It was about 1964. I had been discharged from the Coast Guard a few years earlier, and I was now working in the construction department of what was then, the New York Telephone Company. At the same time I was going to school at night.
There was a workingman’s bar on Rockaway Blvd in Queens where we would eat lunch when in that neighborhood. There were all kinds of crafts people that frequented the place. Cops, electricians, carpenters, lineman, and various other people in coveralls and work boots came there to eat lunch. The usual patrons traipsed into the place each day at noon.
Fred was always seated near the door behind the bar. He handled the cash. Each group of people would select a table and draw a pitcher of beer or take a soda at the bar. At the back of the bar there was a half door that looked into the kitchen. In the kitchen was the “chef.” There were maybe two hot meals on the menu, but what he mostly did was make sandwiches for us, and called out when our table’s food was ready. It was a boisterous place. We often knew other workers that lunched there. Good-natured banter, and insults were traded within the groups and between the tables.
Fred and the man in the kitchen, whose name escapes me, always had a wisecrack for you, and not only did we get good food, but the experience was enjoyable.
One day while I was watching the action, it occurred to me that this was essentially a self-service bar, and no real accounting for what was being purchased and consumed was possible. As we left, we’d file past Fred and tell him what we ate and drank, and he would make the tally in his head, and take the cash. I began to wonder how two people could handle this volume of business without getting taken to the cleaners, as the saying goes.
Occasionally there would be a small group of men that did not look like us. They wore suits. When they were there, they mostly kept to themselves. I guess to them it was like walking into the bar in Star Wars. I thought to myself that one day I would be one of them. I would be looking at opportunities that would require a suit. Even as I enjoyed being a craftsman, I thought that one day the experience would wear thin. I was looking forward to having an executive sales job.
One day as I was leaving, I said to Fred “We could tell you almost anything. You can’t possibly know what we have been eating and drinking. Do some people try to screw you?”
Fred leaned forward and said, “yeah, but it aint you guys. It’s the suits”
It’s the suits, I mused recently. It was the “suits” then, and it’s still the “suits” today.