Saturday, December 20, 2014

Ever Wondered What Goes Into Writing A Book?

Have you ever wondered what goes into writing a book?  Probably not.  When you walk into that hushed sanctuary called a library, or the soon to be defunct (please, God, no!) book store and are surrounded by zillions of books, I think we all take for granted that the books somehow just sprang into being by the wonderfully creative mind of someone like Hemingway in between hanging out at the local tavern.

I’m working on the umpteenth number of the draft of my book about a hapless American man who brings a mail order bride to the United States, only to have it backfire in a way that none of us could have anticipated.  The book has sex, intrigue, cars, things blowing up and a few fun surprises that even I didn’t see coming.

It also has a plot hole big enough to drive a car through.

Well, maybe not that big, but when I should be working on my story, instead I’m either taking those fun quizzes on Facebook that tell me what kind of dog personality I have (beagle) or what kind of drug I would be if I were a drug (ecstasy) or what color my personality is (plaid).

I’ll bet you thought that all your favorite books were written in a few inspired sittings.  The truth is, it’s hours upon glorious hours of butt numbing, rewriting, thinking, reading, re-reading until your eyes cross, getting up and walking to the fridge for junk food, sitting down again, cutting, pasting, deleting, writing some more, doing a quiz on Facebook, answering emails, writing some more, getting up and dancing around the living room to Led Zeppelin, writing some get the picture.

Before I go back to my story, a plea from whoever is reading this.  Do you have a book title?  Think Eastern European Bride with an attitude.

Now back to my story.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Pleasure Point

Screen Shot From My Win!
Last night marked the official end of this year’s National Novel Writing Month Competition.

I have never written so many words, so fast.

292 pages of 96,013 words.

I just had to share my excitement with everyone because I can’t believe how great this feels.

The goal of the contest was to write 50,000 words in 30 days.  The goal was also to tell a complete story in that amount of words/time.  When I wrote my outline, I looked at it and said, “This is going to be at least 80,000 words.  Yikes!”

It was an intense month of sitting, creating, listening to lots of Led Zeppelin, doing hot yoga to loosen up my muscles and staring dreamily at the photo of my main character who is a big wave surfer.

So...I’ve got a first draft of my novel.  The working title is Pleasure Point.  It’s a story about a big wave surfer who has...a bit of a sex addiction.  But once I got to know him, I found out that he only wanted...well, you’ll have to read the book to find out.  He barely survived a stalker, getting wiped out on a big wave at Todos Santos and a few other unfortunate events.  I was so worried about him.  How will it all end?

It ended with me writing the words, “The End” just as the sun was setting over the Pacific Ocean last night.  As I moved my computer monitor aside to look at the sunset, one of my favorite Pearl Jam songs ended at exactly the moment that the sun dipped into the ocean.  I like to take this as a good omen.  The book’s a long way from being done but I will keep you posted.

I would like to thank big wave surfer Grant “Twig” Baker, who helped me with some technical questions as well as being one of the most gracious athlete’s I’ve ever met, and the book The Big Juice by John Long and Sam George which I was able to adapt some real life big wave stories for my character.  Thanks to my husband Kerry for drinking coffee with me every morning and giving me great plot ideas. xoxoxo

Today...we celebrate.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Day Two of National Novel Writing Month

Every November thousands of writers from all over the world get together via a social networking site called for the purpose of writing 50,000 words of fiction in 30 days.

I participated last year for the first time and it was a total blast.  I especially enjoyed being able to turn my internal editor off; you know that fun hating part of you that likes to ruin every creative endeavor.  It comes in really handy when you’re ready to start re-writing, though.

So, this year I’m writing a story about a big wave surfer who ends up becoming involved in the male escort service business.  Being a surfer myself, but not a big wave surfer by any means, I love talking to surfers, hearing their lingo and especially eyeing them performing towel changes in the parking lot of Salt Creek, which is a famous surf spot in Dana Point, CA.

I’ve been a madwoman at the keyboard for the past two days, and have cranked out 10,000 words.  My main character is turning out to have a pretty out of control sex drive.  But who I am to argue with him?  After all, he’s running the show.

I love the energy of a first draft and I encourage you all to try it if you dare.

Now, time to sit by the fireplace, eat some homemade lentil soup and dream about big wave surfers...Ah, November.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Jen The Writer

So now that I’m a professional writer, I’ve got to come up with witty things to say so that you’ll all be interested in reading my work.

