Robert Carstensen Word count: 71,967
1387 Canal Road 1997 Robert Carstensen
Princeton, NJ 08540-8633
THE REAL RESUME
"So, are you going to use your real resume?"
"Nah, I'd have to have it bound."
I am writing this book, my resume as it really is, at the time of my fourth layoff from work. This the fourth time that I have been let go from my job for some other reason than how well I was doing. You know, I'm tired of other people dictating my time and then telling me when it's up. Now, I'm sure there will be lots of people saying, "Hell, I've been laid off seven times from my job, you don't see me writing a damn fool book about my life". That's true, and that's why I have a book and they don't.
In each case, I was actually doing a job that should have gotten me promoted instead of searching for another. The third time I was laid off though, that was tragic, yes it was. That one really hurt but now at the fourth layoff... it's gotten ridiculous, it's absurd. Now it's funny. I just wanted a job out of all of this and it turns out I'm a character.
And now I'm free... free from worrying if I'll ever get a decent job that I like and can depend upon and have a career that will support what I've wanted for the future such as a wife, and kids, and a house and the ability to pay for their college, and weddings. And a few vacations to enjoy with them. And to care for my parents who are getting on in years because I'm the oldest son and I'm expected to and... now I'm free of that.
I know not to even have those kinds of expectations for my future. What at first seemed like a catastrophic, irrecoverable blow has now become a usual, even expected turn in my life and my income. So it's back to the old drawing board to cook up a new and improved resume that's going to have to be a little bolder, a little less like the truth and on one page if possible. I might as well mail them a slice of Swiss cheese.
A resume should only be one page, two at most. "Use your judgment", the experts say. You don't want to be disqualified because you gave them too much to read, causing them to lose interest and... and this is a big and... you also don't want to show them too much of your hand and give them more reasons to reject you, to screen you out. This is after all the first step of the elimination process. Your goal: don't get screened out!
What you want to do is to tailor yourself, I mean your resume, to the specific job requirements they have listed for the position. With computers and word processors readily available, you can emphasize just what about yourself they would want and pay you for, while forgetting to mention those things that would be a blemish to your distinguished one page profile.
With the proliferation of fonts packages and the dizzying array of colors and styles of paper to choose from, the puffery has reached to new heights of ridiculousness. Job seekers have been pushed to these limits by the need to compete in a dog-eat-dog buyer's market, and because the advent of desktop publishing and graphics has upped the ante for what is an acceptable presentation. Many talented people get passed over everyday showing their credentials in plain old Times New Roman on white paper.
My thinking about using too many different fonts and colors is that it looks like you're trying to create a circus, and they're soon going to find out you have nothing much under the tent. Yes, you can be anybody you want to be on your resume but it should resemble you some, at least enough for them to recognize you. You will, of course, have to do the job once you get hired.
* Marina Boy 11/74 - 7/79
Slayton's Marina (age 10 to 14)
Five docks, one trailer ramp into the water, a gas pump, bait, candy, cigarettes,
suntan lotion and winter storage of boats on Kettle Creek.
* Paper Boy 1976 - 1978
Toms River Reporter (age 12 to14)
110 newspapers delivered per week come hell or high water. Bought a shiny,
* Farm Hand 1976 - 1982
Family Farm of Five Acres (age 12 to18)
70 turkeys, 30 chickens, 6 pigs, 4 rabbits, 3 geese, a goat and 1.5 acres planted
with corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, potatoes and carrots.
Change of residence
College Prep 9/79 - 6/82
Toms River H.S. North & Jackson H.S. (age 14 to 18)
Track, Cross Country, Wrestling
Band, Drafting, Drawing, Reading, Painting
* Platoon Commander
* Chief Master-at-Arms
* Squad Leader 1978 - 1982
US Naval Sea Cadet Corps (age 14 to 18)
Boot Camp, USNTC Great Lakes, IL - 2 weeks.
Ship Tour, USS Fairfax County, Norfolk to W. Palm Beach - 2 weeks.
To be a midshipman at Annapolis, graduate with distinction and become a naval
* Dishwasher 8/80
Jay's Place Family Restaurant (age 16)
Washed, scrubbed, swept, mopped, vacuumed and polished.
* Cashier 9/80 - 11/82
Great Adventure Amusement Park (age 16 to 18)
Made fudge in a candy store. Sold cheap crap merchandise for too much.
Knee ligament surgery - 10/80 (age 16). Annapolis and NROTC rejected my
candidacy and four year schools were too expensive, not enough financial aid.
Young Peoples' Concert Series
4th Trumpet 2/82 - 3/82
Garden State Philharmonic Orchestra (age 17)
Graduated from high school 6/82
AP English and Physics (age 17)
Engineering major 9/82 - 12/82
Ocean County College (age 18)
Two guys from high school were in my Physics class and we sat together. One of them committed suicide with a shot in the head the next semester and there wasn't
a reason I could see, or knew about, for him to do this. There must be a lot about
Tom I didn't know. How much do you really know about anyone or anything?
Change of residence
Engineering major 1/83 - 5/83
Mercer County Community College (age 18)
Life was a party, and I went to school too. Engineering wasn't for me, I didn't
love my calculator.
* Bank Teller 2/83 - 6/83
Anchor Savings and Loan (age 18)
Hey, I can do this and you can make a comfortable living at it and you have
respect in the community (oh times they have a-changed). The booming 80's
were underway. Changed my major to Business Administration.
Change of residence
* New Accounts Representative
* Bank Teller 7/83 - 7/85
First National Bank of Toms River (age 18 to 20)
Young, promising upstart in the banking business. Bent the rules one time to
help a man when he needed it the most. Tried unsuccessfully to enlist in the Navy
after the Beirut bombing, writing to my friend in the Marines there. Given a gold
Jules Jurgensen watch by co-workers when I left.
Business Administration major 9/83 - 5/85
Ocean County College (age 19 to 20)
Last year of school was full time while working 35 hours per week at the bank.
Hot, blond, lifeguard Donna from German class. Left her for Houston.
Change of residence
Moved to Houston, TX - 7/85 (age 20, almost 21).
American Bartending School (age 20)
Met and slept with Jeranne (age 31, divorced) the day after my 21st birthday
when she got back from a business meeting in San Antonio. Every guy in the
class wanted her and they were older and I got her, or she got me more than
likely. She is the sexiest woman I have ever dated and called me Rodby with
a Texas drawl. Also learned how to mix drinks.
Business/Finance major 8/85 - 12/86
University of Houston (age 20 to 22)
It is a most beautiful sight on campus when the subtropical sun is blazing on
nearly nude bosoms bopping by. With 30,000 students, you feel like a number.
* Cashier 8/85 - 9/85
Six Flags AstroWorld (age 21)
Merchandise Sales (again). Endured a torturous three weeks in Oriental Hats,
where Chinese music twanged incessantly like a Chinese water torture, tiny little
twang after twang, twang, twang, twanging through my head. Jan.
* Telephone Solicitor 10/85 - 4/86
Shearson Lehman Bros./American Express (age 21)
Working in a brokerage firm made me realize I didn't want to be a stockbroker.
A thirty-six year old secretary went beyond flirting and kissed and fondled me
on the elevator going down from the penthouse suite. Gravity was defied. The Texaco-Pennzoil war. Applied to Drexel Burnham Lambert, didn't get it. The
space shuttle Challenger exploded.
* Cashier & Stock Person 4/86 - 5/86
7 - Eleven (age 21)
11 PM to 7 AM shift, then in class 9 AM. Couldn't sleep during the day, it was
killing me. Penthouse and Playboy hadn't yet been removed from their shelves.
Change of residence
Moved back to NJ for the summer.
* Bartender & Short Order Cook 6/86 - 8/86
Brookwood Lounge (age 21)
The regulars were in at 9 AM, the Colonel with brandy and club soda on the side. They were a tough bunch with nothing else to do but heckle, to try out the rookie. Learned to stand up and give it back. Got respect and included in the "club".
Change of residence
Went back to Houston, TX.
* Bartender & Waiter 9/86 - 12/86
El Chico Mexican Restaurant (age 22)
The only other guy not Hispanic was gay and from Toledo. Knew nothing about Mexican food but ate different dishes for lunch every day and learned. People
loved my Golden Margaritas.
Change of residence
Moved back to NJ. No money for college, bad recession in Houston.
* Waiter & Bartender 1/87 - 9/87
Van's Freehold Inn (age 22 to 23)
Lied about one year of experience to get the job. Learned quickly under tutelage
of Phyllis with twenty-six years as a waitress there. Left for college.
Change of residence
Finance major 9/87 - 5/89
Rider University (age 23 to 24)
The stock market crashed October, 1987. The bumpy road of business got
bumpier. Eighteen year old Jennifer. Dawn and the plush, curved couch. Dennis, Beasley, Kessler, Gary, McGowan, Jonesy and Murph.
* Cashier & Stock Person 10/87 - 1/88
Spirits Unlimited Liquor Store (age 23)
The U-Crew, Nerf basketball and the Dead.
* Dormitory Resident Advisor 1/88 - 5/88
Rider University (age 23)
Wanted to help scared, naive freshmen but the job was really for a jailhouse
warden. No thanks.
* Account Executive 4/88 - 10/88
College Savings Bank (age 23 to 24)
Telemarketing of a unique investment for parents to save for their children's
college education. Worked with supervisor on new systems and scripts and a newsletter ("The Edge"). Whoops, the rules changed. See ya!
Layoff #1 - 10/88
No severance pay
Ineligible for Unemployment
* Banquet Server 1/89 - 5/89
Princeton Marriott Hotel (age 24)
Served coffee to Governor Tom Kean and dropped a tray of eight dinners in the middle of the ballroom on another occasion.
* Tutor of Statistics 2/89 - 5/89
Rider University (age 24)
The vestiges of my engineering days came back to benefit me through the dreaded field of statistics. People in class came to me for help. "Okay, let's get together at
the Tutorial Office where I can get paid for teaching". A fifty dollar offer was
made for my notebooks at graduation. I gave them away.
Academic Achievement 6/89
Graduated from college after seven years (age 24)
Change of residence
* Cashier & Stock Person 5/89 - 7/89
Glory's Market (age 24)
Worked on the liquor store side of this hold-out of the small, family-owned grocery. Many a dusty, ragged local came in for their usual beer by the case.
Change of residence
* Cash Management Representative 7/89 - 4/90
First Fidelity Bank (age 24 to 25)
Graduated from the Management Training Program. Doing a great job and
proving myself but the economy was sour and too many bad loans had been
made before my time. Save the ship from sinking by throwing people overboard. 1,500 people afloat in life preservers, including me.
Layoff #2 - 4/90
Severance pay - 4 weeks
Unemployment benefits - 2 weeks
* Collateral Liquidation Specialist 5/90 - 6/90
FDIC - Federal Deposit Insurance Corp (age 25)
Left after two and a half weeks because I didn't want to operate the wrecking ball.
* Canvasser 6/90
NJ PIRG - NJ Public Interest Research Group (age 25)
My thoughts turned to working for a non-profit for a good cause, something I
could feel right doing instead of treading the mill of some corporation so they
could make a profit and destroy our planet. Went door-to-door and gave my
spiel and asked for donations to the causes of the environment and banking
reform, expecting people to feel as strongly as me and lighten their purses for the common good. They didn't. In industrial north Jersey, their jobs are at those companies.
