Category Archives: growing up

Landscaping And Learning About Life

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irises

I started doing gardening work when I got my first job working for my Grandma Hyatt at the age of 10, taking care of her garden, trees, bushes and grass after my Grandpa Hyatt died.

On the first day that I worked for Grandma Hyatt, after I finished working for her, she paid me $20.00 cash for the day, that was more money than I had ever earned in one day and I realized that if I continued with gardening work I would never be without money and be able to buy the things that I wanted as I grew up.

Gardening is a great field in which to work when you’re young but as you get older, unless you have a landscaping degree or special certification to work in a supervisor position, earning more money, the work is less financially enticing and more strenuous on the body.

Even though I wasn’t excited about getting back into gardening, I knew that I had to starting working in a steady job for more than a few months and start earning a consistent paycheck.

And so I went back to gardening, hoping to find a place to stop and rest from the emotional ups and downs from the crazy job cycle I had been in and start building a steady life.

While part of me wanted excitement and creative independence I could receive from a more fulfilling job, the other part of me was scared of what would happen if I continued searching for that elusive, creatively, fulfilling job and I decided to get serious about my life.

I was hired by Mission Bay Golf Course in San Diego and would start my job as an entry level gardener; my essential job in the beginning was hard manual labor and working as the assistant for the other more experience gardeners that maintained the golf course.

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Mission Bay Golf Course – San Diego, CA

The work wasn’t fun. I hated mowing the greens or the other grass on the golf course at 5 a.m. every morning because being a life long night owl, I hated waking up earlier than 7 a.m. and being up that early in the morning took a long time for me to get used to.

Golf course hours are weird; the crew I worked with started their shift at 5 a.m. every morning, so I had to wake up every morning at 3 a.m. every morning just to make it to work on time in the morning.

With my new job at the golf course, I saw a promising career, and I committed myself to doing everything that I could to be successful, even if I had to start work at the crappy hour of 5 a.m. in the morning.

I arrived half asleep every morning to find the exciting news of what jobs my boss assigned us for the day posted outside his office on a big bulletin board for everyone to see.

It’s funny how my boss was never in his office until after 9:30 a.m. every morning, probably because he was still in bed sleeping until 7:00 a.m. while we were working.

One of the jobs inevitable drawbacks was that my crew was comprised of all Mexican laborers who didn’t speak a word of English. On many occasions, I tried to carry on a conversation with one of them but was always left with blank stares and empty responses.

It’s amazing how fast you learn a new language when your job and possibly your safety depend on it.

Working with chain saws, gas powered tree trimmers, tractor lawnmowers and sharp objects can be dangerous for anyone, but when one person speaks English and the other person speaks Spanish your chances for an accident increase every day.

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Once I began to get better at speaking Spanish, I slowly gained the crew’s respect and they let me into their own world by inviting me to eat lunch with them everyday, trusting me with their secrets and enlivening my day with their good humor.

Looking back, it’s amazing to think of how many things I took for granted as a kid like a warm bed, food on the table, nice clean clothes and transportation, I never thought that when I grew up I would be doing hard, sometimes back breaking work for a living.

All my life I had never really given guys like the hard working Mexican laborers that I worked with a second thought. In California Mexican laborers are everywhere, working in backbreaking, laborious jobs across the state and I never dreamed that when I grew up one day I would be working everyday by their side.

During this time in my life I experienced how special these people were, it’s true when people say that Mexican laborers are the backbone of our economy.

They do the work that everyone else doesn’t want to do and they never get paid a decent wage.

These men were hard working, loyal to the company, easy to laugh with, and held one mission in life, to provide for their families with food, clothing and shelter like everyone else.

My co-workers would never drive expensive cars, own new homes or wear fine clothes. All of the guys I worked with crossed the border everyday and drove over 20 miles to perform backbreaking work so that their families could live decent lives.

I learned a lot from my Mexican co-workers everyday and as I considered the many things throughout my life I enjoyed I became more thankful for everything that I had.

As I worked for the Golf Course I stopped searching for the elusive, creative job that would be inwardly fulfilling and I learned to find fulfillment on the job from my work and relationship with co-workers. I also stopped feeling sorry for myself because of my past failures and mistakes and learned to look to the future, instead of the past.

So with this new frame of mind I thought my job at the Golf Course might turn into a full-fledged career, and felt I could finally settle down and might begin building a life for myself.

I enjoyed the men with whom I worked with every day and taking a significant amount of my attention was Lazaro, a Mexican member of my crew and work partner when it came to different projects around the course.

Even though Lazaro was in his fifties his chiseled body, hardened from years of hard work and sweat told otherwise.

He reminded me of his age on a daily basis when he talked about his children and his grandchildren, with pride.

Age doesn’t matter to guys like Lazaro. If he had woken up and decided to quit his job for an easier lifestyle, his family would have ended up on the street. Lazaro didn’t know anything else besides labor.

He couldn’t say, “I’m fifty five years old” and decide that he wanted to retire, because he still had family to take care of in Mexico. I knew Lazaro would very likely work hard until the day he died.

Lazaro was significant in my life at that time because through his influence I learned that if I really wanted anything in my life I had to work hard to achieve what I wanted.

