When I was 5 or 6 years old, my father would take me to the meat plants on Saturday just as his father had done with him. He had a clear plan to get me to love the meat business, though every once in a while he would stumble.
At 11, I was told that I was old enough to work summers at the plant. I argued that I was too young and that it was unfair; I wanted to play baseball and be with my friends. My father then proceeded to tell me that he had started working when he was 9 and that what he did, I would do. Fortunately, thanks to my mother, I got a reprieve for
Before I started working, my father told me the rules: "Don't do this - don't do that. Everyone will know what you do since you are the son of the president." Then he added, "And don't get involved with any of the girls at the plant." This was not what an adolescent boy wanted to hear. Somehow though, the girls must have known "the rules," because they teased me unmercifully.
Surprisingly, working summers began my love affair with the meat business. Fortunately I had bosses who taught me and protected me - mentors whose messages became indelibly printed in my mind. But that didn't stop me from making beginner mistakes.
One day when I was working with Willie on the frankfurter blender, the rest period bell rang and Willie left for break. While he was gone for coffee, I decided to scrape out the blender so we could get a good start when he returned. I got it all cleaned, but unfortunately I left the wood and rubber scraper inside the blender. When Willie returned from break,
he automatically turned on the blender and added the meat to make more frankfurters. The good news was the wood on the scraper disappeared.
The bad news was that the rubber did
not emulsify and it produced black
specks throughout the meat. Willie, swearing in his broken English, said the meat was ruined and that it had to be thrown away. You can imagine how I felt. I had permanently damaged the family name (even though it was only $100 worth of meat). Then, the plant superintendent decided to really teach me a lesson by making me examine 1000 lbs. of returned pork sausage. I had to open each bag of sausage and smell it to see if it was spoiled. The good sausage would be saved and the bad sausage thrown away. The first 10 bags were rancid and gassy and I flinched every time I brought a bag towards my nose. Soon my sense of smell was gone, and after that, every bag went into the bad pile.
I made countless other rookie mistakes that were easily forgiven when you were a teenager. I rarely made the same mistake twice, but I sure did keep making new ones. One year I went to a Christmas party at the plant and it seemed perfectly safe until one of the 'sausage girls' asked me to dance. Thinking nothing of it, and being a college student, I figured I could handle this. I never anticipated that I was going to be seduced on the dance floor and then invited to join my partner in the smokehouse. Fortunately, one of the foremen came over and rescued me and the family honor remained intact.
When the business was sold in 1969, I had a 'heart to heart talk' with myself about what I wanted to do and how I was going to do it. I knew I wanted to be president of a big meat company. I also knew that I didn't have the patience or political skills to work my way up the organizational ladder. So I decided that I should become a meat consultant. In that role, I could interact with the leaders of the industry and get a birds-eye view of their companies. Most importantly, I would be able to avoid 'company politics'. Then, when a top job would open up, I would be well positioned for it. The plan worked, and three times in the next 25 years, I left the consulting business to become president of a meat company (Crown Packing, John Morrell, and Swift & Co).
But in 1987 everything changed. I separated from my wife and was fired from my job. I took a deep breath and thought where do I go from here? My decision was to go back to music.
I started composing again and wrote a Broadway musical (not produced) called "Before, During and After" about a failed marriage. In one year I wrote 18 songs. But it wasn't meant to be, so the musical went into the Slotkin archives.
But my love affair with composing continued. Over the past 14 years, I was fortunate to work with a great musical talent, Forever Fields, who arranged my songs and performed the piano solos. In this time, I have written and recorded over 100 songs.
Some people visit a new place and write about it - others paint it. I describe it by composing a song.