"Sola fide" (by faith alone)
Just a month or so after moving into the Edison Street Cape Cod in the
Ballston area of North Arlington, we hired Bob's cousin-in-law Tommy to remodel what had been a small narrow kitchen, back bedroom and front dining room. Amidst much drywall dust and hammering over the next few months, those turned into a large kitchen to the rear, its exterior door leading to the flat back yard and shed, with modern appliances and spacious counters, cabinets, a few with lazy-susans built in, dishwasher, recessed refrigerator, double sink with garbage disposal, and broom closet, and an equally good-sized front dining room with inset shelving in the middle of either side for displaying china and crystal and an overhead hanging and modern chandelier from the center of the ceiling over a heavy round, highly polished oak wood table and chairs Bob's mother had handed down to us on arriving there. Both rooms retained their hardwood floors. Tommy is an excellent and multiply-skilled artisan who completed his work on weekends while not at his regular job and occasionally on Sunday mornings while we and friends were lounged out in the living room after late-night partying. The result of his labor, and some creative suggestions in design, was comfortable, efficient and pleasant. I believe we paid him $900 total plus the cost of materials, and he once brought his immediate family over to admire his work also. His wife, Kay, is an attractive and buxom blonde with an excellent sense of humor and storytelling abilities. My favorite of those concerned one part-time job as a crossing guard for children near a local school. As she held out her arms wide to stop their walking for traffic to go by, her underpants began to slither slowly and inexorably down her legs from underneath her skirt. With a choice between the importance of her responsibilities in that paid position and her dignity in public with strangers, she chose to let them fall to the street. Cheers, she said, came from passing drivers along with honks and waves and friendly yells. She scooped to pick them up when possible and appropriate and stuffed them inside her purse to complete her duties before the ride home a little later on.
The parents of my first stepfather, Dino, immigrated to Boston suburbs from Italy, and his mother never spoke English. It was rumored that she had learned it but was too embarassed by her accent to use it with any but her closest of relatives in private. Dino spoke classic and dialect Italian and could mimic, humorously, just about any accent in English. He was very, sometimes lethally, witty and a socialist totally opposed to the Vatican and Catholic Church, which he believed fooled poor people into paying for lavish elegances through various unnecessary and meaningless services and tithes. He was an excellent cook, particularly of his native dishes, and very scoffing of shabby immitations. His pasta sauce of multiple, carefully chosen, fresh and authentic ingredients simmered all day in a large pot, and pasta itself was acceptable only "al dente" ("to the teeth," chewy). Chef Boyardee drove him verbally berzerk. He was good with salads, too, and knew personally the best chefs and restaurant owners, particularly in Boston's North End. He was bitingly funny telling stories about sex, and the quirks of various ethnicities. Sometimes my mother would play the piano while we three, or four if my husband was in attendance, sang ethnic songs. I could translate the written words because, of all the Romance Languages, Italian is closest to Latin, but couldn't understand or speak them verbally.
After my mother divorced him, we remained friends, On a visit to Washington DC, he stayed in an excellent old hotel where he knew the concierge. As a result, we were treated very specially when we joined him for dinner in their lovely historic dining room. He also stayed friends with my grandmother and, having great taste in clothes, later helped her choose some of her wardrobe after moving south to Fort Lauderdale, where she was living at the time, as well as taking her out to good restaurants and visiting her oceanside apartment. Dino was short, swarthy, round, bald with a long nose and kind of sunken eyes, but his personality, including self-deprecating jokes, and lively humanity more than made up for his nearly-grotesque looks. And he prided himself on having the best well-fitted suits and casual wear, as well as his manicured cleanliness.
As I was growing up, my grandparents "wintered" each year in Miami, then Fort Lauderdale, for two or three months, staying in various hotels and motels along A1A by the Atlantic Ocean. My mother and I, or sometimes just myself, would fly down once to visit them each year, so I became used to and comfortable with airplanes at a very early age. Back then, coach seats were spacious with just two on each side of the aisle, hot meals were elegant and, along with two cocktails (not that I was old enough for them) and hors d'oevres, free. Stewardesses were just that, female, in blue skirts, white blouses, and wearing high heels and performed as waitresses as much as anything. There were, of course, no in-flight movies or television, and travelers read, talked and/or slept instead.
Years later, the large picture window of my spacious office for awhile on the third floor of a Roslyn building looked out over the taller Washington monuments, the Potomac River and two of its bridges as well as a small island. When an airplane from Florida crashed into the 14th Street Bridge, visible from my desk chair, and all but two of its passengers drowned, I was traveling pretty much weekly around the country by air to install original and upgrade software for clients, solve run-time problems, and teach classes or tutor individuals, mostly for DEC mini-computers. Along with others performing similar functions countrywide, we developed and shared a kind of gallows humor about flying, as crashes become more salient amongst frequent travelers. We figured the odds diminished the more often we got up there. The joys of driving strange cars on strange roads in strange cities (rental vehicles on superhighways in unfamiliar metropolises) also cannot be understated.
Once, flying back from a family visit in Fort Lauderdale, having worked in Naples on the Gulf Coast and driven a rental car across Alligator Alley to the widest thoroughfare I'd yet encountered from Miami north, I sat next to a young woman who had never flown before and was holding a small baby on her lap. As the plane swerved out over the Atlantic, it suddenly dropped around five hundred feet. We all caught our breaths and rearranged ourselves and our trays and belongings, as she become somewhat hysterical while clutching the baby closely to her breast. I assured her that I'd flown a lot by plane and everything was perfectly all right, that she shouldn't worry. The pilot's voice came over the intercom also sounding reassuring and eventually she relaxed somewhat. As the airplane struggled to regain its height and stay aloft, groaningly, I repeated Hail Mary's, my refuge over the years in times of extreme peril, silently, along with prayers that we would make it to Atlanta. When we arrived in that Delta hub, the airplane was ditched and those of us continuing on up north boarded another one for the next leg of the trip.
