I was born in East Cambridge, Massachusetts (yes, Our Fair City). I spent most of my "formative years," as they say, on Harding Street. This was the greatest neighborhood on the planet. Kids everywhere. Just hangin' out. Nothing much happened. Just good times. (My wife insists that if I had had a normal (i.e., abusive) childhood, I wouldn't be plagued with those continual bouts of raucous laughter.) I went to the Gannett School and then the Wellington School and then CHLS— Cambridge High and Latin School.
From then on, it was downhill. I went to MIT— or the "Tute," as we used to call it. I turned down Harvard, because MIT gave me $200 bucks more for scholarship money, and that was big bucks back in 1880.
Boy, I hated MIT. I worked my butt off for four long years. The only thing that saved my sanity was the 5:15 Club, named, I guess, for the guys who didn't live on campus and took the 5:15 train back home. Yeah, right—5:15, my tush! I never got home before midnight! And when I say "guys" it's because back then there were no females at MIT (to my knowledge, at least. I do remember some club that was presumably for female students. I never saw anyone easily identifiable as a female enter or leave the room. I won't say anything else. I walked around the campus in a complete funk for weeks, seeing only nerds- and I mean NERDS! Man, was I depressed. Until one day I stumbled upon the 5:15 Club. Guys were laughing, yelling, shooting pool and playing poker. I had found my home.
I actually managed to graduate and serve time in the U.S. Army. I could have been an officer. But I wasn't. I had spent several years in the U.S. Air Force ROTC and was recommended for the "advanced corps," (i.e., sign up for four years in the air force and we'll make you an officer). People told me this was quite an honor. I went to the interview. I flunked. And I know why. At one point, one of the very serious officers asked me this penetrating question. He said, "Cadet Magliozzi. When you entered MIT you had a choice of army ROTC or air force ROTC. Why did you choose the air force?" I pondered for a moment and answered with a straight face, "Because, Captain, I look so much better in blue than brown. Don't you think?" I got the rejection letter a week later. They couldn't take a joke.
So, after graduation, I had to do six months of active duty to fulfill my army reserve requirement...or get drafted for two years! I spent my six months in Fort Dix, New Jersey, India Company, Fourth Training Regiment. With my good pals Sergeant McNeeley and Sergeant Torres. Boy, was I a great soldier. I was always in trouble because I couldn't shut up. I had KP (that's kitchen patrol for you conscientious objectors) once a week. One night, from midnight to 6 a.m., I peeled 6,000 pounds of potatoes!
Every Saturday morning after our little trek through the woods of New Jersey, Sgt. McNeeley would come into the barracks and announce, with his deep-fried Southern accent, "Everyone will go on pass this weekend...except Praaaaaavit Magggleeeeozzzzi." I'd laugh like hell. That really pissed him off.
After completing my six months of active duty (most of which I served as a cook) I entered the corporate world. I worked for Sylvania's semiconductor division in Woburn. Those were the days when everyone cheered when we got a transistor that worked. The important lesson I learned there was never to take a job without first hanging around the place for a couple of days. What a lousy job.
Six months later I went to work for the Foxboro Company in Foxboro, MA. This was good, mostly. I had a series of superb jobs, starting in the international division and working for one of the sweetest people I've had the pleasure to know on this planet, a guy named Russ Milham. After a while, I became Far East administrator, visiting such wonderful places as Taiwan, Singapore and the Philippines. Then I became the company's long-range planner. What a great job. Feet on my desk, contemplating the future. (It was about this time that I discovered the secret of multiple offices. Whenever they couldn't find me, they'd say, "Oh, he must be in his other office." Right.)
You'd think that with a plum like this I'd be in seventh heaven. But the schlep was getting to me— an hour each way. I couldn't move to Foxboro, because it was nowheres-ville. I HAD to live in Cambridge (my Fair City). BUT, what finally did it was a tractor-trailer truck that almost did me in on Route 128 on my way to work one day. Shaking in my little MGA after that experience, I asked myself a simple question. "If I had bought the farm out there on Route 128 today, wouldn't I be bent at all the LIFE that I had missed?" I drove to work, walked into my boss's office, and quit.
My boss was convinced that I had taken a job with a competitor. He just couldn't understand the actual truth. Life was the issue.
I do miss the guys at Foxboro: Chick Nightingale, Doug Carey, Mike Huston, Norm Rice, Henry Desautel, Norm Robillard. Speaking of Norm Robillard—Norm decides one day that my life is not complete because I'm not a skier. So he's going to fix that. He takes me skiing one NIGHT after a FREEZING RAINSTORM and tells me, "It's easy. Don't bother with the lessons. Just follow me." I spent the night in the hospital and the next two months on crutches. I think of Norm often. Every time my knee collapses and I fall down in the street.
