Every man has the place he hangs out. The employees of this magazine, at its old location, had the fancy Italian restaurant for editorial lunches and dinners. But for daily use we went to the burger joint with military insignia displayed over the bar (the owner had fought at Imjin River) or the not-fancy Italian restaurant whose owner had briefly been a Yankee (with slight encouragement he would interrupt Dino or Frank to sample the play-by-play account of his lone homer). Five conditions must be fulfilled before any place achieves placehood. It must be close; it must be comfortably within budget; they must know you; you must know them; and anytime you go you must also know a number of the other patrons, either because you all went there together, or you went separately but simultaneously, as if by prearrangement. Your money is good, your smiles are returned, you return all smiles, and you come and go on feet not wheels.
There is a welfare office a block from my house and those who go there also have a place. Hillary Clinton’s husband ended welfare as we know it, but the city keeps its own programs going, like a Native State under the Raj. The building that houses the welfare office occupies almost half a block. It is tall, square, old, and plain; the only ornaments are the flags hanging over the front door, the Stars and Stripes and the flag of the city, quaintly decorated with an Indian and a Dutchman.