Saturday, October 31, 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 (considering there were once more than 300,000 Jews in Vienna prior to WWII).

I taught at The American International School of Vienna. It was one of a number of AIS schools scattered around the world ... a partnership of the US and the UN. The student population was 50% American and 50% multinational ... all spoke English.

Every day I would take this old double decker bus called the 35A. It was a great bus. I'll never forget it ... in fact I wrote a song about it. Here are a couple of verses ...     

The 35A goes one way
Gets to the end and goes the other way
Comes back down
Turns around
Never gets to town
Never leaves the ground

The 35As comin back around this way.

It's got two floors so you can choose
Sit on the first and you smell the booze
Sit on the second you sing the blues
If the kids don't get you the old folks do

The 35As comin back around this way ...

Friday, October 30, 2009

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 speaking.

Carnal had to stay an extra week to finish up her classes. She had made up her mind to go back home to Mississippi after finishing up. We had a few awkward goodbyes, and then I left for my next assignment ... Norfolk Academy.

I decided to rent in Virginia Beach. It was close by and there was a motel that did weeklies. It was right across the street from The Edgar Cayce Foundation. What a wierd place that was. Edgar Cayce had some very unusual paranormal theories and lots of followers (who all stayed at the hotel I was in). One day I wandered over to see what was in there and wound up pulled into a circle. There was chanting, talking in tongues and a few seizures here and there. They wanted to sign me up as a follower. I decided to stick with my annual Rosh Hashanah routine.

I called Carnal to see how she was ... and a strange guy answered.

He said, "Carnal is in the shower but will call you back."
I asked, "Who's this?"
"Why it's Edward ... and you are?"
"More than a little surprised!"

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

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) ... made a deposit (sold his blood) ... knocked around the hood (spent time at home) ... and did some weed (you know)." John usually passed out about then or threw up in the lobby.

When we weren't standing in line ... we were busy doing other family things. For one, my brother Wayne was married during that first summer of our unemployment. He married a girl from Little Rock, Arkansas,who was the daughter of the founder of Magic Mart (Wal Mart's smaller illegitimate cousin once removed ). Wayne's new family embraced him with open arms (and a house, a job and a dog).

After they met our family .... they had second thoughts.

The wedding parties were lavish ... at country clubs, fine restaraunts and great hotels. There were numerous Arkansas family friends who generously hosted parties every night for a solid week. My mom and her loud cousins managed to create havoc at every one of them. The bride's family was genteel and soft spoken, like there was a fresh breeze in the room  ... my family was crazy (literally) and loud, like a grenade was thrown in the room.

There was one unfortunate tragedy at the wedding.

My cousin Rose ... a well known artist in New Orleans ... who was in her 80s, had become depressed in recent years. She told everyone on the dancefloor at the wedding that she would never dance again. That night, she swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills. That was her fifth attempt and the first successful one. She died in her sleep.

Esther never got over it.

She said that she hated it when Rose got all the attention.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

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, there was alot of discussion about the upcoming Black Week (an annual celebration of black history and the impact of black leaders on society).

Every time I would enter the teachers' lounge the coach would make a point of talking about the south and the horrible conditions for southern blacks. He would try to goad me into a discussion by asking "funny questions" like ... "Did you folks get television yet?"  ... and my favorite ,"Did your family own any slaves?"

Most of the time I held my tongue but he finally caught me on a bad day and hit me with the slave question again. So I finally replied ...

"Coach, I grew up in a mixed neighborhood. Here, in Bedford, I live in the slave quarters on your board member's estate ... there is not a single black student at this school ... and next week you have to import one from the city to talk to the white students about Black Week. What were you saying about the south?"

The coach just stood there and glared at me ... but his wife, the school secretary, stood up and gave me a big kiss.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

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 year of intimidation with large black students in South Carolina, escaped near frosbite in Gary and suffered the humiliation of getting busted in Michigan City for a crime I didn't commit.

For whatever reason ... I wasn't going to take it anymore! No haircut for me. I was going to teach them all a lesson (THEM ... you know ... all THOSE people). I had a brilliant idea!

I bought a wig.

Yes ... I bought a short hair wig. Every morning I would stick my hair in a nylon cap and cover it with a goofy little wig. I'd show them ... it was hot and uncomfortable and looked really stupid ... but I felt empowered.

Carnal thought it was stupid.

