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Have I lived too long?

by Jack Kregas 6 months ago in Bad habits
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The world is $%^&#@

Have I lived too long?
Photo by Vinicius "amnx" Amano on Unsplash

Today August 12, 2021, I am seventy-eight years old. Seventy-nine in October. This presents a problem because I am something around forty in my mind. My body is younger, and I still look presentable. Except for the normal aches and pains from injuries and abuse, I have no health complaints. I have a comfortable place to live and no money worries. I don’t work, do more or less as I like, and have few friends by choice. My daughter is independent, secure, and has a brilliant future. She is my only child and relative except for a brother and assorted cousins scattered across America. Really, I have nothing to complain about considering the thousands who are doing it tough because of the pandemic. Still not a day goes by that I don’t reflect that I have lived too long.

Why do I have this feeling? What brings about these thoughts? It’s not easy to explain even to myself. It stems from how I have lived my life. From the beginnings in Vermont being raised by my grandmother and leaving home at seventeen to join the army because my father refused to pay for my college. I never saw my father again or my anyone in my family for six years. I was on my own. I adopted myself and I was the most important person to me. Live with that long enough and you become strong, avoid putting too much trust in others, while making decisions right or wrong. When right, you congratulate yourself, when wrong, you say what the fuck and do something else. Sometimes there is a lesson to be learned, other times when it was wrong but felt good, you do it again just to be sure.

The first thing that ever caught my interest was skiing. I was fourteen and busing dirty dishes at a ski lodge while some of my school friends, who had parents with money, drank hot chocolate and skied, having fun. I tried it for free with the help of the father of a school mate who owned a ski shop. Something magical happened that first day. I crashed, got up, and fell again with snow up my nose and in my ears. I ran into the into the trees but loved it. It felt free, a feeling I had never experienced before. A feeling to this day that is hard to explain and have others understand. Just me and the mountain and the ice-covered slope in Vermont. I skied almost every day after school until it was dark, and the mountain closed. A broken leg with two pins in place didn’t lessen my enthusiasm. I couldn’t get enough of it. Skiing was the driving factor for the next forty years of my life.

I was sent to the Munich, Germany with the Army and skied in Garmisch a hundred kilometers away. I took a European discharge to stay in Europe and ski. I had an old VW, a few clothes and about $400. There was no snow in 1964 in Europe except in St. Moritz, Switzerland. The vw quit so I hitchhiked from Garmisch to St. Moritz. This was the ‘IN’ place to be at this time. It had the Palace Hotel with the jet set and the rich and famous. I gave ski lessons, I gave disco lessons, I slept with women for money. As long as I could ski, the means always justified the end. By this time, I was a very confident skier. Not in the technique of a ski racer but as a style skier. I was dancing in the bumps, effortlessly in any conditions, always pushing to improve. Hours and hours doing the same thing over and over till it felt good enough. I also had help from the various people and friends that I met, picking their brains on how I could do a certain thing better. Second to skiing were the women. Young, old, married, they went hand-in-hand with skiing. The better I could ski, the more women that were interested.

Skiing was an ego trip for me. It gave me purpose. It made me money and I met famous people because of it. It was the reason to be alive. I lived in St. Moritz for six years with a lady who was older, understood my craving to ski and let me be me.

The history of these years in St. Moritz and story of my life is available in explicit detail in my autobiography: It’s All About Me and a few others in paperback or e-book at Amazon and all online outlets from $3.99 with over forty photos.

Something speaks in your ear and tells you it’s time to seek new adventures. I listened, and after asking around as to where the best ski mountain was in Europe, I ended up in Verbier, Switzerland. Verbier was located in the French part of the country while St. Moritz was in the German speaking area. I was told the truth. It had the best mountain with the most radical terrain and so few people. There were no limits in the early days. How much risk were you willing to take? How good were you on a 48-degree slope? Were you able to handle the tree stumps, logs, and fences buried under the snow in the woods? Verbier raised the bar in skiing ability.

There were also over a hundred chalet girls working there looking after English tourists as well as a few hundred Swedish tourists. Because of them, the phase ‘sport fucking’ was introduced into the English language. You hardly had time to change, shower, smoke a couple of numbers, and party with the girls, before it was morning and back to the slopes. The rush was constant. It was more than being alive.

