Tag Archives: growing up

Landscaping And Learning About Life



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.

 ROHR industries

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….

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The Last Summer Of My Youth



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.


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.


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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The day that I really grew up..



 From my unpublished book – A Long Time Coming

(C) 2015 Jeremy Raglin

Reality, it’s something that hits everyone sooner than later in life.

When you’re young, you don’t have any worries or fears, because all of our problems are taken care of from day one, by your parents, but one day before you’re officially grown up reality sets in.

It happens when you’re still between the ages of a child and an adult when something traumatic happens and you wake up to the responsibilities of adulthood and your future.

Reality set in for me early in my life, on the day of my high school graduation from Monte Vista High School.

 math class

It happened in math class, my worst and most hated subject in high school.

Math class that day was two hours, the first hour was for our final exams and the second hour was for my math teacher Mr. Carroll to grade our final exams while we watched an old educational video on one of the ancient TV’s from the audio visual department.

I barely finished my final exam in the first hour that we had to complete the final exam and spent the second hour sweating out the minutes in my chair praying that I wouldn’t get an F because I needed to pass my exam, to pass my math class and graduate from high school.

While other students could fail their final exam or do poorly on it, I had to pass the exam with at lest a D grade in order to have the credits to pass my math class.

Math had been my most hated subject ever since my first day in school and I longed for the day to be free of high school and free of math but it didn’t look like I was going to finally be free of either that day because I didn’t pass my math final.

Mr. Carroll had finished grading the final exams and gave them to the honor roll students in the front of the class to pass out. Slowly the honor roll students walked down their isles handing the graded final exams to each student, finally they reached me in the very back of the class and when my graded, final exam was handed to me I knew that I failed because of the big F on the paper.

My final exam also has a sticky note on the front of the paper that said, “See me after class.”

“Oh crap! Oh Crap! Oh crap! I’m dead!” These thoughts went through my head as I panicked and felt like throwing up.

I looked at all of the other students in the room and everyone seemed to be pleased with their grades as they packed up their things and prepared to go home victorious and come back for the graduation ceremony later that afternoon.

I continued panicking and tried to think of every argument to persuade Mr. Carroll to let me pass his class when the school bell rang and everyone got up from their seats to leave the classroom. I got up from my seat and slowly made my way to Mr. Carroll’s desk ready to plead my case for him to give me a passing grade.

“Ah Jeremy are you here to face the music?” Mr. Carroll asked.

Face what “music?” All I could hear was the funeral march in my head as I knew that my math teacher was going to stand in the way of me graduating from high school from my friends.

“Mr. Carroll I tried really hard, I studied and did my best can’t you please let me pass your class?” I asked.

“Tried really hard? Did your best? Do you think I would be the successful teacher that I am today if those were the only qualifications to becoming a teacher and a successful high school basketball coach?” He asked.

Mr. Carroll evidently enjoyed making my life hell at that moment because he turned his back on me as he talked and acted like I didn’t exist.

He had, had a stressful year of teaching and coaching the girl’s basketball team and didn’t really give a damn about passing or failing one of his weakest students.

I didn’t know who was more annoying my math teacher or my sophomore geography teacher who smoked a pack a day and madly tried to cover it up by popping about 10 breath minutes in his mouth before class each day.

“Why won’t you let me pass when my grade is so close to a passing grade already?” I asked as I stood desperately in front of the devil reincarnate.

“Because,” Mr. Carroll said, “If I let you pass, then I will have to let pass all of the other Jeremy’s who skate by the whole year and then come to me on the day of graduation with their tail between their legs.”

Mr. Carroll turned around and put his arms on his hips resembling an angry dictator.

“Life sucks Jeremy. You have to deal with the consequences of your actions. It’s going to be summer school for you.”

As I looked into his eyes, I imagined myself ecstatically drop kicking him through one of the windows and watching him with a big smile on my face as he rolled down the hill.

I was mad. I knew that there was no way he was going to change his mind no matter how convincing my plea.

And I was doomed. All I could do was accept my fate and leave his room before I let my anger get the best of me.

