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Aisle Seat: My Occupational Odyssey

Updated: Jun 27, 2022

By Naomi Serviss / New York City

Why do people ask kids

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It’s a dopey question.

How on earth are semi-formed humans

supposed to nurture

vocational aspirations when daily life

is spent dodging maternal hysterics

and brotherly bullying?

Speaking for myself, of course.

There have always been kids living

in sketchy families of origin.

My situation was not unique

to anyone but me.

Still, moving from one shoddy apartment

to another grew less adventurous

and more depressing

as the upheavals racked up.

My self-soothing thumb-sucking

calmed me until I turned ten.

The chaotic household I was tethered to

brought unexpected bonuses.

Like Tony, a barber-turned-hypnotist,

who latched onto my mother

or vice versa)

for six years.

He exuded a beatnik-y vibe,

and my mother was smitten.

He lasted the longest

of all of her gentleman callers.

We (my mother, two older sisters

and an older brother)

lived in Colonial Apartments,

a foreboding stone and red brick building

across from the Elkins Park railroad station.

It was a sprawling

poorly constructed apartment

with five rooms, dicey plumbing

and paper-thin walls.

After school, I escaped reality

exploring free-range

throughout the familiar neighborhood.

A creek at the bottom of

Ogontz Jr. High School

faced a weeping willow tree

whose branches swayed softly in the breeze.

I felt protected and protective.

Hours spent losing myself

in zig-zagging current-guided paramecium.

Wading ankle-deep in pebble cold,

clear water that sang as it rushed downhill.

Stories bloomed everywhere I looked.

Didn’t take notes

but remembered later.

My wandering, creek-loving curiosity

fed an authentic self,

distant from the frightened child

trapped in shaky circumstances.

My mother was a hard-working wannabe nurse,

but waitressed instead

at Pauline & Eddie’s,

a neighborhood diner joint

with a counter.

Sunday was a special day at home.

A tablecloth appeared

and covered the dining room table.

An extra plate.

Tony was coming for dinner,

which meant we’d have roast beef, a rarity.

We were a big happy Norman Rockwell family!

Tony stuck around for three apartment addresses.

He played guitar

and won my mother’s heart.

School was sanctuary.

A respite from chaos.

Teachers encouraged me

to keep reading and writing stories.

So I have.

But not before having

a baker’s dozen

soul-sucking jobs.

The worst included working

as a Kelly Girls temp

in Cambridge, Mass.

Kelly Girls was a employment agency

for females.

It was a terrible name for a company,

but not as bad as its male counterpart:


I became a red IBM Selectric secretary,

tapping out poetry on breaks.

Gazing out the Harvard Square window,

pondering the existential question

What am I doing here?

Trying to make rent in Boston.

A freelancer without a plan.

Aspirational goals

hadn’t yet manifested.

That would take years

and some major life events:


A move to Morrisville, New Jersey.

Work as the employee publications editor

for the New Jersey National Bank in Trenton.

Where I wall-plastered New Yorker covers

in my tiny windowless office.

For some unfathomable reason

the job included me being the treasurer

of the employee social committee!

Where I’d be responsible for tracking expenses.

I’ve never been a math whiz, so handling budgets

was not in my wheelhouse.

Since this was a bank

with scads of qualified money handlers,

couldn’t they please let me off the hook

and find a numbers whiz?

Don’t ask former English majors

with math anxiety

to handle and keep track of money!

One night before a monthly budget meeting,

I had a full-blown anxiety attack.

I think my ulcer-to-be germinated then.

The job required me to visit bank branches

and give a United Way spiel,

the goal of which

was to convince underpaid employees

to tithe a portion of their pay.

Automatically deducted from paychecks

to supplement

the United Way’s coffers!

I knew this position was not a good fit

So landing a replacement job

was my next goal.

At the time, Lew reported for the Trenton Times.

Neither of us were in love with New Jersey.

Ours was an equal opportunity marriage.

So when opportunity knocked

from Washington, D.C.,

we listened.

I was over the moon

when hired as a public-relations director

for a high-school student-exchange organization

based in D.C.

The job came with an office,

a secretary and a National Cathedral view.

It also came with a touchy-feely boss.

Before the era of “Me, Too,”

inappropriate behavior was commonplace.

Fortunately, Lew was offered a position

at the Orlando Sentinel newspaper

and we moved to sunny Florida.

What followed was motherhood,

as we welcomed Emily into the family.

Although Lew’s job was challenging,

we never felt at ease

in the Deep South.

Northeasterners at heart,

Lew applied and got hired as a copy editor

at Newsday, on Long Island.

He was made an offer he couldn’t refuse.

New York City was in our sights

and we moved once again.

After raising two kids,

Manhattan beckoned,

where we’ve lived ever since.

Sometimes clichés are true.

It really is about the journey.

The path may be bumpy, but worth the trek.

And I’ve been taking

really good notes.


Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including



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