I was back in the Bronx in September 1970. But I now had to spend my time out in Queens crashing in my parents’ apartment for a few weeks, while I waited for my summer sublet to finally agree to vacate my Bronx apartment.
By late September 1970, Eric and Michelle had pretty much soured on New York City and on the people they each had met working at their phone company jobs. Finding a cheap, vacant apartment that wasn’t a dump in New York City had proven to be an impossible task because they weren’t plugged into any network of native New Yorkers who were African-American and who could give them some leads. Eric had not been able to find a community by linking up with any New York City Black Panther Party activists who, by then, were barely able to survive themselves because of the heavy level of COINTELPRO repression which they were experiencing either collectively or personally.
The one hip white person in the Bronx neighborhood that I had met who knew the Village scene from hanging out in the various coffeehouses there for many years, while living with his mother in her rent-controlled apartment without having to pay rent or work, was Mike. He had proven to be an unreliable friend for Eric during the summer, reinforcing Eric and Michelle’s original feeling that all whites could not be trusted. And that they were justified in treating white leftists as either soft touches or as the whites in the USA whom African-Americans could most easily try to take advantage of.
So by October 1970, Eric and Michelle decided that life for them in D.C. offered more opportunity for community and economic security than life in New York City ever would. Eric, Michelle and I ended up living together most of the time for about four weeks until mid-October 1970. But during their last few weeks crashing in the apartment beyond their previously agreed-upon September 1, 1970 exit date, the racist white Italian-American superintendent ended up physically assaulting me—after Eric and Michelle’s dog shit and pissed in the hallway outside my apartment and Eric apparently didn’t clean up the mess in the hall before the building super discovered it.
“Clean up this mess. It’s your fault. You shouldn’t have sublet this apartment to them,” the enraged racist superintendent said to me as he met me in the hall after I came home from work, while shoving a dust pan in my hand.
I started to explain that Black people had as much of a right as white people to live in the apartment building. But before I got a chance to finish, the 60-year-old white superintendent started punching me, while yelling “Clean it up! Clean it up!”
Quickly realizing that it made no sense to get into a brawl with the old white guy (who outweighed me by 80 pounds) while a neighbor who was sympathetic to him was watching us, I agreed to clean up the hallway. But that night I called a Movement lawyer who advised me to go to the court and file an assault complaint against the superintendent.
I followed the Movement lawyer’s advice. But when the elderly white racist superintendent received a legal notice to appear in court to answer my complaint against him, he immediately came upstairs and knocked on my apartment door. After I opened the apartment door, the elderly white superintendent then warned me, while holding the legal paper in his hand:
“If you press charges against me, I’ll call my brother, my nephews and my three cousins. And I’ll tell them to kill you,” he said in a threatening tone.
Not seeing any percentage in pressing charges against the superintendent in court, I immediately agreed to drop the assault complaint, after the superintendent agreed to not bother me again, and I assured him that Eric and Michelle were going to be moving out by the end of the month.
Hearing of the white superintendent’s assault on me, as a result of their dog’s accident and because I had been willing to sublet the cheap apartment in May to them for three months (without requiring any deposit from them), Eric and Michelle became much friendlier to me again for a few days. The incident had apparently reminded them that I was still the only person whom they had met in their 6 months of living in New York City who had been willing to rent them a decent pad on affordable terms; and that I had risked being beaten by neighborhood white racists for supporting their right to sublet a rent-controlled apartment in a nearly all-white Bronx neighborhood.
In retrospect, under the New York City rent control laws (which no tenants or Columbia students I had ever known really understood at that time), I actually had no legal right to sublet my Bronx rent controlled apartment to Eric and Michelle in May 1970, without first informing the landlord and getting the landlord’s approval. But the landlord would not have had a legal right to prevent me from subletting the apartment to Eric and Michele just because they were African-American.
And, in retrospect, under the then-existing New York City rent control laws, if Eric and Michelle had refused to move out in late October 1970 from my rent-controlled apartment (and decided to squat there with me instead of moving back to D.C.), the only way I could have legally forced them to move out would have been to request my landlord to go to court and get a legal eviction order. But after I did that, the landlord could legally have begun an eviction case against me because I sublet the apartment without his approval, although legally evicting me would have taken the landlord an additional 4 months.
Luckily for me, Eric and Michelle were not so desperate to keep living in New York City that they even considered squatting in my apartment with me for as long as they could legally do it.
