Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Bookfield, Sales School, Part 2

I waited in the hotel lobby alone. There weren’t too many people there, and none of them were college aged. Where were they? How would I recognize them? I bided the time by looking around from my secure vantage point, a chair placed against a wall of the room. The red and gold carpet was faded and the pile was beat down. Some spots were worn bare. Dark, heavy curtains hung over tall, dramatic windows of hazy glass. The ceiling was ballroom height and lit by chandeliers with a noticeable number of unlit bulbs. The air was close and musty. At one time this must have been a grand and elegant place, but now through years of neglect it seemed cheap and used.

Time went by and my thoughts went back to what had brought me here to this hotel lobby. What had brought me to accept a summer job with so many unknown aspects. There was a real scarcity of summer jobs in suburban Long Island, where home was. My chances of finding something there were nil. Last year was a complete nightmare. I was home alone with my Mom. She and Dad had divorced when I was thirteen. Mom was irretrievably embittered by the experience and took it out on the only other person in the house that summer; me.

She would scream at me that my inability to find a summer job was my fault because I didn’t want one enough. She’d say, “You spoiled, lazy, snot nosed brat! You think that money grows on trees! I work hard all day to support you ungrateful brats. Your fucking, good for nothing, bum of a father never sends child support. You’re growing up just like him. You don’t give a shit about helping me out. Get out and earn your keep!” She’d yell, “Get out there and pound that pavement!” There was always a tiny voice in me telling me that I couldn’t be all that bad at such an early age, but I took what she said to heart anyway.

I didn’t drive yet, nor did I have a car, so any job I found I had to be able to get to by bicycle. Public transportation did not exist there either. This kept jobs at all of the shopping malls out of my reach. Mom expected me to ‘pound the pavement’ for eight hours a day, every day, until I got a job. It took me weeks to find one last summer, and each day that I returned home I feared that if I hadn’t pounded the pavement long and hard enough, Mom would pound me verbally. She was not above becoming unpredictably violent either, and although this was sporadic, I feared her. I had feared her my entire childhood. She had three inches on me and at least 30 pounds. Sometimes she would chase me out of the house and not let me back in until after dark. My twin sister and brother had made their quick escapes as soon as they could. My brother attended an Ivy League School and worked summers there in the greenhouses, and my sister worked at Saratoga Race Track the first summer and Parchment the next. Taking Mom’s haranguing during high school had been enough for my brother and twin.

My first summer home, I found a job at a local hotel as a pool side cocktail waitress. I remember my interview. This big fat ugly Italian guy with sleazy written across his face was hoping I would attract customers to the hotel. “Do you look good in a bikini?” he asked with great interest.

“Yes, I look great in a bikini.” I answered reluctantly, but with ‘go get them’ career like enthusiasm. I guessed I would look okay in my blue bikini with the tiny white checks. But I certainly wasn’t any bombshell. At nineteen, I was five foot four and one hundred pounds, really petite and naturally thin as only a teenager could be. I had shoulder length dirty blond hair and green eyes and freckles. People have always told me I was ‘cute’ and had a wonderful smile.
“Would you wear thigh high white patent leather boots?” he drooled.

“Um, no. I mean, its summer, I have some nice white sandals with a heel.” I was pretty scandalized by the thought of the bikini, wearing boots was too much. Was he going to ask me to be a prostitute, or what? But it was a job, and I was desperate. He settled for the sandals, what a relief.

That job was pretty degrading, although thinking that someone would actually want to see me in a bikini raised my self esteem somewhat. All summer the hotel had very few guests. I didn’t end up serving too many drinks and feared I would be fired. A few of the people were staying at the hotel the whole summer. They were very nice, and used to order sodas from the bar, so that I would look busier. I got to know these ‘regulars’ and when they found out I had been captain of my synchronized swimming team in high school, they would pay me a buck to do a synchronized swimming trick in the hotel pool for them. It was kind of bizarre, but it was nice to cool off, and I liked it better than being a cocktail drink waitress.

