Saturday, November 29, 2014

Great Moments in Ballsiness

What I said the other day about my writing career having been one uninterrupted long ride on the gravy train, with adoring crowds meeting me at every station with bouquets, fruit baskets, and virgins in black lace pushup brassieres? Irony. The fact is that by mid-1982, when I got home from running around Italy for three months with my future first spouse, I was writing reviews for the Los Angeles Times’ weekly book section at $15/pop (and all the review copies I could carry, which was a great many), weeping inconsolably a lot, and going out only at night to elude my creditors. I swallowed my pride, wept some more, and accepted a job typing address labels at the very university from which I’d acquired an extremely useful (more irony, you see!) bachelor’s degree in sociology many, many years before.

My supervisor was a hyperofficious black woman who seemed to have no appreciation whatever of my having been The Boy Who Disliked Led Zeppelin. I fixed her wagon — oh, did I! — by not typing a single middle initial correctly my whole time as her charge, in part because I have always regarded middle initials (except for those with extremely common names) as pretentious.

Once having survived that humiliation, I moved onto a worse one, processing words at a bicoastal direct response (that is, junk mail) advertising agency, though I literally didn’t know how to turn on an IBM Stylewriter when I started. I very quickly came to loathe and disdain the pompous windbag whose words I spent most of my time processing. He was an awful writer and a wearer of bowties in which I think he imagined he’d have looked right at home at the Algonquin Round Table. But boy, did I like the art director, Mr. Sid H—, who was unimaginably ancient (closing in on 60, I think), talented, wry, and as disdainful of Mr. Bowtie as I, if much more gently. He had a faded hottie wife from somewhere Scandinavian, and flabbergasted me by confiding that he was glad he’d become too old for sex, as it became a nuisance after a certain age. He attended my birthday party in 1983, and my wedding, and I, jerk that I was, imagined myself ever so cool and wonderful for not allowing his ancientness to diminish my great fondness for him.

I am, as I write this, several years older than Sid was at the time.

I have almost always gotten along wonderfully with art directors, none more than Peter W—, who oversaw ABC Records’ designers during my short time there. Peter shared my enthusiamn for Monty Python, of whom few Americans had heard at the time (one week, he forbade anyone in his department to answer to anything other than Bruce), and agreed with me that there was something fundamentally…unjust about some of the most horrible music coming in the most gorgeous album covers. He shared my view that I should be granted the ability to make recording artists I detested cede their pretty covers to the more deserving. He drank — oh, did he! — and commonly took the whole department and me to multi-hour lunches at the Korean restaurant on nearby La Cienega Blvd. where I once ate something so hot that I literally ran into the men’s room, filled a sink with cold water, and plunged my lovely still-unlined-at-that-point face into it. I learned later that I'd have been better off stuffing my mouth with plain rice or drinking milk, but I wasn’t thinking clearly.

Back in the LA Times Book Review days, I would regularly take armloads of promotional copies to Pickwick Books on Hollywood Blvd., claim to have received them as gifts, and exchange them for store credit. By and by, they caught on. One afternoon, an assistant manager confronted me about the boxful of very disparate new books I'd brought in. “Were these really all gifts?” he demanded. “Every last one,” I said, glowering back at him evenly. He blinked first, sighed, and wrote out a credit slip for everything I’d brought in, including Self-Pleasuring for Christian Girls. I have not often been so ballsy.

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