An Interlude With Her Folks



Jerome Turken

An American flag was fluttering on the lawn atop a ten foot high flag pole.  Beverly’s sister Sharon opened the door.  “Hello.”  Usually also gives me a curt smile but now just dropped her eyes.  Walking in on some private affair?

Mr. Perlman called out: “What do you have to ring the bell for?  Don’t we know you by now?  Just walk in.”  He was in the kitchen down the hall crouched at the open refrigerator.  He seemed to be talking from under a canopy of black, frizzy hair low on his forehead.  “Hey Lily, this ice cream got too frozen!  It still ain’t soft!”

“Just leave it there,” came Mrs. Perlman’s voice. “I’ll put it in hot water a minute, it’ll get soft.”  She appeared from the living room, a tall, angular woman.  “He can eat a quart of ice cream like I eat a grape.  You forgot what Dr. Cohen said about your cholesterol?  Hello, Lou.  Don’t make any jokes about Harry’s flagpole.  There’s already a rumor that a new post office opened in the neighborhood.  You look good in a sweat shirt.”

“We’re going to the playground,” Lou said.  “Beverly wants to correct my tennis swing.”

“She’s a marvelous tennis player,” Mrs. Perlman said.  “We spent a fortune on tennis lessons.  She won a contest in Prospect Park when she was fourteen, but she never really pursued it.  She called a few minutes ago.  She slept over a friend’s house and she’s running late.  Her friend hurt her foot, or something, and she had to drive her to the hospital emergency.  Go relax on one of the new Chaise lounges in the back.  They’re wonderful.  I’ll bring you out some ice cream.”

“Bring mine out too,” Mr. Perlman said.  “I’ll keep him company while he’s waiting.  I just got to go up for a minute to take care of some important business.”

“I hope your important business doesn’t take a year and a day,” Mrs. Perlman said.  “I have to take my shower yet.  Don’t take the papers in with you.”

Sharon and her boyfriend, Bernie, were on the sofa watching TV.  On his way to the back door he said hello.  Bernie waved without taking his eyes off he screen.  Sharon didn’t respond at all.

The back was an expanse of land that could easily have accommodated three tennis courts and smelled of freshly cut grass.  The house itself was a huge three story affair, one of only four that occupied the entire square block.  He crossed a slate patio and lay back on one of the Chaise lounges under a tree in the middle of the lawn and watched the leaves above flutter and shimmer in the soft, sunny breeze.

Look sharp.  Here comes money and business.  Mr. Perlman came out with the two dishes of ice cream and placed them a patio table with an umbrella.  “Come on over here,” he said.  “It’s more comfortable eating.”

Lou went to the table and seated himself.

“You won’t get better ice cream than this anywhere in the world,” Mr. Perlman said.  “Elbert’s Fine.  Only one store carries it around here, a gourmet shop on Avenue U.  Cost twice as much.”  He spooned a huge gob of ice cream.  He spooned another chunk.  “Go ahead, start, don’t be bashful.  Good, eh?  So tell me about this metal working company you work for.  You like that job?”

“It’s all right.”

“What’s your position there again?” Mr. Perlman said, working his mouth to deal with the cold of the ice cream.

“Production Manager.”

Mr. Perlman shook his head as he swallowed his mouthful.  “You know how many times I told her to keep the damn freezer down when she puts in ice cream?  She never listens to me.  So you’re a Production Manager, eh?  That’s a good job, but you’re still working for someone else.  To tell you the truth I can’t see myself working for someone else.  It’s just not in me to work for someone else.  There’s nothing like being your own boss.  You know why?  Your life is your own.  You don’t answer to anyone, you don’t depend on anyone.  What you make is yours.  You work your ass off but it’s for yourself. You’re the one who reaps in the profits.  You make a mistake?  The only one you get hell from is yourself.  Did you ever hear of anyone giving himself too much hell?  And—” he held up a forefinger “—it’s a little nicer to give orders than to take them.  I got thirty schmucks working for me, and I’m the one giving the orders.  I got a sense of accomplishment.”  He seemed to be absorbed in something on the lawn beyond Lou.  “And I have no obligations to anyone.  I take that back.  I do have one obligation.”  He squinted and craned his neck toward whatever he was looking at.  “To my family.”

