Echo Park is very scenic. Recently I visited it and was taken by the setting. Cascading palm trees resting against a hillside, sitting behind a lake had a very relaxing effect on the people who sat around enjoying the ducks. I sat there remembering the first time I visited the park. I was 6 years old and eager to test my fishing skills. My father sat patiently for hours while I fished. I caught nothing.
Finally my father said it was time to go. No sooner had he called an end to the days fishing expedition I felt a tug on the line. I reeled in the first catch of my life. Once out of the water it was clear I could not boast about my skills as I did not catch the fish. It caught me. Apparently it had been swimming by my hook when it got snagged by it. The hook was embedded on the side of its body. The saying”I will take luck over skill any day’ could not have been more poignant than at that moment. After pictures were taken, I returned the fish to its home.
People do not realize how beautiful ‘Old Los Angeles is.
Venturing out in search of finding my niche in Los Angeles involves many things. One must understand the position in which he is in order to devise an effective strategic plan to move forward. That can be quite a task when the nation is experiencing the worst recession since the great depression. Downsizing is the norm and with that comes an increase in the unemployment rate. California has one of the highest rates in the nation. I would be remiss to exclude the fact that I am 55 years old. It is not politically correct to practice ageism but it is alive and well in the labor markets across the nation.
What do people do when the economy is shrinking? Some network network with friends in hopes of finding a job. Others return to school with the hope of reinventing oneself. I did a little bit of both.
For years, it haunted me that I had not finished my degree at the University of Pennsylvania. When I started rebuilding my life, one of the things that had to be done, along with straightening out my horrendous tax situation, was to finish my degree. It would lift a 30 year burden and provide options as well.
It took roughly two years to clear up the tax mess. It taught me something. Everything has a process to it. You have to start some place and go through it. Sometimes things take time to develop. So last year when I was working through the tax entanglement, I felt it was time to plant some more seeds and keep the funnel of future accomplishment filled with sprouting possibilities. Fortunately things worked out for me.
It was at this time last year when I called the Director of Collections at Penn. She was there when I was a student and was well acquainted with me. She told me to start making my payments of delinquent loans. When I had made six consecutive monthly payments she could begin to release my transcripts to other universities. However, my goal and dream was to finish my degree at Penn. As I was under the impression I had to pay my total indebtedness before the hold on my registration would be lifted. I hesitated for six months before beginning monthly payments in December of 2009.
Originally when I contacted Penn last year, I talked with an assistant dean. She was busy each time I was told to call her and I interpreted the situation as not very encouraging. Then in early December, I discovered a female academic coordinator, there when I was in school, remained in her position. The receptionist put me in touch with her and she was very engaging and encouraging. She was glad to hear from me and took the time, over a few days, to inform me what I needed to do to finish my degree. That conversation inspired me to begin my payments to Penn.
Concurrently, in the summer of last year, I began locating my old classmates from school. I graduated from the prestigious Harvard School for Boys (Currently Harvard/Westlake School) in Los Angeles. It was a very small school in the 60’s and early 70’s with a total of student body of approximately 400 students. Having attended the school together for six years, we were a tight knit group with an unbreakable bond and spirit of camaraderie that is difficult to match. I reached out to Laird our class president. A man with a warm heart. He embraced me immediately though we had not spoken in well over a decade. I was hoping he could hire me in some type of administrative capacity but soon found out he had a different plan in mind.
After a few brunches downtown, Laird asked if I would help him co host our 37th Class reunion and work with him in a new real estate related venture. I was only too happy to do both. He approached me in December and we began exploring opportunities in real estate while planning our reunion event. I started my payments to Penn as well.
In April, we tracked down most of the class members and it was great to reconnect with the class. There were some amazing stories told to me in learning what my classmates had been doing for the past 37 years. Working with Laird has considerably shortened the time it build. Furthermore, people from college and elementary school were finding me on Facebook. It has been an extraordinary experience. People are indeed reaching out to each other. It is as if we have never been apart.. I formed a class website and page on facebook and the guys were bantering back and forth much like we did while we were in school together.
In May, after writing for the LAbeez website for almost a year, I finally attended a long awaited video production workshop. I had looked forward to that for a long time. It was one of the components necessary to reinvent myself-to become proficient in all multimedia applications.
We had our reunion at The Beach Club in Santa Monica on May 16, one day after my birthday. It could not have had a better birthday present. We were all back together and decided to get behind a non profit organization and use are collective skills to make something beautiful happen for people.
