Monday, June 24, 2013

"I Was A Male Clerical Worker"

A chip off the old block.  My mother was a clerical worker her entire career.  In fact, for a short time one year before camp started, we worked side by side at the Canadian Israel Bonds office.  It was there, because I had neglected to pre-check the automatic stamp-metering machine, that I sent through a dozen envelopes requiring six-cent stamps, onto each of which was appended a metered stamp of over twenty-seven dollars.  I did, however, correct – or at least cover up – that error by metering out a dozen six-cent stamps and pasting them over the twenty-seven dollar faux pas, costing the State of Israel three hundred plus dollars that could have been more productively applied to the essential servicing of their national needs.

But lest this story suggests that I am no friend of Israel, let it be clear that I screwed up in other offices as well.

The following year before camp, I was hired to work in the Toronto office of the camp’s owner and director, who’s name was Joe.  My salary would be one dollar an hour.  Of course, that was half a century ago.  Adjusted for inflation, it was still peanuts. 

The camp’s in-town office was located on the ground floor for an unimposing white-brick building a few blocks from my house, so I could save transportation money by walking, and thus emerge, albeit marginally, ahead.  The office building included a diner where I bought my lunch, so overall, I was barely scraping by. 

But at least I was not hurting Israel. 

My duties included the clerical “Big Three” – typing, filing and answering the phone.  Of which, the predominant responsibility was typing.  I was prepared for this duty by my Ninth Grade option of typing (my other option was singing), studied at Ledbury Park Junior High School.  I recall having an accredited typing speed of twenty-two words per minute.  I was actually faster, but on the test, five words-per-minute were deducted for every mistake.  And I made a lot of them.  I tired to make one just now to be funny but I couldn’t.  Oh, wait – I wrote “tired.”

Do you know what carbon paper is?  Nobody uses it anymore.  Although in e-mails, they continue to use the designation “c.c.”, a historical residue, standing for “carbon copy.”

If you slipped a thin sheet of carbon paper, which was black on one side and gray on the other, between two sheets of typing paper and rolled it all into your typewriter, then whatever you typed on the top sheet of paper, due to the effect of the carbon paper, was duplicated on the second sheet, thus producing two copies of the same material.

My camp owner wanted three copies – which would require, as we professionals call it, “typing in triplicate.”  For this, you needed three sheets of typing paper interspersed with two pieces of carbon paper.   You roll it into your (it was a manual) typewriter, and off you go.

I was typing the “Master List” – am I getting too technical for you? –  the names, addresses and phone numbers of all the campers.  To fit in more entries, each page was divided into three vertical columns – eight entries per column – times three –  that means twenty-four entries per page. 

When you type twenty-two words a minute, typing a single three-columned page is a prodigious undertaking, consuming at least and hour and quite often more, especially if you mess up and you have to start again.  I do not recall “White-Out.” 

When you finished one page, you went on to the next, the total, I recall, for the entire camp roster amounting to eight or nine pages.  We are talking an entire day of typing.  If all went well.  And occasionally, it didn’t.

I had completed the first page of the roster, feeling triumphant over my stenographic accomplishment.  The next job was “separating” – extracting the two carbons, and laying the three pages side-by-side on my desk, ultimately accumulating three separate stacks of the completed version.  Since the names had been entered alphabetically, you turned the completed pages face-down, so when you picked the whole stack up when you were finished, the “Applebaums” would be found on the first page, and the “Zeismans” would appear on the last.

I slipped out the carbons.  I flipped over the first page and lay it face-down on my desk. 

Oh, boy.

There is only one rule when you’re using carbon paper – “Do not insert it between the pages of the typing paper backwards.”  If you do, the words typed on the front of the first sheet of typing paper will appear, not on the front of the second sheet of typing paper, but on the back of the first sheet of typing paper.  Printed backwards.

And that’s what I saw. 

Three vertical columns, eight entries per column, flawlessly typed.   Backwards.  On the flip side of the first sheet of typing paper.  The front of the first sheet of typing paper was impeccable.  But, because I had inserted the carbon paper incorrectly, the front of the second sheet of typing paper was blank. 

The third sheet of typing paper?  I did not even look.   

The debacle came as a demoralizing shock.  There was no indication – because no such indicator existed and quite likely does not exist today – warning me that I had inserted the carbon paper incorrectly.  I thought I was doing great!  Typing along, singing a song.  Literally.  I like to sing when I work.  Then, I pull the thing out, see what I’ve done – shutter and chagrin – crumple, discard – and begin again.  That rhyme does not cheer me up.  It was a traumatizing experience.

My morning’s effort had been a humiliating disaster.

I decided to go to lunch.

1 comment:

Frank said...

They just don't make jobs like that anymore!