Posts Tagged memories
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.
“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?”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There was a wooded lot two houses down from my home in the neighborhood where I grew up. We called it “the woods.” At times, the lot became an enchanted forest. This was especially true when I invited a friend to play in the woods with me. One of my friends shared my enthusiasm for 1950’s horror films. We transformed into monsters and created our own scripts using the enchanted forest as our stage.
One afternoon, I remember playing Frankenstein to my friend’s Wolf Man. The scene remains fixed in my memory in crystal clarity forty years later. When our time together had almost expired, an invisible alarm clock sounded inside me. We had to return to my house. My friend’s mother would be calling any minute to arrange a pickup. I stood at the border of the woods, one foot in the wilds and the other on the neatly mown grass of an adjacent estate home. This is the thought that ran through my head:
Next year we’ll be in seventh grade and we won’t be able to do this anymore.
Another alarm clock had sounded, only the chimes of this one struck an infinitely more somber note. It said the time had arrived to put this chapter of my life behind me. I was not in the least bit happy at the news.
Growing up is often associated with pain, and I am certainly no stranger to this experience. Growing up is scary. We have to separate from the umbilicus of parents, stand on our own two feet, compete for a niche in society, establish loving relationships, become parents, and face death at the end of our journey. I’ve never really wanted to grow up. To this day I am not a big fan of “putting away childish things.” But it seems growing up is something a human being cannot avoid if he or she desires to lead a constructive, creative life.
Here’s a trick I’ve learned that makes the medicine of growing up a lot easier to take—ladle in generous doses of joy every day.
I get stuck creatively and psychologically if I’m not experiencing joy on something that approaches a regular basis.
Obviously, joy is a precious and elusive commodity. It takes effort and a multi-faceted strategy to experience it. Joy is the elixir of life in my universe. It is the oil that allows this machine called me to run smoothly. When I’m feeling joy, I’m more creative. My work reaches a higher level. I am more motivated. I want to expand my heart and mind. I want to do what it takes to reach my goals. I am more equipped to help others. When I’m feeling joy work becomes play. I’m back in the enchanted forest with my sixth grade friend. Resistance evaporates in the presence of joy.
If you’ve followed this blog, you know that I practice meditation and recommend it to my readers to feel peace and joy from within. The meditation I do feeds my heart. Thinking the right thoughts is another essential element in the pursuit of joy. We attract what we think about. Currently, I’m reading “Ask And It Is Given” by Esther and Jerry Hicks. This fascinating book offers a unique strategy for manifesting your heart’s desires.
I wish you joy.
This is a childhood memory that keeps surfacing. I’m writing about it to better understand what’s happening, and because I suspect there is a point to the story worth sharing.
My mother took me to the circus every year as a child. One year, I asked for a pet turtle instead of the chameleon I usually begged to take home as a souvenir. It occurs to me that I may have chosen the turtle because I did not want to go through the trauma of the chameleon dying for one reason or another within two weeks of bringing it home. I watched my little turtle walk in circles around the plastic gulley of his cage for a few weeks. Occasionally, he would climb the ramp to the tiny plastic island in the center of his domain to bask under a green, plastic tree.
After a few weeks of watching the turtle walk around, feeding him daily, and occasionally taking him out to play on the cork floor of my room, I grew bored with the little fellow. I think my waning interest was the result of the turtle’s boredom rubbing off on me. I can’t imagine he found his life interesting, trudging around in a small plastic tray day after day, with nothing to look forward to besides a few grains of dried turtle food.
Then I did something unusual. I decided to set the turtle free.
I have no idea why I came to this decision. It might have been out of admiration. The turtle refused to die, unlike my pet chameleons. Looking back on it now, it is likely the little guy had some heroic qualities, or was born with his sun in Jupiter.
I took the little turtle to a favorite play spot; a stone bridge overlooking a pond tucked away in a corner of my neighborhood. Here, I let the turtle swim out of my hands, hoping the little guy’s chances for survival in the wild were better than dying of boredom from circling a plastic dish endlessly in my room.
Six months later, while playing near the brook, I spotted the turtle sunning himself on a rock. I knew circus turtles came from some far-away place. They didn’t look like the other wild turtles living around the brook-pond in my neighborhood. And this guy had the distinctive markings on his chest characteristic of circus turtles. This turtle had to be the little guy I let go only he wasn’t little any more. He had grown at least four or five inches in diameter and his shell had turned up at the edges due to this growth spurt.
