Sunday, November 1, 2009

More with Kona and Johnny

“What a #@%&ing ass!”

“Why did you just do everything he said? We had our own stuff to do.” Johnny and Kona were on their way back to the van.

“I know, I know. I don’t know, the man’s just so …ah!” she threw her hands up, “I don’t want to talk about it anymore. What do you want to do?”

“Fine. Ya know, I was thinking about Bodies before.” Johnny pointed to the poster at the bus stop enclosure. “I’ve always wanted to see it.”

“Yeah, yeah, me, too! Awright, let’s go!”

With that, Johnny and Kona were off eastward towards FDR Drive, and then headed south to the Seaport where “Bodies, the Exhibit” was being shown. For the next hour and a half, they looked at wondrous and disgusting things: the circulatory system of the human body, displayed three-dimensionally as it would look inside a body; a human lung infested with lung cancer, pretty repulsive to see; the musculature of the human body, stretched out like the suspension wires on a bridge; all sorts of cancers infecting the various organs of the body, as ugly to look at as to hear about.

Johnny and Kona had a good time walking around the exhibit, she making crass, but funny remarks about everything and everyone and Johnny laughing along. By the time they got to the end of the exhibit, it had been earlier than they thought it’d be. They still had about six hours to kill.

Before they left the building, they used the restroom (You’ve got to use it while it’s available in New York City.) and went back outside, into the seaport. The sun was setting by then and that bitter wind was blowing off of the East River again. They walked in and out of a couple of shops for warmth. They were all empty. In fact, the seaport was like a ghost town on this Saturday evening in November.

They found a wine shop, where they managed to kill almost a half an hour, making friends with the sales clerk and finding out all sorts of interesting things about Chilean wines. Of course, Kona got the guys number. He played for her team. Once outside again, they’d realized they had killed off one hour. Maybe they should eat.

They walked around the ghost town, almost stopping to eat at a restaurant serving New Zealand cuisine. Kona had lived in Australia and New Zealand, so she was familiar with the food. After a look at the menu, Johnny concluded that he wasn’t interested in mutton or meat pie, so they decided to return to the van and head uptown for dinner. This was where they would kill a lot more of their time.

Parking in Manhattan can be maddening. In fact, it’s almost always maddening. Kona was still driving and she was as maniacal on city streets as she was on the suburban highways, weaving in and out of taxi cabs and honking her horn at crossing pedestrians. The two of them had decided to eat on the Upper East Side, since it was close to the party, but the Upper East Side, unlike the seaport, was full of Saturday night diners. There wasn’t a parking space to be had.

“Baby where’d you get that body from? Baby where’d you get that body from?”

“I got it from my mama. I got it from my mama.”

For the first fifteen minutes or so, the two of them were in a jovial mood. They’d long since forgotten about Bill and the Kuninga vases. But fifteen minutes quickly turned into an hour as Kona circled every street from 61st and Lexington to 82nd and Fifth. There wasn’t a parking spot anywhere. The mood in the van was dour, yet jovial.

“Is that guy pulling out?”

“Nah, I think he’s just sitting there.”

“Oh damn! Well anyway, last week I was sleeping in bed around midnight and I heard a noise downstairs. Stewart was all drunk, going into the shop. He had a fight with Ja..”

“Kona, there’s a spot!” Johnny saw someone pulling out of one of those suspect spots, the ones that are kind of ambiguous in the legal department.

“Oh God, finally!”, Kona said as she put her blinker on. “You think it’s okay to park there? There’s a sign. Go out and see what it says.”

Johnny hopped out of the van and took a look. He was still confused. “It’s fine. It says no parking from Monday to Saturday, 8AM to 6PM. It’s almost 8 o’clock. He lied.

“Cool!” Kona parked the van and they ran to the nearest restaurant they could find, about fifty feet from where they’d parked, on the corner of 52nd and Fifth. It was an Irish Pub of sorts, specializing in ales of the world, and cheeseburgers.

The bar was crowded…and warm. Having been in the van for much longer than they had expected, the first thing on their minds was finding a restroom. Johnny let Kona go first, and while she was gone he asked the hostess for a table overlooking the street where the van was parked, so they could keep an eye on it just in case.

Within a couple of minutes, Kona showed up at the table and Johnny took his turn, but not before they ordered up a bottle of Chilean Malbec that they had seen in the wine shop earlier. Johnny returned to the table and being the man of the party, he was asked to sample the wine before its service.

“Mmm…oh yeah! That’s delicious!”

The waitress filled the two goblets and left the weary couple to their menus. Though the pub was crowded with people, the atmosphere was cozy and warm, a welcome respite from the cold and tiring day they’d had so far. For the next two hours, Johnny and Kona got to know each other a little better. Kona shared a love affair she’d been having with a married man and Johnny opened up about his situation with his recently ended relationship. It was the first time in the several months they’d known each other that they had shared such intimate details of their lives.

Both of them had dined on filet mignon, which was one of the specials of the evening, and it was delicious. After finishing their second bottle of Malbec, they were ready for dessert. They still had about an hour and a half until they were due back at the penthouse to breakdown the party, so they still had time to kill. Kona ordered the Tartufo, a delicious Italian ice cream dessert covered in dark chocolate, and Johnny settled for the New York cheesecake.

