The back story:
… how a native Philly boy winds up in Norman, Oklahoma is still a bit of a mystery, but in the grand scheme of things, a great personal decision. I was a mid year bachelor’s recipient at Temple University in January of ’65 and received my draft notice the month prior. I reported for my physical exam immediately in preparation for basic training. We were just entering the war in Southeast Asia and as an American citizen, I was more than willing to serve as one who enjoyed our precious freedoms, rights and privileges, but given the choice, I preferred to pursue my professional career. To that end, I received a long anticipated call from the Philadelphia Public School System’s Director of Physical Education/Athletics just days after that pre-induction physical offering me a teaching job at the James Rhoads public school in West Philadelphia. I accepted without hesitation…not so much because teachers were occupationally deferred from military service, but due to my great desire to enter the work place. I desperately sought freedom from the ‘poverty binds’ most undergrads endure, and I was anxious to get on with my professional journey. My Selective Service (draft board) status had gone from 2S (student deferment) to 1A (ready for service) then to 2A (occupational deferment) all within two weeks. Pretty lucky I’d say!
The job at the Rhoads School was great. I served as the entire physical education/athletics department where I taught all activity classes for all grade levels and coached all winter/ spring sports…basketball, baseball, softball and track & field for both boys and girls. I was addressed as “Mita Farina”…that’s how the kids heard and said my name (Mr. Marino). This is where I learned that great athletes make for good coaches. The school population was 100% African American and many of those kids suffered the vagaries of the underserved. One could not have asked for a more important and meaningful first assignment. While my tenure was brief (spring semester), it served me well for a lifetime.
Mr. Foti was my principal at Rhoads, and my first professional boss. He was a task master with his faculty, but fair, honest and respected. We worked well together for a variety of reasons the most important of which was…he was the boss. If he ‘hummed it; I played it.’ After several months, we got to know each other pretty well, and he encouraged me to pursue a master’s degree. At that same time, I was developing a strong interest in the extraordinary performance of black athletes. My curiosity and desire to learn more about technical athletic ability dates back to adolescence where we played a lot of schoolyard basketball, baseball and touch football. At Temple, I was a ‘still rings’ specialist in gymnastics which required some understanding of bio-mechanics. Those experiences coupled with close observation of my students directed me toward further study in kinesiology. During this time, I applied for graduate teaching assistantships at several universities around the country. A grad assistant’s job entailed teaching basic service and activity classes to undergrads while pursuing the master’s degree. This is truly a symbiotic relationship in academia where universities hire graduate assistants to teach basic ‘intro’ courses (cheap labor) while grad students study on scholarship (no fees). After considering several possibilities, I accepted an offer from the University of Oklahoma which proved to be THEE pivotal event of my adult life.
When I informed Mr. Foti of my decision to resign from the Rhoads School at the conclusion of the spring semester to pursue grad studies at OU, he was really taken aback. His reaction surprised me. After all, I did subscribe to his advice about continuing my professional preparation. He then said, “I didn’t mean for you to do it there. I thought you might continue study at Temple or go to Penn or Villanova where you could attend as an evening student and stay with us.” He was visibly upset and this was a guy you really didn’t want to upset. Frank Foti was sort of a well educated Frank Rizzo…a thick, well built and handsome man in his late forties with jet black hair and a look that said, “don’t disagree with me, ‘cause you’re wrong, and I’ll kick your ass”…pure South Philly! He then confessed that he had four other physical education teachers at Rhoads since September and not one of them lasted longer than six weeks, hence his frustration. He later offered an apology (of sorts) along with sincere and heartfelt good wishes. Mr. Foti was a really good principal, but as important, he was a great guy and I really enjoyed working with him.
