The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes
The Path Not Taken
“Sorry, Paul,” said Bud Adams, “you didn’t get the job.”
It was the call Paul Lerner had been waiting for, although not what he’d been hoping to hear.
Bud had been an account executive at the New York ad agency where Paul worked in market research. When the agency had gone under, Bud had caught on with a larger and more prestigious one. Paul, still unemployed, had been interviewing at the same agency, no less than three times, for assistant market research manager.
“Thanks for letting me know,” Paul said.
“You’ll be getting the official letter later in the week. It wasn’t that they didn’t like you but the guy who got it, the one I told you about, was already working, doing almost the same thing, so he had the inside track.”
“I know.” Bud had told him about opening and had given him a strong recommendation, but someone who was unemployed always had two strikes against him.
“Any idea what you’ll do now?”
“No. I’ll have to think about it.”
“Well, if there’s anything I can do let me know.”
“Thanks. And thanks for everything you did. I appreciate it.”
As usual at the start of a New Yorkers Club meeting Paul Lerner asked any new members to stand up and introduce themselves. Paul was President, having helped start the club several years before when and his wife Sally had moved into their Northern California retirement community. Only one person stood up, a stocky guy who looked to be in his mid-sixties, relatively young for the community. “I’m Hal Rosen,” he said. “I was born and grew up in Brooklyn. I worked in Westchester and commuted to the city. We’d retired to Florida but our daughter lives in San Francisco and our son works in Silicon Valley so we decided to come to California. Oh, this is my wife Sylvia.” He gestured to a woman sitting next to him and she smiled.
After the meeting Paul was gathering up his things when Hal Rosen, with his wife behind him, came up and said hello. He was about Paul’s height, wore glasses, was getting thin on top and had a brownish beard with some gray in it. They shook hands and he asked Paul where in New York he was from.
“The Bronx. But I had a grandfather and grandmother who lived in Brooklyn, Brighton Beach. We used to go there in the summer.”
“Where’d you go to high school?”
“Stuyvesant. What about you?”
Stuyvesant, in Manhattan, and Brooklyn Tech were two of the top-rated high schools in New York.
“How about college?” Rosen asked.
“City. And you?”
At this point Paul’s wife Sally came over and introductions were made all around. Rosen’s wife Sylvia was fairly tall, a few years younger than her husband, Paul guessed, slim, had blondish hair and was attractive for her age. She said she was also a New Yorker, from Queens, and she’d gone to Barnard. She asked Sally if she was from New York.
“No. I’m from Atlanta.”
They chatted some more and Sylvia said, “We should get together for lunch some time. You have to tell me how you two met.”
When Paul and Sally got home she said, “They seem like a nice couple.”
“Yeah. He seemed familiar somehow.”
“He looks a little like you.”
“No. How can you say that?”
“He’s about your height and build, is getting bald and wears glasses.”
“But I’m much better-looking. And I don’t have a beard.” He was about to say that Sylvia looked a little like her but thought better of it and they went to bed.
The meeting, as it usually did with Paul, had set off memories of New York City. After moving to California, he’d worked for a marketing research firm in San Francisco for two years, until, like his last agency in New York, it suddenly closed, then he’d begun his long career as an analyst with the State of California. Now he was picturing the streets of Manhattan, the people all hurrying somewhere, the noise, the traffic, the excitement in the air, the feeling of being at the center of things. With this going through his mind he fell asleep.
Paul woke up and almost said out loud, “I have it.” He’d remembered why Hal Rosen seemed so familiar. They’d competed for the same ad agency job in New York, the one he hadn’t gotten. His friend Bud Adams had mentioned the name and it had stuck in his mind, probably because it was almost the same as Al Rosen, one of the few Jewish players in major league baseball, an All-Star third baseman for the Cleveland Indians. Another reason why it had stuck, he supposed, was that he’d badly wanted that job so he could stay in New York. It was after he hadn’t that he’d decided to come out to California. If he’d stayed in New York, he’d often thought, his whole life would have been changed.
At breakfast Paul said, “You know, we should ask the Rosens to lunch sometime.”
“So we can tell them how we met?”
“No, so we can tell them about our community here. What clubs they might want to join; what commitees they might want to get on. That sort of thing. They’re newcomers; we should do it.”
