He’s hairy. He grunts a lot. He can be – there’s no kind way to put this – a little clumsy, and even his best friends say his table manners could use a little work.
But at barely the age of 30, he’s become Wall Street’s best performing hedge fund manager, with an estimated fortune of $36 billion, and with bankers, CEOs and even – it’s rumored – a United States president and several prime ministers jumping at the mere twitch of his finger.
Despite being a – there’s no way to put this politely – a gorilla.
How, exactly, a lowland gorilla managed to claw his way to the top of the financial industry is one question that’s brought me here today, to this charming New York café overlooking Central Park. Trees have a calming effect on Magot Stanton, I’ve heard, and “calming” is definitely the mood you want when you are about to meet up with a five foot, 10 inch gorilla who can easily rip your arms off, if he wants. At the suggestion of one of his extremely efficient personal assistants, I’ve ordered one of the café specials for both of us: a New York version of a full British high tea. The assistant has assured me that Stanton is particularly fond of the finger sandwiches created with freshly baked banana bread, with strawberries and cream for dessert.
It’s impossible to miss his entrance, marked as it is not just with his signature thumping gait, but the sudden hush, followed by small gasps and whispers. New Yorkers may claim to be used to the presence of a gorilla at their establishments, but the reaction suggests otherwise. Even William and Kate might not get this sort of reception.
Then again, Stanton is said to rarely leave the Wall Street area before 5 pm on weekdays, and although this is Friday, it’s also Central Park.
Stanton doesn’t appear to notice the looks, the gasps, or even the surreptitious attempts to casually point cell phones in his direction, despite his notorious dislike of pictures. (His attorneys note that although social media has linked Stanton to multiple assaults on photographers, none of these allegations have ever been independently verified, and no charges have been made. Indeed, an independent review of records made by The Financials shows that Stanton has a remarkably clean legal record: every lawsuit made against him has been dismissed, and he has never even received so much as a parking ticket.) He stalks through the room on all fours, his knuckles leaving a sharp clang with each step – a clang I later realize is coming from the rings that deck his hands. He can walk on two feet – YouTube once had video evidence, since taken down, but nothing ever quite vanishes from the internet – but for this café, at least, he’s chosen his more natural gait.
I’m calm – at least, I tell myself I’m calm – when he finally reaches the table, sitting down with surprising grace for one so, well, big. Which is when I realize: it’s one thing to see this on TV; it’s another to sit across the table from a talking gorilla.
His suit is impeccably tailored: the three rings that gleam on his hands surprisingly restrained, not just for a gorilla, but for a Wall Street titan. He smiles, and it’s both more charming and alarming than I expected. He begs my forgiveness in advance for any lapse of table manners – he’s recently hurt his left hand, he explains, without offering any further details, and forks and knives are difficult for him at the best of times.
He pours the tea – a delicate oolong, his favorite – and splashes in cream and sugar with, it must be admitted, rather less of that surprising grace. Quite a bit of that cream lands on the table cloth; the sugar ends up going even further. I say nothing as I take the tea pot from him, pouring my own cup. Just now, the café is full of people with far worse table manners; from the corner I can see several people giving us what they seem to believe are surreptitious glances.
That’s hardly uncommon when you’re interviewing a celebrity, but still, something seems, well, different, about this. The waitress assures us that scones, followed by the finger sandwiches, are coming right up. I take a sip of the tea and pull out my tablet. Unlike other interviewees, Stanton didn’t just agree to have the interview taped; he insisted on it. His own tablet, I realize, is out on the table, filming us both.
We are supposed to be discussing his rumored interest in one of Hollywood’s large conglomerates. But since he’s more or less opened the topic, I decide to go ahead and raise the question: how did a lowlands gorilla end up running a powerful hedge fund?
Under the fur, I think his shoulders tense. But he answers the question easily enough, as if he’s prepared for it.
His inspiration, he says, was Tarzan.
“I watched those films over and over. The Disney one, the earlier ones, that really boring British one – I was inspired. I even hunted down the books, and I gotta tell you, reading wasn’t my thing. But the way I looked at it, if a rich white baby could turn himself into a gorilla and lead a tribe – well. This gorilla could turn himself into an ultra-privileged Hamptons brat. The stockbroker stuff was more for something to do.”
