I was born on June 8th, 1954 to Shirley Jean McCarty and William Monroe McCarty. It was a marriage of love. They lived on a boat and cycled in Europe before I was born. But the marriage was short lived and they were divorced when I was a few years old. Mom went to live with her grandmother, Ruby Young, and Ruby took care of me while mom worked. Ruby and I had a special love for each other that lasted her lifetime.
Mom was attractive and vivacious and married again after a few years to Ernie Vallas. Ernie was Greek from a first generation Greek family. His family disowned him for marrying a “fallen woman.” But he was kind to me for a few years until the birth of my sister, Stacey, and then my brother, Jimmy. He took his family to the east coast hoping the children would ingratiate him with his family, and it worked. Except for me. I was shunned, an unforgettable reminder of my mom’s history.
My brother and sister could do no wrong, and I was always catching it. He believed in the belt, and did not hesitate to use it. I ran away dozens of times.
The first kiss of my life was with the neighbors daughter, at a party at our house. Ernie saw it and came running out and asked me what I was doing. I said “nothing”, and he beat me for lying. But I had become stoic and righteous, and refused to give him the satisfaction of making me cry.
There was trouble on other fronts. My mom was ambitious and wanted to become a teacher and went to school and got her masters over Ernie’s protests. He felt that to have a wife that worked would be misunderstood to mean that he could not provide for his family.
Ernie for some reason wanted to adopt me. Mom refused to let him. Until my freshman year of high school I thought that Ernie was my father. William, or Bill, sent me presents for Christmas and my birthday which really annoyed Ernie. But I did not know that he was my father, he was just “that nice man in SanDiego.”
At one point unbeknownst to me, my mother called Bill and begged him to take me, saying that Ernie was killing me. But Bill had remarried, and his wife Pat had put him through law school. Pat said that if Bill took me, she would divorce him. So he told mom No. His only pleasure in his marriage to Pat was in the fulfillment of his duty, and their marriage was formal and stiff and postured. Bill later told me that that was a decision he regretted his entire life.
But Bill would fly me down to SanDiego and take me camping in Mexico with his friend Wayne. This was one of my greatest pleasures. When he was at work I would hide in the study at their home, because Carol, Pat’s daughter, was so awful to me.
I was very fortunate to have as neighbors Lori and Rodger Stolze. Their son Mike was my age and we hung out together. They were a normal family. This enabled me to put my situation in perspective and realize that my home life was not normal, and that distancing kept me sane.
Ernie bought my food and provided a bed, but as he told me, beyond that it was up to me. So I always worked, starting with delivering the Herald Examiner. I was never without a job all through junior high and high school. I did develop a good work ethic, for which I have always been grateful.
In junior high they tested intelligence and I was third in my school. This surprised the administration and they had a conference with Jean and Ernie to discuss my poor academic performance. Of course I was spanked as a result of that. I hid behind big black glasses.
In high school I discovered athletics, and found that running helped me burn off steam. I was a very hard worker and became a Varsity athlete. I began running marathons, and held a world record for my age group for a short while. My mother was supportive, but Ernie never attended.
One night in the beginning of my senior year Ernie chased me out of the house brandishing a knife, my mother holding him back so I could get away. I got in my van and drove to the beach, and didn’t return home when Ernie was there for my senior year. I slept in the van at night, took cold showers at the beach, and worked as a box boy to buy food and gas. I was actually pretty happy. I kept up passing grades, but I never received a high school diploma. I never turned in my Varsity running pants.
One day in high school a kindly teacher took me aside and told me that he was going to nominate me for boy of the year. He had a plan laid out for me, and wanted me to began by cleaning my face with rubbing alcohol to get rid of my persistent acne. I had had no experience with anyone being that kind to me, and didn’t know how to deal with it, and avoided him thereafter. How confused he must have been by my response. Yet I’ve never forgotten those 10 minutes.
I never dated once during high school, and never went to the prom or any other dances. I hung out at lunch with the other geeky kids and we debated philosophy to make us feel superior. I did make some good friends during high school.
One of them was Jim Tucker, and he, John Pearlman and I cycled from Victoria Canada to Mexico one summer.
When I began college my mother and Ernie were divorced. My mother agreed to let me live with her if I went to college. I decided I was going to be a doctor, because if I was a doctor, everyone would look up to me and I could attract a beautiful woman. I chuckle now, but that was my motivation. Needless to say I didn’t last long.
At college I met Michael Slattery and his girlfriend Anna. Michael was my first introduction to counter culture. Within half a year the three of us set off for Alaska in my VW bus to homestead some of that free land. I rode all the way to Alaska with my goggled head and shoulders blowing out of the top of the van’s canvas sunroof. I had a beard and my hair was long.
