella Fitzgerald, Olympians, astronauts, singers, artists, athletes, academics, actors—it must be quite a rush doing that.”
Both men nod but nothing registers in their eyes. They’re still waiting.
I turn another page. “Okay, try this one. He finds out that National Geographic has lots of fantastic footage—reels and reels of film. Underwater clips of Jacques Cousteau, footage of Americans climbing Everest, Jane Goodall and the wild chimpanzees, even discovering the first Homo Sapiens. But they aren’t TV shows—just footage. So he gets John Allen and a team to help him create shows. Allen is the genius that got the Peanuts shows on prime time. So that’s how the National Geographic Series happens. Certainly you’ve seen that.”
“Yes, ziss I remember vell.”
“Well here’s where it gets good. They make the whole series on spec. Then Ray tells his client—Encyclopaedia Britannica, ‘We won’t sell it to you unless we get prime time.’ Wrap yourself around the moxie behind that. He doesn’t want it aired on Sunday afternoon the way Hallmark does at that time. He figures people are watching football that day and he’s right. After finishing the shows, he’s saying if they’re not a raging success, he’ll chuck ‘em. He’s taking a huge risk.”
Lonagan shakes his head and scowls. “A guy shouldn’t never oughta let his ass hang out dat far on a deal.”
“Maybe, but Ray doesn’t seem to have any fear in his makeup. So he takes the show to NBC. They turn it down. Same old story: They don’t know where it fits—it’s not news and it’s not a documentary. It’s a whole new genre. Always hard to sell a new genre. And ABC? Same story.
“Anyway, he realizes there’s only one man who’ll buy this show—the head of CBS—the king of the documentaries back then. So he spends a whole month and works up a super-detailed 30-minute presentation. All the visuals, the financial projections, the entire picture.”
I lean back and glance at my two guests. “So the big day finally arrives. Ray and the agency meet the head of the network face to face. Ray’s just three minutes into his presentation when the guy says ‘I got it. Let’s do it.’ Just like that.”
Lonagan nods. “I seen stuff like that happen.”
“Well Ray’s not done. He tells them there’s one caveat. ‘We gotta have prime time.’ Seems to me he’s pressing his luck but the guy says, ‘Done. You got early prime time four times a year.’ So Ray goes ahead and gets Britannica to sponsor it for four years. Great show. I don’t think I missed a single episode.”
Lonagan leans across my beat-up desk. “I got somethin’ even better.” That close to my face, his breath stinks of corned beef and beer. Smells worse than a cheap cigar. I roll my chair back, away from the stench and put my feet on the desk. “Fire away.”
He cracks a malicious grin. “Ray’s one o’ them born entrepreneurs. He loves every part of it.”
Then Harbinger barges in. “Ze man spent his career in advertising, not as an entrepreneur.”
Lonagan reels on him. “Listen, you candy-assed school boy. Everything he does, he goes at like an entrepreneur. It’s impossible to figure out where his corporate work stops and his entrepreneurship begins. When he ain’t bettin’ his dough, he’s bettin’ his job.”
Once I watched a debate between Loop Lonagan and Alexander Harbinger almost escalate to blows and I need to head that off quick. “You guys are off on a tangent. Entrepreneurship isn’t the question on the table. I’m looking to prove or disprove his statement that he never worked a day in his life.”
“No John, yer wrong,” says Lonagan. “Bein’ an entrepreneur’s the heart of it all. In da mindset of an entrepreneur work ain’t work. It’s doin’ what you love for the love of it. It’s creatin’ somethin’ new, then creatin’ somethin’ else that’s new. That’s why Ray makes that statement—‘cause that’s how he lives his whole life. Don’t matter if yer workin’ in a startup or a big organization. If you got enough freedom and love what you do, you’re an entrepreneur. Ray’s a serial entrepreneur. Anybody says different don’t know his keister from a hole in the ground.”
Harbinger scowls. “I cannot agree wiss you. Your premise—it iss badly flawed.”
I’m keeping a close eye on Loop’s reaction. He doesn’t respond immediately and his face slowly swells purple. If they start swinging, I sure hope they take it outside.
Then Lonagan blurts out, “Ever hear of a little thing called a hedge? That’s how the smart guys do it. A paying job’s nothin’ but a ‘covered call.’ It counters da capital risk on all dem companies he starts. That’s a real smart setup if you got the energy to pull it off.” He raises his voice. “But then, you never been in the trading world riskin’ real money. You hang out at that college and teach bullshit like ‘random walk theory.’ You don’t know nothin’ about business, you lousy Kraut.”
Harbinger rises from his chair. Stands erect like a soldier. Dignified—all six foot five of him in his impeccable gray handmade suit. “I cannot accept such personal abuse—zis slur on my nationality—and ziss from an inarticulate, uneducated, and ignorant man. I demand an immediate apology.”
Lonagan jumps to his feet, pulls off his sports jacket, and throws it to the floor. “Apology nothin’. And whadaya mean, callin’ me ‘little’?” Standing in a crouch with his fists raised, he cranes his neck to meet Harbinger’s eyes. “You kin cram that where the sun don’t shine, mister.”
Harbinger looks down his nose at Lonagan and hands him a card. “Zen I vill have satisfaction. Ze Union League Club. Vee meet at Five p.m.”
I can hardly believe it. I am witnessing the preamble to a formal duel. The only thing missing is a slap to the face or a glove hurled down. Will it be pistols or foils?
“Okay, Mr. PhD.” Loop flashes an evil grin. “You’re on. Boxing gloves. Three rounds. And make sure you show up.”
I let out a sigh of relief.
A boxing match.
And after a moment’s thought, I’m actually looking forward to it. But somehow I need to find a way to get these two back in their chairs and working on the subject at hand.
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