I’M GONNA THROW YOU OFF THE BALCONY

As you have heard or seen the other day, a congressman responding to a reporter’s question, that the congressman thought was inappropriate, said, “ I’m gonna throw you off the balcony,” or words to that effect.

The first thing that popped into my mind was not any kind of political diatribe about congress or its inhabitants, but a book by Rudolf Dreikurs in the 1960’s about discipline and logical consequences. Carol and I were so taken with the book, and one by Haim Ginott, that we actually incorporated the philosophy when we began to have children.

It’s all in what you say and how you react to children (and adults). Don’t ever say things that you don’t mean or threaten things that you can’t fulfill. Does this mean that the congressman should have said, “I am going to punch you in the mouth if you don’t stop asking me irrelevant questions?” That might have had a totally different outcome. It may not have been a better outcome, but it would have stood the test of did he really intend to do it.

We knew for sure that he was not going to throw the reporter off the balcony. However, we might have stopped for a moment to think of whether he was going to punch the reporter in the mouth. I have a personal knowledge of bad temper. I had a bad temper all through my youth and into my adulthood. There were a few times that It might have gotten me into very serious trouble (and I mean police trouble).

Fortunately, I am married to someone who is at the other end of the spectrum. There is very little that visibly affects Carol. She certainly cares deeply about our children, grandchildren, members of our family and friends. However, she is never, and I mean never, seen to explode as I used to. Her modeling of that behavior has taught me some valuable lessons in both my professional and private life.

There are those who will still say I am a hothead. They are now incorrect. I may be an annoyance, but not a hothead. I have drunk at the fountain of logical consequences and the trough of “In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a person (my word) humanized or dehumanized (Hiam Ginott).

I would suggest to that congressman, who is now more newsworthy than the abominable weather, that he should read Dreikurs and Ginott and feel much better about himself.

HUSTLING BODIES

I had just concluded teaching my third year at Thomas Williams Junior High School in Cheltenham, PA. It was a great three years for my career with a kind of a you know what in a punch bowl at the end. My god friend and colleague, John, had decided that he was going to t far off place in Northwest Pennsylvania, Bradford, to take a principal’s job. Little did I know that I would move a lot closer to Bradford in sixteen years.

Since John was the social studies department chair and I was the longest tenured teacher, after John, in the department, I was sure that I would be appointed chairman. It was not to happen. A young woman, who had one year of experience teaching at Thomas Williams, was appointed and I was very disappointed. I swallowed my pride and went off to work at my summer job, as a counselor at Long Acres day camp. John Long, our assistant principal owned the camp and was partial to hiring staff at the junior high.

Me, the city boy, was the nature counselor. As I look back at that experience, I understand how one can learn a completely different way of life in just a short time. I must admit that I outclevered myself in the woods and learned a bunch about trees, wild animals, and swinging across a creek. I am sure that the campers saw through my disguise on a daily basis, but never said a thing.

The summer came to a close. The secondary school head had planned an in service program for all of the social studies teachers in the district. The sessions were to take place at the central office the second week of August. I showed up promptly on that Monday. I presented myself to one of the secretaries. She looked at me and said. Oh, didn’t you get the letter telling you that the sessions were cancelled. I turned on my heel and left.

When I got home, I was furious. Carol was preparing her lesson plans for her third year of teaching at the Pennypack Elementary School in the Hatboro Horsham School District. What could possible stanch my horrible temper? There was truly only one way. I sat down at Carol’s portable Royal typewriter and authored a letter of resignation. I don’t remember if it was vituperative or not, but I remember feeling satisfied.

I got into the car and drove back to the administration building and dropped the letter in front of the same secretary I had seen before. I said nothing to her and left the building. I had decided that I was going to get some other job in another field. After five years of teaching, I was still young enough to begin a new career. Little did I know then that my quitting would lead me into all kinds of wonderful and scary new experiences.

I drove home, never doubting that I had done the right thing. Carol was in my corner. She believed as I still do, when it’s time to leave, you pick up your stuff; throw the keys on the desk and leave. We are also pretty big into fairness.

I bought a paper on the way home. I looked at the classified section and found an ad that said, “administrative assistant to the president, no experience necessary.”  “Wow,” I said to myself. That’s me, no experience and assistant to the president. As I look back on these words, I think of how young and unknowing I was. It would be a short time before I understood what those words really meant.

