Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Married to Whom

I know it sounds terribly self-serving - comparing the spouses, partners and significant others in other people’s lives. One could easily ask oneself: Who am I to compare, analyze or otherwise scrutinize the partners other people have chosen to live with for the rest of their lives.

I am a writer. I can and therefore I do. Besides it’s one of those age old questions that people often times ponder but seldom discuss in public. ‘How did those two end up together?’ and better yet, ‘what was the glue that kept them together for so long?’

I think many young girls when they’re growing up fantasize about the man they will eventually marry. One has to fast-forward any length of time to see if and how it worked out. For those who went the distance I’m always fascinated how and why. How did those two people end up together? Why did it work out?

I did well for myself although as I’ve confessed in another blog (Through no Fault of My Own) it was just luck on my part that my best friend of forty-seven years chose me and not someone else. There were plenty of other suiters attracted to that smart, witty, ambitious blond and yet she choose me. Perhaps the fact that she was so different from the other women I dated had something to do with it.

In high school and college, a lot of the girls I dated seemed enamored with strong men who had ‘to be in charge.’ They wanted the guy to tell them where they were going on a date, what they’d do afterwards with no discussion required. If those handsome young men expressed great insight into their own destiny and claimed to know exactly what their future held for them, the women practically felt their limbs go weak and heart start racing.

I could never resolve that conundrum with those women. On one hand they claimed equal rights for just about everything…which they should have. Then they turned around and their hearts would go all-a-flutter for those ‘father-like-figures’ who made it very clear who was in charge. I guess for those women it was easier to defer than to challenge.

I always thought it made more sense and was more respectful to let the woman decide on options for a date. Or at least to let the two of us decide on something mutually agreeable. A lot of those women back in my tender years seemed to see that approach as weak and compromising. But it was my approach so I never changed.

Conversely, I find it fascinating that so many men I know are very uncomfortable around strong women. It’s usually masked by bravado and a higher than normal volume of control. But behind the fa├žade is a man who needs to be in charge and is not used to a woman challenging him on that role.

Long before the notion of women’s liberation bubbled into our consciousness and the #MeToo movement took shape, strong women caught my attention and imagination. As I’ve mentioned in past blogs I have always found independent women very attractive. The heroines that populate my novels and plays seem to have that same characteristic - brilliant, beautiful, and ballsy.

But I guess in the end it doesn’t matter who you marry as long as it works for the two of you. Others may try to figure out your chemistry but why bother.

On the surface, my own connection may not seem very obvious. It was a kaleidoscope of opposites attracting and subtle yet very real mutual goals. It is a collaboration of aspirations and agreements where it really matters.  It’s our own fabric of living together and yet independently that makes our partnership work.

All the rest is supposition and assumption.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Newest Club in Town

Fans of mid-century architecture are drawn to Palm Springs because of the plethora of original and redesigned mid-century homes here. It’s a ‘modernism’ mecca for design aficionados and those who want to return to the more simple times of the late 1940s and early 50s.

Since ‘Modernism Week’ began about ten years ago in Palm Springs, the legions of McM fans keeps growing and interest exploding. Yet there is a subtle truth lurking just below the surface of all of this excitement. The fact is that few can actually afford to live in one of those mid-century treasures…until now.

That real estate disparity is slowly changing with the refurbishing of an old trailer park, an extended land lease, and some imaginative architecture. Palm Canyon Mobile Club is a completely remodeled mobile home community with its newly-built ‘modern micro-homes in a not-so-tiny package.’ Homes start at around $115,000 for a one bedroom plus an average of $650 per month space rental. It’s one of the newest clubs in town for McM addicts.

I tell friends that there are three things to remember about real estate here in California. First, this is California real estate so it doesn’t have to make sense relative to the rest of the country. Secondly, this is Southern California real estate which means it can get even crazier than other parts of the state. Finally this is Palm Springs real estate which is a unique hybrid in itself. If you understand anything about the housing market, you could probably guess that California housing is an entirely different breed of animal.

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. North Palm Springs is starting to attract this kind of development as well as other parts of the country too.

There is a new cluster of tiny homes being built outside of Atlanta. The Clarkston development will be the first neighborhood of homes under 500 square feet to be sold in Georgia. Other metro projects are to follow with 40 tiny homes being built in South Fulton and another in the Pinewood Forest in Fayetteville.

Creating new housing designs that complement the surroundings here 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. These were homes meant for the very few who could afford them and their tony locations in the desert. Now one developer’s solution to that exclusivity lies in a century old model that’s been around for ages…the mobile home.

The Palm Canyon Mobile Club was originally built in the early 1960s. The location was ideal. It was 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.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Little French Church

Grade schools today come in all sizes and shapes. Most are large sentinels of education complete with gymnasiums, cafeterias, front offices and teacher’s lounges. My grade school squeezed two classrooms per room, an asphalt playground that over looked downtown Saint Paul and a sinister-looking police station next door. It was older than many of the buildings downtown and had served its students for well over a hundred years. At times, it seemed as if some of the nuns had been there even longer than that.

