During my first week at home I focused on our flower beds and large garden. I enjoyed talks with Duchess and tried to learn new music on the organsome for church, some for my own amusement. I bought yards of fabrics to make special shirts for Mike and was busy at the sewing machine one morning when the phone rang.
"Hello, Helen. This is BG." Ben Gordon, who had also worked at the Ford store when I didas a mechanic, service dispatcher, car salesman and used car buyer.
"Well hi there, Ben. Long time no see." Why would he be calling me out of the blue? "Whatís up?"
"Well, the place I work for now is looking for a good title clerk, and I immediately thought of you! I heard that you recently left the Ford store. Do you have another job lined up?"
"No. Iím taking some time off to recover from the last one." I chuckled. "Iím not sure I want to go back to a title clerk job again. Where are you working?"
"Iím at the Volkswagen dealership in downtown Seattle. Used Car Sales Manager. We sell anywhere from thirty to seventy units a month, total. Itís not nearly the mad house the Ford store was. The folks here are really nice. I think youíd like it."
"Guess I could take a look. Iíll have to go back to work eventually."
Ben gave me the phone number for the office manager, Violet Perry. I called her the next morning and made an appointment for an interview. One week later I was back at a title desk, with a lower salary than anticipated, but with promise of a raise in six months. The flustered little lady who was leaving that job was more concerned over where office supplies should be kept in her desk than concentrating on the car deals. I mentioned to the Office Manager that if she let her go early, I could get some serious work done.
Violet took my suggestion. Within a week of the little ladyís departure I had the title desk caught up and organizedall the contracts finalized and submitted to the bank for payment, license plate applications completed and back, bankís advances to the factory paid off, and the accounting balanced and ready for entry. Iíd also persuaded the new and used car departments to start using front sheets on the car deals. It was an easy sell.
Not one to waste my employerís wages, when I ran out of work on the title desk, I would ask Violet if there was something more I could do. She would oblige by assigning tasks that freed up her own time, then sit at her whistle-clean desk filing her fingernails and smiling sweetly. It was not unusual for her to take off with her pet employee for an extended lunch break, returning two or three hours later having stopped for a massage "to relieve the tension caused by my job." It didnít sit well with the rest of her crew. Or me.
I quickly discovered that to question Violetís original instructions on work she had assigned to me, and that I knew from experience was in error, would bring a sweet smile and soft response of, "You must have misunderstood me." I also learned, from other office employees, that each year when the CPA firm did their usual two-day audit, Violet would blame the bookkeeper for any errors found, then fire that person in order to maintain her own competent appearance. "Itís so difficult to find good help," sheíd say.
Apparently she valued my work more than I noticed.
"Iím giving you a raise in pay," she said to me one morning. "Iím taking you to lunch today, and will explain it then."
Was I excited! I rode to the Sorrento Hotel with her at noon in her Olympic blue Karmann Ghia demo. We took the elevator up to the top floor and walked into a beautifully decorated dining roomtables with white cloths and fresh flower centerpieces, crystal goblets, waiters in fine attire and a spectacular view of downtown Seattle with Elliott Bay beyond.
Mid-way through our meal, she explained my raise. "Iím so pleased with your work." She smiled. "Iím giving you a raise in salary of five cents an hour."
I slapped a hand over my mouth to keep the sip of water Iíd just taken from spraying out all over the table. Five cents an hour? Was the woman kidding? I expected a jump of twenty-five to fifty dollars a month, not eight dollars and sixty cents! How should I reactwith tears of honest insult or fulsome yet fallacious thanks? I chose the latter. "Why, thank you. I appreciate that. And thank you for lunch, too. This has been wonderful."
As the weeks rolled on, Violet passed more and more office managerís tasks to me. I would joke with Mike that if she kept it up, sheíd soon give her whole job away. Surprisingly, I was right on target as revealed one afternoon when the General Manager called me into his office. "Young lady," he began, closing the door after me. "Howíd you like to become our new Office Manager?"
"Uh Ö what?" I was dumbstruck.
"Have a seat." He gestured to the chair in front of his desk. "This is strictly confidential, you understand."
I sat and nodded in agreement.
"Weíve been working on this for some time now." He pulled his chair forward, put his hands on the desk and fiddled with a pencil as if waiting for his words to come. "To be blunt . . .," he began, "The Office Managerís job is just not being done. We have to make a change. Weíre not getting credible accounting figures, let alone in a timely manner, and the bankís about to cut us off. Violet simply isnĎt getting it done. The financial statements have been worthlessthey might as well be perforated and put on the toilet paper dispenser in the restroom."
"Iíve never been Office Manager . . ." My voice was weak.
"I know. But you came highly recommended as responsible and smart and honest, and after what Iíve witnessed with you on our title desk, Iím willing to take the chance. The distributor in Portland will send a person up once a month to guide you through it, and you can call him anytime with questions. What do you say? Will you give it a try?"
I stood up. "Okay, Iíll give it my best effort." However fearful, I knew I should ask for more. "Does it come with a raise? And a demo?"
"Yes, ma'am! Youíll get a healthy salary increase and Violetís company car." He danced around me to open the office door, smiling wider than the proverbial Cheshire Cata happy man, relieved of anxiety.
