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"Ok Laura, we need to send someone to help out in the Mid-West Office. Are you interested?"

"I wasn’t expecting this. When Lloyd Stiles Buchwold Junior, called me into his office, I was expecting to continue with the conversation we had started last week concerning my promotion.

"Excuse me?" I stammered.

"The Mid-West Office. Thelma’s assistant has retired and I need someone out there with your skills, pronto. I’ve decided to give the Livingston account to Barbara Wilson and move Lisa over into offshore financials, and I want you out there with Thelma. This is a good move for you. Is there a problem?"

"Ahh, why no Mr. Buchwold. When does this take effect?"

"Fine. Immediately, Right now. I want you on the next flight out there. Tell Betty, on your way out, that you’re moving over Thelma’s office and Betty’ll take care of the rest."

I was at a loss for words. Shit! Barbara Wilson got the Livingston account! Shit! I could do that with one hand behind my back. And Lisa Thurwood was going over to offshore! What the heck had just happened to my promotion? Damn, Was this just because I hadn’t gone to Stanford? It wasn’t fair. I didn’t come from a ritzy, silver spoon family. I had waited tables to work my way through business school. I studied hard, put in long hours and gotten good grades. I had followed the dress for success manual faithfully. I worked my butt off to get here. I was good at my job. What was it? Every time a good promotion came up, one of those dammed, fluff head, Radcliff girls just waltzed off with it. Damn it all to hell!

"Is there something else Miss Smith?"

"Ah, no, Mr. Buchwold. Thank you Mr. Buchwold."

I smiled, put on my happy face and slowly backed out of Mr. Buchwold’s office.

What in the hell had just happened? Betty Whites’ intercom was buzzing. My thoughts were jerked back into the present. "That’s right, Mr. Buchwold, Yes, Mr. Buchwold, Right away, Mr. Buchwold." Betty’s hand was a blur as she scribbled on a pad and her sleek silvered head nodded as she took Mr. Buchwold’s instructions. She placed the receiver back in its cradle and looked up at me.

"Mr. Buchwold has asked me to book you onto the first plane out, in the morning. There is one scheduled from LaGaurdia at 5:30. That won’t leave you with much time to get organized and ready, so Mr. Buchwold will be instructing Human Resources to assume your rental obligations and take care of all the moving arrangements. You will only need to pack some necessities for a few days and the rest of your things will follow."

This was all going a little to fast. "What is the Mid West office like?" was the only thing I could think of the say.

"The Mid West Office is our assembly and distribution hub. Thelma Louise Buchwold is Mr. Buchwold’s older sister. As you know here in New York, we maintain the International Accounts, as is Mr. Buchwold’s expertise. Well, Mrs. Buchwold is the real powerhouse behind the entire manufacturing persona, the part the public never sees. She is the person that runs the nuts and bolts of the organization. The person that makes sure that the nuts and the bolts get to the right place at the right time, at our lowest cost. She’s the no nonsense, penny-wise, nitty-gritty person that runs the facilities side of the entire company."

Well, I didn’t know that. Ok, well, maybe old Buchwold was right. Maybe this would be a good move for me. Maybe, if I cozied up with old Thelma, I could do an end run around the likes of Lisa Thurwood and Barbara Wilson. I didn’t have a lot of time though. It was already a quarter past five and I would have to be up and ready, and on the way to the airport by at least 3:30 tomorrow morning.

I made it. I was on the plane, a thousand things running through my mind. Did I turn off the gas? Yeah, Did I pack my blow dryer? Yes. Thank God I had the sense to keep my hair in an easy to manage style. I had just gotten my golden blonde hair trimmed a bit on Friday. I kept it in a medium page, maybe an inch above my shoulders, so all I had to really do was give it a quick wash and blow and brush and it was good to go. It was also the style everyone else wore, well the women, anyway. The men all sported some version of the short businessman’s cut. Regardless, the rule is to always dress like a team player, dress for the job you want, not the job you have, and never out dress the boss. This was New York City and style always mattered. I wanted to make a good impression on Thelma Buchwold. I looked sleek and sophisticated. I had on a very sharp looking navy blue linen pantsuit with a crisp silk v-neck mocha blouse beneath. Short mocha pant boots with 3-1/2" heels & a small shoulder purse complemented my full ensemble. I had a few more pantsuits in my overnight bag. The gray outfit with a scarlet top and another gray, a pinstripe that went nicely with my gold silk top, and accessories. If Betty White were her usual efficient self, the rest of my things would be out there with me by the next day.

