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Deborah Garrison, whose work as an editor and writer has enlivened the pages of The New Yorker for more than a decade, evokes the characters and events of her everyday life with intense feeling and, more important, conjures up the universal dilemmas and pleasures of a young woman trying to come to terms with love and work.
Under the Cover
An excerpt from A Working Girl Can't Win
God forgive me--
It's the firemen, leaning in the firehouse garage with their sleeves rolled up on the hottest day of the year.
As usual, the darkest one is handsomest. The oldest is handsomest. The one with the thin, wiry arms is handsomest. The young one already going bald is handsomest.
And so on. Every day I pass them at their station: the word sexy wouldn't do them justice. Such idle men are divine--
especially in summer, when my hair sticks to the back of my neck, a dirty wind from the subway grate blows my skirt up, and I feel vulgar,
lifting my hair, gathering it together, tying it back while they watch as a kind of relief. Once, one of them walked beside me
to the corner. Looked into my eyes. He said, "Will I never see you again?" Gutsy, I thought. I'm afraid not, I thought.
What I said was I'm sorry. But how could he look into my eyes if I didn't look equally into his? I'm sorry: as though he'd come close, as though this really were a near miss.
Please Fire Me
Here comes another alpha male, and all the other alphas are snorting and pawing, kicking up puffs of acrid dust
while the silly little hens clatter back and forth on quivering claws and raise a titter about the fuss.
Here comes another alpha male-- a man's man, a dealmaker, holds tanks of liquor, charms them pantsless at lunch:
I've never been sicker. Do I have to stare into his eyes and sympathize? If I want my job I do. Well I think I'm through
with the working world, through with warming eggs and being Zenlike in my detachment from all things Ego.
I'd like to go somewhere else entirely, and I don't mean Europe.
Husband, Not at Home
A soldier, a soldier, gone to the litigation wars,
or down to Myrtle Beach to play golf with Dad for the weekend.
Why does the picture of him tramping the emerald grass in those
silly shoes or flinging his tie over his shoulder to eat a take-out dinner at his desk--
the carton a squat pagoda in the forest of legal pads on which he drafts,
in all block caps, every other line, his motions and replies--fill her
with obscure delight? Must be the strangeness: his life
strange to her, and hers to him, as she prowls the apartment with a vacuum
in boxers (his) and bra, or flings herself across the bed
with three novels to choose from in the delicious, sports-free
silence. Her dinner a bowl of cereal, taken cranelike, on one
leg, hip snug to the kitchen counter. It makes her smile to think
he'd disapprove, to think she likes him almost best this way: away.
She'll let the cat jump up to lap the extra milk, and no one's home to scold her.
Worked Late on a Tuesday Night
Again. Midtown is blasted out and silent, drained of the crowd and its doggy day I trample the scraps of deli lunches some ate outdoors as they stared dumbly or hooted at us career girls-the haggard beauties, the vivid can-dos, open raincoats aflap in the March wind as we crossed to and fro in front of the Public Library.
Never thought you'd be one of them, did you, little lady? Little Miss Phi Beta Kappa, with your closetful of pleated skirts, twenty-nine till death do us part! Don't you see? The good schoolgirl turns thirty, forty, singing the song of time management all day long, lugging the briefcase home. So at 10:00 PM you're standing here with your hand in the air,
cold but too stubborn to reach into your pocket for a glove, cursing the freezing rain as though it were your difficulty. It's pathetic, and nobody's fault but your own. Now
the tears, down into the collar. Cabs, cabs, but none for hire. I haven't had dinner; I'm not half of what I meant to be. Among other things, the mother of three. Too tired, tonight, to seduce the father.
Deborah Garrison is the author of A Working Girl Can’t Win: and Other Poems. For fifteen years, she worked on the editorial staff of The New Yorker and is now the poetry editor af Alfred A. Knopf and a senior editor at Pantheon Books. She lives with her husband and three children in Montclair, New Jersey.