My very first job was as a file clerk at a place called City Electric, tucked into a corner of New York's garment district, near my high school. I made minimum wage, which at the time was $3.35. (Isn't it horrific how little that's gone up, considering the comparative economic changes of the ensuing 35 years?)

It's sad how little I remember about it (and a lot of stuff at that age); I recall the warm creamy yellow of the second-sheet carbon copies and the red invoice numbers in the upper left-hand corner. There was a subset of older numbers, which were in other file drawers. I realize now that those were just the ones where the individual store or salesman still had an old pad, but they seemed to be miniature archaeological exhibits.

I worked for some affable old men, Ben and Archie–and the big boss, who might have been a George–and who worked in the same room with the rest of us, with its high ceilings, hanging fluorescent lamps, and aged linoleum in beige, maroon, and black. No desk toys in those days–everybody's desks were piled high with stacks of paper. I think Ben was the accountant. (Which, if you think about it, made sense, him being in the invoice department.) They were incredibly nice, and I grew to love them dearly. I don't remember not wanting to come in to work.

I don't really remember exactly what City Electric did. I know they'd been around for at least a couple of decades at that time; their logo was one of those solid old-timey things with Art Deco lettering. But it had a sense of warmth and comfort that you find very rarely in the job market; a sense of timelessness.

I lasted the school year. I'm not sure if I got fired. I hope not. My memory is of not getting the job back the following year, or something like that. I'm not sure. The next job was at a company which bought up scrap steel and aluminum (with the creative name of Metal Purchasing); I think they both essentially laid me off because there wasn't any more work to do in the slow summer months.

(No, come to think of it, I wasn't fired, because I remember the first time I was, and what a shock it was to my system: I'd been working making sandwiches on a line in a fern bar somewhere, and I went pee too often. It's a jungle out there, with perilous roads overhung with alfalfa sprouts.)

But City Electric lives on in my memory as a cozy place, with it somehow raining outside, and the kindly Ben and Archie in their paper-filled corners providing a sense of stability. Working wasn't scary back then–no resumes, no training sessions, no pressure. I had a basic little job, and being able to handle integer counting, I did it well, and they liked me. I think on some level I've wanted to re-create that sense of solidity ever since.

But now I have the security (if not the money) of being my own boss. As I write this, the sky is that same comfortable grey, and I can have all the hot tea I want. It's just that writing is almost infinitely harder than counting some days (an irony if you look at the scores from every standardized test I've ever taken), and I don't have Ben and Archie to metaphorically cuddle me warm.

Oh well. Plinky prompt answered, blog posted. First stacks of the day put where they're supposed to be in the drawers of cyberspace. What next, those old-number outliers in the rich and strange land of original composition, or the humdrum task of wearing down my desk's stack of edit?

Ben? Archie?

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