The Little Black Book
Life has a funny way of bringing you back
Michael is a stock broker at a well renowned investment firm in NYC. He works in the Financial District with a 3-bedroom penthouse loft in SOHO. He has worked his whole life to get where he is now.
He is the first of his family to break the cycle and not become a product of his environment. He is a humble man who until recently has never taken any opportunity he’s gotten for granted. He lost his mother and father 25 years ago to a drunk driver and since then has fallen off with the rest of his family. He is working so much that his time of self-growth and improvement has turned into a cycle of selfish behavior. As far as Michael is concerned everything in his life is perfect and made entirely of his own doing. His hard work, his resilience, everything.
He has an incredibly important meeting across town with a high-profile client. As he’s leaving the office, a suave man in a black trench coat bumps into him.
“Come on, man” Michael blurts.
Noticing an emblem on his lapel, the guy shoots him a smirky side smile that sent chills down his spine. He is waiting for his UberX when he realizes he left his wallet up in his desk drawer. As he runs after the elevator, he can’t seem to find his pass key either. He could have sworn he brought it down. He heads to the concierge desk and asks Earl if he can send him up.
Earl is a sweet man who doesn’t seem to ever have a bad day. He is the light of the building with his corny jokes and witty personality. Michael finds Earl to be enjoyable to talk to probably because he reminds him of his late father. He happily buzzes him up to his floor.
Michael steps off the elevator and turns left to his corner office. He grabs his wallet, looks across the desk for his badge, nothing. He figures he will have to request a new one and have that one deactivated.
His meeting goes well, not as well as he was hoping knowing how hard it is to work with that client. He figures a few more passes and he can close the deal. Instead of going home right after dinner, he hops in another car back to the office to get a head start on a project before tomorrow.
The night concierge lets him up. It is usually Milly on duty but tonight it’s someone he has never seen. He hates that he has to even go through the hassle of explaining the situation with his keycard. There is no one in the whole 6,000 square foot office. He typically works late and doesn’t expect to see anyone anyway.
As he steps off the elevator, he notices his single desk light is on. He knows he didn’t leave it on himself given it was daylight with the sunlight beaming in through his office windows. He walks in slowly, “Hello? Is anyone here?” No answer. He looks on the desk and sees a little black book….
Feeling something is off, he heads towards his desk, sits down looking through the glass walls to catch a glimpse of anything or anybody. He figures he’s being crazy and that his assistant just turned it on before leaving. His assistant, Monica is perceptive like that. Maybe she left it for him to read. It’s just surprising she didn’t text or leave a message for him about it.
He puts his phone on the desk face down, looks around the office one more time before he picks up the book. With all his attention, he flips open the first page. In all upper-case print reads….
He turns over the book in confusion. “What?”, he says with a combination of shock and exhaustion. He flips to the back of the page to read,
"Your instructions: You must find a well deserving person or people to receive a financial gift. This compensation will come from you and you alone. You may not consult others or let others know of your act. Failure to do so will result in a loss of a greater sum. We will be watching."
Michael looks up from the book, scans the hall again to make sure no one else is there. He doesn’t quite believe what he has just read nor does he think someone has the ability to force said threats. He locks the book in his desk and rings his UberX with a sense of uneasiness.
A week goes by and he’s waking up in his glamorous, bachelor pad condo in complete disregard for the book and its message. He showers, eats breakfast, hops on a business call and grabs a car to work. He meets the clients from earlier at a popular upscale restaurant where others in his line of work go to seal the deal. As he pays the bill for eight, the restaurant’s manager comes back and asks if he can speak to him for a moment. With an unwavering professionalism, the manager says, “Sir I understand you may be on a business lunch but I wanted to let you know your card has been declined.” Michael responds with a tone that can only be described as embarrassment induced anger.
“What are you talking about?? There’s no way. There’s hardly even a limit on the card!” Calmly, the manager replies,
“I’m sorry sir, we’ve tried multiple times, do you have another form of payment for your dine with us today?” To prevent further embarrassment, he texts his colleague for the corporate credit card, signs for the meal and heads out with his clients.
As he waives them into their town cars, he impatiently dials Monica and instructs her to call the bank. Michael walks into his penthouse with a feeling of perpetual worry. Monica is calling back. As he goes to answer, he sees something out of the corner of his eye. The little black book. Sitting perched on the living room table. The sound of his heartbeat thumping in his ears drowns out Monica’s voice. Alert, he drops his phone and cautiously walks over to the table. “Someone better not be in here!” he shouts knowing the reality that if the book is here, someone else must have been too.
