Education and Jobs
Through High School
Probably the first job I ever had (definition: an activity for which I garnered some form of recompense.) was when my grandmother ‘Nana’ paid me five cents if I took my wagon down the street to an empty lot and filled it with soil and brought it back for her to put on the top of the cinders from our furnace so she could raise flowers on that pile of slag. I was probably 8 or 9 years old. This was when we lived in Irvington, New Jersey. It was the depression and a nickel would go a long way meeting the needs of a young squirt.
Also for my grandmother was the task to follow the horse-drawn ice wagon with a scoop and a bucket and come back with the bucket full of horse manure for which I would also get a nickel. The manure was for her garden. I recall that on occasion I would follow that damned horse for miles and still have to go home with an empty bucket.
While living in Irvington I had a magazine route selling and delivering the Liberty Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post. That was good money but it ended when we moved to Manasquan, down on the Jersey coast.
This was during the war years and most young men were in the military service so the farmers were allowed to hire school children after 1 p.m. if they had permission to leave school early. I could make a dollar an hour following the potato picker and filling those sacks, and this was while a store clerk in town rarely made more than 45 cents per hour. Picking tomatoes were OK but I hated picking string beans as my income dropped terribly. Early summer money was to be made thinning the fruit trees so the remaining fruit could grow to full size and beauty. Of course, then came picking the fruit.
Every Saturday for a long time I worked on the farm of a classmate of mine by the name of Ulrich Hermann (I can’t believe I can still remember his name after 70 plus years). I had to be to the farm by 6:30 a.m. and go immediately to the cow barn and begin scooping the slops from the trough behind the cows and putting it into a wheelbarrow. I would then push the wheelbarrow to the end of the barn and up a plank and empty it in the manure spreader. Repeat, repeat, repeat. At ten minutes to eight, a bell rang and we ran to the house, cleaned up, and went into the kitchen where an immense breakfast awaited us. There may have been rationing for the rest of the nation but to watch the Hermanns who canned and preserved most of their own food set a table you would never know there was a war on.
In high school, I was a member of the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and as such had to have a summer farm (agriculture-related) project. Most of my classmates raised a heifer, a pig, a goat, and acre of corn, etc. I, meanwhile, raised about 1/8 acre of flowers and I made more money than any of them. Manasquan was a summer resort beach town with hotels and restaurants catering to the summer vacationers. I negotiated with the hotels and restaurants for bouquets of flowers to be delivered once a week. Many times I would add wildflowers that were in season to what I had raised. In the winter I would make tabletop decorations with lengths of white birch wood into which I drilled holes for candles. Then I would affix sprigs of hemlock and a toping of holly with red berries. A red bow and two or three candles gave me something to sell and I always sold out before the season was over.
There was an immense commercial greenhouse complex about a mile from our house that was not functioning. The owner had died and his widow did not want to manage the operation with help almost impossible to get. So there it sat, empty. I got the widow to agree that I could use one of the greenhouses for raising chrysanthemums. But then someone bought the whole shebang and instead of me raising my own crop of mums I worked for the new owner.
In my last year and a half at high school, I had a job as a ‘soda jerk’ (counter clerk) in the local soda store. I liked that job as it was indoors during the winter months. It had an additional pay off as I could eat all the ice cream I wanted so long as the counter was spotless, all dishes were washed and no one was waiting for service. No, I never did get tired of eating ice cream.
Perhaps my strangest source of income (but fairly limited) was selling fossils to the Museum Store at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. I had become a pest there as I was always taking something new for the staff professionals to identify. One of them suggested that I should sell some of my findings to the museum store, which I did. I had discovered a meadow with a stream in it that exposed belemnites, a form of fossilized squid.
The summer after graduating from high school I served as a nature counselor at a Boy Scout camp, not much money but lots of fun.
Then off to Latin America and work with the InterAmerican Geodetic Survey, then to Korea in the Army then to college in Monterey, California.
Jobs while going to college.
I paid no tuition at Monterey Peninsula College and only $55 per semester at U.C. Berkeley but still needed more funds for room and board and other necessities than was provided by the G.I. Bill which was $110 per month. My modus operandi was to find a job in a restaurant as a dishwasher. That way not only did I get an income I got meals. Some times I was moved up to salad chef or pastry chef which were fancy terms for the person putting the greens and veggies on a plate or cutting the pies or cake and putting them on cake plates.
For a while, I pumped gas for the Chevron Gas company but quit that job to go to Mexico for the summer. I rarely worked in the summer months. That was for travel and study in Mexico. In Berkeley I had many different jobs: delivering flowers for a florist, taking care of the landscaping at the old boarding houses, replacing glass in broken windows In the boarding houses, painting rooms, replacing broken sash cords in double-hung windows, typing invoices in a trucking company from 11 p.m. until 3 a.m., delivering packages around the Cutter Laboratory campus, serving as “tent boy” at Bohemian Grove, digging ditches, scrubbing restaurant kitchens after they closed for the night (ugh, who the hell would ever want to eat food that came out of those kitchens?). I never lacked for a job (or two, or three) and could always find one or create one while other students whimpered “there’s no work in this town.” Trouble was too many of them would not recognize a job opportunity if they fell on it. Somewhere along the line, I picked up a work ethic that has stood me in good stead all my life.