Sometimes I wonder if my life can be measured by the jobs I've held. I sincerely hope that's not true. But when I think back to 1989, I remember my work life being in flux. I'd left eight comfortable years of being the girl behind the desk on the medical floor of our local hospital, and I distinctly remember why I left. Monday evenings were a flurry of activity on the medical floor. Folks who'd been sick all weekend, but who'd told themselves, just hold on -- maybe I'll be better by Monday -- had finally given in and made an appointment to visit their personal physician, and found out, why yes, I really am sick! Sick enough to be admitted to the hospital, in fact. Thus, admissions came fast and furious on late Monday afternoons. The medical floor had three wings. One was for telemetry (heart) patients, and the other two -- Central and West -- were for general illness. I juggled admissions as best I could between the available wings. The nurses were sorely overworked and I endeavored to rotate new patients so none of the RN's and LPN's became overwhelmed. Sometimes that was an impossible task. I guess my final room assignment was the last straw for one of the RN's who I'd considered a friend. She took a moment out of her whir of vitals and wheelchairs and sputum cups to voice her displeasure. Essentially, her position was that I was deliberately tormenting her and she was disappointed and disillusioned with me. I don't think I said a word in response; I just stared at her, feeling like a bug she keenly wanted to stomp beneath her white oxfords. She and I had shared breaks -- sat in the nurses' lounge and smoked our cigarettes on moonless nights -- laughed together about goofy goings-on in the Pharmacy Department; shared anecdotes about our kids. And now she hated me. I left the hospital at the end of my shift and went home to my torture chamber bed and tossed and scrunched around most of the night. I felt unjustly accused. I had simply done my job the best I could, in impossible circumstances.
The next day I scanned the hospital bulletin board for open positions and promptly applied for one in the Admissions Department. I was hired in a flash. The medical center had a policy of filling jobs from within. Thus, I sat in a high-backed chair in an office with three open-air slots, evening after evening, right next to the switchboard operator's glass-encased cubicle, and awaited new "check-ins". Every department within the facility had its specific wardrobe requirements, so I switched from navy blue polyester uniforms to some kind of baby blue stiff starched linen. I guess that was how one could be readily identified -- slotted in, as it were. I hated registering new patients. I felt clumsy and asked the wrong questions or inevitably forgot to check a specific box on the admission form. I couldn't remember which forms I was supposed to stamp beneath the heavy iron contraption, and creating the little plastic identification cards with a "C" for Catholic and remembering to include the "Mrs." before Verna Schuffeltd's name seemed beyond my brain's capacity. The truth was, I simply hated my new job. I missed knowing what I was doing; missed the breezy efficiency with which I'd whipped out lab orders and missed the nurses I'd come to know so intimately. I hated the stilted quiet of the admissions office and longed for the familiar cacophony of real life.
I lasted a week or so in my new position, and then I lied and told my new supervisor some tale about how the schedule wasn't working for my family.
If I hadn't been shot through the heart, maybe I'd still be at that hospital today. I'd be the elderly gray-stranded woman everyone allows to cut in front of them in the cafeteria line, because, you know, she reminds me of my grandma!
I padded across the sliding-door threshold of the hospital one final time. I had no plan. I had no options.
In my small town, the newspaper's want ads for "clerical work" encompassed a line space approximately the width of my thumb. I innocently assumed I could always get a job with the State Government -- my fallback. I'd begun my "career" working for the State, and trust me, they'd hire practically anyone they could confirm was actually drawing breath. And I sort of did get hired by the State, but it was a downtown (not at the State Capitol) temporary part-time job as a receptionist for the Teachers Retirement Fund. My duties consisted of passing out mail and typing occasional letters on an IBM Selectric with a correctable ribbon. No more Wite-Out for me! No sirreee! I worked from eight a.m. to noon and couldn't wait to escape that soul-sucking receptionist's desk when the big hand clicked on the twelve. Between mail delivery and the two letters per day I was required to type, I had approximately three hours of non-productive time. I don't recall how I filled those hours -- I'll guess by jamming a Kleenex between the numbers on the switchboard and whisking away the dust. If one wants to achieve invisibility, she should get a job as a receptionist. Most of the staff to which I delivered mail rarely bothered to show up for work, so I had no clue what they actually looked like. They were simply names on a business-sized envelope. Thus, I was taken aback when I finally found what I thought would be a better position -- and full-time! -- and hovered in the doorway of my anonymous supervisor's office to give my notice, and this woman, Mary Smith (as far as I was concerned) expressed dismay and told me they'd been thinking of offering me a permanent full-time position. What? And why? I only had fifteen minutes worth of work to do in the first place. But who knows? If I'd hung around, maybe I'd be the soon-to-retire director of that God-awful place today. I honestly still don't know what they actually did there.
