The Courtship Roadbychilleywilley©
The Courtship Road, is a little rough
I borrowed a plot device in this story from DanielQSteel's A Moment of Clarity, but as he is a better writer than me, I'm sure he won't mind. I read his stuff some years ago, am rereading them now, and find they are as good or better in the re-reading. I recommend his work to you all. Pandybear311 did a fine job editing this, but did not see the revisions to the weak spots she found, so all errors are mine.
This is copyrighted material, and may not be reposted or published without permission
I am John Desmond, a 27 year old man who has not found the right woman for me. It's not as though I haven't been looking. I think I'm a decent catch; normal body, good sense of humor, employed, and a good cook. What more could a woman want?
I became a chef in a round about way. My high school grades were good enough to go to college. So I gave it a try, but soon knew that it wasn't for me. Between working and studying, I had little time for girls and realized college wasn't fun for me. I hated it. Fortunately I quit before I ran up big debts.
I am a mechanically talented guy. I can do anything with my hands. I started out working on cars when I was 14. By the time I was 21, I had graduated to working on really big, complicated machinery. I got my first, and perhaps my last, really good job as a millwright. In the old days a millwright was someone who built or repaired mills. Nowadays it is someone who works on industrial machinery.
As the manufacturing base in the USA declined, the old timers who use to do this work grew old and retired, making room for me. I learned my trade from them, made good money, bought a small house and had both a truck for work and a nice car when the plant closed.
I was out of work for months and looking everywhere. Nothing! Not even as an automobile mechanic. I had too little experience with the new computer driven cars and too much for Kmart and the chain shops.
I had one enemy in town, the father of a girl I use to date. I don't know what story she told him about me, but I was shocked when he interviewed me for a job at the hospital. He probably thought it was a shit job way below my ability. It was justifiable on the dubious strength of me having worked in a diner for several summers starting back in high school. I had kept the job during my ill-fated year and a half at college. It was a lousy job then and only a little better now.
At the hospital, I went from doing the dishes to
"Hey Dizzey, do the fucking carrots and onions..." and eventually began doing a fair share of the cooking. Inside of six months the chef quit followed a couple of months later by first one and then the other assistant Chef. *this paragraph is a bit confusing with the way it's arranged. The dialogue in the middle of a sentence just makes it a bit choppy. Consider rearranging it or introduce a character to give him a bit of grief in the kitchen for a moment*
I was on a fast track to nowhere; getting promoted every couple of months until I reached the top of this little food chain, head chef. I went from working ten hours a day to twelve; six days a week because HR was slow in hiring people. I had no life, but I was paying off my credit cards pretty good.
At the hospital, the job of Head Chef paid a decent wage. The administrative work kept me out of the kitchen a lot which was a plus. I was responsible for the kitchen which served two cafeterias, meals to the rooms, and the snack bar off of the lobby as well as all of the staff involved in food handling.
I had a lot of people working for me, but I was having a hell of a time hiring kitchen help. Frankly we weren't competitive in money, so the people answering the ads were poor quality, especially as the hospital uses e-verify to weed out undocumented workers. I started out hiring two people a week and would end up losing one, so retention became an issue too.
I did my best to make the kitchen culture friendlier. I made a point to know everybody by name. And set up a bulletin board in the cafeteria posting names and pictures of the food service staff. It was good for the staff to know everybody and enabled me to memorize names and faces. I tried to talk with everybody who worked for me at least twice a week and asked for suggestions on doing stuff better.
If a suggestion worked out, I gave the person a small bonus and bragged to one and all about the great idea so and so came up with. I respected them and they me. We began getting along as a team. While that raised my retention rate, I was still behind in filling positions. That's when the hospital director asked me if I needed help. No shit, of course I did.
"Do you have any problem with mentally challenged people?"
"I had a lot of them working for me when I took over here, but attrition and firing rid me of the worst ones. I don't suffer fools so well. But if they can do their job, I don't care about their politics, so I get along."
"Sure, look at the politics of this country. Split about even 'tween 'crats and 'publicans. Listen to them. Not a brain in their heads. Crazy as can be, all of them."
