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Beautiful Dreamer


SILVER SUNSETS 2

My father is back.  He’s forty-five-years-old.  He looks just like himself, except he’s learned not to smoke.  He’s learned a lot of things in heaven, not the least of which is how to be a better human being.  Ever since he died in 2006, I have thought of my father as Morton rather than my father.  As you might have guessed, Morton and I were not exactly bosom buddies before this new version came along.

This new Morton has a beautiful new wife who is not my mom.  She’s a brunette, tall, with a model’s figure, and she’s smart and very good at human relations.  She has to be to get along with Morton.  She doesn’t take abuse from anyone, including Morton.  She is a deeply rooted human being who can correct Morton when he gets mean or when he gets too into his work and forgets to be a person.  Her name is Jennifer.  Her maiden name is Jennifer Ward-Allen.  She’s from a mixed Jewish and Irish family, which is odd.  Her hair is red and her complexion is fair.  She has green eyes.  She doesn’t look Jewish, but she is Jewish, which works for Morton.  Jennifer exudes an inner as well as an outer beauty.    Although I had no problem with my original mother, I sense that this woman is much more caring, present and aware.

Jennifer is divorced from a man who is very successful in the field of Enterprise Software Management.  He also dabbles in the production of live stage plays.  His name is Arthur Samuelson.  To Jennifer’s shock and amazement, Samuelson kept two serious character flaws secret from Jennifer for three and a half years.  In addition to his entrpreneurial skills, the man turned out to be a philanderer and a lush.  It occurs to me  if Jennifer had met and married the old Morton, I don’t think she would have been any happier than she was with Samuelson, but for very different reasons.  Morton was definitely not a drunk or a cheater.  He had many good qualities, and some others that were much less appealing, but that’s too long a story to tell here.  We have to get back to business, as Morton likes to say.

Last week, I went to sleep as a seventy-year-old family man, and woke up as a twenty-five-year-old single man.  After recovering from the shock of looking in the mirror, I take stock of my surroundings.  I quickly discover that I’m not living in the beautiful home my wife, Bonnie, has made for me.  It’s a sterile apartment where I used to live in North Miami.  The place has since been torn down and redeveloped into two luxury condo towers, but now it’s back to being an aging complex known as “The Summer Winds Apartments.”

My first concerns as a twenty-five-year-old are for my wife and daughter.  Will I ever meet my loyal and devoted wife Bonnie again?  If I do, will we have our precious daughter, Danielle?  As I contemplate these disturbing eventualities, the phone rings.  I go into the galley-sized kitchen to answer it.

“Hello?”

“This is your father calling.  Remember me?”

“Who is this?  You have some nerve calling and impersonating my father.  If you are a telemarketer,  I’m going to report you to the FTC and the Florida Attorney General’s office, and to any other law enforcement agency that will listen.”

“Calm down, David. It’s really me.”

“How can it be you?  You died thirteen years ago.”

“It’s me, son.  You kept thinking about the good times we had with the racing stable after we sold the business and you got married.  You were wishing for those good times again.  You were wishing you could be young again.  Well, someone up there must like you, because I’m back, stronger than ever. You remember that Wall-Tex commercial where they used that slogan after they settled the plant workers strike.”

“How can I forget?  How can I forget anything we did?  But how can this be you?  You expect me to believe this is some kind of miracle?”

Morton sighs heavily.  “Oy vey, David. Don’t make this harder than it has to be.”

“Okay.  If you’re my father, then what was the name of the horse we owned that won the In-Reality Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes?”

silver-sunsets

“The last shall be first.”

“His name was Silver Sunsets.”

“How did he run?”

“He came from dead last at the quarter pole to first place at the wire.”

“Oh my God.  It’s really you.”

“Live and in living color, my boy.  Now, can we get down to business?”

Morton asks me if I might be interested in doing marketing for his new company.

The company is a custom packaging manufacturer equipped with an expert design team and all of the latest online ordering applications.  The company’s potential is worldwide and unlimited.  Morton plans to develop a top notch, multi-lingual sales force under one roof using state-of-the-art, virtual training programs.  He tells me to be ready to work if I come on board, because, “You know I don’t settle for anything except hitting our goals, and I set high goals, in case you forgot.”

I say, “How could I ever forget.”  He says, “Good.  Show up to meet this guy at nine at such and such a place.”

I meet Morton’s new Vice President of Marketing and CEO.  He has the combined personality of two of my previous bosses, plus, I sense that he’s better at making money than either of them.  He just understands what is required to make money.  He has the instincts and the knack for it that can’t be taught, just like Morton.

The guy’s name is Guy Pearce, like the actor.  He’s thirty-two with brown hair and hazel eyes.  Incredibly, he bears a striking resemblance to the actor.  When I ask him if he is THE GUY PEARCE, he shakes his head and says, “never heard of the guy, I mean, you know, that Guy.”  “Funny,” I say.  “You look just like him.”  Then I ask him if he’s seen the HBO version of the movie “The Time Machine” starring Pearce.   He just stares right through me.  This Guy is a no nonsense guy.

