The year was 1955. I had just graduated from Far Rockaway High School and would be attending Brooklyn College in the fall.
I was hired as a secretary for an insurance company on Jamaica Avenue in Queens. It was a two-month summer-replacement position.
I thought my secretarial skills were adequate: shorthand, 120 words per minute, and typing on a Royal typewriter, 70 words per minute with 95 percent accuracy.
I knew the difference between pica type and elite type, and never to begin a business letter with the words, “Let me make this perfectly clear.”
My high school business teacher, Florence Bressler, gave me some good advice:
- Two-thirds of “secretary” is “secret.”
- Never end a business telephone call with “ta ta for now.”
- A secretary’s pad is to write in — not spend the night in.
- For problems with the postage machine, call Pitney Bowes.
- One typo can mean the difference between “hired” and “fired.”
- In business communication, “KISS” means “Keep It So Short, Keep It So Simple.”
- Office gossip is like a grapefruit . . . it has to be juicy to be good.
- A “SIG MAC” is a signature machine.
- If the boss asks you to get his broker on the phone, don’t ask, “Stock or pawn?”
- The only person who ever got his work done by Friday was Robinson Crusoe.
- Don’t ever get sick the day before a company audit.
- And so, I arrived in the office on Day One. Everything went beautifully. I took dictation, transcribed letters, filled in some form letters and typed invoices.
- I knew to leave three or four inches of “breathing space” in each file drawer. There were a few young men who could possibly brighten up the dating scene. This was long before internet dating sites like JDate, Chai Expectations, Chemistry.com, and lectures titled, “Have I Got A Guy for You — What Really Happens When Mom Fixes You Up.”
- The other secretaries invited me out to lunch. I joined them despite the advice of Mrs. Bressler: “Eat lunch at your desk. Open a file or report to give the impression that you are staying in to work.”
- At 5 p.m., just as I was about to leave, the office manager handed me a packet of material and said, “Marjorie, would you put this in the circular file?”
- I walked all around the office looking for a round file. I was terribly confused. The office staff began to laugh.
- I knew what a “rubber finger” was (an office tool to help turn pages quickly) but no one had taught me that the “circular file” was the garbage can.
- Oh, I had so much to learn!
- Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe