My company was in the rent-a-car business in the 1980s with over 250 franchised offices in the United States. Many of our franchisees were prominent automobile dealers.
The franchisees were required to pay monthly fees based on the size of their rental fleets. Most big dealers, the Ford, Chevrolet, and Chrysler people, paid their fees on a timely basis. There were some however who always seemed to run a few months in arrears.
“How can you run a business like this?” asked Harry Nagin one day. “How can you live with these deadbeats? With receivables like this you’ll go broke. Let me call some of these people.”
“Harry,” I replied, “These are not little delicatessen owners. Our franchisees are established business professionals.”
“Established businessmen should pay their bills on time,” maintained my father-in-law. “Let me try. I can do it. I know how to talk to these people.”
“OK,” I replied, “but be tactful. Most of these guys are OK. I wouldn’t want to lose them.”
A few days later I happened to be walking by Harry’s office during one of his collections calls. I couldn’t believe I was listening to Harry Nagin. My 80-year-old pint-sized father-in-law, in a deep gruff voice was demanding payment and would not accept excuses.
I said nothing; just shook my head. To my surprise no one called to complain about our new strong arm tactics, and the checks started coming in with apologies and promises to stay current. Harry was earning his $600 a month salary and more.
However, there’s a story here: A few months after turning collections over to Harry Nagin, our hard-hitting no-nonsense new receivables executive, we held our annual Rent-A-Wreck dealer convention at the La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, California.
At the company’s opening evening cocktail party I was approached by a Chevrolet dealer from Cheyenne, Wyoming. He was a big guy about six feet three inches, maybe 220 pounds, with a handshake like a vice. He looked a lot like the actor William Shatner. He was on his second or third bourbon at the time.
“Where’s that guy Harry Nagin? I gotta meet that tough son of a bitch,” demanded the dealer. “He is one no-nonsense guy, won’t even take yes for an answer.”
I saw Harry across the room and waved him over.
“You’re Harry Nagin?” the Chevy dealer said with wonder, looking down at Harry. “You’re Harry?… the guy on the phone?… the mean bastard that calls me every month? God damn it Harry, you are somethin’… you are really somethin’. Come let me buy you a drink. I know a few other guys that want to meet Harry Nagin.”
Extra: Harry’s Gems
All the women loved Harry Nagin. There was something magical about the man. He insisted it was sex appeal.
Harry: “Excuse me Miss, how do you get into those tight jeans?”
Attractive Woman: “For you Harry, let’s start with a cocktail.”
Harry: “If I said you have a nice body, would you hold it against me?”
Friend: “So Harry; What are your plans?”
Harry: “Plans? Plans? I plan to get up in the morning. At my age I don’t even buy green bananas.”
Belle and Harry Nagin attended several of our Rent-A-Wreck conventions. Another memorable experience took place at our big meeting at Club Med in Ixtapa, Mexico. It’s traditional on the last night of each week for the Club Med staff to recruit some of the guests to participate in the closing evening’s stage show. The play that night was based on the swashbuckling movie, “Scaramouche.”
When it came time to take our seats for the show, we couldn’t locate Harry. We sent the boys to look for him. He was nowhere to be found. Not to worry. When the curtain was raised for Act I, the first person on the stage was Harry Nagin in the title role. Everybody cheered. The play was a Club Med smash. Harry, the dashing hero, was great. He never missed a line. At the end when the cast came out for curtain calls, Scaramouche Nagin received a standing ovation.
Fifty Years and Still Swingin’
Harry and Belle loved to travel anywhere, anyplace, anytime; especially with their family.
Elayne asked Harry one day, “Daddy, your big anniversary is coming up. We’re thinking of taking a trip to the Caribbean with Corrine and Alex. Do you think that you and Mother would like to join us?”
“Certainly; when do we leave?” was the always-predictable answer.
The six of us celebrated my in-laws’ 50th at Club Mediterranee on the island of Martinique in the Caribbean. Those readers who are familiar with Club Med may remember that the “Villages,” as they were called, had a reputation for being resorts for young swingers. The bar was always open; the guests paired up, often more than once. And, of course there were Club Med’s famous nude beaches.
“Should we?” Harry asked, gesturing down at his swim suit when the two of us decided to check out that particular section of the beach on our first day at the resort.
“That’s OK Harry,” I replied. “It’s optional. This is Club Med. Just look at everyone and smile.” He did, and all the bathers smiled back.
“Belle,” he said after we had walked that section of the beach, “It’s not like the Catskills or Miami Beach… there are people over there… without any… clothes on.”
“I know Harry,” she shrugged, “You don’t have to make a ‘megillah’ (big deal) out of it.”
He didn’t, but Harry and I managed to take a walk on that beach every day during our visit to Martinique.
The highlight of that trip however, was my in-laws’ daily swimming lessons. Neither had ever learned to swim… not on all those summer holidays in the mountains.
Though I doubt if either of them ever swam again, they never missed a lesson during that visit to Club Med.
Needless to say… Harry and Belles’ swim lessons drew a crowd. I just happened to capture a short segment with my little 8 millimeter camera. See our Etc. Etc. Etc. segment “Harry and Belle’s First Swim” [Click Here]