THE TIME MACHINE

Pearce asks me what I’ve been doing.  I show him a paperback edition of “Micromium: Clean Energy from Mars.”  I show him my website, my blog, the digital book, and the audio book.  I show him the other two digital books I’ve written, “Scarlet Ambrosia” and “Three Days to Darkness.”  I talk about how I conceived Micromium, wrote it, and created four versions of it.  He reads the copy on the back.  He asks me what I did in my last job.  It seems like the last honest job I had was in a previous incarnation.  I don’t tell that to Pearce.  I tell him the highlights of Fulfillment Online and Business Cards Online, two proprietary, ground-breaking online ordering applications that I marketed at a direct mail, printing, and fulfillment company my family owned.  I tell him I created a mailer that landed more than fifty Fortune Five Hundred Companies as clients.  I tell him that I have created just about every type of marketing and communications campaign imaginable at the two previous companies where I worked as marketing director.  I conveniently leave out the fact that my previous bosses were instrumental in my success.

He picks up the Micromium full color print edition and tells me, “This right here shows me that you’re qualified to do what this company needs.  You can create content and packaging and sell it.  That’s marketing A to Z.  If you can take direction, then I’m proud to welcome you aboard.  Do you want the job?  I nod my head.  I’m not sure that I want an honest job again, but what the hell.  It’s getting lonely writing books that are really tough to sell.

I watch anxiously as Pearce picks up the phone and calls Morton.  He says, “I just hired David.”  I overhear Morton saying “Good.  It’s about time he got back to work.”

I guess the twenty year vacation is over.  Now I have a REAL job to get up for every morning.  I feel important, valued.  That’s what I want.  I don’t enjoy being irrelevant.  It’s very easy to become irrelevant at my age.  Oops, I mean my former age.

I suddenly remember this new edition of Morton telling me as a young boy things like: “When you grow up, you will be in a world much different than the one you’re in now.  Everything won’t come easily to you.  You’ll have to earn the respect of your peers and your supervisors.  You’ll have to earn everything.  It won’t be given to you like it is now.

“You can start right now by believing in yourself.  You can see that I’ve accomplished something in my life, and I have much more to accomplish.  You can accomplish and be a winner too if you believe in yourself.  Listen to the things I tell you.  What I tell you will always be for your own good.  You can trust me and you can trust what I tell you.  You don’t always have to agree with me, but I’m asking you to listen first, and then we can discuss things.  There will be many situations that come up and they will be learning experiences.  We need to talk about them.  Don’t be afraid to talk to me.  My door will always be open if you need to talk.

“There are winners and losers in this world, David.  You want to be a winner.  Winners are generally happy people.  I’ve never met a happy loser.”

These are the things a father needs to tell his son.  These are the sort of things Morton never told me.  Hey, I’m not feeling sorry for myself.  I’m just sayin’.  If you are young and you are reading this, make sure your Dad tells you these things, and if he doesn’t, then remember what I just said.  Got it?  Good.

I also have new memories of going to the racetrack with Morton to watch the horses run.  I remember him teaching me how to read the racing form.  In my first life with Morton, I never even knew he went to the racetrack occasionally with my mother.  It wasn’t until he started a racing stable and asked me to be a partner in Three G Stable that I learned of Morton’s interest in horses and the the amazing sport of horse racing.  Not many people have the opportunity to see the sport from the inside like I did.  It’s something I’m extremely grateful for.  I’ll always treasure sharing those experiences with my parents and my daughter Danielle.  There really was a Three G Stable.  I really did go to the barn and the petting zoo with Danielle.  We really did have many claiming and allowance winners and stakes winners.

Oops.  I’m waxing nostalgic.   Gotta get back to business.

The new Morton decides to buy a farm in Ocala to breed, race, and sell thoroughbred race horses.  We purchase two freshman sires, one from the Galileo/Saddlers Wells line for turf horses, and one from the Northern Dancer and Mister Prospector cross for dirt horses that can also potentially run on the turf.  Both of these Florida Stallions turn out to be leading sires, not just in Florida, but in the Eastern United States including Kentucky.  We get offers from Kentucky to buy the two stallions, but we keep them in Florida.  We buy well-bred stakes winning mares at auction to breed to our stallions.  We keep a few of the offspring to race ourselves.  We claim horses to fill out the stable.  My love of breeding horses and the sport of racing is rekindled.  I enjoy working in the packaging company and what I do with the horses is a labor of love.

We hire Mark Casse to be our trainer.  Mark is the son of the legendary Norman Casse, a Florida breeder, owner, and Co-founder of the Ocala Breeder’s Sales Company.  Mark is destined to become a world class trainer.  At the time we hire him, he is a young man starting out in his career with a reputation as a patient handler with a knack for developing every horse in his care to their fullest potential.  I find Mark to be a quiet, humble man with an innate love for his horses.  He treats all of them as individuals, and gives them the time and the attention they need to mature into winners.

MARK CASSE

One of the horses Morton and I breed shows great promise as a yearling.  We decide to keep him and race him when he doesn’t reach his reserve at public auction as a two-year-old.  He is by Classic Empire out of an Unbridled mare who has already produced two graded stakes winners. We name him “Beautiful Dreamer,” after the title of my second screenplay.  We call him “Dreamer” for short.

Dreamer matures slowly.  He shows no aptitude for short races in his early training.  He wins his first race at a mile and then runs second in the Foolish Pleasure Stakes at Gulfstream Park.  It is a prep race for the In-Reality stakes, the biggest race at Gulfstream for Florida-bred two-year-old colts and Geldings.  Like Silver Sunsets, Dreamer has a grey coat and wins the In-Reality Stakes.  Beautiful Dreamer goes on to run third in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs.  We put him away at our farm for the winter after the Breeders Cup, and run him back at a mile on the turf in an allowance race in January at Gulfstream Park.  He runs second in the race.  From there, he runs second in the Fountain of Youth Stakes.  Mark encourages us to run in the Florida Derby against the best thoroughbreds stabled on the east coast.  We listen to his advice, and Dreamer wins the Florida Derby at the relatively long odds of eleven-to-one.  The fact that Dreamer was not one of the favorites in the field is an indication of the high quality of the horses he beat.

