A Lie by Any Other Name

A Lie By Any Other Name

The New World Order conspiracy theory suggests that an authoritarian world government will replace sovereign nation-states as “the culmination of history’s progress” This “theory”, and I use this term quite tightly, was usually limited to the twin orbital spheres of militantly anti-government rightist “truthers” and rabidly pro-Christian evangelicals with their own end-of-times agenda.

But the Venn diagram has expanded now to include what threatens to be the largest, most powerful of the intersecting circles; one led by not the newly selected President of our country but rather, by a cabal of potently toxic, powerfully connected, and insidiously crafty personages who go by terms like Senior Advisor, Secretary of Defense, Chief Political Consultant, ad infinitum.

The man and the mission they serve is not one that they were elected to but one that they slavishly bend and torture truths for in order to support their sometimes obvious but more often than not hidden personal agendas. We may only speculate on what those individual agendas are but the larger truths are becoming clear in the immediate hours after the coronation of their newfound king.

From the scrubbing of anything remotely human off the White House website to the fact-free spray of saliva-laced invective still foaming from their spokesperson mouths, these slaves to right-wing populist agendas are hell-bent on whipping up a mass hysteria in their almost too obvious push towards an apocalypse of their own making.

To what end we cannot fathom. Nor need we, yet.

Now we must gather our collective souls, calm our reactive minds and, like the Women’s Marches of yesterday around the world, resist. Resist with any and every tool at our disposal. Resist loudly. Resist quietly. Resist completely. We have many more tools than we know and we must pull them out of hiding and learn and relearn their power and their applications.

Get behind Gloria Steinem; “If they start to register Muslims, we will ALL register as Muslim”. A great beginning salvo.

The meager and pathetic press is just now beginning to see themselves for the patsies they have been played to be. They gave us this beast of a machine, free of charge and force fed into every channel, be it left, right, or center, until the masses thought their only choice was the lesser of two evils. They did not realize what their own personal evil choice was all about until the dye was cast and the mold had been cracked to reveal the Rocky Horror Picture Show of our nightmares.

Now they are now making fledging moves to correct their tilted ships. CNN claims they will not broadcast press briefings live until they can ”fact check” them; this, to much push-back from the administration.

KellyAnne Conway calls these new statements introduced as news “alternative facts”. Chuck told calls them “falsehoods”. Why not call them what they are; lies? Why not put these spokespeople on a real hot seat and force them to answer the questions and explain why they are NOT lies?

Why not ask the president as well?

Don’t cite “respect for the office” any longer. That ship sailed. By virtue of a false-equivalency campaign and an electoral manipulation of the highest order, any respect we as a nation may have been asked to have is shredded beyond repair and now we must work to destroy what hath been wrought and build again what has been our right…until now.

In the definition of New Word Order in Wikipedia it says:

“Political scientists are concerned that mass hysteria over New World Order conspiracy theories could eventually have devastating effects on American political life, ranging from escalating lone-wolf terrorism to the rise to power of authoritarian ultranationalist demagogues.”

Bingo. Done. Fait Accompli.

And now, amidst our sorrow and despair, in spite of our emotional devastation and malaise, we must once more gather our collectivity about us, raise each other up, and begin again to take back our space. We have seen a startlingly massive response in a surprisingly short space of time.

This is good. We must be better. We must be stronger. We must not allow “alternative facts” to become so commonplace as to usurp the truth.

The truth is they are lies, and a lie by any other name is never a fact, even an alternative one.

 

 

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Dignity For Donald

Dignity For Donald

I was spawned in the 1950’s in Washington, D.C. What a simpler, innocent, and seemingly bump-free time that was. The war was over, we were on top of the world, literally, and all engines were revved up and firing in a way they had never been before and have not been since. To be Middle Class in the America of the 50’s was an aspirational career choice. The country abounded with optimism, opportunities and a seemingly endless pit of to-be-made money. I know I simplify but go with me here.

I was raised as a scion of the 60’s and 70’s in solidly Blue Maryland but was forced by age and circumstance to reside with shockingly Red parents. Politically Red and Blue you understand, certainly not the communistically tinted hues spouted by foul mouthed and feckless Joe Mccarthy. (hmm maybe the 50’s weren’t all that after all but I digress). I was always an early adopter and I took to sex, drugs, and rock and roll like a pro. In truth, as many notables of our culture have recently been espousing, psychedelics like LSD, psilocybin, and their ilk really did open our minds and our eyes to the world not just within us, but to that of the much greater part we all played in conjunction with each other in the wider lens of the world as earth; a community.

Holding these two disparate worlds inside of one body was an ongoing battle that threatened to erupt in an explosion of young adult angst of epic proportions. It’s no small wonder as soon as I was able I grew wings, flew myself willingly west and in my tumultuous twenties went to grab all the counter-culture I could possible pile onto my already LSD-soaked psyche.

I left behind me the stark black and white images of blood and death that television flung into my head after the assassinations of the 60’s, the riotously full color vividization that was literally walking the streets of D.C. during the riots of 1968, the national shame that was Nixon as well as the well-intentioned humility of Carter.

There have been countless political massages since those assassinations of my childhood and the heady heights to which our culture aspired since then, not all of them with happy endings.

Alighting in San Francisco deepened my base of liberal entitlement and absolute joy in life. The California siren-songs of the previous decade were all true in warm, blazingly bright, eucalyptus-scented air. Heaven really was a place on earth….and I lived there.

