Born into a small, poor and raw Ohio coal mining town during the Great Depression, a young man navigates his way through its macho culture of corruption and rigid attitudes that offered no prospects for a rich life. His family is in a socioeconomic stratum where anything beyond the most basic education is frowned upon and ambition is a foreign concept. Boys and girls born in Beerport – the aptly descriptive nickname for Bridgeport, Ohio – turn into men and women who live out their lives as their parents did.
Shy and sickly, the boy wanted to be accepted by his peers…but felt out of place. Still, as the culture demanded, he eventually grew strong and aggressive in sports and learned to face physical encounters. To make money, he grew proficient at less than honest schemes, including pool hustling. He excelled at street smarts, but was a poor student in school.
He was an early reader and books exposed him to worlds far different from the one he lived in. Most everyone close to him thought his reading was a waste of time and belittled it. Though he was confused and full of self-doubt, there were a precious few mentors who quietly encouraged him. They included an unusual bartender and an attractive older girl, with whom he had an intense, on again, off again, love relationship. These two believed he could become more than he was.
His journey of self-discovery began with hitchhiking out of town and taking on tough, physically demanding jobs. He discovered he could succeed at unfamiliar challenges. In the Navy, during the Korean War, his superiors were impressed by his experience molded traits – tenacity, veracity, and standing up to those who would intimidate others… and he was unexpectedly rewarded with leadership roles. Even more surprising was being selected for special training after scoring high in tests given to every recruit. After barely and half-heartedly graduating from high school, navy training made him aware that he had a brain.