Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Broken Down Palace; the Poems

A while back I wrote a blog entitled: Broken Down Palace. It was about the first apartment building I lived in after moving out of the only home I’d known for almost twenty years. The building was designed and constructed around the turn of the century for a prominent Minneapolis industrialist.  By the time I moved in, almost sixty-five years later, it was a rundown boarding house chopped into several apartments.

That period in my life encompassed what I now whimsically call my lost years; roughly from 1961 to 1971. It began with my high school graduation on May 31st, 1961 and culminated in my marriage on July 31st, 1971. Ten years of wandering and wondering about my life as it unfolded in twists and turns; some expected and others not so much.

It was during that latter period, in an old tired musty apartment, that my creative juices really started to flow. From roughly the fall-winter of 1967 through the spring of 1970, I found myself going through a furious writing phase.  Poems, song lyrics, outlines for novels and mind-stories poured forth, all captured with my ancient L.C. Smith typewriter.

My new job at KTCA television entailed some script writing and other journalistic endeavors. But more importantly it meant I was interacting with a plethora of wildly crazy, creative, free-thinking folks. It was the mid-sixties when almost anything was up for grabs and challenges. I was living the life and not focused too far beyond the next day.

People were coming in and out of my life. Some were fleeting moments whose names are still etched in my brain while others have long since been forgotten. The Triangle Bar became my refuge from reality; a place to toke in the shadows along with the stoners, drink cheap schooners of beer and leer lustfully at the University Coeds all lined up neatly at the bar.

Thoughts and scenes, feelings and emotions were coursing through my veins and piling up in my memory bank. I found a wonderful outlet for expressing those sundry images and imaginative scenarios on paper.

Writing poetry was incredibly liberating along with the song lyrics for which I had absolutely no skill whatsoever. Almost every night, I’d be hunched over my L.C. Smith, pounding away at words and verses, sentences and paragraphs that kept rushing forth.

It was like a euphoric rush of emotions spilling out of my consciousness. Most nights, I became incredibly high on endorphins surging through my brain matter. Good, bad, terrible and some not so bad material was captured on’ now’ old gray sheets of paper. That episodic flash of creativity ultimately lasted for only a short period of time. The resulting pile of papers were assembled, bound together and filed away. Then life took a turn for the wonderful and they were forgotten for almost sixty years.

A new relationship had gained traction, this one for good, and I was on a new path toward the future. Fortunately, those old stapled pages of poetry followed me around the country before finally settling into a filing cabinet in the basement along with other forgotten dreams and storylines.

Now fast-forward a lifetime of pecking away at writing and more recently, tackling just about every other means of storytelling from novels to novellas, plays to screen-writing, children’s stories to blogs and a new comic strip, it was time for something new…like songwriting.

That idea evolved out of a play I had written during the pandemic. ‘PTV’ is a semi-auto-biographical play about my own early television experiences. I tried to capture in my story-telling some of the antics, pranks, and true-life activities that went on behind the scenes. There were some wonderful personalities and characters that lived in my world at that time when the station was evolving from an instructional educational institution to that of a public television station. It was the mid-sixties and the vortex of the social, sexual and political upheavals of the time. I thought it would be neat if I could write some songs reflective of that period and the events taking place in and around the station.

I decided that the first step in that process of song-writing would be to peruse those song lyrics and poetry I had stashed away for all those years. I found the dusty faded gray papers buried in a file cabinet and began to study the material for anything I could use for PTV. But the more I perused those ancients words purged from my heart and soul, I realized that they really captured a ‘time in my life’ and weren’t appropriate for the songs I wanted to write today. But, I thought, they could stand on their own as a testament to the times and my life back then.

Hence was born the idea of a new book of poetry which is still in its infancy. I’m going through the musty old pages and selecting the most representative poetry of that period. Once chosen, I’ll have to assemble the pieces in the right order (a purely subjective exercise) and recreate the poetry and song lyrics in my computer. Vida, my editor can take it from there.