I was taught database programming, and many other things, by a man named Mike, a few years younger than me with a B.S. in Mathematics and M.B.A. from M.I.T., who devoted great energies and expertise to those enterprises. In my experience over the years, and that of some others, if you've ever been loved by a Jew, you're spoiled forever. It's very complete and all-encompassing. You're given the absolute best of everything -- all the tasteful luxury money can buy (hence the term Jewish American Princess), egalitarian opportunity and education without measure, trust and latitudinous forgiveness, steadfast friendship. In return, you just have to be the best in every way with all of your mind, body, soul, spirit and heart devoted to and involved in that, thereby becoming worthy of elevation, worship, and sacrifice.
One of my mother's two best friends since her move to southern Florida around 1972 was a woman named Belle, who'd been a Manhattan Rockefeller Center Rockette and married to a very successful precious jewel thief there, from whom she'd kept remembrances. When we met her, she was the wife of "the garbage king" of New Jersey and wore a many-karated small, gold garbage truck on a chain around her neck. In compliance with her obligations as a "trophy wife" to her much older Italian out-of-state husband, she had breast implants, tummy tucks, derriere rearrangements and Swedish injections of sheep hormones for skin rejuvenation. In return, her husband provided a very spacious and furnished two-story oceanfront Fort Lauderdale house with pool and atrium, the latest and suavest special-ordered and imported convertible Lamborgini, exhorbitantly-priced ballroom dancing lessons and related intra-country travel for herself and her partner, clothes, more jewelry, an allowance and a miniature French poodle she named "Je t'aime."
In her super-high heels, tight and low and high designer dresses, and coiffed bleached-blonde hair she literally stopped traffic when walking from a parking space to an exclusive shoppe or elegant restaurant. Once her husband even bought her a Gulf-side dance studio, but it failed financially as many do. When the subject of sex came up one time, she commented that she couldn't and wouldn't remember how to. Her sole wifely duty was to stand way out in a crowd, and she did it well. She also had one daughter from a previous liaison with whom she was somewhat close who lived in Manhattan and was a lesbian. Although Belle received extensive and intensive lessons and training, her public dance performances in handmade sequined and silked costumes of extravagant design were stilted and self-conscious. She had a good and witty sense of humor about things and interesting stories to tell.
My mother's second husband, being a Boston metro first generation Italian, also had loose mob connections amongst friends and acquaintances on whom he called for help, received, from time to time. There was also a very heavy Irish presence in that area, and they had a syndicate too. Gangs and mobs were a muttering, murmuring underground there and in many other places I've lived since adulthood, infiltrating commerce, politics and society in various subtle and subversive ways, a background noise that becomes accepted and commonplace unless something like Robert F. Kennedy's dogged pursuit of Mafia kingpins, mostly through informants and FBI infiltration and particularly in New England, spotlights existences and structurings. With strong interconnective bonds and legendary vicious vengeance against defectors, it's an institutional presence you don't want to mess with in any way. I learned that very early on by rumor, warning and osmosis. And so did my mother, I'm sure -- another "trophy wife" whose husband paid for everything so all she earned from her employment was hers alone to keep. In return, she dressed smartly and looked classically beautiful with her bleached-blonde and coiffed hair driving the demurely elegant vehicle her husband provided regularly and accompanying him with appealing artifice to friend and family affairs.
An important part of her employment without much real work required as secretary and administrative assistant to Honeywell's Senior Vice President was also to appear very attractive, particularly in entertaining his business clients and associates from around the world. It wasn't at all unusual and seldom remarked in those times for enticingly pleasant appearance to be a prerequisite for secretarial or clerk or administrative appointment, generally the highest level of work available for females. The criterion wasn't even questioned, just accepted as a "cost of doing business" in diets, makeup, girdles, and high heels. My "sexy voice" and long legs, particularly, tended to make me a first choice by criteria prevalent then amongst men who were always the ones in charge and hiring. Subtle to dramatic changes in laws, perceptions and attitudes have generally altered the landscape for women now who are more often seen for intrinsic qualities and capabilities than meaningless superficialities, and that is certainly a very warm and welcome difference over the years, about forty as I look back on that evolution in understanding and values. I remember now with amusement my diligent efforts at restructuring personal vocal pronouncements in volume, key and declination, as well as acquisition for awhile of man-tailored suits and sturdy, serviceable shoes to be seriously successful in management, most particularly with the ultimate business weapon, my large leather briefcase hanging down saliently from one shoulder as I marched to the beat of careerism for emerging women in the mid-to-late 20th century.
For a seven-day fall vacation, Gail Sorgen, my AMS supervisor at the time and a close personal friend, and I planned a Manhattan visit with our spouses, Peter and Bob, using a book I found called New York City on $10 a Day. She later joked it was more like "Manhattan on a hundred dollars a day, and counting." We drove together to our comfortably furnished rental -- a two-bedroom suite with large living room, modified efficiency kitchen and dining area -- in the historic and atmospheric Gramercy Park Hotel opposite its block-size gated and gardened pathways. It's within walking distance of quite a few interestingly ethnic smaller restaurants, the Villages East and West, and mid-town's might and madness. Despite plans otherwise, we ended up in several of the latter's upscale restaurants and nightspots in addition to Broadway attendance at performance of the musical "A Chorus Line" with cocktails in those tavern environs too.
