The birth of boomer selfishness


Consider the year 35 BTWP (Before Trump Was President). Trump and others are all about making money despite some lasting, disastrous consequences. In my fiction writing, perhaps what demonstrates the callousness of the period but also its attraction is a scene where the main character goes into Manhattan from New Jersey to meet a potential financier.

Sample Fiction (Read Time 45 Minutes)


Editorial credit: Usa-Pyon / Shutterstock.com
I had no idea what Irwin planned to tell Adam. All I knew was that if my part of the plan was to deliver him to the banquet early, compared to convincing him to let us use his invention, mine was an easy task. I didn’t want to f#%k it up.
Irwin jumped out of a cab and came through the doors of the hotel. I watched him as he put his hand on Adam’s shoulder and said, “So, you’ve got him completely sold.”
Adam turned his head and looked at me. “Who?” 
“Who?" Irwin asked. "Our host. He thinks your coating is going to change the world.”
Adam told Irwin he had no idea who the host was.
“Listen, it doesn’t matter to me one way or the other how you did it; you did it, and that’s all that matters,” Irwin answered. 
“Did what?” Adam asked and when Irwin just smiled he added,“Well, we already know that. Who’s the host of this bloody event anyway?"
Irwin looked up the escalator as if he wanted to change the subject.
“Sean told me it was some kind of charity ball – that we were going to meet some girlfriends of yours. What does your investor want with my coating?”
Irwin looked at me as if I should have filled him in with more details then back at Adam, before he regained his footing. “Sean’s right in a sense, part of this is charity. And there’ll be girls here, friends of mine,” Irwin smiled, which made me curious too. “But that’s only part of it.” He glanced at his watch then looked up at Adam more seriously. “We can talk on the way. We’re already late.”
We followed Irwin outside the hotel.
Adam and I had both purchased overcoats that week. It wasn’t even December yet, but my overcoat was no match for the combination of wind and cold that whipped down the street between the tall Manhattan office buildings. Luckily, we only had to walk a half a block then around the corner before an empty fountain appeared in front of a tall rectangular skyscraper that was the main building for the UN’s complex.
Irwin opened the door for Adam and me, and we followed him towards a bank of elevators in the lobby. He unbuttoned his overcoat, and we did the same, and before he pushed a button the doors closed and the elevator started to go up quickly. It wasn't until we were on our way past the eleventh floor that Irwin said, “Our host is an investor, one of the richest guys in the world. He’s the big fish in all this. The guy’s name is Grecaro. He’s made billions.” Irwin was still waving his index finger around while talking, “...mostly from the military. He’s someone who can make something of this, make it work, whatever stage you’re at. He’s the one we have to convince. Get him involved, and you’re all set.” He finally pushed the button for the thirty-ninth floor. 
Adam rocked on his feet from front to back as if what Irwin said didn’t sit well with him.
“All set for what? I thought we were discussing using my coating on cars – I only need $100,000 to finish what I’ve started. We don’t need to go all in with anybody of that nature.”
Adam looked back at me hard. I had my hands crossed behind my back and was leaning against the elevator trying to disappear into its back wall. Again, I thought of how having the chance of meeting some new girls was the only reason Adam agreed to come to this banquet; he had every right to feel cheated. I thought how easily impressed I was by Irwin and wondered, even at this early stage whether I was selling out. I had to wonder whether we had the guts to work only on a single military idea or how fulfilling life would be. I decided we should spend no more than two years on it and get out.
Irwin took a moment to pretend to study his Rolex watch. He was the only person I knew in his twenties who had one, despite the comeback that luxury items were making that year now that the recession had ended and the Reagan economy was working its magic.
Irwin looked over his shoulder for a second and picked up on Adam’s glum face.
“It’ll be fun,” he said. “Not all military or people I couldn’t stand to hang out with…” He jerked his chin towards Adam and tried to laugh, saying “…not like you.”
When the doors to the elevator opened, there were plenty of security guards as well as a metal detector we had to pass through. Irwin produced a signed invitation letter and three tickets. Still, Adam was singled out for a special search perhaps because his hair was so long.
After he went through, we hung up our coats, and then walked back to the middle entrance to the banquet room. We stood and looked at all the circular tables that swept around in a giant circle of their own.
Half the people were already sitting down, half up, and out of those, roughly half were serving themselves in various buffet lines. The crowd was mostly older, well dressed couples. On the far-left wall, right above a row of large windows that let in a tremendous view of the New York City Skyline, I could make out the banner that read “Friends of the Middle East Welcomes New York’s 10 Best Restaurants.”
The size of the crowd seemed to energize Irwin. We took a few steps inside as he told us that FOME did more than just convene the leaders and influence makers at this annual banquet each year. The organization conducted conferences, educational events and all sorts of experiments for Middle East peace as well. He said a few years ago, the event moved to the UN for security purposes, but this just made it all the more popular.
Irwin said he would go looking for Kevil and Grecaro. Adam and I hugged the back wall and waited. When Irwin came back to us, he started talking in a very low voice to Adam about the plane Grecaro kept in New Jersey. “Grecaro gutted a DC-10. Instead of carrying 400 hundred people, he uses it to fly himself around. The guy probably wants your coating for his own planes.”
