Maybe I’m Amazed by
(303 Stories)

Prompted By My First Paycheck

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My first paycheck came from the most amazing summer job ever!

The summer before college I had a job that changed my entire life. If only it had changed the nation's history as well.

I had done a little babysitting during high school, and made a few dollars here and there, but I don’t count that as a paycheck. My first real job, where I got paid every week, was in the summer of 1968, right after I graduated from high school. My older sister and her husband were living in Washington D.C. while she went to law school and he worked on Capitol Hill. I wanted to spend the summer with them, so they found me a job . . . with the McCarthy for President National Campaign Staff. It was the most amazing summer of my life! I earned the princely sum of $25 per week (it actually represented the $5 per diem they paid to all their campaign staffers), and since I had no living expenses, I got to pocket all of it. And I got to work for the most amazing, smart, literate, interesting man, who was going to be the next President of the United States!

I have very little memory of what I actually did most of the time. A lot of it was research on people who were delegates to the convention, so that when the Senator met them, he could say “and how are your lovely daughters?” or whatever was applicable. There were various other jobs too, but I can no longer recall most of it. I do remember there was an enormous switchboard, with all these wires that got plugged into different holes, and looked sort of like this:


Another girl named Audrey usually handled the switchboard, but sometimes I would get to do it when she went to lunch or needed a break. It was so much fun, learning which wires went where depending on who the caller was trying to reach. We were supposed to answer the phone by saying “McCarthy for President” but after a while we started saying “McCarthy will be President” instead.

At the end of the summer, three other girls and I drove out to Chicago for the Democratic Convention. We were there for a week before the convention, getting things set up in the Amphitheatre where the convention was going to be held, and the week of the convention itself in McCarthy Headquarters at the Hilton Hotel, because we were no longer allowed in the Amphitheatre once the convention started. My experiences in those two weeks would make another (very long) story, because of course by that time it was much, much more than a job.Β To say that my summer job changed my entire life would not be an overstatement. And to think that the whole time I was getting a paycheck ofΒ $25 every week.

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Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. John Zussman says:

    Wow. I envy you, working for your dream candidate while I spent that summer toiling in my uncle’s furniture warehouse. (Although I did make more than $25 a week.) I started the summer as an establishment Democrat, but still recall my sadness when McCarthy lost the nomination. I look forward to hearing your stories from that legendary convention.

  2. A great story from a unique POV, Suzy! Such a polarized time, with similarities β€” and differences! β€” between the Humphrey/McCarthy days and what’s going on today with Clinton and Sanders. In my novel, Gates of Eden, several of my characters get an audience with Humphrey at the convention and get caught up in the maelstrom of the attack on McCarthy headquarters, after “Clean with Gene” turned his hotel rooms into an emergency clinic serving the battered demonstrators outside. Wow, what a time. Thanks!

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    How amazing to have a first-hand view of history and be right in the thick of things, Suzy! I have no doubt that those events did set you on your path for the rest of your life. Thrilling!

  4. John Shutkin says:

    A great story, Suzy, particularly since, while that time certainly marked the naissance for many of us of our political awareness and activity, very few of us actually got a paying job out of it. And, of course, the fact that it was for Gene McCarthy — the absolute icon for those times — makes it even more perfect.

    Granted, most of the tasks were menial, as one would expect of any first job, but I am sure that your mastery of switchboard operations has served you well ever since.

    Incidentally, would “Summer in the City” work as a post hoc title of your story?

    • Suzy says:

      I wouldn’t say any of my tasks were menial. Delegate research was very important, and harder to do in those pre-internet days. The switchboard was the one task that might be described as menial, but it was so much fun! I was disappointed to discover that this skill became obsolete in a short time after I learned it.

      Summer in the City would definitely work – I was tempted to make the change, but then thought there might be another prompt in the future where I could use it. Great song, by one of my favorite groups!

      • John Shutkin says:

        Very fair point about “menial” tasks. That’s the sort of ignorant comment made by someone who doesn’t know what is important. And it is indeed disappointing that even Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine couldn’t keep the switchboard alive.

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