Life moves in patterns, sometimes the consciousness lingers in backgrounds of the part and sometimes it tries to live in the future, expecting a certain unfolding of life’s experience. I had expected when I was in high school to have gone on to college, it was demanded by my parents, after all, that was the key to the good life. I had clues from the films and television shows of the day just what that might be like. In many ways it was a continuation of high school, only you didn’t live at home. But there was also the problem that failure was not an option, one had to at least pass with a Gentleman’s C to continue and eventually wear that cap and gown that signified passage into the world of adulthood. Of course I was never all that good in the academic world of public education. For the most part I was bored and lacked enough discipline to have been successful in the terms that my parents expected. And it didn’t help that I really had no idea what I wanted to do in life. Learning without conviction is simply marking time until you have forgotten what you supposedly learned. What I saw as learning was little more than enough temporary memorization to pass the course and move on to the next one. I certainly saw no jot in learning for learning’s sake in the academic institutional world.
Playing sports was alright but a little boring. I mean, doing the same stuff over and over again was not very exactly rocket science. Yes, I played sports in high school but never on the first string, or second string, for that matter. My upper body development had been arrested at an early age by an accident that left me a cripple, an arm that did not bend. Funny, I never thought of myself as a cripple and sports was to my mind a way to become accepted. Popularity was not something I could ever have visited upon me but acceptance by the jocks and most of the girls in my small high school was possible. On the other hand, reality showed me that it was an illusion and since I had not grown up in that area I would always be an outsider with no claims for acceptance. On the other hand I loved music. Now I would love to say that I was able to play an instrument or sing well. Never happened. My mother had perfect pitch and both my voice and my lack of ability offended her sense of hearing. About the only instrument I learn well enough to have played in a band was drums and I was self taught on that score. I learned by purchasing myself a set of drum sticks and brushes and then set about playing Dave Brubeck and following along on a piece of cardboard. I can still drum a 5/4 time signature. But being a drummer is like being a band groupie, it takes no real talent.
But patterns being what they are, you can guess that I drifted along like everyone else who didn’t have a plan. Several minimum wage jobs and cities later the draft caught up with me. I was a high school drop out and my prospects for the good life were practically nil. The service didn’t help with that at all. I learned an occupation that did not have a civilian counterpart. And the fact is, few individuals in the service have more than very little control over their own lives while they are in the service. I didn’t mind the regimentation, it was another variation of football camp, only without the sport. ut it was, for the most part, a meaningless existence. You and a million or so others, all trying t exist on what little pay your low rank and longevity entitled you and the long wait for whatever promotions were available according to your worthiness index. Oh yes, there was a worthiness index. No matter what you may have read or heard, merit was a very small part of the promotion criteria. Besides, most promotions, until the rank of E-5 or NCO, were fairly regular. You got the promotion with the least amount of seniority if you were rated more worthy. Otherwise it might take you twice as long, or longer in some cases. I mean, you really had to screw up badly to be denied a promotion after triple the time of seniority. Depending on your length of enlistment commitment, you would normally leave the service as either an E-3 or E-4. And if you could save a dime or take a few college classes you would be a lucky individual.
On the other hand, I did have time for self education, that is my own extensive reading. I mean, what else do you do with your time when you lack the money for dissipation downtown where all the bars and women are? I read. The various base libraries, I was stationed at several different bases during my enlistment, could be a source of a decent education. The larger the base the more extensive the library and the better the selection of books, particularly the non-fiction stacks. So I read a lot of history, some science, military history, some philosophy, and other such volumes. Hell, I read more than the average lieutenant had in college. And unless it was engineering, which I read a little and browsed a lot, I tended to know more than the average officer. Being a lowly enlisted man I was rankled by the lack of respect given by such officers. Well, if you didn’t go to college and thus make yourself ready to enter the service as an officer and a gentleman, then you don’t deserve respect, or so the officer’s logic went. Besides, I had become a captive civilian, a lowly paid serf in the service of my country and often treated as a slave of convenience. I was not your typical candidate for re-enlistment. But I fooled them anyway. For all my black market dealings overseas I still came out with my good conduct medal. I was never dumb enough to get caught, that would have required me to have become very greedy and I saw enough greedy men get tangled in that legal web. No, I dealt mostly in favors. It’s hard to trace favors through a bank account. God knows they tried.
After that, a marriage, a child, and more minimum wage jobs. Not much of a change in life and economically it was dragging me down into bankruptcy. Isn’t that always the way? After a couple years I finally caught on with the telephone company as a lineman and cable splicer. A couple of years later I was divorced and barely making ends meet. I lived in a very high cost of living area and had child support to pay. Oh, I didn’t mind the child support, I loved my daughter, my ex, not so much. But with the union wage scale that would give me small raises every six months, and I mean small raises, I made do as overtime became available. And I also continued my reading for I had acquired something of a library. I had over one hundred volumes at them time. Then I decided to attend the local community college, or high school with ash trays as some would have called it. I found that I could take classes that I wanted at that level and because the use of computers was not like it is today, I didn’t need the signatures of deans and guidance councilors. I learned how to make the system work for me. And the strange thing I found was that as I went full time, that is during the evenings and weekends, my grade point average rose higher. I was, for the first time in my life, constantly on the Dean’s List and usually making a 3.0 or better GPA. Not that my attending college at night ever got me anything at work. The phone company was just another military like organization, motivation was pretty much the same and promotion was all about being worthy.
Well, seems like I am always fighting someone in some organization and the phone company was no different. Rather than let me do my job a couple of the supervisors and the construction manager decided that I was a nail that needed to be constantly hammered down. So it was off and running with me in the distance and management trying to keep within hailing distance. Poor suckers never knew what hit them. Two years later they declared a truce (yeah, it was a win for me, you idiots) and a little after that I was made a senior title and given a crew to run. Two months later with no temporary promotion in sight I went back to the tools. It was a difference between the eight dollars a week and five hours of overtime versus a minimum supervisor’s salary, a considerable difference. I made more in overtime, particularly the maintenance side of the house.
Learning a craft, for that is what I did for the phone company, and working with your hands is a good life. Yes, I did get a little bored without that intellectual stimulation that a college career might have provided, but I never meat any accountant or engineer who could keep up with me or who bragged about how intellectually stimulating their jobs were. Still, after ten years it was time for a change, time for new challenges. I was bored with the outside work and thought I might go inside, into the more technical fields. – to be continued –