I’m about to be unemployed. The Gap is closing our store on Colorado Boulevard – so I need a new job ASAP. Practically the only lead I had was the manager of the L******, who’s a friend of Adam and Allan’s. Adam sent him my resume, and Mr. Balsam asked me to meet with him earlier this week.
I was seriously nervous and sweating inside my suit and collar when I got to the hotel. I was 30 minutes early, so I walked around to check the place out…but I really didn’t notice anything. That’s how nervous I was. Still, I thought it might be good if I knew something about the place beyond the fact that I’d taken my girlfriend there for a romantic Valentine’s Day last year.
Oh yeah…I know the men’s room over by the banqueting rooms too, since that’s where me and Keaton picked up Travis on Christmas. Not that I was gonna tell Mr. Balsam about that little adventure.
I was still plenty early for our appointment when I presented myself at Mr. Balsam’s office. His secretary was an older woman with reading glasses who looked like she’d been his secretary for a long time. She said Mr. Balsam would be with me as soon as he could and that I should take a seat.
First thing I did when I sat down was cross my legs. Second thing I did was uncross them real fast lol. It felt pretty awkward just sitting there with nothing but the secretary to look at and my feet planted on the floor, but there wasn’t a magazine for me to look at, so I just had to sit there. I knew better than to take out my phone, but it was pretty dang uncomfortable.
I figured I was gonna be there for a while, but, on the very stroke of 11, a door opened and out came Mr. Balsam. One thing the dude clearly was was punctual. I could hardly have been the most important appointment of his day, and he could easily have kept me waiting. It was kinda cool that he was right on time to see me.
I jumped up to my feet.
“Mr. Block,” he said. “I’m Dan Balsam. Nice to meet you.”
I thought he was going to be around Adam and Allan’s age, but he looked ten years younger. He was around my height and carrying some extra weight, making him 5’11” and 225. He had blue eyes and grey hair. Well…he had some grey hair which he was wearing very short like men who are losing their hair do a lot of the time. He was immaculately dressed in a grey pinstripe suit; even his handkerchief was perfectly folded. It made me self-conscious of my own, which I hadn’t known exactly how to fold when I got dressed that morning. And one thing was for sure: I wasn’t overdressed in the suit.
“Nice to meet you, sir.”
I shook his hand just like Dad taught me to. Firm grip, look him in the eye…but don’t try to break his hand. Mr. Balsam shook hands well, and not just for a gay guy. He took a good look at me, not like he was checking me out, and not like Allan looks at me, so maybe Meemaw’s advice was right. I was ok with that…especially as there’s more to me than my looks and I wanted Mr. Balsam to see that.
Then he showed me into his office and told me to sit down. I did like Dad told me and waited until he sat down himself. Then I sat down, crossed my legs, and uncrossed them again superfast. Then I realized that probably attracted more attention to me than if I hadn’t crossed them in the first place, but it was too late.
Then I told myself to chill and stop thinking about every motion I was making or I’d go crazy.
“Adam Greenwood’s been telling me some good things about you, young man” Mr. Balsam said. “I understand you have ambitions in the hotel industry. A baseball-themed hotel, he said.”
“A baseball resort, sir. It was my senior project in college. But I’m obviously not going to be opening it anytime soon.” There was a pause…and it became clear that the next move was mine. “I was hoping you might be able to give me some advice on getting a start in the business…and how someone might go about starting his way towards something like that.”
“Adam mentioned you played baseball professionally…”
“Yes. For a team down South. The Hickory Crawdads.” Like most Yankees – like most people in general – he’d never heard of Hickory, so I added: “that’s in North Carolina.”
“It sounds like you’re from down South.” Like I knew, there was no disguising my accent, but it’s still not like I was wearing a Confederate uniform.
“Born and bred in Tennessee, sir.”
“How long have you been in California?”
“It’s been 3 years now,” I said.
“It takes a long time to adjust to life out here,” he said. “I’m from back East and they say it takes ten years to get used to Southern California”
“It’s definitely different from home.”
I was glad he didn’t ask how and got down to business instead.
“So,” he said, “tell me something about Hunter Block’s baseball resort.”
I was thrown by that. I was expecting I would ask the questions from the list I’d prepared…and now I was on the spot. I still gave him the outlines of my plans for the resort – the two main playing fields, the practice fields for more informal games, the high tech bating cages, the three restaurants, the two lounges and the sports bar, the number of rooms I estimated we’d need to stay in business, the pool and the spa and the other things for wives to do while their husbands were reliving their playing days. Mr. Balsam didn’t strike me as a sports fan, but he was definitely listening to what I was saying.
“It’s an interesting idea,” he said. “Did you work out cost estimates too?”
“Yessir. It was a pretty thorough project. It counted for a whole course senior year. I don’t know if you’d be interested, but I did a mock brochure as well.” I had a girlfriend who was into graphic design and she made sure that the brochure looked great. I wouldn’t have shown it to Mr. Balsam if it hadn’t.
“Wow,” he said, after I passed the brochure across the desk, “it looks like the real thing. Very impressive. When do you break ground?” He smiled. A nice smile.
“I wish,” I said. I gave him my bashful smile. It seemed appropriate. “I was hoping that you might be able to give me a few suggestions on how I might get started.” Then, because I had nothing to lose, I added “I know I have to start out small.” He might as well know that I was I was hoping he’d offer me a job, and that seemed like a good way to hint at it. I didn’t feel comfortable just up and asking for one, even if I was gonna be unemployed in under a week.
“How much do you know about hotel management?,” he asked.
“I took a whole course in it in college.”
“I see you went to…Middle Tennessee State,” he said, picking up my resume, which was on his desk. “Where is that?”
