Retired from his long, successful career as an agent to many of the most famous and dynamic motivational speakers in the world, Bart Manning was happily enjoying his newfound freedom with his lovely wife, Mary. So why, one morning, did he find himself headed back to the little office that he had never given up? He didn't know. But as he sat at his dusty desk, he decided to go back into business. If God had sent him there, Bart told himself, he would wait for His plan to unfold.
Then, at a crowded convention, he found his answer in the person of a handsome young man named Patrick Donne, whose deep, commanding voice spoke words of profound wisdom that electrified the audience. With the thrill of discovery, Bart recognized Donne's short speech as the best inspirational talk he had ever heard. Bart was soon caught up in the extraordinary realm that was Patrick's ordinary world, where even tragedy and sorrow became transforming experiences and remarkable things happened.
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About the Author
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For more than forty years, going back to the days when our young American boys were dying in a mysterious far-off place called Korea, Guys and Dolls was lighting up Broadway, cold sufferers were learning to love antihistamines, Dr. Kinsey had most of us talking openly about sex, Brando was flexing his muscles in A Streetcar Named Desire and we finally ended our Berlin airlift after almost 300,000 flights of mercy … for four memorable decades from a small second-story walk-up office not far from Times Square I had served as exclusive booking agent to many of the most famous and dynamic motivational speakers in the entire world.
And then, with little advance warning, the entire roster of uniquely talented individuals that I had developed and represented loyally for so long vanished in less than twelve months! My three oldest professional speakers decided that they had endured enough plane flights and hotel meals and would stay home, live off their fat mutual-fund portfolios and write their memoirs, another developed cancer of the throat, one had a stroke that paralyzed most of his left side and my four most in-demand and highest-priced speakers, all close friends of mine, passed away.
On that very sad and bleak February morning, after I had served as a pallbearer for the fourth time in seven months, I returned to my office both physically and emotionally drained, gathered up my most important papers and files and locked the door behind me, quite certain that my business and professional future had been buried along with the bodies of my friends. I was sixty-eight.
A year or so later I was still trying very hard to enjoy many of the activities that retirees who can afford it are usually doing to fill their hours and enrich their so-called golden years. Mary and I joined a Manhattan bridge club, played golf often during the week and even began attending movie matinees. My helpmate, bless her heart, did more than her share to make retirement for us the heaven on earth that so many dream about. We traveled, we competed in slot-machine tournaments in Reno and Atlantic City, fished in the blue waters off Bermuda, ate peanuts and drank beer at Yankee Stadium, visited scores of museums and cheered the horses and greyhounds in Florida. Still, every now and then, in the midst of some activity, the lady I had been married to for almost forty-five years would cup my face in the palms of her two tiny hands, cock her pretty head and say, “You’re bored, aren’t you?”
I would always shake my head, kiss her on the forehead and reply, “Of course not,” but after two people have loved each other as long as we have, there’s not much sense in trying to lie.
There was one activity from my pre-retirement days that I still continued to enjoy and probably needed a lot more since becoming an unemployed “couch potato,” and that was jogging. Every morning at dawn, for more than thirty years, if I was in town and the weather allowed, I had always followed the same routine. I’d ease myself out of bed slowly so that I wouldn’t wake Mary, climb into one of my many warm-up suits, consume a large glass of orange juice, cereal and a single cup of black coffee, make certain I had my keys, and close the door quietly as I departed.
Central Park was only two blocks west of our Park Avenue apartment, and through the years I had probably jogged over every foot of its roads, trails and pathways, alternating my course from time to time so that I could enjoy all the park’s wonders from Cleopatra’s Needle to Strawberry Fields, from the Belvedere Castle to Shakespeare Garden, from the Pond to the Great Lawn.
The park’s eight-hundred-plus acres, set in the heart of the busiest and noisiest metropolis in the western world, was my heaven on earth, my constant refuge from all the pressures and cares of life and business. Through the years I habitually timed my run to last just about an hour, usually emerging through the Artists’ Gate on Central Park South. I would then turn left, pass through the cool green area known as Grand Army Plaza, cross Fifth Avenue when the traffic lights allowed and continue jogging east for two more blocks before turning north on Park Avenue, gradually slowing my pace until I finally arrived at our apartment building.
Mary was always up by the time I returned each morning, and after I had showered, shaved and dressed, I would spend some time with her and another cup of coffee before either walking or taking a cab to my office on West 44th Street, depending on what was on tap for the day. Since my retirement, however, I would usually just crawl into my blue jeans and a sports shirt, after showering and shaving, and together we would watch the morning news and “The Today Show.” However, being a witness to the world in action on television while I sat passively on my duff and struggled with the morning’s crossword puzzle in The New York Times was just not my idea of what I should be doing with the rest of my days.
