Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Crazy to quit the LA Times: memoir 19

"You're crazy to quit the LA Times!" Worried family and friends said this over and over.
     "Why must you give up this prestige and good income?"
     "You'll be poor."
     But my co-workers rooted for me. "Go. Get out of the Velvet Coffin while you can." One confessed that she had started there in advertising, hoping to become a reporter, but the non-union Times paid so well she didn't dare quit her cushy position.
     I feared failing, but more so I feared getting too comfortable and never leaving. The paycheck and the ocean out my front door could lull me into becoming a Beach Bum, but I needed more of a challenge.
    Still no openings at the Telegram-Tribune, I decided to move to San Luis Obispo anyway. I had friends there. Maybe in the meantime I could enroll at Cal Poly and work on my elusive degree.
     So in the early spring of 1980 I emptied my savings account, loaded my little station wagon and headed up the coast.
     The very afternoon I arrived, I visited the paper and introduced myself to Managing Editor John Marrs. Over the coming months I kept checking in with him while continuing to write reviews for The Times. Art Seidenbaum sent books along with greetings from our sportswriter and reviewer friends, including Alan Cheuse. To this day I'm happy to hear Alan's voice on NPR reviewing new releases for All Things Considered.
     While waiting, I applied for jobs in the classifieds that didn't require a college diploma. I lasted three days at a nursing home, not because of the bedpan chore, but seeing elderly people with no family made me sad. I trained at Happy Burger, wearing a blond hairnet with sensible black shoes, learning to stock the salad bar and wipe tables. When an accountant named Ed called and asked if I could start the next day, I practically screamed Yes! I ditched the hairnet and hid those clunkers in the back of my closet.
     All summer I worked in Ed's CPA office while he and his assistant Amy carried on a torrid affair. My main job was to field calls from his suspicious wife. When the duo disappeared behind a locked door and the walls thumped, my instructions were: "I'm sorry, but he's in a meeting. May I take a message?" One day Ed and Amy went to lunch and didn't return all afternoon.  That day his wife kept calling the office and finally asked if "they" were together.
    After six months of this, I was tired of lying for them.  "Yes," I answered.
    "I knew it!" she screamed and slammed down the phone.
    Then finally, FINALLY, the Telegram-Tribune offered me a job.

From BLUE SKIES: ONE AUTHOR'S JOURNEY, to be published this Fall.

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