One day, we split so Gail and I could browze and shop Fifth and Madison Avenue shops while the men went their separate ways with a few tasks neither completely successfully. Chief legislative aide and office supervisor to Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, Peter later landed a Manhattan position of higher political clout with the United Nations, I believe. He loved the nightlife much more than Gail who tended to fade around 10 or 11 p.m. Her undergraduate degree in Sociology had led by somewhat usual circuity to programming and then design and management positions. Later, during another internal AMS upheaval, she left that company to start her own successful small tech business near her home opposite the Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis Maryland, where we also spent a fair amount of time with and without spouses exploring extraordinary gourmet restaurants and lengthily intimate conversations. The youngest of two daughters of a physician and his wife, her divorced mother was, we agreed, the embarassingly real characterization of a Jewish mother, loud, garish ... and alcoholic.
Gail, Peter, Bob and I spent the winter paying down our American Express cards from the "Manhattan for a Million" vacation, which included an afternoon gliding and zooming up one of the new Wall Street World Trade Center towers to the floor featuring sushi in its best restaurant and its glassed-in observation room. I stayed toward the middle of it but the others were less timid. We also rose with less speed up the venerable Empire State Building and fit in mid-city cocktails at The Plaza, drinks in its bar, and a horse-drawn carriage ride around and through Central Park to Tavern-On-The-Green restaurant/patio. Of course, we checked out Rockefeller Center with its artistic plaza and skating rink. I believe we saw the Rockettes on stage, too, and had dinner one evening in a famed Italian Village East restaurant featuring waiters and waitresses breaking frequently into operatic arias solo and chorus. Having put herself through college partly by waitressing, Gail always insisted we leave twenty percent tips everywhere, which added somewhat to the overall eye-popping cost of out-of-control enjoyment and bliss there.
Loving, attractive, shapely and carefully courtured, Gail has a large reddish scar to the side of her long neck, resultant from neighboring children throwing acid at her during grade school, which she never attempts to cover or hide, a lifelong badge of surviving and surmounting anti-semitism perhaps. We have a lot to learn of true character and devotion from ethnic American minorities -- Jews, Africans and others -- of real faith and strength amidst longstanding adversity and stereotypical detractions as well as historic heights of culture and power. Many were conquered in their settlements of civilization by greater armies of outside invaders and dispersed globally to inter-mingle and sometimes inter-marry with others of differing heritage and religion while maintaining in varying degrees through harshness and hardship the profundities intrinsic to their distinct being. Some native Americans have traveled also a similar path of near annhilation to resuscitation of their uniqueness in wholesome and sharing ways.
Once while visiting for a vacation week in their urban brownstone my sister-in-law, Ruthie, who had earned an MSW and worked as an aide for an Adlai Stevenson campaign, and her husband with a masters in Political Science, Bob and I traveled into Chicago suburbs with them to stay with her brother-in-law and his wife. He was a commodities trader and they lived in a brand new development of pleasant, comfortable, well-designed houses because, she said, she "couldn't stand other people's dirt." The house was very ordered and immaculate, as was she generally. We went with him next day to the dizzying cacaphony of the Iron City's Commodities Exchange as he explained as well as he could its world of "futures" and the forces at play in determining prices extant and prognosticated. The floor of New York's Wall Street Stock Exchange is fairly similar in loud and hectic bargaining, pleading and promise on any given day. Ruthie is the only woman I've ever known to have two formal and fancy weddings, the last even more sumptuous than the first as it included a "sit-down dinner" with band and dancing in a very large, well-decorated and historic auditorium, all expected by the family and friends of her new husband's ethnicity and their traditions.
For a few years, Bob and I had season tickets to the usually off-beat plays at D.C.'s Arena Stage, but we also enjoyed the old Folger Theatre with its more traditional and formal offerings, along with the much larger, centrally located Warner Theatre most particularly for musical productions. One of our favorite restaurants for special occasions with friends was L'Auberge Chez Francois in magnificent Great Falls. In the city we particularly loved the historic Old Ebbit Grill, established there in 1856 across from the White House, with its cozy and comfortable wooded two-story interior, cheery service and mouth-watering preparations. Amidst our close-in suburb we hung out off and on at sports bars and a very elegant Roslyn French restaurant by the river on special occasions, along with trips to historic old Alexandria for drop-in dining and window-shopping. Also for a few years, we attended Redskins home games with season tickets that Bob's father had had and been inherited by his oldest son of the same name, who lived in the New Jersey suburbs of Manhattan but gave his share of them to friends visiting D.C. off and on. Of course, the enthusiastic crowds hustling through hallways and ramps and cheering and groaning through all the plays created a fun atmosphere, but Bob said in terms of the game itself, he actually preferred watching it on television at home with close-up shots and instant replays. Our seats were around the ten-yard line I believe. We attended a few professional basketball games also, that being a sport along with track that Bob had participated in during high school and college and that I had in junior high so I understood the rules and specific moves and positions with some appreciation. Football was less clear to me technically, although I certainly understood touchdowns and who won at the end, along with admiring a few special quarterbacks particularly for their spectacular throwing capabilities. Two AMS co-workers, a couple who met there and later married, held an annual and very popular Kentucky Derby party in their spacious modern suburban home where we cheered and toasted jockeys and horses on for the relatively swift passing annual event, preceded and followed by much analysis, interviews and surveying of possibilities and results.
