Saturday, June 28, 2014

First Jobs and the havoc they wreak...part seventy-eight. And Colin Firth

Since I have written exhaustively about my days at G. D. Searle, and with the now defunct accounting firm of Brown, Coleman and Hale, we will continue with my accounting career POST college.  Since I had returned to college late in my twenties, I emerged from college in my early thirties, confident with my business degree and ready to accept any six figure salary thrown my way.

This begins the Dark Ages of my life.   I like to think of my life in eras.  There was the magnificent Roman Empire (my mother), the Era of Enlightenment (my youth), the Swinging Sixties (which I missed altogether), and then I went back to school and screwed up everything.



My biggest problem, other than having no idea how to do accounting, was that I strolled out into the workforce alongside twenty-one year old graduates.  The comparison did not bode well for me, especially when these graduates were pouring out of the universities faster than they were going in.  They were like cockroaches in suits.  And they knew what they were doing, which I didn't, but I digress.

After leaving Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe  I went to work at a series of the most bizarre places poor grades can offer. We will begin with "THE CROOK".  I honestly can't remember his name anymore (hardly surprising since I even forget to turn off the faucet these days).  Anyway, he was a sole proprietor, and, in my experience, it is NEVER a good idea to work for one of these.   He sold Insurance and he provided Bookkeeping, sometimes at the same time.  I should be been suspicious from the start.

There was one large room where all his employees labored, both his insurance clerks and his Accounting Division.  In the center of this room sat - and this is the honest truth - an antique barber chair.  All the desks were against the wall, in a circle, facing inward toward the chair.   The man who had just been hired to be the head (and only) Accountant (I was the entire bookkeeping department) stared at the chair, and the strange configuration of office furniture as well.  Then we looked at each other.  Finally, he asked one of the harried looking women in the room.

"Why is there are barber chair in the middle of the room?"

Before he could finish the question, she huffed out, "You'll see!"


All right, we had a job to do.  The owner had a number of bookkeeping clients who had not been serviced for a while, and the files where a sloppy mess.  The first thing the Accountant decided to do was take each and every folder out of the file cabinets, and begin going thru each item, one by one.  Right then and there I wanted to stick a pen in my eye.  Talk about boring.  And, it only made the mess worse.  We had files heaped on tables, on chairs, on the floor - by the third day, I wanted to weep.  I had no idea what I was doing, but I was doing it quickly, and trying to hide my incompetence with bullshit.

And then it happened.  Out of nowhere a tall gentleman walked to the middle of the room, a cloth draped over his shoulder.  He stood at attention and waited.  The room grew deathly still.  Suddenly our little (he was about 5'3") leader, the owner of the firm, a cocky little bantam rooster of a jerk, strode to the middle of the room, hopped onto the barber chair, (I'm certain he used a booster seat) crossed his legs and steepled his fingers.  The gentleman standing behind the chair then flicked out the cloth he had been holding and draped it over bossman.  It was grooming day.

I could not believe it.  Arnie, or Bernie, or Wally - whatever tiny man's name actually was - was getting his weekly haircut!  In the middle of the office.  Like a plantation owner amidst the slaves.  It was the strangest sight I'd ever seen.

 I was entranced, at first.  Then, abruptly, ArnieBernieWally started snapping out questions.  "Louise!  Did you follow up with Crenshaw?"  "Mr. Tiny Man, you  said that wasn't until next month."  "You do it now, or you're fired!"  He pointed to the side and the barber swung the chair around to face another victim. "Nancy, are the forms filled out for yadayadayada?"  "I'm nearly finished, Mr. Tiny Man."  "Not good enough, goddamn it!  It want them now."  "But you just handed them to me."  "You want to lose your job?"  "No, Mr. Tiny Man.  Sorry, Mr. Tiny Man." He pointed in another direction, and the barber, not missing a beat of the haircut, swung the chair in the new direction.  And the onslaught, the verbal attacks, continued until he reached the Accounting Division - me and Gus.  I freaked.

"What is that fucking goddamn mess - it looks look a fucking bomb exploded! What the fuck are you two doing?  I didn't hire you two to waste my time....yadayadayada."  I was terrified, and so was Gus.

Fortunately, my days at this combination Insurance/Accounting/Self Grooming Emporium were short lived after that.  Immediately, Gus and I plowed folders back into just about any opening we could find (don't bend over if you have a big butt and I am desperate to hide bad work), then he whispered that I should meet him outside.  He was pale as a ghost.

