Archive for August, 2012

Morton and the Horses


A Thoroughbred Race Horse in Full Stride

I remember the day my father asked me to become a partner in the stable.  He was sitting behind his desk in the temporary office space we rented then, dressed in a camel colored sport coat and checkered cotton sport shirt.  He looked straight at me with his bright, keen eyes and proceeded to make an offer that took me back to my secret weekend excursions in high school with my best friend, Danny. We were seventeen, a year too young to pass through the gates of any gambling establishment.  That didn’t stop us.  Danny and I were tall enough to look the part.  On Saturdays, we drove to the “flats” at Monmouth Park on the Jersey shore and the “trotters” at Roosevelt Field in Long Island at night.  We would bet two dollars a race and have the time of our lives.

My father, B. Morton Gittlin, was an unpredictable genius.  At sixty-one, after selling a wallpaper manufacturing and distribution business he had built from a small company into a national market leader, he began purchasing thoroughbred horses.  Completely in character, he shocked me with his offer to become a partner in a racing partnership he intended to name “Three G Stable,” assuming I agreed to become the third “G.”

I never suspected my father had an interest in thoroughbred racing.  We used to play a lot of golf together on the weekends when I was growing up.  I cannot fathom how or when he found the time to sneak away to the track with my mother.  He certainly would never have gone to the racetrack during the week.  He was too disciplined and focused on building businesses into powerhouse companies to fritter away time during working hours.  I imagine he didn’t share his secret passion for the horses with me when I was a minor because it involved gambling.

My own secret interest in the horses took a long break after high school.  Danny, my dear friend and co-conspirator, attended a different college than I and we grew apart.  I was eager to move on with my life and put childish interests behind me.  Thirty years flew by filled with adult activities—marriage, a family, and a career in marketing next to my father in the family business.

I accepted Morton’s offer to join Three G Stable as a full partner.  It was an entity created out of my father’s love for us as well as his love for the sport of kings.  The stable gave us something to keep us together and have fun with after we sold the wallpaper business.

There is nothing more exciting than seeing a horse you own pounding down the stretch in the lead.  My parents and I were fortunate to experience the exhilarating feeling of victory often in the twenty years the Three G Stable was in operation.  We owned and enjoyed a number of remarkable, stakes-winning horses.  One of them reminded me of my father.  His name was “Storm Predictions.”

The Excitement of Horse Racing

We acquired Storm Predictions by claiming him out of a race as a two-year old.  Many of the more experienced owners and trainers at Calder Race Course laughed behind my father’s back for claiming Storm Predictions.  Although the young horse was winning races, it was common knowledge he had some problems.  The breeder couldn’t sell “Stormy” at the two-year-old-in training auctions because he had what the veterinarians called “sawdust,” or bone particles in one knee.  This is an ominous condition for most horses, indicating a tendency towards bone and joint injuries.  My father didn’t care.  He saw in Storm Predictions the rare courage and talent of a potential champion.  The other owners and trainers saw a horse with a limited future.

As a three-year old, Storm Predictions won the Palm Beach Stakes on the grass at Gulfstream Park competing against the best horses on the East Coast.  Then, our gutsy gelding won the Inaugural Stakes and the Tampa Bay Derby, a race for three-year olds on the Kentucky Derby trail.  Ridden by an unheralded journeyman jockey, Storm Predictions won with a flourish of speed at the top of the stretch, upsetting the heavy favorite in the race.

As a four-year old, “Stormy” won the Americana Handicap on the turf at Calder, as well as a number of “overnight” stakes and allowance races.  The gelding banked close to $400,000 in purse money during his racing career.  The horse cracked bones in his shins and suffered from joint aches and muscle pains of all sorts.  Nothing stopped him.  We just gave him long rests when necessary.  Storm Predictions always came back running hard and winning.  We gave Storm Predictions away to a caring farm owner when his racing days were over.  The gelding lived a long and useful life after his years at the track as a pleasure riding horse.

My father, like Storm Predictions, was no stranger to adversity.  After clearing the inevitable hurdles of a successful business career, he endured many physical setbacks in retirement, including a hip replacement, throat cancer, and emphysema.  Nothing stopped him.  He just kept enthusiastically pursuing his interests and enjoying life to the fullest, until the effects of exposure to asbestos as a boy caught up with him at age eighty-three.  Even then, he didn’t want to give up.  On the last day of his life, lying in a hospital bed, his body whittled down to skin and bone by Mesothelioma, my father threw off his covers and announced he intended to walk to the bathroom unattended.   We practically had to hold Morton down to spare him further pain and embarrassment.