We landed in Wichita, Kansas, by nine o’clock that morning. Not a bad little town, I thought… not New York City, but if the skyline meant anything, certainly some things going on. Unfortunately, Wichita was not my final destination and I was directed through a maize of corridors to a small feeder airline counter and out across the tarmac to a waiting twin engine plane. I scampered aboard with two other passengers. One appeared to be a bonafide cowboy and the other seemed to be some kind of a travel worn salesman. They were both real sweet and just about got into a fight trying to make room for me, I nervously smiled at both of them and squeezed into the back seat next to the salesman. Once the plane finished bouncing down the runway and was actually flying, I relaxed a bit and opened my eyes. The cowboy and the salesman immediately started a competition between themselves, to see which of them could be the most charming, though I could not find much in common with either of their stories concerning the finer points of castrating bulls or removing spots from the undersides of kitchen counter tops. To my great relief we eventually landed at a small airstrip and rolled up to a white box of a building with the name "Buchwold International Airport" painted above the entry.

My new found, and hopefully short term, friends helped me off the plane, grinning from ear to ear, saying their good byes like a couple of idiots and then hustled off to where ever they were going. The temperature was cooler here, then it had been when I left New York and there was a slight breeze blowing across the tarmac. I gave my head a quick shake trying and get my hair to settle down and looked around to see a small thin, balding man in a plain blue suit holding a hand lettered sign with my name on it. "Laura Parker Smith". I grinned. I was the only woman at the airport. Yes, Betty certainly was efficient.

"Hi! That’s me! I’m Laura Parker Smith; I’m so pleased to make your acquaintance. Are you here to take me to Buchwold Industries? Did Thelma Buchwold send you to pick me up?"

He looked at me quietly for a minute, before he answered.

"Oh, dear me. I don’t know about that. Mrs. Buchwold didn’t say anything about that. Don’t know anything about that, but Mrs. Buchwold did ask me to pick you up at the airport and bring you over to office and introduce you to the rest of the ladies."

The breeze picked up again and whipped my hair into my face. I reached up to pull it out of my eyes and then the collar and lapel of my thin jacket caught the wind and began to slap back and forth across my mouth. I felt a little flustered and sputtered and struggled to keep myself presentable, I needed to regain control of my appearance and this introduction. I thought I’d start over.

"Did Mrs. Buchwold send you, to pick me up? I’m Laura Parker Smith, and you are?"

"I’m David Marshall, Mr. David C. Marshall. Pleased to meet you."

"I’m ready. Can we go now, please?" Mr. David C. Marshall, indeed. We’re a little stuffy now, aren’t we?

"Well, are you sure you don’t want to change into something a little more business like first?"

My God, this is a seven hundred dollar Estelle LaVierre pantsuit. Is this man insane? "No." I replied in my now cool and controlled voice. "I’m quite ready. Now let’s be going."

"Oh dear, well, I don’t know… Mrs. Buchwold doesn’t abide no fooling around.

David pulled his fifteen year old station wagon to the front door of a well kept up, if older, one story home with a small sign in the front that said: "Buchwold Mid-West Office". As he hurried around to open my door for me, I couldn’t help but marvel at the austerity of this place, compared to the gleaming towers of steel and glass back in New York City. What a contrast. Thelma Louise Buchwold certainly didn’t waste money on frivolous displays of wealth, did she! I slipped my legs out and slid across the car seat to get out.

"Damn!" The plastic seat covers in the car had created static and my pants were clinging high up on to the backs of my thighs, almost tucked into my bum crack. This is great. Then the breeze picked up yet again and my jacket lapels once more were flapping in my face. A couple of quick steps and I finally got into the office, relatively intact, if a little frazzled. What a strange place. Nine desks were spread around what must have once been the living room, with state of the art, computer terminals. Perched at each desk, a young girl or woman with a headset was busily at work. That in itself wasn’t so completely strange from the work stations back in the City, but what seemed odd, was that all of the girls appeared to be dressed like the homeliest little housewives you ever did see at a nerds convention of Tupperware disciples.

I quickly glanced from one to another. They all wore their hair in various short little perm’d styles. They all wore a sweater of some type, not ski sweaters, not pullovers, no twin sets. They were all button cardigans of some type, some were left open, some buttoned all the way up and some were buttoned v-neck types, but they were all worn over buttoned up blouses. I hadn’t seen this much dowdiness in one place since I’d accidentally gotten mixed into the senior ladies tour at the Guggenheim. And their posture! Why, it was if they all had a broom up their ass. Every single one of them sat ramrod straight at their desks, skirts neatly tucked beneath them. Amazing! Please tell me this is not the dress code!

I was also still fairly distracted by the fact that I was unable to discretely fish the clinging seat of my pants from out of my butt, when I tripped.

