Monday, November 09, 2015

Judy's New Job

After we finally settled into our new apartment in Austin, I went to the campus to see what the deal was with my job as a teaching assistant.  Someone in the English Department office told me that there was a place to apply for jobs on campus, so Judy and I checked it out.  She decided to apply for a job in the Computation Center.  

If you click the link, you might wonder where the building is.  That's because you can't see it.  It's under the mall.  Or it was when we were there.  They needed a place to keep those giant computers cool, you see.  The picture on the left gives you sort of an idea of what the big computing room with the mainframe was like.  You can see more pictures of the old days in the computing world here.  Times have changed.

Judy didn't work in that room, however.  She was a secretary.  In those days you had to sign up to get computer time, and there was a waiting list.  I'm not sure what Judy's duties consisted of, but one of them included keeping tabs on computer time, scheduling it, and billing for it.  There were other duties, but that was the big one.  When she took over the job, she discovered that her desk was covered with stacks of paper.  The woman who'd left had been three months behind in the billing.  If you think Judy was daunted by that, you'd be wrong.  In two weeks she'd cleared the desk and caught up with the billing.

In a rational world that feat would have endeared her to everyone, but we don't live in that world.  Some of the other secretaries resented it because it made them look lazy.  According to Judy, some of them were lazy.  Two of them became her friends, but one of them never cared for her, and the feeling was mutual.  This one, let's call her Ann, might have been lazy, but she was clever.  I admired her for one trick in particular.  On Fridays about three o'clock she'd turn on her desk lamp and spread some papers artfully on the desk.  She'd put her reading glasses and a pen on top of the papers.  She'd light a cigarette and put it in the ashtray (you can tell how long ago this was).  Then she'd go home while everyone else had to stay in the office until five.  The bosses never caught on.

One of the others I liked for a different reason.  She was from one of the little German communities to the southeast of Austin and had grown up speaking German.  Let's call her Estelle.  She had an interesting accent and manner of speaking.  For one thing she was very literal about her hair.  She didn't talk about getting her hair cut.  She said she was getting her hairs cut.  Accurate but not idiomatic.  

One day Judy told me not to pick her up until after five.  She wanted me to park and come in the office because she had something to show me and didn't want to do it when anyone else was around.  I didn't know what was up, but I went by the office a little after five to be sure everyone else was gone.  Judy took me into the copy room and showed me a sign over the plug for the copy machine.  It seemed that the cleaning team had occasionally unplugged the machine to plug in their vacuum cleaners or something, so Estelle had put up a sign to solve the problem.  It said, "Do Not Unpluck This Cord."  I wanted to cross out the "Un," but Judy wouldn't let me.  We laughed about that sign from time to time for more than 40 years.


Jeff Meyerson said...

From 1966 to 1968, when I went back to college - it's a long story - I worked at an office in Midtown setting your car insurance rates (more or less - I told you, it's a long story). I was 17.

Anyway, we'd get printouts from the computer room on the second floor (we were on three), which varied in size by state. I got to do the huge New York one. If there was a question we'd consult the guys on two. The computer was huge and you'd see thousands of punch cards.

I miss the old days.

Deb said...

Ann reminds me of a co-worker I once had who put more effort into avoiding work than he ever would have had to put in had he just gone ahead and done the work. My favorite (if that's the word) memory of this guy has him wandering around looking for an available printer because he was too lazy to change the printer cartridge in his own printer! A close runner-up was when he decided a lower-case L was a perfectly good substitute for the number 1 (saves clicking on the shift key, I guess) and he screwed up pages of coding using l instead of 1. Good times!

Gerard said...

Some big computers are still made. My father had an award at the U of IL a couple weeks ago and a link to online photos included one by another guy who visited the Blue Waters supercomputer.

Unknown said...

I suspect they still have a big one in the Comp Center at UT, too.

Unknown said...

Still enjoying these... a lot!

James Reasoner said...

Another great story. Keep 'em coming.

Cap'n Bob said...

I really eat up these tales. More!

In 1966 I worked for IBM as a temp. I was only there 7 or 8 days but one thing I did was back up their reel-to-reel tapes for shipment. These were the circumference of a steering wheel and about two inches thick. In 1979, my first job with the Air Force was keypunching IBM cards. Another profession technology and I killed.

Cap'n Bob said...

"pack up," not back up.
Damn fingers.

Mel Odom said...

Ah, college life. I never realized how screwed up things could be and how many obstacles could be placed in the way of getting even the smallest thing done until I started teaching at a university.

Unknown said...

Even at that, though, it's the best job in the world (aside from writing).

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Thank you for sharing these memories, Bill.

Made me think of one of my wife's coworkers. Her Ann did all the exact same things --expect for the cigarette as she used an open Coke instead---and the bosses never caught her. Or, she had something on them and they just ignored it. One of the bosses was known for fooling around with some of the younger employees who---after after a few months or in one case 6 weeks--would suddenly be promoted and transferred.

I always figured he knew what was going on with "Ann" and wasn't doing anything about it as his situation would get exposed.