Wednesday, August 6, 2008

When I Grow Up Part 1

I recently had a conversation with a college student working in my office for the summer. I asked her what her major was and she sheepishly answered that she didn't know. I jokingly replied "that's OK, I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up." The truth is, I do know what I want to be when I grow up but the job of being F. Scott Fitzgerald has already been filled. Writing the Great American Novel notwithstanding, I admit to a certain envy of those people who know what course they want their lives to take and are able to steer a straight line to it.

I have a friend named Matt (I'm lying, that's not his real name) who is a biologist (a herpetologist to be exact - herpetology, as I'm sure you know, is the study of reptiles and amphibians). He's a professor at a major college here in the Northeast, has traveled around the world, written extensively and even appeared on Animal Planet. He has literally realized his life's ambition. From the time I met him when we were both in Jr. High School he knew this is what he wanted to do. In 7th grade shop, one of the assignments was to create our own business card. This was back in the day, kids. We're talking old school - setting up blocks of type in a printing press etc. Instead of a simple card bearing his name, address and phone number like the rest of us, Matt's card read "Matt Alquist - Biologist".

Unlike Matt I never really had a clear idea of what I wanted to be growing up; I came about it through trial and error. Like most kids I was influenced by the world around me. As a pre-adolescent I loved the old Universal Monster Movies (which I watched every Saturday night on Creature Features). One of my favorite monsters was The Mummy. Naturally, I wanted to be an Archaeologist. Not that I wanted to run into the re-animated corpses of ancient Egyptians, mind you. It just seemed really exciting traipsing all over the desert, discovering long forgotten tombs and entering lost worlds. This was at least a decade before anyone had ever heard of Indiana Jones so I guess I was ahead of the curve. I read all sorts of books on Ancient Egypt (because of course, to 10 year old Michael if you're going to be an archaeologist, Egypt is the place to do it). In preparation for my career as the next Howard Carter, I even wrapped up my GI Joes in masking tape and buried them in my backyard creating my own mini Tomb of Kings right there on suburban Long Island.

I'm not sure when, but Archaeology as a future vocation gave way to Astronomy. This probably coincided with my switch from Monster Movies to 1950's Science Fiction. I had dreams of friendly aliens contacting me to impart the wisdom of their highly advanced civilization. Being an astronomer also seemed more practical; all I had to do was look up in the sky - something I could do with very little effort (as opposed to schlepping half way around the world with a shovel and pith helmet).

My future aspirations were not always grounded in reality; at one point I seriously considered being a crime fighting Magician like Anthony Blake, the character played by Bill Bixby in the short lived series The Magician. I pictured myself using magic tricks to help people in trouble, foil bad guys and solve crimes by day, while at night I was the toast of Las Vegas; performing feats of legerdemain and dating Ann-Margret (what can I say - I had a very active imagination).

It was sometime during high school when I first realized I wanted to be a writer. Even then I went through phases as to exactly what type of writer. My literary aspirations included writing mysteries like my then-favorites Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen (somewhere around here there's a stack of poorly written and easily solved who-dun-its), writing scripts for make believe radio shows (this was about 25 years after the Golden Age of Radio, but that was a minor consideration to teenage Michael) and being a famous newspaper columnist. I realized I lacked the imagination to be even a mediocre mystery writer and the radio writing didn't pan out, but I did have some moderate success in the field of journalism; in addition to a weekly column in my hometown newspaper, The Mineola American, I was editor-in-chief of my High School Newspaper. I didn't realize it at the time, but these would represent the pinnacle of my career in journalism (sometime during my years at NYU I figured out that the New York Times wasn't going to offer me my own column upon graduation and I'd probably have to earn it by proving myself as a reporter. It was at this point I switched my major to Public Relations). Still, vague and indecisive though the details may have been, I had finally realized what I wanted to be when I grew up - a writer.

Of course, knowing what you want to be and actually being it are two entirely different things. The career path my life has taken in the intervening years can be described as convoluted at best. It included a brief stint in Public Relations and more than a decade trapped in Retail Hell (where I held a variety of jobs including writing Systems and Procedures, creating and starring in training videos, and Regional Management). The details will have to wait for another entry, however; I've spent enough time at the 'puter for one night...



  1. I can't say I know for sure what I want to be when I grow up either-- I do have (pipe) dreams of being a film editor or critic, but................
    At the same time I guess I have realized a job that I have spent my lifetime working towards, self-defense instructing. I started training at age 3 and teaching (voluntarily... damn those child-labor laws) at age 12, not being able to actually call it a job until I was 16. Now I am part owner of a martial arts academy... but I still have an urge to pick apart movies-- maybe that's what my blog should focus on... at least I can fake it

  2. I like the randomness of your blog (perhaps because I'm pretty sure I suffer from A.D.D.). Thanks for actually reading my blog and posting comments (I think you've increased my readership by 33%)!

  3. the other side of the wall @ rtrAugust 13, 2008 at 10:45 AM

    Well all of us who presently work with you - and I know for a fact I can say all of us - Are glad you came out of the desert, dropped the wand,left the skies and came back to earth, and climbed out of Retail Hell. Work wouldn't be the same for any of us and not as entertaining for certain.