A baby boomer thinks back to his first real job

It’s time to remember again, fellow boomers. Some of us do it better than others. But we figure the very best is retired Evansville, Indiana columnist and still-producing-books author Garret Mathews, because that’s what he has done for a living. Garret even calls himself a “professional rememberer.” BoomerCafé has started running a series of installments of some of Garret’s remembrances which, as you’ll see, are no different than the things we remember … or wish we did. Here is Garret’s latest:

Think back your first real job. Did you have it worse than me?

Veteran newspaperman Garret Mathews.

Veteran newspaperman Garret Mathews.

February of 1972. I was paid $90 a week to be on the copy desk at the Bluefield, W., Va., Daily Telegraph. The monthly payment on my Ford Pinto was $66.22. The monthly installment on my student loan at Virginia Tech was $59.13. Weekly rent at the boarding house was $10. I wasn’t allowed visitors. I couldn’t do anything that might even remotely be considered noise.

The TV was a black-and-white unit in the main living room that only picked up one channel. I had to share the bathroom with the elderly, hard-of-hearing proprietor. Once, she barged in me while I was doing a No. 2. I tried to cover up, but my shirt was too short. “I’ve seen worse,” Miss Calfee said.

About that job. What do you remember about your first day?

The foreman of the composing room met me at the top of the stairs. Frank Durham was expecting a new hire and thought I was it. He handed me an X-Acto knife and told me to cut down the next day’s comics. Tom Colley, the managing editor, let Frank have it for trying to steal his employee.

The first headline I wrote was “Bluewell PSD (Public Service District) To Meet.”

ap_machineTom bought me a Coke in the break room. I noticed that the television set was wrapped in several pounds of heavy chains with multiple locks. He said the family that owned the paper was tired of employees trying to steal it.

On a tour of the ancient building, I was taken to the mail room and saw several marijuana plants growing in the dirt floor. The supervisor, C.R. Davis, said he encouraged pot-smoking “because it makes the guys work better.”

Later that night, Tom told me to change the ribbon on the Associated Press teletype machine. I wasn’t smart enough to turn the thing off first. The first 100 characters of the day’s Vietnam War story pounded out on my fingers.


  1. You made me laugh, I love that!

    I would have loved your first job. I did not get into the publishing field until my mid-twenties and I ate it up like candy, it was never, never work.

    At 16, my first job was as a clerk in a drugstore. All I remember was I was a pretty fast cashier but i got hit by a con artist once and only once, when he made a purchase, paid with a $20, then did this routine, I’ll give you a penny to make it even etc. I liked the job because there was a lot of variety and I like customer service. But, the petty gossip and bickering bothered me a bit.

    My funniest story is when I worked as a Temp in my mid-20s. Lots of variety, lots of unexpected situations. For example, once I was sent to substitute for the office manager of an emergency lighting supply company. He showed me how to do the inventory, make a sale, and post the checks before he left for vacation.

    Then, one day a customer called. They had a problem with their emergency lighting equipment. Well, I took down all the details and called another customer for advice and called the original customer back with the answers and I was getting paid at a receptionist rate!

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