Monthly Archives: January 2014

Life starts to get interesting

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 oil paints jeremy raglin

Soon after Pacific Engineering Company hired me my life started to improve, and everyone in my family saw improvement in their lives as well, it was a long time coming.

 

My parents struggled financially for years after Rohr Industries laid off my dad, and they were joyous when the day came that my dad was finally called back to work there.

 

Once the economy finally improved, especially for the aircraft industry, things were looking good again.

 

His company signed a 20-year contract for the production of various parts for different aircraft, which meant that if everything went well, my dad would be able to retire in the same company that my grandpa did, this made my dad very happy.

 

Not to mention, he was going to make three times the money working for Rohr again than he did with PEC. I had never seen my dad happier.

 

The black cloud finally lifted from our family. My parents were excited about no longer worrying about making the house payment or purchasing groceries every month.

 

And they looked forward to carefree moments for the first time in years.

 

My parent’s financial situation was a huge source of worry for me for a long time because I didn’t know if they could survive without my Dad’s job. But now that he was working for his old company again I felt like the burden of worry was lifted from me.

 

More good news came when I found out that my best friend, and mentor, Joe and my sister, Becky, were officially engaged to be married and had set a date for February 1999.

 

Joe and Becky had been dating for a while and I knew that their interest in each other was becoming more serious, when Joe started to make more serious romantic gestures to my sister, like buying flowers, taking her on romantic dates and spending more time in our house.

 

One night when my parents were away on vacation Becky had been gone with Joe all day and they came back to the house late at night acting like co-conspirators in a secret plot. It was at that moment that I knew that they were engaged and they confirmed it when Becky showed me her engagement ring.

 

I was ecstatic when I heard the news. I couldn’t possibly think of anything better than to have my best friend marry my sister.

 

At the time, I felt that there wasn’t anyone else on the entire planet that I trusted and looked up to more than Joe because of all the time that we had spent getting to know each other over the year during the time that we spent together working on our art and lives.

 

All I saw ahead for Joe and Becky were nothing but crystal clear blue skies and a promising life together, because I felt they were a good match and they completed each other.

 

Joe was very outgoing, social, animated and goal orientated in his life but lacked the management and organizational skills to get his plan for a career in the art world off the ground. And Becky was very quiet, reserved and had a gift for business management and administration from her years working in secretarial and office administration positions for companies in San Diego.

 

With their own unique talents and gifts I felt that their marriage would be a successful and fruitful partnership that would be a blessing for them both in many ways.

 

Life couldn’t get any better. Different facets of my life were coming together like building blocks striving for structure and I started to grow in more ways than I ever thought possible.

 

I felt like John Travolta in the movie Phenomenon. In the movie he plays an average guy living a small town life when one night he sees a bright light flash in the night sky. And as a result of that night his life is changed forever and he develops special gifts and a passion for learning that he never thought possible.

 

Each week, I was at my local library picking up five or more books on everything from art and poetry, business, science and history.

 

There just isn’t enough time in the day when you have so many items, people, places and invents that interest you and call fervently for your attention.

 

The best and worst time of day for me was when the clock struck three p.m. and I had to leave for work.

 

I didn’t hate my job; I just hated leaving my painting or my writing to go to work.

 

My quest for knowledge was largely fueled and encouraged by Gill, who I was now spending every night working with and talking about everything from politics, current events, sports and life.

 

A few days after I started working for the company, my boss, Mike, put me on one of the assembly lines for the first time, boxing parts with Gill.

 

Mike had a hard time putting the right people together to work for the night, because with a crew of 25 people, each person had their own very defined personality and putting the wrong people together could cause a lot of friction.

 

For instance, there was one employee on our crew, named Sung Ho who I classified as an ultra-religious nut-ball. He got easily offended when anyone swore, mentioned beliefs or expressed sentiments with which he didn’t agree. For instance saying “Merry Christmas” around Sung Ho brought the same response as swearing at him, physical confrontation with the offending employee.

 

And then there was our resident biker dude, Bill, who lived his life at 90 miles per hour and wasn’t afraid to let anyone know what was on his mind at any second, especially if it included using his favorite four-letter words. I always suspected that Bill was involved in drugs because he always seemed on edge, never had any money and hung out with suspicious people in the parking lot, after work.

