Monday, September 19, 2011

Price-fixing and (the) IRS

(Wiki Commons)

Now that I've got your attention, this isn't about the IRS we all know and loathe. It is, however, about a woman whose initials were IRS, and who was loathsome. She was a managing editor for a publishing house I worked for back in the dusty eons of recorded time...and I got her good. Indeed, it was one of my finest hours, and I'm going to crow about it a little. Since I paid for my fun with blood, sweat and tears, I figure I'm entitled.

“Men of the same trade seldom meet but that it ends in a conspiracy against the public.” -Adam Smith
I was reading a great column on Smirking Chimp just now in which the author, Joshua Holland, editor at Alternet, made the case that the "new right" is not a political ideology at all, but a religion, and a particularly hide-bound fundamentalist one at that. Included at the bottom of one of the comments to that column was the quote above. It put me in mind of my editorship of a little known, and totally crappy, publication called P.S. For Private Secretaries.

I wanted that job badly. I NEEDED that job badly. My husband and I had just moved from Athens, GA, to NYC with a scrimped thousand bucks to our name. We had just spent more than $600 of it getting a teeny little apartment on the Upper East Side, a pricey neighborhood but safe. Except for the woman killed on the block I lived on a week before we moved...but I didn't know that until I visited my new dentist, who told me while poking around my teeth and occasionally peeking at his car, parked on the West Side docks, to see if it was still there. This was NCY in the 70s, not yet Disneyized, but as god made it, warts and all. (The dentist's office was on the 52nd floor of the Empire State Buildling; I still miss going there. Plus he was a great dentist.)

So, anyway, I got the job. I had interviewed after a publishing specialist employment agency had shoehorned me in at the last minute.  I was given a "test" assignment to write. And I did it really, really badly. But I knew it. So I simply wrote another one and delivered it. My spunk and the quality of the second one clinched the deal. Whew!  We could eat!

Time passed, but not much time before I realized the publication was crap and the managing editor, initials IRS, certifiable. We didn't know about the Queen Bee syndrome then, but she could have been its poster girl. Some of us took to killing off her flowers while she was at lunch by pouring salt into the vase. We would knacker her desk chair by letting string twine around the rollers on the legs. She was really a fright, and truly deserved the pranks. But still, I decided, after less than six months, that I had had enough. I decided I could begin freelancing, as I knew ALL the ropes by then. (Stop laughing.) I did have good feedback from no less than Lewis Lapham...but never did get published by him.

I did, however, get my own back with IRS. On the back page of each issue was a cute little feature whereby we slightly messed up a few of ten sentences and the trick for the private secretary reading the issue was to find the bad grammar or spelling. Luckily, I had that task for my final issue. I shared editing that title with another editor, which left both of us so much free time that we wrote a porn novel that actually was purchased for publication by some sleazy book publisher. But we pulled it. She was a minister's daughter, and I was chicken.

In that final P.S. issue, one of my sentences read something like (who can remember exactly after almost 40 years?): "The CEOs of several major corporations met to discuss what the price structure of their products should be for the coming year." It was one of the un-screwed up sentences, so it flew by IRS's final edit.

Then the issue came out. My buddy, Pam, called me when it arrived. "You should have been here," she said, or something similar. "I thought IRS might literally fly, she was so wound up.  We had a great time at the editorial meeting. And when can we have lunch?"

I remained friends with Pam for years. She left that company, eventually, and went to a fashion/pattern publisher. She convinced her colleagues to hire me to write copy. As a result, I know more about Kenzo and Betsey Johnson than most freelancers alive, and moreover, I can write about them in very few characters, as copy was specified to fit ad layouts. I can also instruct people on inserting zippers. But it was a fun gig. The offices were freaking perfumed, very pleasant. The company was on lower Fifth Avenue, the edge of Greenwich Village, so there were lots of good places to have lunch.

Eventually, Pam and I lost touch. But not before we had gotten to know and appreciate each other quite well. Who knew she would knit? But also be able to climb a mountain? This seemed an odd combination to me back then, but I used it to create the first short story I ever sold.

Moral: Do what you have to do, up to and including zingers for horrific bosses who would be better off in Bellevue's psych ward than on the eighth floor of a publishing house in Manhattan. Oh, yes. About those CEOs. I was pretty much right, no?