Bright Lights, Big City

I’ve always been attracted to the bright lights of the big city although I fear my relationship is more moth to flame.  I think the promise of action and intrigue lead many of us to those streets and yet we literally come up against a brick wall.  Like the old propaganda pamphlets handed out overseas, when you go to town looking for action you must remember you are the action.  Nothing is free, you’ve got to pay for your action.  One is an outsider in the city until one becomes an insider and that can take many years for those of us not blessed with good networking skills.  What Dale Carnegie called the ability to make quick friendships.  I’d tag along with Butch in those early years, try to b like him and make contacts.  Mostly I was ignored, politely.  Butch, on the other hand, was always striking up those acquaintances that lead at least to weak friendships.  I never knew how he did it.  At six feet two he had a presence, athletic build, dark hair and brown eyes, ruddy complexion, strong chin and other good features.  As I said, the man had presence even though his looks were fair.  I always marveled at his ability to walk into a room full of strangers and attract half a dozen men to his side and at least one woman.

 

“Kid, you just gotta walk into the place like you own, you know.  You can’t show fear but you can’t challenge a guy, you just stand your ground and show that you belong.  See, kid?  That’s all it is.”

Well, seeing is harder than doing, at least in my mind.  “Butch, it’s easy for you.  I don’t know, it’s just not me, you know?”

“Bill, you think too much!  You just gotta do, that’s all.  Just do it!”  And Butch just did as a matter of course.

 

He would surround himself with people, be in the swing of things.  Next thing I knew was that he had a job in the city.  Butch managed to talk himself into entry level management position in an import company.  The money was good and he came to know a wide network of individuals, many who became business contacts.  His star was rising.  I went off to the service and served my time.  Funny how many of us thought of it as almost a prison sentence with no time off for good behavior, only a medal that attested to that fact.  Around Christmas I would get a card from Butch with a few scribbled lines, just general stuff.  Writing was not his strong suit.  And once a month or so I’d drop him a few lines on my experiences.  Then I went off to a small university some distance away, my intent was to find a way to earn my living.  But while the money from my GI Bill helped, it wasn’t enough and I dropped out after two years.  Eventually I found a job with the phone company not far from home and settled in grind of making a living.

 

Then one Sunday I took a young woman up to the city for brunch and window shopping on the old fisherman’s wharf turned arts and crafts and all manner of import stores.  By chance, as we sat in the open air seating eating out late breakfast, Butch saw me and came over our table.  “Hey Kid, where you been?  What brings you to the city?”

“Well hello, Butch.  It has been a long time.  Let me introduce you.  Butch, well, I mean Frank.  This is Jennifer.  Jennifer, this is Frank, better know to friends and acquaintances as Butch.  Shake hands and come out fighting.”

“Bill, you’re still the card.  You know, Jennifer, Bill pulls that introduction on me every time I meet a new friend of his.  Gosh, this is what, the second time?”

“You got to watch this man, he’s quick on his feet.  So Butch, you still collecting women or did one of them catch you?”

“The man’s just jealous of my success, Jenifer.  No, Bill, I haven’t married yet.  I cam close to it last year, but no cigar.  Are you and Jennifer a regular item?”

I looked at Jennifer and saw that comment caught her unexpectedly.  “No, Butch, we’re still exploring that possibility.”  I saw a sigh of relief on her face and chose not to continue that line.  “What brings you down to the tourist traps?”

Butch gave me a wink, “I’m meeting some people here for lunch and maybe a little business.”  He looked around some and then in a hasty manner said, “Look, there they are now.  Hey Bill, here’s my card.  Call me later in the week.  Got to go.  Good bye Jennifer, nice to meet you.”

Butch headed toward a party of three men dressed in business suits.  Typical of Butch in that he had on slacks and a sports jacket.  If anyone could pull it off, he could.

 

Jennifer and I were still sitting at our table as I looked at the card.  I showed it to her.  “I see he is now a vice president.  He must be doing well, but he always seemed to have a flair for working with people.”  I failed to notice that Jennifer was committing the card to memory.  Well, a few more hours of the city and then we returned to suburbia.  I though we might extend the date into the evening but Jennifer pleaded a headache from the sun.  So I went home to my apartment with nothing much left of the evening but a bit of reading.

