written in 2000 for the Curtis Avenue Reunion Retrospective

In the fall of 1968 I departed Curtis Avenue on a permanent basis for the first time since arriving in 1955. My destination: State University of New York at Oswego. My mission: become a shop teacher. This career path was a natural outgrowth of high school, where I spent the vast majority of my time working in Mac MacPherson’s metal shop. A superb mentor, he gave me the knowledge and equipment to turn my mad scientist ambitions into devastating reality.

But Oswego turned out to be a technological wasteland. In Mac’s shop I was building metal-cutting lathes and motorcycles. At Oswego, they insisted I make “C” clamps. Concluding that my grand dreams of global conquest could never be realized in this stultifying environment, I abandoned the industrial arts for its sister discipline, philosophy. Studying philosophy, I learned to think at the deepest levels. I discovered that there is no compelling reason to believe anything except this: for all A, either A or Not A. Good stuff, but was it good enough to generate a cult following? No. Nor was it good enough to generate much revenue. Fortunately, there was gym class.

At Oswego, everyone had to take gym class. Since I had adopted a sedentary life style playing chess and bridge when I wasn’t doing shop or school work, I elected a gym class where you just sit down and relax: horseback riding. Remembering lesson one, it was a rainy Tuesday afternoon. I was aboard Pepper, a gallant albeit crafty steed. We stood motionless in the middle of the arena along with my eleven classmates on their gallant albeit crafty steeds. Riding Master Shewman commanded, “Trot on!” and implored, “Legs! Legs! Legs!” But the best we could muster was an idle meander, our collective force of will and intellect being insufficient to overcome that of the horses. Nevertheless, that you could stick a half-ton beast between your legs and (in principle) go forth captured my imagination, so I devoted myself to mastering the equestrian arts. I took extra lessons, read books, practiced frequently, and joined the riding club. Success came hard – years later, Riding Master Shewman was heard to remark, “Never have I known a student who combined more persistence with less talent.” But eventually I mustered some control. Soon after, the brutal plummets became less routine and, with confidence, I decided to make horses a career. Uncle Sam had other ideas.

Having won the draft lottery, I was pressed into military service immediately after college. Basic Training made me fit and battle-ready. Advanced Individual Training taught me Mobile Electric Power Generation. I became a fighting/engineering machine well prepared for my mission: defend the Panama Canal. I defended the Canal by driving the 601st Medical Company cook to and from the base hospital. A low stress job to be sure, but was I making full use of my talent and training? No. Fortunately there was enough down time for equestrian pursuits and I established a thriving business teaching military youth and training their horses.

A mere eighteen months later my mission to secure the Panama Canal for America was complete. The Army no longer needed my services, and I was free to return to civilian life. Seeking to complete my formal equestrian training, I apprenticed myself at the Robert O. Mayer Riding Academy just outside of Pittsburgh. It was a natural choice, as Robert was one of the few instructors in the country at that time schooled in the classical art of dressage, my primary interest. The education at Robert’s was excellent, but the work load oppressive. Robert was a tough Teutonic taskmaster who drove most apprentices (and many clients) away. Huge amounts of work fell on the few remaining. I can remember days when I would train thirteen horses, teach six hours’ worth of lessons, groom four horses, clean a dozen stalls, and work on the corral. I can remember waking up on horses, wondering how long I’d been asleep. When exhaustion set in and health became an issue, it was time to move on. I planned to work at a temporary job while seeking a more reasonable position in the horse business.

Falling back on my shop experience, I took a position at Tine Tool, machining transfer fingers for the fastener industry. This turned out to be tremendous in terms of training but not in terms of thrills. Typically you had to crank out 400 of one thing, then 300 of another thing pretty much like the first thing, and so on, and on, ad infinitum. In short order my working life had degenerated into a Kafkaesque nightmare of mind-numbing repetition – a relentless maelstrom of drudgery drawing me ever deeper into the black abyss of banality. (Note: May be a touch exaggerated.) Fortunately, a beautiful damsel came to my rescue.

Anita the Lovely was my riding student. We dated and started living together while I was still at Mayer’s. As luck would have it, she knew a professor who gave me the inside track on a position at Carnegie Mellon University, and I was hired on as Instrument Maker in the Chemical Engineering Department. Shortly after I began, my boss, Frank McMurty, retired, and I was promoted to Chief Shop Wizard.

One could hardly imagine a position better tailored to my talents and interests. I get to work on mad scientist projects every single day with state-of-the-art equipment. The cutting edge projects are challenging and diverse. Most satisfying, I’m involved in every phase from concept through construction. As a bonus, the University swarms with fascinating people always ready to engage in lively discussions of science, politics, and philosophy. (True, we have more than our share of communists, but I’m hard at work on that.) I’ve been at CMU for twenty-three years now, and it’s still great fun.

In the evenings, I continue to teach and train at the Mayer Academy. My latest passions are the study of classical piano and, most recently, ice hockey. I’m not very good at ice hockey, but what I lack in physical prowess, I make up for in… well, it’s not clear that I made up for my lack of physical prowess, but I have been improving. Unfortunately, I suffered a setback in the Senior League Championship Game on Mother’s Day. The honor of Team Purple rested on defeating the evil Scarlet team. Halfway through the second period, the puck scooted out of our end and I skated in swift pursuit. A sharp cut left, then right, would confound their defenseman, establish the breakaway, and give me a chance to score. As I cut left, their defenseman ploughed into me. The mighty, warrior-like collision sent us sprawling on the ice, careening toward the boards. The ensuing crash broke my right ankle in three places. A real hockey player would have just shaken it off and kept skating, but the best I could do was sit it out on the bench. With luck I’ll be back on the ice in four to six months, but now the important point: we won.

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