Still money was a necessity. You do what you know. Open a ski shop. No permits, no cash, big balls, and an ‘I don’t give a shit attitude’ learned from risk taking while skiing, created Ski Service. Five years later, Time magazine called it the best ski shop in the Alps. I admit gaining fame that was visible to another market, such as running a very successful business, also fueled the ego. A few of us were very big fish in a small pond. How we loved it.

It is a fact that drug addicts need more and stronger drugs to keep the high going. I believe that was also the case with me. Times were good but there must be more challenges, adventures, and one-of-a-kind thrills to be had. More led to importing and selling Hawaiian Tropic sun products in the south of France for two summers. Topless Swedes from Verbier, also looking for summer adventures, walked the beaches spraying the coconut scented lotion on waiting bodies. Tan by day, disco by night. It was like winter in the summer. But wait there was still more!!!

Windsurfing. Windsurfing was at its beginning. I wanted to be part of it. I tried it and liked it. I learned the basics but wasn’t too excited by the light wind in France. The magazines said the best place to windsurf was Maui, Hawaii. We sold Hawaiian Tropic back to the American company and left for Maui.

Again, this short story jumps over events to make a point. During the time above, I was married and divorced to a Canadian I had met in Verbier. We were married in 1976 and divorced almost two years later. I spent 6 months working at a radio station for a friend in Reno, Nevada which was great fun with daily skiing at Lake Tahoe and too many ladies to mention. Then I spent 1979 and 1980 on a 20-meter yacht with a friend in Polynesia, free diving with sharks. That was the greatest adventure of my life in so many ways. The winter of 1981, I was back in Verbier not working, skiing and going crazy out of control at night. I can honestly say that after experiences with many ladies, deep powder snow is a better rush, lasts longer, and stays with you for hours.

In May 1981, I arrived in Maui for the first time. Since then, I have been around the world many times and believe that Maui is the most amazing place on the planet. It’s possible to throw snowballs at each other on a volcano over 3,000 meters high in the morning. After a two-hour descent through five different temperate zones with changing landscapes, you arrive at one of the long white sandy beaches for a cooling swim.

As the magazine said, it’s also the best place in the world to windsurf with May to September trade winds blowing every day like clockwork from 20 to 40 knots. Then add the waves. Everything I thought I knew about windsurfing from France was bogus. Maui conditions demand state of the art equipment and the ability to go with it. I had to learn all over again. Five months that summer for five to six hours a day sustaining coral cuts, flying over the mast, bashed by waves and watching the likes of world champion Robbie Naish and other greats, had me so hooked. It was almost equal to skiing. My dreams had come true. Ski the winter, windsurf the summer. What a life.

The life on Maui is not cheap. Paradise is expensive. I had had no income for over three years. I was strapped for cash and had no idea what to do for the winter. I would not go back to work at Ski Service. I had a house I had bought in Verbier so had a place to live. What to do for income?

I was forty years old in 1982. I still felt like twenty-five and I looked it. Greeks have good genes. I had been on a high for years and now, although worried about money, I was convinced something good would happen. It always had, it always would. Across the street from Ski Service, a local friend rented me a space where I opened a wine business called Macbirch to sell cheap wine to travel groups and expensive items to everyone else. I had no idea about wine except it came in a bottle in two colors. I learned. Learning costs money and that first year Macbirch lost plenty. Swiss banks are not like US or other banks. You have a record with Ski Service being a success and an overdraft is there for the asking which I had used to start Macbirch. By the first of April I was 50K in debt.

I panicked the whole spring not so much that the wine business was going down the tubes, but that I had no cash to go to Hawaii. It was the most stress I had ever felt in my life. EVER. A sane person would have opened the business for the summer hoping to earn enough to survive. I was never sane or normal. I felt like an animal with one leg in a trap. To escape, I would have to chew off my leg. When thinking about not being able to go to Maui, I would break into a sweat and pace the floor.

I had met and was living with an Australian for the past year. Susie had followed me to Maui and learned to windsurf and could ski which were the basics to be with me. She didn’t have any idea of my financial situation thinking by what she had seen since meeting me, that I was rich. Anxiety increased as the winter came to an end. There was only one thing to do. Bite off my leg and go to the friendly banker explaining I had great plans for expansion. I needed another 40K. With that, I booked the tickets to Maui and relief spread over my body. I put life in perspective. Getting on the water was of the upmost importance to my well-being. It would give me the freedom feeling I craved. Winter was six months away and out of my mind. I knew by winter something good would happen.

