I never went to university. Looking back, I wish I had, but at the time, joining the work force at the ripe age of 17 seemed like a great opportunity. Within 2 weeks of graduation, my first job was working as a messenger for a stock brokerage in the heart of the city.
I was surrounded by adults doing adult things. My job was to deliver and pick up share certificates from brokerage houses around Vancouver. This meant a lot of walking and a great sense of direction. Knowing how to plot my day, hitting the right offices at the right time, was crucial. We had no mobile phones back then, so once I was out on the street, my bosses would just have to trust I wasn’t sitting drunk in a bar using cheques to light my cigarettes.
You want me to wear that? Okay.
Messengers had a strict dress code back then. I had to wear high heels, a skirt or dress, and suitable make-up. I was representing the company when I was out and about, and heaven forfend I should look shabby or common! My feet ached at the end of each day, but wow, did my calves ever look good. I was probably outside 4 hours per day back then. It sounds like a crappy job, but honestly, I loved it. I got to know the women behind the big banks and trust companies, we’d chat and share a joke or a bit of gossip while waiting for my delivery, maybe a cup of tea to tide me over in the winter, and then off I’d go to the next office, to do it all over again.
Best of all, I was finally earning a pay-cheque.
I was thrown into a world I knew absolutely nothing about. Ask Lars about my accounting abilities and he’d probably raise a very wry, sarcastic eyebrow at you. I really should never be trusted in a company where figures and numbers are discussed, and yet, there I was, at the heart of the finance district and learning every day.
Demonstrating my prowess
Early on, I was asked to make a pot of coffee for a meeting in the boardroom. I did everything right: water in, coffee measured, turn on the switch, and surely the rest would take care of itself. I walked away, very pleased with myself. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to put the empty coffee pot under the basket, with the inevitable result.
I learned from that mistake.
My boss, Janice, asked if I knew how to type. Oh yes, I assured my boss, I’m a typing fiend. 60 wpm. You can count on me! She showed me the IBM Selectric I’d be using and sat me down to type out a few simple sentences.
This was not the manual Olivetti I’d been taught to use in typing class. I looked at the machine in puzzlement, not even sure how to put the paper in.
Janice sighed, “You need to turn it on first, Wendy”. Oh. Okay, good idea. Where was the frigging button, though? “On the side, Wendy. Are you sure you know how to type?” Oh yes, of course I do! Once I turn this stupid thing on, I shall impress you with my dexterity and skill, just you wait!
Of course, that didn’t happen. As soon as I pressed the first ‘t’, thumping down for extra emphasis, as I’d been taught in my Grade Nine Typing class, the stupid IBM Selectric skittered out at least 20 ‘t’s in a row. I flinched, shocked at the machine’s touchiness and speed.
Finally, my star sign comes in handy
I’m sure Janice, wonderful Janice who was so patient with me, was wondering just why on earth she’d hired me. Well, duh, we both knew why I was hired: during my job interview, we discovered we were fellow Sagitarrians. There was no way she couldn’t hire me, not knowing valuable information like that.
I came through my baptism by fire and stayed with the company for 2 years. I’d risen through the ranks, until I reached the lofty position of Assistant Manager of Accounting, which sounds pretty swish, right? I wasn’t even 20, and I was flying high. Let me bring us all back to the ground by reminding you that there were only 3 of us in the accounting cage: the accounts manager, me and the messenger who replaced me.
Anyway, I did enjoy my time there. Whenever a trader scored a big deal, he’d bring champagne in for us. They’d take us out for lunch to celebrate. We’d host big parties in big hotels for big clients with big bank accounts. We’d shut down early on Fridays and play Backgammon while drinking champagne and smoking non-stop.
The traders in our office were male, in their 30s and 40s, and both intimidating and cool.
Introducing a cast of…two
We were a small office of 9. Everyone was a character but two of them stand out, all these years later.
Bob was our leader: calm, avuncular, funny, we tripped over ourselves to please him. He was a genuinely nice man, and a very talented businessman as well.
Trevor, on the other hand, was our Resident Psycho, hopped up on testosterone and adrenaline. He thought nothing of snooping through our desks to find our stash of chocolate bars. Apparently it was his god-given right. If we confronted him, a sudden chill would descend on the office until he decided to forgive and forget. Numerous women would be escorted into the back room for meetings at lunch. I must have been the only one who didn’t realize they were actually poorly disguised bonking sessions. The women would exit with ruffled hair and dazed expressions; Trevor would leave with a sweep of his hair and a self-satisfied smirk on his face. Happily married, happily cheating, Trev was quite the Lothario.
For reasons that made sense at the time, I moved to another job, which led to a position at a Danish company and the man whom I ended up marrying. Boring job, but wow, what a social life!
Shortly after moving in together, we moved to LA, so that was the end of my Canadian work career.
I was young, no job talents to speak of, and no university degree to back me up. It should have been a scary time, but actually, it was shocking, unadulterated fun.
I don’t miss it, but I look back on those 2 years with great fondness.
I watched, listened and learned about people, late hours, hard work, and most of all? How to make a proper pot of coffee.
Come over and I’ll pour you a cup.