"So, which are you? Republican or Democrat?"
"Soon's I figure out which one is the most crazy, I'll join the other."
He laughed at that.
"Good answer, John. Keeps them guessing! Here's the deal, I can get developmentally challenged people...well, actually, they have an assortment of mental problems. Most are just slow, but a few are indeed crazy. They're in, like, a sheltered workshop were people judged to be harmless to others volunteer to get out into the world and work. The one's that aren't too bad off, we pay. Others the state reimburses us for helping them. You'd get two of them for every normal person who's replaced, because they need more supervision, you know?"
"Well, it sounds like asking for trouble. I'll tell you, there are a lot of so called normal people out there who turn out to be about worthless when I get them. Now you want to hire people who aren't right to begin with? I don't know! So will somebody tell me what they can do? Can't have them emptying a mop pail into the soup, or have 'em cut up carrots and find their finger in the chilly pot."
"Actually, they'll send somebody around to evaluate the jobs you have, and then send some people they've prequalified for you and your staff to interview for the work. The interview is part of their training, so you need to seriously interview them. We hire only those we want. You and your assistants'll need to get some training so as to understand how to work with them."
I knew marching orders when I heard them. It was agree or be put in the brig.
"Well, let's give it a try. I need help. I'm killing myself and you're paying me a lot of overtime. The other day I got an offer from one of the nurse's for a quick screw and turned her down! I was too damn tired."
Actually, I was thinking shit, as if I didn't have problems enough now! But you know, as I got to know some of these folks, I realized how wrong I was in my earlier assumptions. Some of them didn't work out, of course, but most did okay. Their supervisor or myself had to check some of them when they came in the door, to see that they were fit to work based on whatever 'normal' was for them.
Hopefully they were on meds. They had taken them, gotten a good night's sleep and took a shower recently. Skipping medication would make them nutty, as could upsetting episodes in their life. You had to talk to them to figure out if they were themselves that day, which of course you should do anyway, talk with your staff, I mean. I did my best to treat them like everybody else, greet them by name, remember their cat's name, and the like.
They called me various names; Mr. Desmond, Boss, Sir, Mister John. One Quaker woman called me John Desmond. Whatever! I'd listen with attention for a reasonable amount of time to hear whatever they had to say responded as seemed appropriate. I had to fire a couple of my people who couldn't get with the program. Frankly those two weren't much even on their best day.
I found the public generally accepting of them, And why not? They were making coffee, not drawing blood. They were much like everybody else. Give them a job they were capable of doing, some attention and respect for doing that job, and they did a good job. You learned some weren't good at the first thing you had them doing but you or they could often find another job better suited to their capabilities. And on a personal note, I enjoyed talking with some of them. They had a sense of humor. When they found out about my limited love life, they began to suggest suitable women and occasionally making introductions.
It was cute. I don't think there was an unmarried woman within ten years of my age who hadn't heard from the handicapped staff that Mr. John, the nice kitchen boss, was unmarried and looking to meet a nice woman! Sometimes it was followed by innocent personal questions as to some woman's shoe size, place of birth and god knows what.
So things were looking up. I had a job that paid enough, had benefits, less overtime, and to make my life complete, my love life picked up. I met (on my own) a nice woman named Jane, a barista at the local coffee shop with a degree in European history. Her education made for interesting conversation, but not worth much on the job market.
We started out flirting for a while, and one time we were chatting during her break, discovered we both liked junk shops and flea markets. The first time I asked her out was for a predawn flea market two hours away with the promise of a brunch at a rural diner. I guessed if she was willing to get up at 4 AM on a Saturday to go out with me, it would prove she was interested in me. Neither of us bought much, but we both had a good time.
Our second date was a week later. Friday night I took her to a nice restaurant in town. The business district has under gone quite a renaissance with the state pouring in a pot of money, so now it's quite the destination for miles around. In the fifties the vogue of ripping out the old Victorian buildings to make parking lots and modern stores skipped our town. Most of the place looks much like it did 100 years ago, all preserved and restored to better than new. Part of the fun is looking at the ornate architecture and shops. We were arm in arm looking in a shop window when I felt a firm hand on my shoulder.
