Past, Present, Future

In May, 1979 I graduated from college Summa Cum Laude, with a 4.0 GPA and a BA in history. I was first in my class. I had been accepted into a master’s degree program at UCLA. My parents had given me their five year old car as a graduation gift: a 1974 Buick LeSabre. At the time they gave it to me, it was in perfect working condition. I had spent most of the summer between my junior and senior years of college working full time at a brush factory as a “material’s handler.” I was paid minimum wage, 2.65 per hour, and I worked forty hours per week. I saved every penny.

So when I graduated from college I had about 900 dollars in the bank. I thought I was in good shape financially. Within a week or so I was able to find a place to live. Nothing fancy, no kitchen, just a couple of rooms and a bath. With the utilities included as part of the rent, it would only cost me 180 dollars a month. Meanwhile I began the process of trying to find a job.

Within two weeks I was working for a large apartment complex cleaning and rehabilitating apartments. At first, it seemed like the perfect job: something part time that wouldn’t conflict with my upcoming class schedule at UCLA.

Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that the job was a very bad one: I was lucky to have even a single apartment to clean each week and I ended up barely clearing two hundred dollars for month’s labor. I was expected to be on the premises of the apartment complex every morning by eight and had to stay until six. They made me do various odd jobs, but I only got paid when an apartment needed to be cleaned. I wound up putting in a full forty hour week and was lucky to get paid for even eight of them.

With the 180 dollars I paid for rent each month, I didn’t have much left for food or gasoline. And given the hours I was expected to be there, I had little opportunity to seek an alternative job. With no other income, I didn’t feel comfortable just quitting. I wasn’t getting much, and it wasn’t a good situation, but I figured some money was better than no money.

At the time I graduated from college, gas was going for about 60 cents a gallon. By mid-summer, the price had doubled. My eight-cylinder Buick LeSabre got less than fifteen miles to the gallon.

Then the car began having mechanical problems: a blown water pump, a leaking radiator, a dead alternator, a flat tire. It seemed something went wrong with it every other week. My savings vanished thanks to the car repair bills—savings that I had been counting on to pay for my first year of classes at UCLA.

Now what was I going to do?

I could barely afford to eat two meals a day—sometimes only one meal—and those meals consisted of ramen noodles or Kraft macaroni and cheese. By the end of August I had lost more than thirty pounds—and I’d barely weighed 130 to start with.

I couldn’t find any other jobs. And no one I asked at church or anywhere else offered any suggestions or help. I began to doubt that I’d be able to keep enough gas in the car to get to the job I had, let alone have enough to get to UCLA. And how would I ever pay for classes even if I could get there?

There was nothing I could think to do but to keep on doing what I was doing, to perform my job to the best of my abilities, and to keep cutting back on my food intake so I could at least keep paying the rent. By the beginning of September I despaired of ever being able to get my master’s degree.

Then, in late August, a man in the church told me about a job opening at the Burbank Airport. He worked in upper management at Lockheed, and at the time, Lockheed had the contract for operating the parking lots there. So he saw to it that I got the job. Practically overnight I went from making so little I was slowly starving to death, to making four times the minimum wage—with health coverage. Within the first week, my bank account was replenished and I had food in my refrigerator that wasn’t just dried noodles. By the time class registration came three weeks later, I had enough to pay for my courses at UCLA. I could even afford the gas for the trip.

That hungry summer had felt like an eternity. I had thought things would never get better. I was certain that all my hopes and dreams for the future, for my education—for even just living—had been dashed forever. I had become certain that the light at the end of the tunnel was an approaching locomotive.

But I passed through it and life went on. Over those next three years before I finished my graduate studies I faced other bad times—but those passed as well. Nothing in life is more certain than, “this too, will change.” No matter how dark your graveyard shift, morning always comes.

Send to Kindle

About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *