It was May, near the end of my freshman year in college, and I was wallowing in the bottom five percent of my class. A lot of people would probably be embarrassed about that, but not me. I’d gone to a lousy high school, had never studied, and didn’t even know how to study. Yet, somehow, almost twenty guys in my class had worse grades than me!
I hadn’t really picked that college anyway, since I knew nothing about colleges and they all sounded alike to me. The college had picked me, offering me a football scholarship. But when I arrived on campus I was astonished to find that these guys – they were all guys in those days – were as competitive in the classroom as they were on the football field. After two weeks I knew I was toast.
Now, although summer was barely more than a month away, spring had just arrived in that dismal part of northern New Hampshire. Patches of snow lay everywhere and where there was no snow there was mud.
Still, the sun was shining, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and I was about as cheerful as a college kid can be who just had to get up for an eight a.m. French class.
Glancing at the clock on the library tower, I saw I was early, so I adjusted my path towards the coffee shop in the student union. I got my coffee, picked out a table in a sunny window, sat down, and my morning fell apart.
Something had crunched under me when I’d sat down and now I fished it out of my back pocket. It was an envelope addressed to me from the Office of Financial Aid.
I’d found that envelope in my student mailbox almost three weeks earlier, but hadn’t wanted to ruin my day by opening it, so I’d stuck it in my back pocket – and then forgot all about it. Now I ripped the envelope open and read the letter with mounting horror.
The letter was reminding me that it was a condition of my scholarship that I land a good summer job, live frugally, and save (here was inserted a staggering amount of money), which amount would be applied to the tuition for the fall of my sophomore year. Failure to adhere to this requirement, the letter sternly warned me, would result in my “inability to re-matriculate.”
Did these people, I wondered, live on Mars? I’d be lucky to get any summer job, much less one that would let me save that huge amount of money. The economy was in terrible shape and nobody was hiring.
I stared blankly out the window. There was a war going on, and if I failed to “re-matriculate” I’d lose my student deferment, get drafted, and be the lucky recipient of an all-expense paid trip to Southeast Asia.
At that point all thoughts of French class passed out of my head. I got another cup of coffee, returned to my table, and felt sorry for myself.
Then I heard an annoying noise. Glancing up I saw a lady clacking her way across the coffee shop wearing those kind of shoes that make a horrible racket on hard surfaces. As I glared at her she glanced my way, did a double-take, then glared back at me. I realized belatedly that I recognized her as being somehow associated with the college administration.
The lady ostentatiously raised her arm and stared at her watch. Then she tapped the watch with her finger and called across the room, “Aren’t we supposed to be somewhere, Mr. Curtis?”
Wow, I thought, does the entire college administration have my class schedule memorized? I glanced at my own watch, pretended to be surprised, and said, “Oh my, will you look at the time?”
I stood up, gathered my belongings, and took one last long sip of coffee. But when I looked up the lady was still there and was still glaring at me, this time with her hands on her hips.
“Also,” she said, “we haven’t heard from you about your summer job.”
“Ah, that,” I said. “I’m all over it! I’ve got, you know, many irons in the fire!”
She shook her head and crooked her finger at me. I assumed I was being taken to the woodshed, but what the hell, it couldn’t be worse than French class.
I followed the lady as she clacked out of the coffee shop and into the college post office. We’d barely entered the room when she stopped, stuck her arm straight out, and pointed to the help-wanted bulletin board.
I looked over there and was astonished to see a help-wanted ad right in the middle of the board. I could have sworn that board had been empty for months, if you don’t count thumbtacks.
“That job,” the lady said, “seems to have your name written all over it. I suggest you jump on it.” And she clacked off shaking her head.
The ad was typed on an eight-and-a-half by eleven inch piece of paper, and read more or less like this:
MALE HELP WANTED
Are you a self-starter? Do you like to work with people? You may be just the fellow we’re looking for! Call Vermont Academy today for an interview!
Hmm, I thought, Vermont Academy sounded like one of those stuffy New England prep schools. Still, at the margin it would probably be better than getting shot at in some rice paddy.
There were a bunch of tabs cut into the bottom of the paper, each tab having a long-distance phone number on it. The idea was that you would tear off your tab and go make your call.
Well, sure, but then other guys would come along and tear off other tabs and then what chance would I have of getting this job? I needed this job.
I glanced casually around the post office. Nobody was around except a couple of guys from Buildings and Grounds muttering darkly in a back corner. I ripped the ad off the board and went off to make my call.
Next up: VA, Part 2
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