I was hired away from a job that I enjoyed but which paid little to become editor-in-chief of the Northrop News, a monthly tabloid sent to Northrop’s employees in the US and abroad, and to stockholders. The woman who recruited me promised that I would have broad authority to transform the News from its stodgy 1950s format into a contemporary magazine and that I would have six full-time employees and one part-timer at a small Northrop facility on the East Coast.
I took the job and immediately learned that none of six at Northrop headquarters worked for me. They reported to “Mary,” my boss, and if I needed them to do something, I had to ask Mary.
But Mary was never around. She traveled constantly, and in that era before cell phones, she was almost impossible to reach. I left countless messages for her in the offices that she was supposedly visiting, but she never called back. Meanwhile, each of the six individuals that I had been promised worked for me were all busy on tasks that Mary gave them, none of which had anything to do with the Northrop News.
So for the first two months, I wrote the whole magazine myself. I also served as the art director. The one thing I persuaded one of Mary’s people to do was to proofread my copy.
My first issue would, in the year following, win several national and international awards. We received over 200 requests for copies and had to go back to press to satisfy the demand.
My second issue won a few awards as well.
On one of her rare visits to her own office, Mary sent for me and scolded me for my re-design work during the transmutation from tabloid to magazine. She said that the secretary to the vice president of one company division had written a note of complaint. She was angry that some “college boy” had taken over and changed her beloved News. (I was then 37 years of age, a Vietnam veteran and yes, a college graduate.) Apparently, Mary was terrified of this secretary. When I took the opportunity to remind her that I had been promised six and a half workers under me and that instead, I had none, she got angry. “All you have to do is ask me, and I’ll assign someone to help you on a specific task,” she said. “But everyone in this department reports to me, and to me alone.”
I reminded her that she was rarely around to ask, and she rose from he chair and hurried off without replying.
After another month, I was burned out. Midway through the third issue of my tenure, I was working seven days a week. I took work home every night and wrote until I could hardly see the page. I got up early and was in the office at 7:00 so I could work without interruption by phone calls and office business.
When Mary returned from her next trip, I went into her office a little before noon and closed the door.
“Did you have an appointment?” she asked, as I sank into the visitor’s chair.
“Mary, I must have some help. I cannot do this job alone. Just give me ONE person who can assist me.”
“Everyone reports to me,” she said. “That’s how it is.”
“Mary,” I said. “You’re an attractive black woman in an aerospace company. THEY WON’T FIRE YOU. You need to learn to delegate.”
“I have a lunch,” she said and grabbed her purse as she flew from the room.
When I returned from my own lunch, there was a firing notice on my desk. My tenure at Northrop Corporation was over because “I did not fit in with the corporate culture.”
I would learn in the years ahead that this had been Mary’s first management position and her first communications assignments. She was previously in charge of corporate equal opportunity at Northrop. Before that, she was a flight attendant. Her husband was an actor, but I have yet to see one of his credits in a film or TV show or on the Broadway stage.
When Mary got that employee communications job, she immediately spent some $27,000 of Northop’s money to hire an international business consulting firm to do a corporate communications audit. They produced two copies of what was essentially a how-to book. That’s why the other six writers were doing things for Mary. When they weren’t out of the office on personal business, they were trying to create a package of new communications media: A virtual bulletin board, a complaint hotline, A weekly video report to all employees, etc.
Mary was unable to secure funding for most of those projects.
And at a writers gathering 22 years later, I ran into the woman who had replaced me at Northrop. She lasted six weeks. He replacement lasted five. I learned from the first woman that apparently one or more of my office colleagues had eavesdropped on my last conversation with Mary.
Apparently, I had become an office legend for the manner of my departure.
© 2018 Marvin J. Wolf
Excerpt from the first Rabbi Ben mystery novel I wrote, "For Whom The Shofar Blows." Available on Amazon Barnes & Noble Kobo Kindle iTunes. For more info and reviews, click here.
They dined on a patio watching the dying sunset’s magnificent purples and reds behind the entire San Fernando Valley, stretching dozens of miles toward the horizon, an endless sea of twinkling lights framed by red and white ribbons of headlamp- and –taillight-strewn freeways.
Ben had never tasted better food. The chicken was moist yet firm, marvelously seasoned. Each item in the salad was deliciously distinct in texture and flavor. The cornbread stuffing topped all—the best food he’d ever had. He took seconds, then thirds, meanwhile sipping on a robust, superbly fruity Baron Hertzog Zinfandel.
Relaxing into drowsiness, Ben marveled at how he felt—never more alive, more in control, more cogent—yet, somehow, he also felt himself drifting away, saw himself reclining on a patio chair with Susan nestled in his arms. It was as though he was in two places at once, viewing himself from high above and simultaneously feeling her soft lips on his own, the delicious weight of her breasts pressing against his chest …
Ben opened his eyes. Susan lay atop him, smiling.
Ben said, “What was in that stuffing?”
“Same as the sesame cakes—a little herb seasoning.”
