My name is Nick. I’ve led a full, productive, incredible life, and what’s more, I’m only 37 years old. 37 years and 3 months to be exact. “Who can claim to have led such a full life so young”?
I was born on December 6th, 1978, which is St. Nicholas day. My Mom told me that before I was born she was watching a football game. During the game, a commercial with the famous Jets quarterback Joe Namath came on. In the commercial, Joe said December 6th is St. Nicholas day. My mom said if I was born on December 6th, she would name me Nicholas and sure enough I was born on December 6th. So that’s how I got my name. Thank you Joe Namath for helping me get my name!
This is just a part of the spirited tale I’m about to tell you, my experiences. Each one of them was true and each one was a token that brought me up, shaped me to be the man I am today.
I was close with my Mom and Dad. My parents are very loving and I am very lucky to have such great parents.
I learned a lot about the world around me from my dad.
My dad is a free thinker and very open-minded. The holidays are big in my house. Growing up every year at Christmas we had colored lights all over the house. I remember all the kids would get up on the roof to put lights on the house. Multi-colored lights all over the house, good loads so bright and beautiful at night! We had the big snowman in the front and brightly colored lights on the house. It was a very spectacular sight! A tree in the living room, brightly decorated and we would get a visit from Santa Claus. It was my dad dressed up as Santa and it was great! My dad got really into the holiday spirit. I don’t know where he found them but every year at Christmas my dad would get three tumbleweeds one large a medium and a small. And he would arrange the Tumbleweeds into a Snowman on the front lawn. Large tumbleweed for the base, medium for the body, and small for the head. He would spray paint all three tumbleweeds white, used charcoal for the eyes and mouth. My mom sewed a big carrot for the nose out of orange fabric. We added tree branches from the yard to make the arms. We put a big top hat on his head and a scarf around his neck. Then he’d put a big spotlight on him so all the cars driving past could see the big fourteen-foot Snowman standing in our yard! We lived on a very busy intersection called Santa Gertrudes Avenue. I am sure that a lot of people saw our Snowman every year.
My dad plays guitar and sings. I grew up hearing songs playing on the guitar, many were classic rock songs. He got me my first baseball mitt and we would play catch and I would pitch to him. I did have some skill and I could pitch pretty well. I’m a lefty, he said my pitch had a natural curve.
I didn’t play baseball past high school. My life took a different course from sports and instead, I focused on discovering the world around me. It would have been nice to continue playing baseball, even to play in college and maybe professional. But I think what I’m doing writing a book about peace is what I am meant to do and I am happy.
My dad raises pigeons. He has since he was very young. He’s a champion pigeon breeder. He raises muff tumblers. They are show pigeons! Growing up he also had parrots, cockatoos, and macaws. We had a blue macaw named Va-Voom and a cockatoo named Boo Boo. They were both very sweet birds.
My mom was always very polite and was a good example for all of the kids. She is smart, patient, and very kind. She never used foul language. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her use a curse word and if you used one she corrected you right away!
My mom cares very much as does my dad for all of their kids. My mom is good at sewing. She used to sew her own clothes in high school. She made my sisters’ and brothers’ and all the kids’ Halloween costumes. One year my older sister won first place for her costume. She was a mermaid. My mom made the costume for her. I also won first place. I was a fly, I got the idea from the movie The Fly with Jeff Goldblum.
I remember when I was about 7 or 8, I would go around the neighborhood picking flowers for my Mom. I can still remember what those flowers looked like; they were small purple flowers I always picked off the same bush. The stems were very short. They didn’t look like the type of flower you would give as a gift. I would pick about 15 of them and bundle them all into this tiny little bouquet. Those ragged old flowers, when put together in a bunch, actually looked pretty good. I would give that bouquet to my Mom. Thinking back on it, those flowers were kind of funny, and I bet my mom thought so too.
I come from a large family, with five sisters and three brothers. I have two older sisters, three younger brothers, and three younger sisters. We are a close-knit bunch, maybe we’d have to be since we grew up in a three-bedroom home that had rooms for the boys, girls, and parents. It is nice having a big family, never a dull moment and there’s always someone to talk to.
My Dad comes from a family of nine siblings, four boys and six girls so, including him, it’s an even ten. He’s the oldest. My Dad said he had always wanted a big family and he definitely got a big family.
It might have been my idea but I’m not sure, this happened a long time ago. I decided to swing from the branches of the big tree in the back yard, from the roof of our house. I asked my older sister if she wanted to swing from the tree as well! I was about seven years old and she liked the idea. We climbed up on the roof to swing from the tree. We lived in a city located within the suburbs of Los Angeles in a modest three-bedroom home. There was a big wooden playhouse in the back with a fairly high roof. So what we would do is grab a large branch or group a lot of branches in our hands, then run and jump off the roof. We swung through the air. It was so much fun. We would swing from the house to the playhouse and back again. My sister was just as good as I was as she swung all around. We were laughing and having a great time up on the roof that day.