 

If Bill and Sung Ho, or Orion and Sung Ho were assigned to work together for a night, which did happen a few times, inevitably one of them would always end up provoking the other and start a fight. As a result, Mike would always send Sung Ho home for the night because his caustic personality was sure to inflame other personalities after a fight.

 

And so, as I was settling into my job that evening, and preparing for another long night of trying not to stare at my watch Gill and I started to have conversations, which would influence our work relationship, and help shape my creative mindset for years to come.

 

“So Jeremy, what are you interested in?” Gill asked me that night we worked together, with a bored undertone. At the same time Mr. Mossy was risking his life yet again, trying to fix another problem on a machine that had stopped our production line.

 

Production lines sometimes have a mind of their own and can easily stop for no reason at all.

 

“Well, I have a lot of interests,” I said. I wasn’t sure where he was going with question and I really didn’t feel like a long conversation.

 

“Like what?” Gill asked.

 

I didn’t want to open myself up and start talking about my desires and pursuits because people didn’t seem to care or understand when I told them what was on my mind and heart. So my plan was to keep my desires internal until I built the confidence to boast. 

 

I felt that I could trust Gill and with reservation, I told him that I was an artist.

 

“Really? Who are your favorite artists?” Gill asked.

 

He wasn’t sure if I was serious or just another joker just like everyone else in the factory.

 

In our factory everyone affectionately regarded Gill as “the professor” because of his background and tendency to read during our lunch breaks. And his reclusive demeanor and academic ways caused some people to occasionally pick on him.

 

Later, Gill told me that he asked me this question because a lot of kids my age were only interested in graffiti and knew nothing of art, and what great art was really about.

matisse

 

“My hero’s are Heri Matisse, because I love his colors and simple lines.” I fell in love with Henri Matisse’s artwork during my senior year in high school because I could relate to his style, love of color, design and influence on modern art today.

 

“And Pablo Picasso because he never conformed to any distorted or societal standards and his work was always changing and catching the critics off guard even when he was in his 90’s.”

 picasso

Picasso influenced every aspect of art in the 20th century, from new modern art movements, commercial art, contemporary design, theater, movies and television. Every artist alive today knows who Pablo Picasso is and can trace the foundation of modern art back to him and other key artists of his time.

 

“And, most of all, I love Paul Cézanne, because he is the father of modern art and his landscapes are just awesome,” I said.

cezanne.riverbanks

 

Paul Cézanne is probably a name that the average person would not know because he lived his life as an outsider artist during the Impressionist Period when artists like Monet, Renoir, Pissarro and Degas were getting all the credit for the ground breaking art that was being created during that period.

 

I felt passionate about Cezanne then and now because I can relate to his desire to forge his own style through his dedicated work ethic, a good example of which are the hundreds of paintings that he did of “Mt. St Victorie” during his career.

 

“And…” I started. Gill interrupted me before I could continue:

 

“You’re on the right track, Jeremy, but why do you want to be an artist? “ Gill asked, looking rather stern at that moment.

 

Gill wasn’t the only person who tried to dissuade me from my serious artistic cravings. Joe had asked me, on a few occasions, the same question and then said, “You would be better off as a plumber because at least they make better money.”

 

“Don’t you know the stories of artists like the Impressionists who suffered for years because critics didn’t see their vision, their art didn’t sell, and they weren’t able to feed their families?”

 

Monet and Pissarro and their families starved while they continued to paint and do anything they could to remain full time artists without selling themselves out by creating commercial paintings or taking jobs painting houses or signs to pay the bills.

 

“Are you prepared to give up your life to attempt to convey your vision to the world; to show people another way of seeing things that they won’t understand?” Gill asked.

 

“I know the stories of the Impressionists and other artists that have suffered, Gill, because I’ve read and studied their lives and work, and the times they lived in.”

 

“I also know their suffering and their contribution to art,” I said.

 

“But why do you want to be an artist?” Gill asked again.

 

“Because I can’t help it,” I said.

 

“Because creating art for me is a passion; I look forward to it every day from the moment when I wake up in the morning to when I come home from work at night.”

 

Gill grinned when I said that.

 

Any artist, young or old, knows that art is like a drug you can’t deny, and once you start creating art, you are hooked for life.

 

Even if an artist tries to quit producing art, they will always look at the world around them with the mind of an artist and constantly be thinking about painting or drawing the images of the world around them. Life will always be like this for the “recovered artist” until, like an addict they go back to the paint, pastels, pencils or clay to start creating again.

