My brother used to be younger than I. He used to wear a short-panted Boy Scout uniform and he hated clean sheets. In fact, he hated clean sheets so much that every year our mother had to wait for his next foray to Scout camp (whereupon he reverted to his beloved smelly sleeping bag) so she could pry the remains off his bed. That was when I was in college.
By the time I had achieved some grandiose title in the corporate world, my little brother was in graduate school.He still hated clean sheets (he used the new sheets our mother sent him to make curtains; incidentally, he stapledm in the hems), and no matter what he wore, his clothes were still reminiscent of Early Pup Tent and Late Sleeping Bag.
But for some reason still unknown to me, my child brother has undergone a transformation unrivaled in the history of child brother transformations: today, he favors belting-leather attache cases, Church shoes, and his finestpima-cotton shirt (custom-made for him in Cairo -- when he's there) are air-delivered to him in New York, Athens or Paris -- when he's there. I don't understand: when did he decide to eschew provincialism? At what point did he grow long pants? (Knowing my brother, maybe he just shortened his legs.) I have a suspicion that the answer lies in the history of his offices.
My brother's first "office" was his bedroom. There he conceived the notion of an exciting new rocket fuel (based on sugar, the price of which has since soared higher than some of his rockets), and he set up a post office box to receive the flood of inquiries. What he mostly received were complaints from the neighbors about IFOs (identified flying objects) cruising their chimneys.
His next office was a phone booth on Route 28 on Cape Cod. By night he was busboying at Fleming's Restaurant, but during the day he offered a tutoring service. His ad for the latter was a miracle of brevity, as it said he could be reached between the hours of 4 and 4:30. Promptly at five minutes to 4, my brother would tool down to the booth to await his calls. Oddly enough, none ever came and it can only be surmised that those in need of tutoring may have to stay that way.
Next, he moved corporate headquarters to a multiply shared pay phone ("Hello, Toad Hall . . .") in Cambridge, Mass. Now somewhere between Fleming's and his first year at Tufts' Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, he'd become a full-fledged Middle East expert -- and this time he was purveying his own newsletter for the American business community concerning the Arab boycott. It was an admirable effort and would have been very successful had it not been for the signing of the Mideast peace treaty.
Undeterred, my brother's fourth office was our mother's kitchen. Now he was employed by a firm specializing in Mideast-American business relations and his job was to put local concerns in touch with the Mideasterner of their choice. As I, too, had come home in connection with my work, this was the first time I'd had a chance to observe my brother under normal working conditions.
The first thing I noticed was that he insisted on brand clean sheets every day, and the second thing I noticed was that before he went to "work" in his "office" (remember, it's a kitchen), he put on a shirt, tie and pin-stripe suit. Then he buffed his shoes, furled his mustache and arrived downstairs at the dot of 9 carrying a rolled umbrella. Trying to make breakfast in my normal morning disarray around this paragon of rectitude was virtually demoralizing. So was his new, commanding manner. At 12 noon exactly, he announced that if King Khalid called, so much the worse for the Saudi empire, for he -- my brother, the maker or breaker of kings -- was now out to lunch. Whereupon he would adjourn to the terrace for a peanut butter sandwich.
So by the time my brother had earned himself a promotion from the kitchen to his present plush surroundings (he is surrounded by a major American bank), I was somewhat less than astonished. Obviously, he had learned that clothes are not the making of the man -- clothes are the making of the office.
What I still can't fathom is how he suddenly became older than I. I think it has less to do with his imposing clothes and well-deserved success than his intercontinental life style. After all, such a position has implications of world power, and power, of course, always makes a person seem older. Naturally, I myself am immune to power, consider it ridiculous, in fact -- don't you? Therefore, I see no reason to remind my baby brother just who used to change his diapers. . . .