Pas deux…Becoming a Sooner
I selected the University of Oklahoma for a variety of reasons not the least of which was they selected me. I knew nothing about Oklahoma other than there was a Broadway show of the same name, a Bud Wilkinson coached football team and cowboys. That impression couldn’t be further from the truth. It was and still is a very cosmopolitan place with students from all over the country and now, the world. While several opportunities were available, they were not as attractive as the OU deal which called for a $180.00 per month stipend, all fees waived, and, it was possible to complete the master’s program within one full calendar year. I received my admission correspondence from the Dean of Graduate Studies followed by a welcome letter from Dr. William F. Eick, Chair of the Department of Physical Education telling me how fortunate THEY were that I had accepted this offer. I was amazed! I had never received anything remotely close to a compliment like that in any form. Several more letters arrived confirming first meeting day, time and place and a hint of the work to come. Again, each letter reaffirming THEIR delight in my acceptance of this graduate assistantship…amazing! I kept waiting for the ‘gotcha’ letter saying, “we were just messin’ with you.” Like the ol’ song says, “you’re nobody ‘till somebody loves you.” I just didn’t think it would be Dr. Eick.
Prior to my departure, I briefly returned to Philly in late August of ‘65 from my final summer of work in the Poconos. I needed to do some laundry, pack my car (a ’61 Chevy I bought from my mother which used more transmission oil than gas) and say goodbye to family and friends. I was 23 years old….had $1,000 in cash, and was heading west. It was a scary and exciting time with no guarantee of success. It took me three days to drive to Norman, OK and I loved every second of it…through Western Pa, then West Virginia and on into Ohio, then Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Oklahoma. What struck me most about the trek through Pennsylvania was that quote from former PA governor, Ed Rendell, “there is Philadelphia at one end and Pittsburgh at the other and it’s all Alabama in between.” I knew I was no longer in Philly when I stopped at a local diner just outside of OK City and asked the question that every Philadelphian would have posed given the same circumstances: “That item you have on the menu called ‘chicken fried steak’…is it chicken or is it steak?” To which the waitress replied, “honey, you ain’t from ‘round here, are ya!” Her response was a declaration and definitely not a question. I knew just how Dorothy felt. I rolled into Norman late afternoon and checked into a motel for the evening where I would prepare for the next day’s mission… find a place to live for at least a year and possibly longer depending upon my level of success (or lack of such) as a graduate student.
The next morning I arranged for living accommodations in University housing located off campus where I would share a two bedroom furnished apartment with three other guys…none of whom I met prior to the signing. First there was Gene Coleman, another grad assistant in our department who hailed from Beaumont, TX where he played football and baseball at Lamar Tech.; then Bob Perrine, an undergrad from Tulsa and finally, ‘Super Roomy’ from Huntsville, Alabama who never showed up…hence the name ‘Super Roomy.’ Gene and Bob had a lot in common…they sounded like cast members of “He-Haw.” Very early in the game, they regarded me as the ‘Wop-a -Jew’ or ‘Guido the Hebe’ all in fun of course (I think). Both guys believed I hailed from a foreign land even though Philly was still part of the USA…at least at that time. They were also quick to remind me of how fortunate I was that ‘Super Roomy’ never appeared since he was from a place where the Klan flourished. Both guys were really a lot of fun and we became fast friends. Gene went on to study for a Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin and became Department Chair of Physical Education at the University of Houston, Clearlake and then head trainer for the Houston Astros. ‘Kid Perrine’ (the undergrad, hence the name “Kid”) graduated form OU”s Law School and became a very successful trial attorney in Tulsa. Both guys were fun, smart and motivated… and they liked beer and bourbon…in that order…a lot!
Now that the issue of living quarters was resolved, I was anticipating my initial meeting two days hence with the other TAs and our department chair, professor and boss, Dr. Eick. At that meeting, all of the grad assistants would become acquainted and get the lay of the land. I wondered how Dr. Eick would greet me since I had obviously made such a great impression upon him as evidenced by his correspondence. I also wondered if any of the other guys received similar “hot steam” or if that was my personal province. At this point, I was filled more with anticipation and anxiety than confidence in succeeding in this program.