It was Milton Hartzel, who wanted to be called Igor.
He did dishes and general cleaning for me. Not because he couldn't do something else, but because he liked to clean things. He wasn't a giant but since he was closer to seven feet than six, he had to look down at most of us. He wasn't crazy either, just simple.
"Mr. Desmond! Hello Mr...and Mrs...Desmond. It is a nice even...ning now!"
"Igor! Good to see you too. Hon, this is Igor Hartzel." I turned to where Jane was a moment ago, but found she slid behind me, maybe not cowering, but certainly huddling and keeping me between her and Igor. I stepped to one side and drug her forward.
"Igor, this is my friend Jane Dostal. Jane, this is Igor."
She was clearly upset, so I added. "Igor is a very nice, very gentle person."
My endorsement wasn't much assurance to her, but she managed a soft hello and plastered a smile on her face. Igor and I chitchatted politely until I felt okay telling him that we had to go. Jane and I continued our stroll, not thinking any more about it. Jane still had my arm, but wasn't leaning into me anymore, which I realized in retrospect.
The restaurant I had chosen was on a street converted to one way with no parking and the sidewalks wide enough to allow for street side café's. The restaurant was a linen tablecloth place with tables on the sidewalk sheltered by a wall of potted shrubs and grasses. Umbrellas, candles on the tables, you know the kind of place.
So: lovely evening, lovely woman, nice romantic ambiance, and more important good food. I ordered a bottle of wine. We chatted. By the time our meals arrived, I knew things were again on track because I felt Jane's bare foot on top of mine as she slid her toes back and forth across my ankle.
I reached for her hand looking into her eyes as they widened in excitement. I was really pleased because I usually don't have that effect on women. Her expression went from excitement to rigid mask as a raspy voice spoke loudly in my ear.
"Mr. Desmond, sir, you was talking about garbage. I'm thinking about garbage a lot now. You, you know, garbage. You know about the garbage, you do? I know garba..." The bloodshot eyes looked at Jane as Ernie Schmidt leaned in towards her with fetid breath caused by his stomach problems. "Miss DesmondSir...Mr. DesmondSir taught me 'bout garbage and I worked to get good at garbage, could you know that?"
I chucked. "Jane, let me introduce you to Ernie Schmidt who works at the hospital with me. Yes, Ernie, garbage is very important, but not something to talk about on the street while we are eating."
"Oh, yes sir, that's right you are. Well...do you know about grease, Miss Desmondsir? We, me and Mr DesmondSir's got bad grease...grease is bad!"
The waiter was coming over and the people at the next table were glaring.
"Ernie, I can't talk to you about work things here. It's not polite. I will see you Monday. We can talk about grease then."
What I said didn't register with him. He rambled on, "Grease'nfalls hurts people it does.."
He needed to hear a clear order as he was good at doing what he was told to do. "Ernie, I need you to go over to the park right now, please. Would you do that for me?"
The order did the trick as Ernie replied as he shuffled off, "Yes sir, Mr. Desmondsir."
Ernie was well away when the waiter reached the table and suggested that in the future I let him handle the panhandlers.
Jane piped up with a wave of her hand in Ernie's direction. "Mr. Schmidt is not a panhandler. He works for Mr. Desmondsir."
"Oh I'm sorry then, Mr. Desmondsir! My mistake!"
Fucking wise asses.
"Apology accepted, Mr. Jasonsir!"
The foot did not return to my ankle and I struggled to recall what we had been talking about. Jane seemed more distant. The conversation died repeatedly. We had just ordered dessert when I noticed Janie Jazmin with cigarette smoke streaming out both nostrils nearly beside Jane. Jane hates cigarette smoke and after Igor and Ernie, this evening, and probably our relationship, was dead and buried!
"Mister John, look at you here eating in a restrunt when yoz got one them you' self. Why arn't yu eatin there?" She swung around to see Jane.
"What's yor nam then."
Jane was cringing and dumb stuck. "This is Miss Jane, same name as you.
Janie Jazman meet Miss Jane."
"Not same...the name, different."