Some weekends we drove into D.C. to shop at the wharf where sea vessels pulled alongside with their fresh catches of conch and squid most particularly, along with more standard fish fare, while farmers sold their vegetables from stalls and tables amidst the alluring scents, vendor calls, and enlivened shoppers examining one and then another of natural bounties piled and spread-out for enticement and sale. We bought also hard-shell and soft-shell crabs, oysters and clams there and at the Annapolis MD wharf for home-fixing. Natives like Bob of that area are extraordinarily fond of the proper formalities attendant upon enjoying hard-shell crabs correctly cooked and eaten in the mess of old newspapers to catch drippings and discarded shells. I learned over time to do both acceptably well and enjoy the experience. The soft-shell variety takes a little getting used to, but for someone familiar with raw quohogs and steamed long-neck clams, it isn't too far a stretch in gastronomic succulence. The crunch of soft bones between one's teeth becomes worth the sweet that follows. A few times we meandered along parts of the old canal that runs along the river by Georgetown, another favorite dining and drinking locus fairly close to our home. We visited Arlington Cemetery with its seemingly endless rows, the flame of John F. Kennedy Jr. still burning, memorials again of Lincoln and Jefferson, walked through halls of Congress with their statues and paintings and underground conveyance, and viewed cherry trees in delicate bloom around their lake, if we were lucky enough to catch them during that relatively brief season. Of the many Smithsonian buildings, our favorites to roam with fascination and sometimes awe were the Natural and American History, Air and Space, and Modern Art Museums, the latter of which also has an excellent modern restaurant. On occasional clear and warm afternoons, we packed a picnic lunch to eat on the lawn park and watch small ships go by on the river, mostly sloops and motor boats, along with enjoying the talk and costumes of neighbors there, while we drank and dined in fresh air and uncrowded space.
New Year's Eve was another festive occasion that needed to be celebrated publically and Bob found a variety of venues for that. My favorite was a Greek restaurant in Richmond that served wonderful, freshly prepared stuffed grape leaves and spanikopita, with a band for dancing starting up later in the evening. One year in Arlington he, and concommitently I, hosted a well-populated party of hors d'oevres and drinks at our home with music of course from the stereo, old and new LPs from Earth, Wind and Fire onward, and lotsa talking and dancing from room to room. There were parties in the homes of friends also and other restaurants to be feted and fed fairly exorbitant amounts of money for the privilege of drinking, dining and dancing out as the very next first of January and year rolled in to funny, colored hats bobbing and noise-makers, natural and manmade. Birthdays were also quite important to commemorate, but New Year's Eve and day, with its absolutely mandatory hangover and breakfast of Bloody Marys or orange juice and vodka, was the most unavoidably discussed and designed for maximum effect and memory.
Although we did much less work personally on that house, I took occasional vacation days to relax there and for home care like painting the back bedroom a pale peach, making curtains for the upstairs one, constructing a secure plank and cover for the bottom of an antique wood love seat given us by my mother-in-law, and a lampshade for another family antique. For the last few years, we had a weekly housekeeper who attended nearly all the everyday chores including vacuuming and even dishwashing as well as clothing care because of the time and energy demands of our full-time professional employments, particularly mine which frequently summed to 60 hours or so for which comp time was earned and saved. A local teenager mowed the lawn and occasionally trimmed the few landscape shrubs in front. At a neighbor's insistence we had the large limb of an overhanging tree cut off for what seemed to me an extraordinary cost, and we also hired labor to scrape and repaint all the white window and door trims. The exterior walls were a pale aqua asbestos shingle, which doesn't sound exactly healthy but it is durable and sturdy. At some point, I had a fixer-up neighbor install small Tiffany wall lamps on either side of the mantle over our efficient little brick fireplace. The only bath was downstairs of original black and white tiles in good condition. The staircase to the second floor has a door for closing off that story completely. There were a few flowering bushes in the back along the fence line but no flower or vegetable gardens. My next-door neighbors from upstate New York had a small one that produced abundantly for its size and they shared some of their produce occasionally as well as canning it and using it fresh.
In that area, it was possible to have the New York Times home-delivered, so I ordered that for every Sunday and during weekdays we received the Washington Post, both of which we read every morning in bed with the television tuned to one of the early morning news shows in the background. In the evenings, we mostly watched PBS programs after dinner, which we ate out most often both being exhausted from the workday, and then collapsed into sleep in an upstairs room large enough to accommodate both a king-sized bed and a lounge area with two sofa-type chairs and a table. The adjoining room held chests of drawers only and had an odd flooring of something like very very hard and thick linoleum. The rest of the house had wood floors, which we had refinished, and the basement had linoleum in the front finished area, while the back with the furnace and freezer was concrete. The organizations I supported financially then were Amnesty International, ACLU, UNICEF, always the Salvation Army, Disabled Veterans, and the National Organization for Women (NOW). We had an excellent stereo system and listened also to long-playing records, most particularly gathered from the 60s and early 70s, but also some newer ones. I'd bought a used upright piano that had some difficulty staying in tune from an AMS co-worker early on and placed it on the inside wall of the living room. Especially after Bob moved out much later, I had time to play it at leisure for both interest and psychic soothing, mostly classical but also some folk and pop for my own amusement. Of course, skills deteriorate with disuse so that one has waxed and waned throughout my lifetime variously, but I've always enjoyed it when available for my own pleasure, and occasionally in concert with friends, rather than for performance.
Micro-management wasn't a concept with AMS. Employees were hired and promoted to work autonomously in completing assigned and well-explained projects from small to seemingly overwhelming with assistance and advice given as requested and if available. For mega-tasks, the drill was to divide the project into logical, concrete, chronological steps and complete them in order, concentrating on one at a time rather than attempting to embrace the whole monster at once, except in extracting initial construction outline.
Overall design steps. Determine individual sequential programs needed within each step. Load test data. Code each program and test. Code run-time files to link sequences and solicit user directives as to which process they needed next, if negotiable. Test whole step together against data and reports produced. Repeat until system is complete. Test whole project by entering data as a user would with computer screens designed and created and run reports. Check accuracy of data and clarity of forms produced. Document system by explaining the purpose of it and how users will input data, produce reports, and what to do in correction if any step or program fails for any reason, including hardware or electrical failure, to recover and restart with reliably accurate information stored. Create clear flow charts and add to documentation. Get typed and printed after system is viewed and approved by supervisor. Copy system files to storage media. Transport that and documentation to client site and set a date for live startup there. Introduce and explain how system must be used to work correctly. Teach users how to read and use resource information, load live data, and assist them while they do that.