I still dream of my father and the horses.  We call him “Morton” now, instead of Dad, or Pop, or my husband, or my father-in-law.   We call him by name because he was such a unique individual.  Anyone who knew my father well knows what I’m talking about.  Morton has been gone five years now, and I miss him terribly.  We sold all of our horses and disbanded the stable shortly before my father’s death.  The world of thoroughbred racing, like my father, has moved on.  Hialeah Park, once a haven for fabulous Flamingos and the finest thoroughbred racing in the East during the winter, is now a relic that hosts a brief quarter horse meeting. Gulfstream Park, another south Florida track, was razed and rebuilt into an enormous shopping center and gambling parlor.  Gone are the fan friendly grounds where patrons spent the day with family members in a country fair atmosphere.

I remember taking my five-year old daughter to the petting zoo and putting her on the backs of Shetland ponies for rides at the old park.  The spacious, open-air grandstands and box seats where fans used to bet, eat, drink, and watch the races all day long, are now an unfriendly complex of cramped, concrete buildings.

Thankfully, I still have my memories.  I remember Morton and the horses.  I remember the chain of love known as Three G Stable that linked me together with my parents, wife, and young daughter, in those glorious, fun-filled days gone by.

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Silver Sunsets


“The last shall be first.”

When the horses reached the quarter pole, just before turning for home, Silver Sunsets galloped contentedly, exactly where he wanted to be — in last place, thirty lengths out of the lead.

Casual bettors, who picked Silver Sunsets by his number or the way he looked in the post parade, are tearing up their tickets in disgust.  In thirty seconds, they will regret this act.   They will watch, in utter amazement, as Silver Sunsets begins a furious stretch run, weaving in and out of traffic, passing horses as if they were standing still, crossing the finish line in first place.

Silver Sunsets was a top-ranked thoroughbred during his two-year old and three-year old racing seasons.  I remember him now, twenty years later, because of the lessons he taught me.  Be yourself and; it is never too late to do your thing.

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The Millennium Predictions


Nikki and Darren (Actors Justin Nichols and Sophia Bush)

Seagulls falling out of the sky raised a line of puffs on the barren beach as they smacked  into the sand.

Darren glanced upward shielding his eyes from the blazing sun.  Nikki, lying on the pink towel next to him, rose on both elbows.  She screamed.

More birds pelted the beach.  A few hundred yards to the south, it was raining seagulls.  “It’s coming this way,” he told the hazel-eyed beauty.

“Head for the water.  It’s the only safe place,” he shouted.

They raced towards the incoming tide, extending their long, lean bodies over the surf.  The couple pummeled the aqua water with furious crawl strokes, side by side.  When they were far enough from shore, Darren pulled up, treading water.  Nikki’s head broke water just as a wave rolled over her.  She came up coughing and spitting water.  Darren reached out.  She flattened her curvaceous body against his hard torso, encircling his neck with long, slender arms.

Thunder rumbled.  The waves grew higher.  Darren watched in disbelief as the storm of falling seagulls engulfed the Canyon Ranch Spa and Hotel.

“The ‘Millennium Predictions’ are coming true,” Nikki gasped.

The seagull storm swallowed up the hotel.  The bird-cloud mushroomed towards the sleek concrete and steel skyscraper to the north.   The sky darkened.  A  squall rippled towards them from the macabre scene unfolding on the shore.

Darren held her tightly.  “I’ll always love you, even if the world ends.”

Nikki pushed away from him with a wild-eyed expression.

Cut,” the Director yelled from the filming platform six feet behind them.

The computer-generated effects Darren had spent hours studying the night before dissolved on the screen of his imagination.  The newly built Canyon Ranch Hotel gleamed in the South Florida sun, perfectly safe as a dreamer waking from a nightmare in a comfortable bed.

He had been lost in the moment.  He had made it all real.  Instinct and a script two revisions old had taken over.

Darren smacked his head with an open hand.  “Sorry.”

