Some of Pretzel's Unique Real-Life Experiences

This was at the request of a reader -- at several points in my life, I have started, but never finished, various books. 

This contains accounts of two of my true childhood life experiences. At some point, I'd hoped to come back and add-in more "what I learned" type stuff (also, to finish the rest of it!).  So this is just a little "sneak peek" of a book that may or may not ever be finished.

One of the biggest things I learned early on, as a result of these experiences (and others), is that I don't want to do anything to add to the unnecessary suffering of other people in this world; life is hard enough all by itself.

Chapter 1

I remember thinking that I could somehow stop the car -- that if I tensed up and used all my strength, it wouldn’t roll over us. It would just stop, like an empty shopping cart. At ten years old, my understanding of physics, and particularly of Newton’s first law of motion, was woefully inadequate. The car just didn’t look that dangerous as it coasted down the hill directly toward us. Not that I had anywhere near this much time to analyze what was happening -- from the time I turned around and saw the car until the time it hit me, maybe two seconds elapsed.

In retrospect, as time has aged the memory, I seem to remember heroically shoving my dog out of the way. However, as I examine the memory more closely, I’m genuinely not sure if that actually happened. I do know with certainty that my first thoughts were for the safety of my dog, Tasha… but I don’t know if I actually shoved her away, much as I’d like to believe I did. I think, instead, that I let go of her collar and tried to "catch" the car so it wouldn’t hit her. Needless to say, this was a mistake.

As it turned out, my dog instinctively understood physics better than I did: she ran off and out of the way. I, however, got knocked down and sucked under the car like a loose string under a vacuum cleaner. After the car plowed me to the road and began rolling over me, I remember seeing a tire coming directly toward my face, but I don’t know if I dodged it or not; my memory of what occurred in the seconds immediately after that is a blur.

The next moment I recall with clarity was sometime after my aunt jumped in and brought the runaway car to a stop. I was wedged under the middle of the car, and could see daylight out the side.  My view was the same as when you lower your head down to ground level to search for something you dropped under the car -- except that in my case, the car was physically on top of me, its weight pressing down on my body. It was disconcerting and terrifying, and for an instant I didn’t know which way was up.  

I soon realized I was on my back, but my legs felt pinned, or tangled in something.  They were jumbled up in the exhaust system somehow.  I couldn’t move them, but I was able to turn my head just enough to see my aunt’s face and tell her in panic, “I’m stuck!” She advised me not to struggle; to just stay put. Fat chance -- remaining pinned under this car sounded incredibly unappealing to me. I knew I was badly hurt, but I wanted to assess the specifics of my injuries -- I think that’s a basic human instinct. So I somehow untangled myself from the undercarriage and inched out the side. 

It was then that I saw my knee.

My left knee looked as if someone had taken an infinitely-sharp spoon and scooped out an approximately six-inch-long by one-inch-wide by one-inch-deep trench. Apparently I was very much in shock, since it was barely bleeding. I could see the white of my kneecap peeking out the edge of the wound, and beneath that, the layers of skin and muscle, cleanly piled one-on-top-of-the-other like sediment.  

After sliding myself out from under the car, my aunt wanted me to simply lie there on the street, but I was very uncomfortable. Unbeknownst to me, my back was a shredded, bloody mess and filled with loose gravel. The rear of the car had hit me first, and the front of the car was too low for me to squeeze under… so the car had pinned me beneath its center and dragged me, with my back sandwiched tightly to the rough macadam, over a distance of about 30 feet.

Legs trembling, I willed myself to stand up, and with one arm around my aunt’s neck, hobbled into the house. Once inside, the burst of adrenaline faded rapidly: I felt weak and dizzy, and had to lie down on the floor. I still had no idea how chewed-up my back was; I just knew it hurt an awful lot to lie there.  I kept thinking there must be something wrong with the carpet, since it felt jagged and sharp, like I was on a bed of broken glass.  

I also didn’t realize I had a deep, seven-inch-long gash across the very top of my head, which had split wide open to reveal the white of my skull. My head didn’t even hurt.  But I must have been a truly horrifying sight.  

Halfway across the room, my mother was on the phone, frantically talking to the emergency dispatcher. She was in tears and her hands were shaking uncontrollably.  I actually remember wondering why she was so upset, and thinking: I'm the one hurt, shouldn't I be the one crying?  Of course, at ten years old, I was simply incapable of comprehending what she was feeling.  It wasn't until many years later, after I had children of my own, that I recognized my physical pain was probably the easier of the two -- and when I look back on the situation now, I empathize more with my mother than I do with my young self.  But as a kid, there's just no way you can realize that there is simply no worse feeling than the burning sense of helplessness experienced by a parent whose child is mortally wounded… even when that child is you. 

