My First Job at the Factory

Like death and taxes, everyone has a first job. I’ve had a few first jobs. The “first” first was a taste of what it was like to get bossed around by somebody other than my parents or school teachers. It happened in the summer of 1970 after I graduated high school.

I knew where I was going to college in the fall but had no idea what I was going to do for the next eight weeks or so now that I was a free man. (College wasn’t like grammar or high school because it wasn’t mandatory. Well, it was, if I was looking ahead to getting a good job when I was 21, presuming Uncle Sam wasn’t going to get to me first. Luckily, it all turned out okay as my selective service lottery number was 344 which meant that aliens, children and women would be picked ahead of me.)

My parents did not want me moping around the house nor did I really want to. My high school buddies had things to do so there was no one with whom to mope around anyway. My mother’s brother, a labor lawyer, came to the rescue and got me a summer job working in a factory of one of his firm’s client’s.

Each day I had to walk four blocks to a bus stop at the edge of the city on the far north side of Chicago. There I would wait to get on a bus at Touhy Avenue that would go straight west through suburbs until it came back into the city several miles later. The south side of the street was the north edge of Chicago, the north side of the street was Niles.

As I sat on the bus for the twenty minute or so ride, I would stare at all the other people going to their jobs. For them, it was not play-acting but real. This was the their present and probable future. They’d rush to clock in, look forward to their ten minute morning and afternoon coffee breaks, half hour lunch and then clock out eight or so hours later only to start the same cycle the next day, Monday through Friday. For me, I knew it was temporary and just a way to make some spending money until school started. I could put off the worry of figuring out the rest of my life for a couple of years or so.

Working in a factory was not easy. My co-workers hated my guts because they knew how I got the job. These guys and gals were all union workers and my uncle’s firm represented management in labor disputes.  I was put in the toughest work area- by the heat seal machine that imprinted the company logo on all their stationery products. There was one week of over 95 degrees weather without respite and my work area had no air-conditioning in a closed environment. One day, it took seven salt tablets to avoid fainting.

I  had to join the union. I didn’t last all eight weeks, leaving one week early. But, I didn’t think of myself as a quitter. I had accomplished what I started out to do- get experience in a real work environment, have something to show on a resume and to make a little spending money. I was still seventeen and I was earning after taxes about sixty bucks a week for seven weeks. Not bad for 1970 and not having to pay rent.

There were other “first jobs”. There was my first attempt to get a career going after I graduated college. I worked as an investment solicitor for a commodities brokerage house. If it sounds shady, it was, which is why I quit after about five weeks. The final straw was when I went up and down the elevator in the office building several times while I was in a funk.

There was the inside sales person position for a mail order firm selling rubber stamps among other products . It was there that I saw a huge window-walled room that housed a large old-fashioned computer. The type with reel-to-reel tapes and flashing lights. It was the lifeblood of their operation. The door to the room always had to be kept closed. The equipment had to be cooled or the tubes would overheat and there went the big investment down the drain.

Computers had more than intrigued me. I had made an effort to take a course learning the RPG language in 1971 at college. After three weeks, I quit because it felt as if I was five weeks behind and it was the cutoff to get a full refund on the course if I dropped out. I figured that eventually someone would know how to make computers better understood so that I could join in on the fun. It would happen but not until eight years later.

The mail-order firm job lasted maybe a month and then there was the “real” first job that lasted two years and two months- working as inside sales/customer support for an electronics manufacturer before I was escorted out the door by an armed security guard while I pumped a fist and yelled “Attica! Attica!” But, that’s another story.

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