When Jacob Gold was ten years old, his grandfather gave him this advice - "never lift a man so high that he can piss in your face. " When Jacob accepts a position at a prominent Pittsburgh law firm, he is forced to apply his grandfather's wisdom as he negotiates the power plays and personal vendettas of the firm's attorneys. There is Theodore Rifkin, the firm's gray-maned managing partner who is willing to do anything to keep his name on the firm's door. And Edward Blanton, the firm's one-time golden boy who has fallen from grace having been indicted for his involvement in a phony real estate deal. Hanging over the firm like a dark cloud is Blanton's failed attempt to stave off the hostile takeover of one of firm's oldest clients. When the British corporate raider who masterminded the takeover suddenly dies, Jacob, Rifkin and Blanton are drawn in to the perfect storm that will change all of their lives forever. The Fashions of the Times is a chronicle of money and power and their meaning in the myth that is the American dream.
In all the time I spent with my grandfather, he only gave me one piece of advice. I was ten years old at the time, but I made it a point to remember everything about the day he bestowed his wisdom upon me. Even then, I knew someday I would look back on that afternoon and consider it a significant milestone in my life. The advice didn't make much sense at the time. It seemed crude. Rough. This, verbatim, is what he told me: "Jakie, never lift a man so high that he can to piss in your face."
My grandfather was a well mannered man, and except for that afternoon, he never uttered any profanities in my presence. He endowed his wisdom on me as we walked through Frick Park on a Sunday afternoon in autumn. The day was cold and the trees were bare. The air smelled of burning leaves and sulfurous odor of the coke ovens on the Monongahela River.
I was wearing a Pirate's baseball cap, but my grandfather was bare-headed. I remember that my enraged grandmother had nagged him to put on a hat as we prepared for our walk. She'd followed him through the house, from the kitchen, through the dining room and living room and into the foyer insisting if he didn't he put on a hat, he'd catch cold and die and then where would that leave her? The minute he opened the door and told me to come along, she stopped her screeching, god forbid one of the neighbors might actually see her nagging him (as if they didn't hear her verbally browbeating him day in and day out). My grandmother was the reason he passed his Sundays walking in the park with me, his only grandchild, born to his only son.
With me, he was kind and gentle, his patience unending. Only later in life did I hear stories of his win-at-all-costs attitude in the courtroom, and of his cowering clerks and associates with withering criticism. If he was a contentious son-of-a-bitch, the only evidence I ever had of it were the terrifyingly violent arguments he had with my grandmother. They'd argue about anything. Most of these screaming matches took place in the kitchen and usually centered around food. They invariably ended with my grandmother shrieking in German, and brandishing a kitchen utensil, most often a meat cleaver, in the air while my grandfather roared his protests. After he died, she lost much of her fight, partially, I think, because she no longer had anyone to quarrel with.
I remember insignificant things about my grandfather – the mingled fragrance of cologne and cigars, his crumpled roar of a voice, the feel of his enormous hand holding mine as we walked through Frick park on Sunday afternoons. I still have a hard time reconciling my memories of that truly "gentle" man who held my hand and patiently answered my tiresome questions, with the man whose reputation was that of a SOB who loved a good fight as much as he loved a good cigar. "Never lift a man so high that he can piss in your face." I assumed it was the essential piece of wisdom that had made him the man he was.
For years I believed his words were inscribed in gold leaf on the walls of the Duquesne Club, my grandfather's other refuge from my grandmother. I liked to think that the three-piece-suited, cigar smoking men sitting in overstuffed leather chairs in the reading room would raise their eyes from their newspapers and read my grandfather's words inscribed on the paneled walls, nodding their heads in knowing agreement.
They were fighting words, and though I guess I could admire that in him, I am and have always been a non-confrontational person. My grandfather's querulous behavior certainly turned my father against him. I don't blame him. Growing up in the shadow of fighting Abe Gold must have been a real pain in the ass, especially for the shy, book smart kid my father was. It took a long time, and I mean a long time, for him to come to terms with it, something like forty years.
But the point is that like my father, I don't like to fight, or want to fight –for anything. I just want to be left alone. But as my father warned me, (from all too painful experience) things aren't as easy as that.
I was a shy kid and my shyness was sometimes mistaken for some sort of intelligence, an assumed aptitude that piqued the interest of teachers and coaches who wanted to take me under their wing and appoint themselves my mentors.
Now, when you're ten years old and your grandfather tells you not to let anyone piss in your face, you tend not to trust anyone who offers favors for free. I'm sure the intentions of those would-be mentors were probably good, but I didn't want any part of them. I just wanted to be left alone to play in the sandbox by myself.