Monday, December 14, 2009

Pearl 28: Beware the Vehicle with a Gas Pedal and No Brake

Dearest Eliana and Gehrig,

Santa Claus is packing up his sleigh and feeding his reindeer.  What a night he has once a year delivering all those toys to good little girls and boys.    Attempting all those landings on billions of roofs, sliding down all those chimneys and flying around the world on Christmas Eve is a daunting and adventurous task.  Santa must be quite a risk taker and he definitely lives life in the fast lane. 

I know this man whom you have yet to meet.  Tommy and I became friends in high school and I was drawn to his outgoing, exuberant personality.  Tommy built and drove the fastest car in school and went everywhere at 90 mph.  He was always full of energy and spent copious amounts of it on his friends, his cars, his work and his drag racing.  From the time I first met him, Tommy lived life fast. 

After high school, Tommy went to TCU but his other activities took precedent over his studies and he dropped out to go into the Air Force.  He mastered his skills as a jet engine mechanic but when he came out he spent some of his time as a technician for IBM but most of it building and racing cars…the faster the better.  Nothing could slow him down, not even his failed first marriage, which included a daughter with whom he never could connect.  He did manage to be Best Man at Granny and my wedding, but after that, we drifted apart. 

Tommy drove his drag cars to the top of his class for several years in the late 1970’s and early ‘80’s.  But speed didn’t satisfy the beast.  It wasn’t risky enough.  Somehow, he got into big-time drug dealing.  Tommy would drop everything to rent a private jet to fly to the Caribbean so he, his "girlfriend du jour" and his buddies could charter a boat and sail around St. Kitts for a week, or something just as extravagant.  These activities were a normal occurrence during this high risk and dangerous period, that is, until Tommy got busted and spent the next six years at the Federal penitentiary in Big Spring, Texas

Tommy went the straight and narrow after that.  We renewed our friendship and he married his third wife, who has been a God-send, but not his salvation.  Tommy’s internal motor was still racing and he needed something to fuel it.  Unfortunately, he chose alcohol.  Drinking every waking moment was how Tommy slowed the engine down, but it wreaked havoc on his health, his work and his relationships.  At one point I told him I loved him too much to sit by and watch him kill himself and I helped him check into a quality rehab center.  Seven weeks later, he was restored to a semblance of the man I knew.  Which kind of brings me to my next pearl:

Twenty-Eighth Pearl:  "Beware the Vehicle with a Gas Pedal and No Brake"

Many successful people are driven.  They have even isolated a gene present in many very accomplished folks, like Albert Einstein, John Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump that identifies this genius/overachieving/risk taking nature.  Although I don’t know for sure, it appears Tiger Woods has that same gene.  But just like all of these successful individuals, there can be a dark side to this risk-taking gift. 

When we are young, in our teens and twenties, many of us live a “pedal-to-the-metal” lifestyle.  We think we are invincible and we take risks that maturity would not allow.  Maturity adds the brake.  It works in concert with the gas pedal to produce a safe and effective ride.  With a fully functioning gas pedal and no brake we have the ability to attain high speeds and cover a lot of ground, but also the ability to careen off the cliff edge and into the abyss.  Some people reach maturity early in life, some never do.

Einstein used his gas pedal to achieve mathematical genius, but without a brake tumbled into a series of questionable relationships.  Kennedy and Clinton both attained the exalted position of President of the United States, but without a brake brought a measure of disgrace upon themselves and the Office.  Donald Trump’s risk-taking gas-pedal has made him a fortune, but without a brake he also lost a couple of fortunes along the way.  Tiger powered his way to the top of professional golf, but now, brakeless, he is plummeting down the backside of the pinnacle. 

Tommy’s stuck-on-the-floor gas pedal propelled him through life at break neck speed until one day he sat down in a chair and could not get back up.  Now paralyzed from the chest down due to a ruptured aneurism in his spine aggravated by his risky choices and dissipated lifestyle, his brake is now forever applied. 

These are some sad stories, I know.  Does this mean we should never take risks?  No, of course not.  There is risk in every great endeavor and we must accept those challenges throughout the course of our lives.  Knowing when to apply the gas and when to apply the brake, however, is the key to not only attaining success but being able to responsibly embrace it over time. 

When he hits your roof next week with his huge, heavily laden sleigh and nine famous reindeer, let’s hope jolly old St. Nick knows how and when to apply the brake.  I think he will.  He has been doing it for a very long time.

Merry Christmas, little ones and God Bless you!

