Odd Job Out

This is a list of my first adult jobs. Which one doesn’t belong?

Associated Press
United Press International
Bank of America
Oregon Journal
Computer Systems News
Information Week

Yes, that’s correct, Bank of America. I dealt with my BofA job two years ago, but will put it in some perspective.

I quit my job at UPI Hartford to go to San Francisco to write my book, Aspirin Therapy, and to follow my girlfriend who had moved there.

(Bureau Manager James V. Healion, who told me, “Your head and your heart can’t be in two different places,” nevertheless marked my personnel file “recommend not rehire” when I left to put my head where my heart was.)

Our apartment cost $450 a month (2887 Green St., Cow Hollow, San Francisco, near the Presidio.). Inflate that with the CPI and the rent today would be $2,000, but the actual rent for similar flats is $4,500.

I worked on the book for three months, paying my share of the rent out of my advance. That money ran out about when I finished. I needed a job. UPI San Francisco was full up, as was AP.

I swallowed hard and took a job in PR.

I was the Public Information Officer for Northern California branches and the computer and credit card departments. I had some wonderful experiences, including frequent lunches with the Chronicle’s Peter Greenberg at the rooftop Bankers’ Club in what was then BofA world headquarters, 555 California Street in San Francisco. I also enjoyed a trip to the American Bankers’ Association Technology Conference in New Orleans.

The PR department was on the 20th floor; my view of North Beach was so distracting I had to turn my desk around to face the door.

Things were going fine, and I got a big raise from $18k to $22k in early November. Two weeks later, my relationship ended and I quit to take a paycut at the Oregon Journal, which would have been a pay hike a month earlier.

Paul Stories (the last): Big Silver Tubes

During my freshman year at college, I worked the weekend sunrise shift as an engineer at a radio station in the suburbs of Boston (the chief engineer of which reads this column, which is why I name neither him nor the station).

Like many engineers, I was not scrupulous about taking the hourly transmitter readings on the hour.  By 1970, the federal requirement to do so was a relic, as modern transmitters were so stable.

Well, except this one day. It had been 90 minutes since my last reading. I was sitting a few feet away from the transmitter when I noticed something. Or rather, something missing. I realized it was the steady drone of the fan which dissipated the enormous heat from the tubes inside. By the time I got to the panel, all the meters were pinned, in a way that indicated it was shorted out.

I called the chief engineer at home and woke him up. He mentioned that there was supposed to be a fan interlock that shut the transmitter down, but it had obviously failed. He asked me how long the transmitter had been cooking; I couldn’t say.

“Open the back,” he said, walking me through some diagnostics. “Do you see two big silver tubes?” “All I see is two big black tubes.” I had contributed to the most extensive cookout I would ever attend; those fried tubes cost a whole lot of money to replace. Partly the fault of the failed interlock. Partly my fault.

Paul Stories: The Hand Signal For You’re Sitting On Your Mic

This one’s for the crew of The Computer Chronicles, who heard it about 50 times.

In the summer of 1970, I was a vacation relief engineer at KGW-TV in Portland. One day, I was the sound man for the local evening news. Tom Craven was the director. “You’d better not screw up,” he told me. I nervously checked and double-checked all the microphones.

John Cardis was the anchor, with Jack Cappel doing the weather. Things went fine for the first 20 minutes. In those days, the sports guy ran downstairs from the newsroom to the set at the last minute so he could include late baseball scores from the East.

Pat Stuckey literally runs into the studio, and sits down just as Tom calls, “Open Cardis mic, fade up on camera 1.” John says, “Now with the sports, here’s Pat Stuckey.” “Camera 2, Stuckey mic,” says Craven.

Still Awake? Read the rest of this interminable anecdote here.

Paul Stories: Macing Bob MacAnulty

(length warning) In 1969, I was visiting M at KLIQ. He served as the engineer for a talk show hosted by a venerable Portland radio tradition, former and future disc jockey, Bob MacAnulty. Bob was an asthmatic, fired from nearly every station in town at one time or another; once a big star, he was on the way down, as witness the fact that he was working for Dave Jack at KLIQ (the bottom of the barrel). A few years later, Bob died on the air, during an overnight shift, and wasn't discovered until some listener raised the alarm because the needle was skipping in the final groove of some record.

Anyway, I was in the control room, chatting with M. He explained that Mr. Jack had supplied the board operator with a can of mace, a spray human repellent, after some incidents of kids from the amusement park knocking on the door and disturbing station operations. "Let me see that," I said. "I wonder what this stuff smells like?" I popped the lid on the can of mace and aimed it at the back of my hand. I thought I aimed it at the back of my hand. It turns out Mace does not come out as a fine mist, like hairspray. It comes out in a stream, which travels some distance. The stream shot over my hand and hit the opposite wall... just over the air conditioning duct leading into the tiny on-air studio where MacAnulty was on the air. He broke out in an immediate coughing fit. I had maced the on-air talent. He moved to another studio. He hadn't seen me do it, and I don't think M ratted on me.

