Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Poison in the Drawer

  I am continuing with a most dangerous year, but a more personal perspective than the growing chaos in the country.

On February 5, a Monday, three days after Dottie was incarcerated at Embreevilre State Hospital, Lois took a  job at the Delaware County Hospital. We didn’t know the dangers of this at the time. Two days after beginning, she fell and strained her ankle and had to have it bandaged and rested. She didn’t get back to her new job until the 28th, another Monday.  This job was to change a whole lot eventually.

My work was going along swimmingly. Now, I am a neat person who does not like clutter. If  clean desk is a sign of a sick mind, then I am very sick indeed, at death's door practically, but if I die you''find me easily. My desk at work was always clean. I worked quickly and accurately, so as something hit the in-basket it was as good as done. Zip, I would have it in front of me doing whatever task it called for and then it went directly into my out-basket for a clerk or a mailperson to pick up. Some people can work in an area that looks like a trash heap. I can’t. 
Everyday my desk was pristine, void of any stray paper, not even an errant paper clip. One day I am called into Donald Jones office. (He was the manager of Accounts Receivable.) When I walk in a lady ledgerman (see I told you there were female ledgermen) was sitting there with a big frown on her face. She was staring down at the floor. She would not look up at either of us. Mr. Jones proceeded to inform me that this woman had come to him with a complaint about me. She told him I hid work in my desk. No, unlike her I was neither a slowpoke at the job nor did I waste time spying on my fellow workers. 
It must have cme as quite the shock to this woman when in September I was made an assistant group leader, which made me technically her boss. It is nice to be recognized in some way for your efforts, but it would have been nicer if the assistant group leader title had led with a group of additional dollars, but all it came with were some additional responsibilities. Perhaps I should have kept a messier desk. I wasn't looking for honors or more work, all I really wanted was to get home and write.
On October 21 Lois and I went to my parents so I could tell them I had just sold another story. I was paid $46 for the rights.

Let me explain about the writing market then. There was a high strata of magazines that paid a great deal for any story or article. These magazines were certainly what I strove for. It wasn’t just the money; it was also the status they bestowed upon the writer and once you got published in one of these high-end magazines, you more or less guaranteed others would snap up your work. They might even come begging.
Unfortunately, several of these top line rags did not accept unsolicited manuscripts. If they wanted something from you they came a calling. That meant you had to have established yourself as the cream of the writing crop. These magazines included such publications as Playboy and The New Yorker.
I may have dreamed of being in those someday, but the reality was I was down in the lower echelon, the bargain basement so to speak. Oh, it wasn’t really the lowest on the vine. I wasn’t writing for anything sleazy, no porno stuff, but my buyers were still in what would be called the
Pulps. Most of my fiction was being published in Magazine of Horror. This meant I was selling to this Publisher in New York called Health Knowledge, Inc. I am not certain where the health or knowledge came in. They published three mass magazines, “Magazine of Horror”, “Startling Mystery Stories” and “Famous Science Fiction”. All were edited by Robert A. W. Lowndes. They appear to have published something called “Nuts Magazine”, but only in the year 1958. I really don’t know anything about this comic book, except it looks like something on the order of “Mad”
Anyway, I wrote in what was called the “penny-a-word” market.  If I received $46 dollars for a tale, then it was 4,600 words long. In today's dollars that would have been the equivalent of about $320. I believe the most I ever received for a story was $54 or what would be today, $374.  I guess the payments weren't bad for the time,  I had gotten less, but I wasn’t selling enough stories to live full time on the royalties.
There were some distinct problems back in those times. You sold the rights to your story for whatever a publisher offered. It then belonged to the publisher lock, stock and grammatical error and they could do what they wished with it. They could reprint it. They could burn it. They could sell it elsewhere. If some fool in Hollywood decided to use your story as the basis of a movie, then the publisher got the purchase price of the film rights, not the author. It was stacked against the writer
This all changed with a reboot in the copyright laws, but the reform came too late for me. Not that I cared at the time. I was thrilled to see my stories printed in real publication and to also get paid for writing the tale.
The first story I sold to Magazine of Horror was “Last Letter from Norman Underwood”. The main character’s name was a combo invention. Norman because it was similar to Normal and I was playing off the irony of that. Underwood was the brand of typewriter I wrote the story with.  I loosely based Norman and the Narrator’s relationship on that of my friend Ronald Tipton and I.
I wanted to do something on the werewolf theme, but I wanted something different. I thought the werewolf genre had become very set, person is bitten, seems fine until the moon turns full and then look out, the person turns into a wolf. My story seems to lead us down that same path, but then the twist comes at the end. I was a fan of O. Henry, I liked a twist to conclude a story. Norman isn’t a werewolf after all. It is his dog that is a wereman. 

This story sold in 1968, but I had written it 10 years prior, in early 1968 when I was 16. Thirty-six years later it popped up for analysis on pages 180-181 of a 2004 book printed by the University of Wisconsin Press, Brian Frost’s Essential Guide to Werewolf Literature. I like the fact it was tagged as literature.

Lois suddenly left her job at the hospital. She didn’t give any reason. On Wednesday, November 27, the day before Thanksgiving, she began working at Wanamaker’s on Market Street in Philadelphia. She took a job there as a Holly Dolly, one of the helpers for Breakfast with Santa.
One of my regrets is I never got a photo of Lois as a Holly Dolly. I have searched, but can’t even find a photo of the Breakfast with Santa. You would think some parents would have snapped a keepsake. I remember I thought it was sexy, even though she would wear it in to work in the morning, riding the bus and subway. I pictured in my mind her going dressed like an elf in tights, with a Pixie Hat and Pixie Pointed Shoes, but she was supposed to be a doll. Her actual costume had a puffed out short skirt and I believe white tights.

After performing with Santa, she would change into regular clothes at work then man a station on the main floor, probably selling perfume. The closer we got to Christmas, the more she complained she was going nuts from listening to the Wanamaker light show. They did this show over and over on a loop the whole season, lights illustration the popular Christmas Songs being played on an organ. There were fountains about the floor that “danced” to the music. One viewing is very nice, but over and over a whole day long is cruel and unusual punishment.
She worked at Wanamaker’s until Christmas, then she left her Holly Dolly days behind. On December 30 she took a file clerk job at the same company as her friend Evelyn (right), a Title Abstract Company. She spent her days helping research deeds.

Lois was more paranoid than usual. She would jump up if the phone rang and hurry to answer it. Hr voice was always a whisper. She was nervous all the time. If I beat her to the phone there would be nothing on the other end when I said hello.

One evening I opened a drawer in our bedroom looking for something. There were some letters addressed to Lois in there. One was open, the pages sprawled about. I picked it up and read. I suddenly knew why Lois was so anxious to leave that hospital job and why we were getting so many phone calls where no one was on the other end when I answered. Lois was having an affair with an orderly at the hospital and now he wouldn’t leave her alone.

1 comment:

Ron said...

Talk about a cliff hanger.