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Showing posts from October, 2009

Wieners and Schnitzels

I finally got the DREAM job at Readak Educational Services .... Overseas Representative.

Vienna, Austria was my new home. What history! What beauty! What culture! ... the Vienna Boys Choir ... neutered at birth, The Lippizzan Stallions ... given steroids at birth, Wolfgang Mozart ... just plain wierd at birth. Wieners and schnitzels are everywhere. Dogs were revered  ... so much so that children were banished to the back seats of cars, forced to give their "shotgun" seat to the family German shepherd. Beer had an alcoholic content of 357%.

What a place! 

Okay ... so what if Hitler was Austrian and Vienna has the worst history of anti-semitism in the world. Don't forget ... Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler, Franz Kafka ... all were Jewish (I sound like an Adam Sandler song). I think it was only about 10 years ago that Austrians admitted that there may have actually been a Holocaust. I'm sure the 15,000 remaining Jews living there were satisfied with that realization (consid…

Virginia Is For Lovers

In my case ... "Virginia is for lovers who are calling it quits." Carnal and I parted ways in Virginia. After spending the next school year in Greensboro, Tallahassee and Nashville .. we landed in Richmond, Virginia. Carnal decided after this stop, she either wanted to  get a serious relationship going or get a real job. I was standing in my underwear when she made that announcement. She didn't hesitate ... she chose the real job.

St. Christopher's Academy was a beautiful school that was loaded with tradition. Edgar Allen Poe went there (hmmm ... maybe that's why Carnal said "Nevermore"). We taught there for two months and actually lived on campus. The teachers were the tweed type ... patches on the elbows ... hair close cropped ...  always holding a pipe  ... and those were just the females. There was an English professor who was about 65 and named something like Edward (definitely not Eddie). He nodded a lot but I don't remember him actually speak…

What's Wrong With This Picture?

That summer, Carnal and I went home to New Orleans.

It was fun to reconnect with old friends and a great place to just kick back ...and collect unemployment. When the school year ended, so did the paychecks. But if you stood in line at the unemployment office every week and answered the simple questions ... Did you work last week? Did you look for work last week? Are you allergic to work? Did your cat work last week? Can you spell work? ... you were eligible for a check.

Anyone collecting unemployment knows that you get to know the same people you see every week and it becomes like a family. I met some very interesting people ... like John (who had a language all his own). John apparently was on unemployment for many years and just kept answering those questions right. No one asked him "How did you get unemployment in the first place?" Our conversations went like this ...

Me: "Hey John. How goes it?"
John: "Well ... Went to the Bank yesterday (Blood Bank) ... …

The South Shall Rise ... Again

Question:  What cost $14 million, has three swimming pools and 6 horses?
Answer: The cheapest house in Bedford, New York.

It was also the place where Carnal and I lived when we taught at The Bedford Rippowam School. To be more accurate ... we lived in the "slave quarters" adjacent to the home and behind the barn. The family who lived there were board members of Rippowam and offered it to us. We were glad they did ... there were no rentals in Bedford. In fact, the closest place to get a rental was Mt. Kisco.

Bedford was an elite community of wealthy New Yorkers ... many were celebrities (in recent years ... Glen Close, Martha Stewart and Richard Gere). The Rippowam School was beautiful  as was the town of Bedford ... but to be honest ... it was a little stodgy.

So were some of the teachers.

There was a heirarchy. The English teacher ... who was also the soccer coach ... dominated the daily discussions and was apparently the self proclaimed leader of the faculty.  When I arrived…

Gimme a Head With Hair

Albany, Georgia was next.

I found out that it was actually pronounced "AllBenny" ... if you were a native or had a speech impediment. The school to which I was assigned was Deerfield Academy. I found out that students AND teachers alike had a dress code and was told by my boss at Readak that I had to get a haircut. Now ... my hair wasn't that long ... at least it wasn't down to my shoulders ... but it was considered very long by their standards. Hair had to be cut above the ears and could be a little longer on top.

Something snapped inside of me when I was ordered to get a haircut.

I know you're thinking ... it's just a haircut ... not a big deal ... just GET a haircut. It'll grow back. Well ... it was a big deal to me. Why? Maybe it was because I was feeling rebellious ... after all, the Beatles were just coming of age, it was the Age of Aquarius and Jim Morrison had recently died. Maybe it was because I was fed up being pushed around ... I had spent a y…

Indiana Wants Me Part 2

I found out later that Mr. ZZ was a law student at Notre Dame.

He bailed me out that night and became my new best friend. I asked him how he came up with the $5000. He told me that a few years ago one of the rock bands (I think it was The Grateful Dead) was busted in South Bend after a concert. Apparently, they had a bad experience with the police and, before they left the area, set up a "drug fund" to use for desperate criminals such as me. The fund was replenished when "us cons" went to trial.

