The first two years were not easy. I had no money when I started at the University of Illinois. I had a scholarship, but it covered only tuition and fees, which those days amounted to $73 a semester. My family couldn't help, and I had no savings, so it meant taking three jobs the first year.
To cover rent, I lived in a spare bedroom (hardly more than a large closet) in a retired speech professor's house, in exchange for being their housekeeper. He and his wife seemed to me the most slovenly people on the planet, and you-know-who had to pick up after them. The arrangement did not work out well on either side.
To get food in my belly, I was a waiter in a fraternity house full of obnoxious Illinois farm boys. The job provided 13 meals a week. Because we were in the kitchen most of the time, the waiters and dishwashers could swipe extra food, which we did without the slightest scruple while the cook looked the other way on purpose.
When the frat boys were too snotty, which was often, we would "accidentally" spill things on them. Chili was my favorite because it was always really hot -- a person would probably get sued for doing something like that now. The main virtue of this job was that I got enough milk and bread, which had been staples of my diet since I was quite young and still are to this day.
You had to have cash, of course. I spent ten hours a week in a stiflingly hot room under the roof of the University Library (a very impressive place, though), pressing a pedal, turning the page, pressing the pedal, over and over, putting thousands of pages of bound volumes of yellowing newspapers onto microfilm. Not exactly zippy work, and only 75 cents an hour. Somehow I got through.
An interesting side note on that job was that I spent weeks filming an afternoon daily called The Capital Times, from Madison, Wisconsin, never dreaming that in three years I would live there and be a Cap Times subscriber myself. I read all about the Lindbergh flight, the kidnapping of their baby, the trial of Bruno Hauptmann, etc., instead of just turning the pages.
It was from this same paper that I learned the fascinating word "yeggs," which means robbers. Newspaper headline writers always need fun words like that.
Through all this frantic three-job hustle I was in the School of Music, studying piano and harpsichord, music theory, music history, and academic subjects. A weekly lesson on each instrument meant I had to practice many hours, as well as go to classes, study, and work. I've often wondered why I didn't die at age 18!
I left the Music School at the end of the first summer (a long story, told elsewhere), and since I had moved from the Sloppy Professor's house into a rooming house ($6/week rent), I needed a better job that paid cash to make ends meet. "Better" would be a stretch, of course.
I got 85 or 90 cents an hour for working in the mail room of the University Library, opening 50-60 sacks of mail that arrived every day containing periodicals. The library then subscribed to more than 15,000 periodicals, so there was quite a bit of work. We had to open the packages, sort the stuff out by which collections it went to, and deliver it.
The problem was the supervisor, who was one of those archetypal biddies and totally tyrannical. My fellow in suffering was an Italian guy whose English was completely unintelligible, but we had German in common. My German still has an Italian accent, I'm told. He was the son of a famous critic (Mannes Sperber) and a psychiatrist (Miriam Sperber; later on I would see her professionally). We told each other filthy jokes and were otherwise brats, all in the foreign language, which annoyed the hell out of this supervisor person. It was the only bad job I've had that was fun.
The next year I got my first computing job, and life slowly started to get easier in the material sense.