I made my way to the Field House on the specified day as designated in my welcome letter and arrived at the meeting room well ahead of our scheduled time so that I might ‘feel the place’…an old visualization process where you put yourself in the moment. Several TAs had the same notion and were situated prior to my arrival. We introduced ourselves to each other and it was frighteningly apparent that we were from various parts of the country …and that other country directly north which some have said is not a real country: There was Jim Tylk, a ‘Big Pollack’ from Chicago who claimed to have played defense for the Illini where he and Butkus were teammates. Tylk was a team sports guy who would teach general activity classes and drink lots o’ beer. Canadian Larry Neilson was the aquatics guy. Ron “Rufus” Lee was an Oakland, CA native and a scholarship tennis player from U of Houston who went on to receive a Ph.D. from OU. Dr. Lee enjoyed a long and distinguished career at Long Beach State as a Senior VP and we remain close friends. I already spoke of Gene Coleman which leads me to the last guy who was not an original TA but worked into the spot upon the early washout of another.
This is my long time and very close friend John Altamura. I’ll have a lot more to say about John, but for now…he is a Hoboken, NJ native with natural athletic talent who played basketball/baseball at one of the smaller state universities in Oklahoma and came to Norman to pursue his master’s degree. John and I became instant brothers with all due respect to my big brother Jimmy and my surrogate brothers, the ‘Philly Boys.’ He was an east coast guy with a brutal North Jersey accent, features like mine, a dark Barese complexion (Adriatic Coast of Italy) and he loved garlic…just like everyone I knew back home. My initial thought upon meeting John was, “I’ll bet my mother doesn’t remember giving birth to him.” I thought I was looking in the mirror.
About an hour or so beyond our scheduled meeting time and by design, Dr. Eick entered the room and it fell dramatically silent as he slowly walked toward a lectern located at the front and everybody knew it was HIM. The boss was an average sized man with short black and grey peppered hair, in his mid to late forties, dressed in a suit and tie. He moved with a gait of confidence as if he had done this many times before and what you were about to receive was…truth! He casually removed his suit coat which revealed a pack of cigarettes in his shirt breast pocket. He took one out, lit it, took a long drag and then in a deep, low, slow, Oklahoma drawl uttered his first words while exhaling: “I’d like to welcome ya’ll to the University of Oklahoma, Department of Fiscal (Physical) Education. Ya’ll ‘ve been selected from a large crop of applicants (like corn) and you are considered the ‘crème de le crème’”. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about! At this point, I like what I’m hearing and I’m feeling pretty good about the fact that maybe…just maybe he wasn’t blowin’ smoke in those missiles. He continued with, “Ya’ll gonna take 12-15 units each semester; ya’ll gonna teach three, maybe four classes each semester and ya’ll gonna either write ‘you’ a master’s thesis or take comprehensive examinations on all of your collective course work. Ya’ll gonna do it in two semesters plus a third summer session if possible. For those of you who choose to write the thesis, you’re gonna select ‘you’ a major professor who will direct that thesis. Your major professor will occupy an exalted station in your life. Let me be clear about this.” He then raises his hand high over his head and says, “This is where your major professor lives,” then as he lowers his hand, “comes God, then comes your family, then comes anything else your silly butt deems appropriate.” Should that order become confused in any way, consider that confusion resulting in a one way trip on Route 66 East.”…and he was looking at me. HELLO! He had my attention. By the end of our experience at OU, it was quite apparent that Dr. Eick was really a wonderful man to whom we all owed a great deal of gratitude. I later learned that he just loved to ‘mess’ with the TAs. And, I’m still trying to understand that Oklahoma drawl…he was a Columbia University Ph.D.
…pas trios, My Mentor
Of all the professors, teachers, and coaches with whom I studied and worked, none was as inspirational and influential as Jerry Weber. He was my major professor. And after all of these years, he and his lovely wife Lynn remain very close and personal friends. I took three of his courses that first semester and knew early on that this guy was something special. He was a second year professor at OU, a Brooklyn, NY native and was completing a Ph.D. from Michigan State in absentia. He became Dr. Weber during that year and he was 27 or 28 years old. How does a ‘neighborhood guy’ like that accomplish so much in such a short span of time? He had been a basketball player at Brooklyn College as an undergrad, was married to a warm and gracious lady at that time (Barbara) and they had two wonderful young kids. As one of his very early graduate students, I came to appreciate Dr. Weber’s style, knowledge, humor, candor, communication skills…and compassion. I liked him instantly. He was my kind of guy. The fact that he was a ‘member of the tribe’ (Jewish) was that much more meaningful to me because he was THEE only other Jewish guy whom I knew that majored in physical education.