 

For the next couple of weeks Jennifer seemed to have a full social calendar.  Then it hit me, I wasn’t her type.  I am a bit slow to catch on to the hints.  Meanwhile I had tried calling Butch but his line was either busy or I was routed to voice mail.  About three months later I got a call from Butch.  “Hey kid, come up Saturday evening.  Got some free time and I want to catch up on the past.  You know where O Solo Mio is?  Good, meet me there for dinner, it’s on me.  See ya.”  We had been there several times in the past.  The restaurant is a rustic hole in the wall Italian place where to food is exceptional.  Butch had taken me there in the past when he needed a sounding board and so I expect that was why he invited me next Saturday.  Well, it beat watching the “Movie of the Week”.  So I dressed casual, as far as I knew how.  Believe me, I am not a fashion plate.  I work outside construction, an honest an noble profession but somewhat less than elegant in attire.  And off I went, earlier in the afternoon.  I couldn’t miss a chance to peruse a used book store or two.  That is one of my vices, books.  So I finally found my way to the restaurant, Butch was waiting for me.

“You’ve been at the book stores, haven’t you?”

“You know me too well.  Actually, I found a couple of good history volumes, very inexpensive.”

“So how many books in your library now?”

“About two thousand.”

“Bill, books don’t attract women.  You know that, don’t you?  How many girlfriends have you had since I’ve know you?”

“Ah, not many.”  I was silent for a while.  Then I asked what was the problem.   What did he have on his mind?

“Touche!  You still remember my ways.”  He paused to let that thought sink in.  “Well, I got two problems this time and they complicate each other.  You know those men I was meeting that Sunday I came across you?  Well, they own some businesses in China and want me to be the export manager.  See, I have ties to importers here and they figure I could use my contacts to move the merchandise.  Now hear me put before you say anything.  See, the problem is the manufacturing and warehousing is a small port, not very close to Shanghai.  You know me, I need the bright lights and big city life.  I mean, it’s a lot of money but I don’t know if I can stick to it.  They’re talking a five year contract on a low salary with a bonus paid if I stick it out the full five years.  You know, I could retire on that bonus and never have to work another day of my life.  But I don’t think I can take the withdrawal from the life I have now.”

“Yeah, I can see your problem.  So what about your present position, any future there?”

“That’s what worries me.  The company I work for is slowly going down the tubes.  That’s why I’m looking for a new position.  Problem is the the import business is being taken over by the big boys and I don’t look worth keeping.  That’s what scares me.  It’s not like the old days when I could walk in and impress people.  They say I need a degree and I’m just too old to go back to school.  Bill, what am I going to do?”

“Could you start your own import business?  I mean, you know a lot of exporters.  Maybe you could find a niche market.  You might look at India, a lot of handicrafts and knockoffs are coming out of that country.

“It’s a thought, but I don’t know if I can find the money I need to pull that off.”

“Butch, haven’t you saved anything?”

“I always meant to, but you know, it cost money to live in this city.  You know that.  I’ve got memberships in athletic clubs and other things like that.  It takes money to make money.”

I was silent for a while.  “Butch, what’s the other problem?”

“You remember Jennifer?”

“Yes, vaguely.  We had exactly two dates.”

“She showed up at one of the clubs I hang out and next thing you know, we’re an item.  What’s it been, maybe three weeks?  Anyway, we’ve been getting serious and that kind of worries me.”

“In what way, Butch?”

“I think she has marriage in mind.  Oh, she hasn’t said anything yet but I’ve got the strangest feeling that’s what she wants.  She talks about leaving some clothes in my apartment so she can save time when she comes up for the weekend.  things like that.  I mean she has organized my kitchen.  Bill. I can’t find a god damn thing in it anymore.  And she is always saying we should eat end more, save money and stuff like that.  Do you think she is serious about marriage.”

“Butch, let’s take the second problem first.  If you want to know if she is angling to hook you into marriage then do this.  Tell her you have a job offer.  I assume she knows you already have one but doesn’t know the particulars.  Well, tell her it’s in Japan.  Tell her that the business culture there means you have to go out with the people in the office and with customers until all hours of the morning.  That everyone goes to the clubs and drinks and carries on because it is expected and not to do so would be an insult.  Tell her that you will always love her but the job will have to come first and that means long hours at work and long hours of company and customer socializing.  And oh, wives are never invited or even seen at company functions.  I’d give her three weeks before she’s gone.”

“Bill, you sure about that?”

“Trust me, I’m sure.  As for the other, you need to find a niche importing market or take the offer and stick it out.  You could go back to college but that would take four or five years and I don’t think you have the resources or the time.  Otherwise use your contacts and take a lower lever and lower paying position.”

Butch thought about that for several minutes.  “I don’t know what I’m going to do, Bill.  I just don’t know.”

“Butch, stop intellectualizing and just do it.”

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