After more than fifty years of dormancy, it will be interesting to see those words carved from another life and time back in print again.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022


Since before the dawn of time (or at least it seems that way) financial advisors have been telling us how to save for our retirement. For a long time, they claimed there was some kind of magic formula and if you were lucky enough to reach that equation, you’d be ‘set for life’. They, of course, knew the secret route on that successful journey toward retirement bliss and happiness.

Back when I cared, their magic number usually hovered around three-quarters of a million dollars. At last count, it has now reached a zenith of one million, two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Once there, you are assured (according to them) of a comfortable retirement…without ever really defining what that is supposed to look like.

A while back, I was jaw-boning about this new approach to financial literacy with a retired school administrator and investor friend of mine. He’s written a book about safe, sane investing aimed at the educational community. As a past educator, he knows that many of his fellow teachers are not as financially savvy as they should be. We talked about our own divergent pathways to retirement and he mentioned a new movement that he’s become intrigued with now.

It’s called FIRE and it purports to have found a new route to financial freedom for the younger generations. For the two of us, that would be anyone under the grand age of sixty. My friend tells me that millennials in particular seem to have gravitated toward this new ‘routine in financial living. FIRE is an acronym for ‘Financial Independence, Retire Early.’ To better understand the concept, I’ve borrowed some of the high points of this philosophy from the Investopedia web site.

The web site explains that: ‘Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) is a movement of people devoted to a program of extreme savings and investment that aims to allow them to retire far earlier than traditional budgets and retirement plans would permit.

Born out of the 1992 best-selling book Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez, FIRE came to embody a core premise of the book: People should evaluate every expense in terms of the number of working hours that it took to pay for it.

Key Takeaways of FIRE

  • Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) is a financial movement defined by frugality and extreme savings and investment.
  • By saving up to 70% of their annual income, FIRE proponents aim to retire early and live off small withdrawals from their accumulated funds.
  • Typically, FIRE followers withdraw 3% to 4% of their savings annually to cover living expenses in retirement.
  • Detailed planning, economic discipline, and wise investment are key components in achieving a FIRE retirement.
  • The FIRE movement was inspired by the 1992 book Your Money or Your Life, written by two financial gurus.

The FIRE movement takes direct aim at the conventional retirement age of 65 and the industry that has grown up to encourage people to plan for it. By dedicating a majority of their income to savings, followers of the FIRE movement hope to be able to quit their jobs and live solely off small withdrawals from their portfolios decades before they reach age 65.

As reported by Vox, in recent years, millennials in particular have embraced pursuing a FIRE retirement. Proponents of the extreme-saving lifestyle remain in the workforce for several years, saving up to 70% of their yearly income. When their savings reach approximately 30 times their yearly expenses, or roughly $1 million, they may quit their day jobs or retire from work altogether.

To cover their living expenses after retiring at a young age, FIRE devotees make small withdrawals from their savings, typically around 3% to 4% of the balance yearly. Depending on the size of their savings and their desired lifestyle, this requires extreme diligence to monitor expenses as well as dedication to the maintenance and reallocation of their investments.

Several FIRE retirement variations that dictate the lifestyle that the FIRE movement’s devotees are willing and able to maintain have evolved within it, as reported by Forbes Advisor.

  • Fat FIRE—This is for the individual with a traditional lifestyle who aims to save substantially more than the average worker but doesn’t want to reduce their current standard of living. It generally takes a high salary and aggressive savings and investment strategies for it to work.
  • Lean FIRE—This requires stringent adherence to minimalist living and extreme savings, necessitating a far more restricted lifestyle. Many Lean FIRE adherents live on $25,000 or less per year.
  • Barista FIRE—This is for people who want to exist between the two choices above. They quit their traditional 9-to-5 jobs but use a combination of part-time work and savings to live a less-than-minimalist lifestyle. The former lets them obtain health coverage, while the latter prevents them from dipping into their retirement funds.