Although Eric did not get involved in New York City Black Panther Party work during his six months in New York City, he did go down to the Panther-convened Revolutionary Convention in Philadelphia in which the recently-released Huey P. Newton spoke. Michael Tabor, a member of the framed-up Panther 21 group of trial defendants, also spoke at this well-attended gathering.
Eric, like most other people, was disappointed in Huey P. Newton’s oratorical abilities. But he thought that Michael Tabor’s summation of the historical wrongs done to African-Americans in the USA for the past few centuries was great.
Despite Eric not being impressed by Huey P. Newton’s speech, in October 1970 Eric, Michelle and I still felt that a Black Panther Party-led revolution in the USA was still on the 1970s political agenda. The initial effect of the 1967 to 1970 COINTELPRO campaign of political repression of the Black Panther Party activists by the FBI seemed to increase greatly mass support for the BPP in both the African-American and white left community and validate the slogan that “repression breeds more resistance.”
So, despite the alienation from the straight, unpoliticized clerical office workers that Eric, Michelle and I encountered when we worked in the 9-to-5 off-campus world, we still assumed that the BPP leadership, collectively, would be able to turn their increased post-1968 mass support into an agency for 1970s BPP-led anti-imperialist, socialist revolution in the USA, which immediately eradicated institutional racism, institutional sexism, institutional classism, institutional heterosexism, U.S. militarism and U.S. imperialism.
But while waiting for the Black Panther Party-led Revolution to happen in the Fall of 1970, I still had to earn survival money to pay my $57 per month rent. So in mid-September 1970, I again went to the New York State Employment Service office in Midtown Manhattan and applied for some kind of clerical office job to give me survival money, while I waited politically for the BPP-led Revolution or a radical feminist-led revolution in the USA to create an anti-imperialist, classless society in the United States during the 1970s.
I had read a library book on labor economics and manpower needs by Eli Ginzsburg recently, so I realized that although by the summer of 1969 there already was a surplus of native-born liberal arts college graduates with BA’s on the U.S. labor market, there still was a market in 1970 for white clerical workers with a few years of college. The U.S. economic recession of 1971, the exit of Vietnam Era vet draftees from the U.S. military and back into the U.S. domestic labor market, the increased participation of U.S. housewives in the U.S. labor force and U.S. banking industry pressure on New York City’s municipal government to eliminate thousands of civil service clerical jobs in 1975 made it much harder to get a clerk-typist job later in the 1970s. But it really wasn’t until Bill Gates and Microsoft (financially backed by IBM, initially) figured out a way to eliminate millions of U.S. clerical office worker jobs by the 1990s (by using smaller versions of the computers IBM had first developed with public funds), that permanent clerical-typist or secretarial office-type job opportunities for native-born U.S. workers who only had a few years of college pretty much vanished in the 9-to-5 world. And then the only way to get hired for such remaining available permanent jobs was to work for the temp agencies and try to get the temp agency’s client to eventually hire you as a perm.
In September 1970, an office worker was still able to get a reference to a permanent clerical job from the New York State Employment Service’s office division in Midtown Manhattan. If you were a college graduate, you had the choice of getting a job referral from either the professional placement division or the clerical office worker placement division. By the late 1970s, however, in order to get a job referral from the clerical office worker placement division, you had to not mention that you had a college BA degree when you filled out their registration application. Otherwise, you would be sent away to the New York State Employment Service’s by-then useless “professional placement” division for college graduates.
By the late 1970s, New York City employers were just using local private employment agencies and local university placement agencies to screen out or refer them job applicants who possessed college degrees; and they no longer listed their few job openings for liberal arts college graduates at the New York State Employment Service’s professional placement office. By the 1980s, New York City’s corporate office industry employers had also even stopped using the New York State Employment Service office to screen out or refer them job applicants who only possessed New York City high school diplomas.
Yet instead of requiring New York City private corporate employers to hire New York State Employment Service job applicant registrants on the same basis that they hired the jobseekers sent by private placement agencies and local university placement offices, the New York State Department of Labor bureaucrats turned the other way; and they pretty much began using the New York State Employment Service primarily as just a tool to knock workers off welfare and unemployment for “not seeking” non-existent jobs diligently enough.
But at the New York State Employment Service’s office worker placement division in Midtown Manhattan in September 1970 things were different. Dressed up in a suit and tie, clean shaven, and again having short hair, I filled out the application form and waited. A few minutes later, a blond-haired white woman in her late 20s or early 30s who wore a dress, makeup and lipstick, but who still seemed physically attractive, called my name. I then stood up and sat down on the chair by the side of the desk where she sat and handed her my job referral request application form I had previously filled out.