He jolts to the book, opening the pages, re-reading the letter. He notices there’s been another note added to the next page.
“Oh….my…. God” Michael whispers to himself with nothing but fear in his voice.
Michael walks into work the next day with very little sleep and a dazed attitude. “You alright today boss?” Earl yells. “Uh yes... Doing just fi--” Suddenly a lightbulb goes off.
“Earl. You seem like a fine gentleman. I want to write you a check.”
“Oh no, boss. I couldn’t possibly take your money.” He replies, “I insist. You seem deserving to me.”
Michael pulls out his checkbook and writes a personal check for $1,000. Earl with an overwhelming expression tells him “That is far too generous and not something I am willing to take.”
“TAKE IT!” Michael blurts as if forcing him. Earl looks on with a concerned look on his face.
“Boss, if you want to write a check, I know of people that could use it.” Michael was about to interrupt when he continued “But you need to meet them first.”
Michael planned to meet Earl in Harlem on Saturday morning outside of a community center called Hand-In-Hand. The letters were falling off the building and the fence looked like it was kicked in. Nothing about this place looked promising. Meanwhile, Earl walks up with a big grin on his face excited to show all the amazing things the center is doing for the neighborhood.
He explains that this community center has been here since 1994 and through initiatives, it has cultivated many college attendees, high school valedictorians, and unlocked passions in people that went on to have great jobs. As they walked through the halls of the poorly lit building, he sees the paint is chipping, the desks are falling apart and the learning materials are dated. The place was very much underfunded and struggling.
“You know it’s crazy,” Michael interrupts, “I have been to this community center as a child and only saw magic through these walls. It’s sad to see it in the state it’s in.”
Earl replies, “Sometimes when you don’t have anything, a glimpse of hope is magic enough.” He paused before continuing, “Now boss, I’m not forcing you to spend your money but since you were so adamant on writing that check for me, I was hoping you’d be willing to do so for these people – this place.”
Something moved within Michael. He saw his purpose unfulfilled. He’s been moving selfishly these past 20 years and has never taken the time to appreciate the lessons he learned in this very place. That drive, that inspiration, that hope. All he wants to do is help.
“I don’t think $1,000 would go far here, Earl.” Earl looked like he was going to interrupt, Michael continues, “Without places like this in the city, I would have never known there was a life outside of this. Outside of the streets. I’ve forgotten that all these years. I want to do better. How much do they need?”
“Well, all us volunteers had a business meeting a couple days ago and in order to keep the lights on, fix the A/C, continue to provide food, Hand-In-Hand would need $10,000.” He stutters, “But I couldn’t ask you to donate that much.”
He looks closely at the walls reflecting on the times he once needed centers like this just to eat.
“Thank you for showing me this place, Earl. I was reminded recently that I’m way past due on giving back and I don’t see any other place more deserving.” He sighs, “Earl, I would like to give Hand-In-Hand a donation of $20,000....” He pauses, “...A year for the rest of my life. I demand two things. One, that I remain an anonymous donor and two, you let me teach a financial literacy course. I want to pass on what I’ve learned.”
Earl begins to cry and though he’s an old school man from the Bronx, pulls him in for a big hug. “Thank you, Michael! Wow, thank you!”
A week has gone by and Michael hasn’t been sent any message. He figures he has done what he's needed to do. Instead of his usual routine, Michael hops out of bed, grabs coffee at a local coffee shop and walks to the park. He relaxes on a bench looking at all the people around him, thinking how grateful he is for this life. A well-dressed gentleman sits down next to him opening today’s newspaper.
“Isn’t this nice to see?”
Michael smirks, “See what, sir?”
Still looking down at the paper, he responds, “The wealthy giving a damn.”
Michael turns his attention to the newspaper in the man’s hands. The headline reads, “$40 Million Donated To Charities All Over NYC -- Many Anonymous Benefactors.”
His eyes widening not quite believing what he’s seeing, he flashes a smile to the stranger and looks to the other end of the park. Someone catches his attention. The man with the black trench and lapel emblem. He jumps off the bench in shock. Michael immediately tries to follow him. In the scuffle of people, he loses sight and instead sees the little black book sitting on the bench at the opposite end of the park. Hesitant, he opens the book....