Uh oh. Here come some people I know. I’m going to hide.” Marcy Rogers ducks her head. Across the room at the Mansion on Turtle Creek, three elegant, coiffured women can be seen descending a circular staircase. They scan the mirrored room, but if they recognize the waifish woman with the dark head bowed over a bowl of vegetable chowder, they don’t show it. In the city where she had clawed her way to social acceptance, Marcy Rogers was a pariah.
In the mid-eighties, when she and her then-husband used to eat there several times a week, Marcy knew everybody in the room, and everybody knew her. But Dallas has changed, and so had she. Now she was broke. Her North Dallas home had been foreclosed on. A consumer counseling service had taken over her debts. Her furniture was on consignment, her gowns at a resale shop. She had even borrowed $3,000 from her maid. Only one of her sixteen credit cards was any good, and that was the one she was planning to use in a few days to start a new life in—where else?—Southern California.
Marcy Rogers was a nobody when she arrived in Dallas in 1976—not much money, no class, no contacts. But she had a radiating charm that could transform strangers into instant allies and, more important, converts to her cause—raising money to help children with genetically deformed faces. Parlaying her personal skills into social connections, she rose through the strata of Dallas society until the charity that she had founded, the National Craniofacial Foundation, had the backing of some of the city’s biggest corporations and the wealthiest families. She began to widen her circle: a plug in Dear Abby, an appearance on the Donahue show. Yet it all began to disintegrate in 1987 around the time she filed for her divorce. The foundation board accused her of bungled management. Marcy was forced to step down.
Everyone expected that it was all over for her, that she would slink away. Her best friends advised her to get out of town. But Marcy did an incredible thing: She stayed and started over. She built a new foundation, dedicated to the same heart-clutching cause. She found seed money, organized a new board, and soon was holding fundraising galas even more fabulous than before. She testified on Capitol Hill. She flew to the Soviet Union. She became friends with Cher. It all seemed too good to be true—and it was. Last June, Marcy was ejected from the board of the second foundation, for essentially the same reasons as before. She left the organization in debt and tarnished by scandal. She also left many embittered friends and not a few enemies, for whom her rise and fall had become a morality play, the story of someone who had reached too high and finally gotten her comeuppance.
Since then Marcy has engaged in a great deal of breast-beating and a great many expressions of remorse. Explaining her life to a stranger serves, it seems, as a kind of catharsis. Sipping cappuccino, surrounded by the seductive world from which she has recently been banished, Marcy turns weepy. Her skin is pale; she is so thin she looks like a wraith. “I’ve been through so much—you just don’t know what it’s like. All these people whispering about you,” she says, her brown eyes earnestly pained. “I just want to go to California, and I don’t want anybody to know where I’ve gone.”
IT IS NOT EASY TO LOOK AT A CHILD WHO HAS A craniofacial deformity. Some have faces that are so distorted that they look freakish, expressionless, and inhuman. Many people look at these kids and turn away. Marcy Rogers looked at them and saw shades of herself.
She was raised in upper-middle-class New Jersey, the Eldest of six children in a disharmonious home. When she was fourteen, a fight between her parents took a vicious turn; her mother slammed a telephone into her father’s head. That night Marcy slept alongside her mother. Not long afterward, her mother killed herself with a drug overdose. Marcy was the one who found her on the bathroom floor, unconscious.
As an adolescent, Marcy hated the way she looked. She was the fat girl in the mirror with blue-speckled glasses, braces, and no friends. Years later, when Marcy was working as a counselor in the office of a plastic surgeon in Virginia and met her first craniofacial patients, she felt she understood their social isolation. “I walked into this room and there were all these people who looked like—oh, God, they had faces and eyes out to here, and no noses, and their parents couldn’t even look at them,” she recalls. She got a master’s degree in counseling so she could understand their psychological needs and help them adjust to an insensitive society.