During my first semester with Dr. Weber, I studied Kinesiology, Research & Experimental Design and Statistics (maybe second semester for Statistics), and performed well in all of them. As an undergrad at Temple, the faculty prepared physical education majors with a strong concentration in the natural sciences so I came by a good grade in kinesiology as a result of that preparation, but the Research and Experimental Design class was new to me and I did well because of Dr. Weber’s extraordinary skill in demystifying complex content. And, while I had an undergraduate statistics course at Temple, the graduate level stat class worried me. This was really Dr. Weber’s forte and all the TAs were sweatin’ it. This was the class that would ultimately provide us with tools to determine tenability of a hypothesis should any of us decide to write a master’s thesis. I worried so much about it that I allocated an inordinate amount of study time to this course. Not only did I seek a decent grade, but hoped to not embarrass myself in the eyes of my professor and the other TAs. This course was a separator. I did well and I can assure you it was not intelligence that got me there but rather a combination of the professor’s teaching skill and my fear of failure. It would have been awfully difficult to go back to Philly as a washout.
Jerry Weber inadvertently taught all the TA’s a great lesson in compassion and humanity that semester when one of the TAs (who shall remain nameless) completed the statistics final exam in twenty minutes. He dropped his blue book on Dr. Weber’s desk and walked out. We were amazed for a number of reasons. The first and most obvious of which was… this was a smart guy…just not that smart. Scheduled exam time was probably two hours or so and those who knew this stuff cold could not have possibly completed it in less than an hour and a half. I later caught up with my friend and boldly asked, “WTF?” He said he saw the exam on Dr. Weber’s desk the day prior, read the questions and prepared his solutions. He went on to say, “as I was taking the exam, I just couldn’t do it. It wasn’t fair to you guys or Dr. Weber, and I learned that I had a conscience.” This was quite different from a ‘do unto others, then split’ attitude. I asked what he was going to do about it (only after asking why he didn’t share the ‘largess’) and he replied with, “I am going in to see Dr. Weber and tell him what I had done and accept whatever consequences are meted out.” This mea culpa might very well have resulted in an expulsion from the program and possibly the university. The stakes were huge and Jerry Weber was not the kind of guy who suffered fools. We wondered just how this unfortunate event would play out.
When our colleague ‘copped’, Weber did something unexpected. He expressed his great disappointment but did appreciate his student coming forward. As the ol’ proverb goes, “the truth will set you free.” Our professor said he wanted to think about a final disposition. The remainder of that day and most of that night was spent talking about our colleague’s imminent future. He was clearly distraught and remorseful. He knew he was better than that…and he was. This was a personal revelation. The story ends with Dr. Weber presenting the opportunity to retake that exam albeit with different problems requiring different solutions. He did so because his student demonstrated sincere contrition and came forward prior to submitting a completed exam for evaluation and that act commanded a certain respect. I was both surprised and impressed with Jerry Weber’s compassion and our colleague’s willingness to accept unknown consequences. Both men obtained exalted status in my book. I am certain that incident has remained with all of us these many years and has had great influence on just how I might come at similar situations in the future. What follows is one:
Some years later, I was a kinesiology professor at California State University, Los Angeles and was teaching an upper division bio-mechanics course where a student submitted a plagiarized term paper to me. I knew it was plagiarized and he knew it was plagiarized. I called him on it and our conversation went like this: “Alex, we are going to have a one way conversation where I talk and you listen. You have submitted a plagiarized to me…I know it…you know it…now you know I know it. I’m going to give you an opportunity to take this paper back and I’ll regard it as though I have never seen it. Since we are at quarter’s end, I will submit an Incomplete grade for you. Upon completion of and the submission of YOUR paper, I’ll then change the “I” to whatever grade is earned. I don’t care if your paper is written on a brown paper bag with tuna fish stains on it, as long as it YOURS. If you tell me the original paper you submitted is the ‘real deal’ and you stick with it, I will make it my life’s work to prove you a liar and do all I can to have you expelled from this university. Deal?” Whereupon my student responded with, “ Dr. Marino…this is my paper and it was not plagiarized.” Needless to say it was, and, he was gone. My offer to him was a generous one inspired by Jerry Weber several decades prior. Unfortunately, that incident did not have as favorable outcome as the Oklahoma version.
