Remember when you were 5 or 6 years old, filled with the zeal of life, wishing you did not have to sleep because you were so excited to simply “experience” anything and everything. The joy and sheer awe of those daily experiences seemed to be tented in high velocity and throbbing chaos. The glee of bouncing off a wall, or thing or even a person while being blind to any perception of differentiation was an hourly thing.
I can remember growing up down by Sunnyside Elementary School in a 1 bedroom home on a large lot. My Mother raised 4 children, 3 boys and 1 girl in that tiny house, and she slept on the couch while we all slept in one room. Youth has its advantages of course, as in my brother Andy’s case and my case because we were still too young and naïve. But my older brother Randy and my older sister Sharon probably experienced more reality than I did, and with that reality comes pain and scarring when you are struggling. We would wake up in the morning and my Mom would be gone to work as a Secretary for the Welfare Department. She would talk about poor families and their struggles and I would listen as if poverty was a stranger not knowing my own terrible economic condition. I can remember getting up and since we had no toaster, putting a slice or two of Wonder Bread, on the living room heater to toast it. It had a kind of gas smell to it but it eventually toasted and then you put butter it up and cover it with sugar. Happy blissful ignorance that begins to slowly unravel and unpeel as one adds years to their aging life cycle.
Kids of our age had to invent entertainment. Four kids in a tiny house, with a huge dirt lot all fenced off. Well, there was an old shed in the back yard standing alone. So my brother Randy decided that he and his friends would borrow a saw and hammer and some nails and they were going to remodel it and make it a CLUB for their members only. Men……hmmmm, their club, their members and their discriminating power. So they decided to fix up the shed and they made bunk beds to sleep out there at night. Oh did that sound exciting to me and so I joined in and attempted to help them with my carpentry prowess but just kept getting rebuked. Being a younger brother can teach one resilience and fortitude. As Randy build these very cool bunk beds with no springs but just hard planks…..he decided what would be really cool would be to put a trap door out of the roof. Then you could climb up on the top bunk, jump out of the trap door and escape or sneak up on the bad guys that might frequent his private club.
That trap door was really a cool gadget and man I was so impressed with this architectural delight he had created. Oh how I wanted to be in his club now but he kept telling me to get out of there. Finally he relented and told me they were going to Sunnyside to play basketball and I begged him to come. So he and his friends let me tag along but when we got to the gym and were inside, they all said that in order to be in their club I had to stand on the stage and they would throw basketballs at me. Of course I said…..”sure, no problem!” and proceed with glee to the stage. This was not a game of soft dodge ball, these were hard leather basketballs coming at you with killer velocity. Within a few minutes I was crying and laying on the concrete floor. They came over and called me a baby for crying, told me to get up, and I was almost in their club. That gave me hope so I wiped the tears away and followed them back home where they gave me instructions for the last part of the initiation. I had to run full speed into the shed, jump up on the bunk beds, open the trap door, jump up on the roof and then jump down to the dirt below which for a 5 or 6 year old seemed like 20 feet. I said I might break my leg and so they said…..”ok you big baby….we will dig this area up where you will jump and it will be softer. So they got the hose and sprayed the dirt with water and began turning the clay soil with their shovels and creating big dirt clods. Of course I complained about the dirt clods and that meant they started throwing them at me and I escaped down the hatch.
They finally stopped and I looked out the cracks of the shed walls and say they had dropped their dirt clods and were all laughing. So I came out of the shed and they told me that they were going to time me and see if I could accomplish the feat of running into the shed, and climbing up and through the trap door and jumping out. I never thought to ask them what was the actual time I had to make to join the club. Defining parameters of a term sheet are important lessons aren’t they? So I jumped up and off the roof several times and they were timing me. Timing me in those days meant they were counting out loud…..”one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three” etc. which was an approximation of one second per each one thousand. Not exactly empirical data. However, the cadence of their counting would change with each of my attempts and my knees were getting bloody as they laughed at my blissful tenacity. After doing this 5 or six times and I began to argue about their cheating and they decided to concede if I would do one more membership initiation.
