Sunday, November 6, 2011
A TEEN & A FIRST JOB
When I turned 15-1/2 in 1951 I was eligible for a work permit and I knew just where I wanted to work: Horgan’s Pharmacy on Cherry Avenue in Long Beach. Horgan’s was a corner drug store, small by today’s standards but fairly large by 1950 standards. There were three separate parts of the store: across the back was the pharmacy itself, along the north wall was the soda fountain and the rest of the store was where the sundries were. I wanted to work the soda fountain for a start.
Pat Horgan, the owner, hired me. We had lived in the area for 6 years and my folks were his regular customers, so the minute I approached him about a job he put me on the payroll. My hourly pay was fifty cents, which at that time was minimum wage.
I had to be trained to make malts, milkshakes, cokes, phosphates, root beer floats and ice cream sundaes, in addition to making coffee, heating up cans of soup, slicing up pies and cakes, and serving donuts and Danish, most of which needed to be heated before being served. The fountain seated about 10 people, and it became my domain once I was finished with my training. My other duty was to be waiting at the door when the boss opened up on Sunday morning so I could lug inside the morning newspapers that had been dropped off by the distributor at the locked door by the soda fountain. Those papers sold like hotcakes as the “regulars” came for their Sunday morning coffee and donuts.
I was a quick learner and loved what I was doing!
My dad had his own small business – a sales and repair shop of both big and little appliances like stoves, refrigerators, washers, dryers, TVs – and radios, waffle irons and coffee pots. He built it into a good business and because he was good to his employees, there was very little employee turnover. I’d grown up hearing what he expected from his employees: a full day’s work, in place and ready to go when the doors opened, clean and neat, and a smile on their face. Those were the values I took with me when I started behind the soda fountain that first day.
Before long, Mr. Horgan asked me if I would like to work in the sundries. I didn’t think it would be nearly as much fun as working the soda fountain, but I wanted to have as many sellable skills as I could acquire and I accepted his offer. My pay didn’t increase but my knowledge of what retail selling involved did. My first chores were learning to restock the shelves, and if I was able to finish the restocking, then I spent the rest of the time making sure the merchandise on each aisle was neat and in the right place. I never just stood and talked to other employees; we were expected to stay busy, and to ask what we could do if we couldn’t figure out for ourselves.
About the same time, Mr. Horgan hired a young kid to work in the stockroom, a fellow a year behind me in school but whom I knew quite well. I was glad to have Miles working there with me; up until that time I was the only teenaged employee. I might not have remembered this job as clearly as I do because of one of the very embarrassing things the job required. In those days, boxes of women’s sanitary napkins were not just set out on shelves like they are now. There were two brands: Kotex and Modess, and there were also different sizes – small, medium and large. Every week Miles and I had to schedule a time in the back room where we wrapped the boxes of sanitary napkins in plain paper – dark green for Kotex and dark blue for Modess. And on the end we had to use a black marker to place letters to indicate the brand and the size: K-S, K-M and K-L; and M-S, M-M and M-L. Only then would we take them out onto the shelves where they could be purchased.
The subject of sex and bodily functions were not commonly discussed among youngish teenagers of the opposite sex during those days. Of course both Miles and I knew exactly what these were used for, but in the year I worked at Horgan’s and wrapped these boxes each week, Miles and I never said anything more about them than, “It’s time to wrap the boxes.” Oh gosh, we were such a naïve bunch of kids – or maybe we were just polite, and probably a bit prudish. The only other embarrassing thing I ever had to handle was to be shown where the men’s Trojans were kept (in a drawer behind the counter). No one ever asked me for one; I’m sure any man who came in went to one of the “old” ladies who normally worked the sundry side for his purchase. He had to ask someone, because they weren’t in public view.
I worked at the drug store – sometimes filling in on the soda fountain but mostly on the sundries side for the two summers on either side of my junior year of High School – and then on weekends and holidays during that school year. I really didn’t want to work during my senior year; I had been elected Editor of the weekly newspaper that year, and with that and the extracurricular activities that seniors were involved with, I knew it would certainly be easier for me if I didn’t have to make a choice between obligations I felt to Mr. Horgan at work and what I wanted to experience at school.
I went to my dad to ask him how I should let Mr. Horgan know that I would be quitting the job. I wanted a good reference from him for future work, so I knew my dad would know the right way to handle it. I’d guess, since my mom and dad were good friends with Pat and his wife, that dad clued him that I’d be leaving. However, I followed the guidelines my dad gave me and I referred a younger friend to replace me who I knew would be a good match with the store. Pat and I separated on good terms, and he did, in fact, provide a good reference for me later on.
Although Horgan’s Pharmacy was a larger store than usual for a corner drug store in a residential area, we just don’t have drug stores like that anymore, at least in the big cities, stores where the owners are there and willing to train young kids.. I was lucky to have a father who set a model for me to follow as I put my teenage toe in the water of retail sales. I was lucky to have a boss who set standards for his employees and expected them to perform up to them. And between you and me, I was lucky to live in a time when life was a bit slower, a bit more simple, and when society was a bit more polite.
When did that all end?