Joe Kleen was feeling superfluous, supernumerary, even a little emasculated. It wasn’t his beautiful bride Misty’s fault, it was his upbringing.
Joe and Misty had married May 31st and Joe, freshly graduated from Central Connecticut State College with a degree in elementary education, gladly left behind Connecticut’s winters with their over abundance of snow, ice and cold to join his wife in their new home in Atlanta, Georgia. Misty had been determined to get away from the harsh New England winters and had left her fast track job at the main office of insurance giant CIGNA in Hartford to take a slower, less demanding job at the satellite office of far warmer Atlanta. Shy, demure and alluring, Misty gladly traded a more lucrative and demanding career for southern hospitality and a winter that lasted only one month as opposed to four.
Misty had made a home in the trendy Cimarron Apartments that were occupied mostly by other young urban professionals. Joe had settled into their new home after their week long honeymoon at Jamaica’s Eden Two resort. Once they returned to The States he had gotten down to work filling out employment applications and cover letters to the various school districts that were in close proximity to their home. Misty was making plenty of money to cover their bills so they figured Joe could just relax, enjoy his beautiful wife and wait for the job offers to pour in.
Which was all good, except that after over a month of waiting for those offers Joe felt he was not only letting his wife do all the heavy financial lifting but that in addition he was suffering from boredom. Instead of enjoying his life of leisure he was feeling guilty for not pulling his own weight and was finding it more and more difficult to fill his days with meaningful activities.
Joe had worked his way through college and he was used to waking early, heading to school on his bicycle, attending classes then riding onward to work, cycling home and collapsing exhausted on his bed only to wake early the next morning and do it all again the next day. He had tried filling his days with long bicycle rides, swims in the apartment complex’s pool and running as well as reading books and watching movies on their cable TV but none of this squared with his concept of what a married man should be doing. Joe equated busy with successful and while he had been intrigued by the concept of leisure time the reality of it bored him to death.
So it was that when Misty came home one night in early July he greeted her at the door with a warm and heartfelt kiss as well as his proclamation of, “Hey, baby! I have a job interview at a bike shop tomorrow.”
Misty raised her eyebrows and said, “Say that again, please.”
“I said I have a job interview with a bike store in Dunwoody called Challenge Cyclery. They’ve got a few locations around town and I figured I’d go ahead and get a part time job until school starts.”
“But I thought we agreed that you weren’t going to worry about finding a job until a teaching position came around?”
“Yeah, well we did, but it turns out that I’m not good at just sitting around. If we had a real house then I could be working on the yard or painting or stuff like that but I just feel like I’m not contributing here.”
“Joe! You’re doing what we said you’d do. We’re not tight for money and we both know you’ll contribute when you get your teaching job.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. I just need something to do in the meantime and this seems like a good way to fill some time and also make a few bucks. I liked working for Barry Lack those couple of months at Central Cyclery before we got married and I figured this would be a lot like that.”
“Well, okay, but how are you going to get to work and when will we be able to be together?”
“I’ll ride my bike there, like I usually do. I don’t know what the hours are, I haven’t even gotten the job yet.”
“Well if they’re hiring then I’m sure you’ll get the job. It’s nice having you home when I’m home. I just don’t want you working nights so we never see each other.”
“Then I’ll let them know that. Hey, I want to see you too, baby, it’s just that I need something to do around here. I’m feeling kind of useless.”
“Useless are you?” Slipping her arms around his waist she whispered, “Why don’t you take me to bed and I’ll show you how useless you are.”
Late the next afternoon Joe found himself arriving at Dunwoody Cyclery 15 minutes before his scheduled job interview. He quickly removed the tee shirt he had worn over, dried off with a small towel and slipped into the polo shirt he had brought along. Being prompt was important to Joe and even though the job interview was with a bicycle shop he figured that no employer really wanted to have an applicant walk in the door dripping sweat. Joe locked his bike to the shop’s bike rack with his Citadel “U” lock and walked in the door.
A thinly built man in his late thirties walked up and asked, “May I help you?” with a molasses and gumbo southern accent.
“Yes, please. My name is Joe Kleen and I have a job interview for 3:30.”
“Mm hmm, well my name’s J.T. Williams, Joe.” J.T. said, extending his hand, “I’m pleased to meet you. I’m this store’s manager. John Davidson is our general manager. He’s running just a tad late and he should be here in just a few minutes. You’re early I see. You indicated on the phone that you’ve worked at a bike shop before?”
