In the spirit of radical transparency, I am providing my little story here, which begins on the East side of Buffalo, New York, where I was born and raised in a small blue-collar neighborhood still known today as “Iron Island” because it is surrounded by railroad tracks. My story takes a good number of twists and turns over the years, in which I leave the Island, come back home again (yes, you can), and then move on to another new place.
I believe a good way of showing what experiences have helped shaped me is to describe the jobs I have held throughout my life, in chronological order as best as I can remember. I define a job as something in which I received monetary compensation in exchange for a product or service. I have interspersed lots of anecdotal memories along this story trail. Like all of life, it is an educational pathway that keeps moving along.
Altar Boy – I consider this a job because whenever I served a wedding, the groom or best man was obligated to give me an under-the-table gratuity. Some grooms were more generous than others, but it was always a treat at this age (10 to 13) to get a few bucks for serving a mass. I also enjoyed serving funerals, primarily because they were held during school hours and I could get out of class (I attended a Catholic elementary school and high school). I guess that has something to say about our K-12 Catholic educational system – preferring to serve a funeral as opposed to sitting in a classroom.
Newspaper Delivery Boy – I did this for a number of years in late elementary school and into high school. In my day, we had to knock on people’s doors each Friday to collect for the weekly newspaper subscription fee. I remember it being $1.25 for the entire week. This was another gratuity situation. Some people were very generous, and others gave nothing. Christmas was always profitable. I had a route of 88 customers, and it took me about an hour, with a helper, to deliver everyone’s paper right to their door. During the Buffalo winters, my newspaper wagon was converted to a box with a sled underneath. The highlight of each day was the small Mom and Pop grocery store at the end of the route, where I customarily purchased Mallo Cups and saved the cards that came with them for ultimately obtaining a free box of Mallo Cups in the mail.
Ditch Digger – One of my neighbors was building a green house in his back yard, and he paid me to dig the foundation. I was about 14 at the time. To this day I remember it as being the most arduous physical work I have ever experienced.
Snow Shoveler – What can I say, I grew up in Buffalo. There were times when I shoveled people’s driveways and sidewalks for money, and again I was at the mercy of what could be considered a gratuity, because I did it for whatever they were willing to pay – there was no set price. I recall my cousin and I doing a rather large driveway for a neighbor who paid us a measly 10 cents each. When he was not looking, we went back and put a good deal of the snow back into the front of his driveway and then laughed as his car got stuck in the snow on his way out to work.
Post High School
Shirt Packer – This was a temporary job in which I helped out a friend who worked for a distribution warehouse that had to fulfill a shipment of a large order of wild-looking pull-over shirts with collars. Our job was to take these shirts that were lined up on rows and rows of shelves and pack them into cardboard boxes, label them and ship them off. In addition to getting paid in cash, we also got to take a bunch of shirts – one of which I recall being plastered with silhouettes of naked women.
Coca Cola Dumper – This was also a temporary job that, similar to the Packer of Shirts gig, that could be considered a bit unusual. At some point and time during my early post-high school years my older brother and I were hired to help a local Coca-Cola warehouse dump out enormous amounts of bad Coca-Cola. I recall standing along an assembly line, with a bunch of other young men, where we tipped over cases of Coca-Cola into the sewer drains of the warehouse. I also remember getting paid well for this job that lasted for about one month.
Interior and Exterior Painter – During my late teens and early twenties, painting was a good way to be self-employed (and relatively free) and to earn some decent money during the summer months. I began this fledgling career by painting my parents’ house as well as my grandfather’s house, and I then moved on to more enterprising projects, namely other people’s houses. I had a decent ladder and a beat-up automobile that I had no trouble abusing. Despite my disdain for physical labor, as far as I can remember, I managed to do this over at least two summers
Trophy Maker, Engraver and Silk Screener – My father owned an athletic-apparel and trophy business and a pro shop in our local bowling alley. I worked for him for at least five years, and my main responsibilities were making trophies, engraving the plates on trophies, and silk-screening athletic apparel, primarily shirts for bowling league teams. We had this home-built manual silk-screening device where we mass produced painted lettering on the backs of bowling shirts, applied what was called flock to the paint (a powdery substance that made the lettering look velvety) and then cleaned and packed the shirts for proud bowlers. In addition to becoming a highly skilled silk-screener, I became a very fast and accurate trophy-plate engraver.
Steel Plant Employee in Germany – Right after high school, and in between working for my father and others, I enrolled in our local community college. What does this have to do with being a steel plant worker in Germany? The short story is that during my second semester I took out a student loan and used the money to travel to Europe. I purchased a one-way ticket to Luxembourg, where I was promised a “tentative” job through a somewhat shady Luxembourg-based student employment agency. I did not even bother to withdraw from the courses I was enrolled in, and I wound up getting a job, with about 10 other American students, working on an automobile parts assembly line for a steel plant in a remote town located in Northern Germany. I stayed at the plant for three months, working alongside migrant workers from all over Europe. The plant also provided a dormitory where we Americans occupied one floor. After quitting this job, which was grueling, I traveled up and down the Rhine and Mosel rivers for about one month – backpacking, camping outdoors, staying in youth hostels, and drinking lots of white wine along the way. I eventually ran out of money, having just enough for a ticket back to the states.