“You’re supposed to say, ‘I thought we could change the future,” the pot-bellied, bearded Director said.  He pulled off his black sunglasses and glared at Darren.  A gust of wind rustled his mane of graying hair.  “Let’s take it from Nikki’s last line, then we’ll break for lunch.”

“Soften your expression,” Nikki told him.  “You look too serious.”

One of the benefits of working with your real-life girlfriend was honest feedback.

They sat at a table for two in the crowded Spa restaurant, next to a picture window overlooking the beach.  Darren munched on an under-sized grain burger with sprouts and raw carrots on the side—no dressing.  Nikki played with a small bowl of whole-wheat spaghetti topped with a hint of marinara sauce—hold the parmesan cheese.

Darren reveled in the few moments of leisurely time they shared before the long night of shooting ahead of them.  Two days of bad weather had thrown production behind schedule.  The production crew had to squeeze six days of shooting into three.  The Director expected actors and crew to stay fresh and energetic, despite the hectic schedule.

Nikki had piled her long red hair in a bun atop her head.  She wore no makeup, only a thin layer of moisture cream for protection.  Darren had met countless beautiful women in his acting career.  Nikki was different from all of them.  She wasn’t self-absorbed, and she wasn’t petty, as most of the women he knew tended to be.  She read voluminously between acting roles, and was a fine painter.  She could be intellectual and sophisticated or simple and playful as a happy child, depending on her mood.

She had stolen his heart shortly after they met at a wedding party eight months ago.  There was only one problem.  It haunted Darren day and night.

“There’s something we have to talk about, Darren darling.  It’s been on my mind for the past few weeks.”

He felt an ache in his heart.  He knew the issue had to come up eventually.

“Not now, Princess.”

“It makes me feel like your daughter when you call me that.”

“I can’t help it.  I believe you’ve come to me from some enchanted land, or sprung up whole from a ponderous book of fairy tales.”

She stopped smiling.

“What’s wrong?” he said.

She appeared to grapple with what to say next.

“Let’s agree to hold off all serious discussions until the film wraps,” he said.  “Until then, we should only try to amuse one another in the few private moments the stingy Director allows us.  Now, stop nibbling at your food.  Eat up.  You need your strength.”

“You eat your grain burger.

“It has no taste.”

“Use your imagination,” she said.

Darren took a bite.  “Mmmm.  He picked up the remaining piece of grain burger and admired it as if it were the Hope Diamond.  “Remind me to ask the chef how they make it taste like dried corn-stalk compost.”

He watched her turn and gaze out the window.  The surf was up, reaching with long fingers, almost up to the concrete foundation of the hotel.  The sun had disappeared behind late afternoon clouds.  He noticed her mood remained somber.

“If you insist on being serious, you might as well tell me what’s on your mind.”   He felt the ache in his chest again.

She sighed deeply.  “These past eight months have been much more than I ever expected, my love.”

“There’s no reason to believe the next eight months won’t be even better,” he said in his best imitation of a well-known motivational speaker.

He had imagined this painful moment too many times.  “I’m concerned about the age difference,” she would say.  “What will happen when we get older?”  No matter what he said in response, her words would mark the beginning-of-the-end their relationship.

“I fell in love with your humor before I fell in love with you,” she said, instead of the dreaded words he had anticipated hearing.

“And you’ve been dying to confess this to me but you didn’t know how,” he improvised.

“Don’t make this into another game.”   Nikki kept staring at him with a horribly solemn expression.

“I’m not from this world,” she said.

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t hear you correctly.  The acoustics in here are awful.”

“Please try to believe what I’m about to tell you.”

“It’s perfect, sweetheart.  Who offered you the role?”

“I’m not trying out a character, Darren.”

“Can’t we just be ourselves with the little time—“

“—I am being myself.  Listen to me.”

He stared into the depths of her searching eyes.  Nikki lowered her voice.  “There are about a million travelers like me scattered in every country of your world.”

Chills ran through his body.  “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about the events depicted in ‘The Millennium Predictions.’  I’m talking about a decision you have to make.”

“You’re telling me they changed the script again and didn’t tell me.  They’ve cut down my role.  That bastard who calls himself a Director doesn’t like me.  That’s it.  Isn’t it?

She stared back at him, perfectly still.  “I’m not talking about the movie.”