"What's wrong now," I whimpered.
"I'm leaving."
I gripped his lapels and hung on like grim death.  "Don't say that.  Please don't say that."
"You should too.  This is bad, Carol."
"Karen.  My name is Karen."
"Whatever.  The shit's gonna hit the fan here, and I don't want to be around."
"Maybe he was having a bad day.  The cut was good."
"It's not that.  He's Certifying reports, Carol."
I blinked my eyes rapidly.  Somewhere in my schooling I had heard that...
"He's not a CPA, Carol.  It's against the law, Carol!"
"Is that really bad?"  I really needed this job.
"YES!  I could lose my license.  I am getting the hell out of here, and so should you!"

And so I quit.  I had to, without Gus Grimley beside me I hadn't a clue as to what I was doing.  Besides, I had learned Tiny Man and his father had already been indicted months before for Sales Tax Fraud, and both had been featured on 60 Minutes.  Lucky me.  I worked for a celebrity.  I went home and cried like a baby, terrified we were going to starve. Who'd pay the mortgage, who'd pay for our food?  Mom, as always clueless as to how bad things were, kept saying, "Stay home with me.  We'll be all right.  I'll make spaghetti."

ARGGH!  I needed a job, and I needed it quickly.  However, I had one small problem.  My grades were pathetic and I had no experience.  And, then there were those hordes of eighteen-year-old looking accounting graduates crammed inside elevators, popping out at me each time I heard a Ding.  No, the competition for positions was thick as Oliver Platt's eyebrows.   I needed a boost, a little edge on these others.

So I began to lie - like a rug.  I falsified the very best Resume money could buy, and talked friends in other companies to verify my working years at their firms. And, I survived.


And now, without further ado, more from my good friend, Colin.  He's never forgiven me for telling him this was a good idea...

Thursday, June 26, 2014

My First Jobs - a Frightening Retrospective, part DEUX and Colin Firth

Well, since I actually had someone read AND comment on my first of a series regarding my stellar career in the big city, I thought I would continue with an actual second post.  Thereby giving legitimacy to the SERIES concept...

As I wrote before, somewhere in the murky depths of the seventies I worked at G. D. Searle & Co. in Skokie, Illinois.  Old Man Searle made his fortune discovering THE PILL.  He then went on to discover Dramamine and Aspartame.  He may have invented salt as well, but that could have been just a rumor.

When he retired and his idiot sons took over, not that there's anything wrong with that, Searle's pace slowed down to the 'Tennessee Williams July In Summer' pace I knew and loved so well.  But, this was the mid-seventies.  Computers (I worked for the head of the computer department for seven years) were morphing.  During my days at Searle I watched the evolution of the computer, from filling an entire floor to becoming just a large box (THE TOWER) and a small TV screen.  During those years our department gradually began to dematerialize, in direct proportion to the number of those small boxes popping up on desks.

It took seven years.

And then, one day, our department disappeared completely.  Poof.  Bill Gates had gotten the keys to his dad's garage, invented Microsoft, and the rest is history.

My next job was working as an Office Manager for an accounting firm.  That was another seven years of my life shot to hell.  It was a forgettable job in every aspect but one.  I was so incredibly disgusted with my life, and my job, (and nearing thirty) that I decided to return to school and finish college.

Since it was just mom and me at the time, attending school full time was out of the question - we needed my paycheck.  So I attended Mundelein Weekend College for three years to get my accounting degree.  Every weekend was full days at school, and one or two nights a week as well.  It was not a condensed version of college, believe me.  We were expected to put in all the hours we would have going full time, and it was murder.  Especially in the winter in Chicago, when the temperature was sub-zero and my car would freeze sitting for eight hours in the lake front campus parking lot.

But, I triumphed!  I received my degree.  I went to my bosses at Brown, Coleman and Hale, my little sheepskin clutched in my little fist, to give him the good news - that I was a college graduate, that I had my accounting classes and that I was ready to take that beginners job I had been promised three years before.

Well, they were not.  They had changed their mind.  They wanted me to remain as the office manager.  They were sick and tired of training people.  Poor they.  It was a blow to me, and I was angry.  If that happened to me now, I probably would have returned to work wearing Goth clothing, carrying an uzi and a thousand sounds of ammunition, with a forty page, meticulously typed manifest tucked away in my computer. But I digress.

Instead I was still relatively young, proud and hopeful.  I could do better - much better.  The world would long remember Karen Hamrin (or, as my old computer boss used to called me - Carol Harmon)  I handed in my notice and went out into the world.  The world of accounting.  (and people wonder why the economy crashed so badly back then...)

And now a word from my dear friend, Colin Firth, as he defended my accounting abilities, or lack thereof, in a rare interview, some years ago.  AND, this was AFTER I refused his pleas to marry me.  Heartbroken as he was by that, he still stood by my side.  I was his "mama mia" and for some reason he keeps referring to me as "Michael Winterbottom".  Funny guy.  Gratzie, Colin!