You Literally Have To Try To Work This Slowly

, , , , , , | Working | November 10, 2020

In 1951, my mother is a young bride living just off the Air Force Base with my dad. Because she has a background in office work, she is recruited for a job on base. The work is beyond tedious.

I don’t remember the exact nature of the job. Essentially, there is a table with bundles of about twenty-five financial forms that need to be checked against a master list to make sure all information is correct.

Mom is in an office with about five other women who are also doing the checking.

Mom finishes her first bundle of twenty-five and rechecks them, puts a notification that they have been checked and approved, puts them in the collection area, and picks up another bundle. The job is a seven-hour, five-days-a-week position, and by the end of the day, she has finished about half the bundles on the table. When she gets ready to leave, the other wives in the room do not return her “Goodnight” and will not speak with her at all.

The next day, one of the older women catches Mom as she goes to her desk.

Woman: *Bellowing* “YOU! YOU! Are you trying to show the rest of us up?”

Mom: “What do you mean?”

Woman: *Snapping* “You are only supposed to do one bundle a day! One! That’s all any of us are able to handle, so stop making a mess just to show us up. You do one bundle and that’s it!”

So Mom, who wanted to avoid trouble, tried to take all day to do one tiny bundle of forms. She described how she would sit with a single form and match each and every letter to the grand list, then do it again, spending maybe two or three full minutes on each form. She would take a breather between forms. But even doing this, she was still done within two hours.

Meanwhile, she said, the other women in the office were doing their nails, reading magazines, doing crossword puzzles, or just plain gossiping. At the end of the week, no one was talking to her yet and she was planning on quitting.

What saved her was the boss coming into the office and asking if anyone knew steno and touch typing. Mom practically jumped into his arms like an over-eager puppy.

That’s how Mom wound up being a general secretary for all the base big wigs and, happily, making a lot more money than checking financial forms against each other.

I assume that, sixty-plus years later, some of those ladies are still sitting there, checking forms and doing their nails.

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