Posts Tagged ‘work’

My grandpa was so close to some of his co-workers at Time Inc., they were on a last-name basis.

Or so I gather from today’s calendar entry, which has me pondering the curious ways in which grown men interact.


January 15, 1970. The New York Rangers have a slim lead over Boston in the NHL’s Eastern Division.

This entry marks the second-to-last day of my grandfather’s 23-year employment at Time Inc.’s Springdale Labs. The following day, he packed up his desk and left forever. (He landed one final short-term job, then worked the last rat-race day of his life in mid-September.)

I am intrigued by the short list of colleagues who accompanied my grandpa to the Darien Holiday Inn for his going-away lunch.

I don’t know anything about them as people. Instead, I’m interested in my grandpa’s differing methods of presentation.

Al. D. (I cannot help but think of him as Al D. Sure!) and Charlie S. get first names, but Engel, Simonson, Sutter and Rice get last names.

Perhaps the guys with the first names were the real close friends and running buddies, and the guys (ladies?) with the last names were the boss types who were there because they were obligated to attend.

Or maybe the guys with the first names just had last names that were too complex to fit on the calendar. Al. D. might really have been Albertus Dinatatropolis, or something like that.

Whatever the possible explanation, I’m intrigued by the variation.

In my own corporate (and non-corporate) work experience, it’s been rare for me or anyone I know to refer to people generally by last name. Mostly the more convivial first name is used, or sometimes first and last to differentiate one Dave or Paul from another.

My memory of my dad’s corporate career says that his dinner-table conversations were a mix of first-and-last and just last names. I don’t, unfortunately, remember how that was classified — whether superiors got last names and peers got both names, or any such taxonomy. I suspect there was rhyme or reason, even subconscious, but I don’t know what it was.

And it appears that, left to his own devices, my grandpa was most apt to use last names alone.

Does this reflect the ongoing casualization of the American workforce over the decades? Will my kids’ generation refer to their co-workers simply using tiny electronic portraits? Emoji, even?

(Or will they hold home-based jobs that prevent them from forming any relationships at all with co-workers? Perhaps my grandkids won’t even know what co-workers are. It’s hard to have going-away lunches when you’re in Omaha and your partner is in Poughkeepsie. But I digress.)

Or, maybe this reflects a declining number of veterans in the workforce. Maybe the people who were roughly of my grandpa’s generation got used to using other peoples’ last names (rank permitting) while they were in Europe fighting World War II, and it stuck with them when they came back home. But now that every able-bodied boy isn’t enlisting, the method of address has changed.

(This is just a wild guess; it may be that those in the military address each other using altogether more creative things than their last names.)

Of course, the quirks of nomenclature go both ways. It would be interesting to know what Al, Charlie, Engel, Rice, Simonson and Sutter wrote on their own calendars.

Was it Bill’s Going-Away Lunch? Blumenau’s Going-Away Lunch?

The answers, alas, are under 46 years of dirty diapers in whatever landfill Stamford employed to stash its trash. My research capabilities do not extend quite that far.

And it does not matter to my grandfather, who has, in more ways than one, gone away.


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If you’re new here, I wrote a much better end-of-the-year blog post two years ago. Consider checking it out while you’re here.

I’ll be striking the tent here on Hope Street in about four months, and it felt appropriate to devote the last end-of-year post here to a calendar entry with a palpable if mysterious feeling of mourning.

(This particular entry also marked its 45-year anniversary a couple of months ago, which is as good a reason as any other to write about it now.)

October 17, 1969.

October 17, 1969. The Mets have been champions of the baseball world for about 24 hours.

Not too many of my grandfather’s calendar entries got a funereal black outline.

The entry of November 22, 1963, for instance, got only a partial outline. And that one appears to have been drawn more to compartmentalize the calendar day than to express mourning.

I assume that the outline drawn around Friday, October 17, 1969, was put there as a comment on the events of the day, and not merely as decoration. (It appears to have started out blue and been overdrawn with black.)

Something noteworthy clearly took place that day, since my grandparents phoned both of their children. In those days, you didn’t make long-distance calls just for the sheer hell of it, or at least my family didn’t.

The family tree doesn’t show any deaths that day, or surrounding days, in the immediate family.

