Wednesday, March 28, 2012

3-28-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #85 (“Main Squeeze” -- more)

Come 1982, in England, I was in a pretty good place, emotionally.  I was able to move out of the flatshare with nutty Nora, and she had just introduced me to one of my all time favorite people, Patrick Marvin -- whose wit, sweetness, charm, and practicality won my heart in friendship.

More on Patrick, anon.  But physically, in 1982, I was feeling very run down and wrecked.  I’d take daily naps (just before dinnertime) in order to function and work -- because I did have to go to work at the Main Squeeze about five nights per week, from 6 o’clock until 1 AM. 

The Main Squeeze was my new dysfunctional family, with characters who made you sigh, cry, and get so angry you could die (er, murder!).  Hazel was the first person people met at the bottom of the stairs at the club’s entrance in a box office type box: a feisty Northern Irish lass, slight in size (about 5’5”, weighing 8.5 stone -- around 100 lbs.).  Hazel must have been in her mid 30’s.  She’d taken an instant dislike to me, “the Yank,” and was always carping away at me to do this and do that again and “Do it right, darlin’ -- and pull yer socks up!”  She meant that as “Watch it!” and I got paranoid and nervous around her, always.

A nicer person was Hazel’s pal, Greg, who worked as one of the bartenders.  Swarthy, wiry, a small man, only about 5’ 7”, with dark stubble where he shaved his head, sporting a Freddy Mercury mustache, Greg was as gay as the day is long on a Midsummer’s Night.  He had masses of dark hair, almost like fur, on his arms and chest (Greg would wear tight lowcut tee shirts that showed off his hirsute hairsuit).  You could barely see his eyes because he wore aviator-shaped tinted glasses -- but when I could, I saw he had lovely, long, curved-up dark eyelashes. In his mid 30’s, Greg was also an American expatriate who loved being around the English.  Happily, he approved of me and we were friends of a sort. Unhappily, I heard he’d died of AIDS in the ‘80’s. . .

The other bartender, John, was a tall, slender, blond, blue eyed, blandly good-looking man around 30 years of age.  He had a sort of modified Dutch boy haircut, an outgoing personality, and liked to flirt with the ladies (heterosexual?  Yes).  He had a resonant voice and maybe something of a drinking problem -- I wasn’t sure.  Then again, Greg also liked to drink, but because these guys were responsible workers behind the bar, they’d pace themselves and when they did get blasted it was infrequent and seldom seen.

The cuisine at Main Squeeze, in the restaurant area, was award-winning continental, some tasty oasis between Italian and French cooking.  Of the chefs, there were two I recall: one was Italian, robust and round, a mostly happy guy named Maurizio, I think.  The other and most memorable chef, Don, was a guy from Devon.  He was tall, average build, had mousy brown hair that was dead straight and lanky and a bushy mustache.  His pale blue eyes had sleepy lids, and he was a pretty good cook, as I recall.  Don was also something of a nutritionist.  He’d cook staff meals with meat, which I refused to eat “Because I’m a vegetarian!” I proudly boasted. 

Don noticed I was run down and probably anemic. “But darling, you really MUST eat some meat -- that’s why you’re all run down.  You need red blood food!”  At this point I was desperate to feel good again, so I slowly started off eating a few bites of burger, or lambchop (ugh -- I don’t like lamb), along with a hard boiled egg that I always made him cook for me. 

Weirdly enough, after a week or two, I DID feel better.  Guilt filled my guts with the dead meat it digested, but the rest of my muscles, skin, and bones said THANK YOU!  By just adding a little red meat to my diet each week, the gains to my well-being were considerable.

Thanks, Chef Don -- it was a little thing you did, but had a tremendous impact on this little Yank who needed to pull ‘er socks up!!

3-27-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #84 (The Misadventures of Nutty Nora -- con’t pt. 3)

“Oompah!  Ooopla!!  Dahling, vat a night we had, I made 70 pounds, can you imagine?”  She prattled on about what a good night we’d had at the Main Squeeze (we pooled tips and those were always great nights, though hard work).  Obviously, since I’d pocketed 40 quid Nora had made some 30 pounds worth of “extra tips” on the side, somehow -- even though she was the “kitchen monkey,” she’d find a way to break out and get onto the floor and earn an extra few bob.  Enterprising, for sure. But was she lying?  Never could be sure. . .

