Sicilian Meeting

I’ve always loved this photo taken at my college graduation. I feel like the caption should be: “I think it’s time you let me into the family business, Pop.”

I met with my accountant this week. I’ve always liked telling people that. I like telling you that now, in fact. It makes me feel official. In any given week, if you’ve met with your accountant, you’re at least somebody who can put on a pair of pants, and by God that’s something. I’m pretty sure I’ve never really known what I wanted to be as a grown up, but I’m entirely positive that I’ve always wanted it to be something that involved periodically meeting with my accountant.

So you could say I’ve arrived. You could say that.

The hard truth, though, is that until now, when I’ve said those words, you know, when I’ve said the words, “I met with my accountant this week,” what I have actually been referring to is the fact that I’d met with my dad. Because my father has also been, until this past Monday, my accountant. Like any good Sicilian, my dad has always woven his business and family lives together. And like some notable fictional Sicilians, he has done this with varying degrees of success and varying degrees of danger. (Though make no mistake: nobody in my family is or was a “sanitation consultant.”) Except for Uncle Joe.

But my dad is approaching retirement, and so this year, while I was at his house for Thanksgiving, he broke the news to me: He was letting me go.

One way you could describe that meeting is like this: My dad told me I had to start doing my own fucking taxes. But another way to describe the meeting is that I met with my accountant in November and we had some scotch and he politely fired me. Which to me seems like a far more interesting way to put it. And also something I have probably always wanted to say in life. So I will say that now: I met with my accountant in November and we had some scotch and he politely fired me. Maybe let’s just say he also added: “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.”

Good. I like that. Check.

This of course brings me back to where we started: I met with my accountant this week. My new accountant. My accountant who is not my father.

I had intended to impress my new accountant with my punctuality. I figured if this accountant were anything like my dad, he would appreciate an on-time client. I’d allowed plenty of time to get to his office and even enough to spare so I could make a stop at Starbucks for a Tall Bold. Despite my planning, I still wound up late to the meeting because where Google Maps told me my new accountant’s office was, there was nothing but an Olive Garden. (Which, incidentally, is a recurring nightmare of mine.)

I called my new accountant’s office. The woman who answered had an older-sounding voice with a thick Jersey accent. I explained that I had a first-time appointment with my new accountant and I said, “I’m sorry, but I’m having a hard time finding your office.” New Jersians have a particular way of sounding rude and saucy when what they actually mean to express (I’m pretty sure) is inquisitiveness. What she probably could have said was, “Oh, describe to me where you are and I’ll help you.” But what came out was, “Well, what are you finding so hard about it?”

I said, “I’m where Google Maps tells me it should be, but it’s bringing me to an Olive Garden.” (I didn’t tell her about the nightmare.) She said, “You need to come away from there.” Directions like “come away from there” assume that the person receiving the directions knows which way he should “come away there” from and which way he should ultimately “go to.” I thought about explaining that, but within my sight was a blue office building so I took a chance and I said, “I see a blue office building. Are you in a blue office building?” She said, “Yes.”

Done. Problem solved.

“I’ll be right there,” I said. This turned out to be inaccurate.

When I called back from the blue office building to say that I didn’t see their name on the plaque in the lobby of the blue office building, I spoke to a different person. This person said, “That’s because we’re in a red-brick office building with green-tinted windows, which is further up the street.”

I agreed with him, that this did seem to be the problem.

When I finally made it to the red-brick office building with the green-tinted windows I met, in-person, the woman who had made the blue-office-building assertion. She explained that the green-tinted windows always seemed “blue” to her. I smiled in an effort to show that I understood. And that seemed to settle the matter.

For both of us.

The thing was that by this point, I didn’t care about directions or colors anymore. Because what seemed to be the more pressing concern was that my accountant was not currently there because he did not have me scheduled until 3 pm. This seemed like an honest enough mistake. One of us (him) had written the time down wrong. He was an accountant, which I had hoped meant he was good at accounting for things. Like time. But it was a simple mistake, and we had, after all, just entered Daylight Savings. I mean, this didn’t actually explain anything, but it seemed appropriate to factor that in. I would give him the benefit of the doubt.

Then, the same woman who told me that a red-brick building was blue also told me that my accountant would probably be arriving “soon.” I prepared for a long wait.