I’ve always kept mountains upon mountains of journals which sadly, went into the dumpster one day after I suspected that my teenage daughters had been reading them.  It’s not that I ever even looked back on what I had written, it was just fun to sit down at the end of a day and pour all my thoughts out onto a page.  On the few occasions that I did look back on what I’d written, it was pretty pathetic and adolescent sounding.  So much of it had to do with whatever guy I currently had a crush on.  Yes, this was in my forties.  I learned to not take myself too seriously.

Now I’m writing fiction which is a total blast because I get to make all this stuff up.  Want to date a rock star who plays a Fender Stratocaster?  Want to have sex with a big wave surfer who also doubles as a male escort?  He’s just a few keystrokes away.

Stay tuned to find out what I’m working on next...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Facebook Rehab

Facebook Rehab Center in Tamarindo, Costa Rica

“My name is Jennifer, and I’m a Facebookaholic.”

It started out innocently enough.  My husband said, “We’re just going on a nice little surfing trip to Tamarindo.”

With great excitement I had packed up shorts, bathing suits, sunscreen, my surfboard and of course, the most important things of all; my iPhone and iPad.

“Will they have WiFi?” I asked.

He laughed.  “Of course they will.  What do you think Costa Rica is?  A third world country?”

Just think of all the status updates I can make when we get there.  I’ll be checking in at fine restaurants, taking photos of dazzling sunsets, tagging myself in photos with the hot surfer dudes who teach the tourists how to surf.  How envious all my friends at home will be.

But none of that was to be.  When we arrived at the tiny airport in Tamarindo, the twelve-seat airplane coming to a shuddering stop on the cracked asphalt runway, I was surprised to see two burly Costa Rican men in white coats waiting for me.

“It’s for the best,” said my husband as he tried to staunch the flow of tears while the two men hustled me away to the Facebook Rehab Center.

As I mentioned, my name is Jennifer and I’m a Facebookaholic.  I love it all.  Waking up in the morning (sometimes even in the middle of the night) to check my newsfeed, posting status updates about every little emotion I’m having (Jennifer Evans is feeling grateful!), finding friends that I knew back in kindergarten...heck, who am I kidding?  I’m way past the point of even checking to see if I know the person before accepting a friend request.  When I have new friend requests, I always feel a little frisson of adrenaline surge through my bloodstream.

Oh, I’ve tried other things but nothing quite satisfies the way Facebook does.  Twitter (too cryptic)  Instagram (too many photos of babies) Pinterest (way too many crafts) Tumblr (still not sure what that is).

But Facebook!  Ah, just the word makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.  The friends, the photos, the instant feedback, the glorious hours and hours of scrolling, scrolling, scrolling.

“Darling, we’re going to have to take all your devices," said the stern Nurse-Ratched look-alike with the dark hair slicked back in a severe bun.

I clutched my bag tight to my body until the two Costa Rican heavies pried it loose.  I was crying, screaming, begging.  “Please!  Not my iPad.  I’m writing a story about Steve Jobs,” I wailed.

And so it began.  While my husband was surfing glassy waves, probably drinking fine red Argentinian wine with dinner while posting a status update about the “Rad waves I got at Witches Rock today!”, I was stuck in that god-forsaken place with Carmen (Android user), Miguel and a few other losers.

Our days consisted of group therapy, vitamin shots, single beds at night with crisp white sheets and in the afternoon, they made us sit on the beach with nothing but a beach towel and a paperback copy of War and Peace.  They had even confiscated my Kindle.

Jesus, Mary and Mark Zuckerburg, how to bust out of that charming facility?

I had noticed the young men who were hovering around the rock wall which surrounded the Facebook Rehab Center.  I watched while they smoked cigarettes, checked their iPhones (my kingdom for a status update) and when one of them motioned me over, I tentatively approached.

“Buenos dias seƱorita,” said one of them while eyeing me intently.  I didn’t think he was that interested in my body as I was wearing the prison-issue shapeless cotton shift, open in the back.

“Me and my friend, we help you.  You have money?”

I told him I did, while reflexively reaching for my iPhone to log into my Bank of America account to show him just how much I had.  Drats!  He was going to have to take my word for it.  We spoke for a few minutes, me in broken Spanish,  and I promised him that it would be well worth his while.  I can only assume that he didn’t have much to lose.  Plans were made to meet by the rock wall at midnight.

Hasta luego,” he said with a smile which showed one gold cap.

When I woke up at eleven-thirty that evening and begged the orderly to let me use the bathroom, well, it was just a matter of distracting him as we walked down the gleaming white hallway.

“Check out that YouTube video!” I said as we passed a computer monitor.  “They’re playing Gangnam Style!”