And, while I didn’t take pictures of the surrounding calendar, I don’t remember any funerals being mentioned. (I probably would have taken pictures of follow-up events, had any been listed.)

So what the hell happened?

My dad doesn’t know, and he doesn’t specifically remember the phone conversation of October 17, 1969. But he has an interesting theory:

My grandpa worked his last day at Time-Life in Stamford in early January 1970. My dad theorizes that my grandpa was given notice on October 17, 1969, that his job would be eliminated in a few months. (In those days, companies would have been decent enough to keep their people employed through the December holidays.)

My grandpa’s draftsman job at Time-Life was not his first job. Nor would it be his last: He briefly hooked on with a firm in Norwalk for roughly the course of the 1970 baseball season, working his last day on Sept. 16.

But he held the Time-Life gig for 23 years — during which his kids grew up and he moved comfortably into the middle class and middle age. That was the job that defined him, and by which he defined himself; and I’m sure he would gladly have held it until he was 65, if circumstances had run that way.

That job was also the family’s sole means of support during those important and eventful years, unless you count the money my great-grandma made teaching piano lessons. (Maybe she got Social Security as well, I don’t know. But if she did, it didn’t pay too many of the bills.)

It is kind of touching, and not at all unbelievable, to think that my grandpa would have mourned the pending loss of his job. For the self-esteem, for the money, for the sense of purpose.

It might be a little far-fetched to imagine someone as undemonstrative and phlegmatic as he was making a public show of the bad news. But I’m sure he felt that way about it.

And that feeling might have resonated strongly enough to find physical form in a ragged black outline on his calendar.

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The summer of 1970 is waning into dust. Labor Day has passed; the kids are back at school; and three of the four pennant races are essentially over.

And in Norwalk, Connecticut, a work career that began in the Calvin Coolidge administration has reached its last day.

September 16, 1970.

September 16, 1970.

I’ve traced my grandpa’s employment history pretty thoroughly in this space. Heck, I’ve even posted the resume he prepared for himself in late 1970, when he still thought he was going to land another job.

(That resume only takes his work history back to 1931. But in this sound clip from another post, he reminiscences about being laid off in 1929 — when he was 19 — and not going back to work full-time until 1931. So he was in the workplace at some point in the late 1920s, before the Great Depression.)

Another, less severe economic slump ended his working days for good more than 40 years later.

As his resume details, he was let go by Time-Life early in 1970 when they cut back their Springdale, Conn., operations.

In April, he landed a  job with John McAdams and Sons in Norwalk, doing what he called “automatic graphic arts machinery design drafting.”

I went to Google to see what I could find out about my grandpa’s final employer. There wasn’t much. In fact, several of the top matches for John McAdams and Sons are previous Hope Street entries.

Apparently the company made printing equipment, and was still in business as recently as 1984. State business records describe the company as “forfeited,” leading me to believe it’s no longer around.

One of the family partners, George McAdams, left the company around the same time my grandpa did. He moved to Long Island in his retirement and lived to be almost 105.

But back to our regularly scheduled timeline:

In September 1970, when business slowed down, my grandpa was laid off again. He was unsuccessful in finding work throughout late 1970 and early 1971, despite turning to the local unemployment office for help. And a heart attack he suffered in May 1971 ended his job-searching — and working — days for good.

(My dad has told me he thought the McAdams job was never supposed to be permanent. That may be, but my grandpa’s resume suggests he expected it to last longer than it did.)

This calendar entry, then, marks the last day my grandpa would ever work.

I wonder if he did anything to celebrate, or if he was too on edge about being laid off to feel much of any happiness.

I wonder whether his final co-workers remembered him for very long, or whether he faded into obscurity after six months: That desk over there? That was where what’s-his-name sat. Bill something. The skinny old guy. He was only here for a couple months. Nice enough guy.

And I wonder when and where my last day of work will be. I wonder whether it will surprise me, or whether I’ll have the luxury of planning it in advance. Maybe I won’t be able to afford to retire, but will do something menial until I’m too blind or stooped to carry on.

Or perhaps my last day of work will coincide with my last day of life, as it does for some people.

Kurt something. Wrote about his family a lot. Nice enough guy.

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