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Friday, January 25, 2013

WITH AGE COMES EXPERIENCE AND PERSPECTIVE

Arriving in New York with neither experience or perspective, I was a kid from Cleveland, who needed a job. Sure, I had handled an ice cream scoop at the dairy with the deftness of a surgeon using a scalpel. I could deliver mail like a veteran. But could I find a job quickly? I had $200 in cash and was extremely frugal.  Carol invited me to stay with her parents, Pauline and Milton Lennard, and we welcomed 1957 over the long New Year's weekend.. The Lennards had recently moved to a newly decorated apartmen in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, and for five days I slept on a brand new red damask couch. In less than a week, Pauline decided that it was time for me to have a place of my own. She found a Brooklyn College rooming house on 19th street off of Avenue J, a couple of subway stops away. When I wan't at their home, I was hanging out at Cookie's a local diner.

Over the next couple of weeks I pounded the pavement. We were in the middle of a minor recession, and it wasn't looking promising. I had one offer with Doyle, Dane & Bernback in the mail room at $50 per week. There was no way I could survive in NYC on that paltry sum. Another from The Daily New,s as a copy boy paid was $45.  About the middle of the month, I discovered an association, The American Business Press. A phone call gave me a lead for a job that had just been received minutes earlier. Talk about timing. The company was  Reuben H. Donnelley, the firm that published The Yellow Page phone books back in the day. I called Fern Virdo, the personnel manager, immediately and made an appointment for the next day. I knew, at 22, I was wet behind the ears, so I made myself a year older on the employment application. Fern introduced me to Jack Martin, who explained that RHD published six industry magazines and was looking for an associate editor. He then took me into the office of the division's general manager, Ned Wintersteen. They asked me some very curious questions, which I answered while trying to determine motivation for them. "Do you have a girl fiend?" Yes was the answer." What's her name ?" Were they trying to determine whether or not I was Jewish, I wondered.  The answer comes later in this piece.

I was hired and started on Monday, January 21, It was a cold, blustery day, and the Lennards rehearsed me for the subway stops until we arrived at Grand Central. What they didn't tell me was that once every hour a train went to Wall Street. You guessed it. I boarded that train. When I noticed that we were not stopping at the stations we had rehearsed, and. too embarased to ask someone, I jumped off at the next stop, ran up the stairs and grabbed a cab. It was a $3 ride uptown and I arrived at the office one half hour late. My bosses accepted my story, but for weeks I was the butt of jokes. I worked on three publications, Starchroom Laundry Journal, National Cleaner and Dyer, and the one I most identified with, Sports Age, read by retailers of sporting goods. The people in the office of about 80 people were congenial, and I quickly made some friends. I traveled the northeast, lugging around my 30 lb. case with a speed graphic and all of the paraphernalia  necessary to take photos of the subjects of my articles. Every trip was planned with stops for all three publications. I usually came back with nine stories on each of my jaunts.

Six months after I was hired, the big boss called me into his office. I thought I might be getting a raise. I was wrong. He introduced me to Arthur Radwin, and asked me to.interview him because he said he had studied journalism at Ohio State. I had never screened a potential employee in my life. I brought him into my cubicle and asked the only question that popped into my mind. "Why do you want this job?" He told me he had a wife and a newly born daughter, adding "and $80 a week isn't bad". I was furious, jumped up, literally running into Wintersteen's office. "I quit, I've been here six moths and earning $65 a week.". To make long story short, he gave me a $25 a week raise. Do the math. It was almost a 40% jump. It was the first time I realized that company executives often do stupid things. (More about that in my next blog.)

In September I told one of my editors that I would be out Thursday and Friday. He asked "Why?" I responded, "It's the Jewish New Year." His retort was an incredulous, "Your're Jewish?" I told him I was, and he said I'd have to use vacation days. I had been there nine months and had not realized I was the only one of the 80 employees who was a Jew. I had always had a melting pot of friends, but this was the first time I had experience a form of antisemitism. The punch line. In January, 1958, RHD's publishing unit acquired Case, Sheppard & Mann, a book publisher with 42 people. All but three were Jewish.  Guess what? That fall Donnelley changed it corporate and we were given the three days off, two for Rosh Hashana and one for Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. Maybe the company's was atoning for its previous sin..