Remembrance Of Bing's Past The last time I saw Anne, it was summertime and we were teenagers. Today we are to have a meeting. What will she make of me now that I'm...businesslike?
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – I look pretty good in my black pinstriped suit. I wear it with confidence. I believe it creates an aura of competence and sang-froid, and builds my credibility as an individual to the point where few would catch a glimpse of me and conclude that I'm a rather lumpy fellow in the wrong line of work, or worse, an impostor. Best of all, I believe it to be me. When I wear it, particularly in tandem with my new wingtip loafers, I look at my reflection and say, "Hey, that's me," much as I used to do when the figure in the mirror was 30 pounds lighter and wearing bell-bottoms, platform shoes, a work shirt, and a leather headband I fashioned myself from a kit I bought at Tandy, which is now Radio Shack.

Whoa. Where did that image come from? Oh, yes. I know.

Last week I was looking over a manifest of a meeting that is to take place today, about 30 minutes from right now, in fact. On the list of attendees were several from another corporation with which we are doing some work. About halfway down was one name that rang a distant chime. Anne Darrow.

Anne Darrow.

The year is...oh, never mind the year. It was very long ago. I had yet to taste my first Scotch, for instance. I had yet to bite off the end of my first cigar, or even earn a dollar. I had yet to do a lot of things. It was not unpleasant, to have everything ahead.

It was summer. A cicada year, as I remember. The little buzzers hummed in the trees from morning until night, particularly when the sun was high in the sky and time seemed to stand still. I don't remember exactly how we met, Anne Darrow and I, but it was a different I, I can tell you that. I could, however, tell you how I felt about her from the very start, although I won't. She was tall, and soft-spoken, and a whole year older, which seemed impossibly tantalizing to me. Unattainable, she was. Until, for a while, she wasn't. And then she was again.

Anne Darrow. The name burned before me on the otherwise tedious memo. Could fate be so kind, and so...cruel?

I don't recall a whole lot about that summer, to tell you the truth. I remember enough: scents, sounds, the thundering roar of adolescent emotion. I remember it ended somewhat badly, although the details are hazy to me. I probably acted badly. I usually did in those days: whining, mooning, sighing, stalking, recriminating. I do remember feeling pleasantly devastated for a long time, daydreaming about Anne, searching for her in crowds, ruminating darkly for many months about the fact that love dies.

So at any rate...I stared at the list of names for a long time, feeling strange in my lightly starched shirt and pleasantly festive tie, feeling, for the first time in a long while, vaguely inauthentic. At the bottom of some attached correspondence was an e-mail address. I turned to my computer.

"Are you the Anne Darrow I knew one long-ago summer?" I messaged electronically.

"Yes, I am," said the return message. "I guess I'll see you at the meeting."

See me at the meeting.

But...which me?


Then: 165 pounds. A hairline that virtually met my eyebrows. Waist: 32. A jawline that could slice metal. Collar: 14.

Now: about a tenth of a ton, although I'm working on it. Still quite a lot of hair, compared with a lot of guys my age. Waist: coming down to 36, which isn't really all that bad, when you consider the amount of eating and drinking that's gone on for the past three decades. Jawline: yes, particularly from the front. Collar: 17.


Then: jeans, with a thick, black belt I cinched tight to the last notch because I thought it made me look thinner. Shoes: the kind of big, ostentatious cowboy boots you don't see anymore because they've been superseded by big, ostentatious sneakers. A dark-blue t-shirt with no logos on it or, on very special occasions, a beaded, filigreed Nehru shirt buttoned to the neck. Accessories: that headband, a silver bracelet. No watch. Does anybody really know what time it is?

Now: blue pinstripe; black pinstripe. On dress-down days, there's a brown with a light-tan pinstripe that is rather jaunty. Shoes: big, heavy ones with real leather soles. On weekends, big, ostentatious sneakers. Accessories: my watch, with a company wristband indicating more than 15 years of service.


Then: peace, freedom, and victory for Ho Chi Minh's NLF. Slogan: "Never trust anyone over 30."

Now: peace (unless it comes at the expense of vital international principles), freedom (without violence against civilians and established mercantile interests), and victory for Paul Tagliabue's NFL. Slogan: "Never trust anyone, and certainly nobody under 30."

When did this happen? I never said to myself, "Okay, from this time forward, you're going to dress like Eisenhower. You're going to like goat cheese and smelly cigars. You're going to believe in stock options for a select group of senior managers." And nobody ever told me that one day in 1998 I'd be forced to see myself as I have become through the eyes of someone who knew me before this business life took me over.

Anne Darrow. Wow!

Hey--maybe she'll like what she sees! Why do I assume she won't? I'm a fantastic player in the full flush of high middle age! People tell me I look fabulous all the time! Just the other day Kleindienst came up to me after we hadn't seen each other for a couple of weeks and said, "Hey, man, you're looking terrific. Did you drop a couple?" And I said yes, I had, because it was true! It was true, damn it!

I could fail to make the meeting. I miss meetings all the time. That way I could e-mail her afterward and tell her something came up, make an appointment to drop by a couple of months from now, begin running immediately, eat nothing but tofu and green leafy vegetables, redo my wardrobe a tad, try not to be such a stiff, bring my guitar with me when I go....

I wonder what she's like now. I wonder what I will feel when I see her.

It's time. I'm standing up. I'm walking to the elevator. I'm straightening my tie so that I'll look my best. I'll go in. I'll shake her hand. I'll wait while our eyes refocus to find, inside the shell of years, the persons we knew. Hey, we're children of our generation. Whatever happens...

We shall overcome, I'm sure.

By day, STANLEY BING is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name.