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Managing the Hunt

The day after high-school graduation, I reported to work at 11 a.m. but it felt different. I had definitely outgrown the produce orders and the Chicken Brothers. I needed a plan. I had some scholarship money to North Texas State University and a job offer from the Dairy Queen in Denton. The owners of a big old house right across from campus at 1010 Hickory Street offered a room for $75 a month as long as I stayed out of their refrigerator. I really wanted to go to college but could not see a way to fund the gap of expenses that my scholarship didn’t cover. I did not know about student loans or grants. I didn’t have the faith to just go for it and my parents were – well let’s just say they did not have an appreciation for academics. My dad equated going to college to backpacking Louisiana with a harmonica band for four years. He told me to “forget that foolishness and get some kind of good job.”
The search began for “a good job” or at least a bit more pay.

Every Sunday I purchased a Star-Telegram and eagerly pored over the employment ads circling anything that offered the slightest match for my limited qualifications. Right away, my two years of experience landed me a job for $1.25 an hour at the Dairy Queen on Montgomery Street. Not exactly what I had in mind but an improvement in pay. I left Haltom City and moved to the west side of town. The store manager was a sour faced honky-tonk-mama looking lady who thought extra pounds equaled lower IQ; the assistant was a bubbly little snippet of a woman named Louise who thought I was really smart. Louise was later promoted to manager and I joyfully the title “night manager” at a whopping $1.65 an hour. I felt a shadow of concern when I learned that my night crew would be Louise’s three teenage children: twin red haired 16-year-old boys and their 15-year-old sister. My concern was well grounded. Work nights resembled a circus of monkeys complete with ketchup fights, calls home to mama to tattle, grease sprayed on the floor to make a slide, and a long list of other “fun at the Dairy Queen” activities. We closed at 11 pm and were to “be out” by 11:15 to control labor costs. Herding them toward that goal was like nailing jello to the wall. At the end of a month, I was exhausted. Any weak attempt to talk to Louise was met with “they are just kids” or “you need to stand up to them.” My last night there, while rushing around trying to be out on time, I turned around a bit too quickly to “stand up” to the twins who were sword fighting with the mop and broom. In doing so I fell victim to their latest grease smear. Both feet flew skyward and, in true cartoon fashion, I became airborne landing flat on my back in the middle of the grease. As soon as I could move and achieve vertical, I called home to mama Louise to tell her I was done. I cleaned the Dairy Queen for the last time, moved back to Haltom City, and jumped at the first job offer I could land – serving tables at the Lone Star Cafe at the corner of Beach and Belknap.

I settled into a routine that lasted for months. I owned two white uniforms, two pair of “stretch pants,” two blouses, one dress, my work shoes and my “good shoes.” A really sweet tip day brought me $10. Every week I bought a loaf of bread, a package of bologna, and a dozen eggs. I had eggs for breakfast, a bologna sandwich for either lunch or dinner and I got a free meal at work. Weekday mornings found me suited out in my one dress and my good shoes to systematically work through the current week’s harvest of employment ads. I was turned away again and again. I could not offer the well-coiffed hair and trim figure of the traditional receptionist of the time and I had no office skills such as typing, bookkeeping, etc. I began to regret not trying harder in typing class. I rented a manual typewriter and found a typing manual in a used bookstore. Every day I toiled at the old Royal attempting to improve my average typing score of 20 wpm and, I doggedly continued my daily job hunts.

I found that I did not fare well with just an interview but I could usually impress if there was some sort of test given, unless it was a typing test. I would repeatedly excel on the test but fall short in another required area such as the now outlawed requirement at Southwestern Bell. There, I was given a timed test designed to measure the ability to remember numbers. Not only was I the only person on record to finish the test, I did so with a perfect score. The Personnel Director was thrilled as she reviewed my application while talking about the required physical and prospective start date. My internal happy dance came to a screeching halt when she paused, lowered her glasses, showed me my application, pointing solemnly at the number in the blank labeled “Current Weight.” Yes, that was actually on the application. She sadly told me she could not hire me at that time because I was too heavy but would check with me from time to time to see if I had “slimmed down.”
I became acquainted with the truth that “fair” does not come into play in the job hunt. I was faced with the stark reality that education and training were more valuable than I could have imagined. I learned that “night manager” means very little in the fast-food world and that related teenagers do not work team make. As the months wore on, I began to grow weary but determined. “The Little Train That Could” played in my head along with phrases from parents and preachers such as “you never know what is just around the corner” and “take one step and God takes two.” I was taking a lot of steps. I refused to give up. I prayed nightly for favor. 1972 was coming to an end with no “good job” in sight – but I was fiercely determined to keep looking.

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