I drove down to the train station and got off at the Reading Terminal. The address was in one of the Penn Center buildings. It was a short walk and I was on the elevator to the 8th floor. I entered the offices, which were pretty large, and was greeted by a receptionist. She asked me to fill our application and sit down. I waited just for a moment and one of the 40 people in the office arose from his desk and came over to greet me.

We sat down and he asked me about myself. I tried to get in a few words about applying for the administrative assistant to the president job. I am not sure if I really ever got an answer. I soon found out that there were many things about this operation that were not quite what I thought they were.

I was soon joined by a trim, pompadour, kind of floor walker person who asked me if I wanted to make a great deal of money. I really was not that unknowing when someone says that to me. I was ready for some shaky deal that could send me to jail.

He pulled out a bunch of this pay stubs to show me how much he was making. As I looked him over, I realized that he was dressed in some really expensive clothing, shoes and a watch. His haircut was of the stylist variety. That was not very common in 1966. I was very impressed. “How can I make all of this kind of money (I had made $5000 in my last year of teaching)? He said, “All you have to do is sit at one of these desks and begin making some phone calls.”

Did that mean that I had a job already? You bet it did. I had no idea what the heck I was doing, nor did I have any feeling about whether this was right for me. I was given the yellow pages of Philadelphia and its environs and told to start at A and start calling to get job orders. The prime jobs would be those where the employer paid the fee. If the applicant was to pay the fee, it was a bit more difficult. Since almost all of the applicants were not working, where would they get the money to pay the fee?

The answer to that question rested in the hands of our, “collector.” He sat at a desk in the front of the firm. He was a fearsome looking fellow with jet black hair and standing 6 ft. 6inches tall. He was a professional prizefighter who got to be ranked. He also played in some movies in the 1970’s. When introduced to applicants, it was a certainty that they would pay the fee. He left soon after I arrived at the agency.

There were prizes to be won if you either got job orders or placements. I won Florsheim shoes, a croten wrist watch, clothing and many other things. There was a board with the names of all of the counselors (which is what were were called) and the placements and job orders that they had acquired during the current month. I also seem to remember that there were earnings totals for that month. I noticed that those on the bottom of the list seemed to disappear regularly.

Payment for the job was called, “draw versus commission.” In other words, you really never got paid. It worked like this. The draw was $60 per week. However, that amount was taken out of any commission that you might have made from a placement of a candidate. You also had to wait for the fee to make its way into the agency’s coffers. Therefore, if you made a commission (30% of the fee, or 35% if you stayed at the agency for more than a month) of $500 and you had drawn $240 for the previous 4 weeks, your take would be $260.

You must understand that we are talking about 1966. In that year a Chevy II Nova cost $2700. It was probably equivalent to a current Toyota Camry, or some other middle sized car. I am happy to say that in one month, probably my 2nd or 3rd, I took home $5,000 clear. Yes, I was pretty good at hustling bodies.

My co-workers at the agency were a strange lot. Most of them did not use their real names. I often speculated that a number of them had spent some time as guests of the state or the county. I did become friendly with some of them and they taught me some interesting ways of working. I learned that you could take and applicant and get them a job and then backfill the place where they had left. I wound up doing that a number of times.

If you, a more sophisticated counselor, with a good, but shadowy applicant, you could move him (very rarely a her), from job to job and make commissions every time he moved and then get the job order from the place where he left. I actually did that once for one applicant. In that case the applicant suggested that he was not happy with the job I had gotten him.

Getting job orders was an art from. How do you get through to the director of personnel (no human resource titles in those days)? There were a number of ways, including having a fictional applicant with a background that was so tempting that whoever answered the phone, would have a hard time refusing your entreaties. There were also the, “I am returning Mr. Smith’s call,” ploy. Every job order had the name of the person who was doing the hiring. It sometimes took dumb luck to get through to a person who could actually do the hiring.

These were the times of the Vietnam War. There were fewer and fewer candidates for jobs. There were companies that would take a chance that you were sending them an appropriate candidate. I was very careful to be clear with the companies that the person I was sending did not fit their needs exactly.  They told me to send them over anyway.

There were pet companies that each counselor had. Some had retail clients who were always looking for sales people. There were moderate sized companies that were looking for accountants, clerks, and accounts receivable folks and so on. There was also a burgeoning need for people who could do computer work, either data entry, programming or other kinds of jobs related to computers. This was all punch card stuff with large computers that only large companies could afford.

There was only one woman in the office. She did all of the computer hires and she was good at it. She was someone who was on the phone or interviewing applicants every single moment she was there. She was eminently successful. I am not sure that she even participated in the contest each month to win prizes. She would have won each month.

