On the evening of October 7th, 2019, I did my second book reading of my up coming novel, Book Two in my New York Trilogy (the first being “Firehouse 101” published in 2005), “Love Triangles”. This is the story of Wharton Business Senior and Retailer Alan Balantine-Garfinckel adventure into New York City for the Christmas Holiday season working at Steinman’s Department Store.
Justin Watral, Author and Blogger
(Author Justin Watral at the Brooklyn Book Festival 2012 promoting Book One “Firehouse 101” (IUniverse.com 2005).
Alan who finds love while working in New York City gets more than he bargained for when while choosing between falling in love with his girlfriend, his best friend and a fantasy Champion figure skater his world is turned upside down when a mysteries rodeo cowboy enters the picture. How will true love conquer all?
Steinman’s Department Store’s first floor that mesmerized Alan Ballantine-Garfinckel
I read the beginning of my novel to a room full of hopeful authors and their friends at the Hasbrouck Heights Library in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ.
Steinman’s Department Store at Christmas: Their first floor chandeliers
Here is the Prologue to my upcoming novel, “Love Triangles”.
The dazzling B. Altman was the inspiration for Steinman’s Department Store.
I hope you all enjoy it and will buy the book:
She came back to campus and now I have to flee, Alan thought. It was never easy confronting an old girlfriend and Alan didn’t want to start now. He took the coward approach and decided to leave campus. Not a good move in this bad economy but he decided it was time to leave Philly. Alan and his best friend, Jerry were winding their way through the career fair on the University of Pennsylvania campus for most of the morning without much luck. After over a decade of knowing one another, Jerry still acted like the whiny undergraduate Alan had known his freshman year.
“I can’t believe that they’re going through with it,” Jerry exclaimed as they passed the tables of recruiters. “They must be kidding themselves. They have known each other for almost forty years. God, my mother is such a shit. She is always pulling things like this! Why does she have to divorce the guy now?”
Alan did not want to discuss this any further having problems of his own to deal with at the moment. He had known Jerry’s parents for years and they never seemed happy. Jerry’s mother was a self-centered bitch, who always wanted things her own way regardless of everyone else’s feelings. Jerry’s father had gone along with it for years, her demeaning his every move. While vacationing in Europe, he caught her cheating with another man. It was the last straw in their marriage and Jerry knew it.
Jerry’s parents were now trying to get a quickie divorce while still in Europe. Jerry was flying abroad at the end of the semester to try to talk some sense into the two of them. Alan was grasping with his own issues. After losing his long term job at Sears when they closed his store as part of the downsizing, he had decided to go back to Penn and study at Wharton. His father wanted him to come into the family consulting business and Alan wanted to delay that as long as possible. His mother provided the excuse by recommending that he apply to Penn, where she had been a professor since their move to Philly years earlier. He knew he needed to get off campus. His ex-girlfriend was returning.
Christine and he had started dating as underclassmen. She had played center and had been the co-captain of Penn’s Women’s Basketball team and had been Alan’s girlfriend throughout most of his junior and senior years. There were a lot of things that Alan had been attracted by, her blond hair, her green eyes and a winning smile that lit up a room. After they clobbered Harvard for a share of the Ivy League title their junior year, with Christine leading the way, Alan had met her by approaching her afterwards to congratulate her on the winning basket.
Alan had always tried to put Christine on some sort of pedestal that even she could not understand. Their relationship had been strained from the beginning. By their senior year, as he watched her defend the Ivy League Women’s Basketball title, he knew that the relationship had cooled. Christine had told teammates she didn’t know if she was winning the championship for the team or to keep the relationship going. It struck anyone who knew them as odd as they always seemed like the happy couple.
Now over a decade later, she was returning to coach the team she lead to two championships and a second berth to the NCAA’s. In that time, she had also played professional basketball for New York and had been on the Olympic team, winning a gold medal in the Summer Games. Even with all that, none of it impressed Alan enough to rekindle the relationship. He just wanted a fresh start.
