by Larry Brody
Hollywood’s been feeding us a lot of remakes lately, filling theaters with new versions of stories we’ve seen before.
I’m no fan of this trend, but a couple of days ago I found myself taking part in a remake of my own.
A new version of my first meeting with the Old Billionaire.
Same place. (The Paradise Mexican restaurant)
Same time. (Lunch, of course.)
Same purpose. (“Time we got to know one another, don’t you think?”)
The Old Billionaire, however, had been written out, replaced by a younger demographic.
His Son the Harvard Grad Genius, a slightly overweight man in his late 40s. Unlike his father, who always seems to belong anywhere he is, HGG appeared completely out of place in his natty Armani ensemble. Not only was this the first time I’d seen anyone wear a suit in the Mexican restaurant, it was the first time I’d seen anyone who wasn’t a preacher wear a suit anywhere in Paradise.
HGG arrived half an hour late, entering with a frown and checking out the buffet as he walked to where I waited at my table. His handshake was crisp and professional. “Sorry. Business emergency. You know how it is.”
I shrugged. “Don’t have to worry about those things much myself. There’s something to be said for retirement, semi or otherwise. Hey, how’s your dad?”
“He and Mom are in Rome,” HGG said. “First leg of Dad’s Round the World Farewell tour.”
“That seems to be the plan. They’re going everywhere, doing everything either of them always wanted to do. Dad says he’s going to stay out on the road until he runs out of road, can no longer remember where the road is, or drops dead.”
HGG’s voice was warm, but I wasn’t sure about his eyes. They weren’t making contact with mine. His monogrammed cuff links seemed to interest him more.
The waitress—not Carrie, who’d made such a big impression on the O.B. when we’d first met, but her latest replacement—trotted over to ask what HGG wanted to drink.
He opted for water. “Agua fria,” he said. Then he turned his head back in my direction, although his gaze still went inward and not at me.
“I know you don’t like me,” HGG said. “You think I treated my father badly. Forced him out of the business. Well, I did force him out, but he earned that when he let his mistress embezzle for all those years.
“You think I’m ungrateful. Cold, calculating. But you don’t have a clue what it was like growing up as the O.B.’s son. For all of my life, Dad’s operated under one major, overriding principle. And I don’t mean, ‘Profit’s the name of the game.’
“Dad’s basic game plan,” HGG continued, “boils down to, ‘Find out what the other person wants more than anything else. Make sure he knows you can give it to him. And then don’t give it. Ever. Because as long as he’s wanting, he’s yours. You own him.'”
HGG’s water arrived. He sipped it absently. “Dad applied that principle to his personal life as well as his business. To his family! Think about it a minute. Think about what it’s like growing up with that.”
I didn’t want to think about it, but I did. “That kind of thing never entered my relationship with your father,” I said. “Because I already have everything in life that I want.”
“Which is why you and he could be such good friends. Why you could respect each other. But as his son there was a lot I wanted. Needed. That the old SOB refused to give.”
“Why are you telling me this?” I said.
“Not because I want to. But I need to, yes.”
“Why aren’t you looking at me while you tell me?”
HGG’s breathing quickened. “Because telling you is like telling him. And I’ve always been afraid to look at him.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
Willie Nelson’s On The Road Again blared. It was HGG’s ringtone. As he pulled the phone from his pocket, he stood up. His eyes met mine at last. “Gotta go,” he said. And, mouthing silently: ‘Thanks.’
I watched HGG stride out and get into an SUV much like his father’s.
I didn’t know if what he’d said about the O.B. was true, but I could feel my heart aching for him.
I’m glad I’d said I was sorry. But still, I don’t like him.
And now I can’t stop thinking about the original version of this meeting and wondering about my world-traveling friend.