I was thinking about some of the jobs I had as a kid. My first job was as a caddie. We would haul one or two bags under the hot sun for four hours, all for the princely sum of $2.50 for a single, $5 for a double. We had a caddy shack where the pro would come to assign us work. I'm sure he dreaded looking in there and seeing me as the only one left. Truth be told, I totally sucked at caddying. I could never see where the balls went. I wasn't really strong enough to carry two bags, not to mention that I had to ride my bike several miles to get to the golf course. This would be when I was maybe 12 or 13 years old.
My first real job was working at the local grocery store when I was 16. It started out as a Tedeschis's but was eventually bought out and became a Stop and Shop, at least that's how I remember it. I was paid something like $1.25 an hour to run a register that was little more than an adding machine with a few extra buttons to indicate the department--grocery, produce, meat, whatever. The prices were stamped on the cans, but a lot of them were missing, plus you had to know all the produce prices. Bar codes were not in common use back then. We cashiers just had to know the prices, and I'll tell you, we moved people through as fast or faster than today. Just saying. (I continued doing this in college, working at the Safeway on Connecticut Avenue, a wealthy part of town filled with eccentric people. Don't get me started.)
The summer after I graduated high school, I worked in Boston for an insurance company. My dad knew the Vice-President of the company -- he could have been the President or the Treasurer, I can't remember -- and he got me a job in the billing department, which consisted of a very big room filled on one end with large tables that held thousands of monthly payments from customers and on the other with huge punched card sorting machines presided over by a guy named Jerry. This was pretty high tech stuff for the day. Punched cards were the transitional technology between completely paper-based operations and today's computer-driven business world. The thinking behind the use of punched paper cards was what created today's modern programs.
By far my weirdest job--if you don't count Vietnam as a job--was between freshman and sophomore year of college when I worked as a night janitor for a hospital in Dorchester. For those of you not familiar with the Boston area, Dorchester is really not the kind of place you want to be wandering around alone at night, particularly if you are a white bread boy from Smallville. I took the subway to and from Quincy, getting to work around 6 o'clock and leaving at 11 o'clock.
Two memories stand out. First, I had to clean the rest rooms. I would go into the Men's Room and things would be pretty much okay, the normal results of a day of usage. Then I would do the Ladies' Room. The first time I opened the door, I had a total OMG moment. The place looked like the aftermath of a tornado, paper and trash everywhere. It was like that each time I cleaned it, a real eye-opener. Second, I had to master the buffer, a cantankerous device with a mind very much it's own, something akin to riding a bull. I would grasp the handles firmly, squeeze on the levers that activated it, and the next thing I knew I was bouncing it off the walls. Eventually, I became kinda sorta okay with it, which helped when I went into the Army. You definitely didn't want to be bouncing that puppy off the walls with a drill sergeant anywhere in the neighborhood.
What got me thinking was the casualness with which my parent's dispatched me on these jobs, especially the one in Dorchester. I mean that was a dangerous place, as you would have quickly grasped had you been with me the night I walked the wrong way and ended up on a very dark and very deserted street. I guess my parents had to do that and much more when they were growing up during the Depression. Maybe they were oblivious to the risk, or maybe they understood that without risk you don't grow as a person. I wonder if today's helicopter parents would make the same choice for their kids. I hope so.