“Yes. I was working at Central Cyclery up near Hartford, Connecticut before I moved down here last month.”
“Never heard of ’em,” J.T. said shrugging his shoulder and smiling. “What brought you to Atlanta?”
“My wife did. I got married the end of May and my wife moved down here the beginning of the year.”
“Well congratulations! That’s real nice. What does she do?”
“She’s an account representative for GIGNA, the insurance company.”
“Oh, sure. I’ve heard of them. Let me go get you a job application and you can fill that out while we’re waiting. No kids yet, I assume?”
“No, no. None yet! Who are you, my mother in law?” Laughing as he left J.T. went to get the application form and Joe looked around the well lit and modestly sized shop. The store was a long, narrow space with the front half housing the retail showroom which was filled with Schwinns, Treks and Fujis, a small rack of cycling jerseys and shorts, a wall with half a dozen pairs of bike shoes as well as bike gloves and hats. A small plastic jar held what looked like a collection of brightly colored women’s panties which at first made Joe blush until he realized it actually held Lycra/spandex seat covers.
The single cash register was toward the back of the retail space and was surrounded by additional bike paraphernalia including tires, tubes and helmets. Beyond the register was a partition through which parts bins were visible and beyond that was the service shop where two mechanics could be seen working on bicycles. J.T. returned to where Joe was perusing the store and handed him the application form.
“I’ll give you a few minutes to fill that out and then we can sit down and chat,” J.T. drawled. “We can start without John and I’ll get the basics out of the way before he gets here.”
“Great,” was Joe’s response as he began meticulously filling out the job app. After he had filled in all the indicated spaces Joe looked up to find J.T. He was talking to a heavyset man with a full head of dark hair who looked to be about Joe’s age. “Brad, would you please call Pete over at Buckhead and see how many Airdynes he has sold. We’re gonna need to get some over to him and to Rick at East Side.”
“Yeah, will do,” Brad replied while wiping his grease covered hands on a shop rag and then picking up the phone at the back of the service department.
“Well, uh, Joe if you’re finished then we can go over to the office and get started.”
Joe handed J.T. his application who then put the form on a clipboard. He nodded his head and pointed and the two men started walking through the service area. As he followed J.T. through the service area Joe saw that there was an additional work bay that wasn’t visible from the showroom. Four employees including Brad looked up at Joe and J.T. as they made their way to the office. J.T. looked at a tall, slender strawberry blonde who was leaning against a counter chatting with the mechanics and watching them work. “Frankie, I’m probably going to be a while. Please watch the floor and let John know where we are once he gets here.”
“Will do,” Frankie replied, heading up to the front of the store. They walked down a short hall and Joe followed him into a small, dark, but well furnished office.
J.T. turned on a floor lamp as he walked them into the office. There was a desk with two un-padded wooden chairs facing it and J.T. indicated Joe should sit there. He put a foot on the other chair and looked at Joe’s application. “I’m gonna be taking some notes so that I can tell John what it is we talked about. Now let’s see, you graduated high school in 79, but you just finished your undergraduate degree at college? That’s seven years, isn’t it?”
“Yes. I worked my way through school. Some times I went full-time and some times part. It took me awhile but I graduated without any student loan debt.”
“Mm hmm, that’s good. What was your G.P.A.?”
“Three two five.”
“And now you’re looking for a job at a bike shop?”
“Well, I have applications out to get a teaching job but I haven’t heard anything yet. Being new around here I’m starting from scratch. I’m looking to keep busy while I’m waiting and I really enjoyed working at Central Cyclery.”
“You worked there what, four months?”
“Yes, just four months, but I’ve been cycling since 1980 and I do a lot of my own repair work. I took a maintenance class at Central and when I was done the owner, Barry Lack, asked me if I wanted to work for him. I waited table and did landscape work before that. I’ve been working since I was a kid.”
“Mm hmm, that’s good. Are you looking for full-time work, part-time, seasonal? What are your plans?”
“I’m open to pretty much anything you need. I’d like to keep busy until I get a job teaching and then if you need me I figure I’ll need a job in the summers when I’m not teaching school. Central wasn’t very busy in the winter time but you probably have people who cycle all year round down here.”
“You’d think that as a Yankee, but most folks don’t ride in the winter around here. We’re a lot slower in the winter than you might expect, so experienced seasonal employees are always a good addition to our staff. Were you involved more with sales or service in Connecticut?”
“Well, both really. I built a few bikes but Barry thought it was a better use of my time doing repairs and selling. I really like all aspects of working in a shop.”