We actually made it. This was before the pipeline, and Alaska was a poor place. We began poring over topographical maps looking for the right spot. But all the available land seemed to be on the sides of cliffs and would require a helicopter to get to. The bus wasn’t up to it. So, one night Michael had the brilliant idea of going to Hawaii instead. I sold the bus, at a steep discount, and bought tickets to Hawaii.
I’ll never forget stepping off that plane and smelling the air. There were hula girls putting Lei’s around all the passengers necks. I was dressed in a down jacket and big heavy boots. We rented a room at the Koa Cottages and every morning we went to the temp agency. I delivered manhole covers, built trusses, worked in a circus, processed urine samples. We lived that way for some months, but then Anna got a real job as a waitress, and she and Michael moved into fancier digs.
My plan was to set aside some money and buy a sailboat and sail back to California. I often dreamed of how cool I would be and how the girls would dig me and what the papers would say. Back in reality I was struggling to make the rent. I ate one meal every other day, at an all you could eat buffet. I took some jars and tubs in my pack, and hid them on my lap and filled them with food. I found an outdoor restaurant where I could scoot from table to table and eat food leftover on plates. I fell further behind on the rent.
I had a cat, Skinny Bones Rickets. He fell through the ceiling one night and landed on my bed. I made a nest for him and tried to fatten him up. One day I came home and Skinny Bones had had kittens.
I answered an add for someone to work selling pearled oysters to tourists. I walked in to apply for the job, carefully keeping my hand over the hole in my pants. To my surprise, I got the job. He told me he liked me and could imagine what my situation was and wanted to help me. He told me to come back the next day, and to please, wear pants without holes.
I didn’t have any pants without holes. So I decided I would steal a pair. I went into the department store and stole the best pair of pants I could find. I figured if you are going to do it, do it big.
I got caught. In creative desperation I told the security guard that my grandmother was dying and I needed the pants so I could get a job and go see her on the mainland. He was sobbing, and said he would have bought me the pants if I had told him right away, but it was too late now, as he had called the police.
I was released and went to work the next morning wearing pants with holes. The boss said that was OK, I could just clean oysters for a few days. I thought his secretary was cute, and now that I was an employed man, might have a chance. So I took her into my confidence during lunch and told her all about my escapade of the previous night.
Immediately after lunch I got summoned to the bosses office. He was upset with me. “I said I would help you Shawn, I would have given you money for a pair of pants. Why didn’t you just come to me?”
Indeed, why didn’t I? The thought of a man seeing good in me and wanting to help, and of me confiding in that person, was so far from my experience that I could never consider it.
He fired me because I could not be bonded now. In court the judge ordered me to leave Hawaii. I was behind in rent and hungry, so I just took the bus to the airport. The airline called good old mom, and she agreed to send money for a ticket. It took three days for the ticket to get there, and I lived on the Dole pineapple juice that they used to give away. Mom sent an extra $10 though for a real meal.
I had met a woman vacationing in Hawaii, and decided to pursue her. I moved to the San Fernando Valley and got a 9 to 5 job as a file clerk. I got my own studio apartment. I got an old MG. We moved in together. We took the legs off the sofas and chairs and covered them with faux animal skins. But she was in love with somebody else. I would lie awake at night and wait for the light tap of her footsteps. We broke up.
I went to work as a machinists apprentice. The pay was good, and for a while I was happy. But I began to get bored making little metal parts all day. I developed a cavalier attitude towards the job and was fired.
I went to trade school and became a gardener. I liked the physical activity and being outdoors. I studied Ornamental Horticulture in college at night and gardened during the day. My business was successful, and I was making good money. I had a pretty girlfriend. Now I wanted a house. I knew that I could not afford one in that location with my income. So I decided to build one.
I bought a cheap lot in the hills that had a rock cliff in the middle of it. I bought a fifteen foot travel trailer, towed it to the lot behind my truck, and began living in it. A neighbor took pity on me and ran an extension cord. I hauled the water in. A rusted fridge guarded the entrance.
I had as a gardening customer an architect, Bob Jacobs. He agreed to design my house in exchange for a few years of gardening. But I needed a construction loan. I went to dozens of lenders and was naturally turned down. A self employed gardener with no collateral wants a loan to build a house himself. But my persistence paid off, and I eventually got a loan for 62K. The woman who gave me the loan was fired.
In the meantime I was visiting construction sites and reading books and studying how this home building thing was done. I hauled lots of scrap lumber back to the lot, thinking it might come in handy.
