Hard Working Man – Brooks and Dunn

Hard Working Man Album

The Lyrics:

I’m a hard workin’ man, I wear a steel hard hat
I can ride, rope, hammer and paint
Do things with my hands that most men can’t
I can’t get ahead no matter how hard I try
I’m gettin’ really good at barely gettin’ by

Got everything I own by the sweat of my brow
From my four-wheel drive to my cowboy boots
I owe it all to my blue collar roots
I feel like I’m workin’ overtime on a runaway train
I’ve got to bust loose from this ball and chain

I’m a hard, hard workin’ man
I got it all on the line
For a peace of the promised land
I’m burnin’ my candle at both ends
‘Bout the only way to keep the fire goin’
Is to outrun the wind

Come Friday night, I like to party hard
I carry on with the Cadillac cuties
Spend my whole week’s pay on some weekend beauty
Come Monday mornin’, I’m the first to arrive
I ain’t nothin’ but business from nine till five

I’m a hard, hard workin’ man
I got it all on the line
For a peace of the promised land
I’m burnin’ my candle at both ends
‘Bout the only way to keep the fire goin’
Is to outrun the wind

I can’t wait to get up in the mornin’
And do it all over again
Well, I’m a hard livin’, hard workin’ man

At the age of 13 I was at that stage in life where one enters High School. I was living in Ocala, Florida and had graduated from Blessed Trinity Academy, the local Catholic Grade School. There were 16 of us in that class, evenly divided between girls and boys. There was a tradition that one of the students was given the opportunity to apply for what was known as a “working scholarship” to St. Leo College Preparatory School in St. Leo, Florida. None of the kids in Ocala came from families that could afford the tuition. So, one morning 3 of us sat in a classroom and took a written test as a part of that application and I came out on top. The opportunity was mine.

Ocala had just built a brand new High School where I would be going.  I remember quite clearly getting onto my bike and riding to the new school. The school buildings were still under construction and I rode my bike up and down stairs and into and out of classrooms. I made the decision that I wanted out of Ocala. I’m not sure exactly what was running thru my head at the time…I just knew that I did not want to go to that school in that small cracker town. If you understand the term “cracker”…well, Ocala was as cracker as they come.

My Mother had made it clear that the decision was mine to make. That was Mother’s way with me…treated me like a small adult. I remember other instances like that.  I had at least some vague appreciation of what it was going to mean to go to a boarding school and leave my family but that was the choice I made and I have never regretted it and the price I paid for that decision. It changes your life forever to leave home at that age.

A “Working Scholarship” meant that I would have to work to earn my tuition, room and board…the grand amount of $1,200.00 a year. A princely sum in 1959. That translated to 1.200 hours a year for $1,200.00…so my first “paying job” was for the sum of $1.00 per hour. So, in the middle of June, 1959 my Mother & Step-Father drove me to the St. Leo. I’m rather grateful that Mother took a bunch of pictures that day so I have photographs of me on that day and my first meeting with Fr. Robert, the Headmaster.

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A sidebar – Fr. Robert ran a tight ship and enforced discipline with a paddle. I only had one encounter with him in that fashion after I mouthed-off at a teacher who was picking on my roommate Bill Frye. That got me a bunch of “demerits”, the scoring system for disciplinary actions. The next Saturday I reported to his office for punishment. “Bend Over”…and 3 whacks with a paddle. He lifted me off my feet and may have even drawn blood. I never accumulated enough “demerits” ever again to need to visit him for that Saturday session. Later years would prove that I was such a good hard-working student that I missed out on a lot of mischief that my schoolmates got into and I’m pretty certain those 3 whacks had something to do with it. Senior year…the “Most Studious”

year63_035_jfl_2Love the hat…I’ve always worn them…and the slide rule. I lost that one but decades later I found an identical one in a thrift store and bought it. It currently resides with my stamp collection. I might even know how to still use it.

So I worked every day I was at St. Leo. I started that summer painting the dormitory we lived in. The next summer I painted the rest of the dorm and the next summer I painted the classroom building and the final summer I helped to run the Library.That’s me in the front to the left of Fr. Fidelis the Librarian.

