Most of this story, from my half-finished novel, came from a dream….and I share it with you now.
Ransom Waldo Maxty formed Maxty Cap and Clasp as a maker of customized caps for expensive fountain pens and ladies brooches in 1906. Despite its odd specialization, Maxty was successful in this trade. Unlike most such 19th century businesses, Maxty did not succeed by niggardly levels of thrift, but rather, by intense concentration on his customers tastes; no amount of filigree, or jewel encrustation was too much for those who desired to be truly unique. This even extended to his more modest lines of pen caps, for Maxty reasoned that even the average man wanted to stand out from his fellows. The growth of his business allowed Maxty to move from the Lower East Side to Hell’s Kitchen in 1912. On the day the Maxty Building was christened, Maxty’s only son and his beloved wife were killed in an automobile accident by a corpulent fool going 50 mph down Broadway. He never remarried, withdrew within himself, and the business suffered.
The defining moment in the corporate history of Maxty Cap and Clasp came in November of 1918. A small child, bleeding and dazed, walked into Maxty’s own offices and presented R.W. Maxty with a broken “Tradesman’s Pride” model pen cap, claiming that, as the owner, he must fulfill the warranty for her father as soon as possible. Maxty looked out the window at the crushed Chevrolet with the dozens of beer barrels on top, still flailing spooked dray horses on their sides, and one hand sticking out from it all in a wash of blood and foam, closed his eyes and told the child to return within a week. Six days later, Maxty fulfilled his guarantee with what has since been considered the finest example of their craft; a cap whose use of several colors of diamond, solid pieces of jade, and flame rubies in a Celtic cross pattern still inspires Colleen Killian-Wordsworth today as she sits and watches the Tempe sun reflect off of it each dusk. Maxty had intended for her to sell the cap to one of his wealthier clients, but when word of his gift reached her neighborhood, the neighbors would not let her dishonor her fathers memory, and instead raised money amongst themselves to send the girl to a distant relative in Albany, putting the cap in a safe deposit box. Though Maxty never referred to this event ever again, his respect amongst his own neighbors rose, and his business grew forthwith.
Throughout the late teens and early twenties, Maxty never varied from his daily routine, and when he took his afternoon constitutional, his pockets had enough candy for everyone. When St. Patrick’s day occurred during Prohibition, the use of a secret code word at certain locations, would allow any decent Irishman a drink , all paid for by Maxty. If there was a crisis back home, or at certain key events in someone’s life, passage back to Dublin would be arranged through St. Bridgit’s, from “divine sources.” At the height of his success in the late ’20’s, Maxty very discreetly requested the Irish policeman of his precinct to escort his female employees now working the newly created 2nd shift home for their safety. Clothes line gossip quickly distributed the truth which enhanced Maxty’s already strong image, and nearly every mother felt obliged to show her child that men like Maxty were why penmanship truly mattered. Pen caps were handed down from father to son in a passage rite that couldn’t be explained to someone from Queens, much less the world at large. On his birthday in 1928, the women of Hell’s Kitchen surprised Maxty by bringing in their children for a song-and-dance program so moving to him that for all the years until his own death, Maxty would send each child from that day a card on their birthday written in a hand so beautiful that many people would exchange them just to admire the different cursives, accents, and capital letters.
The Depression hit Maxty Cap and Clasp hard. Maxty was reluctant to let people go, his misplaced faith in Herbert Hoover perhaps the strongest indicator of his now, suddenly, being out of sync with the times. As his fortunes dwindled, people left out of guilt from “stealing from the Old Man.” In 1938, while playing Santa at the Horace Greely Young Persons Social Club 32nd Christmas Ice Cream Social, Ransom Waldo Maxty passed away after asking for a “moments respite.” His wake reduced productivity for blocks around for a week, and was the closest Italians, Irish, and Poles would be for a long time before and since. When in the late ’50’s drunken hoodlums stole the giant brass fountain pen from the top of Maxty’s black marble headstone, no one really objected, as the Deco gewgaw didn’t fit the quiet solidity of a man who founded and ran a successful business in Manhattan for 32 years, light years away from the folie circulare of Wall Street, without ever caring about a quarterly earnings statement, without ever having heard the term “junk bond”, and without ever, even once, having meet a person from Japan.