That was all it took and he was a blathering idiot drooling in front of the computer.  I only needed a few seconds to stealthily remove his keys from his belt loop and I was off and running.

These days, I keep my Location Services feature disabled.  Do you really think I want to go back to the Facebook Rehab?  Not on your life, babe.  So what if I’ve lost my husband, pets, children, job and home?  I’ve got google images and a great imagination.  Am I happy?  You’ll have to check my status update to find out.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Southern Record Services

So it was off to Southern Records, another record warehouse located in Hialeah, Florida.  This was a much smaller ‘red-headed stepchild’ version of Tone.  I pulled up to the front of the building in my battered beige Plymouth Valiant--the one that had been purchased for two hundred bucks at a police auction and looked up at the building with a heavy sigh.  It was a lackluster, beige building with a chain-link fence on the right, heavy locks bolting the fence behind which was the receiving department.  I could spy a few sweaty Cuban men hard at work unpacking record boxes.  The front door was bolted shut and one had to knock hard, then be buzzed in by Ron who worked in the 45 record department which was the first thing you saw when you entered the facility.  Ron was another (hey guess what? Musician!) who was stuck working as a buyer in the 45 department.  Many of the folks who worked at Tone or Southern did so because they were musicians and were hoping to somehow get discovered by someone famous while pulling records off the warehouse shelf.  Not sure how this was exactly supposed to happen, but heck, it beat working at McDonald’s.  Ron waved me in, and I headed straight for the time-clock which was dead ahead to clock in for my first day of work.

I walked through the warehouse and up the rickety homemade wooden stairs to the second floor of the facility.  When I say that the stairs were homemade, I’m not kidding.  It was like they had a few two-by-fours left over when the warehouse was through being built and someone said, “Hey!  Let’s build a staircase!”  I held onto the rail, my wooden Scholl’s exercise sandals thunking heavily on the narrow wooden planks.  Looking at the hand rail, I noticed that someone had carved into the wood “Big Ben Was Here”  How charming.  I had been instructed by Lynda to report to one of two upstairs offices where I would be greeted by a man named Danny.  I walked past more homemade wooden shelves, these built to house the cassettes and opened the door to my new office.

“Hello!  You must be Jennifer,” said a short squat Cuban man wearing an all white outfit including white shoes.  He had so many heavy gold chains around his neck that I’m surprised he was even able to walk upright.  His black hair was slicked back with what smelled like Vitalis.  But he was super friendly, welcoming me with a broad smile and a firm handshake.  “Sit down, sit down.  Let me run down and get you a cup of coffee while you get settled at your desk.”

While Danny ran downstairs, the entire second floor vibrating from the sound of him descending the stairs, I sat at my desk and took in my surroundings.  The walls were cheaply paneled in what looked like another leftover construction project castoff, the wall on the right was lined with an inventory card system just like the one at Tone, four desks were set up in sets of two facing each other so that you would have to stare at the person sitting opposite you.  There was a large plate glass window so that I could view the warehouse, this time from a high perch.  The walls were decorated not with rock and roll posters, but with grandma-style oil paintings of flowers in vases.  A wall air-conditioner blasted refrigerated air.  The room smelled of stale smoke and boredom.  I already missed the excitement of Tone and my friends Norman, Robbie and yes, even Lynda.  Suddenly the door opened and a middle aged Cuban woman carrying a brown sack lunch walked in and sat down at one of the desks.  She wore large glasses, her papery skin almost translucent.  “Hi, I’m Alicia,” she said as she sat down wearily.  Alicia was a family friend of Danny’s and he had gotten her the job at Southern Records.  Her job, as far as I could tell, was to answer the phone, eat lunch, file her nails and regale me with stories about her ex-husband who was an alcoholic.

“Here’s your nice hot coffee,” said Danny as he entered the room.  “Just the way you like it,” he said laughing at his little joke because he had no idea how I liked it.  The way he liked it was the way it was served; plenty of Cremora and four packets of sugar.

“Roach Coach!” came a loud announcement over the public address system.  I would find out that a Cuban woman named Barbara, who worked downstairs in the billing department (which was basically a desk set up right next to the one smelly cubicle of a bathroom) was the person responsible for announcement of the breakfast truck.  I can guarantee you that Barbara didn’t miss many meals.

“Jen, can I call you Jen?” said Danny.  “Come on, let’s go out and get some fresh air.”

We headed out to the Roach Coach which was the Cuban lunch truck along with all the warehouse workers.  Barbara, who had to stay at her post to man the phones yelled to Danny, “Get me some Cuban bread mi hijo and make sure they put extra butter and toast it just the way I like it.  Make it nice and greasy.”