Too many people were entering the business school without any concept of what they wanted to do with the degree once they got it. The economy was a wreck but Alan knew there might be something out there that would give him a break from school. He wasn’t even sure what he wanted to do when he graduated the next year and didn’t want to have other younger students around to remind him of it.
“I know why you are leaving and it has nothing to do with Christine,” Jerry said as they rounded the corner looking for the Ritz-Carlton booth. “You can’t blame her for not being champion skater. Alan, that was a decade ago. You think you would have gotten over all that years ago. You built Christine up to be something she wasn’t and then you fucked the whole thing up. Ironically, here she is a decade later an Olympic champion herself and you still don’t care.”
“Shut up Jerry,” Alan said, not believing what he was hearing.
This was from a person who was a virgin until he was 38 and never had a serious girlfriend his whole life. The only reason why he even lost his virginity was that he saw the movie, “40 Year Old Virgin” on cable and did not want to have himself labeled the same.
Jerry knew the truth behind the breakup and couldn’t believe that after all these years Alan still harbored the same crush. Years earlier, when everyone else was glued to the TV for the controversy in figure skating scoring and medals that were shuttled to appease different countries and fighting skaters, Alan fell in love. When the skater had taken the ice, Alan wondered who she was and why everyone applauded her so much. When she finished her short program, the whole arena went wild.
It was what happened when she looked up and smiled. Alan’s heart raced and he knew that was the woman for him. It was her spunk, her determination and the look in her eyes of great accomplishment. The commentators were going wild with her performance and you could hear the boos in the background with her marks, which later everyone commented were too low for her performance.
The sports announcer said that she had done it to prove to herself that she could accomplish her goal of returning to skating and coming back to land the jump that made her famous a decade earlier. She showed such grace and dignity that even Alan felt it did not deserve the third place finish. She really deserved the gold!
It was later on in a documentary that Alan realized that she had not wanted to go to the Olympics. ‘I had already been there’, she commented and she wanted to give someone else a shot at competing there. Magazines hailed her as a great sportswoman and represented finally what was good in competition. She may not have won the event that night but she won the hearts of everyone who liked a comeback kid. It was the moment that Alan developed a major crush on skater, Darlene Durbin, the ‘Queen of the Quadruple’.
“That has been your problem for years, Alan,” Jerry explained as they walked. “You have held every woman you have ever met to that peak. In your eyes, no one is good enough, including Christine, who herself won a gold medal.”
“But no one ever applauded her like that,” Alan explained. “Alan, you were at the basketball championship. They applauded the team and all the players. They even gave the team a standing ovation,” Jerry exclaimed. “You saw it on TV. Even both of your parents could not believe you broke up.”
That spark wasn’t there, Alan said to himself, that heart and that great sense of accomplishment. It wasn’t in Christine’s eyes that night. She had done it for the team, but that sense of self-accomplishment wasn’t there.
“I just can’t explain it to you, Jerry. You wouldn’t understand the whole relationship,” Alan said, searching for the Ritz-Carlton booth and a chance to get off the subject.
Making the wrong turn down the isle, instead of being at the Ritz-Carlton booth, Alan was standing in front of the recruiting desk of M. Steinman & Company of New York City. While Alan looked at his map for a minute, the bored recruiter was happy to finally talk to someone. The recruiter was getting annoyed with having to direct undergraduates to the banking and financial booths (as if they would get jobs in this economy, he thought). He looked at Alan and saw something in him and then started his pitch.
“There are a lot of changes happening at Steinman’s,” the recruiter, George stated. “We have a whole new management team, new advertising and have reintroduced our old logo from 1896 as new. We even brought back our original slogan, ‘Steinman’s, it’s always a pleasure’.
Alan was not sure what he wanted to do with his time and thought that going to New York might be a nice change, plus it was far enough from Philly where he could avoid the college but close enough by where he could come home as needed.