…pas quarte, The Thesis
As we completed our first semester, all of the TAs had to decide whether to write the master’s thesis or take comprehensive examinations…a big choice. I elected to write the thesis. I cannot remember where I heard it, probably at Temple, but a professor said , “the only thing that separates graduate study from undergrad preparation is the ability to conduct empirical research.” To that end, I shared my thesis ideas about the superior performance and physical differences of black athletes with Dr. Weber and asked if he would serve as my major professor, direct my master’s thesis research and chair my committee. He responded positively and now the real fun would begin.
Most grad students know the perils of becoming ‘cozy’ with your professors and I never wanted to cross that line with anyone and particularly not with Jerry Weber. As graduate teaching assistants we were both ‘fish and fowl.’ We were colleagues with the faculty on a limited basis, yet we were their students simultaneously. There was never a question as to which hat we wore at which times. Often we were invited to have a brown bag lunch with our professors where we got to know these folks ‘up close and personal’. Conversation would range from stories about various students, to professionally related items, to politics, to just telling a joke…the stuff of real water cooler chatter. I believe I learned as much from our faculty through those sessions as I did in their seminars. We got to know our teachers well during that second semester. At the Webers’ invitation, I had dinner at their home frequently, played with their kids, and loved the warmth and kindness of Barbara (Jerry’s wife at the time) which she so often extended. I think she felt sorry for me being a Philly kid away from everything I knew and she really was a Jewish mother. In that setting Dr. Weber and I were colleagues (on the fringe), but in the classroom, he was the professor and I his student. I tried to never cross that line which was unspoken but clearly defined and respected.
After considerable discussion with my ‘major professor’ I arrived at a hypothesis, established an experimental design and determined how I would statistically analyze my data to ascertain tenability of that hypothesis. Simple?…eh…not so much. After collecting tons of data and laboring through statistical treatment, I prepared my first draft of all five chapters after previously submitting the first three. I wanted it to be perfect. Countless hours went into its thought and preparation. I was now getting close to the initial submission of the completed product and prepared my ‘final first draft’ (that’s an oxymoron). It was titled, “Anthropometric Measurements in the Lower Leg of White and Negro High School Students in Relation to Vertical Jumping Ability.” In other words, “White Men Can’t Jump.” It was now ready and it was perfect! I couldn’t see how this creation would be worthy of anything less than a Pulitzer Prize, and it might possibly win a Nobel. What…it could not have happened? Look at some of the more recent Nobel Laureates (sorry, couldn’t help it).
To put it in proper perspective, let me just say there wasn’t enough red ink in the state of Oklahoma deemed necessary to correct all errors substantive, editorial, rhetorical, grammatical and otherwise. When Dr. Weber called me in to review the draft, he commented, “ decent job for a first draft.” I guess that was a compliment, albeit left handed in my world. After coming to terms with my miss I got down to the business of getting this self proclaimed masterpiece into better shape and ready for resubmission. It was fairly well received. I sat with my committee of three where we reviewed the ‘final final’ then submitted the manuscript to the university librarian for cataloging. It was done! At the conclusion of that second semester and while I was preparing for the final assault during the summer session, I felt a good deal of pride in my accomplishment having elected a more difficult path but a more meaningful one in writing that thesis. That experience was life altering for me. It gave me the confidence and incentive to actually consider going on to study for a doctorate which previously never entered my mind. After all, I wanted to be a high school physical education teacher and coach gymnastics and nothing more prior to my experience at OU.
When I reflect on my time in Norman, it was mostly Jerry Weber’s influence and the sincere interest he took in his graduate students and in me, specifically that was so inspirational. He was a guy I wanted to be like and that’s the ultimate compliment. My professor embodied many of those qualities I admired. He was smart, funny, warm, serious, accomplished, and was a devoted father who was very well liked and respected. He also had a hefty dose of humility which is necessary when professors have so much impact in the lives of their students. Graduate study is a serious business and I learned to take a few ‘yuks’ along the way by following his lead. It was Jerry Weber who thought I might succeed as a doctoral candidate and it was at his suggestion that I would soon commit to such. While that idea was worthy, it was in second place when compared with the lure of Southern California where I might live, teach & coach and continue with my studies. I heard the sirens’ song. The Mamas and the Papas said best, “California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.”
