Thursday, June 20, 2013

Pain and Gain – The Untold True Story by Marc Schiller

Chapter 2

The Journey

“Your struggles are only bigger than you when your thoughts convince you to believe that you are incapable of overcoming them”

- Edmund Mbiaka -

We landed at JFK airport on May 10, 1966. Sensory overload! I felt as though my head was spinning, for I had just left a place where everything was green and grew wild, and now I found myself in a concrete jungle that was totally foreign, even alien, to me. Father had saved some money and bought a little bit of furniture and a TV.

A television, wow! I didn’t even know such things existed. My father had done well, but his rebellious self caused us problems again. Instead of getting an apartment in the same neighborhood where my grandmother and uncle lived, one that was somewhat safe, he moved us to one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in New York. We got our welcoming the following week. One day, while Michelle and I attended school, my father was at work and my mother was running errands. Someone took the door of our apartment off its hinges and carted off our few earthly possessions. No more television—my novelty item lasted for only one week. It was again time to start from square one.

My adjustment was difficult and painful. I was going to a school where I was one of very few white children. This was the sixties, when racial tensions in this country were at a peak. Bewildered, puzzled, confused, I could not understand what was happening and why so many of my fellow classmates harbored such ill feeling towards me. Adding to the dilemma was the fact that I could not yet speak a word of English and could not communicate with anyone. I wanted to be back in my little house in the middle of nowhere, eating the white pasty mush and going to school barefoot.

School was a survivalist camp for me. I was often harassed and beat up while going to and from school. The teachers were themselves lost and had their own battles to survive in the jungle; they offered no help and no way out. I fought back, but I never understood why I was fighting, just trying to survive. During the two years I spent there, it never got easier, but I eventually managed to avoid the craziness that surrounded me by becoming as invisible as possible.

Shortly after we arrived in this country, I decided to become an entrepreneur. Never mind that I was eight years old and could not speak English. That was not going to stop me. There were necessities I needed, such as shoes and clothes, and, from the beginning, I learned to rely on myself for those things. I guess I was not a normal child who craved toys. I made my own from whatever material I could scrounge. I wanted a bicycle, but that was because it created new opportunities to generate income. My first capitalistic venture involved simply standing in front of the supermarket, asking ladies if I could carry their groceries home for them. Perhaps my shabby appearance made them sympathize with me, but I was very successful and would get a dime, a quarter, or sometimes even a dollar! I often did this every day for three or four hours, so I began to see some real money in no time. My parents were never opposed to what I was doing, and to this day I’m not sure if they even knew.

My next venture was to get my mom’s shopping cart and stroll up and down the street, hunting and collecting returnable bottles. This was not as lucrative, since the amount they gave back was small, but I got anywhere from two to six dollars every other day. I found and returned many bottles. As an early recycler, I did a service to the city also, helping to remove trash.

As a result of my effort, in a very short time I was able to buy a bicycle that cost me the princely sum of thirty-six dollars. I bought it by myself, without any adult help. Imagine me doing this when I was just eight years old, no parents involved. This gave me the opportunity to start delivering TV guides, another source of income. That was how I began my career as an entrepreneur. At the time, I was not instructed in the principles of capitalism; to me, this was the instinct for survival that would always serve me well.

We lived in that neighborhood for two years until it was decided that enough was enough. My father was getting mugged on a weekly basis. His earnings were small, but he knew that was all we had, and he never allowed his take-home pay to be taken away from him. He often came home bleeding, beaten to a pulp and with bloody hands, to give my mother his pay. He finally took the advice of his brother, and we moved to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, where we were close to him and my grandmother.

I lived in that neighborhood until I finally left home seven years later. To me, it was an opportunity to go to school and not fear what awaited me. By now, I spoke English pretty well and my assimilation process was much easier. I had lost my sources of income, but that was temporary. I began delivering newspapers and actually got odd jobs. I worked for Robert Kennedy and other political campaigns, handing out flyers. It didn’t seem they cared about my age. I started getting any odd job that I could. Convincing the owner was sometimes difficult and other times not, since I would work for less than minimum wage, which was a tantalizing incentive for many to hire me.

In 1969, I joined the Boy Scouts. It was an opportunity to be in a safe environment and become friends with other kids my age. It was difficult being accepted because I represented a different perspective and reality than did most of my peers. I stuck with it anyway and was glad I did; it was a refuge from the outside world. That summer, the troop I belonged to was planning a trip to Washington, D.C. The cost was reasonable, but my parents were not in the position to pay, nor did they want to give me their support. There was going to be a fund drive to raise money for the trip. It involved selling boxes of candy, and the one who sold the most would win the prize of going on the trip for free. Well, that was all I needed to hear. It was a solution, and it was up to me whether I could go or not. I began an insatiable selling campaign, selling candy at every free moment I had.

We lived in a vast area of tall apartment buildings. Every day after school, I targeted a certain area and went from building to building and door to door. I would knock on the door, and as soon as someone opened it, I would start my memorized sales pitch: “Hi, I’m Marc, and I’m selling Boy Scout candy to help me go on a trip to Washington, D.C. Would you like to buy some?” Most of the time, I did not receive an answer. They would simply either shut the door or, worse, slam it shut on me. That never discouraged me, and I just simply kept going to the next door or next building. I spent over a month selling tenaciously, and I even got mugged once, having all my boxes of candy stolen.

The day I got mugged, the police just so happened to be driving by. I stopped them and told them what had happened, and they let me hop into their cruiser and took me around the neighborhood to look for the perp. We never did find him, so that day represented a severe setback. Now I was not only looking at the prospect of selling enough to win but also to pay for the stolen candy. That was not going to be my downfall. I was determined and just kept on going. In the end, I did win, and I went on the trip with all expenses paid. I not only sold over five hundred boxes of candy for the competition but also enough candy to pay for the boxes that had been stolen. That was who I was, even at that age. I was tenacious and hardworking when I wanted or needed something and never expected my parents or anyone to give things to me. I let nothing stop me or deter me from reaching my goals. That was who I was then and still am today.

The junior high school and high school years were uneventful. I started playing sports on a regular basis and ran track until my sophomore year. When I was not playing sports, I was working. I worked in a pharmacy, a beauty supply store, a deli, and a supermarket as a cashier. I always had a job, and it was not only a necessity but also a way for me to earn my self-respect. I hardly studied in those years, but it did not affect my grades. I always managed to maintain a B-plus or A-minus average with minimal or no effort. Most of the classes I took were honor classes, which demanded more from the student. Fortunately for me, school came easily, and I even managed to get ninety-eight and ninety-six percent in my state algebra and biology exams.

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Genre – True Crime

Rating – PG

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