When I was just twenty I met a gal by chance down in North Las Vegas while attending a Texas friend's wedding. I had been summoned to play guitar at the reception. She was pretty, jolly and played guitar too! I heard her sing by chance and she had the voice of an angel. Her songs were all her own compositions and her rhythmic strumming combined with her haunting sweet voice wove a bind-rune around my young heart.
Her father was a retired Colonel who managed a department of the MGM Grand Hotel. I didn't much like hotels or motels and my first paying job as a child had been cleaning display houses, so it really didn't impress me much. Her mother was a secretary of the law firm of Jack Lehman, Esq. That name meant nothing to me at the time. They had a horse in the backyard but the backyard was desert as far as one could see to Sunrise Mountain. None of that stuff impressed me much but I was sure stuck on that blue-eyed blond-haired gal.
Her elder brother tried to scare me with high speed night driving on a long wash-board road into the city. The Caddy got big air on each bump and the shocks began to bottom out. Like the character Dwayne in one of Woody Allen's movies, he asked if I had ever felt like just ending it all and driving into an oncoming car. I told him no but that there were plenty of other people out there who did. I didn't tell him that my father used to suddenly swerve into the wrong lane, smash the dashboard, hit the brakes and shriek, “Christ, we're going to hit!” during our obligatory Sunday drives.
Big brother couldn't find my scary-button and got flustered when he'd exhausted his repertoire. We were out of desert and coming into the city lights. He wound up nearly losing control and scared himself when he knocked over a traffic sign. The Caddy got hung up and a crowd of Vegas street urchins came out of the neon night and rocked the big green boat off the bent metal before the cops could arrive. I just held the girl's hand who was genuinely scared and suggested that he take us home. I'm pretty sure he reported to his Daddy that I had kept my cool.
The girl had been born in California and I decided to just overlook that but she had lived most of her childhood in Panama. I had two Colombian born half-sisters I'd never met, so I scored that jungle time in her favor. One day, during the week I first met her we were sitting at a Taco Bell in her father's Caddy and she said we ought to get married. I hadn't even kissed her except in my mind and I immediately said, “Why Not?”
I drove her home and made the announcement to her folks and her siblings. A carton of Marlboros later, the Colonel put an end to the questions that I had been fielding from his family. I vowed I would go to Canada, get a job for $800.00 per month at a restaurant I knew, rent an apartment and send a one-way ticket to their eighteen year-old daughter ASAP. We shook on it and next morning I was off to McCarran International early.
My plan went as almost as outlined above and I sent a ticket to the gal. She arrived with only a guitar and a Navajo blanket. I got a second job so I could get out of my step-father's extra bedroom sooner than later. The immigration officials had told me that I would have to marry her within six months or she would be deported. I rented a nice flat in Deep Cove with a view of Panorama Park.
I made wedding rings from some big hex nuts which I ground smooth and filed the threads and four of the points off. I later had custom gold rings made to my own design by my new sister-in-law who was a budding jeweler. On a lunch break from my cooking job, I got married by a justice of the peace on Lonsdale Ave. It cost ten dollars with the single photo. I went back to work and the gal went to my step-father's place to share the news.
The Dane got her rip-roaring drunk and she was sick all over me and the taxi on our way home to the apartment that wedding night. It was nothing like the movies. During our brief marriage of thirty months we had many trials. My father committed suicide, her sister was killed in a motorcycle accident and we lived in a haunted house. I went through a dozen jobs and we moved many times. We hitch-hiked across Guatemala for our honeymoon.
My mother left the Dane and her and my sister came to stay with me. My mother went back to the Dane and my new wife let my sister stay. I brought my sister back to her mother. I prayed she would understand why someday. I was having trouble finding career type employment and my wife wasn't allowed to work due to the immigration rules in force at that time.
Eventually I got hired as a manager trainee by a big bank. I put my pipe-threader in storage and dressed up and cut off my hair. This was coming along fine and we got a nice basement suite in Lynn Valley way up Mountain Highway on Kilmer Road. The owners and landlords were newly arrived Scots with a bright baby boy and I loved living there. Then it happened one Saturday.
For the second time in my life up to that point, I made an unwelcome discovery while perusing some poetry and lyrics. I became rightly suspicious of my little wife. A short time later I stumbled on damning evidence of a broken vow and confronted the girl. She didn't deny my allegations and confessed to cheating with another man.
