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…