I just read a FB post from Angela Rivera…
“ASKHOLE – A person who constantly asks for your advice, yet always does the opposite of what you told them!”
Since I hold very few things back in this blog of mine, I’m gonna tell you a li’l story about my Dad, his retirement annuity & John Reed (Citi Chairman & CEO). It goes something like this…
First off, my Dad was my hero.
He was an incredible father, husband, brother, Father To Uncle, Grandpa, friend, provider, counselor, teacher, etc., but more than anything else, he was a great example to me of what a real man was.
He worked so incredibly hard to provide for us, making sure that we were always safe & not wanting for life’s basic needs.
Did we always get what we wanted??? No, not even close to it!
But did we get what we needed? Always…and in more ways than one.
My Dad was born right before the Great Depression, was part of the Greatest Generation & not surprising so, was pretty conservative in his beliefs & how he led his life.
When you looked up “good man” in the dictionary, you’d find a picture of my Dad.
And, to be honest, he wasn’t much different than most of the other Dads in our section of middle class Brooklyn, Dyker Heights.
But there was this one incident…I believe it was 1983…when he did something that totally blew my mind!
And NOT in a good way either which, in & of itself, was a complete shock to me & so very out of character for him.
The ironic thing?
I didn’t find out about it until after he passed in April of 1992!!!
It goes something like this…
One Saturday morning, I stopped by my parents & there he was, seated at his “regular station” at the kitchen counter.
The counter top in front of him was completely covered with all these papers & he seemed to be deep in thought.
My Dad prepared income taxes on the side for his friends (and their friends & their friends & so on & so forth)…at these INCREDIBLY-LOW prices!!!
I’m talking $10 for a short form…and that included determining if it was more beneficial to use the “standard deduction” (a set amount, determined by the tax authorities & your filing status/# of dependents, that “lowers” your gross income) or “list one’s allowable expenses individually” instead (local income taxes, mortgage interest, medical costs above a threshold, charitable contributions, etc.)!!!
And for long forms (which included additional forms for itemized deductions, stock/investment sales, home sales, “unique” tax situations, etc.), it was $25!
If you went to a CPA or a professional tax preparation service (like H&R Block), it would cost you a minimum of $25 for a short form & anywhere from $75 to hundreds & hundreds for a long form!!!
And my Dad would actually come to your house!!!
And he would often do all the calculations by hand…which always annoyed me to no end!!!
“The buttons on those stupid calculators are too small for my fingers!!!”
Dad had the largest – – not necessarily the longest – – fingers in the entire universe!
Including those crazy monsters with the tentacle arms!!!
It was as if someone surgically attached 5 kielbasas to each wrist!
His bowling ball? I could swear that once I saw a family of 4 living in the thumb hole!!! And if you looked down deep, there were people in China waving back!!! 👏🏻 👏🏻 👏🏻
The man could not buy leather gloves as they simply could not accommodate those sausages of his! “But, Dad, those cloth gloves are for kids!!!”
But I digress…
So my Dad is there, surrounded by pieces of paper with all these calculations & stuff, so I ask, “What the heck are you doing?!?”
“Trying to figure out my retirement annuity.”
Note: My Dad worked in Citibank branches like forever.
He was a head teller for years at the branch (#61) on 4th Ave in Brooklyn, right off 86th Street (a huge shopping area in Bay Ridge). I remember him bringing home dozens & dozens & dozens of Christmas presents…mostly liquor bottles…from his grateful commercial customers.
He then became an officer & opened a string of “mini-branches” all around Brooklyn during the 70s. He would establish a new branch, run it for the first 2-3 months, then get assigned to start another new one somewhere else.
This went on for awhile.
At this one particular location in a “not so nice” neighborhood, the branch got held up.
Citi then went ahead & installed a 5′ glass wall on the teller counter.
A few weeks later, a dude with an Uzi jumped up on the counter, put his hand on top of the glass & leaped over into the teller’s area.
A week later, a full “bandit barrier” (bullet-proof glass right up to the ceiling) was constructed to thwart potential thefts.
The next time they got robbed, the gunman put his weapon to the head of the female “platform person” (that was the traditional term used for those officers who opened new accts)…she & my Dad were the only officers there…and demanded that they “buzz him in” to the glassed-in teller area or “I’ll blow this damned lady’s brains all over this f____ place!!!”
“Seriously now, Dad, get the heck outta those branches!!!”
I couldn’t even imagine how my Mom felt or what she said!
Soon after, he transferred to Citicorp Industrial Credit at our headquarters @ 399 Park Ave in midtown Manhattan. He was still there as a manager when I joined Citi in ’78, working at the Brooklyn/Staten Island RPC (Regional Processing Center).
