It’s amazing how many adults including myself get so hung up on what a 17 year old is going to do with the rest of their lives. I’m “lucky”, I get to put that unnecessary pressure on my two children (plus my niece who lives with us) as well as my students in school. It does make me wonder how many people end up in the career that they majored in, in school? Unless you go in for a specific career like Accounting or Law, or Engineering, it’s probably pretty typical to sort of drift from job-to-job until you find a career.
I went to school in the exotic land of Central New York. Specifically, in Oswego, New York. Oswego gets a bad rap due to its weather and radioactive run off from the local Nuclear Power Plant. But as anyone in Oswego can tell you, “You don’t need a 3rd eye to see how great life is on the shores of Lake Ontario, but it does come in handy!” Many people like to exaggerate about the weather in Oswego, particularly the winter season, which barely lasts from late September thru early June. I can remember my Junior year in school where it practically didn’t snow more than 39 straight days. In face, you’d be surprised how well you can drive when you can’t see the front end of your car.
(I should have majored in snow brush manufacturing now that I think of it.)
Weather aside, I went to SUNY Oswego to major in Communications, with the hope that I would move into their Broadcasting school. (The Broadcasting school wasn’t a separate place, just a different title for the classes you’d be taking). I really wanted to go to Syracuse like the great, Marv Albert, but I had two problems…money and grades. My father said that if I did well the first two years I could transfer to Syracuse for my Junior year. It would of course mean that my parents would have to scrimp and save, but they were willing to allow me to pursue my dream. My dream was inspired by watching the most popular sports/news anchor in New York City at the time, the great Warner Wolf. This was when ESPN was in its infancy, and if you wanted to see sports highlights, you had to watch local news. Warner would yell, “Let’s go to the videotape” and you knew you were going to see something cool. This is what I wanted to do for a career, and it looked like a lot of fun, and now my father said we could make it happen.
Who wouldn’t idolize such a man, the suit, the tie, and hair!
Reality settled in quickly when my first semester grades came out. My parents could now breathe a sigh of relief and go back to their frivolous ways. Goodbye Syracuse, goodbye school of Broadcasting…hello Happy Hour!
It wasn’t just my grades, or lack thereof, I didn’t think I was very good, or at least I didn’t think I sounded very aesthetically pleasing. My roommates taped my WOCR broadcast of the heated basketball rivalry between the “Great Lakers” of SUNY Oswego vs. the “Flying Purple Disciples”, (Not their real name) otherwise known as Roberts Wesleyan University. I forget who won, but I remember it looking something like this:
It’s not that I didn’t have a good time, it was a tremendous amount of fun, although it wasn’t as easy as it looked. Remember, it was radio, if you don’t talk, the people at home have no idea what is going on. But it was the sound of my voice that I hated more than anything. If I couldn’t stand that nasal tone, what were people at home going to think? I also didn’t like the idea that if I was going to have a career in radio, I was probably going to have to move to Kansas, make minimum wage working the graveyard shift putting carts in all night for commercials for “Zeke’s Tractors, Guns, and Adult Sex Toy Emporium”. I pictured my experience looking something like this:
Since being a broadcaster was not going to happen, it was time to consider other possibilities.
I tried being a cameraman for WTOP, the school’s television station, but that was like watching a soccer game. Then I tried being a Technical Director, but every time I was supposed to switch shots, the Director would hit me on the top of my head….that got tiresome fast. It all seemed so stressful, which considering the amount of viewers we had was pretty silly. Eventually I settled on writing for the school newspaper and looked forward to a career in Public Relations. There was only one problem, unless you could type 50 words per minute, it was hard to get too many jobs in the field of Communications.
Approximately a month after graduating, on my birthday no less, I went on a job interview right across the street from the “Twin Towers”. I went up stairs into what was a pretty old building and exited the elevator for “Read-More Publications”. The office manager came out to interview me and I was immediately struck by his paralyzing stutter. It caused him to contort and spit in between probing questions. I have forever been proud of myself for holding it together during the interview which for a 22 year going on well 22, was no easy feat. He hired me on the spot (Red Flag) for the impressive sum of $13,000. When I showed up on Monday, I knew something was awry when I didn’t have a department, a title, responsibility, or a desk. One guy took pity on me and gave me one of his desk draws.
Working in the city meant riding the L.I.R.R. The $125 ride from the Massapequa station to Penn Station, along with the $40 a week for subway tokens to take the subway down to the World Trade center pretty much ate up my entire paycheck. The experience did finally help me understood why my father was so tired when he got home. There was something every tiresome about the L.I.R.R. process. Even though my father was an Accountant, I really had no idea what he did, and he never, ever spoke about work. For all I knew, he took the train in, sat on a park bench for 8 hours and then came home. He never mentioned a name, never told a work story, never spun an anecdote. “Dad, how was work today”, “Eh, work is work”. Try arguing with that.
If you put your ear to the computer, you can just make out the conductor saying, “Tickets Please, Tickets Please”.
As for “Read-More”, they sold subscriptions to Doctor’s offices. My job was to update Doctor’s addresses and the prices for the subscriptions. I had to jump into people’s desks when they weren’t there so I could get work done since I didn’t have my own desk or computer, not that it ever seemed to matter. The work I did didn’t seem to resonate with anybody and I don’t think anyone ever checked it. The place had bubbles and tears in the carpet, and a hole in the wall covered by the copier, and the secretary was having an affair with the boss, so she came and went as she pleased. One day, I noticed that one of my bosses “Yola” and the Office Manager with the unfortunate stutter started getting ready to leave early and both had black Neil Diamond concert t-shirts on. Apparently he was doing a 5 night block at the “Garden”, and they were going to make sure they caught every one of them. I tried to engage them with tales regaling the wild energy of Keith Moon, but they seemed unmoved.
After 3 months I went into to the see the Office Manager since he had promised me a review. When I told him I was getting married soon and I certainly couldn’t make it on $13,000, he said, “Well, you’re a nice kid, how about we raise you to $13,300”. I left about two weeks later having left the glamorous world of “Subscriptions” behind. But for three months, I’ll always remember the kind man who let me use his draw.