The Florida Derby win qualifies Dreamer for a spot in the Kentucky Derby.  After huddling with Mark, we decide to enter Dreamer in the mile and a quarter first leg of the Triple Crown.  He draws post ten in a full twenty horse field.  He’s a horse that possesses tactical speed, but he doesn’t break alertly when the gates open.  He’s ridden by Julian Leparoux, an excellent rider, who manages to recover after the bobbled start.  “Dreamer” circles wide around horses at the quarter pole turning for home and rallies furiously down the stretch to finish third at odds of seven-to-one.  It’s a respectable showing, but we’re disappointed.  We now know that Dreamer had a legitimate chance to win the race with a better start.  It hurts, but that’s horse racing.

KENTUCKY DERBY

We think about going on to the Preakness Stakes, but decide against it, opting instead to enter the Haskell invitational Stakes for three-year-olds at Monmouth Park.  The track comes up muddy on a rainy day.  Dreamer stalks the winner all the way around the mile and an eight race, but he can’t get past a clear front runner who is bred for wet tracks and scores at odds of nineteen-to-one.  Dreamer goes off second choice in the race at odds of five-to-two.  The nine-to-five favorite finishes third.

Should we go for the Grade One Travers Stakes at Saratoga?  We decide against it, opting instead to enter Beautiful Dreamer in the Suburban Stakes at Belmont as a Fall prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic later in November if he does well.  Once again, Dreamer finishes second after tracking in fourth place behind a fast pace.  Dreamer looks like a winner seventy yards from the wire, but another horse passes him five yards from the wire.  We decide that Dreamer is good enough to run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  Mark elects to change riders for the race.  First, we ask Jose Ortiz to ride Dreamer in the Classic, but he has another commitment.  Then we ask his brother, Irad Ortiz Junior to ride for us.  He accepts the mount.  He likes our trainer, and he wants to give Mark a chance to put his name down in racing lore.  We’re confident that Irad will give us a better chance of winning with his impeccable sense of timing.  Irad has had his eye on our horse for a while, and he’s confident that he can move Dreamer up several lengths with the right ride.

Meanwhile, my father, stepmother and I are having the time of our lives with this horse.  This year, Gulfstream Park is hosting the Breeders’ Cup races for the first time in twenty years.  It makes it much easier on our horse.  Dreamer is familiar with the track because he is based at Gulfstream and trains there.  He also doesn’t have to travel, which for many horses can be an energy-draining and disconcerting experience. Horses get nervous when their routines are interrupted, and they don’t like being crampted up in unfamiliar spaces.  After hundreds of years of inbreeding, thoroughbreds still have their deeply ingrained instinct to run at the first signs of danger.  It’s hard to run from danger in the cargo hold of a jet plane.

GULFSTREAM 3

Finally, Breeders’ Cup Day dawns bright and sunny with no rain in the forecast.  We’re relieved, because we don’t want to be wired on a wet track by a freak front runner like what happened in the Haskell.  Dreamer has been training brilliantly for the race.  Our trainer, Mark, says he’s in peak form.  Dreamer is the fourth choice in a fourteen-horse field behind two heavy favorites and another highly regarded horse owned by John Magnier, the super-rich founder of Ladbrokes, a chain of sports betting parlors in England.  We have our work cut out for us.  Mark is his usual quiet and calm self.  He’s never been much of a talker, but we can tell that he’s excited about the race and our chances.  He can’t wait to get Dreamer in the gate.

GULSTREAM 4

We watch and bet the races, having fun and forgetting about the big race.  It’s an interesting day with favorites and long shots winning and placing throughout the card.  The European horses win most of the turf races while the American horses generally prevail on the dirt.  The Breeders’ Cup racing card is probably the most fun card to bet all year. The fields are big and almost every horse in each race has a chance to win because they’re all so good.  So, I like to get creative, which usually results in me losing my butt.  Still, it’s fun.

At five-thirty, we leave our seats and a courtesy golf cart designated exclusively for the Breeders’ Cup owners transports us to the barn where beautiful Dreamer is waiting.  He’s happy to see us.  His big head bobs up and down and his front hoof paws the straw in the bed of his stall.  Carefully opening the stall door, Mark attaches a chain to Dreamer’s halter and leads him out.  He stands before us at attention, his gray coat dappled, radiating energy and health.  He knows it’s time to race, and somehow, I sense that Dreamer knows that what he’s about to do is special.  Horses are creatures of habit, and Dreamer know it’s later in the day than he’s ever run before.  His eyes dart from Mark to Morton and to me, as if he’s asking for an explanation of what’s going on.  Mark places a reassuring hand on Dreamer’s shoulder, and I stroke his flank gently to let him know everything is alright.  Mark says something into Dreamer’s ear.  He flicks it forward to listen.  Whatever Mark said, it calms Dreamer down immediately.  He’s ready to do whatever is asked of him.

