Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Ghosting is Another Word for...

You can fill in the rest of the sentence yourself. Some folks see it as an easy way out. But in fact, it is short- sighted, mean-spirited and doesn’t meet the standards of a confident person.

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 series of excuses that finally convinced me that we were no longer salon companions. It wasn’t an honest way of ending our friendship/relationship but at least I (finally) got the point.

Breaking up is never easy to do. In the past most folks had the courtesy 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 owning up to reality and taking the honest way out.

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 too. 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 this new fast-paced digital culture.

Centuries ago in another time and place, it was rough when my high school girlfriend broke up with me. I remember her gentle sentences were laced with the standard catch phrases like “we should date other people” and “we can still be friends.” But even then, at the height of my immaturity, I could sense her honesty and willingness to face our future and conclude there was nothing there. It was high school and the whole process of ending a relationship was new to both of us.

Beacon Hill
When my college girlfriend broke up with me atop Beacon Hill it was a straightforward surgical cut. “It’s time for both of us to move on with our lives and the best of luck to you.” The breakup was short, clean, and honest, nothing like the ghost busters of today.

Ghosting happened to me several times this summer and yet it’s always a surprise when it does. If I were polite I’d agree with the argument that folks who take to ghosting 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 emotional 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.

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

It’s been nothing as dramatic as a termination of employment or cancellation of a contract. The folks I was dealing with simply refused to answer my e-mails inquiring about my play offerings. Their venues have done some great work and it would have been wonderful to work with them. Yet for reasons still unknown, they decided otherwise.

Before this most recent incident, another out of town venue had requested several of my plays to review. I heard nothing back and inquired several times as to their status. Again, it was easier for that group to pretend I didn’t exist rather than send me a simple ‘not interested’ e-mail. People are strange.

My theory is that a confident director or artistic director isn’t intimidated by a playwright in their midst. Both playwright and director know who is in charge and ultimately who makes the creative decisions surrounding the play in question. Yet it seems to me that part of their job is to communicate their decision and if that includes rejecting a play then the playwright deserves the courtesy of being told just that.

“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 trite phrase when it happened to him.

Of course, there are a dozen reasons why partnerships, joint ventures and other assorted collaborations come to an end. Members of the proposed venture may have changed their mind about their goals and objectives. Perhaps this particular 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. They might be trapped inside their own paradigms of what theater is supposed to look like. Or simply stated, I didn’t make the cut. 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.

Perhaps it was 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.

They’re like the little old man behind the curtain in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ I’d like to call them cowards behind the curtain but perhaps I missed their motivation for not responding. Either way, it was still ghosting.

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

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

California, Here I Come

I have a long and fractured romance with California. Its part delusional, part opportunistic and part magical. It’s like Leonard Cohen’s Hydra calling me back once again. But mostly it’s a comfortable relationship that seems to bring out the flip side of me that a lot of folks never see. It is at once my friend, adviser, irritator, and councilor. It forces me outside of my Midwestern comfort zone.

Marlene and I on the beach - 1946

The first time I stepped foot in California, it was off a Great Northern Railroad passenger car from Minnesota. The year was 1946.  I was three and my sister two. Along with my mother we had ended up in Carmel, from the Twin Cities. My Mother, by then separated from my father, had been encouraged to come out west to become a housekeeper for a past client out of St Paul’s Summit Avenue.

When we finally arrived on the coast, broke and hungry, my mother was informed by the old woman’s son that she had gone senile and would no longer have use of my mother’s services. My mother was literally stuck on the beach with no place to go and two kids in tow. She got the next train back to Minnesota. So much for California dreaming.

My second time in the Golden State was in 1964. Fresh out of basic training, I was on my way to my first assignment at the Presidio of San Francisco. Along with three other trainees, we were crossing the country in a 1960 Buick that could go 120 on the open road. When the front end of the car started to drift off the road at 120 mph, I slowed it down to 99 and crawled the rest of the way through Nevada.

Life at the Presidio was a Camelot-like existence that ended all too soon eight months later. Nevertheless, it gave me wonderful material for three future novels to be written.

The third time to bask in that warm California sun came back in 2000. Our family was staying at a friend’s condo in Palm Springs. It was our first introduction to desert living. The dye was cast and we were hooked.

Thus began a twenty year intermittent love affair with that diverse community and all of its surrounding amenities. As much as the state changes and evolves, and stumbles and leaps ahead of others, it remains a pathfinder in so many areas.

Vintage California hints of a glorious past and an ever-evolving future. The Coachella Valley is no exception. Alongside its staid traditional communities down Valley, Hollywood East still provokes memories of a rich and tawdry past; full of tinsel, illusions and entertainment. It’s a diverse, irreverent, creative, and wonderful playground for mind expansion.

