Thursday, February 5, 2009

Pickles and Log Jams

Being the receptionist at a stock brokerage firm for 4 years had it's hilarious moments for me as a young adult.  The front desk was the place I wanted to be, no matter how hard my manager wanted me to 'move up'.  Being cooped up in an ugly sterile cubicle was misery for me.  So I would end up a day or two later back out in the middle of all the action, just a receptionist, but it fit me. 

One time the big daddy big wigs came from the home office.  As they came in the door I swung around in my wheeled chair to greet them just as my chair flipped a wheely and dumped me unceremoniously on the floor.  When I could get my skirt back where it was supposed to be I looked up to see all four of them in their custom made suits leaning over the counter trying to see where I had disappeared.  They saw me, then they didn't.  Sometimes you have to act like what just happened didn't happen.  Ignore it and smile.  

On a terribly hot Santa Cruz day a stranger came galloping up from the basement garage and breathlessly asked if we had a coke machine.  This was before online stock trading on your laptop.   If you wanted to know minute by minute stock prices, you had to sit at your brokerage and watch the ticker tape equivalent on your broker's computer.  This poor stranger was asking for a quote machine, only I didn't understand him, so sent back him down again to the basement where the coke machine was.   He returned sweatier than before and again asked for the 'coke/quote' machine.  Exasperated, I told him I would show him and took him down and introduced him to the coke machine downstairs in plain sight.  He looked at me as if I was from Mars and said, "I asked for a QUOTE MACHINE, damn it".   I humbly put him through to my least favorite broker...... 

Being a country girl, I was out of my league, knew it, but loved every minute of 
this different life I was exposed to.  It was kind of like a large RICH family, even the clients. Wes was a morning regular.  He was one of the original long board surfers in Santa Cruz.  His skin was permanently tan and his eyebrows legendary.  Wes brought me avocados off his tree, and told me stories which I never tired of hearing of the local history and his interesting life. 

Santa Cruz had a sub culture of both Italian and Greek; being exposed to ethnic food, wine, religion and thinking was really fun through the brokers and clients, so different than my own family and simple modest lifestyle.   

Here's a confession.  I dearly love men and working with a high man to women ratio was intriguing.  The brokers were married, stable, and treated me with dignity and honor, spoiled me rotten, humored me, and were extremely safe.  What I mean is that they were so generous with me, helped me, made me part of their families, trusted me with their kids, invited me to BBQ's, gave me flowers all the time and frequently took me to lunch and coffee, without any weird sexual undercurrents or exploitation of my feminine heart, never taking advantage of or using their position to get anything. Looking back, I really appreciate those guys, sort of laying groundwork for me to know how I could be treated.   If it ever was a dangerous situation, I was completely unaware or oblivious.  They were my surrogate uncles, dads, brothers and cousins, helping me to grow up safely. Friends.  

They all drove high end luxury cars, I drove a beat up OLD Honda that needed parked on a hill in the morning just in case it needed to roll as I hopped in and popped the clutch to start it at night.  This an important detail to the next part.  Oh, it was mud ugly also, chipped, mismatched paint and temperamental.   No one else could or would have driven it.   Great gas mileage.......   

Christmas was splurge time.   If the brokers had a good year, I had a good year.  One year it must have been good, as the top 5 brokers each gave me gift certificates to some really fancy local eating establishments. $75-100 ones.   It was so fun to take a friend and share the luxurious bounty.  A treat for both, as we would have thought a $12 dollar meal was special and spendy.  One of them was a $100 for Chaminade Whitney, the most exclusive 
restaurant in the area, high up on the bluff overlooking the town and a fabulous view of the ocean.  Fancy.  Elegant.    

My friend Susan and her husband had been so generous with me over the years, so when she came to visit from Washington for a week, I thought taking her and my grandma out for a nice dinner would be a small token of showing gratitude to both of them.   I didn't own a credit card, and my wallet had nothing in it except the gift certificate, which I knew or thought I knew would cover the bill/tip with maybe some left over.   $100?  Sure thing.  I had NO IDEA!     :) 

The first grueling thing was figuring out how NOT to let the valet park my beater bomb of a car, and yet at the same time, get grandma, who couldn't walk far, to the door, without letting anyone see what we came in.   This was a challenge with no cover of darkness yet.  Going home would be better, and believe me the darkness then was not dark enough for what happened.  

All three of us had dressed up as nice as we could, were seated at a window seat and treated royally by the waiter.  It was pure bliss.  The meals totalled to about a third of what the certificate was, so I thought we were doing grand, even with a tip.   The waiter asked if we wanted dessert.  We all excepted, with coffee, thinking it was included.   To this day, I have never had macadamia nut chocolate drizzled cream brulee to equal the pure love on my tongue that night.  It was exquisite, and the coffee more amazing than anything in my experience.   We were all in an idyllic trance, complete until the waiter handed me the check.  It was about $25 dollars over the certificate.  Ever been in such a pickle?  This was a queen sized log jam!   What to do?   How could I know that the coffee was $8 dollars a piece and the delicate desserts were $12 a piece or whatever they were?   Totally naive about the harsh realities of fine dining!

With red spreading down my cheeks clear to my belly button, I humbly, shamefully and tearfully asked Sue if she had any money to help.  It wouldn't be a free meal of gratitude after all.  She graciously came through and has never mentioned it except to ask me once in a while if I've ever tasted anything quite like that macadamia nut, chocolate drizzled creme brulee, or mischievously asks me if I have valet parked lately.   

We left to go back into obscurity under the cover of darkness, but for a short, short while that night, I felt like a bountiful princess. 

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