I’m sitting in my office at Fuller & Smith & Ross on the 36th floor of a forty story Fifth Avenue Manhattan skyscraper known as the Top of the Sixes. It’s the summer of 1967, shortly before our advertising agency’s media acumen is chosen to put Richard Nixon in the White House. I’ve been working here since 1965 when I was hired as a lowly media clerk for several months before skyrocketing up the ladder to become the Manager of Purchasing, Interiors, & In-House Printing.
I’m listed as a corporate executive because this is FSR’s corporate headquarters, with branch offices in Cleveland, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. That sounds like I should be sophisticated, but I’m not, not by any stretch of my imagination no matter how well I dress. Instead, I am 21 going on 33 professionally, but privately naive.
I’ve met every person on the two floors occupied by FSR because they’ve all been in need of office necessities in the course of doing their jobs and I’ve made a protocol of personal delivery. That is, except for Mr. Mahoney, the Senior Vice-President Creative Director whom I’ve only seen in passing (once) as he exited an elevator, leaving a waft of Christian Dior’s Eau Sauvage in his wake. We’ve not yet met because he’s never requested anything.
Until this morning. He has summoned me to bring him a Dixon Ticonderoga #2 pencil.
I suspect it’s a ploy to get me behind closed doors.
My wonder is, why?
Mr. Mahoney is as dapper as Cary Grant, almost as tall, but not nearly as handsome. He has thick, perfectly styled and parted silver, Vitalis laden hair and meticulously manicured hands. He’s old money schooled and bred; a gentleman who, although married with children, is rumored to be light in the loafers. He’s a nasal sounding enunciator and an elitist. The remarks made behind his back aren’t crude, rude, or meant to be mean, though unnecessary in pointing out the obvious.
His office is locked behind perpetually closed doors on the south side of the building with windows that would have overlooked East 52nd Avenue and Schraft’s Restaurant if he hadn’t had them paneled over to create a chamber of solitude and quietude.
“Come in,” he answers to my almost inaudible tap, “and close the door behind you.”
I do and am abruptly taken aback.
The room is pitch black except for Mr. Mahoney sitting in a George Mulhauser Mr. Series molded chair behind a twelve foot long, custom made, Giuseppe Scapinelli Jacaranda wood desk I recognize from admiring examples of them in catalogs and at trade shows.
But it is the painting illuminated on the wall, inches above him and behind him that renders me mute and motionless. It measures exactly as long as the desk, by maybe four feet high — a cropped variant of St. John of the Cross that ends just below St. John’s bowed head, and just above his spiked hands, framed by the very edge of the wood cross blending into the painting’s narrow slat frame.
Except it isn’t St. John of the Cross I see, but the spiked, bleeding crown of (I presume) Jesus Christ, with the head of Christ in the painting centered perfectly above that of Mr. Mahoney’s.
“What do you think?” a voice from the darkness asks.
“I’m not sure,” I stammer. “It’s like my eyes are glued to it. I can’t seem to move.”
I realize I gasped and finally exhale.
“You were right,” comes the voice.
“You can go now,” says Mr. Mahoney.
In pivoting to leave I see the faint outline of a man in a cauliflower white vested suit and Havana hat sitting with his legs crossed on a couch against the back wall. He’s otherwise invisible, until I open the door to light streaming in from the hallway. I glance over to notice how pale his face is, and how pretentious his long, skinny, black waxed and twisted upwards mustache appears. He is eerily exotic.
I will never see the painting, either in a photograph, or coffee table book, or art catalog, or hanging anywhere ever again.
But I do see the man in the cauliflower suit later that day. He’s standing alone in Paley Park, admiring the water fall. I am planning to buy a cup of coffee from the small concession there, but instead I spend my time leaning against a honey locust tree, watching the man watching the water.
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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and novelist.
Copyright © August 21, 2017
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