JOB SEARCH

From the time Sheila started working, when she was a high school sophomore, every job she ever applied for had been hers, because her father, Carl Doty, did electrical work for numerous businesses in Minneapolis. When she first wanted an after-school job, he said, “I’ll find you something. I’ve got lots of connections.” He turned on his one hundred-watt smile. Soon she was hired as a part-time elevator operator at Pfeiffer’s Department Store. It mirrored her up and mostly down moods regarding her father.

The beginning of July 1965, Sheila, aged nineteen, arrived in Long Beach with

Jim Gallagher, her sailor husband. The first Monday, after finding a place to live, she stood at the State Employment Office’s glass entrance door, studying her reflection. Dimpled prettiness back home might not pass muster in glamorous California. Running fingers through her freshly washed, curly red hair, she worried, Has it started to frizz? She’d spent a lot of time pressing her homemade aqua polyester dress, but wondered, Does the hem look uneven? It was 9 a.m. and she wanted to be the first applicant of the week. Sheila pushed open the door.

An hour later, after a grammar and typing test, she met Mr. Bosanka, the man on whom her hopes were pinned. Middle-aged, he had a shiny pate with a graying fringe, deep furrows between tired brown eyes, and several extra pounds stuffed into a worn, tan gabardine suit. As she sat in the chair next to his desk, leafing through a government pamphlet, Sheila sensed when he looked up from her scores.

“Unfortunately, Douglas Aircraft isn’t hiring,” he said.

Not knowing anything about this company, she didn’t ask. She tucked the pamphlet in her black patent purse and waited for him to go on.

“They should resume in a month or so. Meanwhile I’ll send you out on some other interviews. Your qualifications are good. Ordinarily it wouldn’t take long to find you a spot. Right now I don’t have a lot of openings…with summer vacations and all.”

“I really need a job. If I don’t find something soon, I’ll have to go back to Minneapolis. Jim and I haven’t been married that long. He’s in the Navy. Enlisted. On a ship.” She took a deep breath.

A low-ranking sailor like Jim only made enough money to support his own needs, and Sheila’s allotment check of $100 a month was going to barely cover her rent.

She watched Mr. Bosanka’s eyes move to the photograph on his desk of a woman and a trio of girls. One of them, cute with a flipped hairdo, looked like her high school friends.

His tone softened. “Don’t worry. I’ll find a job for you.” He picked a few cards from his file box, made a couple of calls, and several minutes later handed her a yellow appointment slip.

“Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. I can’t wait to go to work.”

* * *

Jim returned home early that evening, carrying a cardboard pizza box. “Ship’s going out on maneuvers tomorrow. Be gone three days.”

Dreading another absence, Sheila threw her arms around him, squishing the box against his chest.

“Whoa, girl!” He backed off. “Watch out for the Whites.”

He changed to jeans and a faded T-shirt with “Minnesota Twins” stretched across his chest, and they started eating the pizza, sitting cross-legged on the efficiency apartment’s Murphy bed that they always kept down from the wall.

“How’d the appointment go?” Even with tomato sauce dripping on his square chin, Jim looked as handsome as ever.

Instead of planting a kiss on his messy face, Sheila told him, “Mr. Bosanka’s a nice man, kind of fatherly, in a good way, but there aren’t a lot of jobs at the moment.” Her stomach clenched and she put her slice of pizza back in the box.

“It won’t take long. Remember how fast you got on at the bank?”

Being reminded of First Federal brought on a wince. “If California doesn’t pan out,” her old boss, a school buddy of her father’s, had said, “your job will be waiting.”

“I have an appointment. Maybe I’ll find something right away.”

* * *

Two anxious weeks and three unsuccessful job interviews later—one wanted accounting background, another decided to hire from within, and the last chose to eliminate their position—Mr. Bosanka sent her to an uptown law firm that was looking for a girl to assist their office manager.

Upon entering through the heavy double doors, Sheila, even though she was barely 5’3″ and weighed less than a hundred pounds, felt clumsy and out of place. In special moments Jim called her his “little doll.” This always made her feel cherished and protected. Nothing could make her feel good in this situation.

A meticulously kept desk made of polished, light-colored wood dominated the airy reception room. Behind it sat a woman, straight-backed, with platinum-blonde hair cut in a short, waved style. Tastefully applied makeup accentuated her raised eyebrows. Completing a scan of Sheila, she sniffed. “You must be,” turning to the note in front of her, “Sheila Gallagher…from State.”

Sheila gave a quick nod. Why didn’t I take more time with the hem on this dress?

“Or are you delivering something?”

“No. I’m Sheila Gallagher. I’m applying for your job.”

