Early Years – New Jersey

Born in Monmouth County New Jersey, I grew up the youngest of four siblings in the 300-year-old city of Eatontown. Eatontown was famous for its shopping mall (Monmouth Mall) and Army Base (Fort Monmouth). It is also notable for being close to the Jersey Shore towns of Red Bank, Asbury Park, and Sandy Hook. I never met Bruce Springsteen but did buy his album “Greetings from Asbury Park” many years later, ironically, in California.

Music would become important for me, thanks to the great music of 60’s brought home from Harmony House Records by my older sister and two older brothers. These records and a steady diet of TV informed my tastes in ways that persist till today.

Sunday night was always “a really big shew” on the Ed Sullivan Show. My family would huddle around the TV like in those black and white newsreels depicting the idyllic life of the 50’s and 60’s. It was all pretty standard. What was perfect for me was with older siblings I was able to straddle generations and develop broader tastes than others my age.

I remember attending the New York Worlds Fair in 64 & 65. This was a big deal. Walt Disney debuted, “It’s a Small World” and “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” there. This was the world of the big company sponsorship.  Monsanto, Dow, and GM showcased the endless possibilities they could accomplish in the future with their businesses. Donald Fagen captured this mood in the song International Geophysical Year (IGY). “What a beautiful world this will be, what a glorious time to be free! Perfect weather for a streamlined world, they’ll be Spandex jackets, one for everyone!”

 

There were also three family trips to FLA driving down I-95 hoping to stop off for fireworks at South of the Border. All the way was listening to top 40 AM radio. I think we knew all the words to Don McLean’s “American Pie” by the time we pulled into the brand new DisneyWorld.

Summers were spent at White Sands Beach Club in Long Branch. Not as glamorous as the beach club depicted in “Goodfellas” but, similar, if you catch my drift. There were also backyard games of baseball and regular pickup games of basketball.  The Stalkers had a basketball hoop in their driveway.

I attended game 3 of the 1969 World Series at Shea Stadium with my Dad. This was the game where Tommy Agee made one of his spectacular catches. This was the year of “The Amazing Mets'” Like most kids, I had baseball cards and knew all the players and their statistics. It was a thrill to be there and it is one of my fondest recollections of time with dad – the two of us having a full day together.

New Jersey was a good place to grow up.  Good schools, not much crime (at least in Monmouth County), and relatively mild weather. I stayed out of trouble and had nothing but fond memories of this time and place.

Move to California

At 13, with all my siblings gone, Dad transferred to California settling the family in the community of Palos Verdes Estates.  Palos Verdes Estates has grown to become known as one of the premier areas in the world to live (for those in-the-know). Back then, the area remained largely unheard of and underdeveloped.

The 70’s was a funky time for the Peninsula as real estate values had not yet reached the stratosphere they are in today.  Then it was an area of incredible rural beauty with great schools. There was room for kids to roam and the area was incredibly safe. Plus, the views of Catalina Island and the migrating whales were simply amazing.

This was the community The Falcon and Snowman called home (although no one had heard of them yet). Doctors and lawyers lived alongside defense contractor employees who had chosen the community primarily for its schools and lifestyle. The celebrities had yet to discover the area.

Fitness and Aerobics

When I turned 15 1/2, I got my first job working at the Palos Verdes Health Spa for the owner who was a former Mr. Universe. Years before the fitness boom, I learned the ins and outs of the gym business through this owner and his wife. This was southern California right on the verge of the fitness explosion, and I was bitten young by the workout bug.

Shortly after graduating high school, I began participating in and eventually instructing the new sport of “aerobics.” Inspired by Jazzercize  (a dance routine oriented exercise program taught primarily in auditoriums at schools and churches)  and fueled by the limitless energy of the aging baby boomer population who wanted to stay fit and eternally young – aerobics simply exploded into the fitness world. Classes and clubs were popping up everywhere. Health Clubs were converting their racquetball courts to aerobic rooms and they were filling up with people in colorful (and ridiculous) spandex and leg warmers.  Los Angeles was undeniably ground zero for this fitness explosion, and I was there, in the middle of it. I like to say I “invented” the single-single-double.

College

After attending Harbor College, Jim moved to Santa Barbara to attend Santa Barbara City College. Completing the “CA high school do-over program” Jim was accepted into the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB). Those in the know will tell you, UCSB is the most beautiful college campus in the world.  Situated on the water, with an average year round temperature of 70 degrees, UCSB was then the hidden gem of the UC school system. Most students who attended UCSB lived in the adjacent hippy town of Isla Vista and would commute to class on their bikes. Interesting IV tidbit – Kinkos was started in Isla Vista. Interesting tidbit number 2, anyone remembers Kinko’s?

The rest of the world eventually caught on to UCSB. Now is it home to numerous Noble laureates and is a top 20 public university. When I attended UCSB the vibe was, ahem, slightly less academic than today. For me it was all about living on Del Playa (ocean side of course), playing in a band (Mixed Emotion), working out obsessively (Golds Gym in Goleta)  and teaching aerobics (St. Marks Catholic Church). In between all that living I nearly completed a degree in Philosophy that emphasized film and religious study.

