Noilly Prattle: Looking Back: 19 – Miami, back to civilian life

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Looking Back: 19 – Miami, back to civilian life

     Well, there I was with my separation papers in my hand, my regimented life behind me and an uncertain future before me. Freedom, as they say! I was 21.

pertinent information on my DD-214 separation paper

     I had friends in Miami and thought I would try South Florida on for size as a good place for life as a civilian. A fellow sailor on my last ship, the Kaskaskia, had told me there was a lot of money to be made in hair styling. I certainly needed a way to make “a lot of money” and had no marketable skills other than navigating and steering big ships. Logical thinking suggested getting a marketable skill, so I decided to follow his advice and get into the beauty biz and moved to Miami.

emblem of the
Order of the Eastern Star
     I rented a room, with the help of friends, in the home of Florence H. a kindly elderly lady who was widowed and could use the extra rental income. She was a charming lady with a sharp wit and sense of humor—a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, a Freemason-affiliated fraternal organization and esoteric society open to men and women. Her home was conveniently located in the NW 18 Ave. and 8th Street neighborhood near the Orange Bowl in easy commuting distance to the beauty school that I enrolled in in downtown Miami. It was called the La France School of Cosmetology, capitalizing, I suppose, on the high fashion image of French couture and style.

high fashion design
of the 1960s era
      I graduated after about six months of classes in theory and practical experience and passed the license exam and was ready to make my first million...or so I thought. The image around the beauty school was one of glamour and high fashion hair design with glitzy shows and hair design contests in high profile Miami Beach hotels.

     In the real world, it wasn't so glamorous. Still, a lot depended on image and hype, especially for male operators. I got a job in a new salon that was owned by a Cuban escapee from Castro's Cuba and was managed by a young woman who was the girlfriend of the owner's son, but who, herself, was not a beautician. At any rate, I was billed as a “French designer”. Well, I do have a French name and my ancestry is from somewhere in France, but, hell, I was as American as apple pie. Unfortunately, the shop never caught on (or perhaps I was unconvincing as a “French designer”) and we weren't getting many customers and I wasn't making “a lot of money”.

Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963
      While I was working (or not working) there, the event that, in retrospect, seems to have been a watershed moment in the history of the country exploded, along with the back of the President's head, and seared into the American psyche permanently. November 22, 1963 started out as just another day of hanging around the shop waiting and hoping for customers. At some point I was terminally bored and decided to go out and get a bite to eat. There was an odd silence and atmosphere of shock when I returned to the shop. The owner of the shop and the manager had the TV on and then the sense of, first, incredulity and then shock hit me, too.

      With the assassination of President John F. Kennedy it doesn't seem an exaggeration to me to say that America lost, if not its soul, its innocence—or it may simply have been a reflection of my own mood. I had been living in Miami for almost a year since my separation from active duty, wasn't making “lots of money” and was, in fact, almost broke. It was time to admit defeat and make another decision.

     Soon after that, I left my non-job at the salon and took temporary day labor jobs for minimum and no benefits. These jobs included scrubbing pots and pans after midnight in a filthy third-rate Miami Beach restaurant kitchen and loading heavy cases of bread onto delivery trucks until I earned enough money to buy new retread tires for my old 1955 Ford and drive back north to my home state of Massachusetts.

To be continued...

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