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

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Book of Numbers Halftime Report

On August 9, three months after Lois’ father died and two months since the flooding of our Cobbs Street home, our 1978 Chevrolet Chevette died near the Lobster Pot Restaurant along Route 1. I called my parent’s home and mom and dad came for us. Dad couldn’t get the Chevette started either, so we had it towed to the Granite Run Mall, why there I know longer remember. Eventually, I got the vehicle towed to a garage and running again. Car trouble, just what I needed on top of everything else.
I wasn’t over confident in the Chevette any longer. I had  traded in my Toyota for it. I didn’t want to chance any long trips in it. My mother and Grandmother took we and the kids to Sesame Place, near Oxford Valley Mall up above North Philadelphia, on August 25. Mom drove her car. That is Lois and Laurel climbing the steps and about to be gobbled up by Big Bird on the right. Laurel had a great time, but I thought the entrance fee was outrageous. It cost more than the amusement parks, like Dorney Park, but in those early days Sesame Place had no amusement rides. It was just a giant playground, so there was really nothing for adults to do except chase after their child. Adults still had to pay the high fee, though.
You couldn't bring food in, so if you wanted to eat, and what kid doesn't want to eat, you had to buy at their cafe. Again the prices were outrageous and the food was abysmal. No hot dogs or hamburgers, they were going for "healthy foods". They did have pizza, the most horrid, tasteless pizza you ever had the misfortune to stuff in your mouth. Laurel enjoyed herself. Noelle was still a baby and probably didn't even know we were there.



We managed to attend the Wilson Family Reunion near Pottstown on August 30, then  Lois I took a two-day trip to Pennsylvania Dutch country September 1, but in between I had difficulties with starting the car. Therefore, on September 21, I bit the bullet and we bought a new conveyance, a 1982 Pontiac J2000 Hatchback.

It was like the car pictured on the right, except ours was jet black. It was a unique looking car at the time. Nothing on the road looked like it. Everywhere we went it drew attention, so it would not have made a very good get-a-way car. People constantly came and asked us what it was. We thought it was pretty cool looking and we enjoyed the attention it gathered.
The J2000 had a unique history in a way. From 1976 through 1980 Pontiac produced an H-bodied, rear-wheel-drive vehicle called the Sunbird. (left, 1980 Sunbird). They ceased production of this model in 1980 and so no Sunbirds were produced in 1981. In 1982, Pontiac introduced the J2000 as a replacement for the Sunbird. It was a J-car with a front-wheel drive.
A year later, in 1983, they dropped the J from its name and marketed it as a small version of the Pontiac 6000. (On the right is a 1983 Pontiac 6000.)
By 1984 they put the Sunbird label back on it. 
We didn’t care about all that. They could call the model anything they wished to, we just loved our 1982 Hatchback, thought it a beautiful car.

The rest of 1981 went on its way relatively peaceful. I took Lois to New Hope for dinner for her October birthday.  Thanksgiving was held at my parents with the usual turkey feast. We also went to my parents on December 12 to celebrate Noelle’s first birthday (right, Noelle, Lois, Me and my dad). December pretty much finished out with my parents visiting at our place for Christmas Day.


A BOOK OF NUMBERS
I was no longer a youth in 1981. I was 40 years old. When you cross over the line from your thirties, you can pretty much surmise your life is half over, current life expectancy being 76.4 for American males. I still had a lot of hair, but it was decidedly grayer, a reminder that forty may be a time to get serious, do some reflection on my life. My first forty years at least had some diversification, you might say. (Don’t ask what I was doing in the picture because I don’t know. It was part of a game at the Wilson Family Reunion.)

Statistically, I had 17 address changes so far, including my birth home. It had gone this way: Modena, Whitford, Downingtown, Glenloch, Downingtown, Downingtown (different house), Bucktown, which made seven for my growing up years until I married at age 20.