I remember one summer day taking a drive with my mom and little sister to look at the new house. It was in a quiet part of town with very little traffic. It was nice. Our current house was located on the corner of a busy street. We drove past the house and my mom asked me, ” do you like the house?” Tears immediately started streaming down my face. I guess it finally hit me, we were really moving. Why are you crying my mom asked? I’m not going to have any friends and I have to change schools. It was a nice house we moved into, but for now, I’m up on the roof with my older sister. We were swinging from the big tree located in the backyard.
Growing up I had a lot of freedom. As long as my school work was done and the work around the house was finished I could go out. I had a lot of friends around the neighborhood. We rode our bikes and skateboards all around. Our Street was part of a block of homes that had a sidewalk that went all the way around in a circle. So I could hop on my bike ride the sidewalk around to my friend’s house and be there in about a minute. I had this friend who I often spent time with. I remember he had the cassette tape DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince. That was fun. We would listen to tapes and practice riding skateboards in the front yard. One day we decided to climb the pine tree out in front of his house. This tree was huge, a big undertaking for sure. I don’t know why but it seems kids like to climb. Maybe it’s because when you’re a kid you’re very small and quick and you’re better able to climb. So we climbed the pine tree. The view from the top was quite something. I had never been up that high, it was remarkable. I knew nothing about the world at the time. I was just a little kid having fun. What I would learn from that day in 1984 until now 2019 I definitely didn’t know at that time. I was just enjoying the view. We both made it down from the pine tree safely.
Very near our house was a park with a small creek with water flowing through it. This park was so close I could walk to it on my own. I just had to take two crosswalks one across the street then another and from there it was about 100 feet down on your right. I had a paper cup, I wanted to see if I could catch something in the creek at the park with the cup. I took the cup and cut some holes in the bottom. I took the cup to the park to place it in the water to see what I could catch. I expected to catch some polliwogs, fish, maybe a frog.
I arrived at the park, it was a nice sunny day. I walked up to the side of the creek and knelt beside. The water was rushing down. I placed the cup in the water with the top of the cup facing towards the rushing water. I had no idea what I was about to catch that day. The cup was in the water now, the water streaming through nicely, whatever came swimming down the creek that day would get caught in the cup. And after about a minute I saw something swimming in the water coming down the path of my watery trap. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was but I saw it swam quickly through the water but I saw him coming. I adjusted my cup to be in line with his path and whatever it was went directly into the cup. I picked the cup up out of the water to see what I had caught. To my surprise, it was not a pollywog, not a fish, and it wasn’t a frog . . . it was a little baby alligator, about 3 inches long with little yellow eyes!
He looked up and opened his mouth. You could see rows of little sharp teeth. I was so excited! I thought I’d found a new pet. I took the little alligator home, I wanted to show my dad what I found. I got home and walked into the house, my dad was standing in the living room. I said, “Dad look what I caught,” handing him the cup so he could see the little alligator. He took the cup and looked down into it, I could see the alligator looked up and opened his mouth. My dad was shocked at what he saw and said “Ah! What is this thing”? I told him that I had caught it at the creek. I said “Dad, can I keep him”? He just said “No, you can’t keep him!” and he flushed it down the toilet.
Tony was one of my friends, I had a lot of friends. I talked to everyone. I was very friendly. Some of these friends I had were more like acquaintances. This one friend I had was a few years older than me. One day I decided to have a little fun. I had KFC big dinner bucket. It was leftover from dinner the night before. So I asked my mom to cut a face in the bucket so I could put it on my head and ride my bike to my friend’s house. She agreed and cut two eyes, a nose, and a big smiling mouth into the bucket. I put the KFC chicken bucket on my head, rode to my friend’s house, and knocked on the door. I asked for him and he answered the door.
Now I’m standing there with a chicken bucket on my head with a face cut into it. I told him hey how you doing and I laughed about it a little. He walked up to me turned the bucket around so I couldn’t see and then he punched me right in the face! I fell down to the ground on my backside. Took the bucket off my head looked up at him and said, ” What did you do that for?”
He shouted, “Get out of here!” Pointing towards the street.
So I got on my bike and rode back home and told my parents what happened. I think my parents went over there to speak to his parents. I was only 7 years old.
