New York Memories: The Ladies Who Lunch, Part Four of Four
During the entire time I worked at The Magazine, I cannot remember having lunch with anyone. There were multiple reasons for this. One was that the office was in Soho, and none of my friends worked anywhere nearby. Another was that in publishing, lunch is a caste-laden meal: editors have lunch with writers and other editors, on expense account. It would have seemed presumptuous for me, the researcher, to have lunch appointments. Another was that because the editors would be out having lunch with writers, it was my responsibility to spend the prime lunch hours in the office, ready to answer the door to the UPS man who brought review books five times a day, to unwind manuscripts from the fax machine (it was unclear who was being more retro, us or the writers [1] but e-mail submissions were still rare), and, eternally, to answer the phone.
Not that I minded. As I had already learned in my other jobs, it is easier to answer the phone for people who are not there than to screen calls when they are listening. Some people have a talent for call screening, but I never did:
Me: Egghead Enterprises, good morning!
Caller: Can I speak to Miranda? This is Josh Jones.
Me: One Moment Please! (hold) Miranda, it’s Josh Jones.
Boss Lady: Oh, hell. Tell him I’m in Japan.
Me: (/hold) I’m sorry, she’s in Japan. I could let her know you called, when she, uh, calls in for her messages.
Caller: When will she be back?
Me: One Moment Please! I’ll check. (hold) Miranda, when will you be back?
Boss Lady: Oh, hell. (/hold) Josh! Bay-bee! No, just the silly mumble mumble mumble
Could have been worse. One of my other bosses told his secretary once, “Tell ’em I died.”
But all this is not to say that I didn’t often take my hour, in mid-afternoon, once everyone was back and all the little crises were covered, to go to the post office, to wander up Broadway, to run over to Spring Street Books – though this last was more easily combined with my frequent fact-checking missions, for in the days before Amazon.com and online university library catalogs, I often did have to physically leave the office to verify a publisher, date, or spelling. And then I would grab something from the Korean deli on the way back.
Weather permitting. That winter was the worst winter I’ve ever seen, with snowstorms every week, howling winds, heat-sucking temperatures that turned your face into a gelid mask and kept it that way for a long time after you went back indoors. Even the Korean deli was painfully far. So on many winter days I would run out and get food from Dean and Deluca, a yuppie caterers that was just across the street. The things (brownies, cheese puffs, sandwiches) were unhealthy, absurdly expensive and not actually very good, but it was right across the street and under certain weather conditions, that is almost the only thing worth considering. [2]
Clever people would ask why I didn’t just make my own lunch and bring it, but I was boarding with the manic-depressive soprano, who couldn’t stand to have any of us use the kitchen, and sprinkled bleach everywhere if she detected the slightest alien pollution. Besides, there was always the hope that the snow would stop and allow me to have an actual lunch hour, even if I couldn’t manage an actual lunch with chairs and company.
[1] You know the guy who goes nuts for an antique typewriter in You’ve Got Mail? I am convinced that that character was based on one particular writer for The Magazine.
[2] Let me qualify “almost”: What the editors often did on these days was order in sushi, which was obviously out of the question for someone working for $7.50 an hour.
Postscript: While writing this entry, I remembered that I did have lunch with people a few times: once with the business staff after we joined them in the new offices in the Button District; once with Charmaine, who was writing for a fashion magazine and having a baby; and once with Lisa R, whose wedding I had just attended and would describe as a crossover event: her family dancing to Lester Lanin’s band while the geeks from Senior House, equipped with sailor hats and champagne, sat poring over the just-released Andrew Wiles proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, downloaded from … what’re we supposed to be calling ARPAnet now? The Internet. Right. Right.
Lisa brought her wedding photo proofs from Bachrach, one of which contained the best picture ever taken of me, which I wanted desperately but had no idea how to request, since any nonprogrammed behavior connected with weddings always seems like a faux pas; thus I can reconstruct the conversation at that lunch as consisting mostly of “Oh, how lovely! … That’s a nice one … Lovely!”

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