One of the worst snow storms N.Y. City ever suffered occurred in the winter of 1948 while living on Glendale Court. I awoke one Saturday morning and could not look out of the kitchen window which faced the porch. Snow covered the entire window and porch reaching the roof of the house. I tried to open the door leading to the porch but was unable to do so. Making matters worse, poor Kenny was suffering from a bad case of bronchitis and running a fairly high fever. Incidentally, both children suffered from this illness for many years into their teen ages. Hilda and I knew that calling our pediatrician was useless because no cars could battle this storm.
Fortunately, I knew that across the street lived a physician. I had never met him or his wife but that didn’t deter me from requesting his help in an emergency. I called him on the phone, related our problem and he informed me that he was an anesthesiologist and hadn’t treated patients for respiratory ailments since his days as an intern. He was a captain in the Army serving in Europe during the war. Since the Army needed anesthesiologists badly, they assigned this duty to him.
Our Father in Heaven must have shined His grace upon us when our neighbor consented to come across the street to examine and treat Kenny. In order to allow him to enter, I had to shovel all the snow blocking the entrance door and when I finally succeeded in my task, I phoned him to come over. How he was able to fight the very high snow drifts still amazes me. When he finally made it and entered our home, he introduced himself as Sidney Cohen, whose wife Andrea and his daughter, Miriam, 3 years of age, were the rest of his family. He stated that Kenny had a bad case of bronchitis and since all drug stores were closed he, fortunately, had some sample anti-biotic drugs which would help in lowering the fever.
A close friendship developed between us and lasted for many years even after we both relocated to other homes. Discovering that I was an accountant, he asked me to prepare his income tax returns which I did for about 30 years. One night as I was preparing his returns, he was sitting in my apartment and suddenly received an emergency call from the Williamsburg General Hospital. He and a few other doctors owned the hospital.
A young pregnant woman who had a heart condition was in her seventh month and necessitated an immediate Caesarian section delivery in order to safeguard the mother’s health and that of the children, she was carrying twins. I was shocked when he asked me if I would accompany him and view the delivery.
After arriving at the hospital, located in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, we immediately went to “scrub up” and change our clothing to surgical robes, scuffs to cover our feet and surgical masks. This was excellent in my case because I and, perhaps Sidney as well, didn’t want the other doctors to know that a CPA was a member of the team. Always wanting to be a doctor in my youth, this was going to be an experience that I would never forget and, as you can see, I never did.
When we entered the operating room, I was shocked to see a young woman on the table, almost completely nude. She had a very large abdomen containing two living creatures and had a blue circle in the center of which was an X marked thereon. Two surgeons, one on each side of her, were covered with large rubber aprons over their gowns. Sidney went to his place handling the anesthesia. I and the patient’s obstetrician, whose name was Dr. Berkowitz, stood a few feet behind the operating table.
After the surgeons made incisions on the woman’s lower abdomen, I then realized why they required the rubber aprons. A great amount of water gushed out onto the floor and all over the surgeons, accompanied by quite an amount of blood. The mother was delivering two boys who were immediately placed in incubators. After a few moments, it was discovered that one of the children was born dead and hope was expressed that the other would survive. Unfortunately, Sidney informed me a day later that he too did not live beyond a few hours. Even though I did not know the mother, I felt awful on hearing this news.
Since Dr. Berkowitz was an Orthodox Jew and Williamsburg was the home of a large number of Chassidim, especially those who were followers of the Satmar Rebbi, his obstetric practice consisted primarily of the wives of these Orthodox Jews. Years later, when he and I met at many Chassidic functions, I having many of them as clients, he would always address me as Dr. Prager. I never corrected him as I didn’t want to get Sidney in trouble for having a non-physician present at a surgical procedure.
Several months later, while I was auditing the books of my friend, Artie Newman, who was a partner in Newman-Perlman a firm in the diamond center, one of the diamond polishers asked me if I would prepare his tax return. I, of course, agreed as I wasn’t turning down any prospective clients.
