Forgive a self-centered blog. When one retires as I did last fall, one expects to have some time to catch up. Actually I find myself about as busy as previously finishing up loose ends — student recommendations, late papers, etc.
However, in odd moments I have been going back in memory to various times in my past to see what I can find there that makes sense of things. One particular is the wide variety of jobs that I held as I was getting my education and planning my future. And I realize that there are many lessons to be learned from a good number of them. So here I go.

My first paid employment (apart from a few days of farm work with my friend whose father managed a nearby farm) was camp counseling following upon my attendance as a camper in a Vermont Y camp (which my mother had attended as a young girl). Manpower was scarce just after WW2, so I got quickly promoted from junior counselor to the full job in charge of a tent full of kids around 8 or 9. I had been an oldest brother of two younger siblings so things came naturally for me getting along and guiding my little gang. I discovered that even young kids come with some serious hang ups that need to be worked out. This one was a bully. That one was a bed wetter. A big brother type could do much to help straighten out these things. Persuading the bully to take on a helping role with smaller kids in the first instance and getting the bed wetter out of bed when I went to bed to trip to the latrine. Both worked well and I got thanking letters from parents in both cases.

Probably this teaching role was what headed me ultimately into teaching despite the attractions of other possible careers. I later spent an easy summer tutoring two little girls of a famous wealthy family. The main value of that one was that it persuaded me that the pursuit of wealth was not for me. Too many of the surrounding wealthy ones were both unhappy and unpleasant. Wealth kills — particularly one’s children.

During my scholarship years which ran from 7th grade to graduate school I encountered a wide variety of part-time things ranging from delivering news papers and house cleaning, cafeteria work, book printing, writing for school and college papers which culminated in a summer writing for Time Inc. with 3 other college editors. I could have moved in there easily as Luce was a relative. But I discovered that most of the guys with which I was working were bored with their work with half finished novels in bottom drawers and so I left that one until retirement blogging which I do with enjoyment now.

Another domain of jobs that was most useful was in the blue collar world. Back then these jobs paid quite well and a man could support his family well, build or buy a home and car and have hobbies on the side such as flying a plane or fishing with a boat towed here or there. There were dangers in most of my jobs and people died around me. These included building houses (me clearing the trees with a power saw and helping a blaster) for factory workers. They were well built and affordable. I also worked in an aircraft factory and a major scrap metal operation simultaneously so as to be able to save enough money for marriage and a year of study at Oxford. Each of these jobs was interesting. The aircraft plant employed about 35,000 but only one African American (East Hartford, Conn.) but the scrap metal operation employed mainly African Americans and was unique in making jobs available and also offering college scholarships to some of their workers — Suisman & Blumenthal. They gave me a loan towards my theological studies, too. In both of these jobs which were wearing combined, I made friends with buddies after a week or so of minor hazing. The guys at the aircraft plant were from all over the country and had some tales to tell such as the foreman who turned up dead in a ditch who had been giving guys a rough time in Texas. One day a big guy came at me and accused me of flirting with his wife. I thought I had had it when he backed off and left. I turned around and my buddies were putting their knives back in their jeans.

One of the weirder jobs was serving as summer helper to a retired Yale prof and his wife. He was supposed to tutor me in Shakespear which seemed a good deal after my sophomore year. It turned out that they were both living back in the 1920s and they treated both Peggy, their Irish cook/maid and me as dirt. She would spit in the soup nightly before she delivered it from the kitchen and I persuaded her to ask for a raise over her $25.00 per week for six day a week slave labor. Such I discovered was the world prior to the New Deal — and, perhaps, the one to which Bush has been trying his best to return us?

My various jobs in Britain were also great learning experiences. I worked with teens as a teen myself my first year there as an exchange student in a British public (really private) school. I was discovering the rigidities of the British class system from which I realized some of my ancestors had escaped some centuries earlier. However, the Labour Party was hard at work both rebuilding war torn Britain and putting in place such essential services as universal medical care. My work in the Bethnel Green community center with kids was an extension of my camp counseling. Later when I worked with teens in the Manhattanville Community Center in West Harlem I was shocked by the contrast. The teens in Britain in 1952 were well fed, housed, and cared for medically. Those in Harlem in 1956 were hungry, living in horrible housing, and without medical care. We baked cakes as our primary activity — mixes that I brought nights when we were to work together. It was heart breaking and later I learned from one of the few to survive that nearly all of my little guys had died violently before they reached 40. Such was the vast difference between the U.S. and Britain and their care for children. Bush is still opposing medical insurance coverage for kids and millions are still going hungry in Amerika.

Some of the other things were instructive — preaching in Britain and in the U.S. I discovered that theology was not for me — too many fatal flaws in the institutions that Christianity had evolved — murderous tendencies towards wars and horrendous abuses of subordinate groups — all those centuries of pogroms culminating the Holocaust!

I recall my last sermon at the Welsh Presbyterian Church in Manhattan with some embarrassment. I had a year earlier given one chastising them for not doing more for their neighbors. I repeated nearly the same theme and afterwards a parishioner told me that they had invited a nearby Latino congregation to share their church. I could see the ego stuff that all too often comes out in sermons. Jeremiah Wright is an all too typical example. There are more egomaniacs in the pulpit than saints.

There had been any number of other things that I won’t detail here. The lessons are hopefully obvious. I did not mention that I worked as a heavy freight porter at the Oxford station to make ends meet during our year there. My mates were a fascinating group, ranging from a former German war prisoner to an Irishman with a love of opera. We got on fine, too. Had an amusing moment when my fine college principal got off the train one evening and I greeted him with “Carry your bag, sir?” He was stunned. Oxford students would rather starve then take blue collar jobs — that damned class system. Two were killed when the midnight express caught them lugging a wagon across the tracks the week after I quit.

The years overseas were incredibly instructive as to the differences — demonstrating the flaws there and here in the U.S. graphically through direct experience.

And so I learned much outside of classrooms.

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]
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