"Damn!" The heel of my shoe caught in a vent grille in the floor at the door and snapped. I stumbled noisily into the reception area, looking I’m sure, like a peg legged pirate dancing the drunken jig. The room fell silent. Everyone stopped what they were doing and stared at me. There were a few audible gasps, as their mouths dropped open in unison. A woman near the back of the room, at a desk near another door, quickly stood up, as if to intercept me. Then, that door on the other side of the room opened and a woman that could only be Thelma Louise Buchwold stormed into the room. I looked up. Thelma Louise Buchwold was one stern looking woman. She was stout and big boned, and dressed like an old high school librarian, in a straight gray skirt and white buttoned up blouse with a long dark blue cable knit sweater over top of it all. She wore plain black oxford shoes on her feet, and her white hair was severely pulled back into a tight bun at the back of her head. There was not a hint of makeup on her hard face. I feebly tried to pull an errant strand of my hair from my mouth, and then she spoke.

"Saints preserve us, you are a sight. What in the world was Lloyd thinking? Sweet begets, if you don’t look like a little girlieboy. This will not do. Mr. Marshall, Please take this young lady over to Davenports for some things and then over to Nancy’s Nook. Sue Ellen, Please get Nancy on the phone and ask her, if she can fit Miss Smith in for a quick cut and set. Be back here at one o’clock"

That was it. That was my introduction. Oh no! God, I’ve really blown it. I must look like a completely incompetent novice to Thelma Buchwold. I felt like an idiot. What did she say? A girlyboy ? What was that supposed to mean? I stood there, totally off balance, lost in a rush of thoughts… Oh, Why did I have to break a heel just as she’d walked in to greet me? My pantsuit was all disheveled and stuck up my butt, strands of my hair were sticking to my lips, and my mouth was now so dry, I couldn’t even begin to form words, let alone offer an explanation. Oh, God, I felt like a little girl who had just been caught playing dress up in her mother’s things. What had happened? I had always been so suave and on top of everything, back in New York. Now, I just wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear. David Marshall’s voice jerked me back into the present.

"Come on now, Miss Smith. Mrs. Buchwold wants us back by one and we don’t have a lot of time."

I could sense the disapproving snickers from the rest of the girls. I guess they’d never had a hair out of place! Chagrined, I meekly turned to follow Mr. Marshall out the door, doing a little hobble, skip and jump, to keep up. He held the door to his station wagon open for me and I slid in, onto the plastic covered seats.

"Where are we going?" I asked, with some trepidation, pulling yet another strand of hair from my mouth. My pageboy hair cut was not fairing well in this infernal breeze. This was not good. My first meeting with my new boss and she’d sent me away like a little child. What did I just do to my career? I was never so embarrassed in my life.

"Davenports. Davenports is a ladies store in town. Oh, dear me. I just knew if you went in there, looking like a young fellow, that just wasn’t going to sit right with Mrs. Buchwold. Mrs. Buchwold doesn’t like that kind of fooling around."

"What am I supposed to do at Davenports?"

"Davenports is the ladies store. They sell ladies things. I expect that if Mrs. Buchwold wants you to go into Davenports, then I’d think she wants you to get some ladies things, ladies clothes, things like that."

"And Nancy’s Noodle?"

"Nancy’s Nook. Nancy’s Nook is the beauty parlor that Mrs. Buchwold goes to every Monday morning. Actually, all the ladies in the office go there on Monday mornings. They get their hair fixed up while they have a staff meeting."

"Oh, I see." Well, maybe this could be turned around. Maybe I could salvage something, out from under this fiasco of my introduction to Thelma Buchwold, just fifteen minutes ago. If Thelma wanted me to pick up some things at Davenports and then go over to Nancy’s Nook, maybe it wasn’t a total disaster. Obviously, Thelma was giving me a second chance. Ok, But clearly I had to maximize this opportunity. Then, I had to chuckle; it didn’t seem that Thelma ever spent much time on beauty, I’d think that they were pretty short meetings!

A bell jingled as we passed through the front door of Davenports. We both stood just inside the entrance. I looked around in awe. This was definitely not Estelle LaVierre’s; it wasn’t even the GAP. There were racks of clothing and accessories and mannequins. I stared at the mannequins. They were decked out in June Cleaver fashions straight from the fifties. Amazing. A short woman in a badly flowered dress had joined us. Marshall mumbled something to her about my "outfits" and headed back out to his car.

"Well, Hello, there. My name is Joanna!" The woman introduced herself.

I began to tell her that "I’m starting a new job with Thelma Buchwold and I just need a few things to get me acclimated to the office." when she interrupted me.

