CHAPTER 3: LIFE GOES ON (1955-1959)
|When I was asked
to relocate to one of our new offices in one of the first local
shopping(strip mall) centers (there were no indoor malls as we know
them) I thought my career was on its way. Little did I know what was to
come later. The office staff consisted of only three people. There
was a branch manager, another teller and myself. Again, for a
young teenager it appeared a career opportunity might be developing.
I got a lot of customer service experience by assisting or filling in
for the manager assisting customers with account problems.
Things were sailing along smoothly until one dark day, I believe it
was in the spring of 1957. Apparently a customer brought to the
banks attention that a deposit made in our night depository had not been
properly credited to his account. Since banks are quite careful
about paper trails, it soon became evident that I had been the one who
had processed the deposits on the day following the night in question.
While the bank was in no position or did not care to bring any charges
my manager was instructed to fire me. (I found out much of what happened
from the other teller). When he refused, stating he knew I had not taken
the money, he was instructed to send me to personnel the following
Monday morning. Remember I was not aware of any of this and was
shocked and ashamed when given my walking papers. The stated
reason was I just did not seem suited for banking (I had been with them
for 2 and 1/2 years). I was a naive teenager who had lost his Dad
a couple of years before, leaving a teen teenager trying to become a man
lost and alone, and a widowed mother to worry about three kids.
Because of this I just walked away ashamed. For three days until I
got a new job I dressed each morning and dropped my mother off at her
job supposedly on the way to mine. I was too ashamed to admit I
had been fired and I think I only admitted it after I landed a new job.
The bank had told me that I would get a good recommendation. When
I found the new job, my office manager commented that if what they had
written was good, he would hate to see an unfavorable one. It was
shortly after I got the new job that I stopped at the old branch and
found that they had taken one last look in the night depository chute
and had found the envelope wedged into a seam in the sheet metal that
formed the drop chute. That was the only time in my life that I
had wished an individual would rot in hell (the personnel director). If
it had happened today I would have sued and be the owner of a bank
now. Once again,I found myself in a three person office but this time I
was the assistant Manager of a Beneficial Finance office. I know I
was the only other guy in the place but to a 20 year old it seemed like
a big deal at the time.
I got this job in the Spring of 1957. Things went fairly well that summer. My duties, however unpleasant, involved the chasing down of overdue (sometimes deadbeat) accounts. Often the only contact was a note I left in the door of a home threatening to return to list the collateral (usually furniture) for sale. It was almost a blessing when the bigwigs in the New York office returned from the Catskills in the fall and discovered that apparently because of the so called "glowing" recommendation I got from the bank I was not bondable.
Once again, I was on the street and this time I ended up at the New York Fire Insurance Rating Organization working for a boss who had known my Dad. I was immediately placed with an experienced inspector and trained to perform risk inspections and write reports which would be used by insurance companies to determine fire insurance premiums. My job took me into some of the biggest buildings in the city and I became quite good at it. My whole life passed before me again the day I was testing a sprinkler system at a downtown department store. I had neglected to inform the store's commercial alarm monitoring company of my intentions and by the time I was through I had emptied the main fire house, moved many of the neighborhood companies up in back up and activated the Monroe County mutual aid system which moved suburban fire departments up to help out. The fire chief just smiled and said "new inspector huh?" However, I knew I was not out of the woods yet, I still had a boss to face. When I returned to the office, he called me in and I thought I was gone again. He reminded me that he had said "you are not a true inspector until you have called out the fire department". When I asked how he knew so quickly, the Department was still at the store when I left, he motioned me to the large window in his office. Pointing down the street to the main fire house he said " Bob, all the trucks in that fire house just went past the base of our building" (we were on the 10th floor), "I checked and you were the only one working downtown, now get the hell back to work and don't do it again." Needless to say the lesson had been indelibly etched and I never did.
