“A New Assignment”


Our Guam readers were ready to be duplicated. While I had been reluctant to be involved, we did produce some brightly colored, well illustrated primers about Pablo and Teresita. I am sure that the kids in Guam appreciated not having to learn to read by puzzling about snow, snowmen and snow suits featured in things like “Dick and Jane.”

The Lab hired a man from the Warm Springs Reservation, a central Oregon Native American reservation that held citizens from several tribes. The Lab had received a grant to prepare readers for several tribes in the state of Montana, including the Rocky Boy (mainly Cree), Northern Cheyenne and Blackfeet. I was a little more optimistic about this assignment, since I now had actually written a primer. And this time the director of the project was a Native American himself. He wasn’t from one of the tribes we were going to prepare texts for, but at least he had a clue about the need for culturally appropriate reading materials.

We first visited a school in Warm Springs and understood the desperate need for education. I enjoyed the school and imagined it would be nice for the kids to see their faces reflected in the books they were reading. Then I packed for a trip to Montana to visit the reservations.

The only downside was we were going to have to fly Hughes Air West, lovingly called Hughes Air Worst.

“Plain and Plane Truth”

Before I return to Portland for my next work adventure, I wanted to comment on two experiences I had with airplanes on Guam. I was there in the middle of the Viet Nam War. At the time, Nixon was President of the United States. He had said unequivocally that we were not bombing Cambodia. I sat at night in my hotel room in the north of Guam and watched B-52 bombers take off from the Air Force base on their way to bomb Cambodia.

Later, when it was time to fly home, we were scheduled to depart on a Boeing 747, a jumbo jet which held passengers in three sections across, with I think about 12 seats in each row. The plane was comfortable and meals were hot and good, so flying for hours was less of an ordeal than today. However, this plane was first coming from Bangkok, Thailand. Security forces surrounded the plane and we weren’t told what was going on. We waited in the Guam airport staring at the plane for a long time until we were finally able to board.  It would have been likely that drugs were being smuggled into the United States on this plane. However, when we were finally let on board, we learned that they had feared that the plane had an explosive device aboard. Needless to say, all the good food, comfy pillows and warm blankets did little to reassure me on the way home.

But all went smoothly, and I returned to the office the next Monday to resume my writing work.

“Unwelcome and Warm Welcome”


In Guam we were housed in the Guam Hilton, a very posh place with a large outdoor swimming pool with an attached bar. You could, in theory, swim up and get a drink. Never a big drinker, I watched others drink blue and red cocktails while I happily swam around. After a while, the head of the whole agency where I worked called me over from the bar. Ever the polite employee, I swam over to see what he wanted. He wanted me to join him in his hotel room! I declined, telling him I was really enjoying my swim. I was less startled by the invitation than by the thought of going anywhere with this old, old man(probably he was 50!)

The school officials and teachers we were working with invited us to a feast near the end of our visit. I was asked to come for the day to help with the food preparations. I had never been involved with such a monumental task. It was like Thanksgiving on steroids. About 20 women were cooking all day. At lunch time, it turned out that not only were they preparing the night’s food, but also had made a generous lunch. The photo above shows me poking at some marinated meat. I was really not any help, but loved watching everyone work.

A full roasted pig, apple in the mouth and all, was the centerpiece of the dinner. The delicacy was a fruit bat. I was introduced to the fruit bat in its cage before it was prepared. While I know it was a great honor that we were being feted with a fruit bat, it still gave me the shudders. The food was unbelievably good, though I managed to avoid tasting the bat. The generosity of the people touched my heart and made me determined to try to do the best I could at the job I had been assigned, even if one of them should have been the employee.

“A L-O-N-G Field Trip”


To rectify my total ignorance about Guam, I was sent there for a week to get to see the island, meet some people, and get a taste of island life(more on that tomorrow.) Two women from Guam had been hired by the Lab and were living in Portland for the year while we worked on the primers. Both were named Marie, a name as popular in Guam as Mary is popular in Connecticut. In the right hand picture above, one of the Marie’s is on the right trying(with no success I might add) to teach me how to weave the local leaves. On the left is a photo of a woman accurately weaving a basket with other common items shown on the screen behind her.

I learned that Guam is incredibly hot and humid, that the people are genuinely friendly, that the Air Force has a large base occupying the north end of the island, and that it was even more ridiculous that I was supposed to write a book for the kids. Any of the wonderful teachers I met during my visit would have been better equipped to write the books. Then the Lab could have simply provided technical assistance in getting them published. But I was not in charge, and I learned as much as I could for the job awaiting me back in Portland.



“Dick and Jane for Guam”


My next job was completely different from retail, but supposedly informed by my teaching certificate and M.S. degree. I was hired by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory as a curriculum writer. I have tried to remember how I ever even learned about this job, much less get hired for it, but I have come up blank. Suffice it to say that in the early 1970’s there was much federal funding for education and some of it went to these regional “laboratories” which were expected to come up with innovative solutions.

The project assigned to me was to work on readers for Guam. That is primary learn to read books that were “culturally relevant” for beginning readers in Guam. Where to begin with how unqualified I was for this job? I had never written a primer. I had never taught beginning reading. Most important, I had never been to Guam! I had to haul out my atlas to even find out where Guam was located.

But I was now working for more money, only five days a week, regular hours, with a real office, a real desk and real secretaries. It didn’t seem prudent to point out my shortcomings. Clearly they saw promise in me that I wasn’t aware of! And so began my two year sojourn with the Lab.

“I Try Retail”

I am amazed at how many jobs I went through in my 20’s. Somehow I had blithely forgotten my job hopping in those years. Plus, there seems to be little logic in my choices. Ah well, I finally arrived at a career, but not without a few more jobs!