The start-up date arrives, along with more user and technical help. "There you go! You're on-line. Welcome to the real computer world where the unexpected happens all the time! Throw away those multiple handwrittens forms and don't forget to back up your data regularly in updated part and then later in whole.... You didn't get your paycheck this week? [inner groan] We'll fix you right up. Just take a seat and get comfortable. Here's a book for you to read meanwhile. I'll be right back [in ... fifty years or so].... Here you go! No problem. Have a nice ... rest of your life. So long. I'm back on the road."
Recommended by my boss, Zipora, an Israeli raised on a kibbutz, I was called one day into the top floor office of our company president with questions and instructions on a new assignment. For two or three months I worked, first as a "trouble shooter" on a very lucrative for the company, hourly-plus-expenses contract and later as project manager, on an accounting installation in Cleveland Heights OH that was experiencing difficulties in making payroll, assigning credits and debits, and producing necessary timely and accurate reports. While I was there, the lead accountant had a nervous breakdown requiring hospitalization, and I ended up dating the Sys Op (System Operator) of that government site. He was 20 years younger than me and had established his own business as a private contractor instead of finishing college. On one occasion, he took me out into the countryside to his family's farm of hills and fields. Following a disagreement, in anger I got on his dirt bike, having no idea how to operate one, and rode off toward the hills. It was quite an experience briefly, sort of like riding a motorcycle through the galaxy before it wrecked me, kind of threw me like an unbroken horse. It didn't hurt me, but snow boarding with him somewhat later cracked five of my ribs when that contraption also dumped me on the ground. As I lay sprawled out in slightly stuporous pain, he kept exhorting me to "Get up! Get up!" when all I really wanted to do was lie there, maybe die somewhat gracefully. But I did eventually, bought elastic wrap to wind around my ribs and a strong-smelling pain-relieving salve to rub into my skin. Back in the DC area, they healed in a few weeks without medical intervention.
On another occasion, I was sent to a site to run and maintain night programs. I would leave my hotel every evening around 8 p.m. and arrive back near 4 a.m. Because of the hours I kept and my accoutrements -- we nearly all wore tight-fitting designer jeans, very high heels, feminine tops, makeup and jewelry -- clerks in the lobby thought I was a "woman of the evening." It struck me funny after run-time tensions, so I never disabused them of their misapprehension regarding the nature of my work, just ordered my large orange juice, mixed it with vodka kept in my room, and relaxed with a grin before going to sleep for the day again. Some of us who did site installations and user orientation put a large colorful poster on our office walls of huge crowds gathered outside an office window screaming, "GET OUT OF TOWN!!!" Techs bearing revolutionary change in knowledge and behaviors were not always the most popular people around and being considered a hooker by the hotel clerks was probably a step up in their minds from being known as a Sys Op and programmer.
In the basement of Roslyn's AMS building was a large "clean" room full of dedicated IBM mainframes and DEC (Digital Equipment Company) mini-computers with a few printers -- then holding stacks of large paper perforated along each side with holes for aligning and fastening. Originally we used punch cards and switched fairly soon to text editors for entering code and data. The one I used was somewhat esoteric and cryptic, taught to me by Mike and held in uncomprehending awe by most other programmers. It was very quick and efficient once mastered and could turn a day's task into a matter of minutes or half-hour, which helped me of course to complete different tasks with some mysterious admirability. The language's abbreviated commands allowed changing, for instance, every "X" to a "Z" within a document by entry of something like, and this is not at all accurate, "aZX," making all other editors seem extraordinarily cumbersome, clunky and unwieldy. On all client mini-computers, I had to compile it for use from source code that, surprisingly to me, always appeared installed as a service of the DEC vendor. On mainframes, I was consigned to the more common and traditional editors like EDI with which I was barely, and uncomfortably familiar, having to make frequent reference to their user documentation manuals.
Treated as "beloved" or a j.a.p., depending on how you looked at it, my immediate employers went out of their ways in unusual dimensions. Once early on, I pouted because a young African American woman just graduated summa cum laude from Harvard was given a window office upon her hiring, while I still had an inside one. They proceeded to kick her out of her office and switch us around. Which was embarassing and wasn't what I meant for them to do at all. In Chicago, since I finally agreed to travel out of town, they kicked a(n irate) male Ivy League CPA ("top dog" there) out of his beautiful Lake Shore Drive apartment so I could have it instead. It was never transferred formally out of his name, which caused a problem one time when I left my pocketbook accidentally in a taxicab, thereby losing my keys, among many other necessary things, and had to convince building personnel, with help from company employees, that I really belonged there. Gail Sorgen, an early boss and close partying and empathizing friend, gave me a tee shirt imprinted with "It's lonely in the middle" and xeroxed cartoons of a large machine with outstretched arms captioned underneath "Pull lever for hug" were posted on different office hallway walls. While doing long distance client support by logging into their computers and accessing their files, I forgot one evening to disconnect the telephone line until I discovered it somewhat late the next morning, thereby incurring a cost to the company way up in the hundreds of dollars. Called into my boss's office for an explanation, I apologized and expected to have my pay docked, but she just nodded, said something like, "I see," and that was all I ever heard about it, thankfully. When I was sent to Boston MA, put up in absolutely the best old and venerated hotel with a very large room and service that included real silver and linens, my bosses said to stay there an extra few days if I wanted to at their expense, since that was my original home town and they thought I might want that. But I didn't. I wanted to go back and travel to my A-frame out in the country and relax.
My boss had put me into a lovely large office with a great view of famous DC constructions, but when our group was elevated within the company, we were all transferred many stories up to different offices and I acquired one smaller and looking out only over the windows of other office buildings, which I found depressing. Fortunately, I traveled a lot and worked at home sometimes, too. All of this extravagance has to be put against what I did for a living, which was very high tension in every way, including dealing with all the different egos/people from initiate users to MBAs, CPAs and Assembler programmers (almost all of whom had major chips on their shoulders and never did anything wrong, which made discerning the origin and correction of bugs [mistakes] wearing and hazardous sometimes) productively and constructively and with what was and went wrong with the systems as they became "live." The first one I supported, very sophistocated and byzantine in design and code, didn't even have documentation. None. You just either knew it, or you didn't, called someone hoping to find an answer, and/or sunk or swum.
