This is dedicated to all of my nieces and nephews. The road is long and always leads to another one.
When I was 5 years-old I was in first grade and fully energized by those of my age together in the playground where a hierarchy of order was made plain by class, color, and wealth. It was the beginning of abuse by bullies who were stronger and lean compared my to husky size from my mother never allowing anyone leaving the table unless all the food was eaten, and she cooked for an army. I learned that mass hysteria was easily accomplished on the playground. I watched a mentally retarded brother manipulate my adult parents with ease. I learn the subtle art of psychology without even realizing it. There were three ‘Nicks’ within two houses next to each other. We used to laugh when someone called and all of us answered. Big Nick used to take us fishing. My best friend Little Nick’s father, Big Nick’s daughter’s husband, died in a boating accident and it was kept from me. I couldn’t understand the crying and sadness around me.
When I was 10 years-old I was beaten many times in the school yard and to and from home. My hormones kicked in early and I began to lift weights and body build. A short time later those same bullies, who were expelled from the school system for beating me, wouldn’t come near me. A few years later in Catholic school the pastor sexually abused me and many others, a long buried event that only came up when I was writing a novel and I used that experience when writing the key element of the main female character. As an altar boy, I learned that praying was not a substitute for action to solve my problems. I had to act or allow myself to become merely fodder for those who were sadistically stronger. I learned to question all authority be it religious or otherwise. I watched as my intransigent brother was put into an institution for threatening my two infant brothers. I watched as my mother blamed my father for it. I grew up quickly because of their rift caused by pure manipulation. I learned to hide fear well.
When I was 15 years-old I was a high school starter in football as a center, odd as I was the smallest guy on the team, and then attempted wrestling due to a coach’s pressure. I hated it, and got out by exaggerating an injury. I had become a bonafide athlete. I threw discus and ran track, and girls now became an attractive force of nature, but I knew there was danger in paradise. I learned how to play drums. I learned that although I had a far superior education in Catholic school, emotionally there was a vacuum inside. I sought acceptance and allowed myself to be used for that purpose. I felt like the poor boy at grand banquet and didn’t deserve to be there. I learned that I had to begin an ongoing process, to rely on me, to love myself before I could go further. I learned how hard that really was. Big Nick passed away as did two of my father’s brother’s and I was in a state of denial for all of them.
When I was 20 years-old I drove a forklift, made a bunch of money, went to Jamaica by myself, didn’t come back when I supposed to and was fired by Scott Paper. I then went back to college after dropping out after the first semester with the college being on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City due to a construction strike, and earned a degree in music two and a half years later. I gained strength from adversity. I learned how to really play the guitar and piano. I came from knowing nothing about music to graduating in Who’s Who in American Colleges in a very short time. The immersion of myself into knowledge and technology at that time made it the most incredible part of my life. I learned that I possessed incredible passion and it made me go for the seemingly impossible as I truly began to believe in the spirituality of a force within me. I studied the subject of religion voraciously, and cared not about what anyone else thought of me. I learned I had the power within to do incredible things when I surrendered to that force and allowed the energy to flow through me. I learned to be vulnerable and to accept failure as a temporary setback to success, and then realized that it was an inevitable part of it. I learned that listening was more important than talking, that being smart was being secure in being smart, without having to prove it or impress anyone else.
When I was 25-years-old and ready for a career after graduation in 1977 the recession and the “gas crisis” made for a harsh time and I shoveled coal at the local utility company and my rental home in the farm area of South Jersey was burglarized and we lost everything that my girlfriend and soon-to-be wife had owned. We lived in a tent on a friend’s property for the summer. My favorite Uncle was able to secure for us an old chauffeur’s quarters behind a former mansion that was now being used as an American Legion Hall for $90 a month in Pleasantville, N.J. We began to play music in the clubs in and around Atlantic City. I enjoyed the night life and playing great music for appreciative audiences the experience was soul satisfying but paid comparatively little. I learned not to depend on anyone but myself in all matters and that certain old friends were best left as such when they become toxic. I realized that the pain I went through as a child now made me better able to handle the bitter parts of life that I could not change.
When I was 30 years-old I was now working for a casino as an Audio Technician and learned my trade both from books and being on the job. It was a new age of growth for the area with the incredible expansion of casinos, but like anything, greed begets greed and the corporate structure killed the golden goose. The political and corporate stupidity was constantly at work and I learned that what “appears to be” is much more important that “what is.” I watched my father die over a few months. I learned to accept my mortality and cried for the time back. I saw what seemed so much time wasted and was bitter, I still hadn’t learned the understanding and enlightenment to be at peace with it.
When I was 35 years-old I was now married for some time and had bought a house in the country with way too much grass to cut and I developed severe allergies that would not be discovered or even checked until 5 years later. It was a time of false bliss, of thinking that possessions and money could bring happiness. My move to the Taj Mahal nine months early to prepare for the opening was to be the beginning of both “The Donald’s” and my demise in that era of the 90’s. Chasing corporate dollars was a pastime and not really a career that was fulfilling although it provided just enough comfort to not take a chance and remain safely in the corporate cradle. I learned that physical pain is never understood by anyone but those who have been through similar pain. Headaches got worse and workloads were excessive. I learned to have trust in but a few key fellow workers. I learned that one must proactively terminate a threat before it cannot be overtaken regardless of the personal circumstances. I learned brutal bloody coldness from the very best management that Donald Trump offered.
