Carmella as Donald’s gate keeper


Another take on the same scene came from an essay written in the mid-1990s.

Donald Ran his office the way any elite corporate executive might.

An invitation to Donald’s office usually bode kill tidings, and often required a long wait in the front section near Carmella.

          Anyone entering through the front door had to deal with this 42 year old spinster Donald had hired as secretary and receptionist.

          Donald might have hired a younger, prettier secretary as a show piece, but he needed Carmella, who was extremely competent and as critical to his future plans as Stanley. She did all the typing of memos, letters and even some of the orders and received help only after Donald moved the business to new, larger digs where he eventually installed a computer in a special room that printed many of the order forms we used.

          A journal entry from Feb. 5, 1986 painted a pretty accurate picture of Carmella.

          “A cruel joke that ran through Cosmetics Plus was that Carmella, Donald’s secretary was a virgin. This came later after we moved to the second place, when her importance to Donald’s growing empire had diminished. Some of the boys later in the Kaplan Drive warehouse jokingly offered to take up a collection and pay some man $100 to make love to her.

          “She was everything a young, ambitious entrepreneur like Donald needed when he first started: a totally dependable and hard working soul that transformed his office into a well-operation machine – something Donald was not capable of doing fresh out of the back of the garage where he had started his business.

          “She had her moods, which, of course, was attributed to her “monthly condition.”

          “I could never make out her age, thinking sometimes she was a well beyond middle aged, while other times, when she showed her vulnerabilities, she seemed much younger.

          “She tended to dress old, though even this could not completely hide how well-proportioned she was.

          “She might even have been considered pretty if she did not maintain an expression that made her look like a petrified elder aunt.

          “She was a short woman with dark eyes and a dark complexion and walked like a duck, talked like a goose, and when upset, she quaked openly at anyone, her and shoulders moving side to side.

          “There were times, however, when I came in on her that I saw her staring into space, her expression showing just how lonely she felt. But the moment she saw me looking at her, back snapped her other face.

          “She lived with her sister in a West Caldwell garden apartment, and she constantly complained about one of the male neighbors stealing her parking spot, especially in winter after a heavy snow.

          “Her sister, I’m told, was like a twin, although they weren’t. I never met her, but I heard a lot about her, Carmella always quoting her as if an authority on every subject.

          “Donald must have realized how lucky he was to have her because he always jumped whenever she asked for something, and when we moved to the Kaplan Drive warehouse, she got an office of her own, and over saw the new batch of younger office staff, none of whom she approved of.”

          Another journal entry from Dec. 2, 1982 also talks about the old warehouse.

“The old warehouse was much more intimate than the new one ever was, even during the Christmas rush. I spent two Christmas seasons working side by side with Stanley – while Donald and Carmella worked in the front office.

          “Stan was a tall man with dark hair and eyes and slopping shoulders. He had slightly slanted eyes and a rugged oval face, and had the ragged look of a blue collar worker, and tended to wear that kind of clothing. Despite the fact that he had just recently married his girlfriend, Diana, he looked more than a little sad, mouth always drooping a little around the edges, his eyes always looking just a little pained.

          “Stan was very fond of beer, a fringe benefit that Donald allowed, and probably contributed to Stan’s slight bulge.      He always kept a six pack in a small wood paneled refrigerator up front.

          “Stan walked with a slight limp he attributed to varicose veins. His legs always hurt him, the right one more than the left, and he blamed the pain on an operation he said he never fully recovered from. He had his doubts about hiring me since he used to hear the arguments I had through the thin wall between this warehouse and the one I worked in next door before coming here.

          “But he eventually accepted me. I guess it was the teacher in him. He was a born instructor, always repeating the same lesson over and over again. He tended to be compulsive – everything had to be done just right, even if this meant checking something a dozen times.

          “Later, this caused some friction between us when we moved to the new warehouse, although I never held it against him. He was a warm-hearted man, who gave more of himself than he had to give. He simply believed too much in order and efficiency, even when it got in the way of doing his job.

          “In some ways, Stanley had always been part of a comic duo, playing side kick to someone else.

          “He was always telling me stories about his best friend, Ned, from Jersey City, and told them so much I knew the stories almost as well as Stan did.

          “As efficient as Stan was, his need for perfection drove Donald crazy. Donald had big plans, and needed Stan to help make them materialize. While Stan had been to college, his background was in working sheet metal, such as making the boxes that house fuses and other electronics. He often mentioned how much he’d hated his boss, and how he had brokered that hatred into getting him through college at night. He wanted to be somebody, too, which made me wonder what he was doing with Donald, when he could have been making more money elsewhere.

          “This was part of his great gamble that coming in on the ground floor of Donald’s business would allow him to amount to something some day. He was determined to make this one chance pay off.”

          Stan, I recalled in an 1996 journal, as Donald’s warehouse manager spent more time in Donald’s office than any of the rest of us, thought most often he and Donald discussed issues in the third office that had once been Barry’s office, but by that time had a large round table in it with a few chairs around it and some filing cabinets against the walls.

          For my part, I mostly passed through the office every day, coming and going directly through the doors and hall that led to the warehouse. When I got called in Donald’s office, I was usually in trouble.


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