My aunt was moving my hair around, and I wondered what on earth she was doing.   The only explanation I could think of was: She's trying to make me more presentable for the paramedics.  Thank God I had worn clean underwear that day!  I don’t know if parents still tell this silliness to kids (I know I don't), but some of my friends' parents would admonish us to wear clean underwear because God forbid we were involved in an accident on a day we hadn't changed our underwear. Imagine our embarrassment then, if the paramedics and doctors and news reporters saw we had worn dirty underwear!  The humiliation!  Anyway, years later I learned from my aunt that she was arranging my hair to try and hide the huge gash in my head, so my mother wouldn't have to see her son's skull.

I lay there in pain on the sandpaper floor for about 15 minutes waiting for the paramedics, while my mother grew more and more upset. Finally the phone rang: it was the paramedics. They couldn’t find our house.

My mother freaked out when she heard this. She screamed directions, and curse words, at the people on the phone. I'd never seen her like this. She hung up and called our one and only neighbor, Bob (we lived at the end of a dirt road in rural Pennsylvania, with our neighbor being the only other house on the road).  Bob graciously drove out to the main road and flagged down the paramedics. I may owe him my life. After another five or ten minutes, the EMTs finally arrived.

I’m not certain how old the two paramedics who arrived were; at ten years old, it’s difficult to judge the ages of people who aren’t your peers. But I think that one of them must have been in his early twenties. I remember quite clearly that his eyes were wide, his face was ashen white, and his hands were shaking considerably as he wrapped bandages around my knee. These were my first real clues that I must be in pretty bad shape. Even as a kid, I knew it was a bad sign when the professionals were unnerved by your injuries. He looked scared, and that scared me. For the first time in my admittedly-short life, I considered the possibility that I might die.

The other paramedic was involving himself with my head, while asking me seemingly inane questions. He asked me my name, which was an easy one to answer. Then he asked me what the date was, and I recall my exact reply: “I don’t keep track of the days during summer vacation.” I remember this because I felt as if I had given the right answer to a trick question… and under pressure, no less! To this day, I rarely have any idea what the date is.

At some point, the paramedics used surgical scissors to cut off the tattered remains of my shirt and my Adidas shorts. My once-clean underwear was soaked in blood… so much for the “clean underwear” argument.

After they loaded me into the ambulance, we drove off rapidly down our dirt road, sending up clouds of dust in our wake.  In case you're wondering at this point: the car which ran me over belonged to my aunt.  We had a large paved driveway, which was perhaps 80 yards in length; it was almost level at the very top, but steep in the middle and toward the bottom.  My aunt's car had been parked at the top, but slipped out of gear and drifted backwards onto the steep part of the driveway, where it picked up steam.  At that exact moment, I was standing near the bottom of the driveway (initially looking the wrong way, of course) because I'd just caught my dog, who'd escaped the house a few minutes earlier when my aunt arrived and opened the front door.  

As a kid, I always felt this was all kind of lame: I mean, who wants to tell people they got run over by their aunt's car in their own driveway?  I longed for a cooler, more glamorous back-story to my trauma, though I'm not sure what I thought that would be.  Maybe getting run over by the Trans Am from Smokey and the Bandit would have been cool to tell my friends about.  But alas, we take what we're given in life, and this decidedly uncool synchronicity of events led to me now riding down our old familiar dirt road in the back of a very unfamiliar ambulance.

As we reached the main road, the ambulance driver asked me if I'd like it if they turned the siren on, and I replied, “Sure, that would be cool.” I’m reasonably certain that he asked me this to make me think that the siren was my idea, in order to avoid scaring me further. Smart driver: it worked, and I didn’t figure out the psychology of his question until I was older. 

The memories that follow are a mish-mash of dramatic goings-on in the ER, and my timeline for them is fuzzy. It seemed like I was being x-rayed and injected and sutured and bandaged and wheeled around, only to be x-rayed again, for days. In reality, they were probably working on me for about six or seven hours.

I remember getting sent for x-rays several times, since the doctors were very worried that blood might be building up in my cranial cavity, and later, after they got a better look at my meat-grinder back, there was concern that I might have kidney damage. As it turned out, after much tense waiting, neither was an issue. All the while, we waited for the surgeon who was on call to show up, so he could stitch up my head and my knee. Here I was fortunate, in that the surgeon handling the ER that day was a cosmetic surgeon and he did a fantastic job with my stitches. My head needed sixty stitches to suture, and my knee needed fifty five -- but today the scars blend so well that people rarely notice them without being told (though to be fair, the scar on my head won't be visible unless I go bald).  

At some point during the ordeal, one of the doctors asked my mother if she needed a tranquilizer.