“Well that sounds good, we like it when folks are flexible and can fill multiple roles as the work dictates.” As J.T. finished the door to the office opened and a tall, handsome, well built man in his late forties walked in.
He nodded at J.T. and offered his hand to Joe who stood at the unspoken invitation and offered his own in return. Where J.T.’s hand shake had been delicate, almost feminine, this was bone crushingly firm. “Hi. John Davidson,” the newcomer boomed with a huge smile. “Sorry I’m a little late. Thanks for getting things rolling, J.T.”
“I understand that you responded to our ad in the Journal?”
J.T. handed John the job application along with the notes he had been taking. John walked around to the other side of the desk and sat in the large, comfortable, leather swivel chair. Joe retook his seat and J.T. finally sat down. “Yes, that’s correct. I saw your ad and I’ve worked in a bike shop before and thought I might be a good fit for your position.”
“Joe is looking to work while he searches for a teaching position. He worked at a shop up north and figured this might be a good place to hang his hat until he gets settled,” J. T. quipped.
“Okay, that sounds promising. Any problem if we contact your former employers?”
“None, please do.”
Looking at the clipboard John said, “So, let’s make sure I’ve got this straight, right now you’re looking for work; at least until school starts in two months, maybe longer depending on how quickly you get a job. You have done both sales and service, you can work full-time or part-time and if things go the way you hope then you might be open to returning here for seasonal work.”
“I think that sums it up.”
John scrunched up his mouth, leaned his head to the left, brought his hand to his chin and closed his left eye. “Usually we wouldn’t be interested in anybody who can’t commit for at least a year’s work, but since you have bike shop experience and are interested in future summer work we might consider you. If we hire you part time that just means that we won’t try to give you very many hours in the slow season. Believe me when I say we can give you all the work you want in the spring and summer. There are no benefits for part-timers but it doesn’t sound like that’ll be an issue for you. Let me check your references and J.T.’ll get back to you in a week or so, okay?”
“That sounds fine. You’re right about me not worrying about benefits, my wife has that covered. I’m anxious to get started somewhere and I’m really into cycling. I’ve been a commuter since 1980 and have done a little road racing and mountain biking.”
“Great, I’m glad that’s not a problem. So, you’re a racer are you?” John asked.
“Well, just a little. I’ve done a few time-trials and one road race and I started doing some running road races just this year.”
“Oh yeah?” John said. “What kind of running races?”
“I did my first 10K race in April.”
“How’d that go?”
“Pretty well. I finished in just over forty minutes but I think I could have broken forty if I started closer to the front. It was my first race and I didn’t want to get in anybody’s way.”
“Forty minutes, huh? Wait till Frankie hears about that. We’ll give you a call one way or another,” John said reaching his powerful and large paw across the desk and grasping Joe’s.
Having learned his lesson Joe shoved his hand as fully and firmly into John’s as was reasonable, thus sparing him a repeat of the pain from their introduction. “Great, I look forward to hearing from you.”
J.T. said, “I’ll show you the way out.”
Joe had gotten home before Misty and had diner waiting for her when she arrived. After a warm embrace and lingering kiss Joe had served Misty diner and had talked about his job interview, hashing and rehashing his impressions of Challenge Cyclery, J.T and John. Misty was sure he would get the job while Joe was cautiously optimistic that he would hear from John or J.T. within a week and he considered it highly likely that he would have a follow up interview.
The interview had been just yesterday and a bit over twenty six hours had passed since he had departed Challenge Cyclery. The phone rang and Misty answered.
“Hello?” Misty said.
“Mm hmm, this is J.T. Williams. May I please speak to Joe?”
“Yes, Joe is here, one moment please and I’ll get him,” she replied, covering the mouth piece firmly with her hand once she was done speaking into it. “Joe! It’s that J.T. guy you were talking about! He’s on the phone!” she said with a squeal.
“Wow, that’s fast. I hope it’s good news,” Joe replied quickly taking the call. “J.T.? Yeah, this is Joe,” he said, holding the receiver away from his ear so Misty could listen in.
“Mm hmm, Joe, we’ve had a chance to check on your references and we’re interested in offering you a job. You’d indicated on your application form that you would be getting to work by bicycle and that’s not a problem for us, but based on where you live I think it would be best if you worked at the Dunwoody location as opposed to Eastside or Buckhead.”
