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Used to work for AVIVA offshoring IT to India.  Now retired through ill health, writing my life story as a series of blogs chronologically from birth to current time.  At www.jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Offers are not what they seem - sometimes - 1987

Mark and Jonathan -
Burlingame 1987

Mark picked up work from another crew who carried out the sheet rocking (plaster-boarding) of apartments, once the carpenters has built the interior structures and the electricians and plumbers had been in doing the first fix work.  He was earning more and we decided time was ripe for moving out of Shirley’s place and into our own apartment.  We could rely on Shirley for a reference along with a guy called Mike, from who we sub-contracted our work.

I found a neat unfurnished 2 bed apartment on El Camino Real in San Mateo, about 2 miles from Shirley’s place, close to a Supermarket and not far from The Crosby Commons Mall.  We moved in with the basics and I mean basics, 2 plates, 2 knives, 2 forks, 2 mugs, you can guess the rest of the twosomes.  We had a TV, a small table and a couch.  In the bedroom we had sleeping bags on the carpet.  It was not the most elegant of apartments to bring girls to, but it would do for now.
Mark was keen to carry on with his Karate.  He was a 2nd Dan in Shotokan Karate and knew his stuff.  Every time we went to work with Paul in a new town in the Bay Area, Mark would be looking for Karate Studios (Dojo’s), Paul would be spotting Liquor Stores and I would be eyeing up the local talent, so everyone was happy.  We would work as far north (toward San Francisco) as San Bruno and as far south (toward San Jose) as Stanford/Palo Alto.  So I had a wide range in which to cast my gaze, as did Mark and Paul for that matter.  As Paul and my reputation grew for good work, we picked up more work, on higher profile and more expensive homes.
Some of these homes were in Hillsborough and others along the ridge of hills that form a backdrop to the bay looking west.   These homes were set back into the hillside, discreet entrances, usually gated and single storey in design; they would have pools overlooking the bay, with views on clear days of the Sky Scrapers in San Francisco and across the bay towards San Leandro and Oakland.  On Monday 19th October 1987, we were working (Paul and I) on just such a property, high in the hills directly behind and overlooking Redwood City and Menlo Park.  The area below us was known as Silicon Valley and at that time was home to Apple Inc’, and various other burgeoning Computer companies and software providers.
The guy whose home we were decorating did not appear that morning.  We’d been there a week already, cleaning the cobwebs and dust off the eaves running around the property prior to painting them.  In America, Gloss Paint is called Enamel and Emulsion is called Latex and we would be applying Latex.  We had laid out our drop cloths and were prepped and ready to go.  Noting that he had not come out is pertinent as every morning he’d bring out pastries and coffee, seat himself at a table and look across the valley reading the “Pink” Financial Newspapers.
We knew he was home, as we could hear him shouting and hollering into a phone at someone.  Mid-afternoon, after Paul had demolished the 6-pack and was debating a run to the store for “more paint”, the guy emerged and sat on the grassy lawn.  He was crying his eyes out, trying to light a cigarette, but with tears and snot all over his hands and cigarette, it was a non-starter.  I walked over and asked him if I could help, did he want some water and offered him a Marlboro, which he took after I had lit it for him.
All he could say was “I am fucked man, fucked, fucked, fucked” (sic).  I went to find Paul and we walked around the house to the guy, who was still sat on the lawn.  “He says he’s fucked Paul” I said, as if that helped explain the problem, at which point the guy said something like “I lost most of my money, my shares are worthless”.  Paul walked off, got in his car and went to the store, I sat on the grass, lit a smoke and we sat in silence, save for the odd sob and shudder coming from him.  Paul came back with a six pack of Bud’s and we all had one, not saying much, staring across the bay, savouring the last of the Autumn sunshine and deep in thought.
This turned out to be Black Monday; the day when the Dow Jones stock market crashed 22%, (by October month end, nearly 23% had been wiped off the Dow Jones value.  The UK lost 26%, Spain 31%, Australia 42% and Hong Kong 45%).  The guy paid us when we had finished and thanked us for our concern, the beers, smokes and comfort.  I wonder today whether he recouped or failed to ever get back his money. 
Mark and I were enjoying our life in the Bay Area but had never really explored San Francisco beyond a trip to the tourist haunts of Pier 39 and Fishermans Wharf.  My mum had given me one of my father’s watches just before I travelled.  It is a watch by Montine of Switzerland and whilst not worth a great deal, has sentimental value.  It needed an overhaul and a new strap, so Mark and I went along to a Jewellers and watch repairer on Burlingame Avenue.  He looked at the watch and recommended a few parts he needed and it would take a few weeks before it would be ready.  Mark was browsing the window outside when I came out of the shop and told him the news.

