When I graduated college with a degree in literature, I dazzled me. If asked, I could discuss Milton, Keats, Sterne, Yeats, Lawrence, Barth, Twain, Joyce, and Cary.
The thing is, was, and forever shall be, no one ever asks. Same goes for my opinion on various translations of Dostoevsky, even though the names Constance Garnett and Larissa Volokhonsky have, for a quarter of a century, been prepared to take a swan dive, splashless, off the tip of my tongue.
After college, my only job offer came from a San Fernando publishing house, as writer and dogsbody for a general aviation magazine. I took the job, but felt like an actor who’d spent years in repertory only to star in a tampon commercial. (Mom, can I ask you a personal question – do you always feel, you know, fresh?)
The general aviation magazine was one of the company’s five prestige titles. We had an editorial staff of three, with five regular contributors (two of whom died in helicopter and arobatic accidents). As low man on the totem pole, and even lower than that as I was a woman, I doubled as proofreader. The first issue I worked on had a two-page center spread about piloting your plane from Los Angeles to New York. I missed a typo, so the title – a banner splashed across both pages – read, “ULTIMATE FREEDOM: FLYING CROSS COUNTY.”
Now, about the publishing company itself. As my editor liked to say, we were in the house that porn built. In other words, there were a few legit and even, within a very limited scope, well-regarded titles; the money drains, the beards, as it were. The cash cows were some magazines that made Hustler look like US News and World Report.
The legits and porns shared the same building, with strong rules of non-engagement. However, when the legits got bored, which was often, we’d sneak over to the wild side – not to watch the shooting itself, just the traffic.
The main photographer for the porns was a 70 or 80 year man, who seemed more liquid than solid. He had pale blue, teary eyes, drips he wiped away with a hanky. He greeted all his new models the same way, “Hi, honEEE. Did you bring your license?” We figured the girls posed for the first picture holding a driver’s license to prove they were of age.
Sometimes the girls came with a friend or a sister. Or a mother. We knew it was a mother because the photographer would say, “So who’s the daughter and who’s the mommy?” before closing and locking the studio door.
I lasted less than a year. My next job was writing ad copy for a burial insurance company. That’s when I learned about the relativism of art. I had found possibly the only job that could make the topic of optional avionics on a Lear Jet seem like poetry.