We graduated in August of ’66 and most of the TAs completed the program within one full year. We talked amongst ourselves frequently about what might be next for each of us. I knew I didn’t want to go back to Philadelphia permanently, although I did go home for the Christmas holiday. Dr. Weber and I drove east in his car where we shared driving duties. He dropped me off at my parents’ house while he continued on to NY to visit with his family and returned to retrieve me for the trip back to OK. I missed my family and friends very much as well as my Philly girl friend. I was ready for another new experience, yet again. Norman, OK was the stop off, but LA was the ultimate destination and I was half way there.
I imagined my future if I returned to Philadelphia and did not like what I saw. It was a highly predictable life where I would probably marry my steady girlfriend, and we would probably argue as to whose parents’ home we would visit during the holidays or which set of grandparents our children liked more. Ugh!!! And, in order to fulfill my professional aspirations of teaching and coaching at the high school level, I would probably have had to wait until I was forty-something, serve 15-20 years in the Philadelphia school system and ‘know someone.’ The idea of ‘knowing someone’ disgusted me and I wanted no part of it.
The California lifestyle had its own personal appeal for me from the time I was 11 or 12 years old. I think I was originally influenced by some of the television shows of the fifties like Ozzie and Harriett and The Bob Cummings Show. As a young college student, I remember those grey, cold, dark Sundays in late fall and winter when AFL football games were played at 4:00 PM, Philly time. That was 1:00 PM in Oakland and San Diego. Spectators were in shirt sleeves enjoying bright, sunny, warm Sunday afternoons. That really appealed. In addition, California was a state that required daily physical education for every public school student through the completion of twelfth grade; UCLA offered a doctoral program at $78.00 per quarter; population was expanding exponentially; public school jobs were plentiful and then there was the LA ‘night league.’
Financing our Departure
My family came to Norman for our commencement as did the Altamuras. The two sets of parents (et al.) met and immediately became kindred spirits much like John and I. We had a party for almost a week where the two families ate, laughed, drank, told stories… and then cried when we told them of our decision to go to LA. We did not have jobs nor did we know anyone in CA, and we had very little money. What we did have, was…I dunno… maybe an adventurous spirit and nothing to lose. John had just turned 23 and I had just turned 24. My father secretly gave me $50 on the sly and said, “don’t tell your mother.” My mother secretly gave me $50 and said, “don’t tell your father.” The Altamuras did something similar…very Italian. Both families were clearly upset that we would not be returning to our respective homes, mothers more so than fathers. Dads get it; they just hurt differently. Now that we are them and beyond, this I know to be true.
After the two families left Oklahoma for parts east, John and I prepared for our trip. I had that ’61 Chevy of which I previously spoke and we knew it would not get us there. I traded it even up with a used car dealer in Norman for ’59 Ford station wagon. It was ‘Exorcist green’ but it had air conditioning. We called it the “Green Hornet.” I then visited one of the very few local banks to seek a grub stake loan where I learned all about collateral and banking 101(a). I went up to a teller’s window and asked for a loan whereupon the nice lady said, “would ya’ll kindly come with me.” She sat me down in a chair in front of an unoccupied desk without much else to say. I waited five or ten minutes then along came a big heavy set man dressed in a white shirt which I’m sure he wore while wrestling. He sported a fat, loud, ugly tie which was way too short while he pulled on his suspenders designed to hold up his trousers which rested way below a big ol’ belly. Think Charles Durning in O’ Brother, Where Art Thou. He looked at me for what seemed the longest period of time then the “Sphinx” spoke. “I understand you want a loan” he said, to which I replied, “yes sir.” He then asked ,“well, how much $ do want to borrow?” I said, “$250.00, sir.” Then came the death knell when he asked, “what can you offer as collateral?” I responded with, “what’s collateral?” This style of banking was considerably different than ‘street banking’ in South Philly. When I offered my books and records as collateral, the banker showed me the door. I was a bit…how do you say, disappointed! In sharing my experience with John we determined that new and improved strategies would have to be employed in order to raise enough $ to make the trip. And then…there it was, the Eureka moment.