I may as well have been working in Havana the way this neighborhood was set up; rows of warehouses with Cuban workers clocking in for a days work, a Cuban coffee stand at the end of the block which was not much more than a closet sized restaurant with a window where one could order coffee so strong that you’d need a twelve step program to rehab from.   And the Roach Coach--a truck run by a Cuban man and his harried wife who were busily frying up greasy offerings like fried egg sandwiches, Cuban pan de agua (Barbara’s favorite) and all kinds of junk food like candy bars and potato chips.  I decided to play it safe by ordering a canned grapefruit juice since Danny was paying.  There was one place in the neighborhood that had good food and that was the Jewish Deli that was a block away.  I suppose that must’ve been a hold over from times B.C. (Before Cuban).

I went to work that day, the good little worker that I was, posting the packing slips to the inventory cards, calling in my orders to the distributors, answering the phones once in awhile and waiting for something exciting to happen.  Danny, whose job  title was “Export Buyer” had gone downstairs to help out in the warehouse pulling orders.  I think that working in the warehouse was really the main job for him.  That and sweeping floors.  There wasn’t much to do here.  I walked down the rickety stairs to get a drink of water from the water cooler and talk to Danny out of sheer boredom.

“God damn it!” I heard a woman yell.  “Danny, where the hell did you put the order for the DeLeon’s?  They’re gonna be here soon and I want that ready.  Now!”

The woman was barreling towards me, a woman who was probably in her fifties but looked older on account of the heavy cigarette smoking she’d done all her life and what I imagined was some pretty serious drinking when she got home from work--probably to a single-wide trailer where she would don a ratty bathrobe and tune into Bob Barker and The Price Is Right.

“Danny!  Ya better answer me.  You know how the DeLeon’s are.  I don’t want them waiting around.”  She took a long drag off a Winston and eyed me suspiciously. 
“Who the hell are you?”

Once I got to know Jo Jo, she turned out to be an okay person.  She was a hard worker, kind of a mother hen to everyone in the warehouse.  She’d been with Southern Records for many years and probably died with a headstone that read: “God damn it!  Where’s my clipboard?”

The DeLeon’s turned out to be a family of a mother, father and a teenage son with red hair who owned a record store.  The father was a man who looked like he’d had a few nips off the ol’ bottle of whisky that morning; a little too happy as he stood by Barbara’s desk while she added up his order for payment.  He spoke in a boisterous voice, his arm resting on the counter by Barbara’s desk, while his wife and son roamed the warehouse pretending to be vaguely interested in various records and tapes while Mrs. DeLeon stealthily slid cassettes and whatever she could steal into her oversized faux leather bag that she’d probably purchased at a flea market.  I don’t think they ever got caught doing this.  I found out about it later from the person who would become our new warehouse manager.

As I stood by the water cooler, a cone shaped paper cup positioned under the dispenser, a short, nervous looking man with dark hair, neatly pressed jeans and a freshly laundered navy blue polo shirt cleared his throat and said, “Hi, I’m Mannis.  You must be new.”

Suddenly the public address system sprang to life.  “Macias, line two please,  Macias, line two.”  A Cuban man who didn’t speak a word of English ran over to the telephone on Barbara’s desk and snatched up the receiver.  Macias would work in the warehouse for a few months more before abruptly quitting without notice.  The day he quit, he was helping to unload an order from Columbia records.  This involved a fireman-style bucket brigade assembly line of one person throwing a box to the next and the next, to keep from having to lift and carry one heavy record box and risk hurting ones back.  As the assembly line was working smoothly, the person ahead of Macias threw the next box to Macias and he was simply gone.  Poof!  Vanished into thin air.

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like meeee.” A pleasant looking black woman with thick glasses and a serene smile was walking toward me and singing with her clipboard in hand.  “You must be the one and only Jennifer,” she beamed.  “I’m Barbara Siplin.  Work in the warehouse but also do the Gospel Record buying.  You need anything at all, you just come to me honey,” she said with a wink.

A few days later, Lynda came to check on me.  I was so happy to see a familiar face.  “Jennifer, sit down,” she said while positioning herself in the desk opposite mine, leaning back in the wooden swivel chair, the springs creaking.

I sat at my scarred desk, starting to get used to these little tete a tetes that Lynda liked to have with me.  I picked up my grapefruit juice, took a long swig.

