Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Where Have All the Flowers Gone

Music has always played an important part of my life. From early pop tunes to the folk movement to the psychedelic Sixties, music painted pictures inside my head. In high school, it was the teen beat, heart throb, lost love affairs of innocent youth. In college, it was the folkie, hard travelin', songs of the open road.

One particular song defined the breakup of my college girlfriend and I. ‘Where have all the Flowers Gone’ continues to define that era and a poignant reminder of my wandering youth on a circuitous route to maturity. The song and that moment was an element in my life that was at once pleasant, impactful and created visceral memories to last a lifetime.

So when I thought about this past season in Palm Springs, the song title ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone’ just naturally popped into my head. This fall and winter was unlike any other we’ve encountered here in the desert. It was as dramatic and impactful as any drought that has plagued California over the years. Pardon the pun but it could best be described as a flowerless experience.

Instead of exercising at our local hotel, the Saguaro, it meant long walks along the berm or back into Oswalt Canyon.

Instead of weekly trips to the library, it meant buying our reading material from ‘Better World Books.’ Instead of a lot of entertaining, it meant intimate gatherings of a few folks on our back patio.

There were no trips to the coast, no evenings out with friends at local restaurants, no trips to the theater, no local events such as the International Film Festival or Modernism Week or Art Festivals to attend.

There were a few improvements around the house and some literary accomplishments.

My newest novel ’Playground for the Devil’ was finally completed, proofed and ready for printing.

Four new plays were rewritten and tightened up, creating a solid second draft for all of them. Another new play ‘Frenchy’s Eats’ is just beginning to take shape.

By late spring, Palm Springs was slowly starting to open up again. We weren’t comfortable going out to restaurants so it was wonderful to have Melanie and family here for Easter. We get to see the Colorado kiddos this summer.

Besides lemon picking each day, I took Brennan and Charlotte on a nature hike along the Henderson Trail. It was a great opportunity to introduce them to ‘the living desert.’ We explored budding plants, snake holes, moss on rocks and dormant plants.

Even with the vaccine making headway against the COVID-19 pandemic, I envision this upcoming summer will continue to be one of at least moderate isolation. I want to continue with my ‘coffee and chat’ sessions and expand the number of friends included in the group. I want to explore the Twin Cities with a new-found curiosity about the place where I was raised. There are several plays I want to market locally and find markets for ‘Playground for the Devil.’

Hopefully by next fall, the ‘flowers’ will have returned to Palm Springs and we can get back into the swing of things once again.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Christmas Rock with Sugar

Sharon wanted a large rock for Christmas. Most folks would assume we’re talking about a diamond ring or some such token of affection. Sharon had something a little heavier and more artistic in mind.

It was a three thousand pound (ton and a half) ‘Apache Sunset’ boulder from a local quarry. It was Sharon’s idea of a Christmas present to ourselves.

Sharon thought we needed it to liven up our front yard. Because of the pandemic, we had pretty much limited our travels and never ventured downtown or in large gatherings. She figured if we were sequestered at home a good part of the time, why not liven up our surroundings.

A week before our new asteroid arrived, Sharon repainted our mailbox a lovely tone of paprika.

Our oranges had been harvested and the lemons continued to supply friends and neighbors with a steady abundance of yellow gold. As the season progressed, we had a sanctuary for birds and bunnies and the occasional roadrunner.

We made a point of having art pieces scattered about the property along with several wind chimes.

The newest addition to our desert menagerie was a baby hummingbird the kids named Sugar. Sugar’s parents, Buzz and Flitter, have imprinted around our seven (count them 7) hummingbird feeders.

A family of Jackrabbits has also decided to call our abode their home. They’ve found it a safe harbor from the coyotes and ravens on the golf course and the dogs living on either side of us.