I went back to that bank a day or two later and asked to visit with the same guy. When he appeared, I couldn’t get the words out fast enough and shouted, “I’ve got your collateral!”…like Ralphy told Santa in “A Christmas Story” when he asked for that Daisy BB gun.” I produced two parchments one of which was my bachelor’s degree from Temple University and the other a freshly minted University of Oklahoma master’s degree. “There it is,” I said. “If you believe that education is the way to financial success and stability, then you’ll loan me this money and I’ll pay you back within two years.” He was stunned… and silent for a long time. After what seemed to be eternity, he then said, “Wait here young man, I’ll be right back.” He returned about 15 minutes later with a loan document which I gladly filled out and signed. I agreed to retire the full loan amount plus interest, within 24 months and did so in six. I always appreciated that guy and often wondered how much he had to sweat it with his loan committee until the books were cleared.
While in Oklahoma, I experienced many ‘firsts.’ Like the time John and I were driving to Via Acunia, Mexico for the Thanksgiving holiday (couldn’t afford to go home). We thought it would be a good cost saving idea to buy lots of lunch meats, bread, condiments, etc. for the trip thereby avoiding restaurants. John did the food shopping. This way, we would have more $ available for…uh…‘recreation.’ While I was on ‘driving patrol’ through North Texas, John was assigned ‘lunch patrol’ where he made the sandwiches. As I took my first bite of a greenish meat hoagie with warm to hot mayo that may have bubbled, it had a very different flavor and texture. I politely inquired, “John, wtf is in this sandwich?”… to which he replied, “what…green bologna, greenish brown salami, screaming yellow mustard, mayo gone bad, tomato and lettuce. Why?” I then asked to see what was actually in that creation and he realized what was supposed to be lettuce was in fact cabbage…and he thought that was the problem. We got sick and he was fired from ‘lunch patrol.’ To this day, John will tell you he was and still is the better cook. Don’t believe him!!!
Another first was my early encounter at the Onyx Club in OKC. I stood in line waiting to pay my cover charge to enter the bar where the bouncer asked,…“where is your bottle?” I thought I misunderstood and asked,…“what?” He repeated the question and I was dumbfounded. He then said,…”you need to go to the liquor store down the block and buy a bottle.” How can this be? I am going into a bar that sells liquor, aren’t I? Well, not Oklahoma as I came to learn. I went to the liquor store, bought the bottle, paid the cover charge and walked into the club with my bottle in hand. The bartender said,… “give me your bottle.” I looked at him like he was nuts. “What for?”…I asked. He said… “you need to check your bottle with me.” Well then, how would I get a drink, was my thought. When I asked, he impatiently said…“you order you a drink from me.” “OK, how about a bourbon and soda?” He poured my drink then commandingly said, “Two dollars.” Now, I’m thinking…let’s see if I’ve got this right. I buy a bottle of booze ($4.00…good booze); I pay a cover charge to go in ($2.00) and I buy my own booze back ($2.00). Right? Right!!!
Oklahoma…Truly a Wonderful Place
Leaving Philly and coming to OU was the single most significant and defining decision I have ever made and it set the stage for my journey going forward. Norman, Oklahoma is still very special to me. It is where I found what I was supposed to become. While I wasn’t quite sure who I was upon arrival, I had a much clearer picture upon my departure. This was transformative to say the least. Confident I could teach at any level and succeed in pursuing a terminal graduate degree was the direct result of those who influenced me…especially Jerry Weber. I stepped away from all that I knew to embrace what would lie ahead…whatever that might be. Now, the trip to LA would become even more meaningful. Our plan was to become established in Southern California. If we couldn’t make it there, we were going to San Francisco. If unsuccessful up north, then on to Denver. If it didn’t work in Denver, then we were probably headed back to our respective homes in Philly and Hoboken. These were not options in our minds. To this day, I’m not sure if I would have made that trip without John or he without me. Fortunately, we were on the same page and oh so thankful for that decision.