Miss Mudpie’s Review: Our industrious blogger delights us with a blast from her past, (and her present, but mostly her past,) i.e. landing her first job in high school… in the principal’s office no less…at a time when typewriters clattered and the surprise pop quiz was no surprise at all, because anything printed on a mimeograph machine sent, wafting down the halls, that memorable and intoxicating aroma which we all can identify with to this day.
When I engage with people on the bus, the subject of where I work usually comes up. It’s a common enough question. I am tagged by my red lunch box and daily commute as someone with a job. Thinking my fellow passengers would not understand why anyone would ride the bus and pay rent for an office for a job that pays nothing, I’m demure. I tell them I work in an office downtown. They never inquire further as to the specifics of said work. Maybe they just wanted to verify that I do indeed have employment. This leaves me perplexed, but relieved that no further explanation is required.
I don’t want to have to explain that I don’t (yet) get paid for the work I do. I write with no promise of a lucrative future, much like sitting down to a coloring book with your crayons on a daily basis with the hope of becoming an accomplished artist. It seems ridiculous even in my own head and having to explain it to others is daunting. I fully realize not everyone is in a position to indulge their passions with only minimal fear of becoming homeless and starving to death.
I wait patiently on the corner for my bus. I exchange pleasantries with whoever is waiting with me. Conversations usually revolve around the plusses and minuses of the local mass transit system, especially if the bus is late. Deposited at the bus station downtown, I walk a glorious three blocks to my destination. Glorious on a clear, crisp day when I can see the mountain peaks that surround the hamlet I call home. Three dismal blocks on those days when the rain and wind and temperature block my view and make my feet wet and cause my hair to give up its will to live. I arrive at the office. My unofficial job.
The first official job I had was in my high school principal’s office. I qualified for a summer student work program based on my family’s income. Not that we were poor, but we probably weren’t earning up to our full potential. The other recipient and I were surprised by the presence of each other in this grant-based employment as we both lived in a very nice neighborhood. I was assigned to the principal’s office. She would be working elsewhere in the school. I began my career as a person with clerical tendencies and an overwhelming need to organize stuff, attributes which have served me well in every working endeavor since that summer of first employment.
While working in the office, I became less afraid of the “office ladies” who must have had some pretty thick skin by the time I arrived. They seemed ancient and grouchy in my initial, sixteen-year-old assessment, though I was certain these were not characteristics they gained voluntarily. After daily presenting myself as an earnest, hard-working teenager, the old gals proved themselves to be kind, caring and actually human. I learned how to communicate with them as my superior colleagues, asking questions when I knew damn well that I did not know what I was doing and needed extra help. They seemed to appreciate my honesty and tolerate my ineptitudes as I quickly learned the skills of peon-ship.
When Marie was hired, I found myself highly enamored. I estimated Marie to be about 100 years younger than anyone else on the official office staff. Though she wasn’t as clueless as I was with the flow of work, she was new, and shiny, and probably not more than ten years older than me. She was a married lady who did not have any kids! At that point in my life, I don’t think I had ever met one of those. She was mature enough to advise me, though not so old (or school-office oriented) as to scold. We had actual conversations.
Most of the work, of course, was drudgery. Take this here, move that there. Put these in alphabetical order. Then there were the few activities which thrilled me. Type this! I would like to pause here to say I have always been an excellent typist, even back then. I took a class that, honest to God, was called “Typing” the school year just before this gainful employment. I had my own typewriter. I loved to write by typing. Who knew back then typing would be a skill pretentious techies would later reinvent into “keyboarding?” This is why I type two spaces after every period. There’s a part of my brain in which the act of typing is deeply etched. I don’t have to hunt and peck or even think about what I am doing. I am the Serena Williams of typing. Having the honor of typing something for the principal was the clerical equivalent of winning the U.S. Open.
One of my biggest jobs was duplicating. I took to duplicating like my life depended on it. This was back in the days when the school still used a mimeograph machine. The mimeograph machine was my favorite contraption. I guessed it was cheaper to operate than the photocopier as all the teachers were required to mimeo their many and sundried notes, forms and tests. I donned a large, canvas apron and wrote an official looking “Harry” on a slip of paper and slipped it into the plastic sleeve which identified the industrial worker/owner of the apron. The machine had a large drum and some weird-smelling purple ink. The drum rolled around and around, squeezing the stinky ink onto slithery paper. The machine could put out millions of copies, which was good as this seemed to be the number of duplications required by each teacher. Since teachers usually performed this task for themselves, I suspected they were taking advantage of my juvenile presence in the office to print out all the copies they would ever need until the end of their teaching careers. The requests for this activity increased exponentially as the end of summer approached. I went home each day with purple hands and happy heart. Harry may have been high from the fumes.
The principal of a school represents authority, discipline and terror. Our school principal was a quiet, serious man who greeted me once then left me in the capable hands of the office ladies for the school-office training. We had two vice-principals. Mr. R was delightful to know. He was more like Santa Claus than an authority figure, though he was well-respected. We all adored him. He was one of those unique educational figures who had the ability to connect with students and teachers alike and had every appearance of liking them. He was kind and encouraging towards me while I was working in the office. It was the other vice-principal I feared. Mr. P. He was unknown unless you were a student who lit fires in the gymnasium, sold drugs in the parking lot or skipped classes. (I swear I only did it once and had not gotten caught!) His was the role of disciplinarian. I did not want to be known to him and did my best to remain invisible whenever he lurked about outside his own office lest he recall my name from some list of low-level class-cutters. I could always identify, by their looks of dread, which students were waiting to be called into his lair. I swear I could hear roaring and munching in there!
Working in the office during the summer school sessions, I became familiar with the miscreants as well as some of the “failed to pass” kids. They all had my sympathy. Summer school was no picnic, yet here I was, at school, learning stuff like how to have a job (and a paycheck!), how to please my betters and how most aspects of work are brain-numbingly dull. I felt certain it was a vastly superior experience in comparison to sitting in a classroom, watching the groundskeeper mow the grass or sweating out one’s guilt in the vice-principal’s office.
Many, many jobs have passed since my days in the principal’s office. How much of life we learn from our first job experience. The tangible skills gained or improved (typing, organizing, mimeographing) we can bring forward into the present (or not) and triumph in their continued use. The social skills such as discerning who we can rely on, befriend, confide in and who we are happier having avoided, how to gain consensus in a group and best communication strategies with supervisors and coworkers are just as important as the tangible skills going forward into all the offices, stores, restaurants, warehouses, manufacturing plants, indoor and outdoor spaces which constitute the settings of our livelihoods.
Today as I sit at my little desk, I remember those first working days. This job is not so different from that one, though the pay was better then. I don’t go home reeking of mimeograph ink, but I know who is open to conversation and how to use the copier/printer. My typing is fearsome as I pound out these stories, relying on fading memories and gallons of tea. It’s a nice day, and I will see the mountains as I walk back to the bus station. Oh happy day, my hair lives on.
Still typing after all these years,
Guest Editor Miss Mudpie knows her way around a keyboard. She writes stories and poetry and awesome reviews. She encourages me to find that perfect word.