Oddly to me, the next day after Nora’d brought a night visitor with her -- really, a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am was more like it -- she awoke without a recollection.  The young American actor left after “the deed,” and I only hope he found his way back to wherever he’d been staying.  I never understood how people could get SO out of it they blacked out the next day. . . so, that was a scary thing about Nora, to me.

A lovable trait of hers, though: she loved music, and when she found out I was a musician, she demanded that I play and sing for her.  Of course my guitar and I came along to the little flatshare with Nora. . . and I gladly would play for her.  I’d play country (“Labelled With Love,” “He Thinks I Still Care,” “Out of Hand,” “I Still Miss Someone”), I’d play rock (“I Knew the Bride,” “Almost Saturday Night,” “Sedated”), I’d play my own new songs (“Reminders,” “Blackheath S.E. 3,” “Sad Saturday Girl”).  Nora seemed to love them all, equally, bestowing fulsome praise.

She made sure I knew that Yugoslavs -- and she was proudly one -- knew how to live, and how to party.  I don’t think I’d ever met anybody who could be so wild, yet so functional when necessary.  My admiration, while not unbounded, definitely grew for her -- as did my fondness.  A small still voice in my head got louder and louder, though, and it screamed, “LEAVE!”  I’d be mulling over how in the back of my head, with my spare brain cells. . .

Every week or so, she’d invite the Greek over -- her friend/dealer, a tall, handsome, swarthy young man, with med. long thick black wavy hair, and trimmed black beard.  He had good teeth and a big smile.  Come to think of it, Nora, the Greek, and many others I’d met were extremely hippie-ish in attitude and world view.  They were always kind to me and inclusive; they were kind of new-agey; they loved to get stoned almost non-stop.

In fact, Nora’s friend, The Greek, had heard from some other friends/customers of his, Jackie & Toni, that a basement flat was coming available on Earl’s Court Road.  I arranged to meet them and soon, Jackie, Toni and I were fast friends.  After spending a nervewracking month and a half with Nutty Nora nearly nonstop, I moved into my own bedsitter, finally.  After five months of living in England, I had friends, a job, and my own flat.  Not the Top of the Pops, exactly, but I didn’t want that as it turns out.

It was now 1982.  Nora had just introduced me to one of my all time favorite people, one I miss from time to time, especially when England comes to mind: Patrick Marvin, Nora’s dear, amusing, savvy, and very classy, friend.

Monday, March 26, 2012

3-26-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #83 (The Misadventures of Nutty Nora -- con’t pt. 2)

As previously mentioned, in late 1981, I was sharing a bedsitter flat in Knightsbridge with a woman who made me nervous but I admired nonetheless.  Nora’s energy and loyal, caring nature gave her a great edge as a friend, but as a coworker and then some, she was worrisome.  You never knew what she’d do when she started drinking and smoking.  At that point, all bets were off.  She would do things that were beyond embarrassing at times, things that I’d laugh off but also wonder to myself, “Is something wrong with this person?”  Then I’d feel bad I was being judgmental!

Anyway, we’d work at the Main Squeeze on Sunday nights, mostly.  Those were the big nights for the discotheque and buffet at the club.  A deejay came in to spin current hits, a free buffet (with the price of admission) was laid out and devoured, and the cash bar really cleaned up. Nora was exceptional when it came to clearing & cleaning the dirty dishes; I’d tackle dirty glasses at the bar and rinse & scrub them with the special upright crush gizmo for the glasses at the bar sink.  Dunk - plunge up and down - up and down - dunk in water - rinse - dry. 

I also sauntered through small crowds of customers flirting with each other, trying their pick up lines on each other while I was trying to hawk drinks, but two other waitresses who were more experienced, taller, and pushier did more selling while I was actually happy to stand behind the bar and be useful there.  Gabby was one of the waitresses, a tall, pretty, dark curly-haired English girl who was a bit of a snob and not nice to me . .  . she was actually kind of common; I could tell from her accent and the way she talked about things and her mannerisms.  She called napkins “Serviettes,” enjoyed eating “courgettes,” and was quite tough.  Gabby & her friends spoke a lot about holidaying in Ibiza (“Eye BEE thah”), Spain.  Stephanie, the other waitress, was also a favorite of Roger’s (might have been one of his girlfriends at one time).  A redhead with long curls that jiggled when she wiggled (med. tall, Stephanie was curvy and soft and pretty).  She was always laughing, giggling, very merry and high spirited.  We got along just fine.

