Wednesday, October 10, 2007

How We Met

Doug and I in 1990. He is holding the camera and looks more jowly than he actually was.

In September of 1988 I was coming off a very bad summer. I had spent far too much time mooching beer from my friends at the bars in Center City, often walking home at 2am because I didn't have a dollar and change for the subway. I was incredibly poor, even losing weight because I didn't have money for food. I couldn't find a decent job and only managed to get through the summer by borrowing $800 from my great Aunt Esther, (a true low point for me, borrowing money from her) who was very disappointed in me because I hadn't actually gotten my degree. I lived in a really dark and depressing upstairs apartment in a rowhouse in South Philly and it was maybe the hottest, most humid summer ever.

Finally in September I called about a listing posted on the college job boards. It was a temporary job doing assembly at a small holographic company on North Delaware Avenue. I worked there for about 2 weeks, along side a guy named Mike (his favorite band was Toto and he had the best mullet ever) assembling holographic calculators that were to be shipped off to The Sharper Image catalog. A guy named Paul supervised us and there were two other guys, Mike and Bob who were partners in the company. Mike handled sales and marketing and Bob did the graphics. They were all very nice and a lot of fun to work with and I really enjoyed the atmosphere. During the few weeks I was there I kept hearing about Doug, who was out in Utah but I never did meet him while I did the assembly work. About a week or so after that job ended, I got a call from Paul who said that they were looking for a secretary, a permanent position, and wondered if I could come in and talk to the owner, Doug. I was pretty sure that I would be a terrible secretary and that that kind of job was totally beneath me, but I also was desperate for some income and so I said yes.

Holographic Design was located in a beautiful loft space in a converted warehouse space. Across from the building was a sauerkraut factory that emitted the most disgusting smells in the summer. Open vats of sauerkraut we often sitting on the street in front of the door to the loft and oh my god, the flies! Neither of us can eat sauerkraut to this day. When I went in for the interview I recall walking up the steps to the reception desk, idly wondering if he might be someone that I might like (as in like, like), where Doug was talking on the phone. However when I saw him he didn't seem my type, as I usually preferred guys who were jerks, and I could tell right away that he was nice. He seemed too old (um, 31, practically ancient, heh) and maybe kind of square. So I forgot about all of that silliness and we talked for awhile. He asked me if I could start the next day and I said ok. Later on he said he felt like there was something going on between us during the interview and that he was flirting with me. I have since learned that he is terrible at flirting, which makes it all the more cute when he tries it.

Anyway, I started to work there and I really enjoyed it. Turns out I was pretty good at answering the phones and handling customers and I learned to use their newfangled Mac Classic computer. And within a few days I realized that I really liked Doug, that he was totally my type and that he was the guy for me. I didn't know much about his personal life, other than that he lived upstairs from the office and that he seemed to work all of the time. One of his partners was married and the other was getting married, so I just assumed that Doug must have a girlfriend or something and I recall that I didn't want to know, because I would be devastated to have to keep working there and see him getting married. I remember sitting at the bar at McGlinchey's one night, pouring out my sob story to a friend of mine, that I was in love with my boss and surely he has a girlfriend, waaaaaa. But I got the real scoop soon enough. I was invited to go out for drinks with everyone after work on Doug's birthday, October 10, which was about 2 weeks after I began working there. We all went to the bar at Society Hill Hotel and during the course of the evening I found out that he was unattached. My crush spiraled out of control! Doug went off to have dinner with his father and I went home feeling incredibly giddy. On that evening I had picked up a few vibes from him and anything seemed possible.

Over the next few weeks we hung out a bit after work, often along with some of his friends, and it was all very casual. I showed him my work and he seemed very impressed, and I learned that he had a BFA in Photography and sculpture from Tyler, so I was impressed. I guess I knew he was interested in me but I wasn't really sure until we went to a Halloween party at the photographer's loft next door. It was a costume party and everybody was fabulously dressed, but I did not wear a costume, other than my usual all black of course. Doug felt he had to dress up somehow, he was wearing a red shirt and a brown tweed coat and then he strapped a big round Fresnel lens to his face, which made his face look HUGE. He looked like a complete idiot! At one point during the evening he put his arm around me, bumped my head with the lens and that was it. I finally knew for sure that he liked liked me.