She seemed like a friendly, social worker-type person and a slightly older version of the Barnard College future social worker-types I used to fall in love with easily during the 1960s. After she read through my job application/job search registration form, she looked up and said: “I think I have a good job referral for you. It’s an office boy position with a labor union and the person you have to see before you get hired seems very nice.”
She then looked through her small metal box of orders telephoned from employers that requested no-fee referrals of appropriate job applicants from the New York State Employment Service, which had been written down on forms by the New York State Employment Service clerks and then filed in the box on her desk.
After reading me the description of the office boy position and asking me if I would be interested in being hired for the job, the New York State Employment Service placement-counselor then told me the job was with a union called the Writers Guild of America. Although I hadn’t heard of the Writers Guild of America before, the idea of doing office work for a labor union while I waited for the Revolution to happen (instead of doing office work for a business corporation) naturally appealed to me, given my revolutionary leftist anti-war and counter-cultural politics. So the New York State Employment Service then telephoned the Writers Guild of America office and set up an appointment for me with the Writers Guild of America-East assistant executive director Paul Erbach for that very afternoon. She then wrote out a New York State Employment Service job referral job for me to hand to Paul Erbach prior to being interviewed by him in the afternoon.
In September 1970, most employers in New York City usually hired the first person they interviewed who was qualified and didn’t waste their time first collecting twenty resumes, interviewing more than one candidate or finally hiring somebody other than the first qualified person who applied for the position. So when the New York State Employment Service placement counselor handed me the referral card and sent me on my way, we both felt pretty certain that I would be quickly hired for the office boy position at the Writers Guild of America--East. And we both were quickly proven right.
In September 1970 the Writers Guild of America-East union office was located in a skyscraper near W. 48th St. at 1212 Ave. of the Americas, which most New Yorkers still called “Sixth Avenue.” I no longer recall which floor the Writers Guild union office was located on, but to get there you had to walk through a lobby and take the elevator up to at least above the 4th floor. In September 1970 there wasn’t any security guard sitting in the lobby to check employee identification cards or make sure visitors to the building or messengers signed-in before being allowed to take the automatic elevators upstairs to the 1212 Avenue of Americas skyscraper offices.
Although most of the luxury apartments on Fifth Avenue, Park Avenue and Central Park West and the adjacent numbered streets had doormen in September 1970 to act as security guards for their wealthy tenants or co-op owners, most Manhattan skyscrapers in September 1970 were not yet then guarded by security guards in the lobby. If you wanted to visit most offices that were located in skyscrapers, or deliver some kind of message or package, or apply for a job in September 1970, you could pretty much just walk into the building’s lobby and hop on an elevator without being stopped or questioned by anybody, until you reached a particular office’s receptionist.
Thousands of office workers (usually unmarried women in their 20s whom the usually older white male executives or bosses considered physically and sexually attractive) were still able to earn money as receptionists in September 1970, because most business offices didn’t have voice-mail and guards weren’t generally downstairs in the skyscrapers screening-out potential office intruders. So to both act as gatekeepers for visitors and to answer phone calls, employers were usually still required to each hire at least one receptionist for their offices in September 1970.
I can only vaguely remember my job interview with Paul Erbach. He was friendly, like the New York State Employment Service placement worker had promised, but he wasn’t friendly in a loud, jovial way. After he explained what the office boy position would entail and showed me the small mailroom which contained the mimeograph machine, the postage meter and the addressograph machine that I would be using and where I would often work, he went back with me into his small private office, described the salary and benefits of the job and agreed to hire me on the spot. My starting salary was to be $100 per week, which in September 1970 was considered a good initial salary for office boy work. He also mentioned that the person who had held the job before me had liked the job, but had been recently drafted into the U.S. military and wasn’t expected to still want the job by the time he ended up getting discharged from the U.S. Army., because the U.S. Army would probably open up more lucrative future job opportunities for him after he served his time.
Besides the small mail room and Paul Erbach’s small private office, the Writers Guild 1212 Avenue of the Americas union office consisted of a larger, generally off-limits office/conference room of its long-time executive director, Evelyn Burkey, and a reception area and front room, about 40 feet by 10 feet, where the union office’s clerical staff of seven (including me) employees worked between 9-to-5 each weekday, behind six desks. By the late 1980s, the Writers Guild of America-East had moved into a much larger, plush suite across town in the West 50s. But in September 1970, the Writers Guild-East union office was not plush, although it was much fancier than the offices of the anti-war movement groups, like the War Resisters League/Student Peace Union, New York Regional SDS or Newsreel, where I had worked in during the 1960s.
