Dad Got Mill

With his wife’s urging, a middle-aged man musters the courage to open a luxury men’s store on the brink of the pandemic.

Dad Got Mill

a short story
by Andrew B. Hurvitz

Soundtrack: Dad Got Mill on Spotify

DGM

Kathy Fessenden and I were on our daily walk around the Silver Lake Reservoir to exercise and throw out ideas.

Raised in a small North Dakota town, founded by her family, my wife worked as a Senior Financial Analyst at Disney, her only employer for the last 25 years. Kathy was the reason we could afford a house, a private academy for Nikolas, and last year’s trip to Sardinia. She was frugal. And we were well off from that.

By contrast, I stayed at home, listening to my large collection of jazz records, trading mutual funds, auditioning for voice acting jobs, researching out-of-state houses for sale.

Decades earlier, in New York, I was a junior analyst at Goldman Sachs, then a trader at Morgan Stanley, then a portfolio manager at Fidelity. At no point did I progress at those jobs.

My secret dream was to own a men’s clothing shop.
My reality was pursuing imaginary creative endeavors past 50.

Yet Kathy Fessenden loved me no matter what.
We had a strange, but successful marriage.


Go Forth!

That morning, we stopped on the west side of the lake, near a stark, flat-roofed Gregory Ain house. It was perched on a hill with a row of tall windows overlooking the reservoir.

As she spoke, I looked up at that house, floating back down to her words.

“Listen to me! You love Las Colinas Rojas and Winchester Arcade. You said if you had one place to make a store it would be there. It has all your requirements: glass roofed, English, charming.

“Am I foolish? Am I dreaming? Can we afford it?” I asked.

“We’ve had this discussion so many times. Go forth and manifest what you want in life!” she said.

“Bottom line. I’m a failure. I can’t earn a living. I’m torn up because I’m too afraid to sign a lease and open a little men’s store. I’m a wimp,” I said.

“You have my support and resources. Make 2018 your year of action. Sign the lease. Buy the goods, and get on it,” she said.

We walked, the sun came out, my mood lifted.

“Do you like the name August? I read a novel by that name when I was young, about the month when the therapists go out of town, and since I’m always in therapy with Myra Rubin, it fits,” I said.

“I like it. Nik goes back to school in late August. He can help you set up the store,” she said.

“Maybe I should discuss it with Myra first,” I said.

“She won’t give you an answer. She’ll just ask you what you think,” she said.

“I think I’ll paint the shelves Farrow and Ball Green Smoke. I’ll have perfumes from DS & Durga and dad’s favorite, St. John’s Bay Rum. And handmade socks from Japan, great khakis, nice oxfords, Irish woolen caps, Italian silk neckties, crested navy blazers, and rugby shirts. A traditional men’s store with whiskey, tweed jackets and jazz music,” I said.

“I love it. There’s your answer. You came up with it yourself, without your therapist’s help,” she said.

We hugged and then continued up the steep hill to our dark green 1938 ranch house on Kenilworth Avenue.

It stretched along the sidewalk, garage near the street, stub driveway, no front lawn.

In the back, on our enormous wooden deck, we spent many hours enjoying our expansive views over Silverlake.


Lease

I signed the lease!

Move in date was three months away, August 1, 2018. I spent the summer buying stock for the store, nervous, but excited.

$70,000 on Kathy’s credit card.

Boxes came to Kenilworth Avenue: Trucker’s English brogues, Scottish cashmeres, J Press oxfords, Ralph Lauren neckties; perfumes, wool scarves, tweed jackets, tennis sweaters, university sweatshirts, lambswool caps, brushed cotton flannels.

Nik watched me open a box of Norwegian wool sweater vests.

“Who’s going to wear that in LA?” he laughed.

“People with money go places, they don’t stay in one place. They ski in Switzerland, or they have a winter lodge in Vermont. Those are the customers who will shop at August,” I said.

He chuckled at my Farrow and Ball paint samples, picked up two cans, read the labels.

“Duck Green and Lake Red. Sounds like your new customers. Nobody buys clothes in stores anymore,” he said.


Shad Mill/ Dad Got Mill

The only thing I didn’t have were old style rugbies.

One of my 57 followers was Shad Mill of Dad Got Mill clothing, made in Los Angeles.

He had fine hashtags: #Slow fashion, #handmade, #traditional, #organic, #heirlooms, #rugby.

Shad was a former New Yorker, about my age, now living here in Los Angeles.

Blond models in striped rugby shirts populated his page.

He had a long resume in fashion, most recently as head designer at Chuck Fagan. And he made high end rugby shirts, precisely tailored khakis with old Hollywood names (“Spencer” and “Montgomery”), and unconstructed wool blazers.

He had a vaguely preposterous persona, quite pretentious, but characteristic of his age and profession. I invited him to the opening party at the store.


Colin

Again, on Instagram, I found Colin Chu, a 27-year-old vintage menswear dealer who lived with his parents in Alhambra.

We met for coffee at a little cafe in the Winchester Arcade, weeks before the store opened.

He wore high waisted jodhpurs, tucked in ivory cashmere sweater and cordovan lace up boots. Thin, smooth faced, articulate, he spoke fluently and easily in grosgrain, merino, foulard, lapel, angora and alpaca.

He talked about his eBay store, selling vintage neckties, tweed jackets, oxford shirts, wool caps, and rowing blazers. I liked his positive energy, boyish and eager.

He was active in influencer walks in Los Angeles, groups of guys who walked around men’s stores trying on expensive clothes they never purchased and photographing themselves wearing luxury goods.

I told Colin about my life: growing up in Suffolk County, New York, my love of traditional clothing, my unhappy years commuting to jobs on Wall Street, and my eventual rescue by Kathy, who convinced me to go west to get married, escape finance, and pursue voice acting.

After I spoke, I felt letdown by my autobiography.

My abridged life story was like wood floating down a river: pulled by the current, past landmarks beyond reach, moving along with no direction.

“You gave up voice acting? Why not keep working to achieve your dream?” he asked.

“Good question. No answer. I ended up as a day trader, which was more lucrative, and then I invested in real estate,” I said.

“Owning property is always a good move. One day I’ll own a house, or two,” he said.

I felt old. I referenced the golden age of Hollywood: Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Steve McQueen, The Thomas Crown Affair, Sabrina, The Philadelphia Story, Holiday, The Birds.

All elicited a blank stare.

Bewildered, he looked at me like a father. We had nothing in common, but love, for clothes.

But he had youth and I had none. I needed him.

He would pull in young clientele, beef up social media, sell online.

He seemed ethical, honest, and trustworthy. He wouldn’t steal or lie. I could leave him in the store, go on vacation, no worries.

“I would be into working with you. I live not too far from here. Commuting is fine. I can borrow my mom’s car. How much can you pay?” he asked.

“$20 bucks an hour. 30 hours a week,” I said.
“Ok. I’ll take it,” he said.

As a placeholder I offered him a bottle of 18-year-old Scotch.

“No, thank you. My parents don’t allow liquor in the house. Our church prohibits it,” he said.


Opening

Kathy, Nik and I drove to Las Colinas Rojas early Sunday morning on the day of the store’s opening party.

