The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance.”
David Mamet

Snipe Hunting

My aunt and uncle’s log cabin in Nevada was at eight thousand three hundred feet and surrounded by national forest. There was no one or anything for miles around but what God put there.

My cousins and I often played flashlight tag outside after dinner, often in a group of eight to ten. We had a wild time chasing each other through the trees and burning off a lot of energy, likely to our parent’s delight.

So, it was not unusual when one evening my oldest cousin, Mike, suggested that we go out snipe hunting. He said we would have to get our parents’ permission first, but they readily agreed.

Mike gave each of us a gunny sack, essentially a burlap bag roughly the size of today’s larger trash bags. He said we would also need a flashlight, warm clothes and patience.

Off we went into the darkness with our hopes high. Mike explained that we had to spread out and hide in the willows down by the creek, with flashlights turned off. And we were to make no sounds at all.

Mike said he would go and hunt the snipe, a small flightless bird that looked and acted somewhat like a quail. Once he found them, he’d chase them past where we were hiding. When we heard him coming, we were to jump out with our gunny sacks and flashlights. “Shine your lights in their faces,” he told us, “and they will be stunned and freeze. Then quickly grab them up and toss them in your sack. And that’s it, you will have caught a whole bunch of snipe.”

But he warned us that we must be very patient and quiet or the snipe would stay hidden and remain impossible to find.

So, into the bushes all of us younger ones went, spreading out and staying as quiet as possible. And we sat and waited in great anticipation for Mike to chase a covey of snipe past our hiding places.

Nothing happened for quite a while, but I figured that Mike would come running any moment. So I waited some more, and Mike still didn’t come. I waited longer, wondering how big snipe were anyway and did they bite? Mike didn’t come, but I remember he told us we must be patient.

Finally, I decided something must have gone wrong, or that Mike had gotten lost and that this was pretty boring anyway. Quietly, I came out of my hiding place and, alone, began to trudge back up to the cabin. I kept looking over my shoulder, hoping to see Mike running my way behind a flock or gaggle or herd, or whatever a bunch of snipe were called. But he never appeared.

Into the cabin I went and headed to the living room, where I knew a warm fire was roaring. And there was Mike with several of my older cousins enjoying hot chocolate among the grownups–and no sign of my younger cousins.

I’m sharing this little adventure of snipe hunting so that you, or some young person you know, might enjoy it too, but once is definitely enough.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”
Sir Edmund Hillary

A Giving Nature

Early on in our marriage, my wife, Liz, and I took a trip to Carmel, California, one of the most romantic places ever. There is something in the air, or water or trees in Carmel that just makes me feel good to be there, that all things are possible.

On our trip, we drove along the magnificent seventeen-mile drive among some of the greatest golf courses and vistas in the world. The salty air and ocean view, peppered with dozens of deer and the relentlessly barking of sea lions is restorative to life lived in the big city.

At the end of the day, we stopped at The Pebble Beach Lodge and meandered around the shops in their beautiful common area. We enjoyed a drink in the Lodge overlooking the eighteenth green and the surf beyond, a truly idyllic view to a golfer if ever there was one.

We talked about our plans and dreams for our life together. Liz briefly stepped away and came back with a gift-wrapped box. Surprised, I opened it and found a small elegant mantle clock, with a black frame and brass trimmings and face.

I didn’t know quite what to make of it until she said, “There wasn’t room on the front, so I had them engrave it on the back.” I turned the clock over and saw the two-word engraving of our inside joke, “Hankster International.”

Now, I realize that might not mean much to you but it meant a lot to me. Liz believed in me and in my dreams of what I could do. And that has made all the difference to me in my life.

It’s funny how such a little thing can mean so much, knowing that someone believes in you. I try to pass that gift along, of believing in others and in their dreams, and I know that gift is significant to the people I share it with too.

That little clock keeps me company at my desk, as I work towards achieving my dreams.

