My father's midtown office was undergoing a renovation, and among the things being discarded was a rectangular slab of marble, which Dad wanted to salvage. Don't ask me why.
We didn't need a rectangular slab of marble. Nobody needs a rectangular slab of marble.
But the idea of it going to waste was too much for my Depression-era father to bear, so he was determined to bring it home.
It was too big for him to carry on the Long Island Railroad, and it was too heavy for him to manage alone, which meant I'd be joining him on a trip into "the city" in our Dodge Dart one Saturday morning in 1975.
Manhattan traffic wasn't a bumper-to-bumper nightmare back then. We sailed into town and parked right in front of the Young and Rubicam advertising agency on 40th and Madison, went inside and rang for the service elevator. That's when the fun began.
A janitor with a gray shirt, gray pants and a gray soul came waddling toward us, the last inch of a cigar stuck between his lips. He reeked of attitude. We probably woke him up.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," he said, scowling at us. "Where do you think you're goin'?"
My father explained that he was an art director with Y & R, and he had permission to take a slab of marble up on the eighth floor.
"Yeah?" the janitor said, squinting one eye. "Whaddaya gonna do with a piece o' mobble?"
Like it was any of his business! My father told him he wasn't sure, but he didn't want it to go to waste. He showed the guy a sheet of paper giving him permission to have the marble slab.
The janitor scowled at the paper. "Hmm, An-tho-ny Carillo," he said, in his best never-heard-of-you voice. He sighed. "All right, let's go."
The three of us rode the service elevator to the eighth floor. The janitor was staring at my father.
"You're one of those creative guys, right?" he asked. He made it sound like a disease.
My father told him yes, he was one of those guys. The janitor chuckled.
"Yeah, they come and go. Three, four years apiece, right?" He poked himself in the chest. "Me, I've been workin' here eighteen years. What do you think o' that?"
My father complimented him on his longevity, but I was boiling mad, the way you get when you're nineteen years old. In the first place, this nasty piece of work had totally ignored me, figuring I was just my father's idiot helper. Plus, he'd been busting my father's chops from the get-go, and did he have any idea of who he was talking to?
Tony Carillo had been with Y & R since he was a kid, starting as a messenger and rising to a vice-presidency! He'd been with the company for more than thirty years! Why wasn't Dad setting this clown straight?
We got to the eighth floor. The janitor wasn't going to help carry the marble, so he stayed at the service elevator while we went and got it, a gray-white slab that weighed more than either of us.
"Dad," I said, as we dragged it down the hallway, "why don't you tell that jerk how long you've been here?"
"But - "
"Let's just load this thing in the car, and go home."
We struggled to stand it up in the elevator. The janitor pulled the gate shut and we began the slow descent to the lobby.
"Yeah, you come and go," he said in his world-weary, seen-it-all voice. "Show me another guy who's lasted here eighteen years."
My father shrugged. I was ready to explode.
And then, a gift from the gods, as the janitor jutted his chin toward my father and sneered: "How many years you been here?"
My father smiled. "You really want to know?"
"Yeah," the janitor said, "why not?"
"Thirty-three," my father said softly.
The janitor's eyes widened. I thought he was going to swallow his cigar butt.
"Surprised I never seen you around," he muttered.
He let us out in the lobby, warned us not to scratch the walls on our way out and waddled away.
We loaded the marble slab into the back of the Dodge and headed for home.
"Jesus, Dad," I said, "if that guy hadn't asked you how long you worked here, you never would have told him!"
"True," my father said. His eyebrows went up. "But wasn't this even better, the way it worked out?"
Yes it was.
By the time he retired, my father had worked at Y & R for 48 years. It's probably some kind of record, but he'd be the last to know, or brag about it. I think about that Saturday morning whenever I feel as if I'm about to lose my temper, or say something I'm going to regret. It was a great life lesson, and it boils down to this:
When dealing with knuckleheads, be cool. It's the best revenge.
Thanks for the lesson, Dad. I wish you a Happy Father's Day, and all these years later, I have just one question.
What the hell did you ever do with that slab of marble?