“So the shop where I interviewed? That’d be great. It’s not a bad ride from my place to the shop and I don’t even know how to get to Buckhead or the other place, at least not by bike.”
“Uh huh, that’s what we figured. So when do you think you can start?”
“I’m really wide open. What did you have in mind?”
“Really? Tomorrow? Yeah, sure, I can do that. What time do you need me there?”
“Well, the store opens at nine and I’ll be here a bit after eight. Why don’t I figure on seeing you around 8:30? We have some paperwork you’ll have to fill out and then we can talk about your schedule.”
“Sure! That sounds great! I’ll be there right at 8:30 and we can go from there.”
“Mm hmm, that’d be fine. We’ll see you tomorrow at eight thirty. Do you have a dark polo shirt you could wear?”
“Yeah, I’ve a got a couple black ones that I wore at Central, I’ll bring that.”
“Sounds good. We’ll see you tomorrow then.”
Joe hung up the phone and looked at Misty. “Well, it looks like you were right. What do you know about that?”
“This is great! I knew they’d hire you, but that was fast!”
“Yeah, they must really be in a pinch.”
“Don’t sell yourself short, they saw your value and snatched you up quick before somebody else did.”
“Yeah, maybe. I just wish I’d get a call from one of the school districts.”
“Hey, tonight is a night to celebrate, not worry about what hasn’t happened yet. Lighten up!”
“Yeah, you’re right! Hey, this is great, I’ve got something to do and I feel like I’m contributing, even if it is a minimum wage job. Huh, we didn’t even talk about that! I wonder how much I’ll get paid!”
“I guess you’ll find out tomorrow, but whatever it is it’s more than you’re making now!”
“Oh, very funny. Hey, this is exciting!”
After filing out his tax forms and being introduced to the other employees at the Dunwoody location Joe had gotten down to work. John had been correct about Frankie wanting to talk about Joe’s running experience. Frankie was heavily into triathlons and he and John had signed up the Challenge Cyclery locations to participate in the Manufacturer Hanover 5K Challenge. The event’s biggest prize seemed to be bragging rights when comparing how one business did against another. A business could have as many employees participate in the race as wanted to pay the entry fee but only the fastest three runners counted for the business’ score. Frankie thought Joe might be their third man.
A bit over a week went by and late one Friday afternoon J.T. came to Joe with a list of names and telephone numbers. The list said “Airdyne” and had two columns, one that said “Deposit” and one that said “No Deposit” on it. The no deposit list held about twenty names while the deposit list had half a dozen. “John would like you to call the folks on the no deposit list and let them know we have Airdynes in stock. They’ve been in very short supply and we’ve had people waiting for them for as long as two months. You just need to call them and let ’em know we got about twenty units in and that they are still in short supply so if they are truly interested they should hurry over; first come, first served.”
“I can do that. Did you need me to call the folks with deposits first?”
“Don’t worry about that side of the list. John said he had it covered and that we need to call the no deposit list. Can you do that for me?”
“Sure, no problem. I’ll call the no deposit list and somebody else will take care of the deposit list. Got it.”
“Uh huh. But you probably shouldn’t mention the deposit list to John, he said he has it covered, which means it’s in his ball court now, okay?”
“I just don’t want you catching any flak over this, so call the no deposit folks and then if we’re not busy with customers you can get back to working on bikes.”
Hours later John came into the store and pulled J.T. aside. They were within hearing range of Joe who was tuning up a yellow Schwinn LeTour in his repair stand. John said to J.T., “Did you have Joe call the Airdyne people?”
“Yep. He called the no deposits just like you said. When are we going to call the folks who already paid?” he asked quietly.
“Let me worry about that part. We have their money and they’ll get their Airdynes. Let’s just see how many we have left after the folks on the other waiting list come and buy theirs,” was John’s terse reply.
“Whatever you say, John. You’re the boss,” J.T. said as he walked up to the front of the store to help an inbound customer.
At the end of the day J.T. handed John his paycheck and said, “Before you go home, bring me that check and we’ll cash it in the register.”
Joe answered, “It’s just as easy for me to take the check to the bank, that way I don’t have to ride home with all that cash.”
“Uh huh, but you need to let me cash your check for you before you go. It’ll make your life easier, believe me.”
Joe took the check, answered, “Okay, if you say so,” and got back to work. Joe’s life had been pretty sheltered up till then, he was going to learn a few facts of life over the next few months. Cashing checks in the stores register so as to stay ahead of creditors and double selling back order items was just the beginning of his double dealing Dunwoody education.