The queen city of the San Gabriel Valley was in a mist. We came up through a mansion lined road of sprawling lawns and mature oaks, clouds hiding the sun, and emerged into the shopping district as the fog receeded.

We parked in back, stood in the glass ceilinged arcade, outside the store entrance, viewing it like tourists.

August was painted in Old English Monotype on the window. Behind the sign, a body form wore a double-breasted blue blazer. Spread below it were my jazz albums from the 1950s and 60s: Miles Davis, Art Blakely, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk.

Colin was inside, holding a small paint can and brush, finishing off a cabinet shelf.

He had meticulously hung the Japanese tailored Ring Jackets in the back room, alternating the coats with rigidly ironed dress shirts, grouped by colors, in a rhythm of light blue, navy, and white.

He had steamed, iron and folded.

“Have a donut,” he said, pointing to an open box.

On a round, dark wood table were an assortment of tartan scarves. A chrome liquor cart on wheels held various spirits, wine and highball glasses.

A feather duster rested against a bottle of Dewar’s.

Vintage watches were arrayed under glass at checkout. On the wall behind the register hung framed and matted black and white photographs of defunct New York jazz clubs.

“How did you learn to do all this?” Kathy asked.

“Ralph Lauren. I worked in the Beverly Hills store for two years when I was at UCLA,” he said.

Kathy leafed through a colorful assortment of rugby shirts on wooden hangers.

“Hey, these are nice. Very heavy, weighty cotton,” she said.

I walked over, concerned.

“I don’t know those rugbies. Where did these come from?” I asked Colin.

“Some man dropped a box off yesterday. I thought you ordered them,” Colin answered.

I looked at the labels: Dad Got Mill.

Kathy checked Disney Visa on her phone.

“Yep. Here’s $4,320 on the card by Dad Got Mill,” Kathy said.

“Oh, so I did. My mistake,” I said.


The Party

Trumpeter Kenny Dorham played on LP. Guests drank scotch and craft beer. They looked through the wares, admired the clothes, took photos.

They were Asian-American friends of Colin, young guys, in collared shirts, knit beanies, selvedge jean jackets, expensive rolled up denim, and dark leather shoes.

A good-looking Black man rode up on a Harley-Davidson, parked along the curb, came inside.

I sipped my iced whiskey and walked around.
Kathy and Nik smiled. The party was going well.
I met Shad.

He was a white middle-aged male, possibly fat or thin, 5’10, covered in orange turtleneck, blue and gray flannel shirt, houndstooth tweed jacket, striped university scarf, horn rimmed glasses, and green tweed driving cap, the quintessence of eastern seaboard docked at the liquor cart in Las Colinas Rojas, California.

“Dad Got Mill! Wonderful clothes. Welcome to August. I’m so delighted to have you here,” I said.

“Yes, yes. I’m still getting used to LA. Finding my way. Almost got lost coming here,” he said, toasting with his gin and tonic.

“Delighted you came. You worked for some great designers in New York,” I said.

“Yes, yes. I was the head designer for Chuck Fagan and I also worked ten years for Ralph Lauren. Things change in fashion. When I was hired at Polo in 1999, people there still looked like me. When I left they were already into diversity. Dad Got Mill is my salute to our family mill that once stood on the Merrimac River in Massachusetts,” he said.

“Oh, lovely. You take your family heritage and create a brand out of that,” I said.

“I’m the real article. So many pretend to have my heritage. I mean Ralph is an example of that,” he said.

“Well, my family worked in fishing, trucking, farming, and I was the first to go to college,” I said.

“Yes, yes,” he answered, seemingly bored, sipping his drink.

“Are you relocating to California permanently?” I asked.

“I think so. But the problem is nowhere do I really feel at home. I moved to a gorgeous 1929 Spanish duplex apartment near Sycamore and 2nd. I would have killed for something like it in New York. It’s tree lined, quaint, charming. My place has French doors, balcony, wood floors, perfect for my watercolors,” he said.

“Like the West Village,” I said.

“A few days after I moved in, I sat down with my nightly Negroni. I was jolted by loud noise. Upstairs moved an Orthodox Jewish family, The Moskowitz Bunch. They are horrendous. Three brats in yarmulkes, pounding on the floors. The noise is insane. I went up to knock on their door when they got loud, and they wouldn’t open it. They pray all the time. They won’t answer the phone on Friday or Saturday! I hear Hebrew melodies until midnight. They boil everything and the smell comes into my apartment. It’s repulsive,” Shad said.

“Maybe you should look for a place in Las Colinas Rojas,” I said.

“I don’t think I’d like it here either. Las Colinas Rojas is way too Asian, like Flushing, Queens. I’m a normal American guy. I want to live in a normal American place. Every place in LA is infested with Armenians, Asians, Mexicans, Jews. Can you advise me on where not to go?” Shad asked.

I looked around to see if anyone else could hear.

His openly expressed hatreds were startling. That he considered me an empathetic ear was unsettling.

“Please excuse me. Look in your email for the agreement on Monday,” I said.

I watched from a distance as Chad inspected his rugbies.

Colin came over, beaming.

“We have our first sale! Two Dad Got Mill rugbies. $400. And they bought a Drake’s scarf for $375, and Orslow khakis for $225!” he said.

“That’s great news! I just had a talk with Shad Mill. I like his shirts. I like his style. I like his business acumen. But I really don’t like him,” I said.

“Why?” Colin asked.

“He’s an old-style bigot, in the exact mode of his 1940s clothing,” I whispered.

“Ok. Gotcha. Let’s talk later. I see someone at the register,” Colin said, patting my shoulder reassuringly.

Shad was across the room. He sipped his drink, put it down on the tie table, left the store. I wondered how sloshed he was and if he was driving home.

The athletic, good-looking Black man came over.
“Hey, I’m Joshua. I want to shake your hand. I absolutely adore your store. This Dad Got Mill rugby is the best quality I’ve come across. How come it took so long for a shop like this to open in LA?” he asked.

His teeth glistened. His handshake was iron.

“It’s my fault. I procrastinated for twenty years until my wife told me to get my ass in gear,” I joked.

“I’m glad you did. Seriously, this is so pristinely elegant and well-merchandized. And very welcoming and diverse. I feel the love you have for all people, all the glorious rainbows in this city. You have my blessings. I’m going to post myself in this shirt tonight. I only have 43,000 followers but my wife has over 100,000,” he said.


Christmas Season

Kathy and I had planned a three weeklong, family trip to Scotland in December.

I went ahead with our vacation plans and decided to close up the store for nearly 8 weeks, from Thanksgiving to the middle of January.

A working trip.

That was my official line.

Colin was surprised.

“I can’t imagine closing down before Christmas. That’s the prime shopping season. I really need the income. I’m helping my folks with their property taxes,” Colin said.

“I’m going to source goods. I have a trip planned to visit Inis Meáin Knitting Company in the Aran Islands,” I said, half truthfully.

“It’s like throwing money away. This is your first Christmas. What are you thinking? What about all those potential customers who wander in a few days before Christmas looking for gifts?” he asked.

I had no answer.

“Enjoy your time off and come back in mid- January, refreshed,” I said.

“Refreshed? If I am not working here, I’m working at my mom’s dry cleaners. If she doesn’t need me, I’m selling clothes on eBay. And if I don’t sell on eBay, I’ll work at my father’s hardware store. I told them I’ll be working with you for the holidays,” he said.

