I've moved the story along thanks to feedback from friends and my writing class.
Between my daily walks around the city and my apartment on the 12th floor of the Taft building, I have the perfect lens to watch life go by. While I‘m enamored with the city any time of the year, it is especially dreamy on fall days like today. Ancient elm trees afire with leaves of red, orange and gold line the boulevards and make a striking contrast to the Gothic buildings surrounding the city green. Days are crisp, a warm kiss of summer brushing up against the cozy chill of winter. Fall softens people. Fall speaks of promise.
Scholars, dreamers and hooligans all call this place home, and I couldn’t think of living anywhere else but the center of it all, in a high-rise mere steps from the city green. In one way or another, I’ve been engrained in the comings and goings of folks here for the past 25 years. Between my keen eye for observation and natural talents bestowed upon me by The Universe, I’ve been able to refine my insight into people and have thrived through my ability to connect with others. Lots of time on public transportation along with a knack for waiting table has also helped me hone my people skills. For many years now, I grab the bus and trundle down to the Cape Codder to waitress every Thursday and Saturday evening. My friends wonder why I’m doing it.
“Lydia,” they say. “You’re doing well. You have a solid job at the phone company. Why all the bother?”
I mumble a quick response, but largely avoid their questioning. Between the excellent tips, great food and bustling atmosphere, waitressing is too good to pass up so I leave it at that. Burned once, I remain guarded and want to avoid having anyone poke holes in my confidence.
What I don’t tell them is I’m saving money to start my own business. A woman’s gotta do her own thing. It’s the only way to find true satisfaction and success in life. In an effort to make my vision a reality, I have put my intention out there and wait patiently for The Universe to deliver.
I take my inspiration from Mr. Fox, he’s the owner of the Cape Codder and he’s a smart man. He’s doing his own thing and it’s served him well. Not only does he run a damn fine business, he’s also wise about the stock market. Every so often I ask Mr. Fox what he’s investing in and note it on my waitressing pad. Whenever my stash of tips amounts to $250, I invest. The Universe is starting to deliver and my stock fund is adding up nicely.
Once my stock fund hits its goal, I’m going to start my business. There’s a small studio above the head shop on Chapel Street. Between the reasonable rent and the hippie vibe below, it’s the perfect spot. Lydia’s Cosmic Consultancy is what I’ll call it.
And please don’t call it a fortunetelling business. I’m all about using a spiritual path to guide people to success and helping them live life to their potential so they may do good for themselves and for the community. With a basis in astrology, it’s not that I will tell their future; rather, I’ll give customers the tools to make their own future. And there lies the difference. By empowering rather than telling I can get them to make something happen in their life rather than plodding along sheep-like as many folks do.
And why not start a psychic consultancy? Each time I visit my sister Martha in San Francisco I see a ton of folks working in the clairvoyant realm. And let me tell you they are all kooks, total amateurs; their businesses, strictly for the birds. And if they can do it in San Francisco, I can certainly do it here.
A business like mine is just what this place needs. You see, there’s an existential crisis going on here. The city no longer really knows who it is and given its long history and location, is it any wonder it’s lost? Located between two major metropolitan areas, it’s overshadowed by two American superstars. Sure, it’s had its moments but it’s failed to have any big ones propelling it into the limelight, but everything can change. All it takes is getting people to listen to their soul and act on the message. Use their gifts, get together with others, and see our community as one.
I walk a few short blocks to the corner and join the usual suspects to wait for the bus. A mish-mash of folks cram onto the bus and I jostle with them. This mass of humanity and the bus itself is not my cup of tea. The cracked leather seats have seen better days and the bus makes a loud clank each time it goes over a bump. Folks have written graffiti on the back of the seats with “screw convention” and “Jerry has a big one” scrawled in jagged handwriting. Lack of pride shows and the upkeep of the bus system, like the city itself, is slowly going downhill.
Today’s bus ride isn’t so bad as I’m lucky to be seated next to two college girls. They’re young, sane, and most importantly, clean, a pleasant contrast to the skanky majority that normally rides the bus. Not that I’m a snob or anything, but some of these people, let me tell you. I’m accepting of everyone, but the cleanliness factor really vexes me. Can’t they take a little time to launder their clothes and bathe daily? It’s a matter of pride and you’ve got to have pride to make it in life.
The college girls chat with exuberance, each topic possibly the most fascinating thing they’ve ever heard. Lively young people always make me smile. Their eternal enthusiasm, their excitement about everything, they way few things annoy them. Each year, college students come to the city passionate and ready to conquer the world, but most leave four years later when they conclude it to be a second rate city, a has-been, a place that has seen better days. They should stick it out. This city has all the right ingredients to go places.
The bus chugs along past the old-world charm of downtown on to the fast food joints and shady clubs just outside the city center and finally on to the antique shops, boutiques, and restaurants of the pleasant neighborhood near the Cape Codder. During this short ride, the city transforms in front of my very eyes, and I watch as it changes from an old college town to a down-and-out second-tier city to a park-filled city with tree-lined streets in quaint residential neighborhoods.