But it turns out, my accountant did arrive “soon.” I waited less than five minutes. We quickly noticed, however, that there was an entirely different and more concerning problem: He wasn’t expecting to meet with me at 3pm. He was expecting to meet with another client. I was not on his schedule at all. He looked at me and I looked at him. And we both sort of smiled and shrugged. It was kind of a “whaddya gonna do?” look. And we both had it.

The first impression I had of my new accountant was that he looked like Saul from Breaking Bad. I’m not sure if this had to do with the circumstances of the meeting, or if he genuinely shared physical characteristics with Saul. He definitely had the same kind of smile. And it was that smile he gave me as he shrugged and waved for me to follow him back to his office. And so I did. Because what else was I going to do? And also, despite everything, I still somehow trusted this person.

When I had spoken to my new accountant two weeks earlier on the phone, it hadn’t been like this at all. He had sounded quite competent, if a bit old-fashioned and quaint. To tell you the truth, I kind of liked his old-fashioned sensibility. I’m a sucker for that when it comes to matters of business. I feel like that should be the way of things. Before we hung up that day, after making our 2pm appointment for March 10th, he said, “I look forward to meeting you, Mr. Olimpio.” He said, “I think you will be happy with our firm.” I thought, “Well, good. I think I will be, too.” His web site said he had been in business since the early 80s. At the time, I remember thinking maybe I had found a good stand-in for my dad.

I now suspect, however, that the accountant I had managed to find was a sort of Seinfeldian “Bizarro-Dad” Accountant. To explain, let me compare their offices:

My dad’s office has always been something completely devoid of clutter. He would have on his desk only the files he was working on and no others. And if he was leaving his office for lunch or for the day, he would stack the files neatly and sometimes clean the glass with glass cleaner and a paper towel to eliminate any smudges. The messiest it got is sometimes if he had a great many files, he would sort of stack them in a fashion so that he could see all the files but they would still be neatly stacked on top of one-another in a row. Imagine the way a run looks in a game of solitaire. Like that. But a computer game of solitaire. Not an actual game of solitaire where the cards might be askew or something. I mean, Jesus. What do you take this for? A barn?

My new accountant’s office, on the other hand, looked more like the office of an absent-minded professor. There were stacks of files all willy-nilly spread across his desk in a fashion that I’d describe optimistically as “haphazard.” And not just work files and forms. There were other sorts of papers, magazines, newspapers. The one characteristic all these various papers seemed to share is a sort of general “non-relevance” to each other. There were also three or four checks right on top of all the papers. When we first entered his office, he picked these checks up and looked at them as though finding them for the first time in his life. Then he put them back on the pile of papers. His attention moved to some other papers, and then still some others. He lifted one stack of papers and sort of looked through it a bit, then threw it decidedly on the floor. Then he remembered I was in his office with him and he waved for me to sit down.

The chair where he told me to sit had what I assumed was his jacket strewn across it and he made no motion to move it, so I just sat down right on top of it.

My dad has never strewn a jacket across anything in his life, let alone a piece of furniture in his office. All jackets and jacket-like materials, particularly those that find themselves in his office, go on a proper jacket-hanging implement such as a coat-rack or goddamned wire hanger. And that jacket-hanging implement would ideally be tucked out of the way in a closet or behind a door. Because again, what the fuck do you think this is? Some sort of romper room?

“So when did we make this appointment?” asked my new accountant.

“Two weeks ago,” I said. I threw out some details of the phone conversation we’d had, and he did recall the conversation, or at least he said he did. He remembered my mentioning the person that had referred me to him, which is my banker, which is a person I need to talk to again. Soon.

Here’s the long and short of it: despite everything, my new accountant seemed knowledgeable and he turned out to be personable and friendly. Basically, we hit it off. He seems like a good guy. My only concern is that he may be a good guy with early onset dementia which nobody in his office wants to address yet. But that turned out to be a risk I was willing to take this week. Was it any more risky than doing business with a family member for forty years?

And look here’s the other thing, we talked about writing and photography and web development and how last year I made very little money doing any of these things. And I told him that nevertheless I think of these things as my “professions.”

And instead of laughing at me, my new accountant seemed to hold this logic in some esteem which, if not “high” was at least “average.”

And this, despite all the other differences, was a lot like my old accountant’s attitude. And I liked that.

And maybe, for me, this is all it took. Maybe this is how my new accountant won me over.

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