Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Employment History Part 1 - The Cash Office

My young blogger friend Player wrote a post the other day about how much he likes his part time job working the fitting rooms at a big name clothing store. It was an excellent post that started my mind ticking back to some of the jobs that I had as a young person, most of which were also in retail.

I never had a job officially until the summer I graduated from high school. Before then I was kept pretty busy at home taking care of my younger sister, who was only 3 years younger than me, but mentally and physically challenged with Downs Syndrome. When my parents were at work and even when they weren't it was my job to bathe her, feed her, make sure she took all of her medications and generally keep her entertained and out of trouble. They paid me a small allowance for doing this and some other household chores which included cooking dinner every weeknight (my mother cooked on weekends), cleaning both bathrooms and vacuuming all the carpets at least once a week.

I got $20 per week for my labors, half of which I was supposed to use to buy my lunch at school. Is it really necessary for me to tell you that I didn't eat lunch for 4 years? Of course not. I pocketed that cash so that I could use it for whatever a teenage girl could buy with 20 bucks in the early 80's. Turns out quite a lot: records, make-up, movie tickets. Back before I started drinking, smoking and doing drugs life was pretty cheap.

Sometimes I was jealous of my friends that had "normal" teenage types of jobs working in fast food restaurants or bagging groceries at the local supermarket. They made more money and seemed to have a lot more freedom, but I didn't push the job thing with my parents because I realized that my friends with legit jobs also had to put up with such indignities as coming home smelling like a fry-o-lator or schlepping groceries across slushy winter parking lots for 25 cent tips. I had it pretty good.

What felt like mere minutes after high school graduation everything changed however. Suddenly it was expected that I would go out into the world and get a job. My parents started taking my sister to a daycare, hired a housekeeper and stopped paying my allowance.*

It was kind of horrifying.

At 18 I had no idea where to even begin to find a job. I had no idea what exactly I was qualified to do other than cook, clean and take care of my sister. The only thing I knew for certain, after listening to the complaints of my friends was that I didn't want to work in a fast food restaurant or a supermarket. So I spent most of June of 1985 trying to find a job worthy of my superior presence, a glamorous and exciting job that was also conveniently located on the bus line or within walking distance of our house because I didn't have a car. (I ended up getting a car later that summer.)

I wanted a job that didn't require me to lift anything, be seen by anyone, sell anything, get dirty or sweaty, move or speak to other people.

At this point you might think that I'm going to tell you that I was fooling myself and that such a job was not to be found for an 18 year old girl with no previous experience, who wore all black, an eye covering punk hairstyle, pale goth make-up and buried herself in books. My parents were certainly convinced that between my style and picky, priggish attitude that I was sure to fail. Perhaps I was being picky and priggish, that doesn't mean such a job didn't exist (Ha-ha!). Turns out there was such a job available (Ho-ho!) in the cash office of a local chain of department stores called Gold Circle (imagine Kohl's and K-Mart got married).

My new part time job in the cash office paid a whopping $3.75 per hour, which was a whole 20 cents above minimum wage at the time. As a bonus I got a 20% store discount. Ha-ha!

Every morning, Monday thru Saturday, at 7am I was locked into a tiny room containing an enormous walk-in safe, two adding machines, all of the store's cash register tills and another cash office worker. We spent the next 5 hours adding up and balancing all the previous days cash and receipts, refilled the tills with cash for the current business day and then prepared the bank deposits that were picked up promptly at noon by one of those armored car companies.

Every day literally tens or hundreds (during holiday season) of thousands of dollars in cash passed through my hands. It was a lot of responsibility and I like to think that my experience being responsible for taking care of my sister was what sold my manager on hiring me. Also I have an honest face. I do! Besides if there were any doubts about my integrity and ability to be trusted with buttloads of cash I had to go through some extra screening procedures and tests.

Anyhoo... that was my first real job and the only thing I didn't like about it was my cash office partner that I was locked into the room with each day. She was a girl named "Missy" with whom I had absolutely nothing in common. We got along, barely.

Missy, although only a year older than me, had dropped out of high school and was already married and had a one year old son. To be clear, it wasn't so much those facts that made me dislike her, but the fact that she was all superior about it. She was from a very small town where according to her being married and having a baby was the end all, be all of life's existence. She could die happy at 19 because she was married and had a baby. I was all like, big deal you've got a uterus.

I think perhaps because I wasn't totally jealous of her superior status as teenage wife and mother and frankly made no bones about my lack of interest or aspirations in either of those things (at any age), Missy thought that I was the biggest smarty pants asshole weirdo she had ever met and never stopped finding new and creative ways of letting me know how she felt. She certainly didn't like hearing about my taste in music, adventures in night clubbing and opinions about religion, politics or women's rights.

I might have stayed longer in the cash office of Gold Circle were it not for Missy. I was able to put up with her for about a year before I moved on to what I thought at the time was the greatest job in the world... which I will tell you about in my next post.

*I'm quite sure they weren't paying either the housekeeper or the daycare center a paltry $20 a week.


i am playing outside said...

i am honoured to be your inspiration :)

your job sounds like it was fun... i love counting, rolling, dealing with money. i should work for the mint!

SkylersDad said...

You have inspired me to a new post!

kirby said...

I worked with a gal like Missy once. All of 19, pregnant, busy planning the birth and a wedding to her shell shocked teenage boyfriend. The rest of us were working one or more jobs and getting our BAs and MAs. Man, did we want to slap the shit out of her when she gave us that superior attitude.

CDP said...

I worked in a cashroom, too! I was the customer service manager at two different Nordstrom stores, and the cashroom was part of my responsibility; sometimes, I worked in there, too.

Suze said...

I worked at QVC - the 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m shift. Do you know how many people ordered during that time in the 80's? Uh, me and the girl sitting next to me. I think I owed them at the end of the week.

Churlita said...

I have worked every horrible shit job ever invented...Including cleaning toilets. I think I should win some kind of prize, but I'm sure the minimum wage I received, was all I'll get.

Gwen said...

Admit it: anytime superior pregnant teen girl called in sick you made piles of the money and rolled around it, dincha?

The Lady Who Doesn't Lunch: said...

Player - it reminded me how much I enjoyed some aspects of working in retail. Simpler times.

Skydad - can't wait to check it out!

Kirby - I had never known anyone quite like her and haven't since. She was rather a wicked and conniving creature who had mistakenly thought that her husbands family, who were pretty well off would support them and the baby. But they didn't and she had to get a job and her husband worked 3 jobs (also with no high school diploma). I felt sorry for him - she seemed oblivious of his suffering and proud of herself.

Suze - who you tellin? I spent half my paycheck at that stupid store - and then at my next job I spent even more of my paycheck even though I was in charge of markdowns.

Churlita - You deserve a prize for that and many more reasons my dear.
I only ever had to scrub floors or clean toilets in the stores I managed so I count myself pretty lucky there.

Gwen - We were never allowed to be in the room alone - so that never happened. After awhile it wasn't even really money - I just looked at it differently and lost it's identity as money - I once swatted a fly with a wrapped stack of $100 bills.