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.