Paul Stories: SAT Prep

In 1969, no one, at least no one in Portland, Oregon, knew from “SAT prep.” At Benson, the city’s top high school, we all believed the myth, propagated by the College Board that you couldn’t study for the exam, that it measured innate ability. I didn’t even know enough to take it early, so I could retake it if I did badly. So, I signed up for the last test date in December 1969; any later and I couldn’t apply to colleges in 1970. I took the Math and Verbal SAT tests in the morning, and then three achievement tests in the afternoon: math, physics and chemistry. I don’t even think they allow you to take all those tests on the same day now. Out of 800, I scored 750 on the math and 780 on the verbal; I was in the 90th percentile. On the other hand, I tanked on the achievements (I had taken physics two years before, and hadn’t taken calculus). I went home and slept for 17 hours. Four months later, I was admitted to Cal Tech and MIT, rejected by Stanford (just like Marlow). I chose MIT.

Paul Stories: Goodbye Left Knee Cartilage

(Length Warning) In December 1968, a pre-season wrestling meet was held in the Tigard High School Gym. I was wrestling varsity, 191 pounds. The man I was up against looked like a gorilla who lifted weights. I broke into a sweat just looking at him. We went out for the first round, which begins with both wrestlers standing up facing each other. He instantly went in for the takedown. I braced myself and planted my feet. Alas, I apparently created some kind of suction between the bottom of my shoe and the mat, because when my body twisted my foot stayed still. Something had to give. It was my left knee. I screamed. I was in immediate, intense pain. I don't remember whether my opponent pinned me or I forfeited. Our family doctor put me on crutches for six weeks. My knee felt better. I went back to wrestling. My first day back, I was climbing a rope. There was a loud snap (it sounded loud to me, maybe it was just a sound inside me), and suddenly my legs would no longer hold me. Since my arms were too weak to climb a rope, I slid rapidly down, burning my hands. I limped to the office, and called home. The next day, we went to see a specialist. He suggested surgery. Mom asked him how soon, and he said, “Tomorrow.” I was out of school for four weeks. The operation itself wasn't so bad, but the recovery was hell. Every time I coughed or hiccupped, the pain was intense. I remember cheating on an English exam (it was supposed to be closed book, and I opened the book. I think it was Moby Dick). Afterwards, I had a scar and a pretty good knee, but the injury ended my athletic career. I got a second varsity wrestling letter anyway, which I thought was swell of the coach, although I have never been sure how the other wrestlers felt about it.

Paul Stories: Paul McCartney To The Judge’s Desk

My announcing career began in the spring of 1966, when I was picked to be the public address announcer at the Beaumont track and field day. I was having the time of my life. I was so thrilled and excited that I really didn’t pay attention to the slip of paper two girls handed me, saying, “Would you page him please.” If I’d been more alert, I probably would have been suspicious of their giggling. “Would Paul McCartney please report to the judge’s desk. Paul McCartney, please report.” I was a huge Beatles fan. I can only assume that I read it out loud because I was basically reading anything people put in my hand that day. The crowd burst out in laughter. I know I blushed, because I often blushed at that age.

Paul Stories: French Fries

Nana (Mom’s mom, Fredora Patricia “Pat” Van Ronk) worked at the grill at Columbia Bowl, just down 42nd Avenue from my house. I often went there after school with my friend Steve Teeter during the 64-65 school year, before he moved to Cupertino.

One day, we ordered French fries. They were already amply salted, but I looked around for more. I didn’t see a salt shaker, but I saw a large round bottle with a flap on top. I said to Steve, “What an odd salt shaker.”

Apparently, I’d either never seen a diner sugar dispenser, or was confused. In any case, I covered my fries with sugar just as Nana came out of the kitchen. She laughed and laughed. I ate the fries anyway.

Paul Stories: Miss Little and the Tetherball Pole

In 1965, when I was in 7th Grade, Beaumont Elementary school still had tetherball poles on the blacktop. This was a 10-foot pole with a ball on a rope attached to it at the top. Two people stood on opposite sides and smacked the ball until one of them got it wound all the way around the pole.

For some reason, I found it amusing to hold the pole with one hand and run around it in circles. It rains in Oregon, so I should not have been surprised when my feet flew out from under me and I landed on my chin.

 I was bleeding. The playground supervisor was Miss Little, my 6th grade teacher. She told me to suck it up. I went to the office, bleeding the whole way. Mom came and got me. It took six stitches to close the wound, and I still have a scar on my chin, which can’t be seen because of my beard.

Mom and I already disliked Miss Little (and the feeling was mutual). This incident did nothing to smooth over those feelings.

Paul Stories: String and Spoon

Read the explanation of this series here.

Influenced by Hugh Downs, Dave Garroway and Steve Allen, as a five-year-old, I tied a string to a spoon and pretended it was a microphone, which I used to interview friends, relatives and my brother, Steve, who ran the “camera” (it was a broom). I was always the host of the “Paaauullleee” something show. At my final staff meeting at KBPS, I was given a light bulb attached to a string because the staff misheard the story.