Most people think that FIRE is meant for people who can pull in a substantial income, generally in the six figures. And indeed, if your goal is to retire in your 30s or 40s, that probably is the case. However, there is plenty for everyone to learn from the principles of the movement that can help people save for their own retirement and even achieve an early one, if not quite as early as 40.’

Sprinkled throughout the web site are some interesting points about good old simple planning ahead for retirement. For many folks, that’s easier said than done. One pundit commented to me that the best time to save is when you’re first starting out in a new job or getting married and settling into a new lifestyle. Of course, he never mentioned that that period in our lives is when we generally incur a lot more expenses than earlier in life.

If you are married, have kids, a house payment and other household expenses then saving for retirement isn’t usually high on your radar scope.

The Investopedia web site does have some disturbing, but not surprising, facts to consider. It explain that:  ‘It is important for everyone to plan for their retirement, and yet, according to a May 2021 report from the Federal Reserve System Board of Governors, in 2020, one in four Americans had no retirement savings whatsoever, while 36% who did have savings felt that their retirement plans were not on track. The FIRE movement stresses the importance of having a de-tailed plan and sticking to it, principles that will aid anyone in saving for retirement and maintaining a decent emergency fund.’

Another article from Financial Advisor Magazine claims that: ‘33% of millennials and 32% of Generation Z identified student loans as their largest debt burden. It went on to say that ‘a lot of people who do have that kind of debt are lacking a surplus of cash that they can invest in. This debt might be holding people back from purchasing a home or even getting money to invest.’

The article went on to say ‘there are other costs and it’s so easy to be influenced by social media and spend money on traveling or a night in the city. A lot of those surpluses are going toward these variable expenses.’

The FIRE movement has many solid, common sense arguments in its favor. While I have no desire to poke holes in their concept, I do find one equation that is either seldom mentioned or just passed over briefly; that is, living the life you want to live. Postponing life events, small pleasures, and everyday occurrences just to save a buck doesn’t seem to me a good way to spend one’s life.

The web site argues, quite convincingly, that: ‘no one can achieve a secure retirement without investing in their retirement savings. FIRE adherents invest larger portions of their income than the average person will want to. But the principle of setting aside a set percentage of your income every month for investment—and starting to do that as early as possible—will allow you to grow your retirement savings to a point where they can assure you financial stability in your later years.’

In the end, I think those FIRE proponents and I are probably talking about the same ‘means to an end.’ I’ve always felt that living within ones means, spending money wisely but still ‘having a life’ is the best way to go. Another way of putting it is being ‘thrifty smart’ and not ‘stupid cheap.’

It doesn’t hurt to be able to recognize the difference between ‘having to have’ verses ‘wanting to have.’ Our good old capitalistic society thrives on the economic engine of consumption and always wanting more. A recent advertisement for Lincoln automobiles proclaims that: ‘Owning a Lincoln means you have arrived.’

No it doesn’t!

It just means you’ve bought into the American Dream of having more and feeling good about yourself. Real success lies in ‘living a satisfying, fulfilling life’ and not having a new car in the driveway just to impress your neighbors. It means spending as much time as you can with your kids and/or grandchildren when they’re young. It means spending quality time with your spouse or partner in life. It means taking the time to ‘smell the roses’ and treasure each day as a gift to be shared, used, enjoyed and relished as if it were your last.

Because at some point, it will be… and all the money in the bank can’t make up for lost time or opportunities to ‘live your life.’

Just sayin.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Turning Eighty

As the old saying goes: ‘With age, comes wisdom.’ I guess the word ‘recognition’ could just as easily be substituted in my case. If one can remain open to the world around them, there’s still a lot to be seen and heard; whether it’s accepted or not…is another blog entirely.

This generational differences between myself and the rest of the world didn’t raise its head and nudge my consciousness until I was recently interviewed by a reporter from our local newspaper, the Desert Sun. Brian, the newspaper’s Arts and Culture Reporter had contacted me to talk about my latest play ‘Widow’s Waltz.’

