The first thing you need to know about cousin Faivish is that he’s an imbecile.
Talk to him at any level above mere inanities and his eyes glaze over after half a sentence. After two, they start to wander about the stockroom. After half a dozen, his head starts to follow, as though his chin is somehow attached to his drifting eyeballs, jerking it along behind them. Give him instructions and, at the point you expect his feet to move and for him to go off and do something, he remains as still as a statue.
Like I say, a halfwit, a boneheaded numbskull, a moron.
The only person who did not treat Faivish like an idiot was my father and for that Faivish doted on him in the same unthinking way that small dogs dote on their masters, which is what my father was in a very literal sense. Even at sixteen, I could see a degree of pitifulness, both touching and pathetic, on both sides.
Only once did Faivish not adhere to this stereotype. What’s that quote about seeing a dog walking on its hind legs, that you’re not surprised at it done so well as it done at all? Well, this was Faivish walking on his hind legs.
It all started on a Tuesday afternoon in May 1973 when one hundred white t-shirts arrived unexpectedly.
My father signed for them as a burly man in blue coveralls propped a loaded trolley against his foot and held out a clipboard, his body language making the non-negotiable nature of the situation clear. The name on the docket was Faivish Stern. My father was only expecting ten. We stacked them in the corner, a big pile for a small tailoring shop.
Cousin Faivish just stood and gasped when my father told him what had happened. It was an expression almost entirely devoid of meaning.
“Are we to expect a flood of anything else? Chalk? Pins? Coat hangers? What else will be arriving that I’ll have to sign for? Wool still on the sheep?”
Faivish seemed to focus on a point in space somewhere between my father and him. He rocked on his heels like he’d been hit.
“Oh Faivish, Faivish. You are a good boy, but there are many things you need to keep on top of in this business. You have to be like a duck: calm above but busy underneath. Always busy.”