 

Even Picasso, during his last days, referred to art as a dominating woman who controlled his will.

 

“Painting is stronger than I am. It makes me do it’s bidding.”

Pablo Picasso

 

“During my senior year in high school, I had to take an elective course to graduate. So I chose art and my life hasn’t been the same since,” I said.

 

“I was set on going to college and becoming a landscape architect and my drafting teacher told me I had the talent for it, so I knew that this was the direction I was going to go. But ever since that first day I sat down in my art class and began to paint, I’ve been a changed man.”

 

“I know the road is tough and will get tougher for me as time goes by, but I also know that I can’t go back because the door opened up and I have something inside me that has to come out. And the only way to get it out is by art,” I said.

 

“Wow, you should have been the teacher and not me,” Gill replied.

 

“Did you catch the Padres game last night? Man, they blew another huge lead, “Gill said.

 

Gill had a way of naturally changing a serious conversation about deep topics like art and poetry to something less serious like the latest Padres or Chargers game.

 

When he did this, it was his way of saying, “lighten up” and “come back to earth” for a while.

 

It frustrated because I felt that he had important and valuable treasures of knowledge hidden inside him that I wanted to unlock.

 

I also speculated that it was Gill’s way of getting away from a potentially painful subject.

 

Gill was a walking example of the classic tortured artist and I sensed that sometimes, especially when the work in the factory bored him to passivity he remembered who he was, and not using his talents really bothered him.
Sometimes I couldn’t understand why he didn’t get up and say “screw this place,” and finally quit, but then I realized that Gill had become “institutionalized” in the company just like Orion had warned me about.

 

There were moments when Gill got angry with the company and told everyone including Mike, that he was “going to quit his job and go back to sculpting again,” but sadly, he always “came back to earth” when remembered his commitments to his ex-wives and children.

 

For the time that I would work there I made it my responsibility to be the spark that would ignite Gill’s creative fire again.

 

“No” is not an answer for me. I was not going to accept that I couldn’t live life on my terms and I wasn’t going to accept that my family or friends like Gill and Dave couldn’t live happy lives either.

 

I also felt the same way for my soon to be brother in law, Joe. When I first met him, I immediately felt like I had been reunited with a long-lost brother, for whom I cared deeply and wanted to help in every way I could.

 

I guess you can call it a creative kinship that I had with Gill, Dave and Joe or maybe I saw part of myself in them and as I grew and improved in my life, I wanted to take them along with me on my path in the hopes that, success would breed success in all of us.

 

I felt that my creative kinship and relationship with Joe over the years had paid off, and that Joe and Becky’s wedding day would be the start for their beautiful future and also a sign that better days were ahead for me and everyone in my life.

 

Their wedding day finally arrived on February 13th 1999 when they were married in front of a packed church of family and friends in “Old Town” San Diego.

 

I told Joe after his wedding was over that I felt like cruising for chicks in my tuxedo later that night because it would probably be a long time before I would ever get to look that good again.

 

After the wedding was over, and everyone had gone home and the cleanup staff was tending to the aftermath of the wedding reception I decided to drive over to Joe’s house to celebrate with his family and watch the video of the wedding.

 tequilla

When I got there I was greeted by Joe’s sister, nieces, and mother who greeted me warmly and handed me a shot of Tequila that they expected me to gulp down and celebrate with them as an extended member of their family.

 

I’d never tried Tequila before but since I was in the middle of a family celebration I gulped down the shot with enthusiasm.

 

It tasted like rubbing alcohol mixed with gasoline, but after another few shots, I didn’t care. I caught the momentum of their celebration and ended up spending the rest of the night happily rejoicing the union of two people everyone loved.

 

Joe and Becky were off to their honeymoon, everyone was happy and later that night I went to bed in a warm Tequila haze with a big smile on my face….

airplane taking off

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Finding myself on the assembly line

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hot summer day

It was a hot July afternoon in 1998, four years after I graduated high school, when I walked into the Pacific Engineering Factory, with no experience, ready to start my new job.

 

It was just after 3 p.m. when a wide assortment of people from all walks of life greeted me in the factory.

 

Older white haired educated men, middle aged soccer moms, mentally challenged men and women, homeless temporary workers, divorced men starting over; new immigrants from other countries and other people from all other walks of life comprised the melting pot of people that worked for Pacific Engineering Company or, PEC as we called it.

