Finding Margaritaville in the ‘Hood

by Bob Sparrow

Late best friend, Don Klapperich, introduced me to Jimmy Buffett’s music in the late ’80s via cassette tapes from Saudi Arabia. I have since collected all his music, videos, read all his books including the Margaritaville Cook Book. My Sirius Radio in mostly on  the ‘Margaritaville’ channel, I’ve seen him live in concert numerous times and recently went to San Diego to see the play, Escape to Margaritaville, based on his music and lyrics, much like the play Mama Mia is based on ABBA’s music. The production is hilarious and is eventually headed to Broadway. I am clearly a big fan – a Parrothead. What is the appeal of a singer whose voice is more a kin to that of a carnival barker?  The vibe he creates!

Marge, Jeanne, Diane, Julie, Reta, Linda, Althea

Last weekend, we decided to celebrate the first weekend of summer Jimmy Buffett-style by hosting a ‘Finding Margaritaville’ party for our neighborhood. How do you find Margaritaville? Where is it? Some people say it’s in the Caribbean, other say it’s in Key West somewhere around Kokomo. According to Mr. Buffett, “Margaritaville is a state of mind where there is booze in the blender, good weather and colorful characters, just on the edge of paradise with a dash of reality thrown in to add flavor.”

Dianne, Pam, Kathy, Shelly

Well, that comes very close to describing the neighborhood we’ve lived in for the past 32 years, especially the part about the colorful characters. It was here I was going to start listing some of the characters and their accomplishments/antics, but there are 20 some couples that live on the two streets that make up ‘the ‘Hood’ and there is not room here to do them all justice and I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out, so let’s leave it at it’s a neighborhood filled with interesting, giving people where you can always find booze in the blender.

Banana Dolphins

Marge, her monkey and parrot in her tree

A good example of this giving neighborhood occurred when I asked if anyone in the ‘hood wanted to donate money to help the guide we had in Nepal after his home was destroyed in the 2015 Kathmandu earthquake – I had $1,200 on my doorstep that afternoon!   If someone is sick or housebound for any reason, neighbors will take turns preparing dinner for that family – and we have a number of outstanding chefs in the ‘hood (Rob Warren & Richard Wade immediately come to mind). When our kids were growing up and playing at each other’s house, wherever they were at lunchtime the mom would fix lunch for the whole gang. No one ever worried about where their kids were or if they had eaten lunch. It is an amazing group of people with whom we are lucky to be associated.

Phyllis & Starlet

Captain Jack

At 6:00 on Saturday, the house and yard were in their final stages of decoration; inside the ‘food island’ highlight was the pineapple palm tree, thanks to Marge Dunn and the dolphin fruit plate, thanks to Linda and Starlet. The best decoration outside was the Margarita machine; the surrounding palms and pool complemented it nicely. Partygoers arrived in full ‘Parrotfanalia’. Aside from the 40 attendees who were within walking distance of our house, more importantly within crawling distance home, we had a few family members to add a bit of spice to our already colorful cast of characters; including Linda’s 91 year old mom, Phyllis, who didn’t miss a beat, Linda’s sister, Starlet both in from Minnesota and my brother, Jack, who lent his deft bartending skills to the party, his wife Sharon and her son Brad.

‘Creative’ winners, Dunns, Baldwins & Webbs

Marc Webb, the Pied Piper, started the ‘pool party’

We had a contest to find out “Are You More Creative than Jimmy Buffett?” where couples had to change the titles of Buffett’s songs to something more original.  I can’t write all the answers we got here due to our PG rating, but needless to say the ‘hood is very creative.  So of course the party was a success, how could it not be with this group? As they say, a good time was had by all, especially those who jumped in the pool with their clothes on later in the evening – alcohol may have been a factor.

I’ve probably forgotten a few things that happened that night, but I know this, the ‘hood has been a great place to raise our little kids and a great place to raise a little hell.    Fins Up!

Phyllis bracing for the start of the party

 

Tanis, Stefanie, Lisa, Doug, Keren, Sandi

Suzanne on the ‘Midnight Express’

by Bob Sparrow

Suzanne’s new friends

Suzanne’s popular and much-read Memorial Day blog, They Were Soldiers Once, And Young, along with last week’s post about our lovable father may be her last blogs for a while. Let me explain . . .

Two weeks ago we received an email response to the first aforementioned blog. We typically love responses, but we didn’t particularly love this one. It read:

Hello, is there an email address to reach you guys regarding a copyright issue on your website?”

At first we thought it was ‘spam’, we get a lot of that, I guess maybe because we (I) write a lot of that, but we looked to see from whom it was sent. Perhaps it was a friend who was just trying to mess with us. It wasn’t. The sender of the email was a name that seemed to be just a mishmash of letters, so it was, we thought, clearly a prank from a fictitious name.  But we decided to see what Google had to say about this mishmash of letters. It turns out that there is, in fact, a person with a name of this combination of mishmash letters. We wondered who it was and why were they emailing us? And what possible copyright issue could there be? Lots of questions, but no answers, until . . .