The theme of the play was such that he thought it sounded different from the usual fare produced in the Valley. Whether that was a fair comparison or not, we met at Koffi, another local caffeinated establishment and talked at length about the play, the venue (Script2Stage2Screen) that was producing it and play-righting opportunities in the Valley.

At the end of our lengthy conversation, I asked him about his impressions of today’s Palm Springs since he’d been a reporter here for more than fifteen years. When he began talking about the ‘creatives from the coast’, remanences of Old Hollywood still lingering in the shadows and the uniqueness’ of the place, I realized his take on Palm Springs (as it is today) was a different world than the one I existed in.

Of course, that shouldn’t have come as a total surprise. Brian was born in 1980, about the same time as my own two kids. When he spoke of ‘ancient times’ he was referring to the turbulent 60’s, the war in Vietnam and social and political upheavals run rampant in our otherwise staid and comfortable world.

OMG, I asked myself. Am I really that old? I guess the answer is yes if I’m willing to admit it. A lot of generations have started to come up through the ranks since I began my formal journey in the 1940s.

If Family history is any indication of generational acceptance then I might be in trouble. My Mother never did admit her age and perhaps that’s her flotsam I’ve inherited. My mother worked until late into her sixties, remarried after being single for thirty plus years and never looked back.

She and her husband danced two or three times a week until their late seventies then continued playing cards well into their late eighties.

She was quite verbal in her distain for those old people who complained a lot or wouldn’t get off their duff and ‘do something’ besides watch TV and go to church on Sunday. While on the surface that seems understandable, my mother also insulated herself from world events, local politics, and generational changes with the younger set.

Hers was an insulated, encapsulated walled-off world of her own where only the like-minded dare to tread. Unfortunately, that brought her unwanted stress and discomfort as the world changed and evolved around her sheltered life. I don’t want to repeat that same performance.

I realize that to fully live in this world, one must be prepared to learn and understand the newer generations that are (for the most part) ruling it today. Most of our lives are now in the past and the future is rapidly closing in. To appreciate what we have, we have to embrace what’s there… whether we understand it or not.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Mild Cognitive Decline

For the first time last summer, ‘that word’ unexpectedly crept into my vocabulary. It wasn’t my idea or choice. It was just there, interspersed between your average milk-toast conversations and a few more deeply personal exchanges. At the time, my companion-in-conversation just let it slip that he was facing some memory issues. It wasn’t presented in a dramatic or emotional gesture but rather a more matter-of-fact state of being. This wasn’t the first friend to mention their new cognitive challenge last summer. In fact, it was a total of three friends/acquaintances who shared their diagnosis with me.

We never got into specifics. I guess they didn’t want to go further in their explanation and I was still taken back by their comments. So we settled for ‘mild cognitive decline’ as a safe moniker  and let it go at that. Of course, my mind was still abuzz with the need for further explanations that were never forth-coming.

I guess I shouldn’t have been shocked at my friend’s confession. When I consider the age of many of my friends, family, associates, acquaintances and occasional comrades-in-coffee, it is, unfortunately, a sign of the times. This terrible disease that has been around since the first caveman didn’t return to his cave and got lost in the wilderness.

It’s a word that strikes terror into the hearts of baby boomers worldwide. The disease comes wrapped in different handles like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other memory loss conditions; all incurable. An AARP web page explained it this way:

‘The terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” have been around for more than a century, which means people have likely been mixing them up for that long, too. But knowing the difference is important.  In the simplest terms, one is broader than the other. If the two were nesting dolls, Alzheimer’s would fit inside dementia, but not the other way around. While Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia (accounting for an estimated 60 to 80 percent of cases), there are several other types. The second most common form, vascular dementia, has a very different cause — namely, high blood pressure. Other types of dementia include alcohol-related dementia, Parkinson’s dementia and frontotemporal dementia; each has different causes as well. In addition, certain medical conditions can cause serious memory problems that resemble dementia.’