* Started co-writing "1(800)", a play set in a telemarketing office - 6/90 (age 25).
Change of residence
* Telemarketer 6/90
Dynamark Security Systems (age 25)
Our first telemarketing job to do research. Wrote down funny things people said,
we said, situations.
* Telemarketer 6/90
N.J. Marketing (age 25)
Sold ads in Fire and Police magazines. It had to be a scam, they told us not to use
our real name. Left at lunch the first day. Browsed through adult book store, then combed the want ads for another telemarketing job. Got one that afternoon. "Hi, we're Rod and Ed". "Okay, you're hired".
* Telemarketer 6/90 - 9/90
G&P Marker Factory (age 25 to 26)
Joey, the banter and the batting cage competition. Vice Presidents of the Corrugated Box Division.
* Manager 9/90 - 11/90
Center Stage Recording Studios (age 26)
Drove a Ryder truck to St. Louis to pick up a recording studio that looked like a giant jukebox. Set it up in a mall by Sears. Owner's wife had a baby while he
also ran a full time radon remediation business and put no effort into this one. He blamed me for not doing enough advertising. Got in one morning at ten o'clock
and the studio was gone. I had locked up the previous night at nine o'clock and in those thirteen hours, he moved it out and didn't tell me.
* Cashier & Salesman 11/90 - 3/91
Triangle Art & Reprographics Center (age 26)
Shaved my beard into a goatee. Showed art materials and gave tips and
opinions. Eventually in charge of floor displays. Lost out on outside sales job
because of nepotism. Hot head quit.
Change of residence
* Salesman 3/91 - 4/91
NSA Water Filters (age 26)
Pyramid marketing. The whole scheme is that the big money isn't made in
actually selling the water filters, that's small time. The trick is to get as many
friends, family, anybody to join up under you and then they recruit more people
and so on and so on and you get a cut of everyone under you, whatever they sell
or buy for themselves. I wanted it to work so much I thought it could. Desperate
and temporarily insane.
Lost my drivers license in April, 1991 for two consecutive years for having no
insurance or registration because I couldn't afford it and was unwilling to borrow more
money to feed the insurance industry monster. Already in debt up to my ass to get
through college. Pulled over for overdue inspection sticker and policeman let me drive
away after four tickets.
Drove again three days later and got caught. Driven home in back of police car,
no handles inside to get out. One year mandatory loss of license for both times
(DWI is a six month loss of license) plus several thousand in fines. The belligerent
judge berated me for representing myself and not paying one of his kind. Wrote a
letter to him after the sentencing, giving my mind about his unwarranted behavior.
* Shift Supervisor 3/91 - 6/91
CVS Pharmacy (age 26)
I could ride my bike to it. The manager had sold his soul to CVS. Tired of being
the water boy of the pharmaceutical industry. Left for fifty cents more an hour.
* Office Manager 6/91 - 9/91
Bed Bath & Beyond (age 26 to 27)
Ordered stock mostly, but I really wanted to be in the Beyond Dept. The manager wasn't always a bitch, her other personality was just fine. Had to get out.
Change of residence
* Cashier & Stock Person 10/91 - 2/92
Gerkins Hardware Store (age 27)
Good place to get back to the nuts and bolts. Left for the first professional job in
a year and ten months.
* Helped to renovate Farrington's Music Store - 11/91 (age 27)
Change of residence
* Securities Administrator 2/92 - 4/94
Homestead Federal Savings Bank (age 27 to 29)
Administrator of bank's portfolio of investments worth up to $300 million. Had a
fling with the executive secretary for the officers. Met a girl I nearly married.
* Helped to renovate Incogneeto Vintage Fashions - 4/92 (age 27)
* Started co-writing "The Center of Gravity", a play set in Arkansas - 6/92 (age 27)
* Finished "1(800)" - 7/92 (age 27)
* Writer & Producer 10/92 - 2/93
Pandemonium Theater Company (age 28)
Founded this theater production company to stage a comedy I co-wrote titled "1(800)" for a three week run in February, 1993. Rented the theater, auditioned
the cast, assembled the crew, rehearsed the ensemble, built the set, rewrote
gracefully under pressure, sold tickets and swept, mopped and scrubbed.
* Co-produced a live show of music with a slide and film sequence - 5/93 (age 28)
* Helped to renovate The Book Cellar - 8/93 (age 28)
Layoff #3 - 4/94
Severance pay - 4 weeks
Unemployment - 5/94 to 11/94 (age 29 to 30)
* Administrative Assistant 6/94
Professional Entrepreneurial Resources (age 29)
A company that provides interim and transitional management (temps in the management ranks). The president Karin hired me on the spot at 24K to start in
one week. We signed a contract, great! She called four days later to say she wouldn't need my services, they found someone else. I had canceled an interview
and stopped sending resumes. Good thing I hadn't stopped Unemployment yet.
Personal Overseas Travel
Amsterdam and London - 11/19/94 to 12/22/94 (age 30). Left two days after
Unemployment ran out. The best job offer was six dollars an hour and my relationship
was breaking up. I had to break out into a different scene, a new way of living not in
Condo-rama or in a cubicle jail. Thirty years old with no commitments or dependents.
Could be the last chance. Go for it!
* Room Service Waiter 12/94
Marble Arch Marriott Hotel, London, England (age 30)
Lived near Abbey Road. Working for three weeks when they discovered I had
no work permit. Wondered why they hadn't asked for one and was hired illegally
by a manager who quit three days later. Had to leave and flew back home.
Change of residence
* Waiter 1/95
The Seasons Restaurant (age 30)
Never again will I serve anyone lunch or dinner or drinks or anything.
* Assistant Manager 2/95 - 4/95
Pick Quick Papers (age 30)
Sales and stock of paper for an inept, pompous boss. When the other guy quit
one day at lunch, I did the next morning. I would have broken my back.
* Bookseller 4/95
Pyramid Books (age 30)
Discount book store. Shelf books, shelf books, buy used books. Shelf books,
buy used books, shelf books. Spent most of the two weeks behind racks reading.
Change of residence
* Sales Supervisor 4/95 - 12/95
Peterson's Guides (age 30 to 31)
Hired, trained and managed a staff of five telemarketers to sell college and career guides to the education market. Potential for advancement in a "good" company, finally. Created a circus where there was a barren lot. Sales increased 200-300%. Was chewed up and spit out... again.
* Finished "The Center of Gravity" - 7/95 (age 30)
* Reading with actors of "The Center of Gravity" in New York - 10/95 (age 31)
* Bought a conga drum to play with guitar friends - 4/96
Layoff #4 - 12/95
No severance pay
Unemployment - 1/96 to 5/96
* Started "The Real Resume" - 12/95 (age 31)
* Marina Boy 11/74 - 7/79
Slayton's Marina (age 10 to 14)
Most people look back fondly to their first job and how it made them feel grown up for the first time, taking responsibility and being depended on to carry your load. How did you get your first job and why that job, why did you take that job? Maybe you didn't have too many options, for whatever reasons. Maybe you were in the right place at the right time.
However or why it happened, even if we don't always know, it still affected us by either providing an immediate career path that we followed or it made us reject that one to get another job on another career path somewhere else where we believed there was more opportunity. Or it simply paid more money Or we thought it would be more satisfying or we could move to another city or state or country, or live near a loved one.
That job in turn affected what choice for a job we made after that one and who we met and what we did and so forth. Okay, not terribly profound, we all know that. But I wonder how many people take a true account of their history and use their knowledge and experiences to get a clearer picture of who they really are and what do they really want to do and how would they do it with the person they are and with the talents they have on hand at this moment in time. Who are you now, what do you want to do, and how are you going to do it?
So how did I get my first job? My Mom got remarried when I was ten. She met a man at the school bus garage where she had been driving because we didn't have a car and it was next to our apartment complex. He had a marina of thirteen acres on Kettle Creek.
There were five docks for boats and sailboats and even a houseboat one season where a young guy lived with his blond girlfriend. She would walk around in a white bra and cutoff jeans and every head turned to this beautiful woman wearing her underwear in public. It was somehow more daring and provocative than wearing a bikini top that was made to be seen.
The gas pump was on the middle dock and next to it was the redwood shack with the cash register and key rings and a stool and nearby was the store, painted redwood also, where we sold sodas and cigarettes, candy, bait and suntan lotion from a large open window. Running downhill past the store and to the water was a dirt road leading to the concrete and corrugated iron ramp where boats were launched from a trailer backed in. One person would be on each side in the water to guide the boat along the rollers as Pop cranked the winch.
Pulling a boat out of the water is harder. Not that one boat itself is so heavy but if you do several launchings and landings a day, day after day, especially in the spring and the fall, all of the pushing and pulling and lifting really gets to you. The large marinas have cranes and machinery to do all the work for them.
The most back-breaking work was in the fall when the boats were pulled out and winterized and stored up on cinder blocks stacked three high on each corner with wood wedges at the top. We carried the cinder blocks two at a time, one in each hand and walked them to where they were needed, the weight pulled down and stretched the arm and the clasp of the hand broke down, the cement digging into the fingers. This is herniating work and Pop had to stop after the second.
Oh by the way, Pop is Rod, my mother's husband and my new Dad. We called him "Dud" for a while, not really meaning that he was, but just because we thought it sounded funny to call him Dud. On Father's Day we got him a blue T-shirt with white letters ironed-on that said, "Super Dud". We just thought it was hysterical when he opened the box and held it up, but he thought it less so and never wore it out of the house. It soon became a shirt Mom used for painting or refinishing furniture. Can't say that I blame him.
He's what they call a Piney, born and raised in the Pinelands of South Jersey where they eat potatoes with the hides on and get all growed up. Things he repaired on the truck or in the cellar with a little Yankee ingenuity when materials were scarce, my mother called Piney-riggin'. Mom was raised in a thirty family apartment house in West New York, so they were something like Green Acres. Pop says she only married him because he had thirteen acres and she must've thought he was a rich land baron.
It was awkward at first for my brother, sister and me. What do you call your new stepfather? Some kids from school used to call their stepfather by his first name, which to me doesn't seem right because then he's just another guy around the house. "Rick is sort of cool I guess." Of course he is. Rick, anybody named Rick is always cool. But now cool Rick is married to your mother.
Do you call him Dad right off the bat? It's not easy for anyone. I've imagined that being called Dad by a child that I didn't actually father would cause many conflicting feelings in me too if I were in those shoes. The title of Dad takes time to earn really, like respect, even for a natural father. Calling him Father would be too formal, and can only be used with the real McCoy anyway, so we couldn't use that name either. We went with calling him Dad and then every day became what that meant.
After the first few tumultuous years as two fragmented families came together in one house and clashed and hashed out their differences, the title of Dad had it's own meaning to us through the resolution of those conflicts and through his honest actions and caring. As we got older, the name of Pop stuck because it seemed so natural I think. The thing I have to say about him is that Pop is a Pop in every sense of the word. His name may be Rod but he's still a good 'ol Joe.
Mom (a.k.a. Lorraine) wound up with the name of Mars and we still call her that to this day, so when I call or go to visit I'll say, "Hey Mars" and she loves it. In the same period, our dog Domino who was small and black and white, we named Moyo. "Come here Moyo!" "Chase the bunny Moyo!" "Go Moyo!" She loved chasing those bunnies. I hope there's plenty of bunnies for Moyo to chase in doggie heaven.
