The Workaholic

George Levy didn’t think of himself as retired. It didn’t matter that he’d failed to obtain financial support for his attempt to acquire a local home improvement store in the Dallas area, so that he could improve their supply chain and make them competitive with the national outfits like Home Depot. This was simply one of many such failed efforts over the years. He had been involved with practically every kind of wholesale and retail venture over the last forty years and setbacks like this were nothing new. He already had several alternative business plans ready, from purchasing a financially imperiled commercial furniture company to buying a fast food franchise. He would have used his savings to complete the transaction, but he’d taken a serious loss on an apartment building he’d purchased just before a private equity firm had built a high-rise building within a mile of his, but theirs was targeted to affluent tenants. They had unlimited amounts of money and no interest in sustainable real estate development and he didn’t have the capital to withstand the initial attraction of what they were promising.

The banks didn’t seem willing to invest in realistic projects like those he had proposed over the last few years. If he were honest with himself, he would have recognized that the heyday of small entrepreneurs like himself was past, at least in large cities like Dallas. But George had always nurtured a dream of rebuilding America in a sustainable way, which to him meant remodeling everything, from apartment buildings to the local hardware store, rather than tearing everything down every few decades and building something flashy and expensive in its place. He was convinced that America was pricing itself out of a sustainable future. Despite his recent setbacks, his children would inherit a substantial fortune when he died because he had always been aware of the need to elevate his family into the upper rungs of American society, especially as a black man. He would leave more than three-million-dollars to his family when he died, which reminded him that he was going to meet his son at White Rock Lake for a walk along the lakeshore.

After checking the time, he went to the garage and got into his twenty-year-old Lexus, which still ran perfectly, and started the engine before realizing that he hadn’t opened the garage door yet. He had read about people dying of carbon monoxide poisoning in their garages. It didn’t sound painful but he didn’t want to die that way. Besides, it took hours and more often than not it didn’t work—someone often wandered by and discovered the unconscious but still alive victim in their car. Sometimes the victims had permanent brain damage, which had made their lives worse than before. He opened the garage door with the remote and, after making certain it was closed, drove sedately through the modest subdivision where he had lived for more than thirty years.

After a short drive, George pulled into the small lot near the water and parked next to Lewis’s new Lexus and found his son waiting impatiently, checking his watch and using his smartphone in ways George couldn’t imagine. He had grown accustomed to minor displays of annoyance from his family and friends ever since he’d been diagnosed as suffering from Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. He hadn’t shared this information with anyone except his wife, which had contributed to their misunderstanding his rapidly increasing forgetfulness as indifference. Were it not for the disease and his obstinate personality, George would have known that this was the reason for his recent series of failed business endeavors. Lewis ended his on-line activity and greeted George warmly.

“He there, Pop. I was just checking with Mom if you had forgotten we were meeting today. How’s it going?”

George was very proud of Lewis, who had gone to college and gotten a degree in finance, which meant he would be prepared to take care of the family’s financial security in the future. He hugged his son and said, “Everything’s going great. I think we’re all in good shape. By the way, how’s your wife…” He paused because he’d forgotten Lewis’s wife’s name.

“Janine is great and so are the kids.” He put his hand on George’s shoulder and led him toward the trail that followed the lake shore as he continued, “Sharla is turning out to be a very good swimmer, although I’m not buying tickets for the next Summer Olympics yet, and Ethan is starting to look like a bookworm…like his grandfather. He does math problems for fun, if you can believe that!”

George chuckled because he remembered how much fun math had been when he was a child, before he’d learned that there was no money in math, at least not when he was a child. But times had changed. He had an idea, which he expressed as they strolled along the quiet water.

“Maybe I should get his help on my next project? I think my financial projections were off a little and that’s why the bank didn’t support my business plan. Still, they’ve made so much money from my past projects that they should have trusted me…”

Lewis interrupted his thoughts as he said, “I’ll get you two in touch, Pop. That’s a great idea. Of course, I’m here to help too. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I do have some experience in commercial financing.”

