The first job I landed after I returned to Australia following my runaway year (1987) was in the print room of a very conservative Chartered Accountants at the top end of Collins Street.
It was before there were personal computers and a printer next to every work station. It was an open plan office, with rows and rows of hip, ambitious, male (mostly), accountants on one side of the office, private booths (with doors) for the mid-level executives in the middle, and stylish, exclusively female typists on the other side. The senior executives had the offices with windows around the edges. Naturally.
Each accountant would walk their hand-written workings to their assigned typist who would tap away at lightening speed, on an IBM or Hewlett Packard computer, linked by fat network cables to a room filled with banks of giant printers in an airless, windowless room.
And that's where I lived.
My job was to collate the work as it came off the printers and redistribute it to the accountants. I also had to make sure the printers didn't jam, which they inevitably did, because they'd overheat in the airless, windowless room: the paper would buckle, the toner would melt and glob and nothing worked as it should (probably least of all me).
It was a stultifying place. The printers didn't talk to me and I was kept too busy by techno-malfunctioning to make conversation with any of the people who may or may not've been very nice in the world outside the airless and windowless room.
My most enduring memory of my time at that office was arriving one Monday on crutches, having injured my knee rather badly over the weekend. I was attempting to deliver the printing to the accountants when one of the amiable fellows said something funny to me. And I began to giggle.
With my ability to move limited to the use of crutches I had been carrying the files under my chin, so while I was laughing, I couldn't actually move anywhere, so as it was, I was somewhat stuck. And the young men, probably all bored out of their brains, found my predicament hilarious. Which compounded my embarrassment and made me laugh even more .
And at that precise moment my boss walked past.
She approached, gently relieved me of the files I was carrying and eased me towards the foyer, away from the mirthful sounds so foreign to this usually austere setting. I tried to apologise for disturbing the peace as we reached the airlock of the lobby, but I was authoritatively shushed and knew not to continue. As we stood facing one another, I waited nervously for this uptight, upright woman to speak. Perhaps she would ask what had happened to me. Possibly she would enquire if my leg was ok. I never, however, expected...
"Sophia. We don't laugh here."
Needless to say, I didn't last there. I don't think I was a good fit for them, nor them for me. I had such a happy departure. But it should also be noted that my print room office job wasn't the worst job I ever had. There have been worse. But that was the first worst. So it at least gets a crown for that.