Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Patrick Flynn and Ronald Tipton, 2016.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Day Jobs

What is Charles Ives' (1874-1954) picture doing as the lead illustration on a piece called "Day Jobs"?   You might say he is the poster boy for this subject. Ives is recognized today as a great and innovative American composer, but during his life he lived pretty much in obscurity, composing his music in his spare time.  He took a day job in the insurance business in 1899 and in that business he remained until he retired in 1930 at the age of 65. All those years he dreamed of being free to write his music, but he didn't quit his day job as an actuary and executive and when he did finally retire he found he could no longer compose new music.


Ah, yes, the day job. When in my teens I heard this all the time when I expressed an interest in the creative fields of writing and art, "Get a day job so you have something to fall back on." And so I did. Like Ives I daydreamed about reaching that point where I didn't need that fall back position. When I grew older I didn't think about having some big blockbuster bestseller that would guarantee financial independent anymore. Instead I looked forward to retirement. I would spend my golden years writing, but somewhat like Ives, once retired I found it difficult to imagine up new stories. Take this as a cautionary tale to any young artistic type that stumbles upon it. Watch out for the dreaded day job!

I recently did a post about a period in my life when my writing was seeing the light of day instead of just my reject file. Yet, I clung to my security blanket of day jobs through most of that time, expect for a short period in 1969 when I did nothing but freelance. I had being working almost since high school at Atlantic Refining (which halfway through my employ became Atlantic Richfield or ARCo). I will save any discussion about that place until another time. Once I resigned I had a couple other day jobs to supplement my lack of funds from my literary sales. They were mildly interesting.

Right after I severed my umbilical cord with ARCo, I took a part time job with Philadelphia Gum Co. in Haverford. Maybe you never heard of them, but some older boys and girls out there may remember Swell Bubblegum, El Bubble candy cigars and chewing gum cigarettes as well as other products made by them.

In fact from 1964 to 1967 Swell was in competition with Topps in the football bubble gum card wars. Swell had the contract to produce gum cards of National Football Players while Topps had the American Football Players.  It also
did baseball card gum, Marvel Superheroes, World War II scenes and cards on the Green Berets among others.

I find the RFK series of cards produced in 1968 one of the more odd subjects they did.

I began working there at the beginning of June 1969. My hours were 7:00 PM until 11:00 PM Monday through Friday. Every workday night I came home looking like a ghost, covered as I was in white powdered sugar. I was paid $1.00 an hour, thus I was living on $20 a week plus whatever I could get for a story or essay. I did get to partake of as much bubblegum as I could chew, so most times I looked slightly deformed with a bulging cheek full of gum.

My first position was as Wad Slinger. There was a room taken up by a huge machine. It had a tube curled about like a giant's intestine. It was very wide where it started, but kept growing narrower as it curled around in different directions until at the far end an opening spit out and wrapped long dowels of Bazooka-shaped gum. On top and to the front of this monster gum digestive system was a great metal hopper behind which the operator sat with a big pestle.

Every so often a bell would ring and a conveyer belt would rumble to life. This belt ran up from the kitchen in the floor below to our room and it carried the freshly mixed wads of gum. These looked like gum the Jolly Green Giant had been chewing and spit out. My function was to grab a wad by one end and sling it up upon the top of the big machine, where the operator would then push it into the hopper and tamp it down and in with the giant pestle. Several of these wads would come up and then finally stop until another batch was cooked.

In between bells I would either sweep the floor or sift powdered sugar into a 55-gallon barrel.

After a week I was promoted to Bubblegum Welder. Now I was operating my own machine. It wasn't the big thing. It was like a desk I stood behind. It had foot petals and on top a hot plate and two knife blades.  A  wheeled rack of shelves would be brought to the side of my welder. On each shelf was a long board, six feet I guess, and upon each board were six long dowels of bubblegum.

I would grab one of these dowels, pull it across my machine and then grab a second. I would hit the foot petals, snipping off the ends of each dowel, press them against the hot plate and weld them together. I turned these racks of individual dowels into one long one and fed it to the end of my machine where it was chopped into one inch square pieces and wrapped as bite sized pieces before disappearing up a conveyer belt to the inspection and packing section.

Philadelphia Gum was founded in 1948 and lasted until July2003 when it was taken over by Concord Confections, famous for Dubble Bubble, which in turn was acquired by Toosie Roll Industries in 2004. The Philadelphia Gum Plant was torn down in 2011 to make way for the Haverford YMCA.

