A friend works on the middle floor of a downtown building behind a heavy wooden desk. He sits in a gold-carpeted room lined with three rows of identical desks. Call him Junior Executive, call his employer Corporeta Bank.
For the last five years or so we've been getting together for lunch every six months or so. Junior always picks up the tab. I stopped by his office in the financial district recently. Junior said lunch was on him and asked where I wanted to go. I shrugged, said there's a good deli at Dearborn and Van Buren, but added maybe he wanted to be waited on. He did. And he always picks the restaurant anyway.
We entered a huge office building and walked the wide corridor to a windowless restaurant. Corporate types filled the tables: the white boys (achievers of corner-office status), white boys in training (the wannabes), and white boys in skirts (women who can only dream of success).
Junior removed his blue suit coat, draped it on the back of a chair, lit a cigarette, and began describing his current frame of mind. He usually discusses his frame of mind. He's generally rather fatigued. He's working on several big deals and hopes to close them in an upcoming coast-to-coast trip. There's much to do first, including the headache of converting a two-foot stack of legal documents to 12 pages.
Sitting quietly with shoulders erect, Junior placed both arms on the table, revealing the monogrammed cuffs on his starched white shirts. He'd been offered a job in New York but his wife isn't keen on the idea--a move would be hard on the kids. A job change would have a negligible effect on Junior. Life in suburban New York would be just like his life now: commuting downtown on the train each day, getting home just in time for dinner on the table. He visits with his kids, and can't help thinking of the steep college tuition bills they'll be generating someday. Making more money is this methodical man's goal in life. Pleasure for him involves rising each morning at 4:30 and enjoying the predawn quiet by reading the Bible and the Wall Street Journal.
Noting the lousy shape of the economy, Junior said he supposed he should be happy to have a job. I reminded him his deals just make money for Corporeta. This country has too many banks, he said. Many in the industry will lose their jobs. As for his own job, he said the bank is going through changes, trying to save money by eliminating unprofitable business. He'd love to lead a lending group, but doesn't know if his work will be remembered by those manipulating the political shuffle.
For all the talk of trimming fat, Corporeta's management isn't eager to address its real problem: too many bosses too preoccupied with holding corner offices. Junior believes the bank would be better off with maybe 50 people overseeing the minions instead of the hundreds of people who man the top layer. "All those $150,000 to $200,000 salaries begin to add up," this $80,000-a-year man explained. He said that he's too low on the ladder for his opinion to matter.
Shifting from corporate to presidential politics, Junior said he liked it when President Bush proposed that taxpayers be allowed to pledge from 1 to 10 percent of their taxes to reduce the federal deficit. Junior grinned at the prospect of millions of citizens checking a box on their tax returns requiring the federal government to pay its debts instead of increasing spending. What a great way to impose budgetary discipline. Later though, the White House conceded the president knew the tax-box-checking idea couldn't fly. After all, the constitution empowers the legislature--not citizens--to decide how to allocate tax dollars. "Bush never even mentioned it again," Junior said, sounding as betrayed as a Ross Perot supporter.
Bill Clinton will bloat the federal government. "And he'll be reelected in 1996 if the economy happens to turn around in three years," Junior predicted wearily.
After lunch, while complaining a second time about feeling overweight, he pulled his date book from a vest pocket and divulged his personal plans for trimming the fat. He pointed to the spot where he'd printed "203 pounds; 165 pounds on 12/31/92." Like a bank memo or presidential speech calling for new beginnings, Junior's note to himself sure sounded tough.
Reminding him that his lunch had consisted of a huge serving of deep-fried halibut as well as mashed potatoes, salad, and a buttered roll, I said "I guess you're not planning to start your diet today." The comment made him feel fatter. He grumbled all the way to the bank, then disappeared through Corporeta's revolving doors.