I saw an ad in the newspaper for a medical transcriptionist. No, technically I'd never transcribed medical records, but I did know medical terminology and I certainly knew how to type. Voila, I was hired. This job did not work out well. The owner assured me that a "transcribing machine" was on order and I would settle into my new position just as soon as it arrived. In 1989, a transcribing machine was a 21-inch television-sized word processor. I don't know what was packed inside that behemoth, but knowing technology as I do today, I'm guessing it was a pile of lead plates that served no discernible purpose other than to make the contraption a hernia-inducing heave up a flight of stairs for two unfortunate delivery persons. Alas, the transcribing machine was a mirage. I sorted mail (yep!) for months into individual slots, drank gallons of coffee, drove to the McDonald's window for a hamburger every day at twelve, came back and tossled envelopes around for a few more hours before checking out and heading home. I know transcribing machines actually existed, because the company had two busily-finger-tapping transcriptionists I envied daily for the fact that they actually had something to do. The highlight of that position was the company's annual trip to Kansas City for, I guess, a transcribing convention. I boarded the plane to KC with the two actual typists and proceeded to get sloshed. Once there, after our sirloin steak dinner, one of the girls (I'll call her "Jill" because I have absolutely no recollection of her actual name) cornered the company's CEO and vented all her frustrations about our boss. Jill then pointed to me and promised I could vouch for everything she was saying. I think I drunkenly muttered something about "not getting my machine". The next day we flew home. Come Monday, each of the three of us typists got called in separately to the boss's office to discuss our Kansas City faux paus. When it was my turn, the office maven asked me if I was dissatisfied there. I piped up that I still hadn't gotten "my machine". "I told you it's on order!" she huffed. "Well, it has been six months," I responded timidly. She then asked me if I wanted to retain my employment with the company. "Well....no," I said. And thus I tromped down the stairway and out the front door. That was the last day I had a single burger and a small fry for lunch from McDonald's.
My job prospects were dire. My family was incomprehensibly understanding. If I'd been a bystander, I wouldn't have been so patient. I compare the employment opportunities at that time to a choice between three entrees that are all putrid -- let's say, liver, seared cow brains, and boiled chicken hearts. Hmmm, what to choose? Okay, I'll take the liver. Maybe I can at least choke that down. Before long, I found a posting for a "Farm Records Secretary". I had no idea what that was, but I understood the three words, singly. I figured stringing the words together would produce a job I could perform, albeit begrudgingly. The Farm Credit office was located on the far edge of a different city from the one in which I resided, but there really was no such thing as "traffic" -- the interstate highway was clear and the morning drive was rather lovely. I could zone out and listen to the radio as the sun rose behind me. I did have a bias against the word, "secretary", since in my experience, secretary meant shuttling a mug of coffee to a man who didn't take the trouble to glance up from his paperwork and make eye contact. Fortunately, my new boss wasn't a man, but a woman who didn't take the trouble to glance up from her paperwork and make eye contact. She was prim. And awkward. Conversation didn't come easily to her. She'd migrated years before from someplace like Oklahoma and hadn't yet lost her Okie accent. Transcribing her recorded correspondence was a challenge. At first I would ask her to clarify a word, but later, finding our interactions less than scintillating, I simply typed the word that seemed to fit best. The previous secretary, who had recently been promoted, trained me, and she was impatient. She kindly ignored me when not giving orders. I didn't like her...at all. In a couple of months, we would become the best of friends. I'm not sure how things like that happen. Maybe we had a common enemy....Mrs. Park. I spent half of 1988 and the entirety of 1989 doing my farm secretary duties. One winter morn, as I endeavored to cajole my rear-wheel drive Ford up the steep hill to the FCS office, I found myself sliding backwards. I flipped the butt of the car into a roadside snowbank and tried again...and again. We'd had a rare freezing rain storm and I was not a well-lit bulb. After about fifteen minutes of fruitlessly trying to push up the hill, I gave up and backed/slid down to the intersection, parked and found a nearby telephone. I called up the guy whose office abutted my receptionist desk -- an older guy who spent his days jawing with ranchers -- kind of a dad-like prince of a man. He soldiered out to where I sat shivering in my Taurus and loaded me in his pickup and shuttled us to the office. As much as may hate our circumstances, there are always angels. Farm Credit Services was full to the brim with nice, nice people. Had it not been for Mrs. Hateful, I might have stayed. But I was basically miserable.
Thus, the music of 1989 was my salve. The Dakota Lounge was full of sawdust and regional bands and a loud juke box. Fridays and sometimes Saturday nights we ventured there, and here are the songs I remember:
I wonder if this was the number one country single of 1989. I'm going to guess yes:
I haven't left out the king. I wanted to give him a special place of honor, because in 1989 he released one of his top two best albums, "Beyond The Blue Neon".
Ahh, 1989 in country music was damn good.
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