Lazaro’s favorite quote that he told me every week was, “You have to work like a slave, to be free.”

I used to complain about how hard my life was. But couldn’t complain in front of these guys because all they saw when they looked at me was a kid with nothing but opportunities in front of him.

I still had many good years in front of me that I could use to go to school, work, find the right woman and start a family while Lazaro and many of my co-workers were over the age of fifty and contemplating retirement and the golden years of their lives.

Even though I spent my days working at the golf course performing hard, sweaty labor the job did have its lighter moments, one of which I won’t soon forget.

One day, as I was watering the greens, in the hot sun I saw four beautiful women all in the early twenties dressed in short, skimpy outfits playing on a green a few feet ahead of me.

I stood there like a dummy with the hose in my right hand spraying water everywhere as I watched them play, I almost had a heart attack when for no obvious reason they took off their tops and proceeded to play the last few holes of their game topless.

The news of their topless golf match spread quickly as every guy on the course flocked to their green to watch them finish their game.

Of course this also stopped traffic on the street as cars pulled over to the side of the road and pedestrians stopped outside the fence surrounding the golf course to watch their game from the street.

One of my co-workers, Allen, couldn’t say anything else except “aaaawesome!” over and over again as we shadowed the exposed women with big smiles on our faces.

But unfortunately, we had to get back to our work and the police came to arrest the girls for indecent exposure because I guess, someone wasn’t enjoying the show as much as we were.

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That day, I found out that the girls played their topless game to publicize their new strip club in the city called, Little Darlings.

I would say that they were successful in their venture judging from the rows of cars parked in front Little Darlings as I drove past that club every night.

Those were the kind of moments that made my day go by faster; they were much better than watering the greens all day in the hot 80 to 90 degree sun.

I also loved when the local Rotary Club came for their weekly golf game.

They always cracked me up because the Rotary Club was a group of old women who couldn’t play the game, and always complained to my boss that I was stalking them when I was only doing my job watering a nearby green or tending to the landscaping.

As fun as the job was, on occasion, it continued to have low points. For example Jeff, my boss was an overweight, balding, former golf pro, who enjoyed making his workers look like idiots as often as possible by reigning over them like a tyrannical dictator.

His favorite activity was driving out to the area of the course that we were working on at least once a week.

If the job wasn’t on schedule, he got out of his golf cart, and invaded our project, whether it was digging a trench or trimming a tree. He was determined to show us how to do it better.

This undertaking never lasted for more than a few minutes though because whenever he started to get a little dirty, he’d start coughing, and wheezing from his years of cigarette smoking and stop his demonstration.

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And true to form he would say in his arrogant, bossy tone of voice, “That’s all for me Boys. Just remember all you have to do is work smarter and not harder.”

After his customary line, he got back on his golf cart and drove back to his air-conditioned office while my Mexican friends cussed him out under their breaths.

Even though everyone obeyed him as a boss, nobody respected him because he never showed that he had any talent for the job or could work as hard as we did.

I guess being a former golf pro did have advantages for him because he had a “cushy” job and was able to live off his past while we worked hard every day.

Even with the ups and downs of the job, life was fairly easy and I continued with the routine for a few months of waking up with the birds, driving to work half asleep and working 8 hours a day in the hot sun.

After working at the golf course for a while I showed my desire to move up in my job by working longer hours, taking on more responsibility and making suggestions on how I thought things could be run more smoothly at the golf course.

My boss made a point to ignore all of my suggestions and requests, he frequently made it clear that he was the boss, there was no other leader except him, and it was going to stay that way.

I enjoyed gardening and would have liked to work longer at the golf course, but knew that I would never get anywhere with Jeff as my boss. Not to mention that I also craved a normal life again with a regular job and a normal social life.

In July of that year, a local Japanese company called Pacific Engineering offered me a job in the factory where my dad worked.

It was an assembly line job, where I performed the same work as my dad did making parts for TVs, computers and other electronic devices for large Japanese corporations like Sony and Mitsubishi.

My dad had been working there for about a year after he was laid off four years earlier from Rohr Industries in Chula Vista, California.

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Rohr Industries now called BF GOODWRICH, manufactured parts for the airline industry and still does to this day.

When my dad and hundreds of other blue and white collared workers were laid off in the early 1990’s, the company was having a rough time because of economic recession and was struggling to survive.

For a middle class family like mine, the words lay off are scary, especially if the household income depends on solely on that job.

My dad loved the work that he did at Rohr and he got paid well for it because he had put in over 20 years with the company, honed his skills, worked his way up the pay grade and became a well respected employee.

Working at Rohr was also a family tradition because my Grandpa Raglin, had worked there for over 30 years and everyone there knew them and respected them. Hence, many employees who worked at Rohr wondered if I would be the third generation Raglin to work for the company.

Unfortunately that would never happen.

When the economic prosperity went into the toilet in the early 1990’s the world changed for everyone.

People from my dad’s generation, the baby boomers, were the last group with the luxury of going to work for one company fresh out of high school, without any major college education, and had the promise of a long-term future with the company.

My father served for four years in the Navy after he graduated high school and went to college briefly before deciding upon a career in the aerospace industry with Rohr Industries.

