Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Secrets to Any Relationship

Sharon and I
One of the joys of being married to a very smart person is the wonderful abundance of advice, suggestions, comments, and snide remarks made in an effort to make me a better person. Most long term couples do that to one another. Some more than others. The trick, I believe, is to listen intently, assess the advice given and then make up my own mind as to its validity. Unfortunately (for me) my wife is usually right about 90% of the time. So I have to listen…I’m not stupid;  just slow at times. Sharon insists her record stands at 110% of the time but that’s yet another discussion.

For years Sharon has preached that most men are clueless because they ‘just don’t get it.’ The secret, she insists, is NOT in giving big presents, hosting elaborate events or making expense gestures. Instead it is in those little ‘everyday things’ that go right to the heart of any woman. A kind act with no reciprocation expected, helping around the house, a single rose given for no reason or any one of a million or more little signs that you care.

I would extend that ‘caring state of mind’ to anyone you’d like to be closer to; a friend, a colleague, an associate or someone more intimate than that. It’s really quite simple. If you want to make a good impression on someone, make an honest gesture. Anything less can be seen for what it immediately is. It really is ‘the little things that count.’

I’m reminded of that almost daily and I’m not talking about my other half whispering it in my ear. Palm Springs as well as the other desert communities down Valley has its own set of rules for hosting and entertaining. It’s a gathering of desert folks that enjoy informality and casual dining along with evening entertainment, usually cards or games. It’s informal and yet appreciation of their guests is built into the behavior patterns of the hosts.

The same is true for the guests invited. It’s the little gestures that show true appreciation and acknowledgment of what their hosts are offering. Common curtsey dictates bringing a gift, a bottle of wine or something to snack on. It’s acknowledging the effort your host has made for a pleasant evening. It never hurts to pitch in and help set up, serve, or clean up afterwards.

A couple of years ago, I had an interesting conversation with Rosie who was the manager of our fitness club here in town.

She commented that this has been an unusually busy season for her members to have surprise visitors coming in from cold weather parts of the county. Not surprisingly, these new-found friends are quite interested in partaking of our unseasonably warm weather during the heart of winter elsewhere.

One member even commented: “I just heard from my brother whom I haven’t spoken to in years. He wants to visit with his new bride and I haven’t even met her yet. What am I going to do with them for a week in my small two-bedroom condo?” She’s decided to spend appreciably more time at the gym while her self-invited company lounges by her pool.

Living in a warm weather locale during the winter months makes one attractive for visitors and occasional guests who love to drop in and savor the warm weather, blue skies and gorgeous mountain views. The same thing is happening to our friends who now live here year-round. They too have seen a steady influx of guests from back home.

Unfortunately every once in a while some of these newly implanted house guests have an attitude that your home has become their resort away from home. They’ve drunk from the carafe called “A Palm Springs Lifestyle” and swallowed it entirely. It’s an interesting paradigm and yet nothing could be further from reality.

What seems to be missing for these occasional house guests is the simple realization that it’s your ‘home’ they’re staying in. It’s not a Motel Six or some cute B&B they read about in Vanity Fair. Some of them don’t seem to understand that it’s not rental property or a vacation home. It’s your home…period…and as such should be treated that way.

While all of us here are incredibly fortunate to have a place to stay during the winter months, most of us have worked darn hard to earn the right to be here. It’s not something we take lightly or for granted and as such we’re very protective of it.

I’ve stumbled upon a simple test that is a pretty good indicator of how our guests are going to perceive their stay in town. It occurred over a couple of years with three different couples.

After picking up our guests at the airport, I drove to the exit gate to pay for parking.

1.      Without saying a word, the first couple whipped out some money to pay for parking.
2.      Once past the gate, the second couple spoke up in the back seating about offering to pay for parking but went no further than that.
3.      The third couple just kept talking in the backseat and didn’t even notice that I had paid for parking.

It turned out to be the perfect metaphor for how these three couples saw their week in Palm Springs as our guests. The first couple saw it as a wonderful opportunity to enjoy all that Palm Springs had to offer and a willingness to show their appreciation for opening up our home to them. They didn’t hesitate to pay for their fair share of our expenses that week.

The second couple appreciated their week in Palm Springs and wanted to reciprocate by taking us to dinner a couple of times.

The third couple enjoyed their week in Palm Springs.

