(Some actual names have been changed. These pseudonyms appear in bold.-- Larry)
I never wanted to work in an office. I didn't want to be anything but a writer. But as a teenager I knew I had to find a job to support myself and get my parents off my back (not that they were nagging me, but they did expect me to find work). If I have any regrets, it is the total lack of guidance and support that I got growing up. Not just from my parents, but from the school system and other people. Most of the teachers I had were more discouraging than encouraging. I think I can name the teachers who ever took a smidgeon of interest in me on one hand. Miss Ezra in third grade who spark my interest in the written word. Mrs. Snellenberger in fifth grade liked me and she always praised my work. Ms Pollack in Junior High actually encouraged me in my desire to write. Mr. Ax was at least able to make math understandable and was always friendly, though I can't say he really encouraged me on an individual basis. I was friendly with his son, Jakie Ax, who got me into boy scouts, so I also knew Mr. Ax outside of classes.
I had two excellent teachers in Senior High. The first was Mr. Brown. He taught Biology and he had magic. He was one of those teachers like you see in the movies, one who could actually inspire every kid in the class to learn. Everybody I knew wanted him for a teacher and we who were lucky enough to get him loved going to his class. He just had some indefinable something that worked. He always had his students to his house at the end of the school year for an outdoor cookout and we all showed up for that. I think the year I had him was his last teaching at my school. He was hired away by the Hill School in Pottstown. Hill School is a very exclusive private school attended by the offspring of millionaires and movie stars.
The other teacher, the one who had the biggest influence on me directly and personally was my 12th grade English teacher, Mrs. Manser. I've written of her before and how she got me writing assemblies and reading my work to the class. But that was again encouragement for my writing. No one ever encouraged any other talents I might have or helped me to understand the ways of the working world in general.
In 12th grade, the State of Pennsylvania sent advisors into the school. They gave us aptitude tests and then two of them (bad cop, good cop?) talked to us individually about our "future". They started off asking me what I wanted to do. I said I wanted to be a writer. Do you know what they said? First they kind of chuckled, then one said, actually said this: "You could never be a writer. You don't have a large enough vocabulary." Well, I knew some vocabulary I could have said to her, but I don't say those kinds of words. Can you imagine people who are suppose to be helping to guide your future saying such a thing? What should have been said was something like, "That is great. May I make some suggestions? Work on building your vocabulary." Good golly, I don't claim to be a walking dictionary, but I bet I had a larger vocabulary than 99% of the other kids in high school. Heck, I had kids make fun of me as far back as grade school for reading books with "big words". Besides that is a myth that you need an expansive vocabulary to be a good writer. In fact, a lot of editors discourage the use of fancy words because it turns readers off. I just heard recently that Ernest Hemingway only used 1,000 different words in his books. It isn't how many words you use, its how you use those you do.
These people then told me my best career bet was running a machine. Not computers, because they weren't thought about in 1959, but just some simple machine that does the same task over and over and over. Well, I admit, I was a terrific addressograph operator and a very good bubblegum welder, but that isn't exactly the career I had in mind for my whole life.
If I had started out wanting to make money, if that had been my aim, I think I could have done it. I succeeded on so many different jobs and in so much varied schooling after high school that if my focus was simply climbing the ladder to the top, I probably could have done it. But I always had that desire to write and I never had that killer instinct for stepping on, up or over other people. Yet, despite my lack of desire to be in the corporate world, I kept getting promotions and more responsibilities. I always met my responsibilities, but I always resented them, because the better I did in business, the less time I had for my family and my writing.
I did change companies several times over my life and I think that was positive, because I didn't get stale and I learned more things. I never took a job for less money than the one before until after my forced retirement in 2001. The last few positions I had at Whatta Bank I took at the same level, but that was because I had crossed the age gap and they were taking advantage of me. Still I kept getting decent raises each year. That last year, when they let me go, my former manager has told me she had put me in for a 5% increase, which was higher than the "pool" percentage. Of course, I never got it because they retired me before it went into effect. See I just thought if I simply trusted and worked hard, the money would follow. But that just gets you more work. And usually less respect because you don't demand the money and prestige that comes with the additional responsibility.
When my long-time boss Will Waters retired from his Vice-President position, the job and title was given to Winston Bran, who at the time was 33 years old with no experience in the area. He even walked around bragging about knowing nothing about the area he was over and had no particular interest in learning it either. Why should he, every other year they moved him to a bigger position in another area he didn't know anything about either. I can honestly claim every area I worked in was better off for my having been there, all he can claim is HE is better off for having been there.