I stopped before being ushered out. "When does all this start?"
"Oh! Guess I need to tell you that." He pushed the door closed again. "Hereís the plan we made, hoping youíd accept: the distributorís controller from Portland, Russ Halleran, will be here first thing this Friday morning. He and I and Violet will go through her paperwork and do a performance evaluation until noon, when Iíll let her go. She wonít return after lunch, so you can spend the afternoon with Mr. Halleran, whoíll give you an overview of how it works and whatís expected." He wiped a hand across his forehead as if just having completed a taxing chore.
"What about the title desk?" I asked.
"Well . . ." He smiled sheepishly. "I presumptuously placed a blind ad in the paper two days ago for a title clerk."
"Iím sure I saw it last night! I wondered what dealership it was for. Well, now I know. Okay, thank you, Iíll keep mum until things start new on Monday, then." I reached out to Bob and we shook hands as I left his office and returned downstairs to the title desk.
Hurriedly I began to organize paperwork and type memos on how to do things. No doubt I would be expected to train my replacement, so Iíd better be prepared.
When Mike picked me up after work that evening, I babbled nonstop with excitement. He was happy for me, as usual, but had news of his own to share.
"I got the transfer," he said as we pulled into the driveway at home.
"You did? To Road Inspector?" I took sudden interest in his words, realizing what a chatterbox Iíd just been.
"Yep." He walked ahead of me to the house and unlocked the front door. "I start next week, after a two-day training session down town. After that theyíll assign a county truck and a job site to me." He dropped his jacket onto the sofa and took his lunch bag to the kitchen.
"Thatís great. So, weíll both get company cars?" I called after him.
"Yep! And I can drive mine home because we live inside the county." He rounded the corner from the kitchen and headed to the bedroom to change clothes.
"This has been quite a day for us both!" I cheered him on, despite the germ of fear sprouting inside me.
Iíd heard Mike talk about how road construction inspectorsí daily routines, if any, were consistently interrupted by untimely arrivals of fill material, gravel, concrete, asphalt, paving machines and contractors; that many of the jobs involved miles and miles of walking, mostly during the hot summer months when road temperatures of fresh asphalt could be upwards of a hundred and thirty degrees. I thought of how Mikeís hypoglycemia troubles always escalated during hot weather. Would he remember to eat in time? If he didnít, would anyone recognize his bizarre behavior for what it actually was? What if he slipped into an insulin reaction while driving alone in a county truck? How would he get help?
I spent the rest of the week trying not to worry about the possible mishaps that Mikeís change of jobs might bring, and to contemplate instead on how I would train a title clerk and learn a new job of my own at the same time.
Friday came soon, and I felt guilty each time I glimpsed the activity in Violetís office, knowing that her life was about to change. I saw Mr. Halleran walk across the street to a restaurant just before noon, which left Bob and Violet alone inside her office, door closed. I knew what was happening. Why did I feel guilty? It was not my fault. I did not seek to take her job. Would she ever know that?
I left the building to have lunch with the gal from the Parts Department. When we got back, Violetís office was empty. I returned to the title desk and was cleaning up some paperwork when Bob and Mr. Halleran entered. Bob introduced us, then excused himself, leaving Mr. Halleran and me to discuss Office Manager responsibilities and such for the rest of the afternoon. I took copious notes. He left around four oíclock, saying heíd be back one day next week. At five, I cleaned up the title desk and waited in the showroom for Mike.
I spent the weekend jabbering about my new job, not so much my concerns about learning it, but mostly about the Olympic blue Karmann Ghia I would be driving, perhaps by Monday. I bought an umbrella to match the carís color. I played for church on Sunday. Mike cleaned his target pistols and caught up on reading his magazinesThe American Rifleman and Guns and Ammo. Occasionally heíd utter an indifferent "uh-huh" in response to my inquiries about his transfer to Road Construction Inspector.
The weekend was quiet, each of us pondering the responsibilities and rewards our new jobs would bring.
I walked into the dealership early Monday morning, as usual, but this time not exactly sure in which office I should settle. I climbed the stairs to the employeesí lunchroom, which doubled as the customer waiting room, and put my sack lunch in the refrigerator. The housekeeping lady was making fresh coffee. We exchanged greetings before I went back downstairs.
I rummaged through the weekend car deals stacked on the title desk, and prepared the license applications and bank contracts for submittal. Staring at the stack of papers, I became lost in thought over the changes about to take place, until one of the nearby showroom phones rang. I glanced at my watch. Nearly eight oíclock. The Service Department had been open since seven-thirty. In a few short minutes, the receptionist would flip the switch that rerouted calls to the switchboard, and salesmen would be settling in at their desks on the showroom floor.
The actuality of my decision was upon me. My heart pounded. My hands grew cold. Anxiety pushed my fears to the fore. Would Bob tell the office girls they had a new boss or would I have to do that? How would they take it? Would I be able to successfully learn that job? Would I fail? Would I be driving that Olympic blue Karmann Ghia home after work today?
As the minutes moved on, employees and customers moved in, and the building was soon abuzz with the activity of daily business.
What should I be doing?