What I learned from this experience is to be careful, you never know who you can walk up to with a chicken bucket located on your head without getting punched. I’m really surprised that happened but thinking back on it I didn’t know him well enough to play a joke like that. So be careful who your friends are and if you have good friends, cherish them.
My grandfather on my Dad’s side once took me to see the Queen Mary and Spruce Goose before they moved the plane to Oregon. The Spruce Goose is huge! It’s known as the biggest flying boat ever built, it has a wingspan of 320 feet. To get an idea of how big that is compare it to a Bowing 747 which has a wingspan of 196 feet, an Airbus A 350 has a wingspan of 212 feet. It was made primarily of Birch; the name Spruce Goose was started by reporters. Standing there with my grandfather I was inspired by this engineering marvel. It flew! 70 feet in the air for one minute. Even though its performance was lacking a bit I didn’t care, I thought the plane looked great. I think the biggest accomplishment is that it is constructed entirely of wood. A shiny, wooden, marvel. Due to WW2, there was no metal available. Therefore, it has a wooden frame instead of a metal frame. Amazing! Made from wood because during the war there was a ration on metals so the next material that could be used, wood, so, thought Howard Hughes, the architect of the plane. He said, “I will build the biggest wooden airplane ever built, and it will fly”! I’m not sure if Howard Hughes thought it out that far, but was he having a bit of fun in building this plane, yeah, I think so. There’s more than one way to build a plane.
After we saw the Spruce Goose, we visited the Queen Mary. The Queen Mary is a beautiful ship. It looks like a smaller version of the Titanic. We toured the entire ship, from the pilothouse to the engine room. I don’t know if the tour guide was trying to liven things up, or if she was bored with her job, or if there is some truth to what she said but according to her, the Queen Mary is haunted. Someone reported seeing small, wet, footprints outside of the pool, but the pool was empty! It could be just a story brewed up by staff to add some intrigue to their jobs, or maybe there’s some truth to it. That isn’t the only ghost story she told, apparently, the ship is haunted.
I was turning 5 and so my Dad asked me if I wanted a baseball mitt. I said sure. This would be my first mitt. Sort of exciting, joining the world of sports. So, my Dad took me down to the sporting goods store to get me a new baseball mitt. We arrived at the store, went inside and upon looking around I was astonished at the large number of mitts they had. An entire wall was filled from floor to ceiling with every kind of baseball mitt you could think of.
The smell of leather was thick in the air. My Dad asked me if I wanted a left-handed or right-handed mitt? I wasn’t sure. I tried the right-handed glove on first and my Dad tossed me a few, it didn’t feel right. Then I tried on the left-handed and he tossed a few more. That was the one. He bought the glove and we went home. He also bought some oil for the glove. I know a lot of people use a rubber band around a new glove after putting oil on it, to loosen it up (baseball gloves are very stiff when they’re new) but I developed my own technique. I rubbed oil into the entire mitt then I put a baseball in the netting, closed it then put it under one of the legs of the sofa. I found the pressure from the sofa loosened the mitt up much more quickly. And it worked, in no time the mitt was ready to play with.
So now that I had my mitt, I was ready to play the following spring. I started at the lowest level, Tee-ball. That’s when they place the ball on a stand called a tee at home plate, this helps train the kids in the first year of baseball. Though we didn’t use a tee. The dads would toss the ball to us underhand. My team was called the Eagles. For only our first year we were pretty good. We were so good; we were in competition for first place.
To decide the winner, we played a doubleheader, one game in the morning, then another in the afternoon. We won the first game. After that, there was a three-hour wait before the next game. My team decided to stay and rest at the park. There were some shady trees at the top of the hill and so the team gathered atop the hill underneath the shade of the trees. We placed some blankets out and just had lunch and relaxed. We ate, drank, then rested before the next game.
Our opponents, however did not stay at the park, they each got into their cars and went home to take a nap. At the end of the second game, we had won! I think one difference in the game was staying at the ballpark. The other team looked tired and sluggish. Since we stayed at the field, we were more prepared. We had more time to practice beforehand.
Once I was playing a game at little league, this was about my 2nd or 3rd year and I was around 8 or 9 years old. It was just starting to get dark out but there was still enough light to play so we continued with our game. At this stage in little league the games were played with pitching and on our team was one of the best pitchers around. Mike was fast and accurate; he really had a talent for pitching. But his accuracy was a little off that day. We were up to bat and Mike was throwing some warm-up pitches on the other side of the dugout. He was on a long narrow strip of grass just on the other side of the dugout and was pitching towards the dugout. The only thing separating the team from Mike’s pitches was a chain link fence that was only about 6 feet high. I was standing at about the middle of the dugout, facing away from Mike. At that moment one of Mike’s usually pinpoint accurate pitches got away from him and the ball sailed right over the fence and struck me right in the back of the head. I dropped down to the ground, it knocked me out for about 10 seconds. When I came to, I looked up and saw my whole team looking down at me. “What happened?” I spoke.
