Category Archives: life story

It wasn’t over

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The next day, I woke up, and knew that I had to pull myself together and go to work.

I felt like a semi truck had just run me over and I didn’t think I could go back to my normal, daily life after what just happened.

For the next week, I alternated between hope, grief, sadness, anger, and back to hope again.

My old friends came around and comforted me trying to pull me out of my depression but nothing worked.

The following Saturday morning, my mom opened my bedroom door and woke me up to say that Becky was on the phone and that she wanted to talk.

I ran to the phone and said, “Hello,” without quite believing that it was her.

I had tried to call her every day over the past week only to have her mother yell at me and tell me to stop calling their house.

They eventually changed their number.

“Becky?” I said.

“It’s me, they finally let me out of the house to go shopping and I drove to the first pay phone I could find. Becky said.

“Becky, I didn’t mean for any of this to happen!” I exclaimed.

“I know. That’s why I didn’t want you to talk with my father, because I knew what he would do,” She said.

 “That night, after everything happened, we had a family meeting to discuss what had happened and my father said that you’re evil; a deceiver who only wanted to marry me with the ulterior motive of taking me away from them.”

“That’s not true! I told you many times what my plans were and I promised your parents that I had honorable intentions. I said.

“They have my brothers on the lookout for you, and told them to beat you up, if you get to close to the house,” she said.

I couldn’t believe it.

Two weeks previous, her parents and siblings were my close friends and now, they were my arch enemies ready to hurt me if I tried to rescue Becky from them.

“Whom do you believe, Becky? Them or me?”

“Tell me to go away and I will leave you alone, and never speak to you again. You know I never wanted to hurt you.” I said.

“Of course I believe you,” She replied.

“Do you still love me?” she asked

“Yes,” I said.

Even though I knew that her family was seriously screwed up and that her father was an absolute psycho, I still loved her and was prepared to fight for her.

“So, what do we do now?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said with a sigh.

“Becky, we have to talk face to face.” I said.

“I know,” She replied.

“I can’t call you, and you can’t call me from your house, so how can we communicate?” I asked.

“Letters,” She said.

“You know the bird of paradise plant under the garage door window?” she asked.

“I remember,” I said.

“Every morning, I get up before everyone else and do chores around the house.”

“I will leave you a letter buried under the rock next to that plant.”

“When can I get it?” I asked.

“At night because it’s too dangerous for you now that they are on the lookout for you,” she said.

“You better not come until at least 1 a.m. when everyone is asleep.”

“In my letter, I will let you know when we can meet and talk.”

“I will leave the first letter for you tomorrow and you can pick it up by 1 a.m. Monday morning. I better get back home before they send someone after me.” She said.

“Becky why don’t you just run away?” I asked.

“Because, my little brother and sister need me and if I run away, my parents will find me.’ She said.

“Becky, I still love you and I’ll fight for you,” I said.

“I still love you too,” she said right before she said goodbye and hung up the phone.

After our conversation, I felt renewed.

I could get her back; our relationship still stood a chance even though I would have to fight for her.

I was ready for the fight and suddenly, I felt like I was preparing myself for battle.

I told my parents what happened and they tried to talk me out of pursuing her, but seeing that I wasn’t going to back down they told me that they supported me.

The next day, Sunday, I was filled with nervous energy as I planned out my moves to retrieve her letter by 1 a.m. Monday morning.

I couldn’t do anything but think about what awaited me in the early morning hours of Monday, I pictured her father running out of the house with a gun, or her brothers holding me down while her father beat the “evil spirits” out of me.

The hours flew by until it was finally the clock struck midnight and I drove to her house to pick up her letter by 1 a.m.

Once I got there, I parked far up the street and ran to her house, dressed in black.

I made it to her darkened house and ran up to her garage and dug next to the bird of paradise plant, and found her letter buried right where she said it was.

Success!

Suddenly somebody coughed inside the house and the garage lights came on, lighting up the area where I was hiding as if her father, the warden knew what I was doing and was coming out to stop me.

I didn’t wait around to say hello and ran like hell.

I felt like I was a jewel thief, running from museum security.

I got into my car, stepped on the gas, and floored it until I was out of the area. Once I calmed down, I pulled over to a gas station and began to read what her letter had to say.

It was chaos in her house.

After my blowout with her father, everyone there was on edge and her father didn’t trust anyone on the outside anymore. Her letter also said that they had to drug her and tie her down after I left because she couldn’t stop crying and trying to run away from them. She wanted to see me and suggested that we meet Friday morning to talk about what to do.

She said that she could meet me in my car a few blocks away by a school at 6 a.m. as she was going on her morning walk.

If I agreed to the plan, she asked me to write her back and leave my letter in the same spot the following morning.

When I got home, I immediately sat down and wrote my letter to her, agreeing to meet her early Friday morning to talk about what to do.

 My parents thought I was crazy to pursue her after what her father did to me, but they could see that I was still in love and knew they couldn’t stop me, so they continued their support.

Early the next morning, I took my reply letter to her house and buried it in the same spot.

In a few days, we would meet again.

It had been almost three weeks since we last held each other.

Before that we had never been apart for more than a few days. I couldn’t wait to see her again, hold her in my arms, comfort her, and plan for the future.

What were we going to do?

I knew that I still wanted to marry her, but since her parents now hated me, that couldn’t happen like we planned.

I also knew that her parents had found a home in Oregon and planed to move in a few weeks and they would take Becky with them and any opportunities for us to be together.

Was I making the right decisions?

Was it really worth it?

Why couldn’t I just walk away?

What would her parents do to her if they found out?

These questions raced around in my mind as I thought about what I was going to say to her on Friday, and what I would recommend that we do.

I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy, but I was prepared to do everything I could do to make it work. Because I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life with anyone else but her.

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Confrontation

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The next day was Sunday, and the day where I went to Fred’s house and attended his “church”.

I went over to his house like I normally did but this time, things were going to be different, I was still angry at Fred, and wasn’t going to leave his house until I spoke with him.

As soon as I got there Becky was waiting for me outside and tried to divert me again, but I wasn’t going to give in this time.

We were outside, talking about my plan to speak with her father when suddenly, Fred and his wife burst out of their house like police officers ready to make arrests.

They walked straight over to us and Fred said, “I know something is going on. Becky has been upset and crying ever since yesterday, I’ve never seen her like this before.”

I stood there, looking at him, dumbfounded.

I couldn’t believe that he was trying to act like everything was normal. Did he really think that I wouldn’t find out what he said?

“Fred, I know what you said to Becky about my parents.”

Suddenly the wind stopped blowing, the birds stopped singing and I felt like I was in the presence of evil.

Fred’s face turned a fiery red and his entire demeanor changed.

“You told her that if she has a relationship with my parents after we are married, that she would be dead to your family.”

“That’s right, Jeremy, I did say that.” Fred said in a very sadistic, serene tone.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because your parents are evil and will burn in Hell for what they’ve done.”

“They denied God’s prophet and will ultimately receive punishment for their sins.

“Are you saying that you’re God’s prophet?” I asked.

Fred looked at me, reeking arrogance and said, “yes”.

“Fred, I love my parents and we are not going to cut them out of our lives once we are married. Besides doesn’t the bible say honor thy father and thy mother?” I asked.

Fred looked at me, enraged, and exclaimed, “How dare you! You’ve stayed in my house, communed with my family, spent time with my daughter, and now you’re turning against me?”

“Fred, I’m not turning against you, I’m standing up for what I believe is right and I’m not going to follow you blindly, doing something that’s wrong.”

“That’s it, Jeremy, you’re not going to marry my daughter,” Fred said.

I stood in front of Fred for a second unable to comprehend what he had just said. I felt like I had just been beat down by somebody who I thought was my friend.

