Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Scavengers of the Desert

They swoop down on their mark as the first rays of light split the gray Coachella sky. Most are cunning hunter’s intent on grabbing as much bounty as they can before more experienced hunter-gathers crowd them aside in their feeding frenzy.

The real pros know how to find the traces, tracks, and signs of a pending materialistic sacrifice. Yet only after scouting the day’s prey on Craig’s List, newspaper listings and select internet sites such as Tattoo Mark (one of Sharon’s favorites) can they be sure of the worthiness of their mark. Once satisfied of their vision quest, the stalking begins.

The hunt goes on year-long but always grows into a heightened frenzy when the snowbirds return to winter in the Valley. It’s a classic rendezvous in the best tradition of the mountain men. Only instead of trading pelts and beads, the currency exchanged is a few cents on the dollar for the long forgotten treasures of someone’s passed life. For unlike most other places in the country, there is an abundance of consignment stories throughout the Coachella Valley.

It’s almost as if Woody Allen had descended upon the land and pronounced his vision of a shopping religion which is ‘never pay retail.’ It’s a mantra whispered among the locals and visitors alike and easy to believe when there are so many venues to choose from.

There are church-sponsored thrift stores, specialty shops in mid-century modern furniture and accessories and stores specializing in only estate sales. There is even a chain of stores called Revivals that is one of the grand-daddy of all of them. Simple garage sales are the poor cousin in all this huge cauldron of shopping activities.

Despite the plethora of brick and mortar shopping sites, the real deals (and steals) take place in the individual homes now relegated to the children or in-laws of the deceased who are cleaning house. ‘Everything must go’ is their rousing anthem and it usually does in a whirlwind of flying shopping bags being stuffed, eager fingers snatching up bargains and dutiful husbands guarding the booty as the misses hunt for more.

Make no mistake, these are the real professionals who do this for a living or live to do it every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. They are the re-sellers, the collectors, the bargain hunters, the shopping addicts, and the scavengers looking to pick off the pitiful remains of a once full life.

These modern-day Comancheros arrive early, listen to the gossip of ‘what’s inside,’ can spot deals (or resales) and know how to negotiate the terrain. I’m just a tenderfoot among these veterans and careful not to cross their paths.

That said, I’ve crowded alongside the best of the best at the Hearst mansion (newspapers) finding old books for my research library. I’ve arrived late at the Swanson compound (frozen foods) which had been picked over before I even got in the front door. I’ve meandered through the long-forgotten lives of past Hollywood royalty in some cul-da-sac down Valley.

Picking through the remains of someone’s life seems cruel at first but it’s also finding treasures not found elsewhere. Even an inconsequential something might jog my imagination and trip my mind to dream up yet another story to tell.

So, Don Quixote gets to share space with my Yellow Submarine. Not a bad price to pay for following on the trail of my fellow scavengers.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Taking Homeroom Attendance

The man approached me at my ‘Meet the Author’ presentation last September. He had seen my play ‘Riot at Sage Corner’ a month earlier and quite enjoyed it. Turns out, he was an old classmate of mine that I hadn’t seen in over fifty years. This Cretin Alum had become a fan of my writing too. Now anyone who has read my books and seen my play is a true fan of mine.  

We chatted briefly and he bought several more of my books. It was fun to reminisce, if ever so briefly, about life back in high school. But it was one of his comments that made my day and set the wheels in motion. I owe that fellow a huge debt of gratitude for fueling a fire that became a conflagration of exploding ideas which then morphed into my next play ‘Club 210.’

‘Club 210’ is the result of an over-active imagination force-feeding my head images of a fifty-year high school class reunion. ‘Two Ten’ was my home room back at Cretin High School. During that initial encounter my classmate casually remembered that I was in home room 210 at Cretin while he was in another home room down the hall. By the time the evening was over, ideas were cascading out of my head and on to paper. The story line focused on an eclectic group of individuals who had graduated the same year and all came from the same home room.  It was where they hung out, sang songs and misbehaved. Hence the title: ‘Club Two Ten.’

My own fifty-year class reunion a few years earlier played a big part in churning up the waters of ‘what ever happened to…’ Fifty years had passed and few of my classmates had traversed a straight and narrow and predictable pathway through life. Most of us had experienced some detours, disappointments, surprises, challenges, awesome adventures and wonderful relation-ships. I wanted the same things to happen to my characters in the play. Life events that were, at once, believable, happy, sad, fulfilling, sometimes shocking, longing and soul-satisfying.

As it is evolving through its many draft forms ‘Club 210’ will encompass universal themes such as the challenges of growing old, high school romances, ‘forever friends’ and success and failure at life and love. Ultimately it is a self-examination of what has passed with those folks for a life. If pressed, I would describe the play as a lighthearted drama with some serious moments. Oh, and there’s original music too.