And so, as a young gorilla, he swung his way into the hearts – and the home – of a Hamptons family. He readily admits that the family money was a help, although he notes that sometimes getting that money wasn’t easy. Stanton says he found himself regularly challenging and challenged by his father – “one of those natural dominance things, you know? Happens to everyone.” When not fighting with his father, he took class after class, immersing himself in books, languages and mathematics studies. He had plenty of spare time, since he was not allowed to join regular Phys Ed classes (“I scared everyone,”), was not, at the time, much of a partier, and only had a few close friends as distractions. His one hobby, apart from languages (Stanton claims to speak fluent English, French, Portuguese, German, Umbuntu and “some” Arabic, and plans to start learning Mandarin “the second I have a chance”), was music, something he studied mostly alone.
A stint at Yale – completed in three, not the usual four years (“they wanted me off campus as quickly as possible, and I was delighted to comply”) and an MBA from Harvard polished him off, and he was almost ready for his first job at a Wall Street bank. Almost.
“I couldn’t fit through the doorway.”
I spill a bit of my tea. “What?”
“Couldn’t get through the doorway. They’d interviewed me at Harvard, so no one had really thought about this. I showed up, got up the narrow stairs – building looked like it was from the Middle Ages, I swear – and then I come in, and it’s like, one half the size of normal American doors, which are already hard for me to squeeze through.”
I’m fascinated. “No one thought of this?”
“So what did you do?”
“Punched through the door.”
Our scones arrive at just that moment; his large fist closes over one of them and moves it to his mouth before the plate even reaches the table.
“Broke down the door and a bit of their wall.” His mouth widens, showing all the crumbs inside. “God, that felt good. Shortest employment of my life, but damn.”
His next job was a bit more of a success – at least, he said, he could get through the door, although finding a chair that could fit him, and a keyboard he could use comfortably, proved more difficult. He refused to ask for disability accommodations. “I’m not disabled. I’m a gorilla.”
He soon had a bigger problem: at the time, that investment firm was pushing a “soft touch” approach. “And I’m a gorilla.” He could manage this – barely – on the phone, but not, apparently, in person. He says he lasted only three months at the job – the firm’s corporate records say six weeks – and needed about eight solid months of wallowing in banana liquor before he could try again.
“Of course part of the problem was that I really hadn’t done that in college, you know. Much less during my MBA program. Gone on a drinking spree, that is. I was trying to work, to prove to everybody that I could be serious, could be intellectual, could do it. And it worked. Earned two college degrees in four years.” (Yale records confirm that Stanton did earn enough credit hours to make him eligible for two BAs, although he was granted only one, with a triple major in mathematics, history and accounting.) “Which meant I really didn’t do the other things. The human things. I didn’t connect.”
The banana liquor binge did something to help that, as did re-establishing ties with his few friends from Yale, and his family members back in the Hamptons, all of which helped center and stabilize him.
“I went back and watched Tarzan again over and over. I drank. I watched the ocean. I climbed into a few trees. Talked to friends. Sulked, if we’re going to be honest about it.”
At the end of this, he found yet another job at another Wall Street firm. “They were hesitant. Very hesitant. By that time, the story of me and the door had gotten around, and well, I didn’t really have that great of a reputation. Nobody wanted to explain me to an insurance company. But Cutter Holdings thought I might be useful in certain negotiations.”
“Hmm. Er. Well – I think they thought I might intimidate people.”
And did he?
Just at that moment, our finger sandwiches – including a large pile of cream cheese on banana bread – arrive. Stanton’s lips stretch. He swoops up a stack of the sandwiches and crams them into his throat. His hand comes thumping down on the table.
I don’t repeat the question.
After five years at Cutter Holdings, Stanton decided to stake out his own firm. He is legally unable to disclose the terms of his exit from the company, he explains, almost apologetically. I don’t press the issue; a Cutter Holdings spokesperson had said something similar when I was researching this article.
Whatever the circumstances, his exit – and his founding of his new firm – were soon complicated by the unexpected death of his father in what three separate police and a later independent federal investigation determined was absolutely, positively an accident.
That accident is also something I decide not to ask about now; Stanton has just broken a tea cup. It’s swiftly replaced, along with our excellent pot of oolong tea, but still, not the best moment to bring up accidents.