My little circus turtle had flourished in the wild. I’d like to say he looked happy, but I really can’t remember, and it’s probably hard to tell what turtles are feeling under any circumstances. But my turtle had obviously survived and prospered. It’s a fair bet his life was more interesting than the dreary one he led in captivity.
Why am I writing this? Perhaps to understand this recurring memory is my soul speaking to me in a parable. My soul is imploring me to get out of my plastic turtle cage, to explore, to grow, to get out of my little rut.
Human nature tends to resist the whispers of the soul, despite my increasingly desperate attempts to listen. (I recently purchased a rocket belt on e-bay to overcome the effects of psychological gravity.*)
Actually, this blog helps me to climb out of my turtle cage.
So, thanks for being there. Thanks for reading.
*The rocket belt didn’t work. I had to return it.
The moment arrived unannounced during a set of solitary yoga postures on my plush, living room rug. A long stretch to relieve the tension of the day popped something open inside me. It was not a ligament or a tendon. It was my hardened heart.
In the Hollywood version of the story, the hero manages to crawl to the phone, call 911, and then wakes up in a hospital bed after a miraculous, life-saving operation by a brilliant, open-heart surgeon. The experience impresses upon our hero a number of crucial life lessons. After the crisis, the hero’s character and actions towards others change profoundly for the better.
Unfortunately, life does not resemble a Hollywood B movie. My physical heart had not split open while in shoulder stand on the rug. A more subtle heart had opened, and with it, a door to a new world and another destiny.
It all started with Jorge, the new employee I would never have gone to lunch with if my usual lunch-buddies had not run off somewhere without me. Jorge was Mexican, the only Latin guy on the second floor executive suite of Wallco, a wallpaper distribution company that hired mostly white Anglos in 1981, when Miami’s transformation into a multi-cultural city began in earnest.
Jorge, like me, was in his early thirties, average looking, average height, dark hair, brown eyes, thin mustache — an easy to get lost in the crowd kind of guy. I had no idea his unheralded arrival would trigger a seminal occurrence in my life.
Wallco hired Jorge for its fledgling export division. Jorge’s mission was to open up markets in South America and the Caribbean–approximately one quarter of the world–all by himself. He had the ability to speak Spanish and, I presumed, super-human sales skills coupled with a pioneering spirit. I didn’t envy Jorge one bit.
I considered myself above Jorge. I was the high and mighty Marketing Director—Jorge the lowly new sales recruit. I had served my time in sales. I was grateful beyond words not to have to spend my days selling wallpaper sample books to dealers who had no more room in their stores for them. I figured, if nothing else, I could learn something about the export market by going to lunch with the new recruit. Besides, Jorge was the only soul left on the second floor other than myself.
Jorge suggested we eat at a quiet, natural food restaurant in Miami Springs. My lunch prospects had just been elevated from a singular, fatty, McDonald’s affair to a tasty, low cholesterol engagement. I happily agreed.
Over salads and grain burgers, I discovered Jorge was a vegetarian and engaged in practicing meditation on a daily basis. Here was a subject I had some interest in, having experimented with various forms and teachers of meditation over the years. You might say I was a semi-serious spiritual seeker. I had reached a curious crossroads, a sort of impasse in my life.
I had everything a thirty something American male could wish for: the perfect job in a field I enjoyed; a great boss; a townhouse bachelor pad; girlfriends, a few pals to hang out with; a sports car and club memberships. I had scrupulously followed the prescribed formulas for success. I had cobbled together many of the accoutrements of an ideal life.
Yet I felt restless and unfulfilled.
I was terrified there was something terribly wrong with me. I felt the cold winds of middle age blowing in my direction. I saw myself dating one girl after another well into my eighties, until I finally abandoned the search for true love when my body and spirit caved in from old age.
There I was, sitting across from this lowly new recruit munching on his iceberg lettuce. He casually mentioned losing 80 pounds after becoming a vegetarian. I commented that it must have taken a great deal of willpower. He answered, “Not really.”
I began to pepper Jorge with questions. The guy was unlike many of the salespeople in our company I regularly rubbed elbows with. He had a depth and an intensity that I found intriguing.