“You can’t be an alien.  I’ve kissed every inch of your body.  Every part of you is perfectly, beautifully human.”

“Calm down.  We’re attracting attention.”  She placed a hand over his.  “We have the same origin.  Our ancestors seeded the galaxy with our kind millions of years ago.  It was a grand experiment to study how civilizations develop in different environments.  The project is also intended to ensure the survival of our genome.”

He sat there in stunned silence.

“We thought we could blend in and help your civilization grow in a more constructive direction—until recently.  We’ve determined your problems are too severe.  It’s too late for our help.  Your civilization is a failed experiment.  Our work here is finished.”

“But—“

“—Hear me out, Darren.  Some of us, like me, have formed strong relationships while we’ve been here.  We’re allowed to take one person back with us.”  She held his hand tighter.  “I want you to come with me when I leave.”

“Nikki, please, this isn’t funny.  You must stop it now.”

“I’m not joking.  I understand how overwhelming this must be for you.  I’m asking you to be strong.”

“You’re asking me to give up everything and pop off into space with you somewhere.  Why can’t you stay here with me?”

“Your civilization will most likely destroy itself,” Nikki said.

“How can you make a statement like that and sound so sure of yourself?”

“To put it in simple terms, we can chart the future of a civilizations based on socio-economic, environmental, birth rates, art, scientific measurements and other factors.  Our predictive model comes from thousands of civilizations we have studied.”

Darren strained to wrap his mind around what she was telling him.

“What if you get tired of me?”  The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them.  His composure was melting like a sandcastle at high tide.

“Don’t be insecure,” she said.

“I’m twenty years older than you.”

“It never occurred to me.  The average life span of my people is two hundred years.  A twenty-five year difference in couples is quite common.”

“But I’m not going to live that long.”

“You will once you begin taking the bio-agents we’ve developed to stay young. You’re at the height of your powers, Darren.  I’m offering you the chance to stay that way for at least another five decades.”

“It sounds too good to be true.  For all I know, you’ll put me in a cage five minutes after boarding your ship.”

“Darling,” she said with a gleam in her eye, “we’re vegetarians, not meat eaters.”

He smiled, despite the feeling of utter uncertainty.  “Do you think we can last a hundred a fifty years together?”

“Wouldn’t you love to try,” she said, deftly lowering one eyelid.

He leaned close to her.  “Do they need actors on your planet?”

“Yes, my darling.  You’ll have time for at least five different careers in the dramatic arts if you get bored.”

“Look at me, sitting here thinking only of myself while you’re telling me the end of the world is at hand.”

“There’s nothing you can do about it.”

“Can’t your people warn us in some way?”

“The warning signs are everywhere.  Only a handful of people heed them.”

“There has to be a solution.”

“There is, darling Darren.  Come with me.”

“You make it sound so simple.”

It’s not that complicated, my love.  You have no children.  Your parents are gone.  And you’re an only child.”

“I’ve taken a lot of chances in my life.  But this…I need time to think.”

“I understand completely,” she said.  “We’ll talk again after the film wraps.   In the meantime, don’t say a word about this to anyone. It could jeopardize my safety.”

“That’s the last thing I’d ever do.”

She looked at him with an intensity he had never seen before.  “We can do this, darling.  I know we can if you give it a chance.  You’re the perfect man for me.”

He squeezed her hand, kissed her, and walked out of the restaurant on unsteady legs.

The woman known to Darren as Nikki turned to watch the sunset through the picture window.  The orange sun plunged into the ocean surrounded by a bevy of pastel pink clouds.   

Darren was perfect, she thought—bright, handsome, hardy, talented and most importantly, virile.  His sperm count ran off the charts.  She had tested it herself with a kit hidden in her dressing trailer.  It was a miracle the man hadn’t accumulated a brood of children inside or outside of marriage.  She guessed it was due to his exemplary character.  He didn’t believe in having children if he wasn’t going to be there for them as a proper parent.

It was ironic that Darren was destined to father thousands of children though he didn’t know it yet.  He was going to be on the star ship with her one way or another.  Preferably, Darren would decide he couldn’t live without her and leave voluntarily.  That way, she could break the news to him gradually during the journey to his new home.  He would have time to adjust to the idea of becoming an alpha breeding male for her dying race.

