Walking with Studs Terkel

Walking with Studs Terkel

The first job I ever had was delivering newspapers – tossing
them with vigor at various doorways from atop my big, black,
steel-framed paperboy bike, and the paper’s rubber bands would
sometimes slip, causing the paper to take the form of a cone
rendering them aerodynamically unable to fly well but…

…they looked a lot like the cones I filled by hand with
hard. muscle-building, ice cream in my next job at
Baskin-Robbins where the scooped gobs of vanilla were the same
shade as the naked potatoes I peeled by the fifty-pound bag to
make potato pancakes at my other gig at the Alpine Village Inn
where we garnished every plate of German food with a spiced-apple
ring, round and hollow just like the crullers and glazed-raised
I served to cops, mechanics,teachers, and folks my next stop
at the Donut House…

…where, in fact, all of our donuts (except long johns and the
crème-or-jelly-filled Bismarck’s) had center holes that resembled
the 45 rpm records I played on my first ‘real’ career-jobs at
multiple radio stations I worked at as an alleged adult for a
decade or so – places where people would call in to request songs
and birthday greetings or to win bumper stickers, chat about aliens,
vent about their loneliness because all they had was my voice
and cats and I tried to politely get off the phone, back to work
entertaining 24/7 hot-and-cold running weirdoes…

…a lot like the people I met in my next career incarnation in the
hotel business I grew to love, except hotel guests you encountered
face-to-face while they complained about cold pools, thin towels,
noisy ice machines, bad food or the fact that they got put in
a room on the 13th floor; at least they usually tipped you for
your time, effort, charm, expertise – except for a short stint when
I worked behind the desk with reservation computers and
boring accounting stuff…

…but that all came in handy when I went back to broadcasting and
helped manage a national radio network which gave me more technical
skills that were more helpful when I became a county social services
case manager, helping folks who could never tip, but who often just
needed someone to talk to besides their cats and the guy on
the radio with a call-in-show, so sometimes I could help make their
lives a bit easier…

…like I did in my next stop as a state employment counselor
which I enjoyed and did well with because, holy cow! I could relate
to most of the people on my caseload because I had done so many
different things that helped me be successful at helping people
find better jobs than the ones that had been snatched from them and
I could also talk with great authority on making transitions –
especially once the economy went south and the irony of being
laid-off as an employment counselor sank in…

….so I went to work for a company training their employees to do
their jobs, until they started cutting some of those jobs
and of course you don’t need to train someone to do a job that
isn’t there anymore and so then I finally finished a long-ago begun
college degree and mentoring my much younger classmates.

Now I daily find myself in front of a classroom full of often
disinterested, inner-city, high school, English students who don’t
understand at all how the real world works and see themselves as
not having many future options or long-term prospects…

…so the world just doesn’t need as many people to deliver, throw,
scoop, peel, and serve like back in my day so they don’t learn or need to
learn these seemingly but not really innocuous skills and now
any empathy I share with people falls on mostly deaf ears of kids
wearing earbuds which drowns out the siren-call of potential for
opportunity beyond being a discount store cashier or shoving lattes
across a counter…

…and I think back over the blue-collar and white-collar phases of
my careers and all I can say for certain now is that whatever the
color of my shirts, there was almost always a well-earned,
mostly-enjoyed-making-it, had some laughs, ring around those collars
and how maybe, just maybe, circles and rings and holes and loops
are some kind of theme in my life and then I find myself
talking in circles to my students because it’s what we sometimes
do just to get something to stick and quite often at the end of
the day I can easily picture myself back in a paper hat somewhere

”You want coffee with that cruller?”

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