(A couple years ago I was asked to write a blog post under the title “10 Things You Don’t Know About Me.” The following piece was the result, which I’ve retitled here to reflect that a number of my readers here know me pretty well.)
When I was a senior in high school, I decided not to attend college
My senior year I was the night manager of a bookstore, working 40 hours a week, closing out the till each night, balancing the books, locking up, and making the night deposit at the bank.
The only thing preventing me from graduating early was a half-credit in “Occupational Education.” I met with my guidance counselor and explained my job. “Is my job experience worth half a credit?” I asked.
“What you do on your own time, has no bearing on what credit you earn in school,” the counselor explained. “You have to spend time with a certified teacher.”
So I grumbled, forced to stick around for the final semester, and signed up for a morning accounting class. I eventually graduated, in a camouflage jumpsuit, a velvet red bow tie, and red shoes, and decided to skip college.
FWIW, I did eventually go to college, starting at age 22, and by age 29 had a graduate degree.
During my senior year, I missed seeing Elvis Costello in concert because I had a horrible case of Salmonella
The show was on a Monday. On Friday I closed up the bookstore and went to a sandwich shop for a late dinner. Earlier, on a break, I had had a late lunch at Jack in the Box.
On Saturday night, my girlfriend came over and we listened to all the Costello records in preparation for Monday’s show. She latched on to one of his ballads, “Just a Memory,” and even started playing it on the piano.
She asked if I thought there was any chance of him playing the song. I said, “No chance.”
Sunday morning I got up feeling queasy and nearly fell through the glass shower door, having passed out. For the next three weeks, I battled the worst pain of my life, actually praying to die. Late in the ordeal, our family doctor performed a rectal biopsy and finally, we got the Salmonella diagnosis. I had lost 25 pounds.
The Department of Health called to investigate how I had contracted what turned out to be a very rare strain of the illness. When I told the investigator all the places I had eaten in the 72 hours prior to showing symptoms, he laughed. Maybe he threw the file in the trash.
So, yes, I missed the concert. And how did the show open? Elvis walked out on stage alone and sang “Just a Memory.”
In the summer of 1980, a man walked into the bookstore where I worked and talked himself into a job with the manager. He and his wife were in the midst of walking from Alaska to Arizona as a way to bring attention to the Baha’i Faith, of which they were members. They ran out of money in Seattle so they started looking for work. He was in his early 30’s, I was 17. We became friends.
Rather than continue their pilgrimage, in 1981 they returned to Alaska. My buddy hooked up with a guy who ran a string of radio stations and invited me up to Alaska to, as he put it, “play radio.”
Here’s one of my radio shifts that I archived on the Internet Archive.
The TV show “Kung Fu” changed my life
So up in Alaska in 1982, we had two TV channels to watch. One was specific to Alaska and the other was WGN from Chicago. So not only did I get to watch and listen to Harry Caray call Chicago Cubs baseball games, I got to watch whatever syndicated shows the station was broadcasting.
“Kung Fu,” the story of a Shaolin monk who escaped to the wild west of North America in the 19th century, was played on the weekends. The show introduced me to Taoism and quieting the mind. It shifted much of my thinking by introducing me to Eastern thought. I credit my interest in the show in my late teens as one of the turning points of my life.
I lived in a trailer in Chillicothe, Ohio with 5 other guys for 5 weeks
It sounds like the premise of a reality TV show, I know. But the reality is I attended The Recording Workshop to hone my audio engineering skills in early 1983. It was located in Chillicothe. Still is, actually.
The living arrangements left something to be desired and I determined a trailer was my best option. It turned out to be a wise choice as I parlayed the living situation into having my housing and food paid for by the other 5 by agreeing to be their chef.
My specialty was fried chicken cooked in Crisco. They, quite literally, ate it up. And I’m not aware of any food poisoning cases.
I was a professional racehorse handicapper
I grew up attending racetracks, first in the midwest and then in the northwest. My father, an English major, was a candy salesman who sidelined by writing handicapping articles for a couple of national publications. I loved the intellectual exercise of weighing various factors to develop a theory as to why a particular horse was going to win a race.
As I’ve often said, “The best standardized test question I’ve ever seen is a field of 10 going 6 furlongs for $10,000.”
Having discovered that audio engineering wasn’t my bag, I walked into the Daily Racing Form office in Seattle in late 1983 and talked myself into a job. I started as a statistician and worked up to that of handicapper. I was the “Sweeps” handicapper for the Form for Playfair racetrack in Spokane in the summer of 1984. I gave my top 3 picks for each race, a summary of what to expect, as well as a set of probable odds.
I was named Big Brother of the Year for King County (Seattle area) in 1984
Settled in at the Daily Racing Form, I sought an experience that gave me some additional purpose. My girlfriend at the time suggested the Big Brother program. I completed the lengthy screening process in the spring and that summer was matched with my little brother.
It was an experience that completely changed the direction of my life, making it plain that I had a calling to work with children.
It was this experience that pointed me to college and pretty much everything I’ve done professionally since.
Telling a 6-year-old brain-injured boy that it was okay to say the word “shit” as long as he confined doing so to his room turned out to be not such a good idea
I started at The Evergreen State College in the fall of 1985. By the next year, I was doing quite a bit of school-approved independent study, all of it involved understanding learning differences. I spent several hours a week with a severely brain-injured boy and his family as an intern helping with their home-based program.
I put the boy to bed one night per week, reading him stories that I had written. One night at dinner he kept repeating the word “shit,” much to his mother’s chagrin. He had discovered the power of the word earlier in the day and now that power had extended to the dinner table.
I offered to take him into his room, having the idea that if he, his father, and I formed “The Shit-Sayers Club” that met regularly in his room and was the only place the word could be uttered, it would put a stop to the dinner distraction.
Yeah, it didn’t work.
Melinda and I did not actually elope
Just because we didn’t tell anyone in our families that we were getting married does not mean we eloped. I think of eloping as something a couple does quite spontaneously. In October of 1990, we made the decision to get married on New Year’s Eve that year. That’s more than two months from the decision to marriage ceremony, an amount of time greater than we had been dating prior to deciding to get married!
Admittedly, our decision to get married was a spontaneous one. We were having breakfast at a place called The Gravity Bar on Capitol Hill in Seattle, chatting about our two common best friends, Kevin and Bruce, the two people responsible for us meeting. Bruce was in Seattle at the time but Kevin was living it up in New York as an MTV VJ. He was due to be in Seattle over the holidays.
I think it was Melinda who said something to the effect of, “Wouldn’t it blow their minds if we took them to the justice of the peace on New Year’s Eve and told them they were the witnesses at our wedding?”
So that’s what we did.
That’s when I started blogging, posting a photo and a short description of what we did every day. Yes, I posted EVERY DAY for 13 months. I think the funniest post came when we were visiting Italy and bumped into Rick Steves.