Politics: A Messy Business

…going to college wasn’t easy for me, and for a variety of reasons not the least of which was the lack of money. There was never a question in my own mind as to whether or not I would attend. I valued higher education from an early age but wasn’t sure about where, when and exactly how I would pay for it since our parents were not flush with cash.

The Back Story

I applied for admission to Temple University for the fall of ’60 and was accepted as a ‘non-matriculating’ student. That meant, part time as an evening division student. The reasoning behind the University’s conditional offer was…“we think you are smart enough to succeed as evidenced by your SAT scores and the fact that you are a Central High School grad, BUT, your grades are not convincing, so show us.” This was really a gift in disguise due to my lack of financial capability. Temple University was a private institution in those days and received little state funding resulting in relatively high costs. The notion of financial aid was still several years away. Having graduated from high school in January of ’60 this enabled me to work and save money for a full year prior to becoming a full time ‘matriculating’ student in January, 1961. I started as an evening student in the fall of ’60 and enrolled in three courses. I was driving a delivery truck for a local dry cleaner and clerked at a hardware store during the day then made my way down to the campus by 6:00 PM three evenings per week. I also began waiting tables at kosher resort hotels on weekends and Jewish holidays in NJ, NY and PA in addition to helping my father service cigarette machines and occasionally collecting on “the numbers” he had placed in bars and small luncheonettes around the city of Philadelphia. From January of ’60 thru ’61, I accumulated enough cash to pay the fees for full time university status and I achieved good grades as an evening student which then qualified me for unconditional admission.

The constant pursuit of money to cover tuition and related expense was the dominant theme which governed my life over the next four years, and it never dissipated. I was carrying a full load of 18 semester units. I was studying evenings, weekends and in between classes. I was an athlete (gymnastics). I was working, and as important, I was playing in the ‘night league’ (chasing girls) on occasion. I took every odd job available during those years including dishwasher, summer camp counselor, art school model, numbers runner, bus boy, waiter, vending serviceman, union scab, age group gymnastics coach and a host of other enterprises. I was sleep deprived my entire undergraduate tenure. I lived at my parents’ home about half of that time which entailed a 15-20 minute walk to a bus stop, a 45 minute bus ride to the subway then another half hour train ride. I slept past my exits (usually standing) on both modes of transportation, regularly. But, it was cheap. In order to save time, I lived with two buddies off campus for two years in a rodent infested brownstone where rent was $22.00 per month (including utilities) and on occasion, had a hard time making my portion. This is the stuff of a modern day Charles Dickens character…but way more interesting only ‘cause Dickens characters sucked. And yes, it is Dickens who is responsible for my aversion to reading for pleasure rather than information.

My First Presidential Election

Fast Forward: It was fall of 1964 and I was preparing to cast my first vote in an presidential election. I was a senior year at Temple and getting ready to graduate in just a few months (January ’65). As an ‘educated man’ (soon to be official), I felt it was my responsibility to cast an intelligent vote and to that end I learned about the candidates and their views on the hot topics of the day. Specifically, they were Vietnam, Civil Rights and LBJ’s Great Society. What I learned about candidate Goldwater’s view on Vietnam was a bit scary. He said something like, ‘that place called Vietnam, well…if I’m elected president, I’m gonna make it into a parkin’ lot.’ Yeh, on my hide. NEXT!

From the other side of the political spectrum came my defining moment when LBJ’s motorcade came down Broad St which ran through the middle of Temple’s campus in North Philly. All of the very official looking vehicles stopped and candidate Johnson took to a podium in front of 10,000 or so students. I was making my way to the gym for training from Lou’s luncheonette where Lou, a big, round, funny, kind and happy Italian guy let me wash his lunch dishes for a buck an hour and he fed me. I found myself milling through the crowd but stopped to hear what candidate Johnson had to say and it was something like this: ‘My fellow Americans, if you elect me president, I’m gonna take the money from all them’s that got it and give it to all them’s that ain’t.’ I was dumbfounded! I wasn’t sure I heard it correctly so I elbowed a student in the crowd and asked, “hey man, did he just say what I think he said about taking money from those who earned it to give it those who didn’t?” This kid said’ “YEH, ain’t it great?”

I then walked to the gym in a stupor not believing what I heard. I asked myself, “is this actually possible…here in America?” I never had expectations of any measurable wealth. After all, I was studying to become a teacher/coach and pursued my calling rather than chasing money. I just needed to earn enough money so that some day I would be able to marry, establish and raise a family, help my parents as they aged and assist those less fortunate if I had the means later in life. These are not lofty financial goals by any measure. BUT, under LBJ’s plan for a “great society”, my aspirations would be rendered difficult if not impossible. I further asked myself THEE rhetorical question, “why was I busting my ass to get through this bachelor’s program at Temple when I could have been holding up a wall somewhere and still receive the same benefits as those who work?” The upshot of this experience is that LBJ pissed me off more than Goldwater scared me. Ok, I admit, it was a bit of a sophomoric approach to real life issues, but this experience helped shape how I would come at life. My take away was…“where there is no reward, there is no effort. And where there is effort, there is no guarantee of reward.” I am not a Republican, nor am I member of any political party…never have been and will probably never be. But on that day, I knew for certain I was not a Democrat.

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