I asked Jorge what kind of meditation he practiced. He said it was not a “kind of meditation.” He launched into a passionate discourse about a profound experience of peace the meditation opened up for him. He invited me to a presentation scheduled at a hotel on Miami Beach that evening. I told myself there was no way I was going to drive all the way from South Miami to the Beach to attend some dubious spiritual seminar.
That night, I found myself sitting in a lime green, orange accented meeting room at the Carlyle Hotel.
Curiosity—and some undefinable vibe emanating from between Jorge’s words at lunch had picked me up from the chocolate brown pit sofa in my living room and deposited me in an uncomfortable chair surrounded by a room full of strangers.
Indian music played from six-foot speakers flanking a makeshift stage. The only thing that kept me in my seat was the absence of Hare-Krishna-like chanting.
I glanced to my left and caught a glimpse of Jorge, who smiled kindly at me. Someone took the stage and began speaking into a microphone.
The Indian Music and the microphone are the only details I recall after the program began. My perspective slowly shifted from an external focus to a pleasant inner experience.
A succession of three speakers addressed the gathering that evening. I do not recall a single word any one of them said. I just remember feeling relaxed. I had an experience that can only be described as feeling at home with myself.
For the first time in a very long while, I had actually enjoyed myself without a great deal of effort or alcohol to help me along. I felt like an invisible hand had knocked off a layer of caked mud from my body.
It is difficult for me to describe what happened after that evening. I can only say that it marked the beginning of a long journey that lasts to this day, to this very moment.
In the days and weeks after the event at the Carlyle Hotel, I met Jorge’s teacher, who essentially introduced me to myself. I thought I knew myself pretty well. I began to see that the image I held of myself was only a faint glimmer of a deeper, broader Self, filled with possibilities.
Many years later, my life remains full of challenges, but I face them with real joy and optimism. I have discovered that life can be every bit as beautiful as you want it to be. It takes some courage and effort, but the possibility is real for anyone willing to step up to the plate.
I look inward now for satisfaction, rather than chasing it on the outside. I shake hands with myself on a daily basis through meditation. I feel more grounded. I feel more love from within, which reflects positively into my outer life.
It occurs to me that I should have picked up the tab for Jorge’s lunch. Jorge, buddy, if you’re out there somewhere and can read this, please know that I owe you one.
Top photo from the Dutchville Exhibition at the Netherlands Architecture Institute
I remember the day my father asked me to become a partner in the stable. He was sitting behind his desk in the temporary office space we rented then, dressed in a camel colored sport coat and checkered cotton sport shirt. He looked straight at me with his bright, keen eyes and proceeded to make an offer that took me back to my secret weekend excursions in high school with my best friend, Danny. We were seventeen, a year too young to pass through the gates of any gambling establishment. That didn’t stop us. Danny and I were tall enough to look the part. On Saturdays, we drove to the “flats” at Monmouth Park on the Jersey shore and the “trotters” at Roosevelt Field in Long Island at night. We would bet two dollars a race and have the time of our lives.
My father, B. Morton Gittlin, was an unpredictable genius. At sixty-one, after selling a wallpaper manufacturing and distribution business he had built from a small company into a national market leader, he began purchasing thoroughbred horses. Completely in character, he shocked me with his offer to become a partner in a racing partnership he intended to name “Three G Stable,” assuming I agreed to become the third “G.”
I never suspected my father had an interest in thoroughbred racing. We used to play a lot of golf together on the weekends when I was growing up. I cannot fathom how or when he found the time to sneak away to the track with my mother. He certainly would never have gone to the racetrack during the week. He was too disciplined and focused on building businesses into powerhouse companies to fritter away time during working hours. I imagine he didn’t share his secret passion for the horses with me when I was a minor because it involved gambling.
My own secret interest in the horses took a long break after high school. Danny, my dear friend and co-conspirator, attended a different college than I and we grew apart. I was eager to move on with my life and put childish interests behind me. Thirty years flew by filled with adult activities—marriage, a family, and a career in marketing next to my father in the family business.
I accepted Morton’s offer to join Three G Stable as a full partner. It was an entity created out of my father’s love for us as well as his love for the sport of kings. The stable gave us something to keep us together and have fun with after we sold the wallpaper business.
