Over the decades after leaving the employ of Cosmetics Plus, I often revisited the place in my memory, attempting to jot down the details of the first warehouse where I felt the most content – each recollection recalling aspects I had not remembered before.
In a 1997 journal, I wrote, “the new warehouse seemed so much like the card company warehouse that I felt almost immediately at home.”
In this journal, I recalled that the front office was “a little more elaborate” than the cared company office had been, with wood paneling and a reception area and a two room office, one room with a table in it where Donald sometimes met with Stanley to discuss aspects of the business, and the other office where Donald could think out his plans in private.
By the 1990s, my journals had lost some of the bitter edge early 1980s journals seemed to have, and I felt a bit more nostalgic, if not for the Kaplan Drive warehouse, certainly for warehouse and the life I lead in the Bloomfield Avenue warehouse. These later journals painted Donald as less ambitious than those earlier, though Donald in a 2004 interview with a business magazine showed how little he had changed since my last encounter with him in 1978, still caught up in mass production and computer models, and financial motivations for his staff.
The reception area – where Carmella sat – I recalled in the 1997 journal had two cushioned chairs facing towards the front door and the reception desk. To their right – from the front door – was a door to a short hall and the door to the warehouse, and two doors along the left side of the hall, one leading to the bathroom, the other into Donald’s private office.
A door to the left of the chairs led to the room with the table and filing cabinets, and the other door into Donald’s office.
Every part of this section of the warehouse had deep carpet, part of the necessary sense of luxury, Donald needed to maintain in order to be taken seriously by anyone he brought in here.
Carmella ruled this part of the warehouse like a mother hen and she waddled from one room to another, carting paper work in and out.
None of us knew her age, but it was clear she had already become an old maid.
She dressed in old maid’s clothing. She had a nasally old maid’s voice. She had a mindset of an old maid that often frustrated me.
Donald had hired her because she was a friend of his family, a baby sitter or someone to whom he owed some sense of loyalty, though like Stanley, she would fit less and less into his world as his future plans unfolded. She was part of the smaller warehouse I came to love but Donald would soon outgrow.
Later, I learned that Carmella had a sister two whom she was closely attached and that both women had come to depend upon each other after their mother had died, growing more and more like an old married couple, together perpetually except when Carmella was on the job, always in communication on the telephone when they could not physically be together.
As strange as Carmella was, she seemed well-suited to her role in the old warehouse, and would seem very lost when she was forced to move with the rest of us to the new place on Kaplan Drive a few years later.
Carmella, dressed in her old maid’s clothing, gave the place a strange kind of old era class. But like Stanley, Carmella had somewhat peculiar working habits and insisted on them, keeping everything to a specific time of day and growing annoyed with the rest of us when we were a bit less predictable.
She always had the company correspondence ready for the mail man by 10 a.m. and grew irritable if he was late or if Stanley or Donald came up with something last minute.
She always made coffee at the same time of day, and always made only two pots, turning off the machine and washing the pots and cups to set them out for the next morning.
I also learned later that she drove the same route to work each day and became extremely flustered if someone forced her to detour from it.
We grew used to these and her other routines, and later, grew fond of her because of them. We could set our watches by what she did and when she did it, markers of the passing days, and these gave us clues as to when other events not in her control would occur – so that if we expected a truck to arrive at 3 p.m., we simply had to look to what Carmella was doing, not the clock.
Sometimes, we related time to her activities such as saying we can have a job done by the time Carmella came back from lunch, and it was as precise a measurement of time as an atomic clock.
Later, after the company moved to new digs and the staff increased, Carmella became the subject of cruel jokes, plots my members of the male warehouse crew to rid her of her virginity, which all were certain she still maintained.
While she could not have known the details of those jests, she couldn’t have missed the snickering boys whenever she appeared in the warehouse, and eventually these became less and less frequent and she became more isolated in a new office up front that did not at all suit her. Eventually, even Donald seemed to forget her, as he collected new toys and brought in new people, computers and sales clerks and other signs that he was finally on the road to success.