News Column

First Day on the Job: Stories From the Trenches

November 18, 2013

Mark LaFlamme, Sun Journal

The first day on a new job is never what you think it's going to be. So relax. (file photo)

Let me start you off with a little story of my own.

The year was 1980-something. I had been hired by a kitchen and bathroom outfit to sell countertops and cabinets. You know how this works. A homeowner or contractor walks into the showroom and you ask how you can help them. You go over the floor plans, take a look at different styles and, hopefully, end up selling that person a kitchen worth thousands of dollars. Easy. And kind of high-falutin' for me, considering my last job was as a gas attendant.

On my first day there, nobody told me how or where to begin. They essentially said "welcome aboard" and set me off on my own. I roamed the showroom, sitting in bathtubs, crawling inside cabinets and sticking metal in the display microwave ovens just to see what happens. You know -- all that stuff that makes a good first impression.

Nothing happened. The other sales reps were busy drawing up plans or talking on the phone. There were no new customers and nothing to do. Bored out of my mind, I wandered up to the workshop behind the showroom. There, I found a bunch of guys cutting countertops with giant saws. They were belt-sanding Formica and doing all sorts of cool stuff with drills. Manly stuff. I introduced myself, offered to help and jumped right in. It was great fun. Later, we got to unload a truck.

The next day I went back to the shop. And the next day and the day after that. The matter of my sales job was never discussed. For three years or so, I was a shop guy, never selling a single cabinet, never drawing up a single set of plans.

My point? Don't have one. First days on a new job are strange and unpredictable. You think you know what you're going into, but you don't. Any workplace is made up of human beings, and human beings are supremely fallible. There are egos to contend with. There are insecurities, frustrations and expectations that rise as high as the moon. The chances of your first day going off without a hitch are slim indeed.

Which is fortunate for us, because we were able to compile a decent list of first-day workplace experiences that might make you thankful that you called in sick for your first day.

We also include a few experiences from Sun Journal employees, past and present. Come to find out there was a bit of a hazing ritual here at the paper. Who knew? Not me.

Enjoy the stories. Please remember to punch out at the end of the day and we'll see you in the morning.


Shoes from a stranger

Angie Goding, Lewiston

It was 1995 and I was 16 years old (barely). My parents drove me to McDonald's to work my first shift and returned home. Unfortunately, I choose to wear open-toe shoes (sandals) and was told by my manager that I could not work until I had proper shoes. Stuck, with no way home and a broken ego, I decided to walk across the street to the Goodwill Store. I had no cash on me, but found a pair of shoes for a dollar so I asked a stranger for help. The stranger gave me a dollar; I purchased the shoes and returned to work. I bet my manager was pleased with my determination . . . at least I like to think so.

Bloody good first impression

Amber Lewis, Rumford

I went from being a manager at a McDonald's to working in our community's paper mill here in Jay, Maine. I was at my mom's house visiting when I got the phone call asking if I was still interested at working at Verso Paper. Of course I said "yes." . . . The night before (my first day) we had a big dinner at my mom's house with my sister and brother there. Helping take care of dinner, I sliced my hand on a can lid. Smart one Amber. The night before I walk into a place that practices safety like its a religion and I slice my hand.

Walking into work the next morning, I had to shake the hands of management. As they congratulated us, I had to explain to each and every one of them that I cut my hand, and I had to awkwardly shake their hand with my left. Luckily, my hand healed rather quick, and the first few days I was just in training. Almost three years later, I'm still at Verso Paper and I enjoy my job.

First day's a gas

Claudette Therriault, Sabattus

It happened in June, 1976. It was my first night of training as the new night switchboard operator at the Sun-Journal. We heard a siren and, suddenly, a fire truck arrived in front of the building close to where my car was parked on Park Street. I thought it would be a good idea to move my car out of the way and, as I looked out the window, I realized that my car was the problem. I had a rather large gas leak and gas from my tank was pouring down Park Street.

One spill, she had her fill

Jo-Anne Teacutter, Greene

When I was 17 I lied about my age (had to be 18 to serve alcohol) to work as a cocktail waitress in one of those honky-tonk bars with good ol' boys with cowboy hats who smack your ass as you walk by.

Everything was going smoothly until the band showed up. I didn't notice their cables and tripped over them. A tray full of drinks went flying. I ran out and never went back.