There was also an older man, nicknamed, “The Golden One,” who was also quite successful with his companies. He had gotten to the point where people called him and not the other way around. He had a cigar clutched between his teeth all day long. He always spoke with the cigar in his mouth.

Although Pat was the floor walker, Dave really ran the place. We were part of a larger corporation housed in Chicago. Sometimes Dave thought it might be a good idea to remove all of our chairs, so that we would have to make all of our phone calls and interview applicants standing up. He thought that would inspire people to get more job orders and get more people hired. What it did was cause all kinds of cheating. Who wanted to stand for eight hours?

One day, my original dream came true. I saw a job order for an administrative assistant to the president of a box manufacturing concern in suburban Philly. I hid the job order (for no apparent reason) went on an interview and got the job. It got me into another story that I will relate later. The men at the agency were sorry to see me go. I was making money for them.

Some of the guys expressed sorrow that I was leaving and wanted my home phone to go out sometime. I gave it to them. That was not the end though, In the Fall of 1967, having been at my new job from March  1967 till September and then going back to teaching, I got a call from Dave. He asked if he could come to my home and speak with me. I said sure.

He came that night and offered me a job as director of public relations for the big corporation in Chicago. They would pay me $15,000 and more and pay my moving expenses. It would have been three times more than what I was making as a teacher. However, Carol was due in a few weeks and I had decided that I would devote my life to education (which I have done).

I never heard from any of those folks again. I do, however, owe them a great debt. They taught me so much about humanity and its frailties and positive aspects. I wouldn’t have traded any of those 9 months.

DONUTS AND BROADWAY

From 1943 to 1947 my mom worked at the Mayflower Donut Shop on 46th St. and Broadway. She was a waitress there at a time when we were living with my grandmother. I would want to say that it was the happiest time of her life, so I will.

My dad had passed away in February of that year and we moved in with grandma. This enabled my mom to go to work, while her children, my sister Renee and I were going to school. Renee did not live with us immediately because she had to finish out her year at the elementary school she was going to. She lived with a friend till the end of the school year and then came to live with us.

My mom eventually worked as a waitress for 35 years. Many of her later ailments, probably were caused by her standing on her feet all of those years. However, the years at the Mayflower were golden. I am not sure that my sister would agree with me. She was, and still is, 7.5 years older than me. Her view might be that it disrupted her life and took her away from her friends. She will have to tell me.

The Mayflower stood on the corner of 46th and Broadway. It was close enough to the theater district, so that many of the stars of those days would come in for breakfast and get smiled at by Sonny (my mom’s name was Sonia). She waited on them all and sometime she would bring back autographs. I am afraid that a number of them passed through and were not recognized by mom.

As far back as I can remember, she met and served George Raft, Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney. I wish that I had kept those autographs. She told us that they were incredibly nice to her and usually left her a big tip. That was the fun time of the day. Mom would come home with a bagful of change. We would pour them out onto a bed and count them.

Usually the take was somewhere around twenty dollars. Since the Mayflower paid only the minimum wage, 50 cents at that time, her tips were really what she earned. Quite often she would even top the twenty dollar mark and that was cause for celebration. Most of the time, mom put most of the money in the bank. By 1949, even after she left the Mayflower, she had accumulated ten thousand dollars in savings. My grandma would shout at the top of her lungs, “To the Bank, To the Bank,” in a tune like declaration.

For me, the most important part of the mom working at the Mayflower was the donuts. They were absolutely without peer. They were created in a space above the store. Everything was handmade. My sister actually got a job there (must have been the summer) frosting the donuts. There was nothing like the smell of the donuts wafting through the dining area of the Mayflower.

There were no limits to my hunger for those donuts. Mom would sometimes bring them home and secrete them somewhere because grandma was sure they were cooked in pig fat (lard). I cannot tell you if that were true.

Once in a while, mom would get us tickets (or have us ushered in) to two of the first run theaters on Broadway, the Astor and the Victoria. The folks from those two theaters came in to eat at the Mayflower. Most often we were led to a side entrance and put into seats at the side of the theater. My favorite movie, the Thief of Baghdad, played there. I have since learned that it might have been a re-release. I saw the Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Best Years of our Lives and many others.

Sometimes on a Saturday (no services for me that day), mom would take Renee and I into town to eat at Shraffts or Tafinetti’s restaurants. We would then go shopping at one of the fancy stores like Macy’s Ohrbach’s or S. Klein on the Square. Those were glorious days for me.