“What about using the coating for cars?” Adam asked.
“I’ll mention that, but right now he’s strictly investing in aerospace,” Irwin said casually. “The coating could be right up his alley.”
I admired how Irwin put it out on the table, nearly seamlessly, in an environment where Adam could not throw a tantrum.
“Well, he’s going to be bowling alone then,” Adam said softly. “I haven’t agreed to any military uses for this coating.”
Adam caught me looking at him and again stared at me as if I had set him up.
“He did say aerospace,” I said, and figuring there was nothing more I could do at the moment, I turned away and started to count up the round tables in front of me.
Each table was draped in a white table cloth and all the tables seemed mostly full. I got through counting a quarter of them before I figured there must be a hundred tables in the room. Adam moved closer to me and puffed out his cheeks. I had to say something.
“I know your memories of the military aren’t good ones.” Irwin moved around me and stood on the other side of Adam. When he turned his head to the side, I added: “But you were just a kid. At least consider it as an option…It’s big money.”
Irwin started to look around the room. He threw his chin in the direction of the first table to our right. “That’s what I’m talking about. There’s the sheiks.”
There were a dozen people sitting at a table with head dresses from Saudi Arabia or someplace like that. To me, they stood out because they were all men, all dressed in white, angle length robes. They seemed loud and boisterous compared to the table of reserved Orthodox Jews that were sitting next to them.
Irwin smiled like it was funny and looked at me scratching the back of my neck.
“This is overwhelming,” I said. I didn’t think even Irwin could talk to people like these. “What do you know about dealing with sheikhs?”
As usual, though, he didn’t let anything like a new crowd of people bother him. He was more concerned about me.
“Don’t let them freak you out,” he said as I scanned the rest of the room. “They’re just people.”
It seemed there were many clusters of tables, each with a similar dress that did not cross boundaries. Irwin turned his head back towards Adam and used his hand empathically ticking off his thumb, index finger and middle finger in the air, but still he spoke softly, in a loud whisper. “Basically, you’ve got the United States and Israel and recently, all these Arab states,” he said as threw his chin back towards the sheiks. “Your whole market is here. Really, who else is there? Soviet Union? You’ll never be allowed to sell to them. This is everybody, here tonight.”
Adam turned to Irwin and said: “Britain, France, Germany…”
“No, I’ve researched this. The market is…” he started saying to Adam, but then he realized Adam was joking and switched gears.
I was glad Adam was starting to act like his old self again.
Irwin noticed the same thing and smiled at him. “Ok, let’s go check out the silent auction table before we meet the guy…Follow me.”
Then as if he was leading us on a tour of a new city, Irwin moved quickly along the back wall behind the ocean of tables.
I was trying to forge a train of thought to use for the night, but as usual Irwin was one step ahead of me.  He turned around and put the palm of his hand on my cocked forearm. “If you’re going to be stiff, let me handle things for now.”
“Why?” I asked
“Because if you think Kevil is bad, people like Grecaro are nightmares, complete relentless nightmares. Investors can smell blood, death, weakness. Let me tell you that’s not the image you guys want to portray. You could lose a couple hundred thou in the first few minutes of conversation. You have to be single minded.”
“But how?” I asked.
Irwin didn’t bother answering that. “Just let me handle him. Let me do the talking tonight. I’ll tell you when I need you.”
I relaxed a little knowing Irwin was in charge.
Halfway across the room, Irwin cut into the sea of tables, and we had to squeeze by a table of old folks who all looked up at us, probably because of Adam and his white suit. We were passed by a young man wearing combat boots and army fatigues with a nice pressed shirt and tie. When he walked by us, he flashed a handsome smile. He had short dark hair, penetrating eyes and was in great shape. The timing was weird but it was a relief to see another person our own age, especially one being friendly, especially one in an outfit stranger than Adam’s. 
“Where’s he going?” Irwin asked himself. Irwin turned to the left and followed him. He looked back and motioned us with his chin.
We walked past a table of Orthodox Jews, all men, and then towards a large rectangular table that ran half the length of a side wall.
We looked down at some items on the silent auction table, as the guy in the army outfit did the same. Irwin, naturally, seemed to have the inside word on a few of the items that were donated for auction, because he began calling out specific items and looking for them. We stopped in front of some rare coins and a pipe, before reaching the end of the table with a certificate for a lunch with the Prime Minister of Israel, along with a photo session.
I asked Irwin if this is how Grecaro knew the Prime Minister of Israel but Irwin assured me someone like Grecaro would be “much closer” to him than that. I began working my way back up the table and noticed a map of an original Jewish settlement framed and with a certificate next to it, minimum bid, $1,000,000. I looked again to make sure I read it right. There was other valuable art mostly with a religious theme from across the Middle East.
I started wondering how exactly we belonged here and what we would all talk about. Irwin tried to lighten things up by pulling me down the table towards a bottle of wine.
“Check it out, minimum bid, $100,000,” Irwin said.
I bent forward and studied the bottle carefully.
“How can a bottle of wine be worth $100,000?” I asked him.
He flipped over the place card. He said to ask Grecaro. He had a big smile on his face.     