He got up and walked a distance across the lawn and looked straight down at something.  “That fuckin mutt!”  He came back to the patio and yelled through the screen door. “Hey, Lily, you got another cleanup job out here!” and returned to the table.  “One of these days I’m going to poison that fuckin mutt.  What was I talking about?”

“Your obligation to your family,” Lou said.

“Oh, yeah,” Mr. Perlman said.  “The only obligation I have is to my family.  They know it’s all for them, for my three sweeties.  Because what counts in this lousy world?  What the hell do you work for, if not for your family?  I did all right by them.  Take a look around, judge for yourself.  That couch they’re sitting on inside?  Thirteen hundred.  Imported Italian velvet, one of a kind.  I could go out and buy fifty more, right now.  For cash.  This house, I bought it for four-hundred-fifty grand and then dished out another fifty to fix it up.  And on top of that another twenty-five went to some fairy to decorate it.  And the whole thing didn’t put a dent in my bank account.  You know why?  Because not a penny of it come out of the bank.  It was all cash.  You do a lot of cash business in stationery.  I give special discounts for cash.  Cash you don’t put on the books.” He winked and nodded.  “Cash you put straight in your pocket.  And when I pay cash I get special discounts.  And I never, ever pay sales tax.  Never.  I got cash I don’t know what to do with, except keep it out of the hands of Uncle Sam.  You get my drift?”

“I get your drift,” Lou said.  “But where do you keep it, in a safe deposit box or something?”

“Don’t worry where I keep it,” Mr. Perlman said.

Mrs. Perlman came out holding a large plastic bag and a couple of sticks, with Sharon tagging behind.  “Where is it?”

“Right over there,” Mr. Perlman said, pointing.  “See it?  Keep walking, keep walking.  Left.  I said left!”

When the two women came within about ten feet of the dog shit both stopped and stared down at it with chins indrawn and almost identical faces of disgust.

“Sharon, you hold the bag open and I’ll push it in,” Mrs. Perlman said.  “Here.”

Sharon took the bag and held it open and turned her head away.

“You have to hold it on the ground, Sharon,” Mrs. Perlman said.  “On the ground!  How can I push it in if you hold it up like that?  Lower.  Sharon, you have to hold it on the ground.  Closer.  Closer!  Will you open your eyes and look?”

“It’s going to get on my hands!” Sharon said.

“Don’t worry about your hands,” Mrs. Perlman said. “You can always wash them.”  She started to flick at the dog shit.  Either she was looking at the sky, or was straining her eyes downward to their limit or had them closed altogether.

“Hurry up!”  Sharon’s head was swiveled ninety degrees.

“Sharon, I’m nervous enough,” Mrs. Perlman said. “Don’t rush me or I really will get it on your hands.”  When she finally got it all into the bag she threw the sticks in and tied it up.  Clapping came from the patio.  It was Bernie, a short, plumpish guy with a white complexion and thinning red hair.  He had a big, cheeky smile on his face.

“What a schmuck,” Mr. Perlman said.

“We have an audience,” Mrs. Perlman said.  Holding the bag straight out, she paused on her way to the garbage cans at the side of the house.  “Those were the last two sticks,” she called to her husband.  “You better find me some more. And make sure they’re a little longer this time.”

“Dammit, she forgot to mark the spot.” Mr. Perlman said.  “How’m I going to find it?  Hey, Lily, you forgot to mark the spot!”

“I can’t do everything,” Mrs. Perlman said as she followed the other two back into the house

“She has a knack for making things hard for me,” Mr. Perlman said.  “Now I’m going to have to hose down half the damn lawn.”  He shook his head a while.  “I forgot what I was saying.”