There are several other, somewhat disjointed, memories that I recall with great clarity even though I can’t pinpoint them on the timeline. One of these memories is of a procedure which, to this day, ranks as the most intense physical pain I have ever experienced. It is the pain by which all other pains are judged. I had two large third-degree burns on my upper legs: one covered the top of my right thigh, and the other covered the reverse of my left thigh. These burns were deep, and embedded with dirt and gravel from the road. The doctor explained what he had to do, and explained that there would be no anesthetic for the coming procedure. Then, as he picked up a large brush with thick stainless steel bristles, he apologized.

The brush resembled something which might be used to groom an exceptionally matted long-haired dog. The bristles were thick and stiff, and he began scouring my open and oozing burn wounds the way you might scour a rusty car fender in an effort to scrape all the rust off. He scrubbed and scraped hard, trying to remove the burned skin, and the layers of dirt and gravel which had buried themselves inside me. It hurt in a way I cannot describe; it was literally unimaginably painful. I arched my back and opened my mouth in a silent scream… but I made no sound. I had a strange sense of needing to rise above my circumstances. The nurse told me to scream, she touched my forehead and held my hand and said it was okay to scream; she said they expected me to scream. But I felt that if I screamed, it would be an admission of defeat: it would mean that the circumstances had gotten the better of me. So I writhed in agony but remained silent. The nurse later told my mother that I was not only the bravest little boy she had ever seen, but one of the bravest people of any age level that she had ever seen. That made me feel good. It was a tiny little reward on an otherwise crappy day.

After enduring these countless hours of new and different agonies, I was finally wheeled into a recovery room. A doctor came in to check my reflexes; apparently this was standard procedure for kids who failed to dodge cars in the first place! Kidding aside, I don’t know why my reflexes were important to them at this moment – maybe they were still concerned about brain damage. I do know that the doctor hit me on my good knee with one of those little rubber mallets that looks like a child’s play-version of a tomahawk, and then announced to my mother that my reflexes were too good, or too responsive, or something along those lines that didn’t make any sense to my ten-year-old brain. Good reflexes are, well, good, right? How can they be too good? I remember that my mother became quite annoyed with this doctor, probably as a result of his horrible bedside manner. At some point during their discussion, he, too, asked her if she wanted a tranquilizer.

Eventually, my father showed up. He had been in New York at a business meeting, and fortunately for him, had missed most of the drama. The doctors explained to him that I was a very lucky little boy: whatever sliced through my knee had actually brushed against a major artery, but failed to sever it. Another mere eighth of an inch deeper, and I would have bled to death at the scene. Same went for my head: just a fraction of an inch deeper and instead of trying to comfort me, he’d be planning my funeral.

Chapter 2

(Updated 12/23/13)

With Christmas upon us, I'm going to depart dramatically from my usual format, and share a true story from my childhood.  I'm spending the holiday with family (updates will be sporadic or non-existent for the next two weeks), and due to certain events which have transpired in my life over the past couple years, this weekend I've found myself increasingly lost in reflection -- and largely uninterested in the market.  This has left me with a strong desire to share something that goes beyond the market.

Though the true events recounted here began one spring many years ago, this is my Christmas story.


It was an unusually beautiful spring; I was 11 years old, just about to turn 12.  I had pretty much healed up okay from the car accident, and (for a change) my mother was the one going to see the doctor and I was accompanying her. She had some small, inexplicable lumps beneath the skin on her left arm.  The doctor decided to run some routine blood tests. None of this seemed like a big deal at the time.
A couple weeks later, my father sat me down and explained that my mother had leukemia. He told me this was a type of cancer that affects your bone marrow; he described it as "cancer that infects your whole body." He explained that there were two main forms of leukemia: acute and chronic. Apparently acute leukemia was the grimmer of the two, and virtually incurable.  It was also the form my mother had just been diagnosed with. She was 35.
Not long after, my mom was admitted to the hospital to undergo aggressive chemotherapy. She was to remain in the hospital full-time for several weeks; and the doctors inserted a catheter directly into her heart, which fed her a constant-drip of chemicals from an IV bag.  Apparently, this treatment weakened her immune system considerably, because when we visited her, we had to wear surgical masks and wash our hands a lot. The first time I saw her, it was a difficult sight: My mom was a kind, loving woman, but she was also very strong and tough. To see her pallid in a hospital gown, with needles and tape stuck all over her and monitors surrounding the bed, broke my heart.
One visit which stands out in my memory involved my little sister, who was five at the time. After we went up to the hospital room and said hi, I took my sister down to the gift shop and we purchased a tiny stuffed bear for my mom. When we returned to the room later, my father was virtually screaming at one of the nurses, and there was now a great deal of blood on the floor and sheets: my mother’s blood. My dad saw us and told us to wait in the hall -- but later he explained to me that the nurse had been changing my mom’s catheter and had made a mistake somehow, so that her blood was pumping directly out of her heart and all over everything. This must have been a frightening sight for my mom. No wonder dad was so angry.
Another vivid memory I have is when they let her out on a day trip to come visit us at home. She had to wear a surgical mask the whole time, and I still have a picture of her standing in the living room, just like everything in our lives was normal – except she’s wearing the mask, and her hair is very, very thin. At the time, she begged me not to take the photo… but today, I’m glad that I did.
Throughout this ordeal, my father would remind me that my mother’s disease was terminal and virtually incurable, and that I would be wise to begin accepting her fate. I refused to. I felt that giving up hope would be an act of betrayal of my mother – as if giving up hope meant giving up on her. Deep down, I think I secretly believed that my positive thinking might somehow make her better.

