The Oasis — A History
External Affairs — Book III
External Affairs is a serial story currently consisting of two books. Links to the chapters in each of the books can be found below. Much of the story takes place in a bar called The Oasis. Book III tells the story of the history of that bar.
Theodore H. Weston came back from World War I restless and, like many of his generation, with the feeling that the world as he had previously known it, could not possibly ever be the same again. Not with the things he’d seen. Bodies blown apart, men gasping their last breath as fire rained relentlessly from the sky. The remains of some of these men twisted in the barbed wire like some grotesque and macabre sculpture. The mustard gas, the wretched conditions in the trenches and the stench of human bodies, both living and dead. Humanity had turned down a dark corner.
However, he’d also witnessed what America could accomplish when motivated and understood by the end of the war the direction it was headed. America would be the light that cut through the darkness. There would be no stopping America during this century. It would be a juggernaut in every way, militarily, economically, artistically, and there was no country like it on earth. What his place would be in this land of opportunity he was not sure, but he knew he wanted to be a part of it. He joined the army just after his eighteenth birthday and arrived back at his parents’ home in Greenwich, Connecticut a few weeks before his twentieth.
Even back then Greenwich had a reputation for affluence, a suburban enclave for the rich and members of high society. His parents though, seemed to be in neither category. His father had a steady job as a local banker, but he seemed to enjoy spending most of his free time, and Theodore suspected some of his work time, at the local saloon around the corner from the bank. His mother, a mousy woman who would endure her husband’s drunken tirades with a stoic resignation, didn’t seem to have much of a head for money either. Whatever her husband gave her, she spent.
Theodore’s younger brother Michael, too young to take part in the Great War, was still in high school when he returned, though that seemed a mere formality. School didn’t hold Michael’s interest, and it was apparent to Theodore that Michael had no intention of finishing. Always a tough kid, and someone known to have a constant chip on his shoulder, Michael preferred boxing at the local gym, picking up work as a day laborer at one of the local construction companies when he needed cash, and occasionally collecting debts for the local bookie. Violence never bothered Michael, and Theodore thought he would have made a good soldier, but there was no chance of that. America was at peace again, and Michael had no desire for discipline.
Theodore spent the summer of 1919 in his parents’ home, observing this stagnant miasma they all seemed locked in, and finishing his own high school degree, which he was not able to do before heading off to war. At the end of the summer, diploma in hand, he enrolled in New York University, moved to Manhattan and never looked back. At school he studied banking and finance, and to support himself, worked as a waiter for a restaurant near Wall Street. Occasionally he tended the bar in the little room behind a nondescript door with the tiny peephole in it, in the back of the restaurant, that continued to serve certain customers alcohol even as Prohibition hung over the nation starting in 1920.
Both as a waiter and a bartender, he listened to his customers, their stories about their jobs, problems, wives, mistresses, anxieties, excesses. He was a good listener and people seemed comfortable confiding in him. Mostly, he was interested in hearing about their jobs. Business was booming. Stocks, bonds, land, all seemed to be flowing like a great river of money across America. There was also a fair amount of money being made in the underground alcohol trade, but Theodore wanted no part of that. On his few trips back home, he’d learned that his brother had been dabbling in that as well, but Theodore wanted his life to be legitimate.
After graduating, he took a job at a brokerage house, RC Investments, not far from the restaurant where he worked. Most of the people there had been his customers over the years, so they already knew him. He had a reputation as a hard worker, being a keen listening and having a sharp mind, and each of these traits followed him to his new job. He dove right in, studying each and every investment with meticulous fervor, staying late each night, and taking work home with him on the weekends.
And the money was good. Putting himself through school had taught him the value of a dollar, and witnessing his parents’ spendthrift ways motivated him further to save. He wasn’t a particularly social animal and he had essentially no vices, though he would indulge in the occasional drink with some co-workers in the back bar of the restaurant he used to work at, if for no other reasons, to not seem completely anti-social, and also certain co-workers might divulge information in a social and alcohol infused setting that they might not at work, which might be useful to further his financial goals. He lived lean, well below his means, unlike many people of that time, and the money began to pile up. Each month, his savings grew larger. Come bonus time, they took a giant leap.
Still, the restlessness he felt when he returned in 1919 had not abated and certain things were nagging at him. One was that America was having too good a time. The country was booming. There was no question about that. Something though, something was not quite right, and Theodore could not put his finger on it. He just had this feeling that it couldn’t last. The second itch that he could not scratch was that he wasn’t doing enough. There were times when he felt he was actually doing nothing at all. He was a cog in this money machine, which seemed at times to be running on vapors, with no real substance. When he returned from the war, after what he’d seen, he wanted his life to have a purpose. He wanted to do something that had meaning. And what he was doing, buying, selling, speculating, greasing the wheels of the money machine, didn’t fulfill that desire.