When I returned from the Navy and was still living with my in-laws, I prayed at the shtiebel of the Koshenitzer Rabbi, Rabbi Hopstein, on President Street. My father in-law was President of the congregation and, while I was away, would take Kenny with him on Saturday mornings to this synagogue. During my 10 days of leave after returning home, I still had to wear my Naval uniform. When I was given the honor of chanting the haftorah – portion of the Prophets- on my first visit to the shtiebel, I heard many of the congregants, who did not know me, remark that they were surprised at this young man who looked like a goy perform so well. This was where I met Artie and we became good friends, together with his wife Rachel. Discovering that I was an accountant, he engaged me to be his auditor and tax preparer. Our relationship lasted till his death in 1997.
The young man, who lost his twins at birth, came to my home on Glendale Court with all the information necessary for the preparation of his income tax returns. When I perused his medical bills, I was taken aback at the bills he submitted; Drs. Cohen and Berkowitz and Williamsburg General Hospital were among those listed. Immediately, it struck a bell in my mind. To confirm my suspicion, I asked him what caused these medical expenses. Sure enough, he was the husband of the young lady who had undergone the Caesarian. That was quite a coincidence. Fortunately, two years later, she gave birth to a normal boy.
I met my first tax client in 1947 when I started my practice. Naturally, I couldn’t afford an office or a secretary; therefore, I engaged a telephone answering service at 60 East 42nd Street. It still is a very prestigious building and I used that address on my stationery. Miss Bayworth, who ran this service, took a liking to me and volunteered to introduce me to her clients who possibly needed an accountant. One of her clients was Arthur Reik, who was starting a wholesale diamond business and also couldn’t afford an office. It is amazing how many future clients I obtained from this one recommendation.
He induced his father, Theodor Reik, to leave his accountant and engage me for tax work. Dr. Reik was a psychoanalyst and the only living disciple of Freud. He wrote many books in his field and gave me some of them as a gift. He introduced me to a psychiatrist whose tax returns I prepared for many years starting in 1950. I have never met a wierder person than him, who was supposed to treat people with mental problems.
He lived in the East 80s off Fifth Avenue, living in one apartment while his wife and son lived in the same building in another apartment. My visits to him were always in the evening and I always found him in bed. I never inquired why he was never dressed and resting in bed. Very often, he had a young lady in his bedroom and he always introduced me as a friend and as an FBI agent. Your guess is as good as mine why he did this.
In order to prepare his tax returns, I had to audit all his checks for the year and I saw that many of the payees were the names of women. Therefore, I assumed that they were either nurses who tended to his medical needs or young ladies who tended to his other needs. Either way, it was not my business to ask for an explanation and perhaps embarrass him. I was his accountant till 1969 when he died. Hilda and I both went to the funeral which was held at Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home on Madison Avenue and 81st Street. Although he was a Jew, I am quite sure he never practiced his religion. Consequently, no Rabbi or any other member of the clergy was present.
Through him, I became the accountant of the N.Y. Psychiatric Center in 1963, whose head was Dr. Scanlon. In 1966 the name was changed to the Scanlon Medical Group until 1970 when they disbanded and formed the Murray Hill Classes which lasted till 1972.
I acquired two additional accounts through the good graces of Arthur Reik; one was his father in-law who was in the import business and the other was the husband of his ex-wife, whose business I can’t recall. Arthur prospered as time went on, but, unfortunately, he passed away at a young age in 1970 and his wife, Mignon, continued the business from an office on Fifth Avenue and 49th Street in the Diamond Center. Believe it or not, she is still my client. Without doubt, the Reiks are my clients of the longest duration, spanning 56 years
In 1948, my father in-law introduced me to Bea Fuchs, a customer of his who ran a dress shop on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn and she engaged me as her accountant. She persuaded her nephew, Paul Gilbert to hire me as his accountant. He operated a dress shop on Pitkin Avenue in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn.
Bea, several years later, formed a partnership with Helen S. in a retail dress establishment in Paterson, N.J. where Helen lived. I must now relate an interesting event that occurred while I was their accountant. I performed all my monthly accounting duties in the evening at my retail clients since during the day there wasn’t any room for me to work while business was going on. On one of my monthly visits, only Bea was present and she informed me that Helen wasn’t feeling well.