“Do you have any retail experience?” George asked, trying to get Alan interested. George would later tell the interviewers in New York what a catch Alan was for the company.
“I was born to do it George,” Alan said. “I had been working at Sears as an Assistant General Manager until the company closed my store due to the downsizing. That’s when I decided to go back to graduate school. There has been too much instability in the field and it has not gotten any better with this economy.”
George explained that Steinman’s was holding its own in New York and the recent renovation of the old store on Fifth Avenue brought curious shoppers into Steinman’s, who as Millennial’s had pretty much left it to their grandparents to shop. There were so many positive changes in the company and they were looking for people who understood the business to work along with them.
“Alan, please look over the material and call to schedule an interview. We would like to meet with you. I think that you will be a good match. There will be a second round of interviews in New York and you will be able to see the workings of the store. I would like to see you soon,” George said as he shoved his business card in Alan’s hand and scheduled the on-campus interview.
Even though Alan was much older then the usual candidate, he could be placed in a higher position then the typical college graduate. Alan agreed to the interview and said he would see him tomorrow.
Alan felt a sense of déjà vu. Had this happened before? Something seemed so familiar about all this but he could not put his finger on it. He said goodbye to George and set off to look for Jerry. Jerry was probably boring some recruiter with all his parents’ marriage woes. For God sake, the guy was almost 40 and he was worried about his parents?
Jerry saw Alan and waved down to him. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company was down this aisle, he pointed out. Alan could see the hotel display from a distance.
“Where were you all this time,” Jerry asked. “Ritz-Carlton was down this side of the aisle. We went the wrong way. You must have read the map upside down.”
Alan explained that he was talking to Steinman’s Department Store out of New York and had arranged for an interview for tomorrow. Jerry asked him if he was crazy.
“You always told me that your father nearly went crazy after losing the family store decades ago and that you never wanted to enter the field again after that whole thing at Sear’s. You have the rest of your life to go into that business, especially if you join your father in his consulting and buying business.”
“It’s not that Jerry,” Alan explained. “Something seemed so right about it. It was like I was going home. Steinman’s reminds me so much of what I grew up with in DC. The stores were always considered very similar. Hell, I remember my grandfather complaining that old man Steinman used to come to DC just to steal his ideas. Besides it would be nice to spend the holidays in New York. Let’s face facts; I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.”
“You are just avoiding Christine, Alan,” Jerry said. “You just want to avoid the issues of your breakup and not see her around campus. You built her up to be something she wasn’t and then you screwed it all up. You had no one to blame but yourself.”
“Shut up, Jerry,” Alan growled as he walked towards the Ritz-Carlton booth. “Don’t let your parent’s problems cloud your judgment about mine. I am getting tired about talking about it and let’s change the subject. Did I tell you I had the elevator dream again?”
Jerry shook his head but knew of the dream. It seemed that Alan had been having this dream ever since he hit puberty. Alan had always reached a certain point in the dream and then always woke up before it was over.
As Alan got older, the dream would progress but would never reach a conclusion. He always woke up. Jerry asked what had happened this time. Alan told him this time the elevator had reached the top floor and the door had opened. He stepped out into an open plain. He saw a figure in the distance. As the figure approached him, he woke up.
“You have gotten further then before,” Jerry said as they waited in line to talk to the recruiter from Ritz-Carlton. “What do you think it means?”
“It means I am closer to finding a solution to a problem,” Alan explained. “I don’t know what it is supposed to mean, Jerry. I just don’t understand why I keep waking up before it’s finished.”
When Alan was younger, it always ended up being a wet dream. Now as an adult, he woke up hard. When he and Christine were sleeping together, she had no idea of the dream. He was always hard and she enjoyed love making in the morning. Alan never told her the reasons. Jerry asked him what he thought he was going to find in New York. Was it the answer to this riddle?
