Our Parents’ Careers: Talking to My Parents About Their Previous Lives

Photo credit: Matteo Paciotti, CC BY 2.0.

One of my favorite things about my parents is how much life they lived before I was born. Bouncing around between places like New York, Mexico, and Israel, they finally met each other in Florida, where they ultimately married at the age of 39. They were and continue to be wild souls who traversed the country and the world fearlessly.

I interviewed both of my parents about their previous lives, asking them to describe their careers in their own words.

My Mom, Rani Goodman

Babysitter and Attendance Assistant

A League of Women Voters was having a luncheon at the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens, New York and they needed a couple of counselors to take care of the kids during lunch. That turned into a babysitting job for about two years. I also worked in the attendance office for a social studies teacher in high school. We’d check off the people who weren’t coming to school.

Computer Programmer

I moved to Kansas and I went to college there for a while. After that, I did a computer programming and data processing course through IBM. They taught it and they gave you future placement. I got a job at Katz Drug Company in Kansas City as a computer programmer, which meant punching cards and feeding the different programs you’d set up into the big computers.

Conversational English Teacher

Then I was in Mexico. I taught English to a bunch of people I met who were learning English at the different schools. They’d come over on Sunday afternoons and prepare their English. One teacher went to Boston, one teacher went to Chicago, another one Louisiana. They all had different accents so the word “cat” came out in seven different ways and I helped with that.

Hotel Office Manager

I moved back to New York. When I first got there it was summer, so I went up to the Catskills. I worked at The Paramount Hotel as one of the office managers. Part of the duties were the switchboard, guest services, reservations, and typing the daily lunch and dinner menu for the guests. You typed it on this weird paper, like a purple carbon paper, and you had to make sure there were no mistakes because then they put that paper through a thermography machine and printed the menus for each table in the dining room.

I lived in the staff house there. I remember one time I was on the last shift, and when you’re on the last shift you’re free to go the next day. So I asked anybody if they wanted to go for hot dogs. It ended up being four of us, and they thought we were going to Parksville close by. Then I decided no, I’m going to Oceanside, and I drove to Nathan’s on Long Island from the Catskills. It’s about a two hour ride. It was easier to get to Oceanside than it was to get to Brooklyn. It was about two o’clock in the morning when we got there. I checked to make sure they were gonna be open. This was all in my little red Renault Dauphine. Then we had our hot dogs, we brought some back, we went back into the staff house and nobody knew we left because we were back before breakfast duties.

Administrative Assistant

I worked at furniture company Maurice Villency as an administrative assistant, jack of all trades, for four years. I calculated the landed cost of the furniture coming in from Scandinavia, the company statistics, and anything else nobody else could do.

I was using this old Olivetti calculator, it was a big truck thing. It looked like an old cash register, but at those times it was “slimline.” The paper was coming off and it was rolling all over the floor and I hadn’t realized that I just didn’t bother to rip it off. Maurice Villency came around the corner and he looked at the floor and he looked at me and he said, “You are gonna roll all this up and use the other side, right?” And I looked at him and I went, oh sure, absolutely. At which point, I ripped it off, rolled it up and went over to Norman, who was my direct boss and I told him what Mr. V had said. I said, “Is he serious?” So he says, “Damn right, he was serious.” I said, “Do you want me to do that?” And he said, “No, of course not, don’t be an idiot.” And we laughed.

Bookkeeper

I moved to Florida and I got a job at an accounting firm. They gave me a bunch of work to do, and my boss said to do this and then he’d give me something else to do. It took the other girl who had been doing it about two weeks and I was back to him in two days. I said, “Okay, what else?” He said, “Well, you can’t be finished.” I said, “Why can’t I be finished?” He said it took the other one two weeks. I said, “I can’t help that, you wanna give me something else to do?” He gave me another assignment and I was back to him in two days. I said if this is what’s gonna happen, then I can’t take your money. He said I was obviously overqualified. We left on good terms, he gave me a very nice reference.

Yacht Salesperson

Your grandmother was going out with a guy who owned a yacht sales company. He said it didn’t cost him anything to put me on the staff because if you don’t make commission, you don’t make any money.

