Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Like Snowflakes Come and Gone

There seems to be three kinds of folks who reside in Palm Springs.

Aerial View of Palm Springs

The year-around residents who are seldom called natives since very few of them were ever born and raised in Palm Springs. Then there are the snowbirds who migrate here every fall and leave in the spring. Finally there is that curious tribe of part-timers who live here during the winter months and then go back to their other world when the air begins to bake. They’re neither full-timers nor are they just casual visitors. Most of them would bristle if you call them snowbirds but they haven’t endured the brutal summer heat so they can’t wear that full-time moniker either.

Palm Springs, like a lot of other resort communities, has a transient nature about it. Since its inception in the mid-30s it’s been that place most folks visit but seldom stay. The migration is heaviest during the winter months when a lot of visitors come here to pretend they’re in the playground of the stars, they’re someone else and reality is just that dirty snowbank blocking their driveway back home.

Unfortunately some of the natives find friendships with part-timers akin to those fleeting friendships in the service or temporary companionship on a cruise ship or tour bus.

While some of the locals, confident in themselves, can easily say: “It was great seeing you again. Let’s get together next fall when you return” there are others for whom part-time friendships are tainted by absence and waning interest.

It’s a curious kind of limbo that straddles two worlds; here and back there. The real challenge comes in establishing friendships or relationships amid a juxtaposition of a limited time frame, an artificial environment and focused commitment to the essence of what it means to be a friend. Some of the natives (full-timers) can accept these conditions while others can’t quite grab hold of that concept. I’m not sure why.

I’ve experienced some of those confusing relationships during the three seasons that we’ve spent here. In some instances, I think we’ve became casualties of unrealistic expectations in the land of make-believe. That or some resentment over the fact that we don’t have to endure the harsh summer months here.

My first season here I belonged to a great screenwriting group led by an energetic woman named Judy. Our meetings were lively, entertaining, informative and challenging. Unfortunately that spring Judy left for upstate New York and the group dissipated over the summer. Everyone had disappeared by the following fall.

Over several seasons, my wife and I have met several couples who live in our neighborhood. We quickly became fast friends…for a relatively short period of time. Then much like elementary school ‘best friends’ they disappeared over time and never reappeared. Now when we see them at neighborhood gatherings it’s as if we never met them in the first place. Very strange behavior indeed.

Last season, our fitness center became a casualty of the demolition of the Spa Hotel downtown. When the swim group went looking for another place to exercise it turned out that no other hotel wanted to take on a group of older men and women who simply wanted a place to exercise each morning. The hotels were very clear that they’d rather pander to sometimes drunk, usually half-naked twenty-one year olds around the pool rather than a group of steady customers serious about their exercising each morning. It was strictly for insurance purposes we were told.

Eventually another pool was found but within that group a growing chasm between natives and part-timers ended any hope of reunification. So the old group of year-round residents has their pool and Sharon and her friends found another one in town.

Over the seasons, some members of our loose federation of friends and associates became very comfortable with parties and events at our house. They loved coming here because (to be quoted) “Sharon is such a great hostess and you folks have the space.” But over time the idea of having reciprocating events at their place is no longer became part of their lexicon. A curious turn of events.

On a more personal level, I’ve met several fellow writers with whom I shared some great moments over coffee. But they also seemed to vanish into the background and never reappeared again. I’d like to find out why but their cyber door hasn’t been opened for quite some time now.

So this curious quest for new friends on a part-time basis continues.

2015 Palm Springs Writers' Expo

Fortunately there seems to be a growing cadre of new friends who are unhindered by time spent apart. My mantra is to seek them out here and there. I’m always searching for new ones while trying to hold on to the old ones; even tougher for an introvert like me.

Next season I hope to get more involved in local theater and play-writing. There is a new screenwriting group with the Palm Springs Writers Guild that I want to examine. It should be an interesting journey.

But I’m not interested in ‘empty calories.’ I want substance over distance and honesty over cocktail pleasantries.

Life is too short to expect anything else.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ghost Writers in the Sky

Brian and I in Slot Canyon

I’ve never been one to read obituaries. A lot of folks I know do that now on a regular basis. Perhaps more to be assured they’re not mentioned there than anything else. I guess at a certain stage in one’s life there finally comes the feeling of mortality. The realization that the long haul ahead has passed by and now some of us are on that downhill side.