Floundering in soles

Lauren Zito, formerly of Auburn

I worked for ONE WEEKEND at (a retail store) when it was still in downtown Portland. . . . I had previously worked in a popular, well-run and well-established shoe store in the mall. I was going to college at the time and needed another job. So I took the job at shoe sales at (the store) downtown. It was not a bad job, a little crazy and my first day was a Saturday so the place was jumping. The storeroom was a bit chaotic but not impossible. Then I got a request for a certain size Converse All Star sneaker. OK, sure, I'll go get it. I was told the storage area for the Converse All Stars was farther down in the basement. Upon reaching the basement, which was a rather large room, I was floored with what I saw. Literally, a sea of sneakers, all loose and out of their boxes -- knee to hip deep in some areas, covering the entire room. A few other sales people could be seen swimming around the ocean of sneakers looking for a match for the size they were looking for. The place looked like one of those oversized ball rooms that little kids like to play in, only it was filled with sneakers and poor, exhausted-looking sales clerks. I was flabbergasted. How can a business be run this way? I took about 15 to 20 minutes wading around the small lake of sneakers before finding the pair that I needed. I don't remember if the customer hung around or not. I know I finished my shift, but never came back. Looking back, I can only imagine what inventory days were like. IF they ever did inventory. Twenty-five years later, as a filmmaker, it pops into my mind often, wondering if I could recreate that scene. If it could be even possible. I think though, I'd have to start a Kickstarter campaign -- not asking for money but for sneaker donations.

Right time, wrong place

Mike Stevens

I worked for an hour at one restaurant before learning I wasn't hired. I was actually hired by the one down the road, who failed to see the humor in the situation when I showed up an hour late. I was 16 and even though I was half asleep when they called to hire me, I'm pretty sure they didn't say the company name when they called.

Co-workers charged up by draining experience

Beryle Martin, Auburn

I didn't really have a bad first day at work -- so to speak. It happened AFTER the workday was done.

I left work at 5:00 after what seemed like a decent day. Car wouldn't start. It had been foggy when I drove in at 8 a.m. and my car had been sitting in the parking lot all day with the lights on (or at least until the battery died). Of course, this was back in the day before our headlights automatically turned off.

I knew NO ONE except the two women I was directly working with and they had left the same time I did. There were no cell phones back then either.

Fortunately, a nice guy had heard me trying to turn over the dead battery and offered to help. He also had jumper cables in his truck -- and I was up and running again in no time.

Yes, you can bet the next day everyone in the office knew who I was! Embarrassing.

Bad trips all around, man

Dana Field, Lewiston

I was working for a local cab company. . . . The first call I got was to the Cumberland Farms in Livermore Falls. I picked up three 20-somethings. They were driving to Rumford from Augusta and the driver got pulled over, arrested for heroin, and his truck was impounded. They needed to get home. Two were really high and passed out shortly after we got on the road. The female was high, but friendly. I ended up driving one to Augusta, one to Sidney and the female to China. I had to wait a half-hour in a trailer park while she tried to wake up someone in her trailer so they could pay me. That was my very first solo call. I didn't last long doing that job.

Plenty of time to grow into the job

Stephen Russ, Hallowell

I got a call confirming I was hired for a position I negotiated for for eight months. "Could I start tomorrow" should have been the first sign of trouble. I didn't start the next day, a Friday. Started the following Monday. Went into the office, sat down with my boss, who promptly said, "This is only going to take 10 percent of your time. We're going to have to get creative." I KNEW I should have walked out then. Stayed five years.

Nailed after not being careful

John Frechette, Lewiston

I was 18 and it was my first day working for (a construction company). . . . I was putting up strapping in the garage with a Bosche nail gun. I was standing on a sawhorse banging away, and when I want to step down my middle finger was stuck on top of the strapping. I called the nearest guy over to take the nail gun from me so I could investigate. I proceeded to the top of the sawhorse and saw a 16-penny (nail) holding me tight in place. I had to use my left hand to pull my finger free. Good times. I didn't get fired, but the (company) never paid the (medical) bill. It was a house on Hartley Street in Lewiston we were building. They say it's haunted.

On the outs with the inn

Debbie Grenier, Lewiston

Many years ago, I lived in Saco. I was looking for a part-time job and found one (at an Old Orchard Beach inn).