Then we had Malvern, Drexel Hill, Bucktown (brief separation from my wife when I moved back with my parents) Philadelphia Apt. 1, Philadelphia Apt. 2, Aldan, (so far all my homes had been in Pennsylvania, but now some state variation), Cherry Hill, NJ, Pine Hill, NJ, Springfield, Pa house 1, Springfield, Pa. house 2, and finally at age 40, Drexel Hill, Pa. once again, making 11 since marriage and 18 in total between age 0 and 40 when we finally determined we were going to stay at the house in Drexel Hill for a while. Up till then it seemed like I was always packing up the car and moving.\

I also had over those first 40 years a number of jobs, working in several types of industry: farming, oil refining, publishing, banking, food processing, steel fabrication and medical provision. I started working for hire at age 10, you know, hustling up any chore from any neighbor who would pay me a pittance to do it. This included picking up items for people from the corner store, mowing lawns, washing cars, pulling weeds, grounds keeping and garage cleaning.
By the time I reached 13 these became more formal positions, meaning I worked for some kind of business under supervision: celery washer, paperboy, parking lot snow shoveling for a restaurant (winter only, of course), tomato picker at a Wilson Farm, strawberry picker for Ridge Farms, tomato truck loader in Amish Farm country (that is NOT me in the picture) and door-to-door sample distributor for Proctor & Gamble.

In November 1959, at the age of 18, I finally landed the first of my adult jobs at Atlantic Refining. I was a Junior Clerk in Sales Accounting, Graphotypist, Addressograph Machine Operator, then supervisor of the addressing unit, Traffic Lading Clerk, Parcel Post Clerk, Accounts Receivable Ledger Clerk, Accounts Receivable Control Clerk, Accounts Receivable TBA Ledgerman, Regional Ledgerman, Assistant Regional Group Leader and then I quit ARCo. I was a ghostwriter for college students. I worked at a gum manufacturer as a Wad Slinger and Bubblegum Welder. I got a job as a Circulation Manager for a magazine publisher. I began writing book, movie and theater reviews and features. I became a profession writer of short fiction and poetry. I got a job in a bank as a General Ledger Clerk and ended there as the Supervisor of Operations Accounting. I moved on to working for an egg breaker as Office Manager and Cost Account. When that company closed after a year I was employed by a steel structural tubing company as an Assistant Bookkeeping. I quickly became the Chief Bookkeeper, then Assistant Control, eventually also the Manager of the Computer Department. When that company moved to Chicago, I moved on to a large medical center as the Budget Director. Nearly two years later I was hired in a bank as the Operations, Methods and Project Manager. This is where I was at age 40, at that bank in that position and working there not quite  three-quarters of a  year on my 40th birthday.
The names of the companies I worked for over those years were ARCo (Atlantic Richfield Corporation), Philadelphia Gum Company (yes, it's true, we put out Robert F. Kennedy Gum Packs), North American Publishing Company, Philadelphia After Dark (feature writer and reviewer), Health-Knowledge, Inc. (short fiction writer), Lincoln Bank, Olson Brothers, Inc., Welded Tube Company of America, Mercy Catholic Medical Center and Wilmington Trust Company.
This gave me a wide range of experience.

I also had gained a wide range of education in my first 40 years.
As a child I attended and graduated from Mrs. Helms Private Kindergarten, Downingtown East Ward Grade School (Downingtown), West Whiteland Elementary School, East Ward again, Downingtown Junior High School, North Coventry Senior High School and Owen J. Roberts Senior High School.
Once graduated from high school I went to Art Instruction, Inc. for Commercial Art, Florence Utz IBM Tab Operation and
Programming School, Writer’s Digest Short Fiction Course, ARCo’s Introduction to Computers class, Temple University (Sociology Major), IBM Corporation System 3 Computer System School, Sperry-Rand RPG-II Programming Course, Sherry-Rand BC-7 Computer System School, Camden County College (Systems Analysis and Computer Programing Major), University of Delaware (Data Processing Systems) and at age 40 was newly enrolled at Widener University’s School of Business Administration (Accounting Major).
For most of the years from age 22 until 40 I had been working a full-time day job, going to college in the evenings and doing freelance writing on the side, not to mention the time my wife and I were engaged in child ministry. Somehow she and I found time to be together and engage in fun things.
How? How was this possible?

Granted, I had a great ability for organization and compartmentalization. However, I think the emotional hang ups the two of us had actually helped. My wife suffered from Bipolar Disorder, although neither of us were really aware of this yet in 1981. I will come back to my wife’s situation in a later chapter. Here I want to deal with my own disorder, Social Anxiety.

Social Anxiety Disorder is an irrational fear of interaction with other people in social situations, especially with new acquaintances. It is often perceived as shyness or perhaps aloofness. Here are some of the main symptoms.