We accompany Dreamer and Mark all the way from the barn to the saddling enclosure where Mark will saddle and prepare Dreamer for the race.  The crowd in the stands and on the grounds has swelled to over one hundred thousand people.  Police officers patrol the saddling enclosure looking for possible trouble and to make sure the onlookers stay behind the ropes and temporary fences where they belong.  I feel very important to be one of the relatively few people on the other side of the barriers.  Dreamer is taking in all of the excitement like a pro.  I sense that he has his mind on running, and somehow, he knows the horses that he’ll be competing against are better than most of the ones he’s faced before.  He looks down and shakes his head and long silvery mane, as if to shake out any last remaining knots of tension.  Mark strokes Dreamer’s shoulder and head to keep him calm and relaxed.

Irad Ortiz enters the enclosure.  He shakes our hands.  We wish him luck.  He gives Dreamer a few reassuring pats on the shoulder.  The horse immediately feels at ease with Irad.  Irad has been aboard Dreamer to breeze him five eights of a mile a week before the race to get acquainted.  The two of them are a team now, as if they’ve known each other for years.  The call comes for “riders up.”  Mark has already spoken to Irad about the race earlier in the day to give him his riding instructions.  Now, all he has to do is to give Irad a leg up and tell him to “have a good trip.”  Irad expertly guides Dreamer away.  We watch them disappear into the tunnel leading to the racetrack.  Mark gives us a thumbs up.  He likes to watch the races by himself when he saddles a horse, so we go our separate ways back to the owner’s box and Mark to his observation post.

The horses for the Breeders’ Cup Classic file by the stands in the post parade.  There are fourteen horses in the race.  Dreamer has post position seven.  His post position gives Irad an excellent opportunity to settle Dreamer optimally going into the first turn of the mile and a quarter race.  The major objective for Irad is to secure a good stalking position without going wide.  All of the jockeys will be trying to save as much horse as they can going around the first turn and up the backstretch.  If the horse is a front runner, the jockey will be trying to slow the pace down as much as possible.  The other jockeys have to be alert to the pace and settle their horses accordingly.  If the pace is slow, the horses that run from mid pack and beyond will have to stay closer than they normally would if the pace is honest.  The first half of the race is just as important as the last half.  A jockey’s mistake in judgement can cost a horse all chances of winning before they reach the half-mile pole.

Dortmund

Dreamer is prancing on his toes with his head held high as he passes us in the post parade.  Mark has obviously done the most anyone can do to prepare Dreamer for the race.  Now, the rest is up to the horse.  Dreamer is a solid fourth choice at odds of five-to- one.  Morton bets a hundred on him on the nose—typical Morton.  I bet twenty on Dreamer to win.  I know that Mark never bets on the horses he trains.  It’s a good habit.  Many lesser trainers bet on their horses because they think they will make a big score and they need the money.  Sometimes they make that big score, but it’s just not a classy thing to do.  The top trainers don’t do it.

Ten minutes later, the horses have warmed up and are entering the starting gate.  Mark has instructed Irad to do a minimal prep for the race, just a slow, short gallop to get his legs and muscles loose.  We watch the loading through binoculars.  The horse in slot six is acting up, delaying the start.  We can see Irad stroking Dreamer’s mane to keep him from getting upset by the unruly horse next door.  Finally, all of the horses are loaded.  We wait nervously for the starter to open the gates.  It seems like an eternity, then the gates spring open and the horses explode out of the gate with pent up energy.  The number five horse from England veers in and knocks the four horse off stride.  Irad deftly guides Dreamer away from the trouble.  The rest of the field sorts itself out naturally after the troubled break.

Due to the mishap, Dreamer runs third in the fourteen-horse field, closer to the pace than he normally likes to be.  Irad lets him settle back into fourth, but the bulky field is tightly bunched behind the two horses battling for the lead.  The number four and ten horses cut out the first quarter in twenty-three seconds flat, which is fast for the mile and a quarter distance.  The number ten horse backs off and lets the four horse have the lead.  They go the half in forty-seven and one fifth seconds, a more reasonable pace.  Irad keeps Dreamer poised in fourth place.  As the horses reach the three-quarter pole, the number ten horse moves up to challenge the four horse for the lead again.  The pace quickens.  Irad stays put as other horses pass him on the outside.  I grow concerned that Dreamer will not be up to the challenge of running against the best horses in the world.  In my imagination, I see Dreamer floundering on the rail and falling behind as the serious run for the finish line begins.

The front runners reach the quarter pole in one minute ten and four fifths seconds.  It’s an honest pace for horses of this caliber.  Now, Dreamer starts to move up on the rail as the horses turn for home.  Irad is taking the shortest distance home.  The danger of another horse blocking him looms.  It’s a risky move that Irad attempts, but he has no other choice.  He will lose too much ground if he tries to go around horses.  Irad has one of the best clocks in his head of any jockey alive.  I know that his timing is impeccable, but the rail in front of him is suddenly blocked by the tiring front runners which are slowing and shortening their strides.  Irad has to make a move; now or never.

Irad angles Dreamer off of the rail.  I see another horse rushing up behind Dreamer vying for the same lane to the wire.  Irad taps Dreamer on the shoulder with his whip and the horse responds with a burst of acceleration, beating another horse to the three-path.

Dreamer blows by the faltering front runners and opens a clear lead down the homestretch.  With a similar explosion of speed, I watch the number one horse, named Bal Harbour Boss, burst out of the pack in mid-stretch.  It gobbles up ground from behind Dreamer with every stride.  The fast-closing “Boss” reaches Dreamer’s flank on the inside and they run in tandem, neck and neck to the wire.  As Dreamer and his adversary pound to the wire lengths in front of the rest of the field, I expect Bal Harbour Boss to tire because it has had to cover more ground with a wide ride outside of horses up the backstretch all the way to the quarter pole.  Except the damn horse is resolute.  It won’t give an inch.

