My first job was with the Internal Revenue Service.
By the time I was a junior in high school, I’d shelved any aspirations I had about playing basketball (about halfway through my freshman season, the coach converted me from benchwarmer to team statistician). So when cross-country season ended around Halloween, I started casting about for something to do. Right around then, an announcement came to the school that the IRS was looking for high schoolers to work at their local storage facility. (Back in the day, Cincinnati was one of the cities to which federal tax returns were sent. My recollection is that it wasn’t residents of Ohio or Kentucky who sent them there, though—I’m pretty sure we always mailed ours to Kansas City.) I was 16 and more than ready to get some spending money. I let the guidance counselor know about my interest; it turns out I was one of several folks to do so. After submitting an application and waiting a little longer than I thought reasonable to hear back, I received word at last that I had been hired.
One day after school late that fall, my father dropped me off at a warehouse on Industrial Road in Florence. There were at least a dozen young folks there, a few of whom like me came from W-V. We filled out more paperwork, got the little bit of training we needed, and were put to work. It was pretty menial stuff—our job was to re-file returns that had been pulled (for audits?). We’d be given a pile of returns and sent off to navigate the rows upon rows where they were housed. I honestly don’t remember now how it all was organized, but I’m kinda thinking that each return had a number assigned to it (now that I think of it, SSN would have been a natural choice), so you just had to find the box/folder where it belonged. I’m sure we were closely monitored in the first days to make certain we understood the system and weren’t putting anything in the wrong spot. Despite it not being that challenging, the need to pay attention to details was appealing enough and something I handled reasonably well.
Our shifts were only five hours or so, and included a short break for us to eat whatever we’d brought with us for dinner. Ideally I’d have gotten about twenty hours in each week, but I had trouble gaining traction. Before the holidays, they told us pretty often not to come in due to lack of things to do (I think they were pretty forgiving if you begged off because of school work, too). Hours became more regular once the calendar switched over to 81; however, I turned in my badge toward the end of February—it was time for track practice to start. I had made a little dinero (and wouldn’t have minded earning more), but between the delay in getting started and the overall lack of hours, it felt like a missed opportunity.
It’s also strange to think back on it, given how much things have changed since then. I’m sure we were trained on confidentiality and all that rot, but you’ve got to think we wouldn’t have been allowed to take smartphones with us into the workspace had such things existed. And with such a high percentage of returns filed electronically nowadays (as well as the ability to scan paper returns), there’s no need for the warehouses, I suppose.
The radio in the break room was usually tuned to one of the local Top 40 stations. Not surprisingly, there are a few hits of the day that make me think of working in that warehouse: among others, songs by REO Speedwagon, Rod Stewart, Dan Fogelberg, and Donnie Iris. Q102 didn’t play “Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime,” (at least it didn’t chart for them, according to the sheets I have), but it was one of my very favorites at the time I had this job. The Korgis, an Aussie group, just had this one U.S. hit, but it’s amazingly good. They’re at #21 on this show, close to their peak of #18.