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  November 2017
volume 14 number 2
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  Carol Schwalberg
 
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Carol Schwalberg November 2017
   

 

bio


photo by françois biajoux

    Carol Schwalberg is a fourth-generation New Yorker who considers herself a naturalized Californian. Her short stories have appeared in Penthouse, Independent Ink, Steam Ticket, Verdad, Wordplay, and The Los Angeles Times (kid’s page), Women in Judaism (Canada), Woman (UK), Ita (Australia) and Fair Lady (South Africa) as well as in the anthologies, If I Had My Life to Live Over, I Would Pick More Daisies (Papier-Mache), Am I Teaching Yet? (Heinemann), Rite of Passage (Lonely Planet) and ParaSpheres (Omnidawn). She won first prize both for her story in Verdad and her parody of Joan Didion’s work in the 2008 Happy Endings Contest sponsored by Humanities Montana.

   

 

Entry Level Copy

    On a steamy day in June, Sally opened the door to Jules Dunay Associates and found Dunay himself sitting in shirtsleeves before an open window overlooking Madison Square Park. There was no air conditioning.
    She said “Good morning,” but he skipped a return hello and immediately started explaining her duties. “When the phone rings, you chirp, ‘Jules Dunay Associates.’ When someone asks for me, even if I’m standing right next to you, say, ‘I’ll see if he’s in.’ Especially if the caller is Buddy Adler. He’s sales manager at Eagle of Troy shirts, our biggest account.”
    Our? There was no one else in the room. Sally wondered if the associates came in later. Almost as though he read her mind, Mr. Dunay jerked a thumb toward an old- fashioned roll-top desk in the near corner of the room. “You also pick up for Mr. Searle and Mr. Harrison, the men who run Fresh Day Shirt. They hardly ever come in, but when they do, they won’t bother you. All they do is pickup mail and messages. No chitchat.”
    Mr. Dunay pointed to a flattop oak desk in the far corner. “Superflex Dry Mat is another kettle of fish. Bill O’Healy will want to talk your ear off, but don’t let him distract you from your work. Whatever you do, never lend him a dime. He drinks like a fish, and you won’t get it back.”
    Mr. Dunay turned his attention back to the tissue drawing on his desk, designing an ad as he spoke. “This is a good entry level spot. I do my own filing and billing, and there aren’t many letters. Shorthand and typing are only a small part of the job.”
    Sally felt relieved for she typed slowly, and after a month of studying shorthand, she could write only “Jake, go bake a cake in the lake.”
    Dunay spread his hairy arms wide. “You’ll handle copy, layout, client contact, merchandising, media. The one thing you won’t do is go out for coffee.” Sally rejoiced.
    She was leaving odd jobs behind her and taking the first step to establishing a real career.
    It was time. She was already twenty.
    Dunay pointed to the sheet of tracing paper in front of him. “When I finish this layout, I want you to make an exact copy. We store them here.” He walked past the partition, which held worktable, chair, and typewriter on a stand, and tapped a stash of old tracings, cardboards, and assorted manila envelopes lying pell-mell along the wall. A cloud of dust mushroomed into the air.
    Sally sneezed. There was no gesundheit.
    Mr. Dunay shrugged. “All the building does is sweep the floor and pick up trash.”
    Sally made a mental note to bring in dust rags.
    He handed her a soft pencil and a type ruler, and told her to copy his layout, a sale ad for a store called N.J. Co-op. She lettered in New Jersey. Her college professors told her never to begin a headline with initials.
    Mr. Dunay came over to inspect. “No, no, N.J. is right. Don’t spell out the name. Just copy what you see.”
    Sally hurried through the next two ads, one for Levinson’s in Springfield, Massachusetts, and another for The Emporium in Allentown, Pennsylvania. “We work for a lot of department stores outside New York, don’t we?” she asked.
    Mr. Dunay nodded. “On Thursdays I travel to see my retail clients, and you’ll have to come into the office by yourself.” He handed her a key and looked at his watch.
    “It’s noon. You’d better go to lunch. Be back at one, and you can do copy for the ads.”
    Writing copy her first day on the job! So much for what her mother said, “A college diploma, and here you are, working as a secretary-- ”
    “Girl Friday. I had to begin writing someplace.”
    Mamma cocked her head toward the ceiling where she made regular contact with the afterlife. “You heard, Marty? Your daughter is working as a secretary, but at only a typist’s pay. I told her college was a waste of time, but oh no, she wouldn’t listen to me.”
    Sally returned from lunch to find her boss sitting at his desk without wearing a shirt or even an undershirt, his black body hair lying in matted curls on his chest. She was so shocked, she blurted out, “Mr. Dunay, your chest is naked!”
