I was, and if you listen to some people, still am more than a bit willful. I was pretty much out of the house and on my own at sixteen, and being a bit shrewd and willful in that magnetic New York City manner made it possible for me to survive.
What I lacked was education. I was booted out of high school for spending more time at a Washington Heights pool hall than in class. I got very little out of it; I’m still lousy at pool. But it did terminate a truly atrocious time interned at George Washington High School. And I use that term advisedly. All this happened in 1963.
I didn’t need the high school diploma for my next act. I merely got on the IRT subway and traipsed down to Greenwich Village. Once there, in the center of Beat and Bohemian traditions in the City, I crafted a living as a folksinger. I played at lower-tier coffeehouses and bars; soon, I matriculated in advanced studies in sofa surfing and finding cheap eats.
It wasn’t until 1970, After time in the Navy, shifting about the US and Canada, and playing random numbers on the jukebox of life, that someone tried to put paid to me with their .38 caliber. This had an amazing and sobering effect on me. After consulting with the folks at the Veterans Administration, I found that my G.I.Bill veteran’s coverage would pay for me to return to high school without counting towards what would be available for a potential gig at college.
Soon, I was enrolled at Shaw Prep, taking English, Geometry, and History. Once again, I never completed it. But rather than my walking out, my English teacher, George McDonough, pulled me aside and told me there was a better way forward. He referred me to a counselor at Boston University named Richard Kimball. Kimball arranged for me to take night courses at Boston University Metropolitan College. What was on offer was a deal: do well enough and eventually be able to enroll as a degree candidate.
Eventually, I graduated with honors from Boston University’s College of Liberal Arts, Cum Laude, with honors in anthropology (class of 1975). Just before graduating, I was called to the Dean’s office. It seems that I failed to take a High School Equivalence test or provide proof of completing high school as required. We just sat there for a while, and then the Dean misfiled the paperwork, smiled at me, and wished me luck in grad school.
The best advice I’ve received was George McDonough, advising me to see Richard Kimbal. This story is true.