Mary Marcus: A hundred ways to mess with your head

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The other day I found a hundred dollar bill plus a five and a few ones balled up on the grass in the Palisades Park on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica. I’d gone down there because it’s Henry’s favorite place to walk, and mine too. Palm trees, the ocean, lots of other dogs, and now I was a hundred dollars richer.

I’ve found money before.

A fifty once, in front of my apartment; a twenty in front of the Condé Nast building when it was next door to Brooks Brothers on Madison. But never a windfall that size. I looked around and no one appeared distressed. I told myself that if someone were frantically searching for this wad I would return it. I suspect it was a minor dope deal and the dealer dropped the cash.

When we got home, I put the bills in a little bowl I keep for loose change in the top drawer of my desk wondering what to do with it. Alas, a hundred dollars wasn’t as exciting as it used to be.

When I was 18, my rich Uncle Herman threw a hundred dollar bill at me and when I bent to pick it up he laughed and told me he wanted to see me grovel. Not exactly an elegant avuncular gesture but pretty much in character for him to want to mess with my head like that. Still, the hundred-dollar bill was way too powerful for me to resist. I could wait tables all night and only come home with twenty-five bucks. I was a practical person even back then in my idealistic days, and I have never wished I hadn’t picked up the bill.

This is beginning to sound like a Frank Sinatra song. When I was twenty I had a job working in the summer for a friend of the family as his secretary. I’d known the guy my whole life. He ran a publicity firm and I was his only employee. There weren’t very many clients. And though I could type really fast, I couldn’t do anything useful like take dictation. One afternoon he called me into his office and offered me a hundred bucks to take off my shirt and bra. He said he wouldn’t touch me, he was just going to take a picture of me. And I complied. It’s one of the filthiest memories I have, though he kept his word and didn’t attempt any sort of contact, just a steely-eyed gaze. He photographed me and once again I was a hundred dollars richer. He told me I had nice shoulders. I realize now he didn’t say I had nice tits. Was he too trying to mess with my head?

Flash forward a few years later. I’m working for Condé Nast. My present husband, who was my boyfriend, had dumped me and gone back to his old girlfriend. I was heartbroken, but very young, and not exactly waiting by the telephone for him to call. I met a very sexy much older man at work. He was one of our clients. Right away I found out he’d been in a concentration camp though he wasn’t a Jew. The concentration camp part intrigued me I have to say.

He said things in his thick accented sexy voice like, “Sometimes ze smell of shit is good. At least you know you are alive.” He was married, of course. And after he left the first night, I found a hundred dollar bill in my sugar bowl. Is that why they call older men sugar daddies? Was the old guy paying for sex? Obviously, he had a lot of experience in this area. Did he think I turned tricks on the side when I wasn’t writing for Vogue? Not a bad idea considering how little they paid us. But the hundred was a bit of a mind f— also. I saw him again several times after that, and he never repeated the gesture. I bought a pair of shoes with the money. A few weeks later, my husband broke up with his old girlfriend and we’ve been together ever since.

I don’t know how to get off this train of thought. I’m thinking of more and more things involving hundred dollar bills. Like the boyfriend who once gave me his poker win, or the time my husband offered our little boy a hundred dollars to cut off the sweet curly tail he had carefully grown down the back of his head for two years and he took the bait. I don’t know where the tail is; I lost it during one of our moves.

I opened up the drawer again and looked at the hundred. I’m sure it was a dope deal. It seems a long time ago that someone with a foreign accent slipped me a hundred for a wild night. Or being that young and vulnerable that some “deeve” friend of the family could pull strange head-trips when my mother wasn’t looking, though honestly when was she ever looking at anyone but herself? But that’s another story….


The New Me coverMary Marcus is the author of The New Me and is hard at work on her next book, Lavina, which will be published in 2015.

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On December 19, 2014
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