My brother Moishe wondered out loud a lot and wasn’t shy about letting anyone know how he felt about anything. He told the entire family that I had sold out to the military-industrial complex. Law school had ended, I hadn’t passed the California Bar, the divorce was final, and we were living on $200 a month, with rent at $180 plus what I could earn clerking at Pomona Superior Court and whatever law office needed a temp that week. Don’t ask me how I raised a son by myself; with virtually no financial assistance from his Father, I wondered about that enough every time I checked the final settlement agreement. Wondered about that every time I bought groceries, but I wanted the divorce. Adulthood hit me in the face like an 18-wheeler.
I was always really good at earning lots of money. I just didn’t believe that I deserved to keep it for very long. General Dynamics offered me a $16,000 annual salary with vacation pay and health insurance. It’s what we desperately needed. June of 1978, I thought I had won the lottery. My friends were making less than $7,000 as starting teachers. It may not have offered me the opportunity to be a litigator in a courtroom like Perry Mason, but it was solid work and paid well. The light was shinning at the end of the tunnel and I didn’t need glasses to see it. I started my career negotiating contracts and never looked back. I was making double most of my law school classmates who were clerking for $4.00 to $7.00 an hour with no benefits.
In 1978, professional women with credentials under 35 were just getting started (Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman“still playing in my head). The interview was over three hours. My resume was heavy on the education, light on work experience. At the end of three hours, when asked why I didn’t have more experience, frustrated and exasperated I blurted out “How do I get experience when no one will hire me.” I have found that most times the truth isn’t anything most people want to hear, though in this case I started four days later as Jack Peterson’s new contract administrator. Seems that General Dynamics was under a Federal injunction to hire women and my resume said J.D.
Men and I have always had strained relationships, except when it came to work. And though I didn’t pay attention to life’s details back then like I do now, God was sending me a test. A really big test. I love men, they love me, then the deserving part kicks in, and I find a reason to bale. General Dynamics was a test. When you really don’t believe you deserve something, you may receive it from the universe, but you will always manage to find a way to screw it up.
Monday I come to work early all dressed in my new business suit – white slinky blouse with bow tie in front, black pencil skirt (tight, nothing has changed in the eighteen years since high school), black hose, and black stilettos (4”, Carrie would be proud). Drug screening, paperwork, secret clearance paperwork, details, details and even more details this was a DOD facility. I am walked to Jack Peterson’s office we chat and I laugh appropriately at the right times, and have the blushing at the right time down on queue. I’m a girl aren’t I? He takes me from his office to my desk in the Contract Administration bullpen, a room the size of half a Home Depot. There are three rows of Navy desks, all dark gray and newly repainted. My desk is in the center of the room. “Thank you, Mr. Peterson.” I sit down to start my new job and pick up the phone to call my first customer and look up.
Men I am in a sea of men. Men in the right row, men in the left row, and men in my row with me in the middle – every color, every race, every size. Except for the secretary, I am the only female in the room. OMG, what am I going to do? Punt, my brain always kicks in first. Smile Sara smile, blush Sara blush, drool Sara drool…what am I wearing to work tomorrow?
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