By Jim Colombo (USA)
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“I told you we should have left an hour earlier. There’s always an accident on
highway 17, especially this time of the year. I don’t know why I say anything to you.
You never listen to me. I’ve read that Milan Tarvo is one of the wealthiest bachelors in
the valley, and he’s a party animal like Hugh Hefner. So, this is where you want to take
me for New Year’s Eve? We could have gone to the Dunes Hotel in Santa Cruz, but like
always, you never listen to me. I bet you haven’t heard a word I’ve said,” said Marie
“I have for the last hour and thirty-two minutes. I really don’t want to go to your
Parents’ for New Years Day dinner. This is a business meeting with a man who might be the
financial answer to my dream of having my own printed circuit shop. We’ll stay until
one, then we'll leave.” (A barbed wire enema would be less painful compared to
spending another News Year’s Day with your mother, Joe thought.)
“You never said this was a business deal. Are you going to dump me
somewhere? They say he has a secret room were he entertains guest with young
ladies, vintage Brandy, and Havana cigars. “
“He has a secret room? I didn’t know that. Havana cigars are illegal”
It was eight o’clock in the evening when Marie and Joe turned from Highway 17
to Highway 9, then onto Sanborn Road. They reached the top of the hill, turned right,
and were entering the guest parking area when the headlights flashed on a frisky couple
with a bottle of champagne jogging to the gardener’s shed.
“It must be over there with the loud music and.... It’s a couple going to the shed.
You don’t think they are… in the shed?” Marie was too shocked to finish her thought.
Joe recalled the thrill of spontaneous sex before he married Marie. “Looks like
he won the door prize,” he said with envy.
Joe parked his green 1957 Ford truck alongside the Corvettes and Jaguars in the
guest parking corral. Juniper bushes formed a house-shoe creating the enclosure. The
mansion was at the top of Summit Road in Saratoga, offering a spectacular view that
Marie and Joe admired. The Santa Cruz and the Diablo Mountains flanked the Santa
Clara Valley. To the north was the southern end of the San Francisco Bay with the
lights from the San Mateo and Dumbarton Bridges shimmering in the distance. Gilroy
was to the south. The couple walked on the cobblestone path from the parking area to
a circle with a fountain in the middle with water cascading and reflecting red and blue
lights. The cobblestone path continued lined with rose bushes that separated the lawn
on ether side of the front of the house. The mansion was white stucco with a brown
adobe tile roof.
“Do you hear that," asked Marie? "It sounds like....” The shed shook for a
moment, then silence. Marie held Joe hostage while she focused on the shed and her
imagination flashed images of two savages entangled in lust. The silence continued
and Joe tugged at Marie's arm and they continued walking to the entrance of the
mansion. They entered and Joe handed the gentleman at the door their invitation.
Marie cringed from the loud music.
“Mr. and Mrs. Joe Steckle. Thank you for coming,” said the gentleman. A lady
dressed in a gray blouse and skirt with a white apron raised a gold tray and offered
glasses of champagne. “Happy New Year, “ she said.
“Thank you.” Joe took two glasses and offered one to Marie. “Please try to be
tolerant. He is considering me to run his proto shop. This means a lot to both of us and
maybe someday we might have a house like this in Santa Cruz. After the
introduction you can enjoy the buffet. I'll reserve a weekend at the Calistoga Spa.”
Marie stared at Joe with death ray vision that could cut a lead panel six inches
thick. “Are you saying that I’m fat?” Marie was in attack mode.
“No, darling. This is one of those rare occasions when you can enjoy gourmet
cuisine and in appreciation of your sacrifice tonight, I'll arrange for you to spend a
pampered weekend at the Calistoga Spa. You look beautiful tonight.”
Marie began to purr and retracted her claws. She had a low center of gravity
with most of her bulk below deck and waddled to the vittles to chow down. Joe
discreetly mingled with the guests and worked his way to his boss' boss, the vice
president of operations at Sylvania. “Good evening, Mr. Thompson.”
”Why, Joe, Happy New Year. You look great in a tux. Where’s Marie?”
“She’s over there, getting something to eat. Have you seen Milan?”
“He left two hours ago with some young chick. I wish I had his energy.”
Joe looked disappointed. He chatted with Mr. Thompson, but was thinking what
would he tell Marie. Tonight was a bust. “Happy New Year, Mr. Thompson.”
“Happy New Year to you and Marie.” Mr. Thompson turned and started a
conversation with the gentlemen to his left. Joe felt like a fool. He went to Marie and
explained that Milan wasn’t here. “So what? We are. How many times am I going to
spend New Year’s like this?”
“Let me know when you want to go,” said Joe.
“Try the duck. The ribs are so tender the meat falls off the bone.” Marie was in
overdrive. Her fear was that she might not have room for the blueberry cheesecake at
the end of the table. Joe found a quiet corner away from the smokers and the band
and sat on one of the white folding chairs nursing a bottle of imported beer. He was
uncomfortable wearing the tuxedo. The collar became tighter by the minute. He
noticed a glass doorway that led to the brick patio. A cool breeze greeted Joe as he
stepped out, and he enjoyed the view. He had heard that Milan had paid $250,000 for
the home. The brick patio ran the length of the yard. There were apple, cherry, lemon,
orange, and peach trees on the left side. The lawn was in the middle, and to the right
was a gazebo with a hot tub surrounded by jasmine plants filling the air with their
fragrance. Hawaiian torches made of bamboo with metal canisters on top filled with oil
flickered in the breeze. Joe unbuttoned his collar and felt the steam escape.