Anyway, on one of these packed nights at the Main Squeeze discotheque buffet, Nora met John Strange, the actor.  I went home the usual time, after work, but Nora stayed on to finish work and have an after-work cocktail.  That wasn’t all that she had. . .

About two in the morning, an hour after I went to bed, Nora crashes in to the room with this guy (a young film actor named John).  They are both obviously plastered and oblivious to me sleeping in the other bed.  They fall into Nora’s bed and make love, noisily, for about 20 minutes.  Never the quiet, retiring type, Nora is even louder when she’s in the throes of passion. 

I felt very embarrassed, and pretended to sleep.  I might have even stuffed my pillow over my head.  I hoped and prayed they were ignoring me, because if they tried to get me involved, I wouldn’t have screamed, but would have been disgusted and very uncomfortable. . . and would have had to leave. 

That would not have been ideal on such a cold and strange night in loveless Knightsbridge. . .

Sunday, March 25, 2012

3-25-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #82 (Knightsbridge, London -- Not Just the Home of Harrod’s)

(photo of the front of Harrod's Department store in Knightsbridge, London)

If you haven’t been to Knightsbridge, it’s a lovely place, zoned for commercial as well as residential.  In 1981, Blocks of beautiful neo-classical and classical revival-styled buildings that were divided into small flats or hotels shared the surroundings with the priciest real estate and residential dwellings in London, along with the largest, most respected of department stores in England, Harrods.  Oh, there were probably also Selfridges and Marks & Spencer’s (“Marks & Sparks”) and HMV stores all around, but Harrod’s stood proud and imposing, like a dowager princess.  . .  (can there BE such a thing as a dowager princess?)

Anyhoo, on a lovely side street in close proximity to Harrods, Nora’s building greeted us. . .

Being a place where various boarders occupied flats on a monthly basis, there was a pay phone in the hallway and a shared bathroom on each floor.  The floors and stairs were swathed in thick, well worn carpeting -- the sound of bygone wealth: muffled sounds, silence. 

Nora’s flat was on the ground floor, which was really convenient when she’d gone on a bender and came home, smashed and stunningly loud at three in the morning.  At least, by not having to ascend the stairs, she wasn’t making more noise on the stairway (which, even though carpeted, would have made some residents unhappy to say the least).

Leading the way with her purposeful tread, Nora welcomed me in. “Here, dahling, you’ll sleep in the guest bed.”  She indicated a twin sized bed, more like a cot, against the wall.  Her bed, a similar one, was also against the wall and two feet away from the other bed -- separated by a nightstand.  The room was about  14’ by 10’, and that was it except for a little sink with a large mirror, a closet, an electric kettle, and a heater that was fed by 50 pence (“50 p”) pieces. 

I wasn’t sure where my suitcases would go, but Nora said, “Dahling, there’s room under the bed,” and lifted up the blanket.  She also offered to share her closet.

The room was small, but clean.  There weren’t any chairs or tables, but we sat on the floor or on the beds.  “Will you stay with me, dahling, until you find another place?”  Nora looked into my face and I at her liquid chocolate eyes that seemed to smile, with their upturned almond shape.

“Er, sure, Nora, thank you so much.  Very generous of you.”  She told me I could pay her ten pounds per week, and that would include the heat.  Then she took out a baggie and some rolling papers and other stuff. 

“Dahling, can you roll??”  It was tea time in Nora’s flat, and she wanted to work up an appetite -- as if I have ever met anybody who had a larger appetite or a larger heart!!

3-24-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #81 (“What”)

Although not tall, gorgeous, rich, or powerful, the natural energy and strength of Eleanora Russell, a Yugoslavian expat living in London, was a formidable force.   Her head seemed a little large for her muscular, hardworking body, but her long shaggy hair and beautiful, dark, almond-shaped eyes were her best features.  Her reactions were quick, generous, witty, and always very caring.  Nora didn’t actually do a whole lot of thinking on her feet, just reacting.  Sharp as panther claws were her animal instincts; she was loyal, protective, and not always smart when it came time to make sensible decisions or when judging people or situations.