“He’s donating it? It’s a little out of my price range,” I said to Irwin.
“You can say that again.”
Irwin turned on his heel and seemed to push himself off the rectangular table with all the art and seemed ready to navigate the circular maze of tables. We stood looking at the crowd. Irwin spotted the table we were looking for. It was near the front. I saw Melissa right away.
“Why didn’t you tell me Melissa was coming?” I asked Irwin.
“I told you there’d be girls,” he said.
“Melissa?” I asked.
“Well, at $5,000 bucks a seat, of course she jumped…”
“She looks great,” I said.
I stood frozen with desire. Melissa was a girl Irwin and I met at a charity ball that was arranged by a friend of his, Gill Miller. After that, we saw her around a few times when we were together, and I she agreed to go out with me once, but after that, she quickly rebuffed my suggestions. Irwin heard from Miller that she only wanted to date millionaires. I figured she was out of reach.
“Of course,” he said. “I brought her here for you.”
I frowned. “Doesn’t look that way,” I said. “Is that him? She’s laughing in his ear.”
“That’s Grecaro. Can’t you tell from the magazine?” He bent around me and looked at Adam. “Jackie’s hot. She’s the one with the big hair. She can sit next to you.”
“Where’m I supposed to sit?” I asked.
“Sit next to Melissa.”
“She’s already sitting next to Grecaro,” I said.
“Just sit down and take your chances. Maybe, she just sees him as an investor too.”
“In what?”
“You know, her corporate art magazine.”
I shook my head and frowned and wondered whether Irwin really did bring her there for me. It was just like Irwin to leverage and event and try to impress as many people as possible at once.
“What do you expect?” he asked. “You get your name on the list of richest Americans, and she’ll be laughing in your ear too.”
I decided this wasn’t the place to bring up old grievances I had with Irwin and thought better of saying anything. We started to walk through the tables. I saw someone with blonde hair sitting next to Kevil.
“That’s Barbara’s there?” I asked Irwin. “I guess the more pretty girls the better.”
Irwin turned as he walked and said, “Are you kidding me? She’s disgusting.”
Grecaro had a deep brown tan which made him stand out as being a bit more dynamic than most folks his age. He had closed cropped head of black hair with a small bald spot on the top. He had very muscular shoulders, neck even face. He was leaning into Melissa as he spoke.
As we got closer, Kevil spotted us and stood up.
I thought of what I’d once heard that 95 percent of what you learn about a person you discover in the first five seconds. I don’t know if that was true or not, but I remember I picked up a lot of information just by looking at him walking from his car to the door of my apartment the day he and Irwin came over to pick up a sample of Adam’s coating.
His hair was fluffy and neatly combed back into a dome. His brown mustache matched the color of his hair, and he seemed to twitch his mustache to the side, a nervous tic. His face was clean-shaven except for the mustache. He looked as if he was Irwin’s age, about twenty-seven, which I thought was good. He could add some maturity to our venture. He also wore his suit pants extremely high up on his waist, almost to the belly button, highlighting the work of his suspenders. This was perhaps the most distinctive feature of his dress.
He was highly professional, but empathetic with me. I liked him right away.
When I was honest and told him I was a wreck because of our lack of funds and my inexperience of working with the military, he was supportive but strong. When I told him that I’d gotten a threatening letter from the phone company and in a matter of a week the phone would be disconnected, he said we didn’t have time to get bogged down in a bill of only a few hundred dollars from the phone company; he'd take care of it if I ran out of that kind of money.
Kevil waved me over, and I took note of the girl sitting next to Barbara, who I assumed was Jackie. She was in fact very pretty and had brown hair that shot up, teased to perfection in the 1980s style that made big hairdos famous.
“Sorry I haven’t called you. I’ve been stuck in Israel.”
I’d gotten only one call from Kevil in the past two weeks and that was to tell me that he couldn’t talk. He might have been afraid that when I found out he was calling me from Israel, I’d have had a thousand questions. That was true. I wanted to know if he’d told his cousins over there anything in violation of the agreement I made with Irwin.
Kevil came closer to me. “I hope I can do better next week, but I’m flying back out of town.”
I shook my head wondering how much all these flights to and from Israel cost him. Then I pulled myself closer to him and said, “Just don’t take our test results with you. You know there’s laws.”
It took him a second to realize what I was talking about then he smiled. “I know your concerns. Irwin and I have been over this a thousand times.”
“And a thousand more if need be,” I said.
“There is no need. This is the only man that needed to know.”
“Even for him, it’s supposed to just be for cars,” I said.
 We stood and watched Irwin move towards Grecaro, who stood with a hand on the back of Melissa’s chair. Irwin was smiling from ear-to-ear. They were both the same height, about five feet, five inches, but Grecaro was much stockier and his features were sharper. His age I would guess to be around fifty since he was partly bald, but his tie was so colorful and was twisted around the wrong way, casual, I had the feeling he could even be younger. He almost looked like a weight lifter.
“You must be Mr. Grecaro,” I heard Irwin say.
He smiled at Irwin. “Dio, please.”
While Irwin spoke to Grecaro, Kevil led me to the other side of the table, and we waited for a break in his conversation with Irwin to be introduced. Irwin finally noticed and stepped aside to introduce Adam and I to him.