There is nothing more exciting than seeing a horse you own pounding down the stretch in the lead. My parents and I were fortunate to experience the exhilarating feeling of victory often in the twenty years the Three G Stable was in operation. We owned and enjoyed a number of remarkable, stakes-winning horses. One of them reminded me of my father. His name was “Storm Predictions.”
We acquired Storm Predictions by claiming him out of a race as a two-year old. Many of the more experienced owners and trainers at Calder Race Course laughed behind my father’s back for claiming Storm Predictions. Although the young horse was winning races, it was common knowledge he had some problems. The breeder couldn’t sell “Stormy” at the two-year-old-in training auctions because he had what the veterinarians called “sawdust,” or bone particles in one knee. This is an ominous condition for most horses, indicating a tendency towards bone and joint injuries. My father didn’t care. He saw in Storm Predictions the rare courage and talent of a potential champion. The other owners and trainers saw a horse with a limited future.
As a three-year old, Storm Predictions won the Palm Beach Stakes on the grass at Gulfstream Park competing against the best horses on the East Coast. Then, our gutsy gelding won the Inaugural Stakes and the Tampa Bay Derby, a race for three-year olds on the Kentucky Derby trail. Ridden by an unheralded journeyman jockey, Storm Predictions won with a flourish of speed at the top of the stretch, upsetting the heavy favorite in the race.
As a four-year old, “Stormy” won the Americana Handicap on the turf at Calder, as well as a number of “overnight” stakes and allowance races. The gelding banked close to $400,000 in purse money during his racing career. The horse cracked bones in his shins and suffered from joint aches and muscle pains of all sorts. Nothing stopped him. We just gave him long rests when necessary. Storm Predictions always came back running hard and winning. We gave Storm Predictions away to a caring farm owner when his racing days were over. The gelding lived a long and useful life after his years at the track as a pleasure riding horse.
My father, like Storm Predictions, was no stranger to adversity. After clearing the inevitable hurdles of a successful business career, he endured many physical setbacks in retirement, including a hip replacement, throat cancer, and emphysema. Nothing stopped him. He just kept enthusiastically pursuing his interests and enjoying life to the fullest, until the effects of exposure to asbestos as a boy caught up with him at age eighty-three. Even then, he didn’t want to give up. On the last day of his life, lying in a hospital bed, his body whittled down to skin and bone by Mesothelioma, my father threw off his covers and announced he intended to walk to the bathroom unattended. We practically had to hold Morton down to spare him further pain and embarrassment.
I still dream of my father and the horses. We call him “Morton” now, instead of Dad, or Pop, or my husband, or my father-in-law. We call him by name because he was such a unique individual. Anyone who knew my father well knows what I’m talking about. Morton has been gone five years now, and I miss him terribly. We sold all of our horses and disbanded the stable shortly before my father’s death. The world of thoroughbred racing, like my father, has moved on. Hialeah Park, once a haven for fabulous Flamingos and the finest thoroughbred racing in the East during the winter, is now a relic that hosts a brief quarter horse meeting. Gulfstream Park, another south Florida track, was razed and rebuilt into an enormous shopping center and gambling parlor. Gone are the fan friendly grounds where patrons spent the day with family members in a country fair atmosphere.
I remember taking my five-year old daughter to the petting zoo and putting her on the backs of Shetland ponies for rides at the old park. The spacious, open-air grandstands and box seats where fans used to bet, eat, drink, and watch the races all day long, are now an unfriendly complex of cramped, concrete buildings.
Thankfully, I still have my memories. I remember Morton and the horses. I remember the chain of love known as Three G Stable that linked me together with my parents, wife, and young daughter, in those glorious, fun-filled days gone by.
I heard his footsteps enter the kitchen. I sat at the breakfast table, afraid to glimpse the advancing Bengal tiger, my father.
I didn’t have the stomach to gaze into his piercing green eyes. My mind saw those eyes jumping from the bushy, long hair straggling down the back of my neck, to the rumpled, black T-shirt I had pulled on shortly after stumbling out of bed. Those X-Ray lamps of his would finally come to rest on the doodles and paint droppings on the blue jeans I had worn for most of the past year in art school.
The footsteps halted. I imagined the Bengal tiger crouching on all fours, sizing up its prey. Minutes passed. The silence became unbearable. There was nowhere to run. The tiger had me cornered. I turned in my seat, almost like a revolving door. I held my breath as well as the awkward position.