 

To me, the factory was a big and ominous establishment. Everywhere I looked, I saw massive machines quickly spewing out parts, while employees ran quickly back and forth like rabbits, to inspect, box and ship off parts worldwide.

 

Just as I was preparing myself for my new experience, the bell rang, releasing the first shift from another eight hours of tedious labor and readying those of us on the second shift for a long night with a 12:30 a.m. end.

 

It was happening, I was becoming my father, continuing the tradition that his father had passed onto him of being a “company man”. I wasn’t a child with my dad’s friends asking me if I was going to work for the same company as him, I was now all grownup and our destinies had finally intertwined.

 

On one hand, I felt like I was abandoning my dreams and ideals that every young person has in their early 20s of an exciting, creative job for the steady, secure life that my father and grandfather before him had lived with comfortably for years. And on the other hand, I felt like I was selling out my young ideals for money.

 

But what I really needed at that time was a normal job, solid paycheck, reliable hours and a good work environment while I figured out what I really wanted to do with my life.

 

On the assembly line, I would have a lot of time to think about my aspirations and how to turn them into actuality.

 

As the bell rang on my first day, my father walked up to me all dirty from his shift and welcomed me to the “team” at PEC.

 

He assured me that this would be a good experience for me and that I was doing the right thing with my life.

 

“You need a good steady job and a paycheck so you can settle down,” My dad said one day.

 

“Dad I’m only 22, not 32, I don’t want to settle down until I figure out what I want to do with my life.” I replied.

 

In his excitement for my job opportunity at PEC, my dad told me that he would wait up for me when I got home to find out how my first night went.

 

I felt like it was my first day of school, like I would say goodbye to my mom in the car and walk to my classroom to start another grade.

 

As I talked with my dad and said goodbye to him a few of his friends from his shift walked up to me to say hello and I heard a common theme from them, “Just like dad,” and “keeping up the tradition of your father are you?” I cringed when they said things like that. They didn’t know anything about me and yet they were already sentencing me to 30 years of production labor. Help!

 

 

This factory was my second home for the next two years. Even though it was small compared to other factories in the area it was filled with lots of Japanese machines both big and small that served many different functions.

 

There were two main production lines where metal was pressed, bent and stamped by each individual press with its own function and handed down the line to employees that boxed the parts for shipment.

 

Whenever I told my neighboring coworkers how amazed at the production process, size or efficiency they responded with: “This place ain’t so big, I worked a year at Rohr and that place is one heck of an operation!”

 

They traded their workplace stories like old veterans, telling stories of battles long lost and won. And as they looked back, sharing their respective experiences, their voices reflected sadness for a society that no longer existed. They knew that they would never work for a company that enabled the security or lifestyle they sought.

 

On hot summer days like this one, all of the gigantic roll -up doors were open and fans were turned on at every workstation to let what little air that was available circulate throughout the factory.

 

This never helped because the area of town where I worked was called Santee, well known for the hot Indian summers. From May to October every year, count on it to be scorching hot and unbearable during the day and hot and balmy during the night. The heat and humidity in the factory even at night, was enough to humble even the toughest of men and fittest of athletes.

 

Mr. Mossy the head of engineering from Japan ran and maintained the machines in the factory. He was a tall, lanky man who always loomed in the distance with a frown on his face.

 

He was always stressed from the pressure his corporate bosses put on him. Anytime I saw him, he was tending to one “bombshell” or another.

 

The only time that I didn’t see him frantically running from one machine to another was when I saw him taking a cigarette break or with his arms submerged his toxic chemicals fixing one of the machines.

 

I was sure that this guy would be dead in five years from either stress or cancer. I just couldn’t see the logic of killing yourself for your company like Mr. Mossy did on a daily basis. And in turn Mr. Mossy and the other Japanese engineers considered workers like me lazy and undisciplined because I would never commit to working 10 hours a day, six day a week shifts.

 

I had heard many stories of Japanese people breaking down mentally from being overworked and ending up hospitalized and later unable to recall the details of their personal lives.

 

It was definitely a big, sometimes comical pursuit, working for PEC. Especially with Mr. Muhammad, the lead man for the first shift, he always smelled like rotten eggs, Vodka and never had anything good to say about anyone.

 

Even though he was smaller than most employees in the company he always asserted a delusional sense of superiority.