And then politics, as is its wont, intruded once more. He shot Harvey Milk and George Moscone, in City Hall, in their office. He was a disgraced former city supervisor and police officer. He was, for my life, one of the original “active shooter” scenarios; an armed, deranged, angry white guy. He even carried the name of Dan White in an almost shockingly foretelling nod to the future yet to come. More riots, more hate, more guns, more dysfunctional politics. We did not see yet that the scale was growing, the threat increasing, the dissatisfaction fomenting into a toxic stew that, along with global warming, would be our undoing as a country and as individuals who like to call ourselves human (beings).

Add Anita Bryant, Phyllis Schlaffley, Iran-Contra, Reagan, and the likes of the Keating Five and the 1980’s were once more turning into something even more spite-fueled and sinister than the eras that had just preceded them.

The hate and the rhetoric and the politics that feed them have only grown, exploded really, in the 30 years since. CNN, FOX, MSNBC, the lot have become not what they say they are, dispensers of the news albeit to a sound-bite sensitized nation of screen junkies, but influence peddlers and auction house items available for “purchase” by the bigot who bellows the loudest.

They hire schlock.

Not their for-the-most-part well intentioned news readers and personalities, hired often as much for the cache they bring to the small screen as for their reporting abilities. None of that is essential bad, or evil, or anything really than good business for the brand.

The schlock I resent and am continually abraded by consist of the true “talking heads” of our new-millennium world of news dissemination. The KellyAnne Conways, the Jeffrey Lords and yes, even their left side of the aisle counterparts like Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews. They all make my teeth ache.

Yet their larger purpose is more subtly direct than even the strangest conspiracy theorist could conjure. They focus our attentions away from the issues of import and rage up our angst against whatever sound mouthing has the attention of the internet, the networks, and the moguls who own them. They feed us the pablum they wish us to digest only it is not bland and easy to swallow, as “pablum” would imply. It is cyanide laced, contagious, and in the end lethal.

What they peddle is a carefully contrived cauldron of crap. They know it. They intend it to inflame and incite, that’s their job; it’s what they are paid extremely well for. Their paychecks come from not only from the party with which they affiliate and the vested interests that control them, but from the networks who promulgate their shouted insults as news every hour on the hour. They invectisize us with intent and are made wealthy and worldly in the doing.

Leaving the Russians out of our story for this narrative, this is essentially a homegrown tale of greed, corruption, and money-grabbing hegemony that is perpetrated, as all political aspirations really are, to control the masses. The issue is our masses have become benumbed to too much. Our brains and our emotions and our very essences have degenerated to emojiland. We really require those who we deem “experts” to tell us what and even how to think. For the most part we don’t read (think our president elect), we only consume information in tidbits and in increasingly hostile sound bites slanted to move our thoughts and opinions along whatever path of choice the speaker has in mind, or really the person who pays the person.

The more frightening scenario is just now starting to play out. Not only are we being thought-policed into moods and opinions but there are those among us, a growing self-perceived aggrieved mass, that are turning their newly found “opinion-facts” into apocalyptic atrocities. They are threatening, bully-pushing, self-aggrandizing masses whose entitlement ethics are now moving to actions.

Now they kill.

Shame on us.

We have lost almost all of our human qualities that are worthy and aspirational. We are sheep being led to our own pride-less slaughter.

Looking back at the title of this piece it is not about affording Donald anything akin to respect or even grudging tolerance. He is the embodiment of the shit we have been sold as a nation because of our own lack of personal pride and ethics.

I would trade Donald Trump for my dignity in a New York minute.

 

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“I Ain’t Settlin’…….

“I Ain’t Settlin’

 

……For just getting by, had enough of so-so……for the rest of my life

I ain’t settlin’ for anything less than everything.

Enough ain’t enough this time.”

Sugarland

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I wrote this piece just over two years ago now, right after losing my friend of 40 years, Kim. I put it away out of necessity. The timing felt incorrect. Now, more life has past for all of us. We have each learned to navigate the world without Kim. I reach for the phone at least once a week to tell him something funny, share a ridiculous news story I heard, suggest a new book I love, anything. He was the one person I had left on this earth who had really lived my life; my actual life filled with our shared disease, our high drama, our joy and humor, and our absurdly funny take on the people and places around us. I am alone in these things now, more alone than I thought I would be……or could be. Time burnishes the scars, yes, and dulls the pain to an extent but never really mitigates the loss. That loss has become part and parcel of the fabric of my life, weaving itself like golden threads through the ever-changing patterns that the years bring to the palette, adding a shimmer of light and brilliance and sheen. The brilliance that was Kim.

 

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My friend, Kim, just had the shittiest news, ever. Pancreatic cancer, Stage 4.

We have known each other almost 40 years now; we were roommates in San Francisco in our salad days, young, dumb, and …… well, dumb.

We burned it as fast as we could; lives, men, liquor, the sins of the immortals, believing we, too, were as immortal as they. We learned, both of us, back when the main course was served, that we were not, indeed, quite bullet-proof.

Living in San Francisco back then, the late 70’s, early 80’s life was one long party. We grew up, expanded our worlds, went to fabulous art shows, amazing performances, made friends we would keep for life, dated men we would lose tomorrow and in the process, rolled the dice and lost on the game board, a game we didn’t even know we were playing at the time. We thought it was all glamor and Baccarat…..who knew it was Russian roulette?

And so we had to come out all over again. Tell our friends and family that once more we had what, for them, would be yet another tragic chapter in our misspent, soon to be fore-shortened, lives. HIV was a daunting gauntlet to take up. But take it up we did….we had no choice. We were now one of “them”, the infected, the doomed, the tragically affected young.

