Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Bride Wore Gray

The bride was radiant in her low cut, slit thigh-high bejeweled dress.  The groom looked distinguished in his dark blue tuxedo. They were getting married and we were invited to their reception. If their grandchildren had been there, they certainly would have remarked how happy the couple seemed on their wedding day.

This was a Palm Springs wedding but one without the requisite cute little flower girls, beaming parents and young attendees anxiously awaiting the dance and drinks afterwards.  Welcome to the wonderful world of romance set in Palm Springs and replete with its own set of rules for love and marriage among the senior set.

After knowing each other for quite some time, the bride and groom finally decided to get married.  Now on the back slope of their full and active lives, these two lovers decided that a walk down their back patio was entirely plausible and right for them.

The wedding and reception was held at the couple’s home in the Tennis Club neighborhood just west of downtown Palm Springs.  It’s a picturesque area steeped with over a hundred years of romance and love in its history.

Its surrounding mountains form the oldest neighborhood in Palm Springs. Life there began in the 1880s with one of the first settlers to the area. San Francisco Judge John McCallum tried unsuccessfully to develop agriculture in the desert sands. The first settlers in the area lived in homes made of adobe, railroad ties, and clapboard.

The neighborhoods unique charm is highlighted with its eclectic mixture of over 400 homes, condos, apartments, small inns, boutique hotels, and upscale restaurants, many of them surrounded by historic stone walls.

Secluded behind those walls the tabloid stories began and have continued to multiply over the years.  Lucy and Desi first came here for their weekend escapes from Hollywood. But long before that other Hollywood celebrities came there under a cloak of secrecy to get away from the maddening crowds. Starlets galore have always haunted the area in hopes of being discovered. It’s all written on the bedroom walls and in literature promoting tall tales of yesteryear. Most of it is true and what is exaggerated still helps sell a lot of hotel rooms.

Many of the wedding attendees were members of Sharon’s swim group.  They were a mixture of full and part-time residents. Much like our neighbors around Indian Canyon, these were very accomplished folks who have been lucky in life and love…even if it’s for the second or third time around.

There was the restaurateur of an historic Hollywood hangout with his new Russian girlfriend.  Everyone seemed to be vying for the couple’s attention and perhaps an invite to his restaurant.

A number of old school pals had flown down from Calvary, Canada to kibitz with the groom.  No one quite understood just how he had made all his money other than something about real estate and financing. But it didn’t seem to matter. He was a generous guy and everybody liked him.

Several women in the crowd stood out for their miles resurfaced and yet bodies to die for.  I don’t know if it was diet or exercise or a surgeon’s magic touch. But I’m betting on the latter.

Splashed among the crowd were several jackets and pants that offered a rich kaleidoscope of color.  The women were decked out pretty well too. There were diamonds and jewelry galore; each gender vying for the most weight allowed. It was like a glam set for the well traveled.

Despite their Botox and billions, they were a fun group to talk to…as long as you didn’t take yourself too seriously.  This really wasn’t our kind of crowd. It was like slumming…only moving upstream.

There were few assumptions and even fewer expectations among these folks.  Many of them have been there before and traveled a sometimes rocky road to their current success. It was fun to exchange travel notes, hear about their latest acquisition or toys and, of course, the weather back home. The crowd was warm and friendly. Everybody found someone to talk to…even if some of the conversations just skimmed the surface of pleasantries.

I guess it just goes to show that everybody needs somebody even at our advanced age.  Love comes in many different forms and flavors. Who am I to judge what attracts one person to another?

We toasted the bride and groom and wished them the very best.  I think many of the folks there secretly hoped that if they were ever alone at this age they would also find the joy and excitement of love once again.

It might be a lot to hope for.  Nevertheless, in the warm glow of that winter moonlight anything seemed possible.

Besides, the evening was rich fodder for an old storyteller like me.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Basket of Rabbits

 A lot of kids grew up with a favorite pet. Perhaps a dog or a cat or a hamster named Stanley. My sister and I grew up with a rabbit. Not the domestic kind but a wild cottontail, named of course, Nosey.