Waiter and Bartender – If I recall correctly, this turned into a relatively long gig that lasted for about four or five years. I went back to the job I had with my Dad, which was part-time, and also worked nights as a waiter and bartender at a small (but always busy), neighborhood Italian restaurant. I became quite the mixologist, and I learned a lot about human beings who ingest large amounts of alcohol, and the preparation and serving of extraordinary food. During this time, I lived in a dumpy second-floor apartment on the main street of Island Iron. The apartment had a crooked floor that never really bothered me. One night the neighbors called the police on me because three friends and myself were having an overly loud Pinochle game during the late evening hours.
Busboy, Room Service Waiter and Beverage Waiter – Living through the winters of Buffalo, NY can take a toll on you. After the blizzard of 1977, I wound up moving to Kona, Hawaii where I lived for more than two years. I had a good friend who had found his way there before I did, and I could not pass up an opportunity to explore some tropical heat. My first job in Hawaii was as a bus boy at a major resort. I then moved up to being a room service waiter and a beverage waiter at the main bar. The beverage waiter job turned into my undoing when on New Year’s Eve a table of four reneged on an order of Mai Tais. I saw this as an opportunity to stash them in a corner of the bar for consumption by myself and several other fellow servers at the stroke of midnight. The bar manager did not take to that very well and fired me on the spot. This was obviously not a good start for the New Year. It was not the first time I was fired from a job. During this time in Hawaii I shared an apartment with an ex-convict; rented a room in a nice home with a senior citizen who happened to be an ornery Basque; ultimately found a great one-bedroom apartment on a beautiful piece of land with banana trees; and, in between moves, lived in a van parked on a beach for about three weeks (essentially homeless); as well as in a beach front hotel room with a lanai, for about a month, that was provided at a discount through an employer.
Jewelry Store Sales Person – I also held a part-time position as a sales person for a small jewelry store located in the resort. This retailer sold mostly red and pink coral jewelry that tourists loved to buy. It was a fun job, but I was never really good at sales.
Night Auditor – I moved up the career ladder in the hospitality industry when I took on the job as a night auditor at a hotel in downtown Kailua, Kona. From there I moved to another night auditor position for an unbelievably gorgeous, high-priced resort located on the Kona Coastline. I held this job for more than one year, working the graveyard with a security guard who hailed from Tahiti. He and I had the run of this wonderful place between midnight and 8 a.m. One of the perks of this job was that all employees had access to a private beach where I often slept after getting off from work. Perhaps foolishly, I wound up moving on a whim along with a bad case of Island fever, to Phoenix, Arizona, where a friend had lined me up for another night auditor position for a major golf resort. I stayed for about six months and then moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, where I moved in with a friend from the old Buffalo neighborhood. Incidentally, before arriving in Phoenix, I met up with my compact Toyota Corolla, purchased in Hawaii and shipped to the docks in Los Angeles.
Higher Education Years
Night Auditor Part II – I almost immediately landed a job as a night auditor for a small hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. My neighborhood friend happened to live within walking distance to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where, at the age of 27, I finally started my career in higher education, enrolling as a non-matriculated student in an English 101 class. I held the night auditor position throughout my five years at UNLV, and eventually moved into a studio apartment adjacent to the campus. My Toyota died and, for most of my time in college, I did not own an automobile and basically lived a very frugal life of a fully self-supporting college student. I rode my bike to and from work and school and financed my college education through a variety of night auditor jobs and several other part-time, on-campus positions I was able to get through the student employment services department. Looking back, this period – although a very tough challenge to make ends meet through graveyard-shift employment (I remember falling asleep in many of my classes) – was one of the happiest and self-fulfilling periods of my life. Higher education comes in third behind getting married and having children as the best thing to ever happen to me.
Writer and Editor – I joined the UNLV student newspaper staff, starting as a writer and ultimately becoming editor and chief. I wrote prodigiously for the paper over two full years. This formed my journalism career, although I was an English major (my favorite fiction writer of all time is Thomas Wolfe). I also learned how to physically cut, paste and layout a broad-sheet newspaper with a Compugraphic “Trendsetter” that spit out columns of galley type and headlines that I deftly sliced up with an Exacto knife, glued to past-up sheets and delivered by foot to the local web-offset printer each week. In my junior year, I was awarded a paid internship with the Las Vegas Review Journal, and I was also awarded a journalism scholarship that provided $1,500 to help pay for my tuition, which was like winning the lottery.