“Murfreesboro,” I said. Then, seeing that what he knew about Murfreesboro was probably only that he thought it was spelled Murfreesborough, I added “it’s in the middle of the state. It’s a very big university, although I reck…suppose there are more famous hotel management schools.”
“We don’t need to send you to Switzerland to learn the business,” Mr. Balsam said. “I went to Cornell, and, if you ask me, I learned a great deal more on the job than in school.” That sounded good for me. “Although the diploma does look good when you’re looking for a job.” That sounded less good. “I see from your resume that you’ve been working in retail since you stopped playing. Are you still involved with baseball?”
“I’m trying to be. I play both baseball and softball recreationally…but I’m also coaching some” that sounded better than 2 “kids privately. There’s a good chance one of my pupils will make it as a starter on his school team this year.” I thought that sounded good.
“I guess it’s hard to put something like that behind you after you’ve been playing for how long?”
“All my life, sir. My mom used to tell people I was born wearing a glove.” Maybe it was lameass to talk about Mom…but I was feeling comfortable and it just popped out.
“And your resort shows you want to stay involved.”
“Exactly. My career may not have worked out, but I still love the game.”
“Why did you stop playing?”
I told him the truth: that I realized I wasn’t good enough to make it to the majors, or even to AAA, and, although I was asked back for another year with the Crawdads, I didn’t see much sense in living off gas station sushi and $1100 a month if it wasn’t going to lead anywhere. I always try to make it sound like I made a wise decision, but I’m always afraid that it’s going to come out sounding like I’m a quitter.
“And how is working in retail working out for you?”
“I enjoyed it, even if it was just a stopgap while I figured out something else. And,” I added with a shrug that I hoped wasn’t too casual, “I ended up staying longer than I planned. Truth is, I’m finally moving on because they’re closing our store.”
“The one on Colorado?,” he asked. “I would have thought that was a prime location.”
“That’s what we all thought too. We were always busy. The rumor is that the landlords wanted to raise the rent too high. A bunch…several other stores near us are closing too, so we’re not taking it personally.”
“That’s a shame. It was a convenient location. Didn’t they offer you a transfer? Most stores usually do…and you’ve been working there for…” he looked at my resume “3 years.”
“They said they could look into it…but I’ve had my time to recover from having to give up on playing ball…on playing baseball…and it’s time to move on…”
“So you’re about to be out of a job, young man,” Mr. Balsam said, with his nice smile again.
“That’s about it, sir.”
“A baseball resort with three restaurants is a pretty ambitious plan,” said Mr. Balsam, “but you should be ambitious at your age. And maybe even a little impractical.” Did that mean he thought the resort idea was silly? I really hoped he wasn’t trying to sink my dream on me. “But if you’re going to get anywhere with it,” he continued, “you’re going to have to get some experience working in a hotel.”
This was where I really started praying he’d offer me a job. Maybe I’ve been an extra good boy, because he answered:
“And I just might be able to use you here at the L******.”
“Really?,” I said. I think I jumped up in my chair.
“I just happen to have been working on the front desk schedule this morning, and we could use another body out there. You’ll get to see a little bit of everything and have a chance to learn a lot. I’m not sure what the hours will be yet, but, if you’re willing to be flexible about that, I’d be happy to have you come onboard.”
“Wow…thank you, sir. Thank you very much. That would be awes…great.” I guess I felt relieved because I leaned back and crossed my leg…then I uncrossed it right away and sat back up straight again.
“This…” he said, writing a number on a pad on his desk, “is what we usually pay people starting out.” I looked at the number. It was more than I was making at the Gap. Not a lot more, but it was more. It was also the first time I ‘negotiated’ a salary like that with numbers written down on pads…and I didn’t know what to say or if I was supposed to write down a different number. Mr. Balsam did leave the pen and the paper between the two of us on his desk.
When I didn’t pick up the pen he said: “I take it that’s satisfactory…to begin with?”
“Yessir. Very…satisfactory.” The ‘secret negotiations’ made me feel like a small big shot, even if I didn’t negotiate. But no one told me I was even going to get the chance to negotiate…and I was going to make more than I was making before, which was the important part. Besides, I had no idea what people working in hotels make. Y’all may be figuring out that I’m pretty dang clueless about the whole job thing.
“Very good, then,” he said. “We usually have new people shadowing” I didn’t know that the word meant “the desk staff to learn the ropes. How soon can you start?”
“I have one more week at the Gap to finish closing up the store,” I said.
“That’s fine,” said Mr. Balsam. “So we can plan on your starting week after next. I’ll probably have you in here on Monday, but I’ll call you at the end of the next week. I look forward to having you here at the L******, young man.” He stood up and extended his hand for me to shake again.
“Thank you, sir. Thank you very much.”
So that’s pretty much how I got my next job. If nothing else, it shows what bullshit all the applying for jobs on computers is: I got my job at the L****** because I ‘networked’. Ok, Adam isn’t much of a network, but I also had help from the human resources person at Joyce’s company. That felt a lot better than sending my resume into the dark soul-sucking void of the Starbucks website…and it ended me up with a job.
I’m still waiting to hear back from Mr. Balsam about my first day and this ‘shadowing’ thing. But I’m excited. And everyone’s pleased with me. That includes Joyce and Adam for starters, but also Keaton (“high time you got your pretty boy ass out of that super gay store”), Meemaw (“it was time for you to move on, HB”), and, especially, Dad (“I’m glad I didn’t have to push you to get a real job”.) So I reckon it’s a whole new exciting time in my life. And, who knows?, maybe this’ll be the first step on the way to Hunter Block’s Baseball Resort.
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