There was the year that the Christmas tree was hung from the ceiling, in the home of the man who never paid us, so that we, who were attending his house party, could spin it to trim it with the popcorn and berries that we were stringing while we were eating fudge and cookies and drinking wine and enjoying each other’s company with music and dancing.
We were all in it together and he was like our cult leader — charming and charismatic.
We scarcely noticed that we weren’t making any money all the while he took the money out of the cigar box under the counter to buy new shoes to schmooze a new client who might put more cash back in the cigar box that could, sometime later, be used to pay us. That was just the way it had to be.
His sister was worried and a member of the ones who had invested. She was as worried for us as she was for herself. She snuck us pay on a very few days and not much of it the few days she did while she apologized profusely. She was as kind as he.
He didn’t mean to. He did everything with the best of intentions but he was known around town for failing one adventure after another — though not by us.
We all wanted so much for it to all succeed because, well, because he was so handsome, charming and charismatic and we loved him and loved the work that we were doing — and each other.
He discovered me and had great hopes which, in turn, made for hopeful me. It was my first job out of high school and he called me his Girl Friday. I delivered papers all over town on my gas in my car — loving every minute.
He wanted to get me on the radio and send me out for promotional broadcast talks. He had more confidence in me than I could seem to stand — but none of it came true before he had to let us go — without any pay.
My mother kept saying, “Wait and see. He’s just getting off the ground.” My mother had found that job for me, driving by his window with a “Hiring Girl Friday” sign and she was pleased because she knew that I didn’t like peas or doing anything conventional and she saw how charming the man could be and she had great hopes for him to succeed — especially with me on board doing something she knew I’d love.
It was long before Kinkos was well known, though it had been founded, but he had a copy machine and could bind a book and made business cards and did ad copy and published ads in newsprint and hired copy-and-pasters who used press on letters and tape and cut them with X-Acto knives and he had an artist who designed logos with pen and ink and another artist who curated the gallery on the top floor that you got to by going up a flight of stairs lined with gold-veined mirrors that he left.
He had one idea after another and set about instituting all of them and everyone he knew wanted to be a part but then got nervous. If one of us came up with another idea he tried to institute it too.
I saw him years later at a bar, as charming as ever, selling something to the ones clamored about him listening to him like he was still the cult leader that he had always been except that by then he was more of a cult leader who got drunk and stammered some. I still loved him and longed for the hope that we had all had all during that Christmas in the 70s when none of us made any money to buy our families presents but had nothing but hope for the future.
Hard and soft it was a Christmas when conventional wisdom got in the way of play but satisfaction kept trying to bring it back. Waiting and hoping just the same way kids wait for Santa. I’ll never forget the Christmas with the tree hanging from the ceiling right side up instead of upside down the way they do now mocking Christmas.
If memory serves, I think his name was Walt. Thank you Walt for making Christmas 1972 as indelible as Mozart’s style of writing.
- There are two missing days from the writing one-a-day commitment, (returned to drafts because they were too auto-biographically intimate), at the beginning — that started July 12, 2019 — and today is one of those days where my fingers are itchy, so it’s a dose-of-two day for filling in a missing link.