Observations on my 84 year old father: “Back to the Drawing Board” Edition

Observations on my 84 year old father: “Back to the Drawing Board” Edition


Dad: Curt, I need a CPA.
Me: Why?
Dad: Well I got that death benefit and I don’t want to pay taxes on it.
Me: Dad, you may need to pay taxes on it. If that’s what the law says…
Dad: I tried to put it into an IRA, but they said I was too old. Why would they punish people for being too old?
Me: I don’t think they’re punishing you for being too old. I think IRA’s were created so people would be encouraged to save for retirement. According to the IRS, you’ve been retired for 17 years. Just go to H&R Block.
Dad: I think this is too complex for them.
Me: Dad, I’m sure they’ve dealt with people acquiring death benefits before.

Sometimes people make things more difficult than they need to be. Sometimes they just don’t want to pay their taxes. Take the Fogelman brothers, Mitch and Murray.* They owned the Rivoli Merchandise Corporation, established in 1961 at 50 Howard Street in Manhattan. They were near the corner of Mercer Street, just behind Canal Street and Canal Hardware, the shop my dad owned.

Rivoli was one of the many businesses in the area that had accounts with Canal Hardware. They would buy stuff like nuts and bolts, brooms and mops, Lysol and Lemon Pledge. Most would pay too much for these items in exchange for neighborhood convenience. Bleach, which would cost no more than a $1.99 a gallon at the supermarket, would cost $3.99 at Canal Hardware. When you need something quick, and there’s no real supermarkets in the neighborhood, as was the case in 1990, you’re OK with paying a 100% premium for a counter brush delivered to your door.

Rivoli never paid on time. Not that they didn’t have the $47.83 they owed. They just were too busy and disorganized to get around to paying it. It was my job to go and collect, not that I was any sort of mob enforcer. I was a gentle, friendly reminder to middle aged Jewish business owners who knew my father for 35 years, that it was time to hand over a check for that toilet brush.

This one time though my dad wanted me to enquire about renting their space. He was flush that month and as narcissists have grandiose ideas, he was convinced he needed to expand. The money was burning a hole in his pocket and the IRS would only take it if he didn’t spend it…or hide it. As Rivoli had been around for close to thirty years and always complained about how lousy business was, he thought they might be happy to just rent us their space.

Through the back door and past the garbage bins I go, across Howard street and over towards Mercer. As you enter Rivoli, all you can see in their dimly lit warehouse, that probably hadn’t been painted since the Truman administration, are half open boxes strewn about in complete disarray. Falling out of them are tchotchkes. These are packages of stuff you’d see in 99 cent stores or the junk you’d win when you turned in your skee-ball tickets. I’m talking about colorful erasers and pencils, super bouncy balls, spinning tops, plastic rings, etc. Otherwise known as junk. Perhaps even known as crap. Take your pick.

Mitch would be darting amongst the flotsam and jetsam with a pencil behind his ear while Murray would be at a desk in a side office with papers and reams of documents strewn about. When Murray looked at me, it would be with the disdain of someone who’s had their rightful misery interrupted by someone who dares to have the luxury of being 25 years younger than him at their disposal. Usually he just dealt with whatever papers he had in front of him, comb over flopping across his hand which held his forehead in place. They had a young, African-American bookkeeper/office assistant who said nothing but also had a look of utter disgust on her face at all times. She seemed to know she needed Rivoli to make a living and barely tolerated it, Mitch, Murray or visitors. We all need a goal in life and this was her constant reminder of what not to aspire to.

As for Mitch and Murray they both were middle-aged and overweight, had comb overs, half glasses on a chain around their necks and rashes on their elbows. Their best days were behind them and they had to pay the bills, put the kids through school, keep the wife out of the few hairs they had left on their sweaty heads and hope to live long enough to retire to Florida with the money they still had after they paid the tax man his vig.

I’d call out to Mitch who’d never remember my name, but would remember my father.

“Hi Mitch”
“How’s Lloyd?” he’d ask.
“Not bad,” I’d say. “I need to pick up a check.”
“Sure” he’d say. “Hey Murray! Give the kid a check. Canal Hardware. How much is it?”
“$47.83,” I’d say.

Then I’d ask him how business was.

“Business? It’s terrible! And those fu*king gonniffs at the IRS…”

Murray, who was silent through his exuded misery, would momentarily raise his head to interrupt Mitch, to pipe in and second the point: “Fu*king gonniffs ! ! ! !”

Back to Mitch…

“It’s worse than ever!”

I figured it was time to make my pitch…“Well, why don’t you just let us rent your space? You wouldn’t have to worry about this facachta business and can just make money off of renting it to us.”

Mitch, who was a whirling dervish of diabetes and seemingly a minute away from a heart attack at all times, stopped dead in his tracks.

“Why should we rent to you?”

I replied “Like you said, business is terrible.” Mitch looks me dead in the eye and with an air of outrage and defiance says “Where’s it written that business should be good?” Murray joins in and barks out, “Forty years feast, forty years famine!”

The bookkeeper seems even more deflated than before. She wished they’d taken the deal. I take my check and go on my way.

It’s back to the drawing board for the bookkeeper and Lou. Especially Lou. The IRS will do that to you. Life will do that to you.

At least Lou has all of his hair.

© Curt Weiss 2015

*I must confess that I can’t guarantee that Murray is the correct name. I know Mitch is correct because I googled it, but for the sake of myth, let’s all just agree that Murray sounds appropriate. I know it’s the same as Glengarry Glen Ross. Just work with me here.

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