“Calm down Fred, lets talk this over.” I said.

“No! You deceived me! I’m not going to let my daughter marry an evil man like you!” Fred screamed.

“I’m not evil! All I’ve ever done was good for your family and loved your daughter, why are you doing this to me?” I pleaded.

“No! There will be no more conversation with you!” Fred exclaimed.

Becky stood there sobbing, realizing that her dream of love, marriage and her own life was crashing down around her.

“Becky get in the house!” Fred screamed.

Becky didn’t move and continued to sob uncontrollably and then Fred grabbed her arm and pushed her in the direction of the front door to the house.

My fighting instincts were coming back and I wanted to grab Fred by the throat and strangle him but I tried to reason with him.

“Fred, what about your Christian values? What about all of the things that you stand for?” I exclaimed.

Fred got up into my face and said, “Damn you, you get off my property before I hurt you!”

“Why? Because I don’t ‘believe’ like you and I disagree with you?” I asked.

“Damn you! I will kill you!” Fred shouted at me as he kept coming closer to me, with his fists clenched.

Suddenly, I heard a commotion in the house and saw Becky run out of the front door, past the arms of her brothers who were trying to keep her inside.

“Jeremy!“ She screamed.

“Get in the house!” Fred roared at Becky as he intercepted her.

I attempted to run to her when her two eldest brothers ran outside and knocked me to the ground. They held me down while Fred dragged Becky back into the house, like a dog.

Once Fred was inside with Becky, her brothers went back inside the house and left me on the ground, battered and bruised.

“This isn’t over!” I cried.

“Becky! I still love you and I won’t give up!”

I ran to the windows and pounded on them with all of my strength and I could hear her screaming for me inside.

“Fred, come out and talk to me, you coward!”

There was no response.

They had closed the curtains on all the windows making the house look like a crypt. I kept pounding on the doors and windows for minutes until I finally gave up, got into my car and went home.

Driving home, everything hit me and I began to shake and cry from loosing Becky and the confrontation with her father. I wanted to go back there and rescue her. I wanted to free her from the prison her parents had created.

How could he do this to me?

How could he do this to his own daughter?

Everything seemed perfect a few days ago and now it was all upside down.

After the shock and tears, I finally made it home, somehow, and sat on the couch as my shocked parents listened to the details of my confrontation with Fred.

They were surprised to see me and sat there in awe as I replayed the shocking events.

“I’m so sorry, son, I knew Fred was a controlling psychopath but I never thought he would sink that low and ruin his own daughter’s happiness.” Dad said.

My mom sat on the couch and put her arm around me, suddenly everything started to hit me like a ton of bricks and I let all of my emotions out and cried once again.

My parents comforted me and then my dad said “You know what? You’re the lucky one.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You can go back to your life. Becky can’t.” Dad said.

“Fred will keep his thumb on Becky and his other children for the rest of their lives and his brainwashing will continue to haunt them even after he’s dead.

“You got out Jeremy. I’m proud of you because you stood up to that bastard and didn’t back down. You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes people have to fight for what they believe in and stand up for what they know is right.” Dad said.

 I didn’t feel like I had accomplished anything, and all I wanted to do was lie down and be alone….

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Two Years Later

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two years later

 

Shortly after showing my art at the Del Mar Fair and going to the Picasso exhibition I started seriously searching for another job and applied for a position as a plumber trainee with a plumbing and drain cleaning company in San Diego called Drain Patrol.

 

Drain Patrol promised to pay me a base salary, bonuses, and offered the opportunity for me to learn a trade that was in high demand. Best of all, I would be working normal, 9 to 5 hours every day and I could have my evenings free to work on my art and pursue a social life.

 

The decision to leave PEC and to start working at Drain Patrol wasn’t a hard one to make because I knew that after working at PEC for almost two years I would never be able to move beyond the mundane work, low pay and little opportunity for advancement that the company offered.

 

Even though I was burnt out, working for PEC I would miss the people I worked with every night and the friendships I had made with Dave and Gill. I felt that my time working there had been well spent and that I would use what I had learned from them to move my life and artistic goals and aspirations to the next level.

 

After sad good byes to Dave, Gill, Mike, Orion and the other friends I had made I started my job at Drain Patrol and was excited and energized to begin building a better life for myself.

 

Gill and Dave approved of my decision to get into plumbing and were unanimous when they said, “Shit flows downhill and the world will always need someone to clean it up.”

 

My choice to quit my job at PEC and start working for Drain Patrol didn’t pay off. I quickly regretted my decision to go into plumbing when instead of training me to be a plumber, the company sent me on every dirty, smelly, slimy job in the city doing grunt work totally unrelated to plumbing.

 

“I thought you were going to train me to be a plumber?” I asked my boss one day.

 

“Your job is better than a plumber, you’re a ‘drain cleaning technician’,” My boss said with a laugh.

 

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“But that wasn’t in the job description when you hired me,” I said.

 

“Why don’t you want to be a drain cleaner? It’s the best job in the world! Hasn’t anyone told you about the perks yet?” He asked.

 

“What perks?” I asked.

 

“Eighty percent of my calls are from ‘desperate housewives’ in San Diego who want a lot more than their drains unclogged, if you know what I mean.” My boss said and then stood up and demonstrated his humping action to the applause of everyone in his office.

 

I never saw the ‘perks’ of the job that my boss described, because all I was ever sent on were the hard, nasty jobs like cleaning out septic tanks or main lines in commercial buildings. And so as I spent my 23rd birthday knee deep in shit, cleaning another blocked mainline, I realized that it was time for me to move on and look for another job once again.

 

In my personal relationships, life was changing for my loved ones and I had to deal with the pain of loss.

 

My beloved grandpa Raglin’s health started going downhill quickly after his 80th birthday due to the affects of Alzheimer’s and heart problems.

 

That damn disease robbed him of his mind, his personality, freedom and the things that he loved like his classic 1960’s Buick, home in Chula Vista and freedom for he and my grandmother to live their own lives.

 

Shortly after grandpa and grandma’s 60th wedding anniversary, grandpa’s heart began to fail and with his heart failing, Alzheimer’s took the remaining pieces of his mind so that all that was left was a shell of a man who resembled my grandpa but on the inside he was already gone.

 

The doctor’s and his care provider told us to prepare for the end because his health was failing fast and we should say our goodbyes.

 

I felt so helpless during those days not being able to do anything to help this man who I loved so much.

 

During his final days we were basically on call 24-7 waiting to get the call for us to come after we learned that Grandpa had passed away.

 

Those final days were amazing because the family pulled together one last time for Grandpa and all of my relatives were in town to say goodbye to him before he passed.

 

I wanted to be there for my family as much as possible and didn’t want to miss any moments with my Grandpa before he passed away.

 

I tired to keep a positive attitude at work and with my painting but my mind was always focused on what was going on in my family.

 

The call finally came, on a warm Saturday evening in September 1998, after a perfect day of working outside in my parent’s garden and on my artwork, my Dad came downstairs to my room to tell me the news I didn’t want to hear, my Grandpa had passed away.

 

I was crushed with this loss. It was something that I had anticipated and was expecting since his health started going downhill, and even though I was expecting it, I wasn’t ready for it.

 

My dad and I got in the family car and drove to my aunt’s house where my Grandparents has been living since selling their house and car after Alzheimer’s stole their ability to take care of themselves.

 

We arrived to find a small group of family members and friends, all who had loved my grandpa dearly, sitting around my aunt’s living room, sharing tears and laughter as they remembered him.

 

My aunts hugged my dad and I before they ushered us into my grandpa’s bedroom where he lied on the bed looking peaceful, like he was only taking a nap.

 

It was the first time I experienced death up close and personal like this.