“Things are going good at Tone,” she said.  “My dad’s given me control over both the companies, and I’ve got some ideas.  You were the first part of my brainstorm in bringing Southern back into profit.  I’ve decided to bring Norman and Robbie over to round things out.  Robbie’ll be the warehouse manager, Norman’s going to sit right here next to you as head buyer.”

Sounded fine to me.  Maybe we’d add a little excitement to the place.

The following day, Robbie DeFreitas and Norman Nessis reported to work at Southern Records, excited about their new roles in the company.

“I’m calling a meeting of all the warehouse workers this afternoon,” said Robbie as Norman was spooling calculator tape onto his scratched beige calculator and I was just hanging up the phone.  “Meeting’s at two o’clock.  Sharp.”

That afternoon, all the warehouse workers huddled around the large packing table that dominated the front of the warehouse.  Mannis, the short nervous guy looked extra nervous.  Barbara, the Gospel Record buyer and order puller clutched at her gold cross necklace.  Jo Jo took a long drag off her cigarette, muttering under her breath.  Ron, the 45 buyer raced in at the last minute, wiping his mouth from lunch.

“Hurry up!” yelled Robbie.  “I told you two o’clock sharp.”

We all stood silent, waiting for our new leader to take charge.  Hopefully someone would call him something other than Darth Vader.

“You know why I called you all here today?” he began.  “Lynda put me in charge as warehouse manager.  So what that means is I’m responsible for everything that comes in and goes out of this warehouse,” he said motioning around with his hands, one which held a lit cigarette.  He took a sip off his styrofoam coffee cup.  “I’m fair but I run a tight ship.  I work hard and I expect all of you to do the same.  Anyone has any problems, you come straight to me.  I don’t know what’s been going on around here before I got here and I don’t care.  This place is a joke.  But we’re going to work together and make it profitable again.”
I looked around at the others.  Everyone seemed to be happy that someone had finally taken charge.  Robbie would turn out to be just like he promised; fair and an extremely hard worker.  Many were the nights that the entire crew would go home and Robbie would stay behind in that creepy, dark warehouse with only the grey mice for company, working, working, working.

“I expect everyone to be on time.  Lunch is no more than thirty minutes.  And no lingering around the Roach Coach.  Now let’s make this place better than Tone.”

Once Robbie and Norman were on board, things at Southern turned around dramatically.  The goofy grandmother oil paintings depicting soothing images of flowers came down to be replaced with rock and roll posters of Supertramp, Gerry Rafferty and The Who.  Norman, who was a Trekkie, hung a mobile over his desk that had photographs of all the members of the Starship Enterprise, faces of Captain Kirk, Bones, Uhura, and the rest bobbing merrily from strings.  Someone decided to have some fun and cover Captain Kirk’s face with a photo of Norman.  It took him months to notice it as he was usually zipping in and out of the office, head bent in concentration, numbers dancing in his head as he made his way from the warehouse to his desk where he’d punch more numbers into his calculator or furiously scribble out a new order for cases of the new Michael Jackson album, Off The Wall.

Robbie could be found in the warehouse, keys jangling off his blue jeans, his dark curly hair towering over Jo Jo or Barbara as he patiently helped them pull orders, restock shelves, sweating it our in the receiving department when new orders arrived, working with customers in making sure they had everything they needed (and even some things they didn’t need that he would talk them into) and trying (unsuccessfully) to catch Mrs. DeLeon in the act of shoplifting.

Our little office of four desks was now full.  There was me, Norman and two new salespeople that Lynda had hired.

One was a southern boy with blond hair, a charming smile and the gift of gab named Dale Crigger.  “Used to work at MCA in sales,” he told me as he sat at the desk behind me and plunged into one of his stories about life on the road.  “Used to pad my expense account so’s I could take girls out for drinks,” he said as his face broke into a grin.

The other was a curly haired brunette named Nancy who used to be a nurse.  Why a nurse wanted to work in a smoke-filled office with a bunch of rocker wannabees is anybody’s guess.  “You know Jen,” she told me one day.  “When I was nursing, I had people dying on me all the time.  It’s not fun to be in a job where peoples lives are at stake.”  So I suppose talking to folks on the phone all day about what records and tapes they wanted to order wasn’t so bad.

I was promoted to Assistant Buyer, a title that was bestowed on me by Norman who decided that he liked the idea of having an assistant.  Norman also decided that he liked me but no one was supposed to know that.

