This is the first installment of the first chapter of my new (well, sort of new … no, not really new at all considering I’ve been working on it for the past 10 years) book, How to Sell the Plague, that I will post every Tuesday for the next 10 weeks. It’s a memoir of my interesting (of course, you’ll be the final judge on whether they’re interesting or not) and humorous (ditto on that final judgement thing) experiences in completely selling out on all my aspirations and principals for money. (I told you it’s funny.) Hope you enjoy.
Dancing in the Jaws of the Dragon
I was fresh out of college and it was my first professional job. The interviewing process was a new and foreign experience and a whole other job unto itself, and even though I had been advised along the way by the disingenuous, bottom-feeder sales puke from the employment agency, I had no idea what I was getting into. I didn’t have a clue where those first few steps were taking me, but the sales puke had told me I could make $14,000 a year if I worked hard. Fourteen thousand dollars! In today’s runaway economy, $14,000 may seem like chump change, but in 1975, $14,000 was almost twice the national annual income average, and $14,000 was just about all I heard during those interviews.
Yeah, like I wanted to be a salesman. Right. Big smile, firm handshake and shiny shoes, ala Willie Loman; slap you on the back and tell-you-what-I’m-gonna-do fast-talking, no-low-is-too-low creeps like the one that sucked me into the employment agency in the first place. Not me, pal. No way. A year or so, make a bundle and move onto my real calling in life.
Oh yeah, I was smarter than all of them and I would use this banal and uninspiring interlude for my higher purposes and then discard the wingtips and three-piece suits after I had taken all I could get, like throwing a crumpled cigarette pack out the window at 65 miles an hour, moving on down the highway on my way to glory, immortality and beautiful babes. Oh yeah, we all smoked and threw empty cigarette packs out the window in 1975 because we were the first generation of the masters of the universe, only we didn’t know it yet and we were, at that time, simply pigs in training. Oh yeah, those were the fallow, callow days of summer, be-bopping along, singing our song, yadda yadda yadda.
What I didn’t know was that once I got through all the misconceptions, blind alleys and unrealistic expectations, I was embarking on the adventure of a lifetime, and I’ve spent a lifetime, 35 years, dancing in the jaws of the dragon and loving every minute of it. And one more thing, oh yeah, I made $20,000 that first year and never looked back.
Go Ask Alice
I graduated from Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey in June 1975 with a Bachelor of Arts in English. Oh wow! In the business world, an English degree was like telling everybody you’re a smart guy but not smart enough to have a plan. And I didn’t. Loosely, I was going to take a year off and make some money, and then go to graduate school and then teach at the college level and then be the next William Faulkner. Enlightenment, fame and babes were waiting around the corner and all I had to do was show up, eventually. But along the way I met the Buddha and he told me enlightenment doesn’t come cheap and happiness is definitely better with a pocket full of cash; contemplation of the existential nature of the known physical universe was not readily available to those preoccupied with paying the rent. Who was I to question the Buddha?
Like William Tecumseh Sherman plowing through the last vestiges of ol’ Bill Faulkner’s antebellum South, I went through college in two-and-a-half years, seven straight semesters. To do so, I needed 24 credits my last semester, so I was wasted, burned-out and numb when I graduated.
While I was in college, the drinking age in New Jersey was 18 and we had a tavern on campus that served beer and wine, creatively named The Tavern, where I worked and ended up managing during my senior year. It was a great place for me to drink beer and meet girls―two of my favorite collegiate pursuits, outside of becoming ostentatiously erudite. So I stayed on as manager of The Tavern after graduation to decompress and continue the pursuit of two of my three objectives.
And at some point in those undefined and unfocused halcyon days of post-hippie, pre-yuppie transformation (who can remember with all that decompressing going on), I started looking for a real job. But first I needed to educate myself on how to look for a job, because I certainly didn’t get any of that in college. What with all the beer and the girls and the Faulkner, who had time for those kinds of pedestrian details? So after proving I could get through a Henry James novel, drink myself silly and woo the ladies with my silver tongue (a training that would become one of my greatest assets as I entered the dragon’s cave), I put on a clean, pressed shirt and ambled off into the deep black hole of responsibility and the end of my Alice in Wonderland trip where the new dormouse was definitely not interested in feeding my head.