My career in education goes back more than 40 years. In the middle of October, 1969, the Mets were showing just how Amazin they were by beating the Baltimore Orioles in the final game of the World Series. Mayor of NYC Lindsay was taking a few moments away from watching the game on a backstage tv as he handed me a silver medal commemorating my winning the Best Essay on fire Prevention in the 5 boroughs. As soon as school began that following Monday I started my first tutoring business, charging my fellow 2 graders a quarter each for my help with their writing assignments or math homework. I even invested the proceeds well, buying packs of baseball cards and comic books with my quarters that I would later sell for fistfuls of paper money.
I continued teaching and tutoring until I graduated Ranney School in Tinton Falls. I was 5th in my class of 35 little geniuses and got into Brandeis University early decision in 1979. Like so many of my generation I spent too long trying to find myself, experimenting with all sorts of different possible careers. But through it all I taught, tutored, and thought about education daily. I ultimately finished with a degree in Psychology from Brandeis and then two years of hard core science classes at U of Florida in the post-baccalaureate pre-med program they had in that huge school down south.
I remember feeling smugly satisfied with myself in the early spring of 1987. It was April 9, my brother's birthday, and it was an unusually warm day in Burlington, Vermont. A light, steady drizzle was coming down, but compared to the deluge of the previous night, it was fairly nice. I opened the swinging glass door to the huge hospital and held it for my father and followed as he walked up to the reception desk. "Dr. Eisenstein, class of 1960," he said to the petite redhead behind the desk. She smiled shyly and handed him an ID badge.
I have always had a fondness for redheads so I said in what I thought was a flirty tone, "David Eisenstein, prospective class of 1991." I guess it wasn't as flirty as I thought because she handed me the same ID tag with the same small smile she had given my father and turned back to her work.
I followed my father down the stairs and stayed with him through a long hallway past the bright chrome of the first set of elevators to a single, drably painted freight elevator near the back of the building. We rode up to the third floor, stepped out and made two quick right turns and stood facing a door with a sign that read, “Psychology Department” on it. He pushed it open without knocking, walked to the desk and hugged the old woman there as she stood up. “Larry,” she said with a warm smile, “it’s so good to see you. Peter is on the phone but he will be right out.”
Peter Vongstein was the chairman of the Psychology Dept of both the medical school and the attached hospital. He looked like a taller, thinner clone of my father with the same studious air, horn rim glasses and thinning hair. Even his voice had the same warm baritone smoothness that my father’s voice had. “So, tell me why you want to go to our medical school David,” he said without preamble.
I fumbled through a long winded answer covering all the things the books had said were important to say in an interview, including how I had aced my MCAT exams and gotten straight As in all my classes for the past two years, and ended with a more personal note about how I wanted to continue my family’s legacy. He took off his glasses, bit lightly on one end of the frames and then pointed them at me. “That was quite an answer. How long did it take you to memorize all that? Just kidding. But seriously, what I’m not hearing is anything about a love of medicine. Let me pass on to you the best piece of advice my father ever gave me.” His eyes went distant for a few seconds as if he were reminiscing, then continued, “If you don’t love what you do on Monday morning, you’re in the wrong line of work.”
“Great,” I thought with dawning regret, “Where were you with this advice 8 yrs ago?”
I went from a respectable man with a sure future as a successful doctor to a fancy free gadfly in about 3 seconds. Suddenly I had the freedom to do anything I wanted to do. I had done a few stand up bits at the local comedy club and enjoyed the endorphin rush of performing immensely, and I still had a vague dream in the back of my head of writing sitcoms with a group of like-minded guys in Hollywood. So, three months later I was chasing that dream across the country in my red, un-air conditioned Toyota Corolla FX with all my things, my cat, and my best friend Paul passing through Needles, AZ. I wiped the sweat from my upper lip, turned towards Paul and said, “Better passing through Needles than having needles passed through you.”
Paul groaned. “Please don’t use that joke in your comedy act,” he said as he scribbled the line onto the pad we were writing down all the jokes we came up with on.
By the time we pulled up to my new, Beverly Hills adjacent apartment we had filled six pages front and back and I thought sarcastically that we must have had at least two good jokes amidst all the groaners.