Strange as it may sound, this is a story that I promise you is true. It happened quite a few years ago, but I was reminded of it just last week when I saw the 1967 movie, “Camelot.” The movie stars Richard Harris, a person with whom, as you will see, I shared a bizarre and fascinating moment in time.
In the town where I lived there was a lovely, elegant four-star hotel within walking distance of my home. The place was a magnet for celebrities and the highest level corporate executives. The local paper always ran articles about the sometimes extravagant goings on there. I thought it might be fun to work in such a place, so I went to apply, having no idea what I might do at a hotel since I had no hotel experience whatever.
Dressed in my best business suit, I took my place in the hallway on the lower level where men and women in white jackets were queued up for food and beverage positions. A short time later, a woman from HR came over to me, took my resume and asked me to wait. A while after that, the HR Manager asked to meet with me.
“I see that you’re a writer and that you once worked as an executive secretary,” he said. He asked if I would be willing to meet with Monsieur Bouchard (not his real name), the General Manager, and could I come back at 6:30 that evening.
Although I was taken by surprise by the late hour, I agreed. The HR Manager explained that the interview had to be held in the strictest confidence because of certain employee changes that had not yet been announced. At 6:30 that evening I returned to the hotel and the HR Manager escorted me to the mezzanine level where the General Manager’s office was located.
Monsieur Bouchard, a gracious and elegant man who appeared to be in his forties, greeted me with a warm handshake and thanked me for appreciating the sensitivity of the situation. His French accent was thick but I had no trouble understanding him.
As he sat with his hands laced in front of him on the desk, he shared that he had been hoping to make a few changes, one of them his assistant…the reason I could not come earlier. “In my position as General Manager,” he explained, “I find that I require certain other important skills. I believe you have the right combination of skills that I have been seeking.”
I felt flattered. I asked what exactly the job entailed.
“You appear to have excellent language skills, from which my faulty English could benefit.” He waved his hand. “I occasionally struggle writing letters. You could help me with my English. In exchange, I could help you learn French.” He chuckled. “But there is more, of course.” There was a china tea service at one corner of his desk. He offered me a cup and poured one for himself, as well. “Our hotel is quite attractive to celebrities, executives and so on. On any particular day, I might have to entertain the President of IBM and the CEO of General Motors. I cannot do both at once, but I see that I might be very comfortable meeting with one of them and having you meet with the other…at luncheon perhaps right here in our beautiful dining facilities.”
I was floored.
“You could be happy doing this, yes? To be, shall we say, a public face for our hotel?”
“But,” he cut in, “you will first tell me the salary you are seeking.” I gave him the number and he sat back. “I’m sorry,” he said, “that will not be possible.”
I had thought there might be a catch.
“I will have to give you at least $5,000 more. That would be a good start, yes?”
I walked home in a state of shock. Was I dreaming? Had this really happened? My husband certainly couldn’t believe it either. He was very curious about this Mr. Bouchard fellow. I assured him that Mr. Bouchard was very sweet and well-mannered. I was to show up at 8:30 in the morning. The HR Manager would take me to a temporary desk, and I was not to talk to anyone about what was going on…not until he, Mr. Bouchard, had made his moves.
The next day, the HR Manager led me back to the mezzanine level. “This should do nicely for today,” he said, pointing to a great carved antique mahogany desk. I nodded. Aside from an ornate brass lamp and a small porcelain pot of fresh daisies, there was nothing on it. I took a pad and pen from one of the drawers to make it appear that I was working on something, but that didn’t keep others on that floor, managers mostly, from eyeing me curiously.
“You’re new here,” one of them said. “I haven’t seen you before.”
“Yes. I just started.” I hoped he would let it go at that. He didn’t.
“I was not aware that we were filling a position up here.”
I had to think fast. “I’m supposed to work on a special project.”
He nodded thoughtfully then walked away.
It was an absolutely beautiful setting with the mezzanine overlooking the grand gilded lobby. I wondered if I would get to see Richard Harris who was appearing in a local production of Camelot and staying in the Presidential suite. I only knew this because there had been an article in the paper the day before. Apparently, Harris’s room charges were covered by his aide’s credit card, which had already gone well over its limit, and the hotel had called him on it.
At ten that morning, a young man in a burgundy bellman’s uniform trimmed in gold braid with a cap to match brought a large silver tea service to my desk, and asked if there was anything else I would need. “Will these do?” He pointed to a small rose-patterned plate with pastries on it.
“Oh, this is just fine,” I said. “Thank you.” I suddenly felt as though I were in a Disney fairy tale.
I saw Monsieur Bouchard only once, a little after noon when he left for a meeting with four handsomely dressed men in dark suits. I couldn’t wait to get started in my job. I had spent half the day scribbling mindless notes and creating a couple of file folders that held nothing. The young bellman returned with his silver tray at 3:00. This time he brought scones, some of the best I’d ever tasted.
By now, it was getting pretty late in the day and I felt a bit disappointed that nothing had happened. At around 5:00 the HR Manager came to see me. He asked how I was and what kind of a day I’d had as we went down to his office. I took a seat.
“You may be wondering,” he began, “why you have not seen Monsieur Bouchard for the last few hours.”
My heart skipped a beat.
“The Trusthouse Forte people were here today. As you know, they own many hotels including this one.”
Oh, no, I thought, they’re transferring Monsieur Bouchard to another hotel.
“Monsieur Bouchard has been relieved of his duties and is no longer with the hotel.”
I stared at him in stunned silence.
“They were not happy with the way the hotel handled Richard Harris’s billing,” he said. “They felt it embarrassed the hotel. So…”
“I’m so sorry to hear that,” I said. “He seems like such a nice gentleman.”
“Yes, he is,” the HR Manager said. “And because there was no official position yet created for you, I’m sorry to say that your employment here will have to end, as well.”
It took me twice as long to walk home. I was in a fog trying to make sense of everything that had happened. I had never before been offered such a position. I had never before been offered $5,000 more than I had asked or taken my coffee break from a sterling silver tea service. And unlike Richard Harris who enjoyed a long run as King Arthur, I had never held a job for only eight and a half hours. My husband and I eventually laughed about the whole thing. First, of course, I had a pretty good cry.