It’s not a long subway ride from my Upper East Side apartment I share with a college roommate to my office in Midtown Manhattan, but on lazier days, I’ll catch an Uber from my iPhone. I swipe in with my key card, take the elevator up to the 19th floor and walk just past the bar carts and beanbag to my desk. Every now and again, whilst sitting here in jeans, reading news about this unusual election, sending people to Mars and spontaneously combusting smartphones, I wonder what this scene would have looked like 50 years ago. Were things really like they appear in Mad Men?
To find out, I asked my 84-year-old grandfather, Frank Schicitano. In 1966, 50 years ago, he was 34, out of the Navy for just over a decade and working as a packaging engineer for Sharp Ivers-Lee Pharmaceuticals in West Caldwell, New Jersey. That’s about 25 miles from Madison Avenue. Close enough for me…
Life then, he says, was all about his wife and two daughters, my mom and my aunt—he worked for the family, hung out on weekends with the family and, of course, spent his money on the family.
“There are some good people in this world, and there are some bad people in this world. And the bad people deserve to get their asses kicked.”
“We would go out sometimes—not very often, because we had to constantly worry about money,” he recalls. “We didn’t have anything to fall back on. What we had was what I made and what your grandmother made every week. Weekends were always cooking and eating, cooking and eating… Back then, everything we did was with family. You had money to spend? You spent it on something in the house.”
His fondest purchase? A “nice, big pool with a little garden in the back,” where he spent weekends with my grandmother, mother, aunt and their teammates on the Red Bank Catholic High School track team. A bit more of a family man than Don Draper, he cherished those relaxing days in the sun.
And he wasn’t the only one watching his wallet. Lyndon B. Johnson had just begun his second year in the Oval Office as the country’s 36th president, and the economy wasn’t ideal—the stock market witnessed a nine-month decline of 25 percent; federal debt was at $328.50 billion; unemployment dipped just barely from the year prior to 4.5 percent and inflation reached 2.7 percent (a stark contrast from the .12 percent rate we saw in 2015 and .82 this year).
But what was actual work like back then? Sure, there were suits and ties and gender inequality like Mad Men, but my grandfather also told me tales of car phones and energy powder and blackmail(!) that I never expected. What follows, then, is a day in the life of a thirty-something white-collar worker five decades ago…