Guest Column: My brother George

I have this brother-in-law, George, and I don’t know what to do with him. Just four years ago, he inherited a massive sum of money from our Uncle Bill. You could call it a surplus. The whole family was excited that he would take the opportunity to invest wisely—you know—pay off the mortgage, fix up the house, buy a burglar alarm, sock some money away for the kid’s college, throw the rest in SEPs and IRAs and bonds. We were all a bit wary about the stock market, which had just taken a huge dive. George assured us that he was a fiscal conservative, and wanted to get back to a simpler life. “I want to pare it down to the essentials,” he said.

Then, disaster struck. Some gang broke into his house, terrorized his family, and trashed the place. When he got the news, George froze. But fairly quickly, he pulled himself together and, working closely with the authorities, managed to pull off a raid on the gang’s headquarters. While the gang leaders managed to escape, the authorities captured or killed the rest of them. It turns out that they weren’t so tough after all—in fact, they were stupid, had little in the way of weapons, and the only reason they succeeded breaking in at all was that George had left the door wide open.

But we forgave him for that, and prayed that life would soon get back to normal. But instead, George just went off the deep end. First, he became obsessed with these gangs. He told the cops that there was another gang that was plotting to attack his house again. Now at first, this seemed plausible. The thugs George was talking about had a criminal record. But the police assured George that they were already under house arrest. They all wore those little radio bracelets around their ankles, and couldn’t move without their parole officer knowing.

But this didn’t stop George. He started snooping around—and even hired a private investigator—who told him that the thugs absolutely had huge caches of illegal weapons. George gave this info to the police, who went and got a search warrant. Against the strenuous objections of the parole officer, the cops raided the joint.

Unfortunately, the cops found nothing. “Well, better safe than sorry,” George said. “Aren’t we better off with those guys out of the neighborhood?” But by then, a lot of people in the community were angry with George. The only people on his side were the editor of our local paper and the preacher at our church. When people said George lied about the weapons, the pastor and the editor came to his defense—especially after some suggested that the reason George wanted the cops to seize the property was because he planned to buy the house later at a federal auction for pennies on the dollar.

Meanwhile, the thugs’ house became a bigger problem. A new bunch of criminals— much worse than the first group—began to squat in the building, selling drugs. People in the neighborhood—some of them children—tried the drugs and became addicts. These junkies became a huge problem, robbing people and starting new, rival gangs. And the new thugs were a terrible bunch of people. When the cops tried to arrest them, there was a terrible gunfight, and a number of police were killed, along with innocent neighbors and small children, who got caught in the crossfire.

Now, the whole town is angry with George and, because we’re family, me as well. I can’t even visit my favorite French or Spanish restaurant without hearing their complaints. I mean, the neighbors are really upset.

And now George comes to me because he’s got a money problem. Turns out that the huge inheritance has disappeared. Some of it went to the private investigators. Some of it went to his local pastor—George had made huge contributions to the church. More money went to the newspaper editor in an under-the-table deal. But most of it went to buy guns, ammo, concertina fences, and security guards, who guard his house 24/7.

So now George wants to borrow $50,000 from me. He says that he’s already maxed out his credit cards and cashed in a lot of his retirement savings. He’s worried that he’ll be broke by the time he reaches 65. But his reasoning is bizarre, and the numbers don’t add up. He wants to take the money I would loan him and buy stocks. He says the stock market always goes up. “What?!” I counter. “Didn’t we just watch the stock market take a huge dive not long ago?” I also tell him that you don’t get out of debt by going deeper into debt.

“But you’ve got to help me!” George cried. “If I don’t put this money in the stock market now, I will go bankrupt!”

This just doesn’t sound right to me. When George is busy out back trying on a new Kevlar codpiece, I ask his wife if it is true. “Well, it is hard for me to say…” She murmurs, her lower lip trembling. “He’s my husband…” I put a reassuring hand on her shoulder and tell her it is OK. “But do you mind if I take a look at the books?”

I run some numbers. George lied to me. He told me that his retirement fund was bankrupt, but it turns out that he’ll have plenty of money there when he hits 65. There is a financial problem, but it isn’t his retirement. The real problem is that he embezzled money from a trust fund set up by Uncle Bill for George’s kids.

I go over to George’s house, passing the security guards and retina scanner, to confront George about this. When I get there, George gets up from his poker game with the editor and the preacher and orders his wife to get me a drink. I notice that George’s wife—my sister—has a black eye. “What happened!?” I ask her. She runs from the room. “She walked into a door.” George mutters. I look at the preacher—but he averts his eyes.

For the moment, I bite my tongue. I get to the point. I show George the numbers. First, George denies that the numbers are accurate. He gives me new figures. The numbers reveal a slightly different outcome. Using his numbers, he’ll go broke in 21 years. Using the other set of numbers, he’ll go broke in 42 years. “See!” George yells. “There really IS a problem. I’m just trying to be responsible! I’ve got to think about my kid’s future.”

When I hear him say that, I lose it. “Gimme a break, will you?! You STOLE money from your kid’s trust fund to pay off lying private investigators, hack journalists, religious hypocrites, and to buy more GUNS to continue this INSANE feud against those gangs, who don’t live anywhere near you, who were never a problem until you attacked them!” I tell him that if he is really concerned about crime in the neighborhood, setting up a Block Watch with the neighbors would be a helluva lot more effective than buying another gun. And I tell him that if he is really concerned about his retirement, he can stop going out to dinner five times a week, sell the Kevlar codpiece on e-bay and switch from premium to basic cable. That simple saving would guarantee the health of his retirement account. “Do the math, you idiot!!!” And I stormed out, his guards glaring at me.

A week passed. George called and left a message on my machine. He said he was willing to forget the other day. He said that he would let it slide, because we were family, and it was in our mutual interests. He also said that he hoped I appreciated the fact that his security staff was available any time to protect me and my family, but that it was high time I made a contribution to the expenses—especially since he had heard through his detective friends that a family in my neighborhood was involved with criminal activity, and that he might have to “take them out.”

Now I ask you: What would YOU do in my situation?

Dan McGuire is a Rockford resident.

From the June 1-7, 2005, issue

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