Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Christmas 2018

Every season we have casualties. It’s just part of the ebb and flow of life in the desert. This year the kid’s favorite pool slide bit the dust, or more seasonally speaking, developed too many hot summer cracks to heal. The same thing happened to our crocodile and no one remembers where the whale (or was it a shark?) went to since last fall.

The Unicorn had its bottom ripped out and tail deflated but it retained its role as pirate ship, oversized ring with a head, something to conquer and a floating club house. Cash, the new Labradoodle, took it all in from the shade of a palm tree. Thankfully, there were five good days of swimming instead of the anticipated two.

A new adventure for this family rendezvous was rock climbing. Auto belay, bouldering, and assisted belay were skills learned on the spot and the kids took to the walls like seasoned veterans from Joshua tree.

Our Martha Stewart wannabes focused on candies this time around. Not a surprise considering Nana’s success at filling the house for newest Papa’s play. Art Classes consisted of painting t-shirts and other objects not moving. There were paint- by –the- numbers and Jackson Pollack exhibitions.

We had a world premiere of ‘Kitten’s Bad Day,’ a new play written by Papa just for this new ensemble trope of unseasoned actors. They called themselves ‘Sweet Pea and the Gang’ after a comic strip that Papa has yet to write. Sharon continued her promotional skills by filling the house (living room) with family and friends.

We all celebrated Christmas Eve services at Hope Lutheran Church in Palm Desert. They had a (rock and roll band) according to Brennan which kept the crowd moving to the music and inspired by the pastor’s message of hope and love and a wonderful new year.

There was a minor calm before the storm; opening Christmas presents. Then it was eleven days of too much eating, drinking, playtime, running around town and good-natured mischief on a daily basis. Just the kind of atmosphere for building wonderful memories at Nana and Papas place in the sun.

As the children snuggled in their beds and the adults retreated to the kitchen for cocktails and conversation, a worn out Unicorn peeked over the wall and worried about coyotes wandering the golf course at night.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019


The Coachella Valley gets a lot of top-flight entertainers during high season. Not long ago, I saw a doo-wop show of rock and roll artists from the fifties and sixties. Rating the show, I’d give it a solid C. It only rated a C because two of the four acts should have retired ten or twenty years ago. Their grasp of the music had long since slipped away along with their tired voices.

Instead of resting on their well-deserved laurels, these aging rockers were still clinging to the sad assumption that audiences would revel in their act and not recognize their many shortcomings. Unfortunately the audience was as old as the performers and not very forgiving of their failed effort at still rocking it in their eighties. Most of us felt we hadn’t gotten what we paid for.

That got me to thinking about old age and the four stages we all passed through to get there. Four stages roughly calibrated to benchmark some of life’s milestones and recognize the unmarked passages one slips through while here on earth.

0 – 25 years of age
Mickey and I [Photo courtesy of Jerry Hoffman]

Most of us are trying to figure it all out and get an education at the same time. We learn, we love and we’re making babies. Then reality sets in and we go to work, figurative and literally. It’s one great big learning process and some of us never stop learning.

25- 50 years of age

We think we’re getting it together then reality sets in at work, in marriage and child rearing makes it stressful, wonderful and mainly a continuing lesson in life.

50 – 75 years of age

Some of us end up playing catch-up with our health, relationships, and world experiences. We come to realize that in the long term ‘Health is Wealth.’ We’d better watch our whiskey and donuts if we want to stick around a little longer.

75 – 100 years of age

Now it gets more interesting. We’re facing our own mortality. We’ve made it this far but we’re on that sometimes subtle, gradual downhill slide. This can be the toughest stage because unlike some of our friends, loved ones and associates, we got this far and a lot of them didn’t. Now it’s time to reflect on how we got here and what to do next. The recognition that health is everything becomes even more pronounced at this stage.

Some folks think of aging as simply an inexorable decline that ends in death. And our fear of death has become almost pathological. Along with this apathy is the dread of decline. Our bodies are slowing down and are often trailed by a tired mind. Some would argue that it’s inevitable and settled back in their easy chair.

But life is movement, either physically or mentally. The secret is to keep moving, keep busy, be active and do something, do anything. Ideally, it should be something worthwhile for yourself, for others, for whatever motivates you in the first place.

There is also that nagging question some of us can’t ignore; Potential. Did we or can we still reach our potential, no matter what it might be? Honestly, I think any attempt at ‘trying’ is success in the making. One argument is that we are all ultimately responsible for our own success. That’s an exercise that starts between the ears but must face our own individual reality first.

Everyone faces their own mortality differently. I’d like to believe that a life’s worth of experiences can and should fuel a hunger for more. A vision quest for improvement and a desire to make a difference if only in one’s own mind.