"Oh, Well of course. My goodness, then, Thelma and all of her girls shop in here. Thelma’s a stickler for detail, isn’t she?" she winked at me. "Don’t worry, I know exactly what you need. Why don’t we just go on back into the changing rooms and I’ll get some measurements and some things for you."

Joanna wasn’t gone long. She came back with arms loaded down with boxes and clothing. The first box revealed a long line brassiere, which she held up before me. I slipped my arms through each of the wide straps.

"Now bend forward, so your breasts seat properly into your cups."

She moved behind me and fastened a half dozen hook and eye closures together. I marveled at the way my breasts now seemed to defy gravity and stand straight out from my chest in their rigid twin conical forms. Joanna already had a second garment out of a box and was motioning for me to lift a leg and step into it. I quickly complied and then repeated the motion with my other foot.

"I really don’t think I need a girdle, Joanna." I protested.

"Well of course you do, dear. You certainly don’t think Thelma Buchwold will abide loose ends and sloppiness in her office, do you?"

She positioned the top of the girdle to just overlap the bottom of my brassiere, by an inch. I sucked in my stomach and she assisted in fastening the length of hook and eyes. Another box followed and it wasn’t long before I stood there with my body fully encased in rubber, Lycra and steel. I now had thick cotton stockings on my legs and she was busily attaching them to each of the little clips at the bottom of my girdle. There was now a most sensual snugness that I felt over my entire body. A sense of being fully controlled, and yet at the same time, feeling more in control then I had ever felt. It was so different from the flimsy bras, thongs and pantyhose; I’d worn all my life.

I donned full cut white nylon knickers and a nice white full opaque slip, and soon Joanna and I were laughing and getting on like old friends. She had brought me a few different things to try on and I had narrowed my initial selections down to a week’s change of outfits. I was now staring at my new image in the mirror, dressed in what we both knew Thelma Buchwold would consider proper office attire. On my feet, I had on a sensible pair of brown oxford walking shoes. Around my waist, a straight gray flannel skirt that fell to about 3 inches below my knees, very similar to Thelma’s. I chose a crisp white, long sleeved blouse with small pleats framing the front placket, buttoned all the way up to a Peter Pan collar and snuggled at my throat with a small gold medallion pin. Over that, I had selected to wear a dark green, jewel neck cardigan sweater. I couldn’t decide whether to button that up as well, and then decided to leave it open, so that the crisp pleats of the blouse beneath it, were visible. I clipped gold medallions to each of my ears and stepped back to observe the full effect. I looked very smart.

"Well, what do you think, Joanna?" I asked, as I turned this way and that, to get a better look at myself from different angles in the mirror. When I had first glimpsed Thelma’s office girls, I had thought they’d all dressed terribly dowdy and I certainly had no wish to emulate them, but now as I continued to analyze my new appearance, I was pretty pleased. True, my image was now fairly straight and shapeless, except for perhaps a more prominent bust line, but it did enforce the appearance of a serious woman, unencumbered by the whimsies of style and fashion. I should think they would recognize my determination. Yes, I looked very smart indeed!

"One more little thing, Laura. You really don’t need all that garish makeup."

"Huh?" Garish makeup? I had on just a little foundation and lip-gloss, a bit of mascara and the tiniest subtle touch of blue on my lids. And maybe a little pencil on my brows, yes, but garish? I didn’t think so.

"Let me get you a little cold cream and we’ll take that all off."

Joanna walked back toward the Ladies Room and returned with a small jar of cold cream and a handkerchief. I dabbed the handkerchief into the cream and vigorously rubbed it all over my face. When I was finished, I again looked into the mirror. My face now had a freshly scrubbed, rosy glow. Now though, I thought I looked more like a little girl in grown up clothes. I would have to do something different, something a little more mature, with my hair.

At about that time, Marshall had arrived and was waiting for us at the front of the store. I had completely forgotten about the time during my outfitting. I realized that we were still on a tight schedule and I had another stop to make, before we could return to the office. Joanna and I continued to giggle between ourselves as we carried the rest of my purchases to the front and Marshall helped to load them into the station wagon.

"I trust that everything went well, Miss Smith?"

"Yes, Wonderful. Joanna is so helpful. Where are we off to next? Nancy’s Nook?" I was in such good spirits. I was now dressed like a regular member of Thelma Buchwold’s team. I felt good, firmed up and all tucked in. Sudden breezes wouldn’t faze me now and I certainly wouldn’t be tripping all over the place in broken heels. I reached up and aimlessly played a bit with the ends of my hair. This page hairstyle, that had cost me a hundred dollars every two weeks in New York, now seemed so silly and frivolous and such a bother. Yes, it certainly was time for a change. Nancy’s Nook. Ah, we were here!