Now why would a grown man want to write about a rabbit? This is a man that doesn’t side up to dogs very well and the only cat he likes is an ornery self-absorbed Calico by the name of Medbh (pronounced Meave) who was named after a legendary Irish warrior queen. Go figure!

Nosey was remarkable on a number of different levels not the least of which is that she survived out of the wild after just five days here in God’s playground. 

It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about that ‘silly wabbit’ who was such an important part of our household for a number of years. While other kids had cats and dogs, we had a wild rabbit living with us and never thought it strange.

Nosey and her siblings were born in a small hole in the ground and then covered with dead grass and twigs. Four tiny week-old newborns left in an empty field. It looked just like an Easter basket full of cotton-tail bunnies. Mother rabbit probably went off to shop for food when her litter was discovered by four rag-tag urchins one Saturday morning.

Like the kids we were, there was no thought of leaving the nest alone. Instead we found a box to put them in and took them home. Three died in the first couple of days but one lived and started to thrive under a constant infusion of warm milk and affection. We had a fourth member of the family.

Nosey was like a dog with its affection and a cat with its independent streak. It lived in the basement during the day when we were at school and our Mom was at work. It traipsed through the house at night like it owned the place and sat wherever it wanted to. It ate when we ate and used to beg for scraps from my Mother. It watched TV when we were allowed to and it did its business in a litter box downstairs. It was one very remarkable rabbit.

Growing up during my grade school years Nosey was a constant. My sister would take it for long walks on a lease and I would let it roam the backyard when I was around. During the summer it would sit in our window sill for hours on end and often we’d catch it looking in wonderment at the world outside.

It would eat the tinsel off of our Christmas tree and nap in my Mother’s lap. It would share an apple with me and even came to my 18th birthday party.

 One cool dude and his rabbit.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

My Tabernacle

One of the first things I did upon my return to the desert…was climb a mountain.

Not just any mountain but my favorite sanctuary of solitude and comfort. It’s my granite tabernacle for reflection and contemplation. A slab of rock that warms my bottom as well as my soul. An escape for quiet soul-searching amid the shadows of Indian lore and homes of the rich and invisible.

As mentioned before in another blog, it’s my VisionQuest. Only this year it’s different. Hopefully I’m a little wiser if not a bit older. Reflections seem to trip forth easier with age.

The Coachella Valley is shouldered by several mountain chains which have imbued this area with numerous opportunities to seek solace, quiet reflection, exercise and release from the routine of our daily lives.

Something magical; no almost spiritual, can happen during a mountain hike. It’s a physical as well as mental challenge. At face value, it can be an afternoon of hiking, climbing or finger-probing the rough crags and fissures of the mountain face. On a more spiritual level, it’s an assent into the vaulted realm of oxygen deprivation, aching muscles, sweat-drenched clothing and overall mental exhilaration…all to put your head in the right place.

 There’s a culture here among a small group of old goats who work and hike these mountains year round.  They care for the trails as an elder does the tribe. They endure scorching summer heat and windy overcast winter days. Most are rail-thin. Their skin looks like weathered copper or dried up old parchment. Most of them are lithe as an antelope. They’re the desert rats of the higher altitudes.

Following that elite group of desert denizens come another eccentric group of trail runners and new age meditators.  They frequent the mountains like others hang out at Starbucks. Finally come the tourists, snowbirds and occasional weekend explorer (many with families in tow.)

In the spring, the trail is accented with blooming yellow brittlebush and flowering cacti…and at times an abundance of rattlesnakes. These rattlesnakes are usually very difficult to see since their coloration blends in perfectly with the rocks and gravel on the trail. One bite and it’s off to the hospital for several vials of antivenin serum. It’s an expensive proposition at several thousand dollars per vial.

There are picnic tables at the top which are perfect for casual reflection without worrying about some rattlesnake biting you on the butt. Scenic vistas go on forever in a field of quiet that is almost deafening. Along with dreams and meandering what-ifs, it’s a perfect place to escape within your head and do some exploring there. But it still doesn’t compare to my tabernacle.