Nora had such a good heart, though, and worked hard.  She was also kindness incarnate.  Her deep, sexy voice really did speak the way that I quote her (lots of “dahlings!” and exclamation points). A major league character, of course Nora became a fast friend.  We met at the Main Squeeze, where she was doing the scut work, washing dishes and anything else.  Because of her unpredictable ways, the management tried to keep her off the floor, although she did love to waitress, flirt with customers, and give her emphatic, uncensored opinions on just about everything.

Oh, did I mention: Nora was a major pothead -- or hashhead.  One of her best friends was a drug dealer (just pot & hash -- nothing hard) from Greece, who was a really nice guy, too.  Nora also loved getting blitzed on champagne cocktails (Bucksfizz) and vodka drinks.  She also didn’t have the ability to “filter” thoughts for public consumption -- and in a place like England, one really needs to use discretion.

“Nora, dahling -- call me Nora!”  From the moment she extended her hand and gave mine a good, strong squeeze and a warm shake, I knew I was in the presence of an exceptional human.  About five years my senior, Eleanora Russell was more experienced in the ways of the world and, especially, London.

IN a place where I was the new girl and outsider (the Main Squeeze), the garrulous and protective mother hen, Nora (also an outsider), befriended me in more ways than one. For a start, I needed a place to live because Gervaise was due back from her three-month sojourn in America, and I would no longer be welcome as a flatsitter or flatmate.  Really, there was no room -- and she had no obligation to help me further.

“Dahling!  Stay with me!  I’d be so happy to have you share my flat!”  Here I hardly knew this woman, but she so kindly offered and my back was against the wall, so to speak, so I agreed to come and see her flat -- in lovely Knightsbridge, just a tube stop or two distant. . .  

Friday, March 23, 2012

3-23-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #80 (“I Don’t Want to Go to Chelsea”)

The owners of Blushes and The Main Squeeze, Kevin & Roger (“Kev” and “Rog,” of course), were together when I met them.  They sat at a table in the bar area. . .

At the Main Squeeze, you walked down a flight of steps to arrive at a landing, where a little booth with a ticket taker’s window greeted incomers.  To the right was a doorway that led into a bar and cocktail area, with an assortment of little tables dotting a long room (about 40 feet long). Against the wall on the far side, a long bar dominated.  At the far end of the bar to the left, the kitchen door beckoned.

To the left of the kitchen door, a wall separating the bar and the formal dining area kept the drinking and eating activities segregated somewhat -- though of course you could order plainer fare at the bar.  The dining room contained about eight white-tableclothed, very formally set tables.  The Main Squeeze featured “silver service” dining, whereby the waiters (half of whom didn’t bathe often, spoke little English, and scowled when not smiling at customers) wore white gloves and served meat, potatoes, rolls and veggies with forks and spoons held just so in the hand.  I tried it, and thought the mechanics behind silver service similar to using chopsticks. . .

Anyway, here was the underground domain of the fancier members club where Kev & Rog conducted their evening business.  Rog started with the interview questions.

“Have you worked a bar before, love?”

“Yes, of course -- in New York.  City.  Downtown.  Soho?”

“And how do you look in a catsuit?”

“Er, not sure -- what’s a catsuit?”

Kev and Rog chuckled and I think Roger rolled his eyes.  “Well, love, it’s a one-piece zip up thingie that the waitresses wear who work at the Main Squeeze.” Kev explained in his smooth, dolorous voice.

“Er, sure, I guess.  Can I see one?”

Roger went back to the kitchen and summoned “Nora!”

A true female force of nature burst through the kitchen door. “Roger! What do you vant?  Can’t you see I’m working here, dahling?”  This five-foot-two red brunette with long shaggy hair in a ponytail and beautiful, dark, almond-shaped eyes boomed in a laughing, 80-decibel voice.  She was wearing a black one-piece cotton kind of boilersuit, not unshapely but not tight or form-fitting, that zipped up the front, with long sleeves that she rolled up to her elbows and pants legs that she cuffed up a little to show her white crew socks and plimsolls (sneakers).

The Main Squeeze logo, with a sexy looking saxophone and accents of red and gold, was adhered just above her left breast.

Kev coughed and said, “That, love, is a catsuit. Oh, and this is Eleanora Russell, who works here as a waitress and kitchen staff.”

“Nora, dahling -- call me Nora!”  She extended her hand and gave mine a good, strong squeeze and a warm shake. . . .