In 1976 Marcy and her first husband, an architect, moved to Dallas. They had chosen that city so that Marcy could work for Dr. Ken Salyer, a prominent plastic surgeon who had performed the first craniofacial surgery in the Southwest. Fifteen years older than Marcy, Salyer was tall and intense. Although he was also married, there was an overpowering attraction between them. To Marcy, he was heroic. She could hardly believe someone so forceful and gifted would be interested in her. Their love affair was agonizing. She separated from her husband in the summer of 1977, but Salyer did not leave his wife until a year and a half later. In May 1983 they were married.
Two years before, they had formed the Foundation for Craniofacial Deformities, a nonprofit organization that supported craniofacial patients and their families. Together, Marcy and Ken made an ideal team. He was a typical surgeon, highly skilled and controlled. While he could be aloof and withdrawn from patients, she was warmhearted and intimate, the perfect person to console anxious patients and chat up prospective contributors.
As the foundation’s executive director, Marcy was responsible for establishing credibility and drumming up a network of patrons and volunteers. It was she who engineered the foundation’s swift ascension up the roster of Dallas’ most prestigious charities. She set about it methodically, beginning with the society columns. Every day Marcy read them and made notes on the splashiest events, the wealthiest people, and the showiest restaurants. Then she inserted herself into all the places habituated by all the people she thought she needed to meet.
In Dallas, the most apt symbol of extravagance of the early eighties was the charity ball: the Beaux Arts Ball, the Cattle Baron’s Ball, the Crystal Charity Ball. Far more than just a few wealthy women throwing parties for their friends, the events raise phenomenal amounts of money for worthy causes. They also constitute the clearest path to social advancement. What holds the charity scene together is a system of interlocking relationships based on reciprocal obligation—“You buy a table at my event, and I’ll buy one at yours.” Marcy grasped that and quickly began doling out money to various causes. She volunteered for two of Dallas’ charities: the March of Dimes and TACA, which fund the performing arts. She and Ken attended practically every charity event on the charity circuit. Above all, Marcy understood the importance of visibility, of being in the right places, in the right clothes, alongside the right people.
Her strategy worked. Soon her craniofacial foundation was a force in the Dallas social scene. Money began pouring in from individual Dallas backers like Harriett Rose and Harold Simmons. Big backers, such as the General Electric Foundation, the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, American Airlines, and the Xerox Foundation, were also drawn to the wrenching needs of the little kids with the deformed faces.
About 15,000 children are born in the U.S. each year with some type of serious craniofacial disfigurement. Many will need multiple surgeries, sometimes up to fifty before they reach the age of 25. The repair of a cleft lip and palate, for instance, which requires three operation in the infant’s first year, costs around $15,000 in surgical fees alone. Reconstructing the face of a child with hyperteliorism, or Cruzon’s syndrome, can cost $25,000 in surgical fees the first year—and several hundred thousand dollars over a lifetime.
In 1986 Ken Sayler had reconstructed the face of Jermaine Gardner, a three-year-old black piano prodigy from Baltimore. Jermaine had been born with a mid line facial cleft, which blinded him and caused his forehead to protrude. The foundation had paid for related costs but not directly for the operation; his parents had private medical insurance. Even so, his dramatic surgery became a potent symbol for Marcy and Ken Sayler’s foundation.
Marcy promoted the cause of children like Jermaine on humanitarian grounds, but what she didn’t especially care to advertise was that medical treatment for most of these children is nearly always available, through either the insurance policies of their parents or the various crippled children’s programs that exist in almost every state, including Texas. Even those children who fall through the cracks can usually find doctors to donate their services. This means that in the United States, there is not a great need to raise money for surgical costs. Far more important are funds for airplane tickets, hotel rooms and food, car rides back and forth to the hospital, speech pathology, and counseling. But Marcy knew the path to the public’s heart. Her message was calculated for blunt emotional appeal: She needed money to fix the kids’ faces. In 1984, through her volunteer work with TACA, Marcy met city council member and mayor-to-be Annette Strauss. A veteran player on the Dallas charity scene, Strauss was impressed with Marcy’s work and used her social and political connections to smooth Marcy’s entrée into the best circles. While Marcy was setting up a women’s auxiliary for the foundation, Strauss hosted an afternoon tea at the Douglas Avenue mansion of her nephew’s wife, society queen Diana Strauss. In no time, the address book for Marcy’s auxiliary was a register of blue-chip distaff Dallas: Katherine Bull, Cynthia Melnick, Nancy Halbreich, Caroline Rose Hunt, Virginia Nick.