“Louise Hewett.” The woman slipped a long, graceful hand with bright-red fingernails across Sheila’s palm, fast, as if she didn’t want to contaminate herself. “I’m Mr. Briggs’ and Mr. Newell’s office manager.” She pointed to a wooden accent wall behind her desk with two names in shiny brass letters mounted under a royal-looking insignia. “I certainly hope this works out. We’ve been trying for months to hire someone. Here’s an application and you need to type a letter. Follow me.”

She stood and stroked her purple silk scarf before leading Sheila past a pair of offices with glass windows in their doors. Sheila peeked in one. A fellow with crinkly, near-black hair never raised his head from the paperwork in front of him.

Near the end of the hall, wide windows overlooked a courtyard garden full of unfamiliar tropical plants. Louise Hewett turned left into a small room without any windows, even in the door. It had a gray metal desk and a swivel chair, an IBM Selectric typewriter with a piece of white paper rolled into it, and a strange-looking black box. File cabinets closed in around the desk and chair.

“You can sit here. This will be my assistant’s office.” Louise Hewett handed Sheila the application. “Fill this out.”

Sheila took it, hoping the office manager didn’t notice her own chewed fingernails.

Louise Hewett opened a drawer and took out a headset. “There’s a letter on the Dictaphone, ready to go.” Apparently noticing Sheila’s dismay, she paused. “You do know how to operate a Dictaphone?”

“Oh, sure, yes, I do.”

“I’ll return in thirty minutes.” She swooshed around, brushing against Sheila’s bare arm with the smooth gray fabric of her swirling skirt, leaving a cloud of expensive-smelling perfume in her wake.

While listing pertinent information on the form, Sheila began to shiver. The air conditioner operated at full blast, and with the door shut this room felt like a walk-in freezer. Thankful that the application was brief, she placed it aside and, with shaking hands, turned to the Dictaphone.

She discovered how to hook the head apparatus up, then squished the band over her unruly hair and turned the switch on. Dead silence. How do I hear the recording? Despite the icy temperature she began to perspire, tiny drops forming on her upper lip, as if she were in the midst of a humid Minneapolis day. What time is it? Fifteen minutes left?

Rubbing damp palms on her lap, she produced two lines of gray down the front of her dress. Oh great! Fiddling around with the nasty little machine had made her fingers dirty.

With a deep breath, she tried to collect her thoughts. A cord, hooked on the box’s back, ran down a wall behind the desk. Sheila yanked at it until a pedal dislodged.

This pedal, similar to the one on her sewing machine back home, was divided in half. Tentatively she pressed the right side with the toe of her black patent sandal. Louise Hewett’s withering voice said, “Letter to Mrs. Raymond Robertson, 555 Ocean Terrace, Long Beach. Dear Mrs. Robert…”

Sheila had started typing right away and there was “Letter to” at the top of the page. Why didn’t I listen for a minute? What was she going to do for another piece of paper? Her heart pounded and her throat constricted. I can’t go ask that woman for more.

She searched every drawer of the desk and finally found a small stack. Sheila rolled one into the typewriter. Oh God, it’s crooked. She loosened the ratchet and made an adjustment. There were thumbprints on the page. The platen made a clicking sound as she yanked the smudged paper out. She’d forgotten to put tissues in her purse. Taking another sheet of paper, she proceeded to press it against her fingers, then stuffed it in back of the typewriter. I’ll get it later. Sheila jiggled one more sheet straight, rolled it into the typewriter, and restarted the Dictaphone.

“…son: This is to inform you that we have sent notification to your neighbor regarding his fence…”

She lifted her foot. The letter resumed where she had released pressure. How to backtrack? It had to be the other half of the pedal. She tapped left, then tapped right.

“…his fence…”

Not far enough.

She pushed left, a little longer.

“…cation to your…” Still not far enough. Sheila pressed her foot down a long while. I have to reach the beginning.

“…look forward to seeing…” What happened to Mrs. Robertson’s problem fence? It was another letter. She touched the right side of the pedal, gingerly.

“With warm…” tap, tap.

“…cerely,” tap, tap.

“…ney at Law.” This must be the end. Holding the forward half of the pedal down, she waited through a few quiet moments before she heard Louise Hewett breathing, followed by, “Letter to…” The start!

Sheila typed Mrs. Raymond Robertson, dropped down a line for the address, then she saw—no date. Should she put one above the name? Centered? That seemed right. She started to type July 19, 1965, and ended up with “Julu.” She searched the middle drawer. No White-out. No Correct Type. One gray, rough eraser. Working on the “u,” she pressed too hard. A hole! Why did I type the date?

Sheila tore this paper out. Clickety—clickety—clickety. She put another piece in and started over again, with a sour taste in her mouth, like she might throw up.

She got down to “Long Beach” before making another error. Dad was right! I’ll never get a job.

Next time, the mistake happened before she got through Mrs. Raymond Robertson. I’m going to have to go back to Minneapolis.

She put the last sheet of paper in and started typing the date. As she pushed the return to begin that same address, the door opened, letting in her fragrance—lemony.