Still sitting behind Grecaro was Melissa. She had a long dress on I had never seen before, or even one like it. I thought it would be more in place at the Oscars. Below the waist, it was a light blue cotton that seemed to wear like silk the way the material tightly wrapping her hips and legs. I wondered if I still had a chance with this woman. 
She must have sensed my unease, because she stood up and bent her head around Grecaro and looked at me with a huge smile. Grecaro noticed right away. I saw the flicker of a frown but it quickly turned into a big smile. “Ah, so you know these guys as well?”
“Know them, we’re practically related. Hi Sean,” she said.
Melissa let the “Sean” linger. She had a way of modulating her voice to make a simple word like “Sean” sound like it contained several paragraphs of information. I immediately felt like the itch I had during those weeks waiting for her to call me back had been scratched. I stepped forward glowing with the feelings of not only knowing this woman but being singled out by her for once ahead of Irwin. I really admired her for her poise and good breeding, especially now that she showed she really cared.
Grecaro introduced himself to me and Adam, and I repeated his name, out of a habit of trying to remember names later. He smiled as if I was wasting my time, but when I got his last name he said I pronounced it right. He was all smiles and waved his arms and told us to sit down.
I pulled out the chair next Melissa. Adam sat down next to me, leaving just one chair between him and Barbara’s friend, Jackie. Irwin continued to stand.
Barbara smiled a lot and crunched her nose when she laughed and had lots of curly blonde hair. I thought she was attractive, the opposite of Irwin’s comment. Plain is far from disgusting. She could even be considered sexy if you overlooked the acne on her face. That was her only detraction. Her hair, her figure, everything else was nice.
 I could tell Adam liked her friend Jackie right away. She was tall and also attractive. Adam was smiling at her I thought too intently.
Melissa looked up and said Irwin should sit so could Grecaro finished telling us about the restaurants that were there.
“He’s been to them all,” she said.
Irwin took the seat on the other side of Grecaro at the same time Kevil sat down. Irwin said he wanted to hear it. “Mr. Grecaro please tell us!”
Grecaro started by saying “Dio, please” again to Irwin. Then he said he’d tested most of the “top 10” restaurants that were there that night but there were one or two that should have made the list. Irwin began to jump in and compare notes on the restaurants he had been to. Adam commented that all the restaurants must be expensive. Grecaro said not particularly, but the wine could be expensive. He relayed one story about wine, and having Melissa’s attention, he said he would relay another. He seemed to be putting in a lot of effort on her behalf.
“There was a time when a friend of mine had his bachelor party, now this is a good friend, and no, it wasn’t his first marriage but we were all convinced that this time he was about to get it right.”
He turned and looked down towards me before he continued. I was flattered and took this as a cue that we were all supposed to be listening intently. I stopped looking at Melissa and instead looked over at him.
“So, I flew us all to Paris for dinner. The restaurant, the setting, everything was just magnificent…”
Melissa was rapt with attention to Grecaro.
“Now, my friends, they know wine; I don’t really know wine that well -- not like these guys. The idea was that we each look at the wine list – and this list was the size of an encyclopedia – and go around the room during the course of the night and each order a bottle of wine from the menu, which we did, one by one.”
“Oh, the wines these guys ordered…” He rattled off a few names. “Hundreds of years old; the restaurant itself dates back to the fourteenth century. I was sitting next to the top wine picker, and he complimented me on my choice of wine, so I was feeling pretty full of myself.”
He looked around the table, then stopped to look into Melissa’s eyes before lingering over her breasts just for a moment more, then continued.
“I don’t mean to digress….” He stopped and looked at Melissa one more time, who was smiling at him in her most flirtatious way. “To make a long story short, when the bill came, do you know how much it was?”
“How many people? Adam asked.
“There were 15 of us.”
“$10,000,” Adam said.
He smiled and shook his head no.
“$100,000,” Irwin ventured.
“No, not $10,000, not $100,000.”
He paused. Melissa leaned back, grabbing both her hands together in a ball between her legs and using her biceps to push her breast together, giggled. “$150,000?”
Grecaro looked at her.
“It was closer to a quarter million. Did you ever think that a meal could cost that?”
We were all silent letting the impact of that amount of money for a single dinner sink it. Then he smiled broadly and looked at Irwin. “And we were all fighting for the bill.” Grecaro added laughing to himself, “Lucky for them, I won out.”
Irwin let out a loud yelp before he slapped Grecaro on the back and said he could picture the scene well -- “all of them fighting for the bill”-- and the two of them shared a hearty laugh. Melissa continued to rock back and forth in her seat, although I knew her well enough to know her laugh was fake.
I was dumbfounded that anyone would consider themselves lucky to spend that kind of money and looked off into the crowd thinking how just a $100,000 of that money would finance our whole business for a year. $100,000 is all we needed and then I thought I could relax for a whole year, take things slower, and decide what the best market for us to use would be and not have to come to a banquet like this and laugh into the ear of people I didn’t know or trust.
Irwin was the first one up and he led our procession towards the food as we all scattered excitedly to various tables. I didn’t know what I was doing so I figured, I’d walk past all the tables before deciding what to eat. Adam was doing the same thing. and we passed each other.
