A couple of years after my not terribly successful attempts at selling newspapers and other goodies, I was ready for my “real” first job. At the time it wasn’t obvious to me how to get a job. Apparently you had to know someone. My job came about because my buddy Don N had just gotten a new job and needed someone to take his old one.
This was one of those jobs that convinced me to apply myself at school, go to college, and get a professional job. Mine was a janitorial job at a local dress shop. Three times a week I’d come by the store for an hour or two, sweep the floors, and assemble dress boxes. Apparently they didn’t sell too many dresses, as I could put together a dozen or so cardboard boxes and they’d be good through tomorrow.
Working at the dress shop didn’t last terribly long, as my friend Jim (if you read this blog you’ve seen his letters) worked at the North Dakota Credit Union League. He recognized my frustration and their need for someone in the mail room. This was the job for me.
I was in charge of the mail room. Actually, it was the mail basement. What a basement! For my budding engineer mind, this was heaven in a basement. Paper folding machines. Envelope stuffing machines. Pallets of paper and envelopes. A Pitney-Bowes postage meter. The most impressive machine: the Addressograph-Lithograph. That’s the machine that puts an address on each envelope. Each addressee had a little metal plate that loaded into the machine and addressed the envelope. Each little metal plate had colored tabs to show what kind of person or organization it was. Credit Union officers had blue tabs on the far right; members had yellow tabs in the middle; treasurers had green tabs to the right; and so on. I was in charge of wiring it up for various mailings and newsletters, then printing the collateral, stuffing them into the envelopes, running everything through the postage meter, organizing the trays of mail for bulk mailing, then taking it all over to the post office. Every week there were hundreds of pieces of mail leaving the building. I was in charge of getting them from the main office upstairs to the post office downtown.
That was one of the best jobs ever. I got to join the staff for coffee, visit with the secretaries (all female), and work with the “latest” technology. The upstairs office wasn’t my territory, but they had their own fancy technology. The office manager, Judy taught me how to use the IBM Model B Executive Electric Typewriter. Unlike any typewriter I’d ever seen, this one had variable pitch, meaning the letter M was far wider than the letter i. Judy used it to type newsletters. This was heaven, and where I learned the basic mechanics of newsletter writing.
There was plenty of opportunity for mistakes, too. One day I printed the wrong newsletter and stuffed them into addressed envelopes. Fortunately we discovered the problem before we ran the envelopes through the postage meter, which would have cost real money! I had to come in on Saturday and spend most of the day reprinting and prepping the outgoing mail. The mailing was only a day late, I learned my lesson. Pay attention to the details.
Working in that office taught me a lot more than how to pay attention to details and proportional typing on an IBM electric machine. I learned how to work with executives by observing their interactions with staff and customers. I learned how to manage money by reading the collateral that Credit Union members received every month. I learned to show up for work and do what the boss told me to do. The good news is that in this job, he told me to do things I loved.
Much unlike that job at Sunset Memorial Gardens cemetery that my mother arranged for me. That’s another story for another day.