Besides Mom and Pop, there's my brother John ("Fin" from Jonathan) who is a year younger than me, also born in September, and with the proper names of John Fitzgerald in honor of our beloved, slain President of hope. The King of Camelot with his beautiful queen Jackie of such charm and grace. My sister is Laurie, otherwise known as Corkemsnork, and she is a year younger than John and also born in September. Dave ("Daaay-vid" with a rise and fall) is Pop's son and my stepbrother and his sister Daphne lived with their mother. My nickname was "Slobby Roddy". It's funny that we all had these funny alter egos. If you have an alter ego, you then get to become that other ego. It gives you a little room to work with.
On the other side of our house, we had a garden and about fifteen chickens with a rooster and three or four pigs in another pen under shade trees at the edge of the woods and along with them came the chores of feeding and collecting eggs and weeding and picking. There was never much idle time around our house. We had a marina farm.
At the gas pump dock was a loud, electric bell that was rung by boaters when we weren't there, ringing for a fill up. Whenever the bell rang, Pop had to drop what he was doing to run down to the dock. If we were in the middle of doing something heavy or Pop couldn't break away, Dave knew what to do and ran down the hill to gas them.
Almost every day, our five o'clock supper was interrupted by that piercing, clattering bell and Pop would shovel in a few more forkfuls and head out the door with the ring of keys swinging from his belt as he put on his blue "Slayton's Marina" hat. Eight o'clock PM is when the pump was closed and the bell was finally silenced for the next eleven hours. We all have our bells or whistles or alarms that make us run, don't we?
It's not a glamorous business running a marina, but we got to live on the water and go out in different kinds of boats, even a Silverton Skiff that was built up the creek from us where we lived in Silverton. A hurricane hit the Jersey shore in '78 and there was extensive damage to our docks from being wrenched in the winds. Two of them were sloping up high and twisted at the ends, the pilings nearly pulled out of the bottom.
On top of this, cars and businesses were overrunning Toms River and street after street was getting jackhammered and repaved and widened and the traffic and congestion was stifling and Mom and Pop decided it was time for us to move a half hour away to semi-rural Jackson. Pop's family was one of the early settlers of the area and when he was a kid, most of the roads in town were dirt and gravel and now two lane highways were being widened into four lanes and traffic lights were at each intersection. "Look at this place, it's getting like a damn city around here". Besides, Pop had strained himself for too long and couldn't do it anymore.
We moved the summer after my freshman year to what seemed like the boonies, out in the boondocks where there is still an occasional working farm around and the kids go to your school. I joined up with my new school's cross country and track teams and ran against my former teammates. At the football game there, I marched with my new band and shook hands with the kids in my old band afterwards and got back on the bus to my new home, my new bandmates always having a good time, especially if the football team lost.
* Paper Boy 1976 - 1978
Toms River Reporter (age 12 to 14)
As I load up all of the experiences and feelings about that time when I was twelve and try to relive that age and bring back in my memory again the days riding the paper route and what went through my head as I pedaled my bike with full baskets and a news bag slung over each shoulder it's... it's like imagining a story based on my own life, as it was seen by the only available witness - me.
It was me, I remember. Of all the people that could have been there and sometimes were, I was definitely there all the time. It's just that my image of who I am and where I fit in this world has changed so many times that my resume, you'll see, just couldn't keep up with me.
Okay, so I'm twelve years old and now I have the responsibility of delivering seventy some-odd newspapers two days a week through any weather, and whether it be snow or sleet or other fearsome acts of God, me and the news and the mailman were gonna get through come hell or high water. People wanted their news and some would get mighty upset if it wasn't on time and on the porch, even if it was a small community paper with supermarket coupons and last week's high school sports scores.
Never mind that payment for the newspaper, delivered by me, was voluntary. You didn't really have to pay for it and if you did it was one dollar a month and I delivered on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. One hundred and forty newspapers a week and if every house paid a dollar a month, I would have collected a handsome one hundred and forty dollars a month, forty percent for me (seemed like a pretty good deal then), bringing that to a grand total of... fifty-six dollars for me. Oh, the things I could do with fifty-six dollars a month.
Of course there were those people who exercised their right to not pay me the one dollar for the month or even some change, while also exercising their right to complain if the newspaper hit the porch but slid off on the ice and into the bushes. In their minds they now had an excuse, a just reason for not appreciating the services of something done for them by another person.
I'll never forget though the people I met as they watered the lawn or played catch with their kids in the street. Or the white-haired ladies with cookies and hot chocolate and Christmas cards with money in them. Or the daughters smiling at me around corners as her mother jingled and fished through a change purse.
Those days... the wind blowing in my face, leaves flaming red and falling and my nose is numb, the snows are supposed to come tomorrow, these gloves aren't enough for frozen knuckles on handlebars. Snow is swirling and drifting to its resting place and the bright white sun casts back spectrums from porch-borne icicles... the birds, alert to my passing through the morning, the chain and the gears are churning and soon, just in time the warm winds blow in and caress my back, my neck, cheeks tinged by the radiance and promise of days in shorts riding my bike, a Raleigh and the straps of the orange and white bags of papers are digging into each shoulder. I wish it wasn't so damned hot. Come on... only a mile more out to Green Island where I can finally loosen my load, one newspaper at a time, trying to hit the porch and not upset the apple cart.
Usually I would bring along a few extra papers, five or ten, to give out to the houses next door and come by at the end of the month and try to sign them up. If they did, a lot of them paid a dollar right there and I had a new paying customer. Put on a little charm and do some soft shoe. Thank you very much.
My Mom and I opened up an account and got one of those old passbook savings account books and the bank printed out the transactions in those rough, typewriter ribbon numbers. What font do they call that now?
The deposits were adding up and there became the question of what to do with my massing fortune. How was I going to spend it? On what was I going to spend my hard earned dollars earned at the yoke of a news bag?
I didn't need a new baseball glove, just got one for Christmas. Didn't need any more paints or markers, crayons, India ink or quills, pastels or pencils. I did buy a few models, a Stuka dive bomber, a Flying Tiger, a B-29, the Hindenburg, a couple of ships and a few others. I loved that World War Two stuff.
When I was fourteen, I decided to buy a trumpet with it. I was getting pretty good from playing in the school bands and Drum and Bugle Corps and putting in the practice. The gold trumpet I had would be kept for the field, for marching band and the new one would be for concerts on the stage. It was a beautiful, silver Bach Stradivarius trumpet with a medium large bore that was mellow and perfect for Symphonic Band.
Before Mars and I went to the music store that Saturday morning, I warmed up in my room, did a few scales and arpeggios and whole notes to sixteenths to be ready to try out a few horns, run them through the same exercises and feel the weight and handling and listen to the tone of voice and decide what trumpet would be going home with me, and become a part of me. I was already leaning toward the Strad, my music teachers ranked it one or two, and to be right up front, you know, Bach Stradavarius sounded better than playing a Bundy.
I walked in that drizzly morning under the burgundy awning of Red Bank Music and into a world of sounds and instruments and drums more than I'd been a part of in my life, the people playing them more together, the feeling there professional where music was taken seriously. Posters lined the walls, musicians large and almost life-like, one of them of my man Maynard Ferguson with his silver trumpet from the cover of Chameleon.
The door was shut and I was surrounded by white soundproof board and five horns and blew them all out, feeling the spring in the valves. On the Bach, I played with the slide on the third valve piping that was operated with the right pinky and would flat the tone of any note if the third valve was used. There was another slide for the first valve piping, done with the right thumb for the first valve and it added variety to my tone like never before, probably like the first time a guitar player gets a wa-wa petal.
That was the pinnacle that day of my life to that moment. I had worked hard and sacrificed and braved the bitter cold and the blistering heat and now I was making a commitment to playing the trumpet, which was dazzling and silver with a mellow tone that somehow made me want to play it better. There was now a responsibility to the instrument... and the music.
Anything was possible now. I was a conqueror and the world was expanding, out beyond my neighborhood, out beyond my paper route.
I decided shortly after that I wanted out of the newspaper racket. It had served me well. I had learned many valuable lessons, like not to trust a scruffy old man in boxer shorts who asks you in for a soda. You know, things that I could really use in life.
* Farm Hand 1976 - 1982
The Family Farm of Five Acres (age 12 to 18)
One of the hardest jobs I ever had was living at home. This was because my home was on a farm - a small, five acre farm in Central Jersey. Yes there are some still, although they are the hardest things to keep alive and growing in the Garden State these days is a farm.
It was plenty for a family of six people to do, with thirty chickens, seventy turkeys, six pigs, twelve rabbits, three geese, sometimes a goat and an acre and a half planted with corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, potatoes and carrots. The potatoes didn't actually grow that well in the sandy soil of the Pine Barrens. There's a reason why they call the place the barrens.
The things we didn't cultivate, like wild blueberries and raspberries were out in full bloom from July to the end of the fall and we'd go out picking them with the newspaper bags on our shoulders. The next morning Mom made blueberry pancakes and maple syrup with spicy sausage patties from the pigs we had raised and slaughtered in the fall and sent in parts to a butcher to be smoked or ground into sausage or spiced and formed into a patty to be fried in a pan, and was also good with homefries of sweet potatoes and onions. Then we'd go upstairs to put on our slaughtering clothes.
Yes we slaughtered our own animals, not for kicks mind you. Living on a farm means that you eventually have to reap or harvest or slaughter everything that you raise. If you don't, it is either because it is a family member or a pet. A pet, to remind you, is an animal that you have for companionship and that you give a name to. They become part of the family.
So if you raise an animal since its birth in the spring, say in March or April and you know that you will be cutting its head off in late October or early November before the winter comes, you don't want to give that animal a name. Names you give to pets, and they're not worse off for it either... well, at least until the end.
We made that mistake once. We gave a name to the female pig we kept for three years as a breeder. Her name was Gerty, short for Gertrude and she became like one of the family. Mars would sometimes save special scraps just for her, but when she reached the age of three and was getting over the hill it was... it was like doing away with your plump, little sister and making her into sausage. It breaks your heart.
Gerty would scratch her big fat ass on a rail of the fence and rub and rub and there were rub marks in the wood and every few months she would knock off an end and get out and we'd go running after her as she huffed and puffed and... did you ever try to catch a runaway pig?
She was about three hundred and fifty pounds and round with nothing to grab on to even if you dared, steaming right for me, snorting and grunting, and I tried my best to hold my ground and not show fear and shoo her and make her veer for the pen or someone else and chase her to the gate. Gerty got wise to us and made it a game we played and would turn away just before the gate. It must have looked funny as hell.
But the time always comes, the hot summer days pass and the fall arrives and we'd fatten them up and at the end, all of the food was stored away before the cold and snows came and that's what we ate while snug and warm inside from the coal stove while Mom was baking breads and simmering a large pot of spaghetti sauce from the tomatoes we raised ourselves. There were Mason jars of fruits and vegetables and slaws and relishes and jellies downstairs in the basement in plenty. We were not rich but we were never hungry.
Everything living is, because something or someone died for them, and they died so they can feed the living. That's where the whole Jesus-died-so-that-we-may-live stuff comes in. Life is built on death and that is what is so tragic or comical about our existence. It's all part of the cycle. We're all a part of it and are subject to it. Life... and death. You couldn't have one without the other, it wouldn't be a cycle then.