“Hey, is that a tow truck?” Kona asked just as the waitress left the table with the dessert order. She had been seated facing the van parked outside.

Johnny turned around. “Oh my God! They’re towing the van!”

Before Johnny could even turn back around, Kona had her coat in her hand and headed for the door, shouting for Johnny to tell the waitress to make the desserts “to go”. Johnny anxiously watched Kona running outside to catch the tow truck driver as he waited for the waitress to come back.

By the time Johnny got back outside, Kona had already handled the situation, quickly and without much of a fuss. She’d convinced the driver not to tow the van. There wasn’t even a summons! Johnny was baffled as he stepped back into the van, bag of ice cream and cake in hand.

“What? Oh, don’t worry about it! He was a nice guy, and besides, he was adorable!”
Johnny was at a loss for words. “Wow!” was all he could manage. He couldn’t imagine how she’d wiggled her way out of that close call.

The duo unexpectedly found themselves heading back towards the penthouse an hour earlier than they had planned. They were both tired and wanted to go home, but they couldn’t. First they’d have to go back to that party, and they were hoping that Bill wouldn’t be there.

The mood was quiet in the van on the way back to the party. Johnny and Kona were both exhausted after the incident with the policeman and they dreaded spending another hour waiting for the party to be over so they could break it down and go home. As it was, the prospect of the hour-plus ride home loomed over their heads. Neither one of them had the strength to reach for the radio, so they drove the few blocks in silence. Kona parked the van on Park Avenue, across the street from the building.

“Damn…I don’t wanna go in,” she shifted the gear into park. I just want to go home!”

“Me, too,” Johnny agreed.

“Ah, let’s get on with it, then.”

“But it’s too early. We’ve still got like a half hour before the party ends.”

“I know, but maybe there’ll be some cute guys in there. We could have a drink. Besides, it’s cold out here!”

“Yeah, yeah,” Johnny reluctantly agreed as he opened the door to get out.
They exited the van in anticipation of the bitter wind and ran quickly across the street and into the building. Still tired, the pair rode in silence up the elevator to the penthouse. As the doors whooshed open, they could hear a faint revelry in the distance. As they moved along the hallway towards the party, the sounds of music and conversations became clearer. The party was still going, but it was winding down. Some guests were already making their way to the coat check, anxious to get home. Kona spoke to one of Bill’s workers, while Johnny people-watched.

They were strange looking people, he thought, dressed in the luxuriously expensive evening wear Johnny had only seen on television and in the movies. Since it was a 60th birthday party, most of the guests were in the 60ish age range, so there was not much eye candy for either Johnny or Kona to look at. The effects of plastic surgery were obvious on some of the stranger looking people, mostly women, but a couple of men as well; a couple of faces pulled too tight, unnatural looking lips (and that was on a man!), and an breast implant or two thrown in for good measure. Johnny thought it was all so strange and fascinating. He hadn’t even been paying attention to Kona.

“C’mon, we can start getting stuff from the cocktail room.”

Johnny was on the move! He wanted out of there as fast as Kona did, so the two of them dashed into the entry room where the cocktail hour had been held.

“Quick, take this!” Kona handed Johnny a bouquet off a table.

The two of them worked feverishly, hoping to make one trip down before the rest of the party was ready to be broken down, saving them a good twenty minutes. They blew out candles, loaded more bouquets into a box, and then they began to dismantle the Kuninga that had been placed in the room, the Blue Room. Suddenly, a voice yelled out from behind them.

“What the %$#& are you doing?” (It was Bill! Johnny rolled his eyes. This was Kona’s problem, he figured. He wasn’t going anywhere near it!)

“Jonesy said we could break down in here,” Kona answered, instantly seething.

“I don’t care. You should know better Kona!”

“Look Bill, it’s been a long day and I want to get the %$#k outta here! I didn’t just go in and do it. I asked!”

“I said I don’t give a damn! I want you to put everything back, right now!”
Johnny wanted to be anywhere else in the world at that moment. Out of nowhere, Kona reached for a votive holder on the table and slammed it so hard on the floor the sound of shocked silence immediately reverberated through the room. Bill was a little frightened!

“Fine! Leave it then!” He began to walk away. Then, without turning around he told them to wait for Jonesy to come back before they did any more breaking down. Kona looked at Johnny, shook her head, and shrugged.

“C’mon, let’s clean this up and get going. I can’t wait to get the #$#* outta here.”
Kona and Johnny spent the next hour and a half doing their job without speaking. They never saw Bill again that night. Back in the van, Johnny spent the next hour and fifteen minutes listening to Kona dramaticize the situation, as she conjured up her story for Stewart. Clearly there was going to be trouble for this one!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Chapter 12: Bonding with Kona

About a month after the Collin's Estate wedding, Wellington's was booked to provide flowers for a private birthday party in New York City. One such event was a 60th birthday party for a rich old queen. It waqs set for the first weekend in November, the same weekend Stewart was going to Japan for their annual flower show. He asked Johnny to help Kona do the job. It turned out to be one of the longest days of Johnny's life, but it also gave him and Kona a last chance to bond as friends.