His father’s death left Stanton with a Hampton estate, a waterview home on Palm Island, Miami, and a luxury condo in Aspen, Colorado. Stanton rarely uses the Aspen condo, preferring to lend it out to friends or preferred clients; he doesn’t like the cold. Unlike most other billionaires with Miami homes, he doesn’t own a boat – he reportedly gets seasick – but that cold intolerance does mean that he makes frequent trips to that private estate, startling boaters who see him lounging on his deck.
Both the Hampton estate and the Miami home are, rumor has it, equipped with small hidden jungles under hothouses, where Stanton can retreat from the world and relax. The Hampton estate also contains several large trees which Stanton is rumored to take shelter in, along with several ever-present tablets constantly running different apps and videos. He does not confirm or deny these stories, saying only that watching the sea calms him.
Whatever the three homes – and a Swiss estate purchased just a few years ago – might suggest, Stanton is swift to deny the rumors of women, cocaine, and otherwise high living. “Everyone thinks it’s just like that movie. Wall Street. When the truth is, you just don’t have the time. I’m on my computer, my phone, basically 24/7. You can’t just do this lightly. You have to research. Plan. Calculate. And I’ve got these huge thumbs.”
To help, he’s had specialized keyboards, computer screens and office furniture made to accommodate his bulk and physical limitations. He has six personal assistants to handle “virtually everything” right down to peeling bananas for him – “Living with humans, you learn to dislike the skin. And then, one day, I started calculating just how long I was spending peeling bananas, and I was horrified. Horrified. So it’s a budget thing for me.”
As are several other seeming luxuries: the custom hanging beds in every one of his houses – “I get a bit sick of saying it, but, gorilla –”. Professional masseuses charge additional for gorillas, and the ability to fall asleep immediately is worth millions on its own, Stanton says. The private limousines and drivers – Stanton can drive, but finds most vehicles uncomfortable for his size; getting driven also allows him additional time to speak with clients. The private jet – “Seats are way too small, and I can’t get into those bathrooms, either.” Followed by a short laugh. “And since I own a small percentage of some of those planes – well, damaging those isn’t in my best interest.”
Using a private jet also allows Stanton to avoid most airport security procedures, something not really designed for gorillas. “We have to send out a few warnings in advance – I usually can’t go right through one of those X-Ray machines, for instance, and those new ones – what dy’a call them? The scatter things? You know? Forget it.” He has to be wanded. “Which is fine, but most people aren’t really ready to wand a gorilla, and I just don’t have time for that, you know? Every minute I waste on that is literally one million, easy, gone until I can get back on my phone. At a certain point, you have to look at those millions, and say, enough.”
His tea cup breaks in his hand. A watching waitress is there in an instant, replacing it and offering us a complimentary fresh pot of oolong tea, and assures us that the strawberries and cream and champagne are coming right up, along with more of the banana bread sandwiches – and some additional chicken curry sandwiches for me. I could use the sustenance, and I thank her politely.
A mention of another rumor – that he keeps a small family of gorillas hidden either on his Hampton estate or on a small island in Long Island Sound, depending upon who’s telling the story, complete with a small yet palatial customized jungle – is greeted with a snarl and a mention of his latest major acquisition: a large, near controlling interest in fruit supplier Apes For Fruit. Stanton also refuses to discuss what he eats when not talking to interviewers – a diet said to feature Kobe beef, civet cat coffee, and Hostess Twinkies – or discuss his religion. “Again. Gorilla. We’ll leave it at that.”
We do discuss other things, including his cutthroat reputation for really not liking competition – “I know it gets other folks motivated, but I really really don’t like competition. If there’s too many others after the same thing, either they’re eliminated or I’m out. More often the former –” his rumored upcoming takeover bid of a major media conglomerate – “Really can’t discuss that –” how he chooses his targets – that is, acquisitions – “Research. Research. Research. Sometimes lunch conversations like this –” the layoffs he’s orchestrated – “I’m proud to say that we’ve offered outstanding severance packages to employees who, in the course of events, Stanton Enterprises have determined to be non optimal to the future performance of our assets –” his purchase of six different internet sites focusing on cute animal pictures – “Not ready to discuss where we’re going with that, and it may be a failure – but I can’t resist those things.”
