As luck would have it I landed my dream job as the Controller of a small woman’s owned company, called Two Blondes, in NYC. It was largely with the help of Mr. Louis Rappaport, CPA. He was the man you went to for advice, when you wanted to build some wealth. His practice was extraordinary, for the Jewish family of means, in NY. I had become part of his network, when I worked in Burlington, NJ, on another enterprise of my uncle’s, importing handbags. I came with some knowledge of the ladies fashion’s accessories business, in NY, and was a natural fit for the job, given my MBA and accounting background.
There is unique financing system in the garment and fashion trade peculiar to Mid-Town Manhattan called “Factoring”. Basically the Banks in NYC will lend against your accounts receivables and other assets. It was an easy way to get financing to increase revenues. For increasing revenues of his clients, Mr Rappaport would get them offices in the buildings where the store buyers came, for their purchases. In those NYC showrooms a buyer from Macy’s or Lord & Taylor or Bloomingdales, could find the latest fashion creations. Even a lot of Mom and Pop Stores and small chains in States across America, would come in, and pick up the latest trends, to spice up their store sales.
There was however a cachet, to being in the fashion business, and it barely paid my expenses. It was a long commute on a bus, to get to and from Port authority and NJ. I had little choice in any case, as a bird in the hand, is better than the one in the bush at that time, with my young family depending on me. The problem was that in reality, the work was boring. Our Fashion Designer was David, and he was a wizard with belts. We would go together to his regular haunts, along the broad Avenues, and side streets, of the city, He would take me to the leather workers, where he would buy his hides, for his precious leather belts. Then it was off to the Dyers and Finishers, to see the results of the ongoing orders. Finally it was up to the factory for studding, and engravings, to give each belt its unique character.
Time passed and I got over my initial hesitations, as I was brought up in New Delhi in a vegetarian Punjabi Khatri Arya Samaj clan. While we are not idol worshipers, and are not superstitious in any way I had a subconscious feeling of guilt. I feel this has something to do with cows and Hinduism. If we had not developed the gene, to absorb milk the history of humans in the Indian sub-continent would have been very different. We had a deep affinity to our cows right from the Indus Bull on our seals. I was not inherently comfortable with living off a business, which dealt in dead cows.
David was at the top of his game, as a leading belt designer, for the beautiful people. His belts were being bought, by the thousands, in some of the largest Department Stores, in NYC. They could be often seen, around the waist of many a socialite, as our owner would so proudly circle, in the local fashion rags. Women’s Wear Daily was a particularly favorite, of the in NYC crowd. There would be fashion galas in the most exotic places like the NY Library or the N Y Met, or other mansions in the city. Paparazzi’s were everywhere, shooting black and white pictures and later in Kodak color, of the who’s who, in provincial New York. I found very little diversity in those days, and it was difficult to embrace this new world of glamor and fashion,
My boss would leave cuttings, with beautiful young things, belts circled, in whatever was handy like pens, lipsticks or other quills. Similar expense receipts, from various establishments, would also show up in piles of paper dumped unceremoniously for me to process. I would find them on my desk, along with a breakfast treat of Donut and Coffee, as she walked to work in 20 minutes. She would often leave and be off to her showroom, to gossip about, which buyer was sleeping with whom? It became my main job to be a company expense tabulator, for the fashion industry, when most of the expenses, were not business related. There was a giant sucking machine, moving the wealth steadily every year, into real estate. Besides the apartment in the Burroughs, palmed off as buyer’s entertainment in the accounts, there were many bills from the Hamptons, and other locales that found various accounts in the General Ledger, as the Revenue grew.
After some months it became a routine and I longed for a change. I could not bear one more visit to the tannery, and hear them joke about cow hides thickness and size. The escape to the studding place, was my small savior. The young guy who owned it, had wealth, and this work was his passion. He was educated in elite schools and colleges and we often rambled on about other topics. He had all the machines needed for his work and was able to work on them himself and I would chat while he made sample after sample following the Designer’s sketch. We would move from machine to machine as he worked with various studs of myriad color and quality. The most popular were of course the steel metal studded belts. We would talk about our lives and my family burdens seemed so strange, when compared against his vagabond single’s life, in the varied bars and bedrooms of this city.
My boring life was suddenly shaken by the arrival of Eddy into our life one day. As usual Wendy our supervisor from West Indies, was instructing her girls on how to pack and finish the belts, and be more productive. David was off on his usual haunts. Our owner arrived with Eddy and he walked in, as if he was already a part of our life. It was difficult, not to notice Eddy. He was a tall, well-built, black man; with a handsome face whose very presences, could overpower any boudoir. Our owner gushed over the introductions to Wendy and she pulled out some exotic head accessories from her large hand bag.