What do you do with a degree in Philosophy? Learn not to put descartes before the horse

The Bay Area – Cupertino

Leaving UCSB I moved up north to crash on my friend’s couch (actually kitchen floor) in Cupertino (birthplace of Apple Computer) and got a job managing the local health club. It was here that I realized I needed to make some changes. The health club industry, I thought, wasn’t going to provide the career I wanted. Incidentally, that club Jim managed, 24 Hour Nautilus, would later be bought by a young entrepreneur who changed the name to 24 Hour Fitness. This entrepreneur would grow this club to nearly 400 locations selling to a private equity firm for nearly 2 billion dollars. So much for my early business acumen.

Leaving Cupertino, I figured I’d take one last stab at prolonging my adolescence moving to Aspen CO. Wow, what a place. Champagne powder snow and their own airport. Red Mountain, Snowmass, and Ajax. I got a job running a small hotel (The Maroon Creek Lodge). I taught aerobics at the Snowmass Club and the Aspen Athletic Club. I also took classes at the great First Position Studio (RIP Bruce Mulfeld – best teacher ever).

I skied 88 days that season, and remembered thinking, “if I never ski again, I am good with that.” In the end though, as the multimillion dollar estates that remain empty most of the year attest, Aspen is a better place to visit than live. But what a place to have spent time!

Southern CA – Redondo Beach

Returning to Southern California, I soon realized I had painted myself into a corner that I needed to get serious. I returned to UCSB and finished the BA in one quarter – nearly always the oldest guy in the room. I was then ready to join everyone else the “real” world start working.

In what was one of the most curious cases of dumb luck, I landed a job in the midst of a recession working for the “recession proof”Japanese consumer electronics manufacturer JVC. I interviewed with the president of the branch, a Japanese man with limited English-speaking abilities. When he asked where I had gone to college, I answered, “Harbor College, then UCSB.” He nodded his head.

Months later a coworker asked me what it was like attending “Harvard College” as that was where the president had told everyone I had gone. Apparently, his English was extremely limited.

The irony here is that I had landed my first job out of college for no other reason than because the president thought he had attended Harvard. Funny how things work out.

I stayed at the job for 10 years. I was able to do many things while I was there. I worked in marketing, sales, management, and training. I coordinated trade shows and traveled all over the country. I got to hire and fire as a manager. Mainly, I was able to make great friends while gaining an excellent introduction to business developing great habits. Those years – being fresh out of college and starting a career in a growing business – showing up to an office, making sales, going to lunch, learning about how Japan does business were my salad days for sure. Many today might agree that the 1990’s were a magical time to be working in the USA.

More Aerobics

Concurrent with this position was the continued development of my aerobic teaching. I became a fixture at several Sports Connection clubs. Eventually, I settled finding a “home” at what became the Manhattan Beach Spectrum Club.

I was told my classes were unique. I blended complex choreography (often 200 + count routines) and high energy always peppered with doses of somewhat odd humor. My classes, inexplicably, developed a “following” that resulting is some very minor and quite dubious celebrity around town. “Hey, you’re my aerobics teacher!” he would hear at the oddest places. Restaurants, store, airports, you name it. I taught nearly 5,000 classes. That is a lot of people.

You know what? This will sound odd, but, those workouts, with those routines and all those incredibly fit folks following along, at times approached being art. Sounds pretentious? Maybe it is. But, ask anyone who was there it was special. A great time for workout junkies that once-in-a-lifetime.

As serendipity would have it – an indispensable ingredient to any life – I met my soul mate and the woman who would become my wife in one of those classes.

The whole relationship was magic. I proposed on one knee at Stanley Park in Vancouver BC. We married in a tiny ceremony on Zuma beach in Malibu CA. Honeymooned in London and Paris, We settled in Redondo Beach CA with our dog, Lucy, the Standard Poodle.

My wife suggested I pursue my dream to be a screenwriter. I took a year off from work, attended Robert McKee’s infamous “Story Seminar” and wrote two full-length screenplays. The first a romantic coming-of-age comedy “Heart to Hang on To.” Neither funny nor insightful, it was tossed upon the pile of 50,000 other screenplays registered with the Writers Guild that year. It went nowhere. My second screenplay, “Woody Turns 40,” set against the backdrop of the LA health club scene was even worse than Heart. I realized that screenwriting wasn’t for me and went back to the world of professional sales.

After a brief stint as an independent consultant, I landed a job with the business information giant, Dun & Bradstreet (D&B). This was a terrific job with a company loaded with talented people. D & B, however, was a company in major flux. When I joined, they had 11,000 employees. When I left, almost seven years later, they had 3900. Quite a shift. Every year a re-org, new managers, new territories and different accounts. While unnerving at times, I did gain exposure to some of the largest companies in the USA become educated with data and marketing.

Meanwhile, Lucy the Poodle taught Annette and me about caring for someone other than ourselves. This dog paved the way for us thinking about having a kid. In, retrospect, the DINK (double income no kids) life was getting a bit old.

This kid discussion soon took on a somewhat sinister tone, and a Faustian bargain was struck, “if we have the child, we have to move to slower paced place to raise him!”  Annette agreed, and the Stalkers packed up their 4-month-old baby and headed up the 5 Freeway settling initially in Roseville CA.

Goodbye Ocean – hello mountains!

So long Redondo Beach high temperature of 78 degrees – hello 110 freakin’ degree summer with the air conditioner running 24.7!

Farewell food genius Micheal Franks and our beloved Chez Melange – hello Chili’s and Macaroni Grill.

Seriously – cultural whiplash!

The real story for the move was hello Riley and parenting which is a story still be written and chronicled on my other blog!