In the female-dominant area of Metro DC, women workers that I knew stuck together, stood up for and helped each other generally, and were friends frequently outside of work space. Two of my co-workers, pretty young women, were lesbian roommates and one in particular became a good friend. During lunch one day at a local restaurant, she explained that she had been born with an attraction to her own gender and had never been interested in boys or men, despite social pressures in her teen years particularly to conform to the norm. She described her discomfort and somewhat anguished at first acceptance of the reality of her being and what it might entail. Over the ensuing years, she became active in the gay rights movement, participated in marches and legislative lobbying to modify or abrogate laws discriminating against homosexuals. The company was very accommodating to diversity. Their secretary in the main lobby on the first floor at the front desk was a young man who wore makeup, frilly blouses, and enjoyed flaunting his affectionate taste for colorful female clothes. My friend invited me to several gay parties which I declined with some regret due to employment activities and marital obligations. Usually, she blew me kisses while passing my office door, and in a tiff with her boss once ended up saying to her, "I'm over you."
Once in the company office building, I said "hello" to a co-worker in our group who was standing behind me, and he expressed astonishment that I knew who it was without turning my head, but chameleons have an eye, which discerns light and dark, in the back of theirs and thereby perceive shapes.
My best friend at the time was a single co-worker with higher programming and management positions than me, a bachelor's degree in Mathematics (instead of Economics, her first choice), and an MBA from a university in Washington State. Attractive, fun and funny, she loved a good time, a party, and particularly enjoyed getting just-encountered men to pay for our dining and drinking excursions around town. She had an excellent salary, but was the financial type that just might squeeze a nickel so hard it begged and screamed for mercy and release. From a prominent and well-to-do Maryland Eastern Shore family, she'd adopted an alternative lifestyle after her one and only fairly brief college-era marriage. Thereafter, the man who became the love of her life lived with her off and on for years until he was finally killed driving drunk alone from a Pennsylvania bar in the very early hours of one morning. My friend and I frequented mostly Roslyn and Georgetown upscale hangouts, but also attended ballets, plays and museums together, as well as staying overnight in each other's homes fairly often. When my second husband moved out, she slept in my house for a few nights and made sure I ate and laughed during the initial disorientation of it all.
One memorable evening when we were both single and in a very elegant DC lounge, she convinced, teasingly, a youngish suited man that, if he played his cards right, he might have a great time with both of us. I always watched her operate in contained bemusement and with a slight prayer that we'd get out from whatever scenario she was setting up and selling unbruised and alive. That particular evening, after paying for everything of course, the guy followed us back to my house and she promptly disappeared into the guest bedroom, shutting the door resolutely behind her. Left with an angry, frustrated, confused and red-faced un-gentleman in my living room, I finally convinced him somehow to depart without causing any damage or notifying the vice squad. As we nursed our hangovers the next morning with tomato juice, vodka and celery stalks (Bloody Mary cocktails, which are excellent for emergency vitamin infusions), I gave my best friend a little talking-to about what we might in the future do and not do in the interest of our mutual well-being and that also of our property. Another good friend noted later that, considering some escapades encountered more or less accidentally, it's something of a miracle that I've arrived in my seventh decade generally unburnt, unbeaten, unscarred and live. But I'm a sweet-talker generally, and a soother and healer, on a good day anyway. All that's gotten me out of a lot of close scapes here and there over the years and cross-country. I even later survived loo-rey and the shenadoa, but just barely. Manhattan was a piece of cake compared to them, really.
As AMS expanded from a small company privately-owned by five Jewish ex-officials of the Kennedy-Johnson administrations to a publicly-owned international corporation, it was frequently cited as an outstanding and examplary employer by business magazines, organizations, and those involved in objective measurements. AMS hired based upon skills, personality and character, experience, and possibilities for career growth which was encouraged through techniques like training, team management, and extensive annual reviews, which were both written and interpersonal, of past flaws and successes and suggested, expected paths for new learning and individual responsibility. Competition between co-workers was discouraged through a group structure of shared work, goals, and frequent, somewhat informal meetings where original insight and thought were solicited. Professional hours were flexible around scheduled events and assignments. Pleasantly accessible and responsible day care was provided in-house for workers with babies and small children.
The company followed willingly and wholeheartedly federal affirmative action directives from which it benefitted in lively diversity and humane tolerance of difference in every area from gender/sexual preference to ethnicity and background. From high schoolers to Ivy League super-grads of Harvard, M.I.T. and Yale, all workers were noted and rewarded for congeniality and cooperation toward common purpose. The consequences were challenge, innovation, and good humor at situations which sometimes arose. As an example of that were creatively funny memo correspondences between those involved, a majority, in user support on the quixotic quest for actuality and acceptance of functionally operational programs. Those exercises helped to relieve pressures and tensions and guarantee a usually successful realization of working systems. In terms of innovative products, an example is an interaction between myself and Ginny, a favorite co-working programmer/manager and support technician. Sharing many original jokes together and socially between ourselves, she made several incisively witty comments about the occasional disarray of our methods for knowing and communicating answers to tech conundrums related to live client programs. During a lull in assignments, therefore, I eventually designed at home and coded up at work an easily accessible system that tracked customer complaints and discovered solutions, giving it ultimately to my somewhat surprised supervisor. It was a hit with support personnel and users, whose concerns were addressed by its structure and data storage, and they ended up paying for its services, as AMS learned of its popularity. There are examples of other workers contributing similarly; that just happens to be one of mine. The point is that company attitudes of latitudinously trusting employees and encouraging/rewarding productivity benefitted it, too, over and over again, contributing to its healthy and constructive growth as well.
