In early 1946, after duty in the Philippines, I needed a job until my freshman college semester started. I had trained and served as an anti-aircraft communications specialist, and by age 19 rose to the rank of Navy first class petty officer. I expected a job opportunity fitting to my lofty status.
When I first began looking, I always admitted to interviewers I wanted temporary work for several months. That got me nowhere, so thereafter I said with as much sincerity as I could muster that I wanted a permanent career opportunity.
Finally, I saw a newspaper ad with the magical words: potential for promotion to management. Hey, that was perfect for skilled and experienced me! When I got the call for an interview, I knew this talented Navy veteran could ace the job.
Dressed in my new civilian business suit, I went looking for the location, expecting a Wall Street high-rise. It was a warehouse in a rundown alley in the seedy part of town. When inside I saw a large, dusty space with a bunch of ragged guys milling around. Looking closer, I saw they were stuffing mattresses.
I coughed my way through the thick cotton dust to the office, and listened to the mattress factory boss make his offer. It was $35 a week to start, he explained cheerfully, but if I worked real hard, I could do better. In fact, two of his best employees had recently been promoted and were now making $45 a week as stuffed mattress inspectors. I didn’t tell him that during the final year of Navy service, I was earning $70 a week, with free meals and living quarters.
The boss explained it took real skill to stuff in all that cotton batting, poke little holes into the mattress sides and sew in metal grommets. Maybe, he said, if I applied myself for six months or a year, I could earn a promotion to inspector. Offering his hand, he hired me to start immediately.
I took off my coat and tie and pitched in. I worked very hard, and when noon arrived, I and my cotton-dust-filled lungs were grateful to get out into the fresh air for lunch. As Seinfeld would say: Not that there’s anything wrong with mattress stuffing, but I never went back. To this day, I have one regret. I lost the $2.70 in pay for that one and only morning’s cotton-stuffing work at my first job as a returning World War 2 veteran.