·                Being introduced to other people
·                Being teased or criticized
·                Being the center of attention
·                Being watched or observed while doing something
·                Having to say something in a formal, public situation
·                Meeting people in authority ("important people/authority figures")
·                Feeling out of place socially ("I don’t know what to say.")
·                Embarrassing easily (e.g., blushing, shaking)
·                Meeting other peoples’ eyes
If you read many of my earlier chapters you would have noted some of these things. For instance, throughout much of my childhood narrative you will find me speaking of the teasing, bullying and criticism I endured. I often retreated to isolated places or to my room at home where I invented games to play alone. After the age of 12, I spent many hours alone writing or sometimes just cataloging my books, records and other collections.
In the sections of my early days at ARCo you might remember my explaining I had a problem when I was speaking with other people of feeling I was shaking. I had even went to a psychologist to help deal with this phenomena. But I had all the above symptoms, some to more or less degree than others. I would shrivel inside when introduced to other people for the first time, mumble some kind of hello and try to somehow slink away. I had a vast pool of subject matter in my brain, I couldn’t make small talk with anyone, I never knew what to say. I hated being the center of attention. It wasn't just being teased; it was also being complimented. I would rather be ignored altogether than praised. I couldn't function if I felt I was being watched or observed. If I had chores to do I would put them off until I felt certain no one was around to watch me do them.
Remember how I told about first meeting my future wife. She and I worked in different departments on the same floor at ARCo. We would pass in the hallway daily and she always said hello, but she thought I was stuck up because she didn’t ever hear me say hello back. This was because I walked with my head down averting other people’s eyes and spoke in a low voice. I always answered her back, but she couldn't pick up my reply.
When I did go to some social gathering, whether family or otherwise, and almost always by force,  I would hang in the back or find a chair in a corner. If there were a magazine handy, I would bury my face in it and seldom engage in conversation. People might find me somewhat strange, but this hiding in plain sight was my way of coping with my discomfort.
Over the years I found little way to live with my anxiety. By luck and sometimes design, I managed to get jobs where I could do most of the work on my own. I could come in, go to my desk and pretty much be left alone. Yes, there were some occasions where I was a supervisor or manager, and I always hated such positions. I never considered myself very good at being a boss. I also did my best to avoid meeting with higher executives or big bosses. My quietness was misinterpreted by most as modesty or deep thinking. People took it as a sign of intelligence that I wasn’t always speaking out as many others did. Thus, when I did say something, they really listened because they assumed I was saying something profound. My embarrassment of drawing attention for some achievement was taken as humbleness.
My career did not always go smoothly. When I became Traffic Lading Clerk at ARCo I lasted only a couple of weeks before having a complete breakdown. I could not handle the social interaction that job placed me in. The people I dealt with reminded me too much of my father for one thing. The anxiety grew each day until I began crying and couldn't stop. Normally I didn't find myself in such pressure. I believe my decision to leave North American was partially brought on by the discomfort I came to feel feeling with the people there. I was, in truth, lucky in most of my job choices.
Of course, things like writing were solitary chores. A writer sits down at a sheet of blank paper alone and creates his or her own world. Back then you usually submitted your manuscripts by mail.  Sometimes, with great effort, pacing and hang wringing, I forced myself to be more proactive when it meant a lot to me, such as when I walked into the editorial office of “Philadelphia After Dark”  asking to write for them. It took me a number of false starts to do it.I don't recall how many times I passed their door without going inside. Once they put me on the writing staff everything came to me by phone and my interaction consisted of agreeing to do it. I could drop my finished pieces on the editor's desk and leave. Everything I wrote for them got published.
In public school our seats were assigned to us by the teacher. I generally ended up near the back because a lot of teacher sat the class by hight and I was tall. Even where seating was alphabetical I would end up near the back by chance because M falls in the middle of the ABCs.
At college, where desks were normally by choice,  I always took a front row seat. That may seem the counter opposite of what you would expected me to do, which was to go to the back row and hide behind the others, but I found the front row safer. I could see and hear well from the front, but more importantly I could forget there were other students in the room. They were behind me, I couldn’t see them, thus it was as if they had disappeared. I could speak when need be or answer the professor’s questions if called upon because I had the illusion of being alone. If I sat to the rear if called upon every head would turn toward me. Sitting up front I didn’t see their focus and didn’t feel like the center of attention.
I did gradually train myself to look in other people’s eyes when talking to them.
One oddity, I suppose, was that, “Having to say something in a formal, public situation,” didn't bother me For the most part. I was perfectly at ease getting up in front of a group and speaking or acting. Why? I don’t know, I just was. It was talking on an individual level where I went all to pieces.