She was in between assignments and stayed in AllBenny with me for most of my teaching term. What I didn't know was that she was a cat lover (I wasn't). I found that out when I came home one day and found a little white kitten crouched in the kitchen in front of a silver bowl of cat goodies. As I walked closer, the kitten arched her back and hissed at me. Carol had just gotten home as I hopped out the door screaming like a little girl with he cat attached to my pants just below my crotch.

Apparently, this kitten was a stray ... Carol felt sorry for her and had been feeding her while I was gone. I refused to have that killer in the house so she remained outside after that. Every morning when I left (I kid you not) that kitten attached herself to the screen door, and intimidated the hell out of me. She couldn't have been more than 12 inches long.

My saving grace was the school. The students were great at Deerfield. They were very open and honest with their feelings. I realized how much they cared on the last day of my term.  As my last class ended ... a small group hung out at my desk and really didn't want to leave. Finally one of the girls, Amy, spoke up ...

"Mr. Momberg, please don't be mad ... we really care about you ... the thing is ... um ... we know you're bald ... but we think you should rethink the toupee."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

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 before my classes were to start (if I didn't appear on the front page of the Michigan City Star or Gazette or whatever it was) and wondering when I would have to go to court represented by a first year law student.

What a great year this was.

The next day, ZZ sat down with me and planned out my defense. He wasn't keen on using the excuse that the pot belonged to my brother ... even though it was true ... because it would not have held up on a possession charge.So he went with "illegal search and seizure". He then proceeded to pull out his trusty polaroid camera and took 50 pictures of my car from every angle inside and out. For some reason this really cracked me up. After each shot he'd look at his watch for the exact development time and looked so serious with his dinky little camera (again ... shades of Arlo Guthrie). Why I remember that ... through all the stress of the whole event ... is beyond me.

The next two months were torture.

I taught the course at La Lumiere ... miraculously ... without anyone finding out about the whole incident. Almost every day I would talk to ZZ about the case and how he had gotten the judge to push back the date of my hearing. I'm  not sure how he did it ... perhaps he needed to take more polaroids or maybe he was hoping to actually graduate and get his degree before we went to trial. Either way I became more nervous every day.

My course was ending and I was going to have to move on ... but I couldn't leave the state. ZZ finally set the date and told me I didn't have to appear. This made me more nervous. I didn't have to appear? What if ZZ never talked to anyone this whole time? What if the authorities have been looking for me? What did I really know about ZZ?

My answer came within a week when ZZ presented a hand delivered letter to me. It said ...

"Dear Mr. Momberg .... one of the principals of this case (the Fire Chief) recently passed away .... this case has been postponed indefinitely." Your guess is as good as mine ... but I haven't been back to Indiana in 35 years.

Monday, October 19, 2009

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 trailer park residents gathered. Firefighters got there in minutes and rushed in with foam canisters and hoses ... scrambling inside and outside of the car.

As the fire ebbed, the firefighters were able to look inside the car to try to salvage some of the contents. They popped open the glove compartment ... out popped a neatly rolled plastic baggie with an ounce of pot (my brother's pot). My heart literally stopped for what seemed like 15 minutes. My brother Wayne had visited me in Gary and accidentally left his "stuff" in my car. He called me and asked me to save it for him .... SAVE it for him. Who was gonna save me? The chief looked over his shoulder at me and showed the baggie to the rest of the crew. They ALL looked over their shoulders.

He made a call on his car radio and I knew I was sunk.

The next hour was like the crime scene from Alice's Restaurant. There were policeman and fireman all over the place taking pictures of the car, the glove compartment, me, the pot ... apparently it was the biggest drug bust in Michigan City. I looked around for Carol ... and she was gone. I don't blame her ... no need for both of us to go to the slammer (I always wanted to use that word).

I was watching all this from a police cruiser's back seat. I was hypnotically humming "You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant ...". The door opened and a very serious cop stuck his head in, read me my rights and took me to the local police station where he took mug shots, fingerprinted me, and then drove me to .... I KID YOU NOT ... Indiana State Prison. The same place that held John Dillinger.

Driving through the massive prison gate was the scariest sight I had ever seen in my life.

I was photographed again and fingerprinted again. Apparently they don't trust the local police to capture the best image of their most notorious criminals. There I was ... sitting in the holding cell with two guys who were shackled and carrying their mattresses.( I wondered if they brought these from home because they didn't like the accommodations here).

I was taken into the visitor area which really was a series of chairs separated by a large desk and about a dozen guys in uniform. I was brought over to one of the men in blue as he filled out my paperwork.

