October 8, 2009  
Uncle Mel

Ed had worked for me ten years earlier and had left to pursue a successful career as a house painter. An African American, he stood 6’3” and rarely used a ladder; he considered himself a Michelangelo with a roller. He would often visit me at the office and update me on his work, life and family. He knew I was interested. If there was a new employee working in the office he’d ask for his Uncle Mel. “Tell him his nephew Ed, the black sheep of the family, is here to see him”. He enjoyed teasing the office team and watching their expressions as he stated his relationship to me. He would then share their reactions with me when he was in my office. Ed was proud that he was black and if people didn’t say anything to him, he’d point it out. I had written about Ed in issue 6.08 of September 2005.

I had hired Ed after his release from prison. Arlene and I were members of the Long Island Ethical Culture Society. At the time I was chairman of the social committee and was in the process of planning a social night. “Boss, (Ed always called me that) you know how much I enjoy singing. Is there a chance I can entertain at one of the socials?” “Of course” I replied, “you’ll be welcomed and I know people will enjoy listening to you strum your guitar and sing”. I only knew how well he sang by his telling me over and over; I had never heard him sing.
The night arrived and Ed was excited about entertaining.

When Ed was introduced people applauded and I remarked to Arlene “I think we’re really going to enjoy this; he’s one of a kind”.
Yes, he was a one of a kind!

As soon as he began to sing we realized he couldn’t. He had the confidence, stance and physical moves of a professional singer. He had told me he never played basketball well when I asked if he had played in High School. “It’s not my game,” he’d reply. “I’m a singer, I do that well”. Oy, if this was well, how bad was bad? I’m glad you asked…
It was so bad that Lucille Ball, when she went off key in a comedy skit, sounded like a polished opera singer next to Ed. He actually made her sound good. Everyone applauded, and cringed when he sang another 3 songs. They didn’t clap that loudly after the first number.

“Well boss, do you think I can go professional?”. I looked at him and stammered “bbbbahahahahmmmm, let’s talk about that another time, people are listening. Ed, whatever you do, hold on to your day job until you’re sure that this is what you want to do.” How could I break it to him gently?


One day I received a call from Ed.

“Hello Mel, I have a problem, I’ve been accused of robbing a bank and I need $6000.00 to pay a lawyer to represent me. You know I’m good for the money, I’ll pay you back as soon as I’m back on the job”

“Ed, did you or did you not rob the bank?” He answered, “No of course not”. My brothers asked me to drive them to the bank and asked me to wait in the car. They came running out of the bank and said let’s go home. I don’t drive fast, as you know, and I took my time going home; I didn’t want to exceed the speed limit. When we entered our apartment they sat down at a table and began counting money. There was a knock at the door so I answered it. I didn’t even ask who it was. I was confused as to what was happening and it turned out to be the cops who arrested all of us”.

“Wow Ed, sounds like you’re really in big trouble. I hope everything works out in your favor. I’ll speak with Arlene and I’ll get back to you.” He gave me his lawyers name and asked me to call his wife to pick up the check if Arlene and I were in agreement.

Now I sing the blues.

Arlene and I did lend Ed the $6000.00 and yes, Ed was convicted of robbery and was shipped off to Sing Sing prison in upstate New York. About 2 months after he was incarcerated I was paged over the loud speaker system at work. “Mel, there’s a collect call from your nephew on 3”. I knew who it was before I reached for the handset. “Yes, I’ll accept. Hello Ed, how are you”. “When I first got here, said Ed, I started a fight with another inmate and they put me in solitary. There’s a hierarchy here and if I hadn’t done that other inmates would have picked on me and that’s something I wanted to avoid. Solitary wasn’t bad. I had the opportunity to play tick tack toe with the roaches. I just can’t figure out how they beat me”, he said. He managed to hold on to his sense of humor in prison.

“I have a favor to ask of you. I know I owe you the $6000.00 and I’ll pay you back plus paint your business building as many times as you want when I’m released, but for now I need you to send me a carton of cigarettes. You know the kind I smoke-- Newport, not the box, but kings. Also, can you pick me up Ebony and a few other magazines and a can of Bugler tobacco and rolling paper?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but took his mailing address and decided to send him what he asked for. He had so little enjoyment out of his life at this point and I felt bad for him. I think he really didn’t understand that he was getting into this mess when he drove his brothers to the bank.

About a month later I received another phone call from him and accepted the charges. I asked him how he was surviving and his response was “good, he was a crook.” I said, “Ed, I know you’re a crook, that’s why they put you in prison.” “No, not a crook, I said I’m a cook; I’m working in the kitchen”. The background noise had prevented me from hearing him clearly and I chuckled to myself when I got off the phone. He again asked for the same things and again I sent them to him. This went on for a few years and then he stopped asking and calling and I just assumed he was calling someone else.


In 1994 I relocated my business and family to Florida and in the spring of 1996 I heard the same page again and I knew it was Ed. “Hi Uncle Mel, how are you?” He hadn’t called collect and I asked him why. “I had a hard time finding you, I’ve been released from prison and I have good news and bad news for you. My mother passed away, that’s the bad news and the good news is she left me the house and I want you to call my attorney and put a lien on the house for the 6,000.00 I owe you. I wouldn’t want to be tempted to spend the money.” People ask me what Ed does today. Well, he resumed working as a house painter and continues to live happily with his wife and family. It’s my understanding that he does his banking on line.

Shalom and eat kosher,
Mel ( the fat guy)

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