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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.