Since Johnny lived between Southampton and the city, Kona had to load the van herself and pick Johnny up along the way. The flowers and accessories needed for the event weren't too much to have to load into the van, except for the four boxes of heavy river rocks and the very expensive Kuninga vases they would later go into.

Kona got to Johnny's at 7:30AM. This would be the first time he would experience riding in the van with Kona driving for the 90-minute trip into Manhattan. She was a wild one, that was for sure, weaving and darting in and out of the traffic and making the trip in just under 50 minutes! They arrived at their destination on the Upper East Side just before 8:30.

The weather was unseasonably cold that day. A bitter wind coming off the East River reminded them that winter was just around the corner. It was too early to enter the venue. Bill's staff wasn't getting there until eleven o'clock and they couldn't enter the building until ten. Kona suggested they get a cup of coffee and wait in the warm van. Johnny agreed.

For the next hour or so, Johnny and Kona traded lines to the latest hip hop hits. "Hot damn, this is my jam. We're gonna party until the AM..." They laughed and sang, having a good time, and before they knew it, it was time to start unloading the van and trudge it all the way up to the 40th floor penthouse where the party would take place. They had to make a lot of trips!

Johnny and Kona labored through the next two hours, unpacking a little at a time from the van, carrying it to the freight elevator, going up, unloading, then returning down to the van for more. They would repeat this process over and over again until they had gotten the van completely unloaded. By then, Bill's people were already scurrying about, beginning to "pretty up" the room.

The theme for the party was color. There were several rooms in the penthouse and each would have its own color theme. There was a red room, a blue room, a green room and an orange one, and Kona had had to spray paint the leaves of tall stemmed flowers to match the color of each room. These painted flowers would be placed in prominent positions in each room within the Kuninga vases.

That would be the bulk of their work for the party, other than some placing of some pre-made centerpieces and candles on the tables throughout the apartment. Once they were done, they'd be on their own until 11PM, the end of the party, when they would have to break it all down. They'd planned on being done by 2PM or so, and were going to spend the afternoon and evening doing something fun in the city.

As things will go, Johnny and Kona's plans didn't quite happen as they had hoped. What they thought would be a simple setup turned out to be not so simple, especially when Bill arrived on the scene.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Aristocratic Affairs

Before Stewart started his own flower shop in the Hamptons, he had been a floral designer for one of the most exclusive flower shops in New York City, "Il Bello Fiore." During his time there, he'd become friendly one of their clients, William Tate III, "Bill", the owner of an upscale Manhattan caterer aptly named "Aristocratic Affairs." Much like Wellington's flower shop, Bill's company catered only to the very wealthy. His parties were well known in social circles throughout Manhattan and he referred a lot of business to Wellington's during the off season. Many weekends throughout the fall, Stewart would take Johnny into Manhattan to help him with these events.

Working events in the city with Aristocratic Affairs was a whole new experience for Johnny. Not only did he get the opportunity to see unbelievably upscale parties up close and personal, but working with Bill and his crew was always full of a different kind of tension than Johnny was used to at Wellingtons. Bill certainly knew what he was doing when it came to his business, but he wasn't the easiest person to work for.

Aristocratic Affairs had its own hall somewhere down in the West Village. It wasn't a large place, but it was big enough for parties of 80 people or so. The place was like a New York City loft, complete with brick walls and small nooks and crannies everywhere. Once it had been decorated with flowers (by Stewart, of course), it always looked amazing.

Another venue often used for Aristocratic Affairs parties was a building on the west end of 33rd Street. The building housed photography studios on each of its 10 or floors. The studios, each with wrap-around terraces giving magnificent views of the Hudson River, were wonderful settings for catered affairs. Every time Johnny worked a party there, he'd often fantasize about being a guest at one of them.

Bill was a big old, nasty queen. He's the kind of homosexual tyrant that gives gay people a bad name. His wait staff was made up entirely of wannabe actors and actresses, each one more stunning than the next. Johnny knew why they were hired, and he also figured that they must be paid well because they always took a lot of abuse from the dude at every single party...and so did the lighting guys, and the photographers, the kitchen workers, and the flower people!

Johnny hated Bill. Being that he technically worked for Stewart, Johnny always steered clear of Bill whenever they worked an event. Unfortunately, whenever Bill got worked up over something, which was almost every time right before the start of the party, Stewart, and evidently Johnny, would find themselves running around helping out Bill's crew so that they'd be ready for the event.

Bill was prone to yelling and name calling whenever he got agitated. The words 'idiot' and 'ass' flew out of his mouth like water out of a faucet. When Bill came into the venue, usually an hour before the start of the event, tension levels rose. Waiters and waitresses would scramble to finish their place settings, the lighting guys would rush to finish whatever it was they were doing, that is, until Bill changed his mind about the placement of a spotlight or two. Stewart and Johnny would invariably end up lighting candles or moving tables, or whatever other orders Bill barked out at them.

For all of his tense-filled tirades, Bill was good at what he did: throwing fabulous, upscale parties. Each of his affairs inevitably brought new clients to his business. One of the coolest weddings Johnny had ever helped set up was a New York City-themed wedding in which both the bride and groom were aficionados of the metropolis. The groom, an amateur photographer, had taken photos of some of the couple's favorite spots in the city: Soho, Central Park, Yankee Stadium, The Battery, and a whole lot more. These pictures would serve as Billboards for what Stewart was doing on the tables.

