Full Circle: Decisions, Decisions
I wasn't good at making them. I think.

As a child – and quite a child I was – I would, when my spirits needed lifting, walk to the drugstore a hop and a skip away, my allowance wrapped in a well-used Kleenex in my pocket. I would sit at the Formica fountain and order a black and white milkshake. The choice of black and white didn’t reflect my yearning to live in a perfect and integrated world; it was just another sign of my inability to make a damn decision.

My mother, the mother of all mothers, would ask me every night if I wanted milk or grape juice with my dinner. And I would tell her I didn’t care.

“You don’t care?” she would say. “Well, I sure as hell don’t. Now make up your mind, I’m getting old here.” “Milk,” I said assuredly. “Milk it is,” she said. “No, no, wait; make it grape juice.” Shaking her head, she grabbed the Welch’s with a clenched fist. “You’re going to be the death of me yet,” she said.

My father, having witnessed my wishy-washy behavior six nights a week and twice on Sunday, pulled me aside one day and had the talk. Not the sex talk. He would never have that one with me. But I figured it out on my own, with a little help from the “Penthouse Forum.”

“Listen,” he said, taking the cigar from his mouth just long enough to speak, “if you’re going to make it in this world, you’re going to have to be more decisive. One day, when you finally grow up, everyone will be out to screw you. You know how to avoid that?” I didn’t, and he knew it. “Never be satisfied. Always ask for more. If your boss gives you a $10 raise, tell him you were hoping for $20.”

Seemed like an odd strategy. But my father had a job and I didn’t. So he must, I figured, know what’s good for me.

Sixteen years later, pregnant wife in tow, I’m buying my first adult car. A mint-green Buick Skylark. “Here’s the best price I can give you,” said the salesman with the white shoes, as he slipped a piece of paper to me. Looked like a good price to me. But then I remembered my father. “No,” I said, “that’s $100 too high.” “But that’s as far as I can go,” he said. “OK,” I said, “see ya.” And I got up and started walking out. When I got to the door, I heard the patter of little white shoes. “Mr. Levy,” he said, “we can do that.” And we did.

Ten years after, I’m offered this big job at Playboy. Their system ranks different pay levels. The HR person said my job ranked an A9. “I don’t know,” I said, “sounds like an A10 to me.” I had no idea what an A10 was, but, after a quick conference, they gave it to me. That’s $20,000 more. “And, oh,” she said, “what kind of car do you want?” I get a car? “How about a nice Buick Electra?” she said. “A lot of our senior executives have that.” I could see my father staring at me. Ask for more, I thought. “No Buick,” I said, “I want a Mercedes.” And then, the craziest thing happened. They gave me a Mercedes.

To celebrate my new-found fortune, the top people took me out for drinks. “I’ll have a scotch,” I said. I had read somewhere that big executives drank scotch. Probably in the Penthouse Forum.

“Do you want that with water or soda?” the waitress asked. “What?” I said. “Your scotch, do you want it with water or soda?” I thought long and I thought hard, while everyone else just sat there and stared at me, a little unsure they’d hired the right guy. Finally, after what seemed like forever, I sat up straight and looked that waitress square in the eyes. “Do you have grape juice?” I said.

August 2017
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