Looking for Work

On American Airlines flight 510 to Kent Ohio

For two days I’ve been shopping and packing, provisioning for this expedition: 10 copies of a résumé, my article in progress, financial statement on Laurel tree care, family picture, three piece suit, hiking boots, dissertation, Index cards.  My excitement has intensified since the Monday night phone message from the Davey Tree Company which said “we want you to come spend a week at corporate headquarters in Ohio as soon as possible.” Rescue and opportunity!

I sought out this company and this field of work both out of desperation and hope. The academic career I qualified for had dead ended again while working with trees is “a path with heart.” Since the termination of Jan’s job as Dean at Scripps College,  the support of the family shifts to me. She needs the kind of space she has provided me, and someone must supply the family with peanut butter and running shoes.

After Monday’s phone call I got another one from Don G asking for convenient travel times. I know his insinuating voice from the arboriculture class at Cal Poly Pomona , the smoker in the first row in cowboy boots who wisecracked with the teacher and the girls. He will accompany me on the flight and also spend a week in Kent. He’s been instructed to get my tickets and supervise me.

Joe and Claire accompany Jan and me to the airport. At the counter, Don introduces me to wife and daughter and asks me about smoking or non-smoking.  He hands me an envelop with my name typed on the outside and departs.  It’s a copy of a memo  from Rosey to Richard A. saying I’ve been offered a job at $18,000 a year, that I start work on April 2 and will be a evaluated by her and Don in 90 days and again in six months for salary adjustment, that this week in Kent my abilities will also be evaluated and that I should get a warm welcome to the company.

Kent Motor inn 11:34 p.m.

The roar of Don’s snores fills this tacky room over the fine sounds of jazz on my earphone stereo. Kent Ohio and its neighbors, Ravenna and Portage Lake, are winter-bound, economically depressed,  depopulating sunset towns graced by polluted rivers, battered oaks and potholed streets. Trey, who gives us the guided tour is no less turned off by the place than we California visitors, despite his multi acre property above the River. He misses the beauty and openness of South Dakota. Trey is a high official in Davey with a “PhD in blue green algae,” according to Don, who makes perceptive observations of the landscape asks informed questions. He and Trey find companionship in discussing golf, putting down environmentalists, and pricing houses we pass. Comments about “Negros” and “those of dark skin” also supply grist for conversation. I feel more relaxed with Joanne, Tray’s shy, garden oriented wife and mother of five.

What a relief that Don went to sleep early and I took a cold lonely walk around town. I am here to learn from them, to learn to join with them.

A letter to open April 2


April 8, return flight

After leaving Kent Ohio, I stopped over for two days to visit my parents in Denver. It was a grim but loving visit. Walking by the lake in the park talking about Elise in the cemetery and the funerals of her friends, the people of her youth who are gone, father, mother, mother-in-law, people in that cemetery in Paramus New Jersey whose graves they couldn’t find the prospect of having to manage family finances, living wills, making room for the next generation, the dying out of the Jewish people, the loss of unique personalities she treasures in the framed pictures on every wall, on every surface of bureau or bookcase, standing thick in rows like headstones. Her red eyes open wide, her finger passing pulling away tears. She’s not asking for comfort, simply allowing her feelings to flow. I accept those tears with the embrace she gives me on the piano bench. As I leave, I feel a mother’s hopeless clinging love, a child’s sadness in a world that always disappoints.

I don’t come home as I’d planned, the conquering hero crowned with Laurel. I wowed nobody. I achieved no success. I probably failed. The “offer” stated in the copy of the memo I received, has been rescinded, perhaps permanently perhaps not. The promise Mr. A made in the brief meeting I had with him Friday afternoon after having been told I was to pack my bags and leave, was for a phone call Monday night to let me know if there was a job for me in Northern California at some future date. His evaluation, he said, considered my past, my climbing skills and their limitations, my historical research about the company, my adjustment to the people I met and their appraisal, but no comment about the writers manual entitled “Edit Yourself,” that I’d produced on short notice.


No job offer ever emerged.  Jan and I had no idea of how our family would survive once we left the Dean’s house we were provided in Claremont.  I had no hope that my shaky tree-care business could support us.









A few weeks later I received a letter from John B., my dissertation advisor at Stanford wondering if I’d be interested in a full time job there setting up and teaching in a new program called “Literature and the Arts in Western Culture.”  In early June, we moved back to Palo Alto, Jan enrolled in Santa Clara University Law School and then we joined Henry and Lise in Hawaii to celebrate their 50th anniversary and spend a week camping on beaches.

Scan 2June1984HawaiiWaipeo30






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