Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Those Who Stayed

Some people are like homing pigeons. They find a comfortable niche and never want to leave it. The most noticeable example are folks raised in small towns who can’t wait to get out of Dodge then return to raise their families in the same environment they actually felt so fulfilling as children themselves. There is something intrinsic in their DNA that compels them to return to their roots.
Then there those who stay with a company or institution for the duration of their working career. It might be a comfortable situation, a pay grade they don’t want to give up, security, insecurity in the open marketplace or any other reason that keeps them tied to their desk and job title.
I’ve left a couple of great companies after several years of employment only because I found a slightly greener pasture across a different time zone. MCPB, The Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting was one of the best jobs I ever had. I absolutely loved it there but still the time came to move on. I guess there are just some of us who can’t sit still.
Old KTCA Building - Minneapolis/St. Paul
As the first public television station in the Twin Cities, KTCA seemed to have a grace period from roughly its inception in 1957 through the end of the Sixties. After that, management changes, staff departures and a shift in programming philosophy drained off the rough-hewn experimental, challenging directions we were going in. The station became a PBS affiliate and along with their wonderful new programming also came a uniformity and conformity that a lot of us early pioneers felt confining. So we left in drips and drabs and then we were gone.

WTCI; the public television station in Chattanooga, Tennessee was just a blip on my career ladder. What can I say; it was the Deep South in the early Seventies and as one crew member said to me: “We don’t cotton much to Yankees telling us what to do.” He meant it and that pretty much sealed the deal for me. We made some wonderful friends down there; many of whom we still exchange Christmas cards. But for the most part, they continued growing cotton and I headed north.

The Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting was probably one of my best jobs. Great institution, outstanding management, wonderful staff and crew, fulfilling job and the opportunity to explore much of the East Coast.
It was five years of firsts for me: First child born, first home purchased, first two novels written, first inkling to buy real estate and start my own business, my own program distribution business, first time I jogged three miles on a high school track and began forty-seven years of running. We lived the East Coast lifestyle and loved it.
The MCPB Facebook web site talks about that period as ‘Camelot’ and to a lot of us past staffers, that’s exactly what it was…for a period of time. Then over time budgetary issues, management changes and a distillation of some of the creative staff changed the culture and thus the heart of the institution. Many stayed on. I left to return home and gradually, I’m told, Camelot began to fade away. At least that was my perspective from afar.
There were a few other companies, some brief and others extended, after MCPB. They all seemed to begin with a bang and then gradually morph into a sad reminder of what they once had been. It might have been a graduated calcification of the creativity that attracted me to them in the first place. It might have been the laurel-resting after their first blush of success. In the end it wasn’t the same environment that nurtured my hunger. Others felt contentment there. I felt hollowness behind the façade of past congratulations for a job well done. So I left. They continued on. I grew. I don’t think they did.
Sometimes education, city government and politics all share the same evasive value of being great one moment and in transition, the next. This is not a value judgment but rather a reflection of the innate character of those institutions. Many staffers learn to live with the fluidity of their environment or accept the reliable, constant that their lives have become. I could tolerate neither and thus moved on.
Sharon and I have evolved, changed, morphed and switched color palates many times in our lives together and each transition seemed to fit us at the moment. Then opportunity or circumstance nudged us down yet a different road again.

Now in lieu of retirement Sharon is an artist and I am a writer. It nurtures us and gives reason for the sunrise each morning.
Enough said.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Poly as a Play

