The job was that of a newsboy—selling newspapers on a crowded corner in downtown Portland, near the main entrance of the US National Bank building. I started out full-force, hawking papers every afternoon with all the zeal of a feisty, sidewalk preacher.
“Extra! Extra! Huey Long assassinated! Read
ALL ABOUT IT/ LONGSHOREMEN GOIN’ OUT ON STRIKE!
Latest scoop on penthouse murders! Extra! Extra! Read all about it!”
As a new kid on the street, I held my own. However, after the initial flurry of sales that came with each truck- drop, I would often steal a lengthy break. I’d sprawl out on the bank’s low window ledge, prop my feet up, and thumb through the latest edition of the Oregon Journal. That turned out to be a forbidden pleasure. The street boss—a stubby, foul-mouthed, pot-bellied ex-New Yorker called Nat—warned me that I’d better get off my ass, stay on my corner and keep peddling.
The second time he caught me with my nose buried in the news, he fired me—right on the spot. No mercy granted. Like some livid, red-faced umpire, he jerked his thumb and bellowed, “Yer outta here, kid. Yer canned. Ya hear me? Get yer ass outta here.”
Totally mortified, I didn’t say a word. I picked up my cigar box loaded with loose change, tucked it firmly under my arm, and plodded homeward.
Getting fired on my very first job was humiliating. It was embarrassing. And it was embarrassing for my mother, too. She had asked a favor of a friend to help me get the job, and I’d let her down. I felt my failure.
We had a long talk—the two of us.
From out of this sorry little episode and other lessons along the way, I think she finally hammered into me an enduring habit of dependability.
And she never let up.
Again and again, she made it clear that I had to accept responsibility for my own actions. No excuses.
The endless grind of the “Good Eats Cafe” eventually wore down my mother and Aunt Phoebe. They were exhausted. A supportive crowd frequented the little storefront restaurant, but I don’t think my mother and Phoebe had the business acumen to turn the place into a moneymaking venture. They sold out cheap to a middle- aged couple from Baker, Oregon, who took over the lease.