Arriving at my in-laws home on Carroll Street in Brooklyn where Hilda and Kenny resided during my 2 ½ years in the Navy, my joy and anxiety in the thought of being reunited with my child and immediate family after a period of 16 months was beyond description. Although I had seen Hilda 8 months previously, holding her in my arms again was sheer bliss.
I can recall my walking up the stairs to the second floor apartment, my arms laden with many toys, including a wooden horse, and seeing my wife and son at the head of the stairs. Their incredible happiness at seeing their husband and father returning from the war unscathed was indescribable. As soon as I entered the first room at the top of the stairs, the kitchen, I enveloped both in my arms and couldn’t release them for quite some time. It was amazing that Kenny, who was 20 months old the last time he saw me, sat on my lap and wouldn’t leave me for the rest of the day.
My in-laws apartment was in a 2 family house and consisted of a kitchen, a very small master bedroom, an adjacent even smaller bedroom, dining room, living room and an exceptionally small bedroom leading to an outside porch. Hilda and I occupied the small adjacent room to my in-laws’ bedroom which had space for only one bed and no other piece of furniture. Kenny slept in his crib which was in the master bedroom, not allowing her parents much space to live in comfortably. Her 3 sisters slept in the living room and the other bedroom. My father in-law had a favorite expression that if people liked each other and got along well, then the abode they lived in was unusually spacious. However, if the occupants disliked each other, then even a very large home was too small.
While I was in the Navy, I had decided not to return to George Muhlstock & Co. for two reasons. Since I worked on the Sabbath with that firm, I realized that my religious scruples were more important to me than financial benefits. Also, being extremely independent, I arrived at a decision never to work for anyone in the future. Only later in my life did I discover the many benefits that resulted from this move. Had I remained with this or any other accounting firm, even as a partner, I would have had to retire at the age of 65 or sooner, instead of 84 when I did retire.
A most important additional benefit was the opportunity to take as many vacations as I desired and as often as I liked. Being my own boss was a significant factor in my happiness throughout my life.
After I was home for about a week, I visited my old firm to advise them of my decision. While I was away, the firm expanded quite a bit taking advantage of the prosperous economy during the war. When I left to enter the service, Muhlstock needed a partner to continue using the name “& Co.,” a legal requirement. Consequently, I became a partner in name only and received $500 a year while I was in the Navy. He now had a real partner and no longer needed me in that capacity.
We had a very amiable chat exchanging inquiries about our respective families and about my naval experiences. He then handed me a check for $1,000 as a bonus for serving our country which I thought was a very nice gesture. When I told him that I was not returning and proceeded to tear up the check he was flabbergasted. We shook hands and remained good friends. His firm was still my father-in-law’s accountants as George was a cousin of Manny Zeller, a partner in Pearl Dress Co.
While I was away, two of Hilda’s sisters got married. Chippy (Corinne) married Al Moskovits who, together with his family, emigrated from Romania in 1941. They had a spacious home on President Street as they were people of means. I had met him previously when I was on leave and immediately became very close friends and remained that way until his death in 1999. Her other sister, Esther, was introduced to a discharged Army Lieut. and they married after a very short courtship. Joe Saltz was born and raised in Baton Rouge, La. He was a history major in college, and received his commission after graduating.
At this time, the problem of supporting my family arose. Since I was still in the Naval Reserve Supply Corps, I decided to use my experience to start selling to the various ships’ stores existing on naval bases. I created a company with the name “Kenhill Mfg. Co.” employing my son’s and wife’s names. I made trips to naval establishments in Boston and to those in the N.Y. metropolitan area selling men’s T shirts and ladies underwear. I received the merchandise from Al’s relatives who manufactured T shirts for the armed services during the war from their plant on Canal Street under the name of Moro Mfg. Co. and the lingerie from former clients.
