Wednesday, July 12, 2006

"Great Times," Chapter 12

Copyright 2006, Terry F. Phillips Sr.

All rights reserved.

Chapter 12

As Ted left Howard’s office, he practically ran into Connie. She was sitting at the receptionist's desk just outside Howard’s office.

“Well, hi!” he said, doing his best to flash a gleaming white smile at her.

She seemed to be embarrassed and tried to ignore him. She pretended to be making notes on a piece of paper on top of the desk blotter, but soon realized he was standing over her, just watching for her to look up.

Soon she did and was obviously flustered.

“I was just sitting here so Carol could take a break,” she explained, referring to Mr. Howard’s secretary. “I really am a singer, you know.”

Howard’s regular receptionist walked into the outer office at that time.

“I’m back, Connie,” she said, ignoring Ted. “You’ll never guess what’s on sale at that little hat store on LaSalle Street.”

“A hat?” Connie asked, trying to get her attention.

“Don’t be silly,” the girl said. “Of course, it’s a hat. It was darling, too. You should stop by that shop some day when you’re through here.”

Connie’s eyes were locked on Ted and soon, her enthusiastic co-worker even took the hint.

“I mean, you should stop by that shop some time,” she said.

“Mr. Lane and I were discussing my career over coffee earlier,” Connie said. “He knows about my singing career.”

The receptionist obviously took the hint.

“Of course, your singing career,” she said. “Oh, a fine career it is, too.”

She smiled in Ted’s direction.

“Nice, save, Carol,” said Connie.

Ted decided to be the gallant one and save the uncomfortable situation.

“I see you have been helping out your friend while she was on lunch break,” he said. “If you haven’t eaten, can I buy you lunch? That is, if you don’t mind eating with a newcomer, since you are experienced and all.”

Connie liked the young man and was flattered by his attention. He seemed OK; a little young and too thin, and he obviously still had hayseed in his hair, but she decided to take him up on it.

“OK,” she smiled. “But let’s go out, shall we? I like to get away from the building for lunch, when I can.”

“Sure!” he said. Then, turning to the receptionist, he said, “See you later, Miss ---?”

“Carol Peterson,” she said, extending her hand in greeting. “Carol Peterson.”

They shook hands and she added, “By the way, I’m an actress, myself.”

On the street, Ted asked, “Which way?” and Connie directed him left.

“I know a great little drug store that serves the yummiest sandwiches and coffee,” she said. “You’ll like it!”

It was quickly becoming obvious to Ted that Connie had not been altogether truthful with him when she said she was a singer.

Admiring her good looks, he assumed she sang with the big network stars when they appeared on The Beer Hour. He had thought she might be a network singer over at NBC or CBS in Chicago.

Now, it appeared that she might not be any more successful than himself. Perhaps she was trying to get started in show business. At least he had experience in South Bend and was not a total newcomer.

The drug store was busy, but she was obviously a regular customer by the way the waitress and the cook at the grill treated her.

It was hot and steamy with meat frying on the grill, but it did not smell like a greasy spoon, so Ted decided Bonnie’s taste prove good in her choice of lunch counters as well as clothing and hairstyles.

The two pushed past the round, padded, chrome-framed stools at the counter, found a booth and managed to talk above the din of the noon crowd.

This was obviously no show business eatery. Ted kept watching for any other faces he might recognize from The Beer Hour or the radio star publicity still photos he had memorized in his South Bend days, but to no avail.

The people who frequented this combination drug store and eatery were obviously working class folk.

Taxi drivers talked with secretaries and secretaries flirted with traveling salesmen at stools around the counter and in booths that lined the wall.

Ted decided it was time to probe a little more deeply, especially if he were to find out how much he wanted to get acquainted with this girl.

“So, what shows do you do when you’re not answering Mr. Howard’s telephone for Carol?” he asked with a smile.

She might slap him and walk out, he thought, but at least he would know more about her than he knew now.