Joe remembered Milan's description of the mansion as a hunting lodge for big
game hunters who stalked the young, tender, female of the species. The master
bedroom had a seven-foot round bed on a pedestal that slowly rotated. The stereo
system had speakers in each corner creating surround sound. To the left of the bed
was a sunken hot tub with a Jacuzzi. Milan referred to the master bedroom as Cape
Canaveral, where two lovers could escape gravity and touch the stars. Joe fantasized
being single again, but his Catholic guardian angel tapped him on the shoulder. Joe
was distracted by the smell of cigarette smoke and he turned.
“Great view,” said the smoker.
“Yeah.” Joe turned to avoid the smell and continued admiring the view.
“It’s too God damn noisy in there.” The smoker unbuttoned his collar and
removed his black tie. “I hate these damn suits. I see you agree.”
“Yeah. I only wear a tie three times a year: Christmas, Easter and my wife’s
“It’s no longer your anniversary.” They laughed. He noticed Joe was avoiding
him because of the smoke so he extinguished the cigar in his glass of champagne.
“My name is Ron De Luca. I’m Milan’s CPA.”
Joe turned and said, “I’m Joe Steckle. Glad to meet you, Ron.”
“Milan spoke of you. I thought that you would be an older man to have achieved
“I didn’t know I had one. I’m just a chemist.”
“You’re a humble man, Joe. You run the proto shop at Sylvania and you’ve
made significant progress in printed circuit manufacturing.”
“I’m just doing my job.”
“Who would have thought that the ancient art of Chinese silk screening would
launch solid state?”
“You’ve made boards?”
“No. I’ve read about it. Milan wants to invest in a proto shop and I have to know
the process so that I can evaluate his financial risk."
“When do you think he will open a shop?”
“Midsummer if all goes well. It depends on the venture capitalist. They fund mid-
year and at the end of the year. You only get two chances with first tier funding. You
have to pay an introduction fee to be evaluated, and if they like the opportunity, they will
want ownership in half of your company and tell you how to run your it. If you don’t
make milestone dates of accomplishment, they take your company and liquidate it.”
“Well, almost. They charge a fee to evaluate the company to determine if you
are worthy of their time and money. If they approve the investment, they establish time-
lines of completion. When you meet a milestone you get the next round of funding.
Typically it takes three or four rounds of funding to achieve viability. If it’s a hot product,
then after three years of profitability, IPO: initial public offering. Then you go back into
debt to buy out the stock the venture capitalist has, so that it’s your company. Do you
think you might be interested in joining us for the ride?”
“Not now. I’ve got a good job, a mortgage, and a family that keeps me busy.”
“I thought that Milan was considering you to run the shop.”
“I had no idea it would be like this. I’m not ready to take a risk like this.”
“What were you thinking, Joe?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’m not ready for the big leagues. Tell Milan thanks, but
I need to think about it.”
“He’ll be disappointed.”
“I guess I should go. It sure was nice to see what it’s like living high on the hog.”
“Almost as good as shitting in high cotton?” asked Ron.
“I figured you to be a city boy, Ron. I’m surprised.”
“I grew up on a farm in Arkansas. We grew cotton, then we moved to Bakersfield
in 1946. You’re down to earth and honest, Joe. I like that quality.”
“I grew up on a farm in Indiana. We grew corn and raised hogs, replied Joe.”
“Funny how two country boys got involved with solid state.”
“Yeah. Well, I got to go. Glad to make your acquaintance, Ron.”
“I didn’t mean to scare you off, but I wanted you to understand the rules of the
game. We’ll keep in touch.”
“Sure. Good night, Ron.”
Joe walked away wondering if he had made a mistake. He had two young
daughters, a new home with a mortgage, and Marie needed stability in her life. He
hoped there would another opportunity. Every man should have one great challenge,
one wild ride down the rapids. His dream of having his own shop was becoming
elusive, like grabbing smoke.
It was a couple of minutes before ushering in 1964 and Joe found Marie flirting
with the petit fours. She had a dish with a slice of blueberry cheesecake in one hand
and she was finishing a chocolate éclair with the other. He waited for her to finish eating
and handed her a glass of champagne. They joined the group for the countdown,
“Five, four, three, two, one, Happy New Year.” Joe and Marie drank their champagne.
“Happy New Year darling,” said Marie reciprocating with a bear hug and the remains of
blueberry cheesecake in her kiss.
“Happy New Year, darling,” said Joe savoring the blueberry cheesecake. Marie
took Joe by the hand, and they walked to the dace floor. They danced and enjoyed the
music for an hour, then a tuckered Marie asked to go home.
Joe drove along Highway 17 winding through the Santa Cruz Mountains to their
home in Aptos south of Santa Cruz that has a spectacular view of the Pacific coast.
Marie rested her head on Joe's shoulder and dozed off. Joe was a devout Catholic and
believed that if it was meant to be, he and Milan would meet again. The reality of
spending New Year’s Day with his in-laws derailed his train of thought. Marie’s mother
Rose was a nice lady but had a different interpretation of what the recipe intended. She
made turkey stuffing that could patch a leaky roof, and her pot roast was lethal. Joe
would tear off small chunks and swallow them whole. Rose always placed the
vegetables in front of Joe and would say with a big smile, “You don’t eat enough
vegetables, Joe.” He hated cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. How could a silver-haired
lady who looked like a saint be so dastardly? Thank God it was only once a year.