But along the way to ruin, damnation and death, something happened.

We lived.

And living turned into a routine that we, once again, grew into. Pills, blood work, side effects, promises of a life we had learned to forswear. We buried friends along the way, mourned the losses and endured the abject horror of losing almost everything and everyone we had grown to know.

And still we two continued on, somewhere along the way barreling headlong into dinosaur territory as only veterans of foreign wars can; enduring, triumphant, but tremulous. We waited for the other shoe to drop, like the Road Runner constantly looking cliff-top for Wiley Coyote and the ever-present anvil.

But then decades slipped away and we, the two of us, were still present, accounted for and still counting; the years, the people, the landmarks and land mines that we had passed by without consequence or even much thought anymore.

Until.

We had a planned regular gathering of our small clan, the four of us, Kim and I and our two fellow female travelers on this planet; a long weekend in Mendocino with wine, stories, food and the friendships and familiarity that only a lifetime of shared history can forge. I had suggested it but then backed out, my life in my advancing years having picked up a speed and frenesity I had not foreseen. Travel, my pastime and byline, work (who knew?) and family, that aging, decrepit formation that we drag about all our lives, were all taking on a new and intensifying neediness that I had to heed.

As I reneged I thought; there would always be next spring, next summer, next fall.

But when they announced that they were carrying on without me…well…..never one to ever miss a party, I scrutinized my schedule, consulted my husband, and committed to what I knew I needed and was not going to deprive myself of; morning walks on a foggy crag of beach with a steaming mug of coffee, afternoons gazing over the ocean as the sun slipped and dipped, and evenings engulfed in the fixings of food and friendship.

And then we rolled craps.

None of us are remotely naïve. We know very well we are all on the downhill slope of our brief and brilliant lives. Really, we were all born in the very middle of the last century for fuck’s sake. Who lives the lives we have lived and gets out with a free pass to ancient age? And do we really desire that? Really?

We are the generation that lived the motto; “Live fast, die young, and leave a pretty corpse”.

Ooops. Two out of three?

Joan Rivers died, just before of Kim’s diagnosis. I was listening to her Gatling-gun comedic deliveries, particularly her take on her own decrepitude and mortality and marveling at her ability to face her demise head on, chins up, laughing at life while she still possessed it and at death as it stalked her every life-stage and Lipo. I knew, inside, there was a lesson there.

I just didn’t know it would come so quickly and so close to home.

So we went to the coast, our beloved California jagged edge-water, Mendocino. We went to a crafted, art-filled home built, as were we, in the middle of a century past. We settled in, not for the weekend we had planned, but for the weekend we all now needed. Time to burnish our connections, gently fan our friendships, and to follow Kim’s lead into the unknown with whatever degree of bravery we could each muster. We would need soul-fuel, great food, some wine, and a modicum of our newly nascent humor, albeit gallow-ish in tone at times.

And so the weekend passed, in warmth, sunshine, and concern. We socialized with friends old and new as if we had all the time in the world. We acted, for all the world, as normal as we could manage to be while all of us, at a deeper level, were conscious of the needling news beneath the surface; that Kim was facing the fight of his long and battle-filled life, and that none of us, Kim not excluded, were prepared for this horrifying conflagration at our doorstep.

We parted for what we all knew was our last group farewell; heads high, spirits low but prevailing with a determined mantle that we were each aware we would need to carry us into the swiftly approaching current.

Over the next couple of weeks we talked often; with each other, around Kim, about Kim, all struggling with what we could to do make Kim more comfortable and mostly to help ourselves fully embrace the approaching storm. I defaulted into my standard crisis mode: do everything. I called hospices, talked to Death With Dignity people both in California where Kim lived and in my own Oregon where we as a state had a more user-friendly end of life protocol in place. I suggested moving Kim north to be able to access our healthcare and hospice offerings but he was already declining past the point of that possibility. In reality, if I’m honest, most of that was for my benefit. I need always to be doing something proactive, taking charge, making something, anything, happen even in the face of odds that no one would ever take to the table in Vegas.

And so I went off on a planned getaway to Key West with my husband where we had been spending a lot of time in recent years. Kim was never very far from my consciousness. Our lives together lurked around every corner, shading the bright tropical colors with an encroaching haze reminiscent of the movie Dark Victory (Kim loved these films as I do) In this film, Bette Davis, knowing her death is imminent, continues planting bulbs for the spring while her husband is off on a lecture tour. When the expected blindness comes suddenly, she staggers off to her room and dramatically passes away as only the Diva Davis can, with flourish, élan, and drama for the ages.

Lying on the beach listening to the ipod soon thereafter, every song pushing silent tears out of my sun-closed eyes, I had a sudden dramaturge of my own. Kim and Babs had spent years traveling and taking a series of hilarious photos as they wandered that we had dubbed “Mooning The Monuments”. I don’t really need to explain what this involved but drop trou and shoot should suffice. I sat upright with what can only be described as a vision. We were less than a mile away from the concrete monument known as The Southernmost Point in the United States! Tourist flock there for the perquisite pictures that always, after a quick show and tell, end up in a drawer bound for the forgotten folds of memories once gathered and soon foregone.

I packed up Dave and the beachwear and we bolted down the sand for the beckoning bier. The ever-present line was there in place but I had no time to spare….I felt it…..I knew it. Never one to stand on protocol, I wandered up and down the line explaining about my friend Kim, his propensity for Mooning The Monuments, his current predicament, and the absolute need I had to cut the line, shoot the picture, and get it sent off to him. I apologized for any unintended offense, asked a likely photographer to shoot the pictures and even invited anyone who felt moved to join in.

