Friday, August 07, 2009

summer in the hill country- pennsylvania & wv, 1973

i was quite bad at getting summer jobs, or good ones, anyway, and those summers of high school and the first year of university just tended to prove that very strongly. One year my mother pressured me into volunteering at a social agency in downtown buffalo, and it was actually very good for me; i once cleaned out a house that had had hundreds of cats in it, and another that was lined wall-to-wall with unused merchandise. mostly I hung around the house, listening to music, getting in the way, taking drivers' ed, stuff like that. i was very bored in high school; summers were boredom squared.

coming home the summer of my first year of college was even worse. i'd been let go from a farm in vermont where i'd hoped to spend the summer; i had no choice but to hitchhike home, and then morosely go pick up my stuff with the family car, when it was free. but it was only early june; another summer at home seemed unbearable. my mom, well-connected to people in downtown buffalo, got me a possible job selling vacuum cleaners, but this seemed to me absurd; i just couldn't do it. it may have been buffalo that I couldn't handle; i certainly wasn't beyond other ridiculous jobs. in any case, i left a note on the kitchen table one morning, and set out for pittsburgh, where my brother lived, and where i had spent some time growing up.

my brother had a little apartment in squirrel hill, and was very sweet and reasonable about letting me stay there. it was the kind of place where, if I put something on a wall, he'd leave it there for years, having little inclination to decorate. He was busy in graduate school, and walked most days; he was comfortable in his spartan existence, and said that I didn't bother him much; he didn't need to charge me rent; it was fine if i just stayed there. i kind of drifted in and out, trying to find a job. finally two guys hired me to drive around the area with them selling magazines. one other young kid was part of the crew. it turned out the kid and i did most of the selling; these two guys partied a lot, and seemed to have their own agenda.

we went down into west virginia, and over into eastern pennsylvania, where there were fairs, or where we could set up shop for a while. In some cases they would get a motel room, in most we just headed back to pittsburgh at night. we didn't make much money, though we sold a few. "newlyweds are best," they would say. they were nice, actually, these two guys; kind of on the partying side, i suspect, but they tried to keep me, a 19-year-old, out of it; the other kid was even younger. they didn't want trouble from our parents. they wanted to sell magazines, and they weren't doing so well.

once I was far enough east in pennsylvania to come up against an amish farm, and brazen enough to try out my rap on the amish farmer. what else could i say? i had to tell him what i was doing on his land. he gazed at me impassively before he passed it up. i felt like a complete idiot. although I'm sure he was quite literate, there wasn't a single one of these magazines that would have been of any use to him. i decided on the spot that this was a bogus job and i didn't want to pursue it much further. the summer was about over by now, though. there wasn't much left for me but to take what little i'd made, go back, and start another year of college. this time I was a journalism major, and had a new place to live, on symphony road, back by fenway park, but I had the same problem: failure to connect to the university community in general.

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