After 40 years working in the Post Office, my father, the world’s sweetest, kindest and most unassuming man, retired and moved to Florida with my mother and my grandmother. They bought an apartment at Century Village in West Palm Beach. It was Red Buttons’ favorite place. That’s what it said on the billboard. If it was good enough for Red it was good enough for them. And, off they went.
Even though he had a comfortable pension from the Post Office, my dad took a job down there working at the jai-lai fronton. His job was to write in the winning numbers and what they payed after each game. He’d write them in chalk on a big blackboard up on the second floor.
It wasn’t much of a “skill” job, he would say, laughing. But, it got him out of the house at night. And, my dad was always happiest being part of a group of people. An affable, easy-going man, everyone always enjoyed his company.
Diana and I came down on a visit one time. And, after checking in with mom and grandma we went over to jai-lai to surprise Dad. When I went to buy admission tickets the guy at the counter seemed to recognize me.
“You’re George Goldberg’s boy, aren’t you?”
We shook hands and as I reached into my pocket for my wallet Lenny put a hand up to stop me.
“George’s son can’t pay.”
I tried to explain that it was OK. I didn’t mind paying. And, I didn’t want him to get in any trouble.
Lenny looked at me like English might not be my first language. “George’s son can’t pay,” he repeated, then punched out two tickets and waved us in.
We walked a few feet and then Lenny called out after us, “Your father’s a great guy.”
I turned back to Lenny, “You don’t have to tell me.”
Diana and I made our way upstairs, weaving carefully through a noisy, colorfully clad crowd of people. When we came around the corner we saw my dad. He was up on a stool, his back to us, chalk in one hand, cigarette in another. He had already been diagnosed with the lung cancer that would eventually kill him. And, as far as we all knew he had given up smoking about six months ago.
He was kibitzing with a couple of guys. And, even from the back I could tell he was smiling. He hopped down from the stool and when he saw us he broke into a big grin.
As he came towards us he must have suddenly realized he was still holding the cigarette, because he cupped it in his big hand and put it behind his back. He looked like a kid caught smoking in the high school bathroom.
We hugged and kissed. A special hug for Diana who he adored. We stood there for a few seconds as the smoke began to billow up now from his elbow.
“Pop,” I said, trying to locate him through the haze of smoke. He looked down at the cigarette in his hand as if surprised to find it there. Smiled, sheepishly, “Two a night, that’s all.”
I went off to get some coffee for us as Dad and Diana went to find a place to sit.
At the snack bar I ordered coffee from an overweight, older woman, Estelle. As I reached for my wallet. Estelle put her hand out to stop me. “George’s son can’t pay.”
I explained that I didn’t mind. I didn’t want her to get in any trouble. She fixed me with a stern look.
“George’s son can’t pay.”
Back at the apartment later that night Dad and I were seated together in the screened-in porch area, known, not surprisingly, in that part of the world, as the Florida room. My father was worried about money. His and mine.
“I’m making too much money now," he told me.
“How do you figure that, Pop?”
He explained that with the cost of living allowance that was built into his pension, he kept getting an increase every year. And, he didn’t think he deserved it.
“How much is it up to now?”
“Thirteen hundred dollars a month.”
“Just enjoy it.”
“I can’t. I’m worried about young families starting out. How are they going to buy homes? Get what they need. If old guys like me are taking so much out of the system.”
I tried to explain that I didn’t think his thirteen hundred a month was causing the Federal Reserve to tighten interest rates. But, I could see it was really bothering him.
“Who takes care of your money?” he then asked. “Because, there’s a guy lives across the courtyard from me,” he explained, “Arthur. Very wealthy man. Knows a lot about business. I think you should talk to him.”
My father had paid $14,000 for his apartment. I assumed Arthur, who lived in an identical unit, had paid about the same. The year before, when Family Ties sold into syndication, I was handed a check slightly larger than the Gross National Product of Ecuador. But, my father could never quite grasp what had happened. And for him, Arthur, who had been in plumbing supplies, and probably maxed out at 45 thousand, was a “very wealthy man.”
“He knows a lot about business. Talk to him. I’m worried about you.”
Arthur couldn’t have been sweeter or more thoughtful. He served coffee and cookies and gave me a brief overview of his investment philosophy. Put it in the bank. Take the interest. Sleep good at night. Series E Bonds. Christmas club. Stuff you can count on. I thanked him for his time. And, went back downstairs. My dad was there.
“You saw Arthur?”
“I did. Smart guy. And, very nice.”
My father looked over towards Arthur’s apartment. Spoke quietly, “Very wealthy man.”
“I know, Dad.”
“I feel better.”