“Always be smarter than the people who hire you.”

The windows and doors are all closed. The day is dark, damp and chilly. When I took Gracie out earlier and waited until she was done, I got cold. I was thinking sweatshirt weather. It may rain.

The first summer I ever worked was just after high school. With college in the fall, I had no choice but to get a job. I worked at Woolworth’s in Hyannis, a huge store on Main Street. I had no specific job title but moved from the cash register to counter after counter except for the lunch counter. I spent the most time in the corner where the small animals were housed. My job was to clean the hamster and mouse cages, feed the fish and refill the inventory. It sounds like a gross job, but I was by myself and seldom bothered by the manager which made it ideal. I learned to separate the mother and the babies from other hamsters because if the mother got nervous she’d eat her babies. They were ugly babies. Most of them lived but I never took credit for raising the inventory. Once I worked the souvenir counter which was filled with the tackiest souvenirs, most made in China. A guy once came and bought something then tried to scam me with dollar bills. He kept a running commentary of the amount of money between us hoping I’d get distracted or confused so he could trade a few dollars for a 20. It didn’t happen. He took off quickly when I called for the manager. My favorite part of that job was the lunch counter where I ate most days. The hot dogs in the grilled rolls were my favorites.

Every other summer I worked in the Hyannis post office. It was good money in those days. My job was to sort piles of mail into smaller piles of mail for specific destinations. I started working the primary board where all the mail started. I had a rubber thumb to help me sort the mail. The stool was angled toward the board. The slots in the board were open in the back but had some rope across so the mail wouldn’t fall on the floor. Sorters would come and take the mail back to their boards for further sorting. The mail for sorting came in two foot trays. The worst was a tray of postcards. I swear there were thousands of them on a single tray. I did have some fun as any postcard which had a message but wasn’t addressed I’d sent to a friend or a neighbor. Postcards with postage due also got sent. The worst thing about those post cards was when they were cancelled. Because they were so thin, a pile would go through the machine at the same time and only the first postcard would be cancelled. I was a quick sorter so the foreman would bring me the postcards. I told him they’d better be cancelled. Many weren’t so I just tossed them on the floor. They piled around my stool. The foreman would come, say nothing, pick up the postcards and put them through the cancelling machine again. The last summer I worked there, going into my senior year in college, I was offered a full time job. I didn’t take it.

I spent the next summer in Ghana.

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12 Comments on ““Always be smarter than the people who hire you.””

  1. Hedley Says:

    Kat, during my time in college, I held the much sought after job of Mail Man at the Post Office in Epsom (birthplace of Pet Clark and me) Surrey

    We would start shift at 4.00 a,m and I would often go in on minimal sleep. We sorted, we loaded, our bikes were ready and out we went in to the cold December mornings. Two shifts meant I could get home and grab some shut eye before hitting the afternoon delivery.

    I wrecked bikes bringing them back with punctures and helping myself to another. I liked the job, I liked the guys, it paid me.

    • My Dear Hedley,
      Hyannis always hired sorters in the summer because of the additional mail from tourists and seasonal businesses. I started my day at noon and ended at 9 with an hour lunch. I could sleep late and party at night. It doesn’t get much better than that for timing.

      I really enjoyed the PO job.

  2. im6 Says:

    I’m not disputing you here, but I am curious about your saying that the souvenirs Woolworth’s sold were mostly made in China. Are you sure about that? I seem to recall that back then (1950s and 1960s) everything cheap and disposable was made in Japan and considered (justifiably, even) of inferior quality. Not sure when that changed, but Sony and Honda probably had a lot to do with it. Slowly, things made in Japan became better, more reliable, more dependable, more desirable. Around the same time, China started becoming industrialized and mass producing things. History seems to be repeating itself; as quality improves in China, the trinket-type things seem to come from other third world markets. Although I never see a “Made in Japan” tag like those “Made in USA” (never “the” USA, curiously enough) tags, *everything* seems to have a “Made in China” sticker on it these days.

    • You’re probably right, im6. But I do remember somehow that China was in the mix. Maybe it was the package of sea shells. I now remember the small sail boats were made in Japan.

      It was the summer of 1965 so maybe my memories are fading.