BREEDERS CUP FINISH

 

The hundred thousand plus throng of spectators bellows so loud that it feels like the ground is shaking and an earthquake is coming. The Jockeys urge their mounts onward.  The race announcer’s voice crescendos as Dreamer and Bal Harbour Boss bob heads to the finish line.  Photo finish.  I can’t tell if Dreamer got his head up in time.  It’s impossible to tell with the naked eye which horse has won the race.  So much is on the line.  The first-place purse is worth three million dollars.  The winning horse will command a high stud fee.  And then, there’s the thrill, prestige, and satisfaction of winning one of the biggest races in the world.

Morton is white as we wait for the results to be posted.  I give him a hug and tell him. “No matter what, we proved that Dreamer has the genes and the heart of a champion.”  Morton says nothing.  He stands there, white as a sheet.  I know what he’s thinking.  Second place is “nowheresville” in Morton’s vocabulary.

The results flash on the tote board in the infield.  The number one is posted on top of Dreamer’s number seven.  Morton slumps.  We’ve lost.  We’ve been nosed of the win.  Then a red square appears around the two top numbers.  Next to it, the words “DEAD HEAT” flash in red.  It’s a tie.  Beautiful Dreamer is a co-champion with Bal Harbour Boss.  I hug Morton.  I hug my stepmother.  We are delirious.  Sharing the top honors beats the hell out of losing.  The dead heat is the first in Breeders’ Cup Classic history.

We meet Mark in the winners’ circle.  I can tell that he’s beside himself.  He doesn’t show emotion easily, but he’s obviously overcome by the biggest achievement of his training career.  The winners’ ceremony is a long one because both horses and their entourages have to be photographed.  I hug Mark.  I hug Irad Ortiz.  They are both slightly taken aback by my display of emotion, but I can tell they understand.  Mark and the Jockey are both ecstatic, albeit a bit more quietly.

The sight of Beautiful Dreamer wearing the Breeders Cup Champion yellow garland of flowers will be forever etched in my memory.  Sharing a moment like this with signicant others goes beyond any feeling I can describe.  I can’t remember anything immediately after the race.  I’m just somewhere else, and it’s a very good place to be.  The next thing I know, I’m driving to a restaurant in North Miami for a victory dinner.

After several hours of  intense celebrating with my father and Jennifer at an excellent Italian restaurant named Il Tulipano, I return to my humble one bedroom apartment and stumble into bed.  I’m asleep in seconds from the sheer exhaustion of a long day filled to the brim with exciting moments.  When I wake up, I’m back home with my wife, seventy-years-old again.  My first reaction is bitter disappointment, but then I realize that I have my wife and daughter back again.  I remember what my father said at dinner in Il Tulipano, another ghost of the past that has disappeared and moved on.  With his wine glass raised, my father said: “We’re fortunate to have won this race, but what’s most important is that we’re together and we care about one another.”  My father’s words remind me to appreciate the people who are with me now.

Was it all a dream, or did it really happen?  I decide it was just a glimpse, like in the movie “Family Man” with Nicolas Cage, Tea Leoni, and Don Cheadle.  An angel has given me a glimpse of what my life actually was and might have been, like Don Cheadle did for Nicolas Cage in the movie.  Yeah, that’s what it was; a beautiful dream that became real for a few fleeting moments in time; a precious glimpse I will always remember with an uplifting feeling of love.

"The Family Man" Copyright 2000 Universal Studios

Nicolas Cage and Don Cheadle Copyright 2000 Universal Studios

 

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Something Different This Way Comes*


Visit The New Scarlet Ambrosia Site

A year after writing Scarlet Ambrosia, I see the story through a different pair of eyes.  At the core of the novel is a young man’s struggle with darkness and light.  The vampire archetype, I now realize, is a metaphor for my heart’s dream to realize its divine nature.  The supernatural powers and ramped up energy level Devon acquires as a vampire make him half-human and half-god, something like the mythological Greek gods.  He can choose to use his new powers for good or evil purposes.

*Blog title inspired by Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”

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The Problems of This World Including Coffee Machines


coffee machineMy coffee maker died yesterday. It was six months old. It died of the mechanical equivalent of a grand mal seizure or a massive heart attack, I’m not exactly sure which applies. One thing is certain; the death was premature.

For the past two years, I’ve been trying to find an upscale coffee maker to replace my old, reliable, cheap Mr. Coffee. I am in search of a more aesthetically pleasing machine that makes better coffee. I’m not talking about a ridiculously priced espresso machine. I’m talking about a good-looking machine in the neighborhood of seventy-five dollars including tax that makes yummy coffee. I don’t think that’s asking too much, especially considering the premium coffee I use. If there’s anything my daughter and I agree upon, it’s the importance of good coffee in large quantities to start the day. For the record, my wife does not drink coffee.

There are not many coffee maker brands available in retail stores.  Besides Mr. Coffee, there are only three or four other major brands on sale in major retail chains When my search began, I thought these brands represented the “best of the best” using the theory of Darwinian Economics. So far, I’ve chosen two of these brands to try with disappointing results.

I bought a sixty-nine dollar Cuisinart with high hopes. Unfortunately, I chose the color white, which turned out to be a bitch to clean. Within a few months, I grew weary of the futile struggle to keep the Cuisinart free of ugly coffee stains. Two months later, the clock broke. I was actually happy this happened. It gave me an excuse to buy another coffee maker.