 

It was surreal, almost like a dream that I was observing but not part of. I had lost my other Grandpa when I was only 10 years old and didn’t have a chance to get to know him as a man. But with my Grandpa Raglin, I had grown up and had the privilege of getting to know this man and sharing many of my birthdays, family dinners and holidays with him.

 

It was hard being in there with him after he died. It wasn’t the same, the body was still warm, but my grandpa’s spirit was gone.

 

I cried with everyone else in the bedroom, hugged him one last time, and joined the group out in the living room.

 

There were people there that I hadn’t seen in years, like my Uncle Gary, from Michigan, a big burly man who loved to give bear hugs and tell dirty jokes.

 

“Hey Kiddo how are ya?” Uncle Gary asked as he gave me a bear hug and asked me if I had heard the joke about the two gay rabbits.

 

“Gary! Save the jokes for another time, okay? Mom is talking with the pastor about the funeral arrangements for Dad.”

 

My Aunt Susie said, smiling while trying to keep a stern look on her face.

 

“I guess I will have to tell you that one later okay? I better go sit down before I fall over. My old bones are killing me!” Uncle Gary jovially said.

 

After that, Uncle Gary went and stood with my other aunts and uncles in the doorway of my grandpa’s bedroom as they shared memories and argued about if a person should be cremated like my grandpa wanted or as they put it, “get stuck in the ground.”

 

Uncle Bob, Aunt Ramona, my Dad and I all stood in Grandpas bedroom or out in the hall voicing our opinions.

 

“I don’t care what anyone thinks. I just don’t think Dad should be cremated! It goes against what the bible says and it’s just not natural,” Aunt Ramona claimed.

 

Aunt Ramona is the organizer, businessperson, and the trooper in our family who took care of my grandpa and grandma during their final years after they couldn’t take care of themselves.

 

“Ramona, I think we should grant Dad his wish and let him rest in peace. I don’t think its right to change the last request of a dying man and mess up what he wanted,” Uncle Bob said.

 

I couldn’t help but smile at their argument. I knew Grandpa was probably shaking his head in good humor at their conversation, knowing that life would eventually go on as normal after we mourned his passing.

 

At his memorial, I really learned what type of man he was and what he meant to everyone in his life that he touched.

 

Grandpa Raglin was a simple, yet intense, man who touched many lives in different ways.

 

He was the type of guy you could count on for his helping hand, therapeutic ear, advice-giving ways or something as simple as sitting with you on your front porch to enjoy a glass of lemonade after a hot day.

 

Just knowing that he was there when needed was always a comfort. He was like the team player you could always count on to help win the game.

 

Even when he was in his early 80’s and in declining health, he still helped friends and family in any way possible.

 

I could see from the overwhelming display of emotion at his memorial service that he would be deeply missed.

 

I also learned that day what it really means to be a hero. A hero is not someone who is a celebrity or sports star; a hero is an average person who produces noteworthy results everyday in little ways that add up over time.

 

What this hero does may never be felt directly during their life because in most cases they will operate behind the scenes in a silent way but when that person is gone the void they leave behind can be felt in a very big way every day.

 

That was my Grandpa, to me, he was a real hero.

 

While my family life was changing I kept looking for the right job but couldn’t find anything that satisfied me or had any promise of long-term success.

 

I felt lost, it was like I kept hitting brick walls and couldn’t seem to find the right path.

 

In my sisters life, her marriage to my “good friend” Joe quickly fell apart. After they were married, Joe’s personality changed over night and the man that we knew and loved disappeared, and was replaced with a selfish, arrogant bastard who treated my sister like garbage on the sidewalk.

 

Their marriage fell apart when Joe agreed to participate in an art show in San Diego that was supposed to be the major vehicle to re-launch his career.

 

Once Joe agreed to participate in the art show he devoted all of his time, money and energy to the show while ignoring his new wife, not even trying to play the loving, caring husband. He looked to Becky more as a helpful assistant than his wife.

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The art show was an unorganized, pathetic disaster and since it had no publicity, attracted little to no interest from the art community nationwide and the artists in the show sold little to none of their artwork. Joe’s financial commitment to the show ended up driving him into personal bankruptcy and one day he packed up all of his belongings from the apartment that he shared with Becky and walked out, leaving her broke, penniless, and pregnant with my nephew Caleb.

 

My parents stepped in and moved Becky back home and helped her during her pregnancy and my beloved nephew, Caleb was born nine months later.

 

While I was still struggling and searching for the right job, and dealing with the changing dynamic of my family life, I fell in love for the first time, and was sucked into my own real life soap opera.

 

Her name was Becky; she was an attractive twenty one year old woman with a mane of long, curly dark hair, gorgeous body and dynamic personality.

 

She was the daughter of the new pastor of our church and had recently moved from Virginia to California with her family to begin a new life

 

Becky’s family had 12 brothers and sisters ranging in age from age one to 21. All of them, including Becky, were home-schooled by their mother, Mary and were raised with very traditional values.

 

Part of me liked the traditional values, aspect of their family, maybe because I went to public schools my whole life, and had to deal with the ups and downs of the modern school system.

 

Having just moved to California, her family felt like fishes out of water, alone and homesick.

 

Since her parents saw that their daughter and I had immediately fallen for each other, they extended a permanent invitation for me to come to their home for dinner every night and spend as much time as I wanted, getting to know Becky under their watchful eyes.

 

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Since her family came from a rural part of Virginia where they bred and raised goats they continued that traditional ways in California when they moved into their new home in the county of Lakeside.

 

Every time I went to her house there was never a shortage of things for us to do together and during our first weeks together she taught me more about her traditional way of life while I brought over board games and videos for our entertainment in the evenings.

 

My love for Becky grew quickly because of a shared physical attraction, that developed quickly and also our shared interests in religion, politics, family life and the future.

 

I also became the confident and friend to her father Fred, who came to me every night with questions about California because, being from Virginia, and the new pastor, his sensibilities were challenged daily as he had to deal with how different his new home was compared to where he came from.

 

Fred, to me, became a friend and spiritual leader and I quickly began to look up to during his first few weeks in town.

 

I felt very much at home with his family and for the first time in my life, I knew what it was to be part of a big family and I enjoyed every second of it.

 

The big negative during these times was that I turned my back on my hopes, artistic dreams, and my family while I was enraptured with the first love of my life.

 

Gratefully I discovered that everything I had heard about real love was true.

 

When you fall in love with the person with whom you’re meant to be, it’s like there’s only the two of you on the planet with nobody else around.

 

Unfortunately, this also means that everything else in your life goes to out the door because you’re consumed with that other person.

 

When Becky and I first met, our eyes locked and, that was it. I was hooked and I couldn’t get away.

 

Our love also had a “soul-mate” quality to it. There was something about her that drew me to her and put my heart at ease. It was almost like I had known her 100 years ago, lost her. And finally found her again.

 

Her father, even though he had 12 children abhorred the thought of us even kissing each other before marriage because he viewed intimate, unmarried physical contact as a sin.

 

We abided to her fathers wishes, for one day, because when two people are attracted to each other it’s only a matter of time before that attraction becomes physical. We discovered each others bodies and made love in secret, behind closed doors and in the shadows, away from the watchful eyes of her parents.

 

After a very short time, I knew that I loved her and wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. And nothing was going to hinder that from happening. Even though I didn’t have a good job, little money in the bank and decent car to drive, I knew that I wanted her to be my wife and I was ready to make that happen.

 

I “popped the question” one night when, after another night of dinner, conversation and fun with Becky and her family, I took her outside after everyone else had gone to bed, and asked her to marry me.

 

After wiping away her tears, she said yes, and we passionately kissed before deciding how we were going to tell her parents the news. I chose to follow tradition and officially ask her father for his Becky’s hand in marriage.