Not graduate? I wouldn’t walk in the ceremony? I couldn’t believe it. I was floored.

I spent four years of my life envisioning myself adorned in a cap and gown with parents standing behind me smiling and then all of a sudden it sneaks up on you, the four years are over and you are about to cross over into the next phase of your life.

This wasn’t going to happen to me. I was about to cross over into the next phase of my life but was being held back because I failed my math class.

Where did the last four years go? Where did the last 18 years go? It felt like yesterday when my biggest concerns were whose house I was going to after school, to play or what I wanted for Christmas or for my next birthday.

I was born and raised in a very conservative middle class, sheltered household in a suburb of San Diego, California with nothing really expected of me other than to be a loving son and work hard in school. And after graduating high school go work for the same company that my Dad and Grandpa Raglin had worked at for over 50 years.

 blue chollar worker

I think the world of my Dad and Grandpa Raglin because both are hard working company men that have worked hard and been good providers their entire lives.

For the first seventeen years of my life it seemed like my life was going to follow the same pattern as their lives and I was happy with it because I wanted to be like them when I grew up.

When you’re born into a family that only knows generations of living an established way of life it’s not easy breaking the mold.

The mold officially broke for me that day in math class when I was faced with an uncertain future.

I felt cheated. All I could think of at that moment was that everyone in my family had graduated and walked at the graduation ceremony and now I wasn’t going to walk in my own ceremony.

I was devastated and I felt my life was over.

As I mournfully walked out of my teacher’s room I was enveloped in a storm of sad, depressed, angry thoughts.

I just couldn’t understand why I couldn’t walk at the graduation.

I kept thinking, “I studied, I crammed and worked my ass off preparing for that math final and I failed.” I wasn’t going to be able to say goodbye to the establishment that continuously disappointed me. I walked past seniors happily emptying their lockers, celebrating perfect grades and bright futures, hugging favorite teachers for the last time and running to their sleek cars to celebrate together before they would come back to school and celebrate for real in their graduations.

“See you later Jeremy!” “Don’t be late for the ceremony!” “Do you want to party with us tonight?” My friends asked me as I walked by and all I could do was let out a caveman like “grunt,” and continue walking.

Somehow, I made it to my old truck where my best buddy, Cliff, was waiting for me with a smile on his face.

Cliff was a talented guy in high school and all subjects had always come easy to him. He didn’t have to worry about passing because he always passed any class he took. I had met Cliff right at the start of our senior year and we had experience many great times and had become fast friends.

“It’s the last day of school! Dude, give me a high five!” Cliff said.

I made a weak attempt to act excited, but it just wasn’t working. What would my parents say?

“Dude, what’s wrong?” Cliff asked.

“I’m not graduating,” I said.

“What? What do you mean?” Cliff responded in surprise.

“I mean, I won’t be in the ceremony. Mr. Carroll is failing me because I failed my math, final exam and didn’t have enough points to pass his class.” I said.

I couldn’t take it. Even though we prided our selves on being macho guys who could take any type of pain like Indian burns, falling off our bikes, getting into fights etc this was one pain I couldn’t take. I broke down and cried.

“I don’t believe it Jer!” Cliff said. “That stupid x###!!@@. Why don’t we do something fun like slash his tires or toilet paper his house tonight?” Cliff said with a smile.

Cliff always knew how to say the right things to make me laugh or bring a smile to my face.

 toilet paper house

I mulled over the thought of Cliff and I avenging my grade by attacking Mr. Cameron’s personal property but decided to not let my anger get the better of me.

“No thanks dude, I’m already in enough trouble as it is. I better get going.” I said.

“What about tonight?” Cliff replied.

Tonight was grad night. It was supposed to be the biggest party of the past four years. Everyone would be there, except me.

“I don’t know. I can’t think right now. I’ll have to let you know later,” I said.

I got into my old truck and drove Cliff home and slowly made the drive home from Cliff’s house to my parent’s house, high on Dictionary Hill, in Spring Valley.