    “Oh, grow up!” he growled and handed her a tracing. “Before we send this stuff to the printer, you have to key everything, each headline, each subhead, each block of body copy and type it up. Printers are idiots. They only set what they see.”
    The next day Mr. Dunay dispatched Sally to the Allerg-O- Stop Nose Clip Company. “Mrs. Blaufelt, the owner, wants to change her ad so we’re running a new picture and new copy. Find out what she wants, then come back and write it.”
    Client contact on her second day! Sally was glad she was wearing a new dress.
    She quizzed Mrs. Blaufelt on why the Allerg-O- Stop was superior to all other nose clips, scribbled two pages of notes, returned to the office, and boiled the information down to a hundred words.
    Mr. Dunay scanned the copy and whistled. “All this crap! The whole ad runs only two inches and that includes a picture. The printers will have to set this copy in agate. Let me show you how to cut.”
    What was agate? Sally promised herself to borrow a library book on advertising.
    Mrs. Blaufelt okayed the shortened copy, and Mr. Dunay showed Sally how to make out an insertion order. “Sign this and give yourself the title ‘space buyer.’ Then I’ll check what you’ve filled in.” Sally would read about space buyers, too.
    The next day Mr. Dunay had her go through the mail. “Open anything addressed to the firm, but nothing addressed to me personally.”
    One envelope held a form letter from Smith’s Directory of Advertising Agencies asking for a list of staff. “Don’t bother me with that,” her boss said. “Fill in whatever you like.”
    After putting in Dunay’s name as owner, Sally named herself copy chief and space buyer and sent the Times an announcement that she was the new copy chief.
    She sealed the envelope, and Mr. Dunay yelled “Sally!” He was scowling. “I just got off the phone with Phil Taykin. He owes us a check for his ads in the News. I want you to go up to his office and collect.” Mr. Dunay shook his finger. “Don’t let him put you off, and don’t accept a check for a penny less than a hundred ten dollars.”
    Sally’s heart sank. She lacked her mother’s skill at nagging and yelling, the only techniques Mamma recommended for squeezing money out of deadbeats.
    At Taykin’s storefront, Sally approached a bespectacled man standing at the counter. “Phil Taykin, please.”
    The man looked apprehensive. “Who wants him?”
    “Jules Dunay Associates.”
    The man broke into a grin. “You’re new, aren’t you?” She nodded. “Sorry, Taykin just left.”
    “When will he be back?”
    The man raised his shoulders. “Didn’t say.”
    She came back to the office empty-handed. “The man at the counter said Mr. Taykin was out.”
    Mr. Dunay asked, “What did this man at the counter look like?”
    “Tall, pasty-faced, glasses, kind of a pushed-in nose.”
    Mr. Dunay groaned. “That was Phil Taykin. Damn. I’ll go after the money myself.”
    She felt like an idiot, but Mr. Dunay collected the check and cashed it at Taykin’s bank. “It won’t bounce that way,” he explained to Sally. Mr. Dunay knew how to do everything, she thought.
    Next, he slipped five crisp twenty-dollar bills into an envelope and wrote out a receipt. “Now I want you to take this money to Cameo Studios. They’re in the penthouse. Tell the receptionist you want to see Tony Camarelli. Give the envelope to him, no one else, and make sure he signs the receipt.”
    Sally thought the penthouse looked like another world. Thick beige carpeting covered the floor, and the curved reception desk was a sweep of mirrors. On the wall behind the desk, raised bas-reliefs of women reminded Sally of Mamma’s cameo pin.
    Dust wouldn’t dare gather here.
    The sleek blonde receptionist insisted Mr. Camarelli was busy. Sally said, “Tell him I have an envelope from Mr. Dunay.”
    “Can’t I accept it for him?”
    Sally gulped. She couldn’t fail again, the way she did with Taykin. “No, I have to see him personally.”
    A few minutes later, an oily-looking man with long gray hair appeared. “Here I am, Tony Camarelli in the flesh. What can I do for you?”
    Sally handed him the receipt. He signed with a flourish, but held the paper behind his back. “Not so fast. Don’t you have something for me?” Sally handed him the envelope. Camarelli counted the bills and gave her the receipt. “Tell Julie thanks, and say I’ll expect him tomorrow.”
    Mr. Dunay eyed Sally warily. “Have the receipt?” She pushed it across the desk.
    He nodded. “You did that right.” Sally beamed. “Tomorrow, wear work pants and sensible shoes.”
    Sally left for work in jeans and sneakers. Mamma focused her blue eyes on the ceiling. “Marty, it’s not enough your daughter schleps rags to the office so she can clean, now she goes there dressed like a farmhand.”
