The Finer Things in Life

Two months into her new job, school started.    The college was only two blocks from her office.   The college was a city campus–a dormitory, next to an administrative building, next to a bank,  then an historic building converted into classrooms.  It spread for a five-mile radius, intermixed with houses and businesses.     

Her office, wasn’t exactly “her” office.   She was one of ten girls who answered phones in a large room.  That’s right, girls, all girls–no guys.  It was 1969 after all. The phones were actually boxes with speakers and microphones all mounted on swinging arms.  They were aligned in a row on a long counter that ran the length of the room.  When a phone rang, a red light would blink on the top of the “box”.  To answer a phone, the girl standing or sitting on a rolling chair, nearest to it would push the on button.   The blinking red light would turn green.   The girl would politely announce the company’s name followed by a cherry, “May I help you?”    

Large computer ledgers containing customer account information were in front of each phone.   The calls were routed to the appropriate phone based on the customer’s account number.   The girls used the ledger directly below the phone to obtain information for the customer.    No one could predict which customers would call or the volume of calls.  So the girls were not given specific stations.    The hours for the day shift was 8:30 in the morning until 5:00, with two fifteen minute breaks and a half hour for lunch.   No one took the breaks, opting instead for an hour lunch.     

It was on this fall, warm afternoon at one o’clock, that Amy took her lunch hour.   She walked three blocks to the park in the center of campus and found a bench.    She open her bagged lunch and nibbled at a sandwich.  She’d brought her sketchbook and pencil with her thinking she’d sketch some students as they came and went.

Her job was meant to be part-time, just a summer job before she, herself would go off to college.  At least that was the plan.  But the money for school didn’t come through, so the job became permanent.  She was taking a night course and the company was paying for English 101.   Her boss had worked it out with Human Resources that the class qualified as job-related and would be paid for, that is provided she got a C or higher grade.  

She finished her lunch and opened her sketchbook.   

“Hi,” he said as he sat down on the bench.

Amy looked up.   The man seated beside her smiled.   

“Mind if I sit here?”  He asked still smiling.

Although she’d rather sit and sketch quietly by herself,  she was a Southern girl and it wouldn’t be polite to say “yes, I mind”.   So she said, “OK.”

She continued to sketch.    He watched.    She found it disconcerting, being watch.    If she’d been older than her eighteen, she’d have said, “Do you mind?”    He’d have taken the hint and left.    If she’d been older and braver, when he first presented himself, she’d have said, “I’d  rather be alone, thank you.”    She was young, she was naive, she was polite and she was uncomfortable.

“I like the finer things in life,”  he said.

“That’s nice.”   She kept sketching.

“How about you?”  

“I guess so.”    She blocked in a figure.

“I am here on business,” he said.

She shaded in a face on the figure.

“I don’t know my way around town,” he said.

She looked up at him and the more she looked at him, the more she disliked him.  

His short-sleeve, white shirt was showing signs of sweat.   His thin tie was loose at his neck.    The current style was wide ties.  She hated his mustache–a thin, pencil line of hair–like something from the nineteen-forties.  His black hair was slicked back with hair tonic.    His pants, light blue,  were a little too tight.    He wore a gold bracelet and the hair on his arms was thick and black.   She shivered.

“Yes, I really do like the finer things in life,” he repeated.

“My hotel room is just in the next block.”   

It was true.   There was a hotel just one block away, in the middle of campus.      

Yes, she was beginning to get the picture.   She’d had her suspicions.    Her mother had told her about things like this.   “Beastly” her mother had said.

“Let’s go to my hotel and enjoy the finer things in life,” he said.

She closed her sketch book and stood up.    

He smiled his toothy smile, his pencil mustache stretching over his lips.  He rubbed his sweaty hands on his trouser legs.

If she’d been a little older, a little more worldly, she would have said, “fuck off,” as she was walking away.   But she wasn’t,  so she just left and retraced her steps to the office.

She never went back to the park to sketch nor ever enroll in college.  But she did make a fine career for herself in business where she learned to say “fuck off” in a variety of ways.  

© Glenda Kotchish

November 12, 2015

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