Monday, January 21, 2008


Somehow you get locked into a community, a local area that becomes your home, and you cannot remember exactly why. If you put loved ones in the ground, or you attend a school for more than five years in a row, then more than likely you will become rooted whether you want it that way or not.

I probably could have lived anywhere besides Harriman. I mean Waverly, Tennessee was nice and I have a lot of memories from that time, even went to school there for over three years, but I guess it was because we did not have to bury anyone there.

Florence, Alabama was nice, and I attended school there for two years, but I suppose it was the threat to tornadoes, the red clay soil, or possibly the flatness of it that prevented me from going back.

The truth is I settled in Harriman because I went to school there for six years, including my last two in high school, buried my dad there, married a girl with life long roots there, got my first jobs there, and my mother retired there.

One day you just wake up and you realize that this is where you will also die. Nothing will make you move from the familiarity of it all, or the relationships you have intertwined into life.

Oh, there was a time I wanted to leave, and had my first wife not had her roots deep into family and the area, we would have left and probably ended up in Atlanta, Georgia.

During my senior year at UT, the College of Communications arranged for “field trips” of a sort to Atlanta to participate in “mock interviews.” I suppose some of us could have been offered jobs, but the truth, as it was given to us upfront was that these were trial runs designed to give us experience at interviewing and to test our portfolios.

The top advertising agencies in the United States has offices in Atlanta, and in those days the top two were Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB), of Alka Seltzer and Volkswagen fame, and McCann-Erickson, of Coca-Cola fame!

I instantly wanted to work for McCann-Erickson, because in my view it was such a laid back and creative environment. To me, it appeared that the account people just sat around in this big room and brainstormed ideas. All around the room were red and white Coke creations (signs, print ads, coolers, etc.) they had come up with and I wanted to be a part of that so much.

I knew I had what it would take to be creative mentally, but after a few of the copy writers explained how tough the business was, I had second thoughts. Some of the agency people talked about working for 2 or 3 agencies during the course of a single year, while others said they had been working on the same product, but had just walked across the street when the account changed agencies! It began to sound like a dog-eat-dog world, and a voice whispered “you had better be good if you want to survive here.”

Nonetheless, the big ad agency was what I had my heart set on!

Atlanta was a fun time in 1972, running around with a dozen college friends with life leading us on and a tiger by the tail. Even an encounter with a homeless wino on the Atlanta streets did not seem to dissuade me from my dream.

The wino grabbed my arm and demanded money. I was scared out of my wits and my entourage just kept walking, leaving me to deal with the situation. I jerked my arm a couple of times and it was obvious he was not letting go, so, always quick to mentally work my way out of a situation, I reached into my pocket for some change. I was shocked to find that I only had a nickel! I was doomed, I thought if I handed it to him. Therefore, the smart thing to do was to flip the coin into the air. The drunk released his grip and cupped his hands and ran away to get under the coin.

Meanwhile, I had already caught up with the cowardly crowd and moved on down the street. Bastards never said a word or looked back.

Quick thinking would also save me from an even nastier scene years later!

Suffice it say, we did not move to Atlanta. You just take what life gives you!

I finished school, still living with my in-laws, and took an advertising sales job with The Roane County NEWS in Kingston, Tennessee.

There was little glamour in the job, but it paid $200 a week, provided me with transportation, and gave me little moments of creativity genius to satisfy me.

Looking back, had the job paid more, or had provided better insurance, I might still be there plugging away with my pencil and layout pad, and my 35mm camera, shooting football games on Friday nights, and attending local community events shaking hands and smiling superficially. Who knows, I may have even become an editor and/or part owner, with a bottle of creativity down in my bottom drawer.

However, I know one thing, I would not be retired now…if ever.


J said...

Very true, Mushy. ANd you know what I think? I think that life points us in the direction that we might want, and then turns us around and says "but you really SHOULD go this way".

I am glad you ended up happy, because that is what is most important.

Ron Southern said...

Most people work at jobs that they hate or at least find utterly boring. For some, it was always like that. For others, it just got that way after they stayed at it too long. I know I had about a five year limit on jobs. I might not have changed employer's that often, but I did manage to change jobs on about that five year plan and thus survive while others were just monkeys with bad tempers and alcohol on their breath. I suspect you had more pleasure and got more thiinking done at your jobs than most people around you experienced.

Ron Southern said...

p.s. hate this goddamn word verifi cation! Always will.

Buck said...

I've never given a whole lot of serious thought to "what might have been." Water under the bridge, and all that.

But, like yourself, Mushy, I was always able to adapt and make the best of what life offered up... or threw my way, on some occasions. I consider myself fairly lucky, too...FWIW.

David Sullivan said...

Posts like this one are you at your finest. You are at your best when just writing from the heart.

Debbie said...

I think God has a 'perfect will' and a 'permissive will' for our lives. The old fork in the road thing, only with God's blessing. We can be happy taking either route, but the 'perfect' one chosen for us give us joys and contentment we would never find on the other road.

Hubby and I had to laugh at the hospital. People kept asking us where we lived. When we told them, there was silence, then they said "um, what's the closest city to that?" We would say, "Jackson". Then they would say, "no cities closer than Jackson." Tommy finally told them that __________ IS A CITY, just a small one, located on the banks of the Tennessee River.

We've had the big house in the big city and we chose to move to the cabin at the river. Life is a little slower, the fishing is much closer, the stresses of the job much less. We love it.

Debbie Hamilton
Right Truth

~Fathairybastard~ said...

It's wild how things turn out. You hear about people who take life by the throat and make things work out their own way, but I think in reality most folks end up where life puts them. Hell man, you did OK. You did better than many other folks can ever hope to do.

Oh, and why didn't that Air Force judo/karate shit kick in that day with the wino?

Mushy said...

It was the big city I suppose FHB...besides I never really wanted to hurt anyone. He was drunk and I could have easily took him down, but there were others around and I was in a suit. Go figure!

Carol said...

Great and thought-provoking post. I'm originally from GA - lived in Atlanta during the 70's - but after stops in NC and IL ended up in TN with hubby's job - kids went through school here, it is home to them, hubby started his own business here, and thus now it is home to us. I never would have imagined growing up in Georgia that Tennessee would end up being my home.

Les Becker said...

It's good to know you're happy with the direction you went in. That makes a big difference in a life.

Suldog said...

Quick thinking with the nickel, Mushy. Like FHB, I was wondering about why you didn't just slug him, but you answered that.

pat houseworth said...

Up until 1980 when I moved back to Western Ohio, I continued the family "Wanderlust"...not counting the Air Force, I have lived in Ohio, Venice, Florida, Rome, NY, Wausau, Wisconsin, Kokomo, Indiana, Dodge City, Kansas, Wilmington, Delaware, and back to Ohio......add Delaware, New York, Vietnam, to the mix from the Air Force....guess I got tired of moving...and think I'll finish off my time in Ohio, 6 months of winter or not!

BRUNO said...

I'm still tryin' to remember the last time I wore a suit---I think it was when I got married. And to be perfectly honest about it, my "matching slacks" were a new-issued, first time worn pair of my work uniform pants! I know this, because the ONLY reason I wore a nice belt that day was to hide the "Red-Cap" logo and the laundry I.D. tag!

Lin said...

Mushy, any idea of what a surge of wistful envy I got while reading that? At times, I wish I had been born is a place which begged me to stay or to call me back for good someday. But perhaps it was necessary that I have no such heartstrings. I can at least savor your own sense of roots and your forever place - thanks.