A few years later, the bank decided to move that entire business out of their high-rent district to Harrison, NY, up in Westchester County.
Dad was 52 years old, had recently recovered from a broken ankle & was a 30-yr veteran with Citi.
The drive from his home in Brooklyn to his new work location would take 1 1/2 hours…
…with light traffic!!!
Find me a place anywhere in the NY metropolitan area that has “light traffic” during the morning or evening rush hours!
I – M – P – O – S – S – I – B – L – E
“There’s no way you can do that every day…3-4 hours on the road is insane!!!”
This was 1980 (’81?) when the world…and Citibank…was quite different.
My Dad’s boss, Mike Migliore, VP, came through for him in a very big way…
…a HUGE way, in fact!
They offered my Dad a “special package” where they paid him 2 years’ salary, spread over 3 years, to stay home! That would, in essence, “bridge him” to the early retirement age of 55!!!
He still had hundreds of unused sick days, but at Citi, you couldn’t “convert” them into real dollars. And even that amount of sick days (at 230 working days/yr) would last less than a year & a half.
Besides, being the ethical man that he was, Dad would never, ever “fake an illness” so as to stay home & collect his pay.
It must have been somewhere before his 55th birthday when he was doing all this “retirement annuity calculation” at the kitchen counter.
(Oh, I forgot to tell you sumthin’ about “Saint” Mike Migliore…
Many of you know Jane Sparks Callahan from the USCC/U.S. Citibanking Center in San Antonio…she ran the branch downstairs in Building #2. She retired a few years ago AFTER 51 YEARS WITH CITIBANK!!!
Nicest & most helpful lady you would ever wanna meet!
Well, back in ’83, when I assumed responsibility for the Brooklyn/Long Island/Staten Island CitiPhone, er, Telephone Customer Service area, Jane was one of my direct reports.
But, soon after, she would be relocating down to Delaware (from Long Island, NY) & didn’t have a job waiting for her.
I got in contact with Mike Migliore who, at that time, was responsible for part of the Citibank-Delaware organization. No, Citi didn’t have a retail banking presence in the state, but Citicorp was originally incorporated in the state of Delaware & maintain d back-office presence there.
(Side note: Over 90% of new American corporations are incorporating themselves in Delaware, a tiny state with less than 1 million residents!!! Almost 70%
of Fortune 500 firms are incorporated in Delaware! The state has always had very favorable corporate tax laws & a modern court system that “looks kindly” over this sector of our economy.)
As it turned out, I referred Jane to Mike & voila, she was hired!!!
Years later, after I relocated the Operations area of Citibank’s Tax Shelter Center (later renamed, RPS/Retirement Plans Servicing) from NY to San Antonio, I got this call from Jane…and she’d like to relocate to Texas & transfer to the USSC.
“Er, we think you just made a spelling mistake, Mike!”
💥 🔥 ☄️ 💥 🔥 ☄️ 💥 🔥 ☄️
There is NOTHING worse in the world that you could do to me than say that I’ve made a spelling or grammatical error!!! 😱 😱😱
Actually, the site in San Antonio was initially called the “USSC/U.S. SERVICE Center” before the term “Citibanking” came into vogue & we transitioned to the “USCC/U.S. CITIBANKING Center”.
*smiles as he sees his record expunged*
Anyway, I paid a visit to our USCC Chairman, Mark Devine, and my Human Resources buddies to personally vouch for Jane.
Voila #2, Jane came on board!
*Now, I’m even lost myself!
My Dad is trying to “figure out” his retirement pension annuity” options.
“What are you talkin’ about?”
“Well, I have to decide whether or not to choose ‘survivorship benefits’ for my pension.”
“Please explain what you mean, Dad.”
“It’s like this. If I just take my normal pension, I’ll get $X dollars a month for the rest of my life. But if I choose ‘survivorship benefits’ instead, I’ll get $350 less every month.”
“With survivorship benefits, if I die, Mommy will continue to receive my benefits for as long as she lives. That’s why they’ll pay less every month.”
“So what’s with all these stupid papers???”
“I’m trying to figure out if it’s worth it to choose surv…”
“STOP RIGHT THERE!!!
“In God’s name, please don’t tell me that you’re trying to figure out which option is better financially! Like, how much less you’ll be getting while you’re still alive???”
“Yes, well, actually, there’s a point when…”
“OMG, Dad!!! THIS IS NOT A MATHEMATICAL EQUATION!!! Are you kiddin’ me?!? What happens if you get hit by a bus next week? You’re gonna leave Mommy with nuthin’???”