This city has a certain mystique and vibrancy giving it a personality much bigger than it's size. It's the way the old-world feel collides against an urban grittiness that makes its heart beat. History, decay, prosperity, youth, promise, individuality, nature, and so much more are all right here sitting side-by-side. Right now the city is down-and-out, but it can be saved. I have a great intuition about these things, and I can be a leader in our revitalization. Once my new business is up and running, I’ll help people connect to others and to their greatest strengths. Empowering people this way is what will help heal the city and propel it into its greatest imagined future.
I stare out the window and try to get in the proper waitressing mind-frame. To keep my enthusiasm up, I work to channel the energy of the young college girls and then it hits me. I know exactly why I’m so drawn to them. All three of us share the same birth sign; we’re all Leos. Never shy to start a conversation with strangers, I pipe up.
“You girls are Leos. I can tell.”
The college girls are enchanted as I explain the differences between July and August Leos, and the girls stare back in wide-eyed wonderment as I’ve pinned them correctly, first as Leos and then which is the July Leo and which the August. I’ve got a captive audience, so I school them on the intricacies of the Leo personality and warn them to watch out for Pisces, a fact I know all too well as Mr. Katz, my boss at phone company, and my ex are both Pisces.
Rustic wooden tables fill the dining area of the Cape Codder. White walls and linens and pastel sea-themed paintings contrast the dark tables and give the restaurant a beachy feel. On some evenings, tables are pushed aside after dinner to allow for bands, Grateful Dead cover bands like the one playing tonight, and reggae bands being the type Mr. Fox prefers. He says they draw the college kids yet their grooviness keeps the vibe mellow and eliminates altercations. The Cape Codder never has any fights on music nights and cash always pours in.
I’m great at this waitress thing. It’s all about giving people what they need and sensing the best way to treat them. Do they need lots of fussing or just a quick check in from time to time? Do I make small talk with them or do I keep my motor mouth shut? The college girls who wait tables with me should follow my lead. The seriousness they take to waiting tables is over-the-top. They pour on phony, sickly-sweet joviality and they never shut up. And the outfits. What is up with those short skirts and tight shirts? As if revealing a lot of your body will be the key to success. And trust me, college girls, for the most part, never last long at waitressing.
We do a hoppin’ dinner business tonight and as we begin to set up for the band, I spot the young girls from the bus. They’re here with some cocky young men, a cheery group of vigorous, confident college kids. But the group is a mis-match. The young men are lazy and are not right for these girls.
Encountering these college kids sets something off in me, and I become lost in thought. Lightheadedness overcomes me, and I have to place my hand against the wall to steady myself. My mind races back to 1985, a formative and magical year in my life.
That spring, I graduated from Chamberlin School of Retailing and come fall I scored a coveted assistant manager position at Bloomingdale’s flagship store. I was well on my way to achieving the goals I set out for myself when I started school two years prior. Dylan walked into my life a few weeks later and something softened in me. Still driven at work, I became less outwardly hard-nosed and life took on a joy and optimism I had not felt since childhood.
Our courtship started with a flurry and escalated with intense passion as autumn leaves dropped and made way for steel skies and frosty winter nights. One fall later, shortly before my 21st birthday, Dylan and I married. From then on, autumn became a special time of year for me, a chance to reflect on the year gone by and look ahead with anticipation to the year to come.
A promising junior executive at an important financial firm, Dylan had confidence that comes with success. He exuded charisma and had a contagious passion for good times. We shared a taste for adventure and the finer things in life, and we both had ease with people and an eagerness to engage.
Rewarding, fruitful jobs filled our days, and free time was spent in an endless series of parties, events and adventures; weekend trips to ski in Vermont, jaunts to the beach, dinners at 21, and late, late nights at the Limelight and the Palladium. Endearing friends, fun times and blessed good fortune were bequest upon us. Young, spunky, attractive and successful, people wanted to be us and we thought we had it all.
What was not to like? Sure, Dylan was a Pisces and we all know that spells trouble for a Leo gal like myself, but I ignored what I knew deep down. You see, during college, it became apparent that in order to succeed in the world of fine retail, I needed to keep my senses to myself. In an effort to move ahead, I squashed an important part my being.
In those days, there were always people around, our posse consisting of Dylan’s coworkers, the gals from Bloomingdale’s and a steady stream of random people we met who were instantly drawn to Dylan. I grew up with three sisters and an extended family nearby so I enjoyed the constant company.
What I didn’t realize at the time was it all revolved around Dylan. Constantly on the lookout for people who could do him a favor by helping him by-pass rungs and take shortcuts up the corporate ladder, Dylan determined who he hung out with, when, and where. Outwardly, he appeared to be a hard working, hard playing financier, but a small voice in my head, which I ignored, told me he was lazy and was ready to use people to get where he wanted to go.
A few years into our marriage, Dylan said he wanted to escape the shackles of corporate America and do his own thing. In great detail, he told me about the limitless world of real estate, and effortless money one could make by investing in undervalued properties and under-the-radar neighborhoods.