Unfortunately, the income generated from this source was not sufficient and I had to explore other means of support. Buddy, Hilda’s aunt, recommended me to Ella Clayton, a woman in her 70’s, who owned a dress shop on East 56th Street off Madison Ave. She was my first client in my attempt at starting my own practice. Since there was no space for me to work during the daytime, I would arrive at 7 p.m. and leave around10 p.m. As I had no car, I would travel via subway. My fee for this work was $25.00 a month. Mrs. Clayton leased space to Janet Lawson, a milliner, who also engaged me for $25.00 as well. Fortunately, I was able to obtain quite a few clients receiving $15.00 – $35.00 a month and was able to achieve a weekly income of $75.00 which at that time was not too bad.
In February 1947, my parents offered to have us live with them and we jumped at their suggestion since we were living in very cramped quarters at my in-laws. My parents’ apartment in a 4 story building at 1625 President Street consisted of 2 bedrooms, living room and kitchen; all rooms were much larger than those at Carroll Street. My sister Anne gave up her room that she had shared with Irene previously and willingly slept on a couch in the living room. It was a large room affording ample space for a crib for Kenny. This apartment was one block from Carroll Street so we were able to enjoy our both families on the Sabbath, holidays and joyous functions.
Wanting to enjoy privacy for a short time, we rented an apartment for the summer in Brighton Beach in an apartment house. Unfortunately, it was located on the fifth floor which was the top floor and was extremely hot because of the sun baking the roof all day. In addition, there was no elevator and I would place Kenny on my shoulders every time we had to go to our abode. Despite all these faults, we were ecstatic in being able to finally be alone after so many years of being separated and then living with others. Also, the three of us would go to the beach on Sundays and have a great time together.
One of my former clients in May 1947, discovering that I did not return to Muhlstock, offered me the position of controller in their lingerie manufacturing establishment at a salary of $150.00 per week. When I informed them that I would not work on the Sabbath or Jewish Holidays and would have to leave before sunset on the eve of those occasions, I was very much surprised at their willingness to consent to my demands.
The company was a family concern consisting of a father, mother and two sons. The original family name was Slutsky and was changed to Slayton. The parents, who were elderly, were semi-active in the business and came to work every day except on Saturdays and Jewish Holidays. Mr. & Mrs. Slayton not only respected me for being an Orthodox Jew but as time went on began to like me very much as did their sons. Roy, the older one, was in charge of production and Murray was in charge of the sales department consisting of a large number of sales representatives.
There were two different companies called Siren Silk Undergarment Co, Inc. and Miss Emily Lingerie, Inc. Siren produced ladies’ pajamas and Miss Emily produced slips, petticoats and nightgowns. Although, I never received great grades in my cost accounting courses in college, I always liked this phase of accounting. In fact, I attribute my success in passing the CPA exam the first time to the many questions on all four parts of the exam pertaining to cost accounting.
Perhaps, Roy detected my expertise in this field since he asked me to set up a new factory in Ephrata, Pa. for Miss Emily. The workers at this plant were almost exclusively Mennonites. The women at the sewing machines all wore caps and were dressed very modestly. A few months later, I was asked to set up another plant in Selinsgrove, Pa. for Siren. I made several trips during the year via rail to both factories. My weekly salary was now $200.00 per week. Incidentally, our accounting firm was my former employer, George Muhlstock & Co. Perhaps, I was wrong when I thought I detected a resentment by George every month he came to conduct the audit. He no longer was as friendly to me as he was when I worked for him. I think he would have preferred that I remained with him.
Murray and I made several trips to the Pa. factories in his car and we became fast friends. When the Dodgers and Yankees played in the World Series in October 1947, he took me to my first Series game which was played in Ebbets Field. We had excellent seats and watched the Dodgers win the game in the ninth inning when Cookie Lavagetto hit a double off the right field wall knocking in two runs winning the ball game 3-2.
While working for Siren, I was building a small practice knowing that I could never work for anybody and that I must be my own boss. This necessitated my working nights and not spending much time with Kenny. Were it not for the fact that I was Orthodox and able to spend Shabbat at home, Kenny and I would be total strangers. I visited clients every Sunday so that Saturday was my true day of rest.