Eddy pulled up a stool and rolled up his sleeves revealing exquisitely sculptured muscled arms, as he sat down at one of the work tables. Eddie opened his large sachet, and spread the materials across the work table. He had long fingers and very expressive hand gestures. Wendy and her lead girls gathered around the table with us and watched Eddie, mesmerized by his way of talking, and his mannerisms. He had grown up in Upper Manhattan, but spoke with a college educated accent, with a Harlem Drawl and a true artists vocal cadence and rise and fall, making his magical fingers appear surreal.
Eddy proceeded to pick up each of the pieces of cloth or plastic or bead or other native South American materials and make the samples that our owner had just sold to a buyer. The pieces were brilliant in their colors and feel. Beautiful flowers and creepers appeared. The colors were bright and the patterns uniquely Aztec\Inca inspired, even to my uninitiated brain. Each piece must have been the result of laborious hand work, done in the towns of Guatemala, or other Latin nations, was glued or shaped and transformed, into a fashion hair accessory. Our owner announced that Eddy will be our new Fashion Designer, for Hair Accessories, and by then David had also joined. They were to share David’s room and I would continue with my own desk and would eventually hire two young Philipino accountants, to do the additional work that Eddie’s division, created for us.
We rode to success on Eddy’s work into the next Holiday Season, with orders pending for far more, than we could handle. Wendy had done a herculean effort in hiring more girls and running multiple shifts. I was hard pressed to control over time and expenses as Eddy was flamboyant and did not seem to care about costs. He would discard perfect good pieces from production into the rubbish bin and rave and rant at the newcomers, working on them. When it got down to his creations he was a perfectionist and never forgot a special piece he had created for a client. He could redo them on demand as if a giant computer, with a photographic memory, was imbedded in his brain.
We ended up putting the stores on rations for the next three seasons, as the buyers were ready to pay Eddie’s ridiculous deliveries and prices, as his stuff sold. The season was short and he worked hard on the Back to School season for the younger crowd. He would love doing newer stuff for the teenagers and college crowds. When it came to the women however he was spectacular. He seemed to know what a woman needed, to stand out amongst all the other women in the room, in a room of strangers. His exotic creations, made all my nieces smile, when I took them to India.
The world was so rich and my life had found a foothold in a unique opportunity in New York, the city I had set off for, so many year’s ago seeking an MBA. Cocaine and drugs were everywhere in the fashion world. I remember making a wrong turn in one of the buildings and entering the wrong showroom. In a cubicle I saw a young women and an older man sniffing coke and the white stuff stuck, under their nostril. I quietly exited but it was never the same seeing them together in the elevator or at a restaurant or social gathering, as they had fallen in my eyes. Eddie and David forced me to stay and just hang with them after work. Eddy took us to clubs which really came alive hours later, where he was often the life of the party.
David told me how much fun it was to hang out with Eddie. He had opened a whole new world of Jazz Bars, underground plays and musicals, live shows performed by the current artists. They had a strange nocturnal life and lived in the shadows of the great City. Nothing was out of bounds for these exotic creatures. Sex and drugs were rampant and music and culture was created nightly. It was exciting times with Andy Warhol and other personalities taking the city, to the cutting edge of world culture. Eddie hung out with the best of them, as he was a free spirit, having lost a wife, when he was young. He worked out with them, hung out with them, and loved with them. His current boyfriend, joined us, and they took us from place to place, and we tried the special cocktail of each place. Eddie had his own favorite drink and the bar tenders knew him well and he was on a first name basis, with most of them.
They were a strange trio with David being an outsider in his own city. Eddie and his partners over time, showed David so many new happenings in their world. I sat on a bar stool nursing my drink and keeping my eye on my watch, not to miss the last bus from Port Authority to go back to my family. Eddie had me laughing at the girl on the news, shown at the Lincoln Center Opera’s Opening night of the Season, wearing his creation in her hair, and a matching belt, he had designed. He had me laughing as he exaggerated her curves and ass, saying who would even look at his belt with so much boody, on display. He pursed his lips and blew her kisses of love. He soon turned, and kissed his current lover, deeply, passionately and wantonly. I had to make myself not stare at this beautiful exhibition, of human love, for each other, in our species. I turned away and finished my drink in one gulp, to hide my nervousness, and then felt even more incomplete, somehow.
My world was a very constrained world of a middle class family, with conservative values. When I compared it to Eddie’s hedonistic lifestyle I could see the possibilities of a new world and way of life. I have been an urban dweller all my life and thought myself cultured, refined and liberally educated. Yet all my learning and work could not match even one creation of Eddie’s magic fingers and enterprise. I felt I had met the future of living in our urban society on meeting this new ladies fashion hair accessory designer. He opened my eyes to a whole new world of people, living free and uninhibited. Art had always drawn me as I have no creative aspirations and I felt I was in the presence of a master craftsman. I felt honored to be introduced by Eddie as his friend to the young and famous designers, of the fashion insiders in New York. Somehow I felt I had arrived in America afresh, and a new life had opened up. Eddie was breaking down doors, to introduce me to a new way of life. He instructing me by his example on how to live life, to get a fulfilling appreciation, of our true being.