My Very First Job at the Minneapolis Grain Exchange

Modern, comfortable, elegant and stylish chair illustration in red and orange color on white background.Today I want to tell you about my very first “real” job and the unfortunate battle that followed it. I wasn’t always a successful Sacramento REALTOR. I’m looking back at my first job because a) it’s a funny story and b) I am not that disconnected from my sellers in Sacramento, especially those who have lost a job and must do a short sale.

To buy a home, for example, most people need to work, to be employed, to qualify for a mortgage. If one is unemployed, it’s difficult to obtain credit for anything much less a loan to buy a car to transport oneself to interviews. Being unemployed is not always as much fun as people think it will be. They say things like if they weren’t working they would write a book or they would learn to play guitar. But time gets away from them. When you have all the time in the world, you have no time at all.

The year was 1971. I had been working as a secretary in the Minneapolis Grain Exchange building at Checkerboard Grain, a division of Ralston Purina. One day I came into work and looked at the woman chain-smoking across from me. Betty was in her late 30s, single, and had worked at Checkerboard since high school. I didn’t know what I wanted from life at that young age, but I knew one thing very clearly, I did not want to grow up to become a Betty. I said so, in no uncertain terms, to my boss. I asked for a transfer to the Ralston Purina plant in Denver, Colorado, to take a position with a bit more authority and chance for advancement.

Back in those days, companies would transfer employees if they liked the person enough to keep them. Today, not so much. So, I bypassed the Human Resources department at Ralston Purina in Denver and went to work as a production assistant. My department kept track of the packaging supplies, ordered new supplies when we ran low and made sure if the outside of the package offered a promotional coupon inside, that a coupon was placed inside the bag.

The ingredients that were used to make dog food and cat food in the 1970s depended on the price of grain. I don’t know if that’s how it’s done today, but back then, if the price of midds went up, the percentage of midds in cat food went down. The percentages of ingredients was listed on the packaging and needed to match the ingredients inside. This sounds like a simple task, but it was not.

I discovered that the plant was not putting the right ingredients into the right packaging. It’s my analytical mind. So, I devised a system that production managers out in the plant had to use to ensure that the right ingredients went into the right packaging. I should have been promoted to VP right then and there, but instead, I was given some kind of raise and told not to discuss my pay scale with others in the office.

The head of the Human Resources department did not like me. I didn’t like him much, either. I was the darling of the company who had slipped into employment without going through his department. He had power issues. One day, he ordered all new chairs for the office. We sat in an open room of about 60 people in rows of desks. No cubicles back then. The chairs this guy ordered were blue swivel chairs and orange swivel chairs. Remember, this was the early 1970s.

He put an orange chair at my desk. I was not an early morning person then, like I am now. I did not want to sit in an orange chair. So, I defied authority and traded chairs with another employee. A blue chair better suited my personality.

The next day when I came into work, the orange chair was back in its spot. I knew who did it. He knew I knew who did it. I switched chairs again. This little scenario went on for a few weeks. One day, I could not come into work because I had rolled my jeep down the mountainside and injured myself.

When I finally hobbled into work to pick up my paycheck, the guy from HR called me into his office. The first thing he did was threaten to take away my paycheck. I refused to hand it over to him. He began yelling obscenities. He was upset that I had taken time off work to recover and that I was getting paid for it. And like I mentioned earlier, I was not on his birthday card list.

I stared this jerk in the face and said the words that many employees at many companies in the world have probably longed to say:

If you don’t like it, you can fire me.

And he did. He fired me on the spot. Told me to go clean out my desk and turn in my keys. I did not cry, although I probably wanted to. I packed up my stuff and was about to head out the door when the HR Jerk waived at me to come back into his office. He had a second person in his office holding a note pad. He realized the pending liability, I suppose, and decided to document my departure.

He looked at me and said, Elizabeth, please tell this person to my right what you just said to me 10 minutes ago. He looked so smug.

I let my eyes tear up. My lips trembled. I raised my head to look up and said, “You said if I didn’t show up for work, injured or not, you would fire me.”


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