Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Girl with Seven Suede Jackets [re-blogged] - A belated birthday salute

She was born on a dirt farm in the middle of nowhere, Nebraska. Rental property that barely paid the rent and put food on the table. Her father worked the fields every day and her Mom tended their home. It was bare-bones living but it was a good life.

The family moved to another farm when she was eight years old. By then she was getting up early in the morning to help her father milk the cows, sling hay and keep the bulk tank spotless. She was the eldest daughter doing what was needed to be done to sustain the family.

Even then there were strong influences that shaped her life. People and events that steeled her determination to make something of herself beyond the 250 acres of wheat, soybeans and corn.

She had a loving grandmother who was more worldly than most farm wives. For two years the young girl walked from school to Grandma’s house for lunch and instead of washing dishes, they played with dolls, colored, made sugar pies and pictures. A myriad of other mind-expanding experiences.

Long before women figured out they didn’t have to wear girdles every time they stepped outside, there was an aunt who pioneered early feminist Zen. She traveled the world and ran a bar in the winter. Her aunt could command a bar stool discussion with the best of her patrons. In the summers, her aunt had a gift shop up north where the young girl worked. It was there she learned how to charm the customers and make the sale, honing her business skills.

During her junior year in high school, a nun took a liking to her and told her she had to go to college. She would be the first in her family to do so. And even though there was no money for such a venture, it really wasn’t negotiable. The nun taught her how to break the rules and glass ceilings in that small town.

She was student class president her freshman, sophomore and junior year. Even though she was elected class president her senior year, the nuns decided a boy should have that position. So the young girl learned to roll with the clerical punches and still come out on top. She went to Girls State, was awarded the Betty Crocker Homemaker of the Year Award and elected Sodality President. The nuns couldn’t take that away from her.

Back in high school, a neighboring farm boy came to ask her out on a date. She politely declined and suffered the wrath of her father who thought she should have gone out simply because she had been asked. “What will our neighbors think?” her Father asked her. “It doesn’t matter,” she answered. Still doesn’t.

One day the girl’s mother was cornered in town by the attorney’s wife. The townies wanted to know why her daughter, a simple farm girl, thought she could go to such an elite all girl college in the cities. “Who does she think she is?” the woman asked her mother. “My daughter!” her mother answered. And that was that.

The young girl took from all her life experiences the proposition that she could and therefore she would. If she wanted it, she would work for it. There was no free lunch but she was skilled in the kitchen. Those were giant assumptions in the early sixties, which in turn she passed on to her own children and grandchildren. No excuses, she would say, just focused determination to do what was needed to be done.

And she realized very early that she was smarter than most of the boys she dated. She still feels that way about men in general although she hasn’t dated in quite some time.

In college, she had to work almost full time while attending school as a day student. She lived with her aunt and learned to manage a tight schedule, be judicious about her sleep and still find time for student activities. She ended up student MEA president her senior year and traveled to Washington to represent the state. It was four years of sacrifice, hard work and little sleep and she excelled at everything she did.

Day students were not the girls who lived on campus. Boarders often didn’t have to work; they enjoyed time for studies, boys down the road and pondering their future career or lifestyle. Some enjoyed a preponderance of wealth.

Like the girl with seven suede jackets.

This girl had a different suede jacket for each day of the week. Different colors, different styles and all unique. It spoke to the wardrobe packed in her dorm room. For many girls on campus it was a gilded world of their liking. A few were pampered, privileged and very entitled. Others were not as privileged but still lived in a world far apart from morning milking chores and afternoon fieldwork the young girl was used to.

The young girl’s humble background and tough work ethic provided a sterling example for her children and grandchildren for what hard work, focus and determination can accomplish for a person.

Success followed her academic and business career every step of the way.

She’s been president, chair, board member or committee member of every organization she’s ever belonged to. With her it’s almost a given. She was the first woman president of her Rotary club and first female Rotary district chair. Her list of posts, appointments, awards and recognition could fill a very large book. She commands and gets the respect of every man in the group.

Businessmen universally respect her because she’s got the chops, the business acumen to deal with adverse situations, tough calls to make and focused goals to achieve. And unlike some of her professional colleagues, she has a common sense approach to conflict resolution. She’s like a mama bear in an Ann Taylor suit.

Negotiations are her forte. Her ready smile and easy demeanor belie a sharp focus on the issues at hand, a calculating mind and deep insight into the human condition. Hardly seems fair to those sitting across from her in any business or political negotiations. I like to say she will eat you for lunch and you just came for desert.

If I ever get this writing thing going for me, I’m going to ask her to negotiate on my behalf. Her daughter is an attorney. No surprise there. Between the two of them, they would make a formidable team on my side.