“Ok, I’ll let you keep the store open. I trust you. Keys will be in your hands and you’ll do it all,” I said.

“Yes! That’s a good plan. We are bursting with inventory now. I counted five dozen cashmeres,” he said.


Elation

We went to Scotland. And we had a grand time. I was calm and relaxed with honest, hard-working Colin minding the store.

We spent a week in Edinburgh. We went to festive Christmas markets, Jenners department store, and the Scottish market in St. Andrew’s Square.

I purchased a $450 oil cloth, corduroy collared, tartan lined coat at Barbour Edinburgh. And a matching one for Nik.

Kathy abstained.

“I don’t want one. We’ll all look ridiculous walking around in the same jacket,” she said.

We traveled to Braemar and spent Christmas at the Fife Arms, a 19th-century inn. We ate smoked salmon, venison burgers, drank scotch and local ale. We drove further and ended up in Glencoe, along the steep sided mountains, with waterfalls and trails, red deer and golden eagles, and spent New Years at the Isle of Mull Hotel along the sound.

We visited the Isle of Iona with her Benedictine abbey and St Oran’s Cemetery, burial grounds for many Scottish kings.

We never made it to the Aran Islands. We went back to Edinburgh, and stayed our last two nights at The Balmoral, a palatial Victorian hotel.

It was a long, tiring trip back to Los Angeles.

After a day and night of insomnia and napping, still high on Scotland, I went to see Colin at August.

The store looked perfect, as usual. The soundtrack was Ahmad Jamal’s Happy Moods.

A Diptyque fig candle burned.

The pressed shirts hung in formation, the sweaters were precisely stacked, the antique wristwatches were laid diagonally across purple velvet under clear glass.

Gone was all holiday décor. Soon the spring shirts would arrive, linen and madras would replace wool and flannel.

“How was business?” I asked.

“We had some good numbers. I sent you daily updates by email. Didn’t you see them?” he asked.

“I didn’t open my email. I apologize,” I said.

“Really? You didn’t look at any of the sales figures for your store for the last two months?” he asked.


s-l1600

Valentine’s Day

I was working alone, one Friday in early February, when model man Joshua Fuhrman came in, smiling, ebullient.

At no angle was he ever imperfect.

“A little Valentine’s present since you weren’t here for Christmas,” he said as he handed me a 1956 collector’s LP: Jazz at Cal Tech, Bud Shank Quartet in Concert.

“My gosh! This is wonderful. Can I hug you?” I asked, throwing myself around his knotty physique and sea green cashmere.

“This record belonged to my dad. I honestly have no reason to keep it, as I have nothing to play it on,” he said.

I admired his outfit.

“Lovely sweater. 6 ply? One of ours?” I asked.

“Oh man you caught me. I saw the Johnston’s label here. I actually got it on eBay. Brother, I’m looking for a tweed coat,” he said.

“Come right this way, sir,” I said.

I showed him a $1,300 jacket, gray Donegal tweed, two button, notch lapel, black buttons. The way he slipped into it was graceful, though a bit tight in the shoulders.

“I work out too much. That’s why I can’t get hired. You have something less pricey?” he asked.

“Dad Got Mill has a less expensive, unconstructed jacket in blue worsted,” I said.

“Absolutely not. Don’t mention Dad Got Mill. Hate that fucker,” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“He blocked me on Instagram. Did the same to your boy Colin. Maybe he’s a white supremacist. Why block me? I’m a god damned Ford Model. Wouldn’t you want me wearing your clothes? For free?” he asked.

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

“You have bigots out there who want to keep Ivy Trad for their own kind,” he said.

“I hope you feel welcome here. I don’t countenance any bigotry,” I said.

“Yeah, I know. I’ll be back. Probably this weekend,” he said.

I thanked him again for the jazz album as he left empty handed.


Numbers

I began to fear my association with Shad Mill. Maybe Joshua was right. I thought of removing Dad Got Mill.

Colin objected. He brought up our Shopify dashboard. A multi-colored circle was divided into percentages pertaining to each vendor.

“Dad Got Mill is 14% of our sales. That’s the largest of any brand we carry. And when the clients buy rugby shirts, they usually get khakis or denim, or both. Dad Got Mill pulls in other labels. It’s not good business to stop selling it,” Colin said.

“How many DGM pieces do we have?” I asked.

“You have 40 rugby shirts, 19 pairs of khakis, 12 sport coats. See your net costs here, and your retail here. If you remove Dad Got Mill that potentially is nearly $20,000 in sales. Keep it. Don’t pull it. You will thank me for this,” he said.


Social Media

On days we worked together Colin was like a therapist. He listened carefully to all my gripes, personal and business. He always had logical advice for my childlike mind.

Colin was also my salesman, my accountant, my merchandiser, my stylist, my social media guru. He brought in new customers. And August got some fame for reviving traditional men’s clothing stores in Los Angeles.

Nowhere in the Southland was anyone else selling handmade velvet slippers with embroidered bulldogs for $550. I fantasized that tweed suits, angora turtlenecks and camel hair coats belonged on men who lived year-round on sunny, palm lined streets.

Even with the hype and Colin’s industriousness, most days we sold nothing.

I cut back store hours. That gave me more time to audition for voice work and browse vintage record stores in Hollywood.

Now Colin came in only two days a week.

I needed him most on Saturdays and Sundays, for the weekends brought social media stragglers, crowds and chaos, nothing but mess. And Colin was highly skilled at clean-up and containment.

They arrived in packs, an obnoxious, unprofitable procession of juvenile influencer pilgrims who never spent a dime. They photographed themselves in everything. They pulled items off hangars and shelves, tried on shirts, sweaters, hats, jackets. They drank my Japanese scotch. They hung out for hours, often congregating in the arcade smoking pot. I had to make sure nobody shoplifted.

Their presence was an ordeal.

What could keep the vicarious pigs out? Something expensive, exclusionary and custom.

I proceeded with posh plans for a made-to-measure clothing event with Mr. Ian Humphries of Bosworth Woolens. I fortified our bar with a few bottles of Balvenie 21 Year Scotch at $249 each.

He flew in from London and brought his famed two button jackets with the trademark CelticCross© lapel buttonhole, and several thick books of Irish, Scottish and English fabrics. We invited everyone on our mailing list to a custom fitted weekend of woolens.

It was a dud. We made not a single sale.

It was humiliating to watch Ian run into the parking lot chasing after a young customer, begging him, unsuccessfully, to try on a $1,400 tartan wool jacket.

“You can have it for $1,300,” Ian shouted as the buyer drove off.


The Pandemic

I first heard of Covid-19 on Friday, January 24, 2020 when Nik read aloud a tweet from epidemiologist Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding.

“We are now faced with the most virulent virus epidemic the world has ever seen,” Nik quoted.

“Don’t believe everything you read on Twitter,” I said.

“Dad they’re closing down cities in China and people can’t leave their houses,” he said.

“It’s in Asia. They sound like they have it under control. Relax,” I said, never imagining the war to come.


Discovery

Colin had asked for the weekend off to attend a family reunion in Big Bear. Nik came to work with me.

I was happy, for I had a foreboding about the last days of August.