You can't glue a vow back together but the Irishman in me decided to give her one chance more due to her young age. I asked my wife if she loved me or him. While she cogitated on this the Cherokee in me told her the answer had to be one or the other. She replied that she wanted time to ponder the answer. The Welshman in me asked her how much time. She said about a month and that she would like to go to live at his place while she pondered. The German in me told her she could have fifteen minutes starting NOW and the Swede in me began packing her suitcase. The phone rang. It was her mother calling from Vegas.
“Michael, I have wonderful news. You'd better sit down. Do you have a pen and paper?”
“Well, I'll be brief. My husband and I just concluded some investment deals and had a windfall. You are about to move up quite a few notches in your position in the bank. I have already spoken to your bank manager there in Vancouver. You will be in charge of doing some financial transactions for some people down here on a regular basis. We have opened up trust accounts for you two as well as all our other children. Each of you will have a million dollars. You cannot touch the principal but the interest is yours to do as you see fit. Now first, give me a name for your trust.”
“Cedar,” was all I could think of.
“Fine. Cedar it is. Now, write this down. Mr. *** and Mr. *** will arrive Monday on flight *** at ***-o-clock and you are to pick them up and take them to your bank. They will have all the necessary papers for you to sign as well as instructions for you and your manager at the bank.”
As she spoke, I was doodling on a piece of paper where I had written the information. The interest at the time for savings accounts was over nine per cent and the monthly take of interest was over seven thousand dollars. I was making about seven hundred dollars a month as a trainee at the time. A spiritual owl swooped down and snatched the part of my brain full of ideas which had no means to see them realized, shot up through the Van Allen Belt and kept on going. Cocaine is but a raggedy, feeble, distant cousin to this feeling. I began to drip water from my armpits. I was visibly shaken after being emotionally stirred. I could hear my wife sniffling in the bedroom.
“Mom?”, I said flatly.
“Yes, honey? Not a bad day, huh? Take a deep breath. It's all real.”
“Mom, there is something I think I need to tell you.”
“Sure honey. What is it?”
“It's about your daughter.”
“What about my baby girl?”
“Mom, I think she's going to leave me and that we are going to split up. Does that change all the things you just told me?”
“Michael, Michael. You are honest to a fault! It certainly does change everything. Put her on the phone.”
I called my wife to the phone. She hadn't given me her answer yet and as I watched her face, I saw the sliver of a chance that we might have had to remain together disappear quick time. My owl of dreams and ideas did an abrupt about-face and reentered the atmosphere of my situation. It was like falling asleep on warm sand and waking up on a sheet of sea ice.
I staggered out the door mumbling to myself and went with gravity until I reached the intersection of Lynn Valley Road and Mountain Hwy., where there was a service station. A mechanic had noticed my erratic walking style and rushed out from the service bay.
He grabbed my arm and towed me into the shop. He sat a bucket upside down and made me sit. He yelled at another mechanic to get a mug of coffee. I took the offered drink and muttered something about losing a wife and a million dollars at the same time and all before lunch.
“Talk,” he said.
I reiterated that morning's events and my mother-in-law's call.
“Sweet and holy fook!” said one mechanic.
“She sure pissed on your Cornflakes,” said the other.
I wound my way back uphill after thanking the fellows. When I arrived my gal was gone with the suitcase and the instructions. Three days later, I woke to the sound of my Scottish landlady's voice. She was tugging something out of my grip.
“Makul, up ye gae lad. She'll nae be back. Look, man, ye huv nae luft aff klootchin' her shairt sunce Saturday as uf she'd died. Fling it awa. She's oonly a wee gell. Ye'll soon find anoother. Dinna worrit, aye? I've made ye a posh brekkie aloft and I tole the bank ta guv ye anoother day's grace afore ye show oop. ”
I was told three years later by my ex-mother-in-law when I was signing the divorce papers that there had been no fortune. She said her and the Colonel had been conned by pros and had lost everything.
The banking world puts a man in touch with all kinds of thieves. If there is larceny lurking within the individual, it will likely surface in this environment. There are more temptations for a man in a small branch bank than there is for a hunting dog in a pet store. Lets face it, money makes the material world go around and now you are in the business of handling, loaning, counting, stacking, transferring, accepting, paying, exchanging and accounting for the stuff.
When I was a little boy my dad asked me what I thought was a huge amount of money. I told him a million dollars. He asked what I could do with it. I listed off a bunch of extravagant things and went on at some length. When I finished he asked me if all that fun would be worth spending a single day and night locked in a metal cage. I said no.