Life in the aerospace industry wasn’t an easy one for my father and our family during the 70’s and 80’s because of the always increasing and decreasing supply and demand for new airplanes and there were lay offs but thankfully those lay offs never lasted for more than a few weeks or months.

The post World War Two sense of security was over when the 1990’s began and many people with skills and qualifications like my father were left asking themselves after they lost their jobs what next?

In the early 1990’s the job placement agencies like Man Power were full of skilled workers like my dad and had nowhere to place them because of an overflow in the labor force due to downsizing and the lack of companies that were hiring.

Three years after being laid off, my dad was still laid off but working in jobs with horrible work conditions and never giving up hope that he would get called back to Rohr and the company that he loved.

For a man with a physical labor skill, over 50 years old, in a rapidly changing job market dominated younger employees and horrible working conditions, the thought of a call back to Rohr was like a call home to Heaven.

My dad didn’t like working for Pacific Engineering Company, but it was a living…..

To me, guys like my dad and my grandpa were role models because they worked hard every single day while many guys, when laid off would stay home, like bananas in bread and do nothing.

When PEC hired me, I wasn’t happy about going into production work. I wasn’t excited about being stuck in a factory for eight hours every night, while my friends and family went out without me. But the job was an opportunity to make better money and a chance to settle down.

So with little excitement and much reservation, I started this new excursion in my life unsure of whom I would meet, what I would learn, or how I would grow.

It turned out to be the best job I would ever have in my younger years because of the people I met there who became my mentors and close friends….

Click here to read the next chapter!

 

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Getting Started With Life

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After I had officially graduated and spent the next few months working, lounging, and getting used to the idea that I was considered an adult September rolled around and I realized that with the start of the College, I didn’t have anywhere to go like my friends did.

For my entire life, September had officially marked the end of summer and the beginning of another year of school, which would last until June of the following year.

When you are growing up, September is all about going to the store to buy new school clothes, shoes, and school supplies.

It’s was about sharing stories from your summer with friends when you get your school pictures taken and realizing that you are a year older and one year closer to being a grown up.

And so with my first September without school or college I stood and watched from the sidelines as all of the school kids in my neighborhood prepared to go back to middle school, junior high, high school and college.

I realized again that my future was in front of me and I did not have anywhere to go.

Seeing my friends going off to college every day, pursuing their educations lit a fire under me that would not let me rest.

“Why don’t start college and then decide what you want to be after you have taken your general education courses?”

I got asked this question quite frequently. I just never got excited about going back to school without knowing what I wanted to do; I just did not see the point in it.

Asking a person something like that is like asking a cook, “Why don’t you start backing that cake?” even though he doesn’t have a recipe for it.

I ached to know what I wanted to do with my life but the problem was I just wasn’t coming up with any solutions.

I almost felt like seeking out a psychic or someone with spiritual insight to tell me my future, so that I could get back on track.

The psychic friend’s network looked very tempting but I was too poor to spend over two buck an hour talking to a psychic.

Having no direction, I once again felt totally lost and helpless, and it was very easy to get depressed.

And to make matters worse, the economy was in a recession and my father had lost his good paying job at the factory, which made our family’s situation a lot worse.

But being the strong bunch that we were and still are we stuck together.

During this time, both of my parents found suitable work until the economy improved and we were able to keep our house and car.

Think of the pressure I was feeling at age 18. I was going through what most of my friends went through during elementary and high school.

Practically everyone I knew had decided what he or she wanted to do with their life at an early age.

I had friends that knew early on that they wanted to be teachers, scientists, writers, and were going to college working toward their goals, while I still did not know what I wanted to do with my life.

Here I was, every single day, on a quest for direction while at the same time, feeling the pressure to grow up and contribute to the family financially.

I worked hard during these years, continually searching for my destiny, but never finding it. I tried a “few jobs,” hoping that something would ring true with me, but nothing worked.

Was I just a lazy bum with no ambition or desire to make anything of myself?

No.

I worked at a lot of places, but nothing satisfied me because I did not want to settle for second best. I felt that that I was on the inside and what I had to offer was too important to waste.

The only thing that helped me keep my sanity during this time was the thing that I enjoyed the most in my life, my art.

I became an artist during my senior year in high school. That year, I had to take an elective class to get the required amount of credits to graduate, so I chose art.

During high school, I also took four years of drafting and wanted to go to college to become a landscape architect.

So it was a natural decision to choose art when I was faced with taking this elective; I figured that I was already drawing in drafting class I would just switch to a different kind of drawing in art class.

I was wrong!

The brain is an amazing computer, and after three years of learning how to think like a draftsman, I had a very hard time learning how to use the right side of my brain and “free up” my drawing hand.

By “freeing up,” I mean reclaiming the open creativity that every child is able to use when they sit down to have fun making pictures with finger paints, drawing with crayons, or playing make believe games.

I felt like part of my brain was locked up and being held prisoner. The part that I loved the most as a child, which was the ability to create and imagine anything, was gone and replaced by this hard, cold calculating side that relied strictly upon numbers and lines.

At 17, part of me felt like a 40-year-old man tied down by the boundaries of rules and numbers.