Late morning at the store, Laura F., a petite young tourist with close-cropped blond hair, tried on a medium Viyella tartan button down. She came from Chicago, followed us on Instagram and was excited to shop here.

“I only wear small,” she said.

“We have six different colored small ones in in back,” I answered and asked Nik to retrieve.

He came out empty handed.
“I couldn’t find any,” he said.
“What? We have them in stock. Look at our Shopify,” I said.

Laura picked up a $275 Harley of Scotland wheat-colored Shetland sweater.

“I love this. Do you have it in small?” she asked.

I checked our online inventory.

“Yes, you’re lucky. We have red, navy, forest green and rust, all in small,” I said.

Nik went to get them.
He came out with nothing.

“Sorry, Laura. Missing those too,” he said.

I apologized to the customer.

“This is disappointing. I thought for sure I would be walking out with a few items,” she said.

Nik sat at the laptop, concentrating, jotting down items on paper. He went in back, spent a half hour there, and came out with his verdict.

“Dad you have a theft problem. There are many jackets, shirts, and sweaters that are supposed to be unsold, in stock, but are not in storage,” he said.

“That’s impossible. Colin knows everything. He’s on top of sales to the last penny,” I said.

“Maybe he’s your problem,” Nik said.

I looked onscreen at our inventory.

“Have you checked Dad Got Mill’s khakis? We should have twenty pairs,” I asked.

“I checked that too. You have six pairs in back. What’s your boy’s eBay store?” he asked.

“I can’t remember,” I said.

“Your only employee and you don’t know?” Nik asked, as he pushed me aside to look up Colin’s eBay.

Within thirty seconds, Nik found Colin Chu Superb Vintage Menswear.

IMG_7773

There were many items from August: tweed jackets, khakis, socks, t-shirts, neckties, flannel shirts, dress shoes.

Our $600 cashmeres for $450 each.

My trusted employee was stealing and selling stolen goods.

I was diminished, degraded, betrayed.

“Please don’t tell your mother,” I begged.

“Mom should know. She’s your wife and co-investor,” he said.

“Let me handle it. Say nothing to her. I never thought that respectful, churchgoing young man would steal,” I said.

“He has half your inventory. Mom’s credit card is paying for his eBay,” he said.

“Just shut-up! Show some sensitivity. You don’t have to utter every dumb thing that comes into your head!” I shouted.

“Fuck you,” he said.

He stormed out into the arcade, passing by Joshua, the male model arriving for his weekly no buy visit.

“Hey there. Did I come at an awkward time?” Joshua asked.

“No, no. Just teenage hormones. You know how that works,” I said.

“Indeed, I do. I was there 20 years ago,” he said.

He went straight to the Italian motorcycle jacket, a $1,400 black lambskin number with an asymmetric zipper. He put it on, walked to the mirror to admire.

“Damn, I look good,” he said.
“Last one,” I said.

“I’ll think about it. It looks great over these Dad Got Mill khakis,” he said as he left.

It was always the same routine with him. Never a sale.

Next thing I heard was his motor revving. I looked out the window as he sped off on his Harley.

Nik came back with two cappuccinos.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that earlier. I didn’t mean it dad. I was wrong. I mouthed off,” he said.

“Ok. Apology accepted,” I said.

“Did he buy anything?” he asked.

I took a sip of coffee.

“Nope. He comes in every weekend. Never a sale,” I said.

“He probably sees what he likes, and buys it from Colin on eBay,” Nik said.

“I’ve got bad news. I’m afraid today will be it,” I said.

“Why?” he asked.

“I have half my inventory stolen, my buyers are gone from the pandemic, what reason is there to keep this store open?” I asked.

“I wonder what Mom will say,” Nik said.

“Use Covid as the excuse. She doesn’t need to know about my ignorance concerning Colin and the stealing,” I said.


Covid

The world collapsed and we went to hide in our house, to order groceries online and wash them outside under the garden hose, to wear masks on our morning walk, to conduct work and school online, to look out the window and observe streets without cars and skies without planes.

A month had passed since I found out about the theft. I fired Colin. He left the store keys in our home mailbox.

Kathy commandeered the dining room table for her home office. Nik stayed in bed attending school.

I was going out of my mind, unable to escape them, or myself. I had nowhere to go. Everything was shut down.

While I languished Kathy still had a job. Our entire prosperity rested upon her diligence and hard work.

She was colder, distant, bothered by something she never uttered. I probably knew exactly what that something was. But I had no guts to say it.

While she worked, I slithered out to the deck to work on the New York Times crossword puzzles and browse houses on Zillow and Redfin. Anything to distract.

After 5, I drank bourbon, whiskey or wine. I sat in self-pity, staring across the lake. That was my routine. How long could this go on?

One day I heard the floorboards shake.

Kathy marched out of the house, onto the deck, and stood over me, looming.

“You’ve been lying to me. Colin stole from you. Nik said that he found out the day he went to work with you. That’s why you fired Colin. Yet you came home and said nothing. All these weeks have passed. I knew the whole story. I waited for you to tell me. Nik is worried, terrified of you, and I’m god damned furious,” she said.

“If I had paid attention to inventory and sales, this wouldn’t have happened. My ego has been destroyed by this. It confirms every rotten thing I’ve thought about my own ineptitude. I couldn’t face you. I made an appointment to discuss this on Zoom with Myra Rubin,” I said, referring to my old therapist.

“Myra? Were you going to tell her before me? I don’t care about your oblivious mismanagement. I care about the cover-up. You lied and told our son to lie. What about Nik? When I asked him to be honest, he thought he was snitching. I trusted you. I supported you in every sense. How could you lie to me? How could you recruit him to lie?” she asked.

“I know, I know,” I said.

“How much did Colin steal?” she asked.

“Maybe $20,000 or $30,000,” I answered.

“Did you file a police report?” she asked.

“Of course not. I’m not putting him jail,” I said.

“Then how are we supposed to file a claim? Nik can’t go to college next year. We don’t have the money,” she said.

“Another calamity I brought on us,” I said.

“Do you think of anyone but yourself? All I hear is how bad this makes you feel. What about me? And our son?” she asked.

“What can I do?” I asked.

“I don’t know. You told Nik to keep a secret. It put him in pain. It put our family in jeopardy. And a crime you didn’t report to me or law enforcement. You had to know that eventually the truth would come out. You had no right, no right at all,” she said, as she broke down sobbing.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I said.

“You took all my love and trust and destroyed it. I despise you. I wish I could leave you. But we can’t go anywhere now. The pandemic took that away. The world is shut down. We are trapped. We must muddle through our pain and heartbreak here under one roof, day by day. Tonight, go sleep in the guest room,” she said.


Blue Star

Thrown out of our bed, I felt, in some way, homeless, tortured by my own histrionics.

Those who had no home, the ones who lived in the Griffith Park, set it afire. Around the city, people moved into RVs, they slept under bridges, pitched tents on the sidewalk, turned the public lands into their private campsites.

I slept in the guest room, fearful and alone, imagining home invaders. Lost was sound sleep and the old reassurances of work and wife.

There was no happiness or peace. Everywhere was catastrophe: mind, marriage and country.

People recorded a man murdered by cop in Minneapolis and every city in the United States rioted. The police were attacked, stores were looted, the President walked through smoke cleared crowds and held a Bible aloft.

