Monday, June 19, 2017

My Glory Days In The Glamorous World of Publishing

   When I completed college, I got the job of my dreams.  I snagged a position in the art department at "National Lampoon". Nothing could've been more thrilling. The job at Lampoon was for a series of special projects and when they were done so was my position. (the time I spent there certainly deserves its own post, but for now, this is about what came after)  Reluctantly I needed to find a new job and found one at a magazine that could not have been any more different, "Financial World". Gone were the people in tee shirts and ripped jeans, gone was the explosive laughter, gone were the suspicious smells coming from closed doors.
    The staff at "Financial World" was all male, with the exception of the secretaries and another art staffer. They were strictly a dark suit, white shirt humorless crowd, who in 1978, were still talking to and about the women on the staff like we were in an episode of Madmen. The Art Director, John, was a balding man with a combover and appeared as if he had just read "Dress Cool Like The Kids". I could just imagine him, back home on the weekends, telling his neighbors about being an "artist" in Manhattan while wowing them with his hip fondue dinners.
   The other woman in the art department, April, was very cool.  She had long straight hair, was as thin as a rail and always dressed in black. She was extremely good at her job and kept very quiet. We kept the door shut to our office and would play music. She had been there for a couple of years and I could feel, although she never said it, that she would be gone soon. One morning she announced that she was leaving to work at "Rolling Stone". As soon as she announced that she was giving her two weeks notice, she became chatty. She told me of the parade of other assistants that left this room. She said that John only hired women for this job. She said that he hit on everyone of them. April said one of the former assistants and he were still meeting at a hotel at lunchtime. She told me about John's very sweet wife who was a board artist and often came in to work at crunch times when we were closing issues. April told me that his wife was seemingly unaware. Being pretty naive, I assumed his attention that he gave me was the fatherly kind. It never occurred to me that the man with the pressed blue jeans and neckerchief, tied jauntily to the side, was mentally undressing me.
   After April went to "Rolling Stone", my duties in the art dept grew. I had more responsibilities and no one standing over me to check my work. John, who had hired me because I was an attractive girl, clearly didn't check my references from "National Lampoon". I went to Lampoon with no experience and little knowledge of board work. Most of the copy that I pasted onto the boards was crooked. Skip Johnston, at Lampoon, told me I was hands down the worst mechanical artist he had ever hired at the magazine. Always being a person who appreciates superlatives, I was proud of being "worst". This being said, when I was finally on my own at "Financial World", mistakes were bound to happen.
   I don't know where John was when we did the cover of an important issue about the bull market, but I was given the task of doing it. I went through stock photos of animals and found a horned beast worthy of the cover. I got the last minute headlines sent to the typesetter and picked the colors. I felt like a pro...I thought even Skip would be proud of how far I had come in such a short time. There was  no one checking my work... I was the last stop before the printer got the boards.
   The morning that the issue hit newsstands, phone calls started coming in. There was a problem. The issue about the strong bull market, with a bull staring out from the cover with the headline "Is It For Real" had one glaring mistake for anyone familiar with was a cow...Not a BULL! How was I to know that horns are not just on bulls? I wish I could remember the conversations being screamed in the halls, but the blame, (although my mistake) was John's. He should never have had this go to press without his OK.