The Church of St. Louis, King of France Catholic Church, affectionately known as the ‘Little French Church,’ was founded in 1868. It was built to serve the French-speaking citizens of Saint Paul. Five years later, the church built a school called Ecole St. Louis.

I knew none of this when I first trudged up those stone steps as a first grader in 1949. It started with an early morning streetcar ride from Highland Park and culminated in sixteen years of Catholic education.  The whole experience proved a proverbial mix of academics, socialization, discipline, and a suppressive culture that was the clay that formed the person I am today.

photo credit: St. Louis Church

The grade school was beyond ancient by the time I got there. There were two classes per room.

The bathrooms were in basement along with the cafeteria with a kitchen smaller than most in modern homes today. The cloak room, if you could call it that, was in the back hallway and exits were old wooden rickety steps to the ground level. It was a fire trap waiting to happen which thankfully never happened.

My memories are sketchy from that period in my life. Augmented by old black and white photos and chats with my sister, images arise from which I can paint a picture of life as a grade schooler in old downtown Saint Paul.

photo credit: St. Louis Church

My memories of the nuns are the most poignant. There was the rotund Sister Paulet who shamed me in 2nd grade for sneaking a peek at my Davy Crocket comic book stashed in my desk. Sixth grade teacher Sister Roselia let me hang out the second story window and clean it after school. Fortunately another student was holding my legs so I didn’t drop to the asphalt below. There was the new nun who made a disparaging remark about our poverty because my sister and I were getting free clothes for confirmation. Finally I remember how I admired Sister Alfred Marie who was strict and stern but fair. The rest were all forgettable. They were some of the last stewards of Catholic education before major changes and upheavals shook their world of teaching. Their style of Catholic Education had reached its zenith and was slowly dying out.

Seven Corners from Cathedral Hill [photo credit: Jean Day]
As deeply ingrained as those memories are, so too are the long since forgotten or remembered landmarks along the way. There was the Tastee bread factory across the street whose whiffs of freshly baked bread distracted even the most ardent scholar of education. A large stone edifice to fighting crime was on the corner. Our asphalt playground offered sweeping view of old downtown Saint Paul. Tenement housing snaked its way up to the capitol while the last remnants of old turn of century mansions slowly crumbled away behind Capitol. The Nuns Rectory was across the street and Mechanic Arts High School several blocks away up the hill.

photo credit: Minnesota Historical Society

The one landmark I remember best was the new W.T. Grant Department store that I cut through each afternoon to catch the bus back home. A streetcar token cost ten cents and offered a daily tour of a changing cityscape. If I had time, I would walk a half block to Saint Paul Book and Stationary. I loved the smell of new books and exploring the myriad of titles awaiting me.

One book in particular stood out. It was a first novel by an English author named Alistair MacLean about the battle in the North Atlantic during World War Two. The book was entitled: H.M.S. Ulysses. I was hooked except that the three dollar and ninety-five cent price tag kept me at bay.

The city was on the cusp of major changes to its downtown core. There was just the beginnings of a shifting population away from the cities to the suburbs and social undercurrents that only hinted at the disruptions ahead. For a hungry horny youngster the siren call of rock and roll only added to the angst and anxiousness for the years ahead.

It was the beginning of the end of an era of pre-world war II buildings and an entire way of life for downtown residents. The first suburb, Roseville, was just beginning to grow and Larpentuer Avenue was no longer the end of civilization.

Walking along Seventh Street [Photo Credit: Minnesota Historical Society]

Walgreens [Photo Credit: Minnesota Historical Society]

White Castle [Photo Credit: Minnesota Historical Society]

Seven Corners in 1954 [Photo Credit: Minnesota Historical Society]

Grabbing the bus gave me a birds eye view of Walgreen Drugs with its ten cent candy bars. The Orpheum and Paramount theaters which I frequented in high school. Bridgeman’s Ice Cream for treats afterwards. White Castle and the Edsel dealership were down the road. Seven Corners was a crossroads with its old grocery story on one corner and the Wilder Youth Center across the street. Further down the road, Anchor Hospital was about to close and the Schmidt Brewery was bottling some of its last brew. The Pitney Building survived them all and still stands.

Graduation Photo - Class of 1957

Eight years of traveling on wicker-seated streetcars then graduating to leather-seated buses brought an end to my daily urban jaunt. No more year round altar boy duties every Sunday. No more sweating out those math tests. It ended my infatuation with fellow student Elaine in the third row-fourth desk down.

