Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Once upon a time...Part I
Twice recently my daughter has suggested that I write more about the jobs I have had in my lifetime. I think it's her way of saying, "Enough already with the politics, Ma! Stop your bitching and whining and tell us a story instead." OK.
Once upon a time, long, long ago, when I was very young and very foolish, and the world and my place in it were still The Great Unknown....
Exactly five days after my high school graduation, I went to work for Ma Bell. I became a Service Representative for the huge monopoly that was the telephone company. I was the "Voice With the Smile" at the other end of the line when you wanted to move your service from one home to another, or when you were having problems with your line, or even if you were a little old lady who was hallucinating that there was someone hiding under her bed, and she wanted someone from the nice telephone company to come out and remove him. Seriously, you would not believe some of the people on the other end of that line. Between these calls, I had to dun delinquent customers for payment of their bills. Since my particular area to be covered included a section of town full of doctors and lawyers, most of my customers did not pay their bills regularly, if at all, secure in the knowledge that their phones could not be removed (doctors) or that if we tried it, they could find a way to sue us. No, no, not all doctors and lawyers are like that, but those in this particular area of town seemed to be. All telephone employees' calls were subject to being observed at any time. Wire tapping personified. And we all had to be, at all times, the "Voice With the Smile". I did this for three months, at which point I got sick of customers cursing me and me being sickeningly polite in return. It isn't in my nature. I quit.
On to bigger and better things! I then left Upper Darby, and moved into the Big City of Philadelphia, and California Packing Sales Company (Del Monte Foods).
The one good thing about Calpak was that I met Nancy there. Nan and I have been friends a lot of years. She lives out in Arizona now. Calpak was OK. Just not the exciting world of business I had somehow pictured. They started me off on the switchboard, with some typing on the side. It was an old fashioned, plug-in-the-call type of board. Very first day I got a call from the man I was soon to learn was head of a very large food chain. I didn't even get out the "Good morning" when he started screaming curses. I pulled the plug. We went through this three times in a row. Next time I got out the whole greeting. Silence for a moment. Then, "Are you the young lady who has been disconnecting my calls?" I agreed that I was. "May I speak to Mr. G." (the District Manager). I connected him. A few minutes later, Mr. G. came out with a big grin on his face and congratulated me. Everyone else in the office stared at me open-mouthed in amazement that this little pipsqueak of a girl had the nerve to disconnect a call from this guy. But I'll tell you. Any time he called and I answered, or when he came into the office, he removed his hat and cigar and chatted with me pleasantly for a few moments before slamming the hat back on his head, cigar in mouth, and stomping through the office, skattering all others from his path.
I never took shorthand, although I had learned it. I typed 120 words a minute and rarely made mistakes, so I took dictation directly onto the typewriter. I eventually graduated to the teletype machine, and I loved it. Do you remember them? As you typed, you cut holes in paper tape, which was fed into another machine which sent it over the wires to California. "Sweet mixed pickles, sour mixed pickles, sweet pickle relish and chou chou." It was fun. And then you got to throw the paper tape streamers out the window when there was a parade. Our offices were right on Broad Street.
The bad part of Calpak was a certain salesman who shall remain nameless, and whose desk was directly behind mine. Jobs in those days were easily found. In fact we used to go on job interviews sometimes on our lunch hour, just for the heck of it to see what the inside of some of the more posh offices looked like. You could go on a half dozen interviews, then pick the job you wanted. But I hung on where I was for a whole year, despite Sleezy Salesman, because I didn't really think it would look too great on my resume if I left my first job in three months, and then a second one in less than a year. But then he pushed me too far, and I quit. I'm proud to say I was offered a raise and a bonus and more vacation time if I'd stay, but I'd had enough. Onward and Upward!
This time I decided to see what it was like close to home, and took a job in the office of a car dealership owned by my brother's best friend. Never worked so hard in all my life! We were two girls trying to do the work of at least four. We were paid an enormous salary, and we told our friend that we would gladly take a pay cut if he would hire an additional girl or two, but this lame brain just laughed. Folks, I lasted about two or three weeks before I staggered into his office and quit again.
I spent several days sleeping. Then I went back to the city. I found myself right across the street from Calpak, at a large Engineering and Construction company. I spent a couple of years there and made many very good friends, one of whom was later to be my maid of honor, and with whom I am still in close touch, although she has lived in Honolulu for many years. I was called a receptionist, although I did a lot of typing as well. Also did a lot of knitting when there wasn't any typing. I knitted myself a 3/4 length coat. I knitted many stuffed animals including a 12" penguin that was so cute everyone in the company wanted one, and I ended up knitting a dozen or so. There are still a few owls and pussycats floating around here somewhere. All the kids in my family have played with them. How could I continue to work at a job that was obviously not what you would call challenging? It was the people I worked with. They were all so much fun. We hung out together after work. Went for drinks, on dates, trips down the shore, etc. But it did finally get to me, and I had to move on.
Next was a small but highly respected (if that's the word for it) advertising agency. Don't ask me what possessed me to do that. It was a fun place to work. Nice offices. Nice people. But I very quickly came to feel it was the most useless job on earth. Not just my part of it - advertising in general. It just wouldn't do.
Finally, I found my niche. I went to work in the Social Services Department at Graduate Hospital. I finally felt useful. I was still typing most of the time. I typed reports for the Social Workers. Typed from old fashioned (even for those days) wax cylinders on an ancient dictaphone. I also acted as clinic secretary from time to time - Cardiac, Orthopedic - Functional - whatever. I was interacting with staff and patients all the time. I don't know what Graduate looks like today. Probably all shiny renovations. Who knows? But back then it was old and dreary looking. The majority of the patients were from the surrounding tenements, although with some of the best names on the staff, others did travel great distances for care there. My father wasn't saying much now that I was an adult, but he didn't approve of me walking around this part of town. I never had a moment's concern myself. Aside from the fact that the boys in the hood knew the staff and looked out for us, they were mostly genuinely nice people. just trying to get by, like the rest of us. There was the occasional gun shot wound or knifing, but the 1950's were a lot quieter than today's drive-by shooting scene. I was never afraid in any part of the city. Come to think, I was never afraid in any part of any city, and trust me, I've been to some that would have turned Dad's hair white over night. There are good and bad people everywhere. There is safety and danger no matter where you go. You can't live in fear. You just need to live each day as best you can, and trust in God, while trying not to do anything too foolish.But, as usual, I digress.
Again, I found good friends and good times in this job, and who knows how long I might have stayed. But as it happened I had a phone call one day from an old high school friend. She told me she had a teaching job lined up in Rockville Centre, New York. How would I like to move to New York with her? As it happened, I was still living at home with Mom, and chafing at the bit. I felt responsible in a way. How would she be able to make out if I left? But I so wanted to leave! It was time. I didn't even hesitate when this girl asked. Sure, I'd love to move to New York.
But, children, that is another tale for another day.