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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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Wasn’t That a Time?


Wasn’t that a time?  Wasn’t that a time to try the souls of men?  Wasn’t that a terrible time?”

The lyrics from a sixties folk song made popular by Peter Paul and Mary reverberate through the decades and remain relevant today.

Unfortunately.

The lyrics to the folk song harken back to the war for American independence and major conflagrations waged since including World Wars I and II.

I recently bought an album by Tom Paxton.  Listening to his music on YouTube brought me back to the turbulent sixties and my love for the folk artists who became popular then.  Listening to these songs of social conscience and satire, love ballads, Children’s songs and others that reflect beautifully, poignantly and heartfully on our human experience, I am struck by the purity of this music.  It moves me deeply.  It penetrates my soul.  It inspires me to pick up my guitar and sing.

Looking back, I realize that these artists, these wandering troubadours, were great men and women.  Some of them are still alive and singing.  What a time the sixties were.  What noble visions for a better world, given voice by these passionate musicians, arose from the struggle.

Some of these visions have been realized.  We live in a better world today in some respects.  Yet we haven’t yet learned our lessons.  We live in a world where human beings still murder other human beings in the name of God.  We live in a world where a Russian President is intent upon restoring Russia to its Cold War boundaries by invading autonomous neighbor states.  We live in a world where hatred and intolerance still threaten our very existence.

When will they ever learn,” Mary Travers sings plaintively.  When, indeed, will we ever learn?

 

 

 

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Words From A Far Are Not Enough


Mentoring Relationships

I enjoy reading words of inspiration as much as you probably do. I believe in the power of positive thinking. I love practicing the art of creative visualization. (My man Jordan Spieth, last week’s winner of the US Open Golf Championship, is the ultimate practitioner of creative visualization.)

Having said this, I have to say something more. You probably guessed I’d go on for a bit in this week’s blog. It takes more than a stranger’s words to affect lasting, positive change and success in any endeavor. It takes loving support from caring mentors. The ideal personification of this support comes from a set of caring, loving parents. Let’s take Jordan Spieth again as an example. He seems to have an ideal relationship with his loving, caring, teaching parents plus a monumental talent that have helped him to win two major golf titles in his young and promising career.

Jason Day, a young professional golfer from Australia, battled bravely through dizziness and nausea caused by vertigo to finish high in the US Open final standings. Jason, unlike his contemporary Spieth, did not have a strong connection with his parents while growing up. He had a troubled youth before meeting Colin Swatton at Kooralbyn, a golf-centric boarding school in south-east Queensland. Jason’s mother had to borrow money to send her son to Kooralbyn in a desperate attempt to do something about his delinquent behavior after his father died of stomach cancer when Jason was 12.

Colin Swatton was a golf instructor at Kooralbyn when he first met the head-strong, rebellious Day. Swatton’s non-confrontational style won Jason over. When Swatton moved on to teach at Hills International College, Day followed him. From there, Swatton became Day’s golf coach, mentor, close friend and full-time professional caddie. Jason Day is now one of the top-ranked golfers in the world with a family of his own and the admiration and affection of his peers.

After I’ve read a self-help book the inspiration and advice usually fade within forty-eight hours. Formulaic self-help exercises quickly become dry practices that yield little or lasting benefits. I picked up a few Wayne Dyer books a year ago and two things became immediately clear: (1) Wayne has a lot of nice things to say and (2) I could not practice or live what Dyer says if I tried for a million years.

So what does it take to move forward, achieve, and grow? To amplify what I said earlier, it takes a special personal relationship. It is a relationship that always accepts and honors who you are and where you are.  It can be a parental, mentoring, teaching, romantic, or friend to friend relationship. In the case of the first three, the relationship begins with the child, mentee, or student receiving more at first.  I’ve learned that over time the best of these relationships blossom into mutuality where both parties reap significant rewards. There’s an energy and information exchange in these relationships; call it love, call it caring and concern, call it chemistry. Whatever it is, it’s a radiant, magic elixir. It produces extraordinary human beings; some famous and others who live and work quietly outside of the limelight.

 

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Will The Heat Repeat?


win or lose I live in Aventura, a city in the northeastern tip of Miami-Dade County. While the US Post Office refuses to officially recognize us, we exist, complete with our own police force and city bureaucracy. I offer these facts to verify my official status as a South Floridian, a person living in Miami or Aventura, depending on your point of view.

In addition to the weather, one of the major benefits Floridians enjoy is our basketball team—the Miami Heat. I used to take my daughter to heat games, but that was when she was younger and it was possible to score a good ticket (legally) on the Heat Ticket Exchange for anywhere between eighty and a hundred bucks. Those days are gone, but I’m no less enthusiastic. Watching the games at home is just as much fun, now that we have big TV screens.