I said farewell to my new friends who were still clinging to their mattresses and ZZ dropped us off at the triple wide (and what a beautiful sight it was). Carol told me how she happened upon ZZ. She called some kind of convict hotline. He answered the phone (it was his part time job) and told her that he would personally handle the case. Of course, Carol was desperate for anyone to help in the middle of the night and he actually had cash.

So here I was ... a week to go bef…

Indiana Wants Me Part 1

Third time was the charm ... or so I thought.

My course in Gary was a short one and I was reassigned to La Porte, Indiana. Carnal (remember her?) was given a teaching assignment in South Bend just about 20 miles east. My school was La Lumiere Academy ... a very impressive boarding school with top notch students. (Well most were ... I found out that Chris Farley graduated from there).

It was heaven.

My only problem was finding a place to stay. Carol and I had to share a double wide (might have been a triple wide) in a trailer park outside of Michigan City. Wasn't too bad ... as mobile homes go.

But ... my world was about to change dramatically a week before my classes were to start.

One Sunday afternoon, we were driving back to the lovely triple wide when I noticed liquid flames dripping from beneath the steering wheel. I remember slamming on the brakes and telling Carol to jump out of the car. Instantly, the car burst into flames. We stood back helplessly watching as a crowd of tra…

Gary Indiana, Gary Indiana, Gary Indiana

Just when I thought things couldn't be worse ... I was sent to Gary, Indiana.

The only thing I knew about Gary was that song from The Music Man. Seemed like a quaint place with Marion the Librarian and a couple of trombone players hanging around. 

Turned out ... Gary was the armpit of the United States.

Don't know about today ... that was 37 years ago. And by the way I'm sorry if I offended anyone who lived in Gary ... but you're probably used to it.

Now ... I had never been around really cold weather or snow in my life before. Closest thing to snow in New Orleans was under Mr. Bingle's cone head. I was a true southern boy. Didn't own a pair of gloves, heavy coat or long underwear. AND, I always assumed snow was white. Not so in Gary. It was black. That was the color of the snow in Gary. And it stayed black and on the ground forever.

The way I remember Gary, Indiana was that it had steel mills, Michael Jackson's house and one main street with a bunch of…

If I Make It Here ... I'll Make It Anywhere

My classes were all held in the evening.

They were from 7PM - 9PM ... three nights a week. I was the only teacher in the building and most of the kids looked older (and probably were older) than me. I found out quickly how stupid I was to let them call me by my first name and to be their "friend". It took me most of the term of the program to get the class to at least have some respect for my position (which was usually fetal).

The three black panthers hung together in the back of the room and never participated. The "slicer" never did cut any part of my body off although I feared for my life every day. I remember there was a kid named Damien. He was huge ... about 6'8" and over 300 pounds ... all muscle. I think he repeated his senior year fourteen times and was the star of the BHMA basketball team. No surprise they were division state champs ... probably ever since the program began.

And there was Tasha. She was a shy, sullen girl who sat by herself. No…

Having a Bad Day

"Excuse me officer," I spoke to the security cop through the locked gate posts, "I'm supposed to teach here on Monday. Do you know when it might be ... reopened?"

He looked me up and down. "Campus is closed. Kids burned down their dorms."

"I saw the sign, so I figured  ... wait ... what? really? The KIDS burned down their dorms?"


"Oh man ... Well ... can I talk to ...  " I looked at my notes, "Mrs. Cunningham?"

" 'Bout what?"

This fascinating discourse didn't appear to be going anywhere. "Here's my business card," I handed it through the bars.

He studied it for a loooonnnng time. "I'll get Mrs. Cunningham."

"Thanks." Rent-a-cop disappeared down the gravel road behind a row of buildings. He reappeared (in what seemed like) three hours. He slowly unlocked the gate and told me to hop on his golf cart. We drove past three buildings that looked like…

My First Assignment

I'm a slow learner.

In my last blog entry I mentioned that I completely botched Carol's name and embarrassed both of us by calling her Carnal. Even after she told me that her name was Carol, I insisted on questioning her name tag handwriting ...

Me, "I'm so sorry ... I guess I must have read it wrong ... but you know now that I look at your name tag again I really think that o looks like an a and the r really runs into it looking like an n ..."
Carol, "Excuse me? I wrote Carol ... it's my name."
Me, "I know. I mean you know your name ... the handwriting however ... you have to admit ...was a little ... um ..."
Carol, "Sure. Whatever you say ... and it was nice to meet you too," looking intently at my name tag," JOREL".

Well, Carnal and I put that behind us and we plowed through the long months of classwork and homework with our fellow teachers in training. We learned developmental reading processes (which is a nice way…

"Carol" Knowlege

It was about two weeks after my last shift as a SCAB phone operator. I opened the Times Picayune and saw the ad that changed my life.

