December 01, 1980 12:00 PM

Gerri Ehrlich, 26, recalls the day when she auditioned with three other candidates for her first job as a blackjack dealer in Las Vegas. “Don’t tell me which is the deaf girl,” requested the casino official. When the session ended, Gerri, who has a congenital 80 percent hearing loss, had beaten the odds to become the only deaf dealer on the Strip. Now a regular at the “21” tables at the Flamingo Hilton, Gerri lip-reads the requests of as many as seven players at a time. Few detect her deafness; her speech, which her mother drilled to near perfection, strikes listeners only as slightly foreign. A Van Nuys, Calif. native, Ehrlich graduated from the local Birmingham High School, where she attended classes for the deaf, and in 1976 moved to Las Vegas with her father, a slot machine supervisor, and her mother, a housewife. Knowing that “I had to make a living,” Gerri enrolled in a dealers’ school for four weeks. Though at first she had difficulty convincing casino operators she could handle the job, she has never been cheated at the tables. Now Ehrlich would like to open a gaming school for others who are handicapped. “Not just for the deaf,” she vows. “There is no reason that someone in a wheelchair can’t deal poker.”

Bill Jackson, 25, left a safe $15,000-a-year job with a big New York accounting firm to sell wicker furniture the Tupperware way—at home parties. Jackson’s Larchmont, N.Y. company, The Wicker Place, Inc., now has a staff of six selling on commission. (They earn up to 25 percent and the hostesses of wicker parties collect 5 percent of the evening’s take, plus a 15 percent discount on any purchases.) Items range from a $1 fan to a $400 couch. “With no overhead,” Jackson says, “I don’t have to mark up items as much as the retail stores.” An entrepreneur even as a boy in Garden City, N.Y., Jackson was one of five children of an insurance underwriter father and Realtor mother. He put himself through Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass. with odd jobs as a yardman, bartender and house painter. After receiving an accounting degree in 1977, he set out to be a CPA. But soon, frustrated by the 9-to-5 Manhattan grind, Jackson turned to wickerware. “After a year I’m still learning the market by trial and error,” admits bachelor Jackson, who shares a Westchester County house with two sisters. Yet the prospects are bright, he believes: “As long as this recession continues, wicker is cheaper than anything else. I can’t miss.”

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