Sunday, November 9, 2008

Your Momma's So Fat.....

After leaving the army at age 19 (see previous post) I still had no idea what to do with my life. I had a high school education and not much ambition. Banks were hiring, and I landed a clerical job with Banker's Trust Company, a big player in those days. I worked in the Stock Transfer Department recording transactions for stock brokers of shares they bought and sold the previous day. This was before computers, so every buy and sell order was written by hand into big ledger books, and "balanced" using hand-cranked adding machines. On the technology ladder, we were one rung above Bob Cratchit.

Our work area was filled with rows of nondescript grey desks and chairs. My co-workers were all young men of my age who were glad for the $52-a-week starting salary. One perk of working at a bank was that all employees received free checking accounts. The idea of paying for things with a piece of paper was not a financial concept I grasped completely. Some of the bad checks I wrote are still bouncing around out there to this day.

Anyhow, the work was excruciatingly boring, but we found ways to liven up our day. One was to have a contest among the guys to see who could record the most transactions in an 8-hour day. We each did basically the same work, so the playing field was pretty level. This will give you some idea of the work ethic we had then compared to today. Can you imagine someone standing up at the weekly brainstorming session and announcing: "Let's have a contest to see who can work hardest for no extra pay!" Too many kids today feel that if they get to work less than 30 minutes late, their day is done.

Another pastime was insulting one another. (Today these exchanges are referred to as "snaps.") We sat in two long rows of desks that faced a center aisle. Someone would get the ball rolling by saying something terrible about someone else's mother, that person would respond, somebody else would chime in, and we would be off and running. Example: Your momma's so fat,when she walked in front of the TV, I missed 3 commercials. Retort: "Oh yeah, your momma's so fat, when she hauls ass, she has to make two trips. And so it went; nobody got mad, we all knew it was just a way to get through the day.

Usually, to save money, we ate lunch in the bank cafeteria, but every Friday we went to the White Rose bar on Lexington Avenue. They fed you a decent hot meal, and steins of beer were cheap enough to get a nice buzz on before returning to the world of high finance. There was also a great place called Johnny's Bar on 46th Street off Third avenue where we went after work. I drank bourbon in those days, and once the bartenders got to know us, they poured doubles. They also bought back every third round, so you can imagine how happy we were by the time "last call" was announced. Luckily we traveled home by subway. Once in a while I would doze off, pass my stop and wake up staring out the windows at the rides at Rockaway Beach.

Bankers Trust had a vacation-style lodge called Baker Camp that was for the exclusive use of employees. We booked it like a hotel at ridiculously low, bank-subsidized rates. It was rustic with bunk-beds, but all we needed it for was a place to drink and play poker. There was a lovely lake for swimming and boats you could rent, but our group usually slept most of the day and came alive at night. As I write about it today, it sounds like we were a bunch of degenerate "yutes", but drinking was a big part of the social scene in the fifties. Today, beer and wine are the popular drinks, but then it was the hard stuff. Don Rickles has a great line in his book about this: "Back in the fifties, everybody drank rye and ginger, or as it's known today, diabetes."

I made some strong friendships at the bank. We were all in the same boat, worked and socialized together, went to each other's weddings, and eventually went our separate ways. I'm glad I had those guys in my life.


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