I of course said sure…..what is it. So they looked at each other and pulled out a can of Copenhagen and told me if I could chew and swallow and then run in and jump off the roof then I would become a full-fledged member. No problem, I murmured as I stared at the ugly Copenhagen can and smelled the rotten smell. They showed me how to chew, without partaking themselves of course. So I took a pinch and put it in my cheek next to my baby teeth and they said that was not enough. So they said I had to take a big pinch. I laughed and then choked on some of the Copenhagen as it ran down my throat. I took a bigger pinch and my cheeks were a bulging. They laughed and of course I was now happy and I laughed with them. The more I laughed the more they pointed at me and laughed. Finally they said ….OK….here is your test for membership. You have to do it three times before you become a member. Then they would slap me hard on the back so I would swallow more Copenhagen and laugh some more.
By then I was feeling not so good and a bit dizzy but I said “let’s go” and I did the first jump. They told me it was too slow so I now still had to do three more. After a few more I started to feel faint and I told them something was wrong I did not feel good. Randy and his friends reminded me that no sissy was going to be in their club and so I tried to get ready for another jump off the roof but I threw up. Then they all bellowed out a hardy guffaw and I began to cry as I was really pale and sick. I told them I was going to tell Mom on them and they were in trouble for poisoning me. I started to wobble back to our little house and they all caught up with me and began treating me like their long lost friend and told me if I would not tell that I was now an official member of their club. Oh the struggle of acceptance and naive validation that sometimes lingers on in adulthood as we see on Facebook. However, the power of leveraging a position can always be a good strategy in business negotiations.
As my poor Mom began to make a little more money she hoped we could afford a bigger home to rent. I still had no idea how poor we were which is a good thing. I can remember eating lots of peanut butter in large cans when we lived in that little house and even in my next house. Later I realized those were some extra Welfare cans that we were surviving from and little did I know or empathize with my Mom struggling weekly to make enough money to eat let alone buy clothes or a birthday or Christmas present.
As we got older the struggles became more obvious to me and that was the beginning of my life I supposed. I can remember going to the summer movies and taking a bag full of mayonnaise sandwiches to eat during the movies. I could sit in there and watch a couple of movies and go through 3 or 4 mayonnaise sandwiches. I was not bothered by that experience even though some of my friends would actually go to the concession stand and buy something. They would usually share and I would offer them some of my sandwiches but they declined so I thought I got the best part of the deal.
As we got older shame became an ugly appendage of poverty. Learning how to veil poverty is one issue as you can appeal clean and polite and no one knows the “ugly hidden secrets” of such a life. Yet, you always have some friends and peers who continue to pull your pants down through subtle and often overt innuendos. Kids are masters of evoking this kind of pain with surgical precision. I can remember going to the rich kids house, and they would all be putting quarters in the slot machines and I would watch.
I can remember going to the Ferris Barber Shop to get a haircut. The problem is I did not have any money for a haircut and so I had to grovel and ask Mr. Connelly if I could put it on the tab this time. Usually he would say OK and we would pay later but asking in public like that with all the locals listening was painful. I can remember him being kind of grouchy one day and told me to tell my Mom this was the last one on the tab because now I had 3 I owed for on Tab. That was a humiliating experience where the locals all put their heads down to avoid my teary eyes and my rage from being publicly scorned or disenfranchised. As I grew older and played sports the experience of not enough money to live comfortably was almost constant.
I can remember as a teenager being picked as the only freshman to go to Cheyenne Wyoming to play with the Varsity Basketball Team. That was a big trip for me….as that meant we stayed in a hotel overnight which was off the charts exciting. Jumping on beds….freedom…..stimuli everywhere! All the team and upper classmen would wear trench coats in those days so it was imperative I had a good flat top haircut like them and a trench coat. I begged my Mom to get me one at Karl’s and little did I know that $20 for a trench coat was like $2000 to her….almost impossible. So, being a creative Mom with love and hope, she had me go in and try one on, pick one, and lay it away. We did that and all was good and we left the store so excited. I was going to be like everyone else and not be burdened with that old ugly shadow called shame.
