Help Wanted

by Mary MacGowan
The Waters
Honorable Mention, November 2021
Judged by Terence Culleton

I taught myself to type
on a small orange
typewriter ($35)
with a library book
designed to prop open
for practicing. 45 wpm
was the minimum
required for a secretary,
learned in a weekend.
(A job was much needed.)

One job was at a law firm,
each page had 3 carbon
copies, blue, yellow and pink.
Bottles of white-out,
also in blue, yellow and pink,
sat next to the Selectric.
The long pauses
for fixing mistakes. The pain
that manifested under
my right shoulder blade.

One job was for a small family
business on Park Avenue
that sold dictating machines
with their tiny cassettes.
One of the owners,
the son, had me sit in his lap
on a late afternoon, the sun
slanting in the shop windows.

Not long after, a job
in San Francisco,
where I used a headset
to listen to men dictating
business letters, probably
on a Park Ave machine.
I earned just enough
for airfare to get back home.
I bought a woman’s ticket
listed for sale in the Times;
we could do things like that
back then, names mismatched.

Later, when the babies came,
and it was my job
to stay home with them,
and newspapers still had
Help Wanted ads, and when
they were napping, I’d pour
myself a cup of coffee
and dream. Ohhh, I could
be a receptionist at
The Chatham Club.
Welcoming guests, smiling,
Right this way, I’d say,
my voice positively filled
to the sky with smiles,
and the stapler
was happily married
to the kleenex box
and the paper clips
ran away with the spoon.