Almost 2500 words today, and all in one big long scene. I hope it proves interesting.
After quite some time being 3000 or more words behind the goal, this catches me up to only 2300 from where I should be tonight. Tomorrow should be another heavy writing day. Perhaps I can get close to caught up.
Jeff’s Fusion Bistro described itself as having “a casual yet intimate ambiance” and “a menu drawing from the best of every continent.” It rambled through several small dining rooms, with small, high-backed booths and low lighting. The wait staff, however, dressed casually — clearly under orders to express their own style as wildly as possible while never straying from the company approved black-and-white palette. The menu too claimed a certain casualness by focusing almost exclusively on small portions and exhorting customers to create a meal to suit their particular mood out of a dishes, yet the prices and the exhaustive wine list made it clear that this was no mere light dining venue.
Dan and Kristy had arrived separately, and the first ten minutes after they were seated were taken up with discussion of the food and wine options. Their server — a young woman named Skye with short, spiky, black hair, a fitted black silk blouse, and white pants — took down their choices with apparent calm derision and left them to themselves.
Silence stretched on for several moments. Kristy laughed awkwardly. “I wish they’d bring the wine. I just can’t get the balance right. Last time we saw each other in person I was being too loud. Now I say we should meet and I don’t have anything to say.” She shook her head. “Thanks, by the way, for helping with Katie’s legal problem.”
“No problem. It’s what I do. Really, it’s going to be very simple. Just make she wears some conservative ‘nice girl’ clothes when she comes for her court date next week and it’ll be easy.”
“I didn’t know what to do, but I was sure that it would be a lot easier than she was thinking. I guess you just have to know the way these things work.”
Dan nodded. “As with anything. There’s a heavy tax on not understanding how the legal system works. And a lot of people just freak out any time they have to deal with a judge or a lawyer. That’s why I have a job.”
“So, speaking of jobs: The last I’d heard from you, you were stuck in China trying to fix bags. What happened?”
“Oh God. Where to begin? So you remember I was product line director for this line of expensive, women’s laptop bags, right? There were supposed to be six different bag designs. The US design team had come up with the styles, and they’d source the bags in China. The prototypes looked great, but then once I got there and saw their production samples, I found out they’d been changing designs and materials and taking short cuts.”
Having embarked on the kind of narration that came easily to her, Kristy described the whole China adventure in detail — the details proving far more amusing in the retelling than they had seemed at the time. When she reached: “So then I see myself in the mirror for the first time as she’s drying my hair off and: I’m blond.”
Dan choked explosively on a spoonful of bisque and apologetically began to mop up the table.
“Not just lighter. Not dishwater blond. Nearly platinum blond!” Kristy continued with triumph.
“I’m having trouble picturing that. I kind of wish I’d seen it.”
“There are pictures, but I don’t think the people who have them will share them.”
“Sounds like there’s more story to come. Go on.”
Dan was more serious as Kristy closed the story with the newspaper article and her decision to quit as soon as she landed.
“Now, I’m the lawyer friend, so let me give you the quick lecture here: You did not knowingly speak to a reporter, and you didn’t divulge any proprietary information to the person you thought was just another business traveler, so you have grounds to take action against this reporter if you wanted to, and Aspire does not have grounds to discipline you for appearing in the article. Further, since one of their executives made a pass on you on a business trip, you have very strong grounds for a sexual harassment claim against him and the company, and if they took any kind of action against you — regardless of what they claimed the reason was — you’d have a good case that they were punishing you for reporting the harassment.”
“Dan, honestly, I’m just glad to be out. It may sound funny now, but that China trip was one of the worst business experiences I’ve had in my life. The company culture is crazy. I just don’t want to work there.”
“I get that, but if that’s partly because of the harassment, that’s something you could sue to remedy. You’re letting them off easy by just walking away. A lot of people would say you have a duty to other women to sue so that they’ll clean their act up in the future.”
Kristy looked away for a moment. “Look, maybe I’m a bad person for this, but honestly, I just don’t want to deal with these people again. Yes, Todd was a total asshole, and I imagine he’ll hit on some woman on a business trip again, when he’s feeling like he’s far from home and can do whatever he wants. But it’s not the first or the last time I’ve had to deal with some drunken slob trying to start something with me. Maybe I’m not doing my part for woman kind, but I’d rather just never see anyone involved again — even if that means forgoing some level of justice.”
“You don’t have to defend it to me,” Dan assured. “I just wanted to make it clear that if you wanted to give Aspire a final fuck-you, you can so really easily.”
“All right. So you got off the plane and quit. But since you lead a charmed existence, you already have another job in the wings. Tell me about that.”
“Hmm.” Kristy poured herself a second glass of wine, enjoying the loquaciousness that came with it. “I didn’t have anything waiting in the wings when I called Bryn and quit. I just wanted to be out of Aspire as soon as I had my feet planted safely back on US soil. But on the way home from the airport I stopped at my salon and had my hair put back in something like its natural shade.”
“Depriving my sense of curiosity.”
“Oh hush. It wasn’t all that. Anyway. By the time I got out, I had an email waiting from a recruiter I’d talked to weeks ago about this job at Schneider & Sons, asking if I was still available. I said yes, and next thing I know I’ve got a phone interview and then they ask me to fly out for in-person interviews.”
“You make these things sound so easy.”
“You know, it was pretty easy. I feel like I should feel bad about it, with so many people having such a hard time finding jobs. But for whatever reason it keeps working out. Though— You saw me before I got the Aspire job. I was mess about not having a job. And I suppose if I hadn’t landed the Aspire job I would have been tearing my hear out over the last two months waiting for something to come along.”
