Arny Waxman died this past week at the ripe old age of 90. I know his age because his family had the foresight to celebrate this milestone last December with a wonderful family party that we were very lucky to attend.
I was in graduate school in Los Angeles in 1974 when I turned to a friend of mine and said “I don’t want to do this anymore.” He told me his father had a cabinet distribution company in the Bay Area, why didn’t I call his dad, ask if he had an opening and see if I could become a kitchen designer temporarily until I figured out what to do with my life. Well, he hired me and I guess I’m still trying to find that perfect career thirty seven years later.
I was thrilled. I had a job in a place I had only visited briefly once in my life. I roared up to Warehouse Kitchen Sales on San Leandro Blvd. in Oakland in my new Dodge Charger given to me by my parents when I graduated from college. Rick Waxman met me at the door and, right after hello, said “What is that?” referring to my vehicle – my introduction to Oakland via Berkeley esthetics. He playfully tormented me over the years until I got rid of that boat but that’s a story to be told another time. Anyway, when I walked into the showroom the reception was a tad chilly. I wouldn’t say it was resentment that the owner had dumped his kid’s clueless friend on them, let’s just say they were a bit wary. There was an office pen located between the showroom and the warehouse that housed four desks consisting of Ross Dahl, the manager, a guy named Tony, whose last name escapes me, Arny and me at the first actual professional desk in my life. Ross was very warm and introduced me to the operation of the business, some basics to get me started and gave me some homework to learn the trade. Tony would occasionally throw in a few suggestions however Arny was completely mute on a daily basis.
So, after a few weeks, Ross decided I was ready for my first lead. He gave me the name and phone number of a potential client. I was thrilled. I was actually going to meet my first client and measure my first kitchen. Ross said “do you have a map of Oakland?” I responded that I didn’t. While facing the other direction out of Arny’s mouth came “Putz!”, my first introduction to what became an education in Yiddish, some of it usable in polite conversation. Tony turned in his chair and gave me his CSAA map. He looked me directly in the eye and said “Listen rookie, get yourself a triple A membership and get some maps. This is my map. Don’t lose it, wrinkle it, don’t get it dirty and give it back to me tomorrow”. I thanked him then he promptly left for the day. I was very excited and opened the map, held it up like a newspaper and never noticed Arny sliding over in his chair with his lighter as he set the map on fire! I was mortified as he and Ross were practically falling out of their chairs laughing. I put out the fire, sat back, stared at the two of them and contemplated.
I guess I must have passed that litmus test because from that moment there was some seismic shift in the energy of the place. In retrospect I think I had to pass several tests before Mr. Waxman would decide I was worth his time. He told me much later, on some boring flight to some dull kitchen conference, that I was “oh, just bright enough, just enthusiastic enough but had a good sense of humor which was the key element of getting successfully through life”. What a sage that man was and did I lap up every word. He took me under his wing and never looked back. I can’t even begin to itemize the myriad of skills he taught me, positive and negative, that have served me well through my career. One of the truest things he said was “you can’t sell, people will see through it in a second. If you don’t believe in what you’re presenting then get out of the business because you’ll never succeed”. It didn’t matter if we were representing those basic, generic, modular kitchens in my first job or the very custom projects we deal with now, you have to be honest about what you’re presenting. As Arny clearly said “people can take it or leave it, just put it on the table and let them decide.”
I have succeeded well over the years thanks to his tutelage. However, in addition to learning the foundation for my career I also had an uproarious good time in Mr. Waxman’s company. I never met someone who could insult nearly everyone he met and have them like him even more. He really had a heart of gold and would help anyone whether they asked for assistance or not. I will miss those mischievous grins and the twinkling eyes when he had just succeeded in whatever prank he was pulling at that moment. I am a much fuller person in so many ways thanks to my friendship with Arny and his warm extended family. Everyone should be so lucky to have such a truly unique character in their life.
Friends and family are invited to attend a Funeral Service on Thursday, April 12, at 10:00 a.m. at Wilson & Kratzer Mortuary located at
455 24th Street, Richmond, California 94804
The family requests that all donations be sent to the American Diabetes Association.