I had to get my creativity back! And so I worked hard at trying to regain that part of myself that I once loved and so easily took for granted.

Like Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist; the problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

Here I was only a teenager working hard to regain the creativity that I thrived on only a few years before as a child.

Where did that fun, creative energy that I once had go?

When I was little kid, I was always interested in playing with boxes and making things with my hands for my GI Joe’s.

My parents bought me toys for my birthday and the holidays, and instead of playing with the toys I played with the boxes.

I loved to create cities for my toys with a few boxes, tape, tin foil and anything else lying around the house.

I loved doing it. Those times were so much fun, but then one day, when I was around 11 or 12 years old, I unnecessarily felt or got the impression that I had to grow up. So I put down my toys, boxes, and took up big teenage stuff like hanging out with friends, watching MTV, listening to music and getting involved with sports activities.

I knew that I had lost something important that I wanted to find again.

I needed Peter Pan to come and take me away to “never, never land,” so I could learn to laugh and recapture that childlike side again.

Art became my Peter Pan and I began to pursue my art with passion, wanting nothing but art every day and every night.

Then one day, as I sat in my art class, working on a still life drawing project I realized that everything was beginning to flow, my drawing hand was, “freed up,” and the hard thinking that I learned in drafting class was gone.

When I first started taking art, drawing simple artistic shapes were a chore and Mr. Davis, my art teacher had to work hard to find ways for me to loosen up and get back to the gift that all kids possess inside in them.

He had to literally show me how to loosen up my hand by grabbing my hand and moving it on the paper showing me how to sketch.

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When I discovered how much I loved art, it was like CRASH! BANG! BOOM! I was hooked!

The process of creating a piece of art was totally and completely engulfing, hypnotic, and very addictive; it is something that is hard to quench or control.

When I got hooked on art, I wanted to create art everywhere, from drawing at school, home, church, on napkin in a restaurant or even on the sidewalk outside my house.

Everywhere I went, I was drawing and thinking about what pictures I would create.

One day after seeing a Mc Escher retrospective at the San Diego museum of art I felt so inspired that I drew on the sidewalks with chalk as I walked back to my car.

Discovering art was also like the moment I realized that I could read music when I was learning how to play the trumpet in junior high.

I remember sitting in music class one day with my trumpet in hand, staring at a sheet of music realizing that I could read the music without any notes or help.

No longer would I have to write the letter of the keys to play above each line of music. Everything just clicked, it was like a switch was turned on and my passion was ignited.

It is awesome when you realize that you understand something after you worked hard at trying to learn how to do it for such a long time.

I fell in love with something for the first time in my life and did not want to let go.

I began to paint, draw, and study art feverishly.

Whenever I had a free moment during my day, I took out my sketchpad and pencil, and drew.

I would spend my lunch time everyday sitting in the library with Cliff while he proposed his love to his latest girlfriend, as he was always known to do I was always copying paintings in art books from Matisse, Braque, and Picasso with my pastels into my sketch pad.

I loved it! I spent many school nights staying up too late painting and drawing, that’s how much I loved it.

One of the best things about discovering art in high school was the new groups of people that I met, and the girls who never paid attention to me suddenly realized that I existed for the very first time.

During this time, I was living like a bohemian before I even knew what that word meant.

I remember coming to school not knowing that there was paint still on my legs or hands.

When Cliff pointed it out, I did not care, I told him that artists always walked around with paint on them and that’s why I did it.

That’s where I discovered what passion was and it helped me endure those tough times of search for an elusive career that would help me pay the bills.

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So I continued painting while I searched and that’s when I was joined on the path by my friend and fellow artist Joe.

I met Joe before I started my freshman year in high school, about the same time as he was rebuilding his life after years of struggling to overcome a drug addiction.

Joe started attending my church and we clicked as friends easily even though he was in his 40’s and I in my early teens we talked a lot and became good friends.

When I met Joe I didn’t want to be an artist because I wanted to be a baseball player and was not concerned about painting landscapes or still lives.

Joe brought a gift into my life; he brought with him a sense of, “anything is possible.”

If I wanted to be a professional baseball player he said, “Do it, because this is the only time in your life to really go for that goal.”

He also introduced me to new ways of taking care of my health and mind like using herbs remedies, fasting and new exercises like kick boxing, Kung Fu and Yoga.

My parents and sister also grew to like Joe and they invited him to our house on many occasions for dinner, conversation and fellowship.

Joe was different and interesting. He was always talking about big things to come in his future and did not give a damn if anyone shot down his dreams.

“I used to be an artist with a lucrative career and one day I will be again!” Joe would say.

Even though we were an odd bunch, we clicked and I instantly embraced him as a brother and I wanted to help him pick up the shattered pieces of his life and glue together the potential I saw in him and that he saw in himself.

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Guitar on couch by Jose Cervantes.

Joe was a Chicano artist that expressed himself in color and shape.

By hanging around him and falling in love with the many early abstract artists from the twentieth century, like Picasso, Matisse and Braque I began to develop my own style of art and develop into the artist that I am today.

As I began to paint and draw more and more Joe became inspired by my growth as an artist and started to paint again for the first time in years. During this time we spent many Saturday’s in Joe’s art studio creating new paintings that would fuel our creative passions for years to come.