A few months later, the doctors announced -- with much fanfare -- that her leukemia was in remission! She had miraculously beaten the odds. My father seemed as surprised as the doctors. The only person who wasn’t surprised was me, and I still remember my father remarking, “You knew she’d get better the whole time, didn’t you?” I was glad that I hadn’t given up hope, as if my hope had somehow aided her recovery.  
Everyone was elated, and the entire extended family got together to celebrate.  In the midst of that happy moment, it was hard to believe that life could get any better. Of course, none of us could have foreseen that even though mom’s leukemia would not return, she would be dead before the year was out.

It was December 23rd – the eve of Christmas Eve. The tree was lighted and trimmed, the house was decorated, and the overall mood was very festive. My aunt Lori (my mother’s sister) and my Uncle Jack had taken my parents out to dinner, while my favorite uncle, John, was staying at home with my sister and me. My mother, at thirty-five years old, was the eldest child of my grandparents, while John was the youngest, at fourteen. The end result was that John was only two years older than I was, and we had spent a ridiculous amount of time together since the day I was born.  We felt (and treated each other) more like brothers than like uncle and nephew.
Ostensibly, we were supposed to be baby-sitting my now-six-year-old sister, but we'd spent the majority of our time ignoring her, and were instead choosing to play around on my dad’s new IBM PC.  This was in the days before Windows was invented, and I had become quite the self-taught programmer of Basic A.  We were working on creating a “choose your own adventure” style fantasy game. The computer was in the basement, where my dad kept his home office, so we had quarantined my sister to her room. We hoped she wasn’t getting into any trouble.
When my parents finally came home from dinner, my mom announced their return from upstairs, and I shouted my quick hello back up to her, from the bottom of the basement stairs. Then we resumed our programming.  We were in the midst of a storm of creative genius, after all, and could hardly be bothered to run all the way upstairs just to greet everyone.

Maybe twenty minutes later, my dad came racing – sprinting – down the stairs and grabbed the phone on his desk. His hands were shaking, and he was crying as he dialed the line.  John and I had been laughing about something when my dad bolted into the room, so were literally frozen mid-laugh and instantly tense, trying to figure out what was happening.  Then my dad started speaking urgently, in a rough and trembling voice I didn't recognize as his: “I need an ambulance right away, my wife just dropped to the floor…” John and I didn’t hear the rest; we were already running up the stairs.

We got to the top of the stairs and stood there in the kitchen for a moment, confused about what to do next. We heard a horrible sound coming from the next room – a loud, raspy sound that was part groan, part rattled breathing. I didn’t know what to make of it. To me, it sounded like someone choking on the air in their own lungs.
Walking very cautiously now, frightened of what we might find, we rounded the corner that led to the family room. We stopped in the threshold, and my mind tried to make sense of what I was seeing. My mother was lying on the floor, and my Uncle Jack, who was a medical intern, was kneeling next to her. As he pushed down on her diaphragm, the horrible choking sound I had heard earlier escaped from my mom’s motionless lips. I couldn’t understand this at all; at first I thought Jack was intentionally hurting her. My brain didn’t register this as CPR. We watched, stunned, for a few seconds before Jack looked up, saw us, and shouted, “Jesus Christ, Lori, get the kids out of the room!” My aunt looked as shocked as we were. She wandered over, her eyes glazed, and led us back to the kitchen. My sister joined us from somewhere, and the four of us sat down at the table.

“What’s happening?” I asked Lori, “Is mom choking?”

Lori paused for a moment before replying, “Your mom is having a heart attack." I'm tempted to say this was stated as gently as possible, but it was clear Lori was badly shaken-up and it was said more with a tone of "this-can’t-be-happening" disbelief.

I wanted to know if mom would be okay; Lori hoped so. I wanted to know how it had happened; Lori said they weren’t doing anything, just watching TV, when suddenly my mom fell over, off the couch and onto the floor.  
I wanted to know why.  Lori said the chemicals from the chemotherapy had weakened my mom's heart.

