In September 1981, I began a training program at a bank in Midtown Manhattan, to become a “Lock Box Product Specialist.” A “Lock Box” is a locked Post Office Box, used by clients, such as utility companies, who receive many checks in the mail. Bank cleared checks the same day for Lock Box clients, who were charged for opening envelopes, sorting receipts, removing staples, etc.
I responded to three telephoned questions about Lock Boxes on a typical day. As a trainee, my answer was always, “I will call you right back.” Then I called Quincy, the “real” specialist, who verified my proposed response, or provided the correct answer.
I stayed busy writing short stories. I was inspired by Ann Beattie’s short stories in The New Yorker, and her captivating novel, Falling in Place.
Nobody ever asked me what I was writing. Occasionally an executive would pass, and compliment me on my work ethic, because I was always busy. Whenever I left my desk, I locked my “work” in a drawer, and left some Lock Box notes visible.
My supervisor Nick, who shared one wall of my cubicle, gave me lists of totals to check several times a day, but I delegated those tasks to my assistant, Ted. Nick always assumed that I was working on a special project for his supervisor, Emma.
Emma, who always assumed that I working on a special project for Nick, rewarded me with two raises, as well as the access to the executive bathroom and dining room. “Executives” were rewarded with free lunches, served cafeteria-style, in large room, with a panoramatic view of Manhattan.
About once a week, I would walk home with Emma, who lived on Central Park West. I rarely spoke, while she extolled Bank’s benefits, and told me how well I would “fit in” after my training period ended. Emma advised me to emulate Quincy, and “pontificate” about Lock Boxes to clients. There was nothing unpleasant about the bank, and I was looking forward to completing my training.
My initial training consisted of learning a 20 page manual about Lock Boxes, which I memorized. My advanced training, with Quincy, lasted one day, when I recited the manual to him. Quincy was a skilled pontificator, who enjoyed making Lock Boxes seem as mysterious as alchemy. He informed management that I required eight hours of training, or two afternoons, each week, for six months, until his retirement.
Twice a week, I packed a briefcase with my Lock Box manual, and latest story, and met Quincy in his downtown office at 11:30. Quincy would read my story, and offer comments until noon, when he would inform his secretary that “we will be out in the field.” We visited a Post Office and mail room once, so I could observe how the contents of Lock Boxes were obtained and processed. Instead of being “out in the field” we enjoyed superb lunches at different restaurants. Quincy selected places from reviews in New York Times and New York Magazine, and paid for them with his expense account. After lunch, we went to Quincy’s Midtown apartment. He called his secretary, and gave her an unlisted telephone number, which she thought belonged to a client. Quincy only received one call about Lock Boxes during my 30-or-so visits to his apartment. I wanted Quincy’s job!
We never discussed Lock Boxes in his apartment. We watched TV until 5 P.M., when Quincy announced, “Time for the club!” and left to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
I met Ted at an “Office Temporaries” agency. We were hired together, because we had the two highest scores on their competency exam. Unfortunately, Ted was negligent, and had been fired, when an executive passing his cubicle, found him leaning back, with his feet on his desk, reading Fortune magazine, and smoking a cigar. Ted claimed he had been fantasizing that he was an important banker.
A few days after Ted was fired, Emma decided that I needed an assistant, since I was always so busy! I requested Ted, and was able to get him rehired. I promised her that Ted would always be busy, and never put his feet on his desk again.
When I was not walking Emma home, or training with Quincy, Ted and I would usually walk a mile downtown to his favorite bar, Glocca Morra, for two drinks. Fridays were special. We started with half-pints, which we drank on the Subway. We got off at Chambers Street, and walked to Mickey’s Bar, on the corner of Warren and Greenwich Streets, in what is now trendy, and much more expensive, TriBeCa, or Triangle Below Canal Street.
Our last Friday night at Mickey’s, was November 20, 1981, when we met Sara Jayne Snyder.