He handed me the finished forms. "Okay ... look this over. Is this all correct. "
I looked it over. "Yes sir ... it is."
He took it back and motioned across the desk to the "freedom" side of the room. "You know those people?"
I squinted and saw Carol waving to me on the other side (thank heaven) and there was another guy that I didn't recognize. He looked a little like one of the ZZ Top band members.  " I know her ... not sure about him."
"Says he's your attorney."
I looked at Carol and she motioned with an okay sign and pointed to Mr. Z. "Guess he is."

The guard shook his head and gave a shrug. He handed me a piece of paper and said. "This note is from him ... we read these before we give them to you ... good luck with this one pal."
Hands shaking, I opened the note and started to sweat as I read the note ...

"Joel ... I am your attorney. Don't say a word to these (expletive) pigs they are just a bunch of (expletive) liars ... don't trust anyone."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

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 alleys. I lived on one of the alleys and the Catholic Boys' School that I was assigned to was on THE street. The school ... by the way was run by a tough old nun named Sister Rosalie who rapped students knuckles with her ruler to keep attention in class.

Prior to that, there was a priest who was the Headmaster for 20 years and apparently was the kindest, best natured man on the planet. But, he was murdered the year before I arrived. He had stopped at a traffic light and a group of thugs pulled him out of his VW and beat him to death. Can you imagine? He's a priest ... no money ... not bothering anyone.

Just my luck ... I leave the juvenile detention center in Camden and arrive at gang central in Gary.

One morning when the temperature was below zero I jumped into my Plymouth Valiant (the one with the push button transmission ... remember those?) Actually before I got in ... I had to scrape the ice from the windshield first. No gloves ... light weight coat ... no hat. I shivered as I turned the key in the ignition and it sputtered. I kept turning and it didn't start. I noticed my hands on the steering wheel after a while ... I could see them but couldn't do anything else with them. I think I cursed but I had trouble moving my mouth so it probably sounded something like: "Ohhh shvyttrgcvhg".

Not sure how ... but I somehow got back in my apartment and laid my hands on top of the old radiator. The feeling returned to my fingers sometime during the Nixon administration. I decided that I couldn't teach that day so I called the school and left a message and just to make sure I left a note tacked on the outside of my apartment door.

It read: "To Whom It May Concern: If I have been found dead inside this apartment ... please inform Sister Rosalie of St. Christopher's School that I will not be teaching today and will try to get a doctor's note."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

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 one bothered her because she would glower at them if they came close. I tried my best to get her to open up but she would drop her head and never did fully participate. I still talked to her every class period for the term of the course.

While I was there, I remember that the police came to campus twice. Once there was a reported rape (not in my class) and there was a shooting in one of the dorms. No one was hurt, fortunately. I knew that if I made it through this assignment I could teach anybody ... anything.

Every evening I would eat at the motel before class ... and during the days, I taught at an elementary school in Sumter (just about a half hour from Camden). It was a Catholic school and many of the kids were from military families as it was a large base.  Don't really remember much about that school. The nightmare at BHMA was all my brain could handle.

Carol came to stay with me toward the end of the course. I remember having words with the hotel manager. She almost kicked me out for having a GIRL in the room. Not allowed.

On the last week of class ... I was invited to the senior prom, Carol came with me as my date. The boys were impressed that she was good looking or that maybe I wasn't as gay as they thought ... but the highlight of the night ... and by the way ... the highlight of my entire three months at BHMA (I'll always remember the purposeful irony of this gesture so vivdly) ... was when Tasha came up to me in the middle of the dance floor that night.

She handed me the recorded soundtrack from the movie ... "To Sir With Love". Then gave me a big hug.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

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 they held classrooms and pulled up next to the administrative building. I was escorted into Mrs Cunningham's office.

She greeted me and asked me to sit down.

I had that queasy feeling of being in the "pricipal's office". Mrs. C. had red hair, frizzed in a 70s style. She was probably in her 40s but what did I know? I was just 22 ... everybody older than me was in their 40s. She had been at that school for 15 years.

"Mr. Momberg ... can I call you Joel? Let me explain what is happenning here. The FBI is investigating a fire that was set in three dormitories. One of our students was arrested last year in another state for suspected arson and is a prime suspect. We'll be open on Monday for regular classes ... so you will have access in the evening to classrooms ....."

I was numb. What had I walked into?