For this event, Stewart had brought square shaped vases in four different heights. They would serve as faux buildings, a skyline on every table. Clear, glass rocks were placed at the bottom of each vase and tall grasses were situated within. The black and white photos were put on the sides of the "buildings" as billboards showcasing the features of each location throughout the city that had a special meaning to the couple. Instead of placards with table numbers, each table had a subway sign with the name of the locale on it. The venue was very original and it looked spectacular!

Nevertheless, Johnny always dreaded working one of Bill's parties. In fact, one of the last times Johnny would ever work with Kona ended up being one of the longest days of Johnny's life, and that day the two of them would bond in a new way united against Bill's wrath.

to be continued...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wedding Days: Johnny's First Wedding

Once that first summer was over, Johnny went back to school and Wellington's went on without him. The school year begins right after Labor Day, and with it all the summer residents go back to their multi-million dollar apartments in the city. Business at the flower shop tends to slow down, and this was one of the reasons Johnny was such a good fit for Wellington's. Though the day to day business at Wellington's slowed down considerably, business didn't go away completely after Labor Day.

Autumn is a popular time of the year for weddings, and Stewart Wellington made the bulk of his fall business in the world of these ( least in the world of the rich and famous!) super extravagant affairs. Weddings and other such events keep Wellington's going throughout the fall. Besides, big events like these provide a quick boost in profits without all the headaches of day to day flower business, and one event can equal a lot of gift deliveries!

Read more of part 1 here.

It was a beautiful autumn day in late September, a perfect day for a fall wedding. The setting was appropriate for such an elegant affair: a matrimonial ceremony performed beneath a white gazebo amongst rows of grapevines; a cocktail reception in the courtyard of a monasterial edifice overlooking miles and miles of vineyards; the upper crust of the Hamptons, dressed in their most elegant evening wear, and Wellington's was responsible for making it beautiful.

Read more of the conclusion here.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Brushes with Celebrities

One day, early on in his days at Wellington's Flower Shop, Johnny was sweeping the shop floor when the phone rang. Kona answered. It was one of those worldwide floral networks like FTD, only for a more upscale clientele. For those few moments, the shop was quiet, except for Kona's voice speaking to the other person on the line. Johnny wasn't paying too much attention until he heard the name Madonna.

"I'm delivering flowers to Madonna?" Johnny ran over to Kona the moment she hung up the phone.

"No, no...the order was from Madonna, not to her. Besides, she lives in England these days."

Johnny's excitement vanished as quickly as it came. Well it was still cool to be delivering flowers for Madonna.

"We're not even doing the arrangement," Kona added. "They're going to the city, so we're passing it along to another shop."

"Dang!" Johnny thought. He'd had a feeling when he started at Wellington's that he'd get to deliver flowers to some famous people, and Madonna was definitely high on his wish list of celebrities. It didn't take too long, however, before Johnny did get to make some deliveries to and from some of the famous people that hung about the Hamptons during the summer.

The first one he ever did was to a funeral. Russell Simmons ordered an arrangement sent to the wake of a friend who had passed. It wasn't too exciting, except Johnny got to write out the message from the famous record producer. "With Deepest Sympathy, Russell Simmons." Though that was nothing really, Johnny did eventually get to have some real brushes with some big stars.

There was that time when Johnny brought an anniversary arrangement to Jimmy Buffet's house in Noyac. That was pretty cool! He had like five houses on his huge property, like a little village. Candace Bergen peeked at Johnny through her window as he handed a "Congratulations on your Emmy nomination" arrangement to her housekeeper. Kelly Ripa wasn't home when Johnny brought a Mother's Day bouquet for her and her mom, but she enjoyed the flowers so much she ordered some to be sent to another Southampton couple as a thank you for dinner.

Johnny's biggest firsthand experience with a celebrity came when a magazine editor called the shop to order flowers to be sent to Billy Joel, a year round resident of Long Island. They were a thank you for a recent interview the singer had done for the magazine. As he anxiously waited for Kona to finish making it up, Johnny tried to find the address on the local map of East Hampton, which included the pretty seaside town of Sag Harbor.

Sag Harbor is unlike the rest of the towns in the Hamptons. Most residents of the town are working class people, and Johnny couldn't recall seeing any of the McMansions there that he'd seen in the rest of the Hamptons. He figured that since Billy Joel lived there, though, there had to be a street or two where some big, expensive houses existed. The address was close to the water, so Johnny kept his eye out for just such a street once he got close to the area.

As it turned out, Johnny passed the Joel residence about five times before he realized it. The house was ordinary and very unassuming, completely the opposite of what Johnny expected. Johnny was nervous as he went into the back of the van to retrieve the gift arrangement. He opened the gate to the driveway and walked up to the front door, with butterflies in his stomach. Johnny knocked on the door.

"Hi." (It was him!)

"These are for you," Johnny said, holding out the flowers.

There was no mistaking the famous singer. His deep set eyes were instantly recognizable. He was looking a little ragged, dressed in sweats and a t-shirt, and he seemed a little grumpy. "Maybe I woke him up," Johnny thought. As he opened his door a little wider to take the flowers from Johnny, two little Pugs ran out the door.