The night before the game trip, my Mom went into Karl’s to get my trench coat and they could not find it they said. Actually they had sold it to a friend of mine who of course was preferable, because they were economically acceptable if you will. I guess their rationale was sell it to a regularly paying customer versus a poor limited customer. So, my poor Mom tried to find a solution knowing I would be devastated and bought another darker brown trench coat so I would at least have one. I was so humiliated and embarrassed of this brown trench coat that was unlike everyone on the team. I was like the ugly duckling I thought and was forced in my mind to make self- deprecating comments about my “Army jacket” as if it was funny . Obviously I was learning how to shield the shame. Looking back, the jacket was fine, the problem was me and my perception of peers.. Perceptions are so problematic in those teen years and so indulgent. Imagine the pain I inflicted on my Mom who was desperately trying to juggle finances and self-esteem and find a solution. I am sorry Mom.
This was the foundation and or corner stone for my youth. It took many turns and twists as I went through decades of my life. I will not bore you with my cathartic stories. Some reckless abandon and indulgence which created havoc and some wonderful moments. Over time I learned that these struggles in life are difficult for many and not just me or my family. At times when my sister was murdered I began to wonder if God was just unfair and rubbing salt in my wounds. Vietnam was a school to master denial. The film business was a school to master the art of cutthroat gamesmanship and indulgence. Marriages were the offspring of a “Larry work in progress” on so many levels. Parenting was so much fun, but the responsibility of being a parent grew in intensity and warranted lots of learning, introspection and growth. It was during my parenting years that I began to learn why kids need so much and need both parents. My children are both the victim of my negligence or Peter Principle which has been a lifelong growing period. They each reflect the good and bad of that growth. I really hope that all of you work hard on being a good Parent and dig deep into this “continued education” called Parenting.
Most of my friends owned a house, owned a car and had two parents. They were oblivious to my situation of course and their wit and innuendo, often were knife sharp. One realizes eventually that you have to work and work hard as a youth to make just a little money and so at 14 I began working anywhere and everywhere I could. Work began to give a kid hope and independence and carved a deep feeling of gratitude for such income. My grandfather hired me for one summer (3 months) at a $1 a day. Other times I would get a job with a hoe and do weeding all day and getting blisters; sometimes it was a lawn job down the street where I had to solicit someone which took some guts; and sometimes it was at a ranch with profane and abusive cowboys. Later I got a job at a gas station and I think I got a $1 an hour then and then I got a great job at the Union Pacific Railroad as a telegrapher before I joined the Marine Corps and went off to Vietnam. Returning from Vietnam I got married and so now the work in progress and the struggle grew by an order of magnitude. This is a sail boat with no sail.
So enough about me. We all have struggles and we all must learn not to continue to perpetuate injury and to learn and grow so that our offspring do not create another generation of “issues”. This week I watched the movie with my son called South Paw. It was an amazing film but it really bothered me a lot because it was about “struggle” on so many levels. Please go and see the film.
These past days I hear of people’s struggles and their handling of such. I really wish I could help all people with these struggles. A mom, losing her wonderful son or daughter to heroin. Heroin is such an ugly drug and it is so cheap in America. Addicts have become an enigma, a culture that we are trying to love and understand but it ripples through a family in so many ugly and devastating ways. People and professionals just do not understand the addict culture nor do they have solutions in most cases. Drugs are a deadly parasite that seem to be the devil and literally steal the soul of the person. The parent and child drug cycle is a psychological nightmare and breaking such a cycle has many scars along the journey.
Poverty is always an issue and of course, education. This week I met a young family with 3 kids who were traveling across country in their van. I could see the struggle in their eyes and in their lives and on their children. I knew this smell, this vision, and this heart so well. I just wanted to give each of them $100 and hope their lives that day were a little easier.