I bought another Cuisinart, this time in black. It broke down nine months later. To add insult to injury, I did not notice any real difference in the quality of the coffee it made, except when I replaced the charcoal filter. The better taste lasted two or three weeks, then it went back to “ho-hum” quality. I will never again buy anything made by Cuisinart.

Due to my stubborn preference for cone-shaped filters, I was left with only one viable alternative in my price and shape range. I bought a sexy-looking Krups coffee maker. I expected the German reputation for precision and quality products to hold true for their coffee machines. As reported above, my Krups machine expired after six months. I’m sure the damn thing was made by a tragically underpaid worker half a world away from Germany. What is this world coming to?

It occurs to me that we are faced with much larger problems than poorly made coffee makers. I would gladly buy a coffee maker every six months if it helped to solve the problems in Ukraine and Iraq, for starters.

Photo: http://www.nextnature.net

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Same Old Strategy In Syria


Credit: Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Credit: Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Why is President Obama determined to attack Syria when the rest of the world is reluctant to do so?

It is troubling that our President is hell-bent on making the same mistake that previous administrations have made by involving the United States in situations where we don’t belong. It is ironic that this President promised to do business differently than his predecessors when he first ran for office.

Our country no longer wields the economic might it once did in the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s. This unfortunate fact of life gives us less of a margin for error than we have enjoyed in the past. We can’t afford to squander precious resources on a limited strike against Syria. Many lawmakers in the Congress and Senate believe a unilateral missile attack by the U.S. will have little or no effect aside from killing more innocent people.

We have many social issues in America crying out for resources and constructive solutions. The last thing we need is an ill-conceived, destructive attempt to impose our will in Syria.

Referring to Asad’s attack against his own people, Obama recently said, “It makes a mockery of the global prohibition of chemical weapons. It endangers our friends and our partners along Syria’s borders, including Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. It could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons, or their proliferation to terrorist groups who would do our people harm.”

This paranoia-laden statement echoes similar statements made by past administrations to justify military intervention abroad. As in the past, Obama’s statement conveniently ignores or twists the facts. Asad has his hands full fighting against his own people. The chances of Asad attacking his neighbors are practically nil. As far as our national security is concerned, what do you think a U.S. attack on an Arab country will do to further endear us to terrorist groups?  It will only serve to stoke the fires of their hatred towards this country, of course. An attack against Syria will only make the world a more dangerous place for U. S. Citizens.

It is easy to see that there is no real justification for the U.S. to take it upon itself to launch missiles into Syria. I view such an attack as an act of senseless violence. We the people are responsible for peace on earth, not the government. I intend to let my representatives in the Senate and Congress know how I feel. Let your voice be heard.

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Peace on the Inside–Introducing Peace Education in a Pennsyvannia Jail


Guest-blogger Chip Presendofer provides us with a unique perspective on the steps he and a dedicated group of individuals have taken to launch a Peace Education Program in Berks County Jail, Pennsylvania. Volunteers like Chip and his team are introducing The Peace Education Program in prisons, colleges, universities, civic groups, hospices, and other institutions around the world. Peace Education (PEP) and Food for People (FFP) are two humanitarian aid programs developed by the Prem Rawat Foundation (TPRF).

PEP Team (Not All Members Pictured)

PEP Team (Not All Members Pictured)

In January of 2013, I reviewed the latest Peace Education Program curriculum  with three other people at a friend’s house. Ever since I first heard about the Peace Education Program,  I’ve been motivated to contact local prisons, but all my early attempts met with rejection. The curriculum renewed my enthusiasm, and seeing a video about the Peace Education Program in prisons titled “Peace on the Inside” last summer made me feel we had a real story to tell. I think the idea of bringing a message of hope to people who have made some poor choices in their lives is worth the effort.

Feedback from Dominquez State Jail in San Antonio confirms my feeling. We began by hatching an action plan. Two team members wrote an introductory letter and compiled a list of potential recipients who we felt would be able to help us get the Peace Education Program information in the right hands. We sent about ten letters and got a nibble in neighboring Berks County.

On Thursday, February 21st, we met with an official who told us to follow-up with a specific commissioner on the prison board. We persistently followed up with the commissioner, and on February 28th, 2013 we received a letter from the warden expressing interest in implementing the Peace Education Program in Berks County Jail.

Now what? We had to wait until prison management allocated staffing and space resources at the jail. In the meantime, there was paper work to complete for background checks and volunteer training. In April, the prison scheduled training for July 17th, so we were in a holding pattern.

At this point, it seemed like a good idea to bring together everyone who had an interest in PEP under the premise of reviewing the curriculum materials. The thought was that a team of volunteers would identify themselves over successive meetings, and that’s exactly what happened. Every Sunday for about six weeks we met, reviewed the PEP curriculum, and discussed all the information we could glean from everyone involved with PEP. A number of people in the United States, South Africa, and Canada were extremely helpful and forthcoming with information and advice. We were hearing about what volunteers had done, what not to do, what they had learned, and how rewarding it was to actually bring a message of peace and hope into a prison environment.

Five people attended the Volunteer Training at the jail in July. It became very real for us at that meeting. The list of things that could go wrong and the picture painted of the inmates was an eye-opener. As it turned out, the staff instructors were making us aware of what could happen in a worst-case scenario, but when we asked both of them if they would allow their sisters to volunteer, without hesitation they both said yes. This made us feel a little more comfortable, but there were still a lot of unknowns. We discussed our fears and concerns in our meeting and we all decided the risk was worth the effort. It was a real moment-of-truth that we shared and the experience solidified our resolve to keep moving forward.