After one year at Siren, I informed them of my decision to leave as I wanted to work for myself and not because I was unhappy with them. They were extremely disappointed to hear this and immediately offered me a salary of $15,000.00 per annum excluding bonuses and an opportunity to buy shares in the two corporations up to 49%. I thanked them for this generous offer and told them that I wanted to start my own accounting practice. They would not take no for an answer and Roy suggested that he speak with my father in-law to persuade him to change his mind, thinking that it was his idea that I leave. Since Mr. Friedfeld was a dress manufacturer, he would realize how attractive was their proposal and would guide me correctly.
What was amazing was the unanimous opinion of my parents and my in-laws who advised me to reject this wonderful offer and to go out on my own. I never realized at the time how much confidence they had in my ability. I will never forget my mother’s advice to me when she said that I should never have business partners in my life except for the Almighty. One would suppose that poor parents such as mine would encourage their son to accept such a fabulous financial improvement in his life; to this day I am still surprised at their decision.
Around the time I left Siren, Hilda and I thought it was time to leave my parents’ home and strike out on our own. We perused the real estate sections of the newspapers in April 1948 and answered an ad for an apartment in a new 2 family house at 4514 Glendale Court in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn. The house was owned by a newly married couple, Jerry and Florence Gerber. Her father owned a retail men’s clothing store on Pitkin Ave. in Brownsville. At that time, in order to get an apartment, one had to give a bonus to the landlord; in our case it was $750.00. I believe the monthly rent was $400-450. We occupied the second floor which was larger than the one at street level where the Gerbers lived. Our house was one of 8 newly constructed attached homes with patios.
Our apartment consisted of a kitchen and dining area, which you entered, 2 bedrooms and a living room. Our adjacent neighbors on our left were a newly married couple, Lila and Bill, who had a boxer dog as a pet. We would sit on our adjacent attached patios and have a great time together. In fact we fell in love with the dog and the feeling was mutual as he spent much time in our home, constantly having saliva running from his mouth all over our floors and furniture. Boxers are well known for this characteristic. We found an Orthodox synagogue a few blocks from our home and I immediately volunteered to audit the books pro-bono, a practice followed for many years in the various religious institutions that I joined.
On August 2, 1948, we were blessed with our second son, Dennis Mark. Ten days after his birth, the practical nurse whom we engaged for 2 weeks, Mrs. Lehmann, a refugee from Germany, noticed his penis changing color to blue which, of course, signified a loss of blood flowing to his tiny organ. It seems that the mohel tied the bandage much too tight. We immediately called our pediatrician and fortunately he corrected a very negligent act that occurred at the circumcision.
A much worse and more life-threatening event occurred two days later. Fortunately, Hilda went into the child’s room to check on him and, lo and behold, Dennis’s lips were blue and he was gasping for breath. It seems our nurse was negligent in burping him after he was fed and the milk was closing his small and narrow trachea. Since we had no time to call our regular pediatrician, we called the nearest doctor to our home, Dr. Wollowick, whom we knew from the synagogue and whose office and home was on the next block.
When we informed him of the problem over the phone, he came immediately recognizing the severity of the situation and possible consequences. I remember him driving to our home, parking his car in the middle of the street and running up the stairs to examine our sick child. His next remark completely put us in shock. He stated that only the Police or Fire Dept. Emergency Squad with oxygen could save our son. He called them and in a very short time, the Fire Dept. arrived and placed an adult oxygen mask on our child’s face, not having a mask for an infant. God was good to us at that moment, as He has been to us throughout our lives, saving our new-born son’s life. Dennis immediately began to cry and his lips returned to a normal pinkish color. Kenny, standing outside with his friends kept repeating “That’s my brother.”
One night as Hilda, Kenny and I were sitting in the living room, we heard a loud noise emanating from the kitchen. When I ran into the room I couldn’t believe what met my eyes. An entire set of dishes except for 3 plates were shattered and strewn all over the kitchen floor. Mrs. Lehmann was not only a horrible nurse but a poor housekeeper besides. She placed the dishes in the closet in such a manner that if one opened the door of the closet, every item would fall out. Having a sense of humor, I took out the remaining dishes and threw them on the floor making it a complete job.
