• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
  • Archives

Take a Letter, Maria, Send It To My Wife

Image result for smith corona electric typewriter

Yesterday, I gave an informational interview to a young man in search of employment in the publishing industry. I didn’t really want to take the time, but then I reflected on my own post graduate days when I idiotically bought cream paper to type my cover letters on and could not find cream White-out. I was a horrible typist, which also explains why I didn’t get any publishing jobs at that time, but worse I spent those hot summer days desperately trying not to make mistakes on my portable two-tone Smith-Corona, lest I have to retype the letter all over again. To Whom It May Concern. For Whom the Bell Tolls. All of which explains how I became the Corporate File Coordinator for two years in the Morgan Stanley Library, where I learned to retrieve documents from the SEC, print documents off microfiche, file documents in dossiers, shag bicycle messengers in the supply closet, buy joints on 10th Avenue and eat two Chipwiches for lunch, from different vendors, so no one would suspect. So when the young man asks me what my usual day like a literary agent is like, well, it’s mind blowing.

What was your first job?


17 Responses

  1. I was a telemarketer in college, selling newspaper subscriptions (peddling stories?). The guys I worked for would get contracts from dailies across the country to recruit subscribers. The pitch was, “Please buy your local paper and a portion of your subscription fee when you buy from us will be given to [insert local charity that everyone from that town would know].” We had phone books from the towns whose paper we were trying to sell & each of us would get a chunk of pages to make calls. We could smoke in our tiny cubicles and there was usually beer available at the end of a shift. I could make more on commission during one one night than a week of working as a tutor helping football players write papers.

  2. The summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college I got my first job as a sales clerk in the Men’s Haberdashery Department, (habo), of a long-ago defunct discount department store called E. J. Korvette. I folded, zipped, stacked and sorted for hours at a time.
    I hated the job because it was mindless and involved interaction with needy customers who could not think for themselves.
    I loved it because when people asked me what my job was, I told them I worked in men’s underwear.
    I made $1.60 an hour and thought I was rich.
    That dead end job opened a door for me half way around the world. I quit college (long story) and went to Johannesburg, South Africa for a year and became a beauty consultant for Revlon.
    I wrote my first book while in Jo’burg, and for the life of me, I cannot remember what it was about.

  3. I was sixteen and working as the cashier at the luncheonette counter in a downtown drug store. Two French Canadian girls in super short shorts and heels asked me where to find rubbers. I smiled and said, “Oh, we don’t sell rubbers here, but there’s a shoe store two doors down. You can get some there.” After they gave each other the look and headed toward the pharmacy section, the girl behind the cosmetics counter shook her head and said, “Bonnie, get over here!” After she told me the facts of life, I gave her a disgusted look and said, “That can’t possibly be true.” What can I say? It was 1957 and I was a little on the slow side. .

  4. the manager of the Paradise Motel drives a new car and compulsively sweeps the parking lot. the swimming pool’s perpetually closed for repairs. silverfish backstroke baseboards. on the periphery of the parking lot, a blood-orange neon sign shouts vacancyvacancyvacancy. i clean rooms at the Paradise Motel with blinders on and a harness that pinches my ribcage.


  5. “What was your first job?”

    Hey, Betsy. Saw you on the Book of Faces earlier today and made a passing comment in reply. Now I’ll linger on the subject.

    My first job was when I was 14, as a paperboy’s assistant. The paperboy I assisted was my 16-year-old brother. Our dad “suggested” he hire me, and “suggested” I work at half the going rate for paperboy’s assistants, on a verbal no-compete. As it was my only offer it was my best, and I took it. It meant I had money!

    This was newspaper delivery in the suburbs, by car, back when it seemed nearly everybody subscribed to the paper. We threw the morning paper. It meant we had to be up at 3:00 every morning, motor to the drop point, pick up our bundles of papers, and roll the papers up and deliver ’em. Roughly two weeks every month, evenings and weekends, we walked our route and collected payment door-to-door.

    I started working in November. After six months, my dad let me work for other paperboys if they would hire me. They paid twice what my brother did. That summer, I got my own route. I still worked with my brother because I was too young to drive.

    Not only was I too young to drive, but the Newspaper Printing Corporation considered all of us paperboys to be independent contractors, despite the fact that most of us were high school students who were too young to enter into a contract. We didn’t care. It was hard work, but it was fun, even though we only made about a dollar an hour. But we paid no income taxes and our parents subsidized our automotive expenses. They were happy we had jobs and were learning how to work in the real world before we graduated from high school.