“Think about the rigid hours of corporate jobs,” he said. “The foolish, oppressive rules and stodgy bosses leading the show. When you do your own thing you are free. And the money isn’t bad either. No bosses to keep it from you or redistribute it unfairly. The potential is unlimited.”
The idea captivated me, and I was fully supportive of his ambitions. Doing my best to be the perfect wife, I hosted cocktail parties and socialized with Dylan so he could network with what he called “the right sorts of people.” Eventually, he found a business partner, a young man about his age named Richard Bannister. Two smooth-talkers looking to make money and find success on their own terms, they quit their safe corporate jobs and dove head first into the world of real estate.
From the start, deals came easily. A remodeled brownstone, a small apartment building they fixed up and flipped, and a multitude of small yet lucrative projects materialized with minimal effort. Over time, Dylan and Richard began to set their sights on bigger deals. They were making good money easily, but were starting to wonder how much more could be made. Eventually, they convinced me to invest my retirement money from Bloomingdale’s into one of their ventures. A big one they said, a real game-changer. Everything had gone smoothly up until now so what could go wrong? Willingly, I cashed out and left it to them.
As the big deal moved ahead, I sensed something was amiss. At work and at parties, friends seemed distant. I overhead hushed conversations sprinkled with words such as swindle, pull-a-fast-one, and connive. What I had suspected all along was true; Dylan was lazy and manipulative. He and Richard wanted fast cash, and they were cheating people to get it. To this day, I wonder how I got so caught up in it all that I didn’t listen to my soul?
In an act of benevolence from The Universe, Dylan and Richard avoided jail time and escaped any serious media attention. To make things right, we sold all of our worldly possessions to pay off creditors and investors. With a minimum of consequences, we survived the incident yet my money had disappeared and with it went my passion. I initiated a divorce, which settled quickly as Dylan and I no longer had any assets to squabble over. My focus began to crumble and my performance at work, once my pride, suffered. It didn’t take long for my boss to notice and within a few months, I was fired.
With no resources or motivation, I fell behind on my rent and was evicted. Depression set in and after a short hospital stay, I knew I’d hit rock bottom. It was my sister Clara who brought me back home where I began putting the pieces of my battered life back together.
Clara set me up with her analyst, Dr. Feldman, a smart, no-nonsense woman who was highly respected in her field. She practiced analysis in a way that was comforting and life-giving yet firm and effective. Many an hour was spent in her soothing office where she listened to me talk about my crushing disappointment, total lost of identity, and utter lack of direction. There, my marriage unfolded in front of me and I saw it with a new set of eyes. Like a stonecutter, Dylan chipped away at the essence of my being, small slivers shaved off one tap of the hammer at a time. Pieces tiny enough so I didn’t notice but over time a big chunk of me went missing.
My time with Dr. Feldman offered a cocoon of quiet and peace, a welcome contrasted to the bustling, fanatic life I lived with Dylan. She helped me repair my damaged spirit and worked with me to develop confidence like I never had before. Slowly, I started to re-develop my senses and get back in touch with my soul. Most importantly, thanks to Dr. Feldman, I learned never again to doubt myself or squander a day.
In a conspiracy of love, Clara, Dr. Feldman and so many others helped me rebuild. Eventually, I secured a job at the phone company, moved to the city and began life as the new Lydia. I want to pay it forward by helping these college girls. I can save them from toxic men they are paired with and can offer exactly the kind of guidance I wish I’d received back in 1985. I should tell them, “Yes, these boys are fun but don’t let it fool you. They are perpetual self-centered children who will rob you of your enthusiasm, your money, and your soul.”
The dinner crowd is gone, replaced by the crowd here to see the band. I look for the college girls but I can’t find them. Folks are gathering in front of the stage eager for the music to start. Still not 100% with it, I scurry over to help my fellow waitresses finish rearranging the room. It’s Mr. Fox who brings me back to the present.
“Stellar job with the 12-top Lydia,” he says handing me the bill presenter. “They said keep the change.”
I go to ring the till and collect my tip and see the party paid with crisp hundred dollar bills. As I count out the money, I notice two bills have stuck together; they have over-paid by $100. I look around but don’t see the party. I ask Mr. Fox if he knows them, but he says they were from out of town. I explain about the extra $100 bill and Mr. Fox say, “Well, it looks like it’s yours Lydia. You deserve it.”
I leave the Cape Codder with an extra $100 in my pocket and head to the bus stop. A big smile crosses my face as I am reminded The Universe has a way of giving you what you need in life and delivers what is right for you at the moment. Although I wish I could have advised the two college girls, I realize we all have to make our own way in life; take our chances, go through rough times, and learn from our mistakes. No one was there to steer me away from Dylan yet I survived. The two college girls are dynamic, resilient Leos. They may struggle from time to time but they have the magnetism and resources to find their way. The Universe will assure our paths cross again if it they need my guidance.