“You’re pretty fresh, aren’t you?” she asked.

Then, giggling a little, she blushed and said, “Actually, I’m waiting for my big break. But my waiting money is just about spent and then I’ll have to go home. I haven’t been on any programs, yet.”

“I see,” Ted said, watching her demeanor carefully. “I really shouldn’t have said that.”

He stirred sugar into the coffee a waitress had set before him then looked up again.

“Have you cut any audition records? What about the smaller stations, have you tried them? I have some friends in South Bend who are looking for girl singers. Maybe a band would take you. I hear that’s how some singers get started.”

“Of course, I’ve cut a demo record!” she said as if the suggestion was the dumbest thing I the world. “I made it right there at WXBR.

“In fact, Mr. Howard set it up for me as a favor. He’s a swell guy.”

“What about the smaller stations?” Ted asked, sipping the hot liquid in his cup.

“No, I haven’t tried that here,” Connie said. “But I sang on some of the stations at home. I even made it to Iowa City while in high school. That’s when I decided to use my savings and try to make it here. Chicago was the next big city east of Iowa City - that’s where I’m from. Iowa.”

“I’m not sure I want to try South Bend. That’s in Indiana, isn’t it?”

Ted wasn’t sure if she were teasing or not. He had been impertinent; perhaps she was just trading tit for tat.

“Yes, it’s in Indiana. Proud home of the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame! It’s where I spent the last two years of my life - after the war, that is.”

The crinkle of her eyes and her smile made Ted realize she was pulling his leg.

“No, I am just doing various odd jobs around the station now. This doubling in brass will pay off, I just know it will.”

“Doubling in brass?” Ted asked.

“You know - we all help out in various ways, doing odd jobs. You mean they didn’t tell you when you were hired?”

Ted’s blank expression made her understand there were more than just a few hayseeds on his scalp.

“No, I thought I left that behind when I left South Bend. I didn’t know I would be doing anything but announcing.”

“Don’t get me wrong, but word has it that Mr. Howard has overextended the station’s finances and is having a tough time making it. It’s hard for an independent station like us to go up against the big boys - the network stations like CBS and NBC.”

She sipped her own coffee and let that sink in.

Ted pondered what she had said.

No wonder Mr. Howard was looking for new ways to increase the bottom line. No wonder he was so interested in recording shows and reducing the number of big budget broadcasts. No wonder Beck had acted as if he ran The Beer Hour - maybe Beck even swept off the stage after he took his mother to dinner.

The next thought troubled him like a rattlesnake ready to strike - no wonder he had been hired by this station when the Chicago network stations wouldn’t even grant him an interview.

What would he be doing for Mr. Howard, he wondered. Maybe he should head back to South Bend on the next South Shore train and try to get back his old job at WSBT.

Then he looked again at the lass who sat across the table from him. She had the right idea and the right spirit. Maybe he, too, could make a name for himself in “Shy Town”.

“I hope I haven’t scared you away.”

Connie’s voice came from across the table, drawing Ted back into the noisy drug store where they were sitting.

“No, but it certainly sounds like a challenge” he said. “Look, I still have to find a place to stay. Any ideas?”

“Well, there are a few rooms left in my building,” she said. “You know how bad the housing crunch is.”

“Yeah, I was one of those returning war vets who caused it in ’4five. Can you introduce me to your landlady?”

“Show down, big boy,” she said. “We haven’t eaten yet. Remember?”

The two laughed as the waitress delivered two egg salad sandwiches to their table.

Ted hoped to have many more laughs with this girl. He liked her spunk, her optimism and the courage she had shown. He didn’t know too many men who would leave Iowa for the big city of Chicago with no promise of employment. An attractive girl might find danger on the city’s elevated railway, better known as the “L”.

Ted decided he would help look out for this one.

Yes, in 1947, it took a special woman to leave her home in Brooklyn, Iowa, move to Chicago, get an apartment and talk her way into a big city radio station. Connie was obviously cut from some very special cloth.