“I don’t know, but I need a change. I need to get out of Philly and away from my parents. I have been cooped up in Philly too long. I knew I should have gone to graduate school elsewhere. While it is great that I am saving so much, I don’t like the fact that I am Professor Garfinckel’s son,” Alan stated with some disgust.
Alan did not like the fact that his mother, a Senior Professor at Wharton, pushed him so hard to attend the school. He had liked working but she worried about him being lost in his career.
“Maybe what I am looking for is in New York, you never know,” Alan stated as his turn with the Ritz-Carlton recruiter came up.
The night before his interview with Steinman’s, Alan had the elevator dream again. This time the dream was longer and more vivid. The dream had always started the same. Alan was walking down a long hallway of office doors and then an elevator at the end of the hallway would open up on its own. He would press the button to go up and the elevator door would close with a thud. As the elevator rose, it went faster and seemed to want to get to its destination as quickly as possible. The elevator light panel criss-crossed quickly and twinkled like a Christmas tree. Alan began to worry that the elevator might crash through the roof.
Then as suddenly as the elevator rose, it began to slow down. It stopped with a small jolt and the red flashing light flashed “17th Floor”. The door slid open quietly. Alan stepped out of the elevator onto an open plain, as far as the eye could see. No noise, no cars and no people. Just open plain with cactus, brush and mountain in the distance.
Alan took a few steps out of the elevator, contemplating on what to do next. He was startled as the doors slammed behind him. He turned to see that the elevator had disappeared, as if it never existed in the first place. “Where am I?” he thought to himself. Alan stood all alone in the blazing sun, dressed in a blue suit, Gucci red tie and loafers and briefcase, looking totally out of place in the environment.
He wondered how he was going to get out of there, when he heard the faint beat of hooves in the distance. Alan turned to look in the direction the sound was coming from and it grew louder as the figure came closer. Alan made out the faint figure of a man on a white house riding in his direction. This is strange, Alan thought, this is where the dream had always ended.
Alan stared as the man on horseback rose toward him. Suddenly, he was about twenty feet from Alan. He dropped his briefcase and walked toward the man. Alan could not see his face very well. Climbing down from his horse, the cowboy walked toward Alan. His white Stetson covered part of his face, but Alan could see the rest of him. He was wearing a duster, blue jeans and cowboy boots.
Alan was amused by his slightly bow-legged walk. Now directly in front of him, Alan still could not make out his face.
“So I finally found yawl,” the cowboy said with a slight Southern drawl.
“It was not that difficult, I have been here many times before,” Alan stated. “Why has it taken you so long to appear?”
The cowboy kicked the dirt in front of him and shrugged. “I was not sure that yawl wanted to see me, but I see the time has come,” the cowboy said. “I feel that the time is right. Yawl wished for me and now I’m here.”
“I did?” Alan asked.
“Yawl always wanted to meet me and here I am,” the cowboy added.
The cowboy stepped in front of Alan and rubbed his right shoulder gently and then walked closer. Alan could see the dazzling smile appear as his thick mustache crinkled slightly. Even though the face was fuzzy, he could make out the cowboy’s green eyes. Not just any green, but a deep emerald green that sparkled in the mid-day sun.
Alan moved himself closer to the cowboy and with that, the cowboy reached over and gently hugged Alan. Alan had a warm feeling all over his body that did not come from the heat of the sun. Alan moved closer as his hand reached for the zipper of the cowboy’s jacket and slowly unzipped it. It revealed the cowboy’s leather vest, printed cowboy shirt and his gun.
Alan put his arm around the cowboy’s waist and drew him in closer, reached over and started to rub his back. The cowboy put his arms around Alan and hugged him gently.
“If yawl wants me to stop, just let me know,” the cowboy whispered into Alan’s ear, as he slowly rubbed his head on Alan’s shoulder.
“No,” Alan answered, “Come closer.” His arms encircled the cowboy’s shoulders.
