Mr. Shapiro, Boston
Dee took the civil service exam, more out of a sense of duty than expectation. Again
thinking she should, she interviewed for the jobs in Manchester and Durham but
either the job descriptions (dull repetitive work, no chance for advancement), the
personality of the interviewer (bored or cynical after years of ‘public service’) or the
offices themselves (badly in need of paint and newer furniture) were discouraging.
She began to scour the help wanted pages in the Boston Globe.
Her eye was caught by an ad. “Gal Friday needed for young, dynamic firm in the PR
sector. Applicants must be self-motivated and well-organized. Previous work
experience unnecessary.” She wasn’t sure what the PR sector was, but liking the
sound of “young and dynamic”, she sent in her application. She found herself hoping
for an interview, if only to find out what a Gal Friday did, and Boston of course, was
better than Durham and Manchester. Whatever happened, it was something new,
and besides, the bus trip to Boston was well within her budget.
There was no golden globe on top of the building that housed EDC Communications
in the landmarked building at a busy intersection near Boston Common. It was Mr.
Shapiro, the director – a round energetic little man, shorter than Dee, middle-aged
with receding hairline – who interviewed her. He described the advantages of working
in public relations, the opportunities for advancement, the room for growth. Mr.
Shapiro seemed less a slick salesman, which would have frightened her, than a
guidance counselor at high school. Dee wondered how good he was at his job. PR,it
turned out, was public relations and a Gal Friday was expected to be able to do
everything. Noticing her raised eyebrows, he quickly said ” Of course, not
Dee found his enthusiasm encouraging, just the opposite of the bored and tired
interviewers she had encountered before. The idea of independence and
responsibility intrigued her. She imagined herself bringing in new clients, earning
admiration and bonuses.
Mr. Shapiro wasn’t discouraged by Dee’s lack of experience and assured her he
knew what it was like to start something new. After all, the company itself was new
and already had more clients than it could handle.
Dee liked the company’s slogan “We shape conversations that matter.” She wasn’t
sure what it really meant but found it somehow dynamic, young, enthusiastic.
Despite the low salary, it was Mr. Shapiro and the future possibilities, that convinced
her to take the job.
In the first year she filed and typed (not very well), kept the accounts receivable file,
fended off clients deemed ‘dead end’ by Mr. Shapiro and developed what he called
‘phone personality’ – courteous, patient but firm. “You’re the first voice they hear from
our company.” Dee liked the ‘our’ and felt she had made the right decision. She
started spending her lunch hours in Filene’s Basement, searching for the right
Marsha, however, when Dee found time to visit the little house on Inman Square,
had many doubts and questions. “Has he made a pass? How many others are there
in the office? How can you meet anyone? When do you get a raise?” Nor did she
approve of Dee’s living situation. “After all, Dee, a furnished room – as if you were
still in college.” Dee shrugged. What did Marsha know about furnished rooms, about
college or for that matter about working? Wondering why she took the time, she soon
let weeks pass without a trip to Cambridge.
EDC Communications, named for Mrs. Shapiro, Edith, and his kids David and Carol,
grew steadily as the Fifties ended. Television and radio were the most effective
media. But composing text, hiring people to make posters, flyers, ads, and most
important, creating the image that would sell the client- cereal, soft drinks, whatever –
to the customer was all PR, Dee learned. EDC added the new tech firms out on
Route 128 and the Boston Arts Festival to its roster that year. The arts festival was a
big jump for EDC according to Mr. Shapiro. He was especially proud of the
acquisition and admitted he’d always had a weakness for the arts.
Dee thought his enthusiasm must be personal, a quirk. It was certainly not reflected
in accounts receivable. In fact, cultural events were often given lower rates than
other customers. Dee, only a Gal Friday, made no comment.
An expert typist was hired after Dee’s first year – Betty, an older woman from South
Boston, a heavy smoker with bleached blonde hair ‘like a character out of a
Raymond Chandler story, Mr. Shapiro said. (Who was Raymond Chandler? Was Dee
also a Raymond Chandler character? She spent a few lunch hours hunting through
second-hand bookstores behind Beacon Hill.) Later, Donald, a young law student,
was added on a parttime basis “for a legal opinion on contracts.”
She was given a raise and a title – head of personnel – after the new employees were
hired. Mr. Shapiro often relayed requests to them through Dee, almost as if he
wanted to avoid being a traditional boss. This must be what a Gal Friday does, she
thought, but secretly wondered if Mr. Shapiro saw himself less as a boss than as a
supporter of the arts.
After many arranged blind dates with someone’s nephew, roommate, or cousin, she
found herself going out steadily with Fred, a young lawyer at one of the larger law
firms in Boston. Fred was nice, unsurprising, even-tempered, reliable – and fairly dull
she admitted to herself – but always ready to take her where she wanted to go, unlike
some of the opinionated, determined, aggressive men she’d met, their hands flying
all over, with their own ideas of a blind date.