She talked about the student population ... 90% black inner city kids from the northeast who were sent to BHMA in Camden because they couldn't be managed at home and their parents didn't want to deal with them. What made things worse was that the "nice" folks of Camden didn't want them here either so they were shunned when they went to town.

I was exhausted. I laid down in my tiny efficiency motel room staring at the ceiling. I fell asleep with my clothes on. The next sound I heard was the operator waking me up at 6AM with a sweet southern "Mornin'!" Sleepily I made my way to school, found the classroom and opened the door ... my heart racing a mile a minute. I looked at all the faces staring back at me (no smiles). I tried to be upbeat ... hip.

"Hi, guys. My name is Joel and I'm your new reading specialist."

Dead silence. There was one sound coming from the corner of the room. I couldn't make it out at first ... then I saw them. They had sunglasses, black berets, black teeshirts and staring right at me.

The sound was the paper cutter, sitting next to one of the students, slicing up and down ... the handle in his right hand.

I was having a bad day.

Monday, October 12, 2009

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 to say speed reading) and methods to teach comprehension by flashing words and phrases on a machine called a tachistoscope. I threw that in so that you would be impressed ... first that I can spell it. Second that I even remember it. Yes, I'll always remember that machine  ... I dropped it at least three times in my travels and the thing was so covered with armor that it still operated.

When I finished my tachistoscope training I was ready for my first assignment.

Everyone gathered in the tiny classroom nervously waiting to be called: Chicago went to John, Atlanta (Carnal got that one), Boston was Julie, New York was Edward ... and JOREL got Camden, South Carolina. Hmmm ... Camden sounded like a nice spot ... maybe not as exciting as New York or Chicago but you never know. I looked through the information packet about the school: Boylan Haven Mather Academy ... private preparatory school ... majority of students were from the Northeast and lived on campus ... I was impressed.

I packed the car, said my so longs and headed to Camden.

I have to say I was very impressed with this beautiful town. It was the home of an annual nationally recognized  steeple chase. Horse farms were all around and the landscape of rolling hills, beautiful old trees and picket fences were right out of a post card. I stopped at the only motel that had a monthly plan and checked in. You see, one drawback to working for READAK was that the course we taught usually ran for only three months then it was off to the next city. That limited where you could live.

Before I even unpacked the car I wanted to see the "campus" where I was going to teach. I followed the directions and headed up the road until I came across a large brick wall with an iron fence. There was a sign on that fence that provided me with much more information about Boylan Haven Mather Academy than any information sheet I had read.


Friday, October 9, 2009

"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 turned loose on real people. So having a teaching degree was not essential. Go and figure.

The company was headquartered in New Orleans, even though the three founders were from Boston originally. I knew next to nothing about the company ... didn't have Google back then ... so it was tougher to research outstanding arrest warrants, fraud and general bad stuff about the company or the principals ... so of course my "classmates" and I signed up without asking questions.

Training started the next week.

There were about twenty of us. We got to know each other well. I was pleasantly surprised to find that unlike the people I had worked with in my other jobs ... these folks spoke English and rarely used phrases based on sexual positions or sex with relatives. It was kind of like being back in college ... without the ivy and oaks. And if you squinted as you sat in your desk in the tiny classroom on the third floor above the florist shop ... you would swear you were in a tiny classroom.

Carol sat next to me.

I didn't know her as Carol then, because I couldn't quite make out what her name tag said. You know how it is when you meet someone and you want to know her name but you don't want to stare at their nametag because of where it's located? You start to feel like a perverted stalked if you look too long. Well ... I did a couple of quick glances from a distance and finally walked up confidently, trying to impress her with my observation skills.

" What an unusual name ... I've never met a Carnal before."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

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 (surprised?).

Roxanne didn't want to always be a stripper (of course). She enrolled at LSUNO and took two classes (God knows what they were) 5 years earlier and intended to return to continue a carreer in something more fulfilling (like medicine or law). The tattoos that covered her arms and legs would never be a hinderance for her and the much needed dental work would certainly be paid for when she completed her first successful heart transplant. She sometimes wore her costume when she came directly from the club and often brought her pet boa (the snake not the scarf) with her, as well.

It was a little distracting.

When the strike was over ... we were given our walking papers. I wasn't nearly as broken up about it as some of my co-workers who felt that they were just at the pinnacle of their new "careers" ... cut down in their prime. They exchanged phone numbers, hugged, cried and pledged to keep in touch with each other. It was like a scene from "A League of Their Own" when the war was over and the Women's Baseball League was disbanded.