 

If was around 10:30 p.m. on a cold Monday night in February 2000 when we went into her parent’s bedroom to tell them our big news and ask her father.

 

I told Fred how I felt about his daughter by expressing my love for her and asked him for her hand in marriage.

 

He smiled and embraced me like a son, and said of course. I could marry his daughter.

 

For the rest of the night we talked excitedly with her parents, about wedding ideas and the future, and even though it was a blissful moment I had no idea that I would have to put up the fight of my life to marry her……

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More changes around the corner

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Once I finally realized that I was the only person holding myself back in life, I looked at my life differently and I felt a new sense of freedom to live my life by my terms once again.

 

Dave noticed something in my attitude one night as he walked past my work station and saw a different look on my face.

 

What’s going on Dude?” Dave asked as stopped at my workstation.

 

Nothing much,” I replied, “just thinking about my future and where I am heading,” I replied.

 

Good!” Dave said. “I’ve told you a thousand times that the only way you will get anywhere in this place is if someone gets hurt on a machine or dies.

 

You don’t want to be here another 10 years with me and Orion, do you?” Just as Dave said that Orion walked over to my machine, as usual, wanting to find out what we were talking about.

 

What are you clowns talking about?” Orion asked.

 

Jeremy is thinking about his future and doesn’t want to spend another year here working with us grease monkeys,” Dave replied.

 

Do you mean to tell me that Jeremy doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life working here like a slave every night, getting paid peanuts for his efforts?” Orion replied.

 

Jeremy is smarter than anyone working here, and he’s not married either.” Dave said.

 

Count your blessings kid,” Orion said.

 

Don’t get married until you’re in your 30’s.” Dave said.

 

What about your art? Aren’t you going to pursue it seriously?” Orion asked.

 

You should be painting full time, instead of working here for eight hours every day,” Gill said as he walked over to join the conversation.

 

I know, Gill, I just want to wait until I exhibit my art for the first time, at the Del Mar Fair, to see if I sell any of my paintings. If my work sells, this will tell me if I can live off the income from my artwork or not.”

 

The Del Mar Fair (now called the San Diego Fair) came every year and offered every thinkable display and exhibition for the attendees but most important of all it had an annual art exhibition that I entered.

 

The art exhibition was judged by a panel of esteemed artists from across the United States, the judges choose the art that was displayed at the exhibition.

 

Jeremy, you don’t have to sell your art to be a good artist, even if you don’t sell your artwork right away you should keep working on it and not let it discourage you.” Orion said.

 

I know, I won’t give up if I don’t sell anything,” I said.

 

Have your paintings been judged yet?” Gill asked.

 

They are getting judged next week. I will let you know as soon as I find out,” I replied.

 

Gill winked and said; “Just think, if you sell a few paintings, you’ll no longer be an aspiring artist, instead you’ll be a struggling, upcoming artist.”

 

“You’re on your way, Kid. I would love to get back into my sculpting, but one of my ex-wives has all of my tools locked up at her house in Colorado. She told me that if I ever wanted to see my stuff again, I would have to give up the Picasso lithograph that we bought from Francois Gilot in 1975, when we were in Paris.” “I tell you, every ex-wife is always after something!”

 

Françoise Gilot with picasso & nephew javier vilato on the beach at golfe-juan, france 1948

 

Francois Gilot was Picasso’s most famous companion. She lived with him for over 10 years, bore two of his children and served as the inspiration for some of his greatest paintings, “Flower Woman”.

 

Did I tell you that Francois is in San Diego? I heard through a friend that she designs jewelry or something. I wish I could get her number, but I think she’s married now.” Gill said.

 


 

Gill cracked me up. He was often thinking about women and always telling me about the treasures he had lying around from his years of hobnobbing with the rich.

 

I could see how Gill could have a Picasso lithograph lying around his house and didn’t have the desire to part with it because to people like Gill, fine things are too precious to give up, even if that means working in a crappy job for money.

 

When are we going to see the Picasso art show in Los Angeles?” I asked.

 

How about next Saturday?” Gill replied.

 

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LACMA – The “Holy Land” for art in Southern California.

 

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art was holding an awesome retrospective of Pablo Picasso’s work and I couldn’t wait to get up there and absorb everything that I could.

 

I had never seen anything that Picasso had created in person so going to this exhibit was like a Christian’s first trip to the holy land. I couldn’t wait. Picasso, for me, was as big as any movie star.

 

Even though he had been dead for almost thirty years I was like an excited schoolboy with a hunger for knowledge on anything Picasso.

 

Next Saturday sounds great!” I said.

 

Mike saw us standing around my machine talking during work hours and strutted over to break up our little party.

 

What are you girls doing? Don’t you know you’re supposed to be working when you’re on the clock?” Mike asked.

 

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How come you’re head is so shiny? Do you ever wax it?” Orion asked Mike, referring to his bald head, playfully, trying to break Mike’s bad mood.

 

Orion and Mike always talked trash to each other and Orion never hesitated to get in a jab at Mike.

 

You better get back to work before I knock you out,” Mike said playfully.

 

Gill walked back to his machine and Orion followed Mike back to his office to continue talking trash with him.

 

And Dave continued to prop himself up on the side of my machine like he didn’t want to get back to work just yet.

 

What’s wrong Dave?” I asked.

 

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Sometimes when I hear young people like you talk I too yearn to do more with my life or just hop on my Harley, get on the open road and never look back,” Dave said.

 

“What’s stopping you?” I asked.

 

An alcoholic wife, slacker for a son, and a pile of debt to choke a pig in the winter,” Dave replied.

 

Dave looked a little sad for a minute as he contemplated what he just said, but then he pulled himself together into his Mr. Fixit persona when Mossy came to my workstation with an exhausted look on his face. Mossy mumbled something about a machine eating his tools and asked Dave to come with him.

 

Dave smiled and said; “Duty calls. I’ll see you later, kid.” “Now Mossy, what seems to be the trouble in machine number one?” Dave asked as he and Mr. Mossy jogged to the machine that now had about 10 confused Japanese engineers standing around it with exhausted looks on their faces.

 

Whenever a machine like number one went down, if Mossy couldn’t fix it in a matter of minutes, every Japanese engineer was working on it, lending a hand, or offering useful comments.

 

I cringed because I knew that I would probably be recruited to work overtime tonight, because, once the machine was fixed it would be producing “hot parts,” that the company would do anything to have boxed and ready for shipment the next day.

 

If we were short on people to box parts that night, management would come out from their offices to box parts, just so we wouldn’t miss a shipment.

 

The company would never change, as long as I didn’t have any say in the management decisions there would always be nights of machines breaking down, the rush to box parts, and weary drives home from work in the wee hours of the morning.

 

I kept brainstorming about my new plan of attack would be for finding another job. Where would I start looking for work? What would I find? Would the job be long-term and satisfying for me? Could I support myself and also invest my money into my art?

 

My painting was progressing at a fast rate as I spent every free hour in my studio loft above my parent’s house painting away until the early hours of the morning.

 

Friday nights were always my favorite night, because for the following two days, I knew I was free from work. And I could spend that time on my art work doing what I loved.

 

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Friday nights, after I got out of work, consisted of my regular routine of bowling and beers with the guys and then I would come home to paint and stay up all night working on my art.

 

My studio was like an automotive repair shop that always had five different cars in various stages of repair being worked on every day.

 

As an artist, I just didn’t work on the same painting every day. I used the Henry Ford assembly line approach and worked on at least five different paintings every day.

 

You can’t work on the same painting for hours a day, especially if you are working in oil paint because once you have covered the canvas with paint you have to give it a day or two to dry before you can work on it again.

 

If you keep working on the same canvas repeatedly over and over, the canvas will eventually end up looking like mud unless you’re a Van Gogh.