3-22-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #79 (“I Don’t Want to Go to Chelsea”)

After a dismal night pulling pints in a pub, I was wandering ‘round the King’s Road in an effort to find “better fit” employment under the table in 1981 (had to support myself as well as find somewhere to “belong” so I could save my sinking psyche), I walked into a winebar called Blushes.  It looked nice, the menu was good, and the ambiance was one of controlled gentility, perfect for social-climbers and arrivistes alike. 

A recent review of the place (still going in 2012!) says, “During the day, Blushes Cafe is a cool cafe bar boasting a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere and tasty cuisine of all types from around the world. However, the atmosphere changes after dark at Blushes and it transforms into a vibrant, upbeat wine bar with a fantastic selection of cocktails, champagne and wines to get you in the mood for a night out on the town.”

Ah yes, all about the nightlife!  That’s where the inhibitions recede and there’s money to be made!  Every restaurateur knows that. . . as do the waitstaff, who make much better tips on the larger checks created by booze intake.  Yeah!

So I had a feeling about the place, and they had a feeling about me, so they sent me over to their “members club” establishment, across the road and down the stairs.  Voila!  The subterranean home of Main Squeeze -- a “members club” where membership afforded better and longer hours for alcohol selling and consumption than the laws that governed pubs and publicans.  Members could bring guests, so in that way more customers were billed and the Main Squeeze remained in the black.

So, the Blushes manager sent me over to speak with one of the owners, Kevin or Roger (“Kev” and “Rog,” of course).  They were usually together.  Kevin, the taller one, had a soft, caressing voice, soft brown eyes, a full head of med-short, curly salt and pepper hair and a sweet, almost lugubrious manner.  He could have been a kindly undertaker but for his clothing -- middle-aged, upper-middle income, not flashy and casual. Roger, the shorter owner, had sharper features, a sharper voice, a brasher personality.  His electric blue eyes didn’t miss a thing; he wore dark suits, usually navy blue; and his full head of brown, curly hair was probably a vain spot.  Like Kev, Rog enjoyed a drink; the two of them -- most times I saw them -- seemed kind of blurry and woozy from drink, though I could have been mistaken. . . I was a little puritanical and down on boozers and drank very little, personally. 

At any rate, these guys were to be my bosses for the better part of a year, when I joined the Main Squeeze staff.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

3-21-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #78 (Pulling Pints in the Pub)

November 5, 1981: Guy Fawkes Day in London.  Bonfires at night and “A Penny for the Guy.”  Kind of like trick-or-treating, but not as sweet -- that is, it’s not a candy holiday like in the U.S.  It’s just a remembrance of civil disobedience where kids ask for small change and burn “the Guy” in effigy annually (his eternal reward for trying to blow up The House of Lords).  So English!!

Ahh, so.  My first non-music job in London was “pulling pints” at a pub on the King’s Road in Chelsea.  I was right chuffed (quite pleased) at getting a job so easily (relatively) and quite relieved to not have penury be the wolf at the door.

I got there for work and squeezed into a space behind a bar that took some maneuvering, even for a size two person (me at the time).  And as it was Guy Fawkes night, even though just a Thursday, the place was VERY packed.  It seemed to get busier and busier, and the place filled up with boisterous, no, make that obstreperous young people, mostly the kind of obnoxious type. 
Worst of all:  I could NOT understand what about 80 percent of the customers were saying!  It was like I was underwater and in the land of big fish, making weird indecipherable noises like “Mmpph!!  Errrrgh!  Roff-roff-ROARFF -- roight NOWWWW!” 

Welcome to true culture shock.  When faced with a crowd of yobbos who had very thick and diverse British accents (Geordies, Mancunians, guys from the Humberside, Liverpuddlians, Cockneys, you name it!), I was a fish out of water and then some.  They wound up barking at me and lobbing insults; I kept going, “Eh?  Pardon.  Eh?  Pardon. . . “ But I just couldn’t get it.  I was also unfamiliar with the many types of beer because I really don’t drink it.

Once the shift was done, I don’t recall if I quit or was fired.  (Just for the record, I generally try to quit before I’m fired, as a rule.)  But it was most definitely NOT the job for me.  Besides, the Brits don’t tip much at the pub and the money was disgraceful. . .

A few days later, I returned to the King’s Road to find employment at a place that might be a better fit.  I walked into a winebar called Blushes, and spoke to the manager there, another nigh-incomprehensible speaker of the mother tongue but a sharp guy, perceptive enough to see I’d be a good worker in the right environment.