After meeting my girlfriend from high school (long story) she commented that we had history. ‘Good history,’ she said and she had fond memories of that period in our lives. My second girlfriend from college said that if we couldn’t be friends on Facebook we could be ‘friends in spirit.’ Those were simple one-on-one romantic relationships that ended normally. Then a third special woman came along and that relationship has lasted for more than forty-six years.
Normal relationships, yes. Typical, yes - but not for everyone.
In this modern day world of dating, match-ups, hook-ups, swinging, swapping, switching, one-nighters and a dozen or more complicated variations of romantic liaisons, it turns out that not one type of relationship suits all. In fact, there are probably as many different intimate, sexual, personal relationships as can meet the imagination. One of the most prominent of which is called a polyamorous relationship.
A friend who knew I was a playwright brought this to my attention. Never one to say no to a good story idea I looked it up on Google. It opened up a whole new world of alternate lifestyles…to study, that is... just to study. And the more I did, the more I thought my friend was on to something. There had to be a good storyline someplace under the bedsheets here.
A polyamorous relationship is defined as a romantic relationship with more than one person. What distinguishes it from a classic love triangle is that all the partners know about each other and are accepting of those other relationships. It can pertain to men or women or a combination of both.
One form is called polyfidelity which means there is a committed relationship between the people and they are sexually faithful to one another. There can be three or more people in such a relationship.
My curiosity was aroused (sorry for the pun) even further when another friend who works at a medical clinic casually told me about her encounters with swingers. It seems there is a group of swingers who go to her clinic once a month for blood tests to make sure they haven’t contacted any STDs. They meet monthly at a local restaurant to check out new couples and arrange encounters.
My friend was impressed by the casual nature as well as honest and open approach this woman took when describing how her group went about exchanging wives, girlfriends, boyfriends and new arrivals. Who knew such exchanges were taking place in my own community? So how to write a play around such a subject matter without showing it disrespect and yet portraying it as an everyday occurrence, which it is…for some people.

Fortunately over the last two summers, I’ve had two of my plays produced here in Minnesota. The Second Act Players, a part of RAAC, the Rosemount Area Arts Council, produced ‘Riot at Sage Corner’ and ‘Club 210.’

Both plays gave me a great opportunity to watch my scripts being acted out by talented cast members. I was also able to sit among the audiences and watch their reactions. There were parts of the script that shined and other parts that could have used more refinement. But most importantly, it gave me as a playwright an entirely new perspective from the audience’s point of view.
This last season I was fortunate enough to stage-manage two plays at a local venue. This venue (Script2Stage2Screen) is located in Rancho Mirage at the Unitarian Church. Each season they present six staged-readings from original works. Stage managing gave me an opportunity to study both plays in greater detail. The two plays, ‘Pass-Over’ and ‘Mitigating Damages,’ were imaginative, thoughtful performances.
To better understand all the variations and emotional dynamics of a polyamorous relationship, I had to do research. But it would have to be the kind that wouldn’t get me into trouble with my spouse. She’s an understanding sort when I do research but she has her boundaries. So I started with Google.
According to a study published in the ‘Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy’ in 2016, 21 percent of people have had a non-monogamous relationship – one in which ‘all partners agree that each other may have romantic and/or sexual relationships with other partners.’
The notion of multiple-partner relationships is as old as the human race itself. But polyamorists trace the foundation of their movement to the utopian Oneida Christian commune of upstate New York, founded in 1848 by Yale theologian John Humphrey Noyes. But it wasn’t until the late-1960s and 1970s ‘free love’ movement that polyamory truly came into vogue when books like ‘Open Marriage’ topped the best seller lists and groups like the North American Swingers Club began experimenting with the concept.
It’s hard for many people to think outside of the fairy-tale notion of ‘the one’ and imagine that it might be possible to actually romantically love more than one person simultaneously. Jealousy is the main culprit and it’s an issue that polyamorists deal with constantly.
Once I discovered this Achilles heel of jealousy I had my theme and the main point of conflict and contention in my storyline. Yeah, it sounded like the groundwork for a new play.
So that’s what I did. I wrote ‘Poly’s Amorous Adventures.’
My play about a polyamorous relationship was going to be a challenge even though I had a good idea of how the storyline (Polly’s dilemma) was going to unfold right from the start. I wanted to grab the audience’s attention, hold on tight and not let it go. But I also wanted to make my characters real, sympathetic in their relationship challenges and honest in their pursuit of this triangle affair.
My main protagonist, Polly, is in a polyamorous relationship or so she thinks she is. The two men involved aren’t so sure and Polly’s girlfriend, Hazel, is certain that she isn’t. Polly’s mother is a toss-up. She could go either way but wants in on the action anyway.
In ‘Poly’s Amorous Adventures’ I’ve tried to be true to the intent of a polyamorous relationship but to also analyze the complexities of multiple relationships where emotions, raw feelings, confusion and jealousy are all a part of the equation. Then to stir up the pot a little more, I’ve added a handyman who is more than that, a girlfriend who can swing both ways, an on-line sex councilor who just can’t stay in her PC and an unconventional shopping list for insane pleasure.
The play was a joy to write. I fell in love with my characters, was surprised by their reactions to events and rational for their relationships. ‘Poly’s Amorous Adventures’ turned out to be a rollicking, twisted, sometimes torturous pathway through human emotions and ever-elusive true love.
It’s hard enough being in a one-on-one relationship with another person whether it’s a past girlfriend from high school or college or that someone special that you’ve been with forever. Relationships are challenging enough without love and romance blushing up the waters with their complex currents of swirling emotions. Now add to that one-on-one slow dance with yet another person or two and it’s bound to get just a little bit crazy.
And a lot of fun to write about too.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Centerfold of My Dreams