Raises were based on performance in customer service and satisfaction and were adjusted for inflation so the net increase was real. At a certain level of management, supervisors were allowed a three-month paid sabbatical at a time of their choosing, in addition to generous vacation and sick leave, insurance benefits, and time-off compensation for overtime hours for all professional employees. Salaried workers were well-treated in benefit packages also, although the perks were more strictured, and welcomed into professional ranking if they'd earned and deserved it through upwardly mobile productivity and learning. Unpaid leaves of absence for a variety of personal reasons were also permitted with managerial acquiescence. For instance, I took a month's leave of absence with Zipora's permission to reorganize and readjust as Bob and I were dividing property and finalizing our divorce. Company insurance paid for psychotherapeutic assistance for both of us and me individually, too.
Sent to Naples Florida once for client installation and support, I arrived at its nearest airport to discover the car rental agency only had automatics on their lot. In response to my befuddled question of how to drive one as I'd previously always had a stick-shift, the somewhat incredulous-seeming clerk explained that, "You just put it in 'D' for 'Drive' and step on the gas." About five minutes out on a half-hour drive south to the motel reserved for me, one of Florida's typical and torrential rains broke out. Reaching to raise the automatic window on the driver's side, it was then I discovered why the pane was down in the first place. The window gadget didn't work. Soaked and blinded to the whereabouts of the two-lane highway, I fairly quickly pulled over into a roadside stream and waited for the downpour to abate, exchanging the vehicle on arrival for one which more completely worked. The best thing about Naples was being shown fluorescent Gulf sands which glow a kind of turquoise-green in the dark where footprints, for instance, are left behind. It was a subterranean office joke that we were sent to interesting, even glamorously enviable places by the company, but almost always in the worst possible season -- for me, Chicago and Cleveland mid-winter, Birmingham in August, and the tropics when monsoons were likely -- so we weren't only talented but extremely hardy, and humble where bragadoccio might have been expected. But we did, if we survived each day's technological, organizational and climatic challenges, get to rest up in the best of lodgings with nearly unlimited expense accounts to comfort ourselves for the battles we'd waged on all fronts until then, and prepare for the ones to come.
For travel environment my favorite site was Saint Louis, Missouri. The most lavishly historic hotel was Boston, Massachusetts' Parker House, most interestingly charming a converted rail car in Alabama, the dreamiest a Lake Shore Drive 19th floor, one-bedroom apartment with wall-to-wall living room picture windows facing west over Chicago architecture into the distantly curved and undeveloped horizon, and Cleveland Heights' bohemian sector in the oldest part of town the most enticing and ethnically aromatic and romantic area for playing.
After Bob moved out of our close-in suburban two-story, with full and finished basement and smallish rectangular, flat yard of mostly grass with a few foundation plantings, my mostly weekend amusements were solely up to me to devise, a completely new situation and opportunity in that environment. In the company there of my best friend Pris, also singly unattached at the time, we explored new restaurants and lounge/bars in Roslyn, Georgetown and occasionally the area around the Smithsonian, which stands out in my memory for a wonderful small, intimate, lively and fascinatingly decorated French cafe along with an historic two-story restaurant/bar of rich, deep woods and excellent fare also as well as atmosphere. We visited art museums, attended Warner Theatre plays and Kennedy Center ballets, and then talked and laughed at her home or mine into late early morning hours. On a few occasions that happened during the week, in which case we found ourselves unable to attend work the following day, so didn't do that too frequently. Other times, I was on my own and my favorite hangouts were along "M" Street and at Kramer Books & Afterwords Cafe/Bar on Connecticut Avenue. The latter was and is a total joy, very similar in many ways to Malaprops in Asheville NC. Kramer's carries a wonderful assortment of books, magazines and newspapers from all over, has an intimate gourmet restaurant, and a long bar with high stools along one side. The restroom is outstanding for its innovative and entertaining graffiti. Although in the last year I usually drove myself into town and back, the metro also was convenient from the house to various city points and I used it most often for work and sightseeing and partying also, along with generally dependable bus service. With another close friend, Gail, also unattached at the time, we explored the restaurants of charmingly historic and cozy Annapolis, where her home was located, and its open fish market by the wharf, along with a few independent bookstores. Our favorite cafe, however, was outside of that district in the country, a converted home that served unique, one-of-a-kind French gourmet specialties at fairly exorbitant prices, but the offerings were so unusual and special that the cost, although eye-popping, seemed worth it. Of many meals throughout the states and in Canada those stand out amongst the top handful in my reveries of cuisine and ambiance. For breakfast, we drank mimosas most often, although Pris insisted that Bloody Mary's were best for us really, having both vegetable juice and the essential celery stick included with each curative shot of vodka.
I also kept company during that time off and on and briefly with a few different members of the opposite gender, although I was generally uninterested in establishing any permanent or even slightly durable relationship with one. In an unusual instance of complete retroactive anonymity, I dated one briefly and ended up at the Smithsonian-affiliated Zoo with him and a few of his friends, my first and only visit to that establishment, which I loved of course. Somewhat surprisingly, in recollection I remember clearly how the friends' apartment looked and its general closeby location from which we walked on DC streets, as well as the layout of the Zoo and its restricted wild animals, particularly the polar bears and the monkeys and their habitats. But I don't remember anything at all about the man who got me there and back -- not anything about his appearance or personality, what he did for a living, where he was from or when I met him, how his voice sounded, his height or clothing style, or his name. I do remember that we made the trip in his car but I don't remember anything descriptive about it either, other than that it was reasonably comfortable. I think it had bucket seats, and it may have been an import. If you run into the guy based on this description, please give him my regards, tell him I had a great time, and that I'll always remember the Zoo.
