Annals of Inheritance: A Black Sheep Makes Good - Posthumously
NOT long ago, a major piece of the life of my uncle Dave passed into family history. In 1960, Dave, an avid golfer and slightly Jewish New Yorker, some part of whom wanted to be Frank Sinatra, purchased land in Aberdeen, North Carolina, a stone’s throw — or badly hit golf ball’s hook — from the Southern Pines Golf Course. He bought it for $2000. I sold it for $54,000.
I came to be his only heir because Dave never married, and I was his only nephew, the son of his beloved elder brother Arthur. My dad claimed that he never fought with Dave when they were boys, because my dad didn’t think it made sense to fight with a brother 7 years his junior. However, since the need to make sense so seldom enters into family feuds, I will have to assume that my dad just liked the little guy.
Unfortunately, Dave’s parents didn’t. Arthur was an ongoing source of parental nachas. He won, not just admission to MIT’s undergraduate school, but admission to MIT’s Ph.D. program in chemical engineering. He married my mom, a nice Jewish girl, a suitable interval after installing himself solidly in the work force, and, in due course, produced a grandson (i.e. me).
But Dave just couldn’t measure up to that standard. He was always in the shadow of the “number one son.”. He lacked the grades to get into MIT and had to settle for Brooklyn Poly. Being somewhat less of an intellectual and more of a gay blade than my father, Dave always had a girlfriend and tickets to a jazz concert, but little patience for the bloodless world of engineering and even less for authority figures. Indeed, Arthur’s little boy, enamored even then with computers, was horrified to grow up and find that Dave, an early programmer, didn’t like his work very much. As a result, Dave never stayed at a job very long and certainly didn’t produce any grandchildren.
Finally realizing that the isolation of programming just didn’t suit him, Dave became one of the first recruiters of programmers who understood what programmers actually did. Yet “head hunting” didn’t suit Dave, either. By this time, Dave developed a reputation within our family as a “job hopper,”, the 1960’s version of “flip-flopper.”. A fling with heraldry, the art and science of digging up family “coats of arms,”, suggests that he had a touch of Asberger’s Syndrome. In any case, my mother would say when my own social relations frayed, “Don’t be like Dave.” With that injunction, how could I, a fellow Asberger’s sufferer, not identify with him?
Dave bought the North Carolina land during his heraldry days with the fond hope of someday building a cabin on the land, retiring there, and working on his golf game, but the Fates had other ideas. Dave’s best shot at menchlichkeit — or what gentiles call solid citizenship — came when he accepted a job at IBM, back in the days when such jobs seemed to come with lifetime tenure. On the strength of his future prospects, he became engaged. Sadly, however, IBM checked the credit history of new hires with the Retail Credit Corporation, a previous incarnation of the credit bureau EquiFax, only to be given derogatory misinformation about my uncle’s credit standing. The job, and thus the engagement, fell through.
But the Retail Credit Corporation had not reckoned on the ferocity of David Weinberger’s rage. He installed himself in the offices of sympathetic congressional aides, and, a few years later, persuaded Congress to pass the Fair Credit Reporting Act (Even then, Dave was not done with the Retail Credit Corporation, but we’ll get to that later.).
In his mid-forties, Dave moved in with his father and began attending the University of Miami Law School. Though he was too old, too mediocre a student, and too cantankerous to be taken seriously as a new hire by the legal profession upon graduation, Dave finally found his niche working as a revenue officer for the Internal Revenue Service. The first evidence of Dave’s suitability for the work came as soon as he was hired. In spite of his status as the black sheep of the family, or, perhaps even because of it, he had a strong need to see justice done, as well as a strong need to do the right thing himself. The IRS does the audit equivalent of a strip-search to the income tax returns of every incoming revenue officer, expecting to find something, and thus show, by practical experience, what it’s like to be on the other side of the table. Yet, for the first time in the memory of Dave’s co-workers, they found, in Dave’s returns, absolutely nothing wrong!
Having finally found a stable source of earnings, Dave began to invest. He discovered a socalled DRIP program at EquiFax that allowed him to buy one share at a time. He looked forward to heckling management at annual meetings.
Investing suited him, and it became his passion. He inherited my grandfather’s modest house, and, breaking all of the rules of personal finance, sold the house in the early ‘90’s and parked the money in tech stocks, just in time for the Great Bull Market of the Nineties. However, the truly notable part of this story was not the upward trajectory, but that Dave, after decades of being taught humility the hard way, had the sense, unlike so many “experts”, to attribute his investment success to luck, rather than brains. That led him to “quit while he was ahead”, selling much of his portfolio just before the tech bubble burst.
When he died a few years later, he left behind an estate of more than $300,000, in spite of never making more than $30,000 per year at the IRS. The jewel of his holdings was a $60,000 position in Equifax stock, which, by itself, approximated the value of my MIT educated dad’s entire estate. Dave never did make it to North Carolina, because, having retired just shy of his 70th birthday, he was just too feeble to move there. Nevertheless, since that’s where his heart was, I scattered his cremains onto the land and onto the golf course beyond. In memory of the keen sense of humor that never left him, even in his cantankerous later years, I made sure to scatter some of those remains onto the nearest sand trap.