It takes a special kind of woman to buy her husband a collection of old Playboy Magazines (circ. 1963) at an estate sale. Sharon did just that while I was out of town conducting a workshop. It was a pleasant surprise when I came home and for all the right reasons.

Perusing old centerfolds was fascinating because it took me back to a time and place that no longer exists for this country. The old magazines were a time capsule of our, some of us at least, lives. They proved to be a political, social, sexual and cultural study of America back in the Sixties. Nineteen Sixty-Three - more specifically, exactly fifty-five years ago.

This ‘real life’ anthropological study reflected many of our country’s mores, morals, hang-ups, misconceptions, prejudices, assumptions and naiveté most of which have all been washed away by time and fact.

I spaced out my collection to one magazine per sunset. Reclining on my lounge chair, I let my imagination and keen eyes savor those old tired, mainly black and white pages, of an era that existed primarily in the imagination of the publisher and his readers.

This time around I spent more time on the articles than the centerfolds. In fact, advertising today shows more eye-popping flesh than most of the centerfolds did back then. I actually read a lot of the articles unlike before when I just lied about that.

Even with a quick glance at those women with their eye-popping assets, one can see they must have been artificially induced. Appendages just don’t grow like that in real life. However, Playboy was never about ‘real life.’

But that imaginative image of the cool sophisticated male along with the Playboy penthouse, fast cars, exotic vacations and nightly rendezvous at some dark, smoky jazz club where ‘lucky’ was the constant number, was all part of the mystic, lore, stories, lies, wet dreams and rampant imagination that Hefner had connected with. With a monthly circulation of just under three million and at .60 cents a pop, the man/publisher/image-maker was clearly on to something.

Studied at length the magazines paint a primitive yet persuasive picture of the typical ‘man about town.’ It was a wonderful caricature imagined in the mind of Hugh Hefner and visualized in photographs, paintings, suggestive cartoons and the every-present ‘girl next door’ sans her clothing. I especially liked studying the Playboy Philosophy for Hugh’s take on sexual freedom, the ‘Who Reads Playboy’ ads for their subtle hint at materialism as the ultimate goal and especially anything centering on the collegiate experience.

Back in 1963, I was in my second year at the College of St. Thomas, quickly running out of money to pay the tuition and falling for the girl next campus. It was a whirlwind of confusing emotions and envy at ‘those guys’ on the quad who seemed to have the clothes, the cars and of course, the girls. I had gotten sucked up into the fantasy that was ‘Playboy on campus,’ a subtle yet powerful advertising mechanism to sell product and illusion to malleable young minds.

Those fading, mainly black and white, magazines brought back all those old memories of yearning for I didn’t know what, jealousy at the guys who got the girls, and envy for their perceived lifestyle.

The ads were wonderfully effective in their subtle yet persuasive manner of painting a picture of things I didn’t know I wanted or needed. The Playboy life style painted a façade of sophistication, education, money and women then somehow implied it was for all of us to attain.