We rented a house with my Ski Service partner on the beach, bought a junk car for $300 with no insurance and traded our old gear for the latest. Every day I spent hours on the water. Some took it as a hobby to pass time. I couldn’t do that. For me it was a driving desire to get better. I never thought to be in the class of a professional. I was too old, but I wanted to be the best that I could be with the expectation of just under pro ability. The better I became the more I pushed. Flat water was now no longer a challenge. I could do the basic tricks and more. Now I had to become a wave sailor.

Hookipa, on the north side of Maui, is one of the world’s best beaches to sail waves. The wind blows in the right direction for the waves that roll in. The beach is lined by a coral reef with only a ten-foot opening to get into the water or out. When the waves are up, there is a ferocious shore break. It takes practice and timing to get into the water and to go out without hitting your fin and breaking it on the coral in the shallow water. I have seen many egos shattered in the shore break as well as boards and sails blown into the rocks nearby. This would not happen to me. Before I attempted Hookipa, I trained in a place called the bowls where smaller waves came from all directions making it difficult to keep balance. A good friend, Bill, gave me tips and I progressed. By the end of the summer both Susie and I could sail at Hookipa. Not in monster waves, but in conditions we could handle. I understood that wave riding with a windsurfer could be a bigger thrill than powder snow. I was determined to be good enough to find out.

In November back in Verbier, I was stimulated by the summer of sailing. I made changes to the wine business, becoming more specialized. I then had a grand idea to introduce fresh chocolate. I found the best that Switzerland had to offer. From that time on, Macbirch was famous for chocolate, selling as much as 50 kilos of assorted fresh truffles in a weekend. The sensual pleasures of the champagne and the raspberry truffles were the most sought after. The business took off. I skied most days, working only after three in the afternoon till closing at 7pm. We took more risks than ever with a couple of friends becoming victims of avalanches. Danger was part of the thrill. You determined the degree of the risk and went for it. It never worried me because of my attitude, ‘when it’s your time, goodbye.’ I paid back the overdraft and bought tickets for Maui.

Susie and I were married on Maui in 1986. Our daughter was born on the 8th of April the next year in Switzerland. We left with her for Maui on May 16th. A child wasn’t going to change my life, she would become part of it. Yes indeed, sailing in waves with ten-foot faces and bigger is a better rush than powder snow. It lasts long and you can do it again and again without having to go up a lift. There is also the thrill or fear of making a mistake and being trashed by the wave smashing on your head. Then it works you along the bottom in the shallow water with the coral scoring your bare flesh as you swallow mouthfuls of salt water while trying to resurface. That plus the chance of losing your board and having it destroyed as it washes into the rocks. Day after day for five months, I couldn’t get enough of it. With improvement came the challenge to test against more radical conditions. It was every exhilaration and buzz that skiing gave and more.

During the winters of 1990 and 1991, I could feel I was going backward in skiing. My knees were shot. My ability was waning. It was hard to accept but every day that I put on skis the proof was evident. When there was powder, I skied but there were now so many skiers untracked snow was hard to find. I was fifty years old. I had skied twenty-five years or so of over 160 days a year. No one wants to admit they are not as good as they once were. Reality is hard to face. A plan was forming. There was something where I was still on the improve and gave me that freedom feeling. Windsurfing.

I sold the house, the wine business, and my shares in Ski Service, and moved to Maui. I built a house and settled in getting a real estate license. I worked till one pm when the wind came up and then headed to the beach. In the winter there is little wind. I started playing golf. I had played golf in Vermont and now living next to a course made it easy to start. I spent hours at the driving range which prepared me to play with a group Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 7 am till 11, went to the office till 1 pm and then to the beach.

My competitive nature carried over into golf. I was determined to play well. That takes practice which takes time. Why the hell do it as a hacker. Do it to the best of your ability.

I was relatively successful at real estate. I was a million-dollar seller with Century 21. Life was good in all ways except that no matter how much money I made, I was falling farther behind. Unless you have wealth, the good life with a child in school on Maui is too expensive. There was no Swiss banker in Maui. That particular chap who had been so kind to me was now in jail for embezzlement. I had to face reality for once in my life and decided to pull up stakes and move to Australia. I had been there a couple of times and liked it. It was very cheap living compared to Maui. We sold the house and all our belongings and moved in 1996 to the Sunshine Coast of Australia.

The second book of my autobiography: It’s Not Only About Me, goes into details of the life once we moved to Australia. Divorce, business failures, normal life. $2.99. Book set of both books in e-book form $7.99 on Amazon.

