Skip to content

Danny gets me a job and changes my life

My friend, Danny, passed away recently. On Saturday, I’ll be attending his funeral.

Danny and I spent thousands of hours together as teenagers, doing what teenage boys do once they get a driver’s license and discover girls. He is one of the primary reasons I look back upon my teenage years with such fondness.

When I was feeling lost and alone, Danny appeared and saved my life.

Danny is also directly responsible for the course of my life.

When I was seventeen and Danny was sixteen, Danny decided to get a job and start earning money, and he told me to do the same. I had been working at a farm on Saturday morning, mucking stalls, loading hay, cutting fields, and the life, but I had never considered applying for a real job.

Honestly, it felt a little scary. I wondered if anyone would hire me and, if they did if I would be any good.

Danny pushed me, insisting that it was time to start working part-time and earning money so we could have more fun.

Finally, reluctantly, I agreed.

I thought of applying at White Hen Pantry, a convenience store in our hometown of Blackstone, Massachusetts, just three minutes from my home.

But Danny had discovered that the McDonald’s restaurant in Milford – ten miles north – was paying 50 cents above minimum wage:

$4.25/hour instead of $3.75/hour

I had never even been to Milford before. To my small-town sensibilities, it felt like a billion miles away.

Danny pushed me again, insisting that the money was worth the effort, so despite the distance and additional time, I agreed to drive to Milford to apply for a job. Danny and I were interviewed on the spot by the restaurant’s general manager – an intelligent, tough, no-nonsense woman named Diane Frotten – and were hired immediately.

That small decision changed my life.

I began working at McDonald’s the next day and quickly climbed up the fast food ladder, being promoted to manager while still in high school. Craving attention and validation all my life, I found a place that recognized my talent, skill, and work ethic.

For the first time, I felt surrounded by people who thought I could be something.

I was attending classes in a high school where no one had ever spoken the word “college” to me or seemed to think of me as worthy of an academic future. In fact, no one had ever spoken to me about anything after high school. I was drifting through my senior year, terrified of the future. While my classmates were counting down the days until graduation, I was dreading every moment.

But at McDonald’s, things felt differently. I was seen as someone who could run a business – manage inventory and payroll, hire and terminate employees, maintain and repair equipment, manage crew members young and old, and maintain profitability – all at the age of 17.

It was only fast food, but at the time, it was everything to me.

I met my future best friend, Bengi, two weeks later during a Saturday morning shift. Many other new friends followed, some of whom remain my friends today. I found an entirely new crew of teenage pals at McDonald’s, and my life became so much better and brighter because of it.

Two years later, Bengi and I moved in together when he decided to live off campus while attending Bryant College, and I was kicked out of my home after graduating high school.

Bengi didn’t know it then, but his offer to move in together saved my life.

When Bengi moved to Connecticut to pursue a career at Traveler’s Insurance, I was forced to stay behind. I had been arrested, jailed, and was awaiting trial for a crime I did not commit. I eventually became homeless, but when I was finally back on my feet and found not guilty, I visited Bengi in Connecticut for the weekend. We attended a Def Leppard concert, where I met a girl who would eventually bring me to Connecticut permanently.

It was here in Connecticut that I would finally make it to college, earn an English and teaching degree (while managing a McDonald’s in Hartford), find my first teaching job (the same teaching job 25 years later), and eventually meet Elysha at a faculty meeting in August of 2001.

None of this happens if Danny doesn’t propose we get jobs to pay for gas and girls.

None of this happens if Danny doesn’t drag me to McDonald’s with the promise of a larger paycheck.

None of this happens if Danny doesn’t push me into expanding my life.

Danny didn’t last long at McDonald’s. Instead, he went to work across the street at a full-service restaurant as a dishwasher. After my shift at McDonald’s, I sometimes went to his job and washed dishes for free to hang out with him.

When I graduated from high school, Danny still had a year of high school left, so we began to drift apart. I was living on my own, 30 minutes away from Danny and my hometown, and while he was still absorbed in all of the glory of a senior year of high school, I was eating elbow macaroni, struggling to heat our home, and learning to become an adult.

By the time Danny graduated high school, we were living different lives. We stayed in touch and hung out whenever we could, but that difference of a single year in age pushed us apart, and we never managed to reconnect fully.

But I often think about that drive to Milford with Danny. I often recall that interview with Diane Frotten in the side lobby of a McDonald’s that has since been replaced by an entirely new McDonald’s. I can still recall the nervousness I felt while being interviewed for the first time in my life, and I can remember – like it was yesterday – the drive back to Blackstone with Danny, blasting music from the radio in my Datsun B-210 and imagining what we would do with our first paychecks.

Danny had no idea how one tiny decision – to open the door for me to a job and a place and a new life – would change my life forever. He had no idea at the time how he was expanding my life by pushing me forward when I was still uncertain and afraid.

Years ago, while walking the trails of our former Scout camp during alumni weekend, I thanked Danny for changing my life.

He tried to downplay his role, but I didn’t allow it. We need people in our lives who push us forward, challenge our boundaries, and expand our possibilities. Danny did that for me in 1987, so I told him how grateful I was to him.

I should’ve thanked him a thousand times more.