The big-bosomed, pink-slippered, black-eyed lady stared me down in her small three-story home. The offer of a salary and a journalistic writing career hung in the stale air. (See A Directional Career Curve.)
I took the dare and the job.
With a Master’s in English I could pen pages about Swift’s satire and write a 100-page thesis on the Literature of Expatriate Black Authors, but could I actually DO anything with that degree?
Pauline’s black-eyed stare asked me that question.
Did I feel imprisoned in her third-story small bedroom cum office Monday through Friday from 9 to 5?
Did I bemoan my decision by Day Two of my employment?
Without a doubt.
But I wasn’t really hired by New Directions for Women. I was hired through a CETA federal grant, which was initiated to “employ painters, muralists, musicians, performing artists, poets and gardeners to work in schools, community centers, prisons and wherever their skills and services were of value to the community.”
As a young, naïve graduate student, I thought I was hired to write articles for an up-and-rising feminist newspaper.
In actuality, I was hired to do whatever the boss-lady needed to help her publish her brainchild.
I never again wore that two-piece navy “interview” suit. In fact, I was overdressed in pants and blouse, but for my own self-respect, I dressed like it mattered.
But I would have been much more comfortable in gray sweats. I sat on a cold metal fold-up chair in front of a pitted wood desk, researching and proofreading articles that Pauline wrote. Every hour, I’d walk over to the one window in the room and look over the rooftops of the neighborhood.
I’d left the Ivory Tower for Rapunzel’s Tower.
Conversations were rare, although I’d hear Pauline talking on her phone downstairs in her radio chair, where classical music or opera wafted up the stairs to my lonely place. The first few weeks, I never saw another soul during work.
Until my second month. I rang Pauline’s doorbell at 9 a.m. (I had been instructed to never just walk in), but instead of Pauline’s face, I was greeted by a Picasso painting. At least, that’s what the man’s visage looked like, with one side upright, the other side curved down in a gruesome grimace.
After the initial shock, I prayed every morning that this man, Pauline’s husband, would answer the door. He’d had a massive stroke months before, but recovered enough to work part time at his firm. I never saw him wear anything but a navy or black three-piece suit.
He had the smile of a crooked angel.
At lunch time, I ate my cheese sandwich at my desk while Pauline enjoyed her warmed up leftovers of beef stew or liver and onions in her kitchen. If Mr. Pauline was home, he’d walk up the stairs to my prison, ur, work space, and bring me cookies or an interesting article from the NY Times.
One morning, I decided to refrigerate my own leftovers. I walked bravely to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door.
Mr. Pauline – thank goodness he was there that day – raced into the room. “What’s the matter?” he asked in his slurred speech.
Mr. Pauline’s laugh relaxed me. “Oh, that’s just tongue. Pauline enjoys it for lunch. I’m with you, looks disgusting.”
I crossed the date off my calendar that day with renewed vigor.
74 days down. 291 days to go.
Thanks to Google Images.