The painful part of the move for me was saying adios to windsurfing. There are no trade winds in Australia. The wind blows when there is a storm. The waves and wind seldom line up. I tried it and was bored after ten minutes. It left a hole in my soul. Now I had only golf to fill that hole. I played at every chance and that was one, but far from the primary reason for the divorce. My daughter, then eleven years old, came to live with me. I landed a prize job as the sales manager of a gated community with one of the best golf courses in the country, Hope Island Resort. I could golf everyday with clients and friends. Golf is a mind game. A challenge to do it better. It is not physical and there is not the same rush as on snow or in the water. There is some satisfaction when you hit a keen shot.

I needed something else. Along came Texas Holdem poker. I looked after my daughter, worked and played golf while playing poker at night. Cards had been my friend from a very young age. I had experience. I was a consistent winner.

During those years, there were a number of ladies in and out of my life. Golf and poker were consistent. I changed jobs a few times making a decent living. I traveled to play poker in the States and other places. My daughter went to university, first in California, then back in Australia. I met a lady and settled in.

It was in strange circumstances that I wrote my autobiography. I had stopped work and lived too far from a golf course to play often. Also, after playing for years at a ten handicap or less, I wasn’t improving. Interest faded with the higher handicap. I couldn’t do it for enjoyment like most. It just wasn’t in my nature.

I liked the idea of writing the autobiography. I felt I had a story to tell that was indeed about a life lived differently. I was excited when it sold and has continued to sell, being considered as a finalist in one contest. I had time, so I wrote another book which I consider my best, Choice Cruise Lines. Poker and writing worked well. The day spent writing, evenings playing poker. It was not the excitement of the past, but it was enough because I was again clever.

I believe if you write a story that is based on a certain location, you should be familiar with that area. That being said, in every book I have written, over ten, I have traveled to the setting. All over the States, time on a native American reservation, Mexico and Aruba for one and St. Petersburg and Russia for another. Cruise ships and airplanes, casinos, and hospitals. I traveled two or three times a year which made writing exciting. Travel to where you want to write about or write about where you want to travel was the plan.

Then came the trips to different places to promote the book. Dublin to the International Writers Conference or Melbourne to a Supernova convention. Visit a friend in the Virgin Islands you had not seen since St. Moritz or watch the salmon run in Alaska. Of course, it’s not the same as deep powder or overhead waves but its physical, informative, and you learn while meeting people. It’s exciting to pack the bags and go. No real plan, just go. Visit friends, meet family you never knew you had, play poker in Indian casinos in New Mexico and Florida, and eat plenty of Mexican food. With age you change and although not the same high level excitement of years before, it was a suitable substitute at this time in life.

Writing books, promoting them, and achieving sales while scouting locations in the world for the next novel, and winning a few poker games, gave me a familiar sense of freedom and accomplishment as skiing or being on the ocean had in the past. Satisfaction and success never grow old.

And then came COVID-19 with lock downs, travel restrictions, no travel out of Australia, no friends coming in. Movement restricted to not more than ten miles from home and then only for food. The trade-off for staying safe is being trapped, caught, caged, held captive, and imprisoned.

As I stated before, I sincerely feel for those that this worldwide pandemic is destroying their lives in so many ways. I feel extremely fortunate to not be one of them.

Covid has put an abrupt halt to finding that free feeling after so many years. It may never happen again. It is quite possible that it’s lost forever. I believe there is no end in sight to this virus. This year is worse than last year, and indications look like nothing will change. I wish someone could offer evidence to prove me wrong.

I look back over my life, knowing I am on the downhill slope that gets steeper with each passing month. I smile as I think of the good times with background music of the 60s and 70s. There is no powder snow in sight, distance waves in Maui roll in, travel to anywhere is not in the foreseeable future. Golf courses are closed, poker, if on at all, is with masks, lotions, and six to a table. The public hoards toilet paper while friends cannot shake hands.

How can I not think that maybe I have lived too long?

Authors note

Some may think this is the thinking of a selfish grumpy old man and I agree. While there are thousands who could offer up far more compelling reasons to be unhappy, this is a personal reflection about how I feel about life at present.

Thank you for taking the time to read it. Be careful and stay safe.

Jack

My new release is HOW TO LOSE AT POKER is out now.

Bad habits

About the author

Jack Kregas

Jack Kregas was born in the United States. After a stint in the US Army, he was discharged in Europe where he lived for the next forty years.

He now lives in Brisbane as a full time author of 14 novels and poker player.

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