How Was I Supposed to Know?
Mr. W was mostly trying other cases during the week, so we prepared for Big Steel v. Bigger Steel on weekends. Every Saturday and Sunday morning, I would stroll into the Reed Smith conference room at precisely 9 a.m., and every Saturday and Sunday morning, Mr. W would look up at me and say, “Dear God.”
Previously in this series: “Me and Mr. W: Antitrust Is More Interesting Than You Think, Part II”
I was annoyed by this and complained to one of my bullpen mates. “He’s really mad because he has to try this case with me,” I said, “but you’d think he could keep his remarks to himself.”
My bullpen mate looked me up and down and said, “It’s not you, it’s your clothes.”
Reed Smith in those days had an unwritten but rigorously enforced dress code that, for men, consisted of: a dark suit, preferably Brooks Brothers; white or blue shirt with button-down collar, preferably Brooks Brothers; boring necktie, ditto.
That particular day, I was fetchingly attired in a light brown patterned polyester sport coat, brownish polyester pants, and a snappy white shirt with wide stripes going up and down it and a large floppy collar. One of my bullpen mates had suggested the stripes looked like “trellises of dead leaves,” but he was just jealous.
Oh, and I also sported my signature huge yellow polka-dot bowtie. In other words, I looked positively Byronesque.
I was aware, of course, that other lawyers dressed very differently from me, but I chalked that up to their deplorable lack of fashion sense.
My cluelessness about appropriate attire at the law firm had persisted for more than a year and, at last, unable to stand it anymore, the firm asked a young lawyer named Rick (not his real name) to take me to lunch and read me the sartorial facts of life.
We went to Archie’s (I can’t remember its real name), a simple lunch counter with a few tables against the wall and a menu that skewed heavily toward burgers. But Archie’s was a Pittsburgh legend because its burgers were believed to possess magical powers that could cure hangovers. The place was naturally packed with young lawyers on weekends and Mondays.
This was a Thursday and I was cold sober, but I liked Archie’s. Archie’s daughter-in-law, never seen by anyone, stayed in the back room cutting up sides of beef and grinding it for burgers. Archie’s son, Little Archie, worked the grill. At most burger joints you take the burger the way it’s cooked (McDonalds, for example), while at others you can order rare, medium-rare, or well-done.
But at Archie’s, there were endless permutations of burgers and customers vied to come up with new ones. However many weird burger orders came in, though, Little Archie never faltered. All that said, by far the biggest seller was “Pittsburgh rare,” a burger barely cooked at all on the inside but charred on the outside.
Archie himself, after 40 years working the grill, now ran the cash register, which was just inside the front door. Archie had been senile for years, but his kids didn’t have the heart to put him out to pasture. Since Archie chronically forgot to put the customers’ cash in the register, cash was soon spilling out onto the cash register table, the floor, and the narrow shelf behind Archie.
When you finished your meal and got your check — say, $4 — you would leave a buck on the counter for Little Archie and the missus, then hand the check to Archie along with a five dollar bill.
Archie would frown at the check, slam it down on a sharp spike, open the cash register, and hand you a 20-dollar bill in change. While Archie was dealing with the next customer, you would toss the 20 onto the shelf, dig around in the pile of cash for a one-dollar bill, put it in your pocket and be on your way.
This, I always thought, was how every restaurant should operate.
Meanwhile, poor Rick was unsure exactly how to tell me that I needed to buy some new clothes, and I, meanwhile, had no idea why he’d asked me to lunch. He kept beating around the bush and clearing his throat and driving me crazy, so finally I said, “Rick, is something on your mind?”
He hemmed and hawed for a moment, but finally said, “Well, yes. Have you noticed you don’t dress like other lawyers in the firm?”
“I’ve noticed that,” I said. “The poor bastards.”
That threw Rick for a loop, but he rallied. “What I’ve heard is, if a lawyer can’t stick to the dress code, he’ll never make partner.”
That got my attention, and so I decided, much against my better judgment, to wander over to Brooks Brothers.
But when I got there and was shown the Reed Smith Collection, I just couldn’t do it. I did, however, buy a snappy outfit that I was sure would pass muster: navy blue blazer with shiny brass buttons, white button-down shirt, gray flannel trousers, blue-and silver-striped tie.
The next Saturday morning, I strolled into the conference room wearing this captivating getup, but Mr. W wasn’t there. He’d left a note saying he was at breakfast.
Oh, well. I headed down the hall toward the coffeepot, studying the legal pad on which my instructions for the day had been written. I glanced up and was startled to see, coming down the hall toward me, none other than the firm’s managing partner, Mr. D.
Mr. D was wearing a dark suit, white shirt with button-down collar, boring necktie. He had his little half glasses way down on the end of his nose and was glaring at a piece of paper in his hand. It probably showed the amount of money the firm was wasting on young lawyer salaries.
We were about eight feet apart and I was just opening my mouth to say, “Good morning, sir!” but at that moment Mr. D spotted me and stopped dead in his tracks. His eyes widened to alarming proportions and those eyes looked me up and down in stunned disbelief.
Finally, he whipped off his glasses and said, “Well, Curtis, going yachting?”