Part One – Getting into Communications

I wanted to be a scientist. I had the glasses. I had the tussled, slept in hair. I had the ill-fitting clothes. I had the curiosity. I was told though that there are no jobs, that it was a worthless pursuit. I should be an accountant. That’s where the money was, big bucks to crunch numbers.

So what did I do? I majored in English.

I wrote a terrible thesis about Richard Wright’s search for his father that could possibly be used for the purpose of what not to do for a thesis. One of my thesis advisors called it sexist because I was quoting Jung and Robert Bly’s Iron John. If I dared to pick it up again to look at the words I’m afraid it would probably be racist as well.

Fact is, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was drifting.

After graduating from Penn State (I received a kind and generous B for my thesis), I became the assistant manager at a music store. I had worked for Sam Goody during my senior year of high school and my first two years of college, then intermittently for holiday breaks and summer.

One Sunday, while I was bidding the time for my then girlfriend, now wife to graduate, a former Sam Goody assistant manager who was looking for someone to take over his business approached me. He was working for his brother-in-law who was a lawyer and was doing preemployment screening. I told him I was interested especially when he told I could make twice as much as I was making selling the latest Celine Dion album.

Basically the job was this: every morning I received a fax with a list of names and dates of births. Occasionally there would be a social security number. I would then go to the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center and punch those names into a computer to see if there were any cases filed against that person. If so I would jot down the charges, head up to the clerk’s office, pull the file, and determine whether or not it was a felony or misdemeanor.

It was mind numbing at times with occasional bright spots from an aspiring future novelist perspective. I had inside scoop on the not so best and not so brightest criminals that Philadelphia had to offer.

And I was good at it. I worked no more than 4 hours a day and chilled with my buddies the rest of the day. I didn’t work a 9-5. I had complete freedom to do whatever I wanted so long as the list was done.

SIDE NOTE: I sometimes have those nightmares when a fax will come in at 4:45 pm and I have 15 minutes to get down to the courthouse. That never actually happened, luckily.

I picked up a client here, a client there and by the time my girlfriend moved to Philadelphia I had a half-dozen clients sending me regular work. I was no longer working 4-hour days. I didn’t have vacation days. I didn’t have sick days. Those lists had to be completed daily. The sound of a phone ringing, to this day, makes me anxious.

I did this for three years, and then Philadelphia pulled the plug on the computer, cutting off the easy public access from public criminal records. You could still find the information by sorting through reams of computer print out papers, which made the process excessively time consuming.

By this time, I was sick of it all and I just wanted out. I saw this as my window to get out of this business. A good friend of mine was looking to get into this sort of business and we were walking down Market Street and I asked him if he wanted my business. He said yes. We shook hands. And that was that.

My goal at that point was to get a job at the University of Pennsylvania to fund my graduate work. My girlfriend got a job in a lab there and was asking around on how to best get in the door. Meanwhile, I was submitting online application after online application and took a job as a barista at a local Barnes and Nobel.

SIDE NOTE: I was always working. While at the beginning I was only working 4 hours at my business, I worked part-time at Walden Books and was a dishwasher at a now defunct Philadelphia nightclub where I once served coffee to the alleged Philadelphia mob boss.

Michelle, my girlfriend (now wife as I mentioned), found the name of the temp agency that Penn hired exclusively from and I went down and interviewed. They said they had an opening in the communications department and could I start the next day.

Even though I had an early afternoon shift at Barnes and Nobel serving up coffee to folks thumbing through books they weren’t going to buy, I said yes.

The next day, I headed to the Ivy League.