Opinion: Musings on the Coast

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Plastic Furniture Covers

It was back in the day when I was 25, lived in New York City and was a very junior real estate loan officer in Citibank’s Real Estate Industries Division.  After about four months on the job, my immediate boss abruptly resigned and I inherited all his accounts, which today would total about $3 or $4 billion in loans. The economy was bad and most of the loans were in trouble. 

One, unaccountable, was with Tony Pozzi, who had developed a 30-unit condo project near Poughkeepsie, N.Y., a small town up the Hudson Valley.  Tony was a small-time contractor and due to the economy his units stood unsold. Tony was personally liable for the entire loan (which was about $2 million), and if Citibank wanted, we could seize everything Tony owned—his house, cars and even his construction equipment.

I did not know why Citibank, which made big loans to institutional types, had lent to a small-time contractor, but there I was one morning, on the train to be picked up by Tony to see the project. It was then I discovered Tony and my boss’s boss, Dean Seltzer, were both Italian (Dean only half so, which he tried it hide at Citibank, that bastion of WASPs), had met, became friends and Dean made the loan because of it.

(Oh boy, did I have a lot to learn.)

Tony picked me up in his late-model Cadillac convertible, top-down. He was about 45 years old with black hair pushed back in a style then fashionable among Italians (think John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever), and Tony Pozzi definitely was Italian.

I toured the project. It was well made and well appointed, and the bank’s best course of action was to hang-in until the economy improved. 

After that, I thought Tony would deposit me back to the train station, and the next day I would write my report recommending my conclusion and I told Tony not to worry. He would be fine.

Instead of taking me to the train station, Tony said he wanted to show me his home, and being polite, I accepted and off we went to a nice neighborhood of well-kept homes. As Tony pulled into his driveway, his wife emerged, immaculately coifed and dressed, welcomed me with a glass of lemonade, and escorted me to the home’s formal drawing room.

A drawing room is an old concept: you used it only for “honored guests.” Tony’s Drawing Room was one full step above the rest of the house. The shag carpet was pure white; the couches were a variety of primary colors and all of them were covered with plastic. I mean all of them. I had heard about that phenomenon but never seen it personally.

To tell the truth, I was both flabbergasted and intimidated. I had never been an “honored guest,” never sat in a “drawing room,” and to add to it, sitting there were Tony’s mother and father, his wife’s parents, and one older cousin. As I entered, they rose as one and that if that was not enough, they treated me like a sultan.

That included a big Italian dinner with me at the head of the table.  But before that, Tony made sure we each drank three scotch-on-the-rocks, and I relaxed. 

Well, the dinner was splendid and got even better when Tony cranked up the volume on his record player, and sang, very loudly, Sinatra songs. Tony had a great voice, and even I attempted to sign along.

It was a wonderful evening, a loving family, and for me, an experience I always will treasure.

Michael grew up in Corona del Mar, now lives in Laguna Beach, and a co-founder of The Orange County School of the Arts and The Discovery Cube.

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