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Self indulgent history

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 vital for me, thanks to the great music of the 60s brought home from Harmony House Records by my older sister and two older brothers. These records and a steady TV diet informed my tastes in ways that persist until 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 50s and 60s. It was all pretty standard.

Except, of course, the darker reality just below the veneer. While not exactly “Blue Velvet,” – there were elements. I suspect these darker elements were found in most families during that time. That’s why everything busted loose. That’s why absurd as “Blue Velvet” was, and it made sense.

Still, there was plenty of goodness. Perfect for me had older siblings. With them, I could straddle generations and develop broader interests and tastes than others my age. I read their books and listened to their music.

I also remember attending the New York Worlds Fair in 64 & 65. This was a big deal and was a real flashpoint. Walt Disney debuted “It’s a Small World” and “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” there. The world’s fair painted a world with the help the big company sponsorships.  Monsanto, Dow, and GM showcased the endless possibilities corporations could accomplish in the future with their profits.

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 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.

The Stalker family spent summers 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 whole day together.

New Jersey was an excellent place to grow up.  There are 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 70s 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 place 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. I’m pretty sure “Reverend Ike” lived there. Not exactly an “A-lister,” but he was famous.

Fitness and Aerobics

When I turned 15 1/2, I got my first job working at the Palos Verdes Health Spa for the owner, a former Mr. Universe.  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. I was bitten young by the workout bug at the perfect time to see the business develop and flourish, becoming a cultural phenomenon.

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 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. I didn’t. But given few know (or care) what a single-single-double is, this boast remains a good one.

College

After attending Harbor College, I moved to Santa Barbara to attend Santa Barbara City College. After completing the “California lame high school do-over program,” I was accepted into the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB). This was kind of amazing. It was a genuine turnaround.

Those in the know will tell you that 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 founded in IV and grew to have hundreds of locations and sold to FedEx for billions.

The rest of the world eventually caught on to UCSB. Now it is home to numerous Noble laureates and is a top 40 public university. When I attended UCSB, the vibe was slightly less academic than today. For me, my life 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 bike riding everywhere), 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 profound changes.

The health club industry, I thought, wasn’t going to provide the career I wanted. That club Jim managed was 24 Hour Nautilus, which was 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 almost 2 billion dollars. So much for my early business acumen.

Leaving Cupertino, I figured I’d take one last stab at prolonging my adolescence by moving to Aspen, CO. Wow, what a place. Champagne powder snow and their 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 excellent 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 in the “real” world and start working.

In what was one of the most curious cases of dumb luck, I landed a job amid a recession working for the “recession-proof “Japanese consumer electronics manufacturer JVC. I interviewed the branch president, 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 ten 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 be a boss as a manager. Mainly, I made great friends while gaining an excellent introduction to business and developing great habits.

Those years – I think, are what are called “salad days.” I was fresh out of college, starting a career in a growing business and showing up at an office. I made sales, went to lunch, and learned how Japan does business. A special time.  Many who remember might agree that the period, the 1990s, was a magical time to be working in the USA.

YET More Aerobics

Concurrent with this position was the continued obsession with 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) with a high-energy delivery, always peppered with doses of somewhat odd humor. My classes inexplicably developed a “following” that resulted in a very minor and quite dubious celebrity around town. “Hey, you’re my aerobics teacher!” I would hear at the oddest places. Restaurants, stores, airports, you name it. In total, I suspect I taught nearly 5,000 classes. That is a lot of classes.

You know what? This will sound odd and pretentious, but those workouts, with those complex routines with incredibly fit folks following along precisely, approached being “art.” Ridiculous? Maybe. But, ask anyone who was there, it was special—a great time for workout junkies that will never be seen again.

As luck 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 small 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 is a romantic coming-of-age comedy, “Heart to Hang on To.” It was neither funny nor insightful; the screenplay was tossed upon the pile of 50,000 other scripts registered with the Writers Guild that year. It went nowhere. My second screenplay, “Woody Turns 40,” set against the LA health club scene backdrop, was even worse than Heart. I realized that screenwriting wasn’t for me and went back to the world of professional sales.

Part of my soul died.

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, and the company was 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 and earned a priceless education in 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 to think 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 having a child struck a Faustian bargain, “if we have the child, we have to move to a 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 of the move was hello Riley and parenting and a slight return of my soul.