At last the plans were done and approved and it was time to start building. I kept my best gardening customers and got rid of the rest so I only gardened four days a week. I had three days to devote to building. I jackhammered the rocks for the foundation for the first four months. In a year and a half, I had the house framed.
I had always figured that I would finish the house and be the coolest bachelor around. But life had a better plan for me and I met my future wife, Cynthia. She was beautiful, loving and kind and I set out to win her heart. I began by quizzing her on what her previous boyfriend had done wrong. I did exactly the opposite. Didn’t take her dancing. We went dancing. Didn’t buy her flowers. I bought her flowers. Didn’t introduce her to his parents. I took her to meet my dad and mom.
She started showing up to help me with the house. One day we went to see my old friend Jim Tucker, who was now happily married, and on the way back we talked about getting married ourselves. She had strong concerns given my family history, but eventually agreed.
We got married in the unfinished house. The guests sat on bales of insulation covered with towels. There were pepper tree boughs nailed to the walls. And soon she was pregnant.
Our son, Drew, was born in the house. Easy going Cynthia had one request for me, that I finish the kitchen before he was born. And I did.
But it was not an easy time for Cynthia. Now that I was a father, a lot of childhood emotions were stirred up. I was frequently quarrelsome, arguing about toilet paper issues, badgering her. One day she yelled “Stop it, Stop it, Just Stop it.” And I heard her. I came out of unconscious behavior for a moment and said to myself “What am I doing?”
The shock of seeing myself create misery needlessly hit me hard. I was making a life like the life that I had had. Once I caught myself with my hand raised to spank little Drew, less than a year old, for crying. I vowed never to hit him, and never did. And I vowed not to create drama in my house, and though it was a hard pattern to break, and Cynthia suffered because of it, I can now say that it is extinguished.
I had one other demon that surfaced, self pity. I had a lovely home, a good wife, a business that I was good at and that I enjoyed, and a son. And I felt sorry for myself. How that pulled me down. The feeling would creep over me and cast a dark shadow over my life. I resolved to banish it. Every time I noticed that I was under it’s shadow, I would get furious at it, till my anger crowded it out. And today I just have occasional whiffs of self pity, like an old empty perfume bottle.
The San Fernando Valley has temperatures often over 100 degrees, and one day I got heat stroke. My days as a gardener were numbered.
Cynthia and I decided to sell the house and the business and look for a different place to live. I planned to become a real estate investor, because I had made more money building the house than I had gardening, and I enjoyed it more.
We bought a motorhome and the family set out across the country. I bought some real estate courses and was studying them as we traveled. We got to Little Rock, Arkansas and discovered the crystal mines. We dug for days and had hundreds of pounds of crystals packed in powdered soap in cardboard boxes filling the floor of our motorhome. Time to find a place to live.
I had always wanted to live in San Louis Obisbo, one of my favorite places in the world, and so we beelined there and rented a house. I tried to buy a fixer house out there but was frustrated by the high prices. One day I miss dialed a phone number and got someone who was selling their house. I bought it, we moved in and began fixing it up.
In the meantime I taught myself silversmithing, and made crystal pendants and the like. In a year I had a rep selling the stuff across the country. I enjoyed the craft, but it was a slim living.
Some years later the house was all fixed up and we decided to move to Oregon and to get some acreage and get back to the land. We sold the house for a good profit, and set off. It was there that my real estate investing career began in earnest. Houses were so cheap. I developed lots and put mobiles on them, and built several more houses, and bought and repaired and sold houses, and developed acreage into lots.
For one year we traveled the country in a motorhome. We gave ourselves a year of our lives while we were still young. We left the motorhome at the border and took the busses down through Mexico and central America. It was a wonderful family adventure.
Cynthia wanted to home school Drew. I was not opposed, because the public schools in rural Oregon had students with different aspirations than what I grew up with. In Oregon kids wanted to work at the mill, in my school, kids wanted to be astronauts.
But the time came for Drew to go to high school. I was tired of the 120 inches of rain a year. So we moved back to Southern California, and enrolled Drew in a private high school.
There is a real estate investors world of conferences and trainings and I was active in that, and attended every course that I could. One afternoon I was invited to be the vice pres of a new nationwide real estate investors club, called “Sell Your House In 9 Days.” The club grew rapidly, and I was happily engaged with real estate investing and club activities.
In Drew’s junior year of high school he developed a large brain tumor. His brain surgery was extensive and risky, and there was a fair chance he would not make it. I remember him waving a purple surgeons glove, Michael Jackson style, as they wheeled him away for the operation, and I wondered if I would ever see him alive again. He came through, dodged a hundred bullets as his surgeon said. The surgery left him legally blind. It also kept him out of school for a long time.
