Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Papa and the Cuda

It can literally and figurative be said that Cuba stopped growing as a country in January of 1959. What Sharon and I experienced as we traveled from one city to the next and finally through Havana was a country locked in a time warp. There are generations of Cuban people who have never experienced the social, cultural, and political changes other countries have come to expect over the years.

We found this out on our cruise around the island several years ago. There is nothing romantic about a people and a country stuck in limbo with little hope for change on the horizon. The Obama administration tried to open relations with Cuba. The Trump administration slammed that door shut just as quickly.

It was eye opening to visit another country just 80 miles off our coast and yet to find it so different in a multitude of ways. One side goal of mine was to discover Papa’s hideaway and hopefully a Cuda on the side. I found one but not the other.

The Hotel Ambos Mundos was where Hemingway used to hang out when he was in Havana. The tourists are there every day along with some locals, all soaking up the ambiance and fading memories that match the framed pictures of the old man on the walls. It’s easy to image what it was like back then for Hemingway (nicknamed Papa) with his heavy drinking, womanizing, political intrigue, and pressing demands from New York publishers.

I’m struck with amazement as to how it got to be this crazy for this poor Caribbean country. A country literally and figurative stuck in time. It is horse and carriage competing for space with cars and trucks.

For those in the know and with enough cash, there are amenities galore. There are charming restaurants tucked away in narrow back streets that open up to wonderful courtyards. The people there are very friendly. The food is great and relatively cheap...if you can afford it.

The Cuban children are beautiful, energetic, and alive with life. This is the only life they know and their parents must dread the time they will begin to realize what the real world outside of their shores is really like. The internet is closely monitored and regulated.

The music of Cuba is alive with African drumbeats, gyrating sweating bodies and an energy that is almost palatable. It hasn’t changed for hundreds of years. It’s just been in remission since the late fifties.

At the Hotel Ambos Mundos, pictures of the old man are everywhere. This is supposed to be Cuba’s version of ‘Sloppy Joe’s’ straight out of Key West. In reality, it is a tourist trap that has managed to keep a little of the original ambiance of the times. They charge five dollars American to go upstairs and wander around the hotel room where Hemingway supposedly drank and slept and misbehaved when he was in town.

Cuba has done a good job of retaining its past, reclaiming its history and pretending it has a future. Some things haven’t changed for over fifty years. I’m trying to take in the sounds, smells, and sights from a writer’s perspective. There are a hundred million stories here. I just have to find them and see if they translate into something my audience might find interesting.

In the meantime, the beer is cold, the air is warm, and the girls are all pretty. What more could Ernest and I wish for….besides a ’67 Plymouth Barracuda.

One of the fun experiences while traveling around Cuba recently was seeing all the old cars of my youth cruising the boulevards of old Havana, Santiago de Cuba, and Cienfuegos.

Each city was a classic car collection I hadn’t seen anywhere else even at our McCormick’s antique car auctions here in Palm Springs. Most carriages of my past fantasies were in pristine condition even if their innards had probably been changed over a dozen times or more. These were the fantasy chariots of my youth.

They were all there, the cars of my youthful dreams. All except the Barracuda. One consolation was the one and only ‘put me to sleep’ dream that carried me as a young man through high school and well into college. A 1955 Chevrolet Bel Aire convertible. Dreams sometimes do come true.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Seeking Lost Treasures

During the pandemic, the art of conversation never died for me, it just struggled sometimes. But now thoughtful discussions and enthusiastic discourse are back for the summer and I couldn’t be happier.

After a season of a twice-a-week salon discourses with Ron, my pool man, I was anxious to return to a more active calendar of cerebral engagements like I had last summer.

Those ‘coffee and chat’ sessions had started out simply enough last spring. After returning early from Palm Springs, Sharon and I realized the summer would be unlike any other. COVID-19 had caused an almost total shutdown of normal activities and called for life-altering adjustments. Serious adaptions were called for.

So our new routines evolved into discovering the peace and serenity of a woodland waltz. Social gatherings were limited to our porch and patio or down by the riverside. Better World Books became our conduit for books to read. Netflix and the Amazon tablet provided moves and entertainment.

But the most satisfying adjustment was reacquainting myself with old friends and opening up communications with newer friends. I called them my ‘coffee and chat’ sessions. Sharon had another name for them; ‘My Playdates.’

