The party improved slightly when two more schoolfriends, Carla and Angela arrived, albeit with their partners. Carla was always something of a free spirit. She had taken a few years out after school and had travelled the world. She had met a nice Brazilian guy, Paolo, on her travels and they now lived together back in Augusta, where they had a little girl. Paolo’s English was a hundred times better than my Portuguese but admittedly not great. We’d met once before and I felt he was slightly struggling to hear or understand people, but didn’t like to admit it. This was confirmed when Laura approached half way through our group conversation just after they arrived.
“Hey, I’m Kim’s sister, have you been offered a beer?”
Paolo looked inexplicably concerned by this question; there was a brief pause in the group before he responded – “Not far”.
Laura looked a little puzzled and Paolo moved to clarify – “eh, about … one hour”.
I think that part of the problem with Paolo was that he actually looked and dressed very like he might be from Maine. Having mainly interacted with English speakers in Maine he had also developed, in the words he did say, a sort of North Maine accent.
“Sorry, I was just asking what you want to drink Paolo? Maybe a beer?” said Carla, resting her hand on his shoulder.
“Oh, sorry, yes, a beer please. Thanks”
Paolo was a good guy, and Carla seemed very in love with him. She had learned to speak Portuguese and Spanish and they told me their little girl was learning too. I had seen them a few other times when I had been back over the years and once we met up for dinner in New York. They were a lovely couple, if a little free living by Maine standards. They lived together and had a little girl but were not married. This was hardly worthy of mention in New York, but in Maine it was still something of a taboo. Combined with his being South American, Carla had previously confided in me that they had had trouble settling in a few towns, but they were now in Augusta, which was a big city by Maine standards, and they seemed a lot happier. I had always gained an almost instant liking for people who admitted their weaknesses; it was very un-New York, and showed they, at least to me, were normal, human.
Angela’s partner was not as likeable, unfortunately. Angela was in my class at school too and although we were friends to a degree, she had always been very competitive, even with friends; something of a snob I suppose. Her parents had a chain of ice cream parlours on the East Coast, and although, in the scheme of things as an adult, that may not seem the most salubrious profession, as a teenager in our small Maine high school, she may as well have been the Sultan of Brunei’s daughter. Her parents holidayed in Europe, were said to be ‘millionaires on paper’ and she had her own ponies, where we had to pay to use other peoples for our occasional riding lessons. She even had someone to muck them out for her; so whatever practical life skills she might have gained from being the custodian of large animals like that, she had also missed. She didn’t have ‘two brain cells to rub together’ as my English teacher had once told me, comforting me, after she criticised one of my poems aloud in class; but she didn’t need two braincells, or even one, for she had tonnes of money and whatever people say that goes a long way. It also helped that she was very attractive, thin, sporty with a long blonde ponytail.
They say women go for men who remind them of their fathers, and Angela had clearly made little effort to break that mould. Her husband was introduced to me as Jonathan Blake; not John, or J, or anything friendly, but Jonathan. And Jonathan Blake – who introduces people by their family name in personal circumstances I thought? It would not be edifying to dwell for too long on the conversation I had, or tried to have, with Jonathan Blake; save as to say that he introduced himself by saying “patio needs badly repaired. Someone’s gonna break their neck on those loose tiles.”
He was probably about five foot ten and stockily built, with a matt of short blonde hair in a side parting. He was dressed in rich, sort of custard-yellow chinos, with a blue Ralph Lauren shirt and a thick, cable knit cricket style jumper. The neck was an exaggerated V, it was almost a caricature of a cricket jumper, in design and colour. He looked as if he was about to star in a commercial for a new residential development with a golf course, perhaps one called something twee and colonial, ‘Englishtown Fields’, ‘Gileworth’s Landing’ or something. He had cultivated the look of a perfect gentleman, although paradoxically he was probably one of the rudest men I have ever met. And having lived in New York for most of the last decade, that was saying something.
When I asked Angela what she was doing now, he even interrupted his drinks order with Laura to lean in and say “nothing”, before laughing hysterically. Turns out, Angela was now a housewife, looking after their three children – and this is how he shows his gratitude!