The most impactful of these delusions occurred in the fall of 1964 when I was stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco. While lounging in the enlisted men’s rec. room I happened upon the Fall Campus Edition of Playboy. There, spread out before my envious eyes, were beautiful coeds, Mustang convertibles and fashion-conscious jocks lounging about the quad in their latest duds and school flags. It was a world that seemed a million or more miles away and a lifetime out of reach. Looking at those beautiful girls made me sad, envious, and just a little bit lecherous.

As I learned over time, the girls or really the carefully crafted manikins’ of the same persuasion, were wonderful dangling carrots to dream about as I carved out an existence and make good use of my time while serving Uncle Sam. Upon my discharge, the illusions disappeared and reality with all of its warts, dreams and reality-bites took its place. As we used to say: ‘Welcome back to the real world.’

Then I would add with a grin, ‘but thanks for the dreams along the way.’

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Half a Double-Wide

I tell my friends who are not familiar with this area that there are three things to remember about real estate here: First, this is California real estate, secondly, this is Southern California real estate, and finally this is Palm Springs real estate. If you understand anything about the housing market, you could probably guess that California housing is an entirely different kind of animal.

The new tax reform law, if fully realized, will mean that California (as one of the states with already high taxes) may have its state and local tax deductions eliminated. If that happens, then homeowners will have to live in their homes for five out of the previous eight years in order to take advantage of capital tax gains exclusion.

In addition, studies have shown that the millennials’ demand for a new type of neighborhood has led to the emergence of ‘Urban Suburbs.’ Those are defined as high-density neighborhoods in suburban areas that share a number of urban qualities such as walkability and nearby amenities such as shopping, restaurants, etc.

While locally homes sold fast in 2017, with 25% of homes selling in two weeks or less during the buying seasons peak, it is expected that homes in the Coachella Valley will sell even faster in 2018. Even though price growth is expected to continue and other factors such as ‘urban suburbs’ and the vacation rental market are still wild cards in terms of their effect on the marketplace, one developer has created a whole new twist on a very old housing concept.

Creating new housing designs that complement their surroundings is nothing new for Palm Springs. Beginning in the mid-40s, architects originated a design movement specific to the greater Palm Springs area. It became known as Desert Modern. Their buildings featured ground-breaking techniques such as post-and-beam supports, floor-to-ceiling glass walls and a wide array of colors to match the surrounding mountains and desert. One developer’s new solution lies in a century old model that has been around for ages…the mobile home.

The Palm Canyon Mobile Club was originally built in the early 1960s. The location was ideal-close to shopping, restaurants & bars, and offered its residents some of the best mountains views around.  The park was one of the rare few to allow all ages, not just seniors. 

In late 2016, the master lease for the park was purchased, and the ground lease was extended 65 years, which provided security for the park's future. Now the developers are bringing a new vision to the Palm Springs Mobile Club with their own version of the tiny home.

The developer’s idea was to take your standard mobile home park and turn it into a desert enclave of tiny homes. They’ve taken the old reliable double-wide mobile home and turned one half of it into a tiny home. Of course, being Palm Springs it couldn’t be just any half of a double-wide. The developer and designers have used the cantilevered roofline as an architectural statement and designed amenities that both complement and enhance the main structure.

With nine foot ceilings throughout, plus clerestory windows and sliding glass doors, the homes are flooded with natural light. There are one and two bedroom homes, ranging in size from 600 to 900 feet. It’s single level living with full sized appliances and room for a washer and dryer. There are some private fenced yards, a lot of outdoor decks and select front porches.

The center of the community is "The Club," featuring a newly remodeled clubhouse; updated resort style pool area that includes an outdoor fire pit and lounge areas, plus barbecue area. A workout room, pool table, plus updated poolside bathrooms and sitting areas are part of the clubhouse features.

It may take some time to see if this new housing concept takes hold and portends more radical changes to mobile home parks throughout the Coachella Valley. Palm Springs has always had a wide variety of housing from single-family homes, duplexes, condominiums, cooperative housing, senior housing, mobile home parks, apartments, vacation rental properties, and VBROs.

Now tiny homes are edging their way into the marketplace. It will be interesting to see if they take hold and how price appreciation compares to other types of housing.

Only in Palm Springs.