And they did! Cheering, crying, urging the crowd on. Perfect!

I took the best of the images and emailed them immediately to Kim back in San Francisco. He was with our dear friend George on the way to his doctor when they came in. George texted me right back saying that they had elicited the first actual laugh out loud moment Kim had had in weeks. Mission accomplished.

Less than two hours George called me.

While in the doctors office being told the results of his latest scans and just how ill her really was, Kim took his last breath and quietly died, right there.

Anti-climactic? Diva Death? Prophetic? It was so many things. Having George there with him, holding his hand, letting him go for all of us was such a rare blessing, we are all so grateful to him for that.

After we had run out of tears, talk, and meaningful things to say about our gone-to-soon buddy, George had only one thing to add; “Well Robby, as always, you got the last laugh.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Lefsa, The Norwegian Tortilla

 

Lefsa: The Norwegian Tortilla

Growing up outside Washington, D.C. with a “mixed” personal background (New England, Southern, and Norwegian) produces an odd polyglot of people from an even odder multi-faceted gem of basal stone. In our family though the Norwegian women, while diminutive in stature, stood tall on the shoulders of their collective ancestors.   In fact these tiny women, barely over 5 feet in height, produced some monumentally large personalities that all, in their own ways, individualized their Scandinavian roots and continued to carry them forward, if not with actual children then certainly with a reverberating Viking heart that beats through the generations and forges their personal mettle like the steel of their forbearer’s swords.

Yet while we as a culture revel in tales of Viking derring-do and wonder with idle (some not so) curiosity if they will eventually be recognized as the true founders of these Untied States and let Senor Columbus rest an uneasy peace elsewhere, there is the not so small matter of cuisine to be factored into the stew-pot of our collective taste buds.

Norwegians, it can be said with some confidence, have a rather primitive; some might say non-existent, culinary development. Pickled Herring, Lutefisk, and Gjetost (look it up) are some rather dubious highlights that feature in all Norwegian gatherings. I learned early to be bold and rather like the strong, pungent, dare-I-say tongue curdling effects of these out of the ordinary delights.

But one thing that few know and all who have the good fortune to experience come to love is the Tortilla of the North; Lefsa. Its simplicity is awe inspiring, at least from the ingredient vantage point. Leftover mashed potatoes and flour. Period. End stop.

This is where the simplicity of form and function come into direct conflict; think actual Viking warfare if you will. Timing, temperature, handling, rolling, forming, griddling….the steps to the perfect lefsa are deceptively simple when listed out but magnificently mangled when trying to be duplicated by the uninitiated and the inexperienced (or the non-Norwegian as our mothers would like to have us believe).

I was long on my own, well into my thirties, living in California and far from anything resembling roots save for that “Only in California” experience of Solvang, a made for Disneyesque town of imaginary Scandinavian tchotchkeness. I had traveled back home for a summer holiday and was bemoaning to my mother that she had never imparted the techniques of lefsa making to me. Left over taters in the fridge had set my mind to thinking. I was, after all, the cook in the family; at that moment actually manning the stove at a restaurant in downtown San Francisco.

Off we went into the kitchen for my first Lefa Lesson. Being late in the afternoon (well it could have been morning but, whatever) a bottle of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay was corked and the ingredients, all two of them, were gathered.

We must here pause to elaborate on Miriam, Mim, and my mother. She was a formidable creature; the principal of my elementary school (an entire other tale), iron-willed would be too kind a description. Too tough for the playground would be my personal assessment. So the thought, the mere suggestion, of her trying to impart a process of such a delicate nature no less of a Heritage Hallmark to her only son should have been a tip-off to tipple more and talk less. But I was young and….well, not drunk enough…yet.

She began by plopping potatoes in a bowl, tossing around some white flour, dousing the cutting board and rolling pin with it, and then ever-so-carefully broadcasting a dusting over the “dough” in the bowl. With her hands she mixed the two ingredients a bit, adjusted in a few more sprinkles of flour, mixed again, etc.

At this point I made my first mistake. I simple asked her to let me have a feel of the mixture so that, should I ever have the opportunity to try this on my own, I would have a sense memory of what “just the right mixture” should feel like. Cooking is as much about feel as taste. As I sidled over to take a glob in my hand she smacked it away and with a strident “Don’t” whacked it into submission.

My second mistake followed closely on the heels of my first.

I insisted that I MUST feel what it was like. Now either I had not had enough wine or she had had too much or possibly vice-versa or maybe some combination thereof but the conversation and the lesson degenerated from there into a snarling grudge match between two equally talented and well-fortified opponents. Voices were raised, egos were bruised, feelings were hurt, more wine than was optimal was consumed and, well, as was always the case “someone is going to end up in tears” although in our house, it was more like “someone is going to slam a door and not be looked at or talked to for days”.

But hark! Unto this end I was born; (just to throw a bit of LDS trivia into this Nordic Stewpot) and who should appear at the door after dinner that summer evening for “pie and coffee” (the other thing that all good Norwegians practice, daily) but my very favorite aunt and uncle, Clarice and Bob, from down the lane. Savior She.

