I lived in New York City in the summer of 1969, as a college student between my freshman and sophomore year; it was also the first of three summers that I would be working at Newel, the firm my grandfather founded in 1939. I had worked as a lifeguard the summer before in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where I grew up, but this would be a summer like no other.
Of course there was Woodstock and those incredible evening concerts in Central Park, which previewed many of those who performed at that great event. Concerts at the Fillmore East were experiences of iconic performers and Greenwich Village was filled with a perpetual smell of incense. However, working full time at Newel was something that was a means to an end. My grandparents paid me with a salary and use of their apartment while they were off to Europe for a full fledged summer of buying and vacation via the luxury of an ocean liner.
Newel was well established with its rental business to Broadway, window display, movies, TV productions, and commercial photographers, along with a select coterie of interior designers shopping our various warehouses filled with massive amounts of inventory. That summer, I was moving, cleaning, wrapping, and learning about antiques, as well as understanding the demand to be a productive worker. My focus on doing my job prevented me from thinking about taking a couple of days off to meet my college buddies at Woodstock.
But living in New York would offer more than a job, or being in the center of a social revolution. It was also a time when I wanted to prepare myself for the fall, and moving up from the freshman soccer team at Lehigh to the varsity. We had an undefeated freshman team and our coach, Tom Fleck, was now the varsity coach (at that time freshman couldn’t play varsity) and I needed to step up my game. Central Park would become my training ground.
Back then, there were soccer field throughout the Park and it was a gathering place for young foreigners who grew up playing the game. I would generally do running in the Park just to keep in shape, but those pickup games were always going on. While I might be the only one who spoke English, they got the message that I wanted to play too. Those summer evenings after work and weekends hanging around the fields would more than make up for any organized practice. This was where I could play in international competition and would be called by my teammates “American, American”. As the only one on those fields who was born in this country, it was an honor to be treated as an equal and share the passion and pleasure of playing a team game that only required skills and mutual respect.
While I might have been an adequate college soccer player, I was not professional material. I was also playing lacrosse in the spring but that also presented limited opportunities for my skill set. Realizing that my academic progress was suffering because of the time needed to commit to two sports, the clear choice became obvious for my junior year. However, that summer also gave me my first opportunity to get my hands dirty by moving antiques and hanging chandeliers. My early training in this business had begun and it is still continuing.