My Google search had numerous headings under this name, but my attention was immediately directed to a heading with which I was familiar, From A Birdseye View. My first thought was, “Hey, it’s our blog, that’s cool”. Then I thought, “Oh shit, why is a copy of our blog listed here under this name?”

As I read further and learned more, I opened the link to our blog that appeared in this Google search and the pieces started falling into place. The blog was Suzanne’s annual Memorial Day tribute from 2016, in which she used one of this person’s photos that she found on line. As I learned more detail, I found that this person is a well-known and published Turkish photographer, having had a number of exhibits in the states as well as Turkey and has won a number of awards for photography here, in Turkey and in the UK and currently lives in Izmir, Turkey. I’d put a photo here, but that’s the kind of thing that got us in trouble in the first place.

In correspondence with this person, it was indicated that whoever was responsible for putting this photo on our blog (Suzanne!) was being subpoenaed to immediately appear in Turkish court for violations of international copyright laws. I quickly responded and pronounced my innocence and indicated that it was totally my sister’s doing, that I tried to talk her out of it, but she insisted. I know, it sounds like I’m throwing her under the bus, but I was furtively trying the strategy of taking the opponents side in the argument to let them know we were reasonable and rational people (at least I was), and I suppose at the same time I may have been distancing myself from my sister’s heinous act.

I understand why she’s here, but why am I here?

So, long story short, last week Suzanne flew to Turkey and appeared in Turkish court, admitting that she used the photo, but saying that she was unaware that the photo was taken by our emailer and explained that when she learned of her mistake, she immediately took down the photo (you may have noticed that a photo that had usually appeared in Suzanne’s blog in previous years, was replaced this year).  Too little, too late.  Her plea fell on deaf ears, deaf Turkish ears I should remind you.  So unfortunately Suzanne has taken up residency in a Turkish prison, sharing a cell with a Sri Lankan murderer and a drug dealer from Bangladesh. The court did take pity on her and allowed her to bring Dash, The Wonder Dog, with her. So she does have some companionship, that is aside from the murderer and drug dealer. It’s not all bad, she’s actually getting along quite well in her new environment as she has started a prison knitting class for the guards, which seems to be going quite well. Who knew that Turkish men loved knitting?

Copyright infractions in Turkey can carry up to a 30-year sentence at hard labor, but there is a possibility of parole after 28 years, so Suzanne could be out sometime before she turns 100.  I’ve sent her the DVD series ‘Prison Break’, so she’s got that and she does have Dash, who spends most of his time digging.

If you’d like to write to Suzanne, she can be reached by sending correspondence to:

Shit Hole, Istanbul, Turkey

OK, just kidding . . . it’s only a 20 year sentence.

The Addition of Addison

by Bob Sparrow

Addison at 1 minute old

Somewhere around 353,000 babies were born in the world last Friday, June 2, 2017, approximately 11,000 of those were born in the U.S. on that day and around 1,300 in California.  So having a baby that day didn’t appear to be really that big a deal.  Unless it’s an addition to your family that you’ve long-awaited and comes with a back-story fit for a tv mini-series.

Daughter and expectant mother, Dana Sparrow Borrelli has been through two open-heart surgeries, the first when she was one-and-a-half and the other just a few years ago, as well as several intravenous operations where doctors go in through an artery in the groin up to the heart to replace a valve. I don’t think they learned that on YouTube!  Once her heart was ‘baby-ready’, there were other difficulties in bringing a new Borrelli into this world, including a miscarriage and several tries of artificial insemination.   During that process, daughter Stephanie, Dana’s older sister, volunteered to carry the baby for her as a surrogate mother – a true act of love!  They ultimately tried the very expensive process of in vitro, and it took! The process produced 8 fertilized eggs, four boys and four girls, a girl was inserted and the other seven were put in the freezer for future delivery – probably not all seven!
This entire process would have certainly discouraged the average person, but Dana is no average person – through it all, she kept an unbelievably positive attitude, and while we know she was dying on the inside, there was never a ‘why me?’ attitude, just great perseverance.
Her perseverance paid off in spades last week with the arrival of Addison Sparrow Borrelli, a 7 lb. 8 oz., 22 inch beautiful girl, but of course it didn’t come easy.
Dana was brought into Huntington Hospital in Pasadena on Wednesday evening around 10:00 p.m., May 31 with the idea that she would be given a medication (Pitocin) that would help her deliver in approximately 12 hours.  Linda and I left home early Wednesday morning to make sure we got to the hospital on time.  Around mid-day Thursday, June 1, Dana was getting severe labor pains and was given an epidural, which relieved the pain, but slowed down the labor process.  Thursday evening, still no baby and cervix dilation was minimal.  Through the night, Dana and Joe were resting fairly comfortably in her room, in fact they were probably resting more comfortably than we were trying to catch a few winks on hard, straight-back chairs in the waiting room.  We maybe got 30 minutes of shut eye throughout the whole night.  By 7:00 a.m. we were back in Dana’s room where she was getting closer to delivery, but still not there.  Around 8:00 the doctor arrived and Linda and Joe got to remain in the delivery room, I’m ushered out to the waiting room.  After about an hour of ‘pushing’ and with exhaustion written all over Dana’s face, Addison made her debut, showing a few ‘battle scars’ but looking beautiful and healthy.  Dana, not so much – she looked and felt exhausted, but her heart held up well and within 30 minutes, her color had returned to her face along with her engaging smile.  But it wasn’t until the following day that Joe brought her a cheeseburger, which she thoroughly enjoyed.

