A bright and shiny English major with a decidedly lackluster GPA (who thought she could write anything, but had written exactly nothing), I was not making a very big splash in the 70s recession job market. I had returned to Yonkers several years out of college with a broken heart and a wallet that Looney Tunes would have shown fluttering with moths. My job experience at that time consisted of salad girl, bookstore sales clerk, and gal Friday in a real estate development office run out of the 25-year-old entrepreneur’s kitchen.
After three slack weeks back in my family’s bosom, my father, worried that I would be a drain on the family fortune, insisted I take the first job that came along, hostess in a Mafia-run steak house—but that is another story.
I was eager to get a “real” job. When my mom’s friend, a journalist on the Sunday supplement, Parade, asked me to write up a sample article on the Brady Bunch, I researched the show in a library (I hadn’t had a TV for years), and hunt-and-pecked a fake fan piece. It didn’t go anywhere, but I pulled it out when an ad appeared in the New York Times classified for an associate editor of a teen fan magazine.
I didn’t get the job. David H., who did get the job at Teen Life, Teen World, and For Teens Only writing about The Brady Bunch—and the Partridge Family, David Cassidy, and Donny Osmond—wrote good advice like “wear red, if you want him to notice you, because that’s Donny’s favorite color.”
Several weeks after being turned down by the teen mags, however, I was called to Reese Publications to interview for associate editor at True Detective. Despite (or because of) my green polyester slacks, pink shell-stitched cardigan, and 3½ inch-platform shoes—the managing editor told me I reminded him of Anne-Margret—I got the job.
And for a while, it was the job I was looking for. I had a small cubicle off a hallway, with a desk and a portly Underwood. I wanted to learn about publishing, and I did. The art department used photocomposition. We marked the manuscripts for type style and size, corrected typos, did copy fitting (pasted up the boards with rubber cement so the columns would break leaving no widows or orphans). Then the art department waxed the back of the phototypeset galleys and cut out corrections with an X-Acto blade.
Mostly, True Detective ran pickups of stories that had already been published in past decades with new and more salacious photos. The original authors would get re-credited and, I think, sent a small check for the rerun, and we would freely invent modern cop lingo. Naked dead women were key. They were all naked dead women: they were babes, they were broads, they were blondes, they were coeds, they were nurses, they were stewardesses, they were cocktail waitresses, or they were any combination of the above, but they were dead and naked, or maybe found in tattered lingerie. The more violent the slashing/beating/raping /mutilation, the more we ran the piece.
Working at True Detective set me up perfectly to work at Stag magazine. Ten minutes into my interview with the editor-in-chief, Noah Sarlat—my ex-boss’s golf buddy—I looked down to discover my dress had become unbuttoned, exposing my bra. I’m sure Noah thought I did that on purpose. I was hired.
For someone dealing with stories about sex and photos of naked women all day, every day, Noah Sarlat seemed strangely uncomfortable talking to an actual woman. It must have been to differentiate me from the women in the 8 x 10 glossies that covered his desk that Noah never called me anything but “Little Girl.”
My first day on the job, I knocked over my coffee cup, spilling coffee across the desk and the galleys. It could only go up from there. The office I shared with my managing editor, a short, slim, preppy guy I’ll call Baxter Chadwick, was smaller than my apartment bathroom. Baxter’s desk was on one wall, mine the other, and Baxter would pass me to get to his wall, occasionally slapping or patting my rear as he passed. But this was 1975, and you didn’t complain about things like that—just take a deep breath, inhale the smoke from Baxter’s chain-smoked Camels, and think about editing.
What kind of magazine was Stag? Published by Magazine Management Co., Inc., later known as Marvel Comics Group, the same folks who brought you Spider-Man, Stag was originally part of a group of magazines specializing in adventure for men—guns, girls, and gore—that kind of thing. The old timers liked to brag that Godfather author Mario Puzo got his start there. An archive picture on the Internet of Noah Sarlat in 1961 shows him presenting a cover shot of Stag to a high mucky-muck at the Pentagon. But by the early 70s, Stag had dropped all pretense at action-packed exploits in favor of predictable sex. Imagine Penthouse or Playboy and then take the elevator to the basement. Stag was widely circulated among truckers, the incarcerated, and others with time on their hands. Exhibit A, in crayon: RUN THE RED PANTIES ONE.
My boyfriend thought my working at Stag might be fun. (I got the impression it was indeed possible that he’d had some teenage familiarity with the genre.) And I needed to pay my share of the rent. I told myself that a job at Time or Newsweek would have me doing one simple task all day, while at Stag, the whole magazine was my responsibility, from soup to, uh, nuts.
