When I was 10, I became good friends with one of my father’s ski instructors; Fritz Stammberger. The man was 6′-4″ and had been on the first successful expedition to climb the Himalayas without oxygen.
He was a master printer from Germany and gave me one of my fist jobs running the Heidelberg press in his shop in the back of the Aspen Times. Nowadays it would probably be criminal on some level to put a child to work on such a dangerous machine, but that was a different era and I loved my job. It suited my character and supported my ego.
I was precocious. Fritz would challenge me but always rein me back in. He would say, “You’re not a man until you’ve climbed Mount Everest” or, “You’re not a man until you’ve seen your wife have a baby.”
It would drive my mother crazy when Fritz and I would show up at her mountain restaurant on a snowy day with no gloves and open parkas. “Real men don’t ski with gloves.” Caught up in the spirit I would say something cocky and Fritz would respond with, “What does the world hate?” He’s look me in the eye and then answer for me. “Everyone hates a smart-ass.” Then, it was only moments before we would continue our banter.
I met this gorgeous Canadian model in Dad’s ski school and introduced her to Fritz. They were soon married and pregnant. They named their son after me. I was privy to Diane stark naked with her beautiful huge belly the morning Fritz rushed her off to the hospital to give birth.
When I had arrived at their apartment that morning the story of the day (there always was one!) was how their wiener dog, Lumpy, had drawn blood when he jumped up and bit Fritz in the wiener in the shower.
There was nothing weird about my visits to Fritz and Diane’s. As I said, it was a different era. People were straight-forward, practical, respectful and responsible. There was no question of what was appropriate as propriety was an unspoken law that everyone seemed to understand implicitly. Naked pregnant bellies and wiener dogs were just part of life. These were the days when, if you slipped on ice in a ski resort the response was, “Weren’t you paying attention?” not, “Who are you going to sue?”
Fritz and Diane moved into the house across the alley from our house. There was no question that any 11-year old kid who could run a Heidelberg press could easily be trusted to take care of a few month old infant, metal safety pins and all. Besides, if there was any problem, my parents were just across the alley and the town itself was only a few blocks long. Fritz and Diane wouldn’t be far.
As Anton grew older I was a favorite babysitter. Fritz would always say, “You should be a psychiatrist.” This was his commentary on my diplomacy and the ease with which I could affect the trusting responses of children and adults alike. I would swell with pride and make some comment. “What does everybody hate?” Fritz would say.
But being a smart-ass was an accusation that would continue to follow me throughout my life.
Self-confidence was something I had learned from Fritz and my hard-working but life-loving parents. It amplified the voice of my muse. It led me to take unreasonable chances filled with faith and confidence that the voice of the universe wouldn’t lie to me. It was the voice that led me to so many great successes in my life and that helped me make lemonade, as they say, when it seemed I’d been dealt a lemon.
Self-confidence is not arrogance, though this would often be the accusation from friends, family or companions who felt the ease and serendipity in my life was somehow unjust as they struggled along.
Truth be told, I was struggling daily in my own ways and it didn’t take many missteps to see that the voice of the universe was my best and most reliable guide and friend.
Recently I was at a party at a blacksmith’s studio and ran into a friend I hadn’t seen or heard from in over 40 years. After a few minutes of enthusiastic recollections, I was genuinely surprised when he commented, “I was always amazed by your focus and determination to go after what you wanted.”
No. I wasn’t being a smart-ass. I was simply over-achieving in response to my feeling of never measuring up or being enough.
I suppose I could thank my over-achieving Mom for this, with many of the same feelings herself, but it wasn’t until I was in my mid-thirties in Hollywood when my close friend, Ray Underwood, would ask me a question that would change my life.
“You are so brilliant and talented. Why are you so full of self-sabotage?”
It was the first time I had heard the term. It wasn’t the last time I would reflect on those words. I would hear it another way some 20 years later. “Why would you put your best effort into running a marathon and then quit just short of the finish line?”
I had some work to do.