    I learned other things, too, about the real world, on the routes. When I turned 16 I was old enough to drive, and I got my own route. My girlfriend hired on as my assistant. We had plenty of time in the pre-dawn darkness to park on secluded streets and make out when we wanted, which was whenever possible. Soon enough, we became lovers. We were young and naive and then there was a baby. This was the heartbreaker. She didn’t want to get married — we were barely 17 when the baby was born — and her parents weren’t going to make her do it. I kept my parents in the dark, or thought I did, though I found out later that they had suspicions and were not surprised when I finally told them the news. My girlfriend and I gave the baby up for adoption — though the papers I signed were legally invalid, since I was still too young to enter into a contract. That didn’t matter. What mattered was my girlfriend’s church made the arrangements, knowing of an established young couple who wanted a baby and hadn’t been able to have their own. So it was a no-brainer — a no-brainer in response to our no-brainer. Our baby got to be adopted by a couple who could take care of her, instead of facing being raised by two high school dropouts — we would’ve had to drop out — who had made a big mistake.

    It was shattering to lose my first child. You can imagine how it was for my girlfriend. We tried to carry on as a couple, but it was not to be. She and her family moved away and I found out later she had married and had a half-dozen more children. She passed away about 14 years ago. As for our child — our daughter — I know who she is and where she is. I wrote to her once and told her who I thought she was and who I thought I was, and invited her to contact me if she ever wanted, but I have not heard back, nor do I really expect to.

    • Hey Tet, sometimes we simply have to try a second time to connect, IF, that is really what we want to do. That you were “shattered” is something that deserves a second chance to be told.

  6. Paperboy and caddie, both starting around the same time, age 12 or 13, late 1960’s. $14 a week for the paper route (including tips — my favorite was a Slim Jim a bartender on my route gave me every week) and $5 a bag for caddying..
    One of my more enlightening early jobs was washing dishes in a bank the summer after my freshman college year. The executives were served the same food but on gold rimmed plates that had to be washed with Calgon, while the rank and file employees got bigger servings on sturdy plates washed with industrial grade detergent. The kitchen workers worked hard and stayed out of sight. Taught me more than I learned in college about class distinctions and racism, as well as kindness among those with very little else to give. A man named Al gave a few of the cooks and me a ride back to the city ( i got out a mile from my mother’s home in Yonkers). It was highly improper– his job was to bring the deposits to the Manhattan branch and he wasn’t supposed to offer lifts, but he knew it was better than the bus and subway.

  7. I worked for two years delivering groceries for the local butcher store. They gave me a bicycle with a large basket in front. People would tip me a quarter and acted like it was a small fortune to give me. I was 13 years old and it was the early 80s. There was a wonderful little old lady…epitome of a grandmother figure. She would have me come in her house and put the groceries on her kitchen table, then offer me food and a drink, which I always declined. She would give me 5 dollars and a hug. When it snowed that winter I walked to her house a few blocks from moline to shovel her driveway. She was a widow and had no children. I delivered her order the next day but she didn’t answer the door. Turns out she had died the day before. I often think about her and how kind she was to me. I left the job soon after. The owners of the butcher store were cousins and one was nastier than the other. Both had big mustaches and heavy accents. Their fingers were always pink and had dried blood under their nails. A saw was in the back and sawdust scattered all across the floor. Years later I saw one of them working at a Citarella counter in the city. Same mustache but it was more salt than pepper. Same snarl only more wrinkles. He seemed a much smaller man. I felt bad for him. He didn’t recognize me. I wanted to say something but decided not to. There were people behind me and it looked like he was struggling to keep up with his much younger coworkers. It brought back so many memories. My daughters around the same age now as I was when I was delivering on a bike. Have times changed that much? I don’t let her walk by herself let alone work a job. We’re my parents crazy? Am I overprotective? Maybe a bit of both I guess. I miss those days

  8. At eleven I was picking peppers in the Texas sun, learning not to wipe the sweat fro my face with my hands, or anything that had touched the chillis. By twelve I was grooming horses, cleaning stalls and tack. I was riding, too, through marsh and flooded gravel pits and through the mesquite. Several of us rode along Laredo highway picking up bottles and cashing them in. Those were good jobs and times, but we moved.

    Twenty hours a week at a totally manual carwash for fifty cents an hour, and I was flush. Then came dishwashing, not my idea of a good time, and other gigs, and poof!- I was in the army, ready or not.

  9. My first job, at the tender age of 6 or 7, was helping my grandfather select lumber for the construction of our summer house. The ability to “sight” lumber – checking that each board is straight, no cupping or warps- only requires decent eye sight, not any profound skill. But it was a high adventure for that little girl to be given such a responsibility, an early lesson in the construction world and what later helped me navigate my Day Job career in that industry. I recently shocked a worker at a lumber yard when I rejected several boards, after peering down their length and declaring they were warped. “Damn,” he said. “You really do know what you are talking about.” Yep.

    • And for what you pay for lumber these days, you damn well better get straight pieces! A valuable asset for sure. Stuff is supposed to be kiln-dried, bundled tightly and stacked under cover, so it’s either wood being wood or a lack of quality control.

  10. Hahaha. BTW, they still preferred cream paper in Michigan, at least in the last decade.

  11. Pulling weeds. Age 10. ALL Spring and Summer. Did that until I could qualify for a paper route. Age 12.

    Sent from my iPhone


  12. My first job was crawling outta that incredibly tiny opening.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: