Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Elevator

Wow.....almost a year since a post!  This is what Facebook does to bloggers!

Here is a story from my youth.  It deals with the same feelings I get whenever I have to serve a wedding cake from Layers.

When I was in high school in New Jersey I somehow wrangled a job working on Wall Street in the summers.  I worked at Smith Barney at 20 Broad Street, in the same building as the actual NY Stock Exchange.  The Exchange took up the first three floors; Smith Barney had floors 9-13.

I worked in the wire room on the 13th  floor.  The 13th was where all the teletype machines that sent and received the orders were, along with the bond traders and the high end institutional traders.  My part was working in the tiny newsroom.  My boss was Richie, a sixteen year old high school dropout from Arthur Avenue in the Bronx…..hard core Italian all the way.  He took me up to Arthur Ave after work one day.....and stole a car to do it.  Cheaper and faster.

In the news room we had a Dow Jones teletype machine and an AP machine.  Our job was to watch the news come over the teletype. Every half hour we typed up a short news bulletin.  We had a big off-set printer to run off the bulletins and a huge pneumatic tube delivery system.  The tubes went directly into every office in the building, including even the bond guys ten feet away from us.

Because we were on deck every half hour from opening to closing, we were allowed special dining privileges in the company cafeteria.  We got free food, and we could load up as much as we wanted of anything we wanted.  We had to either inhale it in 20 minutes, or bring it back up to the news room.  

The cafeteria was on the ninth floor, and I am sure nothing like it exists today…..outside of Google or eBay.  They had full time chefs and waitresses and a wide selection of classic New York City food.  Best of all, were allowed anything we wanted to drink, including the tiny bottles of concentrated Welch’s grape juice….an big status symbol for a 15 year old.  Even then they cost at least fifty cents or a buck….a small fortune if your take home was $64.50 a week.

The 12th floor was heaven to a 15 year old Irish kid from Jersey: the International department.  The traders here had even better suits than the Institutional guys on 13……and they had drop dead gorgeous secretaries and assistants.  Model gorgeous.  In fact, one of my fellow interns back in the day was a gap toothed girl from Florida who became a famous super model in short order.  The International department for some reason did not have tubes, or the girls wouldn’t use them, so Richie and I fought over who got to hand deliver the news bulletins. I was always almost on the point of trying out my high school French on the beautiful French assistant, but could barely croak even in English.  She was a goddess.

My job nowadays would be done by everyone’s cellphone subscription to Bloomberg, but this was the heyday of paper.  The million dollar checks that settled trades between different firms and customers were even hand carried from office to office.  The P&S (Purchase and Sales) department was on the 10th floor and was the destination of the couriers.  In those days the couriers were always old, Eastern European and shabby looking. No such thing as superfit bike messengers.

On the day in question I got the early lunch shift and raced down to the 9th floor for some New York chow mein and Welch’s.  I inhaled my food, got back in the elevator and punched in 13.  Their was a guy already in the car. My co-passenger was an old, short, fat Russian guy…..obviously a courier with his crappy briefcase and ruined shoes.  It was humid and rainy out and the guy’s old wool overcoat reeked like dead wet sheepdogs.  Dandruff fell in drifts out of his oiled up hair.  Worst of all, he had a soggy recently extinguished cigar sticking out the side of his mouth that smelled like burnt hair.  He mumbled something like “Hello!” and his sour breath drove me to the far corner of the car.  He had punched in 10 for P&S, so I only had one floor to ride with him. Thank God.

Up we went to 10.  The door opened and the guy made a move for the door.  He paused for a second, took out his cigar, smiled and let rip a huge, wet fart.  It was massive. Out he went, and the doors closed.  I shrank into my corner….stunned.

Up I went towards 13, safety and fresh air.  No such luck. The elevator stopped at 11 while I was still reeling.  The door opened…..and Voila!  Twenty-one year old Lauren Hutton, the French assistant and another of their model perfect girlfriends stood in the door.  I was trapped alone with the fart, the burnt hair, the B.O. and the sopping dead sheepdogs.
The girls came in, pushed 12, and literally staggered when they hit the stench.  They glanced at me, and all I could do was cringe in my corner.  What could I say?  “C’etait pas moi!”  “It was a Russian guy!”  There was nothing I could do or say.  I was ruined. At 15, my life was over.

The girls exchanged looks and literally bolted from the car at 12.

The rest of the summer Richie made me do all the deliveries to International.  Every time I approached the desk of one of the girls…..or their friends (the word was out)…..they would push back their chairs as far as they would go and look away.  Stinky is here.
Lauren left mid-summer and eventually went on to be the girlfriend of Peter Revson of Revlon fame (who she probably met on the 12th floor) and was off and running on a fabulous career.  She is still around and looking fabulous.  

I bet if I met her today I would still turn bright red and cringe.  Heck, I am cringing as I type this!