People you meet on the way to OZ

Last week I wrote about forks in the road of life and how often we wonder if we took the right road that got us to where we are today. A reader gently reminded me that often there is a relationship between the road taken and the people you meet. The reader referred to an interview with Milton Friedman in which the famous economist wisely stated that a such a person was responsible for his living the life and doing the work he did. It may not be a stretch to say if it were true for Friedman it is true for most people. By the way, one of my favorite Milton Friedman quotes is: “If the government were in charge of the Sahara Desert, there would soon be a shortage of sand.”

Sports personalities invariably speak of a coach or mentor who inspired them or guided them through their careers. Often movie stars mention another actor on whom they patterned themselves. The average person does not get the opportunity to bask in the glory or shine in the spotlight as do athletes and actors. I believe that many of us outperform famous people even though we spend entire careers without getting a headline or mention in the newspapers. I always thought I did my job better than Joe Montana, or George Clooney did theirs, and I firmly believed my compensation should have been commensurate to theirs. The only difference was that 100,000 people didn’t fill a stadium every week to watch me work, nor did millions plunk down ten bucks to watch me on a giant screen. I could have been a contender.

But I digress. Based on the reader’s comments, I thought back about some of the people I met on the roads I took who may have sent me off in the right direction. As a freshman in high school I had an English I teacher, Father Henry J. Cromey, whose difficult task it was to instill the rudiments of good grammar and good literature into a bunch of dead-end kids. The good father made his class of angels with dirty faces hand in an original piece of writing every single Monday morning during the school year. Our English I class was at 8a.m. Father Cromey didn’t care what genre you decided to work in. You could hand in fiction, poetry, prose or even an off-color limerick — so long as it was original. Most of my fellow Bowery Boys in the class dreaded that Monday morning mind grinder. I looked forward to it. Thanks to Father Cromey, I discovered that putting pen to paper was like a scalpel probing deep inside me to release thoughts I didn’t know I had.

However, some of the people I encountered along the way influenced me in a negative/positive way. Let me explain. I had the great displeasure to work for some of the most disagreeable bosses one could possibly have. One in particular made it his life’s work to make my life miserable. He and a couple of others expedited my decision to leave the security of corporate America. Little by little they drove me out of Munchkin Land and started me down the yellow brick road to a literary career. These Lizards of Oz may never knew how helpful they were in setting me free to do what I really wanted to do.

Jerry Gervase is a columnist for The Herald. He can be reached at info@jerrygervase.com.

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