by M. Sigmund Shapiro
May 14, 2003

In the days before automation, a customs broker’s office resembled a Dickensian environment. Papers were everywhere (not that there’s less paper now). Telex and TWX machines clattered all day, phones rang insistently, and before air conditioning, there was the roar of electric fans. Everybody smoked and everyone shouted conversations back and forth.

There were runners to take documents to the Custom House and pick up ladings from steamship companies. There were file clerks, mimeograph operators and general “office boys” who brought in coffee and lunch as needed.

Our company had its share of these employees. It was our policy to hire retired persons who wanted to supplement their Social Security. And we got to know some unique individuals.

There was Bill, an ex postal employee who came in one hot summer day wearing a tank top and short (and I mean short) shorts. He was sent home to change. The next day he came in wearing a tuxedo.

There was Abe. Abe was over six feet tall and had a problem breathing through his nose, so he taped his nostrils open with scotch tape. In addition, during his break, he would go into the basement of our two story building where we kept old files, and doze off lying across the boxes. Anyone going downstairs who didn’t know thought he was in Frankenstein’s laboratory.

And there was Bob, or Moose as he was called. It was his job to clean out the fridge every Friday. Around 4:30 each week, you would hear a cry throughout the office: “Anybody who’s got anythink (sic) in the refrigerator, WHIP IT OUT!!”

It was a different world.