Fun fact: My wife and I both attended all-women’s colleges

Elysha attended Smith College in North Hampton, MA from 1993-1997.

I attended St. Joseph's University in West Hartford, CT from 1996-1999.   

Both of these institutions of higher learning are women's colleges, though St. Joseph's recently decided to admit males beginning next year. 

Elysha attended Smith because she is a woman. 

I managed to attend St. Joseph's University thanks to the exploitation of a loophole.

I was a student at Trinity College in Hartford, CT, but Trinity is a member of the Hartford Consortium for Higher Learning, a college consortium that allowed students at any consortium school to take classes at any other consortium school.

Included in that consortium was St. Jospeh's University.

What normally happened was a Trinity student would discover that he or she needed a specific class that wasn't available during a particular semester. Rather than waiting to take the class or overloading their schedule in a coming semester, the student would find an equivalent class at one of the five consortium schools and take the class there.

When I was in school, the average Trinity College student would never take a class at a consortium school. Most would remain at their home school for the duration of their college career. But occasionally a student would take advantage of the consortium in order to fill a need.   

I merely took advantage of this consortium arrangement to a degree never before seen. While earning an English degree at Trinity, I also enrolled in a full degree program at St. Joesph's University simultaneously, earning an education degree as well. 

Thus I earned my education degree from an all women's college, where I sat in undergraduate classes every day as the only man. 

It wasn't easy. I was also enrolled in an English degree program at Trinity, so I was taking a lot of classes in two different schools while also managing a McDonald's restaurant full time and tutoring students in the Trinity College Writing Center part time. But if you've dreamed of college for all of your life, and you've overcome homelessness and an arrest and trial for a crime you didn't commit, you feel fortunate to be able to work so damn hard. 

My presence in those St. Joseph's classes didn't sit well with everyone. You presumably attend an all-woman's college to avoid having men in your classes. To find me sitting in the back of every one of your classes was frustrating to some, but I made some great friends, too. 

It was quite an experience, and it proved very helpful when I became an elementary school teacher and had to work almost exclusively with women. I learned to operate productively in an all-female environment as one of handful of men. I learned to keep my mouth shut more often than it was open. I learned to collaborate. Listen. I discovered ways to forge positive working relationships with people who were not overly enamored with me.  

I also used my degree from an all-women's college when trying to impress Elysha as we began dating. Knowing how much she adored her experience at Smith, I hoped that this commonality in our educational background might appeal to her. 

I needed all the help I could get. 

Working hard for the money: 2014 update

A few years ago, I posted a list of all the jobs I have held in my life in chronological order. 

It was an interesting exercise that I highly recommend.

Things have changed since I first posted the list, so here is my updated list:

1. Farm laborer, Blackstone, MA: When I was 12-years old, I began working for Jesse Deacon, an aging farmer in need of some help. Every Saturday, I would spend 4-6 hours loading hay onto trailers, mucking stalls, repairing fence lines, and other typical farm chores. I earned $50 a day for the work and was happy to get it.

2. McDonald’s restaurants, Milford, Norwood, Brockton, Hanson, Bourne, MA: My illustrious and rather sordid career with McDonald’s began when I turned 16-years old. My friend, Danny Pollock, heard that the McDonald’s in Milford, MA was hiring, so even though Milford was more than 30 minutes from my hometown of Blackstone, Danny and I drove out there for interviews and were hired on the spot. We started out just above minimum wage, $4.65 per hour. Danny didn’t last long and eventually became a dishwasher across the street, but I stuck, eventually being promoted to manager when I was 17-years old. I can still remember sitting in history class with my professional development binder from McDonald’s, studying for my management exam when I was supposed to be reading about the Great Depression. I stayed with McDonald’s after graduation (college was not an option for me after high school), eventually moving to Norwood with my store manager and later to Brockton, Hanson (where I opened a new store), and Bourne, where I was eventually fired after being arrested for grand larceny.


3. Cobra Marketing, Foxwood, MA: After being fired from McDonald’s, I was hired by Cobra Marketing, a company that marketed consumer products to employees at a variety of businesses throughout the state. I began as a salesman, dropping off samples to businesses early in the week and then returning for orders at the end of the week and earning my salary strictly through commission. I worked in the book division, which meant that the samples I was dropping off to businesses were all books. Eventually I was promoted and was placed in charge of a sales team.

