Friday, March 9, 2012

My First Jobs - a Frightening Retrospective. And Richard Armitage

Melts in your mouth - not in your hand

When I tell you I've had hundreds of jobs over my lifetime I am not exaggerating.  Really.  Just ask my husband, he loves to tell people about my bizarre career path.  I was pretty steady for my first job however - seven years as a secretary in the computer department of G. D Searle and Co., the company that invented motion sickness and birth control.  An odd combination but I digress...

I was about twenty-one years old when I went to interview for the director of the company's computer department.  I should have known from the start it was going to be unique kind of place.  Computer programmers were different in those days, locked away from the rest of the company, self taught, skinny geeks with long hair.  Odd.  I mean really odd.  In a mixed up, twisted and abnormal kind of way.  Let's speak plainly here - they were all crazy, literally.  But smart.  But odd.  Now remember, this was during the infancy of computers, before PC's, before, laptops, before electricity - ok, not that far back but still, we're talking antiquity now.  These programmers were the pioneers of the revolution that was to come.  Somewhere in California Bill Gates and Steve Jobs might have been cleaning out the garage and buying typewriter parts, but in Chicago, programmers were running wild at companies like G. D. Searle.

Computers then were called mainframes I think, looked like a lot of washers and dryers, and there was something called Real Time that I never quite grasped.  Everywhere you heard a soft whirring sound and people would walk back and forth carrying large tapes and mountains of printouts.  I remember as I waited to be interviewed by Tony Vaccariello, the man I would end up working for (euphemism if I ever heard one) for seven long years (I worked for him for seven years, I didn't wait for the interview that long) the secretary announced that the computer had gone down.  I had no idea at the time what that meant so I checked my nails.  No one else said a word - the huge room was very quiet.

Suddenly a young guy jumped on her desk and blew a fog horn into the intercom.  I jumped a foot in the air, my heart actually stopped.  I remember that guy's name was Ron something and he was pretty smug knowing how he had freaked me out.  Ron was kind of a rat bastard to tell the truth.

So, I began working for Tony and I immediately developed a crush on him.  He was safely married so I was able to indulge in my very rich fantasy life.  I rarely dated, I just had crushes.  Hundreds of them.  Well, it didn't take me long to realize, like I said, computer programmers were nuts.  They would unscrew phones, dismantle desks, smoke funny cigarettes - it was a loose group up there at Searle.  I took to the people immediately. Discussions about where to have lunch began at least fifteen minutes before lunch and then lunch itself was at least two hours long, breaks were an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon.   Managers gathered in closed offices to play bridge.  We left early and arrived late and STILL managed to complain about the work.  It was wonderful.  I loved Searle.

In those seven years I worked at G. D. Searle a great many revolutions took place.  One was the sexual revolution - missed that one entirely.  Evidently, during the mid seventy's, everyone was screwing like rabbits, free love, Jane Fonda, flower children, marijuana was discovered in Evanston, there was Woodstock, Patty Hearst - oh, it's all a blur now and I missed out on the entire ride.  I was the last virgin in America.

I remember one of Tony's managers was talking to me at a party - in retrospect I think he was making a pass but I was way too stupid to know that then.  Anyway, his name was Rolf.  Interesting aside. Tony Vaccariello looked like Ralph Kramden from the Honeymooners and his best friend was Rolf Turner.  Rolf looked like Norton.  I swear to God.

Anyway, Rolf asked me what I was using for birth control.  Now I spent a good deal of my day not looking into guy's faces because I was too unbelievably shy, but I did look at Rolf in shock.  "Nothing," I squeaked out.  I think my voice actually cracked. "Well," smooth old Rolfie whispered.  "How do you keep from getting pregnant?"  I was totally confused by this.  "I don't sleep with anyone."  I replied.  Duh.  Poor old Rolf never saw that one coming.  He also never bothered me again.

No reason for this, really.  Humor me.

Comins soon...I leave Searle and go to work for Brown, Coleman and Hale.  Another seven years of my life shot to hell.


Quilt Show Vendor said...

My husband and a friend were reminiscing about our days at Searle in the mid-late 70s. My husband was actually the financial guy for Tony! We can't remember you--what was your maiden name?

You so nailed the culture of the company at the time. We still look back fondly at working at a company so HR-oriented. LOL!

My husband was Paul Lukac; at the time I was Karen Kilby and worked for Walt Skinner/Paul Byron.

Karen V. Wasylowski said...

Wow, can't believe someone actually reads my stuff! Thanks. My maiden name was Karen Hamrin and I was Tony's secretary for seven ridiculous years. He always thought my name was Carol Harmon. That's true. Tony's office was in the corner somewhere and I was in the 2' by 2' area next to him. Paul's name sounds family but that was centuries ago. All I remember is Ned Musselman and Bob Dahlke and Bill Luerssen. Good to hear from you!