I’m tapping into my memories of the sixties to mix them into a brew of conflicting emotions for my characters. It’s not a nostalgic trip back in time as much as wallpaper for my characters lives back then. That washboard of past laundry will reveal much of the present day lives of my characters. It’s been a fascinating journey thus far. They’re teaching me more about themselves every time we meet at the keyboard.

I also learned a lot from last summer’s production of ‘Riot at Sage Corner.’ That venture provided me with invaluable lessons in the art and craft of play production. Watching the actors perform on stage I was struck by the fact that they had all begun as just a figment of my imagination. I created that old hippie, her sidekicks as well as the rigid and uncompromising Margaret Maple. All those voices heard inside my head so long ago were being repeated by actors mimicking my imagined characters. I hope the very same thing will happen again next summer.

The lessons learned were easy to list and yet hard to define. Last summer I had to learn team work, the idiosyncrasies of small town America, clashing and compromising personalities and life in Community Theater.

There is still a long road ahead. Many more drafts, surgical edits and subtle nuances will be needed to flavor the story line. There will be critical readings by friends and then a cold reading of the entire script by professional actors. All that before it gets back to Minnesota and the real work begins.

It will be a while before the reunion takes place. It’s scheduled for August of this year. You are all cordially invited to attend. It’s going to be a blast.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Gathering of the Tribes

Five Little Elves

My kids wanted to call this blog ‘Fear and Loathing in Palm Springs.’ Nothing against Hunter S. Thompson, but I thought the references to drugs and misbehavior a bit out of place for our Christmas sojourn in the desert. Of course, if they were subtly referencing a total lack of sleep on all our parts, daily ventures into the unknown and an unquenchable thirst for new experiences they may have captioned this blog quite well.

Our Christmas rendezvous also entailed daily trips to the grocery store and generating enough trash to fill a Brooklyn landfill. Like an Emo band of the Eighties, our eight days together corralled the divergent personalities of five grandchildren and funneled that atomic energy into an album of fun and exciting memories for all. It was a cacophony of new experiences that left the adults exhausted, the kiddos clamoring for more and everyone deeply satisfied with the outcome.

And isn’t that what Christmas vacations are supposed to be all about? For Sharon and me it was introducing a tapestry of new adventures along with the old favorites our lovable munchkins have come to expect at Nana and Papa’s house. I couldn’t be more pleased.

Before the Storm

Christmas-Hanukkah dinner with friends & family

Great performances written by Brennan, directed by Maya

Papa and the Elves

Pirates at Bay



Pool Time

Youngest Surfer

NFL Material

Don't Ask...

Family at Joshua Tree

My son the explorer

My daughter the explorer

Mario Kart racing

Maya reading to her siblings/cousins

Covered Wagon Ride

Inside the covered wagon

Elders of the Tribe

Talking to the mules

Hanging out at the ACE Hotel again (I was the only one who wasn't in hipster black)

My posse

Heading Out

Ghost riders in the wash

Cruising in a friend's old Cadillac convertible

Father and Son

The recurring question during that week seemed to be ‘how is Papa holding up?’ Well, let me see. There was no writing for two weeks (counting a week of prep before the onslaught.) I had to give up my quiet time each morning. It was non-stop action with little to no down time allowed. We went from a quiet household of two people to eleven folks sharing the same space. So how did I do?

I spent a week with my kids and grandchildren. It was close, intimate times with the ones I love. It was creating memories for those young expanding minds that I hope will last a lifetime.

I am exhausted but yeah, I did OK.

Riding the Bales

I think they did too.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Ghosting in the First Degree

My Friends and I at a High School dance

It was a bit rough when my high school girlfriend broke up with me. I remember her gentle sentences were laced with serrated edges and trite catch phrases like “we should date other people” and “we can still be friends.” But it was high school and the whole process of ending a relationship was new to both of us.

When my college girlfriend broke up with me it was a straight forward surgical cut. “It’s time for both of us to move on with our lives and the best of luck to you.” Short, clean, and honest.

Twin Cities Public Television TPT Building

When I got fired for the first and only time my boss sat me down and simply said “This isn’t working out.” I was out of a job but at least I got to my executioner.

Over the years, I’ve had a few friendships that started out promising enough but then the other party decided to end it with a constant series of excuses that finally convinced me we were no longer salon companions. It wasn’t an honest way of ending our friendship but at least I (finally) got the point.

Breaking up is never easy to do. But at least in the past most folks had the curtesy to speak their mind face to face or by the telephone. Nowadays some people have taken to ghosting. I guess it’s easier and requires less conscience then the old fashion way of facing reality.

I first heard of ghosting when Charlize Theron dumped her then boyfriend Sean Penn by simply disappearing from his life. Apparently it’s rampant among millennials. Statistics show that nearly 80% of millennials have experienced it. Along with new age Tinder and Snapchat, ghosting comes with the territory.  It’s one of the paradoxes of the new fast-paced digital dating culture.

