CHAPTER 15: PUTTING OUR LIVES BACK TOGETHER

After eleven years in the house on Seldon Lane, we moved into our new neighborhood. It was now 1977. I loved our new little house. It was a very cozy townhouse. It was situated on a large grassy area in the center of a large condominium complex, Villa Charme II. We were the last house in a row of six units so we were surrounded by a lawn on three sides and had a neighbor only on one side. Our unit was a one level, three bedroom unit. One bedroom we arranged for guests. I have to admit, that I secretly always hoped that Rochelle would return. But that was not to be. Then there was a nice sized master bedroom with adjacent bathroom and the third, a very little room, became my den where I had my desk and all my business and house records. In the front was an adequate living room and in the back an eat-in kitchen with large windows and sliding doors leading to the over-sized patio. That became my hobby. The patio had nothing in it but there were empty flower beds on all sides and one in the middle. We immediately planted trees all around the house and a lot of flowers in the beds. I also made a small cage for the turtles which we took with us from the old house. As if to make up for all the hard times behind us, everything flourished: the trees grew in leaps and bounds, the flowers bloomed in profusion and the turtles had young! This was a little piece of paradise. I enjoyed coming home and puttering around in the patio which was thirty two feet wide and twenty five feet deep! It became an idyllic little home for us. I thought that we would live there forever.

This became one of the happiest years of my life. Anita and I grew closer. We had long walks, holding hands and talking about our plans for the future. We were like a newly married couple setting up our new house, planning our travels and settling down to a more quiet life. Occasionally we were reminded of our family problems by a letter from Robert or a request from Rochelle for a visit by Anita without ever talking to me. I always hoped that during the visit Anita could convince Rochelle to at least call me and talk things over but it never happened. That was the one thing that kept me from being completely happy. I kept up my exercise and running routine. I became better at running and eventually entered many competitions and received several trophies. I also extended the number of miles I ran and decided to run my first marathon in 1980.

This was one of the greatest thrills in my life. I trained very hard for the marathon. As part of the training I decided one day to run all the way to the top of South Mountain and back down. This is a run of twelve miles with a six mile run uphill from a height of one thousand three hundred feet to the top at two thousand three hundred and fifty feet. I got such a high, running up the mountain road with the beautiful views over Phoenix and Scottsdale. On the way down I yelled: "This one is for you , Hitler. You tried to kill me and look at me now! I am here running to the top of the world and back down. You lost and I won!" I was nearly in tears and I stopped at an overlook for a few minutes to regain my composure. After that I did it a few more times but I never quite repeated this emotional experience again.

I completed the Phoenix Marathon successfully and ran two more Marathons, both in Phoenix, besides many ten km runs and half marathons. In one race I came in first in my age group, a fifteen km run which I ran at the age of fifty three. I lost a lot of weight. I went back to my Army days in weight and waist: one hundred and thirty nine pounds and twenty nine inches waist. I was in excellent shape and I had more energy than I ever had before. This was my routine: I got up every morning at four thirty in the morning, ran between four and six miles after which I tried ( mostly unsuccessfully) to take a little nap. After a light breakfast I went to the health spa where I worked out (stretching, weight lifting, swimming and some aerobic exercises) for about one and a half hours, then a full day's work after which I occasionally ran another four miles. On Sundays I did my long runs, increasing it up to twenty miles when training for a marathon. I was never tired and yet I did not sleep more than four or five hours per night. It seemed that the more I did the more energy I had. I really planned to do this the rest of my life but fate decided differently. About that later.

Some time in the summer of 1980 Benny, the owner of ten Dino stores, including the salon I was working for, wanted to open another salon in Sun City and offered me a partnership in that store. I felt flattered and excited about the idea. Benny and I went to the landlord of a new shopping center on Thunderbird Avenue in Sun City and we discussed the terms which we accepted. We had already started to make plans regarding the number of operators we should have and the design of the salon when we got a call from the landlord telling us that the rent would be six hundred dollars more per month because of some additional square feet which he had not included in his calculations. Right away we went to the place to see what he was talking about. We were shown a little triangle in the design of the building that stuck out into the courtyard. We saw immediately that we could not use that additional space for anything worthwhile. The landlord was not willing to compromise and we did not want to pay six hundred dollars more per month for wasted space, so we backed out of the deal. But this did give me an itch to start my own business again and to build another store from scratch. I did not lack any confidence because of the enormous following I had accumulated since 1967. I could be assured of enough intake to cover all expenses plus some salary. I talked it over with Anita and, again, she was in full support of me. I only hesitated because it really made no sense for me, at the age of 50, to give up a steady, large income and job security and to invest a large amount of money into an uncertain adventure. But I was bitten by the bug and I had a location in mind. On the way home from work I often took Bell Road to 35th Avenue. A new shopping center was being built on that corner. There were not many homes around that area yet but it was being developed very quickly.

