Working in Car Loans: The New Black

O, Stop Sign, I wish you luck.

Miles run today: 0

Words written in my novel so far: 34,955

Stop signs hit down the road: 2

I know you’ve all been sitting on the edge of your computer chairs waiting to hear about our crazy stop sign. It was hit the first day it was installed… in the center of the street. The second day, a new stop sign appeared, looking not much different than the first. No lie… within hours, it was twisted and mangled… but still standing (a slight improvement?). Stay tuned for the next installment of The Stop Sign Turns.

And now… more riveting stories from my early work days.

I’m telling you, people, working in the retail car loans division at a bank is sexy. Scintillating. I mean… wow.

The summer after my first year in college, my dad and I carpooled into the Big, Bad World of Downtown for my riveting job in the retail loans department.

By that, I mean that I sat in the front seat of the car like a blob and tried not to enjoy “All Things Considered” and what might have been going on in Bosnia Herzegovina. It was all very confusing at such an early hour of the morning.

I was exciting company for my dad.

We parked in a nondescript lot that kept our car safe for that summer. (Later on, it was the same lot where Dad walked out and… voila! No more car. But that’s a story for another day.)

The retail loans division consisted of three corridors of cubicles and a mostly female cast who used dark humor to get past the fact that the DMV never answered the phone. Like, for hours.

I was assigned a woman who had the cutest tinkle of a laugh and managed to make filing car loans and sitting on hold seem fun. Well, manageable.

The retail loans interns consisted of me, Eric, and this other guy whose name escapes me. We’ll call him Ron.

All naive college students, Eric, Ron and I were Master Filers and Getters of Anything That Needed to Be Gotten. We hovered around peoples’ file cabinets and invaded their space.

Ron was a nerdy fellow who wore bowties and had a penchant for country music. He did responsible things like packing his lunch to save money and sitting in the windowless break/file room to eat said lunch.

Eric was a tall, blond, gorgeous guy. God made him well and took care with the details. His hair glinted in the sunshine and curled up at the ears when it started to grow out.

Eric came from Old Money. He wore it with a Gatsby-era nonchalance, like if he dipped his sleeve in ketchup, there were one hundred more where that custom button-down came from. His voice had a lazy quality about it, as if he didn’t have the energy to enunciate. Somehow, it worked.

I learned a lesson from Eric that summer: a boy could be divine to look at, but I felt absolutely no sexual chemistry when I was with him. It was a weird and dispiriting lesson, and one from which I have never totally recovered.

He had a girlfriend named something predictably preppy like Pinky or Mary Kate, and she most likely wore argyle in the winter, linen in the summer.

The best part of the day for Eric and me was LUNCH.

We got to leave the building, most days, and walk over to meet my friend who was working at another bank for the summer.

I’m sure we ate at other places, but KFC was the one I remember. It had a TV, and it was always playing the same soap opera, something like, “As the World Turns.”

The first time we ate there, my friend and I realized that Eric was an enigma: he loved “As the World Turns.”

“That Crystal… she is always scheming,” he would say, shaking his head.

Eric became like a pet: we would bring him to KFC to hear what he might say about the ever-shifting world of soap operas. Sometimes, when he wasn’t there, we kind of missed him.

When it was pouring rain or I had run out of money, the days felt endless. One day, on a long haul between lunch and quitting time, I found the carbon copy for my high school crush’s Jeep. I held in it my hands and read all of the numbers, the details, the riveting history laid bare for me. And then I put it in the file. That was the most exciting thing that ever happened. Really.

My retail loans mentor would dial the DMV and sit back in her chair. She would call to the woman at the next desk, “How’s it going over there?”

And the woman would say, “Who’s that on the phone?” As if they all weren’t waiting for the same lines to open up.

“It’s my layaway,” my mentor would laugh. All married and trapped in loveless jobs, they invented torrid affairs on the other end of the line.

“Is he meeting you tonight?” another one would yell.

“It’s gonna be good, honey,” my mentor would say, rocking back and forth in her desk chair.

I never did find out if any of their layaways were for real, but I ended up rooting for them. Just once, I wanted my mentor to end up with a bouquet of roses on her desk from an admirer.

It was a summer of pantyhose and high heels and filing and cubicles.

I went back to school that fall and deleted “Business Major” from my plans.


What I Have Learned About Birthdays


Number of birthdays my husband has had, counting today: 41

Months before his birthday he starts reminding us that it’s coming up: 4

His goal race for this year: 26.2

My husband loves birthdays.

He starts prepping us for his birthday, May 15, around about February 3. As a former public relations professional, I can say with conviction that my husband has birthday PR covered.

It’s been a point of contention for us for our entire marriage, because it is, quite frankly, a lot of pressure. But as I get older, I realize that you should go all out and celebrate: A.) You made it out of your mother’s stomach–good job! And B.) You’re still alive–good job!

Here are some other things I have learned from my amazing husband over the years:

1. You can fix anything. It may involve a fair amount of cussing and some money, but almost anything can be fixed. Except for our Maytag washing machine that was only 14 months old and now serves as a paperweight in a landfill. He couldn’t fix that, and he may be worrying over it on his deathbed.

2. You can do anything as long as you work hard and persevere. Again with the cussing. But darn it, most people give up too soon, myself included. My husband Never. Gives. Up. And I think that’s pretty amazing. It makes me try for about five minutes longer than I used to.

3. When you start getting gray hairs and eye twinkles, you just look cuter. Seriously. People in fast food restaurants ask him to say things “with an English accent.” His regular talking voice makes people swoon. Okay. This one might only apply to him.

4. You should not wear white t-shirts when you eat spaghetti. Whether at home or at an Italian restaurant, plan your top covering carefully. White shirts are not recommended.

5. You should have a cooler filled with ice nearby if you are using power tools that cut things. All future cutting projects in our home will take place with 9-1-1 on speed dial and a device for keeping all limbs and digits cool until they can be re-adhered to the original body parts. All tetanus shots should be accounted for.

6. Food really is the way to a man’s stomach. Men and women may have evolved. We may all be very 21st century and breadwinner-y and independent. But if you really want to stay on the good side of a man, make sure he is well fed in one manner or another. Men–your mission may be more difficult. But keep in mind my favorite quote from Lyle Lovett: Women like to eat outside. Okay. You’re set.

7. If you see a bug inside your house, turn a glass upside down on top of him, and slide a piece of paper underneath. Take him outside. Me? I used to just stomp on them. This is my house, little bug dude. But my husband has taught me to respect all life forms. Mostly. I kill mosquitoes and roaches on sight; they are respectfully dead.

Happy birthday, English Captain America!