This was the moment. We were at the door to Ingrid Swenson’s apartment. We’d had dinner at one of San Francisco’s more expensive restaurants, expensive to me anyway. Dinner with Ingrid Swenson was something I never dreamed could happen; or, I should say, I might have dreamed it would happen but never thought it actually would. Now I had to do or at least say something or the moment would be gone forever.
Let me go back to explain. This happened many years ago. I was then in my early twenties and had left New York City, where I’d spent my entire life, to go out West to California, a daring move for me and made only because the ad agency I’d been working for had unexpectedly gone under and I was left unemployed, adrift and unhappy with the city. Amazingly, I’d found a job in San Francisco, in another ad agency, not my choice as I’d become disenchanted with what was then supposed to be a glamorous industry, but that’s where my experience was. My boss was the market research director, Mike Thompson, and Ingrid, who was a buyer for a large department store, was his wife.
I first met Ingrid at a gathering Mike had at their Pacific Street apartment, a large and expensive-looking place which had a view of the Bay. Mike had said it was going to be a little party but when I arrived the place was filled with people. All of them were holding glasses in their hands and exchanging gossip with each other. The apartment was filled with a sound like the buzzing of bees. As I’ve mentioned, I was in my early twenties, incredibly shy and socially inexperienced. I stood in the doorway, debating whether I should just turn around and leave. Mike must have spotted me because he came over, swept me inside, introduced me to two or three people whose names I immediately forgot and then disappeared into the crowd.
There was a bar at one end of the room so I made way over there and got a drink so I too could hold a glass in my hand. I had nobody to talk to so I went over to the large window and looked at the Bay. I could see the lights of Alcatraz and some lights dotting the hills of Marin in the distance. “It’s nice, isn’t it?” I turned around and saw the most dazzling woman I’d ever seen. Yes, just like in the movies. She was blonde with upswept hair, very tanned in a white dress. “I’m Ingrid,” she said. “Mike’s wife. I saw him talking to you. You must be Arnold, the new man in his department.”
I was transfixed and came close to spilling my drink but managed to say, “Yes, I am.”
“Mike says you’re from New York. What brought you out to our little city?”
I found myself telling her how I’d gone into the Army after college (this was during Korea), then returned to New York, found the city to be cold and unwelcoming, beside being very expensive, gotten a job and stayed there nevertheless, but when that job vanished I saw no point in staying there, had heard what a great place San Francisco was and so had decided to take a chance there. All the while I was talking she had a little smile on her face and I was wondering how old she was. When I finally came to the end of my story she said, “Well, Arnold, I hope you’re not disappointed in San Francisco. Oh, I have to talk to someone over there. Have a good time.”
I suppose Mike Thompson became my mentor, sort of, maybe because he saw I had a knack for analyzing numbers and that I was so unskilled in other matters. I remained uneasy working in advertising because I sensed the fear running through the agency, fear of losing clients, which would then lead to layoffs and cutbacks, and possibly, as had happened to my agency in New York, to going out of existence altogether. At any rate, Mike came to my aid a few times when I had run-ins with account executives who made impossible demands for data and he also recommended me for a promotion and a raise.
Mike liked to have big parties, like that first one I’d gone to, and I was occasionally invited to them. He was also a big sports fan and he knew I was too so I was sometimes invited to a Giants or Forty-Niners game. Through these events I got to know Ingrid, who seemed to take an interest in how I was managing in a strange city. She asked about my studio apartment, whether I did any cooking, where did I eat out? She even gave me some recipes for meals I could easily cook, or so she said. She also asked if I had made any friends, including any girl friends. She knew I was shy and she told me I had to make an effort to meet people. It goes without saying that I was enamored of her.
Then something happened. Mike left the agency and moved to another one, a larger one, in Los Angeles, and, so we heard, he and Ingrid were divorced. It seemed that, besides mentoring me, Mike had taken an even greater interest in two or three of the women in the agency. I waited for two months and then I called Ingrid, hoping that she was at the same number. She was. I told her I was sorry to hear about her and Mike. She said she’d known about his affairs for some time and had finally gotten tired of his excuses. She was still living at their Pacific Street apartment. I said, taking a deep breath, that I’d like to take her out to dinner sometime. She said all right.
So that’s why we were now standing awkwardly in her doorway and I was trying to decide what to do. I said I was glad to have seen her again. She thanked me for the dinner. I summoned up my courage, leaned forward and kissed her. It wasn’t the greatest of kisses. She said, No, it was too early. I asked if I could call her at some time in the future. She said I could.
This time I waited a month, then I called. The number wasn’t in operation any more. I drove to the Pacific Street apartment. Nobody was in. I called the department store where Ingrid worked. She didn’t work there any more. No, they didn’t know how I could reach her. It was as if she’d vanished off the earth. It was before the time where I could Google her. I didn’t know what else I could do.
Eventually, I stopped thinking of Ingrid, except for now and then. I had another run-in with an account executive at the agency and started looking for another job. I landed one, doing research, more or less, with the State. I moved from San Francisco to Sacramento to get a promotion. I met a girl and got married. And so on to the present when I’m an old married man with children and grandchildren and live, with my wife, in a retirement community outside Sacramento. But, as is clear, I still think of Ingrid Swenson and wonder what would have happened.