 

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Vincent Van Gogh was a perfect example of an artist whose style of painting was wet on wet. He applied very thick coats of paint to his canvas over and over again until he got the effect for which he was looking for.

 

Van Gogh painted like this because he was a perfectionist, and was never satisfied with the results. So he kept working on the same painting until he had a picture with about an average of 10 pounds of paint on it.

 

In my case I don’t always work in oil paint every day. I also work in acrylic paint, oil pastel, charcoal and pencil so I’m never sitting around, with nothing to do.

 

It was around this time that I started to bring my love for archeology into my art.

 

One night, as I was looking through old National Geographic magazines that featured stories of Egyptian and African art, I saw ancient cave paintings, pottery, and sculptures and with the eye of an artist I began to take the shapes and images that made impressions on me and incorporate them into my artwork.

 

I was essentially following in the footsteps of Picasso, who saw African masks at the Trocadero around 1911, and became inspired to invent cubism.

 

Cubism is the most influential style of twentieth century art, developed in Paris by Picasso and Braque, beginning in 1907. The early mature phase of the style, called Analytical Cubism, lasted from 1909 through 1911. Cubism is based on the simultaneous presentation of multiple views, disintegration, and the geometric reconstruction of objects in flattened, ambiguous pictorial so space; figure and ground merge into one interwoven surface of shifting planes.

 

As my excitement for archaeology increased, I realized that I was doing what I had always wanted to do when I was eight years old, when one day as I was riding with my parents in our old Buick Regal, family car, my dad asked me, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I told him that I wanted to be an archaeologist artist.

 

“What’s an archaeologist artist?” My father asked.

 

I didn’t answer right away. I knew that I wanted to draw or paint pictures of ancient dinosaur, human, animal bones, art, architectural ruins to depict what they looked like during life, I just didn’t know if what I wanted to do was a real career or not.

 

My parents had no idea what an archaeologist artist did or if it was a field of study, but they encouraged me to follow it anyway.

 

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As I got older, I quickly forgot about that aspiration and that ride in the Buick Regal until one night, as I was working in my studio loft, I remembered that day and realized that I was doing exactly what I said I wanted to do way back then.

 

It always shocked my parents when they would sleepily came down the stairs Saturday mornings to see me cooking breakfast, with hot coffee waiting for them in the pot.

 

Did you sleep well last night?” Dad asked.

 

Nope, I stayed up all night working on my art,” I replied.

 

What? Why did you do something crazy like that? Don’t you know that you are wasting away your body when you don’t get any sleep?” Dad rhetorically asked.

 

I didn’t care about sleep when my art was on fire. When I was in the creative “zone” time stands still and everything flows with the development of my paintings.

 

I’m alright,” I said.

 

No you’re not sweetie,” Mom would say. “Why don’t you go to bed?”

 

Whenever they mentioned sleep that’s when I got tired and muttered something about, “This is what artists had to do when they are feeling creative,” Then I would leave the room with my black coffee in hand intended to wake me up.

 

Sometimes, sleep was my greatest enemy as I worked into the early hours of the next day, not sure when I am going to get to bed.

 

My body would scream out, “get to bed, you moron!” while my mind and my brush holding hand yelled, “More! More!”

 

Art is like a seductive woman, a tasty treat, drug or alcohol that tempts you into coming back for more.

 

Even today if I am on a hot streak with my painting and it’s 3 a.m. I’ll stay up and continue working instead of going to bed and loose the momentum that I gained.

 

I can stay up all night working on my art and fight exhaustion during the day, but once I’m back in my art studio working on my art, I have the energy to work hard again.

 

I loved my routine while I was working at the factory, but I also knew that if I wanted to grow as a person and start doing things with my friends again, like going out on dates on Friday nights the routine would have to change.

 

I was also felt the pressure from my friends who were making me feel like a monk every time I saw them because I hadn’t hung out with them in a long time or gone on a date in ages.

 

Working at night was great in so many ways, but it also hurt my social life. I couldn’t do anything at night when the average person my age was on a date or doing things that all kids in their 20’s should be doing at night.

 

I have often found when I’m at a crossroads in life, not knowing where to turn the universe does me a favor and sends me a helper to get me going in the right direction.

 

 

My helper, my old friend Cliff, showed up that summer, opening my eyes to how much everything had changed in our lives, in such a short period of time since we had last seen each other. He miraculously appeared one Saturday afternoon shocking everyone who saw him.

 

I had spent the day with my old girlfriend, Michelle, and was parking my truck in front of my house when I heard someone from out of nowhere shout: “DUDE!

 

Dude!” I shouted back, just in time for a bear hug to crush me.

 

Cliff had changed. He didn’t look the same as he did the last time I saw him. His face looked tired and weathered, and he had gained about 35 pounds which significantly enlarged his six-foot frame.

 

How the hell are you, Jer?” Cliff asked.

 

Great, dude. I’m glad you’re back.” I replied.

 

After that brief exchange of emotion, Cliff didn’t want to talk about his new life just yet. He only wanted to revert back to our old life together of fun and games. He wanted to enjoy every moment of his short time off from the military.

 

Nothing has changed one bit!” Cliff said, as he sauntered around my house, taking everything in.

 

At that moment, I realized how homesick my old friend must have been. It had been four years since we had last seen each other and the time away had not been easy on him.

 

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That night, we raised hell like we did as teenagers and ended the night sipping cokes and eating nachos in front of the old Spring Valley movie theater.

 

What happened to you, dude? I’ve been trying for years to get together with you, but nothing ever seemed to work and now here you are. What have you been up to, where have you been, how’s married life?” I asked.

 

The military sucks, married life is great, and I gained this weight because I blew out my knee in a hiking accident last year and I haven’t been able to exercise because of doctor’s orders,” Cliff said.

 

I know I look like shit. Believe me dude, I feel like shit. That’s the reason I wanted to come home, to get healthy in the warm Southern California weather.”

 

And also because my wife, Laura, was away training in Alaska and I was trapped at home, alone.

 

It sucks being alone, three thousand miles away from your wife, but she’s serious about her career and I want her to get every opportunity she can while we are still in the Air Force.

 

But let’s forget about me. How about you dude? What have you been up to? What’s new? Are you and Michelle still an item? Are you two doing the nasty?” Cliff asked.

 

I’ve been busy, no, and no comment.” I replied.

 

What’s up with you, dude? Why are you holding out? Are you still waiting for the right one to come along? Why don’t you get it over with?” Cliff asked smiling.

 

Dude, you don’t know how many times I have been tempted to do it with Michelle. The reason why I’m holding out is because I don’t want to end up like our old buddy, Tim.”

 

You remember Tim don’t you?” I asked.

 

Yeah, he was the tall lanky dude who always hung out with the stoners in high school, right?” Cliff asked.

 

“That’s right, and now, four years later he has four kids to support from two different girlfriends.”

 

I didn’t want to screw up my life over a moment of carnal temptation and pay for it for the rest of my life with a child I wasn’t planning on. You understand, right?” I asked.

 

Jeremy, sometimes I wish I had listened to you more seriously years ago instead of doing my own thing as quick as I did. I wish I had your wisdom, Dude. You always seemed to have something going for you while all of our stupid friends were busy thinking about partying or getting laid.”

 

As we kicked back and thought about the past we realized how fast time had flown by.

 

For me, everything that we talked about felt like it had happened yesterday. I felt like I had just experienced everything that we were reminiscing about but for Cliff, it felt different and it was like he experienced the same thing 30 years ago.

 

It was like Cliff had lived five lifetimes in a few short years.

 

I was still living at home with my parents and doing virtually the same things since I had always done since I had last seen Cliff so nothing had really changed for me, yet.

 

You got it made, dude,” I said.