While I was working, I received a phone call from Helen who was a divorcee, to please visit her at her home after concluding my work. She wished to discuss several matters pertaining to the business. When I arrived at her home, I found her lying in bed wrapped in a flimsy negligee and exposing a lot more flesh than I had anticipated. After several minutes, she began to disrobe very slowly as a stripper would do. Now, Helen was no spring chicken being slightly under or over 50; however, she still possessed a very well-kept and attractive figure. Trying to be very business-like, I inquired what concerns she had pertaining to the store.
Being extremely disappointed at my reaction to her obvious attempt at seduction, she informed me that she was tired and would discuss what was on her mind on my next visit to the store. I then compared myself to Joseph in the Bible and was very proud of my not succumbing to temptation. Of course, that was the last time I was invited to her home.
Another account that I acquired through my father in-law a year later, was Harby Dress Corp. located on Seventh Avenue in the garment center. In those days it was very common for a salesman and production man, i.e. cutter or patternmaker to form a partnership and become dress mfrs. They very rarely needed more than $10,000.00 cash to get started, if their credit standing was good. They could then get a bank loan for another 10 or 15 thousand and they were in business. Almost every dress mfr. would assign their accounts receivable to factors, receiving an advance of 75-80% of the invoices and be charged a negotiated commission for this service. This amount would vary between ½ to 2 % depending on the credit rating of the assignor and the volume factored.
The two stockholders of Harby were Archie Friedman, a former salesman of Pearl Dress and Paul Simon, who was related to Hilda. Unfortunately, a few years after starting the business, Archie contracted shingles which affected his eye sight and, to some extent, his mental capacity. Consequently, in 1955 the firm dissolved. He asked me to help him and become a partner with him in a newly-formed dress company. I had a great deal of sympathy for him and, in addition, felt a need to repay him for the six years that I was his accountant. Unfortunately, since I was then traveling to Brazil twice a year for extended periods of time, I was not able to monitor the business as much as I would have if I were home all the time. In 18 months, I lost my investment of $18,000 and we were out of business. I never regretted helping him and would do it again as it was a matter of principle to me.
The year 1949 was a successful year in expanding my practice. Bea Fuchs introduced me to her cousin Mike Marton, a refugee from Hungary, who just formed Quality Wholesale Veal Co., in the Washington Meat Market located on West 12th Street. His two partners were Siegfried (Ziggy) Rosenberger, a German refugee and David Marcus, another Hungarian refugee.
An interesting side bar is worth now mentioning. Since veal was always expensive, my clients suggested a few years later that I buy a side of veal at their cost and they would cut it up in pieces which I would transport to my home in my car. We bought a large trash can, filled it with cold water and then soaked the meat to remove the blood. After the soaking, we placed the veal on a large ping-pong table which we had in the basement of our home on 27th Street. Hilda would then kosher the meat by pouring salt thereon, an additional requirement for the removal of blood. Although we were really saving money, the laborious task was much too difficult. After a year or so, we discontinued this practice.
Ziggy died in 1976 and the surviving partners continued till 1989 when Mike left the business and Dave continued as the sole owner. Incidentally, I still prepare the tax returns of Mike and Ziggy’s widow, Hilda. Thus, my relationship with this client has lasted for 54 years.
My client Diamond Walter Corp. introduced me to three future clients during 1949. The first was the brother of Paul Walter who was the sole owner of Walter Sign & Display Co. This company created many of the highway signs in the metropolitan area. Their plant was in Woodside, L.I. I remained his accountant till 1960 when he started to have liquidity problems and started extensive borrowing. The lenders, in order to protect their loans, preferred that their accountants replace me.
The second client was Patricia Buckling Co. who buckled lingerie shoulder straps. The firm was located in the East Bronx and was owned by Joseph and Josephine Di Martino, a married couple. Their daughter, Patricia was born a few months after Kenny and Josephine constantly wanted to make a shidach (marriage match) with our family. Since they were Italian Catholics and not very devout, intermarriage was no problem as far as they were concerned. In fact, many years later when Patricia was married to a lovely Italian boy, we were invited to the wedding, catered by a kosher caterer in Pelham, N.Y. where the Di Martinos lived.
There were several other Jewish guests since they had many friends and business acquaintances of our faith. The caterer, being told by the hosts that we were Orthodox, came to our table and advised us who the mashgiach (kashrus supervisor) was and that he never served non-kosher food at his establishment. Despite his claims, we asked for a cold fish plate.