Shortly thereafter, the paramedics arrived. We couldn’t see what was happening, because someone had shut the parlor doors which led out of the kitchen. So we sat there without speaking, almost holding our breath; we were all listening intently, trying to catch clues which would tell us how the situation was progressing. 
There were broken bits of sound coming from the other rooms -- sounds that didn't belong in our home at Christmas: strangers talking in urgent voices; the wheels of a gurney humming across the wooden floor; the occasional static-beep of a walkie-talkie.  
I have no idea how much time elapsed, but throughout this entire ordeal, none of us spoke a single word.

After a time, we heard what sounded like hundreds of loud footsteps: first pounding, then muffled over my mom’s prized oriental rug, and then pounding again across the wood floor and out of the house. Finally, the ambulance siren: loud at first, but gradually retreating... and eventually swallowed completely by the cold winter night.
The house was suddenly very quiet and lonely.

My dad opened the parlor doors from the other side, and it was almost a shock to see the doors could be opened at all.  The doors had become a wall in my mind; the dividing line between those who could do something to help, and those who waited helplessly.  
My dad sat down with us briefly, then announced he was headed to the hospital -- but that everything would be okay: the paramedics had gotten mom's heart beating again. I breathed the most heart-felt sigh of relief of my entire life.  We all did.  Then we looked around at each other and smiled in reassurance: Everything was going to be alright after all! I imagined that tomorrow we'd get to visit mom at the hospital (a scene I could picture with ease), and things would be fine; maybe my sister and I would even buy her another stuffed teddy bear.  It could become a family tradition!
It had been a long, exhausting evening, and it was pushing on toward midnight. John and I retired to my room, and I fell asleep almost instantly.

A few hours later, I was awakened by my father's presence. He was sitting on the edge of my bed, in silence at first.  Only a thin sliver of light seeped in through my slightly-open bedroom door, yet I could see that his eyes were moist.  I became aware of the murmur of other voices coming from the living room.  It was still dark, so I knew the sun hadn't risen yet; I glanced at the clock: 3:15 a.m.  It was officially Christmas Eve.
“How is she?” I asked, “How’s mom?”

He put his hand on my shoulder, and his hand trembled.  It was obvious he was in pain, and wrestling with exactly what he should say.  Finally, he said simply, “I’m sorry, Jason." Then his voice cracked as he continued, "Your mom didn’t make it.”
I wasn't ready to hear this, and my heart certainly wasn't willing to accept it immediately -- so my mind feigned ignorance and pleaded misunderstanding.  
I asked him, “What do you mean?”  As if there could be any different meanings to his words. 
There had to be some better meaning -- a good meaning.  My question was a delay tactic.  It was a way to live one final instant, however brief, in a world where everything was the way it should be.  Our family was going to celebrate Christmas tomorrow!  
I began picturing it immediately, before he could answer and destroy everything:  Mom would unwrap the humble presents I'd give her, while graciously pretending they were exactly what she’d wanted... and actually, I was pretty sure she'd genuinely like the tea pot I bought her (with my own money), because it matched some tea cups she had.  I'd waited anxiously since Black Friday to find out if she would like it -- but finally I would know for sure!  Then in the afternoon, we'd drive over to see grandma and grandpa...
“Your mother died at the hospital,” he said softly.
And with those six quiet words, there was no further escape.  The good world I so desperately wanted to keep living in began to crumble, reducing itself to dust at an alarming speed.  I was left grasping at its remains, as my twelve-year-old mind recoiled from this new reality and sought frantically to put the old world back together.   
But as you learn in those life-shattering moments, that internal dust is both ice-cold and razor-sharp.  It is, after all, the shards of a broken life -- so the tighter you try to grasp it, the more it cuts you and makes you bleed.  You are reflexively forced to release it, even though you don't want to... and this is when you start to realize it can never be repaired.

Feeling as if someone just pulled the chair out from under you, you begin a sort of internal free-fall into the fresh hole in your heart where your loved one used to be.  And while you may not yet grasp the finality, the cold reality does truly begin to hit you -- and with gale force.

I didn’t have a reaction for this.  In the struggle to process these intense feelings, my emotional gears were exceeding their design capacity, and they began to grind together in a horrible, increasingly unbearable cacophony.  I searched frantically for an internal escape valve, an overload switch, an emergency shutoff -- something.  Then suddenly, almost as quickly as it had begun, my emotional machinery jammed entirely.  Everything froze up.  It turns out some feelings are so intense as to be self-limiting. 
There was internal silence, and an unusual sort of peace crept over me. I was shocked into a deep, hollow numbness.  I gradually became aware that I was still lying in my bed, in my dark room -- and it was still Christmas Eve. 
I felt as if I'd just traveled a thousand miles over a hundred years.  But my dad hadn't moved and, despite my rapid and intense internal journey, he, too, was still there on the edge of my bed.  Nothing had changed from a minute ago.  
Everything had changed.  