I went into the management training program for the Fred Meyer chain. Freddie’s was like an early Walmart, with groceries, household items and clothing. I was sent to the Burlingame store, near my home and was the Assistant Manager in Apparel. In those days everyone in management worked six days a week, eight hours a day not including the hour for lunch or dinner. The days shifted around, as did the time of day, depending on when the manager wanted to work. I often worked 1 until 10 on Saturday and then 8 to 5 on Sunday.

The job was very physically demanding since I was on my feet the whole time, often shelving merchandise. I had trouble maintaining my weight and actually carried roasted nuts in the pocket of my yellow polyester jacket to nibble on. I learned many useful things, most not useful outside of retail. Most amazing to me was that many women actually enjoyed pawing through piles of reduced sale merchandise, a task that always put me off.

I only met Fred himself(pictured above) once when he dropped in to survey the store. When I went to say hello, he asked me why I wasn’t helping anyone. He clearly had a serious work ethic! Our department nemesis was a very crazy woman who used to come into the store at 9:59pm to begin her shopping. We had to stay after the 10pm closing time until the last customer had checked out. She knew this and often browsed for a long time and finally left without a purchase. I lasted in retail for 12 months. A new employment record!

“A Year in the Salt Mines”


So many things were wrong about that year teaching in middle school that it gives me a headache just remembering it. This was the first middle school in Portland and it took kids who were used to having one teacher all year and plunked them into a schedule where they had new teachers every 50 minutes. And as far as I could tell, with no preparation. So essentially no one teacher had responsibility for any one student. It took the kids about five minutes to figure this out and act out accordingly.

We were expected to handle almost all discipline issues on our own. I had one very disturbed boy who literally picked up his desk over his head and threatened to break the window of the classroom door. He had “problems” that I was supposed to know how to handle. My most difficult student met with me, his father and the principal to figure out how to handle his behavior. His helpful father said, “When Mike acts like that I throw him against the wall. He will never listen to words.” And the meeting came to an end with no further advice for me.

I made it through the year but decided to quit teaching. That vow lasted through several more jobs.


“Stuck in the Middle”


Well, as you may well imagine, with my stellar employment history I had not been able to save enough money to go to graduate school. My rent and utilities would be free (except for the insanity) because I would be managing Tom’s new apartment house. But I needed money to pay for school and to do things like eat. I entered a special graduate program at Portland State University to get a M.S. in Education.

This program combined studies with teaching, as an intern, in a public school half days. The intern teaching was paid, enough to cover tuition and my living expenses. What could be better? (Some time I ought to count the number of times I fell for this kind of thinking!)

I was assigned to a team at Portsmouth Middle School in an economically challenged(i.e. poor) neighborhood. Because no one on the team of seasoned teachers and other interns felt comfortable teaching math, I ended up teaching 6th and 8th grade math classes, three a day. Fortunately, the students never taxed my math skill level, since most of them were functioning at least two years behind.

Middle schools were making their debut in Portland, and Portsmouth was to be the first to open, taking students from 5th through 8th grade. What a splendid cutting edge idea in education. More tomorrow.

“Time for a Change”


By the time I returned to work in the late winter, not only did Tom have a real office for the construction company, he also had decided to run for a position on the Portland City Council in the May primary election. Portland in those days was far from the hipster laden, coffee drinking town it is today. It was a solidly lower middle class, conservative city run by solidly lower middle class conservative council members. Tom decided to go up against one of these men in the hopes that Portlanders were ready for a change.

Tom was young, enthusiastic, idealistic and energetic. His main opponent was older, tired, settled and content with the ways things had always been. Tom rallied a group of similar minded people who did all the work of campaigning while I did office work for the construction company and looked on in wonder. The primary field for the office was broad, but Tom came in first followed in a close second by the incumbent.

Tom began to build apartment houses through a HUD subsidized program for low income people. I found him a burned over lot which had held a furniture store destroyed in rioting some years earlier. He built a large apartment house on it and asked me if I wanted to manage it. As readers of earlier posts will recall, I did, to disastrous effects!

By the fall, however, I knew that office work was not a good long range plan and I enrolled in graduate school to be a certified teacher. I quit working for Tom, and my good friend from Trailways jumped at the chance to work for him. I still campaigned door to door in “swing” neighborhoods. Regrettably I brought him the news that I thought he would be defeated in the general election, based on my door to door visits. He was by a vote of 69,109 to his 67,747. We had a great party and I returned to my studies.

“Less Than Tastee”


I blacked out the name on this converted Tastee Freez so as not to defame them. My story involves the Tastee Freez which occupied a building just like this one. I was working for Tom in that freezing cold office, chopping wood and trying to make a system out of the no system that he was using. Things were going pretty well. There was a Tastee Freez a few blocks away and I bought lunch there one day.

Thanksgiving Day I woke feeling terrible. I was so cold I lay over the heating vent to get warm. I went ahead to my family’s house for dinner, but felt too dreadful to eat anything. I also had an awful pain in my upper right abdomen. My mother noticed that my eyes were yellow and called their doctor. Sure enough, I had Hepatitis A, the contagious one spread by poor hygiene. Not mine, mind you. But I had no idea where I had acquired the virus.

In those pre-computer days, the Department of Public Health sent an interviewer to my home to ask me to tell him everywhere I had eaten in the last few days. He then went back to the office and put a pin on a large map to indicate where I and other people who had just come down with Hepatitis A had eaten. When a large cluster of pins showed up at the Tastee Freez, he went there and found the cook who was responsible for spreading the disease to a number of patrons, me included. He called me with the information.

I was off work for two months, mostly bed ridden, while my body healed itself. Tom didn’t hire anyone in my absence, and when I was well I went back to work for him. By then he had decided he needed a real office, with heat and an electric typewriter. I was its first employee!