Anyway, two weeks after I quit the Foxboro Company, I was learning the fine art of "hanging out" in Harvard Square, drinking coffee. I did that for a year. Life was good. It's amazing how little money it takes to live when you don't have any (and don't want any!). Just the money I was saving not getting my shirts done was enough to live on. Odd jobs was the answer. Here was the best one (one of the two or three truly GREAT ideas I've had in my life): I was living in an apartment building that was loaded with single women. But how to meet them? Well, get this. If your apartment needed painting, the owners of the building would supply the paint but they wouldn't supply the labor. I went into the painting business. My marketing effort consisted of a small sign in the laundry room: "I'll paint your apartment--$50 a room." (You may think $50 was too low. But it was all I could afford!) The phone rang off the hook. Life was good.
Another one of the odd jobs I stumbled upon while self-unemployed was the International Marketing Institute. Would I mind going to Saudi Arabia for a month or two to teach in an "executive development program"? Would I mind? Were they kidding? I realize in retrospect that they couldn't find anyone who had a free month or two. Why? Because all the qualified people had, what? Jobs! (I forgot to mention that while working at Foxboro, I had gotten an MBA and had been teaching part-time at various universities around Our Fair City.)
Anyway, I taught for IMI for many years and got to see some more of the wonderful places on the planet (does the name Kuala Lumpur mean anything to you?). And got to meet another one of the nicest guys I know—Jack Enright.
A little aside: Every once in a while one of these exotic places would come up in conversations with Dougie Q. Berman (the esteemed producer of our radio show). I'd say, "I remember one time when I was in (insert some exotic place)..." And Dougie began to wonder under what circumstances I had visited all these places. So my brother and I concocted this story about my years in the CIA and how I'm now in the Witness Protection Program. Dougie buys it. Then Jay Leno calls and asks us to be on the "Tonight Show." Dougie tells them that we can't do the show unless they agree to put one of those black dots over my face. After that, we told him the truth.
Anyway, life is good. I'm painting apartments, bopping around Kuala Lumpur, and then along comes my deadbeat brother. He had been teaching science someplace up in Vermont. And when the Vermonters ran him over the border, he came to Cambridge looking for a job. I made the mistake of telling him about one of the two or three great ideas I've had in my life: a do-it-yourself auto repair shop. I had actually thought this up while at the Foxboro Company, contemplating long-term trends. I put together the trend of higher and higher auto repair costs with the fad of everyone (hippies, mostly) "getting into it," you know? And—baddabing, baddaboom—out comes DIY Auto Repair. "GREAT," says my brudder. "Let's do it."
"What are you, nuts?" I say to him. "It's the W word. I don't go to W anymore. I drink coffee and paint the apartments of beautiful women. Flake off." But since he was totally unemployable and his wife was with child, he talked me into it. And so was born Hacker's Haven (that name was another of my truly great ideas. In those pre-PC [I mean personal computer, not politically correct] days, a hacker was someone who didn't know what the hell he was doing but gave it a try anyway). A haven for hackers. How sweet it is.
So we did it. We lost money but we had a blast. And two very important events occurred during this time (which makes the DIY idea even better than great). The first was that, since our business was new and different, people knew about us and we were asked to take part in a panel of automotive experts at WBUR, the Boston NPR affiliate. I was the only one who showed up (a panel of one?), and pretty soon the auto radio show was Ray's and mine.
What is more important, I met the woman who is now my wife. WOW. What a woman! Suffice it to say that the web of coincidences, events and luck that led to our meeting explains all we need to know about the cosmos, nirvana and karma.
Also, to supplement my meager income at the garage, I worked a day or so a week at a small consulting company in Boston. Technology Consulting Group was a company owned by an MIT classmate of mine—Mike Brose.
So there I was: garage mechanic, university instructor and consultant. I was tired. It was beginning to feel like the W word. So I sat down in the Square one day and said, "How does one avoid the big W? Who makes a living without having to work?" And it came to me. College professors!
So, in addition to working at the garage, consulting and teaching, I became a student in the doctoral program at Boston University. It took me nine long years to earn the privilege of being called "Doctor." (Although I must admit that "Doctor STUPEY" just doesn't quite have the ring that I imagined while I was slaving away on my dissertation.)
By the way, while I was busting my cookies sitting at my computer day and night writing my dissertation, my wonderful daughter Lydia sends me a card with the following poem (for which you need to know that my initials are TLM. The T is for Thomas, the L is for Louis—after my father—and the M...well, you get the idea).
OH, WHEN DEADLINES ARE CLOSE,
MOTIVATION IS LOW
AND YOU'RE WISHING FOR FAIT ACCOMPLI,
WITH YOUR KEYBOARD IN HAND
AND YOUR NOSE TO THE SCREEN,
PICTURE THIS...TLM, PHD.
Finally I made it. I put on the robes, they called me "Doctor" (for one day), and I got a job as a real college professor. It was good. For about eight years.
But suddenly (actually it happened gradually, but I didn't know it) it was over. I reached (through deep thought, meditation and prayer) a miraculous epiphany: Teaching sucks.
So I quit. The dean begged me not to, so I stayed. And then I quit AGAIN. And now I am fully quit. I'm very happy.
That just about takes me up to now. I'm doing the radio show, ranting and raving on the World Wide Web, writing half of this book, doing odd jobs (know anyone who needs her apartment painted?), and drinking coffee in Harvard Square. Some people ask if I've spent my whole life in Boston.
I say, "Not yet."