Saturday, April 2, 2011

What went wrong ? - 2

In the spring of 1964 I left a job at the FBI, had a small part in a play at St. Anthony of Padua High School in Minneapolis (that's me there), and went to work in a tiny print shop.

Go back thirty years.

My mom went to work for the FBI in Milwaukee in 1934, and my dad went to work for the FBI in Philadelphia in 1938. They met in Washington DC in 1940, had their first date in January 1941, and were married on September 6, 1941, just before Pearl Harbor. Mom left the work force sometime in the spring of 1942 to be delivered of my older brother John, and Dad stayed with the FBI until 1970. I worked as a summer helper in the Minneapolis office in 1961 and 1962, then signed up as a full-time worker in the late winter of 1962-63. I swore an oath which (if I recall rightly is the same administered to all military personnel) to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, against all enemies foreign and domestic, and so on.

In 1964, St. Anthony of Padua was still an all-girls school, run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet; most of the faculty were Sisters. How I got the job of designing the sets and supervising their construction, as well as having a small part, is a saga in itself, so I'll skip that. I will mention, though, that even as late as 1964, the girls tried to look older, demure, and "ladylike" for their graduation pictures.

(I have all the senior yearbooks for St. Anthony from 1960 through 1967, and to see the styles of photography, typography, and girls' fashion change over those eight years is an education in itself. I have to add that even as late as 1964, girls were wearing undergarments confining enough that they didn't jiggle when they walked, wiggling hips was not encouraged, and going braless wasn't even thought of yet.)

In the late summer of 1964 I went to work in a tiny print shop in downtown Minneapolis. There was the boss and me, and he hired me on the spot when he saw that I knew how to run and clean his small offset press. The pay was low, the benefits nil, the schedule erratic, and there were only two work rules: the printing had to be perfect, and it had to done on time. I could relate to that, because my maternal grandfather was a printer his whole working life, from about 1900 to 1955.

(He got cheated out of his union pension when he retired in 1955; they claimed he had missed a payment on it back about 1939 or so. My dad threatened legal action, and the financial secretary of the union laughed in his face. Grandpop and Grandmom lived in abject poverty on Social Security until they died young [72, young for their families) in 1959.)

I stayed at the print shop until the spring of 1968, and I learned a lot about offset and letterpress printing. They're probably dying arts now; I know letterpress printing is almost extinct, and it's a shame. You don't have to have a university degree to set type and pull proofs.

Between 1964 and 1968, I got some more schooling at the University. The first technical calculators, by TI, showed up in the University Engineering Bookstore in the fall of 1964; my recollection is that they cost $100; before that we used slide rules. We added, subtracted, did short multiplication and division by memory -- we had been expected to learn all that in fourth grade.

In 1965, I took a course in advanced composition, and I remember the teacher telling us that all papers had to be typewritten, and that we were expected to be able to handle the English language intelligently, so any error in spelling (aside from obvious typographical errors like t for r), punctuation, grammar, or syntax, would get a paper an automatic F. I took a course in modern poetry and drama from the English department, hoping we would declaim and perform the works, but no. We analyzed and picked them to death. It nearly bored me to death.

The year 1965 was the year I finally took -- and flunked -- the Army physical. People tell me now it undoubtedly saved my life. I lost six buddies to Vietnam.

I think I took only one quarter at the U during 1966: no money. From Christmas 1966 to Easter 1967 I grew a full beard, and finally my dad told me to shave it or move out. A beard on a young man was a political statement back then.

In the spring of 1967, after about six or seven years of dithering, doubting, questioning and wondering about the Faith -- i.e., was what I was taught as a child able to fit the complexities of the adult world? -- I walked up to St. Bridget's and had a long talk with the assistant pastor, Fr. Bill Ward (God rest his soul) and decided that it was and I would stay. Lewis and Chesterton had a lot to do with it too.

In the summer of 1967, a scuffle between some white kids and some black kids, after the Minneapolis Aquatennial torchlight parade, escalated into a full-scale race riot. A lot of people who thought "it would never happen here" were pretty surprised. Late that summer I went back to school full time for good and stayed till graduation.

And of course 1968 was the year Dr. King was assassinated, the riot happened at the Democratic convention in Chicago, I went to work at a little hotel in downtown Minneapolis and met a young woman I came to call "Princess."

And that was the fall that the two priests at the Newman Center at the U "came to work" in business suits and insisted on being called "George and Harry."

1 comment:

  1. I love the bit about doing multiplication addition subtraction etc in your mind, I was born in 1979 and we learnt our times table by rote, till today I can do math faster than the teller at the store. including the 13% tax

    we oldtimers (lol) rock