It all ended in October of 1947. Mom announced that she was having a nervous breakdown (whatever that meant) and would have to go to Florida. I wasn’t sure what she meant by going to Florida to recuperate. All I know is that she bought me my favorite toy of all time- a machine gun that shot out sparks when you pressed the trigger. I had that one till my middle teens. It then disappeared. Who knew that the trip to Florida would revisit me on November 22, 1977, when my mother called and told me that I had a brother?

SO IT’S SNOWING

Hooray! The weather people in our area were totally correct. Last night most of the school districts in our area called school off in anticipation of the coming snow storm. When I got up this morning to go to a meeting in the state capitol, it had already snowed a couple of inches. The now would continue until the evening and lay down about 6 inches in all.

The temperature was in the 20’s and the evening brought a chill to the roads creating ice and slippery ruts. As I was driving in this morning, I was tooling at about 25 miles per hour. It might even have been a bit too fast for the conditions. The traffic up ahead was about 20 car lengths from my vehicle. However the parsnip behind me was about 5 feet from my tail lights.

At each light, I pumped my brakes careful to that I would not slip. The slush was really robust on Linglestown Rd. Almost all of the traffic was going slowly and carefully, other than the rotten tomato behind me. I do have a rather bad temper. It has been modified by my wife, but deep down it comes out when putzes are on the road taking no care to drive carefully.

When I came to a stop, Mr. Jerkwater, closed to a distance so close to my rear end that I could not see his/her lights, not most of the front to the car. Yes, I was tempted to get out of my van and offer some driving lessons to this pumpkin head. I restrained myself and hoped that he/she would turn off before I reached Front St. That would have been the longest part of my drive. If my follower was going towards Harrisburg, he might have been behind me all the way to my destination. Fortunately, he turned the other way when we reached the T.

Somehow, snow and ice bring out the worst in some drivers. Their priorities are to get to where they are going in the shortest possible time, exclusive of the weather conditions. Yes, I do believe that they have some sort of death wish. I don’t believe that they think of anyone else on the road. Not that they are inherently bad people, just unaware of their surroundings.

Actually, there are more people out there like that in the world. If you are walking in a crowed place, see how many people will help you go in your direction and move to the side just to let you through. Then there are those who have no sense of place and will not even be cognizant of your presence. I often wonder what place that sort of thing is on the genome.

DIANE IS GOING AWAY

 

The thought of death is not something that young people usually deal with. It is not a troubling thought to most of us as we go through life’s cycles. Carol and I have gone through all of the deaths in our family’s previous generation. Mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, older cousins, and some younger members of our family have all left us.

In each of those cases, there was a period of grieving and now some hearty remembrances of their lives. Our friends have also passed this way on the road to whatever happens next, if anything. We do not simply mourn all of these people, we actually rejoice in their lives. Maybe we are being too cognizant of their time with us and not enough time realizing that they are any longer with us.

Carol’s roommate Sara was somewhat of an exception. Her bout with cancer lasted nine years. She never wavered from her normal life. She traveled, did her churchly duties (in the Quaker faith) and fulfilled, and then some, all of her family duties. She even went to some of her college reunions with Carol and their roommates, even though she was not really interested in going.

In some ways, Diane reminds me of Sara. She is a school superintendent in a north central part of Pennsylvania. She recently changed jobs in 2012. She discovered that she had cancer last year. She continued to work until it was difficult for her to get out of bed in the morning. She was an active member of PARSS (Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools) and that is how I know her.

As she became less able to handle her position, another of our former supes and member of the PARSS board stepped in to help. Don promised that he would continue her work in the school district. Don had retired from a nearby school district.

Diane was at the end of her dissertation. She is determined to finish it before she passes away. Her determination to fulfill her goals is something that puts her in a different category of person. She is always concerned about the kids in her school district under her care. She has always been that way.

Her current situation is that she has 8 months to live. She has recently gotten back on steroids that will enable her to function and do as Sara did- travel to see relatives across the country. She is concerned that we get a good person on the PARSS board to replace her. Her best time is spending it with her 4 month old granddaughter. She looks forward to lunch with her college girlfriends.

She says that she is calm and thankful for the support of her family and her friends. It is hard not to be supportive of Diane. In my mind, she is a hero.

KYLE AND HOLLYWOOD

Carol and I both agree that the ten years that we spent running the McKelvey and Lenfest Foundations for rural kids were our most satisfying of our careers. The funny thing is that it has not ended yet. When you have over one thousand young people out there who are in their twenties and early thirties, you always have some stories to tell.

