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Becoming A Southern Californian
by Martin Green


Here’s how it happened.


When I was 23 I fled New York City for San Francisco, got a job as a research analyst for the San Francisco office of a national ad agency, got my own apartment (instead of staying with my parents) got my first car and thought I’d made a great move. Why hadn’t I come to San Francisco, Tony Bennett’s “city by the bay,” before? Then I became infatuated with a copywriter whose name was Angela White. Angela was the epitome of those blonde, tanned beautiful California girls I’d imagined before coming out West. She was also smart and very ambitious. I knew that a lowly researcher and ordinary-looking guy like myself didn’t have much of a chance with a girl, I should say woman, like Angela but I had my hopes. Besides being a lowly researcher I was also a would-be writer and had actually published some stories in the romance magazines that were popular at the time.  I’d done some work on the products Angela wrote copy for and I contrived to stop in her office every now and then. She took some interest in my writing I told her these formula-written stories were just a prelude to the “real” ones I hoped to do some day, and she even gave me some useful critiques.


On this evening I’d worked late and was leaving the office when I saw Angela still at her desk. I‘d asked her to dinner a few times before and she’d of course turned me down, although in a nice way. After all, a woman had to do her hair and catch up with her e-mails. But this time when I stopped by and suggested she stop working and go out for a bite to eat she looked up, gave me one of her brilliant smiles, and said that yes, that was a good idea. Needless to say, I was exhilarated.


There was a fairly good restaurant a block away from our building and we agreed we’d go there. The maitre de, as soon as he saw Angela, led us to a very nice table and a waiter promptly appeared. We ordered and Angela asked me about my latest story. I told her it was about a young man in San Francisco whose girl friend was about to go back to the Midwest to care for an ailing father. They meet at a bar for a last drink (my title for the story) and he tries to persuade her to stay. The story was told mostly in dialogue, with, I must admit, a big nod to Hemingway. I’m afraid that in my euphoria at sitting across a table from Angela I babbled away and when the waiter came with our orders I was a little surprised.


“I’m sorry,” I said after the waiter had left, “I didn’t mean to bore you.”


“That’s all right,” she said. “Your story sounds, uh, interesting.”


“How’s the copywriting going?”


“It’s okay. We have a presentation tomorrow. That’s why I was working late. How’s your driving going?”


After having three lessons I’d bought a used Chevy and was tentatively driving it around the city. “Pretty good. I drove to Golden Gate Park last weekend. I like driving a lot better than taking the subway. I’m working my way up to driving to the ocean and then maybe over the bridge to Marin. I heard it’s nice over there, sunny when it’s foggy here.”


Our meals came. We talked about San Francisco weather some more. She was used to it, having grown up there. I told her how nice it was to have cool weather, even if sometimes foggy, after the hot humid summers back East. We talked about our agency, about which clients were good to work with and which weren’t. I thought our dinner was going pretty well. At the end, I reached for my wallet but she insisted on paying for her share. More than a few tines I thought about suggesting we do this again, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to press my luck. Two weeks later the word around the agency was that Angela was engaged to marry Stan Brooks, our Marketing Director.


I told myself that I shouldn’t have been surprised. Angela was ambitious, very ambitious. Stan Brooks, besides being Marketing Director, and besides being about 40 years old, was a tall tanned guy, handsome, fit he and Angela would make a great-looking couple. Stan was also a nice guy he’d even complimented me once or twice for some work I’d done, unusual in the ad agency world. Still, the word for how I felt was “devastated.” It was an actual physical pain. After a month or so I decided I couldn’t stay with the agency, not where I’d be reminded of  Angela every day. I quit.


It turned out to be a bad time to leave your job. The country was in one of its periodic recessions. Ad agencies weren’t hiring; they were cutting back. So were the major companies in San Francisco that might have market research jobs. It was bad enough brooding over Angela, now I was unemployed and my money was fast running out. I took to driving out to the ocean and looking out to the horizon I think viewing something that would always be there helped make my problems seem less important. Still, this didn’t help when it came to paying my rent. I was seriously considering going back to New York. I’d hate to leave San Francisco and go back to dirty grimy crowded New York, back to my parents’ apartment in the Bronx, back to riding the subway. But I wouldn’t have to pay rent to stay with my parents and after all New York was the center of the advertising industry.


Then I got a phone call from the Los Angeles office of the ad agency I’d quit. They’d had a sudden retirement and needed a research analyst on just the products I’d worked on. Would I consider joining them? Stan Brooks, Marketing Director of the San Francisco office, had highly recommended me. Stan Brooks? Angela must have had a hand in this. I wasn’t sure exactly how this had come about but I took the job.


So that’s how I became a Southern Californian, although, as Tony Bennett sang, my heart remained in San Francisco. I married Lois, a Los Angeles native. Our daughter Pam went to UCLA our son Greg, who wants to be a screenwriter, went to USC. I became a Dodger fan instead of a Giants fan. I even tried surfing. My writing? Somehow, after the Angela episode, my ambition died. In any case, when I became head of the office’s research department I was so occupied with my job that writing was out of the question. Still, when I retire I’ve told Lois that instead of going to Europe or someplace like that I want to take a trip to San Francisco. And I might even try to finish that story I told Angela about.



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