This guy comes in one day and he stunk from fish. He comes in with an old oilcloth raincoat, a pair of long shorts, his shoes were boots with the laces that were all open, he had grease on him. Everybody saw him walk in and said, give it to the rookie. So I went out and treated him nicely, like he was wearing a tuxedo. He said he’d like to see one of our boats. And everyone in the back is snickering. I showed him the yachts. He picked out one that was something like a million and a half, I don’t remember exactly, and asks can I bring you cash tomorrow? We put the keys on hold for 24 hours, until he came in and brought in a suitcase the next day. I was on a 20 percent commission and I made $30,000, which is over $180,000 today. I saluted everybody and said good luck, then said don’t ever judge a book by its cover. I quit and didn’t work for the rest of the year.

Alarm Company Manager and Commissions Calculator

I went to manage a burglar alarm company, but I wanted to get into the brokerage business so I applied to a brokerage house. I was basically calculating commissions for the brokers. I was cashiering, which is taking in stock certificates and placing orders. I went to the office manager and I told him I wanted to train to be a broker, but they weren’t taking any women at the time into the business as a broker. I said well, I’m done with this because I was bored and turned off by it at that point.

Public Relations Representative and Interior Designer

I was recommended to be a public relations representative for Euster’s, which was a furniture showroom. I had to go through a training program and I went to this interior design school to learn the field before I started working. Your aunt recommended me for it and she told them I could do anything. My job was to go into different carpet places or retail furniture places or designers’ showrooms and expound on what the company did.

They had a client from Colombia who came in and bought 100 apartments at a condominium by the beach. He was looking to furnish all of them so he could sell them to people coming from Colombia or renting them out to people for the season. I was furnishing the apartments as well. It turned out I was the only one he would talk to. I managed an interior design studio after that, helping out on jobs as an assistant, and then I moved into working on a closet space saver system. I was working that full time by myself and selling my own design jobs as well.

Financial Adviser

I became a financial adviser finally after that. I had wanted to do that from when I was very young because my mom had been involved in the market and I always found it very interesting. To me anything with math was great but I also got to deal with a lot of people. I tried to get into trading at Thompson McKinnon, but they hired someone else who already had a license. Your father was a financial adviser, and I told him I always wanted to be in that field. So he had me meet the office manager, a female as well. After a while, your father came home and said, “Pack your bags, you’re going to New Jersey tomorrow.” I said, “What are you, stupid?” He said, “No, you have to be in Edison, New Jersey. I asked for what. He said for training to be a broker. The person they had hired in my place did something illegal and they fired him, and they wanted me to come in.

Thompson McKinnon was bought out by Prudential-Bache and then eventually just became Prudential. When we were over at Prudential, your father came up with an idea because there had been some changes in the market. He said, why don’t you go through every one that has a certain kind of investment and see if you can improve their position. I went through an entire book of clients and clients were thrilled because all of a sudden instead of a $100,000 face value, a bond may have ended up having a $150,000 face value and it didn’t cost them anything. With all the people in the book, I ended up with a $15,000 day. I got a big basket of flowers from the manager. That was the most interesting thing, other than writing to my clients and telling them I was going on maternity leave.

Then we went over from Prudential to Raymond James. I ended up being a financial adviser for 30 years. I got a lot of business and did pretty well. Your father always said I gave good phone. And I never called anybody before 10 o’clock in the morning.

My Dad, Jeffrey Goodman

Delivery Boy

My first job was newspaper delivery of the New York Post in the general area of where I lived in the Bronx. It paid a small amount and once a month we got tips from the people we dropped off papers to. I was probably 12 or 13. It may have been one of my first jobs. My next job, there was a dry cleaning store around the corner from me and delivered their dry cleaning to the neighborhood. I was maybe 14 or so. I made about $15 a week there plus tips. I did that for six months or a year.

Stockboy and Shoe Salesman

I became a stockboy at Alexander’s, a department store on Fordham Road. They made me a shoe salesman in the ladies’ department, working on salary and commission while going to high school, after school and on the weekends. I was about 15, 16, probably the youngest salesperson there.