I wonder if there is a SCAB Operator Hall of Fame somewhere in our honor.

Monday, October 5, 2009

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 with only one client, I'd have alot of time on my hands. Not so. I was constantly busy at the office. In the morning, I'd go out for the donuts. Lunchtime, I'd pick up the poboys. And in the afternoon, my job was to organize the files. Sometimes I would set appointments for my boss ... like haircuts and doctor's visits. And the secretary ... who was apparently overworked ... would usually leave a few hours early. She must have even been too tired to drive because the boss would take her home occasionally.        

But I stuck it out because I knew one day we'd have a big project and I would earn my stripes. That day came when our client chose to try out a television commercial. The boss took a chance on me ... it was the first time I actually got to work in a studio. It ran during Morgus's show (my childhood hero). I was IN IT. I called all my friends to watch me.

Of course, it was hard to recognize me in the Pelican costume.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

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 picking up signals after they left a note on the sofa bed saying "We think it's time for you to move on".

I had one interview left that was arranged by a friend of mine from school. It was on Peachtree Street (that narrows it down for you, of course. Those familiar with Atlanta know that EVERY street is Peachtree). I was nervous but I remained calm and convinced them that I could handle any job big or small. There was a lot of discussion ... it was a big commitment and it required some negotiation. But I got it ... my first real job ... and I did it on my own.

It took me the rest of the summer to finish painting that wall in the Drug Overdose Suicide Prevention Center.     

Thursday, October 1, 2009

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 as a photographer's assistant in a commercial photography studio in the Furniture Mart. They did mostly catalog shots for manufacturers that populated the building. By the way ... a photographer's assistant was actually a furniture mover, scenery assembler and go-fer. But I had a blast.

I learned alot that summer ... like ... what REAL Mexican food tastes like from a lunch cart on Hollywood Blvd., which sofabeds cause groin pulls when they slip off the dolly, how to balance on a ladder while you hold together two flats and how much a camera lens costs when you run over it with a cart loaded with mattresses.

I also made lots of friends who hung out on the Strip at night and invited me to lots of parties. The Kennedy Assassination Cospiracy Prayer Group met on Mondays, The Nam YoHo Renghi Kyo Buddhists met on Tuesdays and the Charlie Manson's Not a Bad Guy Theatrical Players performed on Thursdays.

LA was really fun.

One day, I ran into a girl that I had known in New Orleans who had a real job ... and she invited me to her office party ... in Beverly Hills. That's right it was there ... during the moon walk ... that I felt just like Dustin Hoffman in "Mrs. Robinson",  floating on the raft ... sunglasses on ...

Oh ... all right  ... that was a lie. I wasn't in the pool. I was just dreaming that I was in the pool. But ... I WAS standing close by and I WAS watching the moon walk ...

And I DID get quite a few tips when the party was over and I brought everyone their cars.


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". I refused ... he insisted ... I refused again ... he insisted again ... so I took them from him, saw him to the door and said good night.

Keep in mind it was the age of experimentation. My group of colleagues in the "Arts" would have told you that experimentation was the key to growing the spirit and the mind.

In truth, they just wanted an excuse to get stoned.

I put the pills down and started studying again. Two hours later, I woke up (realizing that I had slept through chapter 6). I panicked. I looked at the pills. I never took pills and wasn't sure what these would do. I called him and he assured me these were safe and fast acting.

I trusted him ... after all I had known him for a month.

So I took the pills and soon I felt like I was king of the world. I knew all the answers. I breezed through the chapters ... reading and understanding facts at the speed of light. I wasn't tired at all. I never slept. I worked until it was time for the exam.

I saw him as I ran through the hallway ... hearing him mumble something about "speed". I didn't pay any attention. I was ready.

I remember getting into my desk in class and taking out the "blue book". It was the standard exam notebook in those days ... bound sheets of lined paper that students used to write their answers.

There was one question ... just one. I knew the answer. It would take me ten sheets to answer but I wrote furiously and finished in record time. I closed my book. The professor came around and picked up each one. When he came to me ... I just smiled and handed it to him. Then I looked at my desk ... and my heart sunk.

I had written half of every page right on my desk.

Ballad of the Big Prostate

Here’s a little country tune I wrote just yesterday to commemorate a dark day in my history. I don’t have a tune but realized you can use an...