As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, I was slow coming out of the starting gate and at a certain point gave up on the notion of maturity as a goal of mine. It wasn’t as much giving up as it was realizing that I liked my life as it was; appropriate for my age or not. With my kids, I could be a kid again. Now with my grandchildren; ditto.

Saturday Long-Distance Bike Ride
So I continued running on a daily basis when others gave in to middle age and more sedate sports like golf or watching football. I upped the ante with marathons, trail running, hiking, mountain biking, long distance biking and just about anything that included non-motorized movement.

Cretin High 50th Class Reunion - 2011
My fiftieth class reunion was a shocker in the number of classmates who weren’t with us anymore. It was only then that it sank in what a precious thing life can be. That brush up against the grim reaper scraped my consciousness once again when I added the link ‘Hippies of the 60s and 70s’ to my Facebook page.

Almost overnight the list of the deceased began to pile up. But these weren’t personal friends or associates from times past. Instead they were my icons and kindred souls on that perilous journey from adolescence to adulthood. They were the artists who wrote the songs, played the music, made the movies and drew up those images in my minds-eye.

They were my trusted advisors and rule-breakers. They were the outlaws and mavericks who dared to think differently and venture where others feared to tread. They were the father-figures I never had and the coach whose rules were made to be broken. They made the movies that stirred my soul and wrote the books that captured my imagination. They helped me dream the dreams and think the impossible.

The list keeps getting longer every day.

To be honest they really weren’t my heroes in the sense of someone to follow. Instead they were the stewards of my focus, inspiration, adoration, hopes, dreams, ambitions and all those sundry illusions of youth all wrapped up in a cool song or transfixed movie that jolted my mind and raised my blood pressure.

I could list the artists and their songs, movies, plays or books that grabbed my gut and shook my innards with an explosion of emotion I hadn’t experienced ever before.

Now a lot of them are gone. Of course, I’ve got YouTube, DVDs, old vinyl and old black and white memory jolts to take me back in time.

If they were still around I’d want to tell them how much their works of art still mean to me. It’s is a road often traveled yet seldom crossed. They took me for quite a ride if only for a minute or two. But it was a great trip and made this whole life journey thing one heck of a grand experience.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Garden Party

“I went to a garden party to be with my old friends…”
-Garden Party by Rick Nelson

Funny how cactus and sage can bring so many folks together.

With all the hyper-ventilating over the California drought it’s not surprising that a lot of folks are turning to desert scape. It’s an attractive alternative to the costly exercise of watering their lawns everyday especially during the scorching heat of summer.

For years now, our own Desert Horticultural Society has been preaching that message and it’s finally catching a lot of attention. After we switched from a blanket of green to sand and rocks our home was on one of the society’s annual tours. Since then we’ve had a chance to look at other homes during their annual garden tour each spring. It’s always quite revealing.

Membership in the Desert Society has exploded as more and more people come to appreciate the beauty that is part of converting their old lawns to desert scape. They’ve come to realize that a switch from green to brown and beige is more than just water conservation, it’s a different mind-set entirely.

The last several years has seen a plethora of creative, inspiring and magical changes in yards around town. The old standard blanket of green has been replaced in many instances by an abundance of drought-tolerant plants and scrubs and vegetation. And the transformation hasn’t been restricted to any one part of town.

From the boulder-strewn neighborhood of Little Tuscany up north to the classic old Hollywood enclaves of Las Palmas and Movie Colony, the changes just continue marching along. If you allow yourself the time and patience to observe the different kinds of desert scape the details can be amazing.

The photos below from the last two garden tours are prime examples of what I mean.

It’s a pretty neat Garden of Eden Desert style.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

In the Footsteps of Cabrillo

San Diego Harbor

I’ve lived in some cramped quarters in my younger years. There were studio apartments around the University of Minnesota that stretched the definition of small and compact. Micro apartments were going macro and closets became weekend accommodations. In some cities space-wise living hasn’t changed a lot since them.