He asked if I was okay, if I needed to talk, and I said flatly, “No, I'm fine. I’m going back to sleep.”  My complete lack of observable reaction probably confused and concerned him, so he continued sitting there for a while, trying to be reassuring.  I wanted him to leave so I could fall back asleep -- maybe when I woke up later, life would have magically become normal again. I noticed that John was no longer sleeping on the floor.  There were still numerous voices, and the sound of someone crying loudly, coming from the living room. Eventually my dad stood up reluctantly and walked out of my room, softly closing the door behind him. 

I was alone in the darkness.  I remember lying on my back and staring up into the dark void where I knew my ceiling was.  I didn't want to believe my dad; it just didn't seem possible.  How could life change this dramatically in the span of only a few hours?  But I knew it was true -- intellectually, if not emotionally just yet.  
And when I finally did shut my eyes, the dark void remained. 

A short while later, I heard him yelling at someone, “You never showed her this much love when she was alive!” Then I fell asleep.


At the funeral, all I could think about was how I never went upstairs to greet her when she came home.  I desperately wanted to see her smiling face again, to give her that one last hug. But I was too busy with some stupid computer program. I felt somehow cheated -- not by fate, but by my own doing.  She had been alive when she came home that night, and I had missed it.

And I had missed her last moments on earth not due to some circumstance beyond my control, but because I chose not to spend that time with her. I learned a valuable lesson about making choices, and living with the consequences of those seemingly-small choices. To this day, I still regret not going upstairs to see her.  My final memory of her is wanting: one last hello, echoed coldly up at her from the bottom of the basement stairs.
In the months that followed, when no one was around, I would sometimes sit at the bottom of that dimly-lit and slightly-musty staircase, listening intently -- hoping to hear the sound of her heels (the ones she wore to dinner that last night) clacking against the kitchen floor as she approached.  Or maybe hoping I would catch a glimpse of her shadow as it fluttered briefly into the stairwell when she passed by.  Or maybe just hoping that something, anything, would happen to fill the silences which grew deafening in her absence.

I waited for hours.  She never came. 
But in those moments, I vowed to never take the people I love for granted again.  

There was no way I could know this at the time, but twenty-seven years later, fate would test that vow. And the next time, I would pass that test. (Yet another story for another time, perhaps.)
We all work to maintain stability in our lives, and once we achieve it, it's not unusual for it to continue for long stretches.  The trouble begins because it's human nature to take familiar things for granted.  Just like investors near the end of a bull market, we often become complacent about our lives during times of prosperity. 

Fate is fickle.  Lives can and do change in an instant.  I've personally never been able to put this concept down any more succinctly than Robert Herrick did in the 17th century, when he admonished us "to make much of time" and wrote:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:

And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.


Although we may feel the urge to become complacent about the future, life makes us one guarantee, and one guarantee only:  this exact present moment.  There really is no such thing as the future, except in our imaginations.  This truth is even echoed to us regarding equities: "Past performance is no guarantee of future results."  But in life's case, past performance is no guarantee of future. Period.  

My point is not to be fatalistic.  Quite the opposite: My point is that we should strive to avoid complacency in our approach toward life in general.  During times of prosperity, it's easy to fall into patterns which are based on assumptions of a future which may never materialize.  We put off phone calls, visits, and time with loved ones based on such assumptions.  We prefer not to consider that by the time the future becomes the present, it may no longer be in a form that's even recognizable to us today. 

If one wishes to avoid regrets, then the time to examine our complacency and challenge our assumptions is right now -- because while the future is always imaginary, with each successive tick of the clock "now" becomes part of the past.  And that past is immutable.

We're goal-driven creatures, so we're often tempted to focus on the future as some sort of reward for the present.  I think, in this regard, we can take a lesson from the end of the rainbow -- the "end result reward" is an illusion.  There is no true end, not in the sense we want to believe.  There's no perfection, no absolute completion, no "game over, baby, I beat life; can't wait 'til they come out with the sequel!"

If we can't find meaning right now, here in the present, then we never will.  After all, when you finally get to the future, what do you actually discover?  You discover it's still the present.  There is nothing else.

So how do we work toward our goals without becoming obsessed with the future and with end results?  These are questions which have challenged philosophers since the beginning of time, and I certainly don't have all the answers.  I can't promise my solutions are the best or only solutions, but I can say I've found they work when I can remain consistent in them. 