David Marshall was out of the car and around to my door in a flash. He extended a hand to assist me as I again swung my feet around and got out. Hmmm, no static this time.

"Will you be going in with me, Mr. Marshall?"

"Well, no, I don’t think so, Miss Smith. Mrs. Buchwold didn’t say anything about that. No, I think I’ll just take the car down to Jerry’s and gas up."

Another jingling door announced my presence. The interior is a combination of turquoise and pink, reminiscent of the 1950’s. What is it about the 50’s that seems to define such differences in attitude and style around here? During the drive to Davenports, and again on the way over here, I had noticed some young girls with long, flamboyant hair, or short strangely colored, spiked hair, wearing the latest clothing styles, hyped and advertised on national mass market television. Certainly this place was not actually caught up in some twilight zone, kind of time warp. Television existed here.

"Hello, I am Nancy Munsenegger."

My attention was redirected toward an extremely clinical looking woman approaching me. She is dressed very much like a nurse, except that I hadn’t come upon a nurse dressed like her, except in old pictures and movies. Yes, She is most definitely wearing a nurse’s uniform, very severe, of an older style. The long starched sleeves buttoned around her wrists and the bodice hugged her torso before it buttoned tightly around her throat. By her deportment, I was sure that beneath that crisp uniform, she was harnessed into the most controlling of foundations ever created. She even wore white stockings and shoes. Her hair was fashioned in an extremely short curly perm, and as if there were ever the remotest chance that it would ever be displaced, had it yet covered with a hair net. Her warm and friendly smile and greeting seemed totally incongruous with her stark appearance.

"So, you’re Laura Smith, The new girl from Thelma’s? Sue Ellen said we should be expecting you. I’m so pleased to meet you."

"Yes, no, well yes, well, I guess that’s a part of my problem. I was just transferred here today, from the New York office and well, I’ve just made a terrible mess of my first meeting with Thelma Buchwold, and, and… I, Oh God, it’s just gone all wrong and I… I…" I was just about to start bawling like a baby. I had felt so great leaving Davenports. Joanna and I had gotten on so well, but now, I guess the jet lag, I don’t know, all the bad things seemed to come back to me at once and I was ready to loose it and start blubbering and crying to a woman I didn’t even know.

"Dear, dear, That’s all right. Now just relax and calm down for a minute. Can I get you a cup of tea? Things can’t be all that bad and things always do look brighter over a cup of tea."

I sat down on a chair as Nancy silently walked off in her rubber-soled shoes toward a room at the back. A few more sniffles and I was able to again collect my wits and look around the room. It was all very straight forward and business like. Chairs with sinks at one end, an area of styling chairs, another area devoted to a row of dryers. The furnishings and equipment were of a look and type that seemed to be from an era that passed fifty years ago, yet nothing appeared to be old or worn. The room resembled a museum recreation, everything precisely arranged in its specific location. Everything was clearly in perfect working order. There was not a spec of dust anywhere. The room appeared to be set up to cater to the needs of a large volume of people, at one time, yet no one else was here.

"Here you go Dear."

I was startled by the return of Nancy, with the tea. I had not heard her approach; she seemed to glide silently in those white shoes. I took a sip, and it did seem to relieve my tension.

"Are you open today?" I asked her, as my eyes again glanced around the empty room.

"Well, yes, we are open, in that today, we are on call. Though our normal hours of operation, flank the weekends. The majority of our customers usually come in more toward the end of the week, for their weekend touch ups and the like. Of course, Mondays are the busiest. That’s when Thelma Buchwold holds her staff meetings. So, you are to become a member of Thelma’s team. That’s wonderful. Why don’t we move you over into this chair and relax. The first thing I want to do is give you a nice shampoo. You can hang your sweater over there and if you’d like to remove your blouse, you’ll find some smocks hanging there as well."

I hung up my sweater and blouse, slipped into a smock and moved into one of the chairs by the sinks. Nancy returned from a closet with a fresh nylon cape, snapped it smartly over and around me and secured it behind my neck. She then opened a drawer in the counter before me and removed a small clear package. She tore the end off, removed and quickly donned a pair of thin rubber gloves with extended sleeve protectors.

"You have very nice hair. How long have you been wearing it like this? It looks professionally done."

Nancy reclined my chair, so that my head nestled into a u-shaped opening at the edge of the sink.

"I don’t know, it seems like forever, but I guess it’s been about two years. I kept it even longer when I was attending college. It was near the middle of my back then." I was really more intrigued by the idea of Thelma actually conducting a staff meeting in a beauty parlor. I just couldn’t imagine what that might be like.