Recently my wife and I stayed in just such a condo in San Diego. We were there for the weekend at the invitation of friend from the desert. Our unit was next to theirs. I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say it was like an expanded closet or even rivaled our walk-in back home. Despite the cozy quarters, their building was right on a bay full of sailboats and wonderful harbor sights. There was nothing to complain about.

We spent our first afternoon walking along the harbor with great views of downtown San Diego.

Then we drove up through the Point Loma Ecological Reserve to the Cabrillo National Monument. There we learned about the Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who became the first European to set foot on land that later became the west coast of the United States. The lookout there had a great view of San Diego bay and Coronado Island.

We had lunch at the Hotel Coronado as all the tourists do and strolled the beaches there. It was your typical weekend get-away until my wife went shopping. From that point on what I remembered most about our trip would be a lost memory to my host’s husband… even if I was a better man for it.

The next afternoon our host announced that she wanted to go shopping with Sharon. She suggested her husband and I could entertain ourselves. I’d seen her husband on several occasions and even been partnered with him during social events at our house. Somehow I’d gotten a reputation for being nice to him and he liked me although he thought my name was Michael and couldn’t remember where we first met.

Our host’s husband is a little different. In social settings he can make some folks uncomfortable. Not that long ago he was diagnosed with the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. He’s slowly losing his mind…and he knows it. “Can’t remember’ has become an all too familiar refrain coming from him.

For some reason he and I clicked; go figure. I somehow found a connection with him that had eluded all the others. I called it banter and bullshit.

It was a deliberate effort in our conversations to interject more bantering back and forth. What others might describe as nonsensical sayings, phrases and mind-games that we didn’t mind playing with each other. It was totally devoid of posturing and positioning. But the ring of honesty settled well with him and he enjoyed the journey of a wordsmith.

We found a place along the bay to sit and watch sailboats at play and skateboarders sail by. But our bantering lasted only so long and silence began to creep in between us. Then almost by accident I mentioned my time in the service and the proverbial light bulb went on.

He’d enlisted in the Army about the same time as I was getting discharged. But for two service-men reliving the life of olive drab and khaki little had changed. Remarkably his memories of that period were quite lucid.

We spoke in acronyms and chopped jargon-laced sentences. I knew that strange lingo from my own time in the service as well as the research I’d done for my novel “Love in the A Shau.” Turns out, it was a language he remembered well and the memories came tumbling forth.

I asked if he remembered his bag drag (his last day in country-Vietnam) when he dragged his duffel bag of junk and memorabilia toward that waiting airplane? He certainly did.

When did the eagle shit? At the end of each month. Some of his pay went directly home and the rest ended up in his pockets for beer and cigarettes.

Was he a grunt? Damn straight he was and proud of it.

Did he encounter any Donut Dollys? (American Red Cross Volunteers) Not where he was stationed…just care packages in the mail.

I asked about his hooch (living accommodations). He swore a bit and described six cots in a stifling, smelly, moldy old tent. He was never sure if it was the accommodations or his bunk mates that smelled the worse.

Did he experience the pucker factor? In a firefight once but that was all he would say.

He said he flew in Spooky once (a C-47 with 7.62 mini guns mounted in the side windows.) But even with ear plugs he was nearly deaf for a day afterwards.

What about Puff the Magic Dragon? (An Air Force AC-47 aircraft with side-firing mini-guns and flares to support night operations.) He wanted to experience puff but he never did.

What was his happiest day in the Nam? When he became a single-digit midget because he only had single digit days before he shipped out for home.

We exchanged war stories and bravado-laced adventures for a long time. I had my tall (slight exaggerated) tales to tell and he had his. It was a curious combination of straight talk, bullshit, embellishment and exaggeration shared between two old work horses put out to pasture.

When he finally got tired, we went back to the condo for some beer until the ladies returned. But for that brief moment in time he was back ‘in country.’ The memories flowed and painted delicious portraits in his minds-eye. Once again he was young and brash and full of piss and vinegar. And scared…like the rest of us. But it was all good.

Turns out he gave me a wonderful gift that weekend by the bay. A trip back in time when we were both carefree and oblivious to life outside of our own. Before reality and responsibilities dragged us back to the real world. He was alive once again that afternoon if only in his mind.

And I was a better man for taking him back to that Big PX in the Sky.