Still Learning How to Fly ~ Chapter Eleven: "Cowboys and the Porn Star" (Pt.1)

Ken Painter By Ken Painter, 13th Oct 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/r6plk_zg/
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Biography & Autobiography

My wife, son, and I have now lost our house to to the severe economic situation of the 80's and we are forced to relocate, and so we move closer to our closest of friends in the Leslie area where I begin a career as an in-demand substitute teacher for awhile before transitioning into my next career. Unstable? Shaky? You bet!

Bus Trip

Before we packed up the bags and moved the family up to Leslie that summer, I made an out-of-state trip to Kansas. I’d read in our local newspaper about a huge Midwestern job fair for out-of-work teachers looking for jobs which was being conducted at Hays State University for a meager fee and all I had to do was get there. So Nancy and I decided that since we were still within that period of not paying any mortgage payments we could gamble with enough money and put up the entry fee and bus ticket to Hays, Kansas so that I could pass out resumes and interview on the spot for as many positions as I could.

Aside from the 36-hour bus trip not being so easy on the rump, Greyhound got me there for the festival, and the University put all of us up in a dorm room which was included in our fee. Not bad. However, it appeared that Reaganomics was wreaking havoc on the school systems in the Midwest, too, because this huge job fair wasn’t all that well-represented this being the mid-80’s, and there were far more out-of-work teachers than there were school districts or available positions. The only interviewing I did was with the El Paso public school district. Yes, they were interested in me although there were no promises. I left with the promise to them I would take it home and talk it over with my wife, and I’d let them know. If there were further discussions, I’d need to come down to Texas for a full interview. Of course. I’d want to check it out anyway before we made a final decision.

Well, that’s all I could think about on the long bus ride home. I’d gone all the way out on the prairie to Hays, Kansas to find options and instead I had an option, but at least I was coming home with one.

In the end, Nancy and I just couldn’t do it. While so many from Michigan during those years were leaving for Texas, we would not be in their numbers. We’d already had the experience of South Carolina, and that had proven itself too foreign for us. We didn’t feel that we were ready for the culture shock El Paso would deal us. I personally was ready to move us as far away as eastern Kansas if necessary for a teaching position, but all the way to Texas for a $15,000 a year teaching job plus the cost of the move and the interview trip seemed a bit much. I could get my Texas certificate for virtually nothing, because their requirements weren’t as stringent as Michigan’s at that time, but still . . . too far. Perhaps we were being picky, but it just wasn’t a good fit.

Life Support

Financially, our family was still on life support. My unemployment compensation was coming to a close in a few weeks just as the school year was about to start in Leslie, and so I put two and two together and quickly secured a substitute teacher’s certificate and began my career as a part-timer. It wasn’t the greatest pay, but added to food stamps and any AFDC we qualified for, it all helped. I was doing whatever I could to keep afloat. Between Leslie Public Schools and Camp Highfields in Onondaga which was sort of a halfway house for troubled youth before they got sent to juvenile jail, I soon found myself subbing four out of five days each week. Very often I found myself booked in advance once they found out how good I was, and by that I mean flexible. One thing I am is flexible. I can teach kindergarten one day and jump to an 8th grade history class the next without batting an eyelash. That’s just me, and I can’t explain it. But both Leslie and Highfields loved it, and it kept me busy. Added to it was the extra feather in my cap of the experience I was getting from working with the troubled boys out at Highfields. Having taught at the state prison, I was able to terrify them with Tales from the Pen my own little version of “Scared Straight” - true tales of what I’d seen of life from the inside and why it might be better for them to straighten up now before they should find themselves there. The administrators loved this. Too bad there wasn’t a full-time position available, but then I still needed a full-time certificate. I found myself stuck in a Catch-22.

Cubby began the school year at the lower elementary school in Leslie in the 2nd grade, but after about a week his wonderful and patient teacher called Nancy and me in for a conference and explained to us that he had a severe reading deficiency, a problem in decoding. We all conferenced with the principal and found that they were recommending a bonus year for Cubby in the 1st grade, and we had to agree. We were then introduced to Ms. Winkler, a saint if there ever was one, the exact opposite of the witch Cubby had suffered through during his previous first grade year, and to make a long story much shorter, through her loving patience and guidance, he would go on to learn to read . . . this time. As time went on, we were to learn that he had been totally ignored the year before. Teacher of the Year my ass!

Sales Training

As the fall of 1984 wore on and my substitute teaching career flourished, the state decided that since I was receiving benefits I should receive some additional retraining for another career. I wasn’t entirely against this, but I just had to ask the question. If you’re going to help provide me with training for another career, how about providing me with the training I needed for my current one: teaching? How about securing a loan for me so that I could return to Michigan State and get the necessary credits to get an ongoing teacher’s certificate? Can’t do it, they said. And if you get a loan, it’s treated as income the month you receive it and you would be denied any AFDC benefits to your family. What about if I got a loan from my dad to go back to college? Same thing, they said. Treated as income. Damned bureaucrats!

