1969 - The Revolution Takes Shape
Someone could write a book about Alan Abrams. I mean he’s at least as interesting a character as Frank Abagnale, Jr., the Catch Me If You Can guy. Maybe I’ll do it; in my next life. I wonder what happened to him, assuming he ever got out of jail… Because aside from his criminal shenanigans, the man was a personal harbinger of the menswear revolution of the 70s.
Back in the day, before commuting became a pre-dawn survival sport, there were “club” cars – private parlor cars attached to commuter trains that left Red Bank at seven thirty and returned from Penn Station at five-fifteen, delivering the Monmouth County captains of industry to their wives’ waiting station wagons (whence the name, see?) And these suburban titans paid handsomely to ride in a carpeted car with uniformed attendant, plush easy chairs, newspapers, pastries and coffee in the morning, newspapers, card games and a full bar in the evening. They played gin rummy; talked about cars, politics, bond prices; made bets on Yankees and Giants, fights and horses; whispered the latest Rumson gossip. Boy, did they dress well; Don Draper has nothing on these guys. Suits from Huntsman, de Pinna, Meledandri; sportswear from the original Abercrombie’s. Locke hats; Lobb shoes; Charvet shirts; ties from Sulka. The real deal. A guy like Abrams, fellow traveler, who happened to be married to my father’s first cousin, was grist for their mill.
Once in a while my old man asked me to come to the city and help out during market periods, so I got to ride with him on the private car. My lesson in mid-century American Cool. Pocket watches and fobs, pocket hankies, vests and tie-tacks, hats in winter and summer, raincoats, umbrellas. Cuban cigars, Cartier lighters and silver pens, engraved cigarette cases, Peal briefcases, money clips. One old guy named Scudder, who owned the Newark Evening News, wore white linen, three piece suits and panama hats, like a coffee plantation owner.
But nobody did it – any of it – better than old cousin Alan Abrams. Mysterious in the Gatsby-esque way, movie-star-handsome, Prep-School-groomed, world-travelled, debonair, Ivy League, Jewish. (Which, in 60s Rumson, was noteworthy to say the least.) Seeming To The Manner Born, he was a man without a past. Even my family knew nothing about his past. The Manner shone from him like a Hollywood marquis, from the brim of his Borsalino to the tips of his New & Lingwoods, this guy was the shit. So it was somewhat surprising when he was arrested, charged with and convicted of felony forgery and sent to the state lockup, and, with characteristic flourish, when allowed to work on the Department of Corrections farm outside of Trenton, was last seen running toward the waiting station wagon of, not my father’s long-suffering, faithful first cousin, but none other than the daughter of the Rumson mayor, his secret (and secretly pregnant) girlfriend.
Before he got busted Alan was a club car regular. He played Alain Delon to the WASP-y nabobs’ Robert Mitchums; rat-pack panache versus country-club hauteur. The tenor of the conversation would lower as he passed through the car. Envy, anti-Semitism or just amazement. Who knows?
One summer evening in the summer of 69, as the train rattled to a stop in the Red Bank Station and Alan got up to disembark, my old man poked me, asked under his voice, “What do you think of the suit Alan’s wearing?”
“The suit? See how it’s tight at the waist? The hourglass shape? The side vents? It’s English.”
I was stuck for an answer. My dad may have been dismayed to realize, although scion of a great American clothing family, I had no idea what he was talking about. I had never looked at the shape of a suit jacket before. Every jacket I had, every one Norman had, and every one any one I’d ever met had, had the same shape. What was there to look at?
“That’s what they’re all talking about.”
I didn’t think to ask who “they” were. “Um,” I managed. “It’s nice.”
“That’s what Lauren wants,” he said.
The great escape was the last anyone heard of Alan Abrams. A clean getaway. Totally vanished, to my family’s great dismay, along with the mayor’s daughter. Until years later, probably because a young sales woman in the Burberry organization told be she’d been burned in a massive commodities futures Ponzi scheme by a phony operation known as J. Carr. Ltd., who fallaciously claimed to trade on the unregulated London exchange, did I recognize in the typical “perp” photo in the New York Times a handsome and impeccably dressed man being led in handcuffs from a fancy Boston town house, Alan Abrams, aka J. Carr.