I had continued on with wine, or had I switched to Jack Daniels? (Yes, I do believe so). Much to my mother’s consternation, she was huffing and grunting like a cow with her cud, I relayed the disastrous school-marm melee to my aunt and she, to the rescue born, had a great idea! If I made a batch of mashed potatoes that night, chilled them well overnight, and brought them to her house tomorrow, she would do HER best to impart long-gone Granny Fillner’s lefsa largesse to her erstwhile grandson.

This should probably be construed as mistake number three but….what the hell, I had lost count and was already in for penny, as the saying goes, so I might as well go for the pound; in this case the pound of flesh which is what my mother now had in mind from me and her sister as sibling rivalry and competition were a well-honed art form long before I ever same into this family. I was simply traitorous. End of story. I was also cold-shouldered out of her world for the next few days.

And so I prepared my pot of spuds, chilled them well (keeping track so that Miriam did not sabotage them in some way during the night), and the next afternoon headed to Aunt Clarice’s kitchen for another stab at The Fine Art of Lefsa.

The resemblance of these two diminutive dynamos of sisterhood was uncanny but the resemblance stooped there. Aside from their enduring love of cats and all things mammalian and their intense Norwegian obligatory pride they were temperamentally as opposite as our polar regions, my mother being the frigid south and my aunt hailing from something akin to Iceland, the friendliest country on earth.

Bowls were gathered, flour was produced, iron skillets heated, potatoes were plopped and just a HINT of milk was on hand if moisture was called for. Aunt Clarice ran all the way through one small batch from mix to mouth, tossing some dough at me to “play” with while she dusted, rolled and griddled up the individual cakes, flipping them perfectly until they looked like liver-spotted, loosely-light tortillas; warm, every so slightly puffy, SOFT, melt-in-your-mouth greatness! Spread them with lingonberry jam or my personal very favorite, butter and salt, roll them into a tube and feed them into the mouth chute!

And then it was my turn.

Now here is where the family management of alcohol comes into critical play. As small children we could always tell when the sisters (there was another one at holidays as well but I digress) had begun the serious consumption of wine in the kitchen. While the men were out in the living room stoking the fire and swilling their bourbon waiting on the womenfolk to serve up the supper, the gals were stirring and swirling and cooking up a storm while imbibing in just a bit of holiday cheer to keep the meal wheels lubricated. But the sure sign the bar had been crossed (or breached) was the volume level of the laughter that would steadily increase, morphing into occasional exclamations of “OOOOPS!!!” and “Oh Shit!” followed with gales of hilarity. If questioned by the menfolk or us they would steadfastly, to a woman, deny any such libidinous lassitude but their Norske Rudolph cheeks would inevitably give their secret full exposure.

But back to Lefsa 201. Aunt Clarice, after doing her duty with batch one, sat down at the kitchen table, poured herself the first glass of Kendall J, handed me the implements and the reigns and said “Go to town”. By the end of the afternoon, I had flour from one end of her kitchen to the tip of the cat’s tale, we were laughing our heads off and there, in front of the now nearly empty wine bottle, was a platter filled with my first attempts at lefsa; rolled, spiced, and happily being consumed with our afternoon happy hour libations.

We ate them all as the prospect of my bring ANY home to my mother for show and tell scared the shit out of both of us.

 

 

 

 

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Waiting For The Wave

Waiting for the Wave

One house is sold. One house is bought. The two are 1,100 miles apart. The gap seems, currently, to be as vast as any ocean; an ocean that is swelling with ebbs and flows of detritus both physical and emotional and as great as any tsunami could generate.

The tsunami analogy is purposeful and deliberate on my part as I have a bit of personal history with a big wave or two. In March of 2012 we were on holiday in the town of Kihei, on the island of Maui when the giant Fukushima earthquake shocked Japan to its knees. We watched in horror as the live shots of the tsunami’s carnage played across the TV screens around the world not really thinking about the fact that we were on a tiny island in the mid-Pacific not all that far distant from the devastation we were seeing unfold. As we drove back to our resort, skirting the warm moonlit waters that surrounded us, we began to think about tsunamis, their reach and their power. This was a massive quake, thousands were dying as we leisurely motored back to our comfortable rooms in paradise. Being the seasoned travelers that we are and having lived in California for decades we discussed the idea of packing a “go bag”…… just in case.

We were starting to sort out the necessaries as CNN kept up a continual dirge of death and destruction that visually reinforced our actions minute by minute until……the Tsunami Sirens on the island started to wail. Our complacency vanished as quickly as the quiet. We were there with a suitcase or two and we could get the hell out of dodge with not too much thought at all. And so we threw the zories and the tanktops into the bags and flew to the cars and started driving up. Up to higher ground, away from the littoral that our rooms rested on and in search of safety, safety from what we did not know as yet.

The radio was now engulfed in emergency activation channels broadcasting continually where the Red Cross would be, where shelters were being setup and communication services would be in place to notify family and friends on the mainland. This became serious, quickly.

We found our way to the nearest evacuation center, a huge parking lot next to a school off the Pukalani Hwy and arranged our cars and staked out our space. The lot filled to overflowing within what seemed like moments, some 10,000 people we were to discover later. We set up our beach chairs in the medians, propped up an umbrella even though it was 10pm and did what all seasoned travellers in Paradise do during emergencies, self-imposed or otherwise, we opened the cooler and made splashy guava/rum drinks……..and then we waited.

Now the science of tsunamis, like science overall, has improved to the point of near perfection. The waves that were generated across the ocean in Japan had been calculated and corrected for distance and drift and we were told that the first waves (tsunamis come in pulses of waves that last for hours) would arrive on the Hawaiian beaches at 3:06am. Amazing.