Thank you Honey, for the gift of believing in me.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“Everything begins with an idea.”
Earl Nightingale

Tiger Woods

My friend John Lewis is an accountant by training, and, by all appearances, he looks and acts like a normal C.P.A. But he is really a pop-culture trendsetter.

I discovered this one day when we met for lunch at The Parkside Grill in Pasadena. When the waitress came over to greet us at our table, she asked in the usual manner, “May I start you off with some beverages?”

John stated resolutely, “I’ll have a Tiger Woods.”

The waitress said, with not a little conviction, “You mean an Arnold Palmer.”

To which John replied, “No, I’ll have a Tiger Woods.” Our server flushed slightly, realizing she had missed a new wrinkle in beverage trending. She looked as if some inward scolding was going on and gushed, “Oh, I am sorry, sir. I haven’t heard of that, what’s in it?”

John replied confidently, “It’s cranberry juice and iced tea.” “Very good,” replied our waitperson, happy to be in the know at last.

She turned to me and asked, “What would you like, sir?” Not wanting to miss out on the fun, I replied, “I’ll have a Phil Mickelson.” She assumed an “I’ve been pranked” demeanor and asked, a bit curtly, “What is that?”

“A tall drink of water,” I said.

So, off she went to fill our order, and I asked John to tell me about The Tiger Woods, which I hadn’t heard of either.

And this is when I realized that John is a pop-cultural beverage trend setter. He said, happy as can be, “Oh, there is no such drink. I have several friends across the country, and we wanted to see if we can introduce a new drink into the popular consciousness merely by ordering it in restaurants in as many cities as we can cover.”

So now when John and I are out to lunch, I watch closely and enjoy the twinkle in his eye when the waiter comes over to inquire about our beverages. For I know that what’s coming is history in the making. So, if you like, you may join him, there is no charge for membership, and it may just work.

Or you can join my revolution, for I have decided to become a pop-culture beverage trend setter too. And there are some great advantages to mine, it’s sugar and caffeine free, organic and non-GMO too.

And it works in every restaurant, even those who don’t serve cranberry juice.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“Good things happen when you meet strangers.”
Yo-Yo Ma

The Haunted House

When Aunt Janice and Uncle Gordon married and moved from Los Angeles to Tarzana, my grandmother and my family followed along. We lived a mile away, and my Aunt and Uncle’s house was like a wonderland for kids. I spent nearly as much time there as I did at my own house.

The Big House, as my mom always called it, was on seven acres with a barn, horses and pasture, and lots of room to roam. And there was a haunted house next door, the Zimmerman place, which had stood empty for thirty years.

The rumors were that old man Zimmerman had gone crazy and used to ride his horse through the livingroom. No one over twelve ever confirmed that story, but we all believed it. The property was on a hill with a creek running through it and was massively overgown. A pack of wild afghan guard dogs seemed to be the only residents.

The large front gate was heavily chained and padlocked. We occasionally tried to enter the property through the densely wooded creekbed adjoining the two properties. But we always turned back at the sight of the dog pack, just on the other side of the property line.

One Halloween night, the gates stood open, and we worked up the nerve to creep down the driveway to see where it lead. I remember my mom and aunt were with us and just as scared as we were. Suddenly, moving lights shown through the trees. We ran for our lives only to realize later that the lights were from cars driving by on the street. We laughed ourselves silly, but we didn’t go back in.

On another fall afternoon, we were surprised to see the front gates thrown open again and moving trucks heading up the driveway. We couldn’t help but follow and shyly met the new neighbors, the McNatts. They had a son, Scott, around my age who quickly became one of our tribe. Now we had two big properties to roam.

Scott and I became great friends. Later, he joined our family obsession and bought a Model A, like the rest of us boys. He and his family went with us on our summer Model A trips.