A week later my attorney called me to tell me the California State Franchise Tax Board decided to permanently write off my outstanding debt instead of accepting my offer in compromise. Stunned I asked him why they decided to write off the five figure debt. ” The man said that you were honest, Walter!!!”, said my attorney-amazing, a strong testament that honesty is the best policy.
Finally, I called Penn in June. I only planned to talk to the academic coordinator with whom I spoke in December. Upon finding out she had retired in May, the receptionist connected me to another assistant dean. He was very welcoming and directed me in detail as to what to do. I called the economics department and in short order was approved as an economics major and certified I had finished all of the required courses for the major.
Administrative policy required I take four courses and earn a “B” or better. Fortunately I found three professors who were willing to accept work for incompleted courses. Two courses were with one professor. That leaves only one science course to take andI shall request a review committee to allow me to take it in Los Angeles.
In the meantime, the director of collections informed me she would lift the hold on my registration so I could finish at Penn with the stipulation that I continue making the payments for my delinquent loans and tuition fees while enrolled in new courses, if necessary. It amazes me how life can change. I thought it would take me at least a year to even begin taking classes. I am in the process of completing my degree now.
This is how I am advancing forward–cleaning up more of the past and tying together loose ends. It is the best way, I believe, to position myself for the future. It is becoming a lot more fun, this rebuilding process. To celebrate, I joined the recreation center at the University of Southern California where I began swimming and lifting weights to start my fitness program. Another seed is planted.
After getting used to being back home and making sure I understood how much time I could venture out before I I should get back home to check on my mother, I began to explore Los Angeles in a way I never had in the past. I looked at it through the eyes of what essentially is the eyes of a different person. One can take so much for granted. While living downtown, I missed the ocean and watching the people have so much on it. I wanted to see it again, experience it and let the environment soothe my soul. So I jumped in my precious twenty year old car and drove to Marina Del Rey, a harbor that has developed into an end destination recreation location for tourists and locals as well as an upscale residential enclave.
It was great to be out there and feel the ocean wind sweep across my face and enhance the sense of freedom that comes with being in that setting. It is a place where you can get away from it all and enjoy a respite from the pressures of life. All of that was poignant as I thought about the country being in the midst of the worse economic contraction since the Great Depression. Yes, getting away but remaining in the present and not losing sight of the tasks that are in front of me. Those same tasks are in front of everyone as the search for ways to rebuild themselves after much was lost in the financial and banking crisis of last year. Many people lost their homes and their security for the future when retirement accounts were wiped out.
I was lucky I did not have a retirement account wiped out. I was spared the shock of having my savings evaporate, through no fault of my own, and after doing the frugal diligent thing of putting money aside through a steady savings plan. I had not done the right thing. Therefore I had no money to lose. Ironic, actually, and sad that people can do the right thing for decades and be back to square one.
I pondered all of these things each day I ventured out into Los Angeles enjoying the sight of tropical foliage. I Knocked my myself on my ass and fought the good fight and was rebuilding. Some say that it is difficult to rebuild oneself during a time of economic crisis. I disagree. I believe it is the time to prosper. But first one must survive the economic destruction and then control the emotional despair which is the cousin to destruction. One must remain fearless in this time. I keep telling myself that. Be determined. Be resolute. Accept nothing less than to strive for excellence in self. That is where we as nation must start. With self.
Venturing out and seeing the ocean was a new adventure for me as each day has become. At first I wondered what new job to get. It made no sense to try and search. It took a while to figure that out. Everyone is different but it made no sense for me to elevate my employment level while I still had to improve on my self management and operational systems. I fou d it was better for me to wait and invest in my human capital. My job paid the bills and that enables me to spend time learning, growing, improving and preparing. And that is what I have been doing for the last few months. Striving to be excellent, to be efficient and extremely proficient. Cut out the excess.
Inefficiency comes in the funniest of ways. When I purchased the my old Honda, I received two traffic tickets within a week; I made an unsafe lane change while rushing to work; I had no seatbelt on while driving to work. “How could this happen?” I said to myself. It happened because I did not plan. It happened because I was not organized at this level of operation. Too many inefficiencies. I paid them off. I got parking tickets in front of my house. I cursed the cops who gave me the tickets, “Damn them. They did not have to do that”. But yes they did. That was their job and the city needs every dime it can get. Issuing out parking tickets is an easing way to increase revenue. So it took me a while to manage myself and stop spinning wheels.