I was standing waiting a turn to talk to the chef at one of New York’s finest Italian restaurants and see what he was offering when Grecaro pulled up alongside of me.
He stood next to me a moment before saying, “Sean!” as if just noticing me alongside him. I nodded, frozen in place, trying to gather my thoughts. I couldn’t help myself. I had no idea what to say to a billionaire. Luckily, he spoke first, in a low confidential tone. “I want to ask you something.” We took a step away from the line. “How well do you know that girl?” he looked over in the direction of the table where Melissa was seated. “She’s absolutely gorgeous. Should have been a model.”
I turned and let my eyes drift back to the table. I could see she was engrossed in a conversation with Irwin.
“She’s a professional dater,” I mumbled, thinking it might discourage his interest. “That’s what Irwin’s friend calls her. No one stands a chance.”
He laughed and shook his head. “Listen, nobody has gotten more beautiful women than I have. That was my big problem in life; if there was one mistake I made, over and over, unfortunately. I let all the good ones get away.”
I looked at him, but didn’t know whether to reveal to him the intimate details about Melissa and me, like how I didn’t know whether she could ever really be my girlfriend, considering she was after someone who made seven figures or more, and might not care if she needed to start dating older men, perhaps someone his age. It was bad enough that I would have to compete with Irwin all night for Melissa’s attention before finding out that he seemed interested as well.
There was something primal in his look towards her until he noticed I was staring at him. Then, he broke into a big, fake smile. This emotional switch seemed to be something he’d almost perfected.
I thought of all the contacts Irwin said he had inside the United States government and wondered why someone would like him. There didn’t seem to be much to like except that he was aggressive, a trait I supposed some would admire if you were in the military business. 
I continued to stand with my empty plate which didn’t seem to bother him one bit. He was in no rush. He said: “Kevil told me there was more to your operation than just him – I’m glad. How you guys doing?”
A jolt of panic ran through me for a moment, thinking he might be expecting a formal business plan or proposal, more than Adam and I could deliver. Then I recalled that it was Kevil who got us the tickets from Grecaro to attend the event and decided to keep the attention on him.
“Kevil seems to know what he is talking about,” I answered.
He bowed his head towards the floor for a moment then looked up and suggested we get in line for something to eat. I followed him over to the start of the tables and watched him pick up a plate.
“He does if you’re talking only about Israel. It seems his experience has shaped who he is. Which is both good and bad.”
“What do you mean?”
“Israel is a favored nation, but Kevil doesn’t even know that the political winds are shifting all the time. You know, each administration has their own agenda.”
I nodded.
Grecaro looked away from me and smiled at a couple that walked by obviously trying to get his attention before turning back to me. “But he’s a good salesman. Obviously convincing.”
“That’s the hard part,” I said.
He looked at me and feigned shock. “You think so? Sales? I’d say that’s the easy part, finding something that works is the hard part.” He put a hand to my shoulder. “That’s why if Kevil is even remotely close in what he says about your coating, you’re welcome to turn the whole thing over to me. For a fair price of course.”
This was exactly what Irwin had told me. He said it was the best scenario. Unfortunately, I knew Adam would never agree.
I mustered some courage and said, “We were thinking more of you making an investment. Do you think one of your funds would invest in…”
He smiled. “Those funds are my more conservative investments…Lately, I like to own the companies myself, especially if it’s a risky investment like yours. I’m telling you, we should talk.”
Before I could answer, he said: “Let me get a plate.”
I followed behind him, and watched him pick up a plate and then he said to follow him to his favorite restaurant. After that, we stood at a distance deciding whether to sample other restaurants' food or not. Before we stood in line for another restaurant, I said: “I have to tell you that the problem is now we still haven’t decided on all the uses for the coating. I don't know what the inventor will agree to or even if he’d let the military use it yet.” I looked back to the table and his eyes followed mine. “It’s up to my friend over there, Adam.”
“Right, I like his hair,” Grecaro said slowly, thinking. “What’s the problem?”
“I’m not sure he wants to sell the coating to the military yet.”
He shook his head, and grabbed my arm with his free hand and pulled me towards him.
“That’s what you have me for,” he said.
“I’m not sure he’d even agree to that. He’s very anti-military in general.”
He whispered in a way that reminded me of Irwin. “Well in that case, tell him I have a good psychologist in New York he can use.” 
He stood back and laughed. I couldn’t help from smiling.
He glanced my plate before his eyes danced off in the direction of Melissa again. Before I could think of something else to say, Irwin was standing behind us, then between us, with a full plate of food.  Kevil came over as well holding a plate as well. Irwin took a hand from under his plate and rested it on my shoulder.
“Can you believe it?” Irwin said. “The best part, all the development’s been done, there’s nothing but upside revenue, no costs…”
“This is more than just business,” Grecaro said. “There’s a lot of politics.”
“Exactly,” Kevil said. “You know, after we met, I was thinking of MSTAR?”
“MSTAR?” Grecaro asked.
“Wouldn’t that be a next step?” Kevil asked him.