And so now, our bags packed and stowed, our bodies exhausted yet enthralled at the adventure, and our psyches cautiously optimistic but tinged with an undercurrent of not exactly fear but apprehension, we had nothing to do but wait.

Wait for the Wave to begin and see what the sunrise would bring.

Back to the present, 4 years later exactly, and we have uprooted our house and home, deliberately this time, and find ourselves in the same sort of purgatory-like pause as we wait for the wave of the future to begin its pulsations. The boxes are mostly packed, the movers are all hired. The paperwork is complete and the schedules and planning are put to paper.

We have nothing to do for the next 10 days but clean up loose ends and say goodbye to the life and the loves we have had for the last 8 years here in Portland. Nothing to do but wait. The next adventure is yet to unfold and the last is yet to be complete. Everything is different but nothing has changed….yet. Just as waiting for the real tsunami, our emotions are frayed, our bodies are fatigued, and our emotions are fraught with the unknown. It will all be fine, in the end, but the waiting is almost unbearable.

And so we wait. We wait for the Wave.

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Palm Springs Weekend

Dear Friends, Family, and Concerned Citizens,

Those of you who have known us for more than a minute know that we are occasionally prone to make what appear at first glance to be, in your opinions, perhaps a tad spontaneously informed decisions. To our credit and credibility they have, by and large, proved to be excellent and productive ones that were correct for us at the time, and worked to our benefit in the end. We would add that you all have benefitted from them as well over the years as we have taken you on a virtual if not actual, travelogue of fabulous destinations.

With that in mind, we are once again embarking on yet another adventure (hold your questions, outrage, and opinions until the end of the presentation, please) (as a matter of fact, refrain from actual outright incredulity until you come and visit us at least once).

First in the thought process was the fact that while we have totally loved our Great Northwest Adventure, it has become increasingly clear that Portland, particularly the area of the city in which we chose to reside, is rapidly becoming much like our beloved Bay Area that we somewhat reluctantly left eight years ago: Too Cool for School. The influx of Uber-cool humanity with their Made Money, is creating a mini-bubble akin to what happened in Silicon Valley years ago and that continues there still today. The available, affordable, housing market is almost none-existent here and the rents rival those of San Francisco, Manhattan, and other urban meccas. The traffic has taken on an almost unimaginable volume density that is the source of daily amazement.

We are also looking at our Golden Years and coming to a few conclusions:

We want to simplify the outgo of money on housing and taxes.

We want a bit more community that is more easily accessed.

We want to follow the trend this time instead of pioneering the path.

And probably most importantly, we need to engage ourselves with yet another new project before we slip into the somnolent senility of “old age” which we have lately found ourselves dangerously close to crashing headlong into. This may be our last hurrah, it may certainly be our last house, and might possibly be the death of us but in the meantime, we are once again embarking on a very, very, typical “Oh there go Robby and Dave” action adventure.

We went on holiday and once again bought a house. To be a bit more precise, we actually sold our house first….then, realizing we were soon to become homeless, we returned to our holiday destination of the previous week….and bought a house.

It all started, as most of our best misadventures do, on a “Three Hour Tour” with our “old” friends Colton and Chris. We agreed that mid-stream into an amazingly torrential winter here in Portland, some sun and warmth were in order so we jetted off to the Playground of the Nearly Dead and the Plastically Fantastic: Palm Springs. Gilligan’s Island never looked so welcoming. It was as promised, warm and delicious and before we knew it marooned we were soon to become.

Along the way we did what we always do (possibly the only fatal flaw in this particular pungent tube of sunscreen); we looked at homes and gardens…..and “for sale” signs. Nothing too radical, nothing too dangerous, we were in a pack and NOT, I repeat NOT, considering ANYthing…..at the time.

All ended well with the holiday, we went home to the continuing deluge and something odd happened, well maybe not odd knowing me but odd if you know Dave. Independently I “happened” onto The Zillow (more on this in a bit) and started just putting pen to paper as to what the economics of Palm Springs looked like. When my increasingly odd mood became apparent to Dave he asked; “What’s going on?” and in a prescient bit of forethought on his part added “and no, we are not buying a house in Palm Springs.”

Oh how wrong can a person be?

I explained the logical economics of the situation, pointed out a few other realities of the aging process and much to my total amazement he said “Well, go do your due diligence”

More prophetic words were never spoken.

As a lark (no offense to the poor bird of the same name and…………here comes The Zillow chapter) Robby threw Ski Seblar on the “Make Me Sell” portion of Zillow at what we determined was a fair market price. (Of course Zillow does not understand we did a full kitchen remodel and added the “garden shed” office in the back as well as hot tub, etc.) Before the day was out, the perquisite calls from wannabe listing agents began to come in. I explained we had own personal agent and friend but if they had any buyers, feel free to bring them to the table.

http://www.zillow.com/homes/261-NW-Seblar-Dr-Portland-or-97210_rb/?fromHomePage=true&shouldFireSellPageImplicitClaimGA=false&fromHomePageTab=buy

In a spark of what we consider divine intervention (or possibly the Devil’s Own Due), a call came in from an agent whose buyer had seen the house on Zillow from their home in Shanghai! He had found our house on Zillow and called his local agent and told her to go preview the house immediately. He had just returned to China from three days of house hunting with her and actually had an offer in on another home but ours had something he really, really, needed to see about. The agent came over in 20 minutes, stayed two hours, and we had a full price offer in less than a day. His Japanese wife and their two under 5yo children needed to get out of the pollution a.s.a.p. and so he was relocating his business and their life to Portland, where else?