I remember being trained on the head teller position in the Lynn Valley Branch. On this post I had to do a monthly inventory of the vault. In this sanctum were some surprising treasures. Among these were some heavy canvas bags with drawstrings. I had to open each one, do a physical count of the contents and duly record my findings on a clipboard. I could barely lift the first one.
I met my first gold bar at this time. Rather, I would have to call it a brick. At that time, in the border of the Seventies and Eighties, each brick was worth over forty thousand dollars by weight and purity. A man could buy a house for that much where I lived at the time. There ran through my mind many thoughts. Some of those thoughts were in the news decades later and the perpetrators were precious metal traders. Tungsten and gold plate were the main ingredients.
The owner of the bricks was a Dutchman who ran a bakery in the mall. Like so many others, he had been through war and had a long memory of it. Every time he got enough to buy a brick, he did so and added it to the pile. Once every few weeks, he came in to count them himself. It was he that taught me that an ounce of gold can be exchanged for he same amount of bread through all time and trouble from before Jesus walked the earth and into the distant future, irregardless of the inflation of fiat paper currency.
Another bag contained eleven sets of Olympic coins from the Montreal Olympics back in the Sixties. Bunches had been sent to each branch for the public to purchase. They were in plastic cases with four denominations to a set. They were struck from .999% silver. Silver was no big deal and jobs were plentiful, so the shiny disks had languished in that bag for over ten years. I had a thought.
I asked my manager if I could purchase those sets of coins, forty-four pieces in all. He said by all means. I asked how much I would have to pay and he told me the face value of course as if I were daft. I separated them into an empty sack and withdrew the cash from my account. It was a unique feeling to walk up Mountain Highway after work to my basement suite with the heavy stuff jangling over my shoulder.
I watched the papers for days waiting for the slightest fluctuation upwards in price. Within a week I had it! One Saturday, I went into Vancouver and unloaded the whole shebang to a Chinese metal trader by weight and netted myself a nifty $300.00 profit. After that I tired of tracking the the daily fixes of metals. There are only two other people who could have engineered what I did. One was Samuel Clemens, aka. Mark Twain and the other one was Squanto.
Not two months after this coup, I was reading the paper and nearly spewed my instant Cappuccino across the lunchroom. It appeared that some rich brothers in Texas, name of Hunt, got a big idea to start buying up all the available physical silver on the planet. This understandably drove the price into the stratosphere where it peaked and then they sold out. I grabbed a napkin and did a quick calculation with the figures from the newspaper article. If I had waited a few weeks, I would have netted over $3000.00 or nearly a year's salary for me at that time.
Sometimes the larceny was from the customers. There was the time that a nice Scottish lady came in to cash a cheque drawn on the Bank of Scotland in Scottish Pounds. I was working my first teller position and just learning how to reconcile my cash drawer at the end of each shift. The cheque was from her father and the proceeds were intended for her two boys. She told me a wonderful story of how the old man was upset that the two grandsons couldn't be bothered to write to him in Glasgow. He sent them a letter and asked if they enjoyed the money that he had sent to them a few months ago. The boys immediately wrote to tell him the tragic news that the money had never arrived!
The lads kept writing letter after letter after that. When the old codger deemed an appropriate time of penance had elapsed he sent forth the hard earned gift into the mails. I had two little sheets of paper taped under my counter. One was the days currency fixes for buying and selling. There was nothing fair about it. The customer lost both ways. Hey, it's not personal, it's business.
The other paper was an internal code consisting of numbers and phrases. This was used by the employees to comment on various customers without their being aware of it. A banker would simply loudly say, “Code 9”, for example. Every employee would then glance at their own list and look knowingly at the customer currently standing at the wicket of the teller who had uttered the Code.
I had been given this code on day two. My favourite was Code Seven. The corresponding phrase with this Code was, “Play ball with us and we'll pound sand up your ass!” I digress. I was so entertained by the Scottish woman's story that I misread the exchange rate and gave the woman several times fore cash than she was entitled to. It was so far out that she instantly knew she had hit the jackpot. She smiled and probably went to a fancy restaurant that night. I recorded my first shortage that same night. The bank told me not to mention it to her.
There was a nice housewife who had been a teller for thirty years at one of the branches I worked at. She was a sweet normal mother and wife. She was loved by everyone at work and everyone went to her for problem solving on a daily basis. I was in that branch when the woman reached her last weeks before retirement. As it turned out she had been “borrowing” cash the entire time. It started well within her allowed shortage limit which can be increased or decreased by management based on seniority and job performance.