Cretin Military Officers Ball - 1961

The years ahead would prove more fortuitous with a Christian Brother education, military discipline and a first introduction to the opposite sex. It would go on to include military service, living abroad, career development and a hungry life never quite satisfied.

Not long ago the St. Louis church choir tried singing a few nontraditional songs. It didn’t last but for one Sunday. Pastor John Sajdak explained that “It’s the people who like traditional church music like the Gregorian chants, hymns and the traditional liturgy who come here.” I could only smile. Nothing much has changed after all these years.

I shed my vestments of obedience a long time ago; about the time I finished high school. Yet I can appreciate the rote and routine, the traditions and blind obedience that was demanded of us kids. It didn’t hurt and probably helped us in the long run.

Thanks for the memories, Sister Alfred Marie. Beneath that cloak of black and white, I’ll bet you were probably a pretty cool lady.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Back on Campus

It was one of those strange ‘ah-ha’ moments that crept into my brain as the speeches droned on amid the clinking of water glasses being refilled. Sharon and I were guests at a University of Southern California alumni funding raising event Down Valley at the Classic Club in Palm Desert.

Sharon and I with Jake

A good friend had invited us there to hear an outstanding young man named Jake Olson. Jake had been blind almost since birth. He gave a fascinating talk about his experiences growing up blind and his close affiliation with the USC football team. As Jake shared his inspirational story, it became a siren call for my mind, once more, to go wandering back in time.

The USC alumni event was similar to others I’ve attended like Notre Dame Parent events on campus, the Father-Daughter dance at the College of Saint Benedict and the St. Thomas Law School Parents Invitational. Collegiate alumni events usually follow a similar pattern of sharing school pride, loyalty, and hope for the future.

Therefore, of course, with my over-active mind already soaking in the sights and sounds and under-current of collegiate comments swirling all around me, I couldn’t help but go back in time when I was enmeshed in a collegiate experience of my own.

The realization came pretty quickly that I’d been ‘back on campus’ before. In fact, on four different occasions. Each one more radically different than the one that preceded it. Four different cauldrons of life experiences from which to draw up collegiate images from my past.

Unlike our children for whom Sharon and I insisted they have the full ‘collegiate experience,’ I never felt really comfortable around the campus quadrant. I was like a fish out of water; too hung up on getting good grades and paying for that opportunity. For one thing, I was always working. I still lived at home and there was never continuity to my existence there outside of the classroom.

St. Thomas 1961-63

My first campus venture was from 1961 through 1963 at the College of Saint Thomas. As documented in my novel ‘Love in the A Shau.’ St. Thomas was a private, all men’s Catholic college set in middle class Catholic tradition. Sports played a prominent role in campus life as did sorties to the All Women’s College down the road. For those who could afford to live on campus, it was the idyllic early sixties campus experience. A stroll through the campus parking lot reminded me that a lot of my classmates had well-to-do parents.

U of M 1963-64

My second collegiate experience doesn’t really count very much if at all. It was two brief quarters at the University of Minnesota, 1963 to 1964. I left a classroom of thirty students at St. Thomas to find myself squeezed into Northrup Auditorium with twenty-six hundred other ‘Intro to Psychology’ students.  I was lost on that sprawling campus even before I parked in one of their multiple parking lots and started wandering the crowded streets to find my classroom. To say it was a calamity even before it began would be a real understatement. Uncle Sam rescued me from that certain educational disaster and gave me a two-year reprieve.

St. Thomas 1966-67

A return to the St. Thomas campus in 1966, thanks to the GI Bill, proved a pleasant return to a more normal campus lifestyle. I was still living at home but now there was more time for campus events and Yearbook involvement. A lingering romantic entanglement made for pleasant distractions from work and studies. After that period of love and lust crashed and burned, I graduated and moved to Europe. College had been diced and sliced and chopped up into divergent life experiences but overall it was satisfying, gratifying and earned me a college degree. I was done with school or so I thought.

Writing ‘Love in the A Shau’ proved a cathartic return to campus one more time. While researching my storyline, I went back in time to capture the sights and sounds and visceral experiences of a freshman on campus. After my protagonist returns from military service, I tried to capture the emotional roller coaster he felt being once again back on campus.

It was for me an emotional and cathartic roller coaster return to what might have been. It was a chance for me to paint a picture of my hero (in truth, myself) back on campus and create events as I chose for my hero to experience. It was a chance to encapsulate all those pent up emotions I had back then and expose them for my readers and in turn, to purge them from my soul. It was painting an idyllic ‘Playboy Magazine’ image of campus life as seen in their glossy air-brushed versions of real campus life. In turn, it was fun, fulfilling, foolish, and quite satisfying if only in my imagination.

They were four different tours of campus life at four different times in my life. Each passage was radically different in their approach, their outcome and their reflective abilities to peak my imagination. Three have been captured in yearbook photos. The fourth in a storyline of my own making.