Grandpa Jud

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Pearl 26: Don't Mess with Mother Nature's Creatures

Dearest Gehrig and Eliana,

Good afternoon, sweethearts.  It is a peaceful, hot summer Sunday here in Texas and Granny and I are still basking in the warmth of your recent visit with us for our annual "Camp PK".  Having you and your mom for seven weeks was a pleasure we will treasure for years to come.  Even though you have been back in New Jersey for a few weeks, I love it when your mom asks you where you live, you tell her "Texas!"  Obviously, Granny and I have done our jobs well.

From the time I was 9 years old in the summer of 1955 until I was 14 in the summer of 1960, I attended various summer camps around the Southern California area.  Mostly they were two week camps.  They felt longer but were over too quickly.  The first camp I went to for two years was a YMCA camp up near Big Bear Lake in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  It was deep in a forest of tall pines and giant redwood trees and I remember the smell of the pine needles and the fresh mountain air.  Then for the next two years I went to the Circle B Boy Scout Ranch even further up in the Sierras at the confluence of the Kern River, Trout Creek and Fish Creek near "Domeland", a gorgeous natural formation of huge granite boulders and cliffs, very similar to Monument Valley in Yosemite National Park.  It was breathtakingly beautiful and you could drink the ice cold water right out of the creeks and streams coming off the summer snow melt from the higher peaks.

My favorite camp, however, I attended during the summers of my 13th and 14th years.  It was the YMCA Camp on Santa Catalina Island, 22 miles off the Southern California coast (the song said 26 miles but it got it wrong).  The camp was on the leeward side of the island about 10 miles north of Avalon (the only town on the island) in a secluded private cove where the water was so clear you could see down 100 feet.  Our open-sided tents were only 50 feet from the water's edge, right on the beach.  In the morning the mandatory ritual upon rising was to run down to the water, swim out to the diving platform anchored out in the middle of the cove and back.  It was our shower for the day.

We had boats to row around and fished out of the boats and off the rocks for button-back perch, garibaldi, Yellowtail and white sea bass.  The island is only 22 miles long and only 8 miles at its widest point and we took long hikes across the island and never saw another living soul...just lots of foxes, wild goats, a wild horse or two and even a small herd of bison.  We swam most of the day and snorkeled around the rocks and caves which were at both ends of the beach.  There was a plane wreck in the cove from a movie shot there once and we dove on that and chased away the leopard sharks that hung around the rotting fuselage. 

But the most fun we had was "hunting" the moray eels which populated the rocky underwater formations and abundant, flowing ell grass beds.  These eels were fearsome creatures which ranged in size from 4 to 6 feet in length.  The larger ones had necks that were as thick as a football, their mouths lined with three rows of needle-like teeth.   They are nocturnal feeders but they will come out of hiding during the day for their favorite food....abalone.  We would dive down and using our "ab bars" (flat pieces of iron with a strap affixed to one end that wrapped around our wrists) and we would pry abalone off the rocks, make a few cuts with our knives in the tough flesh and lay the treat by a cleft of rock.  Sure enough, it took only a few seconds for these slithering ells to come out and start ripping at their unexpected snack. 

Each of us had a homemade spear.  It was a spar-varnished piece of 8 foot long, 1 1/2" dowel with a three-pronged spear head mounted on one end and a four foot length of surgical tubing looped at the other end.  If you slipped your hand into the loop and stretched the tubing down the shaft and grasped it tightly, you would have a formidable weapon capable of being launched 10-12 feet.  As the ells were congregating around the abalone, we would swim down above them, take careful aim at the back of their thickly muscled necks and sink the spear head in that nerve-rich area.  They would go almost instantly limp.

We were not trying to kill these animals, merely stun them so we could look at them closer.  Once you pulled the spearhead from their neck, they would recover in a matter of seconds and swim off to the protection of their lair, but, for the few minutes they were stunned, we would bring the eel up to our boat and put him inside and inspect them.  Which kind of brings me to my next pearl....

Twenty-sixth Pearl:  Don't Mess with Mother Nature's Creatures

So one day we were "hunting" eels and I stirred up a monster.  He was at least 6 foot long and very thick.  I got closer than even I felt comfortable being and let my spear fly through the water to its target.  Although it hit him squarely in the neck I must have missed the large nerve group because this eel immediately wrapped himself around the shaft of my spear, craned his head around and started gnawing on the pole.  I panicked.  I swam up to the boat and with all my might lifted this leviathan out of the water.  He must have weighed forty or more pounds but I managed to use the gunnels and scrape him off my spear and into the boat.  Now, the four boys who were occupying the boat at the time were not exactly thrilled to have this new passenger aboard.  The eel was none to happy to be aboard either.  Thrashing about in a most violent manner, his menacing jaws snapping at anything he came in contact with cleared the boat of its other occupants in under two seconds flat as they leaped into the water with screams and expletives filling the air in equal measure.

