Anna The Cleaning Lady! She came with the building. The secret weapon of the Marvel Bullpen. Anna was Polish. Within two words out of her mouth one could tell; she spoke with a thick, wonderful Polish accent. Anna seemd to take care of a major part of the building, which included both of Marvel’s floors at 575 Madison. Her white hair was pulled back into a tight, industrial bun. She was perhaps 5 foot tall. Anna seemed to have some trouble with her legs. She walked with more than a shuffle but less of a stride. Though she never mentioned any pain.
Since us Bullpenners would often work after hours, we saw quite a bit of Anna. She tried to wait for us to leave, but many times we out-stayed her.
Around 5:30 every work day, Anna would appear. Dressed in an anonymous baby-blue work uniform, pushing her cart and broom, she would begin my throwing open every door in the office! Then she would disappear for an hour. Eventually, she would bustle around, easily whipping full garbage cans up and into her larger roll-around bin. A trick of the trade would be, since we generally had paper trash, all she had to do was dump the paper and leave the plastic liner in place– done! She could go several days before she needed to replace a torn bag.
Anna once went on a notable vacation, visiting Reykevic, Iceland. How she settled on Reykevic, one can only speculate. All the warm, cozy places already seen and bored by? Of note was that particular year, 1980 or 81, there was a huge volcanic eruption that we all suddenly paid attention to. Anna was there! News reports of layers of ash everywhere sounded dangerous. But, at the end of two weeks, Anna came bustling in as usual. She had a rather large open wound on her forehead, no dressing of any kind that I remember. It was scabbing up nicely. She had been beaned by a volcanic ember! Didn’t seem fazed by it at all. Reykavic was a very beautiful place, even with snow and volcanic ash all over the place!
Editor (B&W line, originator of EPIC Magazine and chief wrangler of Weird World) Rick Marschall once struck up an after-hours conversation with Anna. Rick, interested in all-things Germanic, discovered that Anna had been a young girl when the Germans “annexed” Poland. She well remembered seeing Hitler roll through her town. “Addie” she referred to him as. Suddenly, I recall, her quick and vivid blue eyes flashed with something I’d not seen in them or her before. Anger. It was a fascinating moment. Anna was the very essence of cool and collected.
The only other time she got visibly angered was at me. My “stat camera” area of Marvel was about as far away from the nicer, business end of the office as you could get. So I felt rather apart from most norms of office behavior. I had taken to wearing my sneakers loose, with untied shoelaces. I also had taken to whipping my sneaker at a target on the wall– well, one had to be prepared, right? Well, one shot took off at a bad angle and I knocked a hole through a fairly prominent wall. Near an exit, hard not to miss it. Anna came in with her pushcart and usual regal dignity, caught sight of the hole and turned on me like a veritable mad dog. She pointed her finger at me! Making “Ah!” noises and “You!”
Mercifully, she could not really get up much of a head of steam. I evaded her easily. Did I mention that she had a stout broom that she weilded like a cavalry officer’s sword? She blamed me for the hole, even before I had a chance to tell her all the perfect lies about it that I had conjured up that afternoon. I was outraged that she would leap to that conclusion. I stuck to my guns, insisting that I had nothing to do with it. Hinting that Robbie– my next-door neighbor who ran a similar stat camera– had slipped on some chemistry, which she dismisseded with a snort. I went over to the hole and pointed out how shoddy the work was. Anything could have done it– not my shoe. That this bit of sheet rock was hanging on by a scrap of paper like a hinge. I even pulled it right back out with a pen, so that it almost fit back in the hole it came out of. Looked pretty good, I thought. Anna did not.
It was harder saying goodbye for the last time than I would have thought. Friday night, the weekend before we all trucked ourselves down to our new digs (April, 1982). The last three: Robbie Carosella, Jack Morelli–youthful Bullpen letterer– and myself were yakking after hours talking of the horrors we were expecting downtown (the move was from 57th Street down to 27-28th Street). We left and made our way out, looking for Anna. We found her near the Marvel bathrooms, which were in a little hall near the mailroom. We three were inarticulate, knowing this would be the final time we would see her. As it turned out this was her “last day” too– something about the building contract changing where she was working. She said she was going to turn in her equipment and be done with it. I asked if I could break her broom over my knee; she was quite happy to hand it over. Again those blue eyes flashed, but strangely they were tearing up a little too. We hugged and she told us boys to be good and she pointed at me with a grin.
One last note: Jim Shooter, of Polish extraction himself, tried to hire Anna down at the new offices. Jim being a high muckity-muck, he could discover things like how to get in touch with her. I heard she came in for a meeting with Jim. This gig was just for us, if she was interested. I heard her high-pitched voice and nipped in to say a big hi. There she was in street clothes; I realized I had never seen her out of uniform. She thought the offer was very nice, but she wanted to retire. And who could blame her? She had lots more places to adventure off to . . .