Paul Erbach was a left-liberal white man in his 40s or early 50s in September 1970 who commuted into Midtown Manhattan each day from just across the Hudson River in West New York, New Jersey. As a young man in his twenties, he apparently had first tried to earn a living as an actor in the New York City theatre world. But once he married and had a wife and then some kids to support, he put aside his own theatrical ambitions, became more economically practicable and found himself well-paying jobs as an executive in the New York City-based mainstream entertainment media industry’s talent union world.
Paul was a gentle, considerate person and both anti-racist and anti-war in his politics in 1970. He was the kind of person who would probably always vote for Democratic Party presidential candidates like Eugene McCarthy or RFK in 1968 or George McGovern in 1972; and who detested Nixon. But having reached 9-to-5 working age in the Joe McCarthy/Cold War Era of the 1950s, when people in the U.S. who were communists were especially demonized within U.S. left-liberal circles and the New York City radio and television industry, Paul was still an anti-communist liberal in 1970. He would probably not have hired me in September 1970 if I had mentioned during my job interview that I had been on the steering committee of Columbia SDS in 1968, been the most active member of Richmond College SDS in 1969 and worked with the alternative media group of revolutionary left Newsreel filmmakers as recently as March 1970.
By September 1970, I had learned that, at that time in the U.S. media world, open New Leftists could not yet get hired by mainstream media employers, unless they had only been involved in the New Left during its early 1960s reformist, civil rights, mainstream media-supported phase, indicated that they had “outgrown” or backed-off from late 1960s New Left politics or had parents, relatives or family friends with enough clout in the mainstream media world to insure that they would get hired, despite their “crazy politics.”
Before being hired by the Writers Guild in September 1970, for instance, I had unsuccessfully tried to “infiltrate” ABC News by getting a job as a researcher, based on my discovery of Columbia’s IDA connection and my co-authorship of the Columbia Citizenship Council’s “Columbia and the Community” pamphlet, which documented and exposed the exact way that Columbia’s expansion and real estate polices on the Upper West Side drove nearly 10,000 primarily African-American, Puerto Rican and elderly poor white tenants out of the Morningside Heights/West Harlem neighborhood during the 1950s and 1960s. But when the straight, corporate-dressed, fast-talking plastic white guy in his late 40s heard the words “Columbia” and “1968,” he seemed to then immediately rule out any possibility that ABC News would trust me enough to hire me. Especially since my application form honestly revealed that I did not end up getting either a BA from Columbia despite my attendance there or gone on to attend Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. In addition, most researcher jobs at ABC News prior to 1970 were apparently reserved for unmarried white upper-middle-class women with B.A.’s in their 20s or 30s who had sexually marketable plastic physical appearances.
Although Paul was a friendly, easy-going guy who supervised his clerical employees at the union office in a non-authoritarian way, the elderly woman boss who supervised him in September 1970, Writers Guild-East Executive Director Evelyn Burkey, related to him in a more authoritarian way and rarely spoke to anyone who worked at the union office other than to Paul, her assistant executive director.
Burkey was in her late 50s or early 60s in September 1970 and had apparently been in charge of the radio and television writers’ union office since the late 1940s or the 1950s. Like Paul, she was a liberal anti-communist in her politics. But she was apparently also a tough negotiator on behalf of the radio and television writers during their union’s contract bargaining talks with television network executives and she wasn’t a personally corrupt union bureaucrat. With Burkey as their executive director, the Writers Guild-East union members were able to win lucrative contracts from the radio and television networks throughout the 1950s and 1960s. So by the time I worked there, most of the steadily-employed Writers Guild-East members were mostly either living in fancy high-rise apartments on the Upper East Side or Upper West Side, in fancy bohemian West Village pads or in suburban homes in Westchester County or Connecticut.
So the union writers whom Burkey represented didn’t care much whether or not their union executive director ran their union office in a hierarchical, undemocratic way, whether or not Burkey was plain-looking or whether or not she was a fun person to party with. As long as Burkey continued to bring in the bacon and the big residual checks and pension checks for the union members whose scripts were being used by the radio and television network executives, her job was secure. Even if she wasn’t as sensitive person as her assistant Paul, didn’t look like an aging television actress and seemed like somebody who would only want to just talk business with you.
The Writers Guild-East union office was open Monday through Friday from 9 to 5. But Burkey was usually out of the office at some bargaining session with representatives of one of the networks or local media firms that employed Guild members, meeting with lawyers, Writers Guild shop stewards or union pension fund consultants, or attending some social networking function within the talent union subculture world.