“Your cash,” Lou said.

“What about my cash?”

“You were saying it’s safe.”

“Sure it’s safe,” Mr. Perlman said.  “You think I’m just let it lay around like an old pair of sneakers, or something?”  He got up and picked up his dish. “How about a little more ice cream?”

“No thanks.”

“Sit there.  I’ll be right back.”

Start talking about Mars and he’ll find a way to get around to business and cash.  How did those two ever put together a daughter like Beverly?  He looked at his watch.  1:35.  Already thirty five minutes late.  Must have spent a lot of time with my competition.  Is she going to stand me up?

Mr. Perlman came walking out with another dish of ice cream.  He placed it on the table and sat back down and wolfed down about five spoonfuls.  It was a tremendous serving, at least twice as much as he had the first time. “You know,” he said, “a lot of people think skill makes a businessman.  Skill!  Leave the skill to the so‑called professionals.  Aren’t engineers skilled?  Accountants?  Mathematicians?  Plumbers?  They’re all skilled.  Everyone who works for someone is skilled.  You don’t need skill to run a business.  Skill you can buy.  What you need is common sense and a good nose.  You have to smell money then go in for the kill.  Skill!  You mention the word deal to a guy with skill he takes out the cards.”

“Well, not in all cases,” Lou said.

“Maybe,” Mr. Perlman said. “But I’m just making a point.”  He ate a few more spoonfuls, then something else occurred to him.  “You know what’s important?  Sharing.  That’s the magic word nowadays.  Sharing.  A lot of firms never learn that.  You can’t keep everything for yourself today.  It won’t work.  You want something out of people?  You have to give them something in return, it’s as simple as that.  You’re an engineer, right?  So you must have heard of the word incentive.  Show any worker he’ll make a few bucks more by working like a dog, he’ll work like a dog.  And he’ll be happy and I’ll be happy.  And a happy concern is a successful concern.”

Mrs. Perlman called from inside the house.  “Did you hose it down yet, Harry?”

“My slave driver,” Mr. Perlman said, lifting his plate off the table and putting on his lap.  “Not yet.  I’m in the middle of a conversation.  I’ll do it in a few minutes.”

“In a few minutes!” Mrs. Perlman said.  “I just took a shower.  You expect me to sit out there with that smell flying around?”

“All right, give me another minute,” Mr. Perlman said.

“Oh!”  Mrs. Perlman came hurrying out and went around to the side of he house.

“Watch, she’s going to do it herself,” Mr. Perlman said.  “Is she unreasonable.”

Sure enough Mrs. Perlman reappeared carrying the hose and lugged it across the lawn to where she thought the dog shit had been and smelled around.

“You’re not in the right place,” Mr. Perlman called to her.  “A little further.  More.  More.  About there.”

“I don’t smell anything here,” Mrs. Perlman said.

“Well smell around a little more,” Mr. Perlman said.

“Thank you,” Mrs. Perlman said.  “You’re very helpful.”

Mr. Perlman crouched and started on his ice cream again, his eyes darting between it and his wife.  When he finished he put the empty plate on the table and tongued around his teeth.  “Every time I eat something cold one of my teeth hurts for about half an hour.  You think it means anything?”

“Maybe you have a cavity.”

“Yeah, I have to find time for an appointment with the damn dentist.  I was in the middle of something.”

“A happy concern is a successful concern?” Lou said.

“Oh, yeah,” Mr. Perlman said.  “A happy concern is a successful concern.  That just about sums it up.”  He took a handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped his hands and mouth then tongued his tooth a little more.  “Jeez, it hurts more than usual now.”

“I would go to the dentist if I were you,” Lou said.

“Now you hit on the sum total of my problem,” Mr. Perlman said, and he stared at Lou for a full ten seconds.

“What’s that?” Lou said.

“Time,” Mr. Perlman said.  “I just don’t have the time.”

“Make the time.”

