For more than three decades he has been an executive of a food chain store. At seventy three he knows intimately the entire history of the business and practically every human being who has ever worked for his company. Sit in an office? Push papers? Marvin Lipsey? Marvin says he couldn't sit in an office for five minutes. If a half dozen people joined him, he'd sit, but without people he's finished. It's a far more enriching life to go visit people, especially people he doesn't know well but who seem to need a little boost, and maybe too, a little money. That he worked his way from delivery boy to chief executive means nothing to him. The big problem, he says, is how to fill the hours of the day when your main job is a bore, and anybody could do what you do!
If you wish to speak with Marvin Lipsey, you have to go with him, follow him around, travel with him in his car. Journalists are used to this style of inquiry; busy people just don't "sit still" for interviews. Some busy people, however, drive more carefully, much more carefully than Marvin Lipsey. "Don't be scared," he tells me. "Listen to me talk and forget the traffic. Besides, what would be so bad if mine are the last words you ever here?" Not too long ago, we were driving on a major expressway. Marvin had us, I would guess, in all four lanes for equal periods of time. Signal? How can he signal when he himself isn't aware of what lane the car prefers! We're running errands, "big stops" he calls them. It happens they are important errands, but even if they weren't it would be all right because they would get him out of the office. "I got money," he told me once. "I got a big home. If I wanted to join a country club I could. I got children and grandchildren. All terrific. Terrific. I got investments. I want to travel, I travel, but who wants to travel. I want to have fun right here." But he won't let me say where here is. I must disguise the names and the places. "I couldn't get attention if I wanted it? What are publicity people? Things to buy. That's not fun. C'mon, you like fun? I'll show you fun."
First stop. Spanish speaking woman. She knows, maybe two hundred English words. Marvin knows exactly three words in Spanish. "I don't need the language," he tells me. The woman works in one of America's popular food chain franchises. Her job is to clean the large kitchen. Her face explodes with excitement when we arrive. She speaks Spanish. Marvin loves it. He blows smoke in her face from his cigarette as he lapses into Yiddish. It's a United Nations melee in the kitchen, the two of them with the English, Yiddish and Spanish, and the hands flying all over the place, laughing and nodding, and neither of them communicating even the most routine message. Suddenly, Marvin's grabbing me and we're going. The woman, Anna, is calling out to him in Spanish, and in response, Marvin's trying his eight French words. "You want to fill me in on what happened there?" I ask, utterly befuddled. "You didn't see me give her the money?"
In time, we're in a five story brick walk-up apartment building across from a dreary looking school. Inside, Marvin points to the stairs: "There's the killer. I'm going to die on these stairs one of these days." At the top - it would have to be the top, I reason, because somehow Marvin Lipsey's fun would be spoiled if he had made friends with someone living on the first floor - we're greeted by and elderly black gentleman in khaki pants, white undershirt and navy blue sneakers. "Marvin, Papa" the man greets my friend. Me? I'm invisible. Marvin doesn't bother to make introductions.
"Man was a war hero," Marvin explains. "Came back from Korea, had no job. We set him up, I look after him. What has he got? I'm his mother. He calls me Papa but I'm his mother. You know how long the Sony's going to last? Six months. No more. He'll kick the hell out of that one too. What do I care. You having fun?"
The morning, afternoon and early evening go on in this same fashion. All present or former employees of the food chain are receiving help and morsels of love from a Jewish Santa Claus who seems to know precisely what they need to get them through some difficult moment in their lives. One woman accepts an envelope with tickets to a rock concert. "Tell your kids to get there early and behave themselves. No drugs," is Marvin's only admonition. Another woman gets a note from an oral surgeon indicating that he will see her and her husband. Both people require extensive work if their few remaining teeth, now loose, are to be saved. The people are in their thirties. "Forget the brushing," Marvin tells the woman, "and let me know when you're fixed up. I'm coming back to test you with apples." He writes in a book so that I too can scan his words: "April - send Romero's ten dozen apples, one dozen for every tooth." He reads the words aloud as he writes. Mrs. Romero roars with laughter, carefully covering her mouth with her hand.