At first my Mom was pleased that I had found a job. But in just a few days she was shrieking at me again. “I can’t stand the sight of you just sitting around the house after work! Just get out of my sight! You’re so lazy. That job isn’t really work. Strutting around a pool all day! You hardly make any money in tips. I can’t figure who would want to look at you anyway. It’s not like your busty or anything. Why don’t you get a real job, or a second job?” She’d lunge at me and I’d run out of the house in fear for my life. When I’d return to the house she would say she missed me when I was at school during the semester and she wanted to hug me. I was afraid to get that close to her because she might reverse moods suddenly. I tried to stay out of her way and just survive the summer last year.

I was bound and determined for that not to happen again in the summer of 1976. It was the two hundredth anniversary of our country’s independence on the fourth of July and in late August I would turn 20 years old. I would be an adult, not a teenager. INDEPENDENCE. That’s what I wanted most. Independence from my abusive, degrading, controlling mother. Independence for me. I needed to know if I could make it on my own. I considered staying in my college town for the summer, but I had heard that jobs were scarce there as well, and Mom wanted me at home, under her thumb. Both my sister and brother had already made their escape from Mom, and I was all that was left for her. I considered declaring myself financially independent from my mother, but she promised that if I left her without my dependent tax deduction, she would disown me and never send me another penny. She wasn’t kidding. Her threat truly frightened me and I didn’t think I was ready to challenge her, never having been financially independent before.

When I heard about the job with Parchment from my twin sister Evie it seemed the perfect answer. Mom would support it, because it was a job for the whole summer. Yet, I would be away from home for the entire summer and free from the threat of abuse. Better yet, it would be a true test of whether I could make it on my own. It would be a step in my search for independence. I never could get Evie to tell me much about what the job was like, though and that left me a bit suspicious about the whole enterprise.

But here I was in Nashville, now having to deal with the reality of my choice. The whole summer of 1976 was an enormous unknown to me. I had taken this job selling bible books door-to-door. I was to be trained for one week at the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville, and then sent to a Southern location for the summer. This unknown location, to be determined by others and revealed to me the night before my departure, would be my sales territory and home for the duration of the summer. I chose to view it like the Tolkien’s Trilogy. Frodo made a perilous journey of there and back again to fight Sauron’s evil forces and destroy the one ring. No evil forces were in sight for me, I’d just be selling books, but it was a journey that would take me to who knows where and back again. I would try to face the unknown, and my fears on a day-by-day basis.

So, there I was waiting to meet my fellow sales people, who had already checked in but were out and about. Most of them were from the mid-West. I waited for what seemed like an eternity (I hate to wait) but was at least an hour. Finally four college-aged people came into the lobby. I watched them from my safe perch, feeling suddenly shy and not daring to rush up to them immediately. A young man in an untucked orange tee shirt and jeans was the standout in the crowd. He had tanned and solidly built guy with striking farm boy cuteness and a sun burnt nose. His short hair was darkest brown, his eyes were piercing blue, and he sported a small moustache. He was at least six feet tall and well muscled. I pictured that he got that way hauling bales of hay, or some other rigorous farm work. I don’t think I had seen any guys as handsome as him in my whole college.

My urge to join the group won over my shyness, and I walked up to the young man and introduced myself. “Hi! I’m Sue Fairview. You wouldn’t happen to be from Parchment, would you?”

He looked me over from head to toe in a manner both rude and flirtatious and said, “Yes, nice to meet you. I’m Chip, and this is Mary, this is my brother Davie, and this is Gregg. We are all from Missouri.” He smiled broadly, quite pleased with himself, it seemed.

I never would have guessed that Davie was Chip’s brother, he was so unlike him. He was shorter and less sturdy looking than Chip, to begin with, had buttery blonde curly hair, but he had same blue eyes. He had an angelic face, and I knew he was a nice guy, just by the sight of him.

Gregg’s most noticeable feature was his height. He was six feet four inches or so I would have guessed. He was also quite handsome. He had very short brown hair, almost a crew cut, but the long bone structure of his face, especially his strong chiseled jaw, was beautiful in a very masculine way and he carried off the look quite well. Let’s face it, he was a hunk too.

Mary was taller than me, maybe five foot six inches. She was sinewy and her bone structure was sturdy. She had wide and strong looking hands. She looked like she could lift those bales of hay right beside Chip. She had pale blonde hair and pale blue eyes set far apart on a wide but pretty face with high cheekbones. She had a small mouth with thin beige lips and a straight nose. She had a very square jaw though, that seemed out of place on her face and gave her a somewhat hard look.

