I had just concluded teaching my third year at Thomas Williams Junior High School in Cheltenham, PA. It was a great three years for my career with a kind of a you know what in a punch bowl at the end. My god friend and colleague, John, had decided that he was going to t far off place in Northwest Pennsylvania, Bradford, to take a principal’s job. Little did I know that I would move a lot closer to Bradford in sixteen years.
Since John was the social studies department chair and I was the longest tenured teacher, after John, in the department, I was sure that I would be appointed chairman. It was not to happen. A young woman, who had one year of experience teaching at Thomas Williams, was appointed and I was very disappointed. I swallowed my pride and went off to work at my summer job, as a counselor at Long Acres day camp. John Long, our assistant principal owned the camp and was partial to hiring staff at the junior high.
Me, the city boy, was the nature counselor. As I look back at that experience, I understand how one can learn a completely different way of life in just a short time. I must admit that I outclevered myself in the woods and learned a bunch about trees, wild animals, and swinging across a creek. I am sure that the campers saw through my disguise on a daily basis, but never said a thing.
The summer came to a close. The secondary school head had planned an in service program for all of the social studies teachers in the district. The sessions were to take place at the central office the second week of August. I showed up promptly on that Monday. I presented myself to one of the secretaries. She looked at me and said. Oh, didn’t you get the letter telling you that the sessions were cancelled. I turned on my heel and left.
When I got home, I was furious. Carol was preparing her lesson plans for her third year of teaching at the Pennypack Elementary School in the Hatboro Horsham School District. What could possible stanch my horrible temper? There was truly only one way. I sat down at Carol’s portable Royal typewriter and authored a letter of resignation. I don’t remember if it was vituperative or not, but I remember feeling satisfied.
I got into the car and drove back to the administration building and dropped the letter in front of the same secretary I had seen before. I said nothing to her and left the building. I had decided that I was going to get some other job in another field. After five years of teaching, I was still young enough to begin a new career. Little did I know then that my quitting would lead me into all kinds of wonderful and scary new experiences.
I drove home, never doubting that I had done the right thing. Carol was in my corner. She believed as I still do, when it’s time to leave, you pick up your stuff; throw the keys on the desk and leave. We are also pretty big into fairness.
I bought a paper on the way home. I looked at the classified section and found an ad that said, “administrative assistant to the president, no experience necessary.” “Wow,” I said to myself. That’s me, no experience and assistant to the president. As I look back on these words, I think of how young and unknowing I was. It would be a short time before I understood what those words really meant.
I drove down to the train station and got off at the Reading Terminal. The address was in one of the Penn Center buildings. It was a short walk and I was on the elevator to the 8th floor. I entered the offices, which were pretty large, and was greeted by a receptionist. She asked me to fill our application and sit down. I waited just for a moment and one of the 40 people in the office arose from his desk and came over to greet me.
We sat down and he asked me about myself. I tried to get in a few words about applying for the administrative assistant to the president job. I am not sure if I really ever got an answer. I soon found out that there were many things about this operation that were not quite what I thought they were.
I was soon joined by a trim, pompadour, kind of floor walker person who asked me if I wanted to make a great deal of money. I really was not that unknowing when someone says that to me. I was ready for some shaky deal that could send me to jail.
He pulled out a bunch of this pay stubs to show me how much he was making. As I looked him over, I realized that he was dressed in some really expensive clothing, shoes and a watch. His haircut was of the stylist variety. That was not very common in 1966. I was very impressed. “How can I make all of this kind of money (I had made $5000 in my last year of teaching)? He said, “All you have to do is sit at one of these desks and begin making some phone calls.”
Did that mean that I had a job already? You bet it did. I had no idea what the heck I was doing, nor did I have any feeling about whether this was right for me. I was given the yellow pages of Philadelphia and its environs and told to start at A and start calling to get job orders. The prime jobs would be those where the employer paid the fee. If the applicant was to pay the fee, it was a bit more difficult. Since almost all of the applicants were not working, where would they get the money to pay the fee?
The answer to that question rested in the hands of our, “collector.” He sat at a desk in the front of the firm. He was a fearsome looking fellow with jet black hair and standing 6 ft. 6inches tall. He was a professional prizefighter who got to be ranked. He also played in some movies in the 1970’s. When introduced to applicants, it was a certainty that they would pay the fee. He left soon after I arrived at the agency.