“You were hit by a pitch,” said the coach. My head ached tremendously and my head swelled to have like a golf ball size bump on the back of my head. After that, the teams called the game on account of the time, it was getting dark by then, that decision probably though due to my getting beaned on the back of the head. My parents took me to my doctor. He said there was nothing he could do aside from putting some ice on it to bring down the swelling.
I continued to play baseball throughout the years. I played first base, center field, second base and pitcher. I could bat really well; my throwing ability was great, and I was really fast, so I was good at stealing bases. Now I was a few years into playing baseball, and I was getting quite good. The games were getting more competitive and the games more exciting. I was picked to be on the all-star team a few years in a row.
I would soon find out that my family would be moving into a new house. The one we were living in we were renting and the owners wanted it back. My parents found a house on the north side of town, in a nice neighborhood. It was above the main thorough fair, making the environment very quiet and peaceful.
Moving from place to place is an activity most people eventually have to take part in. Once I finished the second grade my family would be moving into a new home, far away from the one I’ve always known. Well, not that far really. Just a few miles north, still in the same city. But would have to go to a new school, make new friends, have new terrain to explore and while all of this would be exciting and interesting it took a while for the news of our move to settle for me. That Summer my Mom took my younger sister and I to see the home we would be moving to. My sister sat up front I sat in the back. My sister was speaking with our Mom, “This is a nice neighborhood,’ isn’t this a nice neighborhood Nick?”
I guess at that moment the reality of the move started to hit me.
“How could you say that?” I spoke. What about our friends or our teachers and our school?” at that tears started rolling down my face. My Mom reassured me.
“It’s ok, you’ll make new friends and have new teachers.”
I suppose I thought we’d never move so relocating, for me, was kind of a surprise.
But soon I liked the idea of a new house. The house would be bigger. It was really close to my elementary school. That Summer I spent skateboarding around the town. My house was on a hill so I enjoyed riding up and down. And soon, it was time to begin school. 3rd grade started up. The school really emphasized the importance of art which I really liked. They would bring in an outside art teacher who would teach us about a different artist every week. She was very good. She sparked an interest in art for me. I remember in third grade, there was this kid that skipped a grade. He just came in one day and the teacher announced we had a new student, welcomed him, and asked him to sit down. He sat down next to me. I asked him why he was starting school so late. He said I’m not starting late; I’ve been in second grade.
“Really” I asked, “Students can skip a grade?”
“Yep” he said “and they put me in third grade.
“Congratulations” I said.
So, I skipped a grade. For just a moment I was motivated to perform better in school. I would try to compete with this kid, to try and score better on the tests. Sometimes I would. But who was I kidding? While I would make the grade and score some great accolades at school, at times. But that was only at times. For the most part my attention was usually somewhere else. I guess I was a bit of a dreamer. I think the most fun I had at school was when we played sports. I had always played baseball at little league, but at school I participated in track. I was very fast, the fastest in the school. And every year the surrounding elementary schools would hold a track meet. I remember one year that I went. I was running anchor on the 400-meter relay. The starting gun went off and the race was underway. At the second leg we were even with the lead, then at the 3rd leg we lost some ground and were in a far second. I watched the leader run by me. As precious seconds went by, I grew more anxious to receive the baton, “hurry!”
I was shouting. It seemed like ages but he finally arrived and handed me the baton. I set out running as fast as I could, kicking up clouds of dust all around me. I could see the runner in front of me, he was approaching the finish line, but I knew I could catch him. I gave it all I could and passed him up at the last ten meters, coming in first and bringing the first-place ribbon to our team.
I was only 11 years old, but I still remember that day and I really don’t know how I ran so fast.
I had a friend in school named Chuck. I always enjoyed going over to Chuck’s house because it was so interesting. For one the house had an organ in the living room complete with a full set of brass pipes running up the sides of their high walls about 15 feet and ending at the vaulted ceiling. It looked like a full church organ in their house. When the organ was played it was so loud! I’m sure anyone within a mile around could hear those pipes blasting away. In the backyard, they had a pool, and they also had a St. Bernard. Now I’m sure you may have heard how nice and sweet St. Bernard are and they are, to their owners. But he didn’t know me. This dog just gave me trouble every time we went into the backyard to go swimming the dog would bark, snarl, and chase me around until I finally jumped into the water. Maybe the dog was just trying to make me jump in the pool like it was a game. But maybe he was just a grumpy old dog.