In the early eighties, the social climb in status-happy Dallas was never-ending. Being seen wasn’t enough; what was really important was getting mentioned in the society columns, which would be read, presumably, by the next level of people you hoped to impress. Salyer had his own PR consultant. So did the craniofacial foundation, as did the Humana Advanced Surgery Institutes, where Salyer was doing his work. It was as if Ken and Marcy and their expanding circle of friends were living in a vast hall of mirrors, staring at themselves staring at each other.
In 1987 Salyer and Marcy changed the name of the foundation to the National Craniofacial Foundation to reflect their ever-enlarging vision. Owing in no small part to Marcy’s feverish promotion, Ken Salyer was earning a terrific amount of money. In 1978 his practice had grossed $200,000, according to Marcy. Two years later that had more than doubled. By 1985, when he performed some 2,500 plastic surgeries, including 500 craniofacial cases, he grossed $1 million.
Marcy and Ken had no trouble spending it. Their elegant home was tucked into a wooded side street off of Turtle Creek. They had a staff of five: a runner for Ken’s office, a houseboy, a yardman, a maid, and a full-time chef. They had a getaway house at Lake Dallas. Marcy had a three-carat wedding ring and a Rolex watch. She was one of the first people in Dallas to have a car phone in her BMW. The Salyers ate out continually, at tony places like Beau Nash, the Mansion, San Simeon, and Sfuzzi. Marcy spent a fortune on clothes. In 1983 her entire $30,000 salary from Ken’s practice went to clothes and jewelry. The following year she asked Ken to double her salary, and she spent all of that too. “I wasn’t buying five-thousand-dollar outfits, but I wanted a different outfit for every event,” she says. One acquaintance remembers going with Marcy to Turtletique, a high-priced boutique, and watching her drop $17,000 in half an hour. “She strolled in as if she were Lupe Murchison walking into Neiman’s,” the acquaintance says. “Everyone was ‘honey’ and ‘sweetie’ and ‘dear.’” For Marcy, spending also became her fundraising philosophy: You have to display money to attract it.
If Marcy won admirers for her passion, she also put off many others by preening and putting on airs. When she walked in a room, she needed to be the center of attention. She was constantly late, often by as much as an hour, even to board meetings. One friend remembers Marcy showing up half an hour late for a dinner party at her own home. And she was self-indulgent: A publicist recalls meeting her at the Crescent Spa while she was in a bathrobe, with wet hair, getting a pedicure.
Her social life was a frenetic series of luncheons, teas, meetings, receptions, and galas. Merely getting ready for a big event was an exhaustive procedure. A makeup expert would do Marcy’s face. Another friend would match her clothes and jewelry. Sometimes she would spend five hours having her hair and face and clothes coordinated. Keeping up appearances was paramount—social appearances, her own physical appearance, the appearance that she and Ken Salyer were happily married. What was odd was that if you were to ask Marcy the point of it all, she would not have hesitated to say “the children.” Yet appearances were what the craniofacial foundation was about—not only reconfiguring the malformed faces of the children she strove to help, but also Marcy’s own need to keep up a facade. She could relate to the children because their social acceptance depended on appearances, just as hers did. But she was not physically deformed; she was profoundly insecure. She rationalized her frantic behavior by saying it was all for the cause, but in the end the cause was really Marcy Rogers.
Meanwhile, her marriage was disintegrating. Ken and Marcy were unhappy almost from the start of their married life. Ken declined to be interviewed for this article, but from Marcy’s perspective, it was his emotional distance that exacerbated her insecurities. The more desperate she became, the more furiously she threw herself into building up the foundation and Ken’s practice, hoping to recapture his affection. But it didn’t work. At night, they would quarrel at the dinner table and Marcy would walk out. She would get in her BMW and drive up and down the Dallas North Tollway, dropping quarters in the tollbooths and brooding. Once when she and Ken were in Hawaii, she asked him for an evaluation of her face. Where did she fit, on a scale of one to ten? He took a long, measured look at her and answered, “Five.” He told her he could improve her looks by taking out the anti-Mongoloid slant in her eyes, shoring up her cheekbones, correcting her overbite. “It was like a stab,” Marcy says, “that I was only a five.”