Gathering spots ranged from a quiet lake to the Mississippi River. The Monument at the end of Summit Avenue in Saint Paul proved another popular spot.

On my first official C & C back in session, one of my friends and I rediscovered the solitude of a grassy knoll looking over still waters in the crisp early morning air. It was the perfect peaceful setting for great coffee and thoughtful, insightful, challenging conversations.

For other friends, the outdoor settings varied from parks, patios, porches, shelters, and other drafty spots with plenty of air circulation and room for our camp chairs spread apart. It was a pleasant alternative to the traditional nosey, crowded coffee shops of the past.

While Sharon whimsically called them my playdates, I preferred to see them as catch-up sessions, strengthening the bonds of friendship. I think on a certain level, each of us were seeking those ‘lost treasures of the past’ and explorations of the future. Conversations covered a wide variety of subject matter from politics to retirement to relationships to trivia.

This summer was not a duplicate of last summer. Not surprisingly, there was a loss of some friends through ghosting. I don’t know if they were casualties of the pandemic, grew tired of our early morning gatherings or had just ‘moved on.’ Their reluctance to respond to my many e-mails left me a bit perplexed and disappointed. But even though my posse of cerebral adventurers had shrunk a bit, the ones who were left more than made up for the conversational drought.

One of the icons of the 60’s said it best in a couple of his songs. ‘Don’t Think Twice, That’s Alright,’ ‘Boots of Spanish Leather,’ and ‘My Back Pages’ all speak of moving on and refocusing one’s life as the world changes around us.

This summer back in Minnesota, things have certainly changed. The local theater scene is only now slowly coming back to life and there is a huge backlog of plays to consider. My latest novel ‘Playground for the Devil’ feels very promising but hasn’t yet hit enough exposure to garner real attention. Last season’s portfolio of new plays has been examined more closely and most need additional surgery.

But that’s OK, it’s alright. Even without boots of Spanish leather, I can still amble through this summer, proud of my back pages and eager for the future ahead….with pen in hand.

I can’t wait to replicate what I’ve rediscovered here with another group of conversation crusaders out west. True wealth comes with good health and friendships, making me a very wealthy guy.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

A Pen Full of Possibilities

You should always talk to someone smarter than yourself for a clearer vision of what’s possible. Upon returning to Minnesota, I found there weren’t many opportunities to produce another play and I didn’t feel like writing another novel. So what to do?

That’s when I decided to meet with my ‘Jane of all Trades.’ Vida is, at once, my editor, graphic designer, computer guru and friend. She had the clear thinking and vision to help me ponder my next course of action. Besides, there was already much too much on my vernacular plate to boldly stumble forth without a solid idea of where I was going or what I was doing to advance my writing career.

The first item on my writing agenda was to complete a solid first draft of my latest play entitled ‘Frenchy’s Eats.  This began as a complicated experiment whose goal was to explore fatherhood; my fathers and my own, father-son relationships, and the Pandora’s Box of my mother’s up-bringing, marriage, divorce and child-rearing. It is part auto-biographical, part fiction and part historical.  I hope it is representative of other complicated relationships from that ‘greatest generation’ (Tom Brokhaw’s words, not mine).

While I still believe one of my plays ‘PTV’ is a good candidate for the Minnesota History Theater, Vida found a critical flaw in my present script. After discussing the Minnesota stations role in local history, Vida felt my approach was off-track. She thought the internal conflict within the station (as written) was misguided and wouldn’t appeal to the Program Selection Committee at the History Theater.

We agreed on a new approach which I believe will ring more realistic from an historical perspective and solidify my argument that ‘PTV’ is reflective of a piece of Minnesota history that fits the mission of the Minnesota History Theater. Now I just have to rewrite it to fit that new approach.

Continuing dialogue with Vida convinced me that more changes were needed in other scripts. When it comes to sex, the internet, dating apps, out of the mainstream relationships and new approaches to ‘each other,’ my editor is where I turn for information, direction, advice and confidence. Polly and I needed someone like Vida to help guide us both in this new world of ‘What?; they do that now?’

Having an editor who is a member of Mensa, well versed in the complexities of relationships and willing to share deep insight into complicated social and sexual meanderings, Vida has proved, time and again, to be invaluable in helping me better understand the world outside of my own. ‘Polly’s Amorous Adventures’ is a good example of this.