When we worked on our art together, we were like Picasso and Braque, Cezanne and Pissarro, Van Gogh and Gauguin or any other great partnership throughout art history where two artists work together to explore new creative ground.

During our many painting sessions, Joe introduced me to different types of music from his generation and also educated me on his creative, social and political influences from when he was going to school in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

And he also enhanced my understanding of culture by introducing me to art shows where rich and poor people mingled together under a mutual love of art and culture.

I found the art shows that we attended exciting, interesting and amazing because it was a whole different world beyond the social hangouts and education routines that I was accustomed to.

In my middle class family that only knew the daily routine of work and rest, the idea of throwing on fancy clothes and spending Friday night in a gallery downtown was as foreign an idea to me growing up as taking a trip to the Bahamas or eating Caviar with a fancy dinner.

I still remember going to my first art show with Joe. It was on a Friday night and I dressed up like I was going to church. Joe showed up right after he finished working at his factory job in his old paint stained clothes and shoes making me feel like I was dressed up to attend a wedding.

“Why are you dressed like that?” Joe asked.

“My mom told me that I should dress up for this art show,” I said.

“Art isn’t for well dressed, wealthy people. It’s for the young, old, rich and poor people of all colors, shapes and sizes. You’re going to find this out tonight.” Joe said.

“Don’t you want to change out of your work clothes before we go to the show?” I asked.

“I’m dressed just fine. You’re going to see a lot of people there tonight and nobody will look at me differently because we will all be there for the same thing. Art” Joe said.

Staying true to his style, we left for the gallery anyway and that night is where I had my first experiences of culture.

At the show, I noticed people of all cultures, races, and ages.

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Men and women walked around critiquing the art dressed up like they were attending the opening night of a Broadway musical to even street people who came in quietly off the streets to admire the art, watch the rich people, and perhaps get a free meal of munchies like fruits, cheeses and wine that are always offered at new art show openings.

As we walked around looking at the art and talking to other artists, I realized that this was an environment that I loved and wanted to further experience.

Unlike the art show, my usual Friday routine consisted of coming home from school, eating a dinner of pizza or chicken with my parents and sister, and then finishing it up with a movie from Blockbuster Video.

My life was beginning to change and I welcomed the changes.

During this time Joe and I often took trips back to his old neighborhood of Logan Heights, in San Diego where his art career began painting murals in Chicano Park.

While we walked the streets, he talked avidly about his past and pointed to every aspect of the environment, wanting me to take in every part of the culture.

“You’re not going to find buildings, shops, restaurants or colors like this in your neighborhood! Why do we need to go to Paris, France for culture? We have plenty of culture here!” Joe said.

Chicano Park was then and still is one of the toughest sections of San Diego. The area is full of hard-core gang members, drug addicts, prostitutes, bums, winos etc but it is also home to some of the most talented artists you will ever meet.

Chicano Park is a well-known and much loved park primarily because of the many years of fighting and struggle it took to be developed into the cultural haven that it is today.

Joe and many other great artists of his time like, Salvador Torres and Mario Torero are responsible for building Chicano Park and creating the dozens of murals that adorn the highway underpasses.

As we walked through the park Joe played tour guide and introduced me to the many murals covering every subject of life, death and the struggle for Mexican independence to the current struggles of the day.

After the tour we sat under the bridges of Chicano Park painting and drawing and local artists would seemingly appear out of nowhere to reminisce with Joe about the history of the park and encourage Joe to get his art career back on track because sadly at that time very few Chicano artists that helped develop the park were still alive.

Most people can’t wait until they have the opportunity to leave their hometown and move on to new surroundings but when I looked at the wealth of artwork in my own city I realized that inspiration is only a state of mind and you only have to look outside your door to be inspired.

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As I walked those streets and painted with Joe at Chicano Park I felt completely at ease in that environment and safe.

Spending time with him at Chicano Park helped me to see that even though it was an unsafe neighborhood, it certainly hosted people there who were good, honest and hardworking.

These people had stories to tell; their lives were rich with culture and passionate and I loved every minute that I spent with Joe in Chicano Park.

I knew that if I wanted to grow as an artist and as a person, I needed this diversity and culture that I had very much lacked before.

It was at this time that I formed my passion for art and worked hard to help Joe restart his art career and sell paintings again for a brief period of time.

As we painted together Joe grew more and more inspired once again. He was improving every day while finding enlightenment, in his art and his culture, and with these improvements came the promise of new art shows and possibilities.

Over the next five years, Joe had many opportunities to advance his career and get back into the spotlight as I encouraged him behind the scenes.

But even though I was happiest when I was painting, when I went home, everyday I reentered the familiar reality of starting a career where I could support myself financially and pay bills.

My parents were still struggling financially while they counted on my sister and me to contribute to the family.

My sister, Becky was in her early twenties and still living at home while she worked and went to a local junior college part time.

At the time Becky was set on completing her education so she could work in the child care field because she had a knack for working with children.

My sister and I are and always will be close siblings and friends that confide in each other and look to each other for strength in times of trial and sadness.

As long as we were living at home, my parents counted us as adults who were capable of earning their keep.