"Thelma Buchwold really holds staff meetings in here? Isn’t it kind of noisy and distracting for a staff meeting?"

"Most of our powered equipment is muffled. And of course, the more intense, personal attention required of the girls, is scheduled so as not to interfere with specific announcement and policy sessions. Thelma isn’t one to waste time and yet she considers the well being and needs of her girls to be of great importance. She has devised these staff meetings as a way for her girls to relax and enjoy the very same services as she does. In here, she relaxes and she suspends the hierarchy. The girls are free to talk and discuss any and all matters of importance to them. She sees this as a part of her own success in maintaining their loyalty. I suppose no one ever really forgets who’s the boss, but it is an important, egalitarian time together for everyone."

"Hmm, OK. I understand that a good employee is expected to look and participate as a team player. That was expected back in New York and I expected that I would have to make some adjustments here. But what of the clothing, that everyone is wearing? And coming to a beauty parlor like this every week? Isn’t it just another form of the forced submission of women to men, through style and dress. Are they not being made to conform to the nostalgic, out-dated, ideals of some men, frustrated to have lost control of their old male dominated society?"

"No, that is not really the situation here at all. Thelma Buchwold is an extremely smart woman. She is intelligent, strong willed and very sure of herself. Men like her younger brother Lloyd, enjoy their power games and old boy networking. They are like the peacock, preening and strutting and making their little deals. Women like Thelma run things, they make things work. Consider the praying mantis, the male makes a single, significant contribution to the continuity of species and is then consumed, finished, kaput. I think you’ll find that the concept of the so-called, "new age woman" is simply another version of women’s pathetic penis envy, if you will. You will not find that in Thelma. She adheres to a strict mental and physical discipline that celebrates and enhances the unique qualities of women. Sure you will find some "successful" women in pants, but they enjoy their success at the expense of their true independent femininity.

For instance, there are three places you can get your hair cut around here, Willie’s BarberShop, Townies Snip-n-Style and my place. Obviously, Willie takes care of the real men, that’s a given. I take care of Thelma and the Buchwold Ladies. Then there is Townies Snip-n-Style. And I’ll tell you something about the people that go in there. They are for the most part, the younger women and men, lost souls, who have succumb to the late twentieth century notions of a free love, live for the moment, do your own thing, whatever, society. They think they are in control of their lives, but in reality, they are being completely manipulated by the False Lords of Consumerism, like, for instance, Thelma’s brother Lloyd. Consider them. They slave at meaningless jobs, or don’t even hold jobs all and depend on the favors of others. They think they are free when they paint their faces and flaunt their bodies however they see fit. And faithfully, every six months, the False Lords infect them with a new novelty. Do you think MTV exists for any other purpose, but to move product? It’s a calculated sham upon them.

The people that embrace Thelma Buchwold’s values are amply rewarded. They are a part of the company, stockholders really, through their acceptance and self imposed discipline, they contribute to their own success. Thelma Buchwold is a fair woman, absolutely strict, oh yes, make no mistake about that, but very fair. Her heart is open to anyone who would choose to deny lascivious behavior, control their own bodies and subscribe to Thelma’s ethics. No matter what their past indiscretions, she will take them in. But, and do not ever forget this, woe upon the man or woman that would cross her."

"Well, here we go."

I had been so fascinated with Nancy’s explanations, that I was surprised that she was done shampooing and rinsing my hair already. Nancy discarded her gloves and raised the back of my chair. She now began to pull a fine brush through my damp hair, straightening it out as she went on.

"Did you have anything in particular in mind? You have to be back at the office by one, right?"

"No, Yes. I mean yes, I must be back at the office before one o’clock and no, I’m not really sure how I should have it cut or styled. I haven’t really had much time to think about it. I do need to do something though, something to make me look more mature. I can’t go back there looking like a little girl. Or… or…" I almost choked on the words… I mustn’t look like a girlyboy."

"A girlyboy! My goodness, Dear! You must have really put on the show. It isn’t often you’ll get that kind of a rise out of Thelma! Well don’t you worry any, my Dear. You might see something like that walk out of Snip-n-Style, but rest assured, that’s not what we’re about here. Ok then, what do you do at the office? Will you be wearing a headset?"

"Oh God, No, Thelma must hate me! No, I’m supposed to handle financials. I don’t know what to do. What do you suggest?"

"Well, then financials. That’s on the money then. I think something reserved and mature; something with a bit of authority. You just leave it to me, Laura."