Then of course the car hoses would spring a leak. The engine would overheat. I was lucky the engine did not explode. I worried that I ruined it. But each time my mechanic checked it out and said it was fine. Each time I paid for the repairs so I could maintain my new level of freedom and not go backwards. I was determined not to go backwards. Sure it was frustrating that I could not do more things. It was necessary to realize I had to secure and solidify my new level of freedom before I could advance. Moreover, securing my position advanced me forward in a more sound fashion. It cemented my minimum floor level. That is what people need to do in this new era . Solidify their minimum floor level.
Fortunately I could afford the repairs of the car. As long as I had transportation I could get to work comfortably and get home easily on my own. As long as I could do that, and get to my story interviews and have enough money to buy my mother her favorite Neapolitan ice cream, then I was happy.
It is so necessary to get out every day and have these little adventures. It allows me to see where opportunity is. There is tremendous opportunity out here. But one must be open to see it. Venturing out was a new beginning. It allowed me to relax and enjoy along with hunting for new opportunities, opportunities which could help me carve my niche into this new world.
When one begins a new life, there are many challenges. There is new found optimism for the future. But many adjustments had to be made. I was now taking care of my mother. That was a different twist. Prior to January 1, I took care of only myself. Suddenly I was taking care of my mother. I lived downtown and rode my bike to work. Suddenly, I found myself paying someone to take me home every night so that she knew she was not alone. I did not want her to be alone. It meant nothing for me to pay money each night compared to the joy I felt being there for her. That went on for a month. Sure, it was expensive but sooner or later it would end. I had purchased her old Honda. I started paying payment on it last summer and made the last one on Christmas Day. Little did I know that Honda would be a gift to us both, allowing me to get to her without delay and run errands so that she can have the little things, like ice cream, which brought her so much joy and pleasure.
It took the month of January to transfer title into my name and get insurance. When that was done I took a drive with a friend of mine from Skid Row. We drove to Malibu. He had never seen that part of the coast line, being from London, and I wanted to provide him with inspriration that things would change. 2009 was going to be our year. Yes, we made that trip to Malibu and both marveled at how far we had come. Chris, my friend, lived in the courtyard of the Midnight Mission for nine months. Then moved into a transitional facility and finally was able to get his own room. His knowledge of the internet and emarketing is exceptional. A graduate of the University of London, he is an adept programmer. We have plans to create internet based businesses. More on that later.
Primarily though, my energies have been around home, getting accustomed to things and developing a system where I can write and take care of my mother’s needs and wants. I only left, at first, to go to work and the store. I was a little hesitant to drive as I found myself getting traffice tickets. Apparently I needed to pay attention to the laws as enforcement of them has become more stringent than in the past. The tickets were costly but I made sure they were paid. No longer was I going to have any thing new to give the court system a reason to be in my life. So I just swore and yelled to myself about the injustice of it all. But when it was said and done, what was important was I changed my behavior. I had to be efficient. In times like these, the country has to get rid of old behaviors in order to move forward. If the behaviors do not change. We as a nation will not change. The same goes for me. In order to not go backwards I must change and no matter what I had to do to get through the legal entanglements, that was only step one. I had to build upon that. And that required focus and discipline. I only learned how easy it was to put on my seat belt once I received a $138 dollar ticket for the infraction.
Becoming efficient has been no picnic. It was trial and error. But it was vital. But practice makes perfect. Soon I was able to create a system of management that created a smooth operation. It did not matter if I had sudden car problems. I just got them fixed. I had to master this stage of the new era without sliding backwards. I already was reaching out to old friends while at home during the day. Slowly but surely interaction with them was becoming embedded in my life. These are guys I admire and respect but had not seen for many years as my lifestyle did not allow for it. Just as I began making payments with the car and owned finally owned it, along with the previous process of enduring the court system, I no longer questioned if things would happen for me. I only knew I had to keep plugging away. I had to begin each new process and allow for things to develop. Nothing would happen by itself.
I was able to achieve economies of operation. It allowed me to sit and study my mother. What did she need? It became clear to me that she needed to know that I loved her. Many elderly citizens feel abandoned and discarded. Society has no use for them. Society is misguided and shortsighted as senior citizens and children are the precious jewels of the earth. I have to reassure her every day that I am coming back home. She knows she can not fend for herself and fears that she will not have anyone to look out for her.
