CHAPTER FOUR: WORKING TWO JOBS / COLLEGE
Location: Beauty Shop Slaton, Texas 1960
Restaurant, Lubbock, Texas
Fall semester, I could have been the poster ‘‘green’’ freshman kid. The first day, I got lost looking for the registrar’s office at Texas Tech, in Lubbock, Texas and wound up in their agricultural farms. Eventually, I did find the registrar’s office and entered into the school of architectural engineering, the design option.
My parents helped pave the way for a job, washing dishes for Harold and Francis Medlock, owners of the Top of the Plains Restaurant. The restaurant was not fancy but it was on the top floor. The tallest building within a hundred miles in any direction, square in design had a commanding panorama from the twentieth floor with a landscape view best described as drawn with a ruler. On special events such as graduations, weddings or any occasion for a banquet, everyone headed for the large windows to look out. I learned to wash dishes in the devil’s hot water and was compensated with a late afternoon snack, supper and seventy-five cents an hour. My schedule was to attend classes early morning, architectural labs in the afternoon and drive downtown at three to wash unending stacks of dishes I would never finish.
I got off work from washing dishes at eight pm, drove sixteen miles to Slaton, Texas, where I would wash towels and push a broom at a beauty shop. Cleaning the shop earned me a room in the back. The shop was a house in a residential neighborhood.The accommodation consisted of a nonworking kitchen used for storage of beauty supplies. My room was sealed off with a 4’x 8′ sheet of raw plywood from the front part of the house. The bathroom was inside the beauty shop which required going outside by my side door and around to the front door to use the shower and toilet.
Finishing my first Saturday morning at the restaurant I drove back to my room. I felt moved in after three days. The worn key opened the old lock that must have had a million turnings during its lifetime. Entering the warm somewhat stale room, all was as I had left it. The small half bed made up with a quilt I had brought from home that had been made by a distant aunt was showing signs of many years of use. It was clean, soft and fading with the batting showing like the frayed seats in my dad’s old truck. It was good to stretch out on the bed. Looking up at the ceiling, the once bright colored wallpaper images of small groups of flowers were turning the color of old ivory punctuated with concentric circles of brown lacy water stains. Years of rainwater had made its way from the asphalt shingle roof into rivulets of water on a journey that would eventually bring some of it to the paper ceiling where it would be absorbed adding yet another layer of stains. An ancient oriental carpet with a half dozen worn spots covered the bumpy wooden floor. My room came with a dresser and a vanity, opening the dark well used dresser gave off a distinct smell of old from the twenties.
My door was open to add fresh air to my well organized space. On Saturday afternoons, the beauty shop was a bee hive of women. Almost every high pitched word spoken on the other side of the plywood wall was audible. I put on one of the seven piano concertos records on my 45 record player to escape the noisy hair dryers and gossipy chatter.
I dozed off for a few brief minutes and woke up thinking about dad and the book he had given me. I decided to sit at my drafting table and read a few pages. I opened the book for the first time and discovered my father had written a few lines on one of the first pages, I smiled as I read. “Warren, I have dated this book March 26th, 1960, not the date I gave you this gift, but the date I told you that your mother and I loved you and you would always be welcomed here. I was breaking your plate. Telling you I was breaking your plate was a rough day for me knowing you needed your wings and it was time. I love you and Charles so very much, both very different, but both good young men. Keep your faith for it will hold you together more than anything else in this world. Live life with courage and conviction and always be true to yourself. I am proud of the man you have become.
Respectfully, your father, Loren Taft Cullar.”
I had a lump in my throat the size of a baseball and all I could do was stare out into the driveway. I was emotionally spent for a few moments. I took a deep breath, stood up and went into the kitchen, poured myself a big glass of water to wash down that lump. Walked out onto the small concrete porch and remembered dad and his brief farewell talk; he really hadn’t finished his thoughts in the broom factory until now. Sitting down on the cement steps, I placed the glass on the second step and opened the book.