But the staff of clerical workers at the Writers Guild-East office didn’t mind not seeing Burkey around the office very much. For when Burkey wasn’t there, we could relax more and talk to each other a lot and not have to pretend we were busy. When Burkey was in the office, however, you had to be more careful to look busy and be talking and laughing less, for she might suddenly emerge from her large personal office/conference room to impatiently request that you do something for her or find something for her, in a bossy tone. And if she felt you were too much of a loafer, she might then start complaining about you to Paul and get on his back enough so that he’d have to make believe he was going to crack down on you when Burkey wasn’t around the office (which, of course, he never was willing to do).
One reason Burkey probably felt she had to act more like a male bulldog in relating to people below her in the office hierarchy and on the opposite side of the bargaining table or at meetings with the members of her union board is that in the 1950s and 1960s and in September 1970 she was often the only woman in a roomful of men. And she probably felt that, as a woman, she would not be taken seriously at these meetings unless she showed that she was emotionally “tougher,” more emotionally closed and more domineering than any of the men in the room—which wasn’t that hard to be, because many of the men who wrote for radio and television before the 1980s tended to be more emotionally sensitive than the men who worked on Wall Street, especially since it was generally hard for a male writer to come up with a good script if he was emotionally dead.
Because she couldn’t be around the Guild union office herself to make sure the clerical staff’s work was always accurate and timely, Burkey’s hiring policy was to entrust her assistant executive director to try to hire people who were overqualified for their positions on the union’s clerical staff. As a result, nearly all of us on the Writers Guild-East office staff were able to finish our assigned work each day within three or four hours. So we usually would all be sitting in the office with nothing to do except read daily newspapers or converse with each other on most afternoons.
What was good about the Writers Guild-East office staff hiring policy in September 1970 was that, unlike many other unions, the Writers Guild had a racially integrated office staff. Joe, the administrative assistant at the Writers Guild union office, was a hip, good-looking, African-American guy in his late 20s or early 30s, who wore glasses.
Joe lived in Brooklyn and was a chain-smoker. Joe, not Paul, was the person who showed me how to use the office mimeograph machine, the office postage meter and the office addressograph machine; and by the end of my first week of work at the Guild, Joe and I both realized that we enjoyed talking with each other during the day. Joe was also the person who showed me how to make deliveries of messenger deliveries to union shop stewards at the NBC studios in Rockefeller Center or at the CBS radio studio in the CBS Building from our W.48th Street office, without going outside, by going through the various underground concourse corridors that connect 47th Street to 53rd Street in the Rockefeller Center area.
In September 1970, cigarette advertising on television was either finally banned or going to be finally banned. But cigarette smoking in the skyscraper offices by clerical workers at their desks was not prohibited and it wasn’t yet common knowledge that sidestream smoke from smokers might be harmful to the non-smokers in the office. So no one in the Writers Guild either complained or saw anything unusual about Joe chain-smoking at his desk in the office during the workday.
In September 1970, Joe hated Nixon as much as I did, but he wasn’t any kind of a Movement activist. He seemed to be too much of a hedonist to be interested in the U.S. political situation in more than a passing way, although he agreed with me that U.S. society was sick and racist to the core. When he wasn’t caged in the Writers Guild union office on weekdays, Joe seemed to mainly spend his leisure time smoking pot or drinking booze, dating and having sexual affairs with different women, listening to vinyl records, watching television and reading popular fiction. When not working, Joe seemed to be just into living like an African-American variant of a 1950s swinging bachelor playboy-type.
When I initially met Joe, he was, like most U.S. men in the September 1970 skyscraper office world, still generally male chauvinist and sexist in the way he viewed women. But the more I began to challenge some of his male chauvinist views, the more he began to realize that women in the Fall of 1970 who were victims of sexism experienced forms of economic discrimination in U.S. society that resembled the discrimination that African-American men like himself faced. So I noticed, as the weeks went by, Joe was less likely to refer to women in anti-feminist ways in his conversation. And when he talked about his weekend sexual encounters, Joe was one of the first men I met in the pre-1975 plastic 9-to-5 office world who questioned the notion that it was “unmanly” for a man to let his female sexual partner lie on top of him and straddle him in a female dominant/male recumbent coital position, when they made love.
“A man who always has to be on top when he has sex with a woman doesn’t know how much pleasure he’s missing,” Joe confided to me with a smile in the mailroom one Monday morning after I asked him how his weekend had been.