In June 1987 Marcy sued Ken Salyer for divorce, citing incompatibility and alleging infidelity. They reached a settlement of $475,000: $175,000 to be paid immediately, and the remainder over five years. A year and a half later, the divorce was final.
MARCY WAS DETERMINED THAT NO ONE should know how much her wrecked marriage had cost her. She wanted to socialize in the same circles and live the same lifestyle as before. After the breakup, she moved into a small home in University Park. But every time she passed by the house where she and Ken used to live, she says, “I thought, ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’ There he was, living in the lap of luxury, and I was living in a dump. I hadn’t done anything wrong.” So after a few months she leased a handsome townhouse in Turtle Creek. Later she moved into a big house in Highland Park, where her monthly rent was $2,800. She traded her BMW for a champagne-colored Cadillac Allante. She continued to pick up the tab for her friends. She sent flowers. She bought more and more clothes. She dated younger men and lavished gifts on them. For two of them she cosigned notes on cars, a Lincoln Continental and a Porsche.
At the same time, the National Craniofacial Foundation was foundering. Ken Salyer had withdrawn his financial support, and the foundation wasn’t making up the difference in outside donations and was falling into arrears. Marcy was certain that Ken was trying to sabotage her. Although she acknowledges that she herself contributed to her problems, she views Ken as the underlying agent of her downfall. And in a way she has hit upon a sliver of the truth, for everything that happened to Marcy over the next three years in Dallas was really a continuation of the feud that broke out between them when their marriage fell apart.
In December 1988 Marcy reached what outsiders might have considered the pinnacle of her success. First, the foundation was touted in a Dear Abby column. Then, that very same week, Marcy flew to New York City to be on Donahue. Appearing alongside her were Jermaine Gardner and a two-year-old boy from Moscow who had been born with trigonocephaly, in which the sutures at the base of his skull were fused, leaving no room for the brain to grow. Without surgery, the child would have been brain-damaged. But smiling and capering around the stage during the broadcast, he was the ideal advertisement for the miracle of craniofacial surgery. Together, the newspaper column and the television show were a public relations triumph, prompting thousands of people to call the NCF office in Dallas.
Marcy got home on December 18. The following day the chairman of the NCF board called to inquire about an $86,000 deficit in the budget. It was the beginning of a swift decline for Marcy. All the money she had been dishing out to promote her image in society came back to haunt her, as did her careless, inattentive management style. Over the next few weeks she was accused of wasting foundation money on extravagant gifts and entertainment, of diverting restricted patient funds to meet payroll and to pay overhead, of using the foundation’s van as collateral on a loan, and of hiring one of her boyfriends as a bookkeeper. Marcy denied having done anything wrong and blamed Ken Salyer. Split on whether to fire her, the board came up with a compromise that would allow her to step down as executive director yet keep her fundraising role. She declined and resigned in February 1989, calling the attacks against her “a witch hunt.” To some on the board, she behaved like a stubborn child. “It could have been salvaged,” said one, “but she didn’t do it. ‘It’s my foundation. It’s my my my my my’—that’s what her attitude was.”
Just three weeks later, Marcy did what no one expected her to do, indeed, what no one believed she could do—she started over with a completely new organization, the International Craniofacial Foundations. To fund it, she used the first installment of her divorce settlement and a $150,000 pledge from her friend G. Ray Miller, a Dallas entrepreneur and a loyal NCF backer. Because ICF was struggling and undercapitalized, Marcy decided not to draw a salary. But five months later she started accepting $2,000 a month from Miller in exchange for her help as a consultant to his physicians’ bill-processing company. But by working for profit as a consultant in the health care field while running a nonprofit organization, Marcy began the dangerous practice of mixing up her personal business with that of the foundation. Keeping the two separate, for someone as ill-disciplined as Marcy, proved to be impossible.