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That first summer I also worked with a fellow named Jean Marie Vorpe, one of my favorite people who was from Haiti. He spoke no English and with my help and the help of a small black & white TV, he learned English. He and his family sent me some stamps from Haiti that I still have in my specialty collection of Haitian stamps. I still have a picture in my mind’s eye of us laying on the floor in a bare room watching that lousy TV. One of my memories from the summers is helping one of the locals fix up an old 1930 vintage car which we drove thru the orange groves and generally had a ball with. Another is painting in the classrooms and sticking a paint brush in an electric wall socket and getting the crap shocked out of me. I was sent half way across the room. Still another is doing gardening around the orange processing plant and pulling out a colony of Black Widow spiders in my hand and arm. No damage done…just a real scare. By the way – that spoiled me forever so far as orange juice is concerned. It is either fresh squeezed or worthless.

St. Leo, as the name implies was, and still is, a Benedictine Monastery. It just so happened to have a High School attached…which also just happened to be one of the finest in the nation. Considered 2-3 in the state and in the top 5 in the nation. Extraordinary faculty. That deserves another song and another page…later.

But I worked…every day but Sunday when I assisted at Mass. I spent 11 months a year there. The only exceptions were 2 weeks at home in the summer and 2 weeks off at Christmas. I worked the kitchen detail most of the first 2 years as I recall, not sure of the 3rd and ran the Library the 4th year. I can still taste fresh baked bread with a lot of butter and honey on it…best eats I had ever had up to that point and for many years to come. My folks sent me an allowance of maybe $5.00 a month. So it is no exaggeration to say that “I earned my keep.” That was quite distinct from the rest of the student body, which almost exclusively came from the wealthy class, and about one-third of those from Latin America. I once visited one of my classmates who lived a few doors down from the Kennedy’s in Palm Beach. Years later, when we had a reunion, it was really clear how my circumstances kept me from enjoying the same experiences at St. Leo, and the surrounding areas, as they did. Their memory of me was all books. But then, I ended up as the best in the school in anything remotely connected to mathematics and with the second best grades overall.

I just have to mention Mr. Groselle.Year61_013_Groselle

He was personally responsible for turning my life around and was an example of the quality of instructors at St. Leo. He was a retired engineer from General Motors, well into is 60’s. He designed a 60 mile-an-hour tank for the First World War. He taught the hardest class in the school…Algebra 2. I recalled struggling for the first quarter of the class. Somehow, for some reason, he took an interest in me and saw something I did not know existed. I remember him pushing me hard, harder by far than most…..and then something magical happened which today still moves me…I simply understood…I mean I really understood and it all came together. From then on, his class was a joy. I took every class he ever taught after that.

The most exceptional class was Mechanical Drawing. It was in my senior year and exactly 2 of us signed up for the class. The other fellow dropped out after just a week or two. He decided to continue the class, teaching only me. he was a retired engineer as I said and his standards were really, really high. But he tutored me thru that class alone. It was a true joy, damned difficult and he was a tough task-master but I loved it. My final examination was drawing a turbine engine in all its detail….man, I’d give just about anything I own to have that back again. It was a real work of art and best of all, he approved it.

It is said that most successful persons have someone, usually a teacher, in their lives that helped make them what they are…he is that person in my life. I think about him every now and then and thank God for putting him in my life. I would not be writing this on this computer except for him. The appreciation for detail that he helped grow in me has been with me since then.

Finally – my High School Senior Year yearbook entry:

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It’s an interesting, at least to me, fact that I got my Social Security Number about this time and I still have the original along with my signature at that time. My records with the Social Security Administration also date from that time. So I’ve been supporting the system for a long, long time.

So while not all of the work generated “the sweat of my brow”, I learned to work and the value of it. We were poor, I was poor, so whatever I had was a consequence of what I did. Noone ever gave me anything. As a consequence, or at least one of those consequences is that I never had a car at an early age and never even learned to drive….not until I was out of the Army at the age of 25…probably one of the latest learners in the modern age! And so I have always worked and expected myself to work.

Not just worked, but worked hard and long. There have been very few times in my career in the “Computer/Data Processing/IT” field when I was not one of, if not the earliest, to show up for work. And that is still true today. When I got to the office today, there was almost no one else here and it has been that way for a long time. One of my favorite comic pictures from a long time back says something like the following: “You know your a professional when you’re on a first name basis with the night cleaning staff.”. That comic is enshrined in one of my scrapbooks somewhere.