The waiter came over double time, and told Janie to go away and stop bothering his customers. Janie was mortified.
"Janie, I know he's being rude. It's not a big deal, but people on the sidewalk aren't suppose to talk to people in the restaurant. So you do need to wait until you see me at work to talk with me."
"Yes, Mr. John, I be goin." And she turned away.
The waiter started to bark again."As I said..."
"The problem's no more, Jason, shut up."
"We can't have these people bothering the customers!"
"It may be undesirable from your point of view, but the street is public. Anyway, that person is no longer bothering anyone here, so back off."
The owner came over at a quick stride. "I'm sorry, sir, I must ask you to leave. You are being disruptive!"
I stood up. I could feel my face flush with rage, opening and closing my fists. I got control of myself and said evenly, "It is difficult right now for me to...not be extraordinarily disruptive, but to do so would disturb the other customers far more than your boorish behavior has already done. Jane?"
I offered my arm. We walked past him and I heard him following close behind us. I was approaching the door when the fool said, "Just a minute, you haven't settled the check!"
"Look, you idiot! You're throwing us out before we finished our supper and before the check came. The check has settled into your fucking pocket."
"Hey you! I insist!"
"Call a cop. I'm parked in the lot over on State Street and we'll be walking slowly."
I kept walking, Jane a few steps behind. Jane piled more shit on me a minute later when she started berating me.
"I am so embarrassed by your behavior and your so called friends! I have never been asked to leave a restaurant, to say nothing of skipping out without paying for the meal."
I had to calm myself, sometimes I'm too confrontational.
"You're wrong on most of those statements. I was the one thrown out, not you. If you want, go on back, finish your dessert, and pay for the meal. I'll wait for you here. He was lucky I chose to leave quietly. I did not skip out. I was thrown out and I'll be damned if I'll pay him for it.
"Those people are business friends, not personal friends. They are my employees and do a good job in spite of their handicaps. The distinction between business and personal friendship along with a lot of other subtle distinctions is not so clear to them as it would be to you or me."
She ignored the suggestion that she pay.
"Those people who keep coming up to you are awful. They don't belong around here. What hospital do you work in anyway? An insane asylum? They're disgusting and shouldn't be allowed on the streets!"
I took one deep breath. Tonight was good practice in anger management. I took another couple of deep breaths, but she wasn't done.
"Honestly, why do they come up to you and they all seem to know you?"
"Yes, they do know me. I run the food services at the Elm Street Hospital. I'm their boss. They work for me and they work hard to do a good job. Look! Not so long ago, I never gave a thought to disabled persons. I was frankly repulsed, maybe not quite as much as you are, or I maybe I hid it better. My boss told me he wanted to hire them and I was to supervise them. They gave me some schooling to learn how.
"Jane, they look different than us and they think differently than us, but God made them just as he made you and I. All of us are just trying to do the best we can with what talents God gave us. All of us want love. All of us want respect. All of us want some comforts in life. It's a lot easier for you and I, that's the only difference between them and us."
"Those people are disgusting!"
"Perhaps to you. Not to me. Look, I was 14 when my grandmother had a stroke and came to live with us. She had trouble getting to the bathroom in time and needed help with personal care. My mom worked from noon to mid-evening and told me that when I came home from school, I was to sit and talk with my grandmother and see how she was doing. If she had soiled herself, I was to help her to the bathroom if she was up to it, or take care of her needs where she was. I had to remove her diaper and any soiled clothing, clean her up, sometimes bath her and then help her put a clean diaper on, dress her and get her settled.
Like a kid I protested. It was disgusting. It was shit. She was a woman and old baggy, wrinkly woman at that! My mom told me to grow up! Shit doesn't kill, but neglect does! My grandmother would not sit in her own waste for another three hours until my dad came home when I could help."
"So what did you do?"
"I did what I was told to do. Mom did it with me the first time which helped me a lot. So two or three days a week, I had to help Gran that way. I was shaking with shame and disgust the first time I did it alone. The shame went away real quick. After a week, I saw it as...as a task like mowing the lawn. Just one more thing I did because it had to be done. It got so we chatted away while I was cleaning her up just as if we were playing cards.