In another life, she might have led a breakout at the cloisters, been Ophelia’s sister, a confidant to Clare Boothe Luce and most certainly a blue stocking suffragette. Perhaps even an Amazon Queen.

She still thinks she is smarter than most men.

But I’m not going to give her that one.

I married her instead.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

San Diego Romp

Sandwiched between the airport (nail-biting roof-top landings, anyone?) and the inner harbor, Harbor Drive can be a semi-quiet respite from the sun-drenched adrenaline that is a part of the everyday San Diego scene.

From sailboats to kayaks to aircraft carriers, the inner harbor has it all. Places to sit and read, picnic grounds as well as cozy corners to meditate. Hovering over the east side of the harbor is downtown San Diego with its ever growing bees-nest of high rise condos, apartments and office buildings. San Diego is California’s second largest city with well over a million three plus residents and growing.

Friends had invited us down to their new condo perched on one of the many hills surrounding the harbor basin. Unlike the tiny studio they had before, this was a larger unit which in turn was part of a much larger complex. It was typical California lifestyle with its volleyball sand pits, hot tubs, outdoor pools, and patio amenities.

Situated next to the complex was a wetlands park. The area encouraged easy discovery of the ecological habitats of many different types of birds and water fowl. In addition to a cornucopia of environmental landscapes, old world charm crowded alongside modern high rise capitalism. San Diego has a rich history of California exploration and entrepreneurism. The harbor collection of old ships is a great example of this.

First we drove up through the Point Loma Ecological Reserve to the Cabrillo National Monument. Point Loma is a hilly peninsula that is bordered on the west and the east by the Pacific Ocean. 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 splendid view of San Diego bay and Coronado Island.

Clipper ships ran up and down the California coast from San Diego to Fort Bragg, Northern California until the early nineteenth century.

Old Point Loma

Star of India

The history onboard those vintage ships is almost palatable. Salt air smells still permeated the rough-hue timbers and tiny cabins. It’s fertile ground for an imagination run amok of tall ships and the rough-cut men who sailed them.

History rules this part of the state and takes visitors back to the early frontier years when gold rush fever emptied whole town and cities of men on their way to Alaska.

La Jolla has always held a fascination with me. The theater was closed when we got there but a stroll along the park downtown still captured that west coast vibe the town and theater are so well known for.

Old Man and the Sea

Seven lanes of traffic are standard for most California freeways.

It still isn’t enough to contain all the traffic flowing from the San Diego area heading north. Two hours and a world away from the calm of desert living.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

En Plein Air [re-blogged by popular demand]

Indian petroglyphs are a rarity around my neck of the woods. A few have been found far back in the canyons that cut and slash through the foothills of our surrounding mountains. They are the earliest paintings we have on record here. In turn, they have begun a long local tradition of capturing the mystery and beauty of the desert. Long after the last of the ‘ancients’ left their scratchings on cave walls another kind of painter entered our desert studio.

By the late 1800s, the dry desert air proved to be a haven for tuberculosis patients who came to the Palm Springs area and the high desert to recuperate and recover from their illness. A few of them were painters and word began to spread back east about the vast desert wilderness with its stunning mountain backdrops as a special place to paint.

But the real breakthrough came in the early 1900s with the growth of the plein air movement in painting. “plein air” derives its meaning from the late 19th century French term “en plein air” or translated “in the open air.” The phrase was used to describe the practices of the French Impressionist painters who sought to capture the effects of light and atmosphere by completing their work out-of-doors and by using loose, open brushwork and vibrant colors. 

Many experts believe the plein air movement attained its most dramatic articulation in the desert of the southwest especially in the distinctive quality of light sought and expressed by the early California desert painters. Local artists such as Carl Eytel in the early 1900s and later John Hilton in the ‘40s helped spread the word of this desert wonderland as a magnificent natural palette.

Photo by Stephen Willard

Another one of the famous painters of that era was Stephen Willard who wasn’t a painter at all. Originally a photographer, Willard is best remembered for his iconic postcards from the Palm Springs area. After color painting some of his local photographs, Willard found a ready market for those paintings as postcards. Each postcard perfectly captures the true essence of the iconic Palm Springs lifestyle.

Postcard by Stephen Willard

Stephen Willard postcard
Gradually the movement lost its power and modern art came into vogue. Then in the 1970’s, California impressionism soared back into favor among collectors. Art itself like some strange virus continued to grow unabated in the valley. Now every community seems to have its own art walk, festival, show or art tours. Three distinct areas have slowly morphed into showcases for some of the most popular artists in the valley.

The Backstreet Art district is located several miles from downtown Palm Springs. Located in an old strip shopping mall, there are dozens of artist-owned galleries and working studios which feature paintings, sculpture, photography, jewelry, ceramics as well as performing arts.