That inland ocean, the Salton Sea and its surrounding oddities like Salvation Mountain, Slab City and Bombay Beach provide a post-apocalyptic landscape to inspire the imagination. The mountains, canyons, and desert expanse paint a background tapestry of wonderment.

It’s become home in more ways than one. It’s a cradle upon which the imagination gives birth to creative, frivolous, silly and enlightened ideas, concepts and story-lines. It inspires me and mocks me at the same time. It’s the flip side of that routine called lifestyle. If ever there were a balance in my life, it would be called the Minnesota-California connection.

What can I say... it works for me.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Nice (South of France)

Nice, France
It was only a couple of year ago that we were on a river boat meandering south along the Saone River heading for Nice in the South of France.  In a strange sort of way it was deja-vu all over again. I was finally completing a journey I started back in the winter of 1967.
Paris has always been a seductive mistress. As the song title goes, ‘The Last Time I saw Paris,’ it was a much different time and I was in a much different place in my life. My first sojourn into the city of lights was supposed to be a simple pass-through as part of a full-blown retreat from the harsh winter in Denmark.

The experience of living in Denmark had been exhilarating at first. But gradually the daily work routine had grown stale with a lack of friends and no clear direction in my life. Then as the first snowflakes powdered my apartment steps, I realized another Minnesota winter was in my near future unless I split for someplace warm. Compounding Mother Nature’s wrath were my own lingering doubts as to the wisdom of leaving home for living in a foreign land without any clearly defined plans or objectives. I was like a rudderless ship facing an on-coming storm.

It didn’t help that the few friends I had up north were all moving on themselves. Tina was leaving town for Istanbul and points east. My Canadian travel companion was heading off for parts unknown with his new girlfriend.  My Spanish tutor Maria had left the laundry to go back to Spain. Heidi didn’t want me to go but that was a commitment I wasn’t ready for. I loved Denmark and its people but it was time to move on.

Map of the South of France
The south of France seemed a logical answer to a young kid who was ill-equipped and clothed to face that Nordic reality. Tall tales of warm sunshine, topless sun bathers and easy work was enough to lure me into the false sense of road security. I was assured that a quick thumb and ready smile would take me to those rocky shores in just a couple of days.

By the time I got to Paris, all bets were off. As I trudged through the city in hope of enlightenment, I only got hustled by Gypsies instead. After three days of aimless wandering I was ready to cash in my pocket money for a ticket home and three steady meals a day. I found a travel agency, got a one-way ticket home, and left on a silver bird the next day.

Paris has always been that stand-alone, a bit stand-offish kind of friend. At once it can be charming, brash, conceited, seductive, alluring and always surprising. Taken on its own terms, the city offers sunlight and sin on an equal basis. This fourth trip through Paris would mean three days in the city before we boarded ship for our cruise to Nice.

Sharon and I in Paris
Our tour guide reminded us that Paris is always ‘in season.’ This just happened to be the height of the in-season. From our high-rise hotel, we could see the waves of humanity crowding the city sidewalks. Tour groups of every imaginable size, demographic, country of origin, level of sophistication and focus of interest had swept over the city in a title wave of humanity. There wasn’t a museum, landmark, art gallery, district, avenue, historical site or coffee shop that wasn’t inundated with foreigners eager to soak up the Parisian experience. Even the best ice cream shop in town had a line of buyers stretched out around the corner.

The city is different now than back in the 60’s. Ornate low-rise buildings have been toppled by towering glass hi-rise commercial enterprises. There are more tourist boats on the Seine than commercial traffic. Bike-sharing stations pepper the city with their light blue bikes while the new tour buses squeeze into narrow side-streets that even an old donkey cart had a hard time man-euvering. Signs of progress are everywhere but nowhere as dramatically as on the ring route and major arteries that are clogged with vehicles of every size, shape and purpose from morning to night.

The city has evolved and changed yet feels much the same as it did back in the Fall of Sixty-Seven. The locals have long grown used to the artists, vagabonds, tourists and people of the streets who wander by their doorsteps in search of enlightenment. The smell of cooking, cleaning and daily living still permeates the side streets and dark alleys.

I’m physically in a different place in my life but mentally it hardly feels as if I’ve left town at all.

The distractions are everywhere. From traffic that can clip you off your feet if you aren’t looking to Gypsy girls who study your every move for an opportunity to strike at your wallet. Still some things never change. All the young French girls and women are out in force, their low-cut summer dresses, short shorts or white flowing transparent skirts (short slips underneath) a marvelous distraction. One’s eyes can’t help but wander and wonder.