The Heat Organization is one of the finest cultures ever created in the world. It starts at the top with team president Pat Riley and trickles down. The players and coaches don’t give lip service to values like diligent practice in the gym and on the court, accountability, community service, sacrifice, and unselfishness. These men live those values every minute of their lives. You don’t read about Heat players racking up DUI tickets, using drugs, beating up wives or girlfriends, bullying, or any of the insane behavior associated with highly paid professional athletes. It doesn’t happen in the Heat organization despite the constant pressure of high expectations, criticism, and scrutiny the players and coaches live with. These men are role models. They love and support one another, and enjoy coming to work every day.

When one of the Heat’s high draft picks could not stop smoking marijuana, the team traded him.  Now that same guy is back, playing better for less money, minus the marijuana, plus character and maturity developed in the Heat family atmosphere.

I hope the Heat wins a third consecutive championship, but if they don’t, I’ll still love every one of them. How could you not love these guys? Each player has a unique story of overcoming obstacles, building character, and ascending into the rarefied air of Heat team membership. Udonis Haslem is one of these stories. Despite an outstanding high school and college basketball career, no NBA team drafted him. He played for a year in France, hated it, but still played well enough to try out for the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat. Haslem came to the Heat training camp 25 pounds lighter, made the team, and hasn’t looked back in eleven seasons.

Win or lose—take a lesson from the Heat players and organization, among the best in the world.

Miami Heat Big Three

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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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Hannah’s Story


Becky Straw

Last year, TPRF  partnered with The Adventure Project to help transform fifty farmers into profitable entrepreneurs in Kenya. We are proud to report that those farmers have moved from poverty to the middle class, and are sending 75 of their children to school for the first time from the money they earn selling produce. Here is a story written by guest blogger Becky Straw, Co-Founder of The Adventure Project, demonstrating the impact this gift is making to feed the hungry in Kenya.

I wish I could take you here. I wish I could take you by the hand and sit you next to me on Hannah’s couch to experience her story in person.

I sat and appreciated the modest house, just one small living room, flanked by two simple quarters on either side. A single light bulb hung from the tin roof, and dozens of baby chicks chirped relentlessly outside. Inside, I admired the walls, every inch covered with images. Soccer posters, old calendars, and embroidered wall hangings. Looking closer I saw that they were bible verses, stitched in between happy flowers: “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

Upon our arrival, Hannah shrieked playfully, like so many women would, “You have arrived early, don’t film me yet – I haven’t done my hair!” We laughed and nodded in understanding as she ducked into the next room.

While I waited as she primped, I asked her son, Steve, how he’s doing in school. He modestly mumbled, “good,” like a typical teenage boy, even walking with the gait of a sudden growth spurt. I pushed harder until he finally puts aside his 7th grade indifference and confessed to us his dream. “When I grow up I want to work in hospitality management.”

Hannah With Son Steve

“Why?” we ask.

His neighbor is a hotel manager, and he has a good house, he admitted. There’s also a chance that the President might come into his hotel, and that would be very exciting. It’s a modest dream, but it’s achievable. It’s possible because he has excellent grades and because of his family. Because of his mother.

Outside, Hannah hands me a large package, wrapped in yellowed plastic tarp and tied up with string, like a present. I balance it awkwardly. It takes me a minute to realize, “Oh, this is your irrigation pump.”

Kuyu, the marketing manager for Kickstart, looks at me and smiles, speaking softly, “It’s funny that she wraps it like this. It’s chip-resistant paint. It’s not going to rust or be damaged.” Hannah has had her pump for two years. It still looks brand new.

We tread carefully down a slope to her small garden, walking through trees until we reach a clearing where the sky opens up before us. Fruits and vegetables of every variety lay in neat little rows. Huge fuchsia flowers bloom wildly along her fence. It’s an unexpected Eden.

Carefully, she unwraps her pump and goes to work. Hannah’s farming business has tripled since she purchased her irrigation pump, a fact she is keenly aware of.

Her story is not unique. The benefits of one pump are astronomical. A pump can increase harvests by 3-4 times per year and can irrigate up to 2 acres of land per day. One pump has the ability to move a farmer and their family from poverty into the middle class in just one harvest.

The irony of Africa is that 75% of all subsistence farmers’ children go hungry because they cannot grow enough to even feed their own families. With an irrigation pump, farmers suddenly have so much food that they can sell their surplus in local markets. They earn enough to send an average of 1.5 of their children to school for the first time.

As hard as I try, I can’t think of any single item in America to compare the pump to. What’s the one physical item we have in the U.S. that can transform a poor family struggling to feed themselves into nearly instant middle-class entrepreneurs?