“What sort of herb?”
“Gary used to get it from that Mexican guy. The one in Pacoima, with the garage.”
“No, silly. His name’s Henry. Loco Henry.”
“Gary buys marijuana from him?”
“I call it Mary Jane’s Home Relaxer. He likes to smoke it. I hate smoking. It’s so much better in food, don’t you think?”
Ben sighed. Gary was out to get him, he was sure. He’d set him up to stay with Susan so she could drug him. Any minute, he’d come to kill him. That was it. He couldn’t say anything; Susan would tell Gary, and he’d be finished.
Ben was fearful, but he didn’t want to get up. It was too hard, and he was too comfortable.
And something else was getting hard. Susan was gently stroking him through his trousers. Deep in his loins, desire built, a buried tingling that grew more urgent by the second. It was wonderful. And dangerous. He knew that he should stop, but he was powerless to resist.
“I know what you’re trying to do, Mrs. Robinson! You’re trying to seduce me.”
Susan laughed. He had never heard a sexier laugh.
“Damn right I am.”
No, he thought.
No, no, no. I’m high as a kite, but this is no excuse. Gently, he pushed her away and sat up.
“I shouldn’t have let things go so far. Please forgive me.”
“You’re a beautiful woman. I’d like nothing better than to make love with you. Gary was crazy to let you go.”
“I let him go. He wanted his cake—me—and his little cupcake, too. She’s twenty-five, big fake boobs, legs up to here, and she wants to open a chain of boutiques with his money. Our money! Well, screw him. Forget Gary. You’re gorgeous! You defuse bombs, break bully’s arms and give Torah lessons. And you’re stoned. I’m stoned. Let’s do it.”
“Please, Susan, don’t make it any harder.”
Ben staggered to his feet.
“Tova was right! You’re gay!”
“No. No. Please, don’t do this.”
Hating himself, Ben staggered inside and found his room. He kicked his shoes off and fell forward on the bed.
The room spun. A little sleep, he thought, and then I’ll be able to think straight.
© 2013 Marvin J. Wolf
Excerpt from the True Crime book I wrote with Larry Atteberry, "Family Blood, The True Story of the Yom Kippur Murders." Available on Amazon Barnes & Noble Kindle Kobo iTunes. For more info and reviews, click here.
After gobbling his steak, Jesse, who ate at Delores’ often, wanted cherry pie, baked fresh daily. All three men ordered a piece. Jesse bolted his piece down in four bites, scarlet juice dribbling out of his mouth to stain his beard. Because there was work to do, Steve had forbidden even a single beer, so the trio washed the tart-sweet pie down with cups of coffee. As he had several times during the meal, Steve glanced at his watch.
Seven-thirty. Time to rock and roll.
While Sonny and Jesse went to urinate, Steve tossed three singles on the table for a tip, nodded to the waitress, then strolled to the cashier and paid the bill. Sweeping everything into his pocket, e scarcely noticed if the change was correct, his mind racing nervously through his plan for the night.
Steve wished he had better radios. Those damned walkie talkies the Professor had loaned him were next to worthless. Maybe he’d better try them one more time before the job. They might work better at night.
Mike Dominguez was at the motel, a few blocks away. Steve decided to pick him up about eight-thirty.
Dominguez, sometimes known by his prison handle, “Baby A,” was a fleshy, olive-skinned, dark-haired man of average height who appeared younger than his twenty-six years. He was a burglar, but occasionally worked as a roofer.
Steve decided to go over things with Dominguez one more time, just to make sure he had it right. Mike was a good man, within his limitations, but he didn’t always understand things the first time.
Dominguez didn’t do a lot of deep thinking. He hid his shallow intellect behind a wall of silence, earning a reputation as an enigma. Unlike Steve, who rarely missed a chance to expound upon his many adventures, Mike did not boast about his night work. In fact, he said very little about anything.
Steve liked that. Dominguez’s silent quality gave Steve confidence that no matter what dirty little job Mike was asked to do, if the cops ever nailed him for it, Mike would never roll over and snitch on Steve, not even to save himself. Steve seldom bet, but he would put his life on that.
On the other hand, Steve knew that Mike wasn’t up to handling a real big job on his own. He’d fucked up the hit on that broad in Vegas, put five into her boyfriend and the guy just ran away to call the cops. Mike was lucky to have gotten away with that, but he had cost Steve a fat fee. So Mike’s punishment was to be demoted to lookout this time.
Before picking up Mike, Steve decided, he’d have to deal with Jesse. Now that he’d gone and rammed that car, Jesse was out for the actual hit. No way he could let him near the condo when it went down—Jesse had to stay away. That meant Steve and Sonny would be in the underground garage with no lookout. No warning. They’d have to risk it.
Finally, he reminded himself to double-check the guns.
After a brief huddle in the restaurant’s narrow parking lot, Sonny, following Steve’s orders, went across the street to Steve’s rented gold Camaro, took one of the Professor’s radios from the trunk, and handed the other two to Steve. Steve climbed into the passenger seat of Jesse’s battered blue-green 1960 Buick, shoving empty cardboard boxes into the backseat with the others.