There were sick and dying people around the world. The days and nights got hotter.

And everything true was a lie.


Clearance

Nik and I cleared out the store and brought the stock into the garage on Kenilworth Avenue to lay in its crypt on steel shelves behind my Lexus.

Our daily walk was conducted in silence, a masked march around the lake, timed at 45 minutes on the Nike App which always ecstatically cheered:

“This is Coach Sally! Congratulations on another amazing run, you are killing it!”


Alhambra

In August, the month, not the store, Colin texted me.

“I have money to pay you, along with some clothes in the garage. Would you consider coming by my house so I can make good to set things right?”

I drove to Alhambra, to South Monterey off Valley Boulevard, a straight street of Spanish cottages and two bed ranches, steel guarded windows, workaday shrubs, bright annuals, white sedans and garden gnomes.

I parked in front of the Chu Home, a little, yellow, stucco house with metal awnings, red tile roof, and detached garage in back, probably built for some returning veteran of WWII.

Colin, masked, in blue Dodgers cap, black t-shirt, black basketball shorts and sock footed rubber sandals, came out to the curb.

How young he was, how fresh and clean, washed and dried in Tide and Downy.

“Hi,” he said, head down, contrite.

I kept my hands in my pockets and grunted behind sunglasses and N-95 mask.

“You have something of mine?” I asked, coldly.

“Stay here and I’ll bring the clothes to your car. I have four containers. My parents are inside. I told them you were coming. They don’t know nothing, so please just wave if you feel like it. My dad is sick, my mom too,” he said.

“Covid?” I asked.
“Yes. Thank God they are not worse,” he said.
“And you?” I asked.
“Nothing. Only God knows why,” he said, scurrying up the driveway to retrieve the illegal goods.

Mr. and Mrs. Chu came to wave at the picture window. I waved back to the old parents, born in Taiwan, the father and the mother in face masks, pajamas and bathrobes.

I was heartbroken. Seeing them I lost pity for my own life of inherited advantage.

They were sick but alive, their faith and their son keeping them going.

I lost my anger too.

I thought my judgment was sound in not going to the police.

Sometimes, for the sake of justice, silence is the superior testimony.

I opened the car trunk, and Colin came down the driveway with a hand truck and boxes. He loaded in the garments, fitting the containers in neatly, the remaining inventory of August.

“Can you come over to the other side of the car?” he asked.

We stepped to the driver’s side, to hide from the watchful eyes of the parents, as Colin opened a large manila envelope thick with banded cash.

“This is all the money I made selling on eBay. I won’t keep none of it. $15,000. I pay you everything. I’m taking down my store for now. I’m applying to business school at UCLA.” he said.

“How are you able to afford graduate school?” I asked.

“I have a Jack Kent Cooke scholarship. Undergrad and grad school. Fully paid,” he said.

“You must make your parents proud,” I said.

“They think well of me. If you can find it in your heart to also forgive me, that would be the biggest gift,” he said.

“I do forgive you, Colin. You and I are settled. Good luck with your future. I think you will do very well. Please give your parents my best wishes. When times are normal again, maybe we can all meet for dim sum,” I said.

“Goodbye boss. Thank you for the wonderful opportunity you gave me, truly, you believed in me,” he said.

His mother and father remained at the window. I was the big V.I.P. who had employed their son. Perhaps they stood there to honor me, another elder, like attendees at a parade.

If they looked upon me with admiration, surely, I was undeserving of their respect.

I got into my car, opened the windows, and waved good-bye to Colin on the lawn, and to his mother and father behind the glass, all of us in our masks, all making life in pandemic time.


Home

I drove back to my street, my house at the end came into view.

Kathy was outside, dressed in a cotton top and yoga pants, leaning against the garage, cold and shivering. From a distance she was again a young woman.

I parked along the curb and got out.

“What’s wrong? Are you sick?” I asked.

“No. I locked myself out of the house. Nik rode off somewhere on his bike. I don’t have my phone. Where were you?” she asked.

“Colin’s house, Alhambra. He gave me back what he has. Clothes and 15 grand. Let me get a sweater out of the car for you,” I said.

“You’re kidding? Cash and clothes? I guess that’s good news,” she said.

I pulled out a white woolen cardigan, brought it over and placed it across her shoulders. Her teeth were chattering.

“Thank you. I was so dumb. I closed the garage, because I wasn’t thinking, and then you were out somewhere, and Nik was gone, and I was alone and freezing and had nowhere to go. I couldn’t break into our house you know,” she said, and then she cracked a smile.

“No, that wouldn’t work,” I said.

Nik rode up on his bike.

“What the hell? My parents have to come outside to wait for me! What am I like 7-years-old? So fuckin’ embarrassing,” he said.

“It’s not what you think. We are just here, quite accidentally,” I said.

“You didn’t know the code?” I asked Kathy.

“I always use the car opener to drive in. I never needed to enter it,” she said.

Nik opened the garage with the key code and rode his bike in.

We parents stayed out front.

“He made a virtual August store on eBay for you. I think he’s already had some sales,” she said.

“That’s a hopeful development,” I said.

“I think he feels some responsibility. And he knows how expensive college is,” she said.

“Colin has a full scholarship to UCLA business school,” I said.

“No kidding. Business school. That figures,” she said.

“I thought he was an angel. Then he was the devil. Now he’s redeemed. He was only trying to help his parents,” I said.

“Everyone has a motive,” she said.


Unpacked

I was happy to see a yellow and black striped Dad Got Mill rugby with white collar and the DGM monogram.

It was the last one. I made it mine.

I looked at Dad Got Mill’s webpage on Instagram.

There were black squares to honor Black people, and a Black person in every post of Dad Got Mill. All the blond men were gone, now replaced by Black men, and texts decrying racism, standing for justice, saluting tolerance, promising inclusion, remembering George Floyd.

It was the new dawn of civil rights for rugby shirts.


Epilogue

The store has been closed for over a year now.

Sometimes I’ll go into the garage and unpack the dwindling supply of sweaters and shirts and colognes and debate whether I should keep any as souvenirs.

Every so often I make a sale on eBay. Nik showed me how to use it.

I have time on my hands. We all got vaccinated. Kathy went back to work at Disney in Burbank.

Nik moved to Riverside and is in his sophomore year of college.

I am wary of going out, but tired of staying in, my life is in lived in limbo. Perhaps that is all I can ask for.

END

The Matter-horn

Hollywood Athletic Club by Andy Hurvitz 11/12/06
Hollywood Athletic Club by Andy Hurvitz 11/12/06

HARRY WEINER was nervous. Only 28 years old, Harry was the executive producer of a new NTC (National Television Company) sitcom, “The Matterhorn.” The Matterhorn took place in a fancy Madison Avenue clothing store with crazy customers and silly salespersons.

Five weeks into the new season, “The Matterhorn” was doing terribly in the ratings. It was ranked 59 out of 70 programs in the Nielsen ratings. Reviewers pronounced the new show “dead on arrival”, “sickening”, “juvenile”, “like warmed over pea soup.”

Harry’s work load was excruciating. He would drive, an hour each way, from his apartment in Brentwood to the NTC studio in Burbank.