    As soon as Sally reached the office, Mr. Dunay told her to grab her purse and a corrugated box with newspaper folded over the top. He carried a bigger carton with picture frames poking out. They took the elevator up to the penthouse. “Stay here,” he barked. He went off into the interior and returned a minute later with a painter’s ladder, which he opened beneath one end of the sign announcing Cameo Studios. He turned to Sally. “Up you go. Stop below the shelf.”
    Sally was afraid of heights, but she took a deep breath and climbed the steps.
    Mr. Dunay handed her hammer, nails, and a large banner. “Hold the banner at the left end. I put a big red dot on it. No, a little higher. More to the right. That’s it. Now hammer it in place.” Sally did as told. “Let the other edge of the banner drop and come down.” He moved the ladder, and Sally nailed the other end in place. The banner read, Jules Dunay Associates.
Down came the cameos, and up went framed pictures of magazine advertisements, some showing Eagle of Troy shirts, but others featuring products Mr. Dunay didn’t represent. After stowing the empty box under the reception desk, Mr. Dunay went into Camarelli’s office and substituted his own family pictures for the photographer’s. “Now to the ground floor.”
    Mr. Dunay slipped the elevator starter a five-dollar bill. The man saluted and darted off. In less than a minute, the wall directory no longer listed a room number after Jules Dunay Associates. It now read, Penthouse.
    Back in the office, Mr. Dunay gave Sally another pile of layouts to trace. “If you absolutely need me, I’ll be at Camarelli’s place, but try not to phone. I have an appointment with Buddy Adler.” Picking up an electric razor, he shaved the heavy growth of beard that cast a gray shadow over his face. Then he combed his curly black hair over his bald spot, put on his jacket, and left.
    On Thursday ,when Mr. Dunay went out of town, Sally came to the office with a sack of lunch, an advertising textbook, and a bag of knitting. Two chapters of the textbook out of the way, she went to work on the Argyle socks she planned as a birthday gift for her almost-fiancé. The complicated pattern kept her eye off the door so she was surprised to hear an English voice, saying “Good morning.”
    The speaker was tall and lean, his face almost skeletal. Instead of a necktie, he wore an ascot. Sally had never seen an ascot or heard an English accent outside the movies. “I’m Sally Fine, Mr. Dunay’s Girl Friday. He’s not in today. And you are-- ?”
    “Dreadfully sorry. Bill O’Healy.”
    “You’re the head of Superflex Dry Mat. I put your mail on the desk.” Every piece had been marked Second or Last Notice.
    O’Healy eased into a chair opposite her own, glanced at the envelopes, and tossed them unopened into the trash. “Adverts,” he explained.
    “What’s a dry mat?”
    “A flong, what engravers use to make the mats you send to newspapers.” Sally nodded knowledgeably, but promised herself to look up mats and flongs in the advertising textbook. O’Healy turned toward her. “How long have you been with Jules?”
    “This is my fourth day. I just graduated from NYU.”
    “This is a good place to learn. Jules worked his way up. By the time he was twenty-five, he was basement advertising manager for Gimbel’s. Saw no future there so he started an agency. Pity.”
    Sally waited for more explanation, but none seemed forthcoming. “Why a pity?”
    “Not cut out for it. Perfect for retail, but can’t go back because he’s been away too long. Has three retail accounts, but the others are mostly local or pitifully small like that tatty excursion man. Can’t recall his name.”
    “Phil Taykin?”
    O’Healy nodded. “Dreadful fellow. Jules duns him constantly. And then there’s that miniscule nose clip business.” O’Healy drew a cigarette case out of his tweed jacket, slipped a cigarette into a holder, lighted up, and took a long drag. “His only account of any size is Eagle of Troy. Basically, Eagle creates its own ads, and Jules splits the fifteen per cent rebate from the magazines. So you see, Jules earns half the fifteen per cent on almost no work, and Eagle saves the other half.”
    “Doesn’t Eagle know this is a one-man agency?” Sally asked.
    “Afraid not. That’s why Jules rents the penthouse when Buddy makes one of his are visits. Jules usually treks over to Eagle.”
    “Can’t Mr. Dunay land national accounts?”
    O’Healy shook his head. “He gives it a go, dear girl, but he’s rather the wallflower, you know. Jules has no contacts, no ins, if you will.” He rummaged around his desk and unearthed a woman’s snakeskin purse. “Met the manufacturer when I was stationed in India. Would you care to buy one? A mere fiver.”
    Sally remembered her boss’s warnings about O’Healy. “I don’t carry much besides carfare.”
    O’Healy started to poke through the papers along the wall. “Jules wouldn’t have a drink around here?”