The mystery of Jonathan Jerk was revealed by innocent Paolo, who recognised the creature.
“Hey, are you Jonathan Blake, the BCC Jonathan Blake?” he asked.
BCC or Blake Construction Company were one of the biggest homebuilders in the region.
“The one and only” replied Jonathan, sipping from his beer bottle.
“Yeah, you run the Lincoln timbermill don’t you?” Paolo asked.
“I’m actually in charge of the whole firm’ nowadays, of which the sawmill was just one part.” He signalled this by drawing a big circle in the air with a downward pointing finger.
Then, when ever-kind Paolo humoured this overgrown brat by proudly mentioning a friend of his who obviously worked at the mill (“Ah, Carla this is Filipe’s boss”), Jonathan was even undignified enough to mock him.
“Oh no, I’m not his boss” he said very seriously, shaking his head. “ … there are many layers of people between me and his boss, haha!” he said, as he erupted into his seemingly trademark, caveman laugh. Everyone else smiled and nodded, politely acknowledging his joke, but no one actually laughed. In fact, Angela smiled and sort of shook her head, as if in mild despair at him.
Dad later told me that Jonathan was just parachuted into some management position at his family company, as he could’t get a job anywhere else. Or rather he couldn’t keep a job anywhere else, because he’d been given plenty of opportunities by his dad’s cronies. His father was the Chairman and the real brains behind the company, but of course the business was originally started by his grandfather – so all they have jointly done was keep the fire burning. At least in New York the rich people were occasionally brilliant, unique, high achievers, inspirations … ok not always … but back at home, it just seemed that almost everyone with money had inherited it in one way or another.
By the time Auntie Jane arrived with her husband and children, and some of our neighbours popped by, there was a nice buzz in the room, and my mom was delighted to be getting lots of compliments on her new decor. It was then I remember being lifted off my feet, and flung up in the air. Suddenly I felt a rush of adrenalin and I was 15 again.
Greg Carpenter. It could only be him. Even though I thought he’d moved to Canada, I just instinctively did what I used to when I was 15. I didn’t turn around or look surprised. I just said “Greg” straight ahead of me, in a deadpan voice and waited. The difference now was that my heart was racing. When I was 15 this would happen once a day, but 15 years later, I’m not sure I’d ever been lifted since.
After putting me down and spinning me around, Greg gave me a big hug. He said “Kitty, Kitty, Kitty”, which I hadn’t heard for years either, and I responded in the same sort of impatient, slightly breathless way I used to speak to Greg as a teenager, which seemed ridiculous now.
“I thought you moved to Toronto” came right out, with me now being the socially inappropriate one. Greg and I once went out, so perhaps I knew I could despatch with the normal requirements for civility.
“I did. I did, but I moved back. Is that ok?”
“Yes. I just mean why? how?”
“Oh, I was a Station Manager for the Toronto fire service up there and eventually became involved in supervising a few stations. The local guys couldn’t put out a fire in an Aquarium. All city types, you know, they act tough but take them outside a gym and put them in a real life situation and they’re lost. Probably like the kind of guys you hang around with now in New York.” He smirked.
I acknowledged the quip only with a raised eyebrow, so he continued.
“Well, and last year, I was back visiting the folks and mom showed me an ad in the local press, where they were looking for a training coordinator for the fire service here. The rest is history as they say.”
“So how are you finding being back?” I said.
“Great! You really forget how lucky we were to grow up here when you leave. It’s only when you properly move back that you appreciate everything we have here”
“And how’s the love life?” I asked.
“Huh. Well, you know. I’m always on the lookout for the right girl.”
Shortly afterwards I spotted my mom and Aunt Jane winking at me from across the room. It was so unsubtle, I felt the need to put an end to it before others joined in.
“Listen Greg, great to catch up, I’ll chat again in a minute, but I’d better check in with the folks and see when they want me to cut the cake. Do you know Jonathan over there, Angela’s husband. He went to that Boarding school in Portland, Hebron Academy I think its called. Didn’t you guys used to play football against them?”