If I were polite I’d agree with the argument that those folks are simply avoiders. They probably avoid any kind of confrontation at all costs. They certainly don’t want to deal with their own uncomfortable feelings. A quote I read says it all: ‘The emotion maturity that comes with giving the person you’re dealing with an ounce of common courtesy is not in their emotional vocabulary or repertoire.’ Well spoken.

Palm Springs Writers Expo

Since I started spending more time out west that old ghost of relationships gone south has raised its familiar head again. I am always seeking out opportunities where I can use my writing or speaking skills. Some proposals are met with silence while others are warmly embraced if the details can be worked out…at least at first.

What is onerous, yet unspoken, to some folks is the fact that I don’t spend twelve months in either place. For some of these potential partners that is a deal breaker. Yet it’s never explained that way. I try to be upfront about my love for both states and concentrated focus when I’m in either.  Yet for some people it’s either all the time or not at all.

Recently I was ghosted. It was nothing as dramatic as a termination of employment or cancellation of a contract. The group I was dealing with simply refused to answer my e-mails requesting a meeting to clarify where the group was heading. They do great work and it would have been wonderful to work with them on future projects. For reasons still unknown or understood by me they decided otherwise.

I scanned the newspapers. Yep, they were still in business. I reviewed their web site. Yep, they were still doing great work. So, they were still around…just not on my radar.

Of course, there are a dozen reasons why partnerships, joint ventures and other assorted collaborations come to an end. Members of the venture may have changed their mind about goals and objectives. Perhaps this particular joint venture no longer fit their criteria. There could have been a time shift or time crunch for future productions. Their production objectives may have changed and no longer fit my qualifications. The possible reasons are many and varied and probably legitimate.  Any and all were probably sound reasons for ending (what I thought was) a budding artistic relationship.

“It’s so Hollywood” my Palm Springs friends have told me even as I tried to explain that some of these past ventures were with Minnesota folks. “Minnesota Nice” and all that I argued but to no avail. Perhaps they’ve taken the refrain that my old boss used to recite whenever given the chance. “It’s just business” he said when he fired me. He got canned six months later and I’ve always wonder if he thought of that same trite phrase when it happened to him.

Perhaps it has been a good lesson for me. People with no spine always try to dodge the bullet but usually shoot themselves in the foot or blame the other party for their predicament. If they didn’t have the courage to tell me face to face that ‘it was over’ I doubt our joint ventures would have ended well.

At least my old girlfriends (bless their hearts) had more class than that.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Fixin' to Die

I’ve reached that point in my life where people I know are starting to die.

Of course, there were others who died back when I was young. But youth and little personal connection meant a somber night at the funeral home because I had to not because I cared. As I grew older there was the occasional unexpected demise of a casual friend or associate but never some-one close enough to move my heart.

Me as a Teenager

I guess I became more aware of my own mortality and that of others when my early morning sidekicks began to pass away. It was those scholars of teenage bliss and angst. My early morning rock and roll companions who trudged with me through twenty-below-zero snow banks to deliver the morning newspaper. They sang to me though my transistor radio and told me all about love and loss and my best years ahead.

One of my favorite song-writing poets died recently. Leonard Cohen spoke to me in a dozen different voices and languages; all of which tugged at my heart and soul.

Now even some folks closer to me, in-laws, parents and relatives have passed on. No one is fixin to die but it’s coming around for all of us. My next door neighbor died a couple of weeks ago. We weren’t close and he wasn’t very friendly but we talked occasionally and joked and philosophized about the world. Now he’s gone too.

Like most past generations, death was one of those topics that seldom if ever was addressed among my relatives. It was never broached in my immediate family when I was growing up. Through either a reticence to admit the inevitable, fear, or abject denial the topic was seldom broached. People grew old, got sick and died. Then someone had to write their obituary.

Strange though it might sound, I’ve always admired those folks with the foresight and fortitude to write their own obituaries.

I think it would be a challenge yet immensely rewarding to write an open honest obituary. I believe a funeral should be the time of celebrating a life well led. A finely crafted obituary can share with friends and strangers happy memories over sadness. It forces the writer to address one key question: what is my legacy? What did I do here on earth to warrant the pride and hopefully the gratitude of my peers, friends, family, and others?

All those thoughts and more have been compiled in yet another file folder for a future musical play I’ve love to write. It’s about a funeral and the celebration that takes place there.

Since none of us have the advantage of knowing how long we’re going to live, I think it’s important to reflect on what we can do now that we’re still alive. Beyond the standard of having a will, staying healthy and exercise, I do have a few more thoughts.

We should each day as if it is our last. Not in a morbid kind of way but rather a daily celebration of the wonder of life and friends and family all around us. Helping others even in the most simplest of ways can mean everything to someone else. And lastly, follow your dreams whatever they are. As the cliché goes, life is too short to live it any other way.