One reason Joe drank so much in his leisure time, however, was that he felt he had outgrown his administrative assistant job at the Writers Guild union office and he couldn’t find any position that was more intellectually challenging or higher-paying in U.S. society because of institutional racism. So Joe felt frustrated at work. He had worked for seven years at the Writers Guild and, since he didn’t have a college degree, there was no chance that he would be able to eventually move into Paul’s position as assistant executive director if Paul ever got a position elsewhere or if Burkey retired and Paul then replaced her as the executive director.
Joe had been told by Paul that the salary he was receiving as administrative assistant at the Guild office after seven years was as high as the Guild would ever pay for that position. So if Joe wanted to earn more money, he would have to find a new position at another organization. As a result, Joe spent a lot of his spare time at his desk every Monday looking through the Sunday Times’ want-ads each Monday. But on the few occasions when Joe did go for some job interview for a higher-paying administrative position, no one ever hired him, despite his experience and qualifications—probably because most of the employers who interviewed him generally were white straight plastic male executives who were still just generally looking for young, unmarried white women who they considered physically attractive to be their administrative assistants in the Fall of 1970.
Another African-American who was employed by the Writers Guild to be on its union office clerical staff was a tall, perceptive African-American woman, who usually used make-up and lipstick, wore high-heels and dressed-up stylishly each workday. Her name was Sylvia and she also lived in Brooklyn, around Grand Army Plaza.
Sylvia appeared to keep the membership records and keep track of the membership fees and residual payments in a very efficient way. But I never did get to know the exact nature of what Sylvia’s job consisted of. Sylvia appeared to be in her mid-to-late 30s in September 1970. The first week I started working at the Writers Guild, Sylvia was on a week’s vacation in Montreal. In September 1970, Sylvia was unmarried and without children, but she seemed to have nephews or nieces that she was fond of. The book she was reading in the Fall of 1970 during her spare time was Love Story, which was a popular best-selling book that tied-in to the movie of the same name which starred Ali McGraw.
Sitting at the desk that was both nearest and perpendicular to Sylvia’s desk in the Guild office was Eli, the white bookkeeper. Like me, Eli commuted from the Bronx to work in Manhattan. But, unlike me, Eli still lived with his parents, although he appeared to be in his early 30s in September 1970 and was making a good salary as a bookkeeper because he had been working in the Guild office for a number of years. Unlike Joe or me, the overweight Eli always came to work on time and always dressed in a suit and tie each day. He seemed to be a conventional, culturally straight, docile office worker, who just wasn’t interested in what was happening in the world outside his workplace or his immediate nuclear family.
Although Eli was a conventional guy, like everyone else in the union office, he was against the Vietnam War. But since Eli seemed afraid to be a non-conformist in any way, you got the sense that if he worked in a corporate office where everyone else supported the Vietnam War, Eli would probably have then been a supporter of the Vietnam War, although he, himself, was not the kind of guy who would ever intentionally hurt anybody else personally.
Although Eli was not unfriendly when he took a rest from adding his figures up each day, both Joe and I felt that Eli was afraid to break away from his parents emotionally. Eli probably hoped to eventually find a wife to marry and have children with. But unless he broke away soon there was a risk that by his 40’s he’d find himself an unhappy and lonely bachelor. Instead of spending his evenings and weekends away from his parents, dating or trying to meet people other than his workmates (none of whom would ever want to spend time with him out of the office), Eli seemed to be the kind of passive, white guy in his 30’s who just sat in front of his tv each night and on weekends and who wouldn’t know what to do with his leisure time if he wasn’t going to work Monday through Friday in the skyscraper office.
Eli could not conceive of himself smoking pot, didn’t drink alcohol and didn’t seem to read books or listen to much music on the radio or on a stereo. He also rarely used any of his vacation time since, although he was only in his 30s, he seemed to lack curiosity or a sense of adventure.
During my time working in the Guild office I tried to expose Eli to a politically radical 60s counter-cultural hip left perspective on a number of occasions. But Eli, although a nice guy, was uninterested and couldn’t conceive of himself as being somebody who could ever have become a hippie. And he seemed like a person who, while not standing in the way of any radical change in the 9 to 5 world if it did happen in the 1970s, would prefer that nothing changed much in the 9-to-5 world as long as he could keep going to work at the Guild without being pressured by his supervisors too much.
Since Joe and I were much more dissatisfied with the way the 9-to-5 world operated in the states and I, in particular, mistakenly assumed in the Fall of 1970 that my generation would bring the whole 9-to-5 office world system down in a 1970s revolution, both Joe and I felt we had little in common with Eli philosophically. To us, he seemed too unhip, too closed intellectually and too personally repressed and beaten-down by the System to interest us in wanting to get to know him better. Insofar as we thought of Eli, he seemed to both Joe and me as someone whose life provided no model for our own lives, except in a negative way, as an example of what could have happened to us if we had been fearful of breaking away from our parents by our 20s and learning to live on our own.