He would get to work around 10 am. Immediately, Harry would get pounced on by schmoozers, agents, writers, assistants, emails, secretaries, publicists, producers, executives, guests. He barely knew how to manage his time. It seemed that every little problem was a top priority.

Some of these problems included: a strike by lighting technicians which threatened to darken the show on the night of taping; a pregnant head writer who objected to a line about abortion in the final script; a hypochondriacal director who feared getting germs on his coffee which had been served to him by an HIV positive production assistant.

######

Harry had arrived in Hollywood, 4 years earlier, with a recommendation from the Director of the School of Communication at Boston University. Harry had interned at Warner Brothers in the Director’s training program.

He had “tailed” a senior director on “Friends” for a year. Harry joined a “writers” group and met LISA SCHNITZER, the head writer of the hit show, MEET MEGAN ROONEY. Lisa liked Harry. Harry showed her a spec script he had written for MEET MEGAN ROONEY
Lisa read it ,liked it and hired Harry to be a staff writer.

To Lisa, Harry was reminiscent of her ex-boyfriend from Syosset. Harry played up his “eastern” background, continually reminding Lisa how close Toledo was to the Jersey Shore (only an hour and a half by plane.) They constructed a private reality of worldly and well read easterners in a dumb, ignorant, superficial, silly city. They were both destined for great things, Harry told her, and he pushed Lisa to develop new shows, new ideas and—- introduce him to her agent at William Morris.

Lisa was having trouble on MEET MEGAN ROONEY. The lead character didn’t think that Lisa understood her well enough— so ” Megan Rooney” told the executive producer to fire Lisa. Lisa came in– the next day– and found out she and Harry were gone.

Luck intervened. A 21 year old assistant at William Morris liked Lisa (because Lisa had a really great Tibetan tattoo on her navel drawn with henna ink) and the assistant recommended a pitch Lisa and Harry wrote about an expensive store on Madison Avenue with crazy customers and funny employees called “The Matterhorn.”

The pitch made its way to SIMON SHARON, the hottest television agent at William Morris. Simon was born on the day that the hostages in Iran were freed from captivity and considered himself destined for great things.

Simon liked Lisa. She was only a few years older than him and she had a nice butt. Lisa worked out at Simon’s gym and sometimes bumped into him there. Lisa thought Simon was cute, even though he had an annoying twitch. When he spoke, he turned his head on an angle, as if he were a basset hound who didn’t understand his master’s orders. One night, Lisa went home with him and they made love and quickly downloaded their intimacy into each other.

#####

Things move fast in Hollywood, especially when you are under thirty and don’t know where you are going, but are determined to get there.

That summed up Harry, who teamed up with Lisa, post-coital Lisa, to pitch Simon on “The Matterhorn” sit com. Simon immediately christened Lisa “THE MEGAN ROONEY” writer and that was the equivalent of a master’s degree at William Morris. WM had placed many of their clients on the staff of the MEET MEGAN ROONEY show.

Disney agreed to finance THE MATTERHORN, with Harry and Lisa as executive producers. NTC bought the show from Disney and put it on their Tuesday night prime time roster. This Tuesday line up became infamous as “TUESDAY SCHNOOZEDAY” because the programs were so boring, so banal, so juvenile, so unfunny. They were written by young, unread, unschooled boys who thought toilet paper, tits and teenage tantrums were the quintessence of laughs.

Harry and Lisa desperately tried to make “The Matterhorn” more sophisticated. To make sure that the program had some Manhattan appeal, exterior still photographs of an 1889 Rococo Madison Avenue mansion were placed at the beginning and end of each ½ hour. The show was filmed in a dark studio in sunny Burbank but the program took place in New York. This was quite intentional. The most successful sit coms took place in New York City: MAD ABOUT YOU, SEINFELD, FRIENDS, etc.

The writers were graduates of Manhattan prep schools and Eastern colleges. The average writer was only 22 years old, but that was what they reported on their w-4 forms and some rumors went around that one writer was as old as 33.

The acting talent was top notch. William Morris placed the young, wacky and busty blond comedienne, VIVIAN VON VECTOR, as the head of the posh emporium. Her assistant was played by the plump and rosy cheeked CHARLES LEADER who was on Broadway last year as a gay baritone in “I’LL SING TOMORROW.” Other William Morris clients became guest stars including: YOLANDA CHUTNEY, an ex-Sri Lankan former stripper who was in an episode where the owner of The Matterhorn was embarrassed when he was caught on videotape with Yolanda in a sexual act by the store security.

Seven shows had already been aired as November sweeps came on. The Matterhorn was slipping further down the ratings barrel. NTC was impatient and doubtful about the show’s survival. Commercial spots, which originally sold for $250,000 for thirty seconds, now were discounted at $175,000. The Matterhorn was also an expensive show to produce with all the costumes, beautiful mahogany store interiors, antique furniture, crystal, perfume, glass props. It was a drain on the budget of NTC. Cancellation seemed at hand.

#####

One balmy, misty November evening, Harry met Lisa at the bar of the HOTEL Peninsula in Beverly Hills. Lisa drank echinaccea flavored water while Harry opted for a pink grapefruit Kava herb cocktail to calm his nerves. Lisa heard from Simon that the NTC executives thought that the show lacked “ethnicity.” Simon said a New York show needed at least one Jewish character. All of the actors were white and Waspy, except for Yolanda, who was Sri Lankan. Who even knew where Sri Lanka was?

Harry and Simon agreed that it was the eleventh hour and time was running out. As Simon spoke to Harry, actress and client RHODA MOSKOWITZ walked in to the office. Rhoda had been huge at William Morris back in the 70’s when her New York, Jewish, schmaltzy and hamische voice charmed and annoyed audiences on such shows as: RHODA, MARY TYLER MOORE, BOB NEWHART, and THE LOVE BOAT. Rhoda was friends with Simon’s mother so this was more of a social call. Simon looked at Rhoda and thought that she might be the one to re-invigorate THE MATTERHORN.

Simon could only look at this 6o-year-old friend of his mother’s and laugh. She had black hair which she piled up like fancy croissant atop her head. She wore big glasses with dainty chains, a huge “chai” necklace, and several large rings with opals, diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. She preferred tailored clothing a la Ralph Lauren, with cashmere, fine woolens and Italian shoes to her liking. She was in excellent shape and followed a diet rich in fresh fruits, fish and eight glasses of water a day.

Rhoda had been on the stage in New York, and on the tube in LA. Now living in Sherman Oaks, CA she was asked by Simon if she would like to appear as a guest star on The Matterhorn? “Sure.”
Immediately, Simon’s brain waves started to spin with 15% commissions and the possibility of more to come.

Simon and Rhoda hopped into his Porsche and drove to the Peninsula. Harry and Lisa met Rhoda and Simon and the foursome decided to develop a character for Rhoda which would make the audience stand up and laugh, advertisers buy spots and the executives dance with delight. Simon, Rhoda,Harry and Lisa shook hands. Harry went home to try and dream up how to convince his boss that Rhoda was needed and more importantly, might just be the saviour of the show.

#####

Just 31 years old, Helene Reisman had a reputation as one of the toughest S.O.B.’s at NTC. She was paid well over $1,000,000 a year and had put MEET MEGAN ROONEY on the air over the objections of her entire junior staff.