"Hey, get back here!" he yelled to the two dogs. Johnny had left the gate open and Mr. Joel was visibly agitated that they were going to run into the street. Johnny Driver quickly became Johnny on the Spot as he ran ahead of the dogs to close the gate. Crisis averted. Before Johnny could make it back to the front door, the dogs were already back in the house with Billy, and the door was shut. He didn't give Johnny a tip, and he never even said thank you.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Flower Emergency

Unbeknownst to Johnny, the loss of the Robinson account was only a small part of a larger discord growing between his new friend Kona and their bosses Stewart and James. Kona was a free spirit, and never minced words whenever something bothered her. She didn't take things too seriously, especially when it came to the strange "flower emergencies" that clients would have fits over. This didn't bode well for her in the long run.

Hydrangeas are the unofficial flower of the Hamptons. During the blooming season in late July/early August, hydrangeas would line the fronts of seemingly every Hampton garden. Hamptonites not only love their hydrangea outside, but many just have to have them inside, as well, adorning their foyers, living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens and bedrooms. Rather than cut from their own gardens, however, they quite often would pay upwards of fifteen to twenty dollars per stem of the puffy flower to be included with their weekly orders from the shop. For Stewart, hydrangeas were a must each week at the flower market, and they were very profitable!

One particular week, the demand for hydrangea was unusually high. The shop was running low on them and Stewart desperately needed some for a dinner party that was upcoming. On the way to the Robinson's that Thursday, Kona was telling Johnny about the shop's own "flower emergency." Along the way, Johnny couldn't help but notice some of the beautiful specimens lining the entrances to some of the gates on Captain's Neck Rd.

"We should just come back tonight and cut some of these," Johnny suggested jokingly.

A light bulb went off in Kona's head. "That's it! After work, you and I are gonna come back and clip some. We'll wait til after dark and take some from here and some from there. No one will ever know."

"I was just joking Kona. We can't do that. We'll get caught!"

It took the rest of the day for Kona to convince Johnny to go with her on this scheme. In the end, it all went off without a hitch, and Stewart unknowingly made a little extra in profits that week. All in all, it was fun for Johnny. He wasn't used to breaking rules and got some sort of a thrill from doing something underhanded. It was the kind of thing he liked about Kona, non-conformist that she was. Eventually she confessed to the scheme and Stewart, with only a slight disapproval, let it go, but in the end it would turn out to be another nail in Kona's coffin.

Drama at the Flower Shop

Kona lived upstairs from the flower shop. The apartment was part of her contract agreement with Stewart and James. She'd get to stay there as long as she worked for Wellingtons, but it didn't take too long for some drama to surface with regards to the apartment. Kona's extracurricular activities would ultimately prove to add to her already tense relationship with James and Stewart.

It wasn't bad for Kona living in Southampton because she'd had roots there and she was by no means shy. Once the shop was closed for the day, she'd always managed to find ways of keeping herself busy, going to the local meeting places and having fun. About halfway through the summer she started dating a much younger guy, Troy. Troy was a pup, much younger than Kona at a mere 21 years of age, and her attraction to him seemed to be more physical than anything.

Apparently, Troy had also been within the sights of Kona's cousin, who also lived in Southampton. Johnny never really found out the true story of what happened, but Kona's relationship with Troy ended up into a developing war between her and her family. At the same time, Troy had had a falling out with his own family and at first only quietly moved into the apartment with Kona, but since the apartment was right upstairs, it didn't stay quiet for too long.

Read more here.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Weekly Gone Awry

As that first summer at Wellington's wore on, the relationship between Johnny and Kona warmed quite nicely to where a point where they'd actually become friends. After discovering a shared affinity for cute guys, they found they had something in common from which they could form a relationship. They shared similar interests in music, hip hop mostly, and found themselves singing along in perfect synch to the latest hip hop hit on the radio:
"Apple bottom jeans, boots with the fur."

"the whole club was looking at her..."

Kona had a witty sense of humor, constantly sending her coworkers into fits of uproarious laughter. But where she excelled in the humor department, she lacked in customer service. Kona never takes things too seriously, and had a tough time reconciling the demanding nature of Wellington's clientele with what she saw as a not so serious subject as beautiful flower arrangements. It was hard for her to hide her disdain for them when they'd fuss in their often dismissive manner. This got her into lots of trouble with Stewart and especially James.

There was a weekly client that Kona was responsible for. She had sold the weekly installation herself Stewart put her in charge of it. They were an uber-rich family that made their money through hedge funds (Johnny never quite understood what that was exactly.). The Robinsons spent a lot of money on flowers, and the Mrs. was very particular about her weekly flower arrangements.

The Robinsons had a huge home with lots of servants. It was the first house that Johnny had been to that had its own manager, a personal assistant who took care of all house business for the family, like overseeing the staff, and making sure things went just as the Robinsons wanted them to. His name was Peter, and both Johnny and Kona thought he was adorable and often debated over which "team" he played for. (Johnny was sure he was on his team!)

Johnny and Kona went to the Robinson's every Thursday morning, with numerous arrangements. They weren't allowed to enter through the front door on the main floor of the house, where all of the flowers would be placed. Instead, they had to go into the house via the garage, at the basement level of the house where the servant's quarters were located. Kona would usually grab one arrangement on the way up, but Johnny was the one to trek up and down the stairs and navigate his way around the various obstacles (including a flotilla of bicycles which belonged to only two or three kids) in his way several times. This installation always proved to be a good aerobic workout for Johnny.