I don’t know how I made it home, because as I drove my eyes were wet from my tears and the moment I walked through the front door and saw my dad, I lost it, all the  emotion came out and I cried for real.

I tried hard over the last four years to get good grades in all of my classes especially math, but by not passing my math class and not walking in the graduation ceremony I felt like a failure in front of my father.

As I said this I expected my father to explode in a rage and say “you failed the family, your mother and I are so ashamed!” Like in an old black and white movie.

“You’re going to be alright son you’ll go to summer school and make it up. Your life isn’t over.”

“Hey, it’s only a piece of paper. This is only one minor hang up in your life among many other things that you’re going to experience.” My father said.

My father always knew how to make me feel better. Ever since I was a kid, he always helped make sense of my problems.

That’s the way it always was and always will be with my parents. Even when you grow up and have a family of your own your father and mother will always be able to help you solve the problems if nobody in your life can do it for you.

Many nights I talked with my father in his garage workshop about the latest things that were going on in my life like problems at school, friends, sports or girls as he worked on a wood project while smoking his pipe or drinking coffee.

Somehow after our conversations were over the future didn’t seem so dark and scary.

As I talked with my dad in the kitchen the phone rang and it was my mom calling from work to see how my dad was doing.

While my dad was on the phone with my mom updating her on everything that just happened to me my head was still buzzing from the traumatic day I just had and I headed for the door.

“Son, where are you going?” He asked.

“I have to get away and think,” I said.

I had to retreat into privacy and comprehend everything that had just happened. I needed a quiet place away from everyone where I could just think.

“Jeremy, you’re in no condition to drive. Just kick back and relax. You know the family is coming over to celebrate tonight.”

“What are we going to celebrate? “My failure?” I asked

My mom and dad had planned a big graduation party for me with a cake, decorations and many expectations for my future, and now I would have to face my family in failure instead of victory.

“Jeremy, you know the family won’t care. They love you for who you are. No strings attached. We have plenty of things to celebrate.”

“Dad, please let me go. I need to get away and think,” I said.

I had to run away and digest what had happened that day. In a matter of hours I felt like I had lost everything that mattered to me.

“All right, will you be back later?” Dad asked.

“I will,” I said. And with that, I grabbed my journal, which would help me collect my thoughts, and I headed out the door not knowing where I was going.

I drove around aimlessly with a cluttered head and had no destination. This was the first truly bad experience of my life and I felt like someone else was driving for me while I tagged along in a emotional haze of depression.

I kept driving until I decided to pull into one of my favorite places. The good old neighborhood Taco Bell.

 taco bell

Taco Bell was a popular late night haunt for Cliff and me.

We spent many Friday nights out until the early hours of Saturday morning munching away on nachos and burritos after a late night movie or a few hours in the arcade.

Cliff and I always hung out on Friday nights. We always were either seeing the latest comedy or action film in the movies or going to the arcade for some friendly gaming rivalry.

I arrived at Taco Bell and a flood of memories of the previous four years came back to me.

It seemed like yesterday that I was a scared 14 year old entering my English class, immediately expressing the first words out of my mouth:

“Is this class hard?”

In response to my question a tall, My English Teacher, Mrs. Turner, a beautiful woman with waist length, brown hair and a welcoming smile said, “Only if you make it hard.”

I had many great memories like that one from high school coming back to me that day.

Mrs. Turner was the first teacher I ever had a crush on and like every other high school boy at the time I wanted to act out my forbidden fantasies with her.

The only memory I wouldn’t have from my high school years would be the memory of my graduation, because I wouldn’t be there.

As I sat there with my Taco Bell meal I felt like I had just been born and tried to figure out the first big problem of my life but was to raw emotionally to deal with it.

While I was eating, people I knew from school drove by the Taco Bell with their cars decorated with streamers and balloons from their parents to celebrate their graduations as they headed back to school to prepare for the graduation ceremony.

I spent the rest of the day driving around feeling detached and hopeless as I kept looking at my watch every few hours, thinking about what my graduation would be like, if I was there.

I tried to distract myself through random activities, I went to a park, browsed through a bookstore and saw a matinee at the movie theatre but nothing worked and I felt more depressed than ever.