I don't mean to get morbid or anything, it's just that you have a lot of time to think while you're digging a post hole or building a pig shed or hoeing the garden. I am living today because I was nourished by a plant or animal or grain that was living, or recently had been, when I placed it in my mouth and chewed and pulverized and swallowed it.
Farming is a process that brings you closer to the roots of your existence, no pun intended. The enormity of the universe and the forces and bodies and nature that act upon us and what our part is in the whole ecological scheme becomes more clear, more simple. I know that our time here is not long.
Now these aren't all things I was necessarily thinking about at the age of fourteen or fifteen, but the experiences were planted, so to speak, and their significance to me became known over time. And appreciated. And explored.
Everything eventually comes around to it, whether it is encouraged or denied or even stifled. What you were in the past becomes who you are today, and becomes what you will be. Then becomes what you were after you are gone, and eventually will become what you are once again by how you feed the living, and that will be determined by how you lived - by how you are living now.
* Platoon Commander
* Chief Master-at-Arms
* Squad Leader 1978 - 1982
US Naval Sea Cadet Corps (age 14 to 18)
My last days of playing Little League were at age thirteen, so by fourteen I was looking for something else to get into. I wasn't going back to the Scouts either, having quit the honorable troop to play baseball where there was power and speed. From others.
Pop came home one day with a newspaper, talking about an organization of kids fourteen to eighteen who dress in Navy uniforms and have military drills one weekend a month at Lakehurst Naval Air Station and a two-week boot camp at a regular Navy training base. Us boys were quick to recognize adventure and besides, "It's more than a job", they said. My sister joined two years later.
I remember the first day as a surreal scene of grays and metal and brick buildings and the cold and kids my age in uniforms marching past and filing in to the barracks. My brother John and I and Dave were issued our uniforms: woolen navy blues with bell bottoms and the flap on the back of the jersey with a black, knotted neckerchief in front and a white sailor hat. Along with that were the dungarees and blue chambray shirt of the work uniform with blue ballcap and black shoes to be spit and shined.
On the shoulders, we sewed the Sea Cadet Corps patches and our rank to the right sleeve (opposite sleeve from the Navy) and before I knew it, I was toeing a line with my platoon and dressing right and snapping to attention as the CO approached to review us for inspection. My shoes were shined, Pop showed us how, and Mom had helped us press all the creases. Just don't lock your knees, remember, and don't look into his eyes. Look straight ahead. Thumbs at the seams.
This was definitely fun. We came on board Friday night in the barracks and got everything squared away for the morning. Reveille was at 0615, chow at 0700, out by 0750 for formation and colors at 0800 (the raising of the flag with bugle), and then classes or demonstrations by Navy or Marines on the base. Lunch was at 1130 and then the afternoon was for marching out to Hangar One for close order drill with our Marine Drill Instructor, First Sergeant Basquez.
He was infantry in Vietnam and the lines on his face showed every minute of it. The First Sergeant could have been the bulldog mascot of the Marines with his loose jowls and an olive green campaign cover (Smokey the Bear hat) and a protuberance from the back of his buzzed head that was made to fill out the black strap around the back. Those days he was in the Reserves and a steelworker in civvy life. Tough as nails this guy.
One Saturday night when I was the Chief Master-at-Arms in charge of the barracks and its security, First Sergeant Basquez came aboard around 2330 (11:30 PM) in a rage and stinking of booze from the NCO's Club and ordered me to bring a pad. We were going to be inspecting the quarters and he wanted me to write down every infraction and the names of those guilty.
Of course the barracks were a mess with people sitting around playing cards and hanging out and laying on their racks with blankets and sheets untucked. Some of the cadets were getting in under the 2400 curfew. I sent my brother John, one of the two Masters-at-Arms, to warn everybody and get them to clean it up quick before we got there but there was nobody who could pass the hospital corners and ship-shape test and the pages of my pad eventually contained everybody's name, except those on duty, and he had something foul to say about each. He barked that he wanted a report from me first thing in the morning and headed topside to his room. Nobody said a peep at Lights Out.
The next morning at roll call, I saluted and reported that my staff was all present and accounted for, but did not step forward with the report of the previous night's transgressions as ordered. He probably didn't want to be reminded of it, I thought, and be held accountable for his behavior in the light of morning and so I took a big chance. His eyes locked on mine and a corner of his mouth curled up from under the brim of the Smokey hat. He returned my salute and turned on his heel and called a right face so we could move out in three lines up the hill to chow.
When I'm walking, I sometimes hear the First Sergeant calling out a growly cadence with our heels pounding into the deck in unison and reverberating inside the cavernous Hangar One. On the cement landing field outside is where the Hindenburg zeppelin flash-burned as it was landing from its crossing of the Atlantic in 1936 and was in 1978 cracked with weeds and scorched black where civilians and military personnel of Nazi Germany and the US died in the inferno.
Inside the hangar was a scale model of an aircraft carrier about a hundred yards long and we held our inspections and pomp and circumstances aboard it on the flight deck. The officers of the unit were parents or other adults, all with prior military experience, and the kids were the enlisted personnel and we all played Navy and there was a power structure and rank was to be observed above all else.
But there was always the right, if you took it, to be someone who bucked the system sometimes, someone who shook up the joint. Usually this was done with bravado and machismo and a sense of daring. Sometimes it was done very cleverly like a fox. My two buddies in the cadets were the two with the opposing styles. I was the one who was looking innocent while helping, or at least encouraging.
There was this environment though of it actually being accepted as a part of the United States Navy since we performed our pseudo-military functions on military bases and trained around the country and toured on ships. Two guys that were really gung-ho went through two weeks of weapons and combat school with the SEAL commandoes at the age of sixteen. One of them was a kid from my high school named Huyler who wore camouflage fatigues and jump boots with an olive green T-shirt that said "Kill Them All - Let God Sort Them Out". Needless to say, we weren't chummy and just gave a nod to each other when passing in the hallway. On drill weekends, he was becoming the leader of the more "militant" faction.
These were the years of Ronald Reagan and the "Let's get back what is rightly ours as Americans" campaign and the armed forces were getting beefed up to stop or start a fight, whatever was necessary, and the initiation into this world at the age of fourteen was invaluable. Looking back, there were things I saw and did that couldn't have been experienced anywhere else. Those of you that have been in Junior ROTC might know what I'm talking about if you were in a good unit, which mine became because it wasn't when I joined.
It was like I had signed my hitch in the sloppy-volunteer-sailor-on-drugs-in-the-lean-Carter-years and then... then there was Reagan and the American flags came out of the closets and were waving again and we were recruiting a lot of kids and it was safe, even respected again to wear a uniform. Girls love uniforms, and have while I was in them.
The whole game was like out in the barnyard. In the chicken pen, there are the challenges and scrappings of the roosters vying for the title of King of the Roost. It's something like that in the military and having seen how that game was played, I rose in rank to squad leader and then to Chief-Master-at-Arms in charge of the barracks security and reported directly to the Commanding Officer. Then there was a brief stint as the Captain of the Color Guard and then on up to Platoon Commander, with a rank of Second Class Petty Officer.
The highest rank you could go was First Class Petty Officer and there could only be one for each unit and that they gave to the guy with the most seniority over me, but that was okay because I was the one out front giving commands to the troops. My reign though was something like a benevolent meritocracy. I was very fair.
There was only one time when I was forced to mete out the usual, hated punishment; the tried and true method of making someone grovel before your feet and get away with it. I'm talking about pushups and when talk was of no use in clamping down on a mutinous instigator one Sunday morning as we were cleaning the barracks for inspection, the pushups I ordered him to do were not just the down-up-down-up variety.
Oh no no, not just the missionary style of humiliating someone and causing them pain. Oh no, these pushups were the stay-down-until-I-say-you-can-get-up kind of pushups. And then stay-up-until-I-say-you-can-go-down. Until he started shaking.
What an experience it all was. I mean more than just the pushups. I went to a two week boot camp at the United States Naval Training Center at Great Lakes, Illinois where we got our hair buzzed off and marched as a unit and attended classes on nuclear, biological and chemical warfare and wore gas masks and got gassed and marched some more and fought fires (they take that very seriously aboard ship) and learned to help each other out and come together as a team and feel pride in ourselves and in Company B and we tried to make it as the Honor Company.
Well, we did. We narrowly beat Company C by a few points and got the ribbon for our chests and I was one of six flag bearers showing off our accomplishments at graduation as we marched by the reviewing stand to "Anchors Aweigh" with eyes right, our Filipino drill instructor saluting and my flag dipped with the others.
There would surely be promotions back at home and making it as a Naval officer from Annapolis was looking possible if I got my grades up... and studied engineering.
The next month, in August, I went on a two week tour aboard a tank landing ship, the USS Fairfax County LST-1193, which had recently returned from six months in the Mediterranean. It was one of those large flat-bottomed ships that can pull right up on shore and drop the bow and offload Marines and jeeps and tractors for the construction battalion and even tanks, a much larger vessel than the small craft you see in the old war movies landing a platoon on the beach. It didn't ride the waves too well and many a cadet took their place at the rail.
Andzeski and I went together, he being the clever as a fox buddy of mine, and the tour was a shuttle from Norfolk, Virginia to West Palm Beach, Florida. The water was much bluer than the Jersey shore and there were porpoises and flying fish along the way and we did a shift or two on the bridge with the Captain or in the red glow of the Combat Information Center or down with the diesel horses in Engineering. There was also plenty of battleship gray to paint and brass to polish.
The second day out, the Gunner's Mates brought out the 45's and M-14's after lunch and we got a chance to fire off some rounds into the ocean. There were no flying fish this far out unfortunately. We were then ordered up to the signal bridge and issued ear plugs for target practice with the heavy artillery and the raft targets that were set adrift a mile away.
The big hydraulic, swiveling gun was in position and the fire order was given. The roar was deafening, the power awesome as flames blasted from the barrel and the skipper had on a green helmet with CO stenciled in black and the XO, the Executive Officer, was in position to his left. It took three or four shots to close in on it and they scored a direct hit on the target as the tremendous recoil thundered through my head.
We looked aft to the helo deck where the GM's were about to fire the 50-caliber machine gun mounted on the stern. The heavy, high-powered firing of bullets about six inches long was at a target close in and the casings ejected from the side and rang on the deck as the target was getting shredded.
Suddenly the gunner was thrown back as he grabbed for his neck and one of his mates rushed to him. He was bleeding profusely through his hands and we were herded to the other side, almost out of sight and overlooking the forecastle down in front. What happened is that one of the 50-caliber bullets had struck the railing and ricocheted back and slammed him through the neck.
The Medical Officer and his team rushed topside and took him below to Sickbay. The ship made a quick one-eighty and was steaming for the shores of the Carolinas. Since the ship also had a helo deck for helicopters, we would be met by one in an hour.
Everyone held their breath and smoked and talked quietly and hoped their mate was going to make it. Somebody chuckled and was met by icy stares. The attention signal blew and the captain announced that the sailor was in stable condition and would be flown ashore. Men in different colored vests of red and green and orange and blue swarmed the deck and prepared for the landing of the chopper.
It soon appeared, approaching low and fast over the ocean and we hurried up to the signal bridge again. A large hatch opened from the deck and he was brought topside in a stretcher with his head propped up and a face almost as white as the bandaging around his neck. The loading was done with precision and cooperation between the colors under the whirring blades and the chopper quickly took off.