Funny how one thing leads to another…

Scott was the best man at my wedding and is still one of my closest friends. And to think it all began with our endless fascination with the haunted house on the hill next door.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“I been in the right place but it must have been the wrong time.”
Dr. John

Do the Math

Mr. Price was likeable and distinguished looking, an older gentleman who generally made his appearance in a dark suit and tie. His mustache, riding shotgun over his upper lip, might have given him just a touch of authority, but unfortunately it didn’t. And as a seventh-grade math teacher, he was in way over his head.

The problem grew from his Tai Chi like deliberation in turning towards and away from the blackboard. A complete iteration could last thirty seconds, which left plenty of time for all hell to silently break loose behind him.

And it did, every time he began his turn towards the board.

The far and away favorite method of the more raucous among us was to throw paper balls. The moment Mr. Price would begin his turn, the balls would fly, and the moment before he turned back, they would cease from flying.

This nearly silent system seemed to work well for everyone. Those who wished to study and learn could do so with minimal distraction. Those whose aim was to perfect their pitching style and reflect on the aerodynamics of spherically crumpled paper were free to do so. And Mr. Price could work on Tai Chi and contemplate mathematics in relative solitude–that is, until a small bit of copper intervened.

A penny, rather than a paper ball, came screaming through the air and hit me hard in the ear. Now I don’t know if you’ve experienced this sensation, but it gets your attention quickly.

Observing the unspoken rule of silence in our classroom, I picked up the penny and went into a full major league pitch towards its original owner.

Bullseye!

But I guess it takes longer to complete a full wind up with a penny that it does to toss a paper ball from a seated position. When I regained my chair, I noticed that Mr. Price had surprisingly completed his turn, and was glaring straight at me.

He called me to his desk and quickly pulled out a pre-printed pink pad. Scrawling across it with his pen, he sternly ordered me to go see Mr. Jones, the Assistant Principal.

I went, accompanied by a keen sense of dread and distress that a thoughtlessly thrown penny had disturbed the delicate harmonic balance of our classroom.

Mr. Jones wasn’t in, and as I sat there alone on the Group W bench, another of my classmates soon joined me. Things must be worsening back in math class.

Mr. Jones came in and chewed out the other guy in familiar terms. I gathered that this was not their first visit together.

Mr. Jones next rapped his knuckles harshly, in time, on my chest, saying,
“I-don’t- ever-want-to-see-you-in-here-again!”

And he didn’t, I made sure of that.

But I can’t help but think that Mr. Price revealed more than he wanted to about himself and me in what he wrote on the summons. It read:

“When I turn my back, the class throws paper balls. It turns out that Hank is the King of the paper ball throwers.”

Well, it really was a very humiliating experience, but looking on the bright side, clearly Mr. Price seemed to see some leadership potential in me.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word
is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
Mark Twain

It Pays to Be Nice!

My aunt and uncle had a cabin on a lake above Lake Tahoe. In the summers, I was lucky to spend a month there with my cousins. My cousin Stephen and I spent a lot of time fishing down at the lake. We became friends with the caretaker, an easy-going guy named Tony.

The property was owned by many families, but my relatives were the only ones who lived there. Tom, who occasionally visited, was a thirty-five-year-old son of one of the other owners, and he was trouble. He was argumentative and arrogant, and, in an altercation with my aunt, tried to back her up so she would fall off a small cliff and down a sandy hill.

Tom brought his rifle with him when he visited the property. He talked the ever-agreeable Tony into going on regular patrols with him around the perimeter to keep the “poachers” out. There weren’t any poachers, but we kids learned to keep our distance from Tom.

One day when I was eleven and Stephen was twelve, we were fishing near the boathouse, where the row boats were kept. I got kind of bored as we weren’t catching much, so I went to look for Tony. I found him down the stream a bit with Tom.

When I came upon them, they were just sort of gazing at the water, and I said by way of greeting, “Whatcha doing?”
Tom replied with a snarl, “None of your damned business!” I was so stunned by his harsh demeanor that I just walked away wordlessly, back up to the boathouse.