Violence and alcohol and domestic abuse are another area of struggles for families. Seems like alcohol or drugs just make it all worse and I wish that I could help with parenting classes and counseling about anger management and such crisis that often result in a choice that changes your life forever.
The legal system is not a fair system in my opinion and incarceration is a joke. There is no rehabilitation there and prisons have become big business. I see so many kids getting 10 years to life for being tagged a “conspirator” which is one ugly definition and in many cases a misrepresentation. I know we have to have a legal system but all I can say is the corruption of our new Oligarchy is one ugly mess. So please be careful of your naïve choices in business because ignorance is not a plea. Please try and stay beneath the radar because many of the enforcers think this is a Pavlovian game. Turn the rat loose, then turn the hawk loose, ring the bell and put a scrap of food out there for this starving rat and see if the hawk can get him. VOILA…..you are caught….HE wins….you loose and you go to JAIL for Ten years of your life. I just think this is the worst reflection on our apathetic society in most cases. Not all of course!
And so today some family is wondering how they are going to make $20 to eat. It is not a sentence of words…..it is a very anxious and pained existence that must find a scarp somewhere, somehow, and with groveling humility in most cases as the indulgent world spin by with cavalier indifference until they lose a son or daughter or have a tragedy which seems to awaken their sensitivity.
And today some poor black family member will be sentenced to jail for 10 years to life for selling Pot or drugs to make a living. Time is LIFE and so he or she will literally loose a large portion of their LIFE…..gone forever. This is a family who went to the local Baptist Church and prayed and sang together. This is a family who starved together and believed there will come a solution. This is a family that sometimes were bullied by people of authority or perceived authority. This is sometimes a family with no light on the horizon……abandoned by their fellow humans.
Look, we all have struggles. I am not comparing my on-going struggles in life with yours. I am not discounting the enormous void and pain one feels with health issues, with death and with money and with food and with violence and with drugs or alcohol. I am sharing this story to try and uncover solutions, to provoke insights, to prove vulnerability. So, perhaps you should go see the movie South Paw . You might be surprised what happens when you try and help your community or that neighbor you never talk to….amazing how your resonance changes. I mean…isn’t this why we are here?
And last, for me…..the church is good soul cleansing. It provokes and probes you. It does not mean you are saintly or better but it is good for all people including children and parents. I often wonder why people do not discuss philosophers more. I often wonder if they ever dig deep into their pain crevices of their brains. I often wonder why people seem to handle talking about Freud and sex but get nervous when you talk about Jesus. His writings are really a simple blue print for life yet we run from such direct and or indirect suggestions. Now it is politically correct to say God but do not say Jesus. Or….on the other hand you can say Spiritual but never start saying Jesus. Ladies and Gentlemen…..come on…..take a moment to read, probe and ponder some of the words of Jesus. Take some time and attend some various religions and listen. You don’t have to be anointed…..you do not have to roll on the floor….you do not have to be reborn……you do not have to become a Jew or a Christian or whatever. But the probing of your soul and the harvesting of your thoughts is nurturing your energy and your being. Again….this is your signature resonance.
Last night I was angry and grouchy. This morning I just apologized to my son for such “transference” and hoped that he would see that vulnerability and contrition are good. I leave you with the thought that I care about your struggles and I hope you find resilience like the movie South Paw. I hope you will find ways to nurture your soul and I wish that my heart’s resonance could give your heart warmth and hope for a future and a tomorrow filled with love and food and health. My Hugs to all of you and your struggles. Yes money makes a lot of things easier and I have been rich and poor “multiple times” with no food or gas…..but health and love are the keys or cornerstones to resilience. I worry about those abandoned souls, and the ones who have lost hope and faith. Yes, I look for ways to help when I can. Prayers and Hugs.
Just simply sharing some thoughts around the campfire if you will with some friends. I hope it is not boring or preachy……just humble thoughts in passing to let people know I care and I hope you all care.