Walking is life

I once had a shrink whose basic axiom was ”Walking is life.” Obviously, if you walk a lot, you exercise your arms, legs, and torso, you also exercise that inner voice, your brain, spirit, call it what you will, that part that reflects what you see in the world around you.

I went to Dr. Sabath after I left the advertising biz. I was a creative director and trying to quit drinking, smoking, and regain my clarity. Dr. Sabath’s first statement was, “Well, there are three ways to do that. First, I can find you a twelve-step program where you’ll talk your head off with the others and get nowhere; or, I can find you a good live-in facility like Paine Whitney where you can go ‘cold turkey’ in an upscale environment. It’s the most expensive way. But third, you can just stop drinking, and smoking right now. Just stop. Which would you prefer?”

My ego was stung and I answered automatically, “I’ll stop right now.”

“Good,” He said, “let’s do it.”

I had told him I liked to walk, whether in the city streets, Central Park, or up in the woods of a state park off the Taconic Parkway. He encouraged me to pursue all three venues, eat healthy foods, drink tea not coffee, and walk wherever, whenever I could. “Walking,” he reiterated stimulates your breathing, circulates oxygen in your blood, your body and brain. Try to walk in the morning, afternoon, whenever you can. It’s ergonomic.

So I was not just walking my addictions away. I was following some pretty spiritual principles as well. Over the next weeks, months, which turned into several years of therapy, I talked with Dr. Sabath about the hurt of getting fired by a big agency as a result of bad decisions made by my creative director, Paul Kovac, who had asked me to work in his half of the agency. As we were in the process of losing a $60 million account (which shall remain nameless), he was quietly auditioning other groups to do new campaigns (often variations on my group’s work), a common modus operandi when an account was in trouble. A generation later this scenario would be echoed in the TV series “Madmen” on TV. Before that, it was just reality—just the way the game was played.

Unfortunately, Kovac sold an overly sexy campaign that offended the conservative southern sportswear company in question, trying to pander to its new CEO, who was leveraged to the tune of some $3 billion thanks to Michael Milliken, who ended up doing time in Club Fed thanks to Rudy Giuliani.

As I spilled all of this back-stabbing out, I explained how my firing came the Christmas after I received an $85,000 bonus; and later a bigger parting package of a quarter of a million. Yet, what I missed most was the comradeship of the people I worked with. What I gained was time to write a play about my father’s recent passing due to Alzheimer’s. When it rains it pours.

Through all of this, my parting package was dwindling on living expenses and a bad financial manager. So I canned him and walked away from the advertising world—and its alternate reality. Walked away, mind you, breathing deeply, shedding the hurt, and looking for something to write after the play, which was produced as a result of three off-Broadway readings.

At some point, I had to ask the good Dr. Sabath to cut his fee in half. He acquiesced politely. He’d become invested in me, as I had in him. And his first question was, “Did you walk today?” I said, yes. I walked across the park to get here.” “Good,” he said. “What else are you working on?” “Well, I’ve been reading a political journal, and I took a crack at writing an article. It actually got accepted.” “Wonderful,” he said. And off I went on my new career “cold turkey” as it was.

At some point, I felt strong enough to go it alone, and I said goodbye to the good doctor, my spirit guide. I walked home sadly across Central Park, knowing I’d be a bit more flush, thanks to Dr. Sabath, who’d opened one more door for me back to the world.

Yet this world was lonely at first minus the weekly advice. But I put my nose to the grindstone as I had in adland, began writing more political pieces, only to be interrupted by 9/11 one morning.

My wife was working that day in a TV commercial production company as a stylist in the second unit, which had been bound for the World Trade Center to shoot a scene for the “I Love New York campaign (what an irony). She called me and told me to turn on the TV. Just as I did, the second plane hit. I called my wife back and she was safe. The shooting unit had let her off near my then unmarried daughter’s apartment where she slept over and came back home the next day.

Restless for a closer view, I walked over to Riverside Park to the very end of the Trump pier jutting into the Hudson. I could see the cloud of smoke but not the Towers. Tears came to my eyes. It was like getting two molars pulled without an anesthetic. The sight hurt. I turned and walked about a mile back home in Riverside Park. I thought of Dr. Sabath and my steps grew stronger, even though I was fighting the gravity of the event. All I could think of was, “Walking is life.” Today, maybe 30 years and a War on Terror later, it still reverberates in my mind,” the addictions have been gone as long as 9/11.

I also remember another quirk of Dr. Sabath. He told me he sharpened his eyesight by trying to spot lost pennies in the street. Lost pennies? He had a bowl of them he’d found. It encouraged him, he said, “to keep his eyes open.” To this day, a mutual friend tells me he seeks them out still when he goes walking. Yet, eccentric as he was, I’ve rarely met such a fine and dedicated man. He was the victim of a broken marriage and lived alone in a large East Side apartment. I believe he rented out a room or two in it, probably to supplement seeing patients like me, to whom he imparted his wisdom so generously. I guess leaving an eye out for lost pennies inspired him to his “Walking is Life” theory. And a fine theory it is, especially since I was one of the lost pennies he found and shined like new.

Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer and life-long resident of New York City. An EBook version of his book of poems “State Of Shock,” on 9/11 and its after effects is now available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. He has also written hundreds of articles on politics and government as Associate Editor of Intrepid Report (formerly Online Journal). Reach him at gvmaz@verizon.net.

11 Responses to Walking is life

  1. Victor Caruso

    Moving story Jerry, I will start looking for pennies when I am walking.

  2. Dave Alpert

    This is beautifully written and touched me emotionally. I feel fortunate to know you.

  3. Me to.

  4. Fred Harden II [Freddy]

    Hello Jerry,

    Kudos to you Jerry for your very poignant, very well-written, and especially for having the courage to depict a salient snippet of your real-life saga. ["Screw(ing) your courage to the sticking point!"] During the middle 80′s when I worked in countertrade at corporate for Northrop Corporation [now Northrop Grumman] when I was in LA and not traveling, e.g., rather than eat lunch I’d invariably go to the boardwalk in Manhattan Beach nearby by car and briskly walk solo by the ocean for about 45 minutes. It cleared my mind and with the removal of endorphins I feel confident it also improved my overall work and performance. It also especially helped me to maintain my sanity and sense of self-worth when I later ran into an internecine political buzz saw between the Aircraft division and corporate at the firm.


  5. Jerry Mazza

    RE: Victor Caruso. You are a shining penny, Vic, and always will be.

  6. Jerry Mazza

    Re Dave Alpert: I feel fortunate to know you, Dave. Your writing has taken on a power of honesty all its own.
    Keep on Keeping on,

  7. Jerry Mazza

    Re Ray: Thanks for your voice from down under, my friend. Good to hear from you as always.
    G’day mate.

  8. Jerry Mazza

    Dear Freddy,
    It’s amazing that you’re on the other side of the country and can communicate with me as if it were the other side of Manhattan
    Best regards,

  9. Jerry Mazza

    Re: Dr. Sabath:
    He just called me to thank me for the piece and tell me how lucky we both were for our friendship. For sure, Doc.
    For sure!

  10. Very touching Dad. Thank you for sharing.

  11. -
    thank you, Jerry
    very well done

    i also need to walk
    it’s the only time i can think

    once i get a rhythm
    the words come on their own

    i always forget them
    and they’re gone forever

    but the freedom i experience
    is exhilarating and complete