Nagin Brothers was located downtown in the Los Angeles warehouse district. Harry and his brother Lou opened the place promptly every morning at 6:00 AM five days a week and closed at 5:00, which evolved into a long and grueling schedule for the brothers as they reached their late 60s. What with Los Angeles’s ever increasing traffic problem, Harry’s daily drive portal to portal extended his work day to as long as 12 hours. There came a time however when Harry and Lou’s wives, Belle and Ida, made a joint pronouncement. “You men can’t keep this up. It’s time to retire, either bring in new management or sell the business.”
New management was a problem. Lou’s son, Jerry Nagin, was an attorney and a partner in an up-and-coming law firm. Harry’s daughter Corrine’s husband, Alex Koper, was a brilliant dentist and a professor at U.S.C. As for Elayne’s spouse, and their last hope as heir apparent; not a chance. Geoff Nate was into TV and the Hollywood scene. His future certainly had to be in the world of showbiz.
Fortunately for their wives, some people in the noodle business came along. They made the Nagin Brothers an offer. The Nagins made a counter. They agreed on a number, and Harry and Lou sold out. No more early morning commutes to downtown Los Angeles. No more 12 hour work days. They had earned the right. After 40 years in the grocery business, the Nagin brothers retired.
Their families were delighted.
Harry gave retirement a try. He and Belle did some traveling. Harry joined a health club. He had been a Mason for many years, and was a member of three different Shrine Clubs. He was elected president of one, and was presented an award for service to the city of Los Angeles by the mayor at the time, Tom Bradley.
A relative who owned a men’s store in Beverly Hills invited Harry to come in as a salesman. He could choose his own hours. Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out. First of all; Harry had to spend too many hours on his feet, and there was another problem. Though he was a great salesman, the store manager complained that Harry spent too much time “schmoozing” (kibitzing) with the customers…
“Selling a polo shirt shouldn’t take a half hour, Harry. It’s not like that customer was buying a truckload of matzos, dill pickles and gefilte fish.”
Then my wife Elayne had an idea. “Don’t you have some work at the office for my father?” she asked me one morning?
My immediate answer was, “I’m sure I do,” though I didn’t have the faintest idea at the time. I invited Harry over for lunch the next day. It turned out that the IRS would permit any senior over the age of 65, like Harry, to earn a maximum of $600 a month before triggering any form of withholding tax.
Harry was delighted, as was my mother-in-law Belle, who was happy to get her stir-crazy husband out of the house. Harry was terrific. Everybody loved him. There was nothing my father-in-law wouldn’t do for anyone in that office. He would stuff envelopes, pick up the mail, go to the bank, anything to be helpful. And Harry, the sport, welcomed any opportunity to take one or two of the pretty girls in the office across the street to Ship’s Café for lunch.
Like waitresses everywhere in Los Angeles, the girls at Ship’s Café in Westwood loved Harry Nagin.
Harry to Waitress: “You’re so beautiful. Your husband is a very lucky man.”
Waitress: “I’m not married.”
Harry: “Not married… a beautiful girl like you? I can’t believe it. You look like a movie star. You should be in Hollywood.”
Waitress: “Oh Harry, there you go again. What can I get you for lunch?”
Harry: “Bring me some mishmash soup.” (There really was such a thing.) Then, motioning her over, “Make it thick and hot. Take it from the bottom like you would for your husband…”
Waitress: “OK Harry, but…”
Harry: “Oh… so… like you would for your boyfriend.”
Harry Nagin: Sports Fan
At five foot three, one hundred and thirty pounds, Harry Nagin was no athlete and probably never read the sports pages. However, he was a great spectator, and if an invitation ever came along to go to a ball game, he was thrilled to join us. We had season tickets on the fifty yard line for the Raiders games. He didn’t really understand the intricacies of football, but when the fans stood up and cheered, so did Harry. And of course, like most Raiders fans, my father-in-law loved the Raiderettes, the team’s provocative semi-clad lady cheerleaders.
Harry’s favorite sport however was the wrestling matches. He had regular seats in downtown Los Angeles at the Olympic Auditorium. Often he took his grandsons who never passed up an opportunity to have dinner at The Pacific Dining Car and spend an evening with Harry at ringside.