“Everyone is a sales person” became the big slogan at Whatta Bank a few years ago. Everybody was supposed to be out selling. That was part of the emphasis of the Build Points Program. We were supposed to be out there finding referrals. They actually told us things like, "Thanksgiving is coming next week. We know many of you get together with your families for dinner. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to find referrals. You can ask about your family's finances and recommend our products."
This is what Thanksgiving and being with your family meant to Whatta Bank: an opportunity for you to play sales person. In every circumstance on every occasion they wanted you out there manipulating the conversation to the person's finances and get referrals for the bank.
They put into our yearly evaluation a line on how many Build Points we earned. They started to judge us on that more than on how well we did the actual job we were hired to do. They further expanded this type of thing when they went to the folly of something called the "Collaborate Workplace". Now you had to be on teams in areas you didn't work and this seemed to count more than how you did in the area you actually worked. This was madness, madness.
I honestly don't know why Whatta Bank keeps making money, (Well, in a way I do, but I keep waiting for the bubble to burst) because I have seen so much incompetence and error and foolishness in the last few years. I've seen their quality slip horribly as their fees have risen.
I had a lifelong friend we'll call Slim. Slim wanted me to join the army out of high school on the "buddy system". He said if we joined together we would be kept together throughout our training. My parents just didn't go for the idea of me joining the service and wouldn't sign the permission slip. (I was considered a minor because I was not 21. This was a long time ago.)
He also told me they told him that if you joined you would get a private physical and he came back a bit miffed because he was sent through the same old gang physical as everyone else.
Slim told me he was going to join the Navy and had went to the recruiting place in Coatesville to meet with the Navel guy and sign up. He said that guy wasn't there when he arrived and as he were waiting the Army recruiter motioned and said "Hey kid, come here." So he joined the Army. When I asked, “how come you joined the Army”, he said, "They have cooler uniforms." And I said, "Then why didn't you join the Marines, they have real cool uniforms."
Way back when I commuted to Philadelphia on the Reading Railroad and I generally caught the train in Royersford and sometimes Pottstown. It was a long day because those trains didn't run very often. I had to catch a train around six in the morning to get into work on time at 8:30 and if I missed a train that left Philly a little after five, which got me home by 7 PM, I had to wait around for over an hour to catch the next one. If I worked overtime, I had to worry about missing the last train out of Philly, which left at 8:30.
I had two brushes with Addressograph Equipment. When I started at Hannifax Refining, I was hired as a Junior Clerk in Sales Accounting. I did that for eight months and posted for a level four job. This was a temporary position. The person who held it was leaving for his Army Reserve training for six months. If I took the job and he came back and wanted that job, then I would be bumped back to my old position. I took the job anyway. It was in Addressograph and I started as a Graphotypist. I was very good at that and I also ran the Addressograph machines well. There were five of us in the unit. The Supervisor had been at Hannifax 11 years and he was a bit nuts. He once got mad at one of the other operators and threw a platen at his head. Luckily it missed. (A platen was a very heavy metal bar used in the printing machine.)
Our Department Head decided to upgrade to a new system the AM Company called Speedomat. This used small metal plates, didn't require frames and the printers could utilize a feeder for the envelopes and labels and stuff. Because I was the best worker in the group, I was pulled out to work on the conversion. We had 43,000 plates that had to be cut in the new format. The plates were cut then printed on galleys and then the galleys were checked for errors, correction made, and so forth. Hannifax had coding on the plates that indicated the region and other info about the dealers. This was on the bottom row of the plates. We were almost through the conversion when the Postal Service announced the Zip Code. They also said there could be no other coding after the address except the Zip Code. This meant we had to reconvert every plate and move our coding to the top line and add the Zip Code. The Department Head immediately had a heart attack, literally. He went into the hospital ICU and I carried on converting.
The Addressograph supervisor kept resisting the change. When the conversion was complete, they moved him off somewhere else and I was made Supervisor.
After I left Hannifax a few years later, I got a job as Circulation Manager at LotsaPaper Publishing. I was over the subscription and shipping of two magazines. Part of that Division required the cutting of Addressograph Plates for printing out the monthly mailings of the magazines so I was again overseeing some Addressograph operation.