ICF was patterned after NCF, which folded in August 1989. But ICF was broader in scope; its goal was to set up craniofacial centers around the country. But in terms of financial stability, it was in no better shape. Although Marcy put in a substantial amount of her own money, it is not at all clear how much. Marcy herself didn’t seem to know. In one letter to a prospective donor dated July 20, 1990, she wrote that she had “personally invested well over $150,000 of my own funds in ICF.” Four days later, in a different letter, she wrote that she had “donated well over $200,000.” The confusion extended to the ICF offices. A former employee recalls that when she was hired in February 1990, “everything was in boxes, just in no organized fashion, no filing system—just scraps of paper in boxes.” Employees say bills were never paid on time. “It was a constant struggle,” says one. “The bank was always calling, or American Express, or the gold MasterCard.” Marcy began writing hot checks, one after another; sometimes she would come in after everyone else had left and write them on the sly.
It wasn’t as if she was unaware of the need for a firmer financial grasp. From February 1989 until January 1991, she brought in six different bookkeepers. But she preferred to hire weak people—those who crossed her didn’t last long. She would fire them. “I was looking for quick fixes,” Marcy says. “I never checked references. I never looked into their backgrounds. I never took the time to find a good person.”
Above all, Marcy needed to be in control. The new board—which included her father and a sister—merely rubber-stamped her decisions. They didn’t ask questions. They didn’t ask for financial statements. The people who worked with her for any length of time learned to dodge her interference. “She’d come into the office and pull things off people’s desks and start making notes,” says one employee. “You would never leave anything on your desk that you wouldn’t want her to fool with.” She also had ICF employees doing her personal business for her. She hired an office courier, for instance, who also picked up her prescriptions and dry cleaning. “Well, he’s going that way anyway,” she would say. But going to her house and walking her dogs wasn’t exactly on his way. Marcy still had an incredible ability to charm money from contributors. She dispensed warmth to a lot of the kids and their families. But sometimes she hurt the very people she intended to help. “She would tell a child, ‘Come spend the night with me,’ and the kid would believe her,” says one ICF employee. “And then, of course, it would never happen.”
Since their divorce, Marcy and Ken were locked in competition. In early 1990, Ken Salyer had formed his own nonprofit charity, called Childworks. Now he and Marcy had competing organizations, which they used to try to outdo one another. Their parallel push to the Soviet Union was the most obvious example. During the fall of 1989, Ken Salyer and Marcy Rogers flew separately to Moscow to meet with Soviet doctors and set up training programs. They brought Soviet children needing surgery to the U.S. and took American doctors to the Soviet Union to teach their methods. The Soviet gambit was excellent for public relations, but the truth was that there was a lot more valuable, less flashy work to be done in the United States. And it was costing Marcy a fortune she didn’t have. In April 1990 Marcy invited the Soviet minister of health and a team of Soviet doctors to visit five craniofacial centers in the United States, a trip that cost ICF $38,000. Repeatedly, friends cautioned her to scale back. “She was warned—why not wait?” says one. “But you couldn’t stop her.”
From appearances, life had never been better for Marcy Rogers. It would not be unusual for someone to arrive for an appointment at ICF and find her at her desk, jabbering on the speaker phone while getting a manicure. She still dressed with exquisite taste. In August 1990 she signed a $215,000 mortgage on a three-bedroom house in far North Dallas, then spent $30,000 on renovations. “It was another big mistake,” she says. “Another example of one of my impulsive desires.”