They, along with the hummingbirds and songbirds and occasional roadrunner, make eating outdoors an entertaining experience all year long.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Tall Tales from the Coast

When you’re in the middle of it (another stage in your life), you don’t pay much attention to all the goings-on around you. Only years later, upon reflection, do you realize what a crazy world it really was. So it was during my time spent at the Presidio of San Francisco from late 1964 through early 1965. “Ripley’s Believe it or Not’ had nothing on me back then. Or as the cliché goes: ‘you can’t make this stuff up!’

I’ve reflected on these phenomena in a recent blog: ‘Phases and stages,’    It’s the idea that we live our lives in stages whether we’re aware of it or not. It’s often a forced, fixed or contrived environment, often times not of our own making, that we live through until something, someone, or that proverbial ‘fourth wall’ forces us into something else. Then it’s off to the races all over again.

The Presidio of San Francisco was headquarters for the Sixth Army Command.  While Fort Polk, Louisiana was considered the ‘derriere’ of the Army, the Presidio was considered by all to be the ‘country club’ of the Army. It was the absolute prize for anyone seeking a great place to be stationed while in the service.

I went directly there from boot camp at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. It was the first time I had traveled out of state. Like a virgin among playboys, I was naïve beyond my years and just taking mental notes on the hip, Avant guard, outrageous and some times illegal behavior going on all around me.   


During my short tenure at the Presidio, I was living a life of privilege. My service pay was $80.00 a month (which I saved) and I earned over $100.00 a month from my job as an usher at an art theater downtown. I had a library of paperback books, a large .45 record collection and a Vespa motor scooter to scoot about town.

The first story I was greeted with upon arrival was about the Commanding General’s yacht. The story went that there were two enlisted men who worked on the general’s yacht each day over in Sausalito across the bay. Each morning, they would get a car from the motor pool and drive across the Golden Gate Bridge to do maintenance, cleaning, inspection and upkeep on the large boat. It had to be ready to sail at a moment’s notice.

In Army lingo, the two enlisted men were ‘golden.’ They had no supervisor, no set hours, could do whatever they wanted to as long as the ship was ready to sail at any time. In fact, I was told they would regularly take it out ‘for a spin’ in San Francisco Bay. The story had enough tentacles that I think it was true.

Another ‘hard to believe but true’ story concerned an enlisted man who worked the night shift in the telecommunications center in the headquarters building. His angle was buying KP (Kitchen Patrol) duty from other soldiers. The going rate was $25.00 per shift. I saw him in action many times and by my estimation he was clearing at least one hundred dollars (cash) a week.

This pots and pans entrepreneur seemed to be the only one allowed to pull this stunt and he had been double-shifting for months on end. Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that the sergeant in charge of the kitchen must have been getting a kickback to allow him to do that day after day.

Another under-the-radar entrepreneur was a GI in the barracks building next to mine. He was a Mexican kid who was always working on some kind of angle. The Larkin (Art) Theater where I worked was located on the edge of Chinatown. One night after work I was walking home and saw him on a street corner. He excitedly waved me over.

“Would I be interested in going out with one of his girlfriends?” he asked me. Turns out, he had three ‘girlfriends’ working that evening and for $25 to $50 each I could go on a date with one of them. We chatted a bit before I demurred his splendid offer.

Most weekends, he had a stable for three to five girls working his strip of street corner real estate. He got a cut of the action and was the main provider of ‘sensual entertainment’ for the GIs at the Presidio. It was a dangerous business since if he was busted by the cops; he would be automatically court-marshalled and booted out of the Army. But the money was good, the girls reliable and the base provided a steady flow of customers.

There was a rundown part of town not far from the Presidio. One of my buddies had a girlfriend who lived there in an old Victorian mansion with six other girls. He used to brag about going there on weekends and getting ‘stoned.’ It was a wild circus of confused, amorous young women, great Mexican Gold, cheap wine and beer and mind-blowing psychedelic music. I just went there one time with him. It was a truly memorable experience.

