The day after I was awarded my PhD I was researching health benefits of salmon for my boss at Prevention magazine. Later, I would move on to writing about how the trace mineral selenium could protect me from prostate cancer. You don’t want to know how that came out. I still have scars that proves my rhetorical point.
I had short-term job offers for teaching literature in colleges in Walla Walla, Washington, Detroit, Michigan, and some outpost in Georgia. I liked the musical ring to Walla Walla, which reminded me of a children’s book. I have often imagined taking the Detroit job so I could be on hand when the local thugs burn down the place on Halloween. I have also tried to imagine what was happening to my pension as the city repeatedly declared bankruptcy and the cops and firemen, who are supposed to be my friends, are fighting over the financial spoils. What voter is going to side with an English professor?
By the time I had my PhD, the university scene was changing. The movement was already away from tenured positions towards the impoverished adjunct professor. The old guys just refused to die. The English department, where I lived, seemed to becoming a little silly, embracing every new fad that came along. I have a lot of respect for Upper Hudson Valley literature, but I didn’t want to spend a year studying it for credit. I live in this area north of New York City and am sure my truth-telling will reduce my holiday—sorry Christmas—social invitations.
The real reason I embraced the fish job is that I had a young son and didn’t like the idea of uprooting the family for my literary wanderings. Something began to bother me about having a Doctorate in Philosophy/Literature. For decades, I have searched my soul and searched the Internet. I have asked the best minds in the business and have even gone to the occasional psychologist. I just couldn’t put my finger on my unease, unrest and confusion about my life’s path.
Then, out of the political blue, I heard what might well have been the Voice of God telling me with his soothing, youthful words that it is better to be a welder than a philosopher. All this wisdom from Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who I thought was just another passenger on the Republican Clown Express. All this prescience from a man who couldn’t pay off his mortgage and had to borrow from the party slush funds to take care of simple out-of-pocket expenses, such as that must-have Rolex watch.
Does it count, Mr. Rubio, that my father-in-law was a welder at Bethlehem Steel after doing a little cleanup work as a Marine on Guadalcanal? The man with Semper Fi on his forearm also taught me to rebuild an American-made ’59 Buick from the engine block up. I’m almost ashamed to say I served in the Navy for four years and during the summer worked as a crane operator in the mill to pay for college. I’m still lifting things up and putting things down.
Like a good Catholic, I’ve been trying to expiate my sin of being one of those liberal arts, vacuous people by actually learning about balance sheets and P/L statements. It was not easy. I worked in the magazine and book companies now blessedly being gobbled up by digital outfits run by Millennials who have been able to squeeze centuries of wisdom into their little mobile devices but haven’t been able to get anyone to pay for algorithm-based chunks of information that makes Twitter look like some biblical tale about centuries of gossip at that archetypal well.
Fighting my way into media but staying away from the airy, fairy liberal arts stuff was not easy, Mr. Rubio. The place was filthy was those types. With you presumably in mind, I insisted on utility in everything I wrote and read. I am glad to report that people are still reading my “Solar Greenhouse Book,” which is collecting a good price on Amazon. To stay grounded with my feet on planet earth, I worked for years as Editor and Publisher of “Bicycling” Magazine. My editorial intention was to move people from here to there, thus making unnecessary any future discussion of climate change. You will fully understand this position.
In every way I looked for utility. Why else would I have written a book, with help from professors at MIT and Oxford, called “Pedal Power in Work, Leisure and Transportation? I was so interested in maximizing energy from the thigh muscles of America that I set up a trial involving Olympic cyclists who cut wood, pulled tractors, and powered generators with leg power alone. These guys could light up a small town.
There have been slips and stumbles. When I’m having a kind of liberal arts day and think there is actually some value in philosophy, I am likely to write a poem—a poem that doesn’t rhyme. But the welder gods are watching over me and I quickly recover when I’m told no one reads the damn thing anyway.
I have enjoyed a lifetime of disappointments but few greater than the recent revelation by some fact-checking wonk that philosophers actually make more money than welders. It will take some time to digest this news. Just to be safe, I have dusted off my dissertation on “Aesthetics and the Religious Mind” and feel some satisfaction that it is as stale and unreadable as when I was awarded an A+ for the effort decades ago from a professor who spent a lifetime reporting on grammatical mistakes in minor American novelists.
I hear property in Detroit is dirt cheap these days.