Several nights a year Jeanne Silvius, manager of American Airlines' Admirals Club at Los Angeles International Airport, pulls up to her home, exhausted from a demanding day that requires tending to travelers, to discover that someone else has spent part of the day caring for her.
Propped up against her door is a giant box from Joseph Magnin Co. Inc. filled with skirts, sweaters, dresses, sportswear, scarves, belts, and other accessories, plus diagrams of the way various outfits should be put together.
The packages are assembled by June Wisner, fashion coordinator at a Magnin's branch in Torrance, Calif. Wisner, 48, a former model, has built a nucleus of devoted clients around her willingness to save them the time and struggle of shopping.
Services such as Wisner's are springing up around the country to befriend the soaring numbers of women and men who either live alone or in two-career families. Today young people are putting off marriages to later ages, divorce is on the rise, and more than 40 percent of all families are operating in dual-career marriages, according to the Institute of Family and Work Relationships in La Jolla, Calif.
These people have more money to spend than traditional families -- but their time is in short supply. The married life of working, traveling, maintaining social life and caring for a home has led to a demand for services, many of which in past decades were performed by wives.
Some of the neediest people are the new generation of working women. Wisner, for example, saves Jeanne Silvius time by choosing the clothes she believes Silvius will like and sending them to her often without even a call in advance. Silvius tries them on in her leisure and returns what she doesn't want.
Wisner insists that such a service makes sense for the woman who spends as little as $1,000 annually on her wardrobe. "My clients are women who, if they can win a day for themselves, certainly don't want to spend it shopping," Wisner says. "They are smart, busy people who have learned I am a friend."
Other stores are gearing up for the new demand. Robinson's in Los Angeles recently formed a new department in its downtown store called "Careers" that offers shopping appointments, special hours, and delivery to the office. In a letter to women executives, Robinson's explained this was "to serve the women of the business community whose time does not allow for searching out and assembling wardrobes." Another Los Angeles store, I. Magnin, offers similar consulting in its branches.
Other needy people are the husbands of those busy women. Jeanne Silvius' husband, Ray, a vice president of Western Airlines, pulls his car into Western's parking lot every Monday morning with a bundle on the front seat of shirts and suits to be cleaned.
Soon after Silvius enters his office, a truck from Sparkling Deluxe Cleaners in Inglewood, Calif., arrives. A deliveryman deposits last week's cleaning in the car, picks up this week's, locks the doors, and goes on to serve other offices in the airport area.
An aerospace executive in Los Angeles has dispensed with one of the most boring of all chores by hiring a young man to pick up his car once a week and run it through the car wash.
Single or separated, with children or alone, working men and women still encounter frenzied times trying to keep some order in their personal lives in a business world that by and large is willing to serve them only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday -- precisely when these people are tied up on their jobs.
"The spring on my automatic garage door broke one night, and the door jammed," laments a Los Angeles man who lives alone. "I began to call Sears, Roebuck Co. (marketer of the mechanism) early Monday morning, but when I finally reached them, they said they couldn't send someone to fix it until Thursday afternoon. I pointed out that I couldn't wait four days for my car, but it made no impression."
The bachelor thumbed through the Yellow Pages, and finally found a listing for a local garage-door opener. The serviceman arrived within a half hour of the call -- and the bachelor made it to work before noon.
A series of such experiences has convinced the man to rely only upon small, local merchants who are still willing to serve his needs at convenient hours. A carpet store, for example, brought samples to his home after dinner one night, and recarpeted his two-story town house during a weekend. A local painter did the same. In both cases, large chain stores scoffed when he asked for special consideration.
A father of four, whose wife is an executive with a large financial institution, holds his head in despair when he thinks about the way he spends Saturday. "Saturday has become just one long drive with intermittent stops," he says. "I'm seriously considering hiring someone to do the grocery shopping."
Servicing cars makes everyone wince. A Los Angeles woman recently left her car for a routine tuneup on Tuesday morning, but she was unable to retrieve it until Friday. Her General Motors dealer, like most, locks his service door at 5:30 p.m., but she doesn't return home until 7 p.m. Occasionally a dealer service department will stay open one night a week until 9 p.m. -- but one divorced executive who uses such a dealer says it doesn't help. The dealer is so swamped on that day that the man's car is seldom finished by the time he goes to collect it.