 

What do you mean, Jer?” Cliff asked.

 

What I mean is, at 22 you already have a great career, wife, home and a destiny in front of you.”

 

I’m still living at home and working on the first steps, building my life.” I said.

 

Dude! Don’t screw around with me! I know you don’t mean what you just said! You think my life is perfect?

 

This is my life, Jer. I’m stationed in a crappy part of the country, which is far removed from California. I’m on disability because of my knee injury so I can’t do my job. My wife is on a training mission in Alaska so I won’t be seeing her for another month and last week my dog died.”

 

The most exciting things that I get to do in my day are play a few games of Dungeons and Dragons on my computer and spend endless hours in chat rooms talking with people about stupid subjects that don’t mean anything.”

 

Cliff, I didn’t mean to get you upset,” I said.

 

Whoa, hold up, dude, I’m going to tell you something that you’re not going to want to hear.”

 

Damn, Jer! You got a lot of talent! You always had more going on than anyone in school. You were always on track because you had something that you didn’t have to work at, something that came easy to you, something that you enjoyed, your art.

 

Dude you got talent! Stop wasting your life wondering what you’re going to do with yourself because, you already know the answer to that question!

 

I don’t know dude. Everyone I’ve talked to about a possible career in art always tell me how hard it is out there and that I will have to suffer for over 50 years, or die before my art starts selling.

 

“All I’ve ever wanted was a normal life, working in a good job like my dad, but I just can’t find anything that satisfies me.” I said

 

What the hell are you talking about?” Cliff asked as he grabbed my arm and pulled me upstairs to my parent’s living room.”

 

Look at this stuff! Cliff exclaimed as he pointed at my art from over the past four years that my parents had proudly hung it around the room.

 

“Dude, do you think that the average guy on the street can whip out paintings like these in a few days without any effort?”

 

If I were to try to sit down and knock out something like any of these, it would just end up looking like shit.”

 

But you, dude, you are the only person that I have ever known who can sit down and paint a beautiful picture in one night. You are the only one I know who started his own business at age 10.”

 

While other kids were still playing with their toys, you were out working for yourself, earning your own money and getting the things you wanted, without having to beg your parents for them.”

 

You have talent, Jer. It’s time to stop being scared and get out there and use it because it will only go to waste. You got to get out there and take charge now before time runs out.”

 

I remember, you said that before we knew it, we would be married, with children. Dude you were right. My path is already laid, but you still have a clean slate and its time for you to get out there and make it happen.”

 

Cliff was right. At that moment it was like I was able to see everything with a different perspective.

 

I had been trying to hide under a rock for too long, because I was too scared of failing if I went after my dreams. But now I realized how wrong I was. I had been trying to recreate my dad’s life, but was unable to make that happen because I was running away from whom I was and what I really wanted.

 

Thus, I was determined more than ever to make my dreams come true. I was going to get what I wanted and would not stop or be satisfied until I turned everything from an unattainable idea to a fulfilling reality.

 

You’re right, dude,” I said.

 

Accept it, Jeremy, and start going for your dreams before another four to five years go by and you are still struggling with the same problems. I really don’t want to come back here and kick your ass in the future but, if I have to do that for my friend I will.” Cliff said.

 

After Cliff finished setting me straight we took off for an evening of assorted fun and experiences that I would never forget.

 

We went out eagerly searching for adventures: Cliff had wanted to relive the things that we did back in high school, so for the rest of our night, he didn’t want to think about responsibility, our jobs or responsibilities.

 

All he wanted was to let loose and go carefree for a few hours and so did I.

 

Unfortunately, that night everything fun was closed for the evening or wasn’t serving alcohol. We couldn’t find any of our old friends hanging out in any of our familiar places, and setting up camp in an arcade until midnight just didn’t seem like fun anymore.

 

Cliff was bummed.

 

Damn Jer. I can’t believe how fast everything changed around here.”

 

I have only been gone for a few years and it seems like none of the places we used to hang out exist anymore,”  Cliff said.

 

I know, dude,” I said.

 

It sucked to see the places we had once identified with like the our favorite movie theater, arcade, bowling alley and Taco Bell were now out of business, empty buildings, parking lots and ghosts of our past.

 

The night was quickly fading fast and I didn’t want to let my old buddy go home on such a sour note.

 

I drove Cliff back to the hotel where he was staying and upon arrival, we talked for a while until I noticed that there was a pool next to his room.

 

Why don’t we go for a swim?” I suggested.

 

Cliff started to laugh, “Now? Dude, we’re fully clothed and your house is miles away.”

 

So what?” I replied and with that I jumped in the pool, fully clothed and began to do laps.

 

Cliff busted up laughing and jumped in fully clothed as well.

 

I didn’t want to let my best friend go home depressed about how everything had changed. I wanted him to remember our friendship as a point in our lives where both of us really experienced our youth and acted a little crazy before we officially grew up.

 

And so we lounged and talked in the warm water until the early hours of the morning. Cliff had to go home that morning and I, most likely, would never see him again.

 

And then as quickly as the night had begun, it was over. Cliff and I had spent the last night of our youth together and we knew that it was time for us to part.

 

We got out of the pool, soaking wet, shook hands, hugged, said our goodbyes and I drove home.

 

After that night, I never saw Cliff again.

 

I heard from a few of my high school friends from time to time about what he was up to and where he was living with his family, but I was just never able to reconnect with him.

 

We drifted apart into our own separate worlds.

 

I remember on the very first day of high school when my freshman social studies teacher told me, “High school is going to be the best time of your life because this will be the only time in your life that you will have all of your friends around you, every day. But after high school is over, everyone will drift apart, go their separate ways and it will never be the same.”

 

He was right, during the last four years I had lost contact with all of my friends and associates from high school and now my last link to those youthful days, Cliff, was gone and I was faced with the reality of how fast time was flying by.

 

I was finally able to empathize with my parents because for the first time in my life I had a few years “under my belt,” and I could look back and reflect and worry about an uncertain future.

 

I felt encouraged, strengthened, confident and self assured after my last meeting with Cliff and was ready to make my jump to a better job and dedicate myself to doing more with my art and live a life that made me happy.

Click here to read the next chapter!

 

Self discovery, pain and celebration

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1999 was a year of discovery, trial and error, and good times.

 

After I had been with the company for a year, I felt like I was finally beginning to get somewhere with my life.

 

I had a good job, a decent income, and a solid base of friends like Dave, Gill, and Joe that I could rely on for inspiration and creative feedback as I worked hard on my painting, with the intention of developing a career in the art world.

 

Every day before I went to work, I passionately painted in my studio for four hours, creating the best paintings I’d ever done since I had dedicated myself to my art.

 

I had nothing holding me back; I didn’t have to adhere to any standards or regulations, or listen to people who told me how or what to paint.

 

I just painted every day because I was in love with my art and couldn’t wait to get back to my studio to see how my art would develop next.

 

Creating s painting is like a romance in the making, and I was in love for that brief time every time every day, that I could work in peace before I had to go to work.

 

Also during that time, I really learned what it was like to get into, “the zone”.

 

“The zone,” is a state of passion where creativity, imagination and spirit beautifully and freely flow, together while the problems of the rest of the world are tuned out.

 

When I enter “the zone,” physical needs like eating, drinking and sleeping don’t matter because my spirit is connected with my creative passion and I get all the food that I need from that passion while I work away.

 

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Picasso once said, “The reason why artists live so long is because they leave their body, outside the door.” That’s why artists are able to withstand so many sleepless nights and long hours of sitting and standing in weird positions while working on the art they are creating.

 

What I found really interesting about this time in my life was that I didn’t stop envisioning and creating when I went to work. Instead of going to work every night feeling like I had been ripped away from someone I loved, I started to carry my creativity with me to the factory.

