Wally Michaels! Oh! Wally, I wish you were here so that I could personally thank you for the crystal clear reality check on life that you brought into my epicenter.
I often wonder where Wally is today and if he is doing O.K.
Wally was my best friend as I was growing up in a small town in Northern Illinois. We were inseparable and did everything together.
We played marbles together, ran through lawn sprinklers when the weather was hot and set up a lemonade stand in which we split the profits. The lemonade stand was a good idea in the wrong location. According to our ledger we generated a monthly income of $2.00, but in the process of making all that money we learned the realities of marketing. So, I guess you could say a poor location garnered a lot of “learnin”.
One day after arriving home from a high school basketball game, I went into my room and called Wally only to discover that he had left home for good after an argument with his parents. As I closely patterned my life style after Wally’s, that episode activated my thought process.
In that Wally and I were both sixteen I knew that his intellect and knowledge far surpassed his parents, just as mine did.
When my mother called Dad and me to dinner I assumed the attitude of someone vastly superior to anyone over 25 years old. As we all sat down to dinner my dad asked me to help him move something. As his pronunciation of words is rather staccato, I misunderstood him and thought he asked me to move.
“But move where?” I queried.
“No, no, your mother just wants a cabinet moved to the south end of the living room as she thinks that‘s a pretty good spot.”
Again, I misunderstood his pronunciation and thought he said South Bend was a good location and it suddenly dawned on me that Mom had gotten into the act as well. An argument ensued, in which my mother naturally took my dad’s side. Some vicious words were spoken, which we both wished we could retract, and I ended up packing and leaving home just like Wally.
I thought I would spend the night in our city’s park sleeping on a bench and then return to my home with a slightly blemished demeanor. But, the sole bench in the park was occupied by an infatuated couple. Little did I know that it would be 4 years before I would return to my house in that sleepy little town.
It was cold outside and so I instinctively headed South. “I’ll bet Kentucky is warm this time of year.”
So I caught a ride with a trucker, to leave temporarily my little, cold town. “Where to?” asked the trucker to which I replied “Anywhere that is warmer.” “Then you want to go to Florida or Georgia.”
I wasn’t sure where those two states were located, but my reply nonetheless was in the affirmative. “Yep” was my reply. That initial ride took me as far as Nashville, TN, as he had to turn his rig off the main route to head East.
The second ride I caught from the heart of Nashville was headed for Memphis, TN, so I agreed to go there because the driver said it was a warmer climate. Up to that point my body had been fueled solely by adrenaline and my new found feeling of independence. But, on our way to Memphis I began to get the pangs of hunger. In that I only had $10 to my name, I could provide fuel for my body for another 3-4 meals, so I discovered the initial drawback to my independence, I had to find a job!
I asked the lady who was driving the car if she knew of a place that I could find a job and she told me that her husband was the manager for a local newspaper and magazine distributor, and that they were hiring. That would be my first stop tomorrow morning.
In that we had reached the city limits of Memphis, I soon discovered the second drawback to my newly discovered independence. I had to obtain housing so that I would have someplace to lay my head that night.
Again, I asked the lady if she knew where I could rent accommodations. She gave me the directions and the best I could do was $35.00 per week. The only sad part of this story is that the rent had to be paid in advance. I was able to convince the landlord that he would wait until tomorrow evening to collect the week’s rent.
So after a night of “turning and tossing,” I reported bright and early to the magazine distributor. I landed a job selling magazine subscriptions, but the chief drawback was that it was based on straight commission.
Having the knowledge of producing $35 for my landlord that night provided me with the motivation to sell 6 subscriptions that first day.
So that left me with one more obstacle to overcome. Convincing my boss that he should give me a $35 advance against an income of $60 that I had generated. It was a hard sell, but convince I did and returned to my room with the $35 for my landlord. I was headed for his office to pay him when a policeman stopped me and asked me for I.D. I had in my wallet many pieces of identification including my new driver’s license.
In those days we wore pants that had a button over the back pocket. As hard as I tried, I could not get the button unfastened. I tugged at that button from every angle and finally after pure disgust I uttered a few words that would not be said in church. The policeman thought I was drunk and slapped handcuffs on me which were necessary to transport me to the local jail.
This situation seemed to be a total miscarriage of justice which I relayed to the officer. But, from him there was no reply. He was right and I was wrong!
They booked me for a public drunkenness, and threw me in the drunk tank to “sober-up”. In the “tank” I met two characters. One acknowledged that the best advice he could give to a young person such as I, was simply never to stay in the same location long enough to be heavily rained on. The other claimed it was he who had shot JFK.
True, I didn’t know much about the details of the JFK assassination, but I did know that this guy had nothing to do with it.
After my release for committing a misdemeanor I debated as to whether return to the rooming house, my house in Illinois or head south. In that I needed a good tan, before I returned to either, I chose to go south. But a dilemma shortly presented itself. I did not know where in the southlands that I should go. I had always heard about Miami, Florida, as being the capitol of the south, so that became my destination and temporary home.
I was hanging out at the beach ( to get that tan that I needed ) and I met three other guys. The four of us shared a lot in common and we decided to form a band which was minimally successful but it sure allowed us all to pay our debts.
I ultimately wound up where I should have been all along - that was back home.
But, those four years I was away surely did nourish my bank of knowledge. I was not an adult and yet I was forced to make adult decisions.
All that I can say is, “Wally, I give thanks to you for expanding my mind.”