Greg gazed over at Jonathan in that way men subconsciously size each other up to decide if they are a suitable friend or likely enemy; “Right, I had wondered why someone was wearing their jumper tied over their shoulders like that in December, but that explains it. He doesn’t look like a footballer to me; perhaps La crosse. Captain of the chess team. Something like that. I’ll make an effort because it’s your party.”
When I got to my Auntie Jane and my mom I said “guys, come on, you can’t treat me like an 18 year old anymore. I like Greg, he’s a great guy, but he’s just not my type.”
“Really, even after all these years. Because if I was 20 years younger….” Jane replied, staring over at Greg.
“He is very handsome, granted, and I mean what girl doesn’t want a fireman to whisk them off their feet, but we just want different things in life and we’ve always known that. Thanks for inviting him though, I had no idea he’d moved back.”
“Wait” I said, is that? … “Geovanna! But how did she get here?”
Geo was my best friend from New York. My best friend anywhere, actually. Unlike most people I knew who lived in New York, she had also grown up in New York. In Brooklyn in fact, and she was the streetwise girl everyone told me to try to imitate when I moved there. So when I first arrived as a young graduate, I felt sort of at sea, until I met her at a sort of mass recruitment event. Or so I thought.
We had both gone after seeing it advertised online. We were both just completed stage two of three on the ‘selection day’ and both got the news that we had been selected for the final stage. Geo had already introduced herself to me in the waiting area. She was a few years older than me and seemed to immediately take me under her wing, like the little sister she had never had. Perhaps, I thought, she was drawn to me in this way because we strangely looked quite similar. We both had dark brown, shoulder-length hair and fine features. I was maybe an inch taller than her, at five foot six, but in her heels you couldn’t tell. On closer inspection someone might have noticed that my eyes were blue whilst hers were a kind of greeny-brown; in fact, on nights out we were often asked if we were sisters.
Our personalities were, however, poles apart. On being informed that we had reached ‘stage three’, she whisperer to me that she had replied to a similar job advert, about six months ago, and had just recognised the same interviewer, through an opening in the door where the final stage interviews were taking place.
“It’s a sham, I don’t believe it, that’s him” she said, as we were ushered into the room by an assistant with an earpiece.
When our group of five entered, Geo wasted no time in asking the panel to explain exactly what the job was on offer. We were told that, as per the advert, there were a number of very high paying OTE positions (On Target Earnings – a type of fantasy salary that you never actually get paid, but it makes you feel like you have, at least in theory, a very well paid job). They said we were now “very close to selection and…”
Geo interrupted “And do we need to do anything else to be put forward for these, do we need to sign anything?”
“We can deal with the details after selection” the interviewer said. OK I thought, that sounds fair.
“Nooo. Deal with it now” insisted Geovanna, prodding her pointed finger towards the floor.
“Well” the main interviewer looked at the rest of the panel, who shrugged back at him “well, in order to pay for the administration of processing applications at this level of executive grade job, the creation of the executive portfolios, and to ensure your commitment to the roles, we do ask for a 1,500 Dollar non-refundable selection fee.”
I was about to ask what guarantee there was of work, when Geovanna burst up from her seat, pointed at the interviewer and said “you’re a crook, you’re a thief, you ought to be ashamed of yourself – this girl [pointing at me] has come all the way from Maine, on a bus, because she thought there was a job available, and all you want is for her to write you a big cheque … she’s going to report you to the authorities and seek compensation. Our friend is an employment attorney, so you’ll be hearing from us”.
With that she turned, grabbed my hand and began storming out the door. As we walked past the queue of other guys and girls outside she started shouting “go home, this is a fraud, F-R-A-U-D”, at which many of the others began crying, and running out themselves.
Once we did get out, we managed to grab a taxi, and she said “I think we both deserve a drink after that, I know a great place nearby”. Geo never did really ask for your agreement, just kind of pulled you along, but from my experience no one ever really resisted. There was a kind of magnetism about her confidence.
“What authorities are we going to report them to Geo?” I asked, still laughing from the look on their faces.
“Oh, fuck knows, maybe all of them; FBI, CIA … ATF? Do they deal with that sort of shit?” Geo said before telling the taxi driver where she wanted him to take us.
Thus had begun my real city apprenticeship.