There was a sigh of relief from the crew and again, those who had 'em, smoked 'em. The attention signal blew and it was chow time at 1630 hours as always and we shuffled in and grabbed a tin tray. I noticed there were not as many helpings of seconds that day.
The next day, as we approached the harbor, we put on our full dress white uniforms with black shoes shined and white sailor caps cocked and manned the rail as the ship entered the harbor. People waved to us from the shore. I was proud to be a Sea Cadet, proud to be in the Navy.
West Palm Beach with Joe was crazy as we played the part of a couple of sailors drunk and on liberty in port. I was able to get served alcohol because of my five o'clock shadow and mature look and we drank quarts of Pabst Blue Ribbon and hitchhiked and threw up cheap Mad Dog 20/20 on the beach and talked with hookers on the street and cruised for girls. That was living.
The following spring, gung-ho Huyler who was entering Annapolis after graduation drowned in a scuba diving accident. He went diving in a lake with another guy from school who eventually went in the Marines and the current was swift and Huyler was swept up in it and thrown into the metal reservoir grate and got hooked and held underwater. His buddy couldn't find him to help him.
There was a military funeral for Huyler three days later and I was one of the six pallbearers. One of the squad leaders volunteered with me to fold the American flag over the casket and I was asked to present the flag to his mother with a few kind words from the Corps. I came home from school that afternoon and showered and shaved and tried to keep my composure, but my mind wandered and the razor cut sideways just above the lip and the blood poured and I frantically tried to stop it with a styptic pencil and toilet paper and pressure.
On the ride to the cemetery, I peeled the dried paper away from my face, very carefully, looking in the visor mirror. It was stuck and wasn't coming off until I tugged a little harder and the coagulation came with it. The race was on. I couldn't face his grieving mother with a gash of blood spouting from my face.
Somehow the cut dried over in time but it was oh so obviously a wound that could not be hidden as I tucked the red and white stripes into the field of blue and presented the tri-cornered flag to Huyler's sobbing mother next to his crew-cut father. "I present to you this flag in the memory of Petty Officer Huyler S. White from the cadets of Squadron One. Please accept our deepest condolences ma'am."
There was the lonely calling of taps by a bugler and we came to attention and saluted as a cannon fired once. The chaplain led us in prayer and Huyler was lowered into the ground as the sun set in a purple sky.
This was different than seeing the guy drown when I was nine who jumped into the freezing bay in February to retrieve the top half of his fishing pole that had fallen off and was drifting away with the bobber. No, this was different. This was someone dying just as he was about to embark on the journey of an adventurous, young man eager to prove himself to the world and to his old man, who only did one four year hitch with the regular Navy in peacetime. There would be no one to live out his dream anymore.
* Dishwasher 8/80
Jay's Place Family Restaurant (age 16)
This job was the first of my short-time stints but you can't blame a young man for moving on to bigger and better things. I was about to turn sixteen after returning from the tour aboard ship and boot camp before that and wanted a paying job to be able to do the things that were important, like dating and a car and the prom and college.
Oh, and the occasional beer since I could get served with the drinking age at eighteen, even though I wasn't. Here's how it's done: walk nonchalantly into a liquor store as if you're only buying a gallon of milk and pick out your brand (already have that decided in advance) and put it on the counter like it's only milk. "Yup, that's all."
Pull out your wallet to get the money. A lot of guys would be too afraid to use their wallet because they didn't want to get carded. Believe me, you look a lot more suspicious pulling out a clump of singles from your front pocket given to you by your buddies. Start some small talk with the cashier so he recognizes you the next time and doesn't card you. Walk out of the store unhurried as if you're carrying a gallon of milk.
Okay, so my Mom took me to the restaurant, a small diner that had recently been built by an older Italian couple who lived in the apartments across the street and liked to go to Atlantic City. Her name was Joanne (Jay for short) and I don't remember his name but he was like Abe Vigoda with a nasty disposition. They had placed an ad in the paper for a dishwasher and general shit boy and because there weren't too many places to work in our small town, it was one of very few opportunities.
They showed me around and demonstrated how the dishwashing machine worked and where I could find all the soaps and utensils and where to put everything away. There in that small kitchen was my introduction to the smells and ambience of the dirty side of a restaurant, at the back of the house where the dishes pile up and the odors of many kinds of food, cold and decaying, mingle with strong detergents and steam and the young cook's Marlboro breaks. There was also the routine of vacuuming after the lunch crowd and polishing the brass at the counter (yes, more brass) and of course, the bathrooms to be swabbed. Oh man.
Most of my friends were working the thrilling rides at the Great Adventure Amusement Park, while I was scrubbing pots and pans at the Big Disappointment Diner. There were so many people who wanted to work at GA that there was a long waiting list and I hoped to get the call for the next season when they opened in April. In the meantime I could have a hamburger for lunch or anything else on the menu under five dollars.
Jay took a shine to me that first day and commented to my mother about what a wonderful son she had and oh how polite. I was thinking about how to ask by what name I should call her. We were raised to call an adult by Mr. or Mrs. or Miss (Ms. hadn't yet been widely used), but that seemed to be too formal and Mrs. M. wasn't right either and calling an older woman by her first name would be very disrespectful, even if her first name was up on the sign.
"What do I call you?" wouldn't be the right way to ask and because there didn't seem to be a right way to ask this question, I asked her, "How should I address you ma'am?"
"How should I address you, did you hear that?" she bubbled to my mother. "Such a courteous boy. You can call me Jay, that'll be fine. You just call me Jay dear."
"Okay... Jay, thank you very much. I will be in at eleven o'clock tomorrow morning."
My tenure as a dishwasher would only last about three weeks before the call came from Great Adventure because the college students were leaving and they needed more help to close out the season. Naturally Jay was disappointed. I was ecstatic.
Getting the job would always be the easiest part. Keeping a job was always the challenge. I have been hired many times on the first interview and have thanked my Maker for this innocent, trusting look given to me. This job never made it on a resume but sometimes you have to start down at the bottom, even if it's in a large, stainless steel pot with spaghetti sauce burned to it.
* Cashier 9/80 - 11/82
Great Adventure Amusement Park (age 16) Working at an amusement park seems like a fun job, doesn't it? My friends working there told me it wasn't, that you work hard and the people at the park there to have fun are most of the time nasty and rude and you only get paid minimum wage ($3.35 an hour in 1980) and the supervisors are always bitchy, but you know what? They were right. I had to work there myself to finally believe them.
How can a place so fun and amusing, with ferris wheels and costumed characters and cotton candy and thrilling rides be such drudgery? It was drudgery all right but it wasn't boring. There were many types of people who came to the park and through my store, ranging from the perfect chipper families to foreigners to busloads and busloads of beings from New York and Philadelphia to the rural trash to gays and lesbians, military, you name it.
The on-the-job highlight was when I worked at Sweet Tooth Candies near the front gate that everyone passed on the way in. At the front of the store is a large bay window with a stainless steel fudge machine where we made about six different flavors and displayed the pans of fudge in the window. Nonpareils, candy corn, All Day Suckers, we had everything to tempt the sweet tooth.
I enjoyed the most making fudge-dipped apples in the bay window as people, usually girls and kids, licked their lips and were lured inside, followed by their parents. I would poke a stick into an apple, dip it in chocolate fudge and then hold it up to drip off the extra and twirl it half a turn sideways and place it in a pan with wax paper. They sold about as fast as we could make them some nights.
One day checking in at five o'clock, my manager said the Channel 6 News was coming to the park around six and he wanted me to do the fudge apples because I was the best. All right! By the time the news people showed up, I decided they weren't just getting a dull apple on a stick dipped in fudge like someone else might do.
I had never been on TV and saw this as my big chance, so when the cameraman was ready to shoot through the bay window with a crowd behind him, I took up two apples and dunked them dramatically into the fudge and then held them high over the cauldron and intertwined the dripping fudge with twists of my wrists. The people outside were cheering and he held the camera until the fudge stopped dripping and then gave the thumb up. He came in with the reporter who thanked me for the great shot and shook my hand and my manager gave them the two fudge apples to go.
A couple days later on the news at five o'clock, I was in the beginning of the segment on the park, looking goofy in the tacky Merchandise uniform as my friends laughed at me. They were in there too but they didn't ham it up.
Most of the fun of working at Great Adventure was after we left. My shift was five o'clock to one or two in the morning because the park closed at midnight and there was plenty of cleaning and stocking and folding T-shirts to do before we could go home. That's what we always called getting off of work, "going home", but that's rarely what we did.
Oh no, we were still full of energy even if it was a tough day and the thought of going home by yourself was not very appealing, or very cool. All the cool people hung out in the parking lot of the pizza place and bar down the road that stayed open late for us. Of course we were underaged but there were a couple of us who could get served and some of the eighteen year olds bought us cases.
It was a fun time to be young in the early eighties, the radios playing The Cars or Journey or Eddie Money or Van Halen (oh yeah Van Halen) or Men at Work or Pat Benatar or Asia. It was the innocent beginning of the go-go eighties before there was talk about deadly diseases and we flirted with the girls from work and sat on the hoods of cars and sang along to the radio and made out in back seats or had a slice and a coke. Around three-thirty or four o'clock, most of us would start up and make our way home while the party-harders stayed until sunrise when the police finally broke up the festivities.
I worked at the park for two years until the end of my first semester at college and only got the standard raise of ten cents a year, bringing my wage to $3.55 an hour. It was peanuts, sure, but where else could a large group of your friends be with you while you worked and then be together to play afterwards. Surely that's worth something, isn't it?
* Student 9/79 - 6/82 Jackson Memorial High School (age 15 to 17)
In the first week of September, I returned to school with a healthy tan and in the best shape of my life and was full of the summer's accomplishments and adventures. Mostly everyone else had stayed home and worked at Great Adventure or just doodled off all together. My friends were fascinated by the stories of life in the Navy and fighting fires and getting Honor Company at boot camp and street hookers and sailing aboard a ship. My junior class picture was taken as my hair started to grow in and it's probably the best picture of my life.
The cross country team had been training together since early August and I joined up with them the first day of school. My heart wasn't in it as much this time, maybe because there was more to the world now than running around in circles and I considered quitting when my gym class went out to play soccer one soggy October morning.
The game was uneventful for the first fifteen minutes or so, with the ball mostly staying to the left while I played right wing and tried to get into the game. One of their backs kicked it up to midfield, up to the guy across from me but off the mark and I had a chance at it and raced for the ball.
He got to it a step ahead of me and I stuck out my right foot to steal it, to kick it away to his side and he jumped up to avoid me and in a blurred moment he came down on the back of my leg as the foot was planted and the upper leg twisted inward and then my face was down in the mud. I rolled over to the gray sky and there was no feeling in my knee. It didn't hurt, "I'll be all right" and started to get up. One of the gym teachers held me down.
He felt around my leg by my right knee and was prodding and the other gym teacher's face I concentrated on, the tanned lines in his forehead coming together, his green eyes reflecting my face, and a look like mourning. There were no bones broken the first one said and they looked to each other and seemed to know something I didn't.
Pretty soon Mrs. Brown, the large gym teacher who was always joking with the kids came out and picked me up in her arms and carried me to the nurse's office. Why the men gym teachers waited for her to carry me, I don't know. Maybe it was in her contract to carry off the lamed ones.