I stood and watched Grecaro and Kevil walk away with Irwin talking about my business. So much for finding out other restaurants that were Grecaro’s favorite. I waited a moment then walked up to the restaurant’s table in front of me and was told the dish I was pointing to was steak tar tar.  As if on cue, Melissa pulled up beside me with a few vegetables on her plate. I stepped away from that buffet table and decided that this was the perfect time to try to be honest, sincere and see if she would respond to that.
“Irwin told me the reason you came to this banquet was for me,” I said.
“Well, this was completely last minute,” she said. “You know Irwin.”
 “You’re changing the subject,” I said. “I could have asked you myself, if I only knew you’d be interested, but the last time we spoke, you said...”
She frowned. “That I was busy with my career…but tonight, it’s all about you.” I looked at her a long while as other couples moved past us, one with a cane. Melissa smiled at them.
When I was sure no one else was around, I said, “I wonder. What’s with you and Grecaro? The guy seems obsessed with you already.”
She turned back to me with a serious look and shook her chin twice in rapid fire, a gesture I remembered her using. “He’s old enough to be my father. If that’s not enough, I don’t even know him. I just met him.”
“Well, it looks he wants you to work under him, so to speak.”
She laughed. “Stop it! You sound jealous.”
Instead of saying the truth - I was jealous - I turned to walk away angrily but she grabbed my arm. “You’re not so innocent yourself. What about the Arab girl you’re going out with?”
She must have been talking to Irwin about the Indian girl who lived across the street from my apartment in New Jersey.
“She’s not Arab.”
“Well, where’s she from?”
It was my turn to try and reassure her. “Everyone that lives in my neighborhood is from India,” I said. “Trust me. There’s nothing going on. There can’t be. They believe in arranged marriages and all. Anyway, it’s you I’m glad to see, that’s all.”
She appraised me. “We’ll get together. I told you, I just need to some time to get something started – like you.”
 I took this to be encouraging sign. She waited in line with me for two more restaurants, and I finished filling my plate quickly.
I said something about Grecao looking at her like an animal.
“You do know who he is?” she asked.
I told her I knew he was one of the world’s richest men and left it at that. Then, I waited for her to finish making a few minor selections a vegetarian buffet table and followed her on the way back to our seats.
As we passed several tables, I noticed familiar faces. I walked past a famous comedian walking towards the buffet table. She was hunched over like she was in her seventies but her face still looked like she was in her thirties, like it did on TV. She must have had a face lift. At the front of the room, at the table on the other side of the podium from where we sat, I saw a famous TV announcer. At another table, there was a woman senator who sat with some older couples. In all, there were at least four famous people I spotted.
A half hour after we sat down, while everyone was still eating, the head of the organization got up to speak. She sounded like she had marbles in her mouth. I thought she was obviously from money herself; why else would they let someone who practically mumbled open an event like this? Thankfully we were sitting right up front.
She said that their organization had grown to become the largest of its kind. “Friends of the Middle East” was using its money and resources to support nearly a hundred other organizations whose sole mission was to help the region become greater, stronger and more integrated. She singled out the “Inner Circle,” donors who had given a million dollars or more. At first, she asked them to stand but they demurred. Finally, she begged and a dozen people in the room including Grecaro stood up. Then, while they were standing, she said this event was really about them. The organization wanted to give something back, something to each member of each group, each of them who individually and collectively had given so much to the cause of freedom and democracy in the Middle East over the years. She said they had a special treat, and she moved to the side to introduce a band on stage behind her. When the lights lit up behind her, Fats Weinstein walked towards the mic.
Melissa grabbed Grecaro’s arm tight and whispered his name in his ear before turning to me and saying the same thing. I didn’t get the arm squeeze, though. I decided to let my negative feelings go and watched Fats walk onto a small portable stage, which just set me aglow in the reflected glory of this talented famous musician. He was causally carrying his sax into the spotlight and was followed by his piano player, guitarist, bass and trumpet players. Adam had a smile that stretched across his whole face, because he recognized Fats immediately. This was someone Adam knew well. He often said “if I could only play like Fats…” Sure, I had heard Fats ever since I was a kid, but this was much different now. He was just thirty feet away.
Fifteen minutes into the show, the whole room was clapping. For the last number, they put on blue lights, lights that shown throughout the whole banquet room and I basked in the glow of those lights. I looked to the profile of Melissa, and then past Kevil to Barbara, then to Grecaro. Irwin seemed unmoved, but not Adam who I thought at one point was going to jump to his feet and then, during a slow song, had his eyes closed and his mouth moving during the sax solo as the rest table watched Fats move his fingers up and down the sax, then turn to the right to show his profile. In the middle of the last song and his rocking solo, he began to move the horn back and forth, titling his head and neck back and then moving forward again, like an elephant would swing its trunk, all in time to the music.
By this time, half the audience was on its feet. I looked behind me at an old man who stood at full height, but stooped over. Many were standing had their hands over their heads and were dancing like teenagers. Adam was the only one standing at our table who was applauding wildly, but we were all smiling and on our feet.
One by one, members of the band begin to echo Fats in whatever blues riff he was playing, and the volume increased. As if this was not enough, Fats slowly turned and moved himself and his horn pass the podium and towards our table. This time, Melissa grabbed my arm and I immediately started clapping and Fats stopped at the side of our table for a few loud toots before he moved on.