   Things were, as you can imagine, a bit tense for a while in the office. John's wife was coming in more frequently to help with boards, and I assume, keep an eye on me like a babysitter. This didn't stop John from going to check out photographer's studios or scout locations for shoots, which i knew by then was not where he was going. It was starting to feel like a bad soap opera and I knew it was probably time to get my portfolio to a head hunter.
   When John's wife didn't come to fill in on busy days, we used an art staff temp company called "Hour Hands". The man who owned the company was a big man in his 50's that had a thin permed fro and a fabulous collection of polyester suits with "sans-a belt" pants. He was a walking cliche. He always chatted with me and told me dirty jokes that I laughed at. I still wasn't getting the "boundaries thing". I still didn't get that men shouldn't be saying that to women in the office. 
   When he came in one day, i asked him if he would quietly look at my portfolio. I told him that I would like to make a change, leave "Financial World" and freelance. As if we were Jeff Sessions at a cocktail party exchanging info with Russians, we spoke in hushed tones and made a plan. He told me, so not to raise any eyebrows with John, he would gladly stay late and meet after work. I was to come to his office the next evening. I went to his empty office and sat, putting my portfolio on his desk, prepared for a critique. He laughed and said since it was after hours would I like to smoke some pot. I said sure, why not?! A bit stoned, I sat in his office, then he excused himself for a minute. My chair had the back to the door and when he walked back in, he reached down from behind and grabbed my breasts. Startled, I jumped up and ran out of the office, leaving my portfolio on his desk. 
   The next day, i didn't know how to proceed. I was worried that he would tell John that I was looking for a job. I should have been concerned that this slimy letch had attacked me. Along with the fear of losing my job, I didn't know how I was going to get my portfolio back. Quietly, from my desk, I called "Hour Hands". Before I could ask to get my portfolio, he said what fun he had had the prevoius night. Flustered I hung up the phone without responding. I needed someone with authority to help me. I called a writer at National Lampoon, Danny Abelson, who was brilliant and asked for his help. He immediately pointed out to me, that the name of the company should have thrown up multiple red flags, but said he would be happy to help.  That afternoon, he called "Hour Hands", saying in his charming South African accent, which gave him such gravitas, that he was my lawyer, and that my portfolio should be messengered to me by day end or there would be consequences. It was delivered in the afternoon.
   I continued working at "Financial World" and got used to the rhythms of the office. I didn't make any mistakes like the "Bull Cover", but I was also never given that much unchecked responsibility again. One day, when the last gallies were coming in, John said we would have to stay late and get everything pasted-up before leaving. The final corrections and edits would come in the morning, and then we would send the boards to the printer. As the evening wore on, John offered to buy dinner and suggested that we walk over to the brand new CITI building and get a "real meal" at one of the new restaurants. We had completed our work and he insisted that we deserved it. Over something with feta cheese or lemon soup his real intentions were made..."lets finish this evening at my apartment". My answer was an emphatic, "NO!" 
   The next morning was awkward and nothing was acknowledged. Something was being rewritten and boards needed big changes. We were going to be late getting the mechanicals to the printer by at least a day, and tempers were flaring. His wife came in from Long Island to assist. John was especially nasty to me. His office was across the hall from mine and instead of coming in to speak to me, we would yell from his room and order me to come in. He passed passive aggressive by 10am and went to full-on aggressive. He and his wife went out to grab some lunch and I took many of the boards and slipped them behind the large metal filing cabinets. When he came back with his sandwich he started yelling at me again. I went into his office and told him he was treading on a dangerous path. I said your wife is in the other room. He told me to fuck off. I stormed into the publishers office and told him everything. He looked at me from across his desk and took John's side, told me to calm down and get to work...the issue was late. I said, "I quit!" Then i went to John's  office and told him the same. Crossing the hall back to my office , I went to collect my things. He followed me into the hall and bellowed that i was fired.He was making sure everyone in the office heard it. I said that i just quit, then he screamed, "Oh NO!! YOU"RE FIRED!!!!"
   I looked at his wife as I got my Xacto-knife and set of Rapidographs. Telling her everything would have been sweet revenge on him, but she didn't deserve the humiliation, so I left without saying anything else.
   When the elevators opened, and I walked out onto 3rd Avenue, just knowing that there were 30 boards of pasted-up pages hidden behind the metal drawers was revenge enough.

Cheese Fondue:


In a small bowl, coat the cheeses with cornstarch and set aside. Rub the inside of the ceramic fondue pot with the garlic, then discard.
Over medium heat, add the wine and lemon juice and bring to a gentle simmer. Gradually stir the cheese into the simmering liquid. Melting the cheese gradually encourages a smooth fondue. Once smooth, stir in cherry brandy, mustard and nutmeg.
Arrange an assortment of bite-sized dipping foods on a lazy Susan around fondue pot. Serve with chunks of French and pumpernickel breads. Some other suggestions are Granny Smith apples and blanched vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and asparagus. Spear with fondue forks or wooden skewers, dip, swirl and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

March Labor and Madness

Tuesday March 11th  1986-
 Mark hailed a cab and I followed him into the car with my pink blanketed package. Mark told the cabbie, “West End Ave and 75th Street”, and sat back in his seat. We looked at each other and at this baby . We couldn’t have been more nervous. What had we done? There were no “backsies’ here, we were committed. The driver asked us her name and we said Leah. The driver then started telling us the story from the bible. Leah was the unwanted less attractive sister, the one that the father had to marry off by trickery. Learning that our very first act as parents was giving our daughter a name of an unwanted bride seemed like a bad start. But we looked at this sweet beautiful baby and were smitten. Our world had changed forever.

Friday March 7th  1986 -  
After nine long months of pregnancy, I was approaching the finish line. I never had a bout of true morning sickness, but I did have a feeling of being slightly carsick the entire time. Constant bland soothing foods were the only thing that seemed to quell the nausea, so I ate pasta and milkshakes until I had accomplished gaining 60 lbs. I had grown so large, when sitting alone in the apartment on the floor, putting together the pieces of a baby-swing I couldn’t get myself off the ground. Like a walrus on a rock, I could only flop about, waiting for Mark to get home and help me up off the floor 

With my due date quickly approaching, the timing of our blessed event seemed to conflict with Mark’s college basketball viewing. The baby’s arrival was inconveniently anticipated smack in the middle of The Big East Conference Tournament. Had we only counted better during conception, there would have been a coitus timeout called on the court to make sure this tragic overlap didn’t occur. Now it was too late for finger pointing and anger, it was just something we would have to soldier through. 

