Manpower by
(34 Stories)

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When I was fourteen, my parents gave their middle-aged distant cousins their approval for me to work for them for a day.  Barbara and Joe worked for the temporary employment agency Manpower, and had a contract to do inventory for a chain of drugstores. They had one last store to do and hadn’t been able to hire anybody. I hadn’t met them before they came to the house to pick me up for the 45 minute drive outside of town, past smaller towns, past roaming cattle, past Loon Lake..out there.

Why exactly did we need the hats?

I was handed a calculator that was the size of one of my current tote bags.*  The job was to add up the value of everything in the store. I started on the aisle with bottles of aspirin, moving on to the lotion and hairbrushes, adding up the value of the inventory shelf by shelf. Being the reliable adult, it was Barbara’s job to add up the shelf totals at the end of the day. Why they needed a third person to come up with the grand totals of merchandise in this tiny store I don’t know.

During this entire process we had to wear hats. These were the official Manpower uniform hats — trucker style caps with Manpower across the front in big letters. What, to distinguish us from the many customers in this establishment? To help the owner monitor us and be sure we weren’t stealing? My cousins were my bosses for the day, and I was pretty respectful of authority at that age, so on went this uncomfortable and unattractive hat.

Now, this next part has nothing to do with the paycheck. It was during the drive home I got the psychic gut punch. As we drove past the lake, Barbara wistfully gazed out the window and declared “Loon Lake doesn’t give up her dead. We have a friend at the bottom of the lake.”  Pause. Long, long pause.

This was before our generation sang along with Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” and I had never heard such a thing in my life. They should be totally unconnected, but every time I think of my first paycheck I’ll think about Loon Lake and that long and thoughtful drive home.


*Let’s take a moment to doff our hats..and thank the inventors of the computer, the spreadsheet, the bar code and scanner system.

Profile photo of Susan Susan

Characterizations: well written


  1. John Zussman says:

    Great memory … with such a macabre twist at the end. No clue about the hat, but if you hadn’t worn it, you wouldn’t be able to doff it.

  2. Ha! Isn’t it amazing what things young people remember? I bet your aunt would be amazed to know that, of that whole work experience, the things you recall most vividly are the silly hats and the comment about the lake on the drive home.

    Your kicker line: “Why exactly did we need the hats?” was great — really got my attention. In answer, I can only suggest that Manpower wanted the extra advertising.

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