This was the right thing for my parents to do under the circumstances but, it interfered with my internal fight to fulfill my professional and personal desires in life.

During this time in my life I was madly passionate about my art but nobody encouraged me to pursue it as a career because other then it being something that I loved, nobody thought it could turn into a career that I could support myself on financially in the years to come.

Most artists from Claude Monet to Jackson Pollock dealt with the obstacle of financial insecurity while they chased their dreams of lucrative artistic ventures.

My family couldn’t relate to any degree of personal fame or fortune, they only understood hard work at a steady 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job as the formula for success.

The life-long daily “grind,” of 8 hour a day, 40 hour work weeks that my family had followed for generations left my parents dumbfounded as to how anyone could make a living in the creative arts.

On several occasions my dad said on that he didn’t think he would make over a million dollars in a lifetime. And he couldn’t understand how an actor like Tom Cruise, for instance could get paid $25 million per movie. And why would anyone pay millions of dollars for a Monet or Van Gogh painting when they could get a nice print at an art store?

For my parent’s, the priority was to provide for the family first. And anything that had to do with luxury or entertainment was second.

And thus I was afraid to pursue a serious career in art, because I was thought I wouldn’t be able to support myself if I dedicated my life to it.

So instead of setting out to conquer a field of infinite imagination and creative expression I sought the solidarity of a structured, society approved career similar to my fathers.

I was scared to openly proclaim my art driven passions. If I had done so nobody in my circle of influence would have understood me.

In my heart, I wanted to inadvertently defy generations of men in my family who did only one thing for their careers, provide for their families and nothing more.

I was still a kid and had never seen anyone in my family make it in anything other than a steady job.

I was stuck, unable to overcome my fears and move on with my dreams.

I tried an assortment of occupations during this period in my life from cleaning pools, janitorial, customer service, fast food, job coach and personal trainer.

My life really did reflect the meaning of that ancient Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times,” because since I wasn’t dedicating my life to my art, in a way I ended up cursing myself by searching for the fulfillment that I got through art in a daily job.

In my search for the fulfilling job, I didn’t find anything that was fulfilling, interesting or satisfying and so I fell into a cycle of trying a different job every few months. This cycle kept my life interesting and sometimes entertaining but left me with little real experience and a very bad resume.

As I was going through this cycle the worst of my jobs that I tried was moving pianos for Green Music, in San Diego because every day was like working for a mid evil torturer.

piano-movers

When I moved pianos, I didn’t just use my normal muscles, I used every little muscle and joint that I never thought I had. At the end of every day I was so tired that even my fingernails hurt!

My moving partner was an old guy named Ken who was a cross between the Marlboro Man and the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Ken had been working for Green Music in San Diego, off and on as handyman, technician and piano mover for over 15 years and didn’t want to do anything else because he understood how to perform the job, and do it easily. Furthermore it was the only opportunity he would ever have in his life to be a boss or manage someone else.

He also liked the fact that he could work at his own pace and avoid any set schedule like the other employees in the company.

Working on Ken’s schedule meant that I had to be ready to work 10 to 12 hours a day.

I spent days with Ken listening to his lectures on complicated matters like physics and biology as we drove to our next delivery while keeping my head out the passenger window to avoid choking to death on his cigarette smoke.

After just a few days on that job, and a lot of physical pain, I realized that I couldn’t see myself doing this for another week, or even one month and I didn’t want to end like Ken, with his hunched back and black tar lungs.

This job was literally killing Ken and when he wasn’t moving pianos, he was smoking a pack a day while he worried if he could pay his bills or not.

I knew that if I stayed there, I would end up just like him and that all my opportunities would vanish like a moving truck in the night. So I decided to make a quick exit and find another job.

One day as I was job searching again I evaluated what I had accomplished since graduating high school, and judging from my crappy resume realized that all I accomplished in four years of work were a variety of jobs and no long term work experience.

I knew that if I wanted to settle down and be able to have the financial security I needed to begin my art career I had better use what real skills I had and seriously pursue gardening as a career.

I wasn’t excited about pursuing a professional career in gardening and because I didn’t have the same excitement I had for it in high school, when I did a lot of the work with Cliff.

Cliff was my “pseudo” partner in my gardening business and after he went into the Air Force working outside everyday by myself just wasn’t fun anymore and going back that work made me feel like I was going backwards in my life instead of going forward.

Little did I know that even though I felt like a failure, again, I was moving forward with my life and was about to meet people and gain many more valuable life experiences…..

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The Last Summer Of My Youth

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summer

That summer flew by as I worked like a dog for the sake of my little gardening business and then the day finally came when I had to go to summer school.

Math, my archenemy, fought me on a daily basis for those few weeks, but amazingly, I passed the class and happily got my diploma.

I remember that day, running through the halls of the school one last time. I felt like shouting, “I’m the king of the world!”

Finally, it was over! I almost didn’t pass my summer school math class but after intense study and all night cramming was able to pass my final exam.

Even Mr. Carroll couldn’t get under my skin that day as I saw him walking to his office. I had just accomplished a major goal and nothing was going to mess up my day!

I finally attained my primary goal: passing high school. I was a graduate for real with the big world waiting in front of me.