On the interior, her life was a wreck. Lonely and unhappy, she flung money at friends and acquaintances, including loans of $35,000 to one boyfriend and $10,000 to a friend, and an $18,000 investment with a guy who convinced her that he was going to start a movie-production company and give the profits to ICF. “I was a disaster,” she says. Behind her back, people wondered how she pulled it off. “I don’t think she was any more flamboyant than the rest of us,” says one ICF volunteer, “except she always complained she never took a salary and didn’t have any money. So how did she do it?” Once the gossip got started, it damaged her reputation and money was harder to raise. Marcy spent almost all of 1990 trying to stem one crisis after another, “trying to buy credibility,” as she put it. She hired Arthur Andersen to do an audit for 1989. “That was expensive,” she says, “but somehow I thought that would stop the rumors.” She hired the high-profile law firm of Geary, Stahl, and Spencer at $250 an hour. “I couldn’t afford that either,” she says, “but I thought, ‘People will think you’re a credible person.’ I was very adept at looking like I had a lot of money.”
The events that led to Marcy’s second downfall began in the autumn of 1990. In September, ICF sponsored a huge charity dance with rock-and-roll personality Dick Clark as the guest of honor. Marcy dreamed it up as a way of coaxing back into the fold all of the supporters who had decamped after the NCF debacle. But from the beginning, there was dissension among ICF volunteers and staffers, who complained about haphazard planning and financial chaos. The chairperson of the ball, former model Dee Hutcheson, resigned in July, just two months before the event. One of her complaints was that she could get no explanation for where the money was going; there was no separate bank account for the ball.
As a social event, the Dick Clark ball was a huge success. The idea itself was offbeat and original. More than 1,800 people showed up at the Crystal Ballroom at the Grand Kempinski to hear the Shirelles, the Coasters, Little Anthony, and Bobby Vee; hundreds were turned away at the door. Instead of the usual tuxedos and ballgowns, people wore sneakers and poodle skirts. But financially it was a catastrophe. ICF ended up owing money to the Grand Kempinski and a slew of other contractors. “I never could get to the bottom of where did all the money go,” said employee Gayla Simmons. “There were certain things I could never figure out with Marcy.”
Three days after the Dick Clark event, a group of ICF board members, employees, and supporters flew to Washington, D.C., for four days of parties and fundraising. Cher came to lend her image—Marcy had named her honorary chairperson of ICF because of her role as the mother of a facially deformed child in the movie Mask. There was a reception at the Soviet embassy with the new Soviet ambassador, a party attended by Jesse Jackson and other politicians, and a dinner auction. Marcy and a group of craniofacial patients met Barbara Bush at the White House. The next day Marcy testified before Congress—she even managed to get that week officially declared National Craniofacial Awareness Week.
Some of the people who saw Marcy escorting Cher around, arms entwined, thought that Marcy was clearly starstruck. Maybe that was true. But Marcy’s fascination with Cher went beyond the obvious. Marcy saw something deeper in Cher, something familiar: a combination of outward confidence and inner fragility. In March 1991 Cher came to Dallas for a round of publicity events. One afternoon ICF held a party at the home of socialite Patsy Donosky. Cher attended, reluctantly. Afterward, riding in the limo, she asked Marcy why she went through all those dull, draining parties. To her they seemed meaningless. “It’s a part of raising money,” Marcy explained. “Unfortunately, in Dallas it’s very hard to raise money unless you do these things.”
The next afternoon ICF held a tea for Cher at the Mansion. Cher arrived two hours late, only five minutes before the tea was supposed to end. Instantly a throng of TV cameras and photographers converged on her. Cher looked out over the room and saw a sea of ladies’ hats. She turned to Marcy and said, “I’ve never seen so many hats. Who are these people? What do these people do?” Marcy replied, “That’s the way Dallas is.”
Looking back, Marcy now sees that she was maintaining a kind of double vision. She was both the socialite in the party hat and the person standing apart from it all, wondering what in the world was going on. To hear Marcy talk about Cher is to hear Marcy describe herself: “She likes walking in at precisely the right moment. Part of it is that she’s insecure. She just wants to be noticed. I mean, she wears these outfits that get maximum, maximum attention. She stages it so that she’s so late that everybody’s about ready to give up and they’re gasping when she finally walks in. She has this smile and she’s very personable, but she’s always detached.”