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a deficit in memory, but generally other cognitive features such as language, judgment, and reasoning are intact. I made this condition a key element in my latest suspense mystery novel ‘Playground for the Devil.’ My heroine’s father is afflicted by it and his memory is key to unraveling the mystery of Henry Miller’s ‘lost’ writings in the book.

In the storyline, his condition was called ‘Lewy Body disease.’ Lewy body dementia (LBD) is a degenerative condition with many similarities to Alzheimer's disease, but it takes hold much more quickly. Dementia develops as nerve cells die or deteriorate, and doctors do not yet know what causes it. There is no cure for LBD, but medication can help moderate some of the symptoms. Lewy body dementia is difficult to identify, but a combination of symptoms can assist doctors in their diagnosis.

The trick is to recognize the clues that can be all around us if we’re cognizant of their signs. But even that can be a challenge. Sharon has an uncle who is going on one hundred and two. For the most part, he is still as sharp as a tack. His memories of going to the one-room school house on his parent’s hay wagon are as clear today as when he was a child.

Other people I’ve encountered seem to have either ‘senior moments’ more often or are more easily distracted. I can’t really tell if there’s an issue with their recall or not. At times, they seem totally in control of their memory, have a good grasp of present-day events and their own current affairs. Other times, I feel as if I’m talking to someone totally different.

I certainly understand that, as we age, holding on to our memory is an increasingly difficult. This is one of the obstacles facing older actors who have to memorize their lines for a play. I personally have watched older actors struggled to memorize the lines I’ve written for my plays.

Like many others my age, I don’t have an answer to this perplexing question. Am I just being forgetful, perhaps not paying attention (my wife would vote for that option any day) or is the gray matter in my head starting to calcify and grow unresponsive?

I’ve long been a note-taker and a list-maker. While I pride myself on a sometimes good memory, I won’t hesitate to take whatever steps necessary to help me remember… anything. It’s all part of the aging process but as long as I can I want to move forward and keep doing and being and living.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Bombay Beach Club

A fair criticism of me as a writer would be that I am ‘scattered,’ ‘unfocused,’ ‘directionless,’ and just plain ‘distracted by the world around him.’  Others might see me as a prodigious producer of a preponderance of written material in many different forms. I plead guilty to both charges and can only shrug my shoulders in admittance that I am all of those things and probably more.

So if I’m heavily weighed down by a long list of projects-in-progress, why would I even consider writing yet another play at this time? Ask anyone addicted to running, work or a plethora of other addictive habits why they do what they do. The answer is usually because ‘they have to.’ So, simply stated, I have an idea for a play that’s been burning a hole in my brain and it needs to be released.

The storyline began simply enough when several years ago my editor came to California and suggested we take a ride down to the far eastern end of the Valley to a place called Slab City. Of course, to get there we first had to pass by a dead sea and a place called Salvation Mountain. It gets even weirder from there.

This was the first time that Sharon and I encountered the underbelly of the Coachella Valley. These are the parts of the Valley that most tourists, visitors, and locals-alike never see or care to visit. You won’t find them listed in ‘points of interest’ or top tourist destinations…and for good reason.

This is where the ‘under-served’, ‘don’t want to be found’, ‘unaccounted for’, and ‘those on the lam’ come to hide. It also presents a warm, inviting cocoon for artists, bohemians, addicts, and the like to congregate and flourish.

Our trip began safely enough with a return to the Salton Sea. That briny morass of faded dreams, high hopes for the future and dead fish scales underfoot. The Salton Sea is California’s largest lake measuring more than 35 miles long and 15 miles wide in spots. It has a surface area of over 380 square miles and sits at 332 feet below sea level. The sea was created back in 1905 as the result of an accidental break in a canal cut into the Colorado River. For 16 months, the river ran unchecked into the lowest area around; the salt basin which became the Salton Sea.