My hair was now hanging straight down around my head on all sides. She quickly separated sections off the top, away from the rest and clipped them up and out of the way. Shortly she had a gleaming silver sheers in hand and deftly removed large sections from all along the back of my neck and then around toward both of my ears. She stepped before me, slid my bangs between the blades of the sheers, slightly above my brows and they fell away with a clean snick. She returned to the back of my neck and began a second round of snipping. This time, Nancy concentrated with more emphasis on the shape, the scissors again moved toward my left ear and she removed nearly all of the hair around it, tapering it to a slightly longer length as she clipped higher toward the crown. She moved to my right side and expertly repeated the shaping. I suppressed a gasp at the sight of my now fully exposed ears.

Nancy systematically loosened each of clips holding the hair at my crown, shortening each length to about three or four inches. I hadn’t had hair this short since grade school. It was both shocking and exciting. It seemed like my fate was now totally in her hands.

"Are we done?" I sheepishly asked.

"Oh No, Dear, I’ve only rough shaped it. We do not wish to leave Thelma with any doubts as to your commitment, now do we? Laura, believe me, if Thelma didn’t have confidence in your abilities, if she didn’t fully believe that you were the right person for the job, you would not be sitting here now. Do you understand that? I doubt very much that Lloyd Buchwold picked your name out of hat. You are here because Thelma wants you here. Surely you owe her your full commitment."

I was stunned. I could never in a million years, have considered that Thelma Louise Buchwold would have intentionally selected me as her next assistant. Up until this very moment, I had believed that Barbara Wilson and Lisa Thurwood had been promoted over me and that my transfer out here was akin to being sucked into a black hole, never to be seen again. My God, If this were true, my future was secure. My God, if all I had to do was submit to one woman and look like a twenty five year old, old lady, I could do that with one hand behind my back.

"OK Nancy, Let’s do it!"

"That’s my girl!"

Nancy pulled another drawer open. This drawer was sectioned to accommodate rows of perm rods organized and arranged by color, size and purpose. Her hands were a blur. As quickly as she put her hand in the drawer, she had specific sections of my hair wrapped around a small rod and rolled tightly against my head. Nancy was the consummate professional. Her starched white uniform made sense to me now. Maybe she had trained as a stylist a long time ago, but she was clearly beyond that now. She was a skilled technician. She had been hand picked by Thelma Buchwold.

The "pop" of an electric clipper returned my focus to Nancy. She pressed the back of my head forward, forcing my chin into my chest. I watched her as best as I could through the screen of my upper lashes, but that wasn’t necessary. I felt the snarling teeth of the clippers at the base of my neck. A shiver wracked my entire body. My heart was pounding. The teeth dug in. They climbed up my neck and then lifted off in an inverted arc. Over and over the insatiable teeth returned to the base of my neck, before arcing away. She brought them to my ear. The noise was a snarling ruckus, deafening, and the screaming hounds of hell filled my ears. I shuddered, over and over, I moaned. I reached orgasm. Did Nancy feel it as well?

My breath came to me in short, desperate pants. She had circled my ears. The entire lower circumference of my skull tingled and was alive as never before. I could not suppress another moan.

"Are we all right, Dear?"

I looked at her through heavy, half-lidded eyes. She was unaffected. She was in control. She was measuring a solution and filling a plastic lined applicator. I trusted her completely. God Almighty.

I was alone in my thoughts as the perm solution was left to break down and alter the cells of each and every hair on my head. There was no going back. I had made the commitment. I had submitted. I sat in silence as my breathing slowly returned to normal. I was conscious of the gentle, regular rise and fall of my chest beneath the vinyl cape. The pervasive, constrictive caress of the rubber, lycra and steel beneath, that mastered and measured my every feminine curve and motion. The sparkling, tingling feeling of my scalp as the chemical had it’s way with me. Twenty, thirty, forty minutes, I do not know how long I sat like that. Acutely aware of every nerve in my body.

Nancy returned to remove my rods. We were both quiet. It was as if I was now removed from my body. I watched as the hair was freed and then left to spring back upon itself, forming a random pattern of shiny coils about the top of my head. She flicked at them briskly with her hands and then reached once more for the electric clippers. The sound seemed distant now. She intently snicked at errants, eliminated strays, refined the shape around my ears and enhanced the blend from nape and sides into the crown. She picked up a toothed implement with a long pointed tail and twirling it like a baton, massaged, coaxed and finessed the curly rag tag at the top into a perfectly balanced symphony of coil, wave and taper. The hair at top dead center of my forehead rose a defiant three inches to meld with the crown. Adjacent to that proud promenade, Nancy had urged a pair of perfectly symmetrical half rolls, the waves of the ocean about to crash onto a pristine beach, frozen in time, for no other purpose but to frame my face alone.

I was in awe. It was ethereal. No ones hair looked this good. Neither of us spoke. It was done. I had emerged. I was immaculate. We knew it.

