Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Getting HIred

It's that time of year.  School is almost out and summer looms.  What to do? What to do?

I wasn't old enough to work at more than neighborhood babysitting through most of high school. I went to Cornell for a summer program after my junior year, and my grandparents sent me to Europe after my senior year.  Then, I was a rising college sophomore, home for the summer, with no prospects at all.

I called Aunt Rose.  She and Uncle Frank ran Jack and Jill Nursery School and Summer Camp.  I'd been in her first class of kindergarteners, those who missed the public school cut-off but were certainly ready for learning.  I'd gone to summer camp with my siblings, riding the bus for hours, sometimes scoring a place in the front seat of Uncle Frank's sedan if the buses weren't available. 

Aunt Rose and G'ma hit it off from the get-go, my retired kindergarten teacher mother bonding with the woman who would start us off on the right foot for school.  My phone call was well received; of course she could use me.

I had bus duty and a group of my own.  I worked from 7 in the morning until after 4 in the afternoon.  There were no breaks.  I ate lunch with the campers, I swam with the campers, I went to the Arts and Crafts barn with the campers.  I earned 12 cents an hour.

I had jobs at college, waiting tables (I made much more than 12 cents an hour) and being a research subject all across campus.  I convinced a friend to let me run the Engineering Honor Society's doughnut table in Hollister Hall.  As graduation loomed, with no prospects for truly gainful employment on the horizon, I opted for graduate school instead of full time work.

Chicago offered a range of part time opportunities - I taught in the JCC's after school program, I coded research results, I analyzed interview recordings.  I worked summers at Blimpies ("Mayonnaise, Mustard, or Russian Dressing?") and as a temp, answering the phone and  typing for the Washington DC Metropolitan Council of Governments.  They wanted to hire me, and I was tempted, until an older and wiser woman mentored me to finish my degree and be the person who was hiring the typist.

It was great advice, or so I thought. Then, I graduated.  Degree in hand, dozens of interviews under my belt, and no job in sight, panic began to set in.  Daddooooo's business declared bankruptcy years before; there was no help  to found by looking to my parents.  TBG and I were getting married at the end of August, and I was supposed to support us while he attended business school. I had the application for food stamps on my kitchen counter.  I had no prospects.

Dawdling home late one afternoon, I was stopped on the Midway by an heavy breathing friend, gasping as she chased me down.  There was a guy on the phone in the research office I'd just left, searching for a person with exactly my credentials.  I raced back, set up an interview, and found myself, at the end of the day, in the office of the Executive Director of The Agency.

"What kind of salary are we talking about here?" he asked, leaning back in his chair, folding his hands across his belly, staring me down.

My unemployed brain took issue with my New York raised mouth as I heard myself saying "Well, since you would only hire the best person for the job, the best person should earn the highest salary available.  So, I guess we're talking $15,000 a year."

There was a long pause.  He kept staring.  I tried to act nonchalant.  $15,000 was the biggest number I'd heard around the lunch table; it was aspirational, not realistic.  Yet there was my mouth, expecting it.

"Well, they grow them with brass ones in New York, don't they?" was his eventual reply.  We settled close to that number, with a guaranteed raise in 6 months if I measured up.  I shook hands, made my way to my ancient Chevy, and drove to the nearest diner to call G'ma.

My screams of joy really didn't need the phone at all.

The raise never really materialized.  The Executive Director ended up in jail for embezzlement. But all of that was in the future.  On that day, on that afternoon, I'd been hired.


  1. Great story! Thanks for sharing.

    1. You are welcome. I like to remind myself that I was once so brave!


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