The first few weeks at the Robinson's went well. Though complements were never received, neither were complaints, and for the Hamptons that's always a good thing. Towards the end of July, however, things suddenly changed. Before Johnny and Kona had even returned from their installation, Mrs. Robinson, who had gone unseen during the visit, had called the shop, unhappy with that week's choice of flowers. Johnny and Kona would have to go back to the house to pick up the arrangements and Kona would have to do them all over again and return within two hours, for the Robinsons were having guests over the weekend.

Kona was fuming! She'd worked hard on those arrangements and in her opinion she hadn't deviated from what she'd been doing all along. She redid all of them, mumbling angrily under her breath all the while. It was the first of what would be an almost weekly occurrence for the remainder of that summer, and before the end of the season, for reasons unbeknownst to Stewart, Wellington Flowers was fired from the Robinson job. Though it wasn't necessarily her fault, the situation instigated a rift on Kona and Stewart's relationship.

To be continued...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Chapter 5: The Weeklies and Another Mishap

One of Johnny's least liked things about working at Wellingtons was helping out with the weeklies. When he'd first learned about these weekly "installations", as Stewart calls them, he found it hard to believe that people actually paid upwards of a thousand dollars or more per week to put flowers in their home. But it is the Hamptons, and if anyone can afford doing so, it would be these people.

The weekly clients are a part of the upper echelons of the Hamptons elite. Going to their homes every week would always prove to be a new experience for Johnny, and would add to his already strange fascination with the rich folk. To him, these folks embody all of the preconceptions people have of the wealthy and then some.

Nearly every house in the Hamptons is its own fortress. Hedges standing ten feet tall surround these compounds to prevent curious gawkers. Automated gates guard the entrance to the driveways, with call boxes standing by that will or will not necessarily garner one admission to the premises. All of the driveways in the Hamptons are made of loose stone or gravel. Johnny could never figure out why. They're probably just too long and would cost too much money to be paved, he thought. Or maybe they're afraid of being ostracized for daring to be different.

Hamptonites take great care that their neighbors' homes are just as they'd like them to be. Not exhibiting the same aesthetic as the rest of the homes in the neighborhood can cause an uproar. In fact, a house on Meadow Lane, purportedly owned by Calvin Klein, was demolished several months ago and is now being rebuilt because the manse was considered an eyesore for many years by its neighbors.

Once inside the grounds of these fortresses, gaining access into the house can be just as challenging. Seemingly, none of the doorbells in the Hamptons work, and oftentimes you have to knock on a thick wooden door that makes such a small sound one can't imagine someone in the expansive house will hear. In these cases a simple opening of the door to let yourself in is what ends up happening. It's quite strange to Johnny that they many of these people actually expect you to do this.

The only thing fun about the weeklies was getting to talk about them afterwards. Stewart, Kona, and Jackie all had names for many of these clients, some to match their little quirks, and others simply for the fun of it. There's "Matchy, Matchy", who always wears her accessories to carefully match the rest of her outfit, and Bambi, the one who's always having dinner parties and looking for free advice on her table settings from Stewart. "Bigfoot" should never wear thongs in public. "Polly Wanna Cracker" and "Branch Lady" both have a flair for the dramatic, with large opulent branchy things in their foyers each week.

One day the shop had gotten really busy, and Stewart wasn't able to go out with Johnny to Branch Lady's house. He asked Johnny if he'd be willing to go it alone.

"Huh? I don't know", Johnny answered. He was a little apprehensive about it because he'd never gone there alone before and he was afraid to run into the previously unseen Branch Lady, for fear of scrutiny at his having to set up the arrangement.

"It'll be simple. I'll fix the branches in a vase and all you'll have to do is bring it there and switch em out."

Reluctantly, Johnny agreed. That week's installation was olive branches, and they were big and bulky. He loaded the precious cargo into the van and took off. The roads in the Hamptons are surprisingly uneven and bumpy, and Stewart had always told Johnny to take it slow on his deliveries. Unfortunately, he took a turn a little too fast, and the olive branches tipped over, spilling gallons of water on the floor of the van and messing up the carefully arranged composition. Johnny pulled over, lifting the giant vase upright and fixing it more securely for the remainder of the trip.

He arrived at "Branch Lady's" house in Watermill, uneasily letting himself into the house and rearranging the branches as best he could. Though he was by no means a floral designer, he'd thought he had done a pretty good job at recreating Stewart's original arrangement. He removed the previous week's branches, crab apples, and returned to the flower shop, having already forgotten what had happened during his trip.

The following morning, Stewart told Johnny to go back to "Branch Lady's" house. "I don't know," he muttered. "She called this morning to say that the whole arrangement was dead looking and she wants it replaced." Johnny's eyes bulged. He had forgotten to replace the water that had spilled in the van and the darned things dried up.