Once Chuck and his family invited me to spend the weekend at their cabin. I agreed and we set out for the mountains. It was a long, and after 3 hours, dark drive. Not long after the 3rd hour we came upon some bright lights. It was a 7-11! We were all hungry from the long journey, anything to eat would be nice. Roberts father asked her to go in and get him a frozen burrito, one of the big ones he said. Hearing about that burrito made my taste buds salivate. Robert was just as hungry. She went in and in a few moments came back with a burrito of great size. And Robert and I watched as he ate the entire burrito right in front of us. Every once in a while, he would lean over and give Chuck’s Mom a bite. He made a comment on how he was the driver so he needed to keep his energy up. That sounds logical but we were still starving in the back. I think he may have tossed us a few snickers, but I’m not sure of that. That frozen burrito overshadowed everything. I thought that was a little selfish. I don’t think he realized it though. The entire trip was good, the cabin was beautiful, but I don’t know why, the burrito at 7-11 sticks out.
Now I’m in the fourth grade. My elementary school would often get baseball games going at recess time, so I decided to bring my nice, new, aluminum baseball bat that I used at little league and at lunchtime we got a game going. We were all having fun. Then, at the end of recess the whistle blew, and it was time to go back to class. At that we all gathered our things and began heading back to class. But right at that moment one of my friends, approached me, “Can I borrow your bat?” “Don’t you have one?” I said.
“No, I don’t, and I wanted to play this weekend.” “I’ll have it back to you on Monday.”
I thought about it. It was Friday and he’s only going to have it a few days. And even though I needed it for my little league game that weekend, I could just borrow another player’s bat at the game. So, I told him he could borrow it for the weekend, as long as he returned it on Monday.
Chet was the kid at school who was always loud, who had to be the focus of attention. In his world he was bigger, stronger, and louder than anyone else. So anyhow, I lent him the baseball bat trusting in that he would return it on Monday. But when Monday came around, he didn’t have the bat. The reason, he forgot it. Same with Tuesday, and Wednesday, but when Thursday came around and he didn’t have the bat I explained to him that I had a game on Saturday and so I had to have it by Friday. He said ok. But when Friday rolled around still there was no bat. I decided to take recovering my batt on myself.
“Chet, I told you I needed the bat by today,” he said.
“Sorry, I’ll get it to you next week.”
“That’s what you said last week.” “I told you I have a game tomorrow, so I’ll just come by your house to pick it up. What’s your phone number? I didn’t know where Chet lived.
He was a Little hesitant but finally gave me his phone number. Ok, I’ll just call him up and get my bat, no problem, or would there be problems? After school I called up Chet.
“Chet, this is Nick, can I pick up my bat?”
He said again he would give it to me next week, but I said, “no, I’ll come get it now, what’s your address?”
He didn’t want to give me his address. Instead, he told me to meet me at one of the street corners near the school. I said ok and hung up the phone. I left my house and started making the walk to the meeting place to retrieve my bat. This is a common thing, people go to get stuff back they’ve lent out all the time, it happens every day, the stuff may be a little more worn but besides that, still in good working order. But would that be my baseball bat? Far from it.
I arrived at the corner but Chet wasn’t there yet. I waited a few minutes and finally Chet arrived and he had the bat. But what happened next still evades explanation.
“Hey Chet, I see you have my bat, can I have it?”
There was a big pole holding a street sign, meant for holding a street sign, but Chet, he found another use for it.
“Here’s your stupid baseball bat, Chet yelled as he hit the pole with the bat.
The bat made a loud metal “ping” sound as it struck the pole.
Now since it was an aluminum bat, hitting it against another metal would put a dent in it. Which it did. Chet just walked over to me and gave me my bat.
“Here’s your bat,” he said, as if nothing just happened.
I looked at my bat, it had a huge concave dent in it, my bat was ruined.
“Why did you put a dent in it?” I said to him, in a very perplexed manner.
“I don’t know, “he said, then turned around and ran off, probably back home.
I took my bat back home and told my parents what had happened, but they didn’t want to go over there and get into it with their parents. My parents are from the “hippie generation” But aside from that there is something I didn’t understand back then but I do now. Even though what Chet did was horrendous and is something about 99.9 percent of that school would never do, it was one of those freak things. For whatever reason Chet did that, it must have been a bigger reason, something at home. My parents didn’t want to go over to his house and have to explain to their son what he had just done to their son’s baseball bat. They didn’t want to open a can of worms. And it was after all just a baseball bat that can be replaced, so we just let it go. Looking back on it I think that was the right decision. Why sweat the small stuff?