My solution starts with the knowledge that the future isn't guaranteed, only the present is guaranteed.  Since I know this to be true, I am thus able to determine that ideals which place the future ahead of the present, such as "the end justifies the means," are completely backwards.

What I believe is: The means justify the end.

In other words, if you do your best, live your life with as much honor and integrity as you possibly can, treat others as well as you can, and still fail in the end -- then that's okay. You have done what you were put here to do. The "end results" are out of your control, and in essence, none of your business. 

If you value doing things right above results, you will generally still be a great achiever, but you will not do so at the expense of other people.  If it can't be done right, if it can't be won fair and square, then forget it; you don't need it.  Life has something better for you, you just haven't recognized it yet. 

And there's another factor which tells us why we must value right action above results, which is:  Doing good things does not guarantee good results.  An obvious example would be a fireman who charges into a burning building to save a child, but loses his own life in the process.  

If we primarily focus on end results, all too frequently we will fail to take the risks which define a good life (most of the time these are emotional risks as opposed to physical).  We must thus take right action for its own sake, not for the end result, or we have no guiding principle and will quickly become lost in situational ethics.  
Despite earlier mention of failure, I've found this approach usually leads to less mistakes and improved performance -- partially because we're not wasting energy trying to control something imaginary which will never exist (the future).  We prioritize more accurately when we're focused on reality (the present).

And since the dual-focus is on doing the right thing at all times, we have a constant lodestar to guide us whenever there's a choice between two paths.  If fate steps in later and unexpectedly rips your life apart and leaves you exposed and naked with nowhere to turn, at the end of it all, you will actually still have everything you started with -- the only thing that's truly yours in this world: your own self-respect.  It will survive because you'll have very few regrets regarding your own actions.  To the contrary, you will find your past to be a source of strength.

Self-respect brings us to another concept which I believe modern pop philosophy has completely backwards:  "We must first love ourselves before we can love others."  This has become such common "wisdom" as to be cliche, and yet I cringe every time I hear it.  As I see it, it's a non-sequitur.  I don't know about you, but I love and respect myself the most when I'm a good person; and to me, that means being a loving person.  When I catch myself behaving selfishly, it often costs me a bit of self-respect.  So that tells me I cannot love myself "first" -- in fact, putting myself first is the very thing that can prevent me from loving myself.

I think the problem comes with our understanding of love; and I believe we over-complicate this issue because we have no separate terminology for emotional love vs. principled love.  As I see it: love is about doing what's best for the other person, plain and simple.  Sometimes this takes the form of romance, sometimes this take the form of empathy, sometimes it takes the form of discipline, or "tough love," etc..  Love is adaptable.  The common thread lies not in a specific action, but in the fact that love always thinks of the other's needs first and of its own desires second.

So when it comes to "putting ourselves first," I think love is the wrong ideal for that concept.  Where I partially agree is this: If we're not feeding our inner selves properly and on the right things, then we won't have the strength to truly love other people.  Ultimately though, I believe these concepts are inseparably intertwined, so would change the "love yourself first" concept to, perhaps: 

"Nourishing ourselves allows us to love and nourish others, while loving others allows us to love and nourish ourselves."  

It's a positive feedback loop; each step strengthens, and at the same time completes, the other. Simply advocating we "love ourselves before we love others" is to advocate the impossible.  To draw analogy from the physical world: there is no such thing as an "inside" without an "outside," and there's no such thing as an outside without an inside.  These components cannot even exist individually; they can only exist and function as a whole.

Anyway... as I see it, at the end of it all, what more can we really hope for but a loving life lived well and with honor?


So that's my Christmas story, and a few of my life-long reflections on the experience.  My hope is that there's something in there that someone else may find of value, too. 

Happy Holidays to all my readers, in whatever form that celebration means to you.  I'll return shortly after the start of the New Year (of course: barring the unforeseeable future!) with more charts and market projections.  In the meantime, best wishes to everyone for a safe and enjoyable holiday.

And if you're reading this from the next life somehow:  Merry Christmas, Mom.  


  1. wow. I have a much more profound understanding and, perhaps more importantly, respect for you pretz. After reading those two chapters, I just wondered to myself, where's the rest? Anyhow, this really puts things in perspective. Stocks and money can come and go but there are higher, infinitely more important things in life. I hope one day I can read more of this story. Thanks for sharing it.


    ps. You are a very profound and talented writer.

  2. Thanks, Mav, that's nice to hear -- I guess on some level I always wondered if people would even be interested in hearing my story. I'm not sure why I decided to share this tonight; it's not something I've let many read.

    But yes, money is a means, never an end. One of the things I like to think I've learned, and would hope to share (if I ever finish the book!) is that the saying "the ends justify the means" is completely backwards.

    What I believe is: The *means* justify the ends.