"Oh well," Johnny thought as he hopped back into the van to return to Watermill, "He didn't seem suspicious as to why the branches died so quickly. I'm not going to say a word." Stewart never found out what happened that day...that is, until now!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Chapter 4, A Polo Club Fiasco

With time, Johnny's awkward relationship with Kona would dissipate, but not before a mishap or two. One Friday, Stewart was out on business and Kona was the only designer in the shop. She'd recently sold a weekly job providing flower arrangements for two sponsoring companies of the annual Bridgehampton Polo Tournament, a six-week deal.

"John, listen, I need you to get these arrangements to the polo club in Bridgehampton, ASAP. They have to be there by one o'clock, so make that your first stop."

Read more here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Chapter 1, Johnny's first day

Although he’d had many jobs before, John was nervous that first Wednesday when he started working at Wellington Flowers. He’d never done anything like this before, and he certainly never worked in such an upscale atmosphere, where all the clients drove Range Rovers and the bouquets started at $75.

James had told John to report at 10 a.m. that first morning. Wednesday was flower market day, so Stewart wouldn’t be til around noon, but Kona would be there to help him get started on some things at the shop. Kona was the floral designer Stewart had hired just that year, his third in Southampton, and she was the third floral designer to work for him. She’s an interesting mix of Shinnecock Indian and either English or Australian descent, John couldn’t tell which from her accent. She lived in an apartment right above the shop.

Eager to get started, John arrived fifteen minutes early. The shop was dark inside and the door was locked. There was no sign of any sort of life inside, so he waited….and waited…and waited for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, around ten thirty, he heard someone come bounding down the staircase outside the entrance to the shop. It was Kona.

“Um, hi, I’m John, the new delivery guy.”

Kona said nothing, giving John the once over as she fumbled through her purse for the keys to open the shop. Unlocking the door, and without a word, she flew around the shop turning on the lights as she went. John followed her in, not quite knowing how to react to her. He stood there as Kona flitted about, appearing to keep busy so she could continue to ignore him.

The phone rang. It was Stewart. Kona’s demeanor suddenly changed as she chatted with the boss, making jokes and talking nonsense. He asked about John.

“Oh, yeah, he’s here,” she answered him, glancing over at the new driver for the first time since she walked into the store. “What shall I have him do til you get here?” There was a pause. “Yeah…yeah, yeah, well alright.”

Finally, Kona spoke. It had only been about an hour after John arrived at the shop, but apparently Stewart was on his way in and since she was in charge, she figured she should keep him busy. She spent almost five full minutes reciting a list of things for John to do: wash all the vases in the basement, sweep the floor, take all the empty boxes out to the garage, etc., etc., etc. All of it was fine with John, who simply wanted to get started. Besides, he was glad that he’d get to keep away from her for awhile, at least until Stewart got there.

John and Kona worked in silence for at least another hour until Stewart arrived with the week’s flowers. The work was physical, but John didn’t mind it at all. Once the owner arrived, it was time to unload the van with flowers and plant life of all kinds, some John had never seen before. That day he learned more than he ever thought he’d learn about flowers.

Wednesday, flower market day, was all about preparing the week’s purchases for all the upcoming orders that the socialites would need for their weekend parties in the Hamptons. Though prepping the flowers was interesting, it wasn’t what John had expected. He had been wondering all day when he’d get to make some deliveries, and some tips.

Finally, a little after midday the calls started coming in. Mrs. North was having a birthday party and needed a centerpiece for her dinner table, something ‘low and lush’. An ‘earthy’ gift bouquet was ordered for an anniversary. Another “thanks for the wonderful time this weekend” gift order was placed. Finally, John would get out there start making some real cash!

Just as he had gotten the van loaded with his first round of deliveries and was ready to head out, the suddenly busy phone rang once more. It was Mrs. North. She was running a little behind preparing for her dinner party and wanted to know if the delivery driver would pick up the birthday cake she’d ordered at the local bake shop and deliver it with the centerpiece. Stewart charged her $50 for the service, and John suddenly had an extra stop to make.

The first round of deliveries had gone well, that is, until John had to make his delivery to the North’s. Most of the houses in the Hamptons all have the same address marker, a little, round, white sign in the ground with a number (and sometimes a name, like Garden of Eden or Tara or Monkey See, Monkey Do!), but there are a great many houses without any markings whatsoever, and the North house was one of these.

John went up and down Meeting Horse Pike for what seemed like a million times, searching for number 109. He’d had an idea of which one it was, but it was a corner house and it was hard to tell which street the address belonged to. Finally, he decided to knock on the door, cake and flowers in hand.

There was no doorbell, only a glass door. He put the bouquet down and knocked, but glass doesn’t really make much of a sound. There was no answer. He tried knocking on a window, but with the same result. Exasperated, he decided to walk around the corner of the property to where the backyard was.

As he approached the driveway that was on the other street, he heard voices and some splashing from behind the tall bamboo hedges. “No wonder nobody answered, they’re out by the pool,” John concluded to himself as he got closer to the gate. He walked up the gravel driveway, beside a six-foot fence, careful not to drop his precious cargo. As there was no place to knock, he got up on his tippy toes to peer over the fence.

“Excuse me, is this 109…”

“Ahhhh!” There was the sound of about fifteen little girls screaming. John had startled them. He immediately crouched down behind the fence, almost dropping the cake as he realized that the girls were all naked!