Harry met HELENE REISMAN at her large glass and synthetic white panelled home in Encino that evening. Harry pitched the idea of “Rhoda” while Helene played patty cake with her 3 year old son, O’RYAN.

She barely contained her glee at her young child’s smile, but grew angry as Harry laid out his plans for Rhoda.

Helene was blunt: “Listen I don’t like it when you say a typical Jewish older woman in New York who has a lot of money and is very demanding. It’s Anti-Semitic stereotyping.”

Harry grabbed a rattle and danced it in front of O’Ryan’s blue eyes. The child laughed and tried to grab it. Harry wouldn’t back down. “Helene, they’ve had successful Jewish characters on TV for years. You know them by name: Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Reiser, David Schwimmer. None of them admit being Jewish. It’s like a joke. Act Jewish, but don’t celebrate Jewish holidays, don’t wear a yarmulke, don’t let the audience know what they already know. It’s like its Ok to have a Jew on TV as long as he or she is in the closet.”

Helene cooled off. She picked up the baby and danced with some rhythm around the nursery. “O’Ryan, what should Mommy do? Should mommy say yes to the nice man?” O’Ryan seemed to point at Harry. “He likes you Harry. My son thinks you’re OK.” Harry smiled that broad, salesman’s smile ready to close the deal.

“O.K. Try Rhoda. If she doesn’t work, which she probably won’t, it will just be a one time thing. Don’t say I let you have an anti-semitic character on the show. Leave me out of it. If the ratings go up, then by god we either have a real dilemma or a godsend.”

With Helene (and O’Ryan’s)blessing, Harry was back at the studio for an all night session with Lisa and the writers to come up with a story which would eventually revolve around Rhoda as a pushy and wealthy woman who is furious when her grandson’s bar mitzvah suit is lost in the store’s alterations department.

The new character would be called MISSY MISHKIN, the doyenne of Park Avenue. Missy was no push over, had a strong Bronx accent, and was not above arguing with a sales clerk if she thought she had been ripped off, treated unfairly, or paid little attention to.

Rehearsals began. Vivian Von Vector put her best WASPy accent and superior attitude on. Charles Leader made sure that his vulnerable gay sensitivity was on full blast as the assault of Missy began on stage. After four days, Harry and Lisa were pleased with the chemistry between Rhoda’s guest character and the rest of the leads.

But Yolanda Chutney was disturbed by some of the dialogue. One late,fatigued Thursday night, the cast had been rehearsing all day. Yolanda asked if she could please not refer to Missy as “that demanding and annoying woman from Hadassah.” Yolanda had always been a liberal person, and had battled color prejudice her whole life as a darker skinned person with sub-continental hues. Harry refused to alter the line, and Lisa backed him up. Yolanda threw the script up in the air and walked right up to Harry and thrust her finger in his face.

“You as a Jew, of all people, should know how mean, how vicious these words sound. Are you gonna tell everyone that the dialogue is funny and that’s how you’re gonna worm out of it this bigoted bullshit?”
Harry was unmoved. “Yolanda, you are totally fuckin’ out of line. Missy is a fictional character who is only a guest star. She is not a representation of all Jews any more than Charles Manson is a stand in for the Christians!”

Rhoda Moskowitz stepped up to the plate to defend herself, her role and also score with Harry. “Listen Yolanda, I’m Jewish and believe me, if I thought there was anything wrong with this I wouldn’t do it.”
Yolanda seemed to be slightly comforted by these words, and besides an argument (by a lowly actor) on principle in Hollywood assumes a ridiculousness when arrayed against the necessities of work, money and the imperatives of executive power.

Yolanda picked up her script.”O.K. let’s just get this fuckin’ scene over with.”

#####

At the Friday night dress performance, before a half empty studio audience, Harry and Lisa nervously watched as the first scene was shot. Director CAMERON SCHNITZER, a 24 year old MTV video editor, and Lisa’s younger brother, was confident and sure of how to direct his cast.

At Cameron’s personal urging, the costume for Missy was particularly elegant. A fur collared black knit suit with a velvet pill box hat anchored by a diamond pin, was sewn especially for Ms. Moskowitz. Missy would enter “The Matterhorn” with a retinue of servants: a driver, a maid, and her nurse. She would demand of Ms. Von Vector that the management provide a free bar mitzvah suit for her grand son or she would sue the whole store and possibly put it out of business.

Rhoda pronounced her words with the maximum nasal affect and made sure to drop her “r”s. Helene Reisman watched the show from the side of the stage and thought it stunk. She found Missy to be a cartoon. Helene blamed herself for the failure but outwardly she was livid at Harry and Lisa. Now Helene might lose her job in this universe of short memories, and her previous success would be buried under the defeat of THE MATTERHORN.

At one a.m., the show was finally wrapped. The cast went home, and Lisa decided that she was too tired to go out for a drink with Harry. Harry went up to Helene and kissed her, but she turned her face away. Helene just looked at him with wounded eyes. “I don’t know what you were thinking.” She turned and walked out of the studio and into the black Burbank darkness.

#####

A week later, the show aired. NTC Executives had put the cancellation on hold, awaiting the pleas and the desperate bargaining of Simon,his bosses at William Morris, Harry and Lisa. Word from the affiliates was encouraging. One station manager in Cedar Rapids called to say that they loved this new character. The station director in Uttica said that callers were phoning in their approval for Missy.

Fate intervened again on the day of the airing. A pro-basketball player, RILEY HIGHCALF, was shot and killed outside of the mansion which served as the exterior location shot for “The Matterhorn.” Folks in Seattle, Seneca Falls, Peoria, Tallahassee, Denver, and the Ozarks were saying, “Did you hear that Riley Highcalf was shot outside of the that Matterhorn store?” Suddenly, a real life news event created a buzz about the show which the writers, the actors and the producers could not.

The show had been typically earning a 15 share but after the “Missy” episode, the show almost doubled its audience to a 29. Harry and Lisa arrived at work on Wednesday to find a huge vase of fresh flowers sent by Helene Reisman. A note to Harry read, “Sorry about my lack of faith. I have a lot to learn. Helene.”

Her humility touched Harry.

Emails were pouring into The Matterhorn WEB SITE. KCBS sent a crew over to interview “the return of Rhoda Moskowtiz” and KABC did an interview with Vivian Von Vector who could barely contain her “love” for Rhoda and delight at the old lady’s return to the small screen.

YAHOO.com suddenly had two chat rooms with MATTERHORN themes. Amazon.com contacted NTC to create a link between NTC’s web site and books about: RILEY HIGHCALF, PRO BASKETBALL, JEWISH WOMEN, MEGAN ROONEY, NEW YORK CITY, MADISON AVENUE, TELEVISION SIT COMS, CHARLES LEADER, YOLANDA CHUTNEY.
#####

Three days after the “Missy” episode, a meeting was held in Helene’s office. Harry and Lisa were told that the show would be renewed for another six episodes, provided that Missy stayed. Rhoda Moskowitz jumped for joy when she found out that she would have a recurring role on the program, and Simon negotiated a contract for her paying $20,000 an episode with residuals and agreements to have Rhoda guest star on other sit-coms.