Eventually I would have to face my friend’s questions and be ready for them with answers.

Finally, later that day, I knew that the graduation ceremony was over and I headed home to face my family.

I arrived that afternoon to a steady supply of hugs and kisses from my mother who was worried sick.

“Where were you?” She exclaimed as I casually walked through the door.

“I had to get out and clear my head; I couldn’t take it.”

“I know sweetie.” She said as she hugged me, “don’t worry, it will be all right.”

From George Washington to Bill Clinton men have become great because they have always will have a #1 fan and cheerleader in their mother.

I didn’t want to get emotional with her right there so I gave her a hug and reached in the fridge for a soda to get my mind off how bad I felt.

I was beginning to feel like my old self again, especially when I smelled the aroma of something tempting cooking in my mom’s oven.

She glanced in my direction and said, “That’s your cake, it should be ready any minute and the family should be here soon.”

Listen to my high school playlist – Click here

“They were still coming,” I thought with dread. I couldn’t imagine anything more humiliating than my family celebrating and praising something that I didn’t do.

I felt like an imposter. Like the old pop music group Mili Vanili who didn’t sing any of their own songs.

I ran downstairs and tried to hide in my room from the coming group of relatives.

My cousin Brian got there early with his parents and after finding out what happened to me, respectfully kept from asking me questions or mentioning it. We had been close since we were little kids and both of us knew when to keep our mouths shut when something bad happened to the other.

As we played video games in seclusion family members started to arrive one by one until I heard my dad come down the stairs to get me and then I heard a knock at my door.

“Jeremy everyone is here. Get up here and make an appearance, ok?” My dad requested.

I wanted to somehow to sneak away to my truck to go see a movie for a few hours, but I decided to face the music and see my relatives.

Their love engulfed me with smiles, hugs and pats on the back.

I have a real family that has been through a lot together and always banded together to help one of their own through another hard time.

We spent that night as we spent any other family celebration, celebrating life.

Aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews passed the food, drinks, cake, and ice cream, and celebrated not my graduation, but my passage into adulthood and better things to come.

My dad was right nobody, cared that I didn’t have the piece of paper that commemorated my graduation they all agreed that it was after all just a piece of paper and assured me that I would get it soon enough.

My cousin Tim said, “I don’t even have my high school diploma anymore, I think I lost it way back in the 1970’s.”

In fact, my aunts told me to grab my cap and gown anyway, put them on and go out to the front lawn so they could take pictures.


Even though I felt like an imposter wearing that outfit, I adhered to their request, and stood outside for minutes as my aunts took the traditional pictures as if it were truly my awaited graduation day.

After the picture session was over I looked around at my little cousins and the cousins with whom I grew up, spending many days in meticulously constructed forts or by swimming pools on hot summer days and I knew that from that day on my life was never going to be the same.

As quickly as the party began it was soon over and I said goodbye to my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents with kisses, hugs and promises to see each other again soon.

And as I said goodbye to my family I knew that after this night was over my life would be different.

The next time I would see these people I wouldn’t get asked “How’s high school?” There would be new questions, like “when are you going to start college?” Or “what are you going to do with the rest of your life?”

Its funny how in one day everything changes. When I woke up that morning, I was still a kid in high school and now, as the evening came to a close I was venturing into the adult world.

Later that night, after the party was over and all of the relatives had gone home, I looked at the clock and realized that the graduation party at my school was just beginning and deep down inside me I wanted to go.

I only lived five minutes away from my Monte Vista High School and could get there in no time to join the party.

My parents saw the restless look on my face and practically pushed me out the door.

They didn’t want me to miss that night in spite of what happened that day, so before I knew it, I found myself in my old truck driving back to the high school to party with my friends who still didn’t know that I didn’t graduate.

I wasn’t going to tell them that I didn’t graduate so I prepared a steady supply of excuses if they asked, “Where were you at the graduation?” “I didn’t see you there.” And I would say, “I was there, you just missed me that’s all.”