She is lucky. She has her son and daughter. It amazes me how she appreciates the smallest things. She believes it is an act of kindness. So many of our parents know how cruel life can be. After all, they lived through so much–World War 2, the great depression and then some. But she raised my sister and me to have certain priorities. Thank god her lessons took hold. She will reap the benefits of her teachings.
So on this Mother’s Day, I celebrate all of you mothers. You taught us well. I learned from so many mothers. And now I am using their lessons to rebuild my life as the country is rebuilding itself. Every thing starts with self and then family. Fortunately I learned well where to start. The family is the beginning. The family base and communication lines became strong. I am glad I took my time. I stayed home and took my time. My mother is secure is secure. My infrastructure is sound.
That done, I began to explore, with new eyes and determination, the city in which I was raised, Los Angeles, with a ferocious focus to enjoy and build. I am like a settler who goes out every day hunting for game. It has become exciting. Please read my next post as the story begins to develop in ways that has even surprised me.
Happy Mother’s day.
It is peaceful tonight. I am enjoying the quiet, the stillness and am excited about the future. The serenity I am feeling is something very new, refreshing and concrete. Though it has been very elusive, it is now very tangible in its density. I have experienced the darkest of storms in my life. Whether it was one storm or many that overlapped, it is hard to say. Extremely torrential, it was; blinding in fact, making it, at times, seemingly impossible to navigate of its darkness as my sense of bearing and perspective vanished as easily as smoke in the air. I now know what it is like to be in the abyss.
But it is over. I found my way out of that dark tunnel. It was not easy. My problems were many and they were serious. I was ensnared in the criminal justice system. The IRS claimed I owed them six figures. The rock I was under was heavy while I struggled to carry the load. Each step was difficult. The moments between the steps were unbearable at times. It was a lonely process. The biggest battle was with me. I had to learn to control my emotions and fears, and not let either deflect me from my goals. I had much help. I am thankful to the men and women of Skid Row who saw in me something that was worth their time to encourage me to continue fighting. They believed I would cross the mote and reenter the real world, as they call it. Few do.
My patience was rewarded. I was living the truth and the truth was evident in everything I did. I was slowing winning the legal battles. I gained assistance with my tax problems from a gracious and generous attorney. I was able to secure a job. I was overqualified but so what. Many people were overqualified for jobs but could not secure one during the tail end of the Bush administration. During the time I have been a desk clerk I have been able to accomplish many things; regain discipline and structure, renew my real estate broker license, and purchase a car. It started me on the path back. I was able to move from a shelter to a transitional facility and then to a very nice room on the quietest street in Skid Row complete with a skyline view of downtown Los Angeles. From there I was able to focus and plan, along with advancing from blogger to columnist for a start up online website and begin a new career as a writer and on line video story telling producer. I reconnected with old classmates and am developing those reconnections into beautiful friendships.
At the end of 2008, everything came together. The heavy rock on my shoulders had been disintegrating rapidly. On the last day of the year, I received a call and was told my family needed me. So I started out the New Year in the family homestead taking care of my mother instead of in my room on Skid Row. It was just in time to watch the inauguration of President Obama with my mother, something I am sure she believed would never happen in her life.
For the last couple of months I have enjoyed a sense of freedom and inner peace that has escaped me for most of my life. Joining both is a renewed confidence and optimism. I am like a kid who is learning how to walk again and the excitement of the everyday learning process never wains. The focus on learning and developing began some time ago but now systems are in place to focus on the pursuit of excellence: with oneself and in the application of new skills I am learning.
Surviving the challenges that life presents is life altering. Perspective alters. One finds profundity in the simplest things. In Skid Row I saw much illness and death. Despair was the cousin of both that squatted on the doorstep of so many and never left. So good health, mental and physical, is something that I strive for in my daily pursuits.
I shall share my life with you. My thoughts. My concerns. My observations. I will talk about what it is like to care for a mother who has dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. I will share what I have learned while caring for her; things that I would never have learned had not I been fortunate enough to be there for her.
We will experience together the remaking of a man now that his soul has been healed and is constantly healing. It is a testament to the fact that we can do anything. We only have to believe it can be done.
So please join me as I start anew carving a place for myself in this world. You will follow me as I try new things. Learn new things. Create new things. It is an exciting time. I shall not bore you. There are many things to learn and share with each other. Life is wonderful. Please join me as I begin a new era.