No, this wasn't a lunch engagement with Goodman, my biological brother (the one who tried to hitchhike around the world in a pink bunny suit). Nor was I seated across from a large monitor showing the face of our glorious leader declaring 'War is Peace' and 'Ignorance is Strength' No, this was a special lunch with a very cool guy.
My parents divorced when I was quite young with my brother going to live with my Dad in Washington. My mother, in her wisdom, felt I should have a positive male role model in my life and contacted Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America.
After a few false starts I was paired up with a man named Jack Ellis. Jack was one of the first men to join the BB/BS program when it was founded in Cleveland. In fact, he had mentored FIVE other kids before me. Jack taught me to drive and how to travel. We took several long distance trips with me at the wheel of his Lincoln Continental mark IV. He exposed me to different ideas, even taking me to a meeting of the John Birch society once, as well as many museums and parks. He drove me to one of my first Pennsic Wars. Although I was not a great academic in school, he saw great potential in me and always encouraged me in whatever I tried.
His mentoring duties officially ended when I graduated High School back in 1986. But he was still a guiding hand for years afterwards. In time, I saw less and less of him. Then, out of the blue I got a call from Chris, one of Jacks earlier 'little brothers'. He had contacted all the other kids Jack had mentored and wanted to get us all together for a surprise lunch at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Cleveland. I agreed in a heartbeat. Not only was Chris able to get all the boys together, but another protege' of his flew half way around the world to make the appointment.
It seems that many years ago a young man was just starting his college education when his parents suddenly died. Jack insisted he stay in school and helped him in many ways until he graduated. This young man, whom I shall call Mr. K, eventually built up a series of very successful businesses. He is now a multi-millionaire with homes in London, New York, Boca Raton and the south of France. When he heard about this meeting he changed his vacation plans and took his private jet into Cleveland (from London)after a massive snowstorm just to have lunch with Jack. This is the kind of love this guy inspires.
The effects of time have taken their toll on Jack. His eyesight has deteriorated and he can't drive anymore. He also needs a cane to keep himself steady and get winded pretty easily. But at 82 he is still in better command of his mental faculties than I am. He still loves to laugh, to eat and to know how all his little brothers are doing. We talked and laughed and swapped stories. Jack had a wonderful time and was so happy to see us all together.
As the excellent meal waned I began to wonder what this was going to cost me. I've never eaten at the Ritz before (A sign in the lobby said that high tea was available for $23.00 per person) I briefly entertained the idea of paying for the party myself, but quickly came to my senses. Yes, it would be cool to show Jack I was doing well, and hey it would be fun to buy a millionaire and the other little brothers lunch but this is the Ritz we're talking about here. Before I could ask about dividing the check the bill came back with the maitre'd into the hands of Mr. K. We all offered to pay our way but Mr. K would have none of it. "Next time you guys are in London you can buy me lunch" Little does Mr. K know I just got my new passport in the mail...
As he signed off on the bill I heard him talking to himself as he calculated the tip. It was the very method Jack had taught me when I was all of 16. It would take a lengthy book to document all this guy has done in his life. I only hope I get to have half the adventures he's had.
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I remember Jack. It's cool that he's still around and doing decently. I still think of him whenever the subject of "The King and I" rolls around, which, in my line of work, is at least once a semester.
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