Waiting for Walter

Walter was a trim sexagenarian with high cheekbones and enough broken blood vessels to suggest rouge. In his beige trousers and bright green polo shirt, he looked like he belonged on a golf course instead of a winery.

“I see you’ve met Hank already. Most days it’s just the two of us, but it looks like we’re going to need some help, especially on weekends. You can work weekends, right?”

“Oh, yeah. That’s fine.” I offered him my photography-heavy résumé and as he read it, I scanned the room. The walls were covered with old wine posters. Bright, richly printed images of Rafferty Pinot Noir and Russian River Zinfandel mixed well with Harvest Fair art, but clashed with the bland state-issued posters about employee rights.

A tall counter ran along one side of the office. Scotch-taped to the wall above it was a line of wine-themed cartoons. Walter and I stood at the counter. He reviewed my résumé and I tried to keep my eyes off the comics.

“So, you’re a photographer, huh?” Gazing over his granny glasses, he said, “Why do you want to work in a winery?”

I was prepared for this question.

“Well, the work I did for Wine Spectator taught me a lot about wine, so I’d like to put that experience to use.”

Just then, hairy Hank poked his head through the doorway. “Um, Walter, would you help me out here, please?”

“I’ll be right back,” Walter said. He rolled his eyes and shook his head.

Waiting for Walter allowed me to wander the office, reading wine cartoons. I almost laughed out loud at the one where the waiter says to the customer, “It’s a full-bodied wine with hints of acrimony, partisanship, and moral outrage.”

Eventually, Hank’s people bought something and left, and he took over Walter’s group so Walter could get back to me. He pushed through the door, his face the color of nouveau beaujolais, and testily resumed his position.

“Sorry ‘bout that,” he muttered. “Hank doesn’t like to handle more than one group at a time.”

“It’s okay.”

Walter stared at the paper, gathering his thoughts. “You see, this job requires dealing with the public, the kind of people who have had a bit to drink by the time they see us. And I’m looking at your résumé and don’t see much retail sales or wait service that relates to this sort of position.”

He kind of had me there. Prior to going broke running two businesses, my previous employment had been as a photographer in a passport photo shop across from the Immigration and Naturalization office in downtown San Francisco. I got very good at dealing with the suits who came in for executive portraits. Like the time around 1984 when Tom Hanks came in for a sitting. Actually, my assistant dragged him from the cafe next door where he was visiting his relatives. After I cranked through a half roll of 2 1/4 frames on the mighty Mamiya camera, Hanks said, “Hey, I get paid hundreds of dollars for this!”

I said to Tom Hanks, “Really? So do I.” That shut him up long enough to shoot a couple more frames before he fled.

“Actually,” I said to Walter, “I dealt with the public every day at the photo shop I managed for two years. Also, being a self-employed photographer made me a pretty good salesperson.”

I was on the verge of offering to shoot bottles when Hank reappeared, hankering – as it were – for Walter’s attention. “Uh, Walter. I need your help at the bar.” The request was accompanied by a slight, passive-aggressive tilt of his furry head.

Walter reacted as though “I need your help at the bar” was his most-hated phrase. Through gritted teeth he muttered, “I’ll be right back,” and scurried off. I felt like I was hanging out with an old married couple.

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