It was hard to believe that just a few hours before I was getting changed in a crummy little apartment in New Jersey and the only thing I had to show for myself as a business owner was the computer Irwin sent. Now, here I was, at the center of power, in the center of the world, far from New Jersey, on top floor of a New York City skyscraper being bathed in blue light with the world’s richest man, if you believed Venture Magazine, and about to have nearly a private show from Fats Weinstein.
I sat down and realized how much I was enjoying myself and the wine. There at the front of the room, every so often I glanced at the guy with the army pants and the pressed shirt, wondering why he was at the head table sitting next to the chairwoman of the event. I was wishing that I could have a cause like this, one that I believed in and especially, get to go to fancy dinners like this. Whatever it took, I decided, I wanted to make events like this a part of my life -- forever.
After Fats finished playing, the guest speaker was introduced by another lady from the head table. She was equally well dressed, but about half the first ladies age and very enthusiastic.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you Fats,” she started. “Isn’t he fantastic?”
The audience erupted again. After we calmed down, she got into introducing the speaker for the night.
“I first met Aaron Fienberg when visiting Israel for the third time this year,” she said. “Nine months ago, to be exact. When I first met him, his group was just an idea, but he was passionate about it and in a position to effect real change. It didn’t take more than a few calls to each other, approval from our budgeting committee, and the next thing you know he had a full-fledged group, a speaking schedule and a book…” She turned and looked at him at a table not far from ours, on the other side of the podium. “Aaron it’s true you’re still working on a book?”
 I saw the guy with the pressed shirt and army pants shake his head yes.
“Because of his work, he is an exile in his own country, perhaps not literally but figuratively, at least. In one sense, this, ladies and gentlemen, isn’t right, in another it strengthens him and has enabled him to be strong and create the organization we are funding. From his position, he’s become one of Israel’s leading thinkers. Every day he is informed by his own memories, and it shows in his writing, always so clear and concise. We are lucky to have him as a speaker, a friend and a funded part of our organization. He is fighting for the one thing that could bring about lasting change to a country with such a turbulent past; he is fighter from within, from within the one organization that could really bring this about; until recently, he was an active member of the Israeli Defense Forces’ elite Black Hawk Squadron. He has been a helicopter pilot for more than ten years, and one of twenty-seven pilots who signed the “Pilots Letter,” which explains why this brave group now refuses to fight and how the occupation is hurting Israel’s security and democracy. Tonight, he is here to discuss the role that American Jews can play in the future of the Middle East Peace Process, a role that he hoped includes all of you, Jewish and none Jewish alike. Ladies and Gentlemen he may be separated by seas but not spirit, please welcome Aaron Fineberg of the new organization “Black Hawks for Peace.”
There was the customary round of applause.
Fineberg was obviously nervous because he took about four gulps of water before he started speaking. He spoke with a thick Israeli accent that took me a second to get used to. He started off by saying that he grew up in Israel, loved Israel and like most young men there, always wanted to serve in the army. He then gave a brief definition of the Black Hawks, the wing of the Israeli army that is always in the lead position, called in first on its most dangerous missions, the first group to cross enemy lines. Known for their intense fighting ability, he said they are similar to the Navy Seals in the United States or our Army’s Rangers.  He said he was recruited into the Black Hawks at a young age. He stated it as his preference and when he got his draft notice, he was told where to report and he got his wish. He had been serving for nearly ten years and obtained the rank of major.
Then he got into the gist of his talk.
“If you want peace, you need to stop supporting an oppressive government…any government that makes aggression a policy for peace is living a lie.
“If you want peace, tell your government to stop sending money to Israel until it changes its ways. It is your money, taxpayer money that is supporting the death and destruction of innocent Arabian people. They are being forced to move from their homes and instead live in pens, in cages like dogs….
“Your aid is misguided, it is destructive, and since it is not used for peace, it should stop.”
He paused for a brief burst of applause from one table in the far rear.
“Do you realize that it is your funds to Israel that makes this destruction possible? 4% of your "aid budget" - he held up both his hands and move his two fingers back and forth in the quotation sign - for Israel is for humanitarian aid, and over 90% is for military. It is very lopsided. But it’s your money,” he said. “It’s American taxpayers and especially, so called non-profit groups.”
He paused again, this time for effect.
“He’s right. We are paying,” I heard Adam say. He was sitting next to me and across the table to Irwin.  “A portion of what you pay for this drink,” he held up his glass, “in taxes goes to finance their army. Everybody in Europe knows this. The US is Israel’s biggest military provider.”
Irwin shook his slowly towards Adam but Grecaro glared over at Irwin, who quickly took this as a sign to get Adam to pipe down. Adam continued to talk about the economics of the Israeli army. Irwin looked at Grecaro again who was glaring at Adam. Irwin got Adam’s attention, ran his forefinger across his neck, trying to get him stop.
“I am not saying there is no role for military,” Fineberg continued. “It can be used for peace, defense. But the present administration in Israel believes in preemptive strikes, and that is what the Black Hawks are doing. Preemptive strikes are wrong. Look at the trouble we are in now; the world is losing patience. Our actions are illegal and immoral…
“It is a matter of choice, and every person of conscience must make a choice. Am I supposed to think less when Palestinian babies are killed and only weep when Israeli babies get killed?
