After getting kicked out of Goucher, the prospect of going to a different sleep-away college seems remote. I don’t even feel like a sleep-away college person anymore. So in late summer I enroll at City College, a proletarian alternative. I have just turned 18,
I also start a part-time job at Brentano’s Bookstore on Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street. I am hired by the Foreign Book Department director, Eugene Clarence Braun-Munk, who is also new to this store, having previously managed the Paperback Gallery and been thrown in jail for opening on a Sunday. I never met anyone like Eugene. He is only 35 but mannered and majestic and fidgety and flamboyant, I could think of a hundred adjectives for him. He has longish curly hair, a beaked aristocratic nose and wears suits made to order, speaks six languages, maybe more. He is literary and ambitious, Brentano’s is only a way station, and I am his very first secretary.
At my job interview, I sit across the desk from Eugene and try to look competent. Eugene says gesturing airily, ” Sometimes, I may dictate to you in French. Can you take shorthand in French?” I swallow. I can’t even take shorthand in English. “Oh, sure”, I say.
Eugene and I have a disheveled office on the bottom floor of the store, way in the back. I am supposed to only work 20 hours a week, that’s all I get paid for. Eugene wants me all the time, though, and he pays me in art books for extra hours. Once, he takes me to Sardi’s for lunch as a reward for my diligence. White tablecloths, silver, elegant waiters, I can hardly eat.
Eugene learns not to expect too much from me, secretarial-wise, and to dictate only in English and very, very slowly.