Full Circle: Show Me The Money
How I learned not to couch my feelings
By Maury Z. Levy

I was stupid. There I was, working at Philadelphia’s biggest magazine, writing stories that won awards and more awards. Selling more magazines every month. And I was paid like a pauper.

How did I realize this? First, there was the black vinyl sofa. It wasn’t even long enough to be a sofa. More of a loveseat. But there it was, in the center of our family room.

One day, as people who shopped at Levitz would have it, the cheap black vinyl sofa ripped. A big tear, right down the middle. Like a booth in a bad diner.

“We’re going to have to buy a new sofa,” I said. Then we looked at our checkbook. We couldn’t afford a new sofa. So, I got a big roll of black electrical tape from the garage, and I patched it. Like a booth in a bad diner.

Two days later, my parents came to visit.

“What happened to your sofa?” my father asked. He was always very observant.

“Ripped,” I said.

“You’re going to have to buy a new one,” he said.

“Yeah, we can’t afford that.”

“Can’t afford it? You’re a big deal now. Everybody in the city talks about your stories.” My father had a tendency to embellish now and then.

“Aren’t you making enough money?”

“Evidently not.”

“Then you have to march right in there and tell them you need more. You deserve more. Don’t sell yourself short.”

I think my father was projecting. He worked for the same company for 44 years and was making squat. The boss always promised him a big raise, but somehow, it never happened.

And my father was the top man there. Sold more than anyone else. Worked longer hours than anyone else. But bupkas.

My father’s advice firmly in fist, I walked into the boss’s office first thing on Monday.

“I need a raise,” I said. “I’m the star of the show and I have a ripped couch.”

“Well,” he said, “I guess I can find another $10 a week in the budget.”

“Not what I had in mind.”

I could see he was getting impatient that I didn’t accept his largesse.

“I need a 50 percent raise,” I told him.

“Fifty percent?” he said, as his mouth dropped to the hand-sewn Oriental rug. “Are you crazy?”

“No,” I said, “I have a ripped sofa.”

A little background here. Over the years, people in the business, national people, started to know who I was. And they liked my writing. And they wanted me to freelance for them. I was grateful. But, instead of just saying “yes,” I would go to the boss and ask him if it was ok. I would do this on my own time, I told him, nights and weekends.

But he would always say no. “If you have the extra time, I’d like to see you writing more stories for us.” And this is where the stupid part comes in. I agreed. Even though I was already writing more stories than anyone else on staff.

So, I thought about my father. He never pushed things. He never took chances. But me? I was going to take a big one.

“I need 50 percent more,” I said. “You can pay me whatever part of that you can. But you will be forcing me to make up the rest by freelancing. And writing on nights and weekends.”

So he thought about it long and hard, and agreed to give me $25 a week more. And I headed right to my office and I made some calls to the people I had turned down before. I called three national magazines. And less than an hour later, I had over $5,000 worth of assignments. Enough to buy seven vinyl sofas and a pole lamp. And those assignments would lead to others, and soon I was making a decent living.

There is a moral to all this. Speak up. When the economy gets better, ask for what you’re worth. And never, never ever, settle for a ripped vinyl sofa.

August 2020
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