Being a rabid Dodger fan, I can never forget that I was present at this client when “the shot heard around the world” occurred. Of course, I am referring to the home run hit by Bobby Thomson off Ralph Branca in the ninth inning of a playoff game for the National League pennant in 1951. What made this blow so dramatic was the fact that the Dodgers had a supposedly insurmountable lead during September. My grandson, Joshua who is a staff reporter of the Wall St. Journal, wrote a very extensive and interesting article in that paper pertaining to this event claiming that Leo Durocher, the manager of the N.Y. Giants, resorted to stealing the catcher’s signs to the pitcher resulting in his team overtaking the Dodger’s very big lead.
The article was so good that it was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Soon after, one of the largest and prestigious publishing firms suggested that he write a book on this subject and, of course, he accepted.
His employer, the Wall St. Journal, relieved him of his duties for a period of 2 years allowing him to write the book.
During my tenure as the Di Martino’s accountant, they purchased 2 apartment buildings so I now had 2 additional accounts. Unfortunately, in 1961 Joe passed away at a young age from cancer and Josephine continued the business till 1976.
The third account that I obtained through Diamond-Walter, was one of their contractors. Almost all dress and lingerie mfrs. did not perform any sewing operations as that would require a great deal of space for the sewing machines and rents were quite high in the garment and lingerie districts. Consequently, the leased premises were utilized primarily for patternmaking, cutting of the fabrics, showrooms and office. In addition, the payroll would have been greatly increased by employing seamstresses and the concomitant problem of employee sickness, lateness and maternity.
Thus, it was more feasible to use contractors who were located outside of Manhattan and mostly in surrounding cities and states. This client was Harold Jacobson whose plant was in Westchester. I was his accountant and friend for 27 years. He and his wife, Laura, and Hilda and I attended each other’s happy occasions and I sorely missed him when he committed suicide in 1976.
A year previously, he came to my home without Laura and I suspected that something was wrong. He confided to me that he was very depressed and I immediately suggested that he waste no time in seeing a psychiatrist who would help him with medication and counseling. I, knowing that he had no financial problems and had wonderful, loving children, asked him if he and Laura were getting along. He stated that she was a doll and she was not the cause of his condition. This episode taught me that the mind is terribly complex and why therapists, in many cases, cannot ascertain the reasons for depression and mental illness.
In Sept. 1949, I received orders from the Navy to report for my 2 week training in the Supply Corp. I was ordered to report to the Supervisory Cost Inspector for the Eastern Area in Brooklyn, N.Y. I was sent to help in the conduct of an audit being performed at the Sperry Gyroscope Co. in L.I. City. This supplier had cost-plus contracts with the Navy and the task of the Cost Inspectors were to assure that the costs were not illegally inflated.
In fact, Harry Truman owed his being nominated for the Presidency due to his being chairman of a Senatorial committee monitoring the military contracts based on cost-plus. I was required to wear my uniform while conducting the audit and I really enjoyed the two weeks that I spent at Sperry.
Kenny, reaching the age of six, was ready for his entrance into his academic life. We heard about the Yeshiva Rambam, which was a fairly new Orthodox day school located on Kings Highway near Ocean Parkway. Since it was newly formed, its tuition was quite reasonable. As we were still living on Glendale Court, Kenny had to be transported a fairly long distance to and from school via bus operated by the Yeshiva. On the very first day of his attendance, Hilda and I were frantically awaiting the arrival of our son. The children were discharged at 5 p.m. and when I arrived home from the office at 6.30, Kenny was still not at home. Hilda tried calling the Yeshiva many times to no avail since every employee had already left.
He finally arrived at 8 p.m. and was the only passenger on the bus. As soon as the bus dropped off Kenny, it sped away; the driver fearing the release of our pent-up anger. Naturally, we wanted to know the reason for this terrible inefficiency in transporting the students. The school’s apology was that it was the first day of school and the driver was unfamiliar with the addresses of his passengers and since Kenny lived the farthest from the school, he was the last one discharged. Also, since we lived on a one-street name. The driver kept looking for Glendale Court which was only one block. We lost confidence in the Yeshiva’s administration, and placed Kenny in the Yeshiva of Flatbush the next day.