Oooops. If we accepted their offer we were about to become homeless. So off we went to see what there was to see in the desert. Like sharks, we must continue to move forward or die……as it were.

Now the initial thought was to look at completely done, mid-century moderns with an eye to changing up our style yet again and easing into old age with some flair and fabulousness. Surprisingly, or not, an amazing place was on the market just up the block from where I used to live exactly 30 years ago in Cathedral Cove; stunning gardens, spectacular pool and spa, views for miles across the desert. We had to see it. We repacked (the laundry was barely dry), and decided to leave in 48 hours to drive back down and stay with our friends Darwin and Jack.

Along the way we realized, after seeing the first house we thought was Perfect on Paper, that is was far from it; too small, no enclosed garage, not enough indoor living space, etc., etc., etc. The reality of our situation began to dawn us. Our buyers want to close by March 11th and homelessness was looming large! The refrain “What have we DONE?” became annoyingly prominent. We negotiated a couple extra weeks in Portland but still……..we agreed and we are on the move.

We broadened the net and began to look at other possibilities. The unfortunate reality about mid centuries is that they were small even in the midst of their century of origin; 1,800 sq ft max and usually around 1,200-1,600. We would kill each other in no time. The net got ever broader.

One thing remained though, our attraction to Cathedral Cove for so many reasons; history, view, funk-appeal; a casual not over-produced neighborhood that was close to Palm Springs but not IN Palm Springs; better values, great proximity.

And so we arrive at Vista Drive.

There was a house, not what we had in mind initially but possessing many really attractive attributes that, in the end, would prove to be our final solution and maybe our ultimate demise.

It was among the largest homes in the Cove at 3,000 sq ft and on the largest lot in the Cove, just under ¾ of an acre. It backs onto the wash, a paradise of privacy with almost no neighbors, amazing views, and incredible hiking trails right outside our pool garden gate.

It was built in 1991 and really hasn’t been touched since. Think mauve carpeting, pale blue kitchen tile and flesh pink bathrooms. See where we’re headed? From the exterior it looks like a Spanish stucco Ranchita with an almost 70’ covered ranch deck in the back overlooking the citrus grove and pool/spa. It has a full basement, unheard of in the valley. It has an 800 sq ft garage, enough for ALL the vehicles plus an amazing stretch of workshop and project space which…..yes, you’ve figured this out now….we will need as we embark on yet another Houzz.com remodel project from another era. We struck at deal at far less than list so we are pleased.

While waiting for the final negotiations to conclude we busied our sleepless nights with research on flooring, lighting, decking and the like. We are now engaged, enthused, and actually feeling energized about life again.

Follow us as we learn to live our next retirement and hopefully provide years more amusement and amazement to you, our beloved family and friends.

And “Come on down!” as Monty Hall would say. I believe there’s a street named for him there as well, right down the hill from 38950 Vista Drive, Cathedral City, CA 92234

If you want to see some BEFORE photos you can find them on the Zillow listing at

http://www.zillow.com/homes/38950-Vista-Drive,-Cathedral-City,-CA-92234_rb/

But look past the current décor to the future result when we work our magic Phone numbers and emails addresses will remain the same – ain’t technology wonderful?

Move

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My Sinatra, His Way

My Sinatra, His Way

 When I was young I don’t recall my parents, both born in 1912, to be Sinatra oriented in any way. They albumed through Perry Como and the like but I believe Frank Sinatra represented an ethnic diversity they were absolutely unable to tolerate having been steeped in the early Twentieth Century xenophobia that was pervasive in east coast mentalities.

It was not until I moved to San Francisco in the seventies and adopted my own personal ethic of tolerance and with it an absolute obsession with all things 40’s; vintage clothing, accessories, and two-tone, perforated, wing tips that I discovered Sinatra….my own version of Sinatra. I gravitated to the song stylists of his era; Billie Holiday, Ella, Judy, singers with élan, power, emotion, and most of all…….phrasing, that ineffable ability to emote through a lyric the inner-most emotion of a feeling and convey it into verse and voice.

While the vintage vogue was in full swing in the Bay Area I will admit to a large degree of outsiderdom in what was then the Disco Daze that permeated the twenty-something culture of which I was also a major member. In fact, most of my circle referred to Frank Sinatra with the derisive sobriquet of “Stank” when his songs would appear on the Musak that permeated the public domain of the day.

And then there was Palm Springs.

I moved to the desert on a whim in the eighties, scared of living and afraid of dying in the Decades of Disaster that delineated the AIDS epidemic of the era. In truth I hated it there from Day One but I made my way forward passing through a paroxysm of fear and loathing and somehow secured a series of jobs and even a career that kept me there for years.

Before the career took root though I went back to the one thing that I really knew, and loved, waiting tables. The money was great…then… and I thoroughly enjoyed the social intercourse with the patrons and the proximity of the food, having already been a chef but preferring the luker on the front side of the house to the pseudo-notoriety of the back. I viewed every new table that was seated as a mini opening night at the theatre, one in which I had to asses their moods and desires and leave them asking for more at the end of their meal.

And so we arrive at my intersection with Frank Sinatra.

I had a job at a small but well-worn and well-heeled place on North Indian Avenue called Delmonico’s, a hold out and living homage to the glory days of Palm Springs and the era that had spawned and nurtured the Rat Pack and its entire ilk. Dark, wooden, red leather banquettes, softly glittering chandeliers and sconces….white table clothes…only; we, the wait staff, in tux jackets and white shirts, rumpled though they were in those fading days of the Service industry.