This all changed on the day he met Millie.
Mildred Baker started as a secretary at RC Investments in the fall of 1925 after graduating high school. She too came from Greenwich, Connecticut, but Theodore did not know her. She had only been there a couple of weeks when he first came by her secretary station to ask her to type up a letter. He introduced himself, barely looking at her, his attention focused on a company profile he’d been reviewing. She looked up at him and said,
“Are you by any chance related to Michael Weston?”
Now he looked at her. “Why, yes. He’s my brother. You know him?”
She rolled her eyes.
“Ah,” said Theodore. “I guess you do. He’s got quite a reputation up there.”
“That he does,” said Mildred.
“I guess you’re from Greenwich, then?”
She told him she recently graduated from the same high school he had, and the two fell into an easy conversation, comparing their high school experiences, but Theodore found it difficult to concentrate, because this girl was so striking to look at. Her face was tiny and almost perfectly round. It seemed to have dimples everywhere, and cheeks with little round marbles in them. Her hair was somewhere between blonde and brown, and had been cut in a short bob which was stylish at the time. Theodore never really found that an attractive way for a woman to wear her hair, but it looked perfect on this girl. It accentuated the fullness of her face, which was bright and smiling. Her perky little nose swooped up like a ski jump, but it was her eyes that Theodore could not stop staring at. Big, round, with a deep intense brown color, and long lashes that fluttered as she spoke, they looked right into him and seemed to know what he was thinking.
What he was thinking was that he really wanted to ask this girl out, but he racked his brain and couldn’t remember the name she gave him. This resulted in a brief, uncomfortable silence as the conversation about high school wound down. Mildred broke it by saying,
“I’ll get that letter typed up for you right away, Mr. Weston.”
Theodore recovered and said, “Oh, yes. Thank you. That would be great…,” and again he searched his memory for her name, but came up blank. She smiled at him, and he knew that she understood his dilemma.
“Millie,” she said.
The company profile he was carrying then became the most hideously boring thing he’d ever had to read. Fortunately, he was able to briefly put it aside when Millie came over with the typed up letter. He looked at it, but it might as well have been written in German. What he was really looking at was Millie standing in front of him in a tweed skirt and cream colored sweater.
“Yes, thank you. This is perfect,” he said. She continued to stand there and he really wished he could think of something else to say. Instead, she said,
“Will there be anything else?”
I certainly hope so, thought Theodore, but at the moment, he sadly had no further work for her. Why didn’t he just have stacks of papers to be typed up all the time? Having nothing on his desk or in his mind that could keep her there, he just thanked her again and then watched her walk back to her station.
He knew he had to act fast. Every single guy in the office would be asking her out sooner rather than later. Probably a fair number of the married guys too. There was no way he could ask her out in the middle of the office, so all week he found ways to casually bump into her, getting coffee or water, on the way in and out for lunch, or just any place she happened to be going. He created all sorts of useless things for her to type up. Each time he would see her, he’d throw out a little conversation starter about their hometown, the office, New York City, and also asked her questions about herself. By the end of the week, he couldn’t take it any more and knew he had to make a move. He knew what time she left every night, so on Friday, he ducked out a little early and stationed himself around the corner of the building entrance. As Millie walked out of the building, he turned the corner with head down, as if pondering something, then looked up just as she turned to walk up the street.
“Oh, Hey,” said Theodore.”
“Hi,” said Millie, surprised. “What are you doing out here? I thought you never left before seven.”
That was true. Usually later than that. He hadn’t expected that question, so just said, “I was just taking care of…….something.” An awkward silence followed, so Theodore quickly continued, “You’re heading out?”
Millie gave him a strange look, as if he’d asked her if she was wearing shoes. “Well, yes. You know, Friday. Another week down.”
“Right,” said Theodore. She was about to leave, but he said quickly, “Hey, you know what. I was thinking of getting something to eat. Would you like to join me?”
Now the look was sympathetic. “Oh, I’m sorry. I have plans.”
Of course, thought Theodore. You should never assume a girl has no plans on a Friday night. How stupid could he be? He kind of dropped his head and muttered, “Well, he’s one lucky guy.”
“Oh, no,” said Millie. “Just a night out with the girls, but I did say I’d go with them.”