A thing that surprised long after the fact was the number of girlfriends I dated. During my school years I always bemoaned my inability to get a date or ask a girl to dance. My friend Richard would constantly jitterbug off with some girl at the sock hops while I hung back against the wall looking over the prospects and seeing rejects right and left in my mind. This is exactly how it played out, too. I would finally work up nerve enough to approach someone and invariably she would turn me down. I often cried on my mother’s shoulder how I would never, ever have a girl.
I was definitely a late blooming. I never had a date in Junior High. I had crushes, but couldn't imagine asking any to go out with me.  When we moved to Bucktown when I was 15, I had my first dates withHelen Seibold. She was the daughter of the man who sold us our new home. After Helen, I kind of hooked up with Joan Bodor at parties and then I even dated Anna Schantz a pretty girl in MYF. Yet, I still failed at school dances and was very down on myself, believing I was doomed to a lonely life.

In the summer of 1957, Richard Wilson and I went to Wildwood with my parents and
Richard, ever the predator, picked up two girls on the beach. One named Jeannette Siravo. She and I became a summer romance. This carried over into the fall and winter, but distance proved an obstacle to it ever going further.  Then I dated Peggy Whitely for the Junior Prom and we became steadies, until I met Carmella Cressman on a double date with Ronald Tipton, which angered Peggy and we broke up. Carmella’s parents came between me and Carmella and thus I began going with Pamela Wilson and Suzie Cannell at the same time. I even manipulated a way to take both of these girls to the Senior Prom. Soon after graduation I fell madly in love with Sonja Kebbe. When she dropped me for the boys of Philadelphia, I hooked up with a tall redhead named Louise Crouthers. Then I dated Anita Guida from work until I met Pat Gormley there one day. Pat and I got very serious, but she proved another girl whose parents stepped between us and that was when I started dating that girl who always said hello in the hallway. Her name was Lois and I married her. After several years married, the proverbial seven-year itch hit (she had an affair) and we separated for a time. I dated two more women before Lois and I patched things up and got back together, Janice Griffin and Mary Ann DiPipi.
If I counted correctly, my wife was the 13th girl I went with. You add the two while we were separated, then I had 15 girlfriends. That number shocked me years later when I actually added up the score. I guess I wasn't quite the Mr. Lonesome I thought I was.

During our marriage, I got Lois pregnant 9 times by the time I was 40. Seven babies died and the doctors told her she could never have a child of her own,  but the last two lived by God’s mercy.
I expected no more pregnancies after that.
Thus in 1981 as I turned 40, I hoped there would be some settling down. We would stay where we were and not have so much constant change and upheaval in the second half of our life, except perhaps in the matter of cars. There had been already a Ford, a Studebaker, another Studebaker, a VW Beetle, a Chavelle, a Toyota, a Chevette, a Pontiac and a Chevy BelAire, which we called the Big Blue Shark. (Right, the Big Blue Shark and the Chevette parked in the driveway at our second Springfield home.) But cars wear out and we would have several more in the decades ahead.

We would have other things in the decades ahead, too.





As a side note, my wife and I had one of our rare arguments as I was writing this chapter. I was trying to remember when we had certain cars and I asked her when we owned the Chevrolet Chevelle. She had no recollection of ever having a Chevelle. She said she remembered having a Malibu, but that rang no bells with me. I insisted we had a Chevelle and she said we didn’t at the time I thought. She kept saying we had a mid-sized car then, not a small compact like the Chevelle. I said the Chevelle wasn’t a compact car. She then mentioned we had a mid-sized Malibu and she remembered it was a golden brown, shining, not a dull brown. I said, yes, that is what the Chevelle was, a shiny golden color.
This argument went on a couple days until I began Googling. Turned out that in those years Chevrolet made a mid-sized car called the Chevelle Malibu. We had been arguing over the same car, we just recalled the name differently. Aren’t we often glad there is Google?