She trailed off, poking bits of food around her plate and contemplating this other possible existence, then shrugged it off. “So I flew out to O’Hare and drove down to Johnson, Illinois where Schneider & Sons has their headquarters. It’s about an hour and a half from Chicago. Definitely a small town.
“Schneider & Sons makes high end tools, mostly power tools — most of their customers are construction companies, contractors, and other professionals who are willing to pay more for tools that will last way longer than the brands you see in Home Depot or Lowes. But the line I’m being brought in to manage is ‘Schneider’, their consumer line. It’s still more expensive than mainstream brands, but it’s not as over-engineered as the professional grade. Right now it’s only sold directly through their website and through a few woodworking chains, but they’ve been working to try to get it into the big box stores. What?”
Dan was shaking his head and smiling slightly. “We’ve known each other for what? Six years? When I look at you I don’t exactly picture power tools and Home Depot.”
Kristy shrugged. “I didn’t use PocketDJs app or carry a designer laptop bag either. Product management is a skill totally separate from using the product.”
“I know, I know. I just—” Dan paused, swirling his wine in his glass and clearly considering his words carefully. “I’ve seen you in, what, four different jobs since you got your MBA? I know how you thrive in a fast paced environment, and how ambitious you are. Are you really going to be happy living in some small town in the mid-west and working at a company that makes power tools? I have trouble picturing you working with a bunch of middle aged guys who drive pickup trucks and shoot deer. Are you sure you’re not just reacting to the bad experience at Aspire Brands? Looking for the farthest thing from that kind of frenetic dysfunction that you can find?”
“In some ways the company isn’t necessarily as different from the tech companies I’ve worked for. I mean, they’ve got a fleet of company bicycles for getting around from building to building — because the campus is big and they want to encourage people not to drive too much. And they’ve got tennis and volleyball courts and stuff — though the woman from HR told me that those date back to the ‘50s when there was the whole ‘company town’ kind of thing and people would come down to the campus on weekends and have barbecues with their families.
“So yeah,” she concluded, “It’ll be a huge change from the Bay Area and from the companies I’ve been working at lately. But it does seem like a fairly young and dynamic company — for all of being 130 years old — and maybe it’s time for me to try a change anyway. Illinois is where I’m from, and the Bay Area hasn’t always been treating me so well lately anyway.”
Dan nodded. “Hey, maybe so. You remember how fast I burned out on corporate law and went off to write wills and dispute speeding tickets. So it’s not like I have any credibility to tell someone to stay on the fast track.”
Conversation turned, for a while, to Dan’s own activities, and then to those of others they’d known from graduate school at Sanford. This flow of conversation was finally punctuated by the server appearing beside their table to glare darkly at them, and, eventually, to inquire if they would be having desert tonight.
“What exactly is the molten cocoa torte?” Kristy asked.
“Basically chocolate cake.”
“I’ll have that.”
The server retreated and left them looking at each other in silence.
“So,” Kristy asked after a moment. “How’s the ‘nice Jewish girl’ thing going?”
Dan shrugged. “She was nice. I’m still single.”
“I just can’t get over that whole idea. Your mom setting you up, that is.”
“Yeah. It kind of makes sense, though. She has friends who have single daughters my age. And it’s not necessarily all that much more awkward that the first date with someone I found on JDate.”
“But why is it so important to find a woman who’s Jewish? I mean, aren’t there much more important things to agree on?”
Dan gave his crooked smile. “Well, like what? Following the same sport? Having gone to the same school? You always first meet someone because of some shared characteristic, and often it’s something pretty shallow. It’s not as if I’d just go off and marry someone just because she was Jewish. But if I’m going to start somewhere, it’s not that bad a place to start, is it?”
“Maybe it’s just because I’m not Jewish, but religion just seems like an odd thing to be so fixated on when looking for a girlfriend.”
“I don’t know. None of my college girlfriends were Jewish, and those didn’t work out either. So at least I’ve got consistency across creeds.”
“But why the big emphasis on finding a Jewish girl now? Have you really become that religious?”
“I’m a bit better than I was when we first met, but no, I’m not what you could call a ‘good Jew’. I believe in God and everything, but somehow I just don’t follow many of the rules most of the time.”
“I really don’t get it then. So most of the time you don’t do that much about being Jewish, but you’re saying that if you met some woman you really hit it off with, but she happened to be agnostic or Methodist or something-or-other, you’d take a pass because you really need to find someone who’s Jewish? That just doesn’t seem like you.”
“No, I’m not saying that. But let’s be honest: I don’t have lots of women just wandering into my life who seem perfect for me. I’m thirty-five and I’m not getting any younger. So if I want to ever get married, I have to search. And if I’m searching anyway, I need to pick some criteria to determine who I look for. The fact is that being Jewish is defining: racially, culturally, religiously. At least we start out with certain things in common. And if things did work out, it would give us commonalities on which to build a family life.”
Kristy considered this as she ate her desert and drank her coffee.
“You know,” she said at last, her sense of honesty overcoming her reluctance to bring a subject back up merely to concede it. “That makes a lot of sense. You’ve thought about this more than I have. Maybe because there were a couple times I really thought everything would word out — with Kevin when he first moved in with me, with Adam back when I was at Stanford — I always thought about marriage in very specific terms: Is this the guy? Maybe that’s enough for a lot of people. But obviously, for people like us, mid thirties, no prospects, we need to have something going for us. If being Jewish means so much to you, I can see how it would be that common thing you’d look for.”
Once such topics had been brought up and their depths plumbed, it was hard to return to small talk. Soon after they requested their checks. The server had, evidently, not expected this, and so they found themselves confronted with a single bill. A series of negotiations followed, but between them they had enough cash and enough flexibility to reach an amicable arrangement, and after a few words in the parking lot, they went their ways.
Music on My Mind
51 minutes ago