I arrived to find the high school decked out like one of those bad high school movies from the 1980’s.

That year the faculty decided that it was a better idea to host grad night at the high school, rather than host it in the high school gym, a place where my underage friends and I might get into trouble.

Clever as the idea was, they just kept the trouble at home.

A group of my friends quickly grew board with the dancing, contests, games and snacks so they decided to spend the evening toilet papering the school and throwing eggs at teacher’s cars.

I arrived on the scene that night to hear wrap music blasting from the PA system in the gym and to see that in spite of this last night of teenage fun to let loose and enjoy each other, everybody there broke up into their, “groups” or “clicks” for the night.

Jocks, musicians, artists, nerds, stoners, school spirit dorks all hung out in their groups signing each others year books and passing out phone numbers in hopes of staying in communication with friends that they probably would never call or see again.

A few years after graduation, a lot of these people would be graduating college, married, starting families or even loose their lives at a young age.

Once grad night would last until 5 a.m. Saturday morning when the teachers would allow us to leave the “friendly confines” of the high school gym and drive home, but until that hour came I was determined to have fun and, “soak up” the atmosphere before it was all over.

I finally spotted Cliff who was hanging out with our friends playing at the teacher supervised blackjack table that he kept winning at.

“You’re not a very good blackjack dealer, Mr. Davis, are you sure you don’t want me to show you how it’s done?” Cliff asked.

“I know what I’m doing Cliff so please play the game or go do something else.” Mr. Davis replied.

I owe a lot to Cliff, not just for the fun we had at the graduation party that night but also for the fun that he brought back into my life since I met him at the beginning of the year.

Cliff was always ready to play video games, watch TV, go to movies, pull pranks on people and have fun and he brought that youthful energy back into my life.

I grew up way too fast and at that point in my life I was spending too much time absorbed in adult responsibilities that many kids did not know I was doing.

 Cliff brought out the kid in me that year and he helped me to experience the fun and excitement of acting my age and for that I will always be thankful.

And so we partied hard that night in the high school gym, enjoying the food and refreshments the school provided for us while we played the teacher supervised games and pulled pranks with our friends.

Everywhere I went that night, in the high school gym and on the school grounds the “air” was different and many of us sensed that once the clock started counting down to five a.m. on Saturday we would never experience this moment again.


And then before we knew it, dusk appeared in the morning sky, the sun peaked over the mountains in East County, the music stopped, the doors to the gym opened and the gates to the high school were unlocked to us one last time and we were free to go.

It was weird leaving the school with my friends for the last time that early morning and realizing that we would never again see each other every day between classes, in the library, at lunch, in P.E. classes or after school as we waited for our rides home.

What had I learned during those four years of high school? Where was I going with my life after I would take summer school math and eventually receive my diploma?

I didn’t have any plans for college yet and would think seriously about my future once the summer was over.

Cliff, who was not one to end a night on a low note, decided that we should stop at the 7-11 for another one of our favorite pastimes before going home.

Eating nachos and playing video games!

It’s amazing how many things are available in California at 5 a.m. and when we walked into the 7-11 off Jamacha Road in Spring Valley for our Nachos, soda and a few rounds of video games the store clerk didn’t give us a second thought.

Cliff was the expert on all games of the day; he could easily sit down to a new video or computer game and take complete control of it within a short period of time.

But that morning, instead of watching him play, I decided to join in while we ate our nachos because both of us knew deep down that we didn’t want the night to end.

Finally, after we played the last round of Street Fighter we headed home exhausted from experiences of the previous day.

As we approached my house, where Cliff would sleep over he said, “Jer, it was an awesome night, but do you realize that from now on nothing will ever be the same?”

“I know dude,” I said. “Let’s not grow up too fast okay?”

“Because before you know it, either you or I will be married with kids and asking ourselves where did our youth go?”

Later on I realized how profound a statement that was.

And so finally the long day was finally over and once we were back at my house we collapsed in my room and immediately fell asleep.

I felt like I had grown that day, and had survived my first massive battle and lived to tell about it…

Click here to read the next chapter!