Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Patrick Flynn and Ronald Tipton, 2016.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Forty Years

When I graduated high school in I had no great expectations and no one else did either.  My parents told me early and often that I wasn’t going to college. This may have been partly financial, but it was also philosophic. For whatever reason, they distrusted education.  I was a voracious reader, which would have delighted many parents, but I was warned all this reading could harm my brain.  It was as if they believed there was just so much the brain could take in before it exploded.
I didn’t know there were alternative means of getting to university other that your parents sending you off and paying the bill.  Oh, I was aware of scholarships that paid the way, but although I was getting good marks, my overall GPA wasn’t going to attract attention, nor would my athletic prowess, unless there were awards for clumsy trackmen. The only organized team I was ever on was Track and I didn’t even make the right choices doing that.
The coach ran all fledgling trackies through every event during the first practices and I performed best running the mile. I actually put in a very good time for that event for that era for a teenager, but I never enjoyed running; therefore, I choose shot put and discus. We weight guys almost never had to run. I was probably the least bulky guy in the shot put ring.  Standing next to any other contestant waiting to put would be the closest I'd come to being a number ten in the sport.  I was lucky my tosses missed my toes.
I was somewhat better with the discus. See, I told you I didn’t like to run. With these two events, I didn’t even have to walk.  It was always the same porkers that lined up at the discus circle that had lined up at the shot put pit. but perhaps being lighter than the rest of the field gave me more leverage. I managed to hurl the discus through the air and down the field. Still, having poundage must have added some advantage since most these other fellows could throw it a bit further down the field.
Finally at the last meet of our season, the last meet of my high school career; my last chance at glory, that moment in all films where the scrawny kid hits the winning homer or scores the winning touchdown or kicks the stuffing out of the Karate champ, I out-distanced everyone.  Oh, it sailed off into the blue sky so pretty, the gold along its edges glimmering from the sun. “He…might…go…all…the…way!”  It curved down in a slick arc and skittered into the green mat of the football field pass all the previous marks.
And I, the mighty thrower,  teetered on my toes, contorted about in the follow through, awaiting my applause as I slowly slipped over and fell out of the ring to disqualification.
No, no Olympics in this kid's future, and no big-time college money either. 
So I left high school with a hazy goal of finding a job. I had no particular skill I was aware of and certainly had received no direction over my youth. The only advice I ever remember getting from my dad was “Don’t get an F and don’t get a girl in trouble.”  I was half successful in following his admonishment.  I never got a girl in trouble (and to be honest, when he told me that, I had no idea what he was talking about).  I did get an F in ninth grade Latin (Antiquis temporibus, nati tibi similes in rupibus ventosissimis exponebantur ad necem).
I did have two ambitions. Everyone around me dismissed them as unrealistic, things in the same childish utterances as , "I want to be a cowboy when I grow up".  I wanted to be an artist and/or a writer when I grew up.  I didn’t have sky-high goals either.  I wanted to be a cartoonist or a horror-story writer; even a hack horror-story writer was fine. This didn’t get a lot of encouragement at home though. This wasn’t real work. This was what came from too-much reading. This wasn’t something one could earn a living doing. 