 “They say, I must fight. I say, I refuse to fight. I lay down my weapons and refuse to fight, and I urge other soldiers to do the same. Even the bombing of the Iraqi Nuclear Reactors…”
With that, I heard Kevil’s chair fly back. Everyone seemed to hear it. He was standing, red in the face. “You would sell your mother to a harem.”
Fineberg stopped talking and looked around before landing on our table, as if saying “excuse me.”
There was hush in the room. Kevil wiped his brow with his right hand and used his left hand to pull up his pants even higher around his waist. He twitched his mustache. We were sitting close enough to the podium that with the extra light from the podium it was easy to see him and everyone at our table. I was hoping that would be the end of it and Kevil would sit down.
“You heard me,” he said, somewhat tentatively.
Fineberg didn’t respond.
Kevil regained his certainty, arrogance even. “Peace, as you describe it, would mean the end of Israel. You don’t sound, look or act like a Black Hawk. You seem like a false warrior, going around half a uniform.”
 “Sir,” Fineberg answered, “That’s why I wear only half a uniform, half of me is willing to go to battle because I love my country, the other half, the thinking half, wants peace.”
“It’s not just Palestine,” Kevil said. “Don’t you think Syria, backed by the Soviet Union, would love to destroy one of America’s strongest allies? We need to balance things out.”
“Balance things out? We are talking about the military support of the United States, a de facto partnership, that’s resulted in the massacre of civilians! You cannot sit on your hands any longer!” Fineberg said rapidly. “Where has the invasion gotten us?”
“There's still a nation of Israel,” Kevil answered. There was a brief burst of applause from the Jewish orthodox tables.
Finberg answered: “I’ve seen the killing of innocent civilians; I’ve disquieted birthdays, weddings, festivals, and religious festivals. These actions are creating more suicide bombers and not a lasting peace. I don’t even know if the United States even wants peace. I know they want to sell weapons. If that’s the bottom line, they could turn on Israel in an instant!”
“Right and that's why Israel must defend its own interests, cross borders if it must.” There was a pause, and I hoped that this would be the end of it, but Kevil decided to keep talking. “You don’t know your history very well. Lebanon, Syria, Palestine. Each country seeks to wipe out the Jewish state and all the Jews. You give these people your finger; they will take your hand.” He raised his left arm and made a fist, and there was audible gasp in the audience, some maybe thinking Kevil had lost his hand in battle. The chairwoman stood up and seemed to be moving towards the podium as Kevil continued. “This is a war till death, the utter destruction of the enemy, until they acknowledge the right of Israel to exist.”
Fineberg thought a moment then answered quietly. “How do you know what would happen without occupation, without the rhetoric you spew forth…”
“The only reason that our battles have not brought peace is because we were not allowed to finish the job!” To this there was more applause from the Jewish orthodox tables. “The removal of Israeli occupation was the direct cause of the worst round of Palestinian barbarism in history!” Kevil was not only red in the face but shouting now. "Everyone knows this!”
He turned around to face the crowd. “This is all I will say…”
The room was completely quite except for a single waiter carrying a clicking tray.  “When an Israeli soldier says lay down your weapons,” he pointed to Fineberg, and rasied his voice into a loud roar, “I say it’s Anti-Semitism at its worst. It gives free rein for anyone to hunt the Jews. We should never, not ever, let that happen again!!!!”
People at three quarters of the tables rose to their feet, clapping, and when they got tired of clapping, they began clanking glasses and shouting. After a while, it became apparent that this crowd wouldn’t stop making noise. Fineberg finally removed himself from the podium. This was apparently good enough for Kevil who sat down.
I looked at Adam who was smiling through his hands. Irwin too. Melissa acted like nothing unusual was going on, all her poise was being used to muster a plastic face. She seemed to be the only one beside me who was aware, although she tried not to show it, that all the eyes in the room were on our table. Grecaro was red faced, the lines of his forehead in deep creases, glaring at Kevil.
I sat and a thought flashed in my mind of the time when I was at a small wedding reception in another hotel, the United Nations Hotel, literally across the street from where we now sat for an account supervisor at the advertising agency I got to know well by delivering packages to her. She was an English girl whose parents were paying for the event but struck me as very frugal and proper. There weren’t more than sixty of us, so it was pretty obvious when an old girlfriend of her new husband showed up with purple hair, doing some kind of bad drugs. She crashed the party and started grabbing at the groom’s crouch and doing other embarrassing things. This lasted only a few moments before the parents of the bride decided that they had had enough. The father and mother worked as a team, and luckily the mother was a big burly woman, and actually picked the purple haired girl up, one under each arm and carried her, legs kicking, right to the door. Then, they came back to the reception and pretended nothing had happened.  But we all knew it had.
Although this was nothing like that, to me it seemed worse. One thing I learned from the night: Kevil had a one-track mind; he saw himself as part of an American community intent on protecting the Israeli nation with whatever means necessary. To him there was no other choice, and he had no other mission in life.
I learned something about myself too. I wasn’t over Melissa, not by a long shot. At that moment, I couldn’t think of much else I cared about.