“How the fuck can you live like this?” growled Steve, angry again at how his brother managed to screw up everything he touched. “When are you gonna get rid of this damn trash,” he raged, indicating the boxes piled high in the backseat.
Jesse mumbled something about recycling, then wisely shut up.
Majoy, driving the Camaro, pulled up behind the Buick, ending the conversation, and Jesse made a right out of the parking lot onto Purdue, then stopped at the corner of Santa Monica to wait for the light. The boulevard was jammed, as usual, and it took them almost five minutes to reach Sepulveda, less than half a mile away. Threading their way through the heavy traffic near the Federal Building, they turned north and drove stop-and-go alongside a freeway still choked with traffic headed for the Valley.
With the Camaro following, the Buick turned right on Moraga Drive, then swept up the long, curving street until they reached a set of massive wrought-iron gates some twenty feet high. A uniformed security guard, a revolver in his polished leather holster, was visible inside the booth.
Jesse drove almost to the booth. Without stopping, he pulled the car into a U-turn. Majoy followed. At the bottom of the street, Steve told Jesse to turn left into the parking lot of the Chevron station next to a restaurant on the southeast corner of Sepulveda and Moraga. Jesse parked the Buick while Majoy got out of the Camaro, walked around, and eased into its passenger seat.
Jesse got out of the Buick and Steve handed him a walkie-talkie. He ran Jesse through the routine again: when he saw the beige Mercedes turn south on Sepulveda, he was to call Mike on the radio.
Steve slid behind the Camaro’s wheel. In his mirror he watched Jesse standing in the parking lot, the radio crammed into the pocket of his shorts, with only the plastic-coated antenna sticking out. It looked like a cellular telephone. Jesse looked like a bull kicked out of a china shop.
Steve pulled into traffic as a well-dressed, middle-aged couple in a big new car pulled off Sepulveda and into the lot. The woman riding in the front passenger seat glanced at Jesse curiously, then at the battered Buick with the Nevada plates. Jesse ignored her.
Steve drove a half mile down Sepulveda to Church Lane, where he turned right and went under the freeway, then curved around and drove to Sunset Boulevard, where he turned right. Sunset here is a four-lane blacktop meandering toward the Pacific Ocean, following the contours of foothill canyons in broad, sweeping curves. This is Brentwood, a genteel community extending from the canyons down to Sawtelle and filled with expensive single-family homes, pricey condominiums, and high-security apartment buildings.
At Barrington Avenue, Steve turned left through Brentwood Village, a series of low, rambling brick buildings housing a post office, specialty shops, and restaurants. Passing a Little League field and tennis courts, he drove carefully through the heavy traffic. At the stop sign guarding San Vicente Boulevard he halted. He eyed the bus shelter across the street.
After waiting for traffic to clear, Steve turned right—west—on San Vicente Boulevard and drove two short blocks to Bundy. Sonny’s car was inconspicuous in the parking lot in front of Vicente Foods, a local supermarket. Steve pulled into the lot to let Sonny out.
“Nine o’clock, Westgate and the alley. Got it?”
“I’ll be there,” said Sonny.
“Gonna leave your car in the lot, or put it on the street?”
“Nobody will notice it in the lot.”
“Sure you can find your way back here on foot?”
“No sweat,” said Majoy. “Walked it once, drove it twice. See you in the alley.”
Two blocks below San Vicente, the former creek bed now called Bundy Drive takes a hairpin turn, twisting from due east to southwest. In the middle of this arc, on the left, is the mouth of Gorham Avenue, which leads back two blocks to San Vicente. In the Buick, Steve turned left from Bundy onto Gorham, coasting to a stop three buildings from the corner, in front of an ostentatious, three-story, twenty-seven-unit condominium. Brentwood Place is at 11939, on the north side of Gorham. Steve held the walkie talkie to his lips, pressing a button. “I’m here, can you hear me?”
“I hear. You hear me okay?” Jesse’s voice crackled through the tinny speaker. It wasn’t clear like the TV cop shows, but Steve could understand what Jesse was saying.
Steve found a place to park and walked up Gorham, turning to climb a few steps to the front door of 11939. The glass door opens into a spacious vestibule; access to the interior is controlled by an electrically activated inner door that can be buzzed open by residents. The vestibule wall is lined with twenty-seven doorbell buttons, one for each unit.
Squinting in the dim light, Steve peered at the rows of names, looking for “Woodman.” Finding the right button, he pressed it and waited.
Nothing happened. Waiting a few minutes, he pressed again. Still there was no answer. The Woodmans were gone, just as they were supposed to be.
© 2013 Marvin J. Wolf
FROM Marvin J. Wolf
On this page are true stories, magazine articles, excerpts from books and unpublished works, short fiction, and photographs, each offering a glimpse of my life, work and times. I'll be posting weekly. Your comments welcome. © Marvin J. Wolf. All rights reserved.