    Before Sally could stop him or utter a word, all three telephones rang at once, making a racket like a fire alarm. She picked up the closest, caroled “Jules Dunay Associates, hold please,” and raced to the next phone. “Fresh Day Shirt, hold please.”
    O’Healy straightened up from poking among the papers, but made no move to pick up the Superflex phone. Sally caught it on the fourth ring. The caller asked for O’Healy. “I’ll see if he’s in,” she said. O’Healy held his finger to his lips. “He just slipped out.” And he did.
    Sally took messages and returned to the Argyle socks. Art’s birthday fell in October. She missed that deadline because she was a slow knitter; she hoped she would finish them by Christmas. Argyles would be one of her main accomplishments here, that, and learning the advertising business.
    She had hardly finished a row when the door opened again, and two sixtyish men walked in. They both wore conservative gray suits, they both stood about five foot eight, they could have passed as twins.
    The brown-eyed man said, “I’m Mr. Searle.”     The blue- eyed man said, “I’m Mr. Harrison.” Together they said, pointing to Sally, “And you must be Mr. Dunay’s new girl.”
    Sally jumped up to say hello. “And you two are Fresh Day Shirt. I’m Sally Fine.”
    “Pleased to meet you, Miss Fine.” They hustled over to their desk while Sally resumed her knitting.
    As the weeks passed, Sally’s work took on such speed and accuracy that Mr. Dunay even trusted her to deliver page proofs to Buddy Adler. Later, she described him to Mr. Dunay as a blonde dreamboat. Her boss chuckled. “You have the dream part right. He’s married.” That was the closest he ever came to telling a joke. He hardly ever cracked a smile except when he was talking to Tony, a client, or a would-be client.
    From the pictures Mr. Dunay hung in Camarelli’s studio, Sally knew her boss was married and had two children, but he never discussed his personal life or hers. Her boss never found out she had an almost-fiancé who was going to be a famous photographer, and he never seemed any friendlier than a change agent in the subway.
    The more work Sally took over, the more time Mr. Dunay spent phoning potential clients. One day, when he was working the phone and Sally was tracing a layout, the door to the office opened. Neither of them looked up.
    The new arrival croaked, “Julie, what happened?”
    Sally glanced up from her tracing and stared in shock. It couldn’t be but it was.
    Buddy Adler stood before the open door, his tanned face astonished, his legs apart, his arms outstretched, his whole body registering total surprise.     Sally wheeled around. Mr. Dunay had risen from his desk. His face seemed to have turned a deeper gray than usual, his lips parted in an O of surprise.
    For a minute the three of them froze, caught in shock. After an instant, Mr. Dunay recovered himself and smiled. “Let me buy you a cup of coffee.” The two men left.
    Mr. Dunay never alluded to the incident afterward, and Eagle of Troy remained a client, but Sally now knew definitely what she already suspected: she would need to go elsewhere to move ahead. She started attending the Advertising Club’s weekly resume seminars where she learned how to magnify her accomplishments and minimize her inexperience.
    Christmas brought a five-dollar bonus from Mr. Dunay, a ten-dollar bill slipped inside a card from Fresh Day, and a snakeskin purse from Bill O’Healy. Sally gave Art the Argyle socks, shouting “Merry Christmas and Happy Belated Birthday!” He presented her with a diamond engagement ring.
    After he left, Mamma told the ceiling, “Even in Heaven, Marty, you’d need a microscope to find the stone.”
    A month later, a larger advertising agency with an art department, two account executives, and no subtenants hired Sally as copywriter-receptionist. She gave Mr. Dunay two weeks’ notice. He looked glum. “I don’t think you’ve learned enough to move on.”
    Sally felt otherwise. Three weeks later, her ideas helped the new agency land the account for a relatively new rat poison that worked quickly and left no blood, mess, or fuss. She became a full-fledged copywriter with a ten-dollar raise and her own office.
    She returned to thank her old boss for all he had taught her. Mr. Dunay sighed.
    “The assistant I hired isn’t as good as you, but he’s a man so I have to pay him five dollars more.” Sally was torn between anger at a man earning more for worse work and astonishment at Mr. Dunay’s complimenting her, even indirectly.
    Three years sped by. Then one day, while riding a Third Avenue bus during a downpour, Sally spotted a familiar figure trudging along a dreary street in East Harlem.    It was Mr. Dunay, now white at the sideburns, the collar of his overcoat turned up. Rain dripped from the brim of his gray fedora onto his face for he carried no umbrella, nothing but the hallmark of a gofer, an open cardboard box and in it, perhaps a dozen paper cups of coffee.

copyright 2017 Carol Schwalberg