A very attractive blond haired girl (I kid you not), aged early twenties was stood to one side and said my favourite line at the time “Are you guys British?”  “Why yes we are” we answered together, “Oh, I just love your accent!” she giggled, we were hooked!  “Care to grab a coffee” we asked again, like Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dee.  “I’d love to” she replied, so off we went to the cafe’ just down the Avenue and proceeded to beguile her with our tales of Derring-do, our adventure to America etc.
She lived on Market Street near 16th Street and we told her (sneaky, sneaky ulterior motivey) that we had rarely been to the “City”.  “You can stay with me” she offered.  Mark and I exchanged what to us seemed fleeting glances of agreement, but to the trained eye would have been a blatant scream of “CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT, SHE FELL FOR IT, and SHE’S OFFERED TO PUT US UP – ARE WE IN OR WHAT!!”  One of us replied, “Why thank you that is very kind, we would love to, do you have a number?” in as refined a cut glass English accent as we could muster.  “You’re just so cute” she said.
Not ones to shun an offer, we had agreed by the end of the coffee to see her the forthcoming Friday and with address in hand set out after work on the Caltrans (The Caltrans is a train system that runs between San Francisco and San Jose) to the City.  Once there we grabbed a cab downtown to her address.  She lived in a three storey town house; the bottom floor was a shop, with an entrance door off the street and stairs to the apartment.
During the train trip Mark and I had discussed which of us she fancied more, whether a three-way would be on the cards and fantasised on the number of other shagging scenarios that may occur over the next few hours.  We turned up at the apartment and rang the bell.  She buzzed and asked who it was, we told her and she let us in.  Once in the front room, she asked us if we needed a drink and said we could crash on the floor in the front room.  Mark and I looked at each other, shrugged and said ok, perhaps she was playing hard to get?  Why? 
A male voice called her from the back of the apartment, a male “English” voice, (that was why!).  She left us and went towards the voice; we looked at each other again, our pre-nuptial erections wilting rapidly!  Raised voices came from the back of the apartment and she came back through to the front room.  “My boyfriend is not too happy that I asked you to stay” she said.  “Should we leave then?” asked Mark, “oh no, he says you can stay tonight” she said.  At that the boyfriend came through to the room.  He was a decent enough bloke, he explained that she was always asking Brits to stay and it was pissing him off.  We explained our recent history as much as we felt relevant and omitted the part about wanting to screw his girlfriend so hard her eyes popped out.  
He was ok with us staying, gave us a key and said don’t steal anything!  Mark said we couldn’t blame him as we were two English blokes on the pull in California and he was the same, or had been, so knew the score.  We decided to make ourselves scarce for the evening, and wandered out into the street.  It was after 7pm and coming down the stairs and out onto the street, the street lights were on and people were making their way home, or out into town for the evening. 
Mark was hungry and spotted a Hamburger joint across the street, we crossed at the lights and walked down to the burger joint, which was quite a large place.  As we entered, there were tables and chairs on either side with an archway through the right hand wall into another room, from wherein the sounds of disco music could be heard.  I wandered towards the sound and looked into the gloom, as there weren’t any lights on in there except for the low wattage disco lights reflecting off the glitter ball on the ceiling.  It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the gloom.
Beneath the glitter ball four couples embraced each other tightly, swaying to the music and occasionally staring into each other’s eyes.  The couples were all men and I turned to Mark, trying to point this out, but he was looking up at the menu.  I told Mark to look through the archway into the other room and he referred me to the menu.  The menu featured some tasty delights such as; Feel My Meat Burger, Hot and Meaty Burger, Chew My Meat Burger, (you get the idea).  Mark came back over and we smiled and tried not to laugh, but we were still hungry.  The guy behind the counter asked what we wanted, “FRIES!” we said. 
We took our fries out onto the street and looked at each other and started to smile.  That was the first time we had ever been in such a blatantly gay atmosphere and I suppose if you are going to experience the gay world San Francisco is the place to go!  Waiting for a cab the sidewalks had got busy, a couple walked past dressed in black leather and I looked at them after they moved on up the street and noticed that one of them had no arse in his trousers, his bare behind on show, we both lost it.  The traffic was passing by now and Marks arm went up and he shouted “CAB!”
Our trip to the City was not finished yet, but that can wait until the next blog.

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