Saturday, January 21, 2006


This recent private-club snafu with Ted Kennedy reminded me of an experience I had one summer working at a similar establishment, back in the late 1970s. My regular place of employment had suffered a seasonal lull, so I got a job as a waiter at the Arlington Club, the stately old building at the north end of the Southwest Park Blocks.
I don’t know how it’s run now, but in those days women were not allowed as members. Oh, they could work in the kitchen all right, but they couldn’t set foot in the dining room, even if the place was closed. I remember one of the women poking her head out from the kitchen one afternoon and asking me to go get the Maitre D., an intensely gay man named Jimmy Day. I felt a little awkward about her request and so did she. She was clearly embarrassed at having to stay behind the line.
I also remember waiting on Glenn Jackson before he became a bridge.
One of my bosses in another establishment used to run to serve him anytime Glenn entered the room. As I recall, it was a little pot of coffee, just for him, but it might have been tea. It didn’t matter who else was there. Glenn came first. My boss was Chinese and he would turn to me and solemnly say about Mr. Jackson, “He has all his fingers in all the pies.”
Some of the Arlington Club’s entrees included a side dish, and one day Glenn had a nasty little exchange with me about that. He didn’t want it if he hadn’t ordered it, and he gave me a squinty-eyed look of deep distain. This convinced me that A.) Glenn was used to being powerful, and B.) Glenn could be a prick.
Another person I saw there was Bill Naito before he became a parkway. I remember him as being an energetic guy and he would smile. He certainly seemed happier than his family would be later.
The conversations around the club were often about stocks and money and business deals. The old timers would talk about this move or that and the general feeling in the air was that everyone involved was a serious powerbroker.
That’s why it was so hilarious, and yet chilling, when the limo pulled up and out stepped David Rockefeller to address the members. He was running Chase Manhattan Bank at the time, with holdings that could bankroll entire nations. I enjoyed that day because suddenly all the local big shots were just peasants, acting like excited money groupies. This was heavy. Here was the real power − the lasting kind that doesn’t change hands with an election.
At the other end of the scale of influence, were the waiters − quite a cast of characters, much more interesting in their own way. Among them was a painter, and a foreign student, and the usual non-conformists. Some were very intelligent, and eccentric. They sought out the waiting job because they couldn’t do the 9-to-5 cubicle thing. These included artists and musicians just trying to get by. One of the radical types briefly discussed taping the Rockefeller speech since it was such a rare opportunity. I know that’s why I listened to the talk, but I also watched the reaction of the Arlington Club faithful. The club members looked like they were ready to drop to their knees and start praying to the guy. He actually made them seem to doubt themselves, and it took several days before they fully regained their powerbroker swerve.
Of course, the waiters were harder to impress. They were mainly just fun-loving young drinkers, me included. We’d sneak a glass of wine with lunch, and bring the cook some wine in a coffeepot. We weren’t allowed to collect tips, and the members usually just signed for things, but man, did we eat well. Lunch was usually the extras from the specials of the day. We’d dine on stuffed rainbow trout, and salmon, and all manner of swanky fare. Then after giving our 3 or 4 hours to society − after serving lunch to the captains of industry - we would retire to the Spot Tavern for a few pitchers of beer.
Come to think of it, Ted Kennedy would have felt right at home there, too.


At 9:39 PM, Anonymous Toni Webb said...

Thank you for this wonderful story, Bill. I'm the woman who forced the Arlington Club to open up to women and minorities. I contacted Gloria Allred, who sent me the ordinance she used in NYC to open up the Friar's Club. Gave it to Earl Blumenauer, who was on the City Council. Used the AC's liquor license as a bargaining chip. Toni Webb


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