Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Accident or Wake Up Call

I was 24 years old. I was married with a three year old son. I was totally broke. My wife and I were living with her grandmother in Columbia, Pa. We had just returned from a four month adventure during which we had traveled across the country to California to visit my parents and then up the Pacific coast to Vancouver, B.C. We thought we would live in Canada and start a new life for ourselves. When we got to the border they would not let us into the country. It seemed my hair was too long and they viewed us as hippies escaping from America who could bring nothing positive to Canada.

We traveled back to Chicago. We split up there. My wife and son went back East. I went to California to see if I could make a little money. I was there for about six weeks and worked three or four different jobs including selling Fuller Brushes, pots and pans, and dating services. I couldn't make any money and missed my family so I came back to Pennsylvania to Grandma's house.

As payment for rent Grandma gave me some chores. I had never done any chores growing up in the projects of Brooklyn to a doting Jewish mother who required nothing of me.
Grandma made me mow the lawn. It was the size of a large postage stamp but I was proud of being able to do it. I was growing up and needed to learn these things. Even though I was married I had never taken work or responsibility seriously. My mind was on philosophy and religion and what I considered to be more important things.

I desperately needed a job. I applied for thirty-nine jobs in a two month period and was rejected for every one. I was either over qualified or under qualified or second best or something else was wrong with me. I didn't know what to do. Finally I was hired by Combined Insurance Company to sell accident and health insurance to businesses door to door. They hired anyone who breathed and they promised me fifteen dollars a day for food money during a weeks training session. I figured I could get by on five or six and send the rest back to my wife.

The training was an interesting experience. I roomed with a mormon who told me he had tried every religion and teaching until he had finally found the one true religion in Mormonism. This set the stage for my later inquiry into the Mormon religion.

I also met a full blooded American Indian who could out fight, out fuck, and out sell any man he met, or so he said. He was a gentle soul actually and introduced me to spiritualism. He was a true believer in our ability to communicate with the dead and his wife was a medium who had been Cleopatra in a previous life. I took him seriously and spent five eventful years investigating the Spiritualist religion. That's a long story for another blog or two.

On the business front the week was devoted to memorizing a presentation, word for word, intonation for intonation. Everything had to be said exactly as they taught ,if we were to qualify to sell their insurance. We also learned the philosophy of W. Clement Stone the founder of the company and one of the earliest sales and motivational thinkers. His basic philosophy was that success consisted of three elements. 1- activity knowledge 2-know-how through experience and 3-PMA or positive mental attitude. We could all make millions like he did by applying these principles.

After a week of intense brainwashing and motivation I was psyched to get out and sell. I was also deeply depressed that my life had come to this point. My first assignment was in northwestern Pa., in a small town called Warren. It was the middle of winter. I had to drive there with Benny, my spiritualist Indian friend, in my volkwagon on a Sunday, in a blizzard, to begin my first day of work on Monday.

We were told that a sales manager would be sent from the home office to work with us on our first day and that we would receive the commission from whatever was sold. It could amount to a couple of hundred dollars. I needed the money. My sales manager, however, did not arrive until late in the day on Monday. I was a little discouraged as we did not hit the road until it was dark. On our way to our first presentation my volkswagon was broadsided. I woke up in the hospital with an anesthesiologist staring down at me. He had a kind face and told me that I would live. I had my spleen removed, kidney damage, and some other internal injuries. I spent three weeks in the hospital, most of it in intensive care. This was a turning point in my life. I realized that I could not let myself get into this situation again. This was not an accident. It was a wake up call. I had to now consider what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

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