January 14, 2014
by Michael Calvert
“What’s going to be your major?” Mom, Dad, Uncle Bill, and Grandmother kept asking and they weren’t the only one. Everyone wanted to know: Gus Iannarino when I came in for a meatball sandwich at Teritas Pizza, parents of my friends at the drug store, and sales associates at The Union Department Store where I was a part-time janitor with other college students. They all wanted to know what I was “going into.” I was one of the very few from my neighborhood who had gone to college.
They were disappointed when I admitted that I had not decided, and added that I did not need to declare a major until I was a junior. They wanted to hear that I was going to be a doctor, lawyer or an engineer. My vague response sounded like an excuse and led to some doubt that I was a serious young man. Maybe they thought I was just hanging out at Ohio State instead of getting a job.
A lot of middle-aged people told me stories about how they had planned to go to college, but something had intervened. For some, it was marriage; for others it was a good job at the GM plant or military service that would qualify them for the GI Bill. A few had started, but stopped, intending to stay out for just a year until they got they got their car note paid off. They spoke wistfully that they wished they had a degree, and encouraged me to stay in college. I was worried that I might be saying something similar in the future.
I was living at home as the oldest of six. Dad was a World War II “shell shock” victim, in and out of the VA hospital in Chillecothe. Mom was struggling to pay the bills with her salary from the Department of Motor Vehicles and Dad’s disability check. It was difficult, but she managed when he was in Chillecothe. When he got the VA check from the mailbox before she got home from work, the money often disappeared and there were crises. From time to time, the phone was disconnected, credit at Stafford’s Grocery was cut off, and a couple of times, we briefly lost gas and electricity. I could have dropped out for a quarter or two to help her, but she would have been devastated and I feared that I would never get back to college. I had paid all my direct expenses since I threw papers in the eighth grade, and occasionally “loaned” money to Dad and Mom. At this point, I was able to add extra hours on weekends and evenings to my four-hour morning shift at The Union to help Mom with the bills.
As a sophomore, the question of a major and a career often surfaced when I was trying to concentrate on dry textbooks in the library or during a break from studying at the Student Union, my home base on campus. Quadratic equations had stumped me in advanced algebra in high school, so I had ruled out anything involving math and science. I had acquired the notion that business was mundane, boring and self-serving. Perry Mason’s TV role made the legal profession appear more interesting than business. Law school was definitely an option.
Kennedy’s inaugaration speech extolling “what you can do for your country” had great appeal for me and my fellow students. One of my first electives was urban sociology. Professor Kent Schwerian lectured on the growth of cities and the challenges they presented. He spoke of how progressive mayors were working to reform city politics and impose enlightened urban policies. On CBS TV, Walter Cronkite solemnly intoned questions like “Can America’s Cities Survive?” Newsweek and Time Magazine splashed similar questions across their covers. I signed up for additional sociology courses as well as economics and political science, and wrote papers on promising urban renewal projects in Boston and Detroit and on the regrettable conformity in Levittown and other suburban subdivisions.
One afternoon, taking a break from reading and highlighting Samuelson’s Economics at the Student Union, I picked up the current issue of Time Magazine featuring William Pereira, an urban planner on the cover. The article began “ The black and grey Bentley snaked south out of Los Angeles along the Santa Ana Freeway, shook free of the traffic, and began to climb fast on a mountain road through the open country. At the wheel was a shapely brunette beauty—secretary, assistant and part-time chauffeur to the man in the back seat listening to Mantovani on a built-in stereophonic tape recorder.”
It sounded pretty good! He was planning a entire new community on the huge Irvine Ranch in Southern California, the site of a new branch of the University of California and a vast surrounding area of farms and orchards. He was described as a leader in the new field of city planning. At the end of the article, the ten universities with programs offering masters degrees in the new profession were listed and Ohio State was on the list.
I picked up my books and walked across the Oval in the center of campus toward Brown Hall, home of the School of Architecture. Just inside the door was an office with City and Regional Planning above the door. I marched in and told the receptionist that I was interested in learning about the graduate program. She put a packet in my hand, and asked me to have a seat.
“Professor Stollman can see you,” she said as she motioned me to enter the next office. A bald middle-aged Buddha with a round face, a tonsure of gray hair, a sweater vest, and a smile that stretched across his entire face rose and offered his hand. We spoke for about fifteen minutes about my interest in cities and my courses. He suggested adding statistics and public speaking, and noted that a majority of the graduate students in City planning were no longer architects graduates. I was flattered that he encouraged me to consider enrolling early because there was growing number of applicants for the program that could only accept a limited number. As he stood up, he handed me a brochure on the Pittsburg Plate Glass Fellowship in Urban Planning. “Oh, yes, this just came in. You may want to submit an application.” Again, the Buddha smile.
