Friday, March 13, 2009

Afternoon delight.

Giacomo was sittin in the dark of the bar. Three o'clock. The tired middle of a tired afternoon in a week already too long by Wednesday. The bartender -- an Asian chap with a droopy left eye and putty cheeks -- was workin a parin knife through a bucket of limes while the Spanish busboys kept runnin up and down the stairs to the toilets. Some kind of commotion goin on in the kitchen.

A guy whose head was shaped like a football stared at the TV with his mouth open. The Dow was stagin a big rally. Madoff was gonna plead guilty to all charges. Aretha Franklin wore a special hat when she sang at the inauguration. And now apparently a lot of women wanted one.

I ordered a gin and tonic for Giacomo and a Johnny Walker Black for me. The bartender's hands moved fast. "I bring it to you," he said. In the old days, Big Gee would've lit a cigar and waxed philosophical. Not these days. He's thinkin about gettin into the consulting racket.

"These smaller firms need help, they need someone who's got experience. Someone who knows who to contact and can get results. I just don't want to screw up my unemployment. I gotta figger out a way to defer payment, or go off the books. Believe me, there's work out there. You just have to stir the pot a little."

Big Gee was a professional pot-stirrer and a lot more to boot. He knew how to make things happen. He was honest, smart and sane. How many people like that you meet in Manhattan? I thought to myself, if he's on the street, then this industry is seriously broken.

Quist used to tell me, "When companies merge, people become redundant. When sales head south, people become redundant. When expenses go up, people become redundant. If you don't want this to happen to you, you need to make yourself indispensable." Sounded like good advice at the time. But that's before I realized that no one was indispensable, and the further up the ladder you went, the more dispensable you got to be. Companies always need somebody to unclog the sinks, tape the carpet, and move the furniture from one cubicle to another. They don't always need college grads to shuffle reports and tinker with the margins on spreadsheets.

I hadn't had a scotch in a while and it tasted good. Giacomo leaned back and started reminiscin about Alfred Knopf Jr. and World War Two and the way sons have to get out from under their fathers' shadows. Even if Atheneum didn't last long as an independent house, Alfred and his partners had worked out a nice run for themselves. In the Times obit, he was quoted as saying, "We had good lawyers."

Nowadays, the Young Turks are bustin out with these unreal expectations. Like fat red boils. Big Gee took a sip of his drink, "They think it's Hollywood. It's all speculation. Who in their right mind is gonna see double digit profits year after year. It's the effin book business."

Mr. Kim brought over two more drinks. "You like?" Yes indeed, it was a fine thing to be sittin there in the half-light of a dreary afternoon, savorin the booze, makin conversation, while the rest of the world was sittin at their desks workin and worryin if they were gonna be next in line when the guillotine fell again. We figgered we were okay where we were, for now.

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