“That’s what I keep saying to myself.  Make the time. Make the time.  But it’s no use.”

“You mean to say you can’t jump out for an hour or two during the day to see a dentist?  Who’s going to stop you?  You’re the boss.”

“I stop myself.”

“You stop yourself?”

“It’s like I order myself to stay there and keep things running.”

“Well be a little more lenient with yourself.  Give yourself permission.”

“Hey, come on,” Mr. Perlman said.  “Of course I give myself permission.  But then this feeling keeps coming over me.  Like if I’m not there for two seconds the whole business will run away with itself, come to a complete halt.”

“Do you really believe that?” Lou said.

“Sure he believes it,” came Mrs. Perlman’s voice.  She was at the side of coiling the hose.  “The whole business is going to cave in if he misses a day.  Business, business, business. He never stops thinking about business.  He boasts, by the time he gets home he has his whole accounts payable or something figured out.  I keep telling him to stop figuring out his accounts payable and pay more attention to where he’s driving, or else not only his business but he himself will come to a complete halt one of these days.  In one ear and out the other.  Sometimes I think that man belongs in a crazy house.”  She went back to her coiling.

Mr. Perlman was staring across the lawn looking bemused.  After a long moment he said, “You know something?  She’s right.”  He stared across the lawn for another moment.  Then suddenly he picked up momentum again.  “I’ll tell you, I worked too hard.  I never relax.  Which reminds me, I gotta take a piss.”  He went into the house.

Lou went to the same Chaise lounge under the tree and lied back again.

“Aren’t these chairs marvelous?”  Mrs. Perlman was approaching.

“They are,” Lou said.  “I almost dozed off.”

“Listen, I want to ask you something,” Mrs. Perlman said.  “You know Beverly has this share in a house on Fire Island.”

“Yes,” Lou said.

“That’s the second birthday present Harry gave her in advance.”

“Really?  What was the first one.”

“Her car.”

“He’s very generous.”

“You call it generous,” Mrs. Perlman said.  “I call it stupid.”


“I don’t like the idea of that Fire Island business,” Mrs. Perlman said.  “Can I ask you something?  What do you know about the other girls?  Did you ever meet them?”

“The only girlfriend of hers I met is Lorraine.”

“That one.  I hope she’s not in on the shares.  Is she?”

“I don’t know,” Lou said.  “Why don’t you ask Beverly?”

“That’s all I have to do,” Mrs. Perlman said.  “Ask Beverly about her girlfriends and she turns into a stone statue.”  As she walked back to the house she shook her head and said to no one in particular,  “I just don’t like the idea of this Fire Island business.”

Mr. Perlman came walking on to the patio and sat down on the same chair and called to Lou: “Come on, let’s finish our conversation.”

Lou went to the table and sat down.

“What were we talking about?” Mr. Perlman said.

“I think we were talking about relaxing,” Lou said.

“What about relaxing?”

“You were saying you never relax.”

“Oh, yeah,” Mr. Perlman said.  “That’s my trouble.  I never relax.  I get home, eat, then fall asleep watching television.  Lily’s brother Joe has a standing joke.  He has a spy watching me.  Whenever I go to the doctor he invests in stationery.  I’ll tell you, when you get a little older you realize your name is Perlman, not Tarzan.”

Sharon and Bernie came out and walked out to the lawn. Mr. Perlman’s eyes followed them.  He leaned toward Lou and screened his lips with his fingers.

“Look at him,” he said in a lowered voice.  “He walks just like a duck.  Every time he opens his mouth I expect quack‑quack to come out.”  And he shook his head.  “Where was I?”

“Your name is Perlman, not Tarzan,” Lou said.

“Yeah, I’m working too damn hard,” Mr. Perlman said.  “I’m thinking of bring—”  He cut himself off and brought his fingers to his lips and lowered his voice again.  “I’m thinking of bringing in someone from the outside, someone with some brains.  Naturally what I really want is brains plus blood.  There’s nothing like blood.  Don’t repeat this: I’ve always been disappointed about—” He cut himself off again and stared at Sharon and Bernie a while, then called out: “Hey, Sharon, why don’t you and Bernie take a walk or something.  This conversation won’t interest you.”