As with all addictions it increased over time and the entire sum was a tidy one. The bank was of course aware of it all along and allowed her to operate her scheme for thirty years. In her last week, they presented her their evidence and gave her a very limited set of choices to make. It broke her in two. I noticed a marked lack of sympathy in the other ladies and I wondered at the morality of the bank in allowing her to go on so they could crush her later, rather than correct her small indiscretion in the first instance.
When I was at the Main and Broadway branch a Latino guy came in one day. He waited in a long line and when an available teller came open, he remained. He repeated this three times until he was standing in front of me. I was the only male in the bank but I still didn't think this was the reason for his behaviour. Something was up. He was about five foot two and quite handsome and well dressed. He was easy on his feet and very friendly.
He handed me his VISA card and asked if I would kindly check the credit balance as he was a sloppy accountant and had been on a bit of a shopping spree with the good weather and all of late. I complied and went to a desk to make the call. When I read the number off the card many wheels went into motion. The man at the other end became hyper-excited.
“Is the man asking about the card still there?”
I looked at the fellow who whistled softly at the counter.
“Is he about five foot two, brown eyes and black hair.?”
The fellow started to tap his fingers on the counter as if he was a tiny bit impatient.
“Is the name on the card, **** *****.”
“That is not him. The card is stolen. This guy is an illegal alien, a felon, a coke dealer and has done time in the USA. He is currently being sought by both Canadian and US authorities. There is an arrest warrant out for him. He has an aggravated assault charge from the owner of the card. We have been looking for him three days. He is to be considered armed, dangerous and is a third Dan black belt in karate.”
I looked at the guy two feet away from where I stood. I looked at all the other tellers and customers who were oblivious to the turn of events.
“I see. And the balance?”
“Look kid, tell him that our computer is down. Tell him it will take a couple of minutes, that is all. KEEP HIM THERE! We are sending a team to the bank to take him down. You will see officers come in from the bank across the street into both doors of your bank and there will be two dogs. Officers will seal the doors. When the officer comes up to the counter you will have to identify the man. Got all that?”
I turned to the man and told him the computers were down. He looked a little bit more impatient. I went to lean on the desk out of his arm reach and peered through the windows out front as if bored with being on hold. I could see the police coming across the street from another bank and undoing their holsters. I saw the dog handlers.
Where I grew up people believed in minding one's own business. In my house a tattle-tale received equal or worse punishment than a wrong doer. No one likes a snitch. Everybody hates a rat-fink. All these thoughts churned through my mind in these seconds that seemed like hours. I couldn't see myself pointing a finger at a man whom I had never met and whom had never done me a personal wrong.
This was my biggest dilemma in the seconds that ensued. While the cops were still outside, the fellow asked in an irritated tone if it would be much longer. I saw my chance and said to him that I figured it could be some time and asked if he would he like to forget it. I reasoned that if he was clever he would ask for the card back and tell me he was in a hurry. I was sure of it.
The fool declined the card, accepted the extra wait and I saw again the fly in the ointment of the criminal mind. Greed and overconfidence. Just as any gambler has two motivations which lead them to ruin. One is the logic that if I lose enough, the law of averages dictates I must win someday. The other logic says, if I win now, it can happen again, I just proved it. Greed needs no explanation here. I gave no visual clues to the drama forming up outside and in an instant the widow of opportunity for the man slammed shut.
Both doors were sealed and guarded by dog handlers before the customers knew what was going on. Two other big cops stood at each door outside with shotguns ready. As soon as one of the tellers saw the uniforms she hit the deck and began to sob and yell. The other ladies followed suit as did about forty percent of the customers.
The thief stood nonchalant and went perfectly calm. He placed both hands on the counter and whistled softly. A tall policeman approached the front desk not a foot away from the man and asked in a very loud angry voice as to who in the hell had phoned the police. Another officer flanked on the other side.
I put down the phone. I was the only one who knew what was up.
I could not bring myself to point at the man. I took the card and sat it down gently on the counter in front of the guy and said, “Here's your VISA card, Sir.”
I waited in high anxiety to see the ensuing kung fu and/or gun play. It wasn't to be. As soon as the man took the card in his hand, he held both hands behind his back while they quickly slipped on the bracelets and marched him out. A detective took my information and said I would be getting a reward, which I did several months later from the other bank involved. I was told I would also have to appear at the trial and that my name, phone number and address would be on the court papers for all to see including the crook. Wonderful, I thought. Just bloody wonderful.
As it turned out, the fellow did see me in court after I was subpoenaed and he was just as casual as the first time we'd met. Long before I was to testify, he made a deal with the judge and that was that.
