Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My “Clutter Angel”

Ever heard of a “Clutter Angel”?  Well neither have I, but I’m inclined to believe that there is such a being.   We all have clutter to some extent … some more than others.  Unlike our “Guardian Angel” who protects us from harm, the Clutter Angel prevents us from disposing of stuff that may be of value at some far distant future time … in my case nearly 50 years.  Of course the Clutter Angel may also be our Guardian Angel.

I’ll take you back to 1994.  As many of you may know I’ve been involved with motion picture production since 1960 and have garnered a substantial volumn of checks for Ads and film roles I’ve had the good fortune of contracting.  Besides session fees, I routinely get residuals in the mail for reruns and foreign distributions.   My Clutter Angel “insisted” that I keep all my check stubs.  I did and I still do.  My wife, Gloria, once challenged my logic, asking “Do you really think you’ll ever need all this old stuff?”  I would simply respond with “You never can tell.”  My Clutter Angel was probably pulling my “puppet strings” or maybe it was just intuition, but who can say that our “Clutter Angel” is NOT what we call intuition?.  Now don’t misunderstand.  Gloria also has a Clutter Angel but not for business records.  She keeps every greeting card, letter, McDonald Happy Meal toy,  report card, etc, etc.  But I dare not challenge her rationale.  Very often when she runs across one of these treasures, she swells with emotion.  Why would I throw cold water on such moments?

OK, getting back to the 1994 story….. I failed to mention that I had set up a Lotus 1.2.3 spreadsheet back in the early 80s to log all of my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) earnings.  I had learned in 1994 that with 10 years of qualifying earnings credits I would be able to take SAG retirement.  Wow!

So I decided to make a call to SAG.  I was connected to a Ms Lynn Hamm, a very nice and helpful lady, who confirmed that 10 years of qualifying earnings does indeed allow an actor to take a SAG retirement.    Also SAG sends an earnings statement annually indicating whether or not that particular year was a qualifying year.  Having gone through all of my earnings statements I had found that I had 9 years of credit.  Lynn checked her records and agreed.  She did admit, however, that often the SAG office makes mistakes.   Realizing the likelihood that I had not kept all of my check stubs since 1960,  she nonetheless asked if I might just happen to have my old check stubs just in case I might have failed to make Lotus entries on any.   When I said “Yes, I do have them”, she responded “I mean ALL going back to 1960.”  I again said “Yes.”  There was a slight pause, then she said “REALLY?  ALL OF THEM?”  I said “Yes, all of them.”  She said I was the first actor she had ever dealt with having kept nearly 40 years of film earnings records.

She asked if I would mind bundling them and sending them to her so she could check them against her records.   She suggested that I first copy them since she would need the originals.  I agreed and within the week I had sent them to her via UPS. 

It was about a month after that that I received a call back from her.  She said “Jerry, you actually have 11 credit years, not 9.”  I was elated and asked “Then does this mean I can take retirement now?”  She said “Very definitely.  It makes no sense NOT taking it since there are no penalties.  And your earnings credits will continue to grow as long as you continue to work in union films.”  Thank you,  Clutter Angel.

My Angel was on a roll now.  A year after my SAG retirement commenced I attended a voluntary meeting at the Catholic Life Center where I was working at the time.  The subject of the meeting was “Social Security Retirement”.   In this session a very nice lady named Betty from the Baton Rouge Social Security office that was then located on Donmore Ave  introduced herself and proceeded to enlighten all of us about the latest provisions offered to prospective SS retirees.  She also provided forms we could complete to receive information about our own SS status.   About a week after this meeting I received a call from Betty (did I mention that she was also drop-dead gorgeous?).  Anyhow, she asked if I could visit her in her office on Donmore Ave.  Hmmm.  What was this all about?   I agreed and at the appointed date and time I kept the appointment.

I was not pleased with what she revealed.  She had processed my request form and said there was a problem.  Jeez!  What kind of problem?   Having succeeded a year prior in getting my SAG retirement, was my Clutter Angel now letting me down?  What could be the problem with my Social Security? 

She said “Mr. Leggio our records show that your earnings go back to 1951.  Is this true?”  It was true.  And she continued “Have you ever worked in Michigan or with an employer whose home office was in Michigan?”  I responded “I’m not sure.  Can you give me a company name?”  She gave a name which I had never heard of and told her so.  So she decided to get to the crux of the problem.  She said “Your SS number was apparently assigned (erroneously) to a gentleman back in 1967 who came under the care of the U.S. Marshall Service.”  SAY WHAT!!??   From my casual knowledge of the Marshall Service, I had to ask:  “Am I to presume that this gentleman’s identity was changed and he and his family was secretly relocated because he may have been a mob informant, turning state’s evidence against a mod boss or something to that effect?”  She said “I don’t have any information other than what I’ve told you.”  To which I responded:  “Then having my same SS number,  wouldn’t that put me at risk?”  She reminded me that this assignment happened nearly 20 years earlier.  She said that, based on his birth record, if he is still living today, he’d be about 96 years old.  She continued:  “Mr Leggio, in order for us to reconcile this issue is to review your tax records going back to 1951 and since that is not possible ….. “, but I interrupted with “I’ve got them.”  Almost identical to my SAG experience she said: “We would need ALL your W2s going back to 1951.”  Again I said “I have them.”  A pause, then from her: “ALL?  You have ALL your tax records going back to 1951?”  I said "ALL".  Her jaw dropped.

Anyway I agreed to bring them into her office.  The following evening I went to our warehouse and pulled out 4 banker boxes filled with all of my tax records going back to 1951.  I loaded them into my car along with my 2-wheel dolly and carted them over to the Donmore SS office.  I asked the receptionist if she would mind summoning Betty (her last name eludes me).   Betty came out to the lobby, saw me and said “And these are really ALL your tax records?”  I said yes and she immediately asked the receptionist to tell the staff to come look.  About 10 staffers appeared and she said to them “Mr Leggio has kept all of his taxes records going back to 1951.”  In unison the entire group expressed their amazement.

Betty said she would take good care of them.  She would have to go through them to reconcile against my “mob twin.”  She would get back to me within 2 or 3 weeks.

True to her word she got back to me within the 3 week period and asked if I would come to her office.  I did and she said that Mr mob twin had actually worked about a year since his Marshal relocation back in 1967.   She said that those earnings would be credited to my account.  I asked if his earnings during that year were substantial.  She said “Afraid not, but you will still get the credit.” 

Well, so far I am still upright and above ground, so I’ll refrain from looking over my shoulder ….. unless of course someone reads this blog piece and gets some ideas.  Hmmm.

Oh, I almost forgot.  Betty asked that I please retrieve my tax records.  I told her I probably would not ever need them again, but she politely said that her office could neither keep them nor dispose of them.   So, back to our warehouse they went and where they rest today.

Clutter Angel, you done good! 

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