For all four years in high school, I lived in a dream thinking that I would go to college to become a landscape architect after high school then after I graduated college, I would have a full-fledged landscape business.

And now with the start of college fast approaching and no scholarship or fat bank account to support me, I kept asking myself, “Is this what I really want to do with my life?”

I didn’t know what I wanted and didn’t feel like spending my money on text books or college courses, waiting for the answer to come to me and I was also beginning to question if I wanted to stay in gardening and landscaping for the rest of my life.

I knew an older guy, who was a family friend who had a little gardening and tree trimming business like mine and yet, at his age he was still working like a slave and not getting ahead in life.

lawnmower

My friend’s name was Pat; he was only in his mid 40’s but he looked much older because of the many years that he had spent working in the hot sun performing backbreaking labor.

Pat had no college education or a certification in Landscaping.

He got into the business at an early age, married young, and now he was too old to go into anything else and with his responsibilities was stuck and unable to do anything else with his life.

I did not want to work day after day for the next 20 years of my life like him, doing the same thing and one day wake up and find myself worn down by life just like him.

I was beginning to see that if I wanted to get anywhere in life, that I had better start thinking about a career in something.

But what did I want to have a career in?

What did I want to be? A fireman, policeman, politician, actor, businessman, serve in the military or be a teacher? I didn’t know.

The general advice that adults gave me at the time was “just pick one of those careers and stick with it for fifteen or twenty years” because then I would have a good job and a steady income to build a life for myself, marry and start a family.

That advice sounds rational and good, but it just didn’t excite me. I didn’t want to spend the next twenty years of my life living the same day over and over again until one day, I could retire and actually do something with my life that would make me happy and might make a difference in the world.

I felt that I had talents, I did well in managing and running my small gardening business, I could lead others and solve problems but I didn’t know how to apply those talents to a long term career in something that would make me happy.

I was considering everything from joining the Peace Corps to being a fitness instructor on a cruise ship, but nothing in particular struck my internal desire.

I felt lost.

Cliff and I continued to bounce around for a while when one Saturday as we were on our way to buy some items at the local K-Mart he announced that he had joined the Air Force.

I stopped the truck.

“You? You’re going into the Air Force?” I asked perplexed.

I thought Cliff was joking because he had always seemed like the anti establishment type.

“Yeah,” he said, “my step-dad convinced me to do it.” He looked shocked at his own words while he talked about it.

Cliff hated his step-dad and I couldn’t believe that he took his step-dad’s advice and joined the Air Force.

“Jer, I just can’t believe that it’s happening. I thought our lives would easily go on like now, forever,” he said.

“I know dude, I know,” I said.

I didn’t think we would keep loafing around for another 20 years, because it was already getting old just after a few months but what I did hope for was that Cliff and I would have a close, lifelong friendship and now, it looked like that wasn’t going to happen.

“Jer? Have you thought about what you want to do with your life?” Cliff asked.

“I don’t know Dude,” I said. “Maybe I should explore the same options as you.”

Cliff knew how I felt about my little gardening business. He knew that I just was not excited about it anymore as I once was so he started to encourage me to follow the same path as him.

“I think you‘re right Dude. Maybe I will look into joining the Air Force and do something with my life, because right now I just don’t feel like my life is going anywhere. I’m sick of what I’m doing and I want more out of life” I said.

I was getting tired of doing gardening work every single day because it was taking a physical toll on my body. Every day, I came home exhausted and sun burnt from being outside all day. And it wasn’t as financially rewarding as it once was in high school because now I had to support myself off the income from my gardening accounts and I didn’t have enough money coming in to live off of.

I was beginning to hate it.

I had been gardening consistently ever since I first started working when I was 10 years old. I felt like a burnt out old man at age 18 and couldn’t see myself continuing with this line of work.

“Jeremy, I think you should consider the Air Force too. Maybe we can go in together!” Cliff said with a hopeful look on his face.

And so, my father, took me to see the Air Force recruiter in El Cajon the following week to see if I had a future in that branch of the military.

After meeting with the Air Force recruiter and taking a few tests I quickly realized that I didn’t have the mechanical aptitude for it and decided not to pursue the Air Force as a career possibility.

I walked out of the Air Force recruiters office depressed, feeling like I was handed another strike in my young life because of my bad math and mechanical skills.

“Don’t give up son, maybe tomorrow I can take you to see the recruiter for the Army.” My father said

The next day my father took me to see an Army recruiter in San Diego. From the second I walked through the door to the recruiter’s office, I was swooped up by one of the Army recruiters who was eager to show me all of the benefits of devoting four years of my life to the United States Army.

It’s true what they say about military recruiters being good salesmen. They really do know their business from A to Z and will do whatever it takes to make sure that you sign up with them.

tommy-goodfellas_20110413020128

This recruiter looked like Joe Peschi’s clone and had the New York accent to match.

As we sat in his dingy little office with cheap motivational pictures hanging on the walls, I didn’t know if I should stay or run for my life.

“What do you want to do with your life?” The recruiter asked me. “Do you want to go to college? Because you know, the Army offers you $12,000 for college if you enroll with us.”