Another office worker in the Guild office was a more intellectual white woman, who seemed to be in her mid-to-late-40s, named Shirley, who had been a WAC during World War II. Shirley wore lipstick and makeup and seemed like she was someone that most men would have considered plain-looking on a physical level.
Shirley was unmarried, childless and lived alone in her own apartment. But, unlike Eli, she was interested in what was going on in the world outside the office in the Fall of 1970 and she and I would talk about things like the war in Indochina, books we had each read, the Broadway theatre and the counter-culture to try to pass the free time we often had in the office after we had each finished with our assigned work.
Shirley was left-liberal in her politics. But, unlike Joe, she seemed to mainly reflect the New York Times newspaper’s perspective on what was going on and on life in her mind-set. Which was not surprising, because Shirley was one of those New Yorkers who religiously read the New York Times each day and on weekends as if it were the Bible.
But Shirley was more of a left-liberal idealist and less cynical than most other New York Times readers and, when I once indicated that I felt most of what was being produced on Broadway by 1970 was commercial crap, she replied: “Why don’t you go see Man of La Mancha? It’s a lot better than what they usually produce.”
After a few weeks at the Guild, I mentioned to Shirley that I used to have a beard and long-hair, but I was reluctant to let my beard and long hair grow again, now that I was working in a 9-to-5 mainstream media network TV world, where all the men were, in 1970, still generally clean-shaven and short-haired. Shirley, however, assured me that I could be myself and dress like a non-conformist hippie at the Guild office, and pretty much talk freely there, without there being any risks that Burkey and Paul, or any of the non-hippie Guild members, would start complaining about me looking too much like a hippie for the straight bargaining image that they wanted their talent union to project in 1970.
The Guild office receptionist was an unmarried white woman in her mid-to-late 20s who wore glasses named Maria. She seemed pretty culturally straight, non-artistic and non-intellectual. Most men would have probably considered Maria just average-looking on a physical level, especially since, compared to most other skyscraper female receptionists at that time, Maria looked less like a fashion model or an unemployed actress and more like a woman who lived at home with her mother and had difficulty getting dates with men.
Maria started to work at the Guild office the same week I did. But after the first week of work at the Guild office, she seemed bored with her job. She seemed to prefer to spend more of her time at work being a laughing chatter-box than doing any of the clerical work that she was assigned to do when she wasn’t answering office phones and screening telephone calls and taking messages (in an era before voicemails were used in the skyscraper offices).
Much of Maria’s chattering and constant giggling seemed to be an expression of her frustration at not being able to meet some man who would marry her so that she would no longer have to do office work in the 9-to-5 world and could then stay at home, have a baby and spend the days raising a child in a traditional way, like her own mother had done. Whenever a male messenger, a salesman, a deliveryman or a male writer would visit the office to either make a delivery, fill out some union forms or attend a meeting, Maria would often comment on whether she thought the guy was “cute” ater the guy left the office.
Although Maria was much younger than was Shirley, because she was less intellectual and more self-centered than Shirley, I tended to find it more interesting to kill time in the office speaking with someone like Shirley than talking with Maria. So although one week Maria tried dressing more like a hip woman, wearing pants instead of her usual traditional feminine dress or skirt, and seemed to try sitting closer to me than usual when we stuffed envelopes next to each other before mailing them to union members, I never felt particularly turned on physically by her when I worked in the Guild office.
In retrospect, although she was about my height and probably was about my equal in physical strength, she seemed too traditionally feminine, too plastic, too frivolous, too self-centered and too conventionally plain in her physical appearance compared to the more bohemian younger women students, hippie women and Movement women I had been attracted to during the previous five years. Plus she was older than me. And since I was totally uninterested in getting married or having children in the fall of 1970 and she was so obviously looking desperately for a man to marry, support her and raise children with, I realized there was no point in even considering asking Maria for a date even once during the time I worked at the Guild office.
The woman in the Guild office who I was most attracted to initially was the college student from Queens who worked part-time a few days a week in the afternoon at the Guild office, helping Shirley and Eli. Her name was Rosemary and she was considered pretty by most men, had a gentle and sweet personality and dressed like the typical woman college student of the early 1970s, usually wearing jeans whenever she appeared in the office.
