When the call came that night to say that Scooter Gordon had died, it wasn't as if it were unexpected but it knocked everybody for a loop anyway. He was only forty-nine. As a kid, he was the first one in the neighborhood to put together the hunk of locomotion that became the latest craze: a three-foot length of plank just wide enough for your foot and about an inch thick. Screwed to the back and front of that were the two wheels from each end of a roller skate. On the other side of the plank, at one end, a wooden grocery box was nailed. Two sticks like a motorcycle's handlebars were hammered in on top of the box. It was called a scooter. With one foot on the plank you held on to the handles while pushing with the other foot, flying down the newly paved streets like sixty. He had bought up all the old roller skates he could find in the surrounding blocks and when kids wanted to get in on the fad they had to come to him to build one for them, for which he charged three bucks apiece.
"C'mon," he said. "I'll take ya to the movies. I'm rolling in wealth." He had thirty-three dollars. Enterprise was his middle name, but it was the product of enterprise that killed him despite his devotion to it. In his meteoric rise, Scooter didn't miss a trick.
In high school he made sure to become friends with everyone in his classroom and was inevitably elected class president. With his jet-black hair, dark, glinting eyes, strong jaw, and hawkish nose, his looks stood out. And to these he added cigarettes. He had observed how movie actors employed them to enhance romance or look menacing or virile. He practiced in the bathroom, where the inside of the door contained a long mirror. "The devil may care, I don't!" he would say in his new devil-may-care manner to make sure everybody got it.
He ran for president of the school in his senior year and during the last week of the election his opponent became ill with violent stomach cramps. The rumor went about that Scooter had poisoned him. A girl he was dating asked him if he had heard about it.
"He has gonorrhea, that's what it is," Scooter confided. That was the word that clinched the election.
In college he pursued a business degree and learned fast. He concocted a stock scheme that he presented to his professors, all but one of who expressed interest in buying in once Scooter put it into action. Foreseeing its inevitable collapse he wisely refrained from trying to launch it. However, when the company personnel officers came to interview the brightest of the graduating class, Scooter was among the chosen. When his turn came he walked smartly into the room set aside for the purpose, shook hands with the carefully dressed man across the desk and was invited to sit down.
"Mind if I smoke, sir?" he asked.
"No, go right ahead," Mr. Atkinson replied.
Scooter deftly snared a pack from his breast pocket, offered one but was refused, lit it, took a practiced drag, and said, "May I ask where you got that tie, sir? That is a beauty." Scooter had struck exactly the right note. Atkinson's ties were his pride. Soon after, Scooter was again interviewed, this time at the firm, and offered a job. It did not take him long to become acquainted with the nature of the business, a leading importer of fine furniture and artistic bric-a-brac with huge warehouses in Jersey. Within a year and a half he had begun to thread his way up. However, bric-a-brac held no attraction for him, and within a short time he switched posts, even accepting a lower salary for what he envisioned as a bigger opportunity, auto parts. The fact that he didnąt know the difference between a gasket and a herring never phased him. Meanwhile, he had no problem finding girls who were attracted by his vibrant personality and his ability on the dance floor. He tangoed with abandon leaving his partner breathless with admiration.
"Where'd you learn to dance like that?" they always asked. "You're a regular Valentino!"
"Valentino? I gave him lessons." His parents were anxious for him to get married, but now in his third change of companies, a national insurance chain, he often stayed so late he slept on his office sofa, having put in a supply of shirts and a change of clothes for such emergencies. It was before air conditioning and his secretary was constantly emptying overloaded ashtrays and airing the place out. He had brought her with him from his last job and thought of marrying her, but she didn't smoke and had begun to become annoying when he did. When he found the girl of his dreams, Scooter had become an executive at the leading liquor distributor in the country and a recognized business maven. He had always fought for position against office rivals inevitably attempting to snatch power from him. When he ran a meeting of his section in his past firms his confidence, his grasp, his invective and his style snapped the back of any opposition and won the approval of the Boards of Directors.
His wife Marlene, a sharp woman, a handsome dark blonde, smoked and drank and managed the big house on Long Island and their two sons with total control. The kids didn't stand a chance between these two powerhouses. She was Scooter's alter ego. He brought her to his college reunions and she was one of the boys. He hadn't missed but a couple in twenty-five years. Just before the last one Scooter had snared the next-to-the-top spot in one of the Fortune 500 companies, where he planned on becoming the next CEO, to crown his career. His picture was in the business section of the Times and he was sought for speeches at conventions. And that was the year he built three scooters and raced them down the street with his boys to the cheers of the neighbors. He was just forty-eight. It was also the year he made an astounding record as head of the international section, doubling exports to distant countries and making the logo world famous, knocking out the competition especially in the poorer lands by lowering the price and tripling sales. To the guys at the reunion, ribbing him about his proclivity for chain-smoking, Scooter said,
"When I hit fifty, I quit." A year later when he was proposed by the Board to become the next CEO, Scooter had to delay accepting. He had to have half his lung removed. A few months after, when a couple of the old boys visited him out on Long Island, Scooter was talking through a tube inserted in his chest. His voice sounded as though it was coming from the depths of hell. The pain became unbearable despite the medications. He begged the doctor to help him die, but in those days they didnąt consider that as the civilized thing to do. When he did die, his company, one of the giants in the tobacco industry, spared nothing in the price of the wreath they sent to his funeral.
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