That brings me to the phrase about doing things with my hands. The reference is not to my carpentry skills, which are pretty rudimentary, but my skills at this keyboard that I’m using now.

I’m a practitioner of the art form I know as “computer programming.” There have been heady discussions as to just what we programmers do…is it a “profession” or a “learned skill”, etc. To me that’s dumb…this is an art form. When you’ve written good code, it is a work of art.

I wrote my first code in the spring of 1964 at Case Institute of Technology.  I had at the time no ambition to be a programmer, rather I was at Case to study Chemistry, my first love of science. I needed a summer job each year or I would simply starve. The family could send me no money and there was no money for a plane ride home…not even at Christmas.  I was supported by a partial scholarship, partial loan and a partial grant from the U.S. Government due to the death of my father while on active duty. Once a part of that grant was “diverted” to pay for my Step-Father’s bar bills.

So, after my Freshman year, I applied for and got a job in the Chemistry Department doing cleanup and maintenance in the labs. One of the funniest things about that work was using the dregs of liquid Nitrogen bottles to clean floors….you could dump the contents on a concrete floor and as it evaporated it would gather up the dust into nice neat lumps that made cleaning the floors that much easier. The other form of “entertainment” was playing with mercury. It’s a really fascinating element and while now a days this would be frowned upon for health reasons, I had a lot of fun messing with it.

I was living in the Sigma Chi fraternity house at the time and every time I hear the song “Beans for Breakfast” by Johnny Cash, it brings back memories of those summers. I know from first hand experience why its “hard to eat them from the can”….as I did that more than a few times…and cold. Those were lean times. Not to mention that I had moved from Florida to Ohio without a single bit of winter clothing. And I still hate the cold and spare no expense now to keep warm.

In the run up to the summer of my Sophomore year, I applied for a job again in the Chemistry Department and landed a job with one of the professors whose name escapes me now ( think it was Dr Carlson). It was part of a National Science Foundation Grant whose purpose was analysis of the compound Titanium Dioxide. He told me that he needed me to do something on the campus computer to calculate the bonding angle of the compound using a variety of mathematical techniques, especially something known as Lagrange Polynomials.

Case was the recipient of one of the first large main-frame computers known as the Univac 1107. This was the hand build forerunner of what became the very successful Univac 1108 which sold well. So…..since I was carrying a full schedule, I enrolled, rather signed up to “audit” a course known as “Numerical Methods” which was actually a course in beginning computer programming altho they never called it that. After 2 classes I went to the good professor and stated that the course was too slow and that I needed access to the computer so I could learn at my own pace. He agreed and shortly I was in possession of “the keys to the kingdom” with an account. I purchased 2 manuals for the system, both of which I still have. The first was the “Exec” manual for the operating system and the second was the manual for “Algol 60”, the programming language. And I learned to code and I still have the notebook that I kept with all the code that I wrote. I could not follow much of it now, but it got me started.

This is a picture I found on the internet that shows the room in which I did the keypunching of the cards used to compose a program:

Case UnivacAnd this is a view of the computer room behind that glass wall:

Case Univac 2

Later, I did programming in the U.S. Army (Another song & story there) and after discharge landed my first job as a “Programmer Trainee” for Ryder Systems in Miami and have never left the field. Starting salary – $6,000.00 per year.

One of the big advantages of the way I came up is that I learned before the time of “point and click”. That means I have an appreciation of where the bits and bytes go from the bare metal to wherever they end up. That means that I have a view that includes every path that bit takes…storage thru network thru Operating System thru network to program to presentation…wherever that might be…printed or displayed. That’s a perspective that my younger peers simply lack. My major complaint about them is that if it cannot be solved by some “point & click” method, they have not a clue what to do or how to diagnose a problem.

So, contrary to most IT folks, I have studied all these paths. Not that I pretend to be an expert at the network or storage areas, but I understand more of them than most.

I still write code. In fact I was doing that a few minutes ago and a couple days back at home for personal use. And yes, I still speak a dialog of COBOL and yes, I still have a punched card on my desk…amazing how many of these young kids do not even know what one is…frightening.

So yes, my hands know how to do things that others cannot imagine how to do and I’m quite happy with that.

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