A much larger area for artists is located north of downtown Palm Springs. Usually when an area is labeled with a catchy moniker, it’s just an attempt to categorize an image for a gullible public to glam on to. It’s often just a brand that some hack created back in the hinterlands for the benefit of some publicity-seeking city administrator. It’s like naming neighborhoods so the realtors can have something to label in a pretentious way and charge more for the housing there.

In the city of Palm Springs, North Palm Canyon Drive was a slow growing area where local artists could find cheap rent outside of the main part of town. At one time it was a barren stretch of boarded up storefronts and half empty motels that offered none of the glamor and cache of old or new Palm Springs. 

It was like Greenwich Village and Soho and Dumbo before the beats and hipsters and other so-called outcasts found a home there. And like those venerable neighborhoods, the Design District also found itself home to struggling as well as established artists looking an appreciative audience of like mind souls.


  The area is now thriving with notable shops such as Trina Turk, thirteen forty five, just modern and a pop-up store called Raymond/Lawrence. That store describes itself as ‘a new indoor marketplace with handpicked pop-up shops by creative brands.” They make no secret of the fact that they are selling the Palm Springs lifestyle in home d├ęcor, furnishings, men’s and women’s fashions and fine art.


El Paseo is the ultimate in artistic regeneration and commercial display located down the valley in Palm Desert. It’s a mile long commercial strip that is generations and millions of dollars from the mud huts of early painters deep in the desert. It is meant to embody the style and elegance of high society in the desert. This art-strung boulevard houses over 250 retailers, professional services, renowned restaurants and locally owned boutiques. It is the ultimate avenue for anything and everything you never knew you needed.

Desert art has come a long ways from those first ancient petroglyphs through ‘en plein air’ to the rich tapestry of creative talent that resides here now. There are a plethora of art shows, film festivals, world-class gallery and museum events, rotating exhibitions, national touring and locally produced theater, classical to contemporary music concerts, couture fashion shows and architecture and design tours.

Yet as much as time changes the flavor of art, we still get to immerse ourselves in the daily show all around us. Each morning, sunlight still dances off of the mountain sides and the casts imaginative shadows over our lives.

Photo by Frank James

It’s like a new show that takes place every day and we get to be in the audience and live it along with that celestial talent from above.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Green Room

The specific origin of the term ‘Green Room’ is lost to history. One story is that London’s Blackfriars theatre (1599) included a room behind the scenes, which happened to be painted green; here the actors waited to go on stage. When I worked at Twin Cities Public Television, our green room was where guests would wait before appearing live on television or in one of my video productions.

My own green room has now been emptied. The show will begin shortly. A new play of mine is about to be performed for the first time. So, once again, I’m back at the Steeple Center theater watching my imagined characters come to life; their words transferred from my script to the stage. It’s much the same and yet so very different from last summer’s creation of ‘Riot at Sage Corner.’

I thought an appropriate sub-title for this next new play ought to be:

‘Romance, mischief, good music and a doobie or two
After fifty years, what else would you expect?’

That seems to encapsulate the drama, trauma, and energy I hoped to create with this new storyline of a group of alumni finally gathering together once again after an absence of fifty years. So much had changed. So much had stayed the same. Last January, I visited this subject matter of my next play, in another blog entitled Taking Home Room Attendance.

Now all that effort last winter of telling a story about a fifty-year class reunion was coming to fruition and a play was being created by a very talented cast of actors. The performance dates have been set, the auditions held and rehearsals are in full swing. A very talented singer-songwriter has created two original songs for the show and the sets look marvelous. The actors have been ‘off book’ for some time now. It’s all coming back to me again.

After last summer’s sold out performances of ‘Riot at Sage Corner,’ I asked myself how I was going to follow up on that success with yet another play. There is always a tendency to play it safe and create something that is assured continued satisfaction. Some folks suggested a sequel of the story of Sage and Margaret Maple from ‘Riot.’ Hollywood has been doing that for years with their franchise series. But I wasn’t interested in repeating what I had already done.

In much the same manner that I’ve never been able to focus on just one genre at a time, say more of my successful westerns, I was never interested in just repeating myself. So, I retreated into the half dozen play treatments I’d already created and went searching for some inspiration. Each play treatment had a storyline that interested me to some degree. Finally, after a lot of pondering and toying with the characters, one seemed to stand out. A class reunion of a bunch of odd-ball characters who hadn’t seem one another for fifty years but still carried baggage from that period in their lives.

My own fifty-year class reunion several years earlier turned out to be the ignition point for this new storyline. It was fifty years of change, history, lost feelings, and old feelings resurfacing again. It was one big ‘what if’ and ‘what ever happened to’ that inevitably led to ‘can you believe’ and ‘I’m not surprised.’

