Saturday, September 4, 2021

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: What Was Your First Real Job?

With Labor Day just around the corner, Randy Seaver has decided to focus on work for this week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun.

Here is your assignment, if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible! music):

(1) It's Labor Day weekend in the USA.  Do you have memories of your first real job?  What and where was it?  What did you learn from it?  How did it affect the rest of your life?

(2) Tell us in your own blog post, in a comment to this blog post, or on Facebook.  Be sure to leave a comment with a link to your blog post on this post.

My first "real" job came after two jobs that weren't quite as formal.  Those first two were babysitting for neighbors and working in my grandfather's stamp and coin shop.  For both I was paid in cash, no deductions.  I count myself fortunate that I did not need to have a regular job before I graduated high school.

Then I went to college at the University of Southern California (USC) in September 1979 and got a job through the work-study program, which was part of my financial aid package (because USC is really expensive and I was not and still am not rich).  I don't remember how I found the job; there probably was some sort of listing of available positions?  But I began working for the Department (or Office) of Overseas Studies pretty much the same time that I started classes in the Fall semester.

When I started, the department head was a man named Bill Gay.  I don't remember much about him other than that he was stocky, was reasonably nice, and also happened to be gay.  I do recall that he hosted a Christmas party for the office staff that first year.  One of the other people working in the department was a Jewish woman named Miriam (Mimi) Kaplan.  She was upset that even though I identified as Jewish, I sang along with all the Christmas carols (because I love singing Christmas carols!).

The work was mostly administrative stuff:  typing, filing, answering phones, stuffing envelopes for mailings, that type of thing.  Those kinds of skills are always useful to know, and it definitely helped with jobs I had later in life.  I still remember lots of area codes and ZIP codes from working there, because of mailings and lots of phone calls.  I kept the job throughout my four years of undergrad studies.  It was part-tiime, because that's how work-study is set up.  I took full-time courseloads all four years also.

Something I learned there that wasn't par for the course:  One year we had a work-study student who was half Japanese and half Korean.  She taught me how to count to 1,000 in both languages.  Unfortunately, all I can remember now is up to 10 in Japanese.

I don't remember when it happened; maybe after my first year?  But Bill retired(?) and Constance (Connie) Horak took over as head of the department.  And Mimi wasn't there anymore.  Anyway, Connie was my boss for the rest of the time I worked in Overseas Studies.

After I had been there for a while and was a known quantity, Connie had me sign lots of paperwork for her.  I learned that imitating someone's signature well enough to fool people is extremely difficult.

At one point we wanted to paint the walls in the offices to refresh them, but we learned that the only colors officially approved by Physical Plant were four shades of off-white.  So instead of going through the university procedure, we painted the offices ourselves.  It was some kind of burnt orange that I wasn't crazy about, but it was definitely more interesting than off-white.

Connie and I got along well.  She had season tickets for the Los Angeles Dodgers and took me to a game against the Montreal Expos (my favorite team at the time) every year for my birthday.  Now that's a great boss!

One of Connie's volunteer activities outside of USC was coordinating a Los Angeles–Bordeaux, France sister city student exchange program.  In alternating years, students from one city would travel to the other city and be paired up with students from there.  The visit was for six weeks; the students were with their exchange partners for the first five and a half weeks or so, and then everyone got together for the last few days.  One year an American student who had hosted a French student the previous year didn't want to go to France, so Connie asked if I was interested.  I jumped at the opportunity, and that's how I was able to visit France economically.  It didn't quite turn out as expected (which I really should write about some day), but it was a great experience and I'm very happy I was able to go.

I don't know why, but I didn't stay in touch with Connie after I left that job, even though I continued to work at USC for six more years.  I only discovered while writing this that she passed away two years ago.  She apparently had stayed with USC since starting work there in 1975.


  1. You had a terrific first real job experience - great bosses and a trip to France! You really do need to write about your experience, especially since it didn't turn out as expected.

    1. I'm goinog to add it to my very long list of things to do!

  2. That's great that you were able to work on campus. Did it make a good dent in the tuition?

    1. Most of the tuition was covered by scholarships, but the work-study definitely helped also.


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