IN APRIL 1991 AN ARTICLE IN THE Dallas Morning News gave Marcy more visibility than she had ever dreamed of—but the wrong kind. The article accused her of making the same mistakes at ICF that she had made at NCF. It described a foundation that was disorganized and deeply in debt. It stated that she spent more on promotions than on medical care and that far less money actually went to helping the children than Marcy portrayed. Later articles cited an investigation by the state attorney general’s office into the murky relationship between ICF’s finances and Marcy’s personal expenses. From that point, Marcy’s life spiraled downward. The entire board of the foundation resigned. The attorney general’s office appointed an interim manager, who assembled a new board in June. The first thing the new board did was scale back Marcy’s responsibilities, curtailing her role to that of fundraiser and spokesperson. But Marcy couldn’t live within those bounds. She continued to correspond with donors and doctors, planning events and explaining that she “had been vindicated.” Less than two weeks later, the board ousted her for good.
What Marcy had done wrong was fail to understand how to run a charity organization. She violated rule after rule about not using a position of fiduciary responsibility within a nonprofit organization for personal benefit. She had made little effort to separate her personal business from the foundation’s. She ran independent medical consulting ventures, for her own profit, out of ICF offices. She never understood that when you’re running a nonprofit organization with tax- exempt status, you have to be squeaky clean. Otherwise, no one has faith in you.
Overnight Marcy became an outcast. Her phone stopped ringing. Her law firm dropped her. Her bank closed her checking account. She even lost her charging privileges at the Crescent, including her beloved spa. Disconsolate, Marcy took a temporary $5.25-an-hour job at a North Dallas grill owned by a friend. Her job was to serve salads and work the cash register, which provided endless amusement to her detractors. And she began to think about leaving Dallas. She felt she had been betrayed by the very people she had relied upon. But there were also many people who had donated time and money to ICF who felt that Marcy had completely let them down. More than a few of them were happy to see her go.
“BRING FOOD,” SHE HOLLERS INTO THE PHONE. “I’m starving.” It is late September, a beautiful Indian summer day, Marcy’s last in Dallas. She is booked on an early evening flight to Los Angeles. Until she finds a job, she will stay with a friend in Beverly Hills, living on money borrowed from her father. She is $145,000 in debt. The movers are lugging boxes through the echoing hallways of Marcy’s North Dallas home. Scattered everywhere are Styrofoam chips and piles of trash. Marcy is perched on a cardboard box, in stretchy exercise clothes and no makeup, eating take-out Chinese noodle salad with a plastic fork and marveling that for the first time in years, she actually packed her own stuff. “I’ve always had people do it for me. And then I would just walk in and everything would be in place,” she says. This time, she checked out six moving companies. “I studied every line of every bid,” she says. “This really has taught me some lessons about being fiscally cautious.”
True to form, Marcy has left many errands for the end. We arrive at the airport only minutes before her 6:42 p.m. flight is scheduled to depart. But she has to check eight pieces of luggage and pay $180 for excess baggage. She tears through the terminal but arrives at the gate just after the door to the plane has shut. The next flight for Los Angeles departs at 9:59 p.m., more than three hours away—plenty of time, she notes, to go out to dinner one final time. She suggests Parigi’s, a stylish Italian cafe in Oak Lawn. So off we go, back down the highway. As we enter Parigi’s, a young waiter named George greets her as if she were a ghost. “You’re still in town?” he exclaims. “I thought you were gone. You’re going to do fine. I have faith in you.”
Marcy orders antipasto, a pasta dish, and a $21 bottle of red wine. She says she is glad to be leaving, relieved at the chance to start over. “We all have fifteen minutes at the top,” she says. “So even when I was at the top, standing next to Cher on the dais, I knew it was my fifteen minutes. And I have to tell you, in spite of this, I know I’ll be back, and I’ll be stronger.” After the meal, Marcy is adamant about paying. She makes out a check, and George takes it. Before dashing out the door, she hugs him and promises to call.
This time, as we drive back to the airport, the lights of the city twinkle a hundred thousand farewells. We arrive with ten minutes to spare, plenty of time for Marcy to step up to the counter, pull out her American Airlines frequent traveler’s card, and upgrade to first class.