Many of these young people are still in contact with us through Facebook, email, phone calls and visits. Sometimes we get a call from one of them saying that they are on their way someplace, could we please go out to lunch. We may even get an invitation to see them in a far off place in which they are now working. In February we will meet with one of our scholars in Puerto Rico. It is a joy to see each and every one of them.

Some of the young men and women have gotten to be pretty close to us. When we needed some age cohort people to accompany us to New York and Washington during the Christmas vacation to spend time with some young visitors from Mexico, we had no trouble finding volunteers. They were delightful and made the visits memorable. They are all still in contact with the Mexican visitors.

Somehow, there are those who keep in contact on a regular basis. Two of these are Kyle and Hollywood. The reason for the Hollywood sobriquet is that his name is also Kyle. When they were both mentors at a camp we ran for new scholars, the Hollywood name stuck to the other Kyle.

These guys were wonderful mentors for the new scholars first going to college. Each of them has a way of making things sound interesting. They are both easy going with a penchant for telling stories. Their approach to the new scholars was open and accessible. They would stay up late at night to answer questions and just hang around with their mentees.

Now they have been out of college for a number of years. Hollywood went back home at first and worked for his parents in their grocery store. He did apply for some teaching jobs, but was not successful. I can tell everyone that because schools in PA had to furlough 20,000 people, getting a job is a minor miracle. Hollywood landed a job with the Pepsi Cola Company in St. Marys, PA. He is well on his way to being successful. He told me that he would like to be close to home, but if Pepsi decided that he should go to Colorado, he would go.

Hollywood has a lovely family. His older sister was also a McKelvey Scholar. Carol and I got to know the family somewhat and have seen Hollywood develop from a 17 year old high school senior to a wonderful and accomplished 25 year old.

Kyle is a horse of a different color. In a test that we gave the McKelvey Scholars to determine their strengths (not weaknesses), he scored out of sight on human interaction. His talents in that area allowed him to get a job in the alumni and development offices in his college. To say that he is likable would be an understatement.

He was determined to work in the area of development at the college level. He applied to get a Master’s degree in that field at Elmira College in N.Y. He is almost finished with his degree and is now has a full time job at the college. He is in charge of large gift giving for the alumni. He could not have gotten a better job to fit his skills.

Kyle and Hollywood are just a few of the young people we have been close to. We have number of young women who finished their degrees and decided to marry and stay home with their children. Some are even home schooling their young ones. Others are going on with their master’s degree while being a full time mom. We are so proud of them.

We even have a few who married and then entered the military. They are doing well and are able to take care of their children at the same time. I am not sure how that works, but they are doing it.

We have a raft of entrepreneurial scholars that we were never really involved with. Although, we helped to choose the original ten, there are over 200 others. However, we are in contact through Facebook and have established relationships with some of them. A few months ago, we Skyped with a scholar who is in China, having started a school for Chinese students who want to study in America.

If you have any doubts about twenty to thirty year olds, I hope that you will be happy to see that so many of them are successful in so many areas.

BITCHES

O.K., so I am old and conservative. I am not got at accepting new words being added to the dictionary. I am also very disappointed when old words get new meanings. I bristle at the new meanings of radical, awesome, gay, and others. When I get too bilious, Carol settles me down and tells me that our generation did the exact same thing. I point out to her that the English language is being corrupted by email, Instagram, texting and so on. So don’t get me going about L.O.L., u , BTW, TGIF and others.

I guess what will happen is that my own angst will subside and I will continue to bite my lip, stanch the bleeding, and skulk off to my corner and just shake my head. I have not had any of these discussions with my grandchildren who would look at me like I had just escaped from the rubber room. I am more likely to squawk to people of my own age who just nod their heads and continue on with what they were doing.

I have not made such a big deal about these new words in recent months, except for one thing. I abhor the word “BITCHES” when applied to women. Not only does t.v. make use of that word indistriminantly, but women seem to have no problem calling each other that word. I have even heard kids in schools using the word and calling each other (almost always girls) using that word to describe themselves or other girls.

There are even t.v. shows that feature that word. I have not seen a complete program, but “Mean Girls” makes a fetish of it. It seems to have seeped into all of our workaday activities. No one seems to mind being called a bitch.

In my mind it is abhorrent. It connotes (or even denotes) something awful about female human beings. It separates people from each other, even more than the usual groupings. It is used to demean and denigrate another human being. If you are using the word in a casual manner, in an even tone, it is still a horrible thing to say to or about someone. This is not one of those things that I will allow to slip by.