Tuesday, October 25, 2016

First Jobs

[Please note that there will be a break from reposting Dorien's blogs of probably two or three weeks while I get a new knee.  I'll resume as quickly as I can.  Thanks for your patience!       -----Gary]

All my life I have considered work to be a necessary evil, and I was reflecting the other day on my earliest adventures in the working world. For me, that began in 1958, when I graduated from Northern Illinois University with a B.A. in English—one of the most economically worthless degrees known to man, unless one plans to teach. I did not plan to teach. I immediately moved to Chicago to take on the world.

My very first after-college job was with the Olson Rug Company, whose triple claim to fame was: 1) “Olson Rugs are reversible”; 2) “We use your own wool”…which meant if you sent in a sack of wool from your pet sheep, Olson would supposedly use it in making your new rug…a bit impractical, but people actually would send in hair from their beloved dog, and Olson would accept it; and 3) “Olson Rugs do not burn”…but they did smolder.

The Olson Rug Factory was something of a Chicago landmark. It was huge, and it featured on one corner of its property, a really beautiful garden with waterfalls which was a great tourist attraction…a precursor of the much larger Bush Gardens which came later. It attracted people from all over the area, and my folks and I had come all the way from Rockford when I was a kid to see it.

I was assigned to a two man department devoted to responding to customer inquiries, some of which I’ll get to in a moment. This was in the days long before what we now recognize as computers, but we did have available to us an absolutely-state-of-the-art behemoth of a machine which could seat two people, as I recall and which was, in effect, a great-great-grand-uncle of a computer. It contained probably 25 “stock” paragraphs dealing with the most common questions sent in. So I would sit there and type in: “Dear Mrs. Smith: #1, #14, #8, #4, Type” (yes, type, as on a built-in automatic typewriter). Very rarely I’d have to actually compose a paragraph for which there was no stock response.

Several things kept me amused. One was collecting the names of some of the people who wrote in. There was Peachy Poff, Mitzpah Frau, Quo Vadis Cone, and Placenta Palmer…and I swear I did not make those names up. Who could?

And the inquiry letters were often a delight. We received many along the lines of the following:

Dear Olson Rug Company:
My wife and I entertain a lot, and if you will provide rugs for our home, we will tell everyone they are Olson Rugs, and your company will benefit greatly from increased sales.

Uh huh.

But my favorite letter was from a woman also asking for free rugs, in exchange for which she would give us THE SECRET. She had, she explained, “tried to give it to the Sheriff, but he was sitting on two chairs.”

We passed, though I always did rather wonder what THE SECRET might have been.
I lasted at Olson for approximately a year, then found a job—probably because I could clearly read the “Dead End” signs with Olson—with an insurance company in the Loop where I was, inexplicably, some sort of insurance adjuster. I have absolutely no recollection now of what I did or why I even thought I might have any interest in being an insurance adjuster (which, as it turns out, I did not). But it did get me started as an editor, when I suggested that the company really needed an in-house monthly newsletter, and they agreed. It was called “Hear Ye” and was an incredibly amateurish affair with a hand-lettered title, and produced by mimeographing on regular 8 ½ x 11 paper…but at least it was white paper, and not the yellow lined notepaper. I did have my standards.

I was with the insurance company for probably a year and a half, then moved onward and upward to Duraclean International, a rug and upholstery cleaning organization which sold cleaning franchises in several countries, where I was associate editor for their house organ, the Duraclean Journal. (Probably my sterling service with Olson rugs may have influenced their decision to hire me.)

I really found a home there. Very nice people, and I had the opportunity to travel around the country to conduct seminars for groups of franchisees.

The only drawback was that I lived on Chicago’s near north side, and Duraclean was located in the suburb of Deerfield, which was quite a trek. Even that would not have been too bad, but I had to cross, as I neared my work, the Illinois Central’s commuter rail tracks. And every single morning, no matter if I was 10 minutes early or 13 minutes behind schedule, a commuter train would wait until it saw me coming, then race down the tracks just in time for the gates to lower before I reached them. (A coincidence, you say? I don’t think so.)

I was with Duraclean for six years…actually the longest time I ever spent on any single job…and I left only when my partner and I broke up and I decided to move to California. But that’s quite another story, which we shall get to anon.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

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