When first produced in December of 2018 in California, the play was a tremendous success. Sharon, as with my other three plays, managed to fill the house for each performance. The audience’s reaction was overwhelmingly positive, even though or perhaps because it was per-formed at a Unitarian Church. I’d love to replicate that experience in the Twin Cities. But first I need to revisit and improve upon the script. Again, that was where Vida was able to step into the picture and bring up subject content I only touched upon initially.

It turns out that Vida has acquaintances who are in polyamorous relationships or single women not afraid to explore their own sexual freedom. Our discussion and my note-taking were both eye-opening and informative. It gave me a whole new angle with which to approach Polly’s dilemma which initially just included jealousy, a confused mother, advice from a computer and the faint inklings of ‘feelings’ for the handyman new on the scene.

This new approach will include Polly owning her own sexuality, women’s sexual freedom and so forth.

One of the major hurtles I envisioned in casting my dramatic musical, music-making play was the need to find older actors who might portray my main characters. Vida’s simple answer was ‘theatrical aging’ or using make-up to age my actors. That one simple (really simple) answer solved my major mental-roadblock. We even explored several YouTube videos for examples. I became sold on the idea and approach.

Completed this spring, my latest novel ‘Playground for the Devil’ is just beginning the arduous journey of making the rounds at writing contests, libraries and book stores to approach, on-line sales and book clubs.

And as challenging as finding markets for ‘Playground’ might be, a reimagining of the Debris trilogy will be even more of a mountain to climb. Sharon was the first to suggest that the Palm Springs market is ripe for my storyline but perhaps not over three books. I had reluctantly come

to the same conclusion after talking to several gift shop and book store owners. No one wanted to stock three books when one might do.

If I decide to go that route, then the condensation and rewriting of the Debris trilogy is going to be challenging. I will have to eliminate some characters, edit down some of the sub-plots, rearrange the storyline, and condense the action so that the story moves along briskly and maintains my reader’s interest.

Then on top of churning these writing waters this summer, we’ve had to adjust to the absence of a few old routines that have gone by the wayside. Old routines no longer hold the appeal they once did. I’m not sure it’s because I feel we’ve moved on or others have. In either case, changes are in the air.

We’ve got our 50th anniversary to celebrate with family up north at a resort, several trips to Colorado to see our grandchildren (finally) in person again, and enjoying the restfulness of a Minnesota summer.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Town and Country

Apple Valley seems to have the best of both worlds; town and a bit of country thrown in for good measure. There’s a variety of housing options from townhomes, row houses, Co-op Housing, apartments and condominiums. New York City it’s not, and that’s a good thing.

The on-going debate, discussion, and smack-talk about the benefits of living in the city verses the suburbs has been around forever. Comparisons between city living and countrified-gentility have been bantered about in newspapers and magazines since the great Western expansion of the 1700s.

As a third-tier suburb, Apple Valley shares the same amenities as most other suburbs with its housing, shopping, limited entertainment and employment opportunities. What it can brag about are some special assets not found in most other suburbs. Valleywood, our own golf course, The Minnesota Zoo, Lebanon Hills Regional Park and so much more.

Within easy driving distance are a whole host of other attractions aimed at a variety of patrons. Cross the Cedar Avenue Bridge and an entirely different world unfolds. Beginning with the Mall of American and a quick escape along 494, there is an abundance of attractions calling in either direction. You can venture west to the western suburbs and Lake Minnetonka or roll down 35W and downtown Minneapolis is at your doorstep. You can also head east down old Fort Road toward downtown Saint Paul in the distance.

Some might argue that there is more mental stimulation in the city verses a more suburban environment. Opportunities certainly seem more abundant among the high rise set rather than tract homes inhabitants. And the variety of attractions can’t be beat.

Certainly the city, any city, is a great melting pot of sights and sounds and smells and adrenaline rush. Cities remain a great gathering spot for sharing information and ideas. There are ton of activities to do.

But now in the year of COVID-19, the internet has proven to be the great equalizer in workforce contributions, education, shopping, etc. The ‘working from home’ phenomena have proven that employees don’t have to be clustered in some high rise building downtown to be productive and team players. Apple Valley is fortunate in that it has old but solid housing stock as well as new.

For many of us, the perfect place to live is in a more country-like setting but close enough to town that one can survive without a car. It’s still possible to live in the suburbs without a car with bus, Uber, Lyft and bicycles taking up the slack. It’s a challenge but it’s doable.

You look out your window each morning and see what some people from the city drive for hours to enjoy.  It really is the best of both worlds