Tilting At Windmills: The Case Of Charlie’s Angels
Published: April 8th, 2022
By: Shelly Reuben

Tilting at Windmills: The Case of Charlie’s Angels Charlie's Angels: Jo Ann, Lucia, and Mary.

The title of this piece is a misnomer, because Charlie’s Angels were not a “case,” they were a blessing … although we hadn’t known when we hired one that we would eventually get all three.

Jo Ann came to us courtesy of John, who not only painted our walls, but also gave us advice on home décor, art, and philosophy. Often during the course of a room being plastered or primed, there would come a time when Charlie and John would get tired of deciding which walls should be papered and which painted, so they would stop work, and start to discuss everything from religion to politics. The subject that changed our lives, though, began with Charlie mentioning in passing that we needed a part-time secretary, and John responding, “My son, Billy’s girlfriend, Jo Ann, is looking for a job.”

Jo was 16 years old and a junior in high school when she came to Charles G. King Associates. She was the first of the angels that I made cry. Eventually, I made them all cry.

I have never thought of myself as a perfectionist, but I must have some abrasive character defect that calmly and terrifyingly insists on things being done over and over again, until I (or whoever is working with me) gets it right. Hence, the tears.

Then and now, Jo Ann was a beautiful, very smart girl with golden-brown hair and a quiet sensibility. Even though we were already computerized when she came to work for us, we also had an old IBM self-correcting typewriter. Neither she, nor any of the other angels, knew touch-typing when they first walked in the door, but all learned and all fell in love with the clickety-clack of keys against a platen before they left.

It was such a joy to watch Jo grow from a teenager to a young woman and corporate lawyer, who never lost her wonderful laugh, but somewhere along the line acquired John’s son Billy as a husband. Billy, by the way inherited his father’s philosophical nature and artistic instincts, and over time has become a giant in the world of advertising.

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Jo Ann left us when she entered college, but came back to whip us into shape during the summer. We were lucky to snare her sister Lucia to take her place. Lucia was about 18 years old and a freshman in college. She had (and has) gorgeous curly brown hair, looks like a goddess in a Pre-Raphaelite painting, and would show up at work in low slung jeans with glimpses of a flat belly and a belly button ring. When her parents objected, she told them, “I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t take drugs. As far as rebellion goes, this is probably as good as it gets.”

We knew that in Lucia we had hired an explosive commodity, but it wasn’t until her first day at work when she defiantly announced, “Denial is underrated,” that we realized she was also droll and witty.

By that time, we had given up our office at 401 Broadway and turned the ground floor of our house in Brooklyn into a professional suite. Lucia, like Jo Ann, was an extraordinary worker, and also like Jo, a ton of fun to have around. One year, after she, too, had quit because she’d needed to devote more time to school, she suddenly found herself free for the summer, and asked if she could come back.

I looked at our desks. Empty. No new clients. No pending depositions. Nothing, really, to do. But Lucia was such a darling, and the opportunity to have her around was irresistible. So I poked into the backs of drawers and through old coat pockets for notes that I had scribbled about my father. I gathered them into a messy pile, dumped it on Lucia’s desk, and said, “Type all this up, and I’ll turn it into a memoir.”

From that summer of “make-work” came one of my favorite books -- COME HOME. LOVE, DAD – proving that some good deeds do go unpunished.

Our third angel came to us from a bookstore after Lucia became too busy studying for the first of her many degrees in teaching (she is now vice-principal of a high school). So there we were again, without a secretary, and business really picking up. The world seemed to be burning down, everybody wanted Charlie’s opinion, and I needed help.

Not long before, a wonderful woman named Sheila, with the bubbliest British accent, opened a bookshop called A Novel Idea. It had stuffy arm chairs where you contemplate the novel you might want to buy, an end table for your cup of tea, homey area rugs, and books, books, books. Other than herself, Sheila employed three of her four children. Christine (blonde), Ellen (redhead), and Jim (reddish-blonde). A third daughter, Mary (dark brown hair) did not work there, but probably should have to make a matched set.

Everything about A Novel Idea was magical, and could easily have been transported to Diagon Alley in a Harry Potter movie.

One day when I was there, Christine (or Ellen) casually mentioned that her sister, Mary, was looking for a new job. I said, “Tell her we’ll hire her to work at Charles G. King Associates. Sight unseen.”

Mary looked like Snow White, with a fairytale complexion, that glorious dark hair, and the most perfect small ears I’ve ever seen. Like Jo Ann and Lucia, she was smart, savvy, and loyal. Also like them, she exuded Brooklyn Girl – “Don’t mess with me” – street smarts, which sheltered a heart as warm as a puppy’s tummy.

I’ve got a big mouth with my pen, and I write as if I were the center of our small universe at Charles G. King Associates. But I wasn’t the glue that kept the company together. That was always Charlie.

Yes, he was strong. Yes he had impeccable integrity. Yes. He was larger than life, and brilliant at what he did. But what made us love him so much were the times when he wasn’t fighting dragons, but just being his unconventional and really quite adorable self: running errands with the girls; happily driving the wrong way down one-way streets. Nonchalantly forgetting where he had parked the car. Leading raids on Dunkin Donuts or candy shops as Jo Ann, Lucia, or Mary would gleefully help to undermine his diet with nonpareils, yogurt pretzels, or (his favorite) chocolate covered espresso beans. And coffee! Our lives revolved around coffee. Coffee was our reward. Our mantra. The sound of a percolator perking was our music. We made cups for ourselves. For each other. It was our motivating force and our ambrosia.

Sometimes, too, with Charlie, there was that curiously masculine vulnerability. Like when he learned that a client had lied to him, he would refuse to testify to the lie in court, and after months of hard work, the client would refuse to pay. And it would break our hearts to see him so devastated by their betrayal.

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Mostly, though, Charlie made us laugh. And he let us throw parties. Lots of parties. For birthdays. For Christmas. For Halloween. And when the time came, goodbye parties, because ultimately, of course, all of Charlie’s Angels had to get real, grown-up jobs in the real grown-up world. But as each departed, we would say to her, “You can run, but you can’t hide,” and meant it.

Which is why, all of these years later, they are still an enormous part of my life. Still beautiful. Still brilliant.

And still angels.

Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2022. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com