For the next five minutes, as we all circled the boat and listened to this creature crashing around inside, I was hands down the least popular kid in camp.  Finally, it got silent and I was assigned the task of removing the unexpected and unwelcomed passenger; an assignment, I might add, which was not negotiable.  It took all my strength to finally fling the eel over the gunnels and back in the water which precipitated a mass movement of fellow campers back into the boat.  The eel lay motionless in the water for nearly a minute but then shook back to life and snaked his way back to the depths of the cove.

What I learned from that little experience is there are some things in nature that are best left alone.  Certainly anything that looks similar to or moves like a snake should be avoided.  Eels, I now understand, fit into that category.  Give a wide birth to anything with more than four legs.  Anything with four legs and teeth longer than your pinky finger be sure to put on your "No Play/No Touch" list.  Most things that crawl on their bellies are suspect unless they are in big shells and move very slowly.  Animals with names like Fido or Fluffy are probably alright but only if your parents buy food for them or they have a water bowl with their name on it.  Keep your fingers away from the mouths of brightly colored birds and anything with a long bushy tail and two front teeth like Uncle Dick.  Finally, any animal that is larger than you, faster than you, meaner than you and isn't behind the restraints commonly found at the zoo, is not to be messed with.  Trust me on this one my darlings.

I love you bunches and bunches,

Grandpa Jud

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Pearl 27: The Doghouse is No Place to Live

Dearest Gehrig and Eliana,

Hello, my sweets. Granny and I are in Cabo San Lucas for a little winter visit and we miss you both dreadfully. Hopefully next year you will be able to join us for a couple of weeks down here. You will be three years old by then and I will introduce you to quesadillas at our favorite restaurant. Wonderful!

Eliana, your mom told us about the little encounter you had last week that resulted in an extended stay in "Time Out". Not a lot of fun is it? There is something about being separated from those we love that is disturbing, but it does give us time to contemplate our behavior and think about how we might change it so we don´t end up in the same situation again. Of course, it does take some time to learn about cause and effect at your age. In fact, Grandpa is still learning about that as well. Which brings me to my next Pearl:

Twenty-Seventh Pearl:  "The Doghouse Is No Place to Live"

Sometimes even older people misbehave. We say things or do things that cause others pain or embarrass them or, even, humiliate them. I know for me and your Granny, it is hardly ever intentional because neither one of us would seek to cause pain to the other on purpose. But, sometimes, we unintentionally do things that make the other person angry, sad or both and then one or the other of us ends up in "the doghouse". And as painful as it is for me to admit, most of the time I am the one who ends up in the doghouse. The doghouse is kind of like time out for adults. It isn´t a place, like your bedroom, or a chair, like your little time out chairs, it is a state of existence  By that I mean it is a condition that exists for some period of time where communication is shutdown, tension hangs in the air like a thick, dark cloud and Granny makes it abundantly clear that Grandpa has been a bad puppy.

Once in the doghouse, getting out is a long and painful process. It involves much initial silence on my part, significant contemplative thought on the alleged offensive behavior, several peeks out of the doghouse to test for signs of possible forgiveness, a slow approach with tail between my legs followed by an appreciable amount of sincere groveling with promises that I will never poop on the carpet again. Sometimes it works, but occasionally, I must return to the doghouse, my sentence not quite served.

Fortunately for me, your Granny is a forgiving soul who loves me very much and is willing to overlook my puppiness. Otherwise, I would have had to pick out some new furniture for the doghouse by now as the original set would have been totally worn out. But I guess my point here is not about being “in” the doghouse, it is about doing everything I can to stay out of the doghouse in the first place. It is coming to an awareness of thinking about the other person before I speak or act inappropriately and doing the best I can not to embarrass, humiliate or cause them pain.

Since I love your Granny with all my heart and because she is the best thing that ever happened to me, I have plenty of incentive to be a good puppy. I am certain if you think about the ones you love and who love you the same way, you will try to be good puppies too. Or at least most of the time. Woof!

I love you bunches and bunches,

Grandpa Jud