Meanwhile, things were not going that great for me at home.  I had only been married for a few months and realized that I’d made a huge mistake.  I suppose a mistake is really more along the lines of ‘I forgot to pick up a quart of milk at the store today’.  This was more along the lines of I did something really stupid.  Really stupid.  My lawful wedded husband seemed like a fun enough person when I first met him, but the reality was that he was a young man who’d made it his business to see too much in his twenty years on the planet.  Oh, things like the inside of strip bars, the mirror staring back at him as he rolled up a crisp dollar bill and took a snort of cocaine, and the inside of a prison cell when he’d gotten drunk one night, handcuffed and thrown in the slammer.  A place he should’ve been kept until he rot if you ask me.  And those were his good points.  I needed to get out of this joke of a marriage.  I felt like I’d never had the chance to even date, getting married so young.  What was I thinking?  Now that I saw all the fun that people were having at work, and I was meeting people who lived their lives the way they wanted, I was starting to gain the courage to make a change in my home life.  And there were some interesting guys at Southern.  Single guys.  Guys like Jim.

Jim had moved to Florida from Michigan.  His brother worked at Tone and Jim had experience working at another record warehouse in his hometown so he was a natural.  The first day he started, he came into my office, all bushy hair and bright eyes smiling at me from behind a pair of aviator glasses.

“Hi, my name’s Jim.  Lynda told me that if I need to place a special order for a customer, I’m supposed to come to you.”

A special order was a record or tape that was usually so obscure that it was rarely carried by any record store, or even so obscure that it would have to be pressed by the record pressing plant especially for the customer.  Due to the relationships that I’d built with the various distributors, I knew who to call.

“Sure, what do you need?”

Before long when groups of us would go out to our thirty minute lunch down at the local Jewish Deli, or Taco Bell, Jim and I took to sitting next to each other.  If we needed to drive to wherever we were going, I made sure to sit in the front seat with Jim, my leg grazing his blue jean clad leg.  Jim was a low key, easygoing guy who certainly wasn’t looking for trouble.  That’s why he wasn’t too happy when he got an irate visit from my sleazeball of a husband one day at the warehouse.

“You sure do talk about Jim a lot,” my betrothed said to me one day after work as he was working his way through a six-pack of Budweiser and taking a hit off a joint.

I guess he was becoming suspicious about something that wasn’t happening.  I had a crush on Jim but that was about it.  Nothing ever happened between us, although now, looking back on it I wish it did.  All the heartache that stupid husband of mine gave me, it sure would’ve been fun if I at least had a make out session with Jim to show for it.

One morning as the warehouse was just humming to life, my husband decided it would be a good idea to show up at Southern Records and threaten Jim.  I don’t really know what happened because I was hard at work in my office upstairs, and maybe I really don’t want to know but there was some kind of altercation.  It was just terrible.  I felt like I wanted to die when I heard about it.  All because of me, some innocent person was collared and threatened by the man I lived with who probably had beer on his breath when he screamed in poor Jim’s face.  I was mortified.  Everyone in the office and warehouse had seen what happened.  My resolve to leave this marriage was solidifying.  But that wasn’t even the worst thing that happened before I finally decided to call it quits with this loser.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Tone Distribution

I walked to the mailbox one day after work and found an envelope addressed to me. The return address said “Tone Distribution”.  I eagerly tore the letter open:

Dear Jennifer,

Please call me regarding a position we have available.


Diane Lamb

I was thrilled as I was so bored with the current job I was doing.  I was a reservation agent at a car rental company.  That may sound like an okay job but it was the most boring thing I’ve ever done.  I reported to an office across the street from Miami International Airport every day where rows of desks were set up and sat at a desk with a headset on taking calls from all over the country for folks who wanted to rent cars.  Nine times out of ten they wanted to rent the cheapest possible car and had zero interest in BS’ing about the weather.  In fact, there was a sign (one of the many signs posted around the facility) that warned us not to chat up the customers.  No BS’ing about the weather was one of the stern mandates.  I couldn’t wait until every day was over to get home, peel off my work clothes and hop in the pool of the apartment complex I lived in.

My friend Charlie, who worked at Tone Distribution (a music distributor in Hialeah, Florida) told me they had a position available and referred me to the person in charge.  I eagerly called the number provided on the letter.

“Good afternoon, Lynda Stone’s office,” said the English accented woman who answered the phone.

“May I speak to Diane Lamb, please?”

“This is Diane.”

“This is Jennifer Leavins.  I’m calling about the letter you sent?”

“Ah, Jennifer,” she said sounding pleased and chipper.  “You got my little note.  When can you come in for an interview with Lynda?”

