Authors: Edward von Behrer
Tags: #m/m romance
thing I learned very early in my years in the advertising field is to never be surprised when the unexpected happens. But even so, I confess I was surprised to get the following memo from Human Resources one broiling Friday in the middle of August.
To: Daniel Richardson
From: Melissa Ward, Executive Senior VP
It is imperative you contact me as soon as possible about a new position in our International Division. This is in reference to your response on your intake form.
I read the memo several times, but it still didn’t make much sense. If it was so damn “imperative” I speak with Ms. Ward, why the hell didn’t she simply call me? Or have her assistant call me? Or, considering the fact she was an executive senior vice president, have her assistant’s secretary contact me? I had been at Solloway & Kaye Advertising for almost five years, so I had no idea what “response” she was talking about. Hell, I didn’t even remember an intake form. But another thing I had learned very quickly about the corporate world was that you don’t ignore memos from executive senior vice presidents. Those people don’t leave paper trails just for the sake of killing trees.
About the time I joined Solloway & Kaye they had expanded their operations into the international arena. Joining forces with some local agencies in places like London, Paris, Berlin, Milan, and Zurich had turned out to be nothing short of a gold mine, and the decision had been made (by Jason Solloway himself, it turned out) to expand the international division even further. And to do it
. It also turned out that, five years before, on my intake form, I had checked “International Division” under the question asking what other areas of the company interested me. I had also listed “Germany” and “Czechoslovakia” as places I would be interested in working. (I had also listed France, Italy, Austria, and Australia, but that, apparently, was irrelevant.)
It might have been the dog days of August in Manhattan, with most of the advertising world out sipping martinis or Punt e Mes in the Hamptons or on Fire Island, but it turned out a significant section of Solloway & Kaye was not only in our Park Avenue offices, they had a bee up their collective ass and were ready to roll. By noon that Friday I was beginning to think I had stepped into
The Twilight Zone
Our Berlin partners, the Arnheim Group, had convinced Jason Solloway that Eastern Europe was ripe for the plucking, at least from an advertising point of view, and among the new offices that ought to be opened immediately, if not sooner, was one in Dresden, Germany. Someone had decided that Dresden being only a hop, skip, and a jump away from Prague meant it would be a great base of operations from which to launch “the Eastern Offensive” (I swear that was the term Jason Solloway used) while at the same time greatly expanding our business in the former East Germany. And since I, on a whim, had indicated on a form I didn’t even remember filling out I would like to work in either Germany or Czechoslovakia, in Mr. Solloway’s mind that meant I was the right person to head Solloway & Kaye/Arnheim Group’s new Dresden branch.
True, I’d been very successful during my time with the company, but figuring out how to sell to targeted groups of folks in the United States, where I was a native, did not necessarily translate into doing the same thing to Germans, Czechs, and Poles. (Poland was stage three of “the Eastern Offensive.”) Those objections were waved away, as was my protest that I didn’t know German and had never worked in Germany.
“But you have international work experience,” Solloway insisted, waving my intake form in my face. Teaching English at the Berlitz School in Milan the year after college apparently counted as “international work experience” since it meant I “knew how to get along with the natives.”
Maybe Solloway still acted and thought like this was the 1950s, when Corporate America believed the entire world was just salivating to buy a house with a white picket fence around it and stock it full of American goods. I, on the other hand, knew it was one thing to hoist a beer in a
and enjoy listening to your neighbors sing lustily in a language you didn’t understand, but it was something else entirely to actually have to work, every day, in a different society and make money dealing with people who were, in some ways, quite different from you.
It turned out that before I had even sat down in front of Jason Solloway’s desk my boss had signed off on my possible transfer, assuring the Solloway that while he would miss me dreadfully, my work could be covered in an appropriate manner. (No surprise there, he’d been maneuvering to get rid of me for months if he could only find out how to do it without seeming to do it. This was his golden opportunity.) The salary I was offered was a whopping forty percent more than I was currently making, and the Arnheim Group was taking care of getting my work permit and all the legalities the German government required. Solloway & Kaye would have my things packed and moved at their expense and make sure my apartment was subleased so I could move back any time during the next two years. I was handed a check for five thousand dollars for “immediate expenses,” an airline ticket to Dresden, via Frankfurt, on Lufthansa, leaving JFK at nine o’clock Sunday night, which would put me in Dresden at one p.m. Monday, their time—three days away. I also had an open-ended reservation at the Radisson Gewandhaus Hotel in Dresden, with assurances Solloway & Kaye/Arnheim Group would pay the bill. Though it
suggested that I could surely find an apartment within three months, given the generous living allocation that was part of the deal.
It was all heady, to be sure. But part of me felt railroaded. Still, that night, as I looked around my beloved studio apartment on West 10
Street I knew, down deep inside, this was too good an opportunity to pass up. My best friend Kent agreed and, as usual, was not shy about expressing his opinion.
“Look, you’ve been chomping at the bit for some change in your life. You’re forty years old, you’re bored at work, your love life is in the crapper, you’ve fantasized about moving some place like California. Now you’ve got a great new job with
generous pay and benefits in one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, which also
to have the best fucking orchestra in the entire fucking world. My God, Daniel, do you know that you’ll be able to hear the Staatskapelle Dresden any time you want to? And in their own fucking home? Jesus!” (Kent had studied and then lived in Germany and played the oboe in the Metropolitan Opera orchestra, so he had some basis for his assertions.) “Besides, now I’ll have a place to stay for free on my next vacation. Yes, I’ll miss you, but it was just for situations like this that God invented e-mail and web cams. Have you finished packing yet?”