“Um,” he called out again, this time in a nervous voice. “Is this 109 Meeting Horse Pike?” He was shocked by what he had seen and wasn’t sure what to do.

“Don’t know, really,” a twenty-something, presumably the chaperone, answered in a cockney accent. “We’re just ere for the weekend visitin.”

John read the name off the cake. “Is there a Gwendolyn who’s having a birthday?”

“Oh, Gwennie! Yeah, this is it.” She clapped her hands a couple of times. “Girls, cover up now!” She called John into the backyard, cake, flowers and all as some of the girls jumped into the pool and others covered themselves up with their towels. John kept his head down the whole time as he entered the backyard to put the delivery down on the closest table.

“Thanks” he said and without waiting for acknowledgement, he got out of there as fast as his feet would take him. Five minutes later he was back at Wellington’s, looking flushed.

“How’d it go?” Stewart asked.

John told him and Kona the story as both of them smiled at each other knowingly. “He he,” Stewart laughed. Oh that’s nothing Johnny Driver. Just wait! Did they give you a tip?”

By the end of that first day, Johnny was tired. He hadn’t made one tip, and he was a little surprised at that, but it was only the first day. “These people are weird!” he thought as he got back into his car to go home. At least he got Stewart and Kona to laugh with his story of the prepubescent naked girls, and he earned himself a new nickname: Johnny Driver. He liked it. Maybe things will turn out alright after all. “Can’t wait til tomorrow,” he said aloud as he drove out of the parking lot.

To be continued…

Monday, August 10, 2009

Johnny Driver - Prologue

It was the summer of 2007. Summer school was cancelled that year, so John needed to find some work…and soon! The bills didn’t take summer vacations, and he had to do something, anything, to bring some money into the house. Little did he know he’d end up with a job that’d last four years and counting, a job that would bring him great friends, countless mishaps and unforgettable experiences with the rich and famous, a job that would earn him a new nickname: Johnny Driver.

John started his job search at the beginning of June. He thought he might make some good cash driving a limo. An old client of his from his banking days had convinced him to get a Class B license so that he could make some extra cash from time to time driving one of the guy’s limousines. He put an ad on Craigslist:

“Teacher looking for part time summer work as a driver.”

He placed the ad in the “driving” section of the classifieds, and so he expected to get replies from limousine and taxi companies. Though he did get a few of those, none of them were close enough to his house for the job to be worth it. After a couple of days, John received a reply to the ad that simply said: “Why don’t you call Wellington Flowers?”

Wellington Flowers? He immediately went to Google and did a search. Wellington’s was a flower shop located all the way out in the Hamptons, about 45 minutes away. His curiosity was piqued. He decided to give them a call.

The following Friday, John drove all the way out to the Southampton for his interview at Wellington’s Flower Shop. He was greeted by Stewart Wellington, the owner and floral designer who was well known around the elite circles of the Hamptons.
“Good morning. My name is John and I’m here about the job.”

Stewart finally looked up from the arrangement he was working on to give John the once over. “Oh, hi,” he said, not all too excited to meet the prospective driver. “How’d you hear about the job?” Stewart asked as he returned his focus to the sunflower arrangement.

“Um, I got this email. I’m a teacher and I need a job for the summer. I put an ad on Craigslist and I got an email from you guys that said...”

Stewart cut him off. “An email? Hmm, well it wasn’t from me. I dunno,” he shrugged his shoulders. “Well if you’re serious about the job…I don’t want someone who’s going to quit on me after a couple of weeks.”

John already didn’t want the job. He wasn’t sure if he’d wanted it in the first place, anyway, and this guy was being a real snobbish ass.

“James! Driver’s here!” Stewart yelled down to the basement.

Stewart ushered John towards a door behind him leading to the basement. The interview was to take place with his partner in business and in life, James. It didn’t take long for James to figure out that John was perfectly capable of handling the job. He explained it to him anyway:

“I expect someone who takes this job to be hardworking. I mean, ya can’t just hang around waiting for deliveries to be ready. You need to keep yourself busy. There’s lot’s of things to do around here.” All John could do was nod his head as James kept on talking. “Wellington’s is the number one flower shop in the Hamptons and that’s because Stewart is the best.” He offered John the job, but at that moment John wasn’t sure if he wanted it. He asked James if he could mull it over for a day and get back to him in the morning.

“Uh, sure, I can understand that.”

John shook James’ hand and went back upstairs to leave. Stewart was chatting with a client, a typical Hamptons’ socialite, Johnny thought to himself as he passed through. She was dressed in a designer sweat suit and Johnny could see plenty of bling on her fingers as she stroked her Jack Russell terrier that she held in her hands. Neither of them noticed John as he walked past.

As John exited the shop, another gentleman walked in past the “help wanted” sign in the window. It was then that he decided he wanted the job. “This could be a very interesting job”, he thought. “Delivering flowers in the summer playground of the rich and…famous! Wow, he might even get a chance to meet some famous people! How cool would that be? And the tips! Ooh, he could make a lot of money with this one.” He wanted to run back inside right then and there and take the job, but he knew that wouldn’t be right. He thought of Stewart. “Yeah, I’d better think this through,” he concluded.

The next morning, John gave James a call. He’d be starting on Wednesday. Little did he know what awaited him…

To be continued…