I no longer recall the aging other waiters who populated this tiny domain but I was certainly the youngster of the bunch, bringing an enthusiasm to the task (I needed the money!) and a fresh face that did not reflect the nipped and tucked versions of themselves that confronted all the patrons in their hallway mirrors as they primped and pomaded their perfection for a meal out.

Palm Springs back then operated on a whim. When the luminaries of the loche life got an urge, they simply acted upon it, at once. Delmonico’s was to Sinatra what every great, long-lived, establishment hopes to be; a living embodiment of their customers wonder years, a place they feel at home, can call home, and in Sinatra’s case, acted like it was his home.

He would phone ahead and tell the owner (an old Gumba aficionado of the best sort) that he was coming in for dinner with a party, the number to be determined as the members collected. Whatever the number, Delmonico’s essentially closed for the night, or at least the hours that Sinatra would be in house, to accede to his borderline paranoiac avoidance of crowds and the associated entanglements that they represented. Sinatra was, after all, the first of the public domain, luminous, females screaming in his wake, superstars…ever, and by now, he was very, very, tired of it all and had the money and the juice to insulate himself from the madding crowds. Palm Springs was still a small pond and Frank was by far the biggest fish in it.

At Delmonico’s he had His table, His Waiter, and His Way.

The exact night that I intersected with His World is lost to me now, somewhere in the heady haze of the late eighties. I came in for my shift to be pulled aside and seriously, I mean Seriously, talked to by the owner. Sinatra’s waiter was off (sick? tired? old? drunk?) I don’t remember why but I was up, I was “It”. He had told Frank that he had a “new guy that’ll you’ll love” waiting to take care of him and his party….”guaranteed”.

The rest of the evening is a bit blurry. But the take away was like an impressionistic painting of the golden age of America; the music that massaged the mood, the pasta that piled up in steaming bowls, the bourbon that lubricated the conversation, the laughter that roared ever louder as the clock would down ever later.

He asked my name straight out of the gate, Sinatra wanted to know…and control, everyone in his immediate sphere at all times. He would never again refer to me without using my name, more respectful as time went on and credentials were earned. That first night I stayed, taught but attentive, to the side, ready to pounce if needed and the need was signaled with no more that a raised eyebrow on Sinatra’s forehead and slight jerk towards him indicating that someone’s glass needed a top-up or that the lighter or cigar humidor needed a refill.

The tip was, shall we say, generous? The call from the owner the next day was resume worthy if one could list celebrity high-fives on one’s curriculum vitae. Sinatra always called to personally thank the owner after a meal (and I’m sure rebuke him if the need be) and he had called to say that “the gang had a great time and by the way, the new kid “Rob”, was terrific”.

My fate was now linked, and sealed. I was His Waiter from then on. His dinners were not that often but when they were, they were memorable. Sinatra learned bits and pieces of my history over time as he signaled longer pauses during service to ask questions, introduce me to his friends. He slowly elicited my relationship to food and wine, my love of good bourbon, gently benign personal stuff that felt ultra-personal to me. Moving foreword he never failed to pour me a glass of whatever great wine they were drinking raising his and saying “Salute!”. “Grab a glass for yourself, Rob, you’ll love this brandy!”

Aside from the alcoholic warmth of those moments coursing through me there was another feeling that I never realized until those days were nothing but never fading memories. The Italian word in Famiglia; family. Sinatra had this uncanny, innate, and well-honed ability to make everyone in his presence, everyone he like that is, feel utterly at ease, at home, and as if they absolutely belonged…right there….in that moment…with him. Astounding.

Over the years I saw Sinatra at other events; I catered at Bob Hope’s home and Sinatra was there, always with an effusive greeting and a warm handshake of recognition and a “Hey Rob! Howya doin’?”. The other waiters were nonplussed even in star obsessed Palm Springs.

In the ensuing years, through various Come Back tours and Vegas appearances the Sinatra’s spent more and more time at their Palm Springs compound. Frank and Barbara Sinatra were huge supporters of many, many charities and were major donor/sponsors of the newly constructed Palm Springs Art Museum. And here we come to my last encounter with Sinatra.

As the steering committee firmed up the details of the opening gala for the Museum, the catering was being put in place for the hundreds of luminaries who would glitter their way out of their Rolls’ and bangle up the red carpet to banquet and bid.

Back at Delmonico’s the owner got a call. It seems that Sinatra, in his quest for atmospheric control at all times, had dictated to the committee who his waiter would be for their ten-top at the gala, me. I did not work for the catering firm that had the contract. But I soon would, even if on a one night only basis. Because of the security concerns even then, and more because Sinatra was Sinatra, I made the obligatory trip to the catering offices, filled out the requisite payroll information, and was officially on staff for the big night.

Sinatra and his party arrived and made their way through the room to the center-front table (big money begets great seating), while the other guests in the room actually stood and applauded! It felt like an awards show.   As they settled into their seats his curtain of security guards tightened around the perimeter. From then on, no one was allowed to pierce this spherical layer of bulky energy without a nod from the Man himself who was on constant alert as to who was lurking about the periphery. I was the only one with unfettered access and Sinatra, with a well-practiced casual cool, made the point right away with a “Good to see you Rob!” and the welcoming handshake.

It goes without saying, the tip was more than just generous as was the man I knew. Whatever has been said and speculated about Frank Sinatra, the man I knew was nothing but a really, human, gentleman.

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