George scoffed. “I know that, Lewis. That’s why I trusted you with my accounts. You’re a good man, Lewis, and I hope that someday you will take responsibility for the legacy I’ll be leaving you and your sister. I’m counting on you.”

Lewis, being a good son, didn’t want to tell his father what the state of his legacy was because it would serve no purpose. His mother had told him about George’s diagnosis, and it broke his heart to see a man with a vision, and the will to act on it throughout his life, being destroyed by a disease he hadn’t brought on himself. He was trying to think of a response when his father continued.

“Of course, the inheritance tax will take almost half, which will leave you with less than two-million dollars; however, I know that you’ll put it to good use. You’re smarter than me and you went to college.” He laughed and Lewis joined him while holding back his tears.

Since learning of his father’s illness, Lewis had done a lot of research, spoken to George’s doctor with his mother present, and read several books about Alzheimer’s disease. He should be honest with his father when it was necessary, which he didn’t think was the case, until George continued.

“I’ve been thinking that it might be a good idea to let you take over the family fortune.” George waved his hands dismissively and added, “I know I’m not old enough to retire but you’ve a better mind for finance than me and the whole world is about the latest fad in derivatives and other exotic financial instruments. Don’t argue with me because I’ve made up my mind. I want you to take over.”

Lewis hated himself for what he was about to say. He waited until they had passed a young couple with their toddler daughter before saying, “Pop, I know that you have Alzheimer’s. Mom couldn’t keep it a secret because it’s too much for her to bear alone. I want you to know that we’ll all be with you every step of the way. You’ve been a great father and provider and you will always be an inspiration to all of us. You’re not alone in this.”

George wanted to walk away and leave Lewis standing there but he didn’t. Instead he stopped walking and turned to his son. “Don’t treat me like a moron, boy! I raised you and put bread on the table and I’ve set aside a nice legacy for you, which I just now said you should take responsibility for, so don’t patronize me, or I might change my mind!”

Lewis nodded and grimaced as he did what the experts had recommended. He nodded apologetically and said, “I’m sorry for offending you, Pop, but there’s something you need to understand. Things aren’t the same as they were. It’s different now…”

George retorted before his son had finished speaking. “Maybe I was premature in trusting you with my savings. Maybe you aren’t ready to take on such a responsibility.”

Lewis faced his father and, after rubbing his forehead with his hand, took a deep breath and said, “Pop, that’s what I’m talking about. There is no Levy family legacy. You emptied your reserve when you invested in the stock market last year. That was before you gave me access to your accounts. I speak for Joseph and Nadine when I say that you’ve already given us more than most young people could expect, and we appreciate it and love you for putting our futures first. Thank you for being such a thoughtful and loving father.”

George struggled to comprehend what Lewis had said for a minute. Finally, he stammered, “Did I blow your inheritance? Is that what you’re saying? I had meant to leave you with a nice nest egg…I mean, Goddamnit! I’m only sixty-four. How could I have done that?!”

Lewis put his around his father’s shoulders, feeling somehow empty inside as he replied, “None of that matters. We’re all in good financial shape thanks to your teaching us the importance of planning ahead. You’ve done a good job, Pop, and no one would dispute that.”

George nodded numbly. “Thanks, son. Let’s get going because I’m working up an appetite with all this walking. I’m going to be hungry by the time we go to lunch…and I think you said it was your treat?”

Lewis grinned and patted George on his shoulders as he replied, “Me too. I always get hungry when I go for a walk with you, Pop.”

They made their way back to the parking lot, where they got in their cars and drove to a barbecue restaurant where they found a table near the front, which faced the street through large windows. George always liked to have plenty of light when he ate because he had tasted too many hairs in his mouth over the years and he preferred seeing them on his plate rather than finding them with his tongue. This remarkable ability, which he had demonstrated repeatedly, was demonstrated when their salads arrived.

George held up the hair he had seen in his salad to the window and said, “See what I mean?”