Though Alan still did not have a clear view of his face, his mustached lips moved closer to Alan’s and he kissed him. Alan giggled slightly.
“What’s so funny?” the cowboy asked as he pulled away.
“Your mustache tickles,” Alan replied.
It did not just tickle; it felt wonderful, Alan thought, soft and bushy. It was thick and neatly trimmed and brushed up against Alan’s clean-shaven face. Alan moved the Stetson over slightly and they kissed again. The kissed gently at first and then harder and more passionate.
Alan hugged the cowboy tightly and could feel pressing against him the erection in the cowboy’s tight jeans. As the cowboy’s head rested on Alan’s shoulder, Alan could feel his warm breath on his neck and the faint smell of cinnamon. The cowboy’s hand then made its way to Alan’s groin and caressed his growing erection. He gave it a slight grab.
“I think you are ready,” the cowboy said. Alan looked into the cowboy’s eyes and asked (he could still not make out the face).
“What do you mean?” Alan asked.
The cowboy flashed that mustached smile as he pulled away from Alan.
“I think it’s time for yawls wish to come true,” the cowboy answered as he slowly moved away and walked back to his horse. Alan stared as the cowboy mounted his horse, slid his duster back to reveal his holster. He pulled the gun out, spun it rapidly on his index finger before returning it to his holster. He turned the horse towards Alan.
“What wish do you mean?” Alan asked as he looked up.
The cowboy smiled again and said, “The one that yawl have locked deep in yawls heart and wished to come true. The one yawl fantasizes about coming true even though yawl don’t understand the feeling. It has always been in front of yawl, Alan. Yawl are just beginning to understand it.” The cowboy tipped his Stetson, so that Alan could see the bright emerald of his green eyes again.
“Will I see you again?” Alan called to him.
“Yawl will know when it’s time,” the cowboy shouted back, as he slowly rode away.
“When will that be?” Alan asked.
“When it’s time,” the cowboy replied.
“Why can’t I see your face clearly,” Alan yelled.
The cowboy turned back and flashed his smile again and rode off shouting, “When it’s time, yawl will know.” Alan could hear the echo and fade as the cowboy rode off in the sunset, “when it’s time, when it’s time….”
Alan took a few steps backward to see the cowboy riding in the distance and then tripped over his own briefcase. He fell back into the now opened elevator door. The doors closed shut on the western scene. The elevator raced down as rapidly as it had ascended. Floor numbers lit up quickly as the elevator reached the bottom floor.
The door opened at the ground floor of a department store crowded with hundreds of holiday shoppers who were busy doing their Christmas shopping on one of the busiest days of the year in a store decorated for the holidays. Alan walked down the main aisle toward the front of the store as the words, “when it’s time…” rang in his ear. As the crowd parted for him without him asking (this must be a dream, he thought, no one does this in New York City), he walked through the glass revolving door to exit the store and the bolt of cold air woke him up. He finished the dream!
Alan jumped out of bed. ‘Holy shit’ he thought, I am going to be late. He was starting his first day at Steinman’s and wanted to make a good impression by getting there early. He showered, shaved, dressed and ate quickly. He grabbed his briefcase and his papers and ran past Gramercy Park on the way to the subway in Union Square. He took one look back to look at the trees, which were still green. ‘That will change’, he thought to himself. The holiday season was right around the corner. As he got to the subway, he said quietly to himself. “Maybe it is time.” He then added, “Nothing like being late on your first day of work!” He then disappeared down the subway stairs.
The Former Garfinckel’s Department Store on F Street in Washington DC
Special Author’s note: “Firehouse 101” can be ordered on the IUniverse.com website, Amazon, Barnes & Nobel.com, Walmart.com or any other book platform. The book can be found for sale at the FDNY Museum in Lower Manhattan if still in stock.
Be on the look out for Book Three of the Trilogy “Dinner at Midnight”.