“Oh,” said Theodore, now encouraged. “How about tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow?” said Millie.
“Yeah, have you seen much of New York City?”
“I, uh, well, no. I guess I haven’t.”
“How about it then? I’ll give you the grand tour,” said Theodore.
Millie gave a quick look around, as if she was worried about being seen. “We work together. Is this a good idea?”
“Not on Saturday we don’t. Whattaya say? I’ll show you the city.” He tried the most humble look he could think of, and a little smile.
“Okay,” said Millie.
His smiled widened.
From down at Battery Park up to the Bronx, Theodore showed Millie all the sights of New York City. Having lived there now for six years, he knew the town quite well. Living lean for most of those six years, and making good money for the last two, gave him the freedom to splurge this one day. Together they soaked up all the big city had to offer that day, ate, drank, talked, laughed and felt like the two very young people at the beginning of their lives that they so much were. Millie’s head swam with all the vast possibilities that this city, this life and this young man had to offer. He was smart, handsome, funny and she could tell he was going places. For Theodore, it was quite a different matter. By the end of that day, Theodore Weston was in love.
If there was one trait that he thought served him well beyond all others, it was his decisiveness. When he left high school to go off to war, he knew in his heart it was the right decision and he never looked back. On the field of battle, he never lost his head, always thinking of the numerous possibilities that lay ahead, and the moves for each one. Leaving his house, moving to Manhattan, getting his education, diving full force into every job he had, especially the current one, were all decisions he made and then moved toward them with the single minded purpose of seeing them through. He knew that somewhere down this road, a move out of his current job would be necessary to something more fulfilling. Though he couldn’t see that move yet, he knew it was out there. It would have to wait a while though, because his sole goal from that day onward was whittled down to one thing, Millie.
He knew this. He knew this more than anything he’d known in his life, that she was the one for him. Her laugh, the way she walked, the way her eyes would move with such expressiveness when she talked to him, how everything in the city that day seemed to fascinate her, had bore into him all day like little bursts of electricity. By the end of the day, he felt lit up like Times Square. His decisiveness had served him well over the years, and it would not abandon him now. When he dropped her off at her apartment, which she shared with two other girls, he knew he would not be going upstairs. He didn’t want to scare her off, but he wanted to convey that this was so much more than a one time date.
“Millie,” he called to her as she started walking up the steps to her building. They had already said their good-byes, and he had already said he’d like to take her out again, but wanted to say something more. She turned back to him and the first thing that came to him was, “You’re wonderful.”
Millie was drunk, not with alcohol, but with the visceral overload of the day. The truth was, she would have liked to invite him upstairs, liked to have been alone with him, but having two roommates, a tiny apartment, and the moral restraints of the day prevented this. That would come, she knew. There would be plenty of time for that. She may not have been quite as decisive as Theodore, but she knew this was going somewhere. So she ran back down the steps, threw her arms around him and kissed him full on the lips. She felt his knees almost buckle and heard a soft groan from the back of his throat. As much as he’ll think about this day, she thought, this will give him so much more.
The courtship was short lived. They dated through the Fall and into the Winter, but by early Spring, he’d had enough. What was the point? One night in early April, when it felt as if the last of the Winter snows had finally been put to rest, they were taking an early evening stroll through Central Park. Theodore waited until he’d found a secluded spot, got down on one knee and said,
“Make a life with me Millie, and I’ll never forget how lucky I am. Will you marry me?”
“Yes, Ted. I will.”
The stayed in the city for two more years, but both being from Connecticut, they decided to buy a house in the town of New Eden, a burgeoning suburb that was gaining its own reputation for affluence, especially with all the new money, but not quite Greenwich. Neither of them cared. It was a small, three bedroom Cape on a quiet street, and within walking distance of the commuter train, which Theodore happily rode in each morning, knowing Millie would be waiting when he stepped off. To keep herself busy, she took a secretary job at a lawyer’s office near the train station, and dutifully met Theodore there each night. They would walk home together, arm in arm. Life was good.
He paid cash for the house. The unease Theodore felt that the party might soon be over had not abated, and he thought having a hard asset, plus a roof over his head, was more important than a bulging bank statement. Not that he didn’t have that too, but even there he started tucking away cash in a safe he’d had installed in his new home, rather than leave it in the bank. He also bought gold periodically and stashed it there too. He and Millie were about to start a family.
This was September 1929.
To Be Continued…..
If you enjoyed reading this story, please consider clicking on the heart. More chapters are coming soon. Links to the first two books in the series can be found below. Thanks for reading.