Comparing house guests with a marriage partner may be a bit of a stretch. But the power of those simple gestures can’t be underestimated. I keep hearing that all the time. Some of it has sunk in while more work is probably needed for a complete reformation.

“I keep trying.” I argue. 

“Yes, you are,” Sharon responds.

It’s the little things that count. I have to remember that the next time we’re invited over for dinner or I think to make ‘that simple gesture’ to my better half.

So goes the game of life, hospitality and friendship.

And true love.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Having Arrived

William Krisel sketch of a 'Pod House'

Our Indian Canyon Neighborhood has two neighborhood parties a year; one in the fall and another in the spring. It’s a great opportunity for everyone to get together and share local news, gossip, city and community events. Volunteer opportunities abound with the annual Festival of Lights (Christmas) parade and for Modernism Week. It’s a chance for many neighbors to get involved in their community once again during the season. It’s also a chance to see old familiar faces that went north, south, east, and west during the summer months.

For an introverted writer such as me, it’s a wonderful opportunity to observe and make mental notes on some of the diverse, eclectic and fascinating folks who live around here. As accomplished as so many of them are, there doesn’t seem to be any ‘one-upmanship or haughty attitude among the lot. I’ve come to believe that the one common denominator among these folks is their casual attitude toward success. Few if any are trust fund babies. Most have earned their place in the sun. A lot of them are DINKs (duel income, no kids). In short, they’ve’ arrived’ but don’t feel the need to call attention to themselves. I admire that quality in anyone but especially with this group.

When our neighborhood was first planned, it was the city’s southernmost development and considered quite a distance from downtown. Originally built in the late 1960’s, Indian Canyons is comprised of primarily midcentury modern custom homes designed by such noted architects as Dan Palmer, William Krisel, Stan Sackley and others. The first residences were situated around a golf course, now called the Indian Canyons Golf Resort.

Everyone was excited about visiting the party house for this fall. It’s known in architectural circles as the “Pod House.” It’s an original design from the world famous desert architect William Krisel. The house consists of a series of octagonal forms clustered together. It’s been remodeled several times and has been updated but still manages to stay true to its original desert form and function.

These neighborhood parties are a casual affair in dress, demeanor and conversation. No one is trying to impress. A few of the uninitiated who come with that ‘I’ve arrived attitude’ very quickly realize there is always someone else with a bigger house, more exotic collection of cars, better beach house, mountain chalet or condo in the Big Apple.

Success comes in many shapes and forms. L.A. is notorious for its A-lister parties where perceived success is everything. There, in the smog bowl, people feel the need to show their success through their opulent homes, a herd of vintage cars in the driveway or art pieces on the walls. Other folks wear their success through implied or real power and influence. Fortunately, few of those A-lister types show up at our parties.

Instead there seems to be a common pattern among the folks here in the desert to downplay their success. They’d much rather go about their business in a very subtle way and not call attention to themselves. I like to play the speck on the wall observing all the goings-on and making mental notes for future novels, plays, etc.

Sharon loves to mix and mingle with the crowd. There’s usually a parcel of good-looking, sharply dressed dapper young men all schooled in the fine arts of food, fashion and architecture. And every one of them safe. Sharon, of course, is in her element; working the room like a scene right out of ‘Hello, Dolly.’

There’s always someone new to meet and usually they come with an interesting story to share. For example, at one of our first parties I met a new neighbor of mine. Turns out, he is the chief pilot and head mechanic for Disney. The mouse has six corporate jets hangered in Burbank and they circle the globe on a daily basis. The first time I met him at the fall party he had just flown in from Paris and was in Dubai before that. Another neighbor was in ‘the movie business’ in the sixties and seventies. “I was in most of those awful B-movie biker films, playing sidekick to the chief villain,” He told me with a laugh. “Usually I got bumped off by the end of the movie.” Now he acts and directs in local theater productions in his retirement.

Sharon met a fellow artist whose work graces galleries on Rodeo Drive and New York. They like to huddle in the corner and talk ‘art talk’ most of the night. Another non-descript individual is a big L.A. developer.

I’ve always told my kids not to brag about themselves. ‘Let others talk about you,’ I’ve coached them, ‘they will probably embellish what they say. If you said the same thing, it would sound like bragging. If they talk about you, it sounds better than it probably is.’

I believe you show people who you are by your actions, not your words. Talk is cheap. Actions are seen and believed. My neighbors seem to abide by that rule. Nice bunch of folks.