I told Joseph, the bar companion who had moved into what was known as the Williamsburg Bank Building, about the building’s marvelous lobby. He was surprised. He had never seen it. The Brooklyn Flea had moved on to other winter quarters. Joseph had not seen the observation deck either. He did not know the building had one, and apparently it is never opened now. He knew nothing about the building’s history, neither that a bank had once been there, that dentists had populated the spaces now containing apartments, that it was for a long time the tallest building in Brooklyn. It was all ancient history, and I realized, yet again, that time marches on and that New York City, while always the same, is always changing. I thought about what Giuseppe di Lampedusa said in The Leopard: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”
Joseph and I went on to other topics. I asked the standard, “What do you do?” He replied, somewhat vaguely, that he was in “energy infrastructure.” With a bit of prodding, he added that he worked for a pipeline company. Perhaps because he had encountered in the unthinking parts of New York City a disdain for this kind of business, he seemed apologetic about his work. Of course, pipelines are necessary, I thought. I want gas and oil to reach my home, power plants, and service stations, and pipelines are part of that process.
We switched topics again, this time back to the baby he and his wife were expecting. Joseph knew it was going to be a girl. I asked about possible names. He said that he and his wife had floated a possible one and had received enormous flak about it from relatives, and they had abandoned that name. Although they had selected another one, they were keeping it to themselves. But his excitement was evident, and after what appeared to be the briefest internal struggle, he said it would not matter if he told me. They planned to name the girl Luna. (And in my Brooklyn way, I wondered if they knew that name’s connection with Coney Island.)
He went on to say that he was going to name his first boy Declan. I voiced approval and said that was a good, strong name, but the bartender warned that the tyke might be called Dekkie. Joseph immediately responded that Declan would beat up anyone who called him Dekkie and then stand astride the fallen transgressor and loudly proclaim, “My name is Declan.” Joseph laughed.
Joseph is an American-Irish Catholic. His wife’s father was Australian and her mother mainland Chinese. The father-in-law was a diplomat, and his wife’s parents had met when the father had been working in China. Because of her father, Joseph’s wife had lived in many places growing up. Joseph thought that that was a good thing and was hoping that his children could live abroad before the family would settle for good in New York.
His wife, whose name I never got, worked for an international bank. Joseph also seemed apologetic about that. I said that I had a good friend who worked for the same institution as his wife, and the friend was a good guy. I joked (I think) and said that not all bankers were bad people, but that it did increase the odds.
I learned his last name and was taken aback. I knew of his family. They had been important in New York Democratic politics. I told Joseph that I had worked with a family member of his who had been on the board of the institution where I had worked. Joseph told me that that was his father. He asked when I worked with him, and I said that it was maybe twenty years ago. He replied that his father had mellowed since then. “Now he is my friend,” he quietly said.
I silently blessed Joseph when he seemed genuinely surprised that I was older than his father. Or at least I wanted to believe that he was genuinely surprised.