What was it about this book that was so special to dad? I opened the book, read the chapter’s long introduction and the table of contents to familiarize myself with the writing. The book was full of quotes, interviews and self-examination. I was impressed by the fact the author had spent 25 years in research interviewing 500 of the wealthiest, looking for answers of how men think and grow rich. Returning to my drafting table the sunlight coming through the old slatted wooden blinds was making sun strips across the Texas flag I had thumb tacked to the east wall. I continued reading and without realizing it, I had started on a journey I am still on today.
One Saturday a month I worked at the restaurant cleaning the wooden slotted boards one stands on to cook and a trip to the roof to clean the grease trap, a most unpleasant job. The metal box that collected cooking grease from vents in the kitchen needed to be scraped clean. My only thought as I cleaned the smelly grease trap, it was not as bad as working in the city dump. Remembering, made the greasy work seem tolerable. Back in the kitchen I tossed my apron in the cleaning basket, walked down the hall and pushed the down button on the elevator.
Under a dim street lamp in the alley I fumbled with my keys and discovered that I never locked my car. I looked into the empty back seat. All my drafting equipment had been stolen. I pulled myself into the back seat and stared out the front windshield under the visor. I realized the thief had missed my drafting compass set lying on the floor. I had no extra time or money. The day I left Abilene for college I had a total amount of two hundred and fifty dollars. My tuition took $50, books, gas and a few things for school took a chunk of my capital. Although I was taking home a whopping $18.75 dollars a week, a pack of Juicy Fruit gum was a luxury.
My freshman first semester was measured in hours of work, study, classes and then more of the same. If I were to add all of those hours for a day, each day would total more than 25 hours. It was during this period I started to slip; my grades were going over a cliff. Often I was so tired I did not study after cleaning the shop around ten o’clock. Life in the hamster wheel was going faster around and around. Weekends were full of things to do, washing clothes, study and architectural projects, odd jobs and church. I was able to manage, but after months of the same thing over and over, I became so tired, lonely and discouraged. One night after cleaning the shop I locked up and slowly trudged around the corner to my room, the cold penetrating my bones. I sat on the edge of my bed my head in my hands, tears and sobs exuded from my body. There was nothing except exhaustion left inside of me. I pulled the covers back, kicked off my shoes and crawled in without taking off my clothes. The next morning I managed to get to class almost in a daze of mental anguish. I put myself on automatic and wash dishes for six hours. After we closed the restaurant, I pulled a small crate from under my sink, quickly stepped up onto the edge of my sink and opened the large sliding window. All I needed to do was to take one step into twenty stories of nothingness. I looked down into the blackness and was mesmerized by the changing tiny street lights. The kitchen door opened and Harold walked in still reading his evening paper. I turned as if I was cleaning the vent hood. Was I going to take that step out? I was scared. Instantly, I made a decision, I was going to improve my life situation and earn a college degree. I drove home on a dark winter road with a couple of inches of blowing snow, back to my room that was cold enough to hang meat in.
I stomped the snow off my shoes, pushed open the door which had collected a drift of snow at the threshold, turned up the gas stove, pulled on long underwear and two pairs of socks and piled on a second blanket. Lying awake for a long time, I watched the shadows dance on the ceiling from the gas stove and could see my breath in the cold room. I was feeling warm under the covers. I wanted better, something better.
I reflected on dad’s words while getting warm remembering the broom factory conversation. Dad told me that my desire to go to college was a good decision and working with my hands was good, but working with my hands and my mind was better. I was only washing dishes and cleaning a beauty shop. I wanted more.
Dad: “We don’t change until the power of changing becomes greater than the power not to change.”
Napoleon Hill: “Tolerance and an open mind are practical necessities of the dreamer today. The dreamers of today with the fire of hope, faith, courage, tolerance, and a burning desire can and will succeed.”
Word Count: 1,796
Foot note: Napoleon Hill and Think and Grow Rich