My father leaned on the kitchen counter dressed in a navy, pinstripe suit accented by a red silk tie and powder blue business shirt. His eyes focused not on me, but on his perfectly manicured nails, like a high-priced trial attorney adopting a nonchalant pose before tearing into a hostile witness. He looked up at me suddenly.
His eyes always darted back and forth when he was angry. My father’s gaze was rock steady on this day. I did not perceive him to be calm, however. His slack posture spoke to me of something else, something entirely new, and horribly unexpected. My legs grew numb, perhaps from the ridiculous position I sat frozen in.
“Please say something,” I managed to blurt out.
His face held no expression now, as if a gremlin somewhere inside his body had flipped off an electrical switch.
“When you finish art school,” he said, “my responsibility for you will be finished. You’ll be on your own. If you end up nowheresville, it will be your unhappiness, not mine.”
My father continued to regard me with that terrible, neutral expression. His keen eyes bore into mine. I was certain he could hear my heart beating double-time inside my chest.
“I have to go to work now,” he said, and marched with a purposeful stride out of the room.
I turned and stared vacantly out the kitchen window into the back yard. I saw myself as a teenager, smashing golf wiffle-balls across the lawn for hours with the rusty seven-iron my father had given me from an old set. I blinked. The memory vanished.
It took a full five minutes to convince my legs to lift me up from the table.
In the next few days, I realized my father had done me a favor by bluntly pointing out what the consequences of my actions were apt to be, at least as far as my relationship with him was concerned.
His words shed a cold, clear light on my attempted escape from the pain of growing from a boy into a man. This recollection may have made my father seem cruel, but he was never an unkind man. Perhaps he could have “gilded the lily” more in his advice to me while growing up, but not on this occasion. He did not speak to me with malice or hurtful intent. He spoke honestly and with deep concern, and his words altered my future indelibly for the better.
The name Miss Crisson fit her. Words come to mind, like “crisp,” “sharp,” “cross,” and “criticism.” I remember a six-foot tall, middle-aged woman with regular, Germanic features and wide, hazel eyes peering from behind big-rimmed glasses supported by a clunky plastic frame.
She wore an expression of perennial disappointment punctuated by frequent, angry outbursts. I thought then her mood was the direct result of our consistently delinquent behavior — the student body of Miss Crisson’s fifth grade class. Now I think there may have been other factors involved.
Miss Crisson did not carry her statuesque figure gracefully. Instead, she stood in an ungainly posture in front of the class, arms crossed, daring anyone to misbehave. She never seemed to feel comfortable inside her own skin, or perhaps the small print, cotton dresses she wore like uniforms were all a half size too small.
Looking back, I imagine men might have considered her sexy if she had dressed in a more colorful, modern style. Regular trips to the beauty parlor would have helped too. But she had no use for fashionable clothes or fixing herself up. Her thinning hair drooped in unenthusiastic curls. The humidity in the spring and early summer made the hair from the buns she wore march in a column down her neck like AWOL soldiers.
I recall her first name with great difficulty: It was, or is Doris. Is she still alive as we speak? She took great pains to keep us at a distance, in our place. Miss Crisson the teacher, the person in charge, we the students, there to obey.
It was not so much the things she did that I remember. It was rather the things she didn’t do. She never, for instance, sat on a chair in front of the class with her legs crossed, or in a more casual moment, on the side of her desk. She always stood, implacably, a permanent fixture in front of the class. She sat at her desk only during study periods, often holding her head while reading from her lesson plan or papers that looked to be terribly important. We spent six hours a day, Monday through Friday, with Miss Crisson, surely enough time to get to know someone well, at least enough time for her guard to fall occasionally. Yet, I can’t recall any informal moments with Miss Crisson, never the spontaneous joke or appreciative laugh from the student audience.
She never spoke of children or relatives. I never learned a thing about her personal life after spending a year in her classroom. Did she spend her childhood years in a middle class tract home at the mercy of bible-toting, God-fearing parents? Did her classmates taunt her for being too tall? As a teenager, did she have many boyfriends? Did she ever have a boyfriend? Did she eat dinner at home alone every night in a terry cloth bathrobe and slippers, her hair liberated from the customary bun, hanging in loopy strands? Did she sometimes wake up to an alarm buzzing from the bedroom, slumped on a sofa in front of the television?