“The otters get me. Every time.”
We’ve gone through five tea cups and a first round of strawberries before I ask what really, is it like, to be a gorilla working on Wall Street.
His eyes narrow. He pops some strawberries in his mouth before answering.
“On whether or not we’re meeting in person, or via email or phone.”
I stab a strawberry with a fork and gesture at him to keep explaining.
“People I just talk to on the phone, or via text, or email – they know I’m a gorilla, but then again, they don’t know.” He puts the sixth tea cup down. This time it doesn’t break. “People who interact with me in person – well. They know. It’s hard to explain. But there’s a difference.”
And maybe some awkwardness.
With so many of his fellow – I choke a little on the word – gorillas – remaining either in the jungles, or in zoos.
He seems to be waiting for a question. I take another sip of champagne.
Does he ever think about them?
“I’ve got a lot of respect for them. They work, you know, 24/7. 24/7. I think that’s something most people don’t appreciate. They go to a zoo, see one of us sleeping there, and they think, yeah, lazy gorilla – but sleeping right there? That’s performing. That’s work. I respect that.”
One of us.
“One of us, yeah.”
Still, it must make it awkward, interacting with people who usually see gorillas in zoos.
“Many of your fellow humans remain in even more degrading conditions.”
It’s a point I can’t deny.
Still. I should pursue this. I remember Stanton’s comment – echoing comments that he’s made to other media – that he really, really doesn’t like competition. I don’t know if that means other business moguls, or other gorillas, or humanity in general. I’ve talked to people: I know this is one of their biggest questions. Is Stanton unique? Or will Wall Street soon by overrun by gorilla billionaires? Is he planning on freeing gorillas from zoos and from their few, swiftly diminishing enclaves in Africa?
If he is planning something – or even contemplating something – it’s probably my responsibility not just as a journalist, but as a human, a Homo sapiens, to find out.
But I also can’t help looking at the pieces of shattered tea cups on the table, or remembering his growl from earlier when I mentioned the rumors of hidden enclaves of gorillas on his estates.
In any case, he’s standing. From the neck down, he almost looks elegant, in his tailored Brooks Brothers suit, now a bit stained from the remains of our tea. If I just look at his chest, I can almost – almost – convince myself he’s human, the way I did when setting up this interview with that so remarkably efficient personal assistant. I look up, at his giant face, now back to the mild expression he wore earlier in the interview, at his large teeth, now red and dripping. From strawberry juice, I remind myself. The interview is clearly over. I stand up and extend my hand, thanking him.
He takes it, but only for the briefest of moments. I wonder if I’ve offended him, tell myself it’s just a gorilla thing. I hope it’s just a gorilla thing. Because – as much as the fragments of china might say otherwise – there’s been a certain thrill to this tea, a thrill I’d like to feel again.
And then he’s off, lumbering past the powerful, the once powerful, and a few stray tourists. Chairs shift out of his path; I fancy I hear small sighs of relief. At the departure of a gorilla, or a Wall Street titan?
Impossible to tell. I don’t try. Instead, I grab my tablet, to start prepping for my next interview – with a name who remarkably didn’t come up in this interview: another multi-billionaire allegedly interested in that same Hollywood conglomerate, a woman who – they say – is really a big, bad wolf. I make reservations at a steakhouse for the two of us, all while wondering just what doors Magot Stanton will break next.
© 2019 by Mari Ness
Author’s Note: Most writers will tell you that Twitter is a distraction – a tempting distraction, but a distraction. And they are right. But every once in awhile Twitter gives me an idea – as here, when a conversation about Tarzan and the apes got me thinking about talking gorillas. I originally had something much sillier in mind – thus the use of the celebrity interview format – but this was the end result. I suppose you can also blame a bad habit of regularly reading celebrity interviews. But sometimes bad habits can lead to something. Sometimes.
Mari Ness lives in central Florida, near a lake filled with hidden alligators. Her fiction has previously appeared in multiple venues, including Tor.com, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Fireside, Apex, Nightmare, Daily Science Fiction, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Her poetry novella, Through Immortal Shadows Singing, appeared in 2017 from Papaveria Press. For more, see her occasionally updated blog at marikness.wordpress.com, or follow her on Twitter at mari_ness.
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