Over the summer of 1976 I went from living in Manhattan, Kansas to working in Manhattan, New York. No man ever had a greater culture shock. From the sleepy little college town in the middle of the Flint Hills to the Park Avenue office just a block from the Empire State Building, I thought I had arrived. I probably stuck out like a sore thumb to all those urbanites with my long hair and beard and deer-in-the-headlights gaze, not to mention the fact that I actually tried to talk to people on the street. I was constantly asking questions about everything and I’m sure I was annoying as hell. New Yorkers are funny that way. They will answer your questions but only after they verbally abuse you first for being such a rube.
I did meet one New York native who was very nice to me. Her name was Maria Spaght. We met on the plane and during our 3 hour flight we got well acquainted. She was probably in her early 50’s at the time but still a very attractive woman. She had been married to the president of some large international oil company until he divorced her for a younger model, according to her. She got the house in Westchester Co. NY and enough money to live on comfortably. They never had children so she seemed a little lonely to me. By the time we got to LaGuardia she was insisting that I should come visit her whenever I wanted. I took her phone number and fully expected her not to remember me ever again. After a couple of weeks of feeling pretty lost and alone myself I called her and she invited me up for the weekend.
When you’re 22 years old and fresh out of college in Kansas you think you know everything. I was dreaming of scenes from the Graduate on my long drive from Nassau County to her house. It was a nice house with some acreage but not nearly as big as the estates I passed on the way there. I got there around noon on a Saturday and we had lunch while I filled her in on everything I had done since I got to NYC. She seemed to be anxious about something and finally asked me this question, “Would you do me a huge favor, I don’t have any men in my life that can do this for me so could you please…………….. cut down a tree in my back yard?” I don’t know which made the biggest thud, the tree or my ego. I was so shocked at this turn of events that I just gave up all hope. Finally I just said, “Sure, why not.” I learned one of life’s most important lessons that day. Always look at the tree before you agree to cut it down.
As I recall, the tree was huge and dead which is a bad combination for the poor sap who has to cut it. She had a decent chain saw but it was just barely big enough for this job. Lucky for me I had done this before in Minnesota many times and I made my Grandfather proud that day. I got it down without hitting the house or the power lines. It took me all afternoon to limb it, cut it into lengths, stack the usable firewood and clean up the brush pile. This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I left that morning but at least I finished what I started. Of course, Maria was ecstatic and thanked me profusely. After I cleaned up and she made us a wonderful dinner, she asked me if I wanted to go for a ride to meet some friends. I was a little wary by this point but agreed anyway.
She drove me to what looked like an old church, but assured me that it had been remodeled and was now a residence for a family. She kind of had a little gleam in her eye that worried me but I had no choice at this point. We went inside and I was greeted by Mr. and Mrs. Lucas and their 3 gorgeous teenage daughters. Now the pain I was feeling was pretty much washed away by the ultimate endorphin rush of the undivided attention of 3 girls. Maria went on and on about how hard I had worked and how farm boys from Kansas must be exceptionally strong and caring. I tried my best to look all humble and worthy. Of course this was all taking place in the living room with Mom and Dad right there giving me the once over. I think the girls could see how awkward this was and they all suggested we should go for a walk. They took me down a wooded lane and eventually told me we were in Connecticut.
I would like to end this story with some sordid details but there just aren’t any. These girls were too good and their parents were too nice and I just couldn’t bring myself to do anything incredibly foolish. I did visit them several more times during the five months I was in New York. The oldest daughter and I had a couple of real dates but I always controlled myself. For me, the greatest part of this experience was just being accepted into a strange family for no other reason than I was alone and they could see I needed them. Mr. and Mrs. Lucas treated me like one of their own and I looked at them like I would my own parents.
Living in New York was the worst thing I have ever done. For the most part I was treated like an outsider with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I didn’t talk fast enough, I wasn’t rude to everyone, I didn’t move fast enough and I was constantly acting like a tourist. I think the office even had a pool going to see how long I would last. When they sent me out on sales calls it was always to places the other sales people wouldn’t go. I didn’t know any better so I went to some of the worst neighborhoods imaginable. I never sold anything during my training but I did learn not to take things personally. Slamming doors and new curse words were an everyday event. That’s why the time I spent with the Lucas family is so memorable. Every time I was in their house I was able to forget about everything else. They made me feel loved and appreciated in spite of my midwestern ways. Whenever I think about New York now, that’s the memory I focus on and it warms my heart to know there are lots of good people in the world but it might take cutting down a few trees before you can find them.
©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.