Sunday, March 18, 2012

Families After Death

"It can open a window," said Ken to the Complete and Total Loser. "For awhile."
The Loser didn't like hearing his younger yet wiser coworker add that last part. He and his eldest brother were getting along so well in the months following his parents' back-to-back deaths (just fifty-two days apart). His brother, always a swaggering man of complete confidence, successful with women and business, rich, had started to seem like a real person to the Loser, an equal. He talked of normal things, like his concerns with his two teenage children's futures, of how he missed his parents. When the two touched base by phone their "how are you's" were sincere.
Then the Loser spoiled it all by bringing up the $200,000.
That's the sum his father and mother left him as a gift to be given ninety days after the death of the last one to die, a time that came last week. 
"How will we handle that?" the Loser said to his brother in an email.
Trouble followed. 
First, let the Loser be clear. It is a lot of money. He knows that. But is it that much to the Loser's two older brothers? The eldest is president of an executive recruitment firm he founded nearly thirty years ago. He owns four houses, including the one he lives in. Not crappy fixer-uppers, real houses; investment properties in three states. A good part of New Jersey (Cape May); a pricey location in Florida which, the Loser is told, has a low percentage of Jews and a high percentage of old money; two in the community he lives in, which is the richest suburb of his city, an area that is named for a shorthand description of East Coast snobbery and wealth. He drives a car that cost more than the Loser nets in three years. For his daughter's sixteenth birthday, he'll give her a large Mercedes Benz, which now takes up more than half of the two-car garage attached to his late parents' house in which the Loser has been living since their deaths to take care of things until he and his brothers sell it.
The other brother, the middle one, is similarly well off. His house, in the same suburb as his brother's and his parents', is worth well over one million dollars. He too drives a late model, high-end luxury car. A Benz. His second house is on an exclusive island unheard of by those who don't live or summer there because everything's so private that a day tourist disembarking from the ferry that links the island to the Connecticut coast would find that the only options for activities would be a grocery store and one restaurant. The only blacks on the island are cooks. There are no Jews. His wife is a drug company heiress. If you've ever had a cold or an upset stomach you've used products her grandparents' company produces, and that's just on the over-the-counter end; the prescription drugs bring in far more. Her net worth is in the high tens of millions of dollars, an amount which will burgeon when her parents die. Meanwhile, the brother, no gold digger, is president of a lobbying consortium and makes a comfortable mid-six figure salary. 
The Loser's net worth is around fifty thousand dollars. He nets twenty-two thousand dollars a year, and that's thanks to a recent promotion. The head of his department is a mercurial sort, known for firing at a whim in a state in which that's allowed. The Loser is nine years away from getting even the minimal in Social Security benefits. His job requires that he is on his feet all day, despite his withered right leg, and his aging body aches at the end of each day. He does not date, always eats in, and his most expensive possession is the Mac Mini his using now, which he bought eighteen months ago.
With the sale of the house, the Loser's brothers, after surrendering the portion of the estate his parents bequeathed him, would still have over $350,000 they didn't before. But when the Loser mentioned the money he had due, a storm followed. The eldest brother talked about the Loser living "rent free" in the house, which the Loser considers a housesitting gig, which usually nets him $1,000 a month when doing it for others. He talked about the Loser's use of his parents' car, a 1998 Toyota Camry with a book value of around $4,000, maybe. And he mentioned his own work in dealing with estate matters gratis, which the Loser previously told him he should pay himself for out the estate.
The middle brother described the Loser's invitation for them to share their net worth with him, as he has with them, as "cheap shot." 
To sum up, things are turning to shit.
The death of his parents indeed opened a window and the brothers saw each other for the first time as close relatives with the same parents rather than rivals vying for the attention of those parents. The Loser is learning what closes the window shared grief opened. Money.
The black speck on top of the building's corner is a very vocal crow.

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