And then, on a hot and humid early June morning that I shall never forget, my life suddenly took an unexpected turn. I’m not sure I understand what happened, even to this day. Someone once wrote that God seems to play chess with all of us from time to time. He will make moves on our personal chessboard of life and then sit back, waiting to see if we react, how we react and what our next move will be, if any.
“Use it while you have it!”
“Tomorrow is found only on the calendars of fools!”
“It’s a lot later than you think!”
He was wearing a tattered red T-shirt and stained blue jeans and his right foot, sockless, protruded through a gash in a grimy, untied sneaker. Unkempt hair, dingy gray and streaked with yellow, hung limply below his shoulders. His large and sallow face was etched with heavy dark lines, scarred by several blotches of purple and his deep-set eyes, beneath bushy eyebrows, were bloodshot, but the voice screeching out those old maxims was strong and commanding. He was sitting in a wheelchair, dangerously close to the curb, on the sidewalk at the corner of Central Park South and Fifth Avenue. As I completed my morning in the park, saluted the statue of Simón Bolívar and turned east toward Fifth Avenue on my way home, he was directly in my path.
Central Park South and Fifth is a busy corner at almost any hour of the day, but in this morning rush period the wide side-walk is always packed with a constant parade of briefcase-carrying men and women, one horde heading north and the other south, eyes staring straight ahead as if they were all hypnotized, pushing and scurrying as they dodge the smaller group of marchers moving east and west … all heading toward their own little high-rise cubicles of aggravation. As I drew closer to the noisy and frightening apparition coiled in his wheelchair, I could see that he was holding a small, tattered Bible in one gnarled fist and a metal cup in the other. To my amazement, instead of working the commuter crowd in general, he was directing his hoarse words and gestures solely toward me! Hesitantly I slowed my pace as I approached and he raised his old Bible, aimed it right at my head as if it were a weapon and shouted, “Do it now! You! You! Do it now!”
He was directly in my path as I neared my Fifth Avenue crosswalk, waving toward me—me!—with both hands and yelling, “You! You must pick them today! You must pick them today! They will not be blooming tomorrow! They never bloom tomorrow!” Even a few sophisticated commuters were now beginning to slow down and stare.
Rarely in my life, if ever, have I tried to avoid confrontations of any sort. But this time, instead of jogging right past my frightening wheelchair counselor and continuing on home for a nice warm shower, I made a sudden right turn when I was only a few yards in front of him, dashed across Central Park South with the rushing crowd and the green light and continued jogging south on Fifth Avenue’s busy sidewalk—away from the wheelchair—and very definitely in the opposite direction from my northern route home!
I still don’t understand what happened that morning but not once … not once in the next twenty minutes or so, as I continued on my southerly course, did I ask myself what the hell I was doing or where I thought I was going or why I wasn’t heading north instead of south. I just kept jogging along, at my usual Central Park pace, like some sort of puppet on a string as I moved past old familiar landmarks—Bergdorf Goodman, Tiffany, I. Miller, the Crown Building, Corning Glass, the brownstone Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, Gucci’s, the St. Regis Hotel, Cartier and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Finally I slowed to a walk, turned right off Fifth Avenue and continued west for another two blocks before pausing, slightly out of breath, to lean against a rusted green lightpost and stare down West 44th Street’s final dingy block before it emptied into Times Square, the very same block where for four decades I had presided over one of the most profitable and unusual talent agencies in the world.
Now I was walking west toward Times Square … slowly, very slowly, almost as if I were in some sort of trance. I moved carefully over the cracked, pitted and litter-strewn sidewalk while two snarling lanes of one-way traffic, primarily cabs and delivery trucks spewing foul-smelling fumes, roared eastward as their drivers leaned on their horns, causing crescendoes of frightening sound to wash off the old stone buildings in wave after wave.
Halfway down the street I stopped and turned until I was facing the buildings on the north side of the noisy and busy thoroughfare. I stared to my left at the old, mottled Savoy marquee and the nearby garish yellow sign above a store entrance proclaiming DELI GROCERY in bright red. Then there was the Cafe Un Deux Trois with its red awning extending almost to the curb, a cozy spot where I had dined with clients, talent and friends for so many years. Adjoining the restaurant was the famed Belasco Theatre, built by David Belasco in 1907 and the home of countless unforgettable theater experiences for New Yorkers and the world through so many seasons. Now signs that were stained and dingy hung from the once-famous marquee of the empty theater, suggesting that one should see a Broadway show “just for the fun of it” and displaying a telephone number that one could call for tickets. How sad.