I was once a young crazy girl, the kind parents hope they will never have. With my new degree from George Wash. U. I set out for New York City cutting myself loose from family. These are the things I did upon arriving in New York:
I enrolled at the New School for Social Research that, at the time, had a socialist tinge but taught excellent courses. I was hoping to become an intellectual and I chose that path because a smart girl I admired from Costa Rica had mentioned casually that she was going to move to New York and attend the New School. What I didn’t know is that the girl was a real socialist and had thought things through while I just overheard an idea on the fly and planned a pretentious life around it.
In New York, I got a secretarial job at an advertising agency and began a company newsletter to delay boredom. The newsletter was poorly written, sophomoric and full of mistakes but one day - as if I was in a Sandra Bullock rom-com, the president of the company Emil Mogul (yes, that was his name) told his secretary to ‘get that little Indian girl up here.’ I was sure the secretary was joking but she pleaded with me to come up to the executive office. Just like in the movies, they asked if I would like to write advertising copy. (You are thinking this sounds preposterous. I agree. Out of a movie.) Next thing I knew I had a private office and three accounts. Ronzoni Macaroni, Barney’s Boystown (the precursor to the pricey store) and a British car called the Sunbeam Alpine that was so popular people had to wait their turn to buy one as they came over the ocean.
At night I took courses in philosophy, the Lake Poets and writing and went out drinking with my fellow students. I had the same writing teacher as Mario Puzo and one of his early short stories was in the anthology we used. How I had the sense to actually enroll in the school, find a place to live and find a job in a Madison Avenue ad agency that plucked me out of the secretarial pool (Like Peggy in Mad Men) is a huge mystery because, trust me, I was not a sensible person which I will now prove. I had this fabulous opportunity to be an advertising copywriter with national accounts and was doing very well. They loved my sappy copy. Seth Tobias, a charming and brilliant copy chief regularly called me into his office to hear my ideas.
Did I mention I had a self-destructive streak as wide as an eight-lane highway? At the height of my popularity, I quit. I quit to write a novel. I did not write one word of that novel. I retreated to my studio apartment on Bedford Street in Greenwich Village and began what was a slow descent into poverty and a few strange escapades (one of which involved going to Italy and being the script girl for a film with the famous director Vittorio De Sica.) When I returned from Italy I had no money, no job. A friend (who became a real estate mogul) had sublet my apartment but now I had to take it back and pay the rent. I became a Kelly girl for a few months and when that dried up I had to face my folly. I had to ration my spending to two or three dollars per day. I decided to try to get back into advertising. I went to an employment agency and they sent me to Newark, New Jersey to interview for a job in the copy department of the Bamberger chain, part of the Macy Corp. I got the job. I had to commute ‘in reverse’ on the old scary Path trains that had no doors and rattled so violently you could catapult out in Hoboken. Never mind, I had a job! The phrase wasn’t trendy then but I did look in the mirror that night and say, “I’m back.”
Next blog I will tell you how it is to work in a block-big department store - a weird little staged world.