My Yale financial aid package assumed drawing on my savings, work study 10 hours a week while at school, working every summer, and my parents contributing $1500 each year, totaling cash payments of $5,500 each year towards my Yale education. However with my unpaid internship at the law firm and political activities I hadn’t any paid work my entire freshman year. My parents contributed nothing. I had dug myself into what felt like a deep financial hole. Didn’t have enough money left to pay for my sophomore year. Perhaps could earn $2,000 my sophomore year working at the law firm but even using up the last of my savings would still need to net $2000 of additional savings during the summer or take a semester off to earn money. And if I took a semester off might never return to Yale.
Staying at Yale would mean finding a temporary summer job at the age of 18 earning at least $6 per hour (equivalent to $29 per hour today). Such jobs did not exist for teenagers in Tiverton, RI in those days. I prayed to God, “Dear God, whatever job will yield $2000 for school next year please show me now, for this I pray, Amen.” God sometimes listens. But God seldom responds in the manner we expect. Only half expected it to work but was desperate. Walking across the campus about fifteen minutes later began to notice mimeographed signs stapled to trees: “Earn $2000 net this summer. Come to Harkness 202.” Prayed, “thank you God”, and headed for Harkness 202. Turned out it was selling reference books, dictionaries and books on the New Math door to door, with training in Nashville Tennessee, and our territory in Houston, Texas. Couldn’t sell books door to door if I tried. Had never traveled outside New England. Was sure to fail. But had already thanked God. So took the plunge. This small town working class white boy was encountering the wider world with trepidation.
June found me traveling to Nashville in my manager’s car along with four other rookies as we collectively took the plunge into the void. Hated it. Faced potential failure. What if no one understood my accent? Knocking on one door in a wealthier Houston neighborhood, a man answered and asked where I came from. I said “Rhode Island.” He turned around and yelled: “Mildred, we have a foreigner at the door!” He had never heard of RI. Couldn’t persuade him RI actually was one of the United States. Applied myself diligently to selling books! If I kept to the schedule, worked 80 hours a week, from 8 am to 9:30 pm six days a week, learned my trade at our team meetings on Sundays, and overcame my fears and anxieties, eventually came to be a decent salesman. Preventing a slammed door in my face, engaging them in conversation, and talked really slow, people bought books, and often came to like me.
Even developed quite a following in some working class neighborhoods. Would keep track of the best students in the school, and if their family bought books from me, would refer to them by name as made my way from house to house. By the end of the summer, after delivering all my books, collecting all my receipts, and paying all my bills, had $2700 to take back to school, even after taking my first plane flight home from Nashville. A successful entrepreneur! My parents couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. Earning my own way, with a growing circle of friends, had survived my first year at Yale, and felt ready for whatever the future might hold. Returned to Yale feeling like a conquering hero.