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Dad and Uncle Morris
The purpose of getting a job, most of the time, is to make money. I didn’t even know what money was for until I was ten. At that age the laws of Montgomery permitted me to go to the movies.
Saturday mornings my father would give me a dime and I’d go to the Strand Theatre to see a movie, preferably Tom Mix and his horse Tony, and Pathé news—sometimes twice. After the movies, if I had a surplus nickel given me by an uncle or my aunt, I would go to Franco’s and get a hot dog, on a large roll with sauerkraut and red sauce. My mother told me these were poisonous, but that didn’t stop me. Recently I’ve started to feel the effects.
The subject of making a living came up for the first time when I was fifteen. I was playing golf with a boy my age, Alan Rice. We stopped for a drink at the seventh-hole water fountain. Alan told me that one day he was going to make $100,000 and retire on the income (invest it in sound mortgages that yielded $5,000 a year). I knew I’d never make that much money but, if I did, there would be two retirees. When I left Montgomery the second time, with the sounder golf swing (as discussed elsewhere), I was in the insurance business. I played golf a dozen times with a wealthy gentleman who couldn’t play at all. Finally, I got up the nerve to try to sell him an annuity. He didn’t buy it. I went outside his office and cried real tears. That was the end of my insurance career.
My father thought I might be helpful to him in the candy business. I had little option, having no other suggestion. It was decided that I get my training in a candy factory that Dad was associated with, Edgar P. Lewis & Sons located in Malden, Massachusetts. I liked making candy and for six months worked on the marmalade slab, making imitation orange slices, and struggling to lift 100-pound bags of sugar into a boiling cauldron. After work I’d go back to my boarding house and take a nap before dinner. Those were solid naps. When I woke up, I didn’t know where I was, or who I was. My salary at Edgar P. Lewis was $15 a week, and I had to live on it. Room and board was $10.50, lunch excluded. I had one luxury, an old Buick my father loaned me. Garage used up a buck a week. That left $2.50 for lunches and other frivolities. When I was on double dates with my old college friend Matt Suvalsky, Matt had to split the gas with me. A happy period in my life.
After six months my father felt that I had eaten enough candy, and was ready for sales training with him. My chore was to drive the car and carry the samples. I would listen while my father talked with the candy buyer. I remember the first meeting I attended. While candy was being discussed I toyed with a fountain pen on the buyer’s desk. When we got to the street my hand went into my pocket and, to my surprise, came out with the fountain pen. My father was not elated. We did this for a few months, but things don’t always work out with father and son, and I guess selling wasn’t my racket. Dad had always impressed on me how important the other man’s time was, and I think he overdid it. So I retired from the candy business and still needed a job.
We hear about those people who, while still playing with their rattles, know exactly what they want to do in life. Well, I was twenty-two and didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do. Naturally I got into the doldrums. My parents were patient and didn’t push me. I lay around the apartment on West 88th Street, played bridge in the afternoon and evening, and fell asleep around 3 a.m. listening to Clyde McCoy playing Sugar Blues on the radio.
My father thought I should see a psychiatrist. And I did, twice a week. I used to lie on his couch. Whatever talking there was came from me.
An uncle got me a job with an industrial designer. Salary $18 a week—getting up there. The designer insisted I wear a hat, a Homburg, no less. That ate up my excess profits. I accompanied my employer to different stores, with the thought that I would catch on to the business. I wasn’t a quick learner. However, before I could get fired, the designer offered to raise my salary to $50 a week if I stopped seeing the psychiatrist. He proposed we take a trip to Florida. I sensed an ulterior motive, and resigned.
Insurance, candy, and industrial design—two strikes and a foul tip. Back to bridge, and Clyde McCoy. My parents weren’t surprised. My father always expected I’d have trouble making a living. I had no discernible useful aptitude, and Dad had a suspicion I was lazy. Privately, I agreed with him.
Around this time I had a creative idea. John D. Rockefeller was overloaded with money, but was too old to enjoy it. I thought I’d ask him to give me a million dollars. I could play golf, chase girls, travel around the world, and he could enjoy this, secondhand. I never got around to asking him. If I had, my whole life might have been changed. I’m sure he would have given me the million.
Anyhow, I didn’t have a job. One night, at the bridge club, one of the players who knew I was indigent said I might like the brokerage business. Wall Street was the last place I’d thought of trying, and reluctantly kept an appointment he made. My father went with me to the garment district branch of Cohen, Simondson & Co., Members, New York Stock Exchange. I was interviewed by a registered representative, Mr. Roy. He needed an assistant to answer phones and keep his charts. I got the job, $25 a week. I thought I got it on my good looks. Years later, I learned that Dad had paid twenty weeks of my salary in advance. This time I took an interest in a job. The fluctuating prices and the gamble of the stock market struck one of my aptitudes. And it wasn’t hard to look at the pretty models in the garment district. In a week I felt so much better that I tendered my resignation to the psychiatrist.
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