When I got there, seeking some solace, I told Stephen the story of what had just happened. He said, “C’mon!” and immediately took off at a brisk pace straight in the direction of Tony and Tom. I didn’t want to go back and tried to stop him. He didn’t even slow down, and so I went along to the last place I wanted to go.

To my amazement, when we got there, Stephen said in a very mild way, “Whatcha doing?” Not surprisingly, Tom gave the same harsh reply as before, “None of your damned business!”

To which Stephen bellowed, with every ounce of force in him, “Not you, Stupid! I was talking to Tony!”

I about fell over, as did Tony and Tom, who only looked at us with mouths agape, as we turned and walked back to the lake to resume our fishing.

Photo Credit: Lynne MacLean

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest of men.”
Roald Dahl

Meeting your Heroes

We all have heroes. Sometimes we are lucky enough to meet them and still admire them after the meeting. I met two of mine on the same day when I was in high school, and they are still two of my favorites.

My family lived on a cul-de-sac with fourteen other families and twenty-nine kids. So, there were kids coming out our ears. My closest friends and I had a ritual after school. Though we should have studied first and watched TV afterwards, we didn’t. We were always ravenous when we got home from school, so that meant lots of milk, sugar-filled treats, and KBSC Channel 52 broadcasting from Corona.

Channel 52 played Our Gang Comedies and The Three Stooges back to back all afternoon every school day to lure their young audience in. And we were lured! We usually watched a couple of hours of their antics, usually at our house. We were especially cuckoo for The Three Stooges. Every boy on our street knew all their lines and taunts. Of course, Moe was nearly always in a rage about something, as Curly tried to outsmart him, while making a mess of whatever they were doing. Hapless Larry, the third dunce, usually got caught up in the middle.

We loved ’em. I remember Jay Leno commenting that if you asked the average American male at the time to name three great men, Moe would be in the lineup.

So, imagine my surprise a few years later, when our high school Film Club announced that Moe and Larry were going to be the speakers at their next meeting. I immediately joined. They were living at The Motion Picture Retirement Home located just a couple of miles away.

When the great day came, we met in a small school auditorium and in walked Moe, pushing Larry in a wheelchair. Larry had had a stroke and couldn’t walk, but he was all there mentally.

Moe didn’t threaten to murder or “brain” anyone and kept his composure throughout their presentation. They shared some back stories about their film career and reminisced about Curly, who passed away in the early fifties. The Stooges appeared in an amazing two hundred and twenty films, not to mention loads of TV shows, including their own series.

What an afternoon it was! Yet so were all those days spent with my best friends, enjoying milk and cookies and the Stooges after school in my parent’s family room.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“Memories are perhaps the best gifts of all.”
Gloria Gaither

Souvenirs

When I first got married, I had the expectation that I should know exactly what my wife wanted for her birthday, or any other occasion, for that matter. I always tried to think of something wonderful that she didn’t even know she wanted, until she received it from me. That was a hit and mostly miss strategy.

So, one day I told her of my distress over this, and she surprised me by saying she would be glad to tell me her preferences. I was relieved, and she probably was too. No more ginsu knives or chia pets.

Last week, while on a ski trip to Deer Valley, I was in the souvenir buying mode. We have three kids, and I wanted to get them something to let them know I was thinking about them. While in a shop, I took snapshots of t-shirts I thought they would enjoy and texted the pictures to them.

A woman standing nearby knowingly said, “We like y’all to buy us stuff, but we like to pick it out.” Not only was this a great validation of my method, but she summed it up succinctly.

My kids replied in moments to my text which greatly sped up the process. Everyone’s happy, and my gifts say I love you and am thinking of you.

I am telling “y’all” this in hopes that you may have similar results. It works for me, though I still feel a little like I’m cheating. I’ll get over that, ’cause there’s nothing worse, and of course there is, than getting a souvenir that you don’t want.