In addition, she again almost caused a calamity regarding Dennis’s health. She convinced us that she was not to blame for his predicament but that he was allergic to cow’s milk and that caused his problem. Fearing a reoccurrence, we would have believed anything. She, living in Washington Heights, where many German Jews lived, recommended a physician from her neighborhood who was a specialist in these types of allergy. The next evening this “professor” arrived in a chauffeur-driven limousine and after examining Dennis, he was confident that the child was allergic and should be immediately given goat’s milk.
When we informed our pediatrician of this change in diet, he did not agree and told us that we were hurting the child by reducing his nourishment. After several weeks of feeding him with goat’s milk, our son’s loss of weight was alarming, to say the least. Finally, we realized our mistake and returned to his previous diet of cow’s milk. Evidently, this experience has not hurt Dennis since, thank God, he is 6′ ft-4″ tall and by no means under-nourished. But, in retrospect, I must say that the first two months of his life were no picnic. It is quite possible that these events soured Hilda in having more children, although I always wanted a larger family.
Now, having our own home, Hilda and I started a practice that we followed throughout the lives of our parents. Every Sunday I would drive to Crown Heights to pick up my parents, Hilda’s parents and occasionally Anne and Hilda’s sisters and bring them to our home where Hilda served them lunch and dinner. This gave them an opportunity to see their grandchildren and nephews. Regardless of the weather, be it rain, a snow storm, or excessive heat, Hilda and Mac performed the Fifth Commandment of honoring their parents. We can honestly say today that we are rewarded by having our children and grandchildren honoring and loving us in the same manner that they observed in our relations to our parents.
My practice continued to grow at this time. One of the firms which I audited while working for Muhlstock decided, for some reason, to leave him and asked me if I was interested in taking over their account. That was like asking a dying man in a desert if he wanted water. This was my first big break in building a practice because the fee was $450.00 per month, far in excess of any fee that I was earning. The client was Diamond-Walter Corp. located on East 29th St. off Madison Ave. in the lingerie district. The owners were Harry Diamond and Paul Walter, an Orthodox Jew who loved Hebrew liturgical music. Every month, when I came for the audit, he would sit opposite me at a desk and the two of us would sing liturgical melodies.
As a Xmas bonus, I received a TV set that cost close to $500.00 and it was the first and only TV set on our block. Every Tuesday night we would watch Milton Berle on the Texaco Hour and enjoy the show immensely. Some of our neighbors would join us on these evenings.
Another client that I now obtained was Tuban Mills, Inc., a manufacturer of T shirts for the armed services. It was located on Greene Street off Canal Street. The owners of this firm, was my brother-in-law Al and Leo Rapaport, also a refugee from Hungary and quite a few years older than his partner. Leo had worked for Al’s father in Europe for many years as the right hand man of the elder Moskovits. For some reason, he preferred going into business with Al instead of with the father.
The Slaytons, still hoping that I would change my mind and return, hired me as a consultant for their two plants in Pa. I would advise them as to the proper pricing of their garments and ways to increase production without incurring additional cost. After one year, they evidently saw that I was serious in building my practice and discontinued my services.
Being in the Supply Corps Naval Reserve, necessitated my retaining my knowledge of Naval regulations by taking book exams monthly at home and being recalled every summer for temporary duty for 14 days. My first recall was in July 1948 to attend the Navy Ship’s Store Office in the Bush Terminal in Brooklyn. We had classes every day, other than Saturday and Sunday and would visit plants that were suppliers to the Ship’s Store. One of those we visited was the Colgate-Palmolive establishment in Jersey City. It was extremely interesting to see how tooth paste and the other Colgate products were manufactured. My duty was from Aug. 16-29.
While living at Glendale Court, two young people we knew died of Hodgkins disease. At night while in bed attempting to fall asleep, we would hear our landlord, Jerry, who was no more than 25 years of age, coughing the entire night. Although we expected his demise, it hurt terribly to witness such a young person suffering and finally dying. Another young girl about 19 who was the sister of my dentist Dr. Cohen and was his assistant died around the same time as Jerry from the same illness. She was unusually pretty and full of personality and I still remember what she looked like.