  3. Birgit Says:

    “Made in China” reminds me of a wonderful story by Swiss author Franz Hohler. A little maggot (German: Made) betted with her friends that she could reach Hong-Kong. After an adventurous journey she finally got there, found a box of gold and to let her friends know where she was and that she won the bet she bought toy factories and ordered to label all toys that were shipped abroad with “Made in Hong-Kong” (maggot in Hong-Kong). When her friends at home saw these toys they also tried to travel but failed. So when you see such a “Made in …” label you know that a little maggot went on a journey, had a little bit of luck and succeeded to see the world.

    • Birgit,
      This is the first story I’ve ever heard where the main character is a maggot.

      It is a funny story. I’ll look at maggots a bit differently now.

  4. Bob Says:

    Well at least your post office experience didn’t turn you into a serial killer. 🙂

    My first job after high school was working for a brokerage firm on Wall Street. I worked a conveyor belt in a huge office. Along the outside of the belt sat men who had teletype machine and the belt traveled toward me at the end. Our offices around the country send buy and sell orders via teletype. The center of the belt had a few slots that ran in the other direction to some offices I was never invited to visit which were the exchanges such as the NYSE, the American Stock exchange called the curb and over the counter exchange.

    My job was to take the stock orders that when received from the teletype men were sent to me where I sorted them and send them to the appropriate stock exchange. The confirmation notices filled out after the sale also came towards me from the exchanges and I had to send them back to the appropriate teletype operators.

    A very boring and tiring job. All the teletype operators were men. When I asked why there were no woman they explained that this kind of typing was too difficult and tedious for woman. It was 1965 and there were very few woman on Wall Street other than secretary work. There was also a huge IBM mainframe computer in a separate air conditioned room that I wasn’t allowed to enter. No one I worked with knew that they did with it. I worked from 9 to 5 with a half hour for lunch for $1.25 which was the minimum wage back then. That brokerage firm, Harris Upham, has long since been merged into some bigger conglomerate brokerage house.

    Today is a weather repeat of yesterday, hot and sunny with a few puffy white clouds,

    • Bob,
      I never minded the PO job. They’d move me to the secondary boards as I was a quick learner and could easily memorize zip codes so I didn’t get bored. I worked Massachusetts, Ohio and Pennsylvania and Boston stations (towns near Boston). On weekends we fooled around a bit as no regulars worked, and I’d work Parcel post. I had to throw the mail and packages to the right bag. Even back then I made 4.65 and hour with a 20% differential after 6.

      All those jobs were open to males or females based on their seniority.

      It was chilly enough today to break a record set in the 1920’s.

  5. Rowen Says:

    Fun post. Do you ever wonder what your life might have been like had you taken the job?

    • Anonymous Says:

      I haven’t given it much thought as I thanked my foreman and said no right away almost without thinking. The work didn’t take a whole of thought, but I did enjoy learning all the boards and doing a variety of tasks all of which were pretty easy except maybe tossing packages into the right bag in parcel post, but I think I would have gotten bored with the post office in a short time.

      I know I’d never have gone in the Peace Corps. I wouldn’t have had anything to offer. Also, I believe all the traveling I’ve done was because I lived in Africa. After those two years, traveling became part of who I am, even a bit of how I define myself. I had intended to go to law school when I returned from Ghana. My acceptance had been deferred for the years I was gone; however, I found my passion in Ghana, teaching and had no more interest in law. That would not have happened if I had worked in the PO. I loved all the years I spent in education. It never seemed like work to me. I know I made the right choice.

      That was a great question as I never thought about the offer after I refused it.

  6. olof1 Says:

    My first summer job as we call it over here was in a big grocery store. I came first in the morning to clean all flores and after that I took care of the milk department and the cheese department. I really liked that job and came back after school for a couple of years doing the same thing. Having that job made it possible for me to take my driving license. I don’t know if it is expensive to take a driving license outside of sweden but it sure is here.

    Back in those days it was easy to get a job, one just walked in anywhere really and asked if they needed anyone and yes they usually did 🙂 Today one need a university degree to get even the simplest job or to not be older than 25 but have 20 years experience of the job one tries to get 🙂

    Have a great day!


    • Christer,
      My brother’s first job was at a grocery store bundling groceries and taking them to the customers’ cars. That was when he was in high school.

      Getting a license can be rather cheap or a bit expensive. If you pay for driver’s education it will cost you for each hour of instruction, but people under 25, who pay more for car insurance, get a break if they have had driver’s ed. Thew cheap way is to get your learner’s permit and have someone tea ch you how to drive.

      Summer jobs are plentiful here because of the tourist industry, and there are off-season jobs mostly in retail for kids.

      Have a great day

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