Louise Hewett said, “Time’s up. Give me your work.”

Sheila looked at the crisscrossed, messed-up papers, carefully removed the last sheet from the typewriter, and handed it, with the others, to the office manager.

“Well, I never!” Louise Hewett said. “And your application?”

“It’s somewhere in there.” Sheila suddenly felt her failed deodorant. Cold, wet rings under her arms brought on a tremble.

“Very well. Come to my desk.”

Sheila followed the office manager, feeling like an errant school child.

When they got to the reception area, two men stood talking near the entrance doors—the guy with crinkly, near-black hair and another, much taller fellow with silver hair. They tipped their heads to Louise Hewett, who rolled her eyes and sat down as if gliding onto a throne.

After a minute scrutinizing each pathetic page, wearing the expression of a long-suffering martyr, she straightened the papers on her desk with a ker-plunk—ker-plunk—ker-plunk. Shaking her head like she truly never had seen such a disaster, she said, “Mrs. Gallagher, I’ll call if you should come back.”

Sheila passed the attorneys, her eyes on the tile floor, and pushed open one of the heavy doors. Outside huge raindrops hit her cheeks, and she had three miles to walk with no umbrella. More terrible than this, she had forgotten her purse in that dinky room. For a second she thought, Just forget it. She couldn’t face those awful people again. But she remembered a twenty-dollar bill tucked in the zipper compartment. Enough to buy groceries for a week. I won’t cry. She decided to go in and politely ask for her purse and then leave as fast as possible.

When she re-entered their reception area, the attorneys were laughing loudly as the office manager said, “…even in Minn – e – so – tah…”

Louise Hewett barely looked at Sheila, mumbling out her problem. Meanwhile the attorneys stared at her, seemingly in disbelief.

Returning, the office manager carried the purse between her fingers like a dead mouse being held by the tail. In the other hand she grasped the scrunched-up paper with Sheila’s streaked fingerprints.

“On second thought, Mrs. Gallagher, you are not a good fit. Forget about a call.” She raised her head to a loftier height. “Perhaps Douglas Aircraft is hiring.”

Sheila took her purse, whispered thanks, and scurried from the office.

During the soaking walk home to the apartment, her tears mixed with the rain. At last she reached the building and trudged up the steps to her door, water sloshing in her sandals.

Rent wasn’t due for over a week. Surely a job would materialize soon.

* * *

Sheila sobbed for a long time that night, lying in Jim’s arms, saying between hiccups: “What am I going to do? I don’t even know how to operate the stupid machines here in California”; then, “I’ve gotta find something—I can’t go back”; then, “I’ll die if I have another interview like that”; then, “It’ll be okay. I know it’ll be okay”; then, “Oh God. I feel sick. It’s just like my father said.”

Jim reassured her, “It’ll be all right, my little doll.” He brushed back her hair and kissed her forehead.

Next morning, before he left for the ship and another five days of maneuvers, he said, “You need to rest for a while. Why not take the day off?”

She didn’t respond with her usual, It’s time to grow up!

As awful as Sheila felt about not continuing the job search, she peered into the mirror at her blotchy skin and bloodshot eyes and tumbled back onto the Murphy bed. When she did arise, hours later, Jim was gone, and she mentally kicked herself for wasting so much time.

From the manager’s apartment, she called to make another appointment with

Mr. Bosanka. The receptionist set their fifth meeting for the next morning. Sheila cringed. What did Louise Hewett tell him after she finished laughing with Briggs and Newell?

* * *

As soon as she walked back to his desk, Sheila saw that Mr. Bosanka sat there beaming.

“You’re in luck,” he informed her. “You still haven’t given me a phone number, otherwise I’d have called. Douglas started hiring sooner than expected.”

For the rest of the week, she went through the testing, interviewing, and new employee indoctrination process. The men reminded her of Mr. Bosanka, and the women had unpolished, clipped fingernails and no scarves. After waiting in so many rooms and signing so many papers, including a security clearance that made her feel important, Sheila was told to report on Monday, August 2nd. She had a job typing change orders for the DC-10, from hard copies, not a Dictaphone, at a salary of $400 a month—quite a raise over her $315 at the bank in Minneapolis.

Jim’s ship was still out, so she couldn’t tell him. Instead she used the apartment manager’s phone once more and called her parents.

Her father said, “Big deal. You’ve got a job. Doesn’t mean a thing. You belong here at home with your mother.” It was late in the day, but his words were as forceful as ever.

Her mother, vague from vodka, said something about, “Your father’s right,” when she took her turn to speak.

Sheila cut the conversation short. She thanked the apartment manager and said, “I’ll get a phone first paycheck.” On the walk past closed doors of other apartments, on the way to her own, she repeated, “I will not…will not…will not go back to Minneapolis.”

 Published by Rio Grande Review

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