4. Cobra Marketing, Washington, DC: Following my promotion, I was sent to Washington, DC for four months to establish a new office for the company. A team of eight people from Connecticut spent the summer of 1993 living in a two-bedroom apartment in College Park, Maryland. During this time we hired, trained, and put the systems in place that would allow the business to function on its own once we returned to Massachusetts. Having lost the coin toss for one of the two beds in the apartment, I spent the four months sleeping on an air mattress in a walk-in closet with a girl named Kim. It was during this time in Washington that I met Ted Kennedy, shook Cal Ripken’s hand, and was mugged at knife point.

5. South Shore Bank, Stoughton, MA: After returning to Massachusetts and resuming the sales routine, I decided to move on and was hired to work as a teller by South Shore Bank (later Bank of Boston), the same bank that would later testify against me during my grand larceny trial.


6. McDonald’s, Brockton, MA: Needing to pay for my legal defense, I also went to work for a privately-owned McDonald’s restaurant in Brockton, across town from the company-owned store where I had worked years before. My girlfriend at the time was working in the company-owned store, as were the Jehovah Witnesses with whom I was living. I would work at the bank from 7 AM- 4 PM and would then manage the closing shift at McDonald’s, working from 5 PM until 1:00 AM. I did this for eighteen very long months until my trial concluded and I was found not guilty. It was while managing this restaurant that I was robbed at gunpoint.

7. Legal Copy Service, Hartford, CT: Having been found not guilty at my trial, I was free to leave the state, so I moved to Connecticut, chasing a girl and my best friend. I landed my first job at a legal copy service in downtown Hartford. Beginning as a machine operator but unable to stand the monotony of the work, I eventually managed the company’s delivery service until finally quitting after less than four months on the job.

8. The Bank of Hartford, West Hartford, CT: Needing to earn more money, I went back into banking, landing a job at the now defunct Bank of Hartford on Park Road in West Hartford. I was eventually promoted from teller to customer service representative but left after a year when I decided to go to college and was in need of a more flexible schedule.

9. McDonald’s, Hartford, CT: Negotiating a decent salary and a flexible schedule because of my experience and expertise, I went back to work for McDonald’s, this time managing a company owned store on Prospect Avenue in Hartford. I would work from 5 AM- 1PM on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, plus ten hours a day on Saturday and Sunday while going to school, first at Manchester Community College and later at Trinity College and St. Joseph's College.

10. Trinity College, Hartford, CT: While attending Trinity College, I was hired as a writing tutor in the school’s Writing Center. I would spend about three hours each evening teaching freshmen to write a clear and grammatically correct sentences and helping seniors to edit and revise their thesis papers. My name actually appears in the acknowledgements of several thesis papers in the Trinity College library.


11. Jam Packed Dance Floor DJ’s: It was while I was attending Trinity and working for McDonald’s that Bengi and I went into the disc jockey business, entertaining at weddings throughout Connecticut and Massachusetts. We went from booking three weddings in 1997 to 41 weddings in 1998 and have been going strong ever since.

12. Kindergarten tutor, Wethersfield, CT: When I began student-teaching in the spring of 1999, I left McDonald’s for good in order to accommodate the full-day schedule that student-teaching demanded. To supplement the loss in salary, I began tutoring underprivileged kindergarten students for the town of Wethersfield for a period of about six months. The time that I spent with those kids convinced me that kindergarten was not for me.

13. Substitute teacher, New Britain, CT: Having completed my student teaching in early May, I went to work as a full-time substitute teacher in New Britain, the town in which I had done my student teaching. I worked nearly every day until late June, teaching everything from bi-lingual kindergarten to high school physical education.

14. Teacher: In the summer of 1999, I was hired to teach at my current school. I’ve been there ever since.


15. Minister: After becoming ordained by the Universal Life Church, I began conducting wedding ceremonies and baby naming ceremonies as a minister.  Many of the wedding ceremonies (but not all) have been booked in conjunction with the DJ business, and I have since branched out into other areas of ministerial work as well.  One family actually refers to me as their "family minister". 

16.  In 2007, I sold my first book, Something Missing, to Doubleday Broadway and became a professional author. I had made a little money publishing pieces in newspapers, magazines and professional journals prior to the purchase of my novel, but it had never amounted to much. Since then I have also published Unexpectedly, Milo, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, and the upcoming The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs. Writing has become a full time career for me.