Sharon gave her father a dirty look.  “We weren’t listening,” she said.

Bernie got up.  “Sharon, if your father wants us to take a walk we should walk.  I can use a walk anyway.”

Sharon, the dirty look still on her face, got up and she and Bernie walked out along the side of the house to the street.  Mr. Perlman waited for them to walk a distance then leaned closer to Lou and continued in a voice hardly audible.

“I’ve always been disappointed not having a son.  I never told Lily that. I mean, I love my sweeties as much as any father could.  More.  But how can you take sweeties into a business?  If I had a son Sharon’s age, boy if I had a son Sharon’s age.  He’d be a first class businessman by now.  But that’s life.  You have to take the good with the bad.  I’ll tell you this: if one of them gets hooked up with the right boy there’s definitely something there for him.  I thought I had a possibility in that klutz but Sharon broke off with him four times already, and I think she’s now ready to make it number five.  I hope she makes it for good this time.  She’s better off with nothing.”  His voice had picked up in volume.  “But in the sorry event she gets herself hitched with him I’d take him in.  Even though he has an empty head.  Excuse me, his head is not empty.  It’s full of pebbles.  He doesn’t even know simple arithmetic.  He has a handwriting, it looks like fly tracks.  He claims he has two years college, but I doubt if he even graduated junior high school.  Still, if Sharon gets hitched with him I might think about it.  There’s nothing like family.”  He paused a moment then continued in his confidential voice.  “Yeah, I worked hard enough.  I’m tired of being alone.  I want to take it a little easier, but I need someone who’ll keep things going.  I don’t want everything I accomplished to go right down the drain.  Because I worked my ass off to accomplish it.  This is a big country, right?  I doubt if there’s a business firm in New York and vicinity that never heard of H. Perlman & Company.  We’re successful.  We’re prosperous.  We’re always busy, we’re never slow.  That’s my biggest problem, believe it or not.  We’re always too busy.  I’ll tell you something.”  He leaned forward and motioned for Lou to do the same.  “This is between me, you and the lamppost.  There’s nothing I’d rather do right now than change the name of the firm from H. Perlman to H. Perlman and Son.  You’re looking at me.  You heard right.  And Son.  Because that’s just how I’d look on him.  Just like a son.  What did I say before, I got cash I don’t know what to do with?  If the name of the firm was H. Perlman and Son, the son would have cash the he wouldn’t know what to do with either.”  He winked and put an index finger to his closed lips and gave Lou a long, meaningful look. “Well, let me go inside to see how my better half is doing.” Before going through the door he paused.  “We’re going someplace, you think I know where?  I just follow her directions.”

2:20.  Will she show up?  He went back to the Chaise lounge.  The one and only, H. Perlman.  Every inch a king.  A visionary in stationery.  A master of wholesale wisdom.  A wizard of the deal.  Aah, the universe of the pen and pencil.  The hidden beauties of the envelope.  The perfection of the manila file folder.  The exotic secrets of glue.  And one must never forget the never‑ending loveliness of the paper clip.  What a domain!  Oh, look!  There they are!  The crown prince and princess of stationery.  Aren’t they lovely?  Can we take a picture?  Oh, see how the king and queen are beaming!  Did you know that with all his mastery in stationery he still takes directions from his better half?  It’s true.  There’s nothing like family, is there?

What a stationary opportunity.  Let me see.  What won’t I know what to do with all that cash?  I won’t know how to avoid doing what I’d be doing to get it, and at the same time get it without doing what I’d be doing, and simultaneously still do what I was doing before I got it, consequently eliminating the discomfort of asking myself what I wouldn’t be able to do by doing what I’d be doing to get it, and why I should be doing what I’m doing in the first place.  Something to forget, it seems.