I walked into Lynda Stone’s office in Hialeah wearing what I thought would be a good interview outfit for this record and tape distributor.  This was, after all, the music business and I wanted to look hip.  I wore a pair of bell-bottom jeans, a white shirt with a denim vest over it.

“It smells like Christmas in here,” I said, trying to make small talk.  It smelled like Christmas because it was Lynda’s birthday and the room was filled with a vast array of every kind of flower arrangement imaginable, not the least of which were dozens of roses.  I would learn that people sucked up (or is cowered a better word) when it came to Lynda.

The redheaded woman who sat behind the desk smiled a crooked smile, her eyes fixing on me, one of her slightly lazy eyes trying to keep up.  One could never quite tell where Lynda was looking because of that one unfocused eye.

“Have a seat.  I’m Lynda Stone,” she said extending her hand.  She leaned back in her chair, picked up a pack of Camel unfiltered cigarettes, shook one out of the pack, struck a match and inhaled deeply.

“Tell me about yourself.  Your friend Charlie works in the warehouse, right?”

I looked around Lynda’s office, gold records covering the walls, a large promotional stand-up cardboard cutout likeness of Debbie Harry from Blondie smiling down at me and was impressed.

“Yes, he does.  Charlie loves working at Tone.”

“Well, Jennifer what I’m looking for is someone who can keep my inventory up to date by posting the packing slip orders onto my card file system.”  She took another drag off her Camel and said, “The job’s kind of tedious but it’s really an important job.  My dad who started this company begged me to come work for him.  I told him just as long as I wouldn’t have to do paperwork.” She laughed ruefully.  “What a joke.  All I got around here is paperwork.”

We chatted awhile longer and Lynda must’ve liked what she saw because she hired me on the spot.

“Welcome to Tone,” she said extending her hand.  “I like hiring women because women are willing to work.  Men all think they’re rockstars.  Who needs ‘em?  Diane!” she yelled into the adjoining office, “Can you come in here a minute?  We got a new hire.”

Diane, who was Lynda’s personal assistant was an attractive blonde woman who always dressed in tight clothing which accentuated her top-heavy figure.

“Hi Jennifer,” she said in that sexy English accent.  “Looks like you’re part of the team.  Welcome,” she said smiling broadly.  Oh, Lynda, I finally found someone who could cast that hard hat in solid gold.”

Diane rolled her eyes at me good naturedly and said, “That’s what I love about this job.  Neve a dull moment.  Lynda had me running all over for a gold plated hard hat to celebrate the opening of her record store.”

I left Lynda’s office and walked into the vast warehouse, floating on cloud nine.  I was going to be in the music business!  The warehouse was almost the size of a football field and on the shelves were record albums and cassettes with music of every artist I could imagine.  All my favorites like Led Zeppelin and Heart and everything in between were warehoused there.  Loud rock music played over loudspeakers, while the P.A. system intermittently cut in paging one person or another.  “Darth Vader to the buyers office,” I heard announced at one point.  Darth Vader?  That’s strange.  I found my friend Charlie, dressed in blue jeans and a black t-shirt that said “The Omen”, clipboard in hand as he pulled an order for a customer.

“Hey Charlie,” I said, a huge smile on my face.  “I got the job.”

“That’s great!  Call me after work, okay?”

I left the building, walking past the 45 department which was the section of the warehouse where the 45rpm records were housed, a couple of long-haired rocker looking guys waving to me and yelling hello over the strains of The Sex Pistols.

Reporting to my first day at work, I walked into the smoke filled office of the buyers department, the walls covered with promotional album posters.  The Rolling Stones Mick Jagger’s plump lips smiled from one poster, somebody named Blowfly, a man who looked like a pimp, leered suggestively from another.  Eric Clapton’s Cocaine played on a stereo system that was placed on a counter underneath a plate glass window which overlooked the warehouse.  One wall was covered with rows and rows of filing cards which were designed to keep track of the inventory.

“Hi, my name’s Ilyana,” said a pleasant young Cuban woman.  “I’ll be training you.  I would keep the job, but I’ve got a baby on the way,” she said while patting her tummy.

I looked at all the cards with the stacks of packing slips overflowing her in-box and mentally rolled up my sleeves.  Ilyana gave me a tour of the warehouse where young rock star wannabees roamed up and down the aisles of the warehouse pulling records off the shelves and readying them on a large packing table to be boxed and shipped to record stores all over the country.

Back in the buyers office, we set about the job of posting the incoming merchandise from the packing slips onto the inventory cards.