By the way, my girls both picked the same shirt, and it wasn’t the one I had in mind.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Zuzu’s Petals

My favorite movie is It’s a Wonderful Life with James Stewart. I could watch it a thousand times. The character of George Bailey thinks that life has passed him by. And in many ways it has, but none of the important ways, in heart and soul and mind.

In a moment of despair, George gets his wish, from his guardian angel Clarence. He gets the chance to see what life in his small town would have been like had he never been born. When he comes to his senses, he prays to God to give him his old life back. His prayer is answered as he realizes that he really has had a wonderful life as husband and father, son and brother and friend.

He discovers that his daughter ZuZu’s rose petals are in his pocket. He is thrilled by their presence as they prove that he is home. George still facing some tough circumstances, though they are overcome through the generosity and love of his friends and family. He is at last home, safe and sound.

So I was thinking about all of this the other day at my daughters’ volleyball tournament. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a candy wrapper and a hair tie that weren’t mine. And I don’t remember putting these or the extraordinarily crumpled one dollar bill into my pocket either.

Dads’ pockets are often the trash receptacle for their kids while at events where no trash can is in sight.

The back seat of my car serves a similar though grander purpose as it often includes hair brushes, wadded up clothes, random and often solitary shoes or socks. Sometimes the air is pungent with half eaten bananas, yogurt, or plates with unidentifiable goo on them.

But I can’t help but think that all of these items are my Zuzu’s petals. And that I will miss them terribly when they are gone. They remind me how much I have to be grateful for and the love and joy that are in my life.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“Two road diverged in a yellow wood, and I– I took the one
less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
Robert Frost

The Question

Out of the blue one day when I was about twelve, my grandmother asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Without hesitation, I said, “a writer.” I was as surprised as she was by my response, as I don’t recall ever thinking that before and had no idea why I said it. But she liked the idea, and so did I, though I soon forgot about it.

All through high school, I wondered, with increasing duress, what I might do for a career. Every few weeks, I would change my mind and my mom, ever supportive would say, “Oh, you’d be a great doctor, dentist, psychologist, lawyer,” or whatever else I had thought of in that moment. I appreciated her encouragement very much. She believed in me and thought I could do anything I wanted to do.

After I while, I believed that too. But the trouble was I didn’t want just a job. I wanted something that would remain exciting to me throughout my life. Each of the careers I considered burned brightly in me for a few days or weeks and then slowly fizzled out, and there I’d be again, back on the search.

I knew a few things for sure. I wanted to work for myself, I wanted to work with people, and I wanted my work to be meaningful, with no ceiling on my income. But it was not clear to me what “job” fit that description. A friend of mine told me that I looked like a writer and should be one, but by then I had no real interest in it, because I couldn’t picture myself writing a novel or a play.

In college, I became dispirited with my latest major, political science. My college counselor, knowing that I was planning to go to law school, said the words that changed my life, “You know, English is a better major for law school.” So I switched majors, much to her surprise, on the spot. I loved English, and it became my passion. And when I met the love of my life, I found out she had a Masters in English and spent ten years as a technical editor. I took that as an early sign that this was something special.

Years later, when our then three-year-old son, John, requested a bedtime story, I asked, “Real or fake.” “What’s the difference?” he quizzed. To which, I replied, “A real story happened and a fake story didn’t.” He said, “I want a real story,” and off we went.

I realized later when I wrote my first book, Before We Say “Goodnight,” that I actually loved to write, real stories. Had I thought of writing nonfiction, I might have begun writing sooner. But I have noticed, as you likely have too, that breakthroughs happen on their own schedule.

In retrospect, there was a word for what I wanted to be when I grew up, an entrepreneur. That, and a writer is what I have always been, and always will be. It just took me a little while to find out and a little help from my friends and family and mentors.

Thank you to the dozens of people who throughout my life helped me find my way. We all have that opportunity, to be that light for someone else, because all opportunity comes through other people.

Let it come through us.