She regretted lying about the nature of her mission and the prospect of her lover living another hundred and fifty years.  Even with the bio-agents, the strain of steady breeding would shorten Darren’s life span considerably.  But there were much worse fates in the universe than sleeping with gorgeous women like herself who possessed brilliant minds and a multitude of fascinating professional abilities.

The new job came with an array of attractive benefits.  Aside from his conjugal duties, Darren’s schedule would include a healthy chunk of time in a classroom to avoid his becoming a conversational bore.  Good conversation before mating improved the conception rate dramatically.

To avoid psychological problems, Darren would continue his career in the dramatic arts on her planet as she had promised, under careful supervision of course.  She might even be his “girlfriend” for a while to make the transition smoother. Yes, Darren would adjust and eventually thrive in his new role.  His qualities of optimism and flexibility almost guaranteed it.

The more she thought about it, the more good ideas came to her for selling the new role to Darren.   When you sat back and added it all up, she believed he was a lucky man. This was especially true, considering his slim chances of survival on the sordid, troubled world he would soon be leaving behind.

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Droplets of Joy


What if you didn’t have to complain?

What would you choose to do if you were free to do anything you wanted to?

What if the word “boundary” was not in your vocabulary?

What if you dared to dream?

What if your dreams came true?

What if you listened to the symphony of your soul rather than the chatter of your mind?

What is peace?

What is love?

What is contentment?

What is harmony?

What if reality was sweet rather than harsh?

What if droplets of joy rained down every day and you learned how to collect them in the bucket of your heart?

What if happiness became your constant companion instead of a distant relative?

What would happen if you took the time to get to know your deepest, truest self?

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A Foundation of Happiness


Source; Indianapolis Museum of Art

Waiting for a connecting flight from Asheville to Charlotte on my way home to Fort Lauderdale, I look around me at the faces of my fellow early morning passengers. The feeling of happiness within me contrasts sharply with the reflections of dulled spirits I see sitting row after row at the departure gate.

In defense of my fellow passengers, it can be argued that even the hardiest soul has a difficult time smiling at the ripe hour of six in the morning with nothing to look forward to besides a long, cramped flight in cattle-car-coach. Yet here I am, feeling a sense of contentment so overpowering it compels me to share it with a young lady sitting two seats away. We enjoy a pleasant, meandering conversation before going our separate ways.

By all rights, I should appear as glum and bored to the other awaiting passengers as they appear to me.  I’ve logged barely a few hours of sleep thanks to a five AM wake up call and the persistent, loud snoring of a friend who shared the expense of my hotel room. Yet I feel so alive and awake it seems like a miracle. My spirits soar like a nimble 757 jumbo jet taking flight from a short runway.

Let me assure you: I’m no stranger to boredom and depression. And I most certainly don’t feel this happy all of the time. What I’m feeling this morning is the direct result of attending Prem Rawat’s talk in Asheville. It’s a classic case of cause and effect, and it makes me realize that I often see my life in two parts: before and after, much like a tooth whitening commercial.

Before I began listening to Prem Rawat, happiness had become an increasingly elusive commodity, from my post-adolescence years to about the age of thirty-three. During this time, I had my own ideas of where to find happiness, and I pursued each and every one of them with zeal. And then the zeal began to ooze out of me like a rubber raft with a big hole in it. Even though I was still a young man, my life seemed to weigh more heavily upon me with every passing day. Fortunately, before all of the air in my psychic tires escaped into the ether, a friend told me about a teacher who claimed to be able to show people how to find a fulfillment from within independent from anything on the outside. What a concept. I was ready to try anything.

That was thirty years ago.  In the “after” stage of my life, I’ve been using the tools Prem Rawat handed to me to combat boredom, depression and fatigue by nurturing an inner experience as refreshing and alive as cool water from a natural mineral spring.

I gaze through the airport’s windows, appreciating every minute of beauty and stillness reflected in the misty morning breaking outside on the tarmac, where the ground crew readies the small airplane assigned to whisk us away to Charlotte. From there, we will scatter to our various destinations, back to the lives we are constructing for ourselves. I wonder what those lives are built upon.

I know that I want to construct my life on a foundation of happiness. I am determined to use the tools I have been given to make happiness a priority and a reality. And how, you may inquire, do I propose to achieve this goal?

By following my heart to an oasis of peace, joy and contentment within.

 

 

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