But let’s face it. My high school image had been that of a virginal innocent, even something of a prude. I thought—well, at first I thought—it was cool to do business in the shocking on a regular basis. The job would become a never-fail conversation piece, something I could drag out at a party and witness all heads swinging in my direction.
This was a magazine my father would hide, choleric with rage, if he came upon it in the barber shop. (He told his acquaintances I was unemployed.) But even later, when the job had become both demoralizing and boring, I got a kick from mentioning casually, in passing, that I was the editor of a porn magazine—for instance to my former high school English teacher, Mrs. Beale. It was she who had selected me, years ago, to be the school lit magazine co-editor-in-chief, and frankly, nearly a decade later, I had nothing literary to show for it. But this, maybe more than getting a poem in the New Yorker, made her jaw drop.
It was, after all, only words—but what words! We’d get together in the tiny (smoke-filled) office—often with our counterparts at Male magazine, a nearly identical, possibly even lower class, magazine—to toss around ideas and some of those words for the next issue’s titles, subtitles, and blurbs: babes, ball, breast, blow, butt, bed, boob, broad, bitch, big, bigger, biggest, boss, bite, bang, beg, beat, bruise, break, and that was just the beginning of the alphabet. All of stories were vulgar; some of the stories were downright violent. I remember one plot that entailed girls being delivered for field hands to take turns with.
Then again, like much in life, you got used to it. When everything is off color, you stop seeing it entirely as off. That color becomes the norm. So, I spec’ed type, edited manuscripts to Stag’s standards—There is no hyphen in blow job! I fabricated, on my Remington, at so many agates to an inch, when prison correspondence fell short, letters to the editor: boastful, comic, tragic, and yes, violent.
Occasionally, I wrote a piece myself, under a pseudonym, of course. I’d get an idea from my boyfriend and pitch it to Noah as a freelance piece, or Noah would suggest one. When everyone in the real world was excited by the Olympics, Noah suggested I write up a first-person story describing athletic sexual feats, a sort of orgy with medals. The story I turned in was duller than a visit to the dentist, and Noah kept handing it back to me, telling me to make it hotter. He did eventually pay for the piece, the exorbitant rate of $120 (for twelve pages), though I don’t know if he ever used it.
You might think that there were certain dangers inherent in the job, and you would be right. Remember, these were the days when you couldn’t holler sexual harassment, and if you did, no one was going to hear you. If Noah separated me in his mind from those in the 8 x 10 glossies, Baxter boasted of his contentment in the sexual arena with his 40DD girlfriend, though he liked to bust a disco move now and then, when he was feeling chipper, doing pelvic-thrusting struts around our tiny office.
There were ways to deal with things at Stag, and one way was through drugs. More than one coworker took the elevator to the roof for a toke now and then. Amber, the girl from the art department, small and thin, with long greasy hair, liked Quaaludes for her breakfast of champions. I would watch her walk to the restroom, holding up the wall and trying not to collapse.
You are thinking, person of the 21st century, that you wouldn’t have stood for these working conditions. The pay was low. The managing editors were all men. The associate editors were all female. The men made crude remarks. The women made coffee. My editor smacked me in the fanny and criticized my wardrobe. Nobody on the editorial staff was a person of color.
Those were also the days when classified ads were Help Wanted / Male and Help Wanted / Female. And if you were female, you had better be ready for a typing test.
But you dealt with it. I put on an armor coat of irony and sophistication when I walked into the office at 9:00 in the morning, and I wore that armor coat until I walked out at night. It made me feel grown up to not evince distress at the subject matter—I could take it! Maybe I hadn’t quite made it, but I was a career woman, earning a living, working in the Big Apple.
But one day, Trudy, whose job, associate editor, was my equivalent at Male, told me over lunch that her managing editor—we’ll call him Andrew—married, soft-spoken, and impeccably Brooks Brothers groomed—had criticized Trudy’s work, said it was sloppy. He suggested to Trudy that if she went down on him, he would overlook her blunders. If not, she would be out a job. It was hard to believe—Andrew seemed so nice and gentlemanly compared to Baxter—I was sure (I told Trudy) that he would not make good on his threats. But he did, and Trudy was gone.
That was my clue that things were not going to change at Stag. Everyone was shocked when I handed in my letter of resignation, telling Noah I was moving to California. And I did move there, to San Francisco. Only once did I make the mistake of taking out the “clips” from True Detective and Stag in a job interview.