My theory is that people don’t really change over time. We grow, we mature and we become more worldly but our core being remains pretty much the same. It’s only when drama or trauma sweeps into our lives that change can sometimes be forced upon us. And even then, it can be a reluctant change at best.

So that theory further begs the question; can a person reconnect on some new level given the past level of commitment, pain of breakup or reluctance to return to the past even at some surface level? Are the old status symbols of class ranking, social standing or financial strength still a part of that old equation? Or is there something of shared value that transcends all those old barriers to reconnect people at some emotional level? Can our respective pasts be bypassed for a new future together?

So, for all my characters in this new play, I had to ask myself if there could be a reconnection, reconciliation, or acceptance of the past all the while bravely facing the future. That turned out to be the genesis for ‘Club 210.’

I had to create representative characters that were interesting. Some could be stereo-types while others had to stand out as being different. Some turned out to be fictional but with a dose of reality to prop them up. Others were made up but interesting to me.

There were two intimidate settings, a home room and a dive bar once frequented by the group. Both places were cauldrons of memories, some good, some bitter-sweet, some forgettable. There would be plenty of conflict and a lot of humor. Both emotions would tie and pull my characters apart.

During the months that ‘Club 210’ came into focus and finally form, I found my voice with the characters. Now it would be up to them to tell their respective stories as best they can. They all have interesting stories I think my audience is going to enjoy. The Green Room is empty, the actors are in place. All I must do is listen and learn.

Who knows, there just might be yet another story in what they have to say.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Male Friends as an Oxymoron

The Old Gang (Photo by Jerry Hoffman)

My wife has a theory, in fact, many of them. I think it’s indicative of that species that they somehow believe women have cornered the market on all the great wisdom of the world and are more than happy to share it with their hapless other half.

Army Foot Locker


“Men don’t have friends.” Sharon claims. “They have business associates, contacts, pals, acquaintances, fishing buddies and other males who share similar interests. But friends, true friends who would drop anything at a moment’s notice at help you…that’s something else entirely” …she claims.

She believes men aren’t programmed for such intimacy, such sharing and revealing, such openness. That, in turn, leaves us vulnerable (in our golden years) to reveal in fantasies of past accomplishments, old school glories and tempting reflections back on old relationships.

At first, I was offended by her seemingly casual yet caustic remark. But the more I thought about it the more it burrowed under my skin like an irritating itch that I couldn’t ignore. I came to the rather painful conclusion that she might be on to something there.

(Photo by Jerry Hoffman)

Reflecting on a lifetime of relationships, casual friendships, intimate feelings, and deep connections (or so I thought) there haven’t been many if any male friends that went the distance. It was probably my fault more than theirs. But I’m guessing that neither one of us was any the wiser about it…or because of it.

Micky and I (Photo by Jerry Hoffman)

I had a friend in grade school. We shared a lot, talked a lot and waxed philosophically about the future (high school and beyond.) Yet by high school we had both moved on to new friends, activities and interests. I lost track of him for a while, made contact again after college then lost it for good.

Joel, Peter, and I at prom

I had great friends in high school. We shared all the drama, trauma, first inkling of love, rejection, self-doubt and grand hopes for the future as all teen-agers do. Graduation severed those ties until years later (fifty to be exact) when we had matured to that stage of reminiscing and wondering what ever happened to?

There were buddies in the service. Casual, surface, momentary, tepid and vapid friends who vanished just as soon as their transfer papers arrived or they got discharged. There is nothing as anxious as a man whose time is nearly up in the service. Nothing and I mean nothing is more important than their return to ‘normal living.’ All the wonderful things shared in the service disappear with that plane ticket home.

When I was living in Europe my friendships were brief, intense, wonderful, and about as vapid as morning mist. It might be a weekend in Berlin or camping on the west coast of Denmark that brought us together but Monday morning that made it vanish in a flash. Of course, we promised to write and stay in touch. Of course, we never did.

Farewell party at Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting

KTCA television

By the time it came around to making friends in the business of television, film, and video, I was a married man and busy with my other life.

This inability to build up a portfolio of friendships during our working careers only increases with the demise of real work and what to do afterwards in retirement.

Let’s face it, friendship is hard work. Anyone who is in a marriage, committed relationship or shared space knows what it takes to make it tolerable, enjoyable, believable and rewarding. It is a daily challenge.

That aforementioned sooth sayer would say that men aren’t willing to do the hard work that it takes to create and keep a friendship. Who knows, she may have a point. I’m just trying to keep my head above water with a coffee or luncheon get-together whenever I can.