Dean’s Squad

I worked at DeWitt Clinton High School on the Dean’s Squad while I was a student. We used to take bad guys out of the classrooms that were out of control—it was an all-boys school and things got a little nutty from time to time—and take them down to the dean and the vice principal’s office. They paid me indirectly in that I didn’t have to go to gym.

Summer Jobs: Waiter and Fire Hydrant Closer

My summer jobs were I was a tray carrier, busboy, and waiter in the Catskills. I knew people that were doing the same thing and they were making good money, so I decided to do it too. I worked at The Raleigh, the Flagler, and Brown’s. Several summers, sometimes in the evenings, I had a job closing hydrants in the South Bronx accompanied by police. The hydrants were open because people wanted to play and swim and that was their recreation. The fire hydrants had to be closed because the people in these apartments six stories up had no water because the water was going out in the streets. My aunt Estelle worked at the water department so I was able to get the job.

Dining Room Supervisor

In college, I worked in the dining room as a supervisor. I got that job because I pushed the idea of my Catskills experience. I needed to work to pay off college tuition among other things. The times I wasn’t working I was going to school.

Salesperson at Saks Fifth Avenue and Math Teacher

I graduated and I worked at Saks Fifth Avenue in the men’s clothes department, commission and salary. My friend Mel was a manager at Saks at the time, he got me in. I liked it for a while, but there was a recession going on at the time and there were no jobs available so I took the job and was fortunate enough to get it. At night I went to the Long Island University campus in Brooklyn and got my master’s in psychology. From work I went down to school and I used to get home to the Bronx, the last stop on the D train, about 11, 11:30 at night. It was a long three nights a week doing that.

After that, I taught math several years in intermediate schools in Brooklyn and taught in a Lubavitcher school and middle school. I was comfortable teaching math and I was recommended for it. I like the idea of math and I was fairly decent at it.

Kibbutz Laborer

I went to Israel and I worked on two kibbutzim for two years. I wanted to straighten my head out. I didn’t know where I was going or what I was doing, but this gave me an opportunity to clear my head and decide what I wanted to do when I was “an adult.” I liked the idea of travel. From England, I went across the English Channel and I picked up the Orient Express to Istanbul, and from there took a plane to Tel Aviv. There was always a sense that I wanted to be with people like me. I wanted to understand the culture a little bit better, the history. I just thought it would be a good idea to get away for a while. There were manual labor jobs and I learned Hebrew in the afternoon six days a week. I worked in the orange groves, I worked in the commercial fish areas, I was a dishwasher in the dining room, I prepared foods, I took oranges to market.

Landscaping Business Owner

I came back to Fort Lauderdale and opened up a landscaping business. I went through a labor intensive two years, and I thought it made sense for me to do something like that and build up a business, which I did. At the height of it I had about five people working with me. It was highly intensive manual labor and in Florida weather that made it more difficult. When employees didn’t show up I was doing landscaping, putting down grass, cleaning spaces up that needed it. I sold the business after a few years.

Financial Adviser

I made my mind up to get into brokerage. One of my relatives gave me a stock certificate when I was 13 for my bar mitzvah. I knew the business pretty well because I followed it indirectly from that age. I made it easy for someone to hire to me because I went out and I got my own Series 7 license, so they wouldn’t have to put me through training because I was licensed already. Eventually I went to work at Thompson McKinnon and they were bought out by Prudential. I was there about 18 years and then another 18 years at Raymond James. I liked the idea of working with my mind and sharing certain thoughts or ideas over the phone and building relationships that way.

After a year or so in that business I didn’t have to be on the phone anymore because I was getting referrals at that point. I built up good relationships with people and got second, third generation families dealing with me. I worked with your mother for several years on accounts that she was better at than I was. She turned them over and she did well with those people.

Elyssa Goodman is a writer and photographer whose work has appeared in Vogue, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker, among others. You can read more of her work at elyssamaxxgoodman.com.

This story is part of The Billfold’s Parents Month series.

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