Toasted in Chicago

Work History II

By 1964, I was living in an apartment in Chicago with the man I would soon marry, Christopher’s father, and working as a PR secy/asst. at Fine Hardwoods, down on Michigan Avenue.

I learned a lot on that job – honed my typing skills (learned in a summer class after graduating from high school) and learned how to prepare public relations announcements to be placed in the newspapers – not ads. We weren’t selling anything. We just promoted the use of “fine hardwood veneers.” I became acquainted with such exotics as zebra wood and sandalwood. All of this before office computers – well, if they had been thought of, nobody had one yet. I had an electric typewriter – not sure if my weapon of choice, the IBM Selectric, was even on the market yet.

Anyway, those should have been good years and they should have led to bigger and better things except for one little wrinkle.

My boss.

She was a bit of a martinet, but that was okay. A single woman (never been married) in her 40’s, I think. I was happy to follow her every instruction for a while. Until things got a little weird. No, she didn’t make a pass at me. I don’t think she ever thought of that. It seemed she wanted to adopt me. She scolded me about how I dressed and how I wore my hair. She invited me to her house for dinner. Was it only once? I don’t remember what we ate. But while we were there, she tried to give me a couple of outfits to wear. Something I think she thought more professional? Bottom line, she wanted to make another her out of me, a public relations pro who she could guide to success. The problem was, of course, I didn’t want to be her. I could be a professional caption writer/photo editor, but I could not meet and greet. I was terrible at that. She was disappointed and let me know it.

It was during this time that I decided to get married. Ron wanted to and I finally told him let’s do it now before I change my mind. Things got worse at the office. My boss was horrified that I was getting married. I guess she thought I was kissing my career goodbye. She might even have said that. I was also getting involved with the civil rights movement, to some extent, and talked about it with my co-workers, two of whom had become good office friends. My boss objected. “Negroes” will never be accepted in business, she told me, or words to that effect. I argued with her. Yeah, I know. Big mistake. But she brought it up at times to try to talk sense into me. I had to resist.

The end came one day when she called me into her office for some kind of dressing down – I don’t remember what – but whatever it was I had had enough. I went back to my desk and swept the piles of brochures I had carefully written and designed for some convention or other onto the floor. She ran into the Big Boss’s office screaming, “Fire her! Fire her!” And that was that.

Not long after this, I applied for a job as a copy editor at a products magazine – something I was by that time very well qualified for. But when they called my former employer, they were told I had not done anything except type and that I wasn’t very good at that. I was toast.