I left the place in July 1969 and moved on to my next job, truly a day job, at North American Publishing Company on Cherry Street in Philadelphia. (That building is no longer in existence now either.) However, the company is still publishing under the new name of NAPCO Media, which indicated they have moved beyond just print. There appears to be a complete catalog of new magazines and none of
the ones that existed in my time there.
the titles of my day.

The company was founded by Irvin J. Borowsky (right). He began in the magazine business in 1948 with the publication of TV Digest, which I remember my family buying each week when we got our first TV set. He sold this publication to Walter Annenberg in 1953 and it morphed into TV Guide.

That is the cover of the first nationally published issue of TV Guide for the week of April 3-9, 1953.

I signed on as a Circulation Manager of two of their flagship magazines of that time, "Bestsellers" and "Media & Methods". I wrote about those two magazines in my previous post as far as what their purpose was, so I won't repeat that here.

My starting salary was actually 6% higher than my last at ARCo and I was somewhat successful during the six months I worked there. I straightened out a number of internal problems as well as oversaw the establishment of the first circulation auditing of Media & Methods. So why did I stay such a short time, you may ask?

I grew increasingly unhappy with the place, mainly with the treatment of the employees. But first let me explain the uncomfortable situation I walked into. Two of the crew reporting to me had
simmering resentments that I was there at all. One had been the Circulation Manager, now demoted to just another clerk. The other was the one who felt she should have gotten the position. This did not make them overly cooperative or willing to implement changes I made. It did not helpful that I discovered the former Circulation Manager had not been billing a large client's account for their purchases. This was a Philadelphia bookstore. It had changed ownership a couple years earlier and the new owner had never been sent a bill for product that was being delivered each month from when the previous management had been in place. This newer owner told me he just assumed this was free promotional stuff we sent.

I also discovered the other lady had not been processing subscriptions, but just stuffing them in the rear of her desk drawers.

To further complicate things, when Curtis Publishing (famous for "The Saturday Evening Post") closed, my boss hired a number of Curtis' former staff. I think these ladies had been hired originally by Benjamin Franklin. We used Graphotypes and Addressograph Machines to process the mailing labels for our publications, equipment these ladies had not only never seen before, but were scared to death of using.

On the opposite end, so to speak, my crew was rounded out by two college girls hired during their summer break. The one girl was pretty bright, but had no work ethic. She did possess a great deal of attitude. Doing the job properly was of little concern because she was going back to school come fall and if she got bounced it just meant more time down at the shore. Meanwhile she was perfectly happy to take a paycheck every week.

The other girl was very willing to work, but had no skill. She would sit and type plates all day without complaint; however, more than half would have to be chucked for errors. After a couple weeks of this I sat her down for a chat. She began crying and then she kept leaning forward over my arm, resting part of her anatomy upon me, angling herself to give me a clear view down her front. I felt sorry for her; I really did because I believed she was trying her best, but neither tears or sexual advances were going to get those plates cut correctly. I had to send her packing.

Lastly was the personnel raids by my boss, who besides being supervisor of circulation for the company also had her own magazine. Since she managed all personnel decisions she would play dirty with we department managers. If we got an outstanding employee she would suddenly transfer that person to her personal department and sent you someone of lesser value.

At one point the Marketing Department devised a new promotional scheme. We sold posters to the book stores and newsstands all over the area. The Marketing people decided we would boost sales of these posters if we offered the dealers free frames to display the posters in. Why they discussed this with me, I am not sure, but I analyzed the projected revenue and discovered it would result in a loss. Why? Well, for a start each frame costs us a $1.04 to supply for free. There was a finite number of newsstands in the city and each had a finite amount of space to display posters, which they were already doing. They liked the new frames just fine, but had no reason to purchase a single new poster to hang; therefore, all we would do was spend a good bit of money giving these guys shiny new frames.

At a meeting in the publishers office I presented my opinion. Mr. Borowsky was unhappy, but not at the clowns who hatched the idea. Instead he told me I was too pessimistic.  Okay, fine, so they did the promotion and it was a colossal...flop. It performed exactly as I calculated and we loss a few hundred dollars on the promotion without generating the sale of one extra poster.

As Father Time handed his hourglass over to Baby New Year, I was handing my letter of resignation to the supervisor of circulation.  We were moving into the 1970s now and a lot of changes were right ahead for me. New day jobs awaited, as did a new life style.

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