 

And Mr. Mossy never agreed with Mr. Muhammad on anything.

 

The first thing I did every day was check with my friends to find out if I should avoid either one of these guys during my shift.

 

I did this because whenever production levels were down for the first shift, Mr. Mossy looked for Mr. Muhammad to chew him out.

 

corporate fighting

 

The bosses in the office always wanted more, more, and more, and were never satisfied when production slipped, even if there was a major problem that day.

 

One side was always blaming another when there was a problem. It was either the engineer’s fault; the team leader’s fault, management’s fault, seldom, it was because of an act of God that the company had a bad day.

 

So it was not a good idea for me to get in either mans way if they were at each other’s throats. If I did accidentally bump into them, when they were pissed off they usually yelled at me or stuck me with doing a crappy job for the night.

 

My boss on the second shift was a big and tall balding Texan named Mike.

 

Mike was a great guy, he hated it when employees addressed him as “Mr.” and always insisted that we treated him as “One of the guys,” and call him Mike.

 

He really reminded me of John Wayne because we never saw him without blue jeans, a big belt buckle and cowboy boots.

 

He was our favorite shift leader because he stood up for us whenever anyone in management complained about our productivity levels. He wouldn’t let himself or his shift take the blame for anything that wasn’t our fault.

 

The environment itself resembled a prison or what I always imagined a prison to be. We wore prison blue uniforms and took orders from a “boss” that roamed the factory during every shift. Every night after the bell rang at 12:30 a.m. indicating our shift was over, we filed past the time clock, punching our time cards, and filed out the door to our cars and the drive home.

 

And like a prison, there were many different types of people, from various walks of life, all there for different reasons.

 

I learned very fast that if I was going to keep this job, I was going to have to find ways to keep my mind occupied every night. Otherwise I knew I would go crazy from boredom and would end up quitting, fast.

 

I learned to listen and ask questions. I worked with a different person every night and I found myself immersed in conversations with my co-worker about everything from politics, sports, art, philosophy and religion.

 

Warrior poets surrounded me in the factory and each person had a story to tell.

 

While most of my friends were still attending college and getting their degrees, I was learning life lesions from my new teachers in the factory.

 

On my night, I started to work on one of the massive bending machines, always careful to keep my hands away from the big press that bent the parts.

 

the mangler

 

As I did my job, all I could think of were scenes from the movie “The Mangler,” where people loose their limbs and lives to a killer machine.

 

My friends seemed to find it amusing when I told them about my new job, they kept repeating “dude you’re going to get your hand ripped off!” Then they laughed with no remorse.

 

I wasn’t too happy about loosing a limb on my first night there, so I played it extra safe, keeping an eye out, extra careful to not loose a limb.

 

As I worked the machine of intimidation I turned around to box parts and was greeted by a burly man covered with tattoos all over his arms. The burly, tattooed man stuck out his big “catchers mitt” hand for me to shake.

 

“Hi, my name’s Dave,” he said. “What’s your name?”

 

I shook his hand. “My name’s Jeremy,” I replied.

 

“Well, Jeremy, welcome to the party. I can’t guarantee that you career will take off in this place, because the only way to advance here is if someone gets injured or dies. And if either of the two happens, I’m sure management will still find a way to make that person come to work the next day.”

 

Dave said this and topped it off with a laugh that shook his large stomach.

 

Dave was a mystery. He looked older than his years, but always talked about things that only someone in their 20s would be interested in.

 

Of special interest to me were the latest movies, comic books and TV shows, and Dave always seemed to know more about those things than I did.

 

I never asked him how old he was or pried too much into his life because from when he told me tales of his military service in Vietnam and the turmoil he’d experienced in his life I figured that he didn’t want to get to close to people. Especially since the peace and privacy that he enjoyed now mattered too much to him to be invaded by my questions.

 

Dave was our machine maintenance guy. We always looked for him whenever we had problems with our machines.

 

I could always count on Dave to fix my machine when it was down; give me advice on current problems and walk away, leaving me with a joke that would have me laughing all night long.

 

On that first day, he gained my respect instantly when I noticed that he had a couple of fingers missing from his right hand. I knew that he was someone who had learned from experience and I figured that I had a lot to learn from him if I wanted to keep my job and my limbs.

 

“Where are you from Jeremy? “ Dave asked in his gruff voice.

