Boxes And Ladders

Contributor: Jerry Guarino

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Hannah could have had an easy life. She could have spent her days with charitable causes or artistic pursuits. She could have been free to write or paint. If only she had chosen Richard or Ben. Their devotion and money was the type of temptation that many women would be satisfied with, but Hannah was less conventional.
A modern flower girl in looks and dress, with a contemporary liberal arts education, she had borrowed her parent’s idealism and combined it with her grandparent’s pragmatism. She was everything an accomplished man might want as his mate, a partner with values, intelligence and beauty.
But we all know that it isn’t the man who chooses the woman. Richard didn’t know that. Neither did Ben. As successful as they were, there was one area of life, they couldn’t control. Finding a mate.
Richard was a financial analyst. His rise from Harvard business school to a seven-figure income on Wall Street was typical of the privilege that comes from wealth. His path was as sure as his parents had designed, laying out the ladders from a private grammar school to elite prep school to the Ivy League. One ladder led to him to sailing camp on Martha’s Vineyard, another to meeting debutantes in cotillion balls and another to a summer job working at the stock exchange for family friends. With his family connections, wealth and resources, it would have been surprising if he hadn’t been successful. Like many in his social circle, he attributed his success to providence, while ignoring the more demanding requirements of responsibility that privilege may owe back to others.
Ben was a brilliant software engineer. Unlike Richard, Ben didn’t grow up surrounded by wealth and family connections. His path was more pragmatic, hard work in public schools and an academic scholarship to a top public university to study computer science and engineering. These EECS, as they were called, were pursued by the power companies in Silicon Valley, recruited almost as soon as they were admitted to school and followed until they graduated, with summer internships along the way. Starting work two weeks after graduation for $140k, Ben launched a successful career in a short time. Ben didn’t take his good fortune as fate. He had compartmentalized his life into boxes, boxes for education, for work, for hobbies and even for people. He even grouped his friends and family into an online program showing their relationships so he could understand his social world.
David had been born to teachers in a small New England town outside Boston. He lived comfortably but not lavishly. He didn’t have Richard’s family connections or Ben’s engineering mind, but David was given freedom to follow his own path. He took this freedom seriously, excelling in school and playing town soccer, without the anxiety or expectations of other parents. This allowed David to find his way, in spite of his parent’s divorce when he was 14. His inner strength persisted through a trip across country to live with his father, leaving his mother on the East coast. This made his journey even more remarkable and admirable than either Richard or Ben’s life. David could have put his considerable intellect and personality into making money, but he had an idealistic, almost hippy like temperament for public service.
Although Richard used ladders and Ben used boxes, they both had one thing in common. They were both about to fall in love with Hannah.
All four of them met one evening at a benefit fundraiser for homeless healthcare in the Bay Area. Richard was there looking for West coast financial connections. Ben was there representing one of the tech companies, meeting investors. David was there as a member of the coalition that distributed funds to free clinics in Oakland and San Francisco. And Hannah. Hannah was with the catering group, although she was as lovely and educated as any of the junior league women who organized these charitable benefits, there to find a wealthy husband for their continued lifestyle of leisure. They too were ladder climbers, although their ultimate goal wasn’t the working world, but as the proper social family director, raising good children to continue the legacy.
If you observed carefully, you could tell what line of work people were in. Ben was dressed in a sports jacket, button down blue shirt, matching tie and khaki pants so typical of tech managers. Richard had an Amosu suit, Eton shirt, Ferragamo tie, platinum cuff links, and Italian shoes, easily a $5000 outfit. No secret who the women were tracking, Richard, not Ben. David was virtually invisible, looking more like a graduate student than a key figure at the benefit.
But Hannah noticed him. “Who is that?” she asked her boss.
“That’s David Wilson. He’s the project manager for the company distributing funds to the free clinics.”
“Are you sure? He isn’t dressed up, just a casual shirt and pants.”
“That’s his way Hannah. Very understated. Look him up on Google and you’ll see.”
“I might just do that.”
“But if you want rich, there are plenty here to choose from. But don’t get engaged too soon. I’ve lost too many staff at these events already.”
Hannah laughed. “I’m not here to find a husband. Just here to make some money while I figure out what to do with a degree in English literature.”
“That’s not very reassuring dear,” said her boss. “My last two girls were liberal arts major seeking their destiny and now they live in Atherton. You will remember to have me cater your events when you get there, won’t you?”
“Too isolated for me. I’m more of a Berkeley girl,” said Hannah.
“Yes, and the two girls in Atherton both went to Cal.”
Ben was the first to notice Hannah in her white chef jacket. “Excuse me. Do you have any more of these shrimp puffs?”
Hannah looked up. “Sorry, I don’t know. I’ll go into the kitchen and check.”
“No wait” he said awkwardly. “I don’t really want the shrimp puffs.”
Hannah looked confused. “All right. Some other pastry perhaps?”
Ben blushed. “I just wanted to meet you. I’m Ben.”
“Thank you Ben, but I really shouldn’t be socializing with the guests. May I ask why you wanted to talk to me?”
Ben wiped away sweat from his brow, realizing this wasn’t going well. “These charity women aren’t my type. I’m more comfortable with regular people.”
“Regular people?” said Hannah.
“That’s not derogatory. I’ve been analyzing relationships and it says that I would be suited with someone in the restaurant or catering field.” Ben realized how lame that sounded.
“A program told you to find a relationship with someone in the food industry?”
“Actually, it was my own program. I have these groups and assign everyone I meet into them, like boxes. Seems the people I’m interested in all work in restaurants.”
“You put people in boxes?” Hannah put her tray in front of her body as she took a step back.
“No, I don’t put people in boxes. I put their traits, their qualities, aspects of their personality into boxes, then I quantify which ones would appeal to me most.”
“So you put people in boxes?”
Ben was crestfallen. “Yes, I suppose so. But it works for most parts of my life; shouldn’t it work for relationships?”
“It was nice to meet you Ben. I have to get back to work.” Hannah made a beeline for the kitchen when Richard blocked her path.
“May I help you sir?”
“Call me Richard.”
“All right Richard. What would you like?”
“I don’t usually do this but I couldn’t help notice how beautiful you are.”
“I’m flattered Richard, but I am afraid you’re not my type. Besides I have to work. Sorry.” She turned to walk away.
“Not her type,” he muttered to himself. “A common shop girl. I don’t understand.” As he walked away, several of the junior league girls went to consol him.
Hannah came back from the kitchen and set out more food. Then she felt a tap on her shoulder. “Oh no...which one of these two is it now?” She sighed and turned around.
“Miss. I just wanted to thank you. Your service and professionalism has helped make this fundraiser a success. Please thank the others for me.” He turned to leave.
“Wait. You’re David Wilson. Can you tell me more about your organization?”
“Well, would you really like to know? Don’t you have to work?”
Hannah turned to see her boss, gesturing to her to go ahead. “It’s my break. Why don’t we go out on the balcony?”
Hannah finished packing her belongings into the boxes. Everything was ready to go, except for some things above the closet, under the high ceiling. She couldn’t reach them from a chair. “Honey, can you get these up here?”
David looked at Hannah. “Looks like we’re going to need a ladder.”
Hannah smiled and put a finger to her cheek. “I don’t have one, do you?”
David smiled back at his new fiancé. “Nope, never had the need for one.”

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Jerry Guarino’s short stories have been published by dozens of magazines in the United States, Canada, Australia and Great Britain. His latest book, "50 Italian Pastries", is available on and as a Kindle eBook. Please visit his website at
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