Print Advertising Production Manager – One of the part-time positions I held through student employment services was as a writer and print production person for the newly built indoor arena – the Thomas and Mack Center – at UNLV. Here I was introduced to the popular Apple SE computer (with only an eight or ten-inch screen, I believe) and was taught how to use graphic design, illustration, photo manipulation and word processing software to create visually attractive documents. I also had this kind of rickety scanning device that made all sorts of noises but was capable of scanning black and white arena seating charts. I learned how to fine tune the graphic design skills I picked up doing layout and paste-up for the student newspaper, which lead to the start of my own print-production company a few years later.
Daily Newspaper Internship – During the entire summer prior to my senior year as an undergraduate at UNLV I was awarded and worked as a paid feature-writer intern with the Living section of the Las Vegas Review Journal. Rubbing elbows with real journalists was a great experience. I remember writing a front-page section feature on what casinos offered local, Las Vegas-based patrons for free in order to get them to gamble. The headline was “Fishing for Locals,” and it had this really funny graphic drawing of a lure with dollar bills on a fishing line and hook extending into a body of water occupied by fish with human faces.
Teaching Assistant – My very first foray into teaching was as an English Department Teaching Assistant. I taught English 101 and 102 to freshmen students who, for the most part, hated to write. I found this to be very disconcerting and, at times, was prone to voicing light profanities from the blackboard toward minds that had no desire to learn.
Director of Public Relations and Publications – Midway through my graduate education, I dropped out. I went back home to Buffalo, New York for a summer and found it so exhilarating to be free from academic aspirations – after more than five years of studying and working hard with little to no financial gain – that I never went back to pursuing a master’s degree at UNLV. I actually started tending bar again to make ends meet. I also started to send my resume off anywhere I could find to possibly get gainful employment. I wound up getting hired as Director of Public Relations and Publications for a two-year ag and tech school located in the coldest region of Northern New York state, where temperatures reach 20 to 30 degrees below zero for extended periods of time, and where the closest city-like action of any kind was in a dreary metropolis in the middle of the NYS North Country.
Sole Proprietor of a Small Advertising Agency – After eight months in northern NY, and perhaps not surprisingly, I found myself back in sunny Las Vegas. I drove across country alone, chain smoking all the way (I no longer smoke however) in a four-door Ford Galaxie that had a leaky gas tank. In a very serendipitous moment, on the second day after arriving, I visited the Thomas and Mack Center, where I worked part-time during the late part of my senior undergraduate year and as a graduate student. As I put my hand on the door to enter the building, my old boss was there about to go on an errand. She was holding an advertisement for a full-time position in her hand that she was going to deliver to the local newspaper. Instead of delivering the ad, she hired me on the spot. I stayed on for about a year, and learned a lot more about graphic design, marketing, advertising and public relations – enough so that I started my own company, called Print Media Productions. Initially, I worked out of a home-based office and eventually wound up working out of a spacious office located above a printer in an industrial area of Las Vegas. My clients included casinos, real estate agencies, a bank, UNLV, and several home builders.
Print Salesperson – After getting married and having two children, my wife and I decided that it would be best to go where my extended family was – back to Buffalo, New York. We did this despite having a growing business that had a lot of promise. The move turned into a real rough period of transition, as the job market in Western New York State is pretty dull. I tried to jump-start the same kind of business I had started in Las Vegas, but it turned out to be impossible. So, I took a job with a digital-printing company as a commissioned-based sales-person. This helped pay the bills and nothing more.
Technical Writer – Through a temporary employment agency I was hired as a technical writer for a hospital bed manufacturing company. It turned into a much longer gig that I never really enjoyed, as it was a job that had too much ennui with hours upon hours of doing absolutely nothing. I did, however, teach myself how to create a website during this period using Microsoft FrontPage. Out of utter boredom, one day I went into the boss’s office and quit, explaining that I could no longer sit around doing mostly nothing for a paycheck. Some people would say that was not a smart move, especially since I was struggling financially. Nonetheless, it was a totally liberating experience, and everything worked out in the end.
Marketing Manager – Fortunately, not long after quitting the tech writer position, I was hired as a marketing manager for an ophthalmic instrument manufacturer. This was a decent job with a reputable international company. I stayed for almost two years before realizing that life in a cubicle was not for me. The stability of working for a solid corporation definitely has its benefits, but being the risk taker that I am, I rolled the dice again when I got an advanced royalty to write a book about online college planning.
Author; CEO of Lorenzo Associates, Inc.; and Freelance Writer, Editor, Researcher, Designer, Curator and Publisher – I’ve been at this for almost 20 years, and it has been one great journey. See more information at www.understandingxyz.com and www.edpath.com.
Final Thoughts – I have come close to death on two occasions in which I was essentially put inside an intensive care unit. Both times I came out ready to take on life with vigor. Both times I came out ready to take chances, to “go for it,” so to speak. In short, I am not risk averse.