If my conduct in the case in question exceeded the normal bounds of professionalism, the circumstances provided an excuse.
A client of mine had lent a significant–to him–sum of money to a little Greek woman, working capital for the shop where she sold used phonograph records. The loan was made during the dark ages when first cassettes, then CDs, had replaced the platters that teens had spun on their turntables at swinging parties, and the present, when vinyl is suddenly “cool” again, thanks to the added expense and inconvenience. In other words, hard times for records.
Such a sweet, little old deadbeat.
The day for payment in full came and went–nothing. Calls were made to the gnarled old crone, which went unreturned. Dunning letters were written, sent first by regular mail, then by CERTIFIED MAIL, RETURN RECEIPT REQUESTED. Still nothing.
“Any word?” my client asked me.
“No,” I said, a bit chagrined since I’d gotten him into the deal in the first place.
“Maybe you’d better drop by and make sure she hasn’t flown the coop,” he said, with the flat, menacing tone of a man who’s been screwed before, and fully intends to screw back–hard–if somebody tries to screw him again.
So I went to the woman’s store, several times. She was a one-woman operation, and when she was out would leave a sign on the door that said “Back in 15 minutes.” I can’t tell you how many hours I spent waiting for those fifteen minutes to pass, over and over again. I would give up after forty-five minutes, chalk the experience up to my gullibility, and resolve to come back again, another day.
Old gypsy woman, or Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards? YOU make the call!
Then one day I got lucky. I arrived to see the door wide open, and the owner talking to a customer. As the cash started its journey from buyer to seller, I intervened in my best officious intermeddler manner.
“Hold it right there,” I said, getting all huffy and puffy about it. “You owe my client $20,000, not including interest, penalties, postage, costs of collection, attorneys’ fees, and telefacsimile charges–fork it over!”
There was an awkward pause, with the guy who was buying the Ray Coniff Singers’ 1956 Christmas album or whatever, looking first at me, then at her.
“Give him the money,” the old woman said with resignation, and the man did so–the princely sum of $5, which made such a small dent in the imposing edifice of the outstanding balance that, in retrospect, it wasn’t worth the effort, the heartburn, the embarrassment all around.
The man walked out of the store, happy to extricate himself from an unpleasant encounter. Good thing; once he was out the door, things became even more acrimonious.
“You . . . you,” the woman sputtered at me, to which I responded as only a cold-hearted collection professional can. For a cinematic depiction of the species, I highly recommend Harry Dean Stanton’s performance in “Repo Man.”
“I’m only doing my job,” I said. “Either you starting paying, or we back a truck up here next week and take all your crappy inventory.”
“You’re not taking anything of mine,” she said, fuming ineffectually, like a damp firecracker. “I PUT GYPSY CURSE ON YOU!”
My air of equanimity vanished with those words. This was a novel experience for me; I’ve been called a lot of names, threatened with judicial sanctions, thwarted by bankruptcy filings–but a gypsy curse? Wait ’til I tell the boys at Brandy Pete’s, favorite Boston lunch spot for hard-bitten cynical commercial types, I thought to myself. The place has a sign that reads “The customer is always wrong.” It’s so badass it filed for bankruptcy itself, so you could watch your cash payments go straight from the waitress to a Chapter 11 trustee as you grabbed a toothpick on your way out.
“Ha,” I laughed, but it sounded empty, hollow, even to my own ears, as it surely did to my client’s debtor. (Pro tip to general circulation media: The debtor is the one who owes the money, not the creditor.) As much as I might pretend not to worry, I was dealing with a power with which I had no familiarity, one wielded by a tribe–the Roma–who can trace their roots back 1,500 years. If they remember to bring tracing paper with them as they travel around the globe, constantly fleeing the forces of social order. All I knew of the gypsies I learned from Django Reinhardt records; I figured that probably wasn’t enough.
So for awhile I went about my business with an air of paranoia, constantly looking over my shoulder, wondering when the curse would be fulfilled and I’d be struck by an out-of-control gypsy wagon. After awhile, I began to drop my guard–my life seemed to be more or less the same as before; dull, uneventful, no thefts of babies from my house or other assorted misdemeanors that the Roma have been accused of for centuries.
So I began to wonder–how, exactly, did I beat the gypsy curse? What had I done that shielded me from death where others had been stricken with mysterious wasting diseases? Maybe there was a best-selling self-help book in it for me.
As I looked back over my particular–some would say peculiar–tastes, habits and conduct that distinguish me from your run-of-the-mill late middle-aged schlub, I’ve come up with a few key indicators that separate me from the common herd, and apparently protect me from the baleful effects of the “evil eye” by which gypsies have destroyed their enemies for a millennium and a half. I offer them to you–gratis–even though I acquired them at great cost; their use has made me an object of scorn over the three score and six years of my life:
Old Spice Classic Roll-On Deodorant: The men with whom I share health club dressing rooms never pull the traditional red plastic tube from their gym bags when it’s time to apply anti-perspirant protection. I, on the other hand, learned at my father’s knee that Old Spice was the real deal, capable of neutralizing body odor that other deodorants couldn’t touch. Ban? Right Guard? Please–don’t make me laugh. They didn’t even exist when I was first singing along to my brand’s commercial jingle, whose stirring words I can remember to this day: “Old Spice–said the Captain to the bo’sun. Ask for the package with the ship that sails the ocean!”
Yogurt-covered raisins: A culinary breakthrough in the decade when I came of age as a professional, this quasi-natural treat has been my snack of choice since they first appeared in stores in the 1980’s. Don’t be led astray by spoilsports like “Amelia,” a self-proclaimed “nutritionist, chef and mom” blogger who says they’re as bad as candy. If “Amelia” was any good as a nutritionist, wouldn’t she have enough clients to be able to afford a last name? ‘Nuf said, as Red Sox fans used to say.
“Shh–people are looking at us!”
Ventriloquism: I have been trying and failing to master “throwing my voice” since grade school, with mixed results. Still, the point is–I try, where others have given up on their dreams. Does ventriloquism make me different from the ordinary “knowledge worker” you may encounter? Well, answer me this: how many people do you see talking to their hands on the train every day? Not many I’ll bet.
So there you have it; an exhaustive, if not entirely scientific, survey of options if you’re ever cursed by a gypsy, and begin to suffer adverse side effects, like those that the drug pitchmen rattle off at the end of commercials, going about 80 words per minute.
Me? I’ve lived a life of comfort, ease, and deep, refreshing, untroubled sleep since that fateful day.
Except for that time I fell off an 8 foot loading dock at our town dump. Or when I slipped on the hobnailed platform strip at South Station and blew out my knee. I should also probably mention the time I stepped into a hole where a brick had been removed from the sidewalk and I stumbled onto Atlantic Avenue in Boston in the face of high-speed oncoming traffic. And the fact that we lost two cats, one to coyotes, one to . . .