    In other words, if you do your best, live your life with as much honor and integrity as you possibly can, treat others as well as you can, and *still fail* in the end -- then that's okay. You have done what you were put here to do. The "end results" are out of your control, and in essense, none of your business.

    If you value doing things *right* above results, you will generally still be a great achiever, but you will not do so at the expense of other poeple.

    Anyway, it's not like I never make mistakes, but if we don't know what we're aiming at, we'll certainly never hit it.

  3. Great stories brilliantly conveyed

  4. Thanks for posting that, PL.

    And this: "If you value doing things *right* above results, you will generally still be a great achiever, but you will not do so at the expense of other poeple. ", could be by philosophy for life.


  5. Thanks guys -- surprised people are actually reading it, lol. :)

  6. Needed that today, thanks for sharing PL.

  7. You are a very talented writer Mr Pretz! When the markets calm down and you have some spare time due to less charting pressure, I hope you find the time to complete it.

    And nowadays you can publish it yourself in PDF and sell it here on your blog...


  8. Pretzel - I am speechless. The way you wrote it, one can actually relive your experience with your dear mother's passing. What better time to start this series than the impending holiday season.

  9. Thanks, everyone.

    And Triumph, yes, I suppose it is an appropriate "message" for the holiday season. It's so deeply personal to me, I honestly hadn't thought of it in those terms.

  10. P, I am short on time and have not read this yet. Very much looking forward to it. Please keep it available for a while. Thanks, J

  11. I am touched by this article. Indeed, one should cherish every moment with those he loves at every stage of his journey.

    You are such a good writer as well as a good technical analyst in the financial markets.

    I really enjoy reading your articles.

  12. PL,

    You are truly an amazing person in many respects. My wife says I am a very good judge of character. You my friend are a man of the highest character. Please finish your book when you get the time. It is a pleasure to have discovered you and your blog.


    Daniel B

  13. You are most welcome.

    Daniel B

  14. Just read your comments and was deeply moved. Lost my mom at young age of 43 to cancer. I know the trauma and the hopes, trials, and sorrows. But I also know that at times, it is what drives me. Thanks for your openness.

  15. Sorry for your loss, Colorado.

    It does drive one, in a way. That experience, and the lessons I learned through it, continue to motivate me to find meaning in suffering. To see the hardships of life not as random and purposeless, but as learning experiences which can ultimately be used to make oneself into a better person.

  16. Please keep writing... and publish your book.

  17. One of the things I learned early on, as a result of these experiences (and others), is that I don't want to do anything to *add* to the unnecessary suffering of others in this world; life is hard enough all by itself. - This ! I don't know how many people manage to miss that fact..

  18. Hi Pretzel, I just read this page now. Thanks for sharing this.

  19. hey pl, thank you for opening a window into who you are and sharing some of the experiences that have shaped you. you seem like a man with a great deal of wisdom and perspective. i would imagine this time of year is always bittersweet for you. at the end of the day trading isn't life or death, but i think it's easy to lose sight of that sometimes.

  20. Thank you for sharing yourself so openly. The pain and suffering you expressed is just one of the reasons I became a nurse, to make terrible situations a little less terrible. I have always mourned for the family's loss because they are the one's who bear the pain. The loved one has moved on to a peaceful place. Their burdens and pains are no more. That is the comfort I would try to share with the families.

  21. Wow. Thanks for sharing this. I laughed and almost cried too. Your are an amazing writer, I felt like I was there. I love the way you brought it all home and the point you made about making choices. Your outlook is a breath of fresh air. When you speak of vowing to be there for your family it made me think of an amazing movie that hasn't been out all that long called COURAGEOUS. If you've never seen it I highly recommend it.

  22. Hi Pretzel,

    I'm so impressed with your writing in just 2 chapters. I believe you have more experiences along the way in search of a career and being a good analyst in this financial market. I hope you have completed the book by now and published it.

    Perfect wisdom!
    "One of the things I learned early on, as a result of these experiences (and others), is that I don't want to do anything to *add* to the unnecessary suffering of others in this world; life is hard enough all by itself."

    "In other words, if you do your best, live your life with as much honor and integrity as you possibly can, treat others as well as you can, and *still fail* in the end -- then that's okay. You have done what you were put here to do. The "end results" are out of your control, and in essense, none of your business.

    If you value doing things *right* above results, you will generally still be a great achiever, but you will not do so at the expense of other poeple. "

  23. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  24. Well said!

    "In other words, if you do your best, live your life with as much honor and integrity as you possibly can, treat others as well as you can, and *still fail* in the end -- then that's okay. You have done what you were put here to do. The "end results" are out of your control, and in essense, none of your business.

    If you value doing things *right* above results, you will generally still be a great achiever, but you will not do so at the expense of other poeple. "