 

There were always “hot projects,” at the factory each night because management in Japan always put pressure on our company to produce more, more, and more every week.

 

As I worked next to Gill one night I was feeling introspective and decided to write a simple poem about how I was feeling

 

It was just a few lines that rhymed, and after I finished it, I showed it to Gill. He looked it over like the professor he once was and said, “This is great, but if you’re going to write a poem, try to avoid rhyming because, those types of poems sound sissy and you need to learn how to make your poem sound real.”

 

“Poetry today doesn’t rhyme; it doesn’t have thee’s and thou’s in it. Poetry today is life, it’s gritty, and it’s real. For instance poetry is about a girl writing about her experiences, like loosing her virginity, and it’s about a homeless man scratching hopeless words on a box as he slowly starves from lack of food and loneliness.”

 

“Remember, Jeremy, poetry, is about life,” Gill said.

 

And for the rest of the evening, Gill told me all about his favorite writers from the 1960’s who wrote with fire for their cause. And he also told me about other poets he knew who died too young and with them, died a voice of their generation.

 

When Gill and I talked, it was like a new education for me. I absorbed every minute of it, without looking at the clock; because I knew that once I did, the clock would tell me that it was time to go home.

 

“Write about what’s in your heart,” Gill said seriously.

 

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The next evening, he brought me books written by writers from his generation like Richard Brautigan and told me to take them home to see if anything would rub off on me.

 

During the next few nights, I absorbed Richard Brautigan’s book, In Watermelon Sugar, and loved every minute of it.

 

And sure enough, a few days later, after I was put with Gill again for the evening, we started talking and writing poetry, and we couldn’t stop.

 

It was like a jam session when we wrote, even though we had to keep an eye out for our boss, Mike, who was always walking by and pay attention to our parts production so we didn’t get fired.

 

We were like two crazed monsters of creativity exploring our creative passion, anyway we could, while we were stuck in that factory for eight hours or more at a time.

 

During these restrictive times I could almost comprehend what it would be like if anyone or anything took away my creativity from me, forcing me to find ways to be creative in restrictive environments.

 

 

For example, in the movie “The Pianist,” Wladyslaw Szpilman, the famous concert pianist, was forced to hide in an abandoned apartment during World War Two to avoid capture by the Nazi’s, and in the abandoned apartment was a piano that he knew he couldn’t play because if the Nazi’s heard the music they would find him, arrest him, and ship him off to the death camps.

 

So instead of playing, he glides his fingers over the keys while the memory of the sound as his guide, satisfying him as if he were playing.

 

Any artist, such as a painter, writer or musician hungers for a creative outlet, and if they have been away from it for long and will always find a way to create.

 

Once I started writing poetry I was instantly hooked and realized that writing poetry is painting with words and another way for me to express myself in that constrictive environment, making me feel somewhat normal and fulfilled until my night at work was over.

 

Some nights I wrote one poem, other nights, five poems and after each night ended, the environment was like a beat-nick bar as I stood up on my chair in front of my friends and recited the poetry I had written, over the previous eight hours, receiving applause and encouragement after I finished.

 

Finding writing was like finding a release.

 

My friends and family knew what I had done since I graduated from high school, but they had no idea of what was going on in my heart or soul until I was able to write about it.

 

I think that this was the most satisfying and fulfilling time of my life, because I was finally doing what I had wanted to do for years and I was finally moving ahead with my life while possessing and holding onto hope and optimism for my future.

 


 

 

Here are a few poems that I wrote during this important time in my life:

 

My search

Some people are blessed with the answered questions while I’m always lost searching for the answers in the dark.

 

Blessed with freedom, cursed with freedom I’m on the road with my own worst enemy, myself.

 

Sometimes I fall off the road while searching for the answer and then friends and family are always there to bring pull me back to the road with the answers I’m searching for.

 

I always question the simplest answers and start stumbling again and in the end I’m brought back to the first place by wise old soldiers that are also friends.

 

My life

I wasn’t direct when I was eighteen; my mind took me in one million directions while I wanted to be one million different things.

The air, the sun, the sky, and the stars I fell in love with all of them passionately as I walked the path searching for my calling.

But as I journeyed farther I kept being pulled back to the beginning, to the roots I tried to cut in the beginning.

 

These next poems are about how it feels to be an artist:

 

Ecstasy Unraveled

Flashes of anger!

Joy out of the dark,

Near insanity at three in the morning,

I fight with the demon that holds my ideas.

Confused at the time for a single line I fight with frustration to get it out!

At the point of silence my hands come to life.

Passion and joy, they came back!

They give themselves over to me as I beg for more.

Furiously I work as my body cries for rest.

Revelations! Revelations! They engulf me as I laugh with pleasure.

Then neither finished nor on the run I sit back and stare at my pleasure, my painting, my creation.

 

My Creativity

It means the most to me my creativity.

Endless hours, with brush in hand for me is like being in the promised-land.

My work brings me closer to who I want to be.

When I’m painting I feel absolutely free.

 

This poem is how I feel at work every day:

 

At work

Upfront sadness my feelings assault me as my mind runs away wishing I were free.

Dying to get away and do something creative I’m confined for eight hours!

Like the tired ox I labor through my work because it’s Monday again.

Time drags by like a turtle going home before the lunch bell finally rings.

I race with temporary freedom searching for food like a hungry wolf.

In no time at all smiling time pulls me back to my sleepy tasks as I patiently wait for freedom once again.

As time drags on inspiration begins once again as the bell rings freeing me from my temporary prison.

It’s time to go home and be free!

 


 

 

Discovering my poetry, this new way to express my self is what helped me furnish my desire to keep working at the factory and survive those long nights of tedious labor.

 

I had my art and now I had writing to keep me busy every day and night. But even though I enjoyed these things, I began to see that there was something lacking in the work that I was doing.

 

The work that I did every night at the factory was very repetitive, and boring. And when I wasn’t inspired to write, or talk with Dave, Gill or my other friends, the work got on my nerves and I became irritated.

 

Even though I was a simple production worker, working on an assembly line every night, I was also someone who had been a leader in my other jobs in the past and I saw the need for better management in the company.

 

I had gained management skills from my years working on my gardening route when I hired my friends to work with me on big jobs where I needed the help.

 

I had also gained management skills on a summer job that I had worked on as a “job coach,” for people with developmental disabilities. In this position I was in charge of a crew of five developmentally disabled men and women whom I supervised as they performed gardening tasks on properties countywide.

 

At PEC, the employees around me everyday needed a voice, and I decided to be the voice.

 

Rather than letting management treat us like cattle, I stepped up and met with the general manager of the company to voice our concerns, about things that were happening in the factory. I also made recommendations on how management could better handle every day, task and projects. But my ideas were always met with the same results.

 

bad-toupee28

 

Our general manager was a little guy named Gary, who wore a bad toupee that looked like a dead rat on his head.

 

This guy also always wore three piece suits, drove fancy cars, and never walked past someone without letting them know how wealthy he was. Either by talking about his latest big purchase or just by the pompous, conceited way he walked, which really annoyed the crew who were always working harder than Gary ever worked for the company.

 

We all knew that the company paid him a six-figure salary, but every time I tried to recommend a way to improve safety or production, he would say, “Jeremy you know I can’t do that. Our budget is always stretched thinner than the toilet paper in the men’s bathroom,” he said.

 

“You’ve got to trust me Jeremy, I’m in this office because I work for you guys, not the Japanese guys in the office next door. I guarantee that you’re going to see ‘big changes’ in this company within the next few months.”

 

When Gary would say “big changes“, it always meant that he bought us doughnuts to show us that “he cared”.

 

“We’re a growing company, Jeremy. Please be patient,” Gary said in his usual sarcastic manner, while looking out the window at his new BMW, wishing he were on the road driving away from the factory instead of talking with me.