Paris Murals
There’s a Parisian phrase that goes: ‘On the Left Bank, we think and on the Right Bank, we spend.’ I have little interest in the Right Bank where towering glass institutions of commerce and wealth line the Seine. My heart and my head are back on the Left Bank where Montmartre and the Latin Quarter still attract all kinds of creative spirits. While there’s no time to retrace Hemingway’s Paris haunts; I find the quaint cafes, dark narrow alleys and winding streets are still filled with the polished and unwashed alike. And while the new Bobos (bohemian bourgeois) fake their artistic lineage at gallery openings, true artists continue to live in squalor and strive to find meaning in life itself.

Montmartre still holds an allure for me. Climbing its hill brings back the same sense of wonder along with deep breaths and dampness across the brow. Parisians talk about the place the way New Yorkers talk about the Village. Hemmingway is no longer lingering at some corner café but other bohemians, artists and lost souls have taken his place.

The trip south to Nice was uneventful, restful and easy on the feet. It gave me plenty of time to ponder the times gone by and the journey I never completed back in ’67.

The first time I stumbled into Montmartre I ordered a coffee at some small corner café. It was a thick black muck that gripped my spoon and burned my throat. No wonder all the pretty young girls were sipping theirs so slowly and taking forever to finish their thimble-sized drink. The small cafes of Nice were no different.

This time around, I found a small café next to a flower shop. I ordered a beer and slowly began sipped it-French style. Crowds brushed past my chair and dropped cigarette butts at my feet. The rush of humanity flowed unabated in a steady stream past the café.

They were all looking around but not seeing a thing. Neither the flowers, the glorious sunshine, nor the warmth of France. It was just another day on the coast for them.

Me…I was finally home.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Where Have My Landmarks Gone

Old Cedar Street | St. Paul, MN
I’ve talked about this before in another blog a couple of years ago. The fact that so many, if not almost all, of the landmarks, monuments, structures and areas that played a background part of my youth and young adulthood are gone now. It’s a past history that exists now for the most part only in old black and white photos, old documentaries and textbook illustrations. It’s the result of decades of growth and change and evolution. But it’s also an erasure of any physical evidence of those places that surrounded my life as I grew up.

Old St. Paul, MN

Old St. Paul, MN
Strand Theater | Old St. Paul, MN

Granted, we’re talking about a period of over sixty years. That other blog entitled: ‘Retracing Cobblestone Steps’ focused on a few specific landmarks that had disappeared. Upon further reflection I realize that this phenomenon encompasses a much larger area and geography. In short, just about every landmark that I encountered growing up in the Twin Cities is now gone.

Normal evolution and urban development has erased any and all vestiges of those times past. It’s almost as if they never existed in the first place. Call it progress but a part of my history (and thus my memories) disappeared in the dust and rubble of those buildings.

Exchange Street | Old St Paul, MN
It begins with early homesteads on Smith Avenue, Exchange Street, and Randolph Avenue. The first two are devoid of any housing stock and the third has increased in value a thousand fold over time.

St. Louis Grade School

Cretin High School
The new downtown Saint Paul has no resemblance to the pre-World War Two stock of ancient buildings I grew up with in grade school. St. Louis grade school is gone now. Cretin High School has evolved, changed, and even moved their front entrance to another building.

My first apartment on University Avenue and my first job at the Minnesota Department of Health no longer exist. My hippie hangout in Dinky Town has been replaced with towering student high rises and a ‘tiny Target.’

KTCA Building

Triangle Bar

KTCA, the old public television station on Como Avenue has moved downtown. The Neuman Center moved off campus and the West Bank has changed colors and flavors since I hung out there. My old favorite bar is now an off-site treatment center.


Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting
But it’s not just local landmarks that have disappeared. WTVS, the public television station in Chattanooga, Tennessee bears little resemblance to the Southern enclave of rednecks and cowboys when I came there as a ‘Yankee’ from up North. MCPB, Maryland Public Television, has evolved over time and now my time frame there is considered their ‘Camelot years.’

Each new generation has created, found, and/or changed any semblance of what used to be. My old hangouts, dens of iniquity, lodging, lovemaking, entertainment, and employment are but dust in that memory bank called my past life.

Now when my grandchildren ask me about the fabulous fifties, the turbulent sixties, the seventies and beyond, I can only smile. It’s all there (or some of it) in my mind. But I don’t have any land-marks we can visit anymore. There are only old photos, sketchy memories and true embellish-ments that only a Papa can spin to the delight of eager and receptive young ears. It was the best of times and...

  • Credit should be given to the Minnesota Historical Society, Jean Day and others who have posted these old pictures on Facebook. I don’t know all their names but the pictures are priceless.