My first work was shoveling snow for neighbors during the winter while in grade school. I charged 25 cents.
During high school I worked on Saturdays for my parents’ friend Dave Daynard, who made custom tailored men’s suits for wealthy theatre and business people. I cleaned the loft, picked up fabrics and linings from Orchard Street on the lower east side, took woolens to be steamed and treated at a facility near 14th Street, transferred partly-constructed suits to and from the fabrication shops nearby, and carried extra work to Abe the tailor’s walk-up apartment on 72nd street so he could work on Sunday. I was paid $5 for the day. Since Dave’s loft was next to the Strand bookstore on 12th Street, and around the corner from the antique book shops on 4th Avenue, I often spent all my earnings there.
Summers during College
During summers I worked as the head waterfront counsellor at 8-week summer camps in upstate New York, using the Red Cross life-saving qualification I received by attending Seward Park High School in the evenings during the school year. After the summer season, along with my old friend Richard Gardiner, we ran the program concession for the U.S. Open tennis tournament, held at the time at the West Side Tennis Stadium which happened to be located half a city block from my parent’s house in Forest Hills. On occasion we charged attendees for the privilege of parking in back yards, and sometimes on the city streets.
During graduate school at the University of Chicago I was poetry editor of the Chicago Review for a few years. Otherwise I was awarded scholarships so I had no need to work while there, or when I spent a year in London with a Fulbright Grant.
University Teaching in Santa Barbara
After London I was hired by the English Department at the University of Santa Barbara in California, a welcome change from Chicago’s winters and London’s rain and gloom. After 7 years I was dismissed since I hadn’t yet finished my dissertation.
Odd Jobs in New York City
I returned to New York and did odd jobs: driving a car for a friend, a chef who was then working as a contractor; writing a bad blue novel; and reading manuscripts for a 3rd rate publisher.
University Teaching in Detroit
I next was hired by the English Department at Wayne State University in Detroit, and taught there for another 6 years until my tenure request was turned down despite my publications and creating a lecture course that attracted 250 students.
Restauranteur in Detroit
Without a job, I joined with the wife of an ex-colleague and we opened a fancy food store in downtown Detroit. Because interest rates were close to 20%, and business was difficult, this wasn’t the greatest idea. We made fresh pasta and pastries but barely broke even. I sold my share, and shortly thereafter the building burned down, no doubt because one of the restaurants in the building wasn’t doing so well.
Growing a Business Working With Ford and the UAW
I met an entrepreneur who was just starting a company to manage union employee databases for one of the major auto companies. The union contract had allocated 5 cents per hour, plus 25 cents per overtime hour, into a fund to be used to support unionized employee training. The new company maintained records on an IBM System 36 computer, and managed enrollment and security. What started with 3 employees in a small office grew and moved to the Whitney Mansion in Detroit, to the Fisher Building, and finally to a new building in Farmington Hills, eventually employing over 150 people.
Managing a Holocaust Curriculum Project
While serving as Vice President of this company, the entrepreneur was asked to fund the development of a Holocaust curriculum by Dr. Sidney Bolkosky, a historian who had interviewed many Holocaust survivors in the metropolitan Detroit area. I became project manager and helped the project be selected as an exemplary curriculum by the National Diffusion Network, part of the U.S. Department of Education. Dr. Bolskosy and I travelled to a number of states, training local high school teachers in how to best use the curriculum in their social studies classes.
Developing a Technology Training Program
Another opportunity arose when I was employed by the entrepreneur. This involved travelling to London, meeting with Dan Sharon of Israel, and eventually licensing a technology training program created by ORT, Israel’s organization for rehabilitation and training. While the training materials were being rewritten, the entrepreneur purchased a bus and had it outfitted as a mobile lab to demonstrate and sell what was now ACTT: Advanced Center for Technical Training. Unfortunately the market was 10 years in the future, and this, along with other financial problems, led to the entrepreneur losing control of the company. When this happened I quit.
Selling Life Insurance
My next venture was to join a company selling life insurance policies to union-affiliated workers around Michigan. This involved travelling all over southwestern Michigan, knocking on doors, and meeting a wide spectrum of people very different from those I was familiar with in academic communities. I was not very successful or suited for insurance sales, and after one year I quit.
Training in the Auto Plants
I did some consulting with training programs for auto plants for about a year, and regularly taught a seminar to union trainers focused on working with adult learners.
Teaching Technical Communication Skills to Engineers
An opportunity arose when an old friend told me of an open position at the University of Michigan Program in Technical Communication, in the College of Engineering. This allowed me to use a number of skills based on my varied work history. For several years during my stay I helped train Japanese graduate students in oral presentation skills at a summer institute. I was hired and remained a Lecturer for 10 years. I retired at the age of 73.