Cradled in her strong arms, I told her I was working out for the wrestling tryouts, that I wanted to get back into wrestling again and she said to me, I remember her face looking up at her. "Not this season son", she said, "Not this season".
The next morning was the surgery and... ah, I'd rather not bore you with the details. It turned out to be several torn ligaments and damaged cartilage, my knee held together mostly by skin and muscle and it put an end to the track and cross country running and was devastating to me at the time, an instantaneous event that shattered and altered my life forever. I was faced with not being able to become who I thought I would be just as the chance seemed possible, but it was just out of reach. Just like Huyler. Only he would suffer no more.
My whole leg was in a cast with the toes out and came up to the top of the thigh. When the cast was removed eight weeks later, my leg looked suffocated and there was dead, flaking skin on the flabby, atrophied leg that used to be muscular and well-defined. I was proud of how my legs developed from running because I used to be a chubby kid (Mars said I looked like Spanky or Hitler) and girls in school used to whistle at me from behind or a couple of times pinch me, and now... now... I couldn't even bend my knee.
When we got home from the hospital, my mother filled the tub so I could wash off my leg, swollen at the knee with a long purple scar from twenty-six stitches and it couldn't bend. My brother helped me into the tub and closed the door. I cried from my soul into the blue soaking rag until my stomach hurt from holding it in, not wanting Mom to hear and make it worse than it already was. She knocked on the door and asked if I was okay. I managed to say something and then realized the water was cold and soaped up the rag.
Rehabilitation was excruciatingly painful, a self-inflicted pain to regain some of the flexibility and strength but it would never be the same again. At home working on the knee, I hung my legs over the stairwell opening where Pop removed the end railing so I could struggle to get the knee to bend, even a little, just enough to know it would bend someday. I concentrated everything on my right knee and stared at it and sent every brain wave possible to the surrounding muscles and tendons to move the bones at the joint.
I had been out of school from October fifteenth to January fourth and returned on the Honor Roll because of all the time I had to study and because of the tutors; one the assistant band director for my trumpet lessons and another the wrestling coach, who was actually a gentle man that eventually became the Vice Principal and a friend of the family.
I returned after New Years on crutches with a brace and had to keep my leg elevated when in class. Not quite the triumphant return of the fall. A week later in drafting class, my friend Scott from band said he had moonshine from his grandfather in Virginia and asked if I wanted to try it with he and another guy nicknamed Soggy. "What the hell, why not?"
We went out to the bus ramp, me on crutches, and Scott untwisted the cap, took a pull and handed it to me. Just as I was lifting it to my lips, I heard a gym whistle and a "Hey!". Looking up, there was the short woman gym teacher with long hair running toward me and the other two took off. There was nothing I could do but stand there and wait to be captured, unable to make a getaway and she collared me and hauled me down to the office.
The interrogation was lead by the Vice Principal who had been my biology teacher the year before. I caved in under the load and ratted on my friends and then plea-bargained my sentence to a week of in-school suspension. If I took the out-of-school suspension, my mother would have killed me.
Every day of the week was spent sitting at a desk facing the wall with my crutches next to me and reading and doing the assignments given by each teacher, with no talking or looking around or anything. This was strictly enforced by Mr. Delasandro who suffered from elephantitus and walked humped over with large, drooping ears and drooling mouth. He passed on a few years after I graduated.
By Thursday it was getting unbearable, especially since the other kids only had it for a day or two, three at most and by Wednesday there was just about a whole new round of detainees. I was the grizzled vet and new guys were marched in and out of there so often that sometimes I wouldn't even look up, I would just notice what kind of shoes they were wearing. One of the longest periods of my life was from 12:20 to 2:50 that Friday, a day that for me will live in infamy.
One day it happened. My foot moved. It went back, I saw it. My rehab coach saw it too. I did it. And then I did it again. And again. Many years later in a dream as I sat in a wheelchair and tried with all of my might to make the knee bend, sweat dripping from my face contorted with pain, there was suddenly a perceptible move of the leg, for the first time, just like it happened.
But this time a blond Madonna appeared in one of her leather outfits and heels, twirling around me, pouting and pulling my cheeks and mussing my hair and she was singing to me, "Don't go for second best baby, put your love to the test, you know, you know you got to..." And there was another bend, and another, and another. Oh Madonna!
My progress from that day came in faster breakthroughs as the flexibility increased and the training with heavier and heavier weights brought back some of the strength until that day when I made the first walk, just about seven feet but it was reason for hope. Before long I was walking outside and then around the property and out on the road weeks later. Several weeks after that there was the thrill of picking it up to a jog, that one day when it felt right to push up on the toes.
Months later, I picked up the pace again after the icy cold of February and March wearing my black, wool Navy watchcap and Nikes and an Ace bandage around the knee and was going a quarter mile further each week. By that September of my senior year, eleven months after the surgery as I turned seventeen, I ran in a five mile run and battled it out with a tall guy at the end even though we were near the back of the pack. He inched me out but it was a victorious race for me.
Being a midshipman at Annapolis, however, was now definitely a dream of the past. Somebody else would take my spot and sink or learn how to swim there. Plan B called for applying to the Navy ROTC and I was accepted as a finalist and would have gone to Syracuse or Penn State or Rutgers but I failed the physical examination because of the knee. This injury would keep me from becoming an officer and a gentleman of the United States Navy and proudly serving my country. Since there were no scholarships and only meager financial aid and savings for college, I was off to Ocean County College a half hour from home. The adventure was cut short.
It was a bitter resentment that broiled in my stomach but a very bad thing had happened for a very good reason. My life has taken a very different route, a course I could not have foreseen and for this journey am deeply grateful. Over the years I've realized too that the world has been better off with one less soldier in it. I have been.
Young Peoples' Concert Series
4th Trumpet 2/82 - 3/82
Garden State Philharmonic Orchestra (age 17)
AP English and Physics
Graduated from high school - 6/82 (age 17)
Engineering major 9/82 - 12/82
Ocean County College (age 18) Two guys from high school were in my Physics class and we sat together. One of them committed suicide with a shot in the head the next semester and there wasn't a reason I could see, or knew about, for him to do this. There must be a lot about Tom I didn't know. How much do you really know about anyone or anything?
Change of residence
Engineering major 1/83 - 5/83
Mercer County Community College (age 18)
Life was a party, and I went to school too. Engineering wasn't for me, I didn't love my calculator.* Bank Teller 2/83 - 6/83
Anchor Savings and Loan (age 18)
At the college, there's a jobs board next to the one for apartments and rooms for rent. One listing was for a bank teller wanted part-time at a bank down the road from where I had just moved in with two friends from high school to be close to Mercer County Community College and I wrote down the number. Making enough money to make it through college was going to have to be on a job paying more than a cashier in a store.
Besides, a bank teller is a glorified cashier in business clothes and since I had the "experience" from Great Adventure, I went for it. My interview was in a gray pinstripe suit with Mr. Glass the bank manager, a jocular, balding man with a Bob Hope nose that I used to think was probably a really fun dad. He hired me on the spot.
The business of banking seemed to be a noble thing to do, to give loans for homes or cars or to finance business ventures, or to provide essential services. I was catching on quickly and liked it better than engineering and calculus and decided to change my major to Business Administration. Yes, this is where the whole era of my life in the business world began, where I started to get unhooked from the real me and got drawn in by the allure of big money to be made in the burgeoning world of managing other people's money and taking your own sizeable cut for operating the toll booth.
The dream of becoming a dashing naval officer of the fleet headed for the Pentagon and possibly the Joint Chiefs was not going to die easily though. Still in good shape from jogging and lifting and now accustomed to the pain, I took another shot at making Naval ROTC and once again made it as a finalist, got another waiver for my eyes (they want 20/20 without glasses), and then failed a second time for my right knee.
If there was a battle, they said, and I was knocked out of commission by my knee buckling or breaking, I would not be able to command my unit. What they didn't say is that if I ever hurt my knee at any time, the government would then have to pay heavy disability benefits and I wasn't worth the money.
Well, it was going to be a civilian life for me. This time was not as devastating and made me come to grips with my fate. I stayed at the bank for only four uneventful months and then decided to move back to Ocean County for the cheaper tuition and to save some money living at home. Sometimes freedom has to be suspended to settle down and grow. The uprootings and replantings had begun.
* New Accounts Representative
* Bank Teller 8/83 - 7/85
First National Bank of Toms River (age 18 to 20)
Now that I had "experience" working in a bank, it made sense to follow that trail and get a job at another bank. Pop's cousin Dick was the manager of a branch of the First National Bank of Toms River and he gave him a holler on the phone. Leaning back with his left hand in his pocket like he does when he's calling for business, Pop explained my situation and experience and asked if they needed any help. Dick told him to tell me to go down to the Personnel Department and fill out an application with his name as the reference, he would do what he could.
The next week I was placed as a bank teller at the dinky, small-town Lakehurst branch, right near the base where the Sea Cadet drills were just a few years ago. One of many ironies this was. Right near where the adventures had started and now had downshifted into inching-along gear, popping out sometimes into neutral.
Most of the customers were the Navy and Marines and their dependents, with almost as many Social Security checks from the surrounding retirement villages and a formidable showing from the food stampers. Interspersed throughout the day were a few people who weren't on the government dole.
One guy we used to call the Graphite Man and he always came to my window, probably feeling a little scuzzy to be talking with the ladies. He worked at a graphite pencil factory and came in every two Fridays with his pay check, the sun reflecting from his back as he put out a cigarette at the door.
The Graphite Man was covered in it, that silvery black dust clinging to his blue coat and cap and face and hands, everywhere. He wound through the maroon velvet ropes even if nobody was waiting in line, his cap pulled down low, and reached my window with everybody looking at him. The Graphite Man grunted and dropped the check on the counter smudged with fingerprints.
I would touch a damp sponge used for stamps and gently wipe my thumb over the check amount to see all the numbers. "Put it in an envelope", he croaked. Looking up again into his face, I saw every wrinkle defined and lined and imagined that his lungs looked like they were drawn by an artist in fine detail.
He never said anything else, not much for conversation with a clean-cut bank teller boy in a white shirt and tie asking him questions about pencils and what his favorite lead is. My guess now is that he probably didn't have one. I handed him the white and blue bank envelope and it was soiled the moment it reached his mitts.
He grunted twice.
"Have a nice day!"
He grunted twice again, which I took for "You too".
The Branch Manager was a natty, restless man nearing forty and he soon got promoted to the Assistant Manager of the second largest branch, where Pop's cousin Dick was the Branch Manager. This was the opportunity for him to get out of the boondocks of Lakehurst and into the action and money in Bricktown. Two weeks later, he called me about an opening just becoming available there for a teller and that it would be a good place to get recognized for my outstanding work and get promoted. With a relative-of-sorts as the Manager and a mentor as the Assistant Manager, it was a good opportunity and I took it. The escalation was beginning.
I was doing well, balancing to the penny on my proof sheets and was courteous and well-liked by the customers and my peers. It was great working in such a large office and going out with a few people for happy hour and having a few dollars. I even took to smoking a pipe for a while, enjoying the aroma and the affectation. The women got a kick out of it.
