Jazz Stenographers, coffee
Connie sipped the coffee.
Or, did the coffee sip her?
She looked at the styrofoam cup in her hand, "is this what it had come to?" She could remember a time when she had her own ceramic mug with ‘Connie’ leaping off the side, as if to say "I’m Connie, this is my mug, I drink coffee from it." The coffee fell from her hand. "No big wow," she thought, "in joints like this, the rug must hold its weight in cow juice, barf, piss and ginger." Yeah, ‘ginger.’ Some of the older gals kept it in their purses to sprinkle in their coffee, when the night got so low and so real that it felt you could walk right out onto it, ridin’ high...on shorthand.
Oh, Connie’s a Jazz Stenographer, one of the few REAL Jazz Stenographers left. She had a sweater-clip, a beehive and a bowling average. She was there when it all started to happen, when it all started to quake, back in Syracuse, in 1963, at the Rembly School of Business. Back then, the place just trembled with the energy of a whole new kind of stenography...Jazz Stenography.
When Connie took her sweater off, people shivered. She was the talk of the water cooler, she was the ‘Krupa’ of the steno pool.
Connie sat in that cool pose that every girl tried to emulate: back straight, head tilted slightly to the side, wielding her pen or ‘stick’ at a sharp angle to her pad. Not to mention that mad gleam in her eyes as she sat speechless, a raslin and a taslin, interpreting the words in her own crazy way. "skot li atotina opw! dear sir! A bing a dong ring poo poo gorf r.s.v.p. if you skutliatin do do we-silent g!"* She’d riff, getting even on a line, sneaking back off a phrase, and barreling right into a new paragraph.
Meanwhile the others, the squares, or ‘out baskets’ as they called them, were still taking dictation on some fat boy’s knee.
It was a real scene at one time with her and the other gals, Bea, Hazel and "Kathi, with a ‘K’"... And Connie, was right in the middle of it.
She didn’t realize she was right in the midst of it, but people never do...do they? Till much later. Had Connie looked out and said "Bea, do you realize we are riding the crest of a wave of our own creation? A wave crisp and clean, with singleness of purpose and purity of path. We are DRIVING a wave, brandishing the future." Bea would have stared...
Those WERE the good old days. But had those words been uttered, through orange-lipsticked lips, the wave would have burst, crashed into itself.
Did Connie sip the coffee, or did the coffee sip her? Discussing it was better left for historians of the future, the dogs of intellect, those who nibble at the bones, never understanding the body.
Jazz Stenographers, circa ’63
A time when gingham was king, when goalies didn’t need masks. A time when your parents still kissed and they drove that big car. When eggs were good for you. A time when feminists were just ‘gals with spunk’, when eight-track tapes were still a bold new idea of the future. A time when ‘Hang In There Baby’ posters were just being unrolled. Some song was number one, and someone was president, and someone else won the World Series, but none of that mattered because the Summer of ’63, was Connie’s.
Connie takes the curve in that Skylark like there was no tomorrow. Or should I say, she takes the curve like there WAS a tomorrow but it won’t get here...till after tonight.
Tonight, Connie would make an entrance at ‘The Upper Case’ – the club that the gals gathered at, under dank florescent lighting, and did it. The place would be sardined with hiring agents, social hogs, and young black cats that were into correspondence as a means of communication. And when she arrived she’d get the old green chair in the corner that was really good for her back – her chair. Because Connie had the kind of posture that you’ve only read about in grade-eight health books. The kind that would make your mom weep, and school kids gather and gasp, eating their overdue book reports on ‘Black Like Me’ just to stop from going blind. Posture so true and strong it made you feel like buying a bike. The kind of posture that separated man from the apes and Connie from the crowd. Connie, had good posture.
If you’d been standing, with your own shabby slouch, on that curve as she drove by, you might have thought her hairdo was so smart it could have done her taxes. But her hair wouldn’t be the first thing that you thought about. You may have noticed she had a body that wouldn’t quit...without two weeks notice. But not at first. My bet is your first thought would have been "she has somewhere to go..." And even if YOU had somewhere to go, she was going somewhere else. Because my friends, the proof was in the posture. She went while you watched.
Jazz Stenographer, sizzled
Something had happened. And the more she thought about it, the more it happened. Connie had lost it. Perhaps she’d gotten so hot, she fried.
She sizzled brother, and was left melted cold.
Maybe it had just run out. Maybe what she thought was a fountain, was really a funnel. Now she was almost out. Dry. She was just hanging on by her Press-On Nails.
Or maybe success went to her head. She started going out for lunch, instead of eating as she ‘gigged.’ She started talking about herself in the third person. Lent her soul to other things, like ‘gossip.’ It began to show up in her work. She started to cop safe variations and repeat herself. And before she knew it, there was an army of Trishs, Susans and Corrines craning to replace her.
Her quirks had been magnified by time and become the fence posts of her character. People didn’t think she was brilliant any more, just eccentric. She went crazy and not the good kind. It was like she was on a spirograph journey to nowhere.
She went through a string of temp jobs, each worst than the last. It ended with her stuffing envelopes in the back of some station wagon. Rock bottom – she got a job in real-estate. Well real-estate wasn’t her thing – waiting, waiting, waiting. People coming just for the free donuts. All the ‘open houses’ started to close in on her. She couldn’t deny what she was, a goddamned Jazz Stenographer.
Connie’s 49 now.
Okay, alright, she’s 54, but she can pass for 49 in certain light. She’s only half way through her life. She takes the last swallow of cold coffee and looks at the newspaper. Where the ad is circled ‘Jazz Stenographer wanted.’ She smiles without using her face and walks out.
Halftime’s over. It’s time to punch in...