“If you wan to, but not this week. I have two meetings and we have a lunch.”
“Next week then.”
“I don’t have their phone number. They wouldn’t be in the phone directory yet.”
“I have it on the sign-in sheet. And their e-mail.”
“All right. I’ll call Sylvia.”
The two couples were at the community’s restaurant, which was called the Timbers. Sally had decided that was the best place for lunch, not knowing what tastes the Rosens had. The food wasn’t bad and it was convenient. The two men had both ordered hamburgers. Paul had said they were always good and Hal Rosen had taken his recommendation. The wives had both ordered salads.
“This isn’t a bad place,” said Hal Rosen.
“It’s a nice amenity. So, you said you lived in Westchester?”
“Yes,” said Hal. “When we had the kids we didn’t want to stay in the city. We searched and finally found a house we could afford, barely.”
“That’s why we moved to Sacramento, from San Francisco,” said Sally. “San Francisco was expensive but we could buy a house in Sacramento.”
“So, you had to commute?” Paul said.
“Yes, took the train into Grand Central and walked to the office from there.”
“Where did you work?”
Rosen named the ad agency where they’d contended for the assistant market research manager job.
“How long did you work there?”
“Too long. I thought I was going to become department manager, but they brought in somebody else.”
“Too bad. Did you go to another agency?”
“Yes. A couple of others. The old agencies were being bought out and Madison Avenue was a mess. I was glad when I could retire.”
“Paul worked in advertising for a while,” put in Sally.
“Really? What agency?”
Paul named the ad agency he’d worked for that had folded. “It wasn’t one of the big ones. You probably never heard of it.”
“No, I think I remember it. So what did you do when you came out to California?
“I worked for a market research outfit for a while, then I went to the State, an analyst.”
“So you must have a nice retirement.”
“It’s decent, but not great.”
The waitress brought their food. Hal Rosen said the hamburger was good. Sylvia said her salad was delicious. Sally asked about the Rosens’ two children. The daughter who worked in San Francisco was an attorney; the son in Silicon Valley was an executive in a computer company. “They were smarter than their Dad', said Hal Rosen. “They didn’t go into advertising.” Sally then told them about their two sons, one a website specialist and another a senior software engineer in Ireland. As always happened, they had to explain he’d met an Irish girl and they’d decided to live there.
After a fairly long discussion about their children, in which, Paul realized, each pair of parents were vying for bragging rights, Sally asked Sylvia what her interests were.
“I took a class in oil painting while we were in Florida, ” said Sylvia.
“You can join our art club.”
“Sally’s a watercolor artist,” said Paul. “She sold half a dozen paintings at the last art show.”
“It’s just because people here wanted things to put on their walls.”
They talked about the art club for a while and Sally said she’d take Sylvia to the next meeting.
“How about you, Hal?” asked Paul. “Are you a tennis player?” Paul played three times a week.
“No, I used to play, but I have back problems.”
“He threw out his back shoveling snow last winter,” said Sylvia. “I told him he should hire some kid to do it.”
“What about golf?”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that either. I can go to the gym and work out a little though.”
They discussed some other clubs and a few of the committees. The retirement community had plenty of both. As they walked out, Paul said, “Well, if we don’t see you before we’ll see you at the next New Yorkers’ meeting.”
When they returned home Sally got on the phone and began making calls. She was on the phone tree for another one of her clubs. Paul took the morning paper into the bedroom, where he sat in his favorite reclining chair. He’d played tennis that morning and hadn’t had time to do the crossword puzzle, which he did daily. He considered the lunch they’d just had. He’d been curious to find out what kind of life Hal Rosen had had after getting that job. He’d always thought that if he himself had gotten the job and stayed in New York instead of coming to California his life would have been completely different.
Now he wondered about that. Hal Rosen was married with two kids, commuted to work from a house in the suburbs, hadn’t gotten the promotion he’d expected, had been glad to retire. So his life hadn’t been that different from Paul’s own. And now they’d both wound up in the same retirement community. In a way it was pretty funny. If he had gotten that job, Paul thought, his life might have been pretty much the same as it had been after he’d come to California. The only thing different was that maybe he couldn’t play tennis any more because he’d have sprained his back shoveling snow. He smiled to himself and turned to the crossword puzzle.
© Marin Green September 2013
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