As we began to get closer we kept it quiet. None of my friends, including Cecily, thought Doug and I were right for each other. And eventually his partners found out about our relationship. That went ok at first, I don't think anyone thought it would last and it was excellent office gossip fodder, but after awhile things got a bit difficult and Doug's friend/lawyer began to give him grief about what a bad idea it was to date an employee. I didn't handle the situation very well with his partners either (I was only 23, and very stupid!) and was much less sensitive than I could have been. In 1990 or so, Doug decided to partner up with another group, which involved a move to Connecticut. Mike and Bob didn't want to relocate so they left the company and found work elsewhere. Doug asked me to go along with him and I joined him there after a few months. We rented a big, old beautiful house in Milford, CT and in 1993, five years after we met, we got married in the living room of that house by a justice of the peace. There have been a few bumps and a near divorce, but mostly our years together have been blissfully happy, despite our scandalous beginning!

I love you Doug, happy birthday, oh and thanks for hiring me for the secretary job, starting salary 10,000.


Karen Jacobs said...

Great "Happily Ever After" story! Thanks for sharing, and Happy Birthday, Doug!

Brooke said...

Happy birthday to you, Doug! Hope this year is the best one yet! I love, love, loved reading this post... I had no idea the history behind "Doug and Tracy." It's GREAT!

Tracy Helgeson said...

Thanks Karen, it is a pretty good story, I have to say:)

Brookielamb, I am sure I told you this story before, silly! Your cute "how I met Jason" story, which I still remember must have erased it from your memory:)

Mary Klein said...

I see you have a cute hubby too :)

Those are wonderful memories - what a great birthday tribute!

Steven LaRose said...

"At one point during the evening he put his arm around me, bumped my head with the lense and that was it."

That is a love story.

Natalya Khorover Aikens said...

What a great story, happy birthday!

Tracy Helgeson said...

Mary, he is pretty cute, although I have to say that this isn't the most flattering photo of him. I should put up a better one.

Steven, someone should make a movie about it:)

Thanks Natalya!

gary rith said...

Great story.

Christine DeCamp said...

Great story, Tracy! I just found your blog & website--I love your paintings--I grew up in NW PA so some remind me of home. Love the colors.I lived in Philly from mid 70's to 81--I went to Tyler. I am apainter & now live in Marin County, about 1 hour north of SF. Am enjoying your work!

Tracy Helgeson said...

Thanks Gary!

Christine, thanks for saying hi! And Doug thinks that he remembers you from Tyler. He was there from 75-80. He thought maybe you had an illustration class together?

Small world!

Lindsay said...

great story. I also met my husband at work but our work place was much larger.(More people to enjoy the gossip!) Funny how everything looks so different after time passes.
Anyway, Hope you can snap a few pix soon.

Eric Hancock said...

Great fun to read.

Christine DeCamp said...

Hi Tracy,
Doug looks a little familiar to me, but I never took an illustration class at Tyler. I was older than most of the students....and I wasn't painting then. (I had a painting block for about 10 years) I started Tyler in the weaving dept. then took ceramics and sculpture--ended up getting a BFA in sculpture--had Giles Guintini and Wade Saunders as teachers. Also took a great performance class with Amy Cohen--I did a "housefly" performance in the cafeteria. I was kind of disconnected with all of the stuff that went on--since I lived off campus & had a job. I worked at a restaurant called the Open Hearth--then it became Mushrooms--was near the school. I knew Jon Clark in the glass dept.--I dated Stephen Hodder--who was a glass artist--also Willy Heeks--who was a painter. I graduated in 80 & left for California in 81. I lived on Old York Rd.--a ways down from the school. My first apt. there was above a tiny place called Hy's Luncheonette. Wow--lots of memories! The neighborhood was not so good & I was glad to leave. I couldn't believe when I came to Ca. & people called certain areas "bad neighborhoods"--nothing like what I had lived in in Phila. I am really not much of a city person.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Hi Lindsay, one of these days I'll put up a new picture of the two of us. Pictures of me have to go through very strict quality control before they can be shown publicly:)

Thanks Eric and thanks for visiting!

Christine, I'll make sure Doug reads your comment, I am sure he remembers many of the places you mentioned, even if he didn't actually know you. I know what you mean about Philly neighborhoods. I lived in Kensington for awhile and used to hear gunshots regularly.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tracy-
Did we ever cross paths? And hello to Christine....where did we go on our dates....How is Calif? What are you up too? I live in RI. near the ocean. Still a painting fool. Send me an email at and a picture maybe?
Best to you Tracy.
Willy Heeks