His mother hailed from a family of lace-curtain Boston Irish, and like many who found themselves clinging to the rocky coastline of Northern California; she was a misfit who’d spent most of her life signing in and out of mental institutions, but remained out for enough time to school her son, who was slim with light brown eyes.
She insisted on three tenets. The first was that it’s not what you know but who you know, and steered him toward the local golf course where he worked as a caddy during his high school years. His job allowed M to hob-nob with any man who could afford the price of membership. Pleased that M had taken so naturally to her instruction, she also began to teach him things that only women learn early in life: how to ingratiate himself to people without groveling, to hand out birthday cards to the town’s elite, a gesture that wouldn’t cost much, but would allow him to stand-out from the riff-raff, and certainly to inquire about the health of a golfer’s family, to light cigarettes and do whatever else it took to cultivate favor, a rule he used in reaching out to my husband, who was a talent in the high school drama club, racking up the lead in every school production, and wowed the student body with his oratorical voice and ability to hoist his singing partner into the air. Unfortunately, he was dimly viewed by the administration for his refusal to pledge allegiance during the War in Vietnam, an act that won him respect from his peers, and brought him to M’s attention.
“Man, you get all the girls.”
“It’s a cinch. Just hang around with me,” he said, not disagreeing with his new friend’s astute observation.
The music teacher had originally come to Redwood City from the East Coast after a successful piano concert career. She had important political connections, so by the time M finished high school, he was awarded a scholarship to community college from the Chamber of Commerce.
The second thing M’s mother knocked into his head was that he had to have a good education because important people didn’t like to associate with dunces, and the third, was that he should never, ever give up in the task of becoming rich so that she would have the last laugh on her snooty relatives in Boston.
For someone with M’s education, dealing drugs became a natural. He started out with the usual petty stuff, built a clientele on football fields and in gym lockers, uppers, downers, red pills, blue pills, pills from his mother’s cabinet, no one too sure what they would do, except they had an equal chance to find out. Then a contact from the golf course saw in M the makings of a brilliant dealer, and tipped him on to bigger things: LSD, heroin, coke, and by the time I was introduced to M as one of my husband’s oldest friends, he asked me where I shopped for my underwear, which I thought was rude, and told him Walmart, just to be a smart ass.
He owned one of the first cellphones always in the palm of his hand, and stepped outside to “to business.” Trips followed to Paris, London. He developed an international network, and in time, became an insomniac, and called my husband in the middle of the night.
“What’s up man?”
“Nothing much.” He was convinced that the mob was after him.
“Crazy. Look out your window. They’re not coming tonight. Now get some sleep.” My husband was glad he’d taken the route to a low-paying job and didn’t have to worry.
During our marriage, M’s mother died from an overdose of drugs she’d mixed together from her cabinet. M had a brain aneurysm after years of not sleeping.
“I own the house,” my husband told me when we began to discuss divorce.
“How do you figure?” I’d been paying all the big bills for years, including child care.
“M gave me the down payment for the house. He was my friend. You had nothing to do with it.”
“Go fuck yourself,” I said.