It did not take me long to make up my mind. I soon started to make some inquiries. The landlord of that property was very independent. This is how much the rent will be (and it was quite high) plus so much for the maintenance of the parking lot and security. All I received for that was an empty space, no walls, no ceiling, only an empty space and one toilet! I had to install all walls, ceiling and all the plumbing and wiring. I had to get my own architect whose design had to be approved by the landlord and I had to get all the city permits and who-knows-what-else. The only concession he allowed was three months rent free to build the store. And , crazy me, I decided to do it. It would be a repetition of what I had done twenty years earlier in New York: I would build a store of my own design while still working at my job until the last moment.

My first stop was at a beauty supply house whose owner and salesmen I knew since 1967. They were quite excited about making such a large sale. They showed me the latest in furnishings and equipment. I was not impressed. Everything cost enormous amounts of money and things were not designed for much storage and easy cleaning. I remembered the furniture I had designed at my previous store. That was a more beautiful and practical design and I made up my mind to use it again. But I got an idea how much my initial supply bill would be. Here, also, my experience had taught me how to start on a little smaller scale. You can always order more as needed.

The next problem was finding a cabinet maker who would do exactly what I wanted. I decided to use the same man, Mr. Flake, who had made the furniture for us in 1970 and whom I could trust to make it exactly the way I wanted it. He also gave good advice on what kind of Formica to use: for the cabinets a textured Formica which looked and even felt like real oak, and for the counters a Formica which looked exactly like marble. The only thing that bothered me about him was that he was very "laid back." I decided to keep in touch with him constantly but at the end he delivered everything on time.

My first great shock came as I talked to an architect who was recommended to me. I had drawn the whole plan already. Of course he had to do it more precisely to scale and he had to indicate where all the outlets and electric wires would be. The bill for his service would be one thousand dollars prepaid, please! That was a lot of money in 1981. Well, I must say, his final work looked very impressive on the light blue paper, all precisely to scale. He even drew in the ten stations I wanted. Next came the application of permits. I told everybody that I was in a terrible hurry to get everything in order. I was after them daily. They must have thought that I was a real pest, but what of it? I intended to get the shop opened in two months and enjoy one month of business free of rent. And I succeeded in doing that but not without some hassle. The plumbers were the worst. They would sit there smoking and drinking half the day. Every day I went right from work to see the progress which in the beginning was next to nothing. Fortunately I had been smart enough to get a price for the total plumbing job and not by the day or hour. But just the same, I saw my free month rent disappearing. So, I started every afternoon by asking them what was their scheduled job for the following day and when they could not tell me I called their supervisor and insisted on a description of their daily work. First it did not make much difference but when they noticed that I contacted their supervisor whenever their appointed work was not completed, they improved. I never was impolite to them. I merely explained that I was just a small businessman who could not afford to squander time and I also told them about the free rent which I wanted to use to the most advantage. I do not know whether they felt sorry for me, but from then on the work progressed on time.

In the meanwhile I kept working full time at Benny's salon in Sun City. I was doing very well and I must say that this was lucky because I needed the money for the bills from the contractor which kept on arriving at regular intervals. Here again, everything worked out perfectly. We seldom had late appointments in Sun City, so I usually could leave the shop between three and four in the afternoon which gave me plenty of time to see what was going on in my store. One day I walked in and they had a problem because there was a beam right where the wall should be. I did not think that was a big deal because it was a question of just one inch. So I told them to let the wall stick out just that little bit. Well, that they could not do without permission from the architect who would then have to change his drawing. We settled that. Then the inspectors came and I wanted to be there when they came. That had to be coordinated.

Another day I arrived at the store and found all the electric wires hanging outside the walls. I just about exploded. "What are those wires outside the walls? They should be behind the wall, of course, out of sight!" Again they could not change anything without permission of the architect. I ran over to the architect with the papers and showed him what was going on. Yes, he would make the changes but that would cost me another two hundred dollars for new drawings. I thought I would fly through the ceiling. My fuse was getting short with all this tension of working and also keeping an eye on the construction with all its complications. After asking him if he ever before drew electric wiring dangling in full view outside the walls, he finally demurred. He made new drawings. The contractor said that this would set the schedule back for a week or more. I pointed out that there was a lot of work to be done besides the wiring and that I insisted that work should continue. They really were very nice about it and accommodated me. My great fear was that they might start someone else's job while interrupting construction on my store. I got one more "emergency" call. It seemed that the architect had not drawn a connection of the hot water pipe to the hot water faucet in the bathroom. That call came through when the shop was all finished and they noticed that, when they installed the faucet, only cold water came out. Just think: every pipe and every inch of wall and fixtures were put in by me. The landlord's plumbing ended outside the premises. The architect could not figure out that the hot water pipe, which was right behind the hot water faucet, should be connected to that faucet! What brains! It could still be done but then they had to make a hole in the wall to bring in a connecting pipe and that would be a mess. I already had people lined up to put tile on the floor and to paint the walls and put acoustic tiles in the ceiling. So, I let it go and figured that people could wash their hands with cold water. You would be surprised how many times I had to explain to my customers later why there was no hot water coming out of the hotter faucet!

