Monday, December 7, 2009

Clueless in L.A.

After graduating college with a BS degree in economic theory (yes, yes, that’s redundant) I got a job as a management trainee at a local savings-and-loan in Westchester, a suburb of L.A. It was not quite the Bailey Building and Loan in Bedford Falls, but it was small-townish and full of quirky characters.

There were two other trainees who started the same day I did: Debbie and Sam. Sam would sit with me at lunch and tell me about his life, such as the fact that he had joined the Mormon Church and been disowned by his Catholic parents. He may have befriended me just for my height, because he soon invited me to join his team in the local Latter Day Saints basketball league. Before the first game, Sam was clearly worried about something. Finally he explained that the rules were pretty much the same as any other basketball game, except that anyone who cursed would be penalized. Sam was afraid that, as a heathen, I would not be able to keep a civil tongue. I managed to muzzle myself, but one opponent who lacked self-control helped us win a game with foul shots off his foul mouth. Sam Frustaci left the S&L before our first year was up and I never saw him again until he showed up in the news.

At the branch where I spent most of my brief S&L career, Jose was our portly armed guard. I used to wonder whether Jose’s gun was as loaded as he was. I wondered, if we were robbed, would he be able to pull his gun as fast as he could sneak a pull on his flask? Fortunately, that wasn’t the branch that was robbed while I was working in it. Sometimes while I was having lunch, Jose would hang around the break room and chat. I enjoyed his company, though some of conversation may have been under the influence; like his occasional suggestion that I ask Jenny out to dinner or a movie. Where did that come from?

Jenny was a teller who was very tall and slender – well skinny is more accurate – okay, stick-like, actually. Sometimes we had lunch break at the same time and would do crossword puzzles together. She was smart and funny. She told me one of my favorite jokes, a more elaborate and funnier version of this one, and she told it using goofy voices. Eventually I was transferred to a different branch and Jenny left the S&L. I later learned through a round about way that when Jenny had lunch break alone, Jose would hang around the break room and listen to Jenny tell about how much she wanted me to ask her out. Yeah, you figured that out, but I never did. Yes, I was pretty dense.

That branch where Jose and Jenny and I worked had the best customers. There was Will, a tall guy about 25 or so who had some kind of mental condition which left him perfectly capable of functioning in the world – the World of Will, that is. He was socially withdrawn so he was never very talkative, but he was never unpleasant; he just did odd things. One day he got up to my window, stared at me a moment and then deliberately fell over backward with a thud. He then stood up and made a small withdrawal from his account. One day he came in with a maple leaf he wanted to put in his account. Dan the manager told Will he was at the wrong branch.

Mrs. Grabovsky was a very tiny, wiry woman from the Old Country. Which Eastern European Old Country I never knew, but her life there had clearly left her wizened and bitter. I imagined that she was unable to eat since her lips were perpetually pressed so tightly together that her mouth was lost among the creases on her face and I doubted its existence.. She appeared to have only one good eye because she looked at everything with her head cocked slightly to the side and her right eye wide, left eye almost closed. Whatever transaction she needed done on a given visit, she was sure that the teller was doing it wrong and stealing her money. When one of us completed an entry and handed her savings passbook back (passbook: look it up) Mrs. Grabovsky would peer at the book with that one evil eye and then focus the orb on the teller. She never spoke the curses out loud but we knew she was placing them on us.

Bill’s mom would come in often. Bill was a guy I had known all through high school. We were never really close but we shared several classes and several friends. Bill did very well in school but always seemed distant and as if he carried some unnamed burden. After high school we lost touch. I knew who his mother was but she didn’t know me. Always looking grim and a little disheveled, she would hand over her passbook with the dwindling balance totals and take out five or ten dollars at a time. One day I happened to leave on break just as she was going out the door. I was going to the convenience store next to the S&L and so was she. She used her withdrawal to buy a bottle of vodka. I found out that’s what she did each visit.

Eventually I decided to become a CPA instead of a banker and resigned. For my last two weeks they assigned me to the worst branch, out in Hawthorne. Coincidently, I was reunited with Debbie, the girl who started the same day I did. She was working the window next to mine the day I saw the man come in with a shotgun. The guy, in dark clothes was sliding along outside the window and then carefully opened the door; mostly what I focused on what the long barrel of the gun. Turns out he was a policeman. He and his partners had been summoned by the silent alarm that Debbie had pulled when she was robbed. About 15 minutes earlier a customer handed her a note telling her he had a gun and she should give him all her money. Standing right next to her I didn’t even notice what was going on as she emptied her drawer and gave it to the guy, who left without incident. She then stepped on the alarm button and, very shaken, told the manager what happened. Iwas clueless until the cops arrived.

I think I was clueless the whole time I worked there.


Susan said...

So the currently 32 year old Sam worked at the same bank as you 30 years ago? They hired them young, didn't they?

JohnnyB said...

:-D That People edition was from June, 1985. We were all younger then - and more alert. ;-)

Susan said...


But it is kind of cool People has an archive that old

Susan said...

Apparently we come from a clueless family. :-)

Jenny said...

Really interesting stories!!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post!

Cali said...

Church ball is infamous around here for it's competitive brutality... even if nobody swears. ;) (I think they even made a corny movie about it once)