Right around this time was the suicide bombing of the Marine peacekeeping force headquarters in Beirut on October 23, and then two days later was the invasion of Grenada by the Marines and Army Rangers. My friend Scott from high school band and the moonshine incident was a Marine in the invasion and then was shipped off to Beirut to help claw through the wreckage and fill the shoes of one of the 241 dead men.
Here was a guy in high school with long blond hair wearing flannel shirts untucked long before it was fashionable, and reeked of resin from his yellowed thumb and forefinger and came to band practice with bloodshot eyes. Six months later, after a grueling boot camp at Parris Island, he showed up on Christmas Eve in his dress blues with the tunic collar, white cover and gloves and seemed about four inches taller somehow, and with much broader shoulders. There was the same familiar face with freckles, but now topped with short yellow spikes of hair and whites that weren't shot with red. The change was miraculous.
I called Scott's mother and got his APO number and unit information in Lebanon and wrote a letter about how everybody was thinking about him and would write and that I wanted to do my part and was going to try to enlist in the Navy. There also wasn't that much excitement in counting out twenties.
His return letter a few weeks later had red dust in the wrinkles and edges and he encouraged me to go for it, even if I wanted to be a Squiddly Diddly. The pet name for the Navy is the Squids or Squiddly-Diddlies. Maybe we would be stationed together sometime.
He went on about their frustration of not being allowed to have ammunition for the weapons they carried. There were rockets firing overhead, going both ways and they hit the deck and dug their fingers into the red dirt that settled on everything. "Marines are trained to fight, not to sit in the middle of one".
He called me "Funny Man" Carstensen, referring to the time I had a group of us from band all laughing at him. We had a common link, both having lived the life of the flannel and a military uniform, except that I didn't have any confirmed kills to my credit and couldn't go for a drink with the good 'ol boys down at the VFW.
I failed the physical exam a third and final time because of my knee and the only uniform I would wear is in the business hues and sensibility. Yes, I read "Dress for Success" because it's required reading for a ladder climber. The rule of thumb is: wear something that your grandfather would wear since your boss, more than likely, is someone's grandfather.
And above all else, don't go shopping for suits with your wife, or girlfriend especially, or your sister or any female because they'll have you looking sexy in an Italian suit snug in the buns, which could seriously disqualify you for the next rung. When you go to the office, you are dressing for your bosses, which until recently used to be old men who wore boxy suits with drafty trousers in blue or gray and did not appreciate the individuality that is flaunted by wearing something out of the dress code. That's like going off the menu and it isn't encouraged.
Of course that has changed since then, with pinstripes pretty much out all together and men are wearing Dockers and brown shoes and many without ties. In the bank, the male tellers are now allowed to wear sweaters and open-necked, denim blue shirts. Open-necked? And not white? Or at least a light blue? I would have been fired if I walked in one morning like that.
Shortly after, there was a job posting for a New Accounts Representative at the Hooper Avenue Branch, the headquarters and flagship where the President was with all of the brass in pin-striped suits. I got the job, all in seven months. Most people took a year at least. Okay, next floor up please.
This position was at a desk in an area open to banking customers, just outside of the vault called the "platform". In the old days, the place where you opened an account and applied for loans was on a raised area that they called the platform, and so now my job was on the platform. The people who worked at the other desks were junior officers of the bank and I was a junior officer-in-waiting.
I say officer-in-waiting because it used to be that if you worked and waited long enough at a bank, they'd eventually make you an Assistant Cashier and then a Cashier and then Assistant Vice President and then to the coveted title of Vice President, which is more often where you died if you were a good boy and kept your trap shut. The bank hands out the VP titles to impress the customers that they're talking to someone important.
A few people with more breaths of life in them become Senior Vice Presidents. Oh yes, many a Vice President has died waiting for the President to die, so they could finally be promoted and die themselves as the President.
I tied up what was a small fortune to me in clothes and styled hair and the trappings that are necessary to project a professional image, of someone that has power and respect. Yes, I did have a power red tie, or actually several red ties depending on what kind of power and how much I wanted to project. You never want to get caught with your power down, it's embarrassing.
The thing that threw me for a loop was when the color of the power tie went from red to yellow and it became passe' to think you could pull off power wearing a tie that no longer threw around any weight. People stopped buying so many red ties and snatched up the yellow ones, thinking they looked more powerful... in yellow. Somebody was laughing and they were on the way to the bank, but it wasn't me.
Do you believe that people do this? Maybe you do, I'm sorry. Really, I am sorry for you, I know how it can happen. I'm ashamed, sure, but I was young and impressionable and excited by the clatter and din of competition in the free enterprise system of the get-rich-quick '80's. Whatever it took to get a leg up. I read the Journal religiously, trying to glean out the secrets, and Forbes and Money and Barron's and all the stuff I could read because knowledge... knowledge is really power. As I read of arbitrageurs and investment bankers and stockbrokers and analysts, they were all possibilities for a bright guy that wanted to stake his claim.
But those were mostly jobs that never saw the human face of money, the ones that were at my desk everyday with their daily finances and struggles. There was the man who came to my desk one day barely able to contain his crying, a slight Jewish man with a Brooklyn accent. I showed him a seat and he told me of his wife in the hospital dying of cancer with about two weeks to live and he couldn't believe that this was happening to her. "She's built like a linebacker", he said. "It should be me. She was always the strong one, she should live" and how could he go on without her?
He eventually settled into questions about probate court and estate taxes and I gave him a few of the bold strokes to start with and gave him my card, to call me and I would help. He didn't have much, about fifteen thousand dollars before taxes. Not much for a man in his sixties to get by on.
A couple of days later he called and said he was coming in. When he sat down, I told him to withdraw all of their money out of the bank before his wife passed away so that the state wouldn't tax half of the money and hold it up for several months in probate. I said this very quietly because I shouldn't have. If he didn't do this, he would lose a good portion of his scant nest egg and there wasn't much of his family left to help. They had died in the Holocaust and throughout the years.
He took my advice and then I didn't hear from him in several weeks and wondered how he was faring. One morning he came in brighter than ever before, not exactly kicking his heels, but he thanked me quietly and shook my hand with tears welled in his sagging eyes and handed me a card. When he left, I opened it and there was a crisp fifty dollar bill with another Thank You and a Mazeltov!
Yes, what I did is illegal, but I helped another human being in need when they needed it the most. The money stayed where it rightfully belonged and no one was harmed.
On my last day, a couple of days before I moved to Texas to attend the University of Houston, there was a party with cake and balloons and Vita, the Branch Manager, gave me a gift from my co-workers who had all pitched in. It was a shiny, gold Jules Jurgensen watch with "RJC" inscribed on the back. They said it was to show their appreciation and to accompany me on my journey.
Working there had been non-stop and stressful, busy most times with problems like irate customers blaming the bank for their checkbook not balancing and it turning out to be a subtraction error on their part or their wife or husband didn't write in a check. There were also the new ATM's that scared people, as well as the new bank deregulation that changed the rules and caused confusion. I was deeply touched by their gesture but was glad to get the hell out of there.
* Business Administration major 9/83 - 5/85
Ocean County College (age 19 to 20)
Up to the fall semester of 1984, for one year, I had been going to school part-time at night, working 8:30 to 5:00, wolfing down a bite, and getting into class by six. Two classes a night got me out around ten o'clock Monday to Thursday and home around 10:45 or so and I headed upstairs to study or do homework or read business magazines. My social life went begging.
A highly popular book of the time that I read was Lee Iacocca's autobiography-propaganda about a return to the way it used to be (as if it could and should) and how we should be talking straight (the title of his next book) and acting tough in the name of family and God and country (and the Chrysler Corporation). It drew raves and devotion worldwide from the Onward Business Soldiers singing their hymns of the survival of the fittest while they diligently worked at picking another pocket. The assets of business were swelling on the selling at higher and higher prices and the junk bond kings like Michael Milken were hailed as the upturning curves were roundly cheered.
We revered the trench-coated and bespectacled marketing general Iacocca who as President of Ford, sold his customers Pintos that exploded on impact from the rear and then tried to pay them off to keep it quiet. Of course, this is the same man who in 1972 talked Nixon out of making seatbelts mandatory so the price of American cars would stay low enough to compete with the Japanese. Then he sold about sixty thousand Chryslers as new that had been test-driven with the odometers disconnected. Remember?
But then again, this is also the same man that made such a big issue of paying back early a $1.2 billion dollar loan from the federal government to bail out a mismanaged and dying Chrysler Corp., partially by getting the contract for all of the wheezing, chugging cars our public servants sputtered around in. This is the government that Lee was always whining is on the back of American business. Do you see a hypocrite in this man?
This is the business baron who was asked why, in 1986, did he make $23.6 million dollars in salary, bonuses, stock grants and stock options at a time when the firm was cutting costs, including limiting compensation to certain white collar employees. Lido said, "That's the American way. If kids don't aspire to make money like I did, what the hell good is this country? You gotta give them a role model, right?" Yeah, right.
When he was fired from the Statue of Liberty commission because of differences of opinion with the Secretary of the Interior, he leveled his favorite charge that his dismissal was "un-American." In 1987, Lee Iacocca criticized corporate raiders as greedy and "un-American". In 1996, he tried but failed in a hostile takeover of Chrysler with the help of a dissident shareholder and all of those stock options he tried to cash in for control. I would like my fallen and disgraced hero to tell us how he has reconciled himself with all of that and gets a good night's sleep.
This is all in retrospect. It really did look a lot different to me at the time, as it did to many people with more age and experience and caution. It is amazing the powers of perception and how our glasses are colored by what we want to see and believe. "Run for President Lee, we trust you. We want to so badly." "Go Lee, go!" He wisely decided not to.
I was becoming impatient with the way college was creeping along six credits a semester while full-timers were racking up eighteen. After a year, I was twenty-four credits short, and forty eight credits in the hole after two years. At that rate, you're going nowhere fast and that's what it looked like to me. Those of you that went, or go, to night school know what I'm talking about. That's why I decided to go to school full-time and cut back my hours at the bank so I could get out of there and move on.
Hey, I don't want to knock it. For some people night school is great, it really is. My hat is off to them. I met some interesting, hard-working people in night school. They were mostly older but we were all in the same boat paddling along and we had a few laughs. There was a woman in one class interested in continuing the discussion a few times inside my Mercury in the parking lot. Another one closed out the last day of classes with a bang after a few of us went to Ground Round for drinks. I miss night school.
In my last semester to get the associate's degree, I decided to take a class in German, wanting to learn more about my heritage mostly. Getting to the first class five minutes early, the cold sun past the windows, I found a seat there where it was warm. The bearded professor smiled and returned his gaze to the clock upon the wall. He had ruddy cheeks and a thickly knit turtleneck sweater pulled over a storage tank that had its fill of fine Bavarian bier I confidently surmised.
The red seconds hand on the clock was starting its final lap around before the buzzer, the professor pulled himself up from behind the desk with his eyes still on the clock... and in walks a head of wild blond hair like Madonna in the early days with an odd beauty of deviant features, thin and lithe in a mini skirt and pumps with those little frilly white socks at the ankles. And those freckles. I recognized those freckles and her nose, that unmistakable nose. Is that Donna, could it be? Blue eyes, looking right at me... it is, and she recognized me too and sat next to me, our eyes catching again out of the corners.