Despite the grumbling, I managed to talk my mom into allowing me to study art through a correspondence school, one of those that had the ads “Draw Me!”  Well, yes I could draw that, and very well thank you.  I began the course in my junior year and did it for the next two years.  However, I gradually practiced less.  I wasn’t interested in Commercial Art, I was interested in being a cartoonist, and although perspective, shading and proportion were helpful for that trade, I had little interest in drawing vases and toasters and other Sears Catalogue type illustration that kept cropping up in the lessons.  I managed to maintain a B average over the two years, but I had started out with A's and finished with C's.  I also realized I didn’t have the same passion for art as for writing and perhaps didn’t have the talent to compete in the Commercial Art field.
Writing was different.  I was always writing and in my senior year I got the first encouragement since junior high school. (During junior high I spent a lot of evenings at the town library. The librarian took an interest in my stories and let me use the library typewriter to type them and she would read them and make positive comments.) Mrs. Mancer was my English teacher’s name and early on she assigned the writing of a short story. I wrote a tale called “Rescue”, about a man trapped on the side of a cliff that had an Alfred Hitchcock Presents little twist at the end. I got an A, but more importantly I got attention.  When she found out I wanted to be a writer, she actually set aside a couple of class periods for me to read to the class. I read twenty-six poems and four stories to the class over two periods.
Suddenly for the first time in my life I was "cool" or at least something a few degrees below tempid. Because all the stories I read were horror, I gained a nickname – Frank. This was short for Frankenstein and was used complimentary. I was Frank thereon.
This led to more glory.  I was asked to write a comic assembly on Shakespeare’s life. I wrote a narrated play called  “Shakespeare and the Theatre”.  (Okay, it isn’t a very witty or original title but the play was funny and went over well.) "Wild Bill’ Shakespeare became a catch phrase about the school after the two assembly it was performed. During the first performance, one of the actors took a nasty gash to the hand during a sword fight and had to get stitches, but he finished his role, blood dripping on his tunic,  but  it would hardly have been a play by “Frank” without a little gore.
After these assemblies, the director of the senior class play approached me and asked if I could write a comic monologue and perform it between acts. Would I?  Just being asked started the ham in me sizzling. Thus I became a far-out musician named “Frantic Frank” doing his lecture called “Frantic Frank on Musick”.  I did this between the play acts three times and at one a minister saw the show and asked if I would do the act at church socials. Ah, my stand-up comic days!
I had two friends in my class and they had both acted in “Shakespeare and the Theatre” and we were always together at school.  They were both named Ray. Ray Number One and I had a side career going hosting school sock hops. We were the comic DJs, “Gravely and Hearse”.  (At that time there was a popular local TV show similar to Bandstand hosted by two radio personalities named Grady and Hurst.)
Then Larry, his friend Ray and his other friend Ray wrote two sketches together for the school variety show: “Barber and the Boy” and “Flea-Spray Ad”.   Here is “Flea-Spray Ad in its entirety:
Two men come on stage to dance before the curtain.  They spot a sexy French Girl in the aisle with a poodle.  One man goes downstage to pet the dog.  When he returns he is itchy.  The other man starts to help him scratch and then he gets itchy.  A Third Man enters with a squirt gun.  He sprays at the men and they stop scratching.  The Third Man smiles and they thank him and the first two men exit.  Then the Third Man gets itchy and falls onto the stage floor scratching.  The other two men return and carry him off.

