So he flew down to Washington to recruit me. But it was not an easy sell. In the 1980s, Time was still a place where the good jobs of correspondent, writer, and editor were held by men, while the lesser jobs of researchers and librarians were manned by women. Relations between the two were similar to those between pilots and stewardesses or doctors and nurses— different pay and different status, with one meant to serve the other. They worked in a closed, intimate environment with clear gender lines of demarcation where at least two nights a week everyone was expected to stay late. There was no Hugh Hefner walking around in pajamas, but it felt like party time, with premium liquor and rare roast beef served by white-jacketed waiters. There were more affairs than weddings, and the tales of top editors keeping cars purring at the curbs racking up hundreds of dollars in fares were the source of ribbing, not ridicule. Two top editors married researchers. Jason McManus, editor in chief, married three. One senior editor, between marriages, plastered Playboy centerfolds around the cubicle of one researcher, a prank typical of the frat house atmosphere. It didn't improve the condition of women at the magazine any more than bra burnings did the condition of women generally, but the females on the staff were nonetheless grateful when B. J. Phillips showed up without her blouse at story conference the next morning.
Time still had a peculiar division of labor: reporters from the many bureaus would send "files" to New York at the end of the week to be chopped and diced by hard-drinking, late night writers, who then sent them on to be pureed by hard-drinking, late night editors. I told Walter no.
But then Walter, like a good reporter, tracked me down in Pennsylvania on Thanksgiving. The Bresnahans were encamped at Holy Spirit Hospital, visiting my mother who had just had surgery. We carted turkey and fixings (and a jigsaw puzzle) to the solarium. It wasn't a time to be doing career planning.
Being home did make me think about my relationship with my parents. It hadn't had just one turn, from child to adult, but from good child, to bad child, to semi-good child in college, to adult with a checkered career. The best thing I'd done was make them grandparents. They were glad I'd settled on journalism finally, but they didn't know if The New Republic was a good job or a bad one. My parents dutifully subscribed, but it was as foreign to them as Le Monde Diplomatique. They had no interest in Michel Foucault's deconstruction or parsing the meaning of meaning.
Walter, who would become the centerpiece of my professional life, was more convinced that I was meant to be at Time than I was convinced I wasn't. But what really moved me was how much the idea of their daughter working at a magazine on Ed McMahon's Publisher's Clearing House list pleased my parents. It was mainstream and middlebrow, had currency at the bridge table and in Good Shepherd parish hall. I moved to Time and my parents soon were displaying each issue like a coffee-table book.