Everyone, it seemed, was happy. Ratings were up, NTC had new viewer interest and increasing advertiser revenues. The media jumped in to find out what the buzz was about. TV GUIDE did a small story about Rhoda’s return; VOGUE featured Charles Leader in drag; THE WALL ST. JOURNAL called NTC “the corpse who came in from the cold”.

Three more episodes were written with Missy as the main focus. One story was about how Missy took offense at a perceived anti-semitic remark by an employee of the store who accused Missy of being ostentatious after Missy spent $500,000 on a bar mitzvah cruise party. Another episode had an ALAN DERSHOWITZ look alike who dates Missy and defends serial killers just to get himself on television.

#####

RABBI MARTIN NIER was the first clerical voice to speak up. The dean of Los Angeles rabbis, his congregation had many prominent members from the entertainment community.

His grandfather had been the chief Rabbi of Cracow and had perished at Auschwitz. Martin Nier was a Rabbi who had travelled the strange and wondrous route of the the 20th Century from shtetl, to concentration camp, to the freedom of America. The freedom which promised that the voices of the persecuted would never be silenced. Now those voices took a vulgar and warped transformation into sit com hatred and Rabbi Nier was outraged.

Rabbi Nier contacted THE ANTI DESECRATION SOCIETY and began to circulate a petition to protest THE MATTERHORN and the character of Missy in particular. He preached a sermon entitled, “WHEN LAUGHING BECOMES DEADLY” which begged that his congregants understand that even in humor, there were messages which preached hatred regardless of whether they were intended as entertainment.

Reviewers in the BOSTON GLOBE, THE WASHINGTON POST, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE, MIAMI HERALD, all wrote about the show—which they generally thought had gotten funnier—but had somehow descended into the depths of meanness, vindictiveness, and anti-jewish scapegoating.

A particular warning came from THE CATHOLIC EYE, a conservative journal which wrote, “Our brethren in the Jewish faith cannot condone comedic hatred in the name of commercial success. For ultimately ideas conceived in the poison of bigotry pollute the author.”

While mainstream media fixated and debated upon the role of Missy and what she might or might not represent, the show jumped to third in the ratings. “It was unbelievable”, Helene said, “to see a show go from almost cancellation to the top of the game.”

Almost forgotten in the adulation, was the growing volume of hate letters pouring into the web site from around the country. At “www.matterhorn.com” such comments as, “you fuckin’ Jews deserve everything you have coming to you.” Other viewers were kinder. One 11 year old Nebraska girl wrote, “I used to be mad at my Mom for talking badly about Jews, but now I know cause of Missy, what my Mom is talking about.” At the University of Wyoming, Tuesday night Matterhorn parties the participants throw pretzels at the screen and shouted obscenities whenever Missy came on.
#####

At the annual NTC affiliates meeting in January, there was huge exaltation and applause for Helene Reisman who told the audience, “We will not be bullied by the army of the politically correct telling us how we to portray our artistic creations.” Joined on stage by stars Vivian Von Vector, Charles Leader, Yolanda Chutney, and of course, Rhoda Moskowitz, the entire cast and creators received a 5 minute standing ovation. Surely, the furor would die down.

As spring rolled around, and the final episodes were shot, there was little doubt that THE MATTERHORN would be renewed. Harry was exhausted, but he suddenly couldn’t believe how ironic his luck was: he was now earning over $400,000 a week with the prospect of earning tens of millions from syndication sales. He would be rich forever. But his heart was heavy from his complicity in creating something that he knew might blacken his name and the reputation of his people.

#####

Lisa was changing too. Once she had been a fairly devout Jew. She had looked forward to celebrating Passover with her friends. But this Spring, she hadn’t heard from her usual friends who conducted a seder and always had included her. Lisa went to see her girlfriend, MOIRA, a strictly Orthodox young woman who wore a veil outside of the house and walked her four children to shul every morning and kept a kosher house. If Moira fell out, then Lisa knew she might have made the fatal choice.

On a warm and smoggy Saturday, Lisa drove from her nice house in the Hollywood Hills over the mountain to the flat, hot plainness of Moira’s modest and mostly Orthodox valley neighborhood. Here, the timeless tableau of bearded men in dark suits said their morning prayers to the Almighty. Women dressed in modesty, with the children as the center of their lives. God was so present here, he supplanted the materialism, the artificiality that Lisa had come to expect of Los Angeles. Under these sturdy and rigid palm trees, respect for the Torah, the Ten Commandments, and the word of the deity were supreme.

Moira was only 27, but she had the dignity and repose of a 50 year old. She was alone on this morning, with her children at school.
She spoke: “So much to do about your program. I watched it myself just to see what all the fuss was about.” Lisa waited, wondering if Moira would point her finger at Lisa and indict her for inciting the hatred against the Jewish people which others had accused THE MATTERHORN of fanning.

Moira poured some hot tea for Lisa. It was served in a homely and old fashioned teacup. Lisa thought it could have been a teacup in a bubby’s apartment, circa 1920.

“Lisa, you obviously earn a lot of money. You can buy things. You have a beautiful car. Lots of nice clothes. You keep yourself thin…..” Lisa thought Moira was asking her at what price these goodies had been bought. But Moira had other things on her mind….

Moira asked:”So who are you dating?” Lisa was aghast. “Oh, nobody right now. I was seeing an exec at MGM last year. But he was so busy. And I’m so busy. You know.”

Moira wasn’t convinced. “You’re busy? What about me? I have four children. I’m 27 years old. And yet I have a husband, a home, a life.”

A life. It was that horrible phrase. A life. Moira had just put it out in the open. Lisa had a life. Or maybe she didn’t have a life. That’s what Moira meant. For what was life without a man, a family, children, a house, meals, memories?

Moira’s innocent and simple comment stung more than all of the months of incrimination in the press. Lisa was no anti-semite. She wasn’t guilty of anything. Lisa was just alone.

Moira seemed to offer no answer to Lisa about The Matterhorn. Lisa almost didn’t want to know what Moira really thought. Besides, hadn’t Lisa done as well as Moira? Lisa had a gorgeous home in the Hollywood Hills. She worked out five days a week and now had a personal trainer, a masseur and a dietician. Moira looked old, paunchy, frumpy—and she wasn’t even 30 years old! Lisa reassured herself that Moira was just jealous.
#####

Back in Burbank, Harry was leaving the studio when he decided to check his email. There was a message from his mother in Ohio. She wrote that she was pleased that he was doing well, but she could not endure the social ostracization from her friends who were angry and hurt about the character of Missy Mishkin. She wanted to talk with him, but she couldn’t bring herself to dial the phone. She was a mother shamed.

The success, the money, the ratings, the fame—he had done it all for his Mom. No matter how wealthy he got, Harry never forgot his mother in Toledo. Her disapproval was the fatal poison which could turn him from an optimistic man into a fatalistic basket case.

Harry sat in his corner office and he breathed heavily upon the surface of his glass desk top. He took his index finger and on the mist which his hot breath created, he wrote the word, “JEW”. Never particularly observant, never one to identify with the bearded, the learned, the Orthodox—he now had constructed a box which he could not break out of. He had reached for commercial success by using the one poison forbidden to him.

The phone rang. It was his assistant telling him that Geraldo wanted an interview with him. Harry would not keep Geraldo waiting. The few seconds of introspection were closed and Harry prepared to say yes to Geraldo. The show would go on…..