Herr Professor called the start of class and I couldn't believe what just happened, how she had grown up and how exciting it was to meet her, and so unexpectedly. I didn't know her that well but she was from my high school in the band, two years younger in my sister's class. We had maybe said a few words at practice, but I knew her brother because he was a trombone player and she knew my brother because they were both drummers and now I couldn't wait for the first day of German class to end so I could talk to her. Three or four years ago she was masquerading as an ugly duckling.
She went out with me and said she was seeing a baseball player but wasn't happy that he was usually out with the boys drinking at the beach and picking up girls, and the next week we were exclusive. Our relationship was based on having fun. Donna loved the way I made her laugh and we giggled our way into peeling each other's clothes off one night after a rapturous dinner at Sizzler. There wasn't any sticky sweetness to it with pledges of eternal love, although I think we both felt it. Putting ourselves in daring positions became what we did and I think it started one day between classes on one of the first warm, sunny days of spring.
We were lying on a grassy slope, the one that rose from the main walkway across campus from the Student Center to the academic buildings. Donna's eyes were closed as she basked her swimmer's body in white shorts and a peach halter top with a satisfied smile and sighed with contentment as a bumble bee bobbed by. I was propped on my right elbow, facing her and looking down at the students and professors walking by, involved in their own discussions and thoughts and none looked up at us or the few others lying on the embankment.
I leaned over and planted a wet, very soulful kiss on her lips that began to arouse her as our tongues met and she pushed her nipples to my chest. My hand on her belly slipped under the halter and found them excited, as was I by now. It wasn't a conscious thought but my hand was lifting her top and she gently held it to stop me.
"What, are you scared?"
Our eyes fixed on each other for a long moment... and she shook her head no and closed her eyes as my hand slowly pushed up. She arched her back and dropped a hand in my lap, burying her face in my neck and kissing as I rolled off and exposed her breasts to the sun and sky and any wandering eye and her breathing came in gasps. I gently pulled on them the way she liked.
Donna yanked her top down and got up and grabbed my hand and led me or pulled me to the Mercury, my other hand holding books awkwardly in front as I tried to keep up. Our dates after that became shared adventures where we wound up in places like the college arboretum, underneath the trees one night after class, or almost always while I was driving, or on the beach at night, or in parking lots any time.
Oh, I miss her and that time and our ages at that time (I was twenty, she was eighteen). The last I knew of her is that she became a teacher in a middle school and that she's married. Probably has a couple of kids by now.
That July of 1985, I moved with three friends from high school to Houston, Texas to attend the University of Houston and had to leave Donna and our intense six month relationship. The plans were made before we met and my friends were depending on me to be there, but the strongest was the call to roam a foreign land and so the time came to depart.
Hugging her, my heart was trying to lunge from my chest and there was a tug of war as I struggled to turn for the door. I couldn't until the wee hours and at nine o'clock the guys pulled up hitched to a U-Haul trailer and there was no sleep in between, only aching. My heart was wrenched again as I said goodbye to Pop and Mars and Corkemsnork and Moyo (John was in the Army) and climbed aboard a rickety Buick Regal heading southwest for Texas.
Change of residence
Five of us were packed in the car, a full load on a journey to Texas to lead the next dramatic chapter of our lives 1,700 miles from home. There was the two Barry brothers, John and Mike. John, the eldest, is the smaller with a head of Irish red hair to cap his scrappiness and laughing and was a sax player. Mike (the Bear) is a thickset, black Irish and an old soul comfortable with a cigar and a wee dram of the scotch whisky.
Hayden is a fellow trumpet player with a small patch of gray hair on the side who greeted just about everyone with, "Heyyy penis". Our joke in band was that we were afraid one of our moms would answer the phone one day and would hear, "Heyyy penis!". His brother Kevin was going along to visit and help us move in but it was too crowded already as we drove away with four days of driving ahead of us.
We only got forty minutes away when we noticed steam escaping from the hood and pulled over to the shoulder, overheating on the NJ Turnpike South just before making it out of the state. A friend came out with a new thermostat and we changed it, thinking that had to be the problem. There didn't seem to be any major leaks in the radiator and the level of antifreeze and water was okay.
With the thermostat in and our confidence back up, we were on the way again to the first checkpoint in Baltimore to see an acquaintance from Great Adventure. An hour later, the car was billowing steam again. We pulled over, let her cool, poured in more antifreeze and water, drove along slowly in the right lane, pulled it over to cool, watered her down and limped the car to Baltimore.
We decided to have John and Kevin fly to Houston on Continental and the Bear, Hayden and I would drive down. I was the only one with a credit card and was a natural to stay with the car. Now I'm the only one without a credit card. We drove at night when it was cool with a gallon of water and an antifreeze in the trunk and dubbed ourselves the Desert Rats.
There were three rotations of four hours, one as the driver, one as the co-pilot for navigation and to keep the driver awake, and one to rest in the back seat. Co-pilot was the first shift after waking up and when it was time to jump in the driver's seat, a Vivarin caffeine pill went down the hatch for that extra edge. Fifteen minutes later you feel like you can make it to California, stopping only for gas and maybe a small coffee.
We made it to I-81 South and climbed through the fog of the Appalachian Mountains and there weren't many lights or other cars traveling at that time of night. The gas gauge was approaching "E" but there hadn't been a station around since we passed one about half full. Over the next hill and the next, okay maybe the next will be a pump and a bathroom open. There were no street lights and the fog was getting thicker and spookier.
"Come on, there's got to be a station."
A lighted sign appeared from the darkness, "Gas", and the Bear pulled in. None of us had seen it a moment before. The attendant shuffled up to the car like a zombie with his cap pulled low over a grizzly beard and there was an eery aura like driving into a twilight zone. When we left, the temperature gauge was reading stone cold.
Around 8:30 in the morning on I-40 West heading for Knoxville, I was driving exhausted and Hayden the co-pilot fell asleep on me. I had to pull off the road and shut my eyes for just a little while, even for just fifteen minutes. Turning off the next ramp, there were only fields and rail fences and nowhere to stop and the first accommodating place was a white church in the middle of a field with a cemetery behind. Under some shade trees I rolled the window down and fell asleep with my head on the door and sank into serenity.
A small dog was yapping off in the distance of my dream, and then it seemed to be from the outside world. I opened an eye to a small brown and white dog barking up at me and wagging its tail. The other two woke to the sight of this peaceful white church with fields of green clover and headstones and mist rising in the warming morning.
"Are we dead?", Hayden croaked.
"No, I'm still hungry."
A seventeen dollar motel room down the road is where we found seven hours of sleep cooling in our underwear.
We stopped in Nashville long enough to eat at McDonald's and continued our trek by Memphis and across the Mississippi River and through the desolation of Arkansas to Little Rock, picking up I-30 South and past the town of Hope (hometown of President Clinton) to Texarkana at the northeastern corner of Texas, where we stopped at eight in the morning for breakfast at Denny's. It was an oasis.
Back on the road about 9:15 after fried eggs and grits (I like to eat like the natives), we took Route 59 South on the last seven hour leg down to Houston. It was sweltering already but we decided to make this last run during the day to finally just get there. Well it was hell, the car becoming an unrelenting oven because using the air conditioner would overheat the car and was out of the question.
The town of Nacogdoches, one of the oldest town in Texas was the first stop and we found a supermarket with air conditioning to cool off and buy more jugs of water for ourselves and the car. While taking a long cool drink, the Bear backed unknowingly into a colony of dreaded red fire ants and they bit him all over the ankles before we could clear them off and pour water on his stinging legs.
It was nearly impossible to keep our eyes open and the oppressive heat made us sluggish. Around 4:30 we arrived, ready to collapse, grungy and smelling. John and Kevin had just gotten out of the pool with bathing suits and tousled hair, telling us about their flight while having drinks with a couple of girls on the plane that was half full and cool. We wanted to slug them but we couldn't lift our arms. They had a case of cold beer in the fridge though and cooked burgers for us while we showered. We made it.
American Bartending School (age 20)
The only way I was going to afford to move to Texas and go to college would be by working and I was going to have to rustle up a job in a jiffy. Being able to serve at a bar or restaurant is always a good way to pick up work anywhere and since I had no previous experience, I decided to take a two week bartending class before U of H got started at the end of August. Most of the guys in the class were in their thirties or forties and unemployed or looking for a second job. One of the class though was a woman with short brown hair and a light tan with perkiness more than you see on such petiteness and was a distraction to every man there. She was a Texas lady of thirty-one named Jeranne who was recently divorced and she caught up to me on the way out the first day and I fell into those dark brown eyes before saying goodbye until tomorrow. The man that could get her would be one very lucky and happy man, I thought.
On the second day when the class was to pair up for calling out and mixing drinks, she sat down across the bar from me and asked if I would like to be with her. I must have uttered something affirmative. The guys had been talking about her before she arrived and who was going to get her. I had no idea at the time, but I was a marked man.
She asked me out after class to Po Boy's Cajun Restaurant for shrimp creole and jambalaya with long-necked Buds to wash it down and cool the stomach. In her car on the way there, Houston rushed by and her voice lilted and rose as the most lovely breasts ever to meet my eyes accompanied in the lower register robustly and I wondered what she was seeing in a kid like me.
It was busy and the long rows of picnic tables with attached benches were nearly full and we found a space enough for about one and a half people. She sat down and I straddled the bench facing her and it was hot and our eyes watered from the spices and noses ran and desire was kindling. She is the sexiest woman I have ever met and called me Roddy with a sweet Texas drawl.
Pulling in next to my car at the bartending school, I wanted to kiss her so badly and she wanted to I thought, but wasn't sure and besides, we had only met the day before and she was eleven years older than me and... all right, I was afraid okay? That's why I couldn't kiss her. I mean here she was an older woman, not just a couple or a few years older, but a woman in her thirties with two children and was just divorced after nine years. She leaned over, kissed me once on the lips and said she couldn't wait to see me tomorrow. "Uh... me too."
Jeranne and I were a pair throughout the two weeks and went out afterwards several times, finally kissing full steam and becoming very amorous in the parking lot of my apartment. The day after the last day of class, she went to San Antonio with her company on business. She was a secretary and had to go to meetings and called at night from her hotel room and said she couldn't wait to get together the day after my twenty-first birthday in three days to give me a very special present. One that I would like very much she assured. I believed her wholeheartedly.
She invited me to her place for a home cooked meal and wouldn't tell me what was in the oven, she wanted it to be a surprise. I asked if it was baked bull's testicles as an aphrodisiac to turn me on and she told me to open the wine. We drank and toasted and kissed and stuff like that, you know. It was time for dinner and she opened the oven and pulled out a large glass pan of lasagna, not what I was expecting from a lady of Southern tastes. I had mentioned once about loving lasagna and she wanted to please me.
Soft country music played and Jeranne dimmed the lights after dinner and we moved to the couch. She rested her head on my chest and purred as I stroked her hair and head and neck and then our lips met passionately, her hand in mine squeezing and leading to her and then pulling me up and into the bedroom. My other hand yanked off glasses as the bureau whizzed by and I was on the bed, on top of her.
"You better be goood now Roddy".
"I'm not here to be good".
We got together several more times and were quickly becoming attached, or at least I was. She was in no hurry and that's all I was in. More often she said she was busy and unavailable and we talked a few times by phone before even that stopped. I called her up a year later before moving back to New Jersey and thanked her and wished the best. She was possibly getting back with her ex-husband, she said, and their two daughters living with him. They were going to try and keep their family together.
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