 

“Everywhere,” I said. At that moment I felt like Plato, thinking over everything I had done since high school and questioning why I was there and what I was doing with my life.

 

“Ah, I see we have another philosopher on our hands. You should fit right in with this bunch, “Dave said.

 

“Have you met Gill yet?” Dave asked.

 

“Not yet, I was hoping to introduce myself to people during the lunch break,” I replied.

 

“Well there’s no better time than the present to meet people, “Dave said.

 

“Come on, I’ll introduce you to him now.”

 

As we walked over to where Gill worked Dave quickly gave me the rundown of Gill’s background.

 

He told me that Gill had once been a teacher at a well known university in Northern California and before that, he was a somewhat famous artist/sculptor whose work was very popular with the wealthy in Los Angles during the 1960’s and early 1970’s.

 

Later, I found out from one of my conversations with Gill that he dropped out of the art scene in the early 1980’s because he felt like he had sold out his artistic soul for money. He also felt that his work was being placed in homes with the same respect as a coat rack or nightstand.

 

Gill was an enigma. He looked and acted like a wise, old professor but here, trapped at PEC, in the prison blue uniform, he was a “prisoner” like every else.

 

He always had a bag of books next to his workstation that he would read at every 10 minute break. His most interesting trait was his way with women, they were drawn to him, and he never was without a girlfriend even though he was in his late 50’s with a few grandchildren.

 

I found out one night that he had been married four times to four different women who had all ruined him and forced him to leave everything that he had and start over again each time.

 

Even though he had his troubles, he told me that he was still seeing a few women in town with whom he still had hopes of finding the right women to settle down.

 

“Love is a wonderful drink of passion, pleasure, and pain. And when you fall out of love, you are always searching for the right one to fall in love with again.”

 

“That’s why I keep searching, because there’s nothing better in the world to wake up in morning next to the one that you love. Of course, now it does get kind of tough around the holidays, having to decide which ex-wife and kids I am going to spend my time with,” He said with a laugh.”

 

“Maybe next Christmas, I will invite all of my ex-wives and their children to spend Christmas vacation here instead of bouncing around from house to house like I do every year,” Gill said with a laugh.

 

And so on my first night there, I shook Gils hand as Dave introduced me as the latest philosopher and poet in the company.

 

“It’s nice to meet you,” Gill said right before he went back to his work. He looked like a guy who didn’t want to be bothered, like someone who was perennially deep in thought.

 

I wasn’t sure if he was someone with whom I was going to be friends, since he seemed like a guy that everyone respected and yet kept their distance from.

 

“Give him time, Jeremy,” Dave told me. “Gill is someone whose trust and respect you have to earn. But with me, Hell all you need to do is buy me a good beer or wine and we will be friends for life.”

 

I later learned from Dave that this was totally true. Dave was a man who, even though he worked in a “grease monkey” job, had the refined tastes and palette of someone used to eating at exquisite dining venues.

 

I spent many weekends over at Dave’s house as he barbecued, grilled, or sautéed another awesome meal of ribs or steak. He was a big guy who liked to eat big meals. Whenever I went to his house, I always brought my appetite and bottle of wine or beer to go with the meal.

 

After we finished our feast, we always sat back and watched the newest video on Dave’s deluxe home entertainment system, debating if the latest science fiction film that just came out had special effects, story and action worthy enough to qualify as a good film.

 

Dave was a big man who enjoyed the pleasures of life and wasn’t afraid to let anyone know it. During the weeks and months to come, as I got to know him better, I felt privileged to call him and his family my friends.

 

Even though they were poor and lived in a rundown apartment complex, they lived well on what Dave earned working for our company.

 

My dad couldn’t understand why I would want to go and spend time at his house on the weekends.

 

“Why do you want to spend time in the ghetto again?” He asked after I told him that I was invited to another dinner at Dave’s house.

 

Dave’s home was my home, I went to La Presa elementary school, a block away from where he lived and knew a lot of people in the area that still were my good friends.

 Apple St in Spring Valley

My house was high up on Dictionary Hills, in Spring Valley and overlooked Dave’s apartment and the area of town that my Dad referred to as the “ghetto”.

 

Living up on that hill was like living in a castle that hovered over the peasants in the city. It could give you a false sense of security even though I could hear sirens and occasional gunshot on the streets below almost every night.