That executive found his first years alone after divorce a cinch, because he lived in a furnished apartment with an office manager to handle deliveries and service calls. Once he bought a town house, however, his life became a nightmare.
The telephone company wouldn't tell him when installers could come until the day they were expected. Even then, they would only specify morning or afternoon. A department store promised to deliver furniture one afternoon, then failed to show up. "The plain fact is, I had to miss work," the executive says.
Perhaps the greatest need of working people is to be freed from such routine chores. Two sisters living and working in New York City, one an executive with Exxon, hired a stewardess not long ago to run their errands on one of her many days off. A magazine writer in New York hired a cleaning woman one day a week just to do the grocery shopping and make stops at the dry cleaners, the pharmacy, shoe repair shop, and to perform other miscellaneous errands.
The demand for wifely services was not lost on Emma Fried, 45, former dancer and actress in New York. One year ago Fried decided to stop selling herself short as a personal secretary, in part because she usually ended up getting her bosses' refrigerators repaired as well.
She decided to hang up her own shingle, formed a business dubbed "The Surrogate Wife," and advertised that she would perform timeconsuming tasks at a rate of $20 for the first hour and $15 each succeeding hour.
Fried was deluged with calls from working couples. "At first I thought I would hear from a string of divorced men," she said in an interview. "But women are so much into their careers, they now need the help."
One real-estate executive in her 30s, for example, called Fried after she had been living in a new apartment for three months, but was still surrounded by cartons. Fried unpacked and put away all her things.
Another couple that had collected enormous numbers of books, antiques, and art objects needed to have their apartment painted. Fried hired her 17-year-old daughter, Paris, to help catalogue the collections, roll up the rugs, and oversee the painters. Once the painters were done, Fried and daughter returned every item to its original position. Total fee: $350.
Fried has searched out and purchased a flute for a man who needed a gift for a relative, opened the summer home in Maine of a New York City clinical psychologist, and managed a party for 300 given by a publisher and his photographer wife.
The seductive name of her business has won national publicity, from Vogue to the NBC Nightly News, and collected one proposition from a man who wondered if Fried would spend the night with him. She informed him curtly that that was one service "The Surrogate Wife" did not perform.
The publicity sparked an idea in the mind of Deborah Timberlake, 28, wife of a graduate student in Los Angeles. Responsible for supporting her husband and 9-month-old daughter, Kate, Timberlake had been turning over ideas on how to earn money when she saw Fried on TV. "I decided to take a chance on myself," she says. "It's scary to go out and make a success of something."
Last September Timberlake -- who majored in history at the University of Georgia -- obtained a business license from the city of Los Angeles, and began placing ads just a few days later for her new service, called "Leg Work, Errands, Etc." Timberlake offers "catering to the needs of single professionals, two-career families, or anyone who values his or her leisure," according to a chartreuse leaflet she sends to potential clients.
She charges $8.00 an hour for an errand service and $1 to send postcard reminders of important birthdays and anniversaries people don't want to forget. She will care for plants and pets while people are out of town, and has service she calls "running interference."
"If someone needs to be there for the phone company or the plumber," Timberlake advertises, "let us do the waiting. If you need estimates or are looking for a particular item, let us do the calling." For running interference she wins $6 an hour.
In the few months she's been beating the brushes for business, Timberlake has learned that more women than men seem willing to buy her time. "Primarily I run around doing grocery shopping, picking things up from the caterer, feeding animals, delivering Christmas gifts," she says. Most of her clients are working women in their 30s.
One of those businesswomen turned the tables on Timberlake's calendar service by asking for postcards to be sent to friends and family reminding them when it is her birthday.
Timberlake and Fried both believe they are on the cutting edge of a new idea that will eventually take firm hold. "People who work hard deserve to say, 'That's enough,'" says Timberlake. "What's the sense of being successful if you can't enjoy it?"