“Look, luv, we have a member’s club across the way and if you go there now, you could speak to Roger or Kevin. . . “

3-20-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #77 (Back to London, 1981)

Bshzoop!  Back to London, 1981.  Well, it was the best of times and the worst of times.  (Thank you, Charles Dickens -- a Londoner.)  Temporarily, I was catsitting and staying at the flat of the petite powerhouse of photography and networking, fellow expat Gervaise Souerouge, near Tottenham Court Road.  I was a fan and devotee of the invaluable street guide, London A-Z, part of the “knowledge” of those amazing London cab drivers.

Believe me, without a London A-Z, you couldn’t really get around the town very well.  In fact, I still have it here and look forward to (maybe) visiting ol’ London towne again.  But then again, I tend to shun big cities these days. . . I dig the boondocks, the quiet, the occasional people & plentiful nature. . .

Anyhoo, in 1981, London was starting to gear up from being a sleepy town to something TOO big, fast, crowded, and cosmopolitan.  But, being a New Yorker (from Manhattan), London was quite manageable at the time for me, thank you.

The unmanageable in my life was my physical and mental health.  I’d been a vegetarian (no red meat, very little chicken, mostly fish, cheese, eggs) since the age of 15, and it was starting to wear on me.  I was also plunging into a sadness I couldn’t shake off. . . I think we (at least I) take it for granted when surrounded by loving family & friends. . . even though they may seem like a hassle every now and then when sharing our space, they really do help to keep us together.

So. . . I’d get to crying often for little reason, feeling very tired & taking naps every day, invariably. . . my appetite was OK, but I felt scared and lonely and tired of life.  Every time I thought I’d scored a victory in life, something dire or dismal (like having Mickie Most tell me I didn’t have a career in music!) would happen to SMASH me and my mood down again.

I even tried taking up tap dancing (how can you be depressed tapping?), but that didn’t really work out (your foot reflexes need to be quite keen, you know -- and being in my mid twenties was a tad late to start if I couldn’t commit hours to practice). 

I knew I needed to work -- for my pocketbook, peace of mind, and sanity -- but how and where to get “clean” work off the books? 

During one of my weekend visits (or “haunts”) down the King’s Road in Chelsea (take the tube to Sloan Square and start walking!), I started to think about the many bars and eateries there. 

I inquired in a few places, then bingo!  One of them -- a trendy pub in the middle of the King’s Road -- took me on to be “pulling pints” that very night (Guy Fawkes night, Nov. 5th).  Cool, I thought. . . just the thing to bring up spirits and replenish the pocketbook. . .

Monday, March 19, 2012

3-19-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #76 (Flash forward for Lisa Millar -- My last not-good job review. . .)

For Lisa Millar . . . 

(Me in typical work mode -- at a desk)

All right, I know my last entry in the blog was sequential -- at least, chronological -- but as time and space are arbitrary on the page and as a creative person I can do anything now I choose. . . I choose to flash forward twenty years, from 1981.

It’s 2001, and I’m working at a pretty rough desk job -- as the “admin” (administrative assistant) for an entire media planning department at Ogilvy & Mather in NYC.  Only, the company has now split into a new company called “Mindshare” and if truth be told I’d call it “Mindf**k” for reasons that shall become obvious.

I started the job as a temp in late 1999, filling the proverbial shoes of my longstanding predecessor (was there eight years?), who worked as the assistant to Beth LeMasurier, a high-up VP at Ogilvy & Mather in Media Planning.  The department worked the American Express account -- not in creative, but in planning what kind and where the media advertising money would be spent. 

If you’re a Mad Men fan, it’s the job that Harry kind of invented for himself.  But he saw a place for it in TV advertising (wasn’t Joan great at figuring out ad placement during Days of Our Lives??).  The O&M Media Planning dept. we worked for did TV, radio, and print media.  I believe we had approx. 25 people in the Amex account dept.  (Next door to us were the IBM account media planners, who kind of stuck their noses up at us, maybe out of flawed personality rather than philosophical differences.)

So.  My boss, Beth, was considered brilliant but eccentric.  Her commodious office was crammed with clutter, and you couldn’t really see the surface of her desk or any other surface, for that matter.  She wasn’t communicative in the least, and instead of calling me in to her office for a face to face or to update me on the work, I’d get piles of stuff with cryptic postit notes -- or emails.