My first and last day were one and the same. I went into work to "learn" the proper way to cut up veggie's for the salads. The moment that I got to work, a young man began to show me the proper way to cut a green pepper. While doing so, he came up behind me to guide my hand and while doing so, he rubbed his manly part up against me. I was pretty mortified. It would have been OK if he was good looking (hahaha, kidding). He even asked me to go party with him after work. He continued to brush up against me in any way that he could for the next 45 minutes until the (inn's owners) came in screaming at each other. They were swearing at the top of their lungs, degrading each other and the staff. I threw my knife down, threw my apron at the idiot who had been hitting on me and hollered that I quit!

That was the worst one hour of my first and last day . . .

Full disclosure: First-day tales from the Sun Journal

Found: Actual 'paper stretcher'. So there!

Alice Bisson-Barnes, formerly of Lewiston

My first day on a payroll job was back in the early '60s when I joined Roger Forgues in the Journal mailroom. That is the department that prepares the printed paper for distribution to the carriers. The tradition was to send the new kid up to the executive offices for the "paper stretcher."

Yes, I FELL for it and went up to ask the (owners') secretaries for the "paper stretcher" that they apparently had borrowed from the mail room. The moment the words slipped past my lips, my knees began to melt with embarrassment in front of the lovely ladies.

Guess what? Years later I found a real "paper stretcher" at a yard sale out here in California. You guys want to know how it worked?

The keys to a smooth start

Erin Cox, reporter, West Peru

I interviewed a magician at a hardware store. I managed to lock my keys in the car and the magician got them out of the center console with a piece of wood and wire. Later that month I locked my keys in the car while I was covering an automobile accident and later had two fireman help get my keys out of the car.

As a rookie I learned to carry an extra set in my jacket at all times. And I learned that when in need, sometimes a magician can be just as helpful as a fireman.

The cold and the dammed

Amber Waterman, photographer, Lewiston

I don't remember if it was my first day or a just a few days into my job here, but they sent me out to photograph an ice dam on a river nearby since there was flooding up north from ice dams. Coming from Iowa, I had no idea what that was and no one thought to explain it to me. I photographed an ice formation on the Little Androscoggin River, only realizing a few years later what an ice dam really was! And it was not what I had photographed!

Also, within a year of living here, I was giving native Mainers directions around town and even the state. They didn't know their home state as well as an implant! I blame it on all the driving I do for work.

Death, he wrote. Not.

Terry Karkos, reporter, Rumford

I was fresh out of college with a bachelor's degree in photojournalism from Northern Arizona University and I applied to work at the SJ and was interviewed by Russ Dillingham, who told me there were no photojournalism jobs available. . . Then he asked if I knew how to write obituaries. I'd worked for Associated Press out of Phoenix and two colleges as a sports photographer and spent four years getting my degree and photographing professional sports athletes, and at no time was I ever trained in writing obits . . . so, of course, I hadn't a clue. . . . Seventeen years and many, many non-degree-related jobs later and freelancing to the SJ and other newspapers, however, the SJ did hire me. And by then, thanks to my genealogy research hobby, I knew how to write obituaries for the newspaper.

Broken in on pressroom pranks

Russ Dillingham, photographer, Lewiston

The first day I worked in the pressroom during my summer break from college, back in the mid-'80s, I got thwacked by "Peanut," one of the veteran pressmen, with a rag. We used a lot of them to clean the press, and if you rolled them up tight, it worked like a whip. You probably did it as a kid with a beach towel. Anyway, I had plenty of experience doing just this in the past, so I was an "expert." After having some fun with the guys, I noticed a long string hanging down from a 6-foot double fluorescent light fixture. Attached to the bottom of the string was a large metal washer. I snapped at it with my cleaning rag and hit it solid. Solid enough to send it flying up into the lights, shattering both. The sound was like a shotgun going off and I jumped a mile in the air. I can't tell you what a mess it was.

Shortly after I finished cleaning the debris, they sent me to the third floor to ask the maintenance man for the "paper stretcher." The joke was on me for sure. That was my first day initiation. The rest of the summer was filled with plenty more hijinks.


(c)2013 Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine)

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Original headline: First day on the job

Source: (c)2013 Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine)

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