Some people seem to have life all planned out by the time they get out of diapers. I keep reading about them all the time: Writers who wanted to write the minute they saw their first crayon; mathematicians who were doing algebra problems while the rest of us were trying to learn the multiplication tables; musicians playing the violin while they were too young to spell do, re, mi, and fa; and kids who were playing doctor with all the neighborhood girls by the time they were 6.
Well, that last group may not have been planning a career, though many of them no doubt found a lifetime hobby.
On the other hand, come to think of it ...
Well, forget that. The point is that I didn’t have a clue what I was going to be when I “grew up.” I was just out there, doing whatever came along from day to day. Never planned a thing.
Now that my life is nearing its end, and I look back, it makes me think of the ball in a pinball machine. Know what I mean? There I was, rolling downhill through life. A bumper showed up. Bing! Off to one side. Another bumper. Bang! Off to the other side! Another bumper. Bam! Up! Another one. Boom! Down!
That’s the way life has been for me. Bing! Bang! Bam! Boom!
Of course, on some days it was just a quiet roll downhill, a drop through the discard slot, and a low thud. That’s even easier.
But planning? Trying to mess around with fate?
A little maybe ... but not the way I’ve seen others do it.
In the summer between my freshman and sophomore years I had the worst teenage job on the planet. Left to me, I would have had the same job every summer until I graduated from high school. I worked in the dining room of a ritzy resort hotel as a “bun boy.” Roped around my neck was a stainless steel box with a charcoal fire in its base and a roll top that rolled opened to show tiny little buns. Dressed in a white cotton jacket, white gloves, and chef’s hat, I went to each snooty patron, flipped open the roll top with a thumb, and said, “Would you care for a bun, madam?”
Or “sir” — if I could tell the difference. Ridiculous!
I hated livin’ in that dumb old hotel too. So the first time I got a day off, I biked home to get a break from that %$#@! place.
Purely by chance, Jerry Davis, a good friend, happened by.
“Hey, Garrett,” he said. “Wanna go out to the beach with me?
“I’m gonna apply for a job. Maybe they’ll hire you too.”
Fat chance. Jobs at Ocean Beach, a teenager’s paradise, went to the same guys every year. Jobs were few and far between, and you had to know someone to even be considered. I told Jerry no.
“C’mon, Garrett,” he said. “Whatta ya got to lose?”
So I risked 5 cents on a bus ride and ended up with a job every summer for four years, one that paid a decent wage and gave me free access to everything on the beach — including all those lovely out-of-town dolls. My! My! Did I get my nickel’s worth!
Jerry? They tried us both out for a few days, and kept me on.
Poor Jerry. No luck. Died at 35. I’ve told you about it. Sad!
I’ve also told you about the time I walked into a nice restaurant in Reykjavik, Iceland, turned my head for an instant, and knocked a beautiful blue-eyed, blond thing right on her fanny. My reward for stupidity was meeting a Norwegian beauty who for some odd reason took a liking to me right there and then.
As a result, I was the only guy in my outfit who ever met an Icelandic girl, much less had an Icelandic girlfriend.
Did I mention that they believe in free love up there?
Try having breakfast with your girlfriend’s family some day.
The very last thing I ever thought I would become was a teacher. I became one by needing to get into a tech school before the Air Force caught up with me for wriggling — legally but a bit too cleverly — out of something. I had just one day to either get off that base or into some technical school, where I would be safe because of Air Force regulations. I could not get off the base, but there was a school on base. I didn’t even know what it was, but I fast-talked my way into it.
Guess what? That’s where I learned how to teach.
Which I did, in the Air Force and as a civilian on and off for more than 30 years. And I loved it! It suited me perfectly.
Years later, unhappy with a base I was on, I strolled through the door of Base Personnel and casually asked a friend if there was any chance of getting a transfer to someplace else.
“Too bad you don’t have a top secret clearance,” he said. “We’re going to have to bring a guy in your field all the way from the States to go to one of our small special service outfits.”
“Says who I don’t?”
Yes, I had a top secret clearance, a rarity, and something that won me a great job in support of the U-2 Program.
You know where I got that top secret clearance?
This’ll kill you.
In the same program I wriggled out of four years earlier.
So I met my beloved wife in Karachi, Pakistan, because I just happened to wander into Personnel one day and ask a question.
Tell me there’s not a God.
The very best piece of unplanned good luck I’ve run into in a long time happened just a few months ago. I was feeling terrible. Half dead. No energy. But no specific symptoms.
It was evening. I had gotten Lolly into bed and was getting ready to go to bed myself when my next door neighbor came over with her sister-in-law, a nurse. I forget why they dropped in, but whatever it was, I remember I told them I was on my way to bed.
The nurse looked at me and said I didn’t look very good. I agreed, and said that I planned to call the doctor in the morning, but she said she would like to take my temperature — why I still do not know. She took it. I had a temperature well over 104. In the ambulance to PRMC it kept creeping up.
The consensus of opinion is that if I had gone to bed that night I probably would have never woken up. I had a MRSA infection in a bone in my left foot. It took six weeks of injections of some esoteric antibiotic through a little tube inserted into my left biceps and curved around to my heart just to control it. But the MRSA infection refused to be cured, so I was taken to a bone specialist in the Valley to have a test for a possible amputation.
He took a biopsy. And immediately — on the way home that day — my temperature dropped to normal. I felt like a new man.
Taking out two small cores of bone for a biopsy, the doctor had by incredibly good luck taken out the last bit of infection.
And so, Johnny. I bid you a purely accidental good day.