 

My dad didn’t understand how I felt about Spring Valley because he didn’t have to live in that area everyday like I did. In spite of the blighted conditions, poverty and violence on the streets I felt a connection to that area because I grew up there.

 

My dad woke up every day and went to work, and often came home complaining how bad the area was. I had to get up every morning and walk to Elementary School, catch the bus, play baseball in the park, walk to the Seven Eleven, Blockbuster Video, K-Mart while avoiding the trouble on the streets.

 

At work, one night when Dave and I were talking during lunch, Dave opened up and I learned that he had once owned a highly successful chain of motorcycle shops back east and was once wealthy. But like everyone in the factory, his life took a turn for the worse.

 

Many of my co-workers like Dave had once led productive, successful lives and then because of bad decisions or horrible luck, they lost everything, ending up with nothing as a foundation to rebuild their lives on.

 

For some reason, everyone I worked with in the company had lived very full lives in a short period of time. In fact it seemed like this factory was more of a pit stop on life’s road than anything else where many people came to regroup from hardships before returning to the race.

 

These people weren’t good-looking actors who have never lifted a finger to do hard work, they were people who had endured hard times and their weathered bodies and faces showed outwardly the wounds they felt inside.

 

Even though these people worked hard, they always appeared to be happy and content about their lives.

 

They were always examples to a young person like me whose only hardship was debating whether or not I wanted to go back to school to be an architect or live out my dream to be an artist.

 

After meeting Dave and Gill, I went back to my workstation, wanting to once again diminish into the background going unnoticed by Mike, Mr. Muhammad, or Mr. Mossy. Because it was my first night there, and I didn’t want to screw it up by making my bosses think that I was a slacker who didn’t work hard and didn’t care.

 

I was happy to be earning a good income for the first time in my life and didn’t want to screw up any opportunity I had to stay there. So I worked hard the way I was trained while keeping an eye on the clock for 12:30 a.m. when I was free to go home until another day.

 

Toward the end of the first night, I had produced and boxed a few hundred small parts. I was happy and still wired from the work that I had completed, and as a self-proclaimed “night owl” I was wondering what I should do after work ended.

 

Just then Gill, asked if I’d like to accompany a few of the guys to the bowling alley.

 

“Sounds great,” I said, without knowing what the guys did besides playing pool and bowling on these nights out.

 

I was going to find out fast.

 

After the bell rang, the mixed assortment of men and women on our shift quickly filed out, punching their cards in the big time clock on the wall as they left.

 

I was happy that my first night was over. I hopped in my truck and followed the guys to Parkway Bowl in El Cajon for a fun game of bowling.

 parkway bowl

When I arrived at the bowling alley, as soon as I stepped through the door, I met Orion.

 

Orion looked like a leftover from the 1950’s. He always wore his hair slicked back, wore thick black glasses like Buddy Holly, cowboy boots, and Levi’s.

 

Everyone knew he was from the south, because he reminded us every time we had a conversation with him.

 

I remember one day, when Orion and Anna, a lady from Louisiana, sat in the lunchroom before work, quizzing each other to see who was more southern than the other.

 

Orion eventually secured his winning status on the basis that his accent sounded more original than Anna’s did.

 

Anna, was a burley woman with a mustache and didn’t agree with the verdict, so she got up and stormed out of the room challenging Orion to a knife-throwing contest out back before we started work.

 

Orion eventually won that contest as well, by throwing his trusty knife the farthest at the pallets behind the warehouse.

 

Orion was an old-fashioned tough guy determined to initiate me into the bowling group when he handed me a pair of bowling shoes and a pitcher of beer. “Here, this is for you. Welcome to the company, you’re buying the next round,” he said.

 

That night was the beginning of many great nights that I let loose and had a good time with everyone from the company.

 

With a laugh and a smile, he walked off with his pitcher of beer in hand to our lane, to pursue the game of the century.

 

Orion was always happiest when he was with the guys, drinking and bowling.

 

Cracking up, I sat down, put my shoes on, poured my first beer of the night, and joined my new friends.

 

I rarely had any fun anymore since high school had ended. While my buddies in college were busy on the weekends with fraternity parties and girls, I was usually either working or at the movies by myself, like a nerd.

 

With this in mind I decided that it was time to party!

 

I joined my buddies, downed my first glass of beer as fast as I could, and joined the game.

 

Orion’s eyes popped out of his head when he saw me down that glass of beer as quick as I did.