“But nuthin’!!! There is no choice here! You MUST select survivorship benefits! Seriously now…”
I figured that was the end of it! After all, this was MY DAD & while he may not have always made the right decisions…like that stupid time when he bought the Chevy Citation…he would NEVER, EVER consciously do the wrong thing!
Not my Dad.
*Fast forward 9 years later*
My Dad passes away from a heart attack.
As devastated as I was, there was actually one “bright spot”…
By stopping work at age 52 back in 1980, he was able to spend almost 12 years with my Mom…THOROUGHLY ENJOYING HIS (their) WELL-DESERVED RETIREMENT!!!
They traveled extensively (to Italy a few times, on cruises, with their friends to all different resorts around the Tri-State area). They became very active in the Knights of Columbus, including a stint as the Grand Knight, and my Mom in the Ladies Council. He took up woodworking & made all this stuff, including a rocking horse for Heather!
It was the best decision of his life!
Way too many guys I knew worked up until age 65 or later…and then dropped dead a few months later, including my good Citi buddy, Russ Cummings.
My Mom was totally & completely destroyed by his passing.
Paying the bills, writing checks, managing accounts, doing everything by herself…this was all so very foreign to her.
Thank God that she had finally gotten her driver’s license a few years earlier so she wasn’t confined to her home.
Then, a month or so after my Dad’s passing, I get a call from my Mom about something she received in the mail from Citibank.
“Just mail it to me, Ma, & I’ll take care of it!”
The letter was from Citibank’s Retirement Center (for current/ex-employees).
It went something like this…
“Dear Mrs. LoRusso,
Please accept our condolences on the loss of your spouse.
However, you should be pleased to know that you will receive the amount of $10/month for the rest of your life.
Blah, blah, blah.
Kenneth E. Whathisface
Executive Vice President
Citicorp Human Resources”
I HIT THE F_CKIN’ CEILING!!!
First, I was so incredibly pissed off at, and angry with, and furious at my Dad, but most of all, I was so unbelievably disappointed in what he did!
Or, rather, what he didn’t do!!!
Apparently, he did NOT choose “survivorship benefits” for his pension!!!
I often wonder…to this very day…if it was a case of “reverse rebellion”.
Ya know how growing up, you would often DO THE EXACT OPPOSITE of what your parents specifically instructed you to do, right?
C’mon, raise your hands! None of you were angels!
Did he (subconsciously) do the exact opposite of what I recommended 9 years earlier?
“Hey, I’m the Dad here! Yeah, he may be book smart & all, but he’s just a horse’s ass!!!”
(Years earlier, when I started attending college at Pace University in downtown Manhattan, my Dad just couldn’t understand why I never “got dressed” for school. It was always my khaki “Army pants” or “dungarees” (blue jeans for all you non-NYers), whatever shirt & my sneakers or moccasins.
He wanted me to wear a shirt & tie, preferably with a sports coat, & freshly-shined shoes. To do anything less would be disrespectful to the teachers & the institution of learning!
“But, Dad, I go to college so I can learn. Would the shirt & tie actuality help the information get into my head faster or more effectively? No one gets dressed up!
No one normal, that is!”
I seemingly pushed back with a common sense reply…but he was my Dad.
“You think you’re so smart & everything, but you’re nothing but a horse’s ass!”
I couldn’t believe that I then answered back with “Yeah, and you’re Bailey Howell!!!”
He probably was both stunned & confused as I’m positive he didn’t understand the Bailey Howell reference.
Bailey Howell was a veteran power forward for the Boston 🏀Celtics who always wore a crew cut. My Dad always wore a crew cut, too…and it fit his personality perfectly!!!
I kinda blamed myself somewhat for the terrible decision he made 9 years earlier at the kitchen counter.
The second reason I was so incensed when I read that letter from Citibank was that it was pretty obvious that they used THE SAME EXACT FORM LETTER…regardless if the deceased employee had selected survivorship benefits or not!!!
They simply filled in the appropriate amount!
Now, if you’re sending that letter to the spouse where the employee had, indeed, selected the survivor option, then the letter is fine!
Yes, the surviving spouse “would (INDEED) be pleased to know” that they would still receive the EXACT SAME AMOUNT every single month that they had been previously getting when their spouse was alive.
There would be NO CHANGE WHATSOEVER in the monthly pension payment & it would continue for the rest of the surviving spouse’s life.
Good news, indeed!!!
…in those cases where the employee did NOT choose survivorship benefits, then the surviving spouse ONLY GETS $10/month as a default amount!!!