By the mid-fifties, the Salton Sea had become a major recreational water resort area for Southern California. But two hurricanes; Kathleen in 1976 and Doreen in 1977, caused such wide-spread damage to neighboring farm lands that the runoff caused a major increase in the salinity of the sea. That, in turn, caused major fish-kills and bird-kills and created such a major issue with noxious odors that residential development came to a stop.

It will take years, perhaps decades, before the sea might possibly return to its past glory. More feasibility studies will be made, more funding sought and grand schemes hatched. The possibilities for commerce, recreation and development are enormous.

Salvation Mountain is one of the premiere examples of folk art in the middle of nowhere America. The site has become a mecca for those influenced by and intrigued with this kaleidoscope of painted hills, crude cave dwellings and religious scripture. The cave’s paint can and hay bale construction would challenge even the most daring of spelunkers.

The artwork is made from adobe, straw, and thousands of gallons of lead-free paint. It was created by the late Leonard Knight (1931-2014). A deeply religious man, Knight created an art piece that encompasses numerous murals and areas painted with Christian sayings and Bible verses. Knight’s philosophy was built around the ‘Sinners Prayer.’

The old mountain carver is gone now and replaced by Jesus People and their small hugging kids. Many visitors bring paint to donate to the project and a group of volunteers has been working to protect and maintain the site.

Slab City, otherwise known as ‘The Slabs,’ is a snowbird campsite used by recreational vehicle owners alongside squatters from across North America. It takes its name from the concrete slabs that remain from an abandoned World War II Marine barracks of Camp Dunlap.

It’s estimated that there are about one hundred fifty permanent residents (squatters) who live in the slabs year-round. Some survive on government checks, others just want to live ‘off the grid’ and a few come to stretch out their retirement income. The camp has no electricity, no running water, no sewers or toilets and no trash pickup service. Sounds like a dry run for the apocalypse.

Despite the free shoe tree on the way into town and the free library, most of the residents have sectioned off their trailers, tents and sleeping bags with tires, pallets, or barbwire. Free is free unless it comes to their piece of the desert then even squatters want their personal space recognized…along with their art.

No trip to Slab City would be complete with a swing by East Jesus. East Jesus has been describe-ed as an experimental, sustainable art installation. It’s is a colloquialism for the middle of nowhere beyond the edge of services. Made from discarded material that has been reused, recycled or repurposed, East Jesus encourages visitors to imagine a world without waste in which every action is an opportunity for self-expression.

I think West Satan is a simply a suburb of East Jesus. I found this second art gallery-in-the-sun fascinating and mind-expanding. It was like tripping out without the acid and a glimpse into the lives of those who don’t want to be a part of ‘any scene’ here in fantasy land or the rest of the world. All of which leads me to the reason for writing my next play which is entitled: Bombay Beach Club.

I’ve always been intrigued by a sun-bleached tattered cluster of trailer homes strewn alongside the Salton Sea half way to Slab City. Its name, ‘Bombay Beach, North Shore,’ always seemed like the perfect title for a play. I had to swing by just to satisfy my curiosity.

With apologies to Slab City, Bombay Beach isn’t much of an alternative. Its housing seems beaten down by the harsh summers and its distance from civilization. We drove down its main street and intended to stop to ask directions until we looked into the dead-eyes of one young woman shuffling down the gravel roadway. One stare was enough for us to gun the engine and ‘get out of Dodge.’

That was all it took for my pea-brain to begin churning out images and scenes and even some dialogue. It was one fleeting snapshot of an odd-ball collection of characters gathered someplace nearby. That momentary image burned a strong impression on my creative stance and has been there ever since.

Now, years later, that vapid fleeting image has crystalized into a storyline (in the form of a new play). ‘Bombay Beach Club’ is now edging out other projects to garner more of my attention. Its gestation period is almost over and ready for birth into my next play. The tag line is simple enough: ‘Bombay Beach Club; a coffee house for crazies…or is it.’