By the time I applied to college (July after my senior year) and was accepted (August of that same year), I had no time to get a summer job and save money for school. Initially, I figured I’d relax through the summer months and enlist in the military after all my close friends went off to college.
That last sentence tells quite a bit about my high school years. I somehow came to believe that getting good grades was not cool. I did just enough to get by. I spent as little time as possible on homework. I was perfectly content with my ‘C’ average. After all, who needs good grades to get into the Army and become a truck driver?
I wasn’t even aware that my best friends were making good grades and getting ready to graduate with honors! What a shock to the system. The four guys I was closest to in school had been accepted to college before we even graduated, and I was oblivious that they had even applied.
Tony Civello earned a degree in Pharmacology from the University of Pittsburgh; Ed Johnston earned a degree in Engineering from the same school. Herb D’Alo graduated from Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University) with a degree in Industrial Design, and Gary Smith graduated from California State College with a degree in Chemistry.
And I was going to join the army and become a truck driver. I was definitely missing the boat!
When I received my acceptance letter for Edinboro State Teachers College, my older brother, Lew, told me he’d pay for my first year. His offer covered my tuition, room and board, and books. Anything beyond that was up to me. My parents were living on Social Security, so I couldn’t count on them for any help.
My first week of school was also my first week at work in the cafeteria. For seventy-five cents an hour, I washed dishes, mopped floors, bused tables, and did anything else they asked me to do. I must have impressed somebody because I was soon offered an additional job in the Student Union. There I fried hamburgers, made milkshakes, and did whatever was required of a guy working a counter at a snack shop. When we closed at the end of the evening, I cleaned the tables, and swept the floors.
Both jobs carried the same hourly rate, but the Student Union did more than provide me with additional hours. I credit that job for the fifty pounds I added to my frame during my freshman year.
The health department decreed that any pre-made sandwiches be thrown away at the end of the day. I usually managed to take two or three submarine sandwiches back to the dormitory with me. The ladies in charge of the snack counter also allowed me to make myself a nice thick milkshake to drink with my late night ‘snack’.
Before I place all the blame for my weight on the Student Union, I should also mention another health department rule; once milk was poured in a glass, it had to be consumed or dumped. Quite often I would drink five or six glasses of milk after the last student left the cafeteria.
I was one hundred fifty-five pounds when I graduated from high school. I now tip the scales at more than two hundred seventy. Blame it on the health department!
The summer after my freshman year I went to work for R.L. Polk, publishers of city directories. Barney Cannon was our supervisor and, because of my size – I was now a smidgen over six feet tall and two hundred and five pounds of fairly solid bulk – he assigned me to the rougher neighborhoods. Because of the pay scale, I gladly accepted the assignments. We were paid a base rate of a dollar fifteen per hour (minimum wage at the time) and a bonus for any information we gathered above the assigned quotas.
The quotas varied by the population density of the neighborhoods. The areas I covered had higher densities and quotas, but a lot less walking. I could go through a city block of rooming houses and get the information on a hundred people in less than an hour and a half. My quota was five hundred for an eight hour day. Thus, I’d return to the office with six hundred names and collect a nickel for every one beyond my quota.
I think some of the older employees started complaining that I was ‘ruining the curve’ because one day I was assigned to a neighborhood that had a quota of about two hundred; that meant a lot of walking between houses. Strangely enough, it was my own neighborhood. That helped because I knew the answers to all of the questions for a great many of my neighbors. More importantly, I had to visit several small businesses to get the information concerning their employees.
When I went into the office of Adams Van Lines, I found myself answering more questions than I was asking. They wanted to know how much I weighed, how much weight I could lift, and when I could start working.
They offered me two dollars per hour, but admitted they wouldn’t be able to use me every day. When I returned to the office that day, I explained the situation to Barney. He agreed to let me work both jobs. To make it easier, he told me I didn’t have to call if I’d be moving furniture on a given day. If I didn’t show up for work, he’d figure I was working the other job.
There were many days my body ached to be going door-to-door for R.L. Polk. The moving company often called me at six in the morning with instructions to be at the garage by seven. I was able to walk to work, so that wasn’t usually a problem. However, the sixteen hour days were real killers! And sometimes our entire work day involved carrying refrigerators and stoves into brand new apartments. It seemed that we no sooner finished unloading one trailer truck when the next one pulled in.
One thing that helped me financially is that Adams paid me as a ‘contractor’. Although I don’t think they ever paid me as much as I earned, they never reported anything to the IRS. So I only had to report the income I earned at Edinboro and R.L. Polk. Hopefully the statue of limitations will protect me on the confession I just made. Am I safe after more than forty years?
I had two other jobs during my college career. One was supposed to be two days worth of work at a carpet company in Dormont, Pennsylvania. At the end of the first day, my boss complimented me on my work ethic and said I’d done such a great job that I was no longer needed for the second day. I was hoping he’d give me a little extra money, but all I got was a firm handshake and pat on the back.
The other job was with an electrical fittings manufacturer in Edinboro. I was working night shift while attending summer school to complete the requirements for my degree. The first night wasn’t bad, but the second night I was assigned to a machine that cut a grove through the center of bolts (so that a wire could be strung between the nut and the bolt. When I completed my eight hour shift, I had metal shavings in every part of my body and was bleeding by the time I got undressed and ready for bed.
When I returned for the third day of work the foreman told me I’d done such a good job with the bolt cutter that he was putting me back on that same machine. I asked for protective clothing and glasses. He laughed. I left.
OSHA had not yet been invented. Fortunate for me, common sense had been instilled by my parents. I went to the local bank and borrowed the money I needed to finish out my college education.
In Part III, I’ll discuss the jobs I held prior to joining IBM. Eventually, my offspring and descendants might begin to understand why I am who I am.