Bernie came walking toward him from the patio holding binoculars.

“You waiting for Beverly?” he said.  He had some kind of twitch with his nose, something like a rabbit sniffing.  In  fact he resembled a rabbit, with his milky face, thin red hair, slit eyes and flat nose.

“Yeah,” Lou said.

“I’d wait for her too,” Bernie said. “She’s some looker.  She has all kinds of guys running after her.  Whoever gets her is going to be lucky.  Right now it’s between you and this guy Larry.  His mother is a friend of Mrs. Perlman.  Plenty of money there.  His father owns three Cadillac dealerships.”


“Yeah, Rosenberg Cadillac.  But you know what?”


“His own son drives a Porsche.”

“No kidding,” Lou said.

“That’s some car, a Porsche.”

“Yeah, I know,” Lou said.  “What are you doing with the binoculars, watching birds?”

“Birds?” Bernie said.  “Nah, who’s interested in birds.  I was just looking over some of these houses.  Did you ever take a close look at them?”

“Not with binoculars,” Lou said.  “See anything interesting?”

“These are some houses,” Bernie said.  “There’s a lot of money here.  That house down the other corner with the blue shutters.  Those shutters are authentic.  They’re made out of wood, must cost a fortune.  I always liked authentic wooden shutters.”  He put the binoculars to his eyes and examined them a while.  “That’s what I like about these houses.  They’re authentic.  See that house on the other side, the blue one with white windows?”


“The window on the second floor on the end, one night I happened to look at it when it was lit and I saw something interesting.”

“Yeah?  What?”

“A lady undressing.”

“Really?  Was she nice looking?”

“Nah, she was old and fat.”

“That is interesting,” Lou said.  He heard the phone ring.  Her?  Another delay?  Mr. Perlman came out and called from the patio:

“Your one and only wants to speak to you.”

Mrs. Perlman was still talking on the phone, shaking her head.  “Thank God,” she said.  “All right, here’s Lou.”

“What happened?” Lou said.

“Beverly will tell you,” Mrs. Perlman said.

“What’s up?” Lou said.

“I’m still at the hospital,” Beverly said.  “We’re waiting for a doctor to come and discharge her.  I’m sorry to keep you waiting so long.”

“Well it’s one of those things,” Lou said.  “How’s your friend?”

“Luckily there’s no fracture,” Beverly said.  “It’s just a sprain.  But they kept us waiting for over an hour before they took her up for X‑rays.”

“Well, it’s Sunday,” Lou said.  “They probably didn’t have a full staff.  When do you think you’ll be home?”

“I have no idea,” Beverly said  “It may be another couple of hours.  I still have to take her home then I’m going to wait for her boyfriend to come.  I’m not going to leave her alone.”

“These things happen,” Lou said.  “I’ll call you tonight.”

When he hung up Mrs. Perlman, who had been standing by, said: “What a good heart that girl has.  She’s an angel, always there when someone needs help.”

“Why don’t you stay for supper?” Mr. Perlman said.

“I thought you were going somewhere.”

“My better half changed her mind,” Mr. Perlman said.  “We’re having some food sent in.  From Mario’s.  You won’t find better Italian food nowhere. They’re expensive but they have a veal Parmesan like you never tasted.”

“I don’t think so,” Lou said.  “I think I’ll just go home and do some work around the apartment I keep putting off.”

“You sure?” Mr. Perlman said.  “You’ll be missing some Italian food you might not ever get a chance to taste again.”

“I’m sure,” Lou said.

“All right, suite yourself,” Mr. Perlman said.  “Listen why don’t you drop over my place one of these days.  I’d like to show you my operation.  Any day, any hour.  I’m always there.”

“Maybe I will,” Lou said.

“I’m there until at least seven, eight every night,” Mr. Perlman said.  “Maybe longer.  Just give me a call.  Here’s my card.  You’ll be impressed, Maybe you can even drop in some time next week.”

“Maybe,” Lou said.  “We’ll see.”