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17.  Life coach: After learning about the existence of life coaches from one of my wife's friends, I decided that I was eminently qualified for the job. I began my career as the pro-bono life coach for a colleague and friend but have since been hired by my first client. 

18. Spean Up: In 2013 my wife and I launched Speak Up, an organization dedicated to the art of storytelling. We produce shows in conjunction with Real Art Ways, teach workshops to people interested in improving their speaking and storytelling abilities, and have recently begun schedule shows at outside venues.


19. Tutor: I have tutored off and on for several years but have recently been hired by clients on a more long-term, regular basis.

20. Professional speaker: As a storyteller, I am often paid to take the stage and perform. In addition, I am a member of the Macmillan Speaker’s Bureau and have begun to be hired to speak publicly on a number of topics, including education, motivation, and storytelling.

21. Columnist: In the spring of 2013, I was hired as the humor columnist for Seasons magazine.


There was a time when my blogging brought in a little money each month when I was serving advertising, but nothing has panned out to the point of real profit.

I still have dreams of becoming a professional best man (I have been offered jobs four times but was forced to decline because of distance), a gravesite visitor and a professional double date companion (with my wife). I would also like to earn more money blogging and am currently working on making that happen.

But for now, I’m pretty happy as a writer, a teacher, a life coach, a DJ and an occasional minister.  

Had you asked the ten-year-old version of me what I wanted to be when I grow up, I would’ve said teacher and writer.  For a long time, I said that I wanted to “write for a living and teach for pleasure.”

I’m not there yet, but it’s not as far away as it used to be, either.

What were the three most important decisions of your life?

A recent Quora question asked, “What were the three most important decisions of your life?”

I’ve been debating this question for almost a month, and I have finally settled on three. While many decisions could have occupied these three spots, I decided to favor the toughest and most unlikely decisions of my life rather than the ones that were easy and obvious.

For example, deciding to marry Elysha is probably the most important decision of my life, but it was barely a decision. Who wouldn’t want to marry Elysha if given the chance? It was a no-brainer.

Instead, I found three extremely important decisions in my life that could have gone either way and changed the course of my life forever.

1. Maintaining my innocence when charged with grand larceny and embezzlement.

While being questioned about a crime that I did not commit, the police almost had me convinced to confess to the crime rather than risk a lengthy prison sentence. I spent a minute in a mop closet pondering that decision and ultimately decided to stick to the truth, but it was a close call. The police can apply a great deal of pressure in these moments, particularly when you are a 19 year-old kid without any parents, any money or an attorney.

The result was a brief period of homelessness, 18 months spent working 80 hours a week at two different jobs in order to pay a $25,000 attorney’s bill, a permanent case of post traumatic stress disorder as a result of an armed robbery, and a trial where I was found not guilty.

Had I confessed and accepted their plea deal, I could not have become a teacher. 

2. Choosing West Hartford Public Schools over Newington Public Schools.

In the summer of 1999, my hometown of Newington, CT had offered me a permanent position as third grade teacher in one of their elementary schools. I was asked for a day to consider their offer, but the wait time was merely perfunctory. I was taking the job.

During that 24 hour period, I received a call from a principal in West Hartford requesting an interview. Out of curiosity more than anything else, I agreed to speak to him that day. Three hours later, he had offered me a one year position covering a second grade teacher on maternity leave.

The permanent position in Newington would have been the wise and sensible choice. It was in my hometown and would provide me with long-term stability in a time when teaching jobs were hard to find. But I was impressed by the principal, his commitment to children, and his support for the arts. After much debate, I decided upon the one year position in West Hartford, and 16 years later, I am still teaching in the same school.


That decision changed my life. I met my wife while teaching at that school school. I met five of my closest friends while teaching, including the principal, who has since retired but remains one of my closest friends today. I met my son’s and daughter’s god parents while teaching at that school. Many of my former students are my children’s favorite babysitters, and one of my first students is our primary babysitter and like a member of the family.

I was given the freedom to create a classroom environment that placed reading, writing, and theater at its core, and I have developed a teaching philosophy that has led to much success in my field. I was named Teacher of the Year in West Hartford and was a finalist for Connecticut Teacher of the Year.

I started playing golf, a game that I love beyond all others, thanks to the friends I met at that school, and ultimately wrote a book about it. 

