I was telling a friend of mine about my old friend Fred Kail. I don’t remember why I mentioned Fred . I don’t even recall right now who I was talking with at the time .
Fred Kail had left Austria in 1921 as Frederich Ignatz Kail von Eggenberg . He met a cousin of his in Scotland and the two of them worked for awhile at the British colony in Kenya . I think it was Kenya . They were teenagers .
He was the black sheep of the family , Fred said . He had a fine aristocratic education but had a thirst for adventure . He’d skipped out to Scotland against his father’s wishes .
Fred had two carved wooden figures in his little apartment from those days in Kenya . They were both naked , a male and a female . When any woman came to Fred’s place he’d hide the figures . He hurriedly put them in a closet . Fred had been raised a gentleman , old style .
His parents were minor aristocracy . His father had been an Austrian ambassador to Russia . An uncle was a bishop . They were big shots until WWI . During the World War the family lost all of its money , Fred told me . They had titles still but no land and no money any longer .
I met Fred’s sister . She had been a concert violinist . When I met her she was an ancient old person living in a ranch house in Sunland . Her minorly aristocratic von Eggenberg nose was high in the air , every bit a European aristocrat . In name and attitude, at least . I met a brother , too , who lived in a huge but broken down Victorian house in a lousy south L.A. neighborhood . He was ” Herr von Eggenberg.” His nose was in the air , too , further than the sister’s .
Fred was having none of that aristocratic stuff . Fred spoke up for the working man .
He described how he and his cousin found their way to Canada and got jobs as farm laborers . Fred spent the first few days watching for the farm owner , expecting him to ride up on a white horse and survey his lands . Fred didn’t speak enough English , yet , to realize that one of the men working along side of him was the farm’s owner . Fred told me that as soon as he realized this , he knew that north America was the place for him .
” Always respect the working man , ” Fred would say . He had had a painting business . I met him in his older age when we both worked cleaning student apartments around UCLA . I think I got $ 1.80 an hour . Fred probably got a small bit more , but I was a student making pocket money and Fred depended on his salary to supplement his Canadian social security . He drove an old car that could be heard a block away growling and gruffly coughing up the road , belching black exhaust smoke , and looking distinctly peasantish , very un-aristocratic .
I watched Fred put up wallpaper in my mother’s dining room once a long time ago . He was swift and neat and deft and the finished product not only pleased my mom but the wallpaper looked fine for at least the next thirty years . Seems like it took Fred no time at all to put it up . That wallpaper lasted longer , as it happened , than Fred did .
I was reading an article by David Lazarus in the L.A. Times this morning about the gap between executive pay and worker pay in the top 100 U.S. companies . McDonalds workers get $9 an hour . The top McDonalds CEO gets $4,500 an hour . The Walgreens CEO , at a salary of $4 million , makes 134 times more than the average worker . The CVS CEO takes the cake , though , at $12.1 million compensation , which is 422 times greater than the average CVS $28,700 salary . They claim , Lazarus says , that they need such obscenely high CEO salaries in order to attract high-calibre people . Lazarus call this explanation an added insult to working people— and he’s right .
I used to hear that explanation at contract negotiation times when the school board would fight tooth-and-nail to hold teacher salaries down but would hire a questionable new superintendent at an outrageous salary . And with perks , of course , with high-priced perks . We teachers would hear the same slap-in-the-face insulting explanation : their pay needs to be so high to attract the best people .
I think Fred’s turning over in his grave . But maybe he’s welcoming CEOs in when their times come , sharing a smoke with them , no doubt , and breaking it softly to them that they’re now in his income bracket .