Mark wasn’t wholly unprepared for the phone call that came one night in December 1993—dead of a drug overdose, ten times the lethal limit of cocaine in his system—but it still was a blow. That great big bear of a man. Roaring with life. Unstoppable. Now dead at 35.
If Glen’s collapse was hard on Mark and Jason, it was harder on Sol. He hadn’t just lost his son; he had lost his protégé, the inheritor of the family business. Glen had taken his path. Flown down it, really. Burned up that road. And found ruin.
Before Glen’s death, Sol had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Nine months after Glen passed away, Sol joined him.
• • •
A funny thing happened after that.
If you were looking for a cautionary tale, you could hardly find one more convincing than Glen’s. Millie had wanted him to take life “more seriously.” Glen had flouted her wish. It was like mocking God, to mock Millie. And God had smote him.
Yet Glen’s death wasn’t just a confirmation for Mark and Jason that they’d chosen right in going down their mother’s path and not their father’s. It was, also, after they’d each cried and grieved for months, a summons. Glen might have lived a life of ill repute, but he had lived. The lawyer brothers began to suspect they were deficient when it came to knowing what life was all about. Not that they had any intention of becoming bookies and snorting coke. But surely Glen’s death was telling them something.
Glen’s path, which was their father’s, was not the way. Surely not. But they had begun to suspect—dare they even think it?—that Millie’s path might not be the way, either.
• • •
Jason was the first to jettison his old life.
He had been dabbling in standup—a few months before Glen died, he had appeared in a comedy showcase in Los Angeles—but one day he called Mark and told him he was leaving his law firm to pursue his dream. It was crazy, on the one hand—quitting his job meant quitting money, stability, a future, everything he’d spent the past ten years of his life on. He had been heading for partner. But Mark didn’t say these things to his younger brother. He told him he could always get a job at another firm. Now was the time to pursue his passion. If it was crazy, well, there was something to be said for crazy.
Jason worked the clubs and rose within the circuit, all the while practicing law part-time on the side. He appeared on Letterman and filmed an HBO special. He was on his way. Except he wasn’t, quite. He had difficulty elevating himself beyond a certain level. He plateaued and became pigeonholed. He lacked charisma, maybe, or the ruthless drive to succeed.
It was frustrating to Jason that he’d come so tantalizingly close to the big time. But Mark was thrilled to have come along for the ride, in the same way that being around Glen had thrilled him. Hanging out with comedians. Late nights drinking and eating and swapping funny stories. Comedy festivals in Montreal and Aspen. The greenroom at Letterman.
That Jason eventually returned to law full-time, setting up practice in Reno, was beside the point. The point was that he’d had the guts to chuck it all.
• • •
The notion of opening a restaurant first flitted through Mark’s brain in the late ’90s, not long after the two deaths.
A notion—only that.
The idea of doing something different, much less as wildly different as Jason had done, was improbable to him. He was in private practice now, at King & Spalding, creating tax shelters for corporations and pulling in close to a million a year. He had a wife and a family. His circumstance was entirely different from his brother’s. He was more settled, had more to lose.
But it nagged at him that he had urged Jason to take a chance while he had been content to stay the course.
It had been a great course, but he wasn’t sure it could take him where he needed to go next. His marriage wasn’t working. He had grown tired of having to bill for every hour of his day. Above all, he had begun to feel he was using only a part of himself. Whatever else could be said of Glen, he'd never used only a part of himself.
• • •
The party invitation, issued by e-mail, comes with a picture of a young Mark Kuller.
Jason and Mark’s second wife, Kristin Connor, pored over all his old photo albums to find the most embarrassing one they could.
The photo might have been captioned “Portrait of the math nerd as a young man.”
He’s 17, tall and gawky with a toothy smile that reveals a good bit of his gums. Decked out in a fur coat the likes of which the Knicks’ Clyde Frazier, one of his idols, might have worn—swanky, smooth, expensive. His father bought it for him after Mark, on a trip into Manhattan with him one day, spotted it on the rack. The thought had flashed through his head: a new coat, a new identity, a new life.
He had to have it. And his father—taken with this rare show of impulsiveness and, frankly, coveting the coat himself—was only too happy to assist him, despite the cost.
The fur doesn’t turn him into the suave specimen of downtown cool he envisioned. A tall, gawky Jewish boy in a fur is still a tall, gawky Jewish boy. He looks like a boy playing dress-up.
Is the smile an acknowledgment of that fact? Does he smile, that is, because he recognizes the comical incongruity? Or is this the best front he can put forth—this shy, goofy smile his best attempt to summon the image of a downtown hustler?