I looked over the brochures and the application. I was not ready to apply to the planning program, but the fellowship application had a deadline just two weeks. It didn’t appear to be too long so I began to fill out the forms. I adapted a paper I had written for Urban Sociology for the required essay. I called Mr. Dilenschneider, the father of my best friend in high school and requested a brief letter of recommendation, and he readily agreed. Professor Schwirian also promised a reference. When the letters arrived, I proofed the application, tweaked the essay and dropped it in the mail slot at the Student Union.
A few days later I recalled that I had seen a small room with a sign over the door saying Career Opportunities at the Student Services Center when I was looking over the part-time job openings posted on the bulletin board. On my way back to the Student Union, I stopped there and stepped into that small room. I found a library table, a few wooden chairs and bookshelves. One shelf had a dozen or so green and white books bigger than the Columbus phone book. They were labeled the 1962 Employment Survey, United States Department of Labor. I looked up “city planner” and projections showed a big increase in demand and salaries over $6,000 per year, as high as engineers and better than most jobs. I was impressed, but not ready to commit. Law school was still an option.
As I prepared to leave the Student Center, I saw a sign on an open door across the hall from Career Opportunities that said Counseling. The receptionist just inside the door looked at me expectantly and asked “Would like to schedule some counseling?”
I hesitated, but thought why not? Choosing a career would be one of the most important decisions of my life. Well, yes, I think I would.” Before I left, I had an appointment to see Dr. Max Reichman the next day at 11 am.
I finished my tasks early and left The Union Department Store at 10 am sharp to find street parking and walk to the Student Center. I was shown to a velvet couch in Dr. Reichman’s office immediately. I sat on the edge of the low couch and leaned forward with my hands on my knees.
Dr. Reichman’s hair reminded me of the portrait of Beethoven on one of my album covers. Unlike Beethoven, he had a mustache, goatee, and rectangular glasses with heavy black frames. He looked to be thirty-something and wore a brown corduroy suit with a vest and a blue knit tie. He busied himself by filling his Meerschaum pipe with tobacco from a tin of Price Albert tobacco, tamping it down, lighting it repeatedly, a puffing vigorously until he was exhaling blue smoke.
“Please relax, Mr. Calvert. You might be more comfortable if you lie down. May I call you Michael or Mike?” said Dr. Reichman with a small smile.
“Mike is fine” I replied, ignoring his strange suggestion.
“Please start by telling me about yourself, beginning with your childhood,mother and father. Please be completely open. I assure you that everything you say will be strictly confidential. I am here to help you whatever your problem is.”
“My problem is choosing a major and a profession. I’ve accepted that I need more than a BA. Law School is a possibility, but I recently learned about city planning. It pays well and the Master’s is only two years. Law School is three years. I need to get out of school and start making some money, but …”
“Mike, why don’t you tell me what your real problem is. Surely you didn’t come to counseling to talk about your major. Please, talk freely about what’s bothering you.”
“Nothing’s bothering me,” I replied with some irritation. “I am just trying to figure out whether I should go to law school or get a master’s in city planning. Isn’t that what this counseling service is supposed to do?”
“Now, Mike, you know you made this appointment to seek help. Please, tell me what really made you sign up for counseling. Do you have a girlfriend? Have you had girlfriends? You can trust me,” he said imploring me with his palms turned up and his shoulders frozen in a shrug.
“This is a mistake. I don’t need psychological counseling. I thought this was about career opportunities. I’m sorry to have taken your time,” I said as I stood up to go.
“Mike, I can help you if you’ll sit down and share your true feelings with me. Please.” Again the imploring look.
“I’m outta here!” and walked through the door as I heard Dr. Reichman say again,
“Please, don’t go.”
I went to the third floor lounge of the Student Union where there was a large stone fireplace with brightly colored, modern furniture. I knew my friends seldom ventured beyond the cafeteria and the second floor lounge. With my feet crossed on a low table, I stared intently at the fire as if there might be a message in the flames, some wisdom to guide me and make me comfortable with a decision. I pondered my options for an hour or so, but left for the cafeteria with no decision. I told myself that I would sleep on it, and there was no need to be make a decision yet.
I returned to the third floor fireplace several times over the next few days. Attorney Perry Mason argued for a life in the courtroom. He said, “If you really want to help the poor, you could be a public defender. Planner William Pereira pointed to a broad vista of the Irvine Ranch with a roll of blueprints and said “Be bold and plan the cities of the future.” I was whipsawed. No decision.
When I walked into the kitchen at home late that evening, everyone was in bed. I found a thick envelope addressed to me scotch-taped to the refrigerator where Mom knew I would find it. The return address was Pittsburg Plate Glass Foundation. I ripped it open and saw the first word: “Congratulations.” I read on to be sure that a fellowship in city planning had been awarded to me. I took a deep breath and found that the decision had been made. After all, law school was three years and city planning was only two.