There were prizes to be won if you either got job orders or placements. I won Florsheim shoes, a croten wrist watch, clothing and many other things. There was a board with the names of all of the counselors (which is what were were called) and the placements and job orders that they had acquired during the current month. I also seem to remember that there were earnings totals for that month. I noticed that those on the bottom of the list seemed to disappear regularly.
Payment for the job was called, “draw versus commission.” In other words, you really never got paid. It worked like this. The draw was $60 per week. However, that amount was taken out of any commission that you might have made from a placement of a candidate. You also had to wait for the fee to make its way into the agency’s coffers. Therefore, if you made a commission (30% of the fee, or 35% if you stayed at the agency for more than a month) of $500 and you had drawn $240 for the previous 4 weeks, your take would be $260.
You must understand that we are talking about 1966. In that year a Chevy II Nova cost $2700. It was probably equivalent to a current Toyota Camry, or some other middle sized car. I am happy to say that in one month, probably my 2nd or 3rd, I took home $5,000 clear. Yes, I was pretty good at hustling bodies.
My co-workers at the agency were a strange lot. Most of them did not use their real names. I often speculated that a number of them had spent some time as guests of the state or the county. I did become friendly with some of them and they taught me some interesting ways of working. I learned that you could take and applicant and get them a job and then backfill the place where they had left. I wound up doing that a number of times.
If you, a more sophisticated counselor, with a good, but shadowy applicant, you could move him (very rarely a her), from job to job and make commissions every time he moved and then get the job order from the place where he left. I actually did that once for one applicant. In that case the applicant suggested that he was not happy with the job I had gotten him.
Getting job orders was an art from. How do you get through to the director of personnel (no human resource titles in those days)? There were a number of ways, including having a fictional applicant with a background that was so tempting that whoever answered the phone, would have a hard time refusing your entreaties. There were also the, “I am returning Mr. Smith’s call,” ploy. Every job order had the name of the person who was doing the hiring. It sometimes took dumb luck to get through to a person who could actually do the hiring.
These were the times of the Vietnam War. There were fewer and fewer candidates for jobs. There were companies that would take a chance that you were sending them an appropriate candidate. I was very careful to be clear with the companies that the person I was sending did not fit their needs exactly. They told me to send them over anyway.
There were pet companies that each counselor had. Some had retail clients who were always looking for sales people. There were moderate sized companies that were looking for accountants, clerks, and accounts receivable folks and so on. There was also a burgeoning need for people who could do computer work, either data entry, programming or other kinds of jobs related to computers. This was all punch card stuff with large computers that only large companies could afford.
There was only one woman in the office. She did all of the computer hires and she was good at it. She was someone who was on the phone or interviewing applicants every single moment she was there. She was eminently successful. I am not sure that she even participated in the contest each month to win prizes. She would have won each month.
There was also an older man, nicknamed, “The Golden One,” who was also quite successful with his companies. He had gotten to the point where people called him and not the other way around. He had a cigar clutched between his teeth all day long. He always spoke with the cigar in his mouth.
Although Pat was the floor walker, Dave really ran the place. We were part of a larger corporation housed in Chicago. Sometimes Dave thought it might be a good idea to remove all of our chairs, so that we would have to make all of our phone calls and interview applicants standing up. He thought that would inspire people to get more job orders and get more people hired. What it did was cause all kinds of cheating. Who wanted to stand for eight hours?
One day, my original dream came true. I saw a job order for an administrative assistant to the president of a box manufacturing concern in suburban Philly. I hid the job order (for no apparent reason) went on an interview and got the job. It got me into another story that I will relate later. The men at the agency were sorry to see me go. I was making money for them.
Some of the guys expressed sorrow that I was leaving and wanted my home phone to go out sometime. I gave it to them. That was not the end though, In the Fall of 1967, having been at my new job from March 1967 till September and then going back to teaching, I got a call from Dave. He asked if he could come to my home and speak with me. I said sure.
He came that night and offered me a job as director of public relations for the big corporation in Chicago. They would pay me $15,000 and more and pay my moving expenses. It would have been three times more than what I was making as a teacher. However, Carol was due in a few weeks and I had decided that I would devote my life to education (which I have done).
I never heard from any of those folks again. I do, however, owe them a great debt. They taught me so much about humanity and its frailties and positive aspects. I wouldn’t have traded any of those 9 months.