Toward the end of my employment with American Management Systems, an Assembler programmer was requested to design and write a cost allocation system in Cobol, which he did. Assembler is the lowest level above machine language which actually manipulates individual computer hardware bits by turning current on and off at a particular location within bytes, a unit of bits, which then compose a "word." All languages are piled on top of each other, kind of like a torte, or a soufflé recipe in which everything must be done in the correct order to produce from basic ingredients the finished product. Assembler is compiled into higher level application languages like C++, Pascal and Cobol for ease in coding entertainment, business and scientific programs which are then compiled back into machine language to actually tell the computer hardware what to do in any given instant.
In the process of resigning his position to become an independent contractor, the Assembler programmer was assigned to educate me in understanding, installing, and modifying his code: the application language instructions which produce altogether a program that creates hardware activities including the display for information on screens, manipulation of stored and new data, and printing of reports. His first task was to explain the meaning and details of the accounting method called cost allocation, which is the assignment of overhead prices to fixed item costs. For instance and to simplify greatly, if a company hires a part-time coder at $1,000.00 and buys a computer at $3,000 (depreciated subsequently for that time period, along with the office and office equipment used) to produce a program to sell that product at $10,000, the allocated cost of that exercise is $4,000 (minus allocated depreciation), and the net profit to the company is $6,000 (plus allocated depreciation). If the coder produces two programs, one selling for $10,000 and the other for $8,000, the allocated cost must be weighted by those disparate prices to arrive at a truly reflective figure for each. At that point, most people probably know much more than they wanted to to begin with about cost allocation, or computer programming. The accounting method gets more complicated in algorithm as the number of products and their variety in price increase.
To complicate an already complicated situation, the Assembler programmer wrote his Cobol code as if it were Assembler, in that format and with a dizzying array of variables (English names assigned in usual application software -- but, for him, letters of the alphabet singly and multiply -- for items of changing value) and mathematical manipulations. Then he left the company. Cobol was not the original mainstay database, Pascal-buffered application software with which I'd become comfortable, but we'd used it for nearly a year and the system did run on a DEC mini-computer with which operations I was familiar, not the DOS and OS IBM mainframes to which I was sometimes assigned for support. A client in Birmingham Alabama, where I stayed in a delightful motel converted from a railroad car, ran OS, which I learned more or less on the spot. For a run-time development problem in DOS, I was directed once to investigate the possibilities and options with a puzzled systems programmer in-house. Following installation of the cost allocation programs and user training over a week of mental strain and relaxation by browsing old downtown department stores and soda fountains, that client -- the National League of Cities headquartered in Washington D.C. -- soon requested modifications to some features of the system to accommodate their particular requirements. With code written analogically as if one was fly fishing with a rod and reel or hunting wild mushrooms with a shotgun, change to one variable could unravel and scramble the whole system like a ball of yarn after a cat is through with it. Amidst increasing migraine headaches -- during which my supervisor, an expert Cobol programmer, refused to look at the code in any form -- I suggested that either its current format be set in stone, the originator be hired back as a consultant, or I be shot in a quick mercy killing. The client, as I recall, chose to accept the system more or less as it was with the few modifications I'd managed to extract in a manner similar to milking a cow with a teacup.
After moving to the Shenandoah Valley, I flew a few times on small commuter planes from Verona to Washington DC or Baltimore and back again on a leg in the chain to and from Fort Lauderdale. Shortly after my last trip, one of those planes crashed into the side of the Blue Ridge Mountains in fog and all aboard were killed. Rescuers who finally made their way to that remote site found bodies and body parts hanging from trees and the scene so grisly that they required psychiatric counseling afterwards. The next time I traveled to The Sunshine State, I took a bus from Harrisonburg, having lost my guts for flying totally for awhile.
In a conversation about people and events, Bob had commented that, "The trouble with you is you don't believe in the existence of evil." I thought I did at the time, but in retrospect what he meant and what is true is that I didn't believe in intractable evil but, instead, that anyone could be saved with the right behavior, information and attitudes in understanding empathy, love and caring. There's a background for that in religion and psychology, as well as sociology/anthropology and even philosophy. From that viewpoint even Adolf Hitler would have turned out okay if he'd just had the proper childhood nurturing, for instance. It turns out, however, that there are some who couldn't care less about being loved, or loveable, or even cared about. They're fortified islands of their own making that can't or won't be known. In criminology they're referred to as psychopaths or sociopaths. I really didn't know that such entities existed, but they do. I also believed that everyone was working for the best, however muddled they might be sometimes in the process, but that isn't right either. Some entities are really evil and dedicated unchangeably in that existence and direction through and through. I find that remarkable and didn't know it until decades later in my encounters with too many in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley where they seem particularly to develop and accrue.
After Bob and I separated and agreed upon a property settlement in minute detail, I contacted a realtor friend and was qualified for purchasing a private home. Astounded at the loan amount I would be allowed by banks and their reasonable interest rate, I chose to look at properties less expensive as I didn't agree that I would live well on the monthly terms of mortgages at that level. After walking through a few I chose as possibilities in my price range that were interesting but not enticing enough (my favorite was an older country home with an unpaved driveway in what had become a sort of outer suburb), I settled finally on a first-floor rental apartment with sliding glass doors to a deck that seemed pleasant and convenient. In a mix-up with the owner about what date I'd be able to move in, I chose to move into the Valley A-frame instead where I'd longed to live since purchasing it and gathered my larger furniture together into Northern Virginia storage for a year or two while packing what I could of the rest of my belongings, giving many boxes away to Good Will which picked them up, and carrying the smaller furniture in several car trips out Route 66 West to the mountains and fields of what became a full-time home for fourteen years and where I fully intended to live out the remains of my life in relative rural tranquility and natural beauty.