I’ve tried yoga, marathons and long trail runs. Collectively they punish the body and sometimes sooth the soul. My tabernacle is no different. It just takes a long climb to get there.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Driven from Within

Where does motivation come from?

I have my own theories. In fact, they’re pretty deeply entrenched ideas of how and why some folks become motivated and others spend most of their lives just floating along.

It’s a bit of an obsession with me. I wasn’t cognizant of that fact until I got into writing on a full time basis. That theme of ‘being hungry’ has permeated a lot of my writing. The desire for more, for something else, something better has crept into two of my books “Love in the A Shau” and “Debris.” Both novels feature hungry young men determined to make a success of themselves. It’s a theme I can relate to and a vision quest I don’t ever see ending.

Let’s face it. We’re only here on earth for a brief period of time. Why wouldn’t we want to make the very most out of every minute of our existence? Why wouldn’t we want to do something with our lives that was worthwhile, satisfying and hopefully of benefit to others? And more importantly, why wouldn’t we want the same for our own children and grandchildren?

But anything worth doing is going to require some kind of sacrifice. Nothing comes easy…at least for most of us. When you’re born at the bottom then anything above that looks pretty good. When you have nothing growing up then you don’t long for those vapid pleasures that don’t amount to a hill of beans in the overall scheme of living. Growing up with the basics gives one a real appreciation for the simpler things of life.

That doesn’t mean you don’t want more. It simply means you appreciate the basic values of your own existence and can realistically grasp the intrinsic appeal of other things beyond your reach. There is value in being raised with a focus on the fundamentals of living and a scarcity of those extraneous distractions of wealth.

It’s not always easy being born rich. The three generation theory has been around for a long time. Among other monikers, it’s been called shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.

Based on fact and some fiction, the theory simply asserts that most businesses don’t survive beyond the third generation of owners. Grandpa starts the business. His son takes over and continues for a time. But by the time a third generation is ready to step up to the plate, the discipline and hunger for success has been muted and gutted for all intents and purposes.

And it’s hardly unique to this country. In China, it’s called rice paddy to rice paddy. In Italy, it’s called cobbler to cobbler. In Ireland, it’s called clogs to clogs.

Being born poor and hungry can be a strong motivator for the taste of success. But what if your kids aren’t growing up poor like you were? What if they’ve had a lot of advantages simply because that’s what their parents (your own kids) want them to have? Do we deny them opportunities to travel, read a lot, go to a good school or have other life experiences we could never dream of when we were growing up? I think not.

Inherent in my personality is a deep-seated prejudice about giving kids ‘everything’ simply because their parents can afford it. I think there are distinct disadvantages of being raised a rich environment. And we all know who ‘they’ are. Back in high school, they were all gathered around the ‘most popular’ table in the cafeteria. Their descendants are still there today.

So where’s the balance between giving your kids or grandkids every opportunity you can to enrich their lives and still raise them as responsible, respectable and appreciative citizens of the world?

I certainly don’t have all the answers as to how to motivate young people nowadays especially my own grandchildren. The best advice I could probably give my own kids is to lead by example. To reward their own children’s efforts and not necessarily their success. And to remind their kids that practice makes for opportunities.

I didn’t become a writer in my advanced age because I wanted to.  I’m not writing because I have nothing else to do. I’m not writing because it makes me feel important. What I try to explain to these well-meaning folks who ask why I do it…is that I have no choice. This isn’t something that I can play with occasionally when the mood strikes. This is something that I have to do.

The writer in me has to get involved in my character’s lives. I have to travel back out west occasionally and I have to muddle around the under-belly of Palm Springs when the time comes. I have to do what I do because I was born hungry and still am today. I hope to stay hungry for the rest of my life.

In past blogs, I’ve commented that I want my grandchildren to ‘be hungry.’ Thus far, I think they’re developing a pretty healthy appetite for more. Hopefully at some point in their young lives, they’ll come to understand that old adage as I did a long time ago.

That the harder they work, the luckier they might become.