Apparently I really didn’t have much of a choice.
* * *
about six weeks for the dust to clear and for Grim Reality to start rearing its head. Fortunately I’m a compulsively hard worker, so discovering my existing staff consisted of two middle managers relocated from Arnheim’s Berlin office plus two secretaries was just a challenge. Hiring copy writers, an art department, and the rest of the creative and marketing folks—in a foreign city where everyone claims to speak English but most seem to barely understand a simple sentence like “Please have this delivered to the client by messenger as soon as possible.”—well, that’s a challenge too. It was understandable the two managers from Berlin resented having an American head the division when either of them might well have been in line for the job, so I was delighted when the new art director quickly became a great ally.
The Radisson Gewandhaus turned out to be not only a superb hotel (with a fabulous restaurant called Weber’s); the office was only a block and a half away on Kreuzstrasse—a wonderful blessing in those first weeks. And next to the office was a language school, where I promptly signed up for private German lessons, five days a week at seven a.m. That was one way of making sure I was at my desk by eight a.m.,
to the annoyance of Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee from Berlin.
I was pretty amazed when two of our initial ad campaigns were greeted with such enthusiasm by the clients, who promptly upped their ad budgets in their excitement. That gave me some much-needed credibility in the office plus an e-mail from Jason Solloway (or his secretary) expressing his congratulations.
From the beginning I had forced myself to do a lot of wandering around Dresden despite my ridiculous work schedule, so when the art director told me about an available apartment in the Neustadt section of the city, just on the other side of the Elbe River from the office, I knew I was very interested even before I saw it.
Dresden dates from the 800s, so it’s not really a surprise that the Neustadt (New City) largely came into its own in the eighteenth century as opposed to the Altstadt (Old City) that had already been around for centuries by then. I had walked many times across the Augustus Bridge, which links the two sides of the city over the Elbe, marveling at the incredible beauty of Dresden’s baroque skyline during different times of the day. I was already a bit familiar with parts of the Neustadt section, and grateful to discover that 18 Obergraben was not one of the parts that had been rebuilt by the Communist East German government (back in the day) as prefabricated “people’s housing.” Instead it was one of the eighteenthcentury buildings that had survived the ghastly bombing at the end of World War II and had been turned into gorgeous apartments.
The available apartment was advertised as a “one bedroom” but had an “extra room” that—to someone used to the size of Manhattan apartments—could easily be used as a guest bedroom. It was on the ground floor, in back of the building and, best of all to my mind, its L-shape cradled a large brick patio otherwise surrounded by a high wall. Both the living room and bedroom had French doors that opened on the patio, and there were two trees that would offer great shade. The place was the perfect combination of eighteenth century grace and style with twenty-first century conveniences. It came with a washing machine in the modern bathroom and had a well-equipped modern kitchen for which the landlord (a friend of the art director’s) offered apologies on its small size. True, you wouldn’t want to try serving Christmas dinner for sixteen in it, but it looked plenty roomy to me. The apartment was about a twenty-minute walk from the office, but a half dozen streetcars were three minutes away if the weather was bad, and, being a residential neighborhood, there were plenty of shops.
I knew there was a great indoor farmer’s market, the Neustädter Markthalle, about five minutes further into the Neustadt district, but there was also a chain grocery store just around the corner and up a couple blocks.
And that’s where I met Dieter.
Dreams of weekend shopping at the Markthalle and then using all the delicious farm-fresh meat and produce in gourmet meals throughout the week pretty much stayed just that—dreams. I had forgotten what it’s like setting up a kitchen from scratch, and I had never done it in a foreign country. You try picking up a sealed package labeled with a nineteen letter word (including two umlauts) and a photo of a smiling family gathered around a table with about a dozen different foods on it and then trying to figure out 1) what food is inside the package and 2) is it already cooked or not. Not all packagers are thoughtful enough to put clock faces with fifteen minutes shaded on the back to give you a clue.
So I was pretty preoccupied my first dozen or three trips to the chain grocery store. Preoccupied making sure I had something I knew I could eat while I bought my way through a variety of things that might be interesting or that I might end up taking to my German lesson the next morning for explanation—much to the amusement of Fräulein Müller. But even so, it eventually got through to me that more often than not, the same young man was the cashier at the express lane. The same
During my next shopping trip it finally registered that “Dieter” was written on his name tag, that he looked to be in his early or mid- twenties, that his intelligent face was rather elfin-looking, boarding on impish, with a deep cleft in his chin, and that his eyes were the most marvelous dark chocolate brown, a color matched by his boyish floppy (but neatly cut) hair. And his smile was simply devastating.
Maybe it was the fact there was no one in line behind me just then that made him ask in English, “Do you like the two soups you bought recently?”
“I’m sorry?” I shook my head as if to clear it.
“The two soups you bought last week.” He raised his eyes to the ceiling as if a list was written on it. “One is, ahhh, how you say, barley? And one is asparagus. You have eaten them, yes?”
“Yes,” I said, and I gave him a big smile because 1) I remembered having the soup and 2) he really was a sexy-looking guy. “They were good. I think I liked the barley more than the asparagus, but then, I’ve been known to make a mean asparagus soup myself.”