It's Friday night and the parking lot is full in front of the Western Avenue Holiday Inn in Augusta, Maine. That's big business in the middle of this capital city where even the airport closes down for the winter. The temperature is in the single-digits and a heavy snow is falling. Inside, the place is packed. There's the full membership of the Corvette Club, the guys from the auto shop, the lumber yard, and a few legislators from the State House downtown; the regulars are at their tables in front of the band, and the professional women (who never buy their own drinks) behind them. Lynette's beehive is just visible above the drinks on her tray as she moves through the mob of steaming wool; I give my orders to Jodi behind the bar and load up the first tray of stingers and CC's 'n Coke for the table of plaid-shirt locals at the back table. Seven hours and fifty bucks later, I sit at the bar with the other four women and share gossip over fried cheese sandwiches and cheap scotch. I'm the only one that doesn't have kids, and when the snow finally melts in late April, I'll be the only one leaving town.
Next stop, the pin factory. Which it wasn't but I called it that because my job was to fold tiny baby clothes over pieces of cardboard, sticking pins in all the folds to hold them in place. It was 92 degrees outside and about a hundred inside, where a row of steam pressers next to me hissed rhythmically along with the muffled sounds of "Love Will Keep Us Together" on the radio. Under the steam clouds, rows of sewing machines clacked and stopped, clacked and stopped. 4 sleeves a minute. "Piecework" they called it. Women's work. I lasted two weeks and then told the horse faced floor boss my fingers were numb from the pin-sticks and I couldn't take the heat. She gave me a sad smile and my paycheck and told me she'd worked there for 15 years. She was thirty-one.
When I left Maine and returned to California I was 29. I had an art degree, a racing bike, and three boxes of books. I needed a job. The biggest restaurant in town only hired men ("We hire women in the fish market," said 'Spanky' Spenger, "but not for the restaurant. Men are just more... reliable"). The office jobs I took at that time required about 50 wpm on the typewriter, invariably an IBM Selectric. I liked the machines. Especially when the IBM guy came by for the monthly servicing. They always wore dark suits and ties. They'd place the leather attache' case on your desk and pop it open. Inside were screwdrivers and solvent and dirty rags and spare typewriter parts. The guy in the suit would sit at the typewriter and type--not words, just random letters and numbers. But it was a man in a suit all the same. At a typewriter.