Lions eat Zebras – Our First Year at Miami University

Headed off to the Senior Prom '76

Headed off to the Senior Prom ’76

When last we were together, (you and I), Kim and I were standing atop the Kings Island Eiffel Tower, perhaps considering our futures.  We got through Senior Prom and graduation without a hitch to speak of, but what the hell was next?  When we graduated, I was working full time hours with Taco Bell and Kim I think had left Wendy’s, did a couple of weeks waitress’ing at Frisch’s and then landed a part time job at The Gap.  Over the summer we both worked.  We worked, we played and we wondered what the future had in store for us. 

We both had applied to attend Miami University but we didn’t have a clue as to how we were going to get the money for college.  Things then are the same as they are today, college was expensive.  For us, there would be transportation expenses too because we would be commuters; that is, if we could attend at all.  I knew my parents didn’t have any money, (otherwise I wouldn’t have to buy my own underwear – link).

Like most kids, I knew nothing about banking and finance.  My mom offered to take me down to The Second National Bank on Main St.  I needed $1,000.  I had received a notice already from the federal government saying that I qualified for $1,000 grant but my first year was going to cost $2000.  I didn’t qualify for a state grant, but if we could go back into time, maybe I did and just didn’t know how to get it.  I was on my own in this area of trying to figure out the system, my parents knew nothing in this area.  I remember filling out the state grant form – I knew my step father’s income, but when I got to the line where I stated how many kids in our family, the circles I got to fill in only went up to 6.  There were 9 kids in my family.  Maybe I would have qualified for something, but I received a notice saying Joe’s income was too high (yeah, too high – we couldn’t even afford a new television when ours went out).

But there we sat in front of a loan officer, sharing my sob story.  He either felt sorry for me or else he saw me as a low-risk, reputable person because he figured out a way to help me.  He issued me a VISA account without the card, wrote a check against it made out to Miami.  I told him I was working at Taco Bell and had a plan to make the payments.  That would take care of me, but what about Kim?

Kim’s parents saw things a little different than we did.  They could afford to make the payments for Kim but when she asked if they would pay her way, the responses were:

“Art?  What the hell are you going to do with an art degree?”
“We didn’t go to college and we did just fine”.


Kim’s parents were no different than quite a lot of parents back in those times.  Back in the 50’s and 60’s, you just didn’t need a college education in order to find a decent job.  Today, you pretty much need one just to get a foot in the door.  Kim was heartbroken.  I was furious.  Over the years I’ve grown to believe that we are all at our best when things are at their worst.  This was certainly one of those times.  My girl was heartbroken and destitute but we were going to succeed.  This was one of those defining moments that is emblazoned on my brain.  I remember so well, holding her while she was sobbing, not knowing what to do.  But I did – I told her that I would pay her way!  Somehow, someway we both were going to attend Miami together.


They once accidentally shipped us 5 giant boxes of these scratchy things

They once accidentally shipped us 5 giant boxes of these scratchy things

And we did.  All I had to do was to ask for more hours.  Sally, my boss, just loved me.  I was her best employee, able to do what 2 or 3 other employees could do on a shift.  So she filled me up that summer and we saved.  Kim enrolled and between us, we scraped up the money for both of us to attend Miami in the Fall of 1976.

What a disaster that semester was, for me that is.  Kim was working part time and getting straight A’s in her first semester.  I loved looking at her artwork too.  In one class, she had drawn one of the local college buildings and surrounding area in charcoal.  It was meticulous and gorgeous.  I was so proud of her.

My story was quite different, (you already know this though if you’ve read this story).  I thought I could do it all.  I worked full time evenings and weekends and carried a full schedule in the day.  Or at least I tried.  A typical day would look like my arriving for my 8am Calculus class.  I tried to never miss one of those because I was a Mathematics major.  English was up next at 9 am and after that was a Spanish 200 level class three days a week (link).  English was a ‘weeder’ class aimed at helping to find the weaklings in the pack.  I was the slowest running zebra in that class and it didn’t help that I was so tired most days that I couldn’t even make it to class.  Instead, half the times I’d attend English and skip Spanish and the other half I’d head over to the Student Lounge and crash on a soft chair.  Often times I’d wake up only to realize that I’d slept through not only English but the next class as well.

Crap, what's happening?!

Crap, what’s happening?!

It didn’t help matters that we had one of the worst winters I could recall that year or that I had a crappy car.  Kim and I had different schedules so we never rode up to school together.  One morning I had a flat tire.  I had to pull into the parking lot of a small local hotel to change my tire.  Naturally I missed a couple of classes that day, including Calculus.  Just getting my car started on some mornings was a chore in of itself.  We had many sub zero temperatures that year.  On a couple of occasions, my car froze up on campus and Kim had to drive back up to school to jump my battery.

1.8  I was not Superman.  I was a weak zebra; lion prey and the lions ate me up, let me tell you.  I got a C in my Calculus class that semester.  That was supposed to be a class I should have gotten an A in.  I remember recording F’s in English and Anthropology.  1.8 – that was my GPA, 1.8.  You know what a 1.8 GPA gets you – Magna Cum Academic Suspension Warning!

Semester Two class signup time came and so I signed up for all classes in my strength, all math and science classes.  I had to focus on getting off of probation.  Fate, however, took me in a different direction.  Even after cutting back on my work hours, I couldn’t cut it.  I needed a set minimum number of hours to pay my expenses and my loan.  They were just too many and didn’t allow enough time for me to study.  I needed a Plan B!

Plan B
I went to Sally and told her – OK, I’m ready to be an assistant manager now.  The offer was out there and it was open.  She asked me several times if I was sure and I said yes and explained my situation.  The next week I was an assistant manager at Taco Bell, making more money than I knew was possible, (hey, remember, I was used to paper route money).

I had failed.  I thought I could do it all.  I was wrong.  They were all very high on me at Taco Bell.  Larry Lester, (my regional Director), often told me he was going to get me my own region before I was 25.  What?  You’re crazy, I’m not working at Taco Bell all my life.

Time for a new plan!

Time for a new plan!

One very positive thing that came out of this period of life was that Kim and I became a team.  We worked as a single unit, helping each other.  We each were the go-to person for each other anytime one of us needed something.  I think this time frame really helped us both feel that we each had found someone special, someone who would be there to help each other out through all the rough edges of life.  Oh sure, there were tough times ahead, (future stories), but this past year was tough and it taught us a lot about each other, about how difficult personal challenges could be and about how at times, we had to back up and create a new plan or be ready to implement a contingency.

How would we get an education?  What did the future hold for us?  Would there always be an “us”?

3 comments on “Lions eat Zebras – Our First Year at Miami University

  1. […] the last story (link) about the early relationship between me and my wife, (girlfriend at the time), I had suffered a […]

  2. […] strong Assistant Mgr and in just a few months was already being promised my own store soon.  After leaving Miami, my mom ran across an advertisement from ICS, (International Correspondence School), showing how to […]

  3. […] it was mostly luck – being in the right place at the right time.  In this story, (link), I briefly shared how I tried to maintain a full schedule at Miami University and a full schedule […]

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