History: Jobs I’ve had, people I’ve met (Part 1)


I’ve been looking for a job for the past couple of months but the purpose here isn’t to discuss that (or the whys and wherefores). I interviewed with a recruiter today via Facetime and some of the questions she asked got me thinking about jobs I’ve had and the people I met at those jobs.

My first full-time (read: real adult) job was right after I graduated from high school, shortly before I turned 18. I had neglected to apply for financial aid to go to college, so I didn’t have the money to enroll. I say neglected because that’s what it was. I didn’t forget, I didn’t miss a deadline; I just couldn’t think of what I wanted to study at school. My mother wanted me to go for what was known in those days as an “MS” degree. She believed the chances of finding a husband were slim to none for any girl who didn’t go to college. The point was not so much to get an actual college degree (because what use is that to someone who’s going to stay home and be a housewife anyway?), but to find a husband. Now, I can see that was just the culture of the time, but I certainly judged her for this attitude then, because I was a pretty typical teenager and that’s what we do. I thought it was ridiculous to spend the money to attend university just to find a husband. Surely, there was a cheaper way! Besides, I wasn’t sure I wanted a husband just yet. In fact, beyond independence, I didn’t know what I wanted at all, but I knew I needed a job if I was going to achieve independence.

I approached this as any almost-18-year-old high school graduate would approach a job search: with no idea what I was doing, or how to go about it even if I did. I stumbled on my first job completely by chance. One of my sisters was talking to someone after church, who mentioned she was looking for a secretary to work in the department she managed at Utah State University (USU). i had taken almost all the high school courses available in secretarial science. I typed 100+ wpm accurately and took Shorthand. Useful skills, at the time. I had also worked part-time secretarial jobs through a summer and after-school program, so I had some office experience.  One thing led to another and within a week, I was a secretary in the Special Education Department at USU. It really was a gift, and I learned a lot from Carolyn, the woman from church who hired me. I’m also glad she had seven children because that meant she had the patience to deal with me.

The department administrative offices were located on one-half of the ground floor of one of the women’s dorms. There was a door going into the lobby, which would open from our side, but was locked on the other. We occasionally had people traipse through the office, coming into the building from the other end without realizing they were walking through offices, not living space. During the summer, the dorms housed conference attendees. For a couple years, it was a big Tupperware convention, and the cheerleading camps were a regular thing (and very popular with men in the office). During these conferences, traffic through the office increased. Who knew they wear silly costumes at those Tupperware conventions? Because we were in what was supposed to be dormitory living space, there was only one bathroom. Our unisex bathroom was very progressive for the time! Not that we used it that way; it was essentially a private bathroom with multiple toilet and shower stalls because we locked the door when we went in, to prevent anyone else from joining us. On occasion, we’d have to kick out cheerleaders, who had discovered a conveniently empty bathroom in the building, accessible through the stairway.

A high school graduate today wouldn’t recognize the majority of the equipment we used. Probably the most archaic (by any standard) was the mimeograph machine, which was referred to as the ditto.  Basically, these were the cheap way of making copies (kind of) before copiers became less expensive to own and run. The department did have a regular Xerox copier, but it was considered too expensive to use for everything. We also had what was known as the quickie ditto, a machine that produced the ditto stencil from an original through a heat transfer process. If you were lucky, this worked. If you weren’t, you had to retype it directly on a stencil. Because making corrections to the stencil was a huge (YUUUUGE) PITA, this wasn’t a very popular alternative. Amazingly, I actually took a class in high school that included instructions on how to type (and correct) stencils and use of the mimeograph machine. That class didn’t include any information on the quickie ditto machine, so I was thrilled beyond belief when I was able to use such advanced technology!

