Our new location was perfect, a few blocks south of the Northgate Shopping Center, and two blocks away from the bus stop where I could catch a ride to the University District and my new job.
We were nowhere near settled by Monday morning, but I was up early, made sure Mike ate some breakfast, prepared sack lunches for us both, and hurried off to catch the bus.
Mr. Williams introduced me to the three other girls in the officea receptionist, a bookkeeper, and a data-entry specialistthen ushered me into the supply closet where I could hang my coat. He left me at the title desk with a slightly satirical, "good luck," and returned to his glass-enclosed cubicle in the front.
There I stood, eight-thirty in the morning, staring at a workspace overloaded with bulging manila file folders and stacks of unkempt papers that nearly obscured a calculator and telephone. A typewriter sat on a hinged shelf that pulled out and up from behind a door on the left hand side of the gray metal desk.
"Welcome, Helen." The girl at the desk next to me, the bookkeeper, stepped toward me with a paper in hand and a smile on her face. "I need you to complete this W-4 form so I can put you on the payroll."
"Thanks, Iíll do that right now." I took the paper and sat down at the title desk. Thank you, God, for something I know how to do!
With an anxious hand, I filled in my name, address, social security number and zero exemptions. I did not want to owe the government at yearís end. I felt lucky to get a job so soon, especially with no experience at it, and a full $350 per monthan amount approaching the high-end range for females in 1966. I signed the form, rose from my chair and handed it back to her. "Here you are. Thanks. Iím happy to find a job that pays so well."
"You might think differently," she whispered, "if you knew that the man who did that desk before you was getting $750 a month, and he walked out one day and never came back because he couldnít take it!" She smirked and added, "Donít repeat what Iíve told youone rule here is we do not discuss salaries, at least on current employees. Itís grounds for termination."
"Okay, I wonít," I assured her. "Thanks." I turned back to my desk, reconsidered, and returned to face the bookkeeper. "Are you able to tell me what all Iím suppose to do?"
"Not really," she answered, "Iíve never done that job, but youíre safe to assume itís anything and everything to do with car sales and inventory. Youíll find out as you go along."
"Thanks." I stepped back to my desk and sat, not at all sure where to begin. Might as well get acquainted with the equipment and supplies, I thought, and began inspecting the contents in each drawerpens, pencils, paper clips, cellophane tape, company stationery, envelopes, carbon-sets of blank sales contracts, rubber stamps, ink pads and other miscellany of everyday office use.
I glanced up from the bottom drawer to meet the gaze of a tall, middle-aged, well-dressed man in a suit and tie parading through the office straight toward me.
"Hello," he proclaimed in a loud, deep voice, head held high. "You must be the new title clerk."
"Yes," I responded in my usual quiet manner, maintaining eye-to-eye contact.
His grin was wide, accentuated by a vertical flash of gold dental work between two of his teeth. He rocked back and forth on the heels of his shoes and introduced himself as the New Car Sales Manager, then plopped another manila folder onto one of the piles on my desk. "I need plates for this one by tomorrow morning," he said, then turned and left the office.
Okay. Sure. I opened the folder and fingered through the papers inside. I recognized the bank contract and the multi-page license and title application from my finance company days. I rolled my chair over to the bookkeeperís desk and asked where the vehicle licensing office was. She told me which one the dealership used, adding that one of the lot boysthe young men who kept the cars and dealership grounds cleanwould come daily, around noon, to take applications to the agency and would pick up the plates and paperwork in the afternoon and return them to me.
I thanked her, rolled back to my desk, grabbed a phone book, and called the Department of Licensing office. I explained my predicament of being new, that Iíd need to learn. The lady was pleasant and informative, and I took copious notes.
Using those notes as a guide, I searched the remaining file folders for signed applications and got the sales managerís approval to license them. My career-years as an automotive Title Clerk had begun.
Noon arrived without warning. I picked up the phone to do a quick check on Mike. Instead of a dial tone, I heard an operatorís voice calmly request, "Would you please deposit a dime?"
I was dumbstruck. Iím sure my mouth was hanging open when the data-entry gal, who also relieved the switchboard operator during breaks, eyed me from the old telephone cord-board at the front of the office. A hearty laugh erupted from her entire being.
"Iím kidding!" She grinned, then pushed a plug into an outgoing trunk line. "There. Go ahead and dial now!"
She and I became friends that day, visiting on the small sofa in the ladies room over our sack lunches. Mike had sounded fine on the phone, and I was much less anxious throughout the busy afternoon.
At five oíclock I tidied up my desk, put the little metal file of used car titles into the safe in the supply closet, retrieved my coat and purse and strode along the sidewalk toward the bus stop.
The half-hour ride and two block walk home in the crisp fall air of early evening released much of the tension Iíd manufactured over the last twenty-four hours.
Startled from his nap when I opened the front door, Mikeís sleep-slumped body snapped upright in the chair facing the television set. Over the drone of the six oíclock news, he greeted me. "Hi honey! Howíd your first day go?"
"Fine, I think. The desk was piled high with work, but I got some of it figured out and done."
"I knew you would," he quipped as I hurried into the bedroom to change clothes.
Thank God he seemed okayno slurred speech, no narrow steely eyes, no clenched fists or other signs of low blood sugar. I went into the kitchen and began fixing our dinner. Then it hit metoday had actually been good!
I hoped it was a sign of things to come.