The school’s community, teachers, students, and parents, have become a second family to me. When my job and my future were threatened several years ago, they rallied around me in ways I could have never expected.

3. Saying yes when my best friend asked me to start a wedding DJ company with him.

In 1997, I was attending Trinity College and Saint Joseph's University fulltime, working on degrees in both English and elementary education. I was also managing a McDonald’s restaurant fulltime and tutoring students part-time at the college’s writing center. I was writing for the college’s newspaper. I was the Treasurer of the Student Senate.

I was busier than I had ever been in my life.

Then Bengi called and asked if I wanted to be a wedding DJ, even though we had no experience or equipment or knowledge of the industry, and I said yes.

Seventeen years later, we remain in business. I have entertained at more than 400 weddings in that time. The DJ company has provided me with much needed income through the lean times of my life.


I met one of my best friends while working as the DJ at his wedding, and that friendship has led to me becoming a Patriots season ticket holder. That same friend led me back into writing when I had given up hope on ever becoming a novelist and professional writer.

I would not have a writing career today had it not been for him. 

I unknowingly gained 17 years of public speaking experience, which allowed me to step into the world of storytelling and public speaking three years ago with unexpected ease and success. I won my first Moth StorySLAM in large part to the experience I gained as a DJ.


I have since competed in 24 Moth StorySLAMs in New York and Boston and won 12 of them. I’ve told stories for Main Stage shows and GrandSLAM championships and many other storytelling organizations in New York, Boston and Hartford. I would not be the storyteller and speaker I am today had I not worked for almost two decades as a wedding DJ.

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Telling stories for The Moth led to the founding of Speak Up, the Hartford-based storytelling organization that my wife and I founded last year. In a little over a year, we have produced eight sell out shows, launched a series of storytelling workshops, and have now been approached by outside venues, asking us to take our show on the road.


The DJ business also led to me becoming ordained as a minister. I have presided over almost 20 weddings, one baptism, and three baby naming ceremonies in that time.

I’d love to hear your three most important decisions if you’re willing to share. Post in the comment sections. Send me an email. Contact me through social media.

My English degree finally pays off.

In 1999 I graduated from Trinity College with a Bachelor’s degree in English. Though I’m quite certain that my years of study have contributed to my success as a teacher and a writer, it’s always been difficult to pinpoint exactly how.

An English degree teaches you to read, write and think, but you could already do this before you arrived at school.

College just improved upon those skills. Hopefully. But as far as identifying the moments in your life when those skills specifically acquired in the college classroom were utilized, it’s been impossible.  

Until Saturday night.

Literary Death Match came to Hartford on Saturday night, and after participating as a contestant and losing twice, I served as one of the three judges this time around, along with writer and performer Elna Baker and picture book author Bob Shea. 


I was tapped to be the judge of literary merit.

This meant that I had to comment on the work of the four competing writers by comparing and contrasting their work to other famous works of literature and  commenting on their literary prowess, while also being kind and amusing. 

It was harder than I thought.

Somehow, I managed to make references to Vonnegut, Shakespeare, Saramago, Roth, Updike and Vonnegut's fictional science fiction writer Kilgore Trout.

I was going to make a reference to Virginia Woolf as well, but I decided to keep my vitriol for this author in check in case there were fans in the audience.

It was the first time in my life that I felt my English degree being put to it’s full use. I felt myself flexing my literary muscles in a way I never have before, and damn it, it felt good.

Four years of intense study and thousands of dollars in student loans finally paid off in this literary game show.

Totally worth it.

Cost effective way of attending college

The New York Times recently ran a piece on the soaring cost of college:

For all borrowers, the average debt in 2011 was $23,300, with 10 percent owing more than $54,000 and 3 percent more than $100,000, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports. Average debt for bachelor degree graduates who took out loans ranges from under $10,000 at elite schools like Princeton and Williams College, which have plenty of wealthy students and enormous endowments, to nearly $50,000 at some private colleges with less affluent students and less financial aid.

NPR offered this visual of the increasing costs of higher education:


With justifiable concern over the high cost of a college degree, I find myself constantly reminding people that there are alternatives to the traditional accumulation of debt in pursuit of a college diploma, including the slightly unorthodox path that I took to college.

