Chapter 25

Three daily events have always been essential to me, and the center of these is lunch. In different cities and at different times this event is and has been celebrated disparately.

In the 1960's, when I started going often to New York, the people with whom I was working always had made luncheon arrangements that took us out of whatever conference room we were in, and usually to a club to which one of the partners or vice-presidents belonged. There were white cloths on the tables, and silver-plated flatware. The meals were not lavish, but were more than adequate and well served. Martinis beforehand were available, as were beer and wine. I don't recall that any of the meals was so tasty that I remembered it very long, but none was memorably poor.

New Orleans was a different matter. Luncheon clubs had not taken hold in this city, partly because the splendid restaurants made clubs unnecessary. One lunch I do remember over 40 years ago was when John Cox took the multitude to Antoine's. An outsider could not get a table there without a long wait, as the restaurant did not take reservations. But (I was told) a good customer would have a special waiter who would see to it that a table was available for the customer, and that he could get certain delicacies not on the regular menu. We got three courses, all freshly and expertly prepared. The wine came in globular glasses so huge that what seemed like a piddling little amount in the bottom turned out to be more than a generous quantity in a standard wine glass. The extra volume in the glass made room for the bouquet and one's nose as well, so that I realized that I was getting some mighty good wine. The meal proceeded at a leisurely tempo; it was clear that the restaurant did not expect to have a second seating, yet we were not kept waiting so long that I noticed it.

In later years my trips to New Orleans grew fewer, and those to New York more frequent. Lunches in the 1970's were in the process of merging into the sandwiches-in-the- conference-room mode. At first there was a certain amount of formality. Occasionally they were served by waiters or waitresses. The napkins were cloth, but cotton, not linen. The flatware was still silver-plate and meals were served on china. Drinks were available but not pushed. The meals were always adequate and good, but there was a hint of a feeling that lunch was something to be hastened so that we could get on to whatever work we were doing. I could not see that this hastening made the time at which we quit working any earlier.

In the 1980's New York lunches became what seemed to me the barest essential. A tray or two arrived in the conference room, sometimes with sandwiches ready made, but more often sliced rolls or bread with slices of meat and cheese and other stuff to put into sandwiches you made yourself. No wine, no beer, no martinis. Soft drinks came in coolers that would be appropriate at tailgate parties. The napkins were of paper, and not particularly fancy. Flatware was stainless steel if we were being lavishly treated; if not it was plastic. Plates were of paper. If we got dessert, it was Mrs. Field's cookies.

I thought that this was about as far as the process was likely to go, but I was mistaken. Before retiring in 1990, I went to one last closing in New York and found, to my horror, that the other lawyers were going without lunch. I suspect that they had had only coffee for breakfast. There was no particular need for this sacrifice; the closing was going well. Yet they seemed to think it was a measure of their devotion to their work to skip the mid-day meal. They were all younger than I and smiled indulgently when I insisted on lunch even if it meant going alone to a restaurant.

With firm sincerity I told them, "The reason I work is to get money. The reason I want money is so that I can eat. If you work instead of eating, you've got your priorities wrong." My lecture had no more effect than rain on ducks.

I do hope that meeting-related lunches in New Orleans have not suffered as much as they have in New York.

Manly W. Mumford