the true stories
I'll never forget the excitement of opening the letter which contained my gas-fitters license. I was going to be alright now. I was a tradesman and I could go anywhere in the world and write my own ticket. After doing a victory dance with my wife I cracked open the yellow pages. Seventy-three rotary phone calls later, I realized that gas-fitters were a dime a dozen in the Lower Mainland and for every nonexistent position there were fifteen guys in line ready to work for pocket change.
The union situation was such that in practical terms you put your name on a list sit, at home for weeks waiting for a possible call to go to Ft. St. Nowhere. You would make big bucks for a month, spend it all on overpriced food and lodging and be back in town broke lickety-split. This was untenable for a twenty year old soon to be family man. I wanted a career. I wanted a house and I wanted children. I also wanted to feed, cloth and educate them.
Money got very tight and I found brand-new ways to cook pinto beans and bacon so they tasted delicious. My eighteen year old immigrant wife was unable to work legally and we were on the verge of starvation. I scanned the papers I delivered every morning and visited Manpower Offices throughout the day when I wasn't doing odd day-labor jobs. I noticed that there was a demand for bank tellers and there was a handy quick course one could take for $300.00 which virtually guaranteed a successful job interview with any one of the FIVE BIG BANKS.
I cogitated on this awhile. I looked up what bank tellers made and it was a tiny fraction of what pipe-fitters made when they could get work, that is. I decided the bank was a go but I'd do it my way. I didn't want to be a lowly teller, I wanted a lifetime of employment with room for advancement.
I already had learned that the secretaries of this world had an important function to perform. That was to discourage anyone from applying for a job in THEIR company and to always shield the boss and the personnel manager from having to come into contact with the unwashed masses. Here's what I did.
I made a list of the local head offices of the B5. I phoned each one and in the style of Jim Rockford, got the name of the personnel manager of each one without once letting it be even dreamed of that my request had anything remotely to do with employment.
I washed my shoulder length hair and took the cassette tapes out of their briefcase style carrier and put my resume and school papers within after tearing out the little slotted compartments. I got a bus to downtown and walked into the first tower.
"Hello, please tell Mr. X that Michael Hawes is here to see him.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“Is this to do with employment at our bank?”
“Nooo Ma'am! This is personal.”
“I'll see if he's in, I believe he has stepped out.”
“Sugar, I know he's in and when you buzz him and tell him that Mr. Hawes is downstairs, I promise you he will want to see me.”
After a brief exchange, I was told to take the elevator up to the 32nd floor. I had never been that high off the ground in my life. It was a surprisingly quick trip. The doors slid open and I adjusted my eyes to the murky hall. I found the big door I sought. I opened it and went on in.
A man about twice my age sat at a big desk with his hands folded. He stared at my hair and stood up to shake my hand. He offered me a seat and asked what he could do for me.
“I want to work for your bank. Not a job, a career. For life.”
“Extraordinary. Do you have any accounting, business, marketing or clerical skills or training?”
“No Sir. I have a Grade B gas-fitters license, I can type 32 WPM with two fingers and 100% accuracy, I can grill-cook, broiler-cook, short-order cook, sous-chef. I am married, a dual citizen and speak pretty good Spanish and French, except the past tense.”
The man politely told me no and because I was new to this endeavor, I let him get away with it. He told me with a smile as I left that no one had ever breached his secretary's defenses before. I went home and lined up the next appointment. The next one went similarly to the first one. I tweaked my delivery a bit.
In the third tower, I was gob-smacked by what the man told me.
Son, I would hire you on the spot for having the brains to get in my office and the balls to demand a job but I can't get past that long hair.”
“I'll be back in thirty minutes with a crew cut.”
“Too late, son. Should have thought of that detail first. Take a lesson. Good day.”
After a haircut which was my first in five years, I rode the lift to my fourth tower. Behind the desk was the first woman I had encountered in my search. The bank was the CIBC.
After the reason of my visit became known and I had run down the list of my pertinent skills the lady focused on restaurant I had worked at for about six years. It was and still is a very popular steak and lobster chain. She asked if I knew a certain person. He was a young, rich partner in several of the joint ventures. He was a legend to his friends and will have to remain nameless in this account.
Evidently she had gone to university with this guy and her face brightened at the mere mention of his name. I knew him well as a boss and as a cohort in many hi-jinks I could not repeat. I could tell it was the same for the lady. So, on the strength of this connection, I was hired that day and placed on a CIBC Bank Manager Training Program. She told me to get some decent clothes and report to a branch close enough for me to walk to work from my apartment in Lynn Valley.
If this sounds far-fetched, I must tell you in runs in my family. My father once applied for a job from Vancouver to operate a gold-dredge on the Orinoco river in Colombia. He had never seen one. As these operators were few and far between he was flown down to the site at the company's expense and treated as royalty. On the motor launch out to the rig, he was relieved to see a man in the cage. The other fellow had a week left on site and showed my father what to do in that time. Dad got four years of employment out of that adventure and his first two children were born in the camp.
I went home and told my little wife that we were not only going to live, we were going to go places. The next AM I went to a tailor shop in a local mall. I usually wore jeans, a tee-shirt and either a red or blue tartan flannel shirt with a cowboy belt and gray socks that might not match with carpenter boots, cowboy boots, moccasins or clogs.
I was greeted at the entrance by a young Jamaican named Neville. I told him the truth that I had the fashion sense of a chuck-wagon cook and that I needed to get tricked out for a bank job on a pauper's budget. He smiled and said that I would be back in a few years to buy the silk stuff. The afternoon was spent with Neville in total control.
At the end, I had a wardrobe of two pairs of slacks, four Arrow shirts, five pairs of thin socks and three ties. The slacks had been altered by hand and it was here that I first learned what “dressing right or dressing left” meant. Neville prepared a hand-written outline of which pieces to wear with which other pieces so as to appear different each day. He was a gentleman of the first order and they don't make 'em like that anymore.
As I left the store, he said, “Mr. Hawes, mon you a steppin' ray-zah.”
“Don choo watcha my style, I'm dangerous. Thanks a lot, man. You saved my hillbilly life.”
Thus began my time as a banker.
Copyright © 2015 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.