I became acutely aware that my pulse was still pounding. Nancy left out a soft sigh, gently removed my cape and stood back. I slowly rose from my seat and began to fumble with the buttons of the smock at my neck.

"Here, let me help you with that."

Nancy removed the smock from my shoulders. I stood for a moment, smiling at her. I turned to retrieve my blouse, then turned again to face her as I buttoned up. I didn’t know what to say. I had been in the hands of a master. What do you say to a master?

"Thank you, Nancy."

"Thank you, Miss Smith. You are quite welcome. Please do come again."

We arrived back at the Buchwold Mid-West Office at precisely ten minutes to one. I took a deep breath, pulled open the door and walked in. The girls at the desks looked up at me briefly and continued with their work. I strode right up to Sue Ellen’s desk. She immediately stopped what she was doing, smiled and gave me her full attention.

"Laura Parker Smith to see Thelma Buchwold. Mrs. Buchwold is expecting me." I stood before her, awaiting her response.

"Yes, Miss. Smith, Mrs. Buchwold is expecting you. I’ll tell her you have arrived. Just a moment, please." She picked up her phone and punched the intercom. "Mrs. Buchwold? Yes, Miss. Smith is here for your one o’clock, yes, yes, right away, Mrs. Buchwold."

This was very good and my confidence was returning. When I had entered the office this time, the girls at their desks had not skipped a beat, and now Sue Ellen was extending courtesy and respect above and beyond any I had been accorded back in the New York office. I self consciously ran my hands down, and along the sides of my sweater and skirt, to make sure everything was in place and took another deep breath.

"Please, go right in, Miss. Smith."

I rapped twice on the door, griped the handle and entered. Thelma’s private office had no doubt been one of the bedrooms in this house, before it had been converted into the Mid-West Office. The walls were still covered in fussy print wallpaper. There was a row of filing cabinets along one wall, some side chairs at a small drop leaf table and along the top of the opposite wall, a bank of monitors blinked, as they constantly updated status info from the hundreds of Buchwold’s vendors. Toward the back of the room, stood a nice cherry desk. On the desk, sat a state of the art, flat screen monitor. Thelma Louise Buchwold was standing behind the desk holding a thick manila folder.

"Miss Smith, How do you do? Welcome to Buchwold Mid-West. I’ve instructed Mr. Marshall to secure lodging and accommodations for you at Bender’s Boarding House. I trust that will be sufficient for now?"

"Yes, Mrs. Buchwold. That is quite acceptable. Thank you."

"Good. Now, directly to business. Representatives from Dawkins Manufacturing, out of Wilmington, will be here at two thirty. We intend to re-negotiate their contract, in our favor. I’d like you to manage that meeting. Here is the new contract that we would like to present. I’ve marked the essential differences. Please read, learn and understand them all and try to read over the entire package before we meet with them. You will also find the full contract, as well as history, in the Dawkins file on server B. Please make any changes to the contract that you feel would improve our position and keep me informed. " Thelma punched her intercom. "Sue Ellen? Would you please show Miss Smith into her new office? Thank you."

"Yes, Mrs. Buchwold, I’ll get right on it. Thank you."

YES! Thelma had not said a word about my earlier debacle in the front office, on my arrival. She made absolutely no reference to my new hairstyle and choice of clothing. She had just handed me responsibility for a multi-million dollar contract negotiation. I liked this woman. I was pumped!

Sue Ellen escorted me to the office directly adjacent Thelma’s. It was another converted bedroom with a similar mix of homey furnishings and high technology. I immediately punched up the Dawkins file and dug into the contract. After about an hour and a quarter, I had found two key areas where Buchwold could better amortize a few Dawkins sub-contracts. I backed up the drive, lazered the new page changes and emailed a summary to Thelma. I had a few minutes left until the meeting and punched up the bios on the Dawkins reps. They were a couple of ex duPont types, cocky, sure of themselves and used to getting their way. I aimlessly toyed with the pin at my tight collar… thinking, then my hand drifted to my newly exposed nape. My fingers brushed the clean skin. I felt a now familiar chill on the back of my neck and then a heady rush as adrenaline kicked in. I was flushed with excitement before a high stakes game. I would catch them off guard and take control of this meeting like an old school marm. I then knew what Thelma had known all along. The understated, unmistakable, unquestionable power of the Old Matriarch. Thelma Louise Buchwold had just molded and anointed me with that power as well. I was emboldened to my core with this sudden epiphany of empowerment.

A red light was blinking on and off at my desk. The Dawkins people were here. I picked up my folder and boldly strode into the conference room. They would soon learn that Laura Parker Smith was not a woman to be trifled with!

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