After nearly two years of letters, permissions, and, I admit, bribes, I was finally granted a private interview with perhaps the greatest living financial prophet, Herod Motiv, known to most of the financial world as the Prophet Motiv. He agreed to a luncheon date, and as I had repeatedly requested not just one interview but an on-going series in order to complete this book, this first luncheon-interview was probationary. He did not agree, however, to any photographs.
I rented a Lexus convertible, deep Prussian blue, as a way, again I admit, of attempting to impress him as I pulled into what I assumed to be a lavish driveway entrance to the Prophet’ s home. I was shocked to find that his address was not the least bit ostentatious, but extraordinarily humble – even, if I may say, shockingly low profile. I assumed, when I double-checked the address, that he had simply outsmarted me and given me some trumped-up address to get me off his case. It was also suspicious that he would even have a dwelling here in Berkeley, California on San Pablo Avenue not far from a main street that was a freeway entrance in the flatlands. He requested that I did not make public his exact address, to which I consented. Indeed, the home in the address was a small green stucco building, as unassuming and simple as a building could be. It had little or no foliage around it and in the front and back was an asphalt parking area, with a few blades of grass here and there breaking through the old and broken surface. In short, one of the most powerful men, if not the most powerful in the financial world, lived in a shack on a parking lot.
I parked my rented car in the corner of the lot, feeling quite foolish for the pretense, as my actual car was an old Datsun that I loved which had been faithful to me for six years with almost no care whatsoever. I stepped out, locked it with the remote key and walked to the front door of the Prophet Motiv’s home. To my knowledge, I was the only journalist who had ever been granted an interview, and the pressure was starting to make my hands sweat.
I checked my watch so as to be exactly on the minute of our 12 noon luncheon appointment, and then knocked on the old green door. In a moment a woman, in her late fifties, early sixties perhaps, opened the door. She was Mexican-American and wore a white blouse with tan slacks. Her hair was black with strands of gray, thick and pulled back and tied behind her head.
“Your name, please?” she asked.
“Michael Gallo. I’m here for the luncheon interview. I have an..”
Before I finished my introduction, the voice of an old man yelled out “Let him in!”
The woman stepped aside, revealing a small living room with an old couch, and walls nearly fully covered with framed photographs of small groups of what appeared to be important people, presidents and leaders of industry. I recognized a few presidents of this country in the nearest photographs, Ronald Reagan in one group, Bush Senior and several others with George W. Bush as a young boy sitting on an old man’s knee, with his father and mother standing behind them. I assumed the old man was the Prophet Motiv himself. Apparently some few photographs had been taken of him in the Prophet’s younger years.
From the living room a wide, square doorway led to a dining area. At the table sat an old man, gray hair cut short as if to just get it out of the way. He wore a white shirt, open at the top, and sunglasses. This was the first view of the mysterious man who had rarely been seen in public. Possibly I could draw him. The woman, whose name I later learned was Celia, escorted me into the dining room. I smiled and held out my hand to him to make a strong, forthright handshake, but he remained staring into space. It was at that moment that I realized the great Prophet Motiv was blind. I stood, awkwardly, withdrawing my hand, and the woman, Celia, brought in a second plate. The Prophet was already eating his lunch.
“Sit. Celia, get Mister Gallo a menu,” he said.
She went into a drawer built into the wall and withdrew a pale pink menu, thick, due to laminated pages, and set it on the table beside my plate. Then she left the room and went into a kitchenette, small as a closet.
I opened the menu, surprised that he would use a menu for guests in his home and tried to make sense of it all.
“Skip the first three pages,” he said, with finality. “The luncheon specials are on the back,” he said, still eating. Even though his plate was nearly twice the size of mine, and filled almost to overflowing onto the Formica table top, he was quite thin, as if no amount of food registered in his body. He ate as if he was ravenously hungry. I glanced back at the luncheon specials, and then could not resist a quick peek at the first pages that I was nearly commanded to ignore. It was the journalist in me that weakened to this opportunity.
To my horror the first inner page offered whale steaks, tiger penis broiled in peanut sauce and baby back golden retriever. The prices were in the thousands of dollars. I quickly flipped through the other pages. On the other pages were increasingly normal foods until on the very back page, where lunch specials were listed, there was an assortment of hamburgers with fries, hot apple turnovers, shakes, teas, coffee, and a list of soft drinks. It was a straight fast-food menu. Each also had its price. A plain burger could be bought for ninety-nine cents, with fries and a soft drink, as such drinks were called. They were called soft drinks as opposed to hard liquor, to set the mind to thinking that these were harmless drinks that could be consumed without care. The ploy had worked admirably.
“Pardon me if I keep eating ,” he said, eating savagely. “Celia says it’s a tapeworm, but the doctors don’t find one. They don’t even believe in tapeworms anymore. My grandmother used to believe in them. She kept a bushel basket full of peach pits in her closet. The pits kill you, you know that? Anyway, if grandma-ma thought one of us kids had a tapeworm, she’d crack open a peach pit and make us eat it. That’s how sure she was you had a tapeworm. I survived her. I had the tapeworm, they said. The others, they died. Pass me that bread. Celia, where’s the bread? Is there bread on the table?” he shouted into the kitchenette.
“Yes, it’s to your —right,” I offered.
“Order something. I feel like a pig here. She can cook, that Celia. You found something you like?” he asked, eating a turkey leg. “God, can she cook!” he repeated. From the way the Prophet Motiv was eating, I began to suspect that he had Prader-Willi Syndrome, but he was so thin. I decided that I would try to figure out, during the course of my interviews, if they were to happen, why Prophet Motiv had such an insatiable hunger.