In high school typing class (one of the secretarial sciences!), we used electric typewriters with carriages. The IBM Selectric was on the market at that time, but I guess the school district didn’t have the money to update their machines. The variable-space typewriter I learned to use was another thing altogether, and getting a right-aligned margin was a work of art and math, easier on the variable-space typewriter than the Selectric. The Department had Selectrics, but they weren’t the correcting model; we used White-Out. I even went to a seminar on the proper and most effective way to use White-Out so it was nearly invisible. I was a master with White-Out. Of course, the best way to avoid having to use White-Out in the first place (or having to correct a stencil) was to be extremely accurate, so keyboarding accuracy was as essential as speed. The technology wonder in the office, however, was a word processor. I don’t even remember the brand name of the thing, but I mastered it like nobody’s business. You will laugh at the description. A Selectric typewriter was hooked to a console that contained two decks for the electronic media; i.e., two analog tape cassettes, as well as a bunch of input buttons. The operator rolled paper into the Selectric, turned on the recording of one or the other decks, and started typing. All keystrokes were recorded. If you made an error, you used the buttons on the console to back up to the error. Mind you, the backing up only took place within the electronic media; the bouncing ball on the Selectric didn’t move. You could back up a character, a line, a paragraph, a page – whatever was necessary – but the ball remained stationary. And when I say you backed up, you counted back to the error as necessary, figuring out the best combination of characters, lines, paragraphs and/or pages to get to it. You used the console buttons to delete the error, then typed the correction – with the Selectric typing it on the page at the spot where the ball was at when you realized you needed to back up to the error, then you used the console buttons to move back to the end and you continued typing. At that point, you kind of had to guess where to put a carriage return, which was entered manually, because what was reflected on the typewritten page was now messed up by the correction. Sometimes, it was just easier to save the page, put a new sheet of paper into the typewriter, then print the saved page, turn the recording back on and continue typing. Boilerplate paragraphs or pages could be saved on the second cassette and inserted, but you had to know what was on the cassette and get the location references. We kept a reference book for that. And oh – the carriage returns, being hard returns saved on the media, wouldn’t be right, so you had to go back and correct those after inserting the boilerplate. This, my friends, was cutting edge technology! Doesn’t that sound like fun??

This started me on my love of mastering word processing technology and electronics. Until personal computers became widely used, it became a valuable and marketable skill. I became so skilled with this particular word processor, the company that made it would frequently refer people all over the state to me when they called with questions on how to use it. When my supervisor found out they were handing out my name and phone number to people, saying “call this person, she knows more about it than I do,” she hit the roof and gave them an earful. I actually had a job interview to go work for them, but they didn’t realize until they met me that I was only 18 years old and that was apparently a sticking point for them, so it didn’t go anywhere.

There was also no voice mail in those days. The phone got answered every time it rang, by a real person. If all the phone lines were in use, the caller got a busy signal. When you got back to the office the next day or after the weekend, you didn’t have to go through the voice mail messages. Everyone knew the office was closed nights and weekends and there was no way to leave a message, so they didn’t call. (Imagine that!) That’s just the way things worked back then. When you left the office, you didn’t take the work with you and nobody called or messaged with questions. When you took time off, it was your time and nobody interrupted it. As much as the internet has made things more convenient, there’s a lot to be said in favor of not being so available.

While working at this job, I met Gary, a friend I still drop in on and visit with whenever I’m in Logan. I’d say we keep in touch otherwise, but he’s not really good with written communication. (Now, I message his wife and she talks to him.) He always seems happy to see me when I drop in, but otherwise I don’t hear from him. I have him to thank for getting me into martial arts. He was enrolled as a student in the department, and I assigned the professor who would be his counselor. Now, I’m not sure I’ve ever even told Gary this, but I had this mental image of him based on his name. It was kind of a game I played with all the faceless names that came across my desk. Can you picture what a person looks like, and what kind of person they are, based on their name? If you can, I’m a big failure at it because I pictured a quiet, studious kind of person and assigned him to a quiet, studious professor, thinking they’d be a great match. The first time he came into my office, it was a bit of a shock. In those days (in Logan, at least, maybe elsewhere but certainly in Logan), if someone said “you look like a hippie,” it wasn’t a compliment. And here was Gary, the guy I’d pictured as quiet and studious, with long black hair hanging past his shoulders, blue-tinted granny glasses that would look just right with Yoko Ono at his side, wearing what looked like army surplus fatigues and sandals. We didn’t have many hippies in Logan, but he sure looked like one to me! He still looks pretty much the same, only his hair is gray and instead of fatigues, most of the time he wears a black gi.

I also met my friend, Opal. Well, her real name is Peggy or Peg, which is what she goes by now, but we still stay in touch and I had dinner with her the last time I was in Portland, OR, which is where she now lives. She worked for one of the professors in the department for a short time. I could describe her as quirky then and she’s still quirky, and a wonderful person. I eventually got an apartment in the same house where she lived (the house had been divided into three apartments), in the downtown area of Logan. Her apartment was in the front of the house, with a porch, and we had many fine evenings where we sat on the porch, drank assorted beverages, achieved varying altered blood levels, watched people coming and going and had friends over. We were doing that one night when we met Joe, who would eventually become my boss on another job – but that’s a story for another day.

I had worked at this job for a little over a year when a part-time secretary, who had worked there for about six months, was promoted and given a pay rate higher than mine. I lodged a protest and was told she was being paid more because she was married and had a family and therefore needed to make more than I did.  Yes, they said things like that back then. Nevermind that I had more experience working there and more responsibility. I found another job and gave my notice.

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