We did not have insurance, but I was able to pay for the operation by selling houses, and what I couldn’t afford, mom chipped in 20K.
Ernie had retired and remarried, and one day he invited Cynthia and Drew and I out for dinner. He wanted to apologize for how he had been to me. Then he moved to Australia with his wife.
My mother was a lifelong smoker and it had taken it’s toll. I had long ago given up trying to change her, and just accepted her bad habit. I would break her out of the hospital, stealing her away in a wheelchair and bringing her home. I always brought her cigarettes so she could smoke in the car.
The night that she died she came to me in my dreams. I was standing at a busy intersection near our home. The light was red. Mom pulled up in a bright red convertible. She was about 40. She looked over at me and asked “Are you going to be OK.” I said “Yes.” The light turned green. She said “I’ve got to go” and she throttled off. That was my mom.
Cynthia was casting about for something to do to put her healing and spiritual talents to work. She developed a woman friend, Lioneese, who lived in Las Vegas, and she would make frequent trips over there, sometimes spending a week or two, as they planned what they were going to do, and as she took care of Lioneese, who was often unwell.
After Drew was stabilized we moved to Texas for a year so I could further my real estate career. We then moved to Florida, where I live currently. Drew was out of school and didn’t need Cynthia to take care of him, and Cynthia began spending more time in Las Vegas with her friend.
I began my real estate thing in Florida and enjoyed success. Drew had his own business buying and selling lots from home and was doing well.
One day Cynthia told me she wanted to move to Las Vegas and would like for me to buy a home there for her to live in. She and Lioneese had big plans and wanted to work on them full time. At this point she had been spending months at a time over there.
I was not happy about this. I was invited to move to Las Vegas and to be part of Lionees’s organization, but I declined. I don’t like Las Vegas and there was no organization that I could see. But I knew better than to speak that plainly, because I would be dismissed as simply being negative. I told her that if she moved to Las Vegas to live, that there was a chance our marriage would not survive that. She felt we would always be together. So I opened my hands and let her go.
A plan developed, a poor plan, where one month I would fly out to see her, and the next month she would fly back to see me. I flew out the first month. Lioneese could not spare her the second month.
But, more importantly to me, every time Cynthia said “we” she was referring to her and Lioneese. Our relationship had no plans, no dreams, no future. So after about half a year, in the most difficult decision I have ever had to make, I wrote to her and asked her for a divorce. We had been married 27 years.
Our divorce was peaceful and kind and simple. Cynthia never liked Real Estate too well, and wanted cash, so we sold some properties. But I still owed her hundreds of thousands of dollars.
And here is where I made the biggest financial mistake of my life. I had loved real estate because I was in control and could always make a home more valuable with work. I had a policy of only having investments that I controlled. But I knew of a young man, Beau Diamond, who was paying 4% a month return on his forex investing. I threw away all prudence and turned my real estate equity into cash, invested it with Beau, and used the considerable income to pay off Cynthia. I had dreams of a life of incredible income, and what I would do, how much I would give to charities, how I would travel all over the world with just a briefcase and buy whatever I needed.
Two months after I had gotten done paying Cynthia off Beau called to tell me he had lost all the money. I had to sell my real estate, because the rental income would not cover the new mortgages, but at this time housing values had plummeted. So I lost the properties to foreclosure.
But it was my good fortune to have bought a RED digital cinema camera. This camera promised to revolutionize the filmmaking industry, and I had waited for a year and a half to get the 181st one made.
I was asked to go speak to various groups and to demonstrate the camera, and soon I had calls from people wanting to hire me and my camera. So I began a well paying two year career in the film and commercial industry. After working largely by myself all my life, I had to adapt to being part of a tight team, where everyone has a small specific job and does it perfectly.
Leslie and I got along well. We traveled to Thailand and Argentina and Panama together. We worked on writing and movie making projects together. Leslie is scientifically oriented and expresses her feelings mathematically. But I trust her mathematical enthusiasm for me more than all the sweet words in Websters.
I employed my good friend John Goodbrad to manage my camera business so I could cycle from Maine to Key West. When I got down to Key West I wanted to keep going. On the trip I had met Sage, a world cyclist, and she put the idea of cycling around the world in my head.
I would have wanted Leslie to come with me. But though Leslie enjoys cycling, and we have toured 700 miles together in the States, this was a whole different apple.
So I left Leslie in charge of the house, sold my car to raise some money, and flew to Dublin. I did not have a definite plan, but had plenty of time to develop one. And one did develop; head south where it is warmer and drier.
So here I sit in a hotel room in Morocco, sick with a sore throat and a headache and a fever. A good opportunity to write.