That would NOT please the spouse!!!
Sure, they received a slightly-higher (usually $300-$500 more) pension payment every month WHILE THE EMPLOYEE WAS ALIVE, but once the employee dies, that amount drops to $10!!!
YOU CANNOT USE THE SAME EXACTLY-WORDED LETTER IN THESE 2 DRASTICALLY-DIFFERENT SITUATIONS!!!
I was furious!!!
The spouse just recently lost their husband/wife!
And for those WITHOUT survivorship benefits, a huge chunk of their monthly income as well!!!
HOW COULD CITI BE SO GODDAMNED STUPID, HEARTLESS & COMPLETELY IGNORANT OF THIS SITUATION?!?
Of course, they didn’t do it on purpose or consciously, but in no way, shape or form does that excuse their behavior!
And I was gonna let them have it!!!
I wrote a veeeeeeery long letter to Citi’s CEO John Reed, telling him how they got my grieving Mom’s hopes up, only to have them completely snuffed out when I had to leave explain exactly what the letter meant.
How could they not quality control what they’ve been sending to widows & widowers for all these years?
Who’s responsible for creating these processes in the first place?
Do they not understand stand how to diagram a process flow?
How the hell does “pleased” and “$10/month” belong in the same sentence, let alone the same communication?
And to ensure that MR. REED HIMSELF read my letter…NOT his Executive Communications Unit, NOT his secretary, NOT some lackey, NOT an intern…I used a method that I learned several years prior.
I put my hand-written letter in a plain, white envelope & put the appropriate stamp on it.
I then addressed the envelope to ME & put HIS information in the upper left corner as the “sender”.
I took a black pen & “cancelled” the stamp (just as the Post Office would do), then got “RETURN TO SENDER” & “ADDRESSEE UNKNOWN” rubber stamps from the Mail Room & put those on the front on the envelope.
I wrote “Confidential; to be opened by addressee only” on the bottom & used my yellow highlighter. I made the letter appear as if it came directly from Mr. Reed to me…and since Mr. Reed himself wrote “Confidential”, no one would dare open it!!!
I then placed the envelope inside a large, brown inter-office envelope and addressed it to “John Reed, CEO, 399 Park, 12th floor”…from my bldg’s mail room!
Then said a prayer.
The very next morning, I received a call from Mr. Reed’s personal secretary.
Her name escapes me now… it’s been 30 years, I a know…but I immediately recognized it when it flashed across my phone.
“…Mr. Reed received & read your letter. He’s instructed Mr. Whatshisface, the head of Human Resources, to call you directly & discuss the points you raised…”
2 days later, I received a call from Mr. W, apologizing for not getting back to me sooner as he was away from the office the past
He was an Executive VP or possibly, a Senior Executive VP. You don’t get much higher than that!
After a quick exchange of pleasantries, I began.
And went on & on & on.
I spoke pretty harshly to him (not unlike how you scold your puppy for peeing on the new carpet), but I really didn’t care at that point.
Yeah, it may have bordered on disrespectful at times…somewhat…I prefer to label it as “extremely passionate”.
I even offered to visit the Citi Retirement Center & teach them how to run an operations shop.
He really didn’t say much, other than a number of apologies as I’m sure I came across as a mad man.
He promised to personally look into this matter & get back to me upon completion of his investigation.
A couple weeks later, I finally get a return call from him.
And what happened next was a complete & utter
shock to me!
*** I AM 1000% CONVINCED THAT CHAIRMAN REED HIMSELF “PULLED A FEW STRINGS” TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN. ***
I’m talking…nicely, this time…to Mr. W from HR.
He’s telling me how he met with some of the management staff about this specific incident. He then ordered a complete audit of the shop, concentrating on all customer communications (letters, phone calls, faxes, e-mails…both incoming & outgoing) & putting a much greater emphasis on quality control & testing.
And then he laid the bombshell on me.
Upon investigating my Dad’s pension election (ya know, the survivorship benefits thingie) from back in ’83, THEY WERE UNABLE TO LOCATE THE ORIGINAL AUTHORIZATION FORM!!!
The system clearly reflected “no survivorship” as did the microfilmed copy of my Dad’s election form.
But since they couldn’t find the actual, original signed piece of paper, they were “OBLIGATED” TO PROVIDE SURVIVOR BENEFITS TO MY MOM!!!
My Mom is 94 years old & continues to receive that pension distribution every single month for the past 30+ years!!!
Funny thing is that I never realized that Mr. John Shepard Reed’s Confirmation name was actually “Obligate”…
As always, thank you so very much for listening!