By Marguerite Quantaine
Someday my novel will be optioned by a mainstream publisher, rate stellar reviews, be adapted to film oozing romance through eloquent innuendo, and receive the acclaim of people who’ll prattle over my sudden success.
But they’ll be instantaneously mistaken (about my success being sudden) because I’ve worked hard all of my (remembered) life.
I began my callings at age 5, collecting castoff bottles for return to wooden crates at the corner, single pump gas station with its big red cooler of cola immersed in ice water and a grease monkey teetering on a beat-up stool next to it paying me a penny a find.
At 7 (being small and scrawny for my age), my brother dressed me as a waif to knock on the doors of upper class condos, selling occupants Christmas cards they probably never sent, but gave me my dollar a box because I looked so pitifully poor, like a melancholic mutt on the street corner wagging its tail, twanging their untuned heartstrings.
At 8, I shoveled snow with a spade in the winter (that’s right, a spade), pushed mowers in the summer, and raked leaves in the fall, underpaid with nickels by anyone willing to exploit me.
At 10, I delivered newspapers on my brothers routes, rising before daybreak to cut the hairy nylon twine from big bundles left on neighborhood street corners, rolling and folding each paper to perfection, burnishing and stuffing them into a canvas bag dragged along behind me, pitching the papers towards porches, then hurrying home in time to don a dress and walk 3 miles to school (that’s right, 3 miles).
At 14, I claimed I was 15 to get a genuine job (4 to 9 weekdays, 9 to 9 on Saturday) selling records at a store that only hired boys for the 30 years before I sailed through the door.
“Why should I hire you?” asked the owner, a doddering, Dickens-like character whose bifocals were as thick as block glass and modish flattop belied his desire to appear younger. “Boys bring in girls who like records.”
“Boys flirt with girls that giggle and irk paying customers,” I countered. “Boys arrive late, leave early, take cigarette breaks, and call in sick from phone booths at football games.” I let that set a second before adding, “I have red hair. I’m cute enough to attract boys who’ll talk to me about girls. I’ll sell them records for those girls. Whenever they win one over — and they will (I winked) with my expert advice — they’ll be back to buy more.”
“I have a two-sport-varsity older brother and one bombshell of a sister. I’ve heard all their gameplay. Try me. You’ll see.”
He did, teaching me purchasing, cataloging, product display, inventory control, advertising, and promotion. I was the first girl hired there, then the first girl hired as a research editor for a local trade magazine, then the first girl hired as a proof-runner for the daily newspaper before I finally fled my hometown for the big city beat.
I arrived in New York with $126.00 lining my red-rubber boots, no job prospects, no place to live, and no plans beyond attending The American Academy of Dramatic Arts where I’d earned an entry after winning the regional finals of a television talent search in which I’d been entered (unknowingly).
Being awed and alone in Manhattan was thrilling. I saw all directions as arrows angled upwards.
Insisting “Oh sure, I can do that” gained me the gig of being the first female hired as a graphic artist at the United Parcel Service (even though I’d never seen a t-square, held a razor knife, or knew how to crop a photograph). After several months of (intense) covert tutelage by the fellow at an adjacent art board, I snagged a (enviable) job at a Fifth Avenue ad agency where I was promoted to management (the first female Purchasing Agent) in 5 months time. Within 3 years I parlayed that into a corporate office fashion industry position where I excelled until being struck by a drunk-driven taxicab. The driver flew the coop and the cab company declared bankruptcy (as did the insurance company holding the cab’s policy), catapulting my career back to ground zero (accompanied by chronic disabilities).
But by then I’d fallen in love, so instead of being solo and stalwart I was half of a daemon duo with four even starrier eyes. Together we built an ad agency and launched three magazines while moonlighting as registered gumshoes.
So, let me offer all you younger bootsies (with advanced degrees and greater expectations) some humble advice chiseled out by broads (like me) — your peers from the boomer years:
Stop dwelling on fame, fortune and acquiring the entrapments that rich-quick dreaming brings. Focus (instead) on loving the process of living and the person you’re living it with. If you do, you’ll succeed at whatever you choose — even making a living as a writer, or artist (the two puniest paid professions on earth).
No, I’ve never won an award and my name is unrecognizable to all but a few blog followers, fogeyish editors, and finicky clients.
But I’m still in love after 43 years (that’s right, in love), and along the way my assiduous works bought 11 vehicles (6 of them new) and paid off 3 mortgages, ultimately nesting us in a 1931 vintage home, debt free, with time to complete my first novel at age 66.6.
And even if it’s published posthumously, so what? All I ever truly dreamed of as a child is the talent to write one great book and anonymity on the streets.
Life just doesn’t get any better than that.
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