The Ringmaster Left Us

He was generous. He was loyal. He was intelligent. He was compassionate. He was energetic. He had a firm handshake. He looked everyone in the eye. He was magnetizing. He was discreetly indiscreet at times. He was fun. He was opinionated. He was communicative. He had a strong sense of beauty and good taste. He was clear. He was inquisitive. He was ultra-liberal. He was charming. He was socially agglutinating. He was the quintessential socialite. He was the epitome of a great communicator with an extensive vocabulary and perfect grammar. He played with his voice and nuanced expressions by the modality of his inflection, “Hohh-neey”. He was my friend.

He could be belligerent, wry, domineering, fervent and dramatic. His social life was more like a re-insurance agreement than the plainness of the first impression represented. The initial perception of simplicity with time slipped away as a more complex image of the man evolved. Geoffrey gave everything with one hand and slowly took it back with the other, not with malice, but out of a strong sense of personal privacy. He only chose to reveal glimpses of his private life sporadically, depending on the degree of closeness and the degree of trust he felt comfortable in establishing. His true reality was his own and while occasionally he shared glimpses of situations and events, he never truly bared it all to anyone else, actually.

Initially to a new acquaintance he would succinctly reveal that he was from Tinsel Town and his Alma Mater was a small school in Connecticut. As the friendship developed, we slowly learned he grew up in Brentwood, his neighbor across the street was Cole Porter, whose Packard automobile he found as impressive as his musical talent and his crutches, his brother attended Cal Tech, and he chose Yale, striving to illustrate geographically how their individual political outlooks differed. He was the younger of two children raised in a well-to-do upper middle-class family with a charming English businessman for a father and a very loving, idiosyncratic Canadian mother. His parents and their friends were typical of their time, routinely hosting dinner parties at their home, a tradition he continued. As he was growing up, there were the occasional sojourns “across the pond,” as he liked to say, “to visit his grandmother and her side of the family along the English countryside.”

I remember how we met. It was in a local watering hole, as he was fond of labeling bars. Ours was an introduction from a casual acquaintance who asked if I wouldn’t like to meet a really interesting guy also working in the insurance industry. We were both in a similar line of work, but not the same. He worked on the operations side of the re-insurance business while my focus has always been individual products and their direct distribution. He worked with insurance companies and I work with insurance consumers.

Back in the day,” as he used to say, for a number of years I owned and operated a small insurance agency. When we met I had recently sold it. He was still a re-insurance intermediary. On my side of the business, I never had any direct dealings with the re-insurance world.

In hindsight, more than over our common business experiences, our friendship grew for more mundane reasons. We were both divorced. Similarly, we were fathers of multiple children; he had three and I have four, but as he liked to underscore, his former wife took care of raising his children while I was raising my own as a single-father. It’s what he first described about me to other friends that through the years I slowly got to know.

Our friendship took many forms. He introduced me to business contacts, to his social circles, and to his family. I met his children, his former wife, his brother, and his best friends from college. He met some of mine too, but my social calendar was never as intense as his own. The love of his friends and family and their approval were very important to him. I understood it clearly, so I felt honored when in his introductions he identified me to them as an equally important friend.

His social circle was extensive. Almost instantaneously, I began to meet people from his different groups and through his acquaintance my own social interaction expanded, as almost weekly he hosted and invited more and more friends to share dinners and drinks at restaurants across South Florida. His uniquely personal, “the liquor flows like glue around here” became an expression we often echoed to mimic his humorous outbursts, as was “Oh waiter! Hurry up and bring me the Wine List,” followed by his wine selection that evening and the perennial codicil, “line ‘em up and keep ‘em coming.” He was the party anywhere he went.

There were two issues at restaurants that annoyed him; the first was the waiting time for a table. Woe to the host asserting a twenty-minute wait that turned into longer waiting time. After the twenty minutes elapsed, he would get in front of the host and demand they find him a table post-haste and he would stand there to rant and rave until one was made available, causing such a raucous that often the manager of the place would be compelled to apologize and accept fault for willfully misrepresenting the time required just to get another patron fooled into staying. The second pet peeve was selecting a wine from the list and having the waiter return with the news that they were out of it, but suggesting instead a more expensive bottle. He would demand they give him the suggested bottle for the lower price every time, alleging “we came all the way from Des Moines,” to have that wine. He seldom got his way, but it was fun to watch.

As we became better friends, we slowly confided more issues of a personal nature to each other. We often addressed sensitive issues related to business dealings, finances, and family concerns on a devil’s advocate type of situation. He was tactful when giving advice on sensitive issues, but sarcastic when he found matters less personal in nature. On dealing with the mother of his children, he set a fine example on how to get along well and affectionately.

At times, he enjoyed playing Cupid. When his youngest son was fresh out of school and one of my daughters was unattached at the time, he wanted them to meet. For the meeting to appear casual, he hosted an evening at his home. The dinner party was relaxed, cordial and delightful, as usual.

Having left back in New York the majority if not all his friends, he wanted to form new friendships in Miami, so early on, he would rent motor boats on weekends to go on the water with new acquaintances to selectively observe the interactions of the group. He observed manners, tastes and personal idiosyncrasies. When the people’s behavior was to his liking, he would include them again in future trips; when they behaved in ways that alienated others, he would not invite them again. Regularly, he ventured out to Elliott Key with a boatful of friends and enough liquor to withstand the heat, which as a rule encompassed about a bottle of wine per person and for emergencies, when the wine ran out a couple six-packs of cold beer to hydrate everyone while at full throttle the boat miraculously found its way back to its berth at the marina. For these trips, he charged each guest with bringing different types of appetizers. He always purchased the fuel and the food consisting of a variety of sandwiches and liquor.