My second posting during training for bank manager was to a branch on Main & Broadway. I am not a downtown type of guy and I was somewhat dismayed at being placed in this milieu. The weekend before my first shift, I drove over and scouted out parking and eateries. Fortuna smiled on my mission and I came up with a dandy spot for parking next to a small post office. I also found a wonderful deli, an espresso bar and a Chinese lunch place where a man could fill up on healthy food for small change.
I would miss my cedars and raccoons but I knew things were going to be alright. I was single after having had a thirty month marriage and this neck of the woods was chock-full of the prettiest girls I had ever seen. I managed to show up on time the first Monday.
My program consisted of being trained at each and every position within the branches and then doing them solo for a month or so afterward. I had performance reviews each month with my assigned training coordinator and was offered free university level schooling in pertinent subjects at UBC. I took up the Fundamentals of Accounting.
My manager at this branch took the course with me and I remember her and I being angry to learn that even if a former student gave you last years text, it was unacceptable to the university. Although the book itself hadn't changed in any material way in twelve reprints, this was the rule. The fact that accounting hadn't changed since ships laden with purple dye sailed out of Tyre and Sidon was moot. The books were ridiculously expensive and I had already located two perfectly good copies from a used bookstore. When I told Mario at the espresso bar he said, “What they doin', teachin-a school or sellin'-a god-a-dam books?”
At this second branch, I was started on the Foreign Transfers desk. One of my first teachers was a crusty old Russian woman who used to really be a contender back in her day. She was sharp as a razor, had a sarcastic wit and wore make-up like it had been applied with a palette knife. During one of the many wine and cheese soirees that banks are wont to indulge in, she told me that she had been through the war.
When she found out I was from Texas, she became very excited, the sarcasm evaporated from her demeanor and she related a fascinating love story. She had been bombed out of her own childhood farm and had been staying for a protracted time in a bomb-shelter. One combat day, an American pilot had been shot down in the wheat fields. The young frozen Texan from Houston came to stay in the shelter and fell in love with a fetching farm-girl he found within.
All she knew was that he had talked of returning to Texas if he lived and had spoken of wanting to be a dentist. Tamara Nikolov never saw Rick again. I slapped my leg and grinned. It happened that was born in Houston, Texas and that I was going to be there in a few months time. I told her that I would tell him hello for her. She wrote the name down and I could tell that she held out no hope but rather was indulging me.
At an old neighbor's house in Houston three months later, I flipped through the twenty pounds of the Houston Yellow Pages to “Dentists.” I looked up the name on my scrap of paper. I found it easily. He had an orthodontic practice in Pasadena.
“Hello, I have an important message for Richard.”
“Are you a patient, Sir?”
“No Ma'am. It's a personal call. Please tell Rick to call Mike back at this number as soon as he's able to. I have an important message for him from an old, old friend.”
“Alright Sir. I'll tell him. It'll be about twenty more minutes, I imagine.”
I told my friend the story and before I was done her phone rang.
“Hello, I'm returning a call from Mike. This is Richard.”
“Hi Richard, this is Mike. I'm calling to deliver a greeting from Canada from a very old friend of yours.”
“Canada? Son, I don't know anyone in Canada. Who is it from.”
He sounded quite old but obviously still going strong.
“Rick, best you sit down before I tell you. Alright. I am from Houston but I work in a bank up in Vancouver Canada and I work with a lady who says she used to know a mighty handsome fighter-pilot name of Rick. Tamara Nikolov is the one who wants to tell you hello.”
“Son...”, his voice cracked, “Son, that was a mighty long time ago.”
“Yes Sir, It sure was. She's doing real good. I see her everyday.”
“Mike, you tell her Rick said hello and that he's doing just fine. She was a fine young woman, she sure was. Excuse me a second. Holly, cancel the rest of my appointments today, sweetheart. Mike, that was a barrel-roll but I'm glad you called, Son. I'm real happy she made it through the fire. I'm going to have to go home now and pour myself a drink.”
When I told Tamara later, she got a wonderful look in her eyes, that I'd never seen. It was look someone has when they know that someone they care about is safe and sound. It was as if a piece of something missing had been replaced after forty years of concern. I felt privileged to have been a simple messenger to carry this precious news. When she got done wiping off all the colours running down her face and put back her glasses, just for a second I saw that farm girl. She came next day and gave me a whole carton of Собрание cigarettes.
“Here cowboy, for you.”
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.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.