True Panther label founder Dean Bein remembers the hard work of his semester-long sabbatical from college.
The semester after my sophomore year at Oberlin, I decided to drop out to learn carpentry. Throughout high school I’d been into punk and hardcore, playing self-booked shows across the country with my kind of crappy band. Like most idealistic punk kids, I placed a lot of value on self-sufficiency, self-reliance and cobbling together a life (or art) using limited resources. I’d chosen Oberlin because it felt like the least collegiate of the colleges I’d gotten scholarships from, but even its general encouragement of non-institutional learning and motto of “Learning and Labor” didn’t allay my general skepticism. I didn’t trust or respect my professors, and instead, concerned myself mostly with setting up shows and fooling around at the radio station. I was convinced that college was just a watered-down version of the “city life” I’d known back home in San Francisco—I was wasting my time. My best friend at school, Sam Halterman, felt the same way, so after sophomore year, we turned in our withdrawal papers and got jobs as apprentice carpenters with one of his friends in Philadelphia.
After a few months back home that summer, I took a four-day Amtrak ride to Philly. I got off at the station, rode my two boxes and a suitcase on a skateboard over to my friend’s house, spent my last $75 on a pair of steel-toe boots and dove into my 7AM-3PM, five-to six-day work week, converting an abandoned warehouse into a luxury condo. I quickly learned that I love the smell of freshly cut wood and the sound of breaking glass. I also learned how to build cabinets, install sliding door tracking and endure carrying an appalling amount of drywall up five flights of stairs. Because of the hours, I didn’t go out at night, so I didn’t make many friends my age. I got along with my coworkers pretty well, and, as always, I found common ground through music. Mario, one of the carpenters, would invite Sam and me over to his house in North Philly after work on Fridays to watch MTV and drink Hennessey. The head carpenter, Bradley, was a Pavement fan. Bill, a laborer, was an old New York hardcore guy who would share Sick of It All stories while teaching Sam and me how to lay drywall. And there was Mitchell, a lifelong Deadhead who took up plastering because it was a good way to make money between tours, “no matter how burned out you are.” He told me stories about going to see Ween play Deadhead parties in New Jersey basements. It was a really happy and simple time in my life.