See how brilliant we were. It only took the combined brainpower of the three of us to come up with that. I think we really just wanted a way to spend time around one of the “babes’ in our class who played the French Girl. Every guy wanted to spend time around this gal. We called for a lot of rehearsal time, especially for her part. It was a demanding roll. She had to get holding the stuffed poodle just right and that took a lot of practice and hands-on direction.
Believe it or not this bit got big laughs.
 “Barber and the Boy” was a ten-minute sketch and it was the featured act of the show, the closer. I was the Barber and at the end of the act, I got to do my headfirst fall off the front of the stage into the auditorium aisle where I then lay “dead” until the audience filed out.  This show was done three times: once for the Junior High, once for the Senior High and once in the evening for parents and the general public.
Still, high school ended and I was told to forget such nonsense.
I was pass the "I wanna be when I grow up stage". I was grown up and there was no more time for being a cowboy. It was time to find a real job.
I did find a real job. It was with Proctor & Gamble as a Field Marketing Associate. Nice fancy title for a seventeen year old to start with, wasn't it?  My Job? I hung samples of Mr. Clean on doorknobs.  We local hires would gather at the train station early in the morn and a van blazoned with Mr. Clean’s bald likeness would pick us up and deposit us on street corners with a basket of 8 oz bottles and special plastic bags with hoops on the top. We would walk the streets, pulling bottles from the basket, sliding them into bags, looping the bags over doorknobs, ringing the doorbells and moving on.  In a way I was still in show business. Sometimes the van would follow us and play the Mr. Clean jingle over and over.  And over and over again. And over and over again. And over…PLEASE GO DRIVE SOMEBODY ELSE NUTS!  When this happened passersby would stare at us and children would follow us on our route.
In one neighbor a squad of grade school terrorists insisted on trailing in my footsteps bombarding me with dirty jokes. These usually involved innocent words also used to name human body parts that these kids found highly hilarious to say to someone just trying to earn a living.
We went from town to town until we had Mr. Cleaned the area and then the job ended and the Van moved on to the next plateau. However, there was a base crew who traveled with the van and the boss offered me a place in that crew because he liked my “hustle’. I had just turned 18 while on this job and in those days was still considered a child and would need my parents’ permission for such an adventure. I knew they would never sign, so I turned down the offer. I wonder how different my life would have been if I had went a-hanging Mr. Clean from coast-to-coast?
The next month I went off to IBM School in Philly.  Now why did my parents agree to this school and not college? Because at this school you learned to run machines and running machines was “real work”.  The school advertised it course as the “Job of the Future”. It was TAB Operation and Wiring.  We were taught to run IBM equipment from a 024 Keypunch to a 604 Calculator. The next step up would be to those giant computers that only giant corporations had in those days, you know the ones with doors that you would walk inside to change vacuum tubes.
It was not just operating this equipment, it was programming as well. You would be given a business case, like a payroll or accounts receivable function and using paper templates you would figure out how to convert this manual operation so the machines could do it. Next you had to get punch cards designed and produced to carry the data and you had to have a program to make the various equipment understand what the cards said and what they were to do with that information.  This programming was then done on control boards by plugging in wires in proper patterns.  Some machines took bigger boards than others. The 427 Accounting Machine had the monster boards and the more complicated wiring. Each job process had to have its own separate board.
I made a friend at this school.  His name was Tom.  (I guess his name is still Tom actually.  I lost track of him decades ago.) Here we were both studying the “Job of the Future” and both studying Art through a correspondence school.  I was studying with Art Institute, who claimed Charles Schulz on its board.  He was studying with the other big name art correspondence school of the day, Famous Artists, who claimed Norman Rockwell on its board. I think Nagy, the TV artist, was also claimed by them.  And we both were doing it because we wanted to be cartoonists.  Oddly enough, I finished first in the IBM class and Tom finished second.
One of the great things about being friends with Tom was he lived in Clementon, NJ, one block from the amusement park.  I would visit at his home during that Summer of Control Boards (classes only ran during the morning) and we’d walk over and do the ride thing all afternoon.  We would go to his place by bus. One time we had to go to Wanamaker’s Department Store for some reason, and we got lost in the store and time was running out for us  catching our bus, so we were frantically running through the store looking for a stair and an exit. We saw a door that seemed like an exit and dashed through it right into the Ladies Room. The Ladies Room there was enormous. We just ran straight ahead toward another door far away through all these women doing all the things woman do in powder rooms. Except now they had ceased doing those things to scream.  We burst though the far door to the grateful sight of stairs and we ran down and out of the store and thus the cartoonist rapists of John Wanamaker’s escaped into the crowded streets.
I never did find a job doing TAB Operation and Wiring. It was always too little experience because I never had a job yet or too much experience because of the schooling I did.  The last time I saw a TAB Control Board was a few years back when I took the family for a week in Washington DC.  I found control boards displayed in the Smithsonian Institute. Does anything make you feel older than discovering the “Job of the Future” you once trained for is now “The Job of the Past” displayed in a museum.
Thus I remained a high school graduate with no job and no expectations.  I wonder what ever became of me?  

1 comment:

Ron Tipton said...

I didn't realize that you never got a job from your tabulating experience. I wonder if that school was a scam. I remember when you're were going to that school. I was very impressed the way your mother had your white shirts all lined up for you to wear for your train ride to Philly each day and your classes. I thought you had it made. I couldn't get a job at all. That's why I joined the Army. And that, my friend, is another whole story.