Then again, that’s where it all started in the first place.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

All My Heroes are Dead or Gone

They first came whispering to me in the early morning hours before the world was awake. It was only a satchel of newspapers, miles to trudge before breakfast and me. They came in music and song and words of wisdom that no one else had bothered to share with me. They spoke of wondrous things that filled my malleable mind of twelve with dreams of imaginary places.

The messages came through a salmon-colored transistor radio, one of the first to be sold in my town. In summertime, it hung from my shoulder and shouted great songs into my ears. During the bitterly cold winter months, it was buried beneath layers of clothing but with enough volume to etch through the layers and still reach my ears.

In a world devoid of parental guidance and direction, the words spoken carried tremendous weight. It was a world of someplace else. It was cool cars and hot chicks. It was love gone wrong and finding the girl of my dreams. It was us against them. It was a whole new world opening up right before my ears. It was a language that spoke to me. A language I understood while most adults didn’t.  I got it. They didn’t have a clue. I knew what cool was even though cool was out of the realm of my tiny world.

The words and music continued as I grew, changed, and grabbed hold of my vapid future whatever that was at the time. It carried me through grade school, high school, college, the Army, living in Europe, back in the states and always, always seeking.

Now years later in the autumn of my life, I realize the words and music were all manufactured and manipulated and packaged for young minds made of putty and clay. They were singing the songs but few had actually lived the story. There were cars but they were rentals. They had the chicks but that never lasted very long. They themselves were more often than not fragile, broken and dysfunctional just like me. They brought forth their message but (figuratively speaking) died in the process. Welcome to the real world of rock and roll and music from our youth.

Over the years, I’ve stumbled across film clips, biographies, books and magazines articles about the pop stars, singer-songwriters, and musical groups of my youth. Almost without exception, they were taken advantage of, screwed out of their contracts, had their musical creations absconded, stolen or compromised by the very agents, music publishers, and associates who were supposed to support them.

Literally and figurative, they are all gone now. They’re either dead, disappeared or sadly still trying to cling to some semblance of what they once were. What does remain is a body of work that still resonates within my soul. Even after knowing the reality behind the music’s creation, it still speaks to me. It still draws picture-stories in my mind. It still stimulates my imagination in ways that no other medium can. The torchbearers are gone but their message remains.

When he was growing up, Hank Williams was warned about ‘risin above your raising.’ The idea that we are all in this together and any idea, notion or hankering to move above that socio-economic level was being disingenuous to one’s fellow man. It was a message I also heard at family gatherings. Knowing one’s place was as important as getting a good job, a steady paycheck and church on Sunday.

It was a philosophy I didn’t buy back then and still don’t today. It is abhorrent to the message I preach to my grandchildren all the time. A quest for better that knows no boundaries or geography. A belief in self even if the world around you is clueless. A vision quest that will never be reached but still attained in the trying. Sadly, those messengers of old knew what they were singing about even if it didn’t ring true for most of them. The same can’t be said of me.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Living On Board

There is nothing like being ensconced on a riverboat for two weeks to get a real flavor of the countries you’re sailing through. River cruising is a world apart from cruise ships and their thousands of passengers living density to its fullest. There is a quiet serenity on those flat-bottomed boats that sets them apart from other forms of travel.

Passengers still face a daily routine with regimented meal times, off shore travels on foot or by bus and the nighttime entertainment and education. It’s a format that seems to work well with the senior crowds these boats attract. Most of the passengers are seasoned travelers and know the routine by heart. Conversations with any of them bring on an encyclopedia of world adventures.

The boat’s lobby is a grand pass-through where everyone comes and goes on their daily travels around the boat and off-shore. There is the usual merchandise for sale, the obligatory message board, a coffee maker in a corner and on-going front desk activities.

Our cabin was the standard size for river boats. It held two fold-down beds, a large picture window and adequate shower / toilet facilities. Over a fourteen-day period, it worked out well for a party of two.

Our port window was like a mirror to the world outside. Docked in harbor, it provided an ongoing Disney reel of swans, ducks and commercial river traffic floating by. Under route, it mirrored a continuing kaleidoscope of shore scenes, passing boats, harbor activity, and the pastel countryside sailing by.

In the spacious lounge area there were nightly port talks, the standard cocktail hour, entertain-ment after dinner, card-playing, a library, internet time and for many of the old men, napping in the afternoon.

Daily meals were always first class. The service was excellent and usually too much to eat. Mealtime was always the perfect time to meet new folks and share travel experiences.

The top of the ship was a superb spot for watching the countryside slowly go by. It was a quiet respite from the world around us and the daily onslaught of bad cable news and rude weather back home.

My ‘quiet time’ came each morning when I would nest in the lounge with my internet connection and peruse my world outside of the stem and stern. It let me escape the regimented group think and ponder future writing projects. And how very lucky I was.