A Story About How to Win Friends & Influence People, One: Mack Morris and the FBI

by Megan M. on February 13, 2009 · 5 comments (Blog) |

My Dad told me this story.

What you need to understand about Grampa Mack is that he was always pretty shy, but the man had principles. Growing up in New York City, he always felt compelled to rescue the underdog; he’d frequently jump into fights to rescue smaller kids being picked on, and whathaveyou. (For that reason, he repeatedly got himself punched in the nose. In those days there wasn’t any such thing as a plastic surgeon—so if your nose was broken, you rearranged it on your face so it looked sort of right, and you let it heal. That’s what Mack did.)

Mack’s father was Jewish and had come from Poland. Mack’s father’s name was Sam, and Sam was rather short, but incredibly strong—one might say, preternaturally strong.

Great-Grampa Sam was so strong that he bet somebody 200 dollars that he could lift a horse over his head. “You gotta understand how much 200 dollars was in those days,” my Dad said; “This was 1900 or so, and it was a considerable amount of money!” Sure enough, Sam got under the horse and lifted the horse over his head!

“An adult horse?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Dad said. “Sam came to the United States when he was 12 years old, and he got a job delivering ice and coal to the brownstones in Brooklyn. But the houses had really steep steps going up to them, so he had to climb the steps with the ice and coal—and that combined with the fact that he was Polish got him very, very strong.”

One time someone was beating up Sam’s brother, and Sam went over to a small tree, literally uprooted it with his hands, and started hitting the bully with it. “Not a big oak or anything,” my Dad told me, “but it was a tree.

It was rather lucky to have a strong dude like Sam in the family, since Sam’s bullied-upon brother later delivered Mack when he was born. You can see how Mack might grow up feeling the protector!

“So anyway,” my Dad said.

Mack was nearly six feet tall. People on the block called him the skinny hero. Mack hardly said anything, but was by all accounts a very, very good listener. That he could do very, very well. And because he was a basically good person, people really trusted him.

Much of Mack’s adult life was spent going through the Depression. (I hear that the Depression is not so much something one “found oneself in” so much as something one “went through”.) In his mid-twenties, Mack needed a job and couldn’t find one—like everyone else!—so he got himself a forged transcript saying that he had a graduate degree in social work from New York University. On the basis of that transcript (and because he was very very decent) he landed a job as a supervisor in the New York City Department of Welfare. He became very good at what he did.

One day an FBI agent showed up looking for him and asking for Mack Morris. The secretary called him and said, “There’s an FBI agent outside who’d like to see you.” Immediately Mack thought, of course, that he’d been busted. They’d found out he’d gotten the job under false pretenses and since the job involved recommendations for the disbursement of large amounts of money, and this was the Depression, Mack assumed (reasonably so!) that if he got caught, he’d go to prison.

“So then what!?” I asked.

“Well,” Dad continued.

Mack immediately retreated to the bathroom. He spent several minutes trying to make up a story that he could tell the FBI agent, something that would keep him from getting thrown in jail! But finally he left the bathroom, and was just about to throw himself on the mercy of the guy—tell him that he was newly married, that he just really, really needed a job, that he was desperate…

But before he could say a thing, the FBI agent put his hand up. “Before you speak,” the FBI agent said, “I want to tell you why I’m here.”

And so the FBI agent proceeded to tell him that they were doing a whole reorganization of the FBI. It was this FBI agent’s job to scrutinize the public agencies to find men who were both honest and exemplary, and offer them jobs as FBI agents.

He then told Mack that he had looked at his record as a supervisor at the New York City Department of Welfare, and found that his work was simply outstanding. And would he like to join the FBI?


Mack told the FBI agent that he was quite patriotic, and this was certainly an honor. But, he said, he knew an FBI agent had to be in the field… and he was newly married, so… that just wouldn’t be acceptable. Of course.

So the guy thanked him, and Mack said, “If I can ever be of any help to you, please come back.” And the FBI agent left.

That week, Mack resigned from the New York City Department of Welfare. “Never went back,” my Dad said.

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