Our neighbors to the right of us were the Mittlemans, a very nice couple of our age. Since they had a son the same age as Dennis, we would be mutual baby-sitters for the children. This arrangement gave the four of us an opportunity to go to a movie on a Saturday night. Actually, both mothers attended to this task while the men stayed in their respective homes. If the husbands were needed in an emergency the wives would phone for help. As luck would have it, their son always decided to defecate in his diaper while Hilda was baby-sitting and I would get a call to assist her. Dennis always stayed clean when Charlotte baby-sat for him. We kept in touch with the Mittlemans for many years later when they moved to Florida and opened an ice cream parlor.
In 1949, a fellow congregant of my synagogue, Herman Litt, approached me with the idea of forming an accounting partnership. He was 25 years my senior and had a small practice and worked alone with no employees. He was approached by someone who was willing to give him 2 clients in fields in which Litt had no expertise or even how to handle the audits of these companies. Herman, never being aggressive, was ready to turn down this offer of two lucrative fees. Fortunately, before doing so, he contacted me and inquired if I would attempt to audit these firms.
I thought it was a good opportunity to increase my income by joining Litt in a partnership even though I was not heeding my mother’s previous advice of never having a partner. I discovered a year later how wise she was in her statement. We rented an office in The Guardian Life Insurance building at 207- 4th Avenue –later called Park Avenue South – on the corner of 17th Street. As he was my senior, I suggested that we call our firm Litt & Prager. I kept this name throughout my career, even after Litt passed away.
We hired 2 accountants and a secretary to complete our staff. One of the accountants was Bernard Rubinson who stayed with me for many years. He and I had an unusually pleasant relationship.
One of the new clients was a Wall Street brokerage firm, Robert Gordon & Co. and the other, whose name escapes me now, was a public company drilling oil in Pa. I had as much experience and knowledge about the brokerage business and oil drilling as the man in the moon. However, this “minor” detail did not deter me from accepting the challenge and told Litt he could depend on me.
One must understand that in the case of the Gordon audit, besides the usual audit procedure, Securities Exchange regulations were many and quite complex. The brokerage firm had to file monthly financial statements with the N.Y. Stock Exchange divulging the financial solvency of the company. I was completely ignorant of any of the regulations but, fortunately for me, Robert and his partner brother took a liking to me and guided me through my ordeal. I remained their accountant for 14 years till 1963. They began having liquidity problems and the NYSE “suggested” that they engage a more prestigious firm with extensive brokerage experience.
As regards the drilling company, which I audited jointly with Litt, again there were unique factors that an auditor and tax preparer had to be familiar with. I did quite a bit of research and learned the business “on the job” so that I wouldn’t “foul up” the books or the tax returns. An important fact to know in accounting for drilling companies was the deduction of depletion on their tax returns. These two events illustrate that never in my 63 years of practicing accounting did I ever refuse to accept a client because of lack of expertise in the field of endeavor. I was blessed with self-confidence which has been a boon to me professionally and in every facet of my life.
The president of this company was a man with no business ethics. After 10 months of handling this account, we decided to resign as his accountants. A few months later, we received a phone call from the office of the Federal Attorney requesting the two of us to report to them and to bring with us our letterheads and stationery. I immediately suspected what our ex-client had done. As soon as we arrived, the Federal Attorney, who was a woman, showed us a financial statement on paper whose letterhead read our firm’s name, typed and not printed. I remember responding to her that we were not that poor that we couldn’t afford to have our letterheads printed. Several minutes later, she stated that she knew it was not prepared by us but had to interview us to confirm her suspicion. Subsequently, this crook was convicted and received a jail sentence.
After one year, I realized that I was doing all the work, bringing in new clients while Herman was sitting in the office most of the time and not bringing in new revenue. I made an appointment to visit him at his home at night to discuss my dilemma. He lived a few blocks from my home and I didn’t want to have our conversation while others were present in the office.
As soon as I arrived, he surprised me by telling me that he knew the reason for my visit. I then told him that our “real” partnership had to end and that we should continue the name, office and employees. However, I would retain my clients and he would continue to service his clients. We would share the expenses of the office i.e. rent, supplies and secretary. Whoever employed one of the accountants would pay him. We maintained that modus operandi for many years until his retirement.