When I entered corporate life, I resolved to keep my writing secret. There was no advantage in being known as the company poet. For nearly a decade I succeeded in keeping my double life hidden from my co-workers. Whenever something of mine appeared in The New Yorker, I would discreetly buy all five copies in the company shop, mail one to my parents, and slip the others into the bottom of the finance department’s bulging recycling bin.
There was little chance of my colleagues seeing the other journals in which I published, although once a brainy summer intern asked if I had written an article he had seen in The Hudson Review. “My brother recently wrote something for them,” I replied not untruthfully and quickly changed the subject.
I was summoned by a secretary to his office where he sat smoking a cigar butt. He motioned me to come closer.In 1984, however, Esquire permanently blew my cover when I was featured in the first “Esquire Register of Men and Women Under Forty Who Are Changing America.” Someone brought a copy of the issue into the office and passed it around. Had it been merely a literary honor, no one would have noticed, but here was the name of a General Foods executive on a list with really important people like Julius “Doctor J.” Erving, Whoopi Goldberg, Dale Murphy, and Steven Spielberg.
At that time I worked for the most macho boss in the company, an Annapolis graduate, All-American athlete, and former commanding officer of combat longshoremen (the lucky guys who unload military supplies under enemy fire). He was a brilliant, hot-tempered, fellow who didn’t waste words. For example, he addressed his close associates only by their initials. I was summoned by a secretary to his office where he sat smoking a cigar butt. He motioned me to come closer.
“D.G., someone told me you wrote poetry.”
“Yeah, Greg,” I replied. “I do.”
He took the greasy stub out of his mouth, ground it into the ashtray, and whispered, not unkindly, only one word, “Shit.”
Short memoir by Dana Gioia, originally written for a special “Working in America” issue of Witness, 1996.