Buy a copy of this issue.
More of Moe’s Monday Memoirs.
I grew up in a small town where everyone who lived there knew everyone else’s business. There seemed to be two major groups that surrounded me during my high school years. One group was into sports like football, basketball, baseball, track and the like. I attended one of the ballgames where 3 skydivers did a demo, crashing their round canopies onto the pitcher’s mound. Seeing the canopies floating in the sky painted a picture in my mind. “I want do that someday.” I fit into the second group of high schoolers. I was into hunting of all sorts with guns, bow and arrows, reloading my own bullets, fishing, trapping, taxidermy, wilderness camping, canoeing. I was a woodsman. I LOVED the outdoors. My mom and dad observed my joy, desire and passion for my outdoor endeavors so as good parents do, they sent me to a community college to study forestry. I was to be a forest ranger or a tree surgeon—in their eyes.
Well, as a stubborn teenager I’m not going to listen to my parents, right? I wanted to finish high school with my friends. But they made me go so I showed them. I flunked out.
Determined to help find my place in the world, my parents tried again. Our hometown had a well-known machine shop. Everyone who worked there had a new car, a wife, 2 and a half kids, a house, a dog: how it’s “supposed to be.” Successful. So they sent me off to a tech school to be a machinist. Once again it probably would have been a good thing for me but as a stubborn teenager I flunked out again. My parents were livid to say the least.
None of this really mattered at the time, as I got drafted into the Army in 1971 when I was 20 years old. My parents were no longer the bosses. The government was. But I was stubborn there as well. I was stationed in Arizona and there was a sport parachute club on post run by the military. Everything was FREE. Even though it was a sport club, me being antimilitary meant that I drove 90 miles to Tucson to pay $40 for a first jump course run by civilians.
One jump and I was hooked. I was going to do this for the rest of my life, be it the next jump or right now. I bought a parachute for 90 bucks and had my own gear for my second jump.
I got out of the Army with a couple dozen sport jumps and moved back in with my parents. They weren’t happy with my new love but wrote it off as a fad and something I would get over. NOT! I sold all of my guns and pretty much everything else I owned and turned them into nylon and sewing machines. I got my rigger’s ticket and started hang gliding which just soured them more. But my passion was turning into a business without a plan. I was repairing hot-air balloons, parachutes and hang gliders. I was quite happy. My parents? Not so much. The small-town folks would always ask them, “Is your crazy son still jumping outta them there parachutes?”
Things got tense at home so I bought a brand-new 1974 Volkswagen Beetle—yes, a Bug—and stripped out the interior to convert it to a home. With my outdoor wilderness and survivor skills I could live in there. I loaded up with parachutes and hang gliders and hit the road for eight years. I became a master parachute rigger. I was an AFF instructor before USPA recognized it as a training method. I was one of the first tandem instructors, before there were drogues. I helped set up a couple of parachute lofts and managed them ‘til they were up and running. I was going somewhere in the industry but again with no plan. Happily living hand to mouth, just following the love and passion of human flight and all things and people associated.
Then in the early 1980s BASE jumping came along. I started to design and manufacture gear and helped to pioneer the sport. Up to this point I kept in touch with my parents but had nothing to talk about except my love for these extreme activities. Now BASE jumping only put more distance between us and communications dwindled. I’d really gone over the edge now. They were just waiting for the phone call that their lunatic son was no longer breathing.
Time passed and in 1994 I got lucky enough to do some stunt rigging and jumping for the movie “Drop Zone.” (See back issues of Blue Skies Mag or blueskiesmag.com/tag/moes-monday-memoirs.)
After three months of “work” (actually play in my mind) I ended up with a pay check for $110,000. When the news hit my small hometown that now I was a “movie star” making big bucks, all of a sudden my parents were proud of me. “That’s our boy!” I was no longer the crazy son jumping outta them there parachutes. I was finally successful in everyone’s eyes.
So I hopped on a plane from California and flew back to my hometown in Pennsylvania. I sat my parents down at the picnic table and held up ten grand in hundred-dollar bills with a Bic lighter under it and explained to them what life is about.
“I’m not robbing banks. I’m not raping little boys or girls. I’m not a drug addict. I’m happy. You guys saw my love for the outdoors as a kid and tried to guide me on a path that you thought was best for me. I understand that. We all ask children what they want to be when they grow up. Most of them have an answer but don’t REALLY KNOW. Mostly you wanted me to be happy at what I was doing with my life. Well, you were very successful. I am happy. I’ve been happy. It’s not about the money and being on the big screen. Those are just byproducts of things I would have done without a paycheck or a camera pointed at me. It’s not about that. All you wanted for me was to be happy so please take this money and get a new air conditioner as I know you need one or it’s going to get pretty hot here really fast.”
I was prepared to set the cash ablaze. They didn’t really need or want it but they knew the animal they were dealing with. They knew I’d torch the cash with no hesitation or regrets. They reluctantly took the cash and pulled me in. They got it. They understood.
“You guys are saving money for me and my sister so we have something when you pass. I appreciate that but who said you guys are going to die first? You always wanted to visit Italy. Take that money and go.” I said, “Remember Freddy Dannik? We grew up together, played together, had plans for our futures. He died in a car wreck at the age of 17. We were gonna. We were gonna. Yea right. Who said we were gonna? Tomorrow is promised to no one. Tomorrow is overrated. Life is just death in slow motion. If I’m not happy, it’s my own fault. If I die with money in the bank then shame on me.”
Mom and dad pulled me in for a 3-way hug that I will never forget.
In the next three months I gave away $100,000 and moved back into my car, which by that time had been upgraded to a 1991 Honda Civic. My parents were OK with that because—I WAS HAPPY!
Where did the cash go? I gave my sister 10 grand. I took my BASE mentor to the tallest waterfall in the world, Angel Falls, and with another jumper did the first free-flown 3-way from the site. I had a hard time tracking down the man who taught me to be a parachute rigger. He had become a recluse. Finally, I found him and sent him a check and a love letter. I made it a point for him to cash it or I would hunt him down. After all, I did find him once. I tried to show all my thanks to those who helped me along in the sport. I gave a hundred bucks each to my aunts, uncles and cousins. When I was BASE raging the buildings in Los Angeles at night, I would sneak up behind a street person before they saw me and hand them a 20. I loved freakin’ them out. I bought tandem jumps for people I didn’t know. I gave big tips, even at McDonalds to the young kids just trying to make a buck.
This no-expectations generosity has and continues to come back to me in many ways. It all comes around so long as it’s given from the heart and expects nothing back. The joy is in the giving.
I haven’t kept in touch with any of my high school friends but more than likely they still think I’m that crazy guy who still jumps outta them there parachutes. Or more likely they think I’m dead. In my opinion most of them are walking dead. Robots. Lemmings. Clones. Stagnated. But maybe not. All that really matters is that they are happy. Truly happy.
Side note: in 2014 I bought a brand-new Kia Soul. Yep, I stripped out the interior and made myself a home. I no longer live in it but it’s a great road trip vehicle and I could live in it if I chose to do so. I have never owned a car that had more than a driver’s seat. That too makes me happy!
By telling this story over the years, I have influenced at least a handful of peeps to the point of defying their parents on “how it’s supposed to be” and moving into their cars. Guess what? They are happy too!
Correction: The printed version of this story says Moe held up 10 100-dollar bills to a lighter. It was actually $10,000.
Like this article?
Get more just like it every month, delivered straight to your mailbox. Subscribe today!