Our Toms

In between my first music career as a saloon singer and my second one as a children’s singer-songwriter, I spent 7 years as a commercial carpet salesman and estimator. Although it was far from the perfect job for me, I did well, eventually making a six figure income in my twenties.

As a good employee, I learned about all kinds of flooring and the business of selling it from my bosses, a couple named Marvin and Barbara. They took me from knowing nothing about business to being adept at serving the needs of the client and the firm I worked for. I still use some of what they taught me to this day.

As part of my job, I also learned how to read blueprints and physically measure and analyze an office (or building) to correctly bid on a project. This second part required precision, patience and, most importantly, a willingness to ask for advice from those who knew more than me. For the most part, that was my office mate, a unique fellow named Tom Bentley.

That was more than 30 years ago and I wondered, yesterday, “is Tom still alive?” A quick search on Google for his name and hometown didn’t yield any results. Hmmm.

I’d like to hear his voice again, a mix of New England and New York tones. More than that, I’d like to reminisce and thank him for how he helped me – a college kid who graduated with little useful knowledge – to learn a trade that put food on the table.

Melissa Gilbert, the childhood star of “Little House on the Prarie,” was on the radio, yesterday. Beth and I were driving to Callicoon for the farmers market, as we do on Sundays, listening to Melissa talk about her formative years on “Prarie” and her more recent ones as a homeowner in the country.

At one point, Melissa was talking about self esteem and a time when she sat down and made a list of all the things she knew how to do. These included various acting skills, but also making a pie crust, building a chicken coop and lots of other practical homeownery things. It was a long and interesting list.

Being a good carpet salesman and estimator might be my equivalent of building a chicken coop. It wasn’t something I dreamed of doing, but it sure did serve a purpose. And it felt fine to expand my mind and do some work with my hands. I went from knowing nothing about the world of construction to being a guy who could feel at home on a jobsite or in an architect’s office.

It’s a little late, but I want to thank Tom, Marvin, Barbara and the carpet installers and clients who helped the twenty something version of me grow up. Those people shaped me like a sculptor with a stone. I went from “having potential” to an earner, a fellow professional and a colleague. Sure, my willingness and grit were a part of it, but having mentors and guides makes life a whole lot easier.

How about you? Who are your Toms, the folks who gave you a start? They may not be here to thank, but it’s sure nice to think of them and feel grateful.

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