 

“I like you, Kid. I was just like you when I was your age. I was idealistic and was always looking for ways to change things and help people. You can keep coming back to let me know how our employees are doing and I will try to get the owners to make some changes around here, ok?” After my first meeting with Gary I knew that he only intended to keep me satisfied until our next meeting a week later.

 

He didn’t care about my concerns any more than the owners did, and like them, he was only concerned about the bottom line. Getting him to add to the production and safety budget was like trying to catch a slippery eel.

 

Management never ceased to amaze me with the many ways they could avoid buying the supplies that we needed to make our jobs go easier, or the many ways things they did to increase production like telling the machine operators on the production lines to remove their safety guards, just to get a few extra parts per night.

 

Each week, after I finished my latest talk with Gary, My buddy Victor would be the first to greet me to share in any small victories I had gained for the employees or share in my defeat with me.

 

anthony-quinn-by-Gondo[1542]

Anthony Quinn Circa 1960’s?

 

Victor was an older-looking Mexican guy who looked just like Anthony Quinn, and even lived a life similar to the famous actor.

 

On nights that I worked with Victor he always kept me entertained with the stories of his romantic “conquests” during his younger days.

 

Well, what did the toupee one say today my friend?” Victor always asked.

 

Everybody loved making fun of Gary because he was the epitome of the “mean boss”.

 

Victor especially hated Gary because Gary had not given him a raise in pay in over two years. And Gary’s BMW, nice suits and affluent lifestyle continued to add insult to injury for Victor.

 

Victor once had a good paying job working in the aircraft industry like my dad, also like my dad he was laid off with thousands of other people in the early 1990’s due to the recession. Since he was in his early 60’s, he took the only work available to him, like my dad did, which was working for Pacific Engineering Company.

 

Victor had the same dedicated company mentality that I saw in Lazaro when I worked at the golf course.

 

He didn’t like the work that he did, but he realized that it was the hand dealt him, and he had to accept it until something, if anything better, came along.

 

Victor was the hardest-working man in our company because he knew that the closer he got to retiring he’d have even fewer job choices available to him. And he had to provide for his family.

 

Everyone on our shift knew the work that Victor did and how much he produced every night, except Gary, who seemed to take pleasure in holding good people back from the benefits they deserved.

 

Every time I told Victor about my meeting with Gary, I received his typical response.

 

“Fuck him! The only reason why he doesn’t respect you, Junior, is because you don’t have a degree or an MBA next to your name like him! I always tell you it’s a waste of time, to meet with him, don’t I?” Victor responded.

 

“I know, I know, I just wish that management would listen to me and not look at me just like another worker in the factory. I could do a lot more here if they would just give me the chance!” I replied..

 

“Jeremy, I’ll tell you what I tell my sons. You’re never going to get anywhere working for someone else!”

 

“Look at me! I’m 60 years old and still working for peanuts!

 

I should be fucking retired by now, but instead of sipping a cold one at my house in Mexico, I have to work twice as hard because I didn’t use my head when I was your age.”

 

“You got a lot of talent Kid! I’ve seen your art and it’s good; you don’t belong in this place!”

 

Victor loved my art. I had given him a couple of my newest oil pastel pictures the week before and he loved them.

 

“You did these?” Victor asked me as if he was seeing me in new light.

 

“Yeah, I did. I made these last week after you told me that your granddaughter was studying art for the first time. I thought she might like to have them,” I replied.

 

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“Thank you, Jeremy. I don’t know what to say; the only art that my wife and I have is a painting that is hanging in our living room. We bought it while on vacation in Mexico 30 years ago. Nobody has ever given me anything this nice before. Thank you, Jeremy. My family and I will treasure these pictures,” Victor said as he wrapped the pictures in plastic and carefully put them away in his car to show his wife later that night.

 

“If you spend another year in this place, with these old men I am going to kill you!” Victor said.

 

“Get serious about your life and your art, Jeremy! Because if you’re not careful, you’ll end up like my stupid son who got a girl pregnant at age 18, now the rest of his life is ruined because he has to take care of that responsibility instead of experiencing and living a full life!”

 

“Damn him! I hate seeing kids screw up, and having to spend the rest of their lives wishing that things were different,” he said.

 

“Think about it!” Victor exclaimed, right before he thumped me on the shoulder as he angrily walked away.

 

I learned fast that Victor wasn’t a guy to mess with. You had to give him his space, respect him, and leave him alone, or he would get in your face about anything he felt strongly about.

 

Victor used to be an amateur boxer when he was a young man, and he wasn’t afraid to go a few rounds with someone less than half his age if his ego was suddenly offended.

 

He especially wouldn’t think twice about knocking Orion to the ground if Orion was ever shooting his mouth off.

 

On any given night, Orion, being the arrogant Southerner he was, and Victor, being the proud Mexican could easily set each other off and get into a fight. Mike always made sure every night that they didn’t work with each other because he knew what would happen if they did.

 

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If, by chance, Orion and Victor had to work together for the night, any job that they had to do turned into a competition, where they’d try to out-produce each other while swearing at each other and threatening to kick each other’s ass the entire night.

 

After I had the chance to get to know Victor, and saw through his rough exterior, I grew to respect and admire him.

 

He was the type of guy that could easily run circles around anyone younger than he was.

 

He had a bad heart from years of boxing related abuse but that never stopped him from laboriously working with the guys, or drinking a few beers with us, even though his doctor told him not to. I had a feeling that Victor would rather die from a heart attack from working too hard than die from a heart attack doing something boring like sitting in a rocking chair.

 

His comments made me think hard about my future; and he was always right: I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life working for a company like PEC, slowly becoming institutionalized like everyone else.

 

I dreaded looking for another job. I didn’t want to start the whole process of job searching and interviews again when I had only been working for PEC for just over a year. Even though the work that I was doing for PEC was boring and mindless it brought in a steady paycheck, medical insurance and the ability to build a better life but I knew that the mundane, day to day grind was getting to me and I had to find something more fulfilling to do for work.

 

As I was getting used to the idea of job searching again, I felt like a failure as I contemplated my failed career choices and I wondered if I would ever be able to find the one perfect job, that I could settle down with and use as a stepping stone to accomplish my artistic goals and dreams.

 

One night as I was thinking about the choices I had to make I realized something that would give me the strength emotionally to move forward with my life and work harder than ever to accomplish my goals and dreams.

 

I realized that even though I had made many, good and bad, choices since graduating high school, and had worked in many jobs, this was my life path, this was how my life was supposed to be, there were no, “good and bad” decisions, only, “life experience,” that led me on the road to accomplishing my goals.

 

I knew that I had faced many ups and downs in the jobs I worked but one day I would find the right job, settle down, be happy and accomplish my goals in life.

 

Happiness was around the corner for me and I had to keep searching for it my own way until I found it.

 

Part of me wanted to continue working for PEC because it was a good, safe and secure job while the other part of me was ready to go and start searching for another job once again.

 

Security, insecurity, fear, safety, try, fail, survive, prosper, I realized that all of these words were part of life, like the Chinese “Yen and Yang,” and you can’t have one side without the other.

 

Some people spend a lifetime relying on other people to make their decisions for them and tell them what to do because facing the problems and anxiety associated with change is to great for them, and then one day they wake up, look in the mirror and realize that they are older and haven’t learned any of life’s hard lesions because they didn’t want to face them, and find out what life is really all about.

 

I wasn’t going to settle for second best in my life and I prepared myself emotionally to start job searching again, and see what life offered next.

 

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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…

Click here to read the next chapter!

 

 

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.

mission bay golf course

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.

 golf course maintenance

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.

golf course girls

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.

 golf cart boss

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!

 

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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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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