I began my college career at Manchester Community College in Manchester, CT at the age of twenty-three. I stated college later than most, primarily because the path to secondary education had never been made apparent to me.  Throughout my childhood and during my entire high school career, the word college was never once uttered to me. Not by parents, not by teachers, and not by guidance counselors. For reasons that I will never understand, it was universally determined at an early age that I was not college material. 

So even though I graduated in the top 5% of my high school class, I found myself rudderless and lost after graduation with no plan for the future. I quickly moved out of my childhood home, a process that had begun two years earlier when my parents gave me bath towels, flatware and a microwave oven for my birthday (making it clear what they expected of me), and embarked on a five year journey of difficulty and heartache that ultimately led me back to school.

I attended Manchester Community College for two years, earning an Associates degree in liberal arts. I have attended three other colleges and universities since my days in Manchester, earning degrees at each one, but the best education I ever received was at MCC.   

After graduating from MCC, I enrolled at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. Trinity accepted all but one of my community college credits, meaning that I effectively received two years of Trinity College credit at a community college price.

At the time, tuition at Trinity was about $38,000 per year.

The cost of my two years of community college? Less than $5,000.

A savings of more than $70,000 for the two years.

As a result of my academic performance (top 5% of the class again) and involvement in the MCC community (President of the Honor Society, member of student council, a Truman Scholarship finalist), I was offered immediate acceptance and a sizable scholarships at a number of outstanding schools in the area, including Yale University, but I opted for Trinity College for a number of reasons.

Most important, Trinity was only about fifteen minutes away from home and work. While attending MCC and Trinity, I worked about 50 hours a week managing a McDonald’s restaurant, launching my DJ business and tutoring in the writing center on campus, so proximity to home and work was critical if I was going to succeed.

Trinity also had a program that specifically catered to non-traditional students. Though it did not change my course work in any way, Trinity’s IDP program was designed to help integrate the non-traditional student into campus life as much as possible, and the program made me feel more welcomed and accepted than any of the other colleges I was considering.

Trinity was also a member of the Greater Hartford Consortium of Colleges, affording me access to a number of colleges in the greater Hartford area. This allowed me to earn a degree in English from Trinity while simultaneously earning a teaching degree at St. Joseph’s College, an all-women’s school in neighboring West Hartford that had a solid reputation for turning out excellent teachers. Thus I earned two degrees at two different institutions for the price of one.

Enormous savings.

I attended Trinity College (and St. Joseph’s College) for a total of three years, meaning that I spent a total of five years in college while most traditional students spent four. But I graduated with two degrees (three if you count my Associates degree from MCC), making the extra year well worth it.

I received a number of scholarships from Trinity based upon my academic performance at MCC (another enormous benefit of attending community college first), but I was still responsible for well over half the cost of tuition during those three years of school. I paid for this with student loans, Pell grants, and personal savings, graduating with about $16,000 in debt.

Don’t get me wrong. $16,000 is a lot of money, but it’s not an overwhelming amount of money when paid off over time. Six months after graduating, my loan payments amounted to less than $300 a month.

Absent any parental support or college savings, the cost of a college education could have been astronomical for me. Paying the full cost of four years at Trinity College without the benefit of scholarships would have left me with a debt exceeding $100,000. Though I certainly had to make sacrifices in order to earn my college degree, I did so without crippling my financial future.

While it would have been wonderful to attend college immediately after high school and live on campus for four years, this was simply not a possibility for me after high school. I did things a little differently, and though it set me back by at least five years in comparison to my peers, I also feel like I was much better prepared for college when I finally made my dream a reality. I had spent the previous five years before college struggling immeasurably. I had been homeless, jobless, penniless and had experienced the crushing sadness that comes with the belief that you have no way of making your dreams a reality. When I entered my first college classroom in the fall of 1994, I was ready to work and prepared to excel.

There are many roads to college. Some are easier than others. Some are costlier than others. The crippling debt that so many students graduate with today is not required in order to be successful. It is a choice that is made by students who do not want to compromise on their road to higher education. I respect their decision. I sometimes wish I had made the same decision. But the crushing debt that follows graduation should not come as a surprise. A college education has a cost attached to it, and that cost is made clear before a person ever signs a student loan agreement.  

I remind my students almost every day that anyone can find a way to pay for college, regardless of their family’s financial means. All they need is the desire to succeed and the willingness to work.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.