Hannah and Steve Gardening

After Hannah finished watering her garden, she grabbed her old bucket, filled it with water from her small well, and did something I didn’t expect. She began painstakingly washing every inch of her pump free of mud and dirt. Thoughtfully. Methodically. As if she was caring for a precious child.

After twenty minutes she carefully took the pump, laid it on the plastic, tied it up with string, and rolled the hose into a neat coil. I asked if she followed this routine every day.

“No,” Hannah replied. “Plants only need to be watered every other day.” In her own way, she answered my question. I took my notebook out of my backpack and wrote one word in the margin. Value.

Hannah and her husband bought this pump themselves. The Adventure Project is helping to subsidize the costs of Kickstart’s program, so that the pump can be sold at an affordable price. No determined farmer is too destitute to pay, and Kickstart has even developed an extended payment program for those truly in need.

With the income generated from selling her crops, Hannah has invested in chickens and now sells eggs along with her produce. She can also afford her son’s school fees, and he will never miss school again because they can’t afford to buy him shoes and socks.

No longer toiling all day under the hot sun, carrying a bucket, plopping water and drenching seedlings, Hannah now has time for her favorite activity, she tells us joyfully – teaching Sunday School at her church.

I cannot think of one investment more precious. More valuable.

This is the Kenya I know and love. The story I want you to be part of. There is no longing. No begging. No swollen bellies or hungry eyes. If there are tears, they are mine. And maybe yours. Welling with happiness. For me, I know I’ve found my calling. The opportunity to play a small role in giving something more valuable than gold; a job.

Friends, we have set an ambitious goal: we want to help 323 other families in Kenya this year. Every $400 will get one pump to a farmer in need. If successful, our funds will help 323 farmers grow enough crops to become profitable – feeding 25,000 neighbors and sending 500 of their kids to school for the very first time. Imagine giving someone like Hannah the opportunity of a lifetime.

“The Adventure Project is incredibly honored and grateful for all TPRF has done to support food, water and peace around the globe. Your support for our Hunger Campaign has directly benefitted thousands of people, and your $10,000 gift created jobs for 25 farmers last year. We cannot thank you enough for all that you done and continue to do to make the world a better place. Thank you.” – Becky Straw, Co-Founder of The Adventure Project.

                                                                                                                                         Photos Courtesy of the Adventure Project

Hannah In Her Garden

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Sunday Nights With Shep


Jean Shepherd in WOR studio

Jean Shepherd in WOR studio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In his prime, Jean Shepherd hypnotized audiences for hours with stories about bumper stickers, TV commercials, Green Stamps, and the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.  Like most great discoveries, I found Jean Shepherd purely by accident.  Sunday nights presented a precarious dilemma until Jean came along.  I didn’t want to close my eyes because the next thing you knew, the sun would be pinching my cheek.  It would be Monday morning, the beginning of another week of Junior High School.

My primary goal, therefore, centered upon pushing Monday morning as far into Sunday night as my sleep-deprived brain permitted.  My pre-Jean Shepherd solution to the Sunday night dilemma involved listening to Rock and Roll music on a radio underneath the covers.  One night, while switching from one Rock and Roll station to another, I found “Shep.”

The experts at the time might have called it “experimental radio.”  Whatever it was, I had never heard anything like the smooth jazz overlaid by that voice, the one that put an arm around my shoulder and whispered, “c’mon pal, I got some cool places to take you to.”

When I first tripped over the threshold of this new world, the silky voice in the night was talking about cigarette coupons.  It told a story about two friends who “made the same dough,” yet one of them had a new TV, and a boat, and a Ford Mustang, and a vacation home in the country—all purchased with cigarette coupons.  It soon became clear to the other sad sack that he was an idiot not to smoke “Wonkies,” the brand with the coupons, the kind his buddy smoked.  Of course the poor slob who smoked the Wonkies was dying of cancer, but it didn’t matter, because he had been smart enough to get the boat, and the car and the vacation home for free.  He had enjoyed a lifetime of smoking Wonkies, and now his family could use the boat and the other goodies after he died.

The music swelled a bit louder.  Now the voice talked about life on other planets.  Did the inhabitants have better bathrooms than ours?  Did the people have jobs, or could they just go to the bank and ask the teller for as much money as they needed to feed and clothe their families, with enough left over to go to an amusement park or take a quick vacation on another planet.  Everyone had to be on the honor system, or there wouldn’t be enough money to go around.  But these were aliens, after all, not human beings, so there would probably be no problem.

The voice kept talking.  It swept me away.  I lay there listening to my radio.  I felt like a five-year-old kid attending the circus for the first time with his Dad.  The world outside was crazy as hell, but I had it made in the shade, hypnotized by another one of Jean Shepherd’s stories.  Monday morning had disappeared over the horizon—miles, and miles, and miles down the road.

1950’s Radio. Image Source: http://www.radiomuseum.org

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