“Um, I’m from Long Island, New York. Glad to meet you.”

Chip continued to speak on behalf of the group. “I’ll be your sales manager this summer. I am also managing Davie and Mary this summer. You and Mary will be roommates and share territory for the summer.” Mary and I searched each others’ faces for answers to all of those unasked questions between us. I could tell that both of us wanted to get to know each other quickly, since we would be spending the whole summer together.

I felt relieved to make contact with my colleagues. They all seemed so nice so far. We all went upstairs so that Chip could introduce me to his boss, the sales director. He explained that sales directors oversaw sales for a region of the country. Robbie, our sales director, had twenty or so managers reporting to him, and would be in charge of sales school this week. More weeks of training would take place after ours as colleges let out for the summer, and the total number of sales people in the U.S. would be up around a thousand or so.

We caught up to Robbie’s group in the hallway, which was suddenly crowded with Parchmenters. “Sue, this is Robbie, our sales director.” said Chip. Robbie looked up from the crowd of Parchmenters obviously trying to score points with him. He looked older than the rest of us, maybe thirty. But somehow he looked boyishly immature at the same time. His shock of thick black hair fell over his white small featured face. His eyes were dark brown and I saw nothing discernable when I looked into them. He kept a poker face while he sized me up. Robbie shook my hand firmly with his soft hand and said in a flirtatious manner, “Hi, so nice to meet you.” He squinted his eyes at me and continued. “You do look a lot like your twin sister Evie. But, I think she’s cuter than Evie, don’t you Gregg?” Robbie moved around as if to see me from all angles, or check out my ass.

“Yeah.”, replied Gregg as he also looked at my face in an analytical, but not disinterested way. They went on about details of this comparison and I felt uncomfortable being the center of attention at all, but somehow flattered at the same time. It’s disconcerting to meet strangers that know your twin, and so recognize you instantly and know something about you already. I smiled and pressed my back against the hallway wall for support. Maybe they thought I was cuter because my hair was longer than Evie’s, and of course, she had a boyfriend already.

Robbie gave us stapled copies of the week’s agenda, and Mary and I went to our room to look them over and get acquainted. “Well, I guess I’ll start by telling you about myself.” Mary said. I’m majoring nursing in college and I’m from Kansas City and I belong to the Church of Latter Day Saints.” She had an open and friendly manner. “It’s your turn.”

It was the typical introduction given between college roomies. “I go to school at the State University of New York at Cayuga and my major is biology. I was raised as a Roman Catholic, but I don’t go to church anymore.” I was reluctant to tell her that I was an atheist. I thought that since she was religious, it might come between us. “I am from Long Island, New York.”

“Wow you’re the first New Yorker I’ve ever met. So you live in the city?”

“Not really, I was raised in the suburbs. Where my school is there are mostly dairy farms and apple orchards. It’s about three hundred miles from New York City.”

“Oh, I didn’t know there were rural areas like that in New York.” She changed the subject. “I guess we have to share the bed tonight.” She didn’t really seem as put out as I did about it.

“Yeah, I called for a rollaway and there weren’t any available.” We smiled at each other. We both found ourselves in the same predicament. Future largely unknown, thrown together in a small hotel room, expected to be ready to sell books door-to-door at God knows where in just a week; we bonded quickly out of necessity.

We reviewed the week’s agenda together. “Gosh, events were scheduled every day starting at 7:00 AM and they don’t end until around midnight!” I said. “So much for sight seeing in Nashville.”

“Yeah, Chip told me we would be too busy for that. But we all go out as a group to meals together; Chip, Gregg and Davie and us, and that will be fun. Of course you will come with us.” It did sound like fun, and she seemed so excited to include me that I couldn’t wait until dinner time. Finally I was with other people and felt like I belonged.

5 comments:

evie said...

a great read!

your loving sister

Sue said...

You are my first commenter! Thanks ever so much!

Tony said...

I'm with Evie. I'm enjoying this. And it's interesting to wonder how much of it fictionalized and how much is real. Like it's cool to see that there really is an Evie.

I'm going to read as I have time, because this is going to br too good to skim over or rush.

Way to go Sue.

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