I had become of draft age and like many others joined the New York Army National Guard in the spring of 1958. This led to a six-month active duty stint starting in October of that year. It was a dark October Saturday night when we boarded the busses at the Armory for the trip from Rochester to Ft. Dix N.J. Ironically years later I would be stationed across the fence at McGuire Air Force Base but that comes later. Sleep did not come easy on the long journey through the black night. At daylight, more ready for sleep than anything else when we arrived at Ft. Dix for Basic Infantry training (yep me in the infantry). The day began with what would be an 8 week string of orders and directions. Go there, come here, line up here. The first two or three days were spent gaining wardrobe, losing hair, and getting used to getting up before the chickens. Because I had arrived as part of a National Guard group, all of us were from New York State and many from the Rochester area. By Wednesday, we had been divided into platoons, groups of 60 "boys" and 4 platoons (G-Company) had been assigned to a new 2 story brick barracks. Today, the military calls them dormitories. Our company, consisting of the 4 platoons would go through training together, along with other companies in the Battalion, each at different stages of Basic Infantry Training (BIT).
Our platoon of 60, from various parts of new York State, would live together, eat together, and pay for screw-ups for the next 8 weeks. We learned to march in step, double-time everywher and to love our M1 rifle. For the first few weeks we were confined to the barracks (I never want to be incarcerated). It was necessary to send designated runners to the Post Exchange with shopping lists for any personal needs. For the next few weeks we were allowed to explore the Post during our off time. The Post was so large we took taxis to get where we needed to go. By week four we were actually allowed to leave the Post and walk into the nearby town of Wrightstown, where I would live later during my Air Force career.
Since, as I mentioned, the entire platoon was basically from the Rochester area, friendships developed easily. Somewhere around week six, I was approached by another member of my hometown unit. He mentioned that his girlfriend was coming to New York and bringing a friend. He asked if I would consider being her escort in other words a BLIND DATE. My first reaction was to say no, but after reflection I agreed to go. I continue to thank the Lord for his work. We went to New York City, stayed at a downtown hotel (in gender appriopriate rooms of course and had a wonderful time. My only regret was that Mary's polite response when asked what she would have to eat was "whatever you are having". I liked liver. Didn't everybody like chopped liver on rye? Apparently not, and we still laugh about it to this day. However, as Dr Phil might say, "It wasn't a deal breaker.' Anyway, a week later, I took a 5P.M. Saturday train from Grand Central Station to Rochester. Mary, knowing I was coming persuaded her family to drive her to the ststion to meet me at 12 midnite. Sometime between midnite and 9 A.M. I proposed and she said yes. Mary had tried unsuccessfully to get me a flght back to Jersey for Sun afternoon, so we only had until approximately 9 A.M. before I had to board the train to New York to get back to Post by Sunday night. I arrived back at Ft Dix on time and betrothed (Mary would not get an engagement ring until years later).
We continued to tramp through the sands of Ft. Dix until December, when I was reassigned to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. Fort Chaffee, where I would spend the next 14 weeks was one of the Army's Basic Artillery Training sites. Our Rochester guard unit was an artillery battery. We moved from a two story brick palace to a two story frame World War II era barracks. It was not necessary to open the windows to get fresh air. Decades of weather had contracted the boards (there was no insulation) to the point where the wind blew through the gaps between the boards, often leaving small snowdrifts inside on the floor. This was a chance to meet new friends as not all of Company G moved to Fort Chaffee. The group at Fort Chaffee had gathered from other training centers, among them Ft Leonard Wood MO. We would remain here for 8 weeks of Basic Artillery Training and about 6 weeks of actual simulated exercises to replicate an actual combat artillery unit. This was early 1959 and although racism existed everywhere it was not as open as in the south. My awakening came when I saw a clean cut african american gentleman told he could not eat the sandwich made for him at the Greyhound station but must take it out.
My active duty tour ended in March 1959 and I returned to the job at the New York Fire Insurance Rating Organization. One of the first things my boss told me was not to expect a raise since even he couldn't get one. Ironically, later when I announced that I was leaving to join the Air Force ( Mary and I had decided to marry) I was told I should have said something about an upcoming marriage because they might have been able to get me more money. Clearly we were in the dark ages where it was acceptable to pay based on marital status rather than job performance. Thus ended this phase of my life as I turned a new corner.