Lewis didn’t laugh, which was what the family always did when eating with George as a group, and seriously responded, “It’s a good thing we got a table near the window.”

Instead of wiping the hair onto his napkin, George examined it closely and finally pronounced, “It’s from one of those Mexicans they hire, probably illegal; those people have no understanding of simple hygiene. They’re just a bunch of barbarians, not much more than animals.”

Lewis nodded and changed the subject with his response. “So, Pop, do you think you’re ready to retire?”

Recalling that he was dying of Alzheimer’s disease, George filled his mouth with his Caesar salad and made his son wait before he answered, “Apparently, I retired several years ago but I was too proud to admit it. All I’ve been doing is entertaining my dying brain at the expense of my family.”

Lewis was aghast at this statement. “What are you talking about? You’ve been doing the same thing that took care of us all our lives. Sure…maybe it is time to retire and enjoy the fruits of your lifetime of hard work.”

George nodded as their entrees arrived; he was having a half-rack of ribs and Lewis had pan-fried snapper with a hollandaise sauce. As they ate their meals, he was reminded of the progress of all of his grandchildren, whose names he was having difficulty remembering, by Lewis. But the thing that was foremost in his mind was that he had been living in a fantasy world, where he had millions of dollars to bequeath to his children. He had lost it all and didn’t even remember it. That was too much for George.

When the check came and Lewis paid it, George knew that his children were going to be okay, despite his failure to carry through on his original desire to take care of them. He knew that his son was patronizing him as they left the restaurant and stopped for a last hug before going to their cars.

“Take care of yourself, Pop, and don’t be a stranger. The kids really love it when you and Mom come to visit. I mean it. They love you more than I do, which I hadn’t thought was possible.”

Reaching in his jacket pocket for his car keys, George felt a stiff piece of paper, which he removed and examined in confusion. It was a Powerball lottery ticket that he didn’t remember buying. Lewis noticed his confusion and asked what was up.

“I must have bought a lottery ticket.” He went to Lewis and offered it to him. “Maybe this will make up for my having squandered your inheritance.”

“No, Pop, you keep it. Maybe you felt lucky that day and it would ruin the karma if I took it.”

George shook his head. “No. I remember now. I meant to give it to you. I had just been looking at my financial records and realized that I was broke and went to the store for bag of chips and it struck me. This is all I have to leave you but promise me that you’ll share the money with the rest of the family.”

Lewis reluctantly accepted the ticket and made George promise that he would come to visit that weekend.

When he got home, George received a phone call from an old friend he had gone duck hunting with many times over the years. Tom didn’t waste much time in getting to the reason for his call.

“I was just sitting here, looking at all these shotguns I’ve collected over the years, and I thought of you. Do you recall that time my favorite birddog, Patsy, ran off and we spent the day trying to find a dog rather than shooting ducks?”

George remembered that day as if it were yesterday. “Daisy. The dog’s name was Daisy,” he corrected, proud of his good memory.

“Oh yeh! That’s it. Patsy didn’t sound right. At any rate, you still have that old Remington 870, don’t you?”

“Sure, but I haven’t used it in five years. It’s well-oiled and stored properly. What do you have in mind?”

“Get it out and clean it up because we’re going to brush up on our shooting. Don’t even try and wiggle out of it, George, because I’ve already made a reservation at the hunting club to shoot some skeet.”

Tom had always been like that. It was impossible to say no to him because he expressed so much anticipation of whatever activity he was proposing. George reluctantly agreed and, after a few more minutes of recalling previous hunting adventures, Tom hung up and left George thinking about his thirty-year-old shotgun. It took a while for him to find the key to the gun cabinet; actually, it required his wife’s assistance to recall where he might have left it several years before, which was the last time he’d opened the cabinet. She expressed surprise at his sudden renewed interest until he explained that he was going skeet shooting with Tom that weekend. She had always liked Tom and had shot her fair share of skeet and even ducks, often with him and his wife, but not in the last twenty years.