Mark, working at Sports Illustrated had tickets for the game in the in the luxury Sky Box at Madison Square Garden. These were the dark ages before cell phones. The times you were away from home, or out of the office was time that you were actually unreachable. With this in mind, Mark considerately called me before he left his desk at work, he let me know that he was on his way to the game and wanted make sure I wasn’t stranded on the floor like the week before. 

I told him that I was feeling fine and said the requisite “Lets Go Orange”. I told him to have fun, so, in retrospect, the events that follow could certainly be blamed on me.

We lived in a relatively small apartment building on West End Ave , 8 floors with only 2, 3 or 4 apts on each floor.  There was the usual mix of tenants, the Puerto Rican super in the basement apartment, the foreign diplomat with live in help from her country (that we suspected was chained to the radiator at night), the well known Broadway singer who was the dubbed voice of all the singing movie stars, bankers, lawyers and of course the crazy lady who let the pigeons fly into and stay in her apt, she wore white pancake makeup, round circles of rouge, and bright red lipstick reaching inches passed her lip line. In this building we had a group of young married couples, all within a year or 2 of each other in age. We were not people who would seek each other out in the real world, but like a college dormitory, because we lived together, we became a clique. We all got pregnant within months of each other. I was last to get pregnant and would seek their advice since they were all a few months ahead of me. 

That Friday afternoon, my neighbor took photos of me in a bikini, saying that as soon as she did this, it brought on her labor. We laughed at the sight of me in that pink bikini and watched the baby’s fist or heel make a path across my belly, looking like the sand worms in the movie Dune. 

With Mark gone for the evening, I was looking forward to watching “Bye Bye Birdie” on TV. I settled in on the sofa and couldn’t get comfortable. Pretty much, as soon as Ann-Margaret finished singing her opening number, I knew that I was in the early stages of labor. 

Mark had found an empty payphone during a timeout. He thoughtfully called to check up on me. I knew it was still early labor and he was thrilled that he was watching his Orangemen playing like real champions, so I chose not to say what was brewing. He would have come home if I had said I was starting labor. I heard the excitement in his voice telling me about his team and I knew the game would be over soon. 

 And....this is where our communication skills break down. I assumed saying that I was fine was a selfless deed. I know the length of a basketball game and felt sure he would be coming in the door in about an hour. He heard, “ go – have fun- this will be one of the last times you can throw caution to the wind with the guys”, after the Syracuse game was over Mark chose to stay for the 2nd game of the tournament . He thought since it was  a night of victory and last chances. He thought it was the perfect night to get drunker than he had ever been had before. 

With no way to call him, I paced and paced as the pain of labor kept coming and going. Hours passed, Hugo and Kim were reunited and the credits and music were long over. With each contraction I stared in disbelief at the door, burning a hole through it. Imaging Mark in an accident that I was hoping caused him multiple contusions. And then...  the door opened, Mark stumbled in like a man made of jello, but with the stale stinking aroma of beers, hotdogs and testosterone. With lidded eyes barely open, he tried to focus on me, standing in the hallway. I was screeching with a sound so insane it’s a wonder swat teams weren’t sent to secure our block. 

I looked at him and shouted WHERE WERE YOU??!!?! IM IN LABOR!!!  

He shook his head and said “you’ll be fine, I’ve got to go to bed”...and he did 

Mark went to sleep and I paced the apt like a caged convict, making noises that I hoped would wake him, but nothing was going to rouse him. Around 9am he shuffled to the bathroom and saw me circling the apartment. He asked what I was doing? I answered “Im Having the BABY!!” He looked at me knowing that his only chance of living now meant total and complete resignation. He dressed and we went to the Dr’s office.

The Doctor, seemingly in a conspiracy with Mark, told me I was barely dilated and should go home. I was sure I saw a wink pass between them or even a quick high five, as we left and Mark was able to go back to sleep. 

Late that afternoon we spoke to the Dr and he told us to come to the hospital. Even then, I was nowhere near ready, but in a sympathetic gesture to me and to Mark, he gave drugs to calm me down and an epidural to stop the pain.

Because of the epidural, I couldn’t feel the contractions. We just watched them on the monitor...or should I say I watched them.. Syracuse was back on the court Saturday night and the birth of a child was not going to get in the way. Mark had on his Sony Walkman radio with the big foam circle headset. He cheered and groaned as I lay there. Then after 36 hours of labor and basketball, on the very first push in the delivery room, my beautiful baby was born.

She was perfect. Nearly 10 lbs, the largest baby in the nursery but the numbers were still not adding up to my 60 lb weight gain. But weight issues are worthy of its own chapter, so we will leave with the miraculous feeling of being handed my baby, my Leah. All the joys of the world put on top of my chest. Holding the tiny pink fingers and putting my nose almost in her mouth to breathe in her breath, as if it was all the air I had never breathed before.

Tuesday March 11th 1986- out of the cab, into our apartment and the beginning of our new life.