Author: Cornish, Rick

No Experience Necessary

We all want to be liked. It’s in our human make up, in our genes. And I think if you had to identify a category of people by whom we’d all like to be liked, it would have to be in-laws. And more importantly, mothers-in-law and fathers-in-law. And for we men, MOST importantly fathers-in-law. There’s sort of a primal imperative about being accepted by your woman’s father. I’ve had two fathers-in-law in my life, both of whom had little use for me. It’s been a perennial problem.

I saw this coming well before marrying age, however. My first real tip off was Carol Murray’s father. George Murray was a big, burly red-faced Irishman who didn’t like me and sure didn’t trust me. I mean, to be honest, I wouldn’t have trusted me either. I was seventeen and I was crazy in love with his sixteen year old daughter. Carol was, in my junior year of high school, pretty much the perfect girl friend. She was beautiful, I mean actually beautiful, she had long blond hair parted down the middle early Hippie style, blue eyes that had a ‘I dare you’ sparkle to them, and she was smart with a sense of humor much dryer than you’d expect to find in a high school sophomore. Oh, and she went to a different high school than me…..a Catholic school in Oakland, which made her exotic as well as beautiful. (The plaid skirt, starched white shirt, knee high socks….the complete Bishop O’Dowd High look—to die for.)

Yes, in the winter of 1965 I was knee-deep in love and waist deep in physical attraction……okay, neck deep. And you can bet Carol’s father could see that, could feel it in his bones, which made him all the more distrustful. But it was more than not trusting me with his little girl. It was clear that he just didn’t like me, detested me even, and he went out of his way to let me know. When I’d pick Carol up for a date, he never spoke. Not a word. He’d just look up from his newspaper and glower menacingly. Come to think of it, I never saw the man when he wasn’t reclined in his Barcalounger reading a newspaper and looking menacing.

Okay, so I never met the man, never shook hands with him, never looked him in the eye. So how could I tell Mr. Murray didn’t like me….truly hated me. Read on.

Carol and I had been dating about three months. We’d talk every night on the phone, date on the weekends, sneak out occasionally on weeknight to rendezvous ….we were a couple. Going steady. I eventually got over the father disapproval thing; as long as I could still see Carol it really wasn’t a problem. Then, one night, it was in mid-May, I received a phone call at home around 8:00 p.m.

“This is George Murray. Is Rick around? Can I speak to him?”

My first thought was that I didn’t know any George Murray. Then it struck me and my body went rigid. Oh my God, I thought, it’s Carol’s father.

“Mr., ah, Murray,” I asked unsteadily, “Carol’s father?”

“Yeah, that’s right, Carol’s dad.” I realized I’d never even heard his voice before.

“Hi, ah, yes, Mr. Murray, this is Rick.”

“Listen, you interested in making a little money?” His voice was flat, emotionless. Not menacing. Not anything.

“Ah, sure, what did you have in mind,” I managed to say.

“Well, I dispatch down here at the main Western Union office in Oakland, down on Telegraph. You know where that is?”

“Yeah,” I replied, not having a clue where this was going.

“Well, it’s like this see, you know Mothers Day is next Sunday. Mothers Day’s always the busiest time of the year down here, and we’re short handed. You want to come and deliver some telegrams? Pays twelve fifty an hour.”

I was speechless. This man who I assumed hated my guts was actually offering me a job. And at TWELVE DOLLARS AND FIFTY CENTS an hour. That was huge in 1965.

“Ah, sure, ah, I’d love to deliver telegrams. I can do that? I don’t need to be like trained or certified or…..”

“You don’t need nothin’”, he growled impatiently. “You got a car, don’t ya? That’s all you need. You want to deliver telegrams, you get down to the office and we’ll give you some to deliver. Twelve and a half an hour.”

“When,” I asked.

“Right now!” he barked.

“Now? Tonight?”

There was a long silence.

“Look, you want to make a few bucks delivering telegrams, get movin’ right now. 12 Telegraph Avenue. The Western Union Office.” And then Carol’s father hung up.

It was a little under an hour from Hayward to downtown Oakland, which meant I could show up for work by a quarter passed nine. Which didn’t make sense to me. Who goes to work at nearly ten o’clock at night. It didn’t make sense to my mother either, but by the time I was seventeen she’d pretty much given up on controlling my comings and goings. All she said was to be careful. Good advice, I’d soon find.

At nine fifteen sharp I walked into the Western Union office on Telegraph Avenue….it was just north of where Telegraph splits off from Broadway…..smack in the middle of bustling downtown Oakland, a big city compared to Hayward. I went up to the counter.

“Hi,” I said, “I’m Rick Cornish reporting for work.” The old woman at the counter was sorting through some envelopes and ignored me. I waited.

“Hello,” I finally said again.

“Can’t you see I’m doing something here, dammit. Just hold your friggin’ horses.” Another three or four minutes went by.

“Okay,” she looked up from her stack of telegrams, “now what is it you want?”

“Ah, I’m Rick Cornish. Mr. Murray asked me to come here to work tonight. He…..”

“George ain’t here. George goes home at five. You wanna see George, you come back tomorrow.”


Before I could speak, a short man who looked to be in his mid-thirties approached the counter. He was prematurely bald, dressed in gray trousers and a gray Western Union shirt and he looked angry and frustrated and impatient and deeply unhappy, all at the same time.

“You the kid Murray called?”

“Yeah, my name is…..”

“Jeez, what the hell took you so long?” He motioned for me to come around the counter and follow him. The old woman had already gone back to sorting through a stack of telegrams.

Jesse, who I would later learn was hated by Mr. Murray as much if not more than me, took me into a back room piled high with bulging white canvas bags of telegrams. The bags had draw strings at the opening and each was stenciled with PROPERTY OF WESTERN UNION.

“You done this before?”

“No, you I see date Mr. Murray’s daughter and…..”

“It don’t matter. Okay, listen,” and then Jesse did my ‘new employee orientation’ which lasted all of six minutes. It wasn’t that Jesse was hurrying, it was just that there really wasn’t much to say. You take a canvas bag full of telegrams, a clip board with several stapled pages of names, addresses and signature boxes and a “Locaide”, (a one inch thick spiral bound book of Oakland street maps) and you go to one address after another delivering telegrams.

“This is what you remember,” Jesse said, looking directly into my eyes for the first time for emphasis, “this is what’s important. You NEVER let one of these friggin’ pieces (telegrams) out of your hands until it’s signed for. NEVER. You go to an address, you knock or ring, nobody answers, you knock or ring again, nobody answers, you write right here in the comments box, ND.”



I just looked at him and finally asked, “That’s it?”

“That’s it, man. You take the bag, the list and the Locaide and you go to every address on the list and deliver what you can deliver and bring the rest back here. Questions?”

“Yeah, one question. Well, like, it’s nearly ten o’clock. So, how’s this work. Isn’t it kind of late to be knocking on people’s doors?”

“No, kid,” Jesse said, for the first time showing some emotion in his eyes, “this is the PERFECT time for a delivery. In fact, it’s a little early. See, the idea is to get rid of these things. And you can’t get rid of a p
Posted:  3/17/2009

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