Peace Education Classroom

Peace Education Classroom

On August 2nd, two PEP team members met with the volunteer coördinator at the jail to look at the classroom and confirm a start date on August 9th. The classroom we chose was large enough for twenty students. On Friday, August 9th, we held our first class. Seventeen inmates attended. After all the students arrived and took their seats, I briefly told them we were going to play a video to give them a sense of what was going to take place and then I would take attendance. All eyes seemed fixed on the screen at the beginning of the class. It was easy for the students to relate to the prison scenes and the inmate interviews kept their attention.

I took attendance by calling out everyone’s name and tried to make sure I pronounced the names correctly. Prior to putting in the first video, I thanked the students for coming and said that the information they were about to see was directed to them as human beings. I asked them to try to listen without comparing it to anything they had heard before. Then I pushed the button on the remote and the class was underway. The class proceeded smoothly, although it seemed the longer videos challenged some students’ attention spans. Experienced PEP volunteers had advised me that it would take a few classes for the energy in the room to jell and for people to feel comfortable enough to ask questions and expose their thoughts.

The inmates came from different cell blocks. Some knew each other (fist bumps) while others were not acquainted. In general, the inmates had no trouble finding seats and being in relatively close quarters. They were orderly, quiet, attentive and helpful. Perhaps in our next class, I’ll invite them to share a little of what they heard and hopefully get them a little more involved.

Before we knew it, the class was over. After replacing the tables and chairs to their original positions, all the inmates wound up standing in a circle around the perimeter of the room. The atmosphere was instantly more relaxed and one man asked whether a person without a conscience could find the peace within. I said those are two different things. Consciousness is being aware of your existence and conscience helps us distinguish between right and wrong. I said I didn’t think a person without a conscience would seek the peace within, but I didn’t really know. He thanked me for being honest with him, and then he said he was just trying to sound smart and not to pay him any mind. I said I was just trying to sound smart also, and that got a laugh from a few people. It was the first time during the class that it felt like we might have connected a little more on the personal level.

Inmate Housing Unit

Inmate Housing Unit

I received another important piece of advice from my fellow volunteers: It’s important to connect personally with inmates without getting too involved. That advice makes a lot of sense to me. The students don’t have to like us individually, but they should know we relate to them as human beings, not as prisoners. This is a fine line, but one that holds significant promise for us as facilitators. If we respect the inmates, there’s a good chance they’ll respect the volunteer team and feel comfortable enough to reveal their thoughts in class. I don’t feel it’s my place to draw the students out, but I do feel like I need to create an environment that will allow them to open up if they wish.

The ability to walk out of the prison made me realize how fortunate I am and what a privilege it is to be able to make my own decisions about my day. Driving home, someone asked me how I felt, and I answered, “Relieved and curious.” Relieved we had broken the ice and now had an idea what we needed to do for next week and curious to see who will return.

With only one class behind us, we have many, many more to go. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and one lit candle can light hundreds of others. We’re on our way, and for that I’m thankful. Looking back, it took a lot of effort to get the program started, but the journey has just begun and the bulk of the effort is still in front of us.

Berks County Jail

Berks County Jail

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Can We Make Fewer Babies?


All this talk about overpopulation is finally beginning to hit home. Lately, it seems like almost everywhere I go, hordes of people come crawling out of the woodwork.

It’s really becoming annoying. Take, for example, a trip to the mall. You have to use a slide rule to calculate the ideal time to go, to avoid peak hour pedestrian traffic trampling you underfoot.

At the rate the world population is growing, many of us will have to consider living on another planet in some distant galaxy.  It won’t be long before scientists discover a suitable planet to colonize and they build a faster-than-light-speed spacecraft to take us there. I’m going to make sure my retirement account is healthy enough to buy a one-way ticket for me and my family to make the journey.

Starting over, however, is not going to be easy.  There won’t be any NFL or NBA games to watch, golf to play, books to read, or computer games to play—save the ones we take with us.  My wife and daughter will miss Lifetime, Housewives, nail salons, and shopping malls, to mention only a few life staples, before civilization reasserts itself.

How did we get ourselves into this situation? According to an actuarial study commissioned by the US Social Security Service, life expectancy has increased by 28 years for men and 26 years for women from 1900 to 2001. According to the same study, this is due to several factors:

• Access to primary medical care for the general population

• Improved healthcare provided to mothers and babies

• Availability of immunizations

• Improvements in motor vehicle safety

Clean water supply and waste removal

• Safer and more nutritious foods

• Rapid rate of growth in the general standard of living

I’d like to add one more item to this list: Thanks to medical science, people are living longer. In my humble opinion, some people are living longer than they should. Please allow me to explain.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a cancer center waiting for a vitamin B-12 shot and thanking God I don’t have cancer. I see people shuffle in, many in their eighties and nineties, supported by walkers and canes, wearing bandages, heads bent, half asleep. You have to feel sorry for these people while praying you don’t wind up like them.

Certainly, cancer has many causes, but one of them is simply the aging process. We reach a point where our immune system grows too feeble to protect us. At this point, the party is over. We become like AIDS patients before the curative cocktail, with nothing to look forward to but one disease after another.

