Stumbling into journalism

My first job in journalism was for the U.S. Navy. How that came to be takes me back to the winter of 1973 when I dropped out of New York University. I was about 19 and barely getting by as a waiter at a restaurant when I got laid off.  I briefly managed to get a job installing windows but I lost that after just a couple of weeks and so one day I found myself with only train fare, then 35 cents, to get myself to the Navy recruiting station in Coney Island.

Why the Navy? To see the world. I naively thought I could enlist and get whisked away that very same day. It turned out to be more involved than that. I also chanced to get an outstanding recruiter, Petty Officer Hall, who took the time to talk me through the various specialties for which I was eligible to get trained.

What caught my eye was a designation called Navy Journalist. Watergate was then all the rage and I was impressed by the potential for having the same title as the guys who had brought down Richard Nixon. Petty Officer Hall told me I would have to wait for an opening in that training program, and I said fine. As the reality of joining the service loomed closer, I had started to get cold feet. He asked me for a phone number. I didn’t have a phone so I gave him my mom’s number. Then I jumped the turnstile to take the train back to the apartment I had expected never to see again – I literally had only one-way train fare at the time.

When I arrived home I found in my mailbox a financial aid check for about $1,500 dollars. I should have returned it but instead I took it as a sign that I was not destined to join the military. I paid the rent and took a ski trip with my then girl-friend.

But the money went quickly and within a month or two I was broke again.

To be continued.