The second-in-command or the VP under Beth, Nancy Tortorella (“torture-ella” I thought of her as), was a very snobby, self-righteous, double-talking bitch.  There, I said it.  If she reads this, fine.  Every time I am on the Metro North train and go through Darien (where she lived in 2001), I call it “de rien” or “Derrieren.”

Nancy T. and I did not get on famously.  At first, things were all right & she seemed to be nice enough, but after a few months, there was no love lost.  I hated her false laughter and her attitude of “Snap to it -- make it right, right NOW!”  So what if you were asked to do something one way one day, and then the following week had to do a total 180.  And don’t you dare ask any questions.

Eighteen months into my job, I finally got a review.  My understanding when I took the job was that reviews came regularly and with a raise in salary.  So as time went by, I pushed and pushed until they deigned to review me.  That wasn’t my first -- or last -- mistake.  My first mistake was taking the job. . .

Anyway, one tepid August morning when most of the staff were out on vacation or at a meeting (interminable meetings in that office!), I was called in to Nancy’s office for my review. 

If I’m feeling brave someday, I’ll fetch that foul piece of paper and try to refrain from burning it and laughing, fiendishly.

My favorite quote from the review went something like “uses too many exclamation points in emails.” As a result, I was being put on notice for 30 days!!  My performance was deemed sub-par on account of my uncommunicative boss who wasn’t happy with the way I carried out her cryptic commands.  My under-boss, NT, didn’t like me at all (Darien snob!!). 

Well, rather than crying at my computer, I emailed a friend who was in a pop band with me, Ken Anderson. He and his wife, Rebecca Hall, worked at the United Nations.  He had often nudged me, “Come on, work at the U.N. with us!”  I emailed him to say, “I’m ready to work at the U.N. with you.”

A month later -- when my second and probably terminal review was slated to occur -- was the morning of September 11, 2011.  Fifteen minutes in to work, everybody was corralled up to the reception area with the two big screen TVs and we watched the World Trade Towers being struck by planes in instant replays and I swore I saw people jumping out of the buildings.  Horrible, horrible.

The people at American Express were down at the World Financial Center, which was of course evacuated.  For many months, they were in flux and my department hardly knew which end was up.  My follow-up performance review never happened -- was swept under the table, so to speak.

. . . Of course I found a job at the U.N. and by that December, gave my notice.  There was no love lost -- and I have to thank a terrible tragedy for delaying a certain humiliating final review. . .

So, Lisa, that’s my horror story for you, another possible (but hopefully not) victim of a toxic working environment!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

3-18-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #75 (“(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” -- Oh Yeah!)

(young Elvis Costello wearing some RED!!)

The autumn of 1981 in London meant a new season for many.  So, of course, the art crowd was having its new season too.  I was invited along to an art gallery opening -- somewhere hip, in London -- but I do recall it was a nice “lig,” with free food and drink. Of course, living on very limited means and wanting to win friends and influence people, I was there. 

Also on hand were my Squeeze pals, Glenn Tillbrook, Chris Difford, and probably John Bentley.  Best of all, I got to hang a bit with the affable Elvis Costello and his then-wife, Mary.  They -- and I -- proudly sported our red cowboy boots.  I kept thinking of the Elvis Costello song, “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes.”  I wondered if they were the SAME red shoes that he and she were wearing.  For myself, I just liked the novelty of red shoes in high heeled cowboy boot form, and thought they looked cute with puffy tiered skirts above the knees. I guess it was one of those ‘80’s trends or aberrations, bright red footwear.

Elvis as I recall was laughing and drinking a lot, and Mary, his wife, seemed nervous -- but seemed really warm and kind to me.  Earlier in 1981, I was balancing my armpits on crutches that I padded for comfort, watching from the wings of the stage at the NY Palladium, enjoying a spirited Squeeze/Elvis Costello concert with my right leg in a full leg cast.  I reminded Elvis of that and how he and his band signed the cast for me, and he laughed and said he certainly hoped my leg had healed. A real nice guy, that Elvis.

I wish I could recall more about the art at this opening party -- but as I hadn’t the means to buy anything and was so involved with the socializing aspect, I can’t remember it. Well, I could say they were generous to provide refreshments for a whole lot of liggers, the likes of us musicians and whatnot.