His wife went back to the kitchen to make dinner while George began to clean his shotgun, in the middle of which he forgot why he was cleaning it. Confused, he went to ask his wife with the weapon in his hand. When he appeared in the kitchen with a shotgun held in his hands, she was startled.

“What the hell are you doing in here with that smelly old gun, George?”

He looked at her helplessly and responded, “I was going to ask you the same question. Why am I cleaning it?” He shrugged and she understood the cause of his confusion.

She rushed to him and pushed the gun aside so that she could hug him before responding. “We’re going skeet shooting with Tom this weekend and you need to clean it and make sure it isn’t rusty from sitting in the cabinet for so many years. Don’t you remember?”

He shook his head, but now he had a purpose, so he thanked her and went back to the study with the shotgun dangling from one hand. He cleaned it thoroughly and checked its operation, which he convinced himself of after dozens of times operating the pump and trigger. However, he didn’t have any ammunition so he couldn’t check if it would jam or not. Sitting there with his freshly cleaned shotgun on the table in front of him, he forgot why he was in this position; and then he recalled that he was going to put the firearm to one last use. He had already forgotten about his skeet-shooting plans with Tom. At any rate, he would have to get a box of ammo because he needed at least one shell for what he intended to do.

By the time he had gotten a box of ammo the next day, George was having second thoughts about his original plan. It would be traumatic for his wife (he couldn’t remember her name) to enter the study and find the mess he imagined would have been produced by his planned action, so he went skeet shooting with his wife and met Tom at the hunting club. His eyesight and reflexes were undiminished, and he got a better score than Tom at the end of the course. They had lunch at the clubhouse, where they were joined by Tom’s wife, Hailey, whose name George remembered for some reason. During the course of the meal, which consisted of a barbecue pork sandwich for George, the topic of the opioid epidemic came up and how many people were dying of overdoses. He listened carefully as Hailey described how easy it was to get these drugs, especially in Houston which had more than twelve-hundred overdose deaths the previous year. George didn’t think these victims of the drug crisis had died in pain or left a mess for someone to clean up. Had they been his age, their deaths could easily have been mistaken as a heart attack.

George had a new plan. It wasn’t actually a plan but a painless and less-traumatic way of accomplishing his objective. However, he didn’t know any drug dealers and couldn’t imagine himself in Sunnyside, looking to buy opioids from a drug dealer. This was a problem because he had no medical conditions that required pain medication and his doctor had expressed his opinion about other doctors who had been tempted by the big pharmaceutical companies to over-prescribe drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin many times.

With what remained of his conscious mind focused on this problem, George stumbled (literally) into a solution. His wife had just finished mopping the kitchen floor when he ran in to share something with her, which he had forgotten by the time of the event. She warned him about the wet floor just as he lost his footing and fell against the countertop, his right temporal lobe taking the brunt of the impact while his right wrist snapped as he hit the floor, whereupon his head had a second impact, this time with the tile floor. He didn’t pass out, but he lay on the kitchen floor like a pile of rags as his wife (her name is Shirley) called nine-one-one.

George had broken his wrist and fractured his pelvis in his fall, and his conservative doctor prescribed Vicodin for the pain, which George had reported as being much greater than what he actually felt. He was in a good mood as he left the hospital in a wheelchair pushed by Lewis, with a bottle of pain relief in his pocket. He would not have to suffer losing his personality and sense of being as so many others like himself. He had a painless escape plan. Shirley watched him closely for the first few days after his homecoming and then it settled down. He could walk with his fractured pelvis and so, one evening when she was reading a book, he emptied the entire bottle of Vicodin into a glass and filled it with his favorite Scotch. After creeping silently back to his bed after this painful effort, he put on his headphones and started a playlist he had recently compiled for this purpose on his smartphone, before taking several minutes to down the Scotch and the Vicodin. He was very happy and died with a smile on his face as Michael Bolton crooned When a Man Loves a Woman.

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