When I was 40 years-old my health worsened, the headaches went unabated and my high school football-worn knees could barely handle the constant humidity of the East Coast. Without work I went into depression and then my left arm went numb from a C-4 nerve impingement that no one figured out for 8 months. By that time my marriage was asunder, I was out of a job and I went to Las Vegas with less than $1000 and searched for work while I knew my wife at the time would not go with me. My divorce soon followed when Merv Griffin called and needed an Entertainment/Technical Director for his new place in Mesquite, NV. Of course, greed got to those owners as well and they went belly-up. It was when I moved to Las Vegas that I was diagnosed as having bubble-boy allergies. The severe headaches and cysts were keeping me in misery, and I was put on allergy shots for the next six years…..this after two futile operations back East without even testing for allergies and two more operations in Las Vegas. I worked both at the Sahara showroom AND the Stratosphere (pre-opening) full time and made bank to make up for the losses of those previous years. I learned that the world when confronted by the truth always looked the other way and offered trite solutions to complex problems because they really didn’t want anyone to know anything that could take their corrupt advantage away. I learned that living in the now was the most important thing to understand. My past was unchangeable, the future not here yet. I began to understand the wisdom of the past leading to what was the “now” and the inevitability of what could only be, based on choices that I made.
When I was 45 years-old I had been working at the Tropicana in Las Vegas and ran audio for the Folies Bergere and then after 3 years completely revamped and operated their Convention Services Technical Department. After much turmoil from the past, I would marry a woman that I knew for over 24 years and had her band booked many times in Atlantic City at the Taj Mahal and other places. The irony was that her band would have played for my first wedding but they weren’t available, but I did book them for my brother’s first wedding……her family was from a place 20 minutes from my New Jersey childhood home….I met her in Las Vegas at the Riviera lounge one night..…so it is indeed a small world. A few years later an emergency operation was done on my skull to stop infection from reaching my brain and holes were drilled into the area above my eyes to drain the poison, like I needed two holes in my head. Obviously, it worked. I watched as my mother died at age 67. I learned that the number of people I could really trust, I could count on one hand, as my father predicted and warned me 30 years earlier. I never gave up on myself.
When I was 50 years-old I planned a big birthday bash and made out the invitations with a picture of a man in a wheel chair on an IV, and being tended to by a nurse. Little did I know that I would be in a hospital fighting for my life because of an emergency operation for a spinal infection. I did in fact flat line and die, but was given a choice to fight and come back to the pain and bittersweet experiences of life, and I took it, despite the painless beauty of that afterworld experience. The nerve damage disabled me but I took this as just another challenge that life has doled out for me since I was that beaten-up child. I learned that love does truly conquer all and the love I had for my wife brought me back to the land of the living so that I could tell her and others that I was alright on that “other side.” Despite the best efforts of the doctors and the hospital, I survived and checked myself out after 5 weeks in intensive care. I also learned “patient do thy own research” and don’t trust “practitioners.” Irony upon irony was that I had already written a Near Death Experience in my novel 10 years earlier that paralleled my real experience. I learned to laugh at death, to embrace life’s preciousness and I allowed the epiphany of living, in its own right, to saturate my every action. I finally published my novel, I opened a restaurant with my brother, and I took chances without fear of the consequences. I was finally free to be who I always was and dared to do things without fear and was supported by those who cared without judgment of success or failure.
Now I have now turned 55 years-old and I am happy to be alive despite the paralyzation and pain from the surgeries and I know that life itself is all that counts. There is much more to my life than these highlights, there is no describing the passion, the intense work and rewarding outcomes, the dreams that became reality and the dreams that still live on. It is the how that is much more important than the what I have done. There is no great secret to how to live your life other than to survive and make lemonade from lemons. Those of weak minds do not survive and cannot be stable unless they begin to realize- this is it, this is not a rehearsal. You get one chance and only one chance, so why care about what anyone else thinks? I have learned that relying on pure hope without the effort of one’s self is an invitation for disaster, but in the overall human existence, it is the singular most powerful emotion that brings us the strength to face another day, then another, and then another.
Now on the day of the First of November, I’ll raise a glass for my diabetic-ridden ass, to drink to the thoughts on my special birth-day of celebrating my life, my wife, and for my parent’s sacrifice to have brought me into this world, and lastly for the suffering and sacrifice to all those who are brave enough to have offspring in this world of unknowns. To my nieces and nephews and to all others, I leave you with this: Do what makes you happy and in the words of Joseph Campbell, “always follow your bliss.” Anything less and you have no one else to blame for your misery. Accept the pain and deal with inevitable and then rejoice for your existence every day.