Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Career advice from my Mother.

To say that my mother and I didn’t get along is a bit like saying Adolph Eichmann didn’t enjoy going to Oneg Shabbats. Though the old lady gave me a lot—she beat a vocabulary and a love of information into me—but we were more often than not like the Monitor and Merrimack, submerging ourselves for protection, then firing away in an attempt to sink the other.

Despite 17 years of near constant cruelty and abuse, however, my mother taught me a couple things that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Even when I can’t remember why I came downstairs and whether or not I've fed breakfast to the dog, I'll remember some Audrey-isms, for worse and worse.

Once about 50 years ago on a hot summer’s day like today, the old lady dragged me down to the Lower East Side to buy some dress slacks for the upcoming school year. I’m sure it wasn’t easy keeping me in clothing that looked relatively nice and was not ridiculously priced. In those kodachrome years of the mid-60s and early 70s, in my tweens and early teens, I was growing like a bamboo tree. On a hot day, I might grow an inch an hour. At least it might seem that way if you’re the one paying for my clothing.

I haven’t been down to the old Lower East Side in a couple of decades. Sure I head down to Katz’s whenever I Kan, but not to the warren of what were once Jewish immigrant streets and where there are still linen stores, and luggage stores, and tfillin stores, and clothing stores and signs in both broken English and broken-er Hebrew.

My old lady dragged me down there on a day when the pigeons were melting to buy a pair of worsted woolen slacks for $14.95. They might have cost two times that or three at Bloomingdale’s or Saks. On the Lower East Side they were even much less than you’d pay at Alexander’s on Third Avenue in the Bronx.

We entered the store, my mother boldly, me trailing behind, hoping I’d be kidnapped by merchant seamen. The bells tinkled and an old man with exactly four inches of shirt between his bearded chin and his belted waist came out to greet us.

“The boy needs slacks,” she growled. “Good ones. Wool. No big patterns. That he can grow into. He's big-boned.”

The old man nodded and hustled to the back. In twelve seconds he returned with about sixteen pairs draped over his arm.

My mother eyed them like a wolf lamb chops.

"My Georgela. He shouldn't look vulgar," she said, pronouncing it wulgar.

She ticked through them like she was dealing card in Vegas. “Shiny. Ugly. Plain. Tacky. Ugly. Shiny. Cheap.” And worst of all, “Goyische.”

In a minute I headed to a curtained dressing-room roughly the size of my coffin to try on the remaining pants. In my absence, my mother probably ran her fingers along the shelving and tsk-tsked over finding dust.

I came out in the first pair of pants. Charcoal grey.

I came out in the second pair of pants. A light grey.

My old lady was all for formality.

“How much?” She shivved.

“Both pairs?” The old beard calculated with the pencil in his head. “Forty dollars.”



My mother was playing hardball. “Thirty.”


I was back in my own clothes now. She grabbed me by the ear and dragged me out of the shop, walking with the speed of a storm-trooper. She got to the exit and pivoted on her heel.

“It’s still my money,” she barked, “And they’re still your pants.”

She exited onto the crowded sidewalk. Before we had gone nine feet the old man, breathless, had caught up to us.

“OK,” he caught his breath, “thirty.”

Just the other day I got a call from a winsome collection of pixels who had found my name and my dossier on LinkedIn. Her boss wanted me to write some ads for her company but she “was a start up,” and “didn’t have a lot of money.”

I said, anyway, that I would listen.

“Well, my boss wants to know how you supervise people. If you’re hands on. If you can write manifestos. If you can write video scripts and how you go about doing it.”

“That’s a lot,” I answered. “That’s all on my LinkedIn and my site,” I answered. It was like a fart approaching me on a Japanese bullet train. It was getting here fast and taking no prisoners.

“She wants to see scripts. She doesn’t want to see videos. She’s not really creative.”

I sat with that for a moment. When potential business is involved I try not to make snap judgments.

“Would you send me an email with scripts and manifestos,” she barked.

I waited. Then said what my old lady said back when Nixon was president.

“It’s still my money and they’re still your pants.” I said and I hung up the horn.

Thanks, Mom.

I think that may be the best way I could ever remember you.

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