But Rosemary already had a boyfriend, wasn’t intellectual, politically radical or artistic and seemed to be planning to just graduate from college and live a conventional lower-middle-class or working-class life. So she never showed any interest in encouraging me to try to get closer to her when she worked with me at the Guild office. Yet a few years later, I did think of her when I wrote a folk song based on a fantasized image of her and our contact at the Guild office, titled “Rosemary,” which contained the following lyrics:
Makes me want you bad.
And I stared
`Cause I felt your love.
With your mind like fire
With your voice so sweet
With your passion wild
You I longed to meet.
Please talk with me
When you need a friend.
You seem kind
And my spine
Feels the love you send.
With your laughing spirit
With your open arms
With your love for nature
You are like the stars.
Please kiss me
When you feel the mood.
With you near
Life seems so clear
For my heart you’re food.
With your tender verses
With your eyes so deep
With your lips that stir me
While the others sleep.”
As this Rosemary folk song indicates, by the Fall of 1970 I was starting to get lyrical and melodic ideas for less politically-oriented, less protest-oriented songs during my work hours by building the folk songs around the names of the particular women workmates in the 9 to 5 office world that I felt sexually or emotionally drawn to, in the same way I had previously gotten lyrical and melodic ideas for love songs by building the folk songs around the names of the particular women I felt a passion for before I entered the 9 to 5 skyscraper office world.
Of all the women on the Writers Guild union office staff in the Fall of 1970, the 38-year-old white woman, who was the secretary/typist for both Burkey and Paul, seemed to be the one who had lived the most unconventional life so far. Her name was Pat and she had grown up in the South. But then she moved up North to live in New York City. She apparently had either been married to or had an inter-racial love affair with to an African-American man during the 1950s, when she was in her early 20’s and had given birth to an African-American son.
But in 1970, the father of her son no longer lived with Pat and her by-then teenage son in Pat’s small East Side apartment. And Pat seemed to be having a tough time economically trying to both support her teenage son as a single-mother and to keep affording the rent on her Manhattan apartment on the salary the Guild was paying her.
Yet Pat was not willing to move out of Manhattan to some cheaper apartment in Bronx or Brooklyn. Instead, Pat seemed to prefer to try to conserve the money she needed to pay her Manhattan apartment rent each month by bringing a bag lunch to work each day and not spending much money eating lunch out or ordering lunch to be delivered to her at the union office.
With her red hair and pretty face, Pat looked like the kind of woman who might have been considered a beauty when she was in her 20’s. But I initially felt she used too much makeup and lipstick when she was in her late 30s, in the Fall of 1970, for me to find her particularly attractive. Pat also apparently may have had the figure of a female college cheerleader or a Hollywood actress or fashion model when she was in her twenties. But at 38, Pat seemed to be starting to find it difficult to keep her weight down in an era before it was considered fashionable for women clerical office workers in their 30’s to spend as much time jogging or working-out in the gym or health club during lunch or after work, as it later became by the late 1970s. Yet the soft-spoken, gentle Pat still tended to automatically assume that most men of her age or older that she wished to get involved with would tend to find her as sexually attractive as they had found her when she was in her 20’s.
Having hung out in the Village during the 1950s, Pat was anti-war and left-liberal in her politics and understood earlier than the other women clerical office workers at the Guild why I felt that working in the 9-to-5 world under capitalism was a form of 9-to-5 wage slavery. But being 38 and having to support her teenage son and pay a Manhattan, not a Brooklyn or Bronx, rent for her apartment, made Pat feel that she was stuck working 9-to-5 at the Guild office, although she hated her job. And since there were few men her age or older around who were then willing to marry and support a woman with a teenage son-- and she didn’t see the possibility that the 9-to-5 work world set-up would ever change in as radical a way as I predicted it would in the Fall of 1970—Pat felt she really had no alternative to acceptance of her current job situation.
“I was once an idealist like you, when I was your age,” Pat said to me affectionately one day in the Guild office, after eavesdropping on one of my conversations with Shirley. “But now I’m more of a realist.”
In retrospect, of course, Pat—based on her years in the 9-to-5 skyscraper office world—perceived (more accurately than did I) that—despite the emergence of the new wave of feminism in the late 1960s and early 1970s—the basic pattern of work life for U.S. working-class people in Manhattan would not change radically, in the short-run. In the Fall of 1970, I grossly overestimated how radical an impact the new wave of feminism and the shift in consciousness produced by the 1960s student, anti-war, Black Liberation and hippy movements would quickly make on the pattern of work life in the 9-to-5 skyscraper world for working-class people.