The regular outings eventually spurred him to buy a larger boat. He christened her, “The Lady Chardonnay.” He loved his times boating on Biscayne Bay, where he would stubbornly command his vessel and never relinquished the helm whether “over-served” or in varying degrees of sobriety. As one of his friends expressed at his memorial service, “there was always one of three possibilities when on his boat: either we hit bottom and ran aground, having to disembark and push the boat into deeper water to get home or we had an engine malfunction and had to get towed back into port or he rammed the dock as we reached its berth.” Truth is that as I didn’t find any of the three fun, in the end, I stopped boating with his group.

Our political views were poles apart. We endlessly argued over issues. Our outlook on the role of the federal government was entirely different. He favored a strong and centralized federal government while I favored the outlook of the Framers. He was an American History major raised in California. I’m a political exile, victim of a socialist revolution that left my country in misery and ruins as its charismatic leader ensconced himself, his brother and a despotic totalitarian machinery to rule ruthlessly over the people for six decades and still remains hanging on to power. Our political views could never be similar because our political origins were very different. While he argued the need for a social safety-net at all cost, I argued for a small federal government that emphasizes personal responsibility and financial solvency.

He had been to many places of the western world and could speak with certainty of many little-known towns in the US, places he had visited at different times for work reasons or on vacation. He lived in New York, in Connecticut—Bridgeport—and in London for work. He knew cities in Europe and South America enough to recommend hotels or restaurants he had been to in his travels. He loved Mexico and Mexican food. He liked jazz and soft Brazilian music. He was a sharp dresser. He collected a large number of impeccably lustrous shoes. He had an amazing sense of humor and a yen for biting commentary.

Along the years, he met friends whose jovial disposition he cherished. Their indulgent lifestyle gradually worsened his own penchant for skullduggery. Slowly, former nights of restraint and propriety at dinner parties turned to biting sarcasm and a more excessive consumption of spirits. In the end, their influential presence changed the equation and largely contributed to our differences. My sobriety was not fun. My restraint was dull. In the desire to make everyone laugh, I became the butt of all jokes with snarky remarks that were gradually more hurtful every time.

Despite promises to remain in “constant communication,” as he liked to encourage, eventually, the pleasant nights of civil conversation grew less gratifying and more sardonic. Increasingly, our differences over politics, finances, and lifestyle drove a wedge between us. Perhaps wrongfully, I interpreted his behavior adversely and felt he needed to underscore a personal allegiance to his Puerto Rican partner. Thus, my provenance from a “third-world country” became a mantra. The endless barrage of personal attacks taking the opposite side of anything I said eventually proved too unpleasant and adversarial for me.

After one final unhappy experience at a dinner party, I opted for a healthy distance between us. This deliberate separation turned me into a Pariah. As neither Geoffrey nor anyone else reached out to me when my absence was noticed. In summary, the weeks turned to months until it was too late.

My open defiance probably challenged what another friend expressed privately in that, “it was the Geoffrey Show and we were all guests, special guests or featured guests appearing at different times, but it was definitely his show.” He was the ringmaster, a gracious host, the lavish entertainer, but in the end, it was his show, and he never allowed anyone to take center stage and steal his thunder unless by design–his design.

When the phone rang that Saturday morning and the caller revealed that Geoffrey had left us the night before, I felt overwhelmed with grief. The months that elapsed since we last saw each other seemed more like a fleeting few hours. The splitting gulf that had loomed so large, vanished altogether.

Many regrets set in. I wished I had stopped at his door the weekend prior when after dinner I asked a friend on the way home to swing by Geoffrey’s place. I felt an unfounded premonition that something was not right with Geoffrey. There was an aura of sorrow in the darkened structure where the lights were never off before. In the somber darkness, a single small light came from a window on the second floor.

The ensuing week brought me restless nights. There were a number of nightmares about death, which I attributed to other sources of personal anxiety. There were visions of death at my door. I couldn’t fully sleep the whole week.

The fatal phone call put everything together in a Nano second. Premonitions are not common for me. However, the prior week’s nightmares were too vivid to ignore. Sadly, I had never before experienced predictive dreams.

The sadness of his passing did not prevent me from noticing the irony that Geoffrey left us on the eve of the 400th anniversary of the feast of Our Lady of Charity, the Patron Saint of Cuba, “that small island in the Caribbean of such little relevance to the United States.” It’s a Catholic thing, but he was Episcopalian.

I’m sorry we never bridged beyond the hurt. Certainly, one of us should’ve reached out and picked up the phone while there was time. I’m sure we would’ve laughed together again and resumed our friendship. In the end, good friendships are rare and love affairs flow and ebb according to other factors. Pride got in the way. It pains me that he’s gone and we never made peace.

Our friendship meant very much to me. Among his multiple contributions to my life, he made me culturally aware of values uniquely attributed to WASPs, something fifty-one years in this country when we met never managed to illustrate before. Despite his vocalized assertions to the contrary, I know he genuinely sympathized with the plight of political refugees from “that small island in the Caribbean.” From above, he must still be damning us for our conservatism as a voting block, generally turning Florida into a Red State.

It’s often said that actions speak louder than words. Through the years, Geoffrey’s actions clearly proved, unequivocally, how he valued our friendship irrespective of the differences that separated us at his passing. On this prevailing thought I find comfort. May he rest in peace.

Geoffrey died on September 7, 2012.