On a gray day, overcast in more than one sense, Jane at work, me at home…it is where I go, as they say. One of the recurring memories. Not pleasant and one that evokes lingering resentment, a grudge. I bear a grudge. And ‘bear’ is the word. Because it weighs something, too much in fact. So what is it? Oh, a silly meeting at the local high school, years ago. I was employed there, by the parents’ foundation. To help with public relations. It seemed a decent thing. I wanted out of the corporate world, into something more worthwhile. And the whole experience, a year or two, ended badly, and ended here.
I’m not sure why the meeting was called for 8 AM. But the hour had a punitive feel to it. I met with two people from the foundation board. About what? Honestly, I can’t recall. They were fed up with me. Actually, I wasn’t too happy with them. What had happened over the course of time? The simplest answer is that I found what I wanted to do. This is one of the downfalls of the so-called creative personality. One is drawn strongly to certain things, deflected with equal force from others.
I discovered that one sliver of my job, a small and subordinate portion, held my keen interest. The district, the region’s governing body for secondary schools, was building a new civic theatre in conjunction with the town of Menlo Park. The official behind the theater caught me up in his grand vision. Actually, the only thing grand about it was its commonsense solidity. The district assistant superintendent, a man named Ed, had done some phoning around. Philharmonia Baroque, New Century Chamber Orchestra, the then budding Music at Menlo season…all these regional endeavors used the inadequate performance halls at Stanford University or various churches in the area. There was no theater really geared to classical music. No concert venue or recital space adequate to the task. And after some routine due diligence, Ed got the hang of it. Make sure the new Menlo-Atherton theater had good acoustics, real concert-hall sound, and we would be in business. The ‘we’ meant me, of course, such was my enthusiasm.
So early in the high school PR job, I did some of my best press relations work ever. I made much of the architectural competition for the new hall. The local suburban weekly ran two color pages on the designs. Townspeople flocked to the open house, looking at the architects’ models, each wilder than the one before. It was a heady time for someone who was a product of small-town life. As a boy, as soon as my cultural horizons began to expand, something like this became my fantasy. That great people of the theater or concert world would come to Banning, California, population 8500, and perform their dramas or music for the townspeople, everyone and everything uplifted and bettered. There was no getting me out of Banning, but maybe it was possible to get the dead-end, hicksville essence out of Banning. A slightly highbrow version of the circus coming to town.
So in Menlo Park, the new theater had captivated me. High school athletics, the debating competition, this and that award…all these things bored me. I had lunch with Ed. Could I work for him, and the district, on behalf of developing the new theater, building momentum for it, encouraging local support? Ed quietly shook his head over lunch at the crêpe place by the railway station. A gray day, and his ‘no’ had a winter certainty about it. He was worried for his own job, he told me, the district running low on money. What about quarter time, I asked knowing the answer before the words even emerged. Another quiet shake of the head. Over dinner, I asked Marlou what she thought. Should I quit the high school foundation? Work for the district and its theater for no pay at all? Her answer was the logical one, try to make the school job work, do the theater stuff as much as one could. A sensible approach, but sense is just so…boring.
The high school job gradually deteriorated. The new principal had no interest in the theater, grew openly bored at talk of it…putting us on not the best of courses. I tried working on site. In cash-strapped secondary schools in California conditions are spartan. And this cannot do much for morale. Getting a PC installed in the backroom of the library took some doing. Getting the thing attached to the district network took forever. It took everything she had for the librarian to be civil to me. Soon, I did not like the job. I floundered for some months, and soon I was here, in the library for this 8 AM meeting, purpose and agenda since forgotten. But I do remember the tone, strained. These people didn’t like me. I didn’t like them. Worse, they were parents. Parent figures. Authorities. Disapproving, punitive…in the end, it came to reliving childhood experience. I should have quit and worked for Ed, for free.
But I didn’t. And here I am today thinking that I am a marked man, my incompetence revealed to all, no longer fit to surface in Menlo Park, California. Which may be overstating things ever so slightly.
Possible lessons from my job of four, five, maybe even six years ago? First, it may be hard for an employer to confront a disabled employee. Particularly in a more informal, NGO type setting. For this is one of my lingering gripes. Why didn’t these people talk to me if they didn’t like my work? Of course, why didn’t I talk to them? A bit of blame on both sides. In any case, fallibility. Not to mention eccentricity. The ability to fail, and even fail publicly, that is a high art. One I may just aspire to.