I am sure there was press there, snapping pictures and getting good captions for the next week’s NME or Melody Maker.  Who knows, could have also made it into the Daily Mail or The Sun.  (How about the caption, “Pop! Goes the Art Scene”??)  I was more of a Guardian reader if truth be told. . . . 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

3-17-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #74 (“Shattered Dreams” not just for jazz-haters!)

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As beforesaid, the suspense was killing.  Mickie didn’t say anything while he listened.  His face was hard to read, and I held my breath for the entire three minutes Most listened to my cassette.

“Ah, this won’t sell,” he pronounced. I said I came to London to write songs and make records with a country music feel. “This Country music craze in London’s over, and your songs are too eclectic. I’m afraid they just aren’t up to snuff.”

Not a knife to my heart, exactly, but I wanted to blurt out, “Oh, but you’re wrong!  You’re not hearing it right. And besides, I have the talent to work as a staff writer at RAK and help co-write more of your hits!”  In that way, I wouldn’t mind being a musical “whore” at all, really. 

And I should have mentioned working with Glenn Tillbrook of Squeeze.  But I couldn’t think straight. I never can, on the spot.  So I write. . .

Instead, I said to the big man, “Well, thank you for taking the time to listen.  It’s good to meet you.”

“Well, darling, thanks much for coming over. Nice meeting you. Ta.”

Within the space of ten minutes, my meeting with the famous Mickie Most was done. Finished. Kaput. He handed my tape back to me, at least.

Calvin walked out of the great room back to the den with me. His face had a sorry look, but he didn’t say anything.  Maybe he was feeling as crushed as I was.  After all, it was HIS idea to come meet the old man and present my songs.  He was kind to try to help me, so I don’t fault him one bit for the lack of foresight of his father.

Calvin wound up dating Kim Wilde, a very successful Mickie Most artist whose song, “Kids in America” was a huge worldwide hit in the early ‘80’s.  He was also in a Brit “sophisti-pop” band in the mid ‘80’s who had a modicum of success as Johnny Hates Jazz.

In 2009, a story came out in the Daily Mail about Calvin, who’s not been doing too well of late. . . that link is above. 

3-16-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #73 (Tottering up to Totteridge, London, N20 - Pt. 3)

Of course I was nervous to meet Calvin’s dad, Mickie -- should I call him “Mister Most,” or “Mr. Hayes,” or just plain “Mickie”??  Was he on good terms with Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn -- should I bring them up?

The door opened.  A medium-tall man with steely blue eyes and a headful of curly wild brown hair invited us in to the living/great room.

“I’m Mickie, Calvin’s dad.”  I could see Calvin wince out of the corner of my eye.

He extended his hand, shaking it briefly, then we talked a bit.

“I’m Lauren Agnelli. Thank you for taking the time to hear my songs,” I blurted out. “Your son says so much about you -- good things, I mean.”

“Yes, yes, Calvin’s getting his finger on the pulse -- like his old man.”  Mickie said without a smile.

“Um, back in the states, I was in a pop band, Nervus Rex, that Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn signed to Dreamland Records.”

Mickie smiled. “Oh, working with Stiggie, aren’t they?  Or are they still?”  RSO Records head Robert Stigwood was “Stiggie,” and I wasn’t sure if that was a rhetorical question.  He didn’t seem particularly warm or interested -- I wondered if this was something that happened often, his young and na├»ve son bringing home musicians he’d met with potential to the paterfamilias.

Then Mickie asked for the tape with my songs.  Calvin handed him my cassette, which had some of my favorite self-written songs that had been recorded and mixed and bounced down in NYC before I came to London on a TEAC four-track and mixed with vocals, piano, and guitar. Although not perfect performances, I think there was a poignancy, a plangent quality, that anybody with a heart could hear.  I also thought they were pretty good songs, and showed promise as a writer. (Songs might have included “I Can’t Wait,” “When Old Proven Ties Don’t Work,” “Bandages”)

What I really wanted was a publishing, not a record, deal.  RAK publishing was one of the biggest in the world, and Mickie was its founder and head.

What the hey would he say?  Yay or nay?  The suspense was killing as he played the first song for about 30 seconds, then fast forwarded to the second track.  Mickie didn’t say anything while he listened.  His face was hard to read, and I held my breath for the entire time we listened to my songs and fast-forwarded through them. . .