West Side Stories | Essay | Chicago Reader

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West Side Stories



When I was 15 years old my Aunt Anna said that I could come down to the bookbindery where she was a forelady and she'd give me a job at $15 a week. So I went down there, and there was my aunt running the whole show in the bindery. She would sit up on a big high platform, and she'd be doing numbering of pages. She'd be clicking her foot as she numbered these pages--she pushed the pedal that made the numbers on the pages of the book.

They were doing a book for the Red Cross on swimming, swimming instructions. It had all these small pages, and I walked around a big table and collected the pages one at a time. What do they call it now? Collating. Well, I walked around this big table and did that all day, putting these books together.

After about two weeks the job petered out, and she didn't need me anymore. So then Mrs. Derrick, Loretta's mother, worked for Paris Garter--something like that--and she said, "Well, I can get you a job there."

So I went to Paris Garter, and I was supposed to braid belts. It was piecework. But I was so slow at it that I couldn't make any money. So they decided that instead of my doing that, I would put four pieces of leather together--two white and two black--and tie them with rubber bands, so that when the girls got them they would put them in a clamp and they would braid them. So I was paid $15 a week for putting the rubber band around--$15 a week. That was like basic pay.

This was a big factory with everybody at benches. They were telling dirty jokes all the time. I didn't know what it meant, but at least I knew it wasn't the kind of talk I was used to. So I was kind of uncomfortable there, and every night I'd come home and tell my father I didn't really like being there.

One night I went home, and pa said he had a job for me at Sears Roebuck. I'd put in an application. They had called, and he'd answered the phone. So the way he looked at it, he'd gotten me the job.

I was never so happy to go anywhere, to get away from that job.

My father said, "Twelve dollars a week. You can start Monday."

I said, "Twelve dollars? I make 15."

My mother said, "But you don't have to spend the carfare." The streetcar was seven cents each way. "And besides that, we'll get the 20 percent discount at Sears."

The day I started, the discount went down to 10 percent.

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