About thirty minutes after I’d arrived, a tall, lean man with dark curly hair and a mustache and beard bustled into the office and sat at the desk on the opposite wall.  He leaned forward, busily rifling through important papers and started punching out some numbers on a large desktop calculator.  Calculator tape spewed furiously out of the top of the machine, printed numerals trying to keep up with the fury of this mans hand.

“That’s Norman,” said Ilyana as Norman glanced up in our direction and offered a nod in between sipping his hot coffee, chewing on a pencil and tapping more numbers into the calculator.  “He’s the head buyer.”

Another man ran into the office saying, “Ily, you got the pages updated on the phonolog?”  The phonolog, I would find out, was an encyclopedia of music cataloguing.  One could look up music in this enormous book by artist, genre, song, album name, record company name.  This was the cornucopia of music information.

“That’s Mark,” said Ilyana.  “He works in the promotional department and in the warehouse.”

Mark picked up a beige phone which hung on the wall, pressed a button and in a serious baritone voice, said, “Darth Vader to the Buying department.”

After a few minutes a young Italian man with black curly hair and a plethora of keys jangling from a heavy keychain attached to his belt, sauntered into the office.  I guess I’d just glimpsed Darth Vader.

“Why do they call him Darth Vader?” I asked Ilyana.

Overhearing this, the man who I would find out was named Mike, chuckled and answered, “Because I’m in charge.”  Mike was the even-tempered warehouse manager, a man that his employees could easily talk to.

Employees bustled in and out of the office all morning.  One was a girl named Michelle, an anemic looking vegetarian who wore long skirts, birkenstock sandals and ate rice cakes for lunch.  Another was a man named Fred, who sounded like Ethel Mermen on acid.  Fred liked to sporadically run into the office yelling, “Dirt Alert! Dirt Alert!”  when he had gossip.  Another was a guy named Robbie who had dark, curly hair, a mustache, a mischievous smile and a clipboard.  Everyone used a clipboard around here it seemed.

That afternoon, Lynda’s assistant, Diane escorted me into her office where she trained me on how to call in the orders for new records and tapes to the various record companies like Columbia, WEA, MCA and Polygram.  I would become very popular with these companies because they all love the person (even if that person is a minimum wage worker) who buys from them.

“Hey Diane, somebody sent you flowers,” said one of the warehouse workers as he strode into the office with a crystal vase filled with two dozen long stemmed red roses.

Diane smiled broadly while opening the card, then blushed.  “My husband’s such a sweetheart.  I guess things went well with a deal he’s working on.”

I spied the card after she set it on her desk.  “Meet me in bed for the rest of your present,” it read.

Later in the day Lynda walked into the buyers office beaming at me.  “This is great!  Look at how far you’ve come in the posting,” she said looking at the few packing slips that were left to post.  “Have you met everyone?”

She turned to Norman for the serious business of number-talk but he was suddenly jovial and relaxed in her presence.

“Hey Lynda!  You know I spent years getting educated in college, right?  Well, we had a chemistry class one time where I learned about hormones.”  Here he paused for effect.  “Do you know how to make a hormone?”

Lynda, looking perplexed, answered, “No.  How?”

“You don’t pay her.”

“Oh, you crazy man,” she said swatting him with a sheaf of papers.  “You’re always making me laugh.”

I loved working at Tone.  The atmosphere was relaxed and fun but we all worked hard.  The people were all easy to get along with, lots of laughter and good natured banter.  Lynda, who was my direct boss pretty much left me alone, walking into the buyers office now and then to tell me what a great job I was doing.  Rock music was always playing and all the employees (especially those in the buying department, like me) got free promotional records from the salespeople who were working so hard to get our business.  That’s why I was very disappointed when Lynda brought me into her office one day to tell me that I’d be moving to another location.

“Sit down,” she said, motioning to the chair in front of her desk and lighting a Camel unfiltered.  “When my dad brought me to work here, I didn’t know it meant I was going to be taking over not one, but two companies.”  She took a long drag off her cigarette, thoughtfully.  “You know, I went through a pretty hard time a few years back.  Had a kid, went through a divorce, ended up in the hospital.  All this before my thirtieth birthday.  I’ve been watching you and I like what I see.  You work hard.  Some of these guys,” she rolled her eyes, “I don’t get it.  All they’re good for is fucking and lifting record boxes.”

I sat across from Lynda, smiling sympathetically.  I’m not sure exactly what it is about me, but for some reason, people seem to like to tell me their deepest, darkest secrets.  Maybe I just have that kind of face.

“I’m moving you over to our sister company, Southern Records.  It’s just a couple miles away.”  She smiled that crooked smile at me.  “You start Monday.”