Yet people hang on, thanks to the wonders of medical science, hoping life will one day be worth living again. Maybe that day will come when full-body transplants become available. If this doesn’t happen in the next ten or twenty years, I hope I will have the wisdom to know when it’s time to gracefully exit stage right (or left.) To put it another way, to have the courtesy to make room for someone else and stop contributing to escalating healthcare costs.

In the meantime, I’ll go on meditating, exercising and pursuing the interests that make me feel happy-from-the-heart. And for the sake of EVERYONE’S quality of life, can we PLEASE be a little more conscious by making fewer babies?

Planet Colonization

Planet Colonization

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Voir Dire and the Hydrogen Bomb


Nobody likes it. I am no exception. We’re talking about jury duty, of course. I kept trying to forget the impending date, but something kept reminding me, like, the Jury Summons itself sitting in a corner of the bedroom on my desk. Despite the negative anticipation and a six a.m. alarm, I wound up having a pretty good time on my day in court—believe it or not.

For starters, the clerk called out my number and name among the first panel of prospective jurors summoned that morning. I went directly upstairs to await the process of Jury selection instead of sitting in an over-crowded room of eight hundred people coughing, burping, farting, and talking on their cell phones.

Being selected randomly by the computer for the first panel of jurors equates to winning the lottery…well, maybe the scratch off lottery. I sat in a waiting room outside the courtroom on the fifth floor with seventeen other fortunate souls awaiting Voir Dire (to speak the truth) also known as jury selection. The bailiff ushered us into the courtroom where six attorneys (three for each side) and the judge awaited us.  Everyone except the judge stood during our entrance out of respect for the judicial system and our suffering…whoops, I mean our service.

I feel compelled to interject a few words about the judge here. She belied all of my preconceived notions about judges, the product mostly of television programs. She showed uncommon courtesy, sympathy and compassion for the jurors, and a kindness as well as fairness towards the attorneys.

The judge read a brief overview of the case to us. It involved a former police officer who was suing the girl who stabbed him while on duty and Wal-mart where the crime occurred.

Now the process of Voir Dire began in earnest with the lead attorney for the plaintiff asking us a series of questions. Here are some of the highlights. When asked if anyone on the panel had a problem with personal injury lawsuits, two gentlemen and one woman offered that they believed more than fifty percent of PI lawsuits were frivolous.  Another woman stated that she, as a Christian person, had a problem with all lawsuits, professing that people should not sue one another.

When asked about our opinions about lawyers in general, one gentleman said, “I hate lawyers. My ex-wife and her scheming attorney sentenced me to a lifetime of alimony payments.”

It seems to me the only explanation that people make statements and express views such as these is for the express purpose of being relieved of the burden of jury duty.

After a lunch break, the lead defense attorney approached us for questioning. He began by asking, “Does anyone on the panel bake.” Three women raised their hands. The Plaintiff’s attorney immediately objected. “We don’t have any cakes or baking in this case.”

The Judge allowed the defense some leeway when the defense attorney promised to, “tie in” the question. He made the point that baked goods must have a specific number of ingredients included for a successful result. Failure to include one or more ingredients will doom the baking project. In a similar fashion, the plaintiff’s attorneys were duty-bound to prove all the elements required by law for  the jury to award damages.

It dawned upon me that attorneys begin indoctrinating the jury even before the formal proceedings begin. You learn something new every day.

The defense attorney then asked us if anyone had a bad customer experience at Wal-mart. One gentleman raised his hand. Under repeated questioning, he admitted a manager resolved the matter to his satisfaction. ice-age-ahead-iaa.ca

Then the attorney dropped, what turned out for me, the hydrogen bomb. He asked if anyone on the panel “had a problem with Wal-mart in general.” In that moment, I realized I did—a big problem.

I flashed back six months to a PBS Frontline documentary titled, “Is Wal-mart Good for America.”  I found it enlightening and a bit shocking.

I proceeded to tell the attorney that I did have a problem with Wal-mart. He said he would question me in private about it. Obviously, he didn’t want my opinion to contaminate the other panelists.

After the defense attorney finished his questions, I expressed my views with the other jury members outside the room. I said I had learned from a PBS documentary that Wal-mart is a major contributing factor to the erosion of the manufacturing base in this country and our widening negative balance of trade, with more products imported than exported.

Wal-mart buys most of its products from China. Sam Walton, the founder of the company, had a firm policy of buying American. Unfortunately, Sam Walton, along with the rest of the world, has passed on.

I also learned that Wal-mart underpays its employees, despite making thirteen billion in profits in 2012. In addition, the company indirectly supports the policy of many foreign manufacturers paying their employees what amounts to slave wages to produce at prices low enough to satisfy Wal-mart.

Wal-mart also practices deceptive advertising. They promote low prices on loss leader items while many other items in the store match the prices of other major competitors. Wal-mart makes more profit on these items than their competitors due to their massive buying power, but the savings are not passed on to the consumer.

I concluded my remarks by saying in my opinion Wal-mart does not serve the public interest. The company does not contribute one iota to the standard of living of anyone in this country. Instead, Wal-mart detracts from our quality of life by making it harder to find a good-paying job or to own and operate an independent business, small or large. I embellished these remarks with one final stroke of the sword: “Wal-mart is a cancer growing steadily in developed and developing countries worldwide.”

The defense attorney just stood there behind his lectern in disbelief.

In trying to discern my motives for this outburst, I have yet to come up with a solid answer. Should I commend myself for telling the truth, or did I simply find a creative way to weasel out of jury duty? I honestly don’t know.

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