Now I actually thought about borrowing the money from my dad, but I knew if I did, the state would not be so stupid as to figure out that I secured the money from somewhere and deny us the necessary benefits we needed to live on while I was getting the necessary credits I needed to secure an ongoing teacher’s certificate. And it would take me about a year of study at least to get enough credits. I couldn’t expect my dad to support us too, plus they weren’t that well off. And so I would have to accept whatever crumbs the state was willing to throw our way, and that meant that I was enrolled in a sales training course which meant a couple afternoons a week at the Frandor Shopping Center on the east side of Lansing beginning sometime that November and ending just prior to Christmas.

The course cut into my subbing schedule just a bit, but it was valuable enough for a couple of reasons. It gave me a new direction. I’ve never been a good salesperson. My experience with the life insurance company in South Carolina was proof enough of that. The fellow who facilitated this six week course helped redirect my personal thinking about myself along these lines and envision myself in a new light, and so it was not time wasted. Plus, he gave me contacts.

From these contacts I was able to secure a full-time job at a major retailer of gadgets, stores of which are found in every mall and strip mall in America. Okay, the job had no benefits to start and paid only minimum wage, but it was a job and it allowed room for future growth. I was not above starting at the absolute bottom, and I never have been. This was the end of 1984 and the beginning of 1985 in America, Mr. Reagan’s Shining City on a Hill, where the ‘Rich Robbed the Poor’ though he would never see it that way, but the view from the bottom required a different pair of glasses. I would work wherever I needed to for our survival.

Beware of the Back Storeroom

So I started as a sales associate at a gadget store in huge strip mall on the east side of Lansing, and it was all a learning experience for me, not so much the sales part, but the thousands of pieces in the inventory both large and small. This being early 1985 I found myself learning what it meant to use a computer which featured such foreign sounding words to me as MS - DOS and floppy disks, but I soon caught on, and it was all good. But my learning curve didn’t end there. This was the beginning of the video revolution. Not only did we sell small TV’s, but we also sold newfangled contraptions called video cassette recorders which also featured playback as well, and to complicate matters they came in two formats which were each competing for their own share of the marketplace, VHS and Betamax. Each had their own group of supporters and detractors. As sales associates, we sometimes found ourselves caught in the middle, and so we needed to learn video diplomacy.

Our store had a small TV hookup in the back storeroom with a VCR hooked up to it, and one of the guys brought a porn tape one night to give it a try. In those days just before Blockbuster Video, small independent video rental stores were beginning to spring up everywhere, and many of them had a backroom which featured the X-rated stuff, I was to learn. My education was too great during these days! And so I walked into our backroom to find this porn tape playing, and instead of being a good little boy and turning tail and walking out I was drawn to it like a barnacle to the hull of a boat. The only difference, and what none of the other watchers knew, was that I found myself paying all of my attention and desire to the male model rather than the female. And that proved to be the reawakening of the dormancy within me.

Not that I did a lot of anything with it at first, but as time would go on I would loiter at the newsstand down the way in this strip mall and peruse the male magazines which were now available this being the enlightened 80’s, and this being the big city of Lansing. I found myself in 1985 beginning to compartmentalize just enough to open up that gay corner of my mind to let in a little daylight and start feeding it some nourishment for that corner of myself was so starved for attention. Deep down I found myself not ready to admit anything yet, but on a surface level I could no longer hold back the tide.

Just like on September 11, 2001 when the Twin Towers in New York City fell, and we all can remember where we were at that moment and what was happening when we first heard, we experienced one of those days late in January 1985 as all of us associates and customers alike stood around in our store watching the space shuttle Challenger take off into space, and we all clapped at the successful liftoff, and then suddenly we blinked and all stared quizzically at the multiple TV screens trying to make sense of what we all thought we’d just seen . . . the Challenger exploding into a million little pieces before our unbelieving eyes! And when we finally realized that, yes, that’s exactly what we’d seen some of us, males and females alike, began weeping, the sheer emotion of the scene being simply too much to take in, and some of us with our mouths hanging open very simply walked away from the TV’s and sat down. It was just too much to digest. Sometimes working around televisions can be an occupational hazard.


(In the next installment, we move to become closer to my work in Lansing as many other HUGE transitions occur to my life which begin a natural ripple effect. Don't miss it!)


Link to next installment . . . http://nut.bz/3t8y3rvl/


Link to last installment . . . http://nut.bz/87qyo0m0/


Link to beginning of book . . . http://nut.bz/1db-8lks/

Tags

Autobiography, Gay, Gay Community, Gay Experience, Gay Men, Gays, Glbt, Lgbt, Memoir, Memoirs, Memories, Memory, Non Fiction, Non-Fiction, Nonfiction, Teacher, Teachers, Teaching, Teaching Children, True Experiences, True Stories, True Story

Meet the author

author avatar Ken Painter
Retired Chicago public school teacher. Singer, songwriter, musician, author, & opinionated old curmudgeon. Married to my husband & living in Colorado, USA. Also a father & grandfather.

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