Jim goes to Harness (From the collection of short stories, “My Girlfriend at the Time”

The thing about Jim Rinaldi is that he was brilliant at writing and Philosophy and spatial design and studying. But he had a bad combination of a bleeding heart and snobbery. So with all of his skills, his professors at Haverford imagined that he’d be excellent in urban planning or architecture. Some encouraged him to go to law school; one of the best in the country was nearby in West Philadelphia.

“You could be the editor of the Law Review and have a job the minute you graduate. A good job, where you can affect lives.” said his 18th Century English professor.

“I believe you have the innate analytical ability to teach Philosophy, Jim. You quickly grasp concepts and your spin on them is original and clear,” said his Philosophy professor.

Jim wanted to make money. He wanted to make it hand over fist over hand over fist and he didn’t want any ethereal pursuit like thinking about Aristotle or worrying about where poor people were going to live to get in his way. He knew that to start empathizing with the plight of the downtrodden was a death sentence, sure to take him down some Teach for America or Brad Pitthian neighborhood-building sort of path. That was not going to happen. He did not have that luxury. Those pursuits were better left to the Van Hooks who were faced with nothing but disposable income and could afford to be philanthropic.

In order to woo and win Mckenna Howard, Jim had to find a job that was airtight for financial gain. And he mustn’t become waylaid as he had in the past. There was that summer job he had at Ashborne Country Club. He had been lucky to get it. A ton of his friends were out of jobs that year before high school graduation, but he had taken the initiative to make up a resume, and become well versed in golf, before he had the interview with the manager. He picked the dirt between the cleats gratefully, relieved that he’d have movie and gas money, and wouldn’t have to ask his parents. His mother had just had her gall bladder removed; his father sat in front of the TV, wordlessly, for hours. To gather up the energy to ask them for extra cash was too much even for an eighteen year old filled with vitality. He would have his own money now, at the end of the week. It was all in order until he met Old Gary, the full time locker room attendant and maintenance man.

Old Gary was a candy salesman, or had been, years before. He repeated himself and told stories about women, and the road, while Jimmy listened. He was taken with Jimmy, couldn’t believe that someone of that stature, those brains, would be sitting next to him, here in this locker room cleaning out these cleats. Every time Jim would zone out and try to survive listening to another of Old Gary’s stories, Old Gary would pull Jim back in with a compliment, pointed and specific.

“Oh yeah. I came to this club many a time, many a time. Came as a guest of the Tennis Pro. Tennis pro played with what’s his name… Bobby something…I know his name but things fall out of my head like pebbles. Rocks in the head! Yeah, he brought me to lunch many a time and we’d sling back the old Manhattans in those days. That’s what we did at a businessman’s lunch. It wasn’t an event, it just was. Then somewhere near the end of the lunch, the Tennis pro, he told me he’d take 30 dozen peanut butter crackers because he knew a guy with three stands on Roosevelt Blvd who’d sell them for 5 cents each. And he figured he’d make out pretty good and I certainly did. That’s all it took, in those days. Just a nice lunch or two, a couple of Manhattans and that was a deal. Seal it with a handshake and that was it. You didn’t need your MBA or your ADL. You just had yourself and that was enough. You would have been a millionaire twice over in those days, Jim. Someone like you, with that mind, that reserve you’ve got, but a handsome way and a smart way. You’re the type that women love, but men, too. Like a Henry Fonda or, I know, like a –who’s the big guy today- the guy who’s friends with the other guy- they made the movie together about the guy who’s a genius but he’s a janitor. Will Damon. That’s you. But really, Jim, you gotta get out of a place like this. You gotta do something with your life that’s beautiful and means something. But only to one person. Mean something to one person, your whole life long. If you can achieve that…

Jim left work each day, smelly, dirty hands, grass in his hair after he mowed the lawns around the locker rooms, feet aching and stinging from walking up and down the greens, lugging clubs, back to the locker room, toilet water all over his shirt. He desperately wanted to jump into the club pool, clean off everything, sneak in between the legs of one of the gorgeous suburban women who were lying like white ribbons on chaise lounges and sleep there, kiss their insides and sleep. But all he could do was think of Old Gary — Old Gary going home to his shitty room in Cheltenham at the bottom of a row house across from the mall, Old Gary crying by himself at his bathroom mirror, enveloped in loneliness and the past. Old Gary needed a friend to take him to a movie, to buy him a steak.

“Okay, said his mother, “so the old man is lonely. But what are you supposed to do about it? It’s not your fault. It’s not your problem. You have college to be thinking of and college is enough. Jim, you’re a sweet boy, but you get yourself so involved with these people. Keep your mind on what’s in front of you. Why do you always wanna get yourself so involved?”

If only his mother knew what he really wanted. He imagined his father must, as he glanced over at their conversation from his immovable position on the couch watching Jeopardy, Family Feud and reruns of The Andy Griffith show. His father must have known that Jim’s plan to go to the best school, make the best grades, play on as many teams as he could, argue on the debate team, attend Model UN, try to make Eagle Scout, write the most compelling college essay- that all of it was designed for Jim to get himself into one of those majestic Tudor houses on Moreland Road, the ones with pools and circular driveways and a woman walking out to get the mail with legs as long as a winter night and black hair in white shorts. That was the woman who would be the other half of the man Jim wanted to be, the rich man, the successful man, the Rydal man or more. So after Jim met Mckenna, and Chris Van Hook, and the other Haverfordians — and all of the gang graduated five years later and moved to Manhattan, it was Harness Staffing that held the keys to the kingdom for Jim.

Old Gary was a shadow, now blown away like smoke from a hipster’s cigarette. Jim had given Old Gary what he wanted, some snapshots of himself carrying golf clubs, lounging by the pool. Five years later it occurred to Jim what Old Gary might be doing with those pictures, late at night, coming home from downing a few shots administered by the corner bar, as Manhattans were expensive. It caused in Jim an acute combination of nausea and sadness, neither of which served him well as of now. Now was his first day at Harness Staffing, an outsourcing company for corporations who could save a shitload on salaries and benefits by employing foreign workers. Jim helped train the Indian voices over the phone how to talk to potential clients, that was one of his duties. But more than that, the promise had been held out to him upon his hiring. He was the face of Harness, he was told by its head, Robert Braunstein, a Reiki master and Hampton’s most successful real estate developer.

“Jim, you come to us with an excellent background. Excellent. I thought of going to Swarthmore myself for a while, but then found that some practical knowledge was just as valuable as all the things that my parents had imagined for me. Not that I didn’t love them, I just didn’t love their thoughts. So when I did away with those thoughts, it brought me here. To New York City and to Harness, a company which is the guiding light for so many other companies underneath us. And of course, there was Mindi Schottenstein, my wife and part owner of Schottenstein Automotive. So to say that a match was made is an understatement. Unless you can see the fire lit by that match! The explosion!! And now here you are, right in the thick of it, burning up, right along with us. Welcome, Jim Rinaldi. Harness Staffing, burning bright, says hello to one of its newest, most luminous young bulbs.”

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