READAK Educational Services was looking for young (hmm ... that's me), dynamic (I can fake it), bright (okay 2 out of 3 so far) educators (what's that?) that are interested in traveling (yes). Competitive salaries, expenses and bonus packages ... Woah. Money? Real money? What's a readak? Doesn't matter ... I can do this ... I just needed to find out if educators and educated meant the same thing.

Turned out that READAK was actually a developmental reading/study skills program that was sold to independent schools around the world and taught by people like me ... only smarter and reliable. Despite that, I applied and apparently fooled them into thinking I could handle the job. They hired me. Being an educator apparently wasn't as important as advertised. We were "trained" using the READAK method for one month before we were tu…

Small Change

Soon after my brief fling with show biz as Pete the Pelican flapping my wings in a Chevy convertible (a non speaking part) my advertising career hit a wall.

My boss gave me an envelope ... a final paycheck ... and a handshake. Apparently, we weren't bringing in enough money to support the three of us ... and he wanted to award a bonus increase to his secretary when she ascended to Vice President of Sales.

No one was hiring a young graphic designer so I had to take a temporary position ... as a SCAB. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, I was a replacement telephone operator in downtown New Orleans during the phone operator's strike. I crossed the picket line every evening to the boos and hisses of the union members. My hours were 12AM - 7AM. I shared a cubicle with a blind man named Barry and Roxanne, the Bourbon Street stripper. I don't really remember much about Barry other than he was the only other man working there ... but Roxanne had a very interesting life (s…

The Ad Biz

Atlanta didn't work out the way I thought it would. My career as a mural painter generated $200 and 35 free lunches. I decided to pass on the opportunity to paint the administrative office  ... despite the attractive offer of working weekends for an extra $35.

I headed back home to New Orleans. Fortunately, my parents hadn't moved into a different house that month. They had changed the locks ... but that didn't deter me.

I was able to land a job with my first ad agency. It was not very large. There was one desk with two people who shared it ... the owner and his secretary. We had one client .. a car dealership. My job consisted of cutting and pasting little cars on the drawing board in a corner of the office. Every once in a while I got to design the whole ad ... squeezing in as many descriptive phrases like "good as new" or "rebate with the purchase of tires" or "spare tire not included" (in microscopic italicized font).

You might think that w…

My First Real Job

Atlanta seemed like a good place to find a job.

So when I graduated with my Graphic Design degree, I followed my instincts. I moved in with and mooched off my ex-roommate Jeff and his wife Sheryl, hit the streets of Atlanta with my portfolio and waited to be discovered by all the top agencies in town. Why wouldn't they want me? I looked the part ... my hair was much longer and I had a moustache. My portfolio contained examples of nude studies, watercolors, silk screened logos and cartoons.

My only real concern was whether I would accept a $100,000 a year as a starting salary. I knew I would have to negotiate.

Surprisingly, I wasn't courted by the top agencies. Can you believe it? In fact, I didn't even get in the door to most of them. When I did get appointments, they were with administrative assistants, file clerks and once I think I met with someone in maintenance.

I lowered my expectations after a month.

Jeff and Sheryl were about ready for me to move on. I was pickin…

Here's To You, Mrs. Robinson

Do you remember where you were when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon?

I do. I was floating in a pool at a beautiful home in Beverly Hills watching on a television set mounted by the barbeque pit. Maybe that's no big deal today with TVs in every room of the house ... but in 1969 it was sheer decadence.

No ... I didn't sneak in. I was invited. I'll start from the beginning.

In the summer of 1969, a couple of friends and I headed out west after finals. We drove across the country (spending about 5 days driving through Texas ... what a boring state). We ended up in LA without money and without any real plan.

Fortunately, one of the guys actually knew someone who gave him a job ... assembling screen doors. It wasn't glamorous but he made enough to get an apartment in the Valley and we were selfish enough to sleep on his floor and take advantage of his new found wealth.

That lasted about a week.

We hit the street in search of employment. I was the luckiest. I landed a job…


What a year.

1. Woodstock happened.
2. Get Smart and Laugh In were the two top TV shows.
3. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon for the first time.
4. Midnight Cowboy won best picture.
5. Hurricane Camille landed ... one of the most destructive killer storms to ever hit the U.S. 
6. U.S. Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy plead gulity to leaving the scene of a fatal accident.

7. The N.Y. Mets won the World Series.
8. Richard Nixon was president.
9. Sesame Street was born
10. Charles Manson murdered Sharon Tate.
11. I failed a Psychology exam

I know what you are saying ... the last one is the worst. Right up there with the Manson murders.

I was stressed the night before ... tired and worried about how I was going to do in the exam. One of my neighbors showed up at my place the evening prior to my exam. I told him how tired I was and afraid that I wasn't going to be able to pass this test. He took two black capsules from his pocket and told me to take these to "help me study longer"…