We’re pleased to present an excerpt from Robert Cabot‘s memoir Time’s Up: A Memoir of the American Century. Cabot is the author of several books, including The Joshua Tree, which Kirkus called “a visionary book celebrating mythic conceptions.” Time’s Up explores the United States in the Twentieth Century, juxtaposing a nation’s history with scenes Cabot’s own life.
An amusing footnote to our roles in small-scale philanthropy. When I was living part-time in an old farmhouse in Tuscany, a next-door neighbor—next-door being a half-mile through an oak forest on the other side of a “wild” boar farm—was Teddy Goldsmith, editor and publisher of the British “Ecology” magazine and a charismatic figure in the green movement. His brother was Sir James “Jimmy” Goldsmith, one of the richest men in Britain. Years later, Teddy called me and invited me to join a small group of philanthropists and environmental activists at Jimmy’s estate in Mexico. Jimmy was ready to put some of his wealth to work and turned to his brother to organize an appropriate meeting to advise him. With a vastly, in fact hilariously overblown idea of my role, he invited me to join the group. He rattled off a bunch of names—Jerry Mander, Norman Lear, Jeremy Rifkin, Doug Tompkins, Richard Branson, others I’ve forgotten. I demurred, then, out of a consuming curiosity—and a familiar, Ha! Maybe I can snag some of the billions for my pet projects—I let my arm be twisted. I’m to fly to Los Angeles, be met as I get off the plane, and they’ll take care of me from there on.
My flight is late. A long black limo is waiting for me. We drive across several runways to the other side of LAX. I climb into a private jet, the others of the eight or so of us coming from that part of the world are already on board waiting for me. Introduced around, familiar names but not faces. We settle into luxury—a steward brings us champagne and lobster and whatever else we might want. Teddy tells me that Jimmy has three of these jets and a couple of large propeller craft, each with its own crew.
There’s very little small talk, Teddy keeping us on subject—what can we offer Jimmy, what ideas, advice, projects. I watch the monitor, a toy airplane headed south along Mexico’s Pacific coast. I had no idea where we were going until our target destination’s name starts flashing on the screen—Manzanillo.
Though Manzanillo turns out to be merely our port of entry. We are treated like heads of state—no police, no customs, no paperwork whatsoever. We transfer to a propeller craft, Jimmy’s runway up the coast being too short to handle jets. A short hop and we’re landing on a well-groomed grass strip. We taxi up to a line of vans, jeeps, and pickups headed by a huge man wearing an enormous plain sombrero, Sir Jimmy himself.
By twos and threes, we are directed to vehicles to take us to whichever one of several villas we will be sleeping in. Jeremy Rifkin and I are to be roommates. The convoy sets out, led by a pickup in the bed of which is mounted a machine gun manned by three heavily armed men in uniforms—Jimmy has a private army of fifty or so. We wind through a wild animal park, border a lagoon, climb up to the bluff where Jimmy’s palace sits overlooking miles of Pacific beach, and are then taken to our various villas. Each one seems to house one of Jimmy’s many wives and offspring, and a special one for brother Teddy. Many swimming pools, exotic plantings, thousands of acres of this kingdom. He has built two villages, complete with schools, churches, shops for his huge staff and army.
That afternoon I wander down to the lagoon. Norman Lear invites me to join him on a boat tour to check out the alligators, the exotic birds, the gazelles, giraffes. Richard Branson and family have just arrived in one of his own jets from his own private Caribbean Island. He joins us. Later Branson and I walk and chat.
The first evening was an elaborate poolside dinner, many tables on one side, each hosted by a wife or other family member. Across the pool was a marimba band in full regalia outlined against huge bonfires on the beach. Branson arrives late, goes up to Jimmy, who is jollying up table after table. I happen to be watching them as they meet. Casually, Branson pushes Jimmy into the pool, linen suit, sombrero, cigar and all, then jumps in after him. Up floats the sombrero, then the cigar still clamped in his teeth.
Our host is furious, gestures to the marimba band, to Teddy, and stalks out. Teddy tells Branson to leave, and quickly. The next morning Teddy calls a rump meeting of our group in his villa, announcing that there was no changing of his brother’s mind. Branson has been told to leave immediately. He had come within a hair of being shot down by the marimba band, each member doubling as security guards, weapons hidden under their serapes.
We meet as a group, minus Branson, in one of the circular wings that surround the immense central room under a Moroccan dome, a room with benches and hundreds of exotic cushions circling the space.
It soon turns out that Jimmy was already well decided on how he would set up and direct a new foundation and what its emphases would be. We seemed to be there largely to gratify his ego. Days later, over brandy and cigars after the final dinner, I find myself sitting on a terrace beside Jimmy. Though I by then had realized that there was no way to shoehorn one of my pet projects into his essentially conservative agenda, I decide to bite the bullet and, with the hope of upping his relatively small allotment of his wealth to his foundation, tell him in a few words my own experience in the little leagues. I tell him that, to a large extent under the constraints of the charitable trusts I had deliberately set up, I had been giving for several years at an annual rate of from a half to two thirds of my unearned income. His response is silence.