The scene was overwhelmingly stimulating with its artistic freedom, intellectual fisticuffs, hard-core music, and booze that it was almost too much to ingest. Unfortunately, it brought back poignant memories of ‘the girl back home’ and the freedom I once had before the draft changed my life forever. Being there was a cold cruel contrast to my other life on base. It was a reminder of the rigid conformity of the military life that I lived during the week. My memories won out and I never ventured back to Haight-Ashbury again.

In fact, one of about a half dozen book treatments I’ve written thus far, touches on this very subject. It’s called ‘Presidio Adieu.’ A fictional account of a young service man stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco during the sixties. Whether it ever gets written is anyone’s guess.

Enlisted men on base had their own building. It had a pool room, a large slot-car set up, a lounge with magazines and a TV room. It was a great hangout space for newbies on base until they tasted the delights of the city just outside our gates.

There was also an enlisted men’s garage where service men could tinker with their cars. It was fully equipped with all the tools one could need. I worked on my Vespa motor scooter there several times.

In the barracks next door, I met a black guy who desperately wanted to be a novelist. He and I had great conversations about authors, writing and how to get a job as a writer. He was a real doer while I was still in the talking stages.

I heard later on that he got into an argument with another soldier and he pulled a knife on him. Nothing happened because other soldiers intervened but he disappeared from the base shortly afterwards.

One of my first interests in real estate occurred around a small table in our sleeping quarters. Two guys were running numbers on purchasing one of the old Victorian row houses that were the predominant housing stock of the city.

They were convinced that if they could purchase one of these homes at a reasonable price, they knew just how to remodel it and turn around and sell it for a nice profit. Today we call that ‘flipping.’ Back then it was just this wild idea that you could buy a house, touch it up and then as quickly resell it for a nice profit. Crazy idea most of us agreed, but the two persisted and about the time they got discharged, they had purchased several houses this way. They even invited me to join them in their venture. But I was being transferred, and besides, I was too smart to get suckered into that crazy scheme of theirs. I dare not think about what they are worth now if they continued buying and selling real estate in San Francisco.

My dream job, passed on by another GI being transferred, was working at the Larkin Theater. The Larkin was an old Art Theater that had been showing foreign films since they were invented by the French before the turn of the century. I ushered, cleaned seats, answered the phone and did other odd jobs. It paid well and I got to see all of the latest foreign films shown in the city.

There were two teenage girls selling tickets and we struck up a nice friendship. They were young and immature and full of wonder at life after high school. We were on two very different educational tracks but they were sincere and fun to work with.

Another one of the movers and shakers in our barracks had a girlfriend who lived in a hip part of town. He spent every weekend with her and had a big party when he got discharged. I never heard if he left town or stayed with his girlfriend. I’m guessing he went home and left her behind.

If ever I were to play the ‘whatever happened to’ game, it would be with a slight, wistful young woman named Mara. She appeared one day in our post newspaper office, about a month before I was transferred south. She had enlisted in the WACs because she wanted to get away from home. The scene back there was very bad she told me. I sensed, even with my own heightened sense in immaturity, that bad things had happened to her and she wanted to escape her family.

She was a Marilyn Monroe lookalike, vulnerable, and had a sexual edge about her that moved men in strange ways. All of my barracks buddies talked about ‘dating’ her but no one had the guts to ask her out. She and I talked a lot and I think she found me a lamb among the wolves. On my last day of work before shipping out, she asked if I wanted to meet her back at the office, after hours, to ‘say good-bye.’ I could have, I certainly want to, but common sense prevailed and I didn’t.

About a month after I had left, I got a letter from a buddy back at the post newspaper office. He mentioned that Mara had gone off on a ‘official post business’ with one of the colonels in the office. That made me very sad because I knew the colonel’s intent wasn’t dictation and Mara probably saw in him a father figure she never had back home. She was still a ‘little girl lost.’

From the Presidio, I transferred down to Folk Polk, Louisiana with a whole new cast of characters and strange events taking place there. Phrases and stages, phrases and stages. But that’s another blog entirely.