Monday, August 26, 2013

Revisiting a Popular Post

If this post actually appears on The Brown Knowser, I'm either still on vacation, making my way home, or I'm lost, or I am home but was too tired to write something new. Whatever the case may be, I decided to re-post something I wrote a couple of years ago and received positive feedback. If you haven't read it before, I hope you enjoy it. If you have read it, I hope you enjoy it again.

DISCLAIMER: this post, in no way, shape, or form, should be interpreted as any expression of regret with the life I live. I love the way that my life has unfolded: I'm happy with my career path, I love my home, I adore my children and am thankful for them every day, and I worship my wife, without whom I would be hopelessly lost. I wouldn't change my life for the world.
This post returns to a time before my life really started. It has nothing to do with the now. Think of it as fiction, even though it's not.

***

I fell in love with Laura the moment I saw her. It was something about her eyes, the way they laughed. She had laughing eyes. They were always happy. When she actually laughed, her joy was infectious. And I will always remember the smile on her face, the electric-red lipstick on olive skin, and the glowing white teeth.

To say that Laura was gorgeous was a gross understatement. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Any woman that would come close to matching Laura's beauty did so by way of airbrushing, the final editing in a glossy fashion magazine. Those women weren't real. Laura was real. Pure and natural beauty.

I watched Laura, in wonder, from the far end of the camera store where I worked. Laura was visiting the shop, not to process a roll of 35mm film or purchase any camera equipment. There was no picture frame on the far shelves that was worthy of holding her image. But Laura was in the shop for a specific purpose: a job interview. I, myself, had only been hired recently by the store's manager, Cesar. Cesar was on a hiring spree. He had stolen me from a paint and wallpaper store in the shopping mall—he had been shopping and stopped to watch me serve another customer, and when I was finished and asked him if there was anything I could help him with, he said that he liked my salesmanship, liked the way I treated customers as though they were special, and he wanted me to come and work for him. And now he needed a lab assistant—someone to process film—and it looked like Laura was his prime candidate.

Laura and I were hired so closely together (the camera store was nation-wide), that our employee numbers were only five numbers apart. I was employee 5513; she was 5518.

Though I fell in love with her the moment I saw her, I never acted on my feelings. I was a dopey, somewhat geeky kid in his early twenties. I was skinny, not athletically built, with pale skin and hair that never cooperated. She was a year or two younger, had a shapely, feminine figure that also looked like she worked out; her shapely Portugese heritage shone through; her long, wavy brown hair hung seductively. You would look at me and look at her, and then think to yourself, these two do not hang out together. I would have to be contented with admiring Laura from afar.

For a couple of years, we worked together: Laura in the photo lab; me, behind the front counter. We would talk when I brought her processing orders. We would share laughs with the rest of the staff. But we never talked to each other as friends, though we did respect one another. It was clear to me that she liked me, but only on a professional level.

I left the camera store in a very unprofessional manner. While I was working there, I was attending journalism school, and upon graduation I started seeking a newspaper job. The camera store was only a part-time position. Cesar knew that I wouldn't stay forever. But when I found a job, working for The Low Down to Hull and Back News in Wakefield, Quebec, the publisher and owner asked if I could start right away. His previous reporter left without notice and he was in a bit of a lurch. It would mean a lot if I could start the next day. I agreed, thinking that when I went into the camera store later that day, I would talk to Cesar, give my notice, and negotiate some hours that didn't conflict with my new job and yet wouldn't leave Cesar in the lurch that the reporter had done with my new employer. I was starting a new career, after all: the camera store offered me a meager income while I attended my studies, which were now over.

Later that day, I arrived at the camera store, only to find that Cesar wasn't in. To make matters worse, he had already posted the new staff schedule, and the hours given to me were in direct conflict with my new job. The assistant manager was working the shift with me, and I explained my situation to him. And this is where I erred: I listened to him. The assistant manager told me to just leave Cesar a note, saying I quit. To not bother working out a schedule; he and Cesar would work it out. And so that's what I did.

Cesar was not happy. In his eyes, I betrayed him and quit without notice. He had been good to me—he really had—and this is how I returned his kindness. For a long time afterwards, Cesar had nothing nice to say about me. I know this because I ran into Laura one day, a few months later. She looked as beautiful as always, and her eyes laughed as she told me that she missed me, but Cesar did not. I missed Laura immensely, but didn't tell her so. I wanted to say that she and I should get together some time, have a drink, but I never did. I didn't have the right, was my thinking.

I lasted about four months at the paper. To me, the paper was more interested in filling ad space, more interested in pleasing readers, more focused on collecting revenue from classified ads, than in reporting news, implementing cost-cutting ideas, and in streamlining production. My boss saw me as undisciplined—I refused to answer the phone with the full name of the paper, followed by "Ross speaking" (I simply said "newsroom"), and it drove him nuts to see me reclining in my seat, with my feet on the desk and the keyboard on my lap, even when I was busily hammering out a story and was at my most productive when I was this comfortable. We met once, trying to meet some concessions, but when it was apparent that my employer wasn't going to change, I walked out (but not before demanding that he pay me in full).

I quit the paper without another job to go to, so my aunt helped me get a job cleaning carpets. For those of you who don't know what that job involves, let me tell you: I drove from location to location in an industrial, mobile shop vac. I cleaned office carpets, household carpets, and restaurant carpets. The worst assignments I had were cleaning the vomit, spilled drinks and trampled gum off of a pub floor and cleaning an abandoned house that had its own dog room, where the carpet was covered in thick hair and feces. I kid you not!

One day, while I was on a lunch break at a McDonalds, lamenting this god-awful job, I was waiting in line when I heard someone next to me call my name. It was Cesar. I remembered Laura's words from several months before, of how Cesar was so mad at me for leaving with a pathetic note taped to the cash register. In the line up, Cesar spoke to me with a soft, friendly voice. He asked me how I was, looking me up and down in my dirty jeans and t-shirt. I told him that the reporter job didn't work out and that I was working as a carpet cleaner until I got back on my feet.

I'll never forget his words. I get a lump in my throat just remembering those kind words that Cesar spoke: "Come back to me." How could he forgive me for leaving him the way I had? He told me he understood, that he knew that writing was my passion. I told him photography came a close second. He said that he was currently looking for a full-time salesperson. He knew that I was a good salesman. He remembered that I was good with customers.

Later that day, when I finished my shift with the cleaning company, I told them that I wouldn't be back. I had no qualms about walking away from that job. By far, it was the worst job I had ever undertaken. The next day, dressed in a suit and tie, I visited the regional manager for the camera company. It was a short interview: Cesar told him that I was wanted. The regional manager knew me. It was a formality.

When I returned the next week, to start my first shift, I learned that Laura had left the company. She had gone to study. She had moved on. My heart sunk. I would never see the world's most beautiful woman again.

I would never gaze into those laughing eyes again.

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