“I don’t know Sir I’m just exploring my options right now,” I said.

“Okay how about this: sign up with me today and we will offer you $12,000 for college plus a $2,000 signing bonus just for signing up.”

“I don’t know,” I replied.

“Okay, okay, okay, here is my final offer: sign up with me today and I will give you $12,000 for college, $2,000 signing bonus, and guarantee that you get stationed somewhere with hot chicks like Hawaii or someplace.”

“What do you think?” “If you get stationed in a place like Hawaii or Japan you can have a new chick every day of the week,” he said.

“Damn, I wish I was 18 again. I had so much fun when I was your age and stationed overseas.

“When I was stationed in Japan, my buddies and I practically lived in the whorehouses every weekend and knew every chick there by name.”

“Hell, I probably have a few kids running around over there that I don’t know about,” he said laughing “That’s my final offer, kid, what do you think?” The recruiter asked.

“Well, I think I will take you up on your final offer.” I replied.

Growing up I was a big fan of action movies like Rambo, Full Metal Jacket and loved playing soldier with my friends so I thought, “I can be a soldier, why not?”

I almost made the biggest mistake of my life.

The reason I didn’t end up in the Army was because of my always reliable honesty.

Before the military accepts you, you undergo a battery of physical and writing tests for them to determine if you fit their standards.

On one of their tests, they ask you to answer questions about your medical history.

They tell you to tell the complete truth because some Air Force recruits died in basic training the previous year, after failing to mention that they had asthma.

Remembering what my parents always told me about telling the truth, I put down that I was diagnosed with asthma when I was 10 years old.

This diagnosis turned out to be both a blessing and a curse.

The curse: it ended any chance of getting into the military for four years because they were scared that I was a health risk and I was PMR, permanently medically rejected for four years.

It was a blessing because the following week, I went hiking in the dessert with Victor, a “gung ho,” friend that served in the Marines.

Victor took me and my friend Shane on a total boot camp march through 100-degree heat without the freedom of stopping for any breaks.

Being the “gung-ho,” Marine that he was, Victor also made us stay up all night and pack hiking packs that contained water, rations, clothes, tools and our sleeping bags.

I hated carrying the massive pack on my back, walking on rocky terrain, and dodging the ever present rattlesnakes.

I was tired and miserable, and so was my friend Shane who became dehydrated and exhausted and I ended up carrying his pack for him.

Victor quickly saw that I was miserable and Shane was dehydrated and exhausted and decided to end the hike only after a few hours and drive us home.

Once we got back to his air conditioned Jeep, I couldn’t believe that I could have been doing this for the next four to five years of my life, unable to stop, rest and make decisions for myself when I wanted to.

“I’m such a stupid idiot!” I said to myself over and over again as Victor drove us home.

That night, once I got home I had a huge dinner and went straight for the bathtub for a hot bath, as I soaked in my super hot bath I thanked God for not letting me make the biggest mistake of my life and saving me from four years of pain in the Army.

So there I was, wondering again, “What do I want to do with my life?”

The military was now absolutely out of the question. There were no other quick long-term fixes I could think of and I didn’t know where to look next.

I felt like I was lost in an unending labyrinth unable to get out.

I really wanted something solid to build into a career, but nothing came my way, at lest not yet.

As I was busy questioning myself. Cliff was preparing to leave for basic training in the Air Force.

We looked to that day with mutual fear and sadness, and decided to spend every minute and every second of Cliff’s final days of freedom like it was our last.

We stayed up late ever night partying, saw every movie, hooked up with old girlfriends, played “mailbox baseball,” egged cars and toilet papered houses knowing that these were our last fun times together and we would never do these things again.

Bus at Grantville Station

Finally, the day came when I had to take Cliff to the bus station. I held back my emotions, knowing that I might never see my friend again.

We stopped at the station without really knowing what to say to each other because we had become like brothers and we would miss the bond we had established since our senior year in high school.

I looked at Cliff and thanked him for everything he had done for me over the previous year and told him that I would always be a phone call away if he ever needed me. And then we shook hands, hugged and he got out of my truck and headed for the bus with his suitcase in hand on his way to boot camp.

That would be the last I would see of my friend for almost four years. During his time away from home, he wrote letters, constantly telling me of the ups and downs of his new life.

One day my prophecy about one of us getting married early in life came true.

I got a letter on day from Cliff that told me that he had met a beautiful girl in the Air Force named Laura and they had had a whirlwind romance and were married soon after.

Cliff was always the romantic, so it did not surprise me or anyone in my family that he went this route so early in life.

I sent him an “I told you so,” card and congratulated him on his new union and wished him nothing but the very best.

That wedding announcement would be the last I would see or hear of my friend for a long time. He steadily got involved in his new life in the Air Force and our relationship slowly grew more distant.

It’s really hard to maintain a relationship with someone who lives far away and has a totally different life than you do.

The last few times that we talked on the phone, it almost felt like we were two strangers talking to each other.

Cliff now had a wife and a home, and here I was, still struggling with the first phase of my life and still living at home while he was doing things far more adult and full of responsibility than I was.

We would not see each other for a while, but when we did meet again, I was shocked at how different he had become in such a short period of time…….

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