The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“Success means having the courage, the determination and the will
to become the person you believe you were meant to be.”
George A. Sheehan

The Flashlight

On one of our many Model A trips, we went to Monument Valley in Arizona, as described previously in the post, The Leap. Goulding’s Lodge is perched fairly high on the western slope, with a stunning view of all of Monument Valley.

The best feature of Goulding’s is that each room opens onto a common balcony overlooking the valley, a great place to sit and gaze at one of the most beautiful sights on earth and reminisce about the day’s events.

So my cousins, friends and I, all in our late teens, were sitting out on that balcony taking in the view, while our parents were in the lodge having dinner. The sun was down, but there was still enough light to see well. We noticed a very small airport about a mile down the hill, with a single dirt runway and a small square terminal building.

My cousin Mike and friend Scott were trying to guess how long it would take to run down to the airport and back up the hill to where we were sitting on the balcony. Yes, this is the same Mike and Scott from Snipe Hunting and The Haunted House.

Compared to Scott’s estimate, Mike thought the airport was farther away, and with very few other structures in sight, it was hard to tell. Mike bet Scott twenty bucks that he couldn’t run down to the airport and back in fifteen minutes. Scott, always up for a challenge, agreed. But as it was getting dark, they began to wonder how Scott would prove that he had actually reached the airport. The solution: Scott would carry a flashlight with him and shine it on the building to prove he was there.

So twenty or so of us, including some total strangers we had gathered, adjourned to the top of the long, straight road down the hill to the airport. By the time Mike yelled go, it was long past sunset and off went Scott at a fast lope into the darkness.

We resumed our position on the balcony to wait and observe, but to no avail, as even the airport had disappeared. Mike kept his eye on his watch.

Suddenly, there was a short burst of frantic light all over the small terminal building and a lot of laughter from the balcony.

Then we waited some more, and again there was no sight or sound of Scott in his mad dash with destiny. Mike was hoping the fifteen minutes would pass more quickly.

We read journed with our growing pack of enthusiastic strangers to the top of the road. Soon, we heard Scott, gasping his way back up the steep hill in the dark.

When he began to come into view, still a hundred yards or so down the hill, Mike began to call out, “Fourteen minutes and thirty-two seconds, fourteen minutes and thirty-three seconds, thirty-four,” and so on, which caused Scott to yell out in distress, as there was no chance he could cover the ground in twenty-six more uphill seconds.

Actually, Scott had plenty of time, as it was only twelve minutes and ten seconds at the time of Mike’s first announcement. Nobody told Scott, and I guess Mike figured, if he was going to lose twenty bucks, he was going to have a little extra fun doing it.

To his credit, Scott kept coming full force even though he knew, or at least thought he knew, that all was lost. He crossed the line to great cheering from the crowd, as he found out he had actually won!

Mike paid him the twenty bucks alright, thought it took him a few days to actually cough it up.

I’m sure Scott’s record still stands–or who knows, maybe it’s broken each year by young men who love hardly anything more than to compete with each other and shout joyfully into the night.

The Saturday Morning Post© 2017

“When you are the only pea in the pod, your parents
are likely to get you confused with the Hope diamond.”
Russell Baker

She’s got my Baby!

When our firstborn John was seven-months old, I won a ten-day trip to Paris and Monaco based on my production as a life insurance agent. Unfortunately, the trip was a use-it or lose-it opportunity, and we decided not to go.

We couldn’t imagine taking our new baby on such a long trip when we had barely taken him to the grocery store. And we certainly weren’t going to leave him home with anyone else who could not possibly measure up to the gold standard of 24/7 care and security that we had created for our first child. Yes, we were pretty obsessed.

But after a week or so of wailing and gnashing our teeth over this lost opportunity, we decided to go, after all. Others have done such daring deeds, so why not us? And we would be with him the whole time to continue monitoring his every movement, and I do mean movement, so why not?

We planned our trip, which, for the most part, meant signing up and confirming the highest level of qualified babysitters we could find in Paris and Monaco. We knew there would be the occasional required dinner at which our hosts might not enjoy our boy’s company as much as we would. Oh, and there were the clothes and unexpected supplies we bought in seemingly endless trips to Baby’s “R” Us and other such places where doting first-time parents frequent.

All went well on the Atlantic crossing, and we had a wonderful time sauntering through Paris in the springtime with our son. He enjoyed the view from his stroller, when occasionally awake, through the Louvre and Notre Dame, up to Montmartre and down the Champs-Elysees.

On our last day in Paris, we went with a group of old friends to lunch at the Eifel Tower, intending to go to the top to enjoy the view of the city before carrying on to Monaco.

Liz carried John as we approached the elevator with our friends. Diane, a qualified mother of four asked if she could hold John, and Liz, with just a hint of hesitation, handed him over. As it became our turn to enter the elevator, Diane was a foot or two in front of us in line as she stepped into the lift with John in her arms. The elevator doors immediately slammed shut behind her, and the newly installed high-speed elevator rocketed, or so it seemed to us, to the top of the Eifel Tower with our baby, and without us!

Shocked, we could do nothing but wait for the next coach, which seemed an eternity in arriving. We jumped in, sans John, and raced after him. We knew logically that he was safe with Diane, wasn’t he? But we didn’t know exactly where, and it was pretty disconcerting for about fifteen minutes.

At last, mother and child were joyfully reunited, as shown in the photo above, and we took in the breezy and expansive view from the top of the still tallest structure in Paris.

As John got older, he began to ask when we might go to Europe, and I reminded him that he had already been to Paris and even to the top of the Eifel Tower. And eventually, the opportunity did occur to return to Paris and to the site of his first great adventure, or so it seemed as such to us.

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.