 

“Orion’s never met anyone who could hold their liquor like him. I think you just renewed his hope in life,” Gill said laughing.

 

I laughed back and said, “Well you ain’t seen anything yet,” I was having fun.

 

That night flew by faster than a great movie. Even though I wasn’t totally drunk, I did get my first beer buzz and enjoyed walking around feeling like someone else was controlling my body.

 

After we got tired of the available games we sat around the bar inside the bowling alley, watching sports and ESPN replayed on the TV’s inside the bar.

 

After everyone slowly tired out and went home for the night, Orion and I sat at the bar swapping jokes, and stories, when he slowly started telling me how he ended up where he was in life.

 

“You know, I wasn’t always as poor as I am now,” He said.

 

Thirty years ago, I was the best damn country music singer in the business.”

 

“Really?“ I replied, Orion had a beer buzz and I was ready for a good story.

 

“Damn right, I was,” he said. “You ever see that movie Tender Mercies with Robert Duvall in it,” He asked.

 

“Yeah, I did,” I replied

 

“That was my life story 30 years ago.”

 

“One night, that damn Robert Duvall and I were drinking Tequila in a bar back in Amarillo Texas when old Robert Duvall got me talking about my life.”

 tender mercies

“I didn’t think anything of the conversation until the next year, as I was driving through Houston, I saw his film “Tender Mercies,” advertised on a big billboard as the best film of the year.”

 

“I went and saw that film with my wife Betty Lou and all she kept saying during the film, “Orion this is you! This is your story. How did Robert Duvall steal your life story?”

 

“Well, what did you do about it?” I asked.

 

“Well, Hell,” Orion exclaimed as he took another large gulp from his beer.

 

“I knew it was my story, and remembered that night back in Amarillo when we were talking. I just didn’t realize he was going to steal it like that.”

 

“What could I do? I couldn’t prove myself before a judge because I didn’t have anyone to defend me.”

 

“Do you really think a judge would listen to the story of some redneck who worked in the oil fields without a dime compared to the high-priced lawyers from old Robert Duvall?”

 

“There was nothing you could do?” I asked.

 

“Damn, I was broke and poor, and I wasn’t in the mood for another fight, so I let it be.”

 

“You let it be and the film made him millions,” I said.

 

“Well. Kid, sometimes life sucks. It will probably happen to you someday, but, you just have to move on.”

 

“That wasn’t my first brush with fame and it won’t be the last. I got more stories to tell you sometime.” He said.

 

“How about you? What are you doing at 21 or 22 years old working in a factory with a bunch of old guys like us?

 

I looked down at my beer and thought it over for a moment. I had been asking myself this question and especially other ones a lot lately.

 

“I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do with my life,” I said.

 

“Well kid, you’re still young. I would give anything to be 21 again with no ex-wives or cares in the world,” He said laughing.

 

“My advice to you is to discover life. Don’t get trapped in a place like where we work for too long because it’s just like a prison in there. You can loose years of your life working there real fast.

 

“I will,” I said. I could see that I was going to enjoy getting to know my new friends and learning about their philosophies and life experiences from them.

 

“It’s easy to get “institutionalized” in a place like where we work. One day, you wake up and realize that you need every penny of your paycheck because you have a wife, kids, bills, and you have more days left in the month, than you have money.”

 

“It sucks, don’t let it happen to you” Orion said.

 

He looked out the window and saw the morning sun slowly peaking over the hills of El Cajon and contemplated what he just said for a minute before suggesting that we, “call it a night.”

 

“I better get home soon because, my old lady won’t be too happy to wake up without me there to give me her honey-do list for the day,” he said with a smile.

 

As we walked out to the parking lot, squinting as the sun slowly ended our long night, Orion and I shook hands and walked to our vehicles.

 

As he warmed up his battered, baby blue, 1966 Mustang he shouted over to me before he drove off, “Next week I’ll tell you how Willie Nelson won the song “On the Road Again” from me in a poker game.” He said laughing.

 

“I better get home quick. My old lady might start thinking I’ve got a girl-friend,” he said.

 

“Good night, Jeremy! Thanks for the beer!” he shouted as he drove off.

 

Just then I realized that I had spent $50.00 on beer for the night but I had heard some inspiring and insightful stories and would gain a friend for a lifetime, so I felt that it was a pretty good investment…

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