Now all was ready for the final touches. Someone walked into the store one day. He was a commercial artist (probably not a busy one) and suggested a modern design to decorate the walls. I shuddered with the thought that he might not be any good. But he showed me some ideas which I liked and it worked out fine. On the back wall he even made a modern interpretation of a lady's head on one side of the back door and of scissors and a comb on the other side. On the two long walls near the ceiling he painted horizontal stripes of different colors. It enhanced the decor of the shop very much and it gave a modern touch to the salon which had been lacking up to that time.

Finally, the day came when everything had to be installed. Mr. Flake delivered the furniture on time but he could not install it until all the wash basins were in. More aggravation and more insistent telephone calls. That also got straightened out soon and when all was properly installed the store looked gorgeous. I immediately took a picture of it! It looked the way I had wanted it to look: like a fancy large salon. From my previous experience I remembered to put two air conditioning units in, one over the front door and the other in the back and now all was ready for the grand opening except.........

For six weeks I had advertised for help without one response! I even had an answering service so I would not miss any calls while at work. I could not believe that nobody would even inquire. One day I decided to test the answering service and called the number myself. Well, when I later checked my calls I had one response: my own call! What to do? Here was a large, ten operator store and no operators. Finally, while I was putting supplies on the shelves, a young lady walked in looking for a job. I was desperate and hired her on the spot. At least I would open with one operator next to me. One more thing was left to do. I had a large and attractive sign made over the store with the salon's name: "A & F Hair stylists."

I gave a rather short notice to Benny, my boss in Sun City. I must say he was a real sport about it and genuinely wished me good luck. Well, I needed all the good luck I could get. I opened the salon as planned with one month free rent remaining. I spent a lot on advertising but without much result. This was not going to be a business like I had in New York. I could feel it immediately. Nobody walked in or called for an appointment the first day. Luckily, I had a great and loyal following built up during my fifteen years in Phoenix and so I took in enough money to cover my expenses plus a little profit. That was very hopeful. The best going for me was the fact that we had paid cash for everything. We had not a penny debt and so, every penny profit was ours. No payments! That was a very old fashioned idea but Anita and I felt comfortable doing it this way.

Another, more serious, problem came forward: my one and only operator was no good, to say it politely. She was a good looking girl. She was beautifully made-up. The problem was that she started her workday with fixing her hair and doing her make-up which would take her from one to two hours, depending on what she looked like walking in! I felt that she had to build up a clientele so, when finally a new customer walked in, I gave her to my "stylist." She had not finished her self-beautification yet, and so she rushed the customer, got her done in no time at all and went back to her own beautification. After she finally finished the customer she let her just stand there, obviously not a happy customer, and I had to interrupt my work to take cash. I could see that the lady was rightfully dissatisfied. She really did not look good. At the first opportunity I had to talk to my "help" (I must say I forgot her name); I told her that I expected her to arrive in the morning ready for work and that she must pay more attention to her customers to which she replied that she would have to get up two hours earlier just to get ready for work (she was not kidding). I could see that I could not get far with her. Anita said that I should fire her right away and certainly not give her any customers. But I had nobody else and I felt that I had to have at least one person next to me. I was planning a campaign to get more customers into the store but I decided to postpone that until I had better help. After several weeks another young lady walked in looking for a job. She said that she had a small following. I told her to start the next day. I did not fire the first girl because I thought she might catch on when an experienced female hairstylist worked alongside of her. It did not work out that way; now they were doing each other's hair, including permanent waves. So when a customer walked in I had two operators busy with their own hair and, of course, they did not look very good while in the middle of that. Also, they made the customers feel that they were being interrupted doing a very important job: their own hair and nails! I finally gave up and fired the first girl. The second girl, Bonnie, felt threatened but I explained the situation and she had enough experience to understand that the shop needed building up.

We started to work more seriously. Bonnie did not have much of a following but it was a beginning and she was not a bad hairstylist. I decided to advertise a permanent wave sale and this brought in a few (not many!) new customers. Slowly but surely we became a little busier. Bonnie let me know that she would like to have someone next to her. I tried, again without success. One day she came to me and said that one of her customers was a retired, very good hairdresser and that she would like to return to work part time. That suited me, and now I had one hairdresser and one part time girl. She (I forgot her name, also) was a mature lady, blond and attractive and she took good care of the few customers she had as her old following. She did beautiful work and you could see that she used to be a very good stylist but she was so slow, so slow! It would take her forever until she finished one customer and, if I gave her another customer thirty to forty minutes later, she let that customer wait forever. I decided to keep her. At least she did something and her customers looked really stylish when they walked out. She was also good at hair coloring and permanent waving and she was ready to go to work when she walked in! You have to look at the good side of things. Besides that, I was building up my clientele quite a bit. The word got around and, before long, I  was very busy again. I was making some money again. I decided that, for the time being, I would leave well enough alone.

Next -> CHAPTER 16: TRAGEDY STRIKES

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