Cheeseburger in Paradise

The cherry on top of all this for us was that of all the 353,000 babies born in the world on June 2, Addison was voted ‘The Most Beautiful’.  OK, only our immediately family got to vote, but the vote was not influenced by the Russians!

Dana and Joe took their new addition home on Sunday, June 4.  Linda and I had a hard time complaining about our 40+ hours without sleep when we realized what Dana had been through to make this miracle happen.  We all agreed – it was all well worth it!

God’s Waiting Room is Empty

by Bob Sparrow

God’s Waiting Room

‘God’s Waiting Room’ is the euphemistic phrase for where people 65 and over used to go to live while they were waiting to die. But the ‘Baby Boomers’ have done it again! They’ve changed everything. They’ve emptied the waiting room.   Now 65 year olds are summiting mountains, jumping out of airplanes and running marathons. From the time the 78 million ‘Boomers’ were born (1946 -1964) they’ve had it their way. They were the first generation to be raised in the presence of television, which gave marketers easy access to millions of people who were now no longer just compared to the people around them, they were exposed and compared, to the entire world. So what did the Boomers do? They raised their game, they wanted it all, they demanded the best. They couldn’t always afford the best, so, unlike their parents who always saved before they purchased an expensive item, they popularized the credit card. Now, as the first of the ‘Boomers’ turned 70 last year, they are changing the ‘Golden Years’.

Previous generations looked forward to finishing their 30-year career with the same company, retiring at 65 with a gold watch and living maybe another 8-10 years before cashing in their chips. Today at 65, we find Boomers starting their own companies, buying their own Apple watch and heading to the cashier’s window to buy more chips. They have literally changed the way to do almost everything; certainly they’ve changed how we think about aging.

Boomers are ‘all in’

But to be fair, and just to help keep the Boomers humble, there have been some pretty successful ‘senior citizens’ throughout history. The following accomplishments are true, the parenthetical comments that follow are mine and subject to not being true.

  • Benjamin Franklin signed the Declaration of Independence when he was 70 (He actually thought he was picking up the lunch tab for a few of his cronies)
  • Cornelius Vanderbilt didn’t buy his first railroad until he was 70 (He then gave it to his son for Christmas along with a track that circled Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree)
  • Omkali Singh is the oldest woman to give birth at 70 (Her baby was 46 when he was born)
  • Clothing designer Calvin Klein, cast Lauren Hutton in an underwear ad when she was 73 (They actually cast her when she was 70, but it took her three years to get the underwear on).
  • At 77 John Glenn became the oldest person in space (He was the one that left his right-hand turn signal blinker on as he orbited the earth)
  • 80 year old Yuichiro Miura is the older person to summit Mt. Everest (I had to use oxygen just to type that!)
  • At 92 Paul Spangler finished his 14th marathon (He finished both first and last in his age group)
  • When George Burns was 94, he performed on the New York stage where he first began his career (He told the same jokes at both performances without the risk of anyone having heard them before)
  • Nola Ochs became the oldest person to receive a college degree – she was 94 (She’s currently looking for a job)
  • Retired Lt. Col. James C. Warren is a former navigator of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American military aviator in the U. S. armed forces. At the age of 87, he became the oldest person in the world to receive his pilot’s license  (However, Harrison Ford, 74, holds the record for oldest pilot to crash 3 times and still keep his license)
  • At 91 and 103 respectively, Doreen Luckie and George Kirby became the oldest newly weds (Rumors were unfounded that they had to get married)

Makes you want to quit reading this and get out of that easy chair and go do something, doesn’t it?  (But don’t have a baby!)

Still not Wastin’ Away

There have clearly been some outstanding accomplishments by those supposedly ‘past their prime’, but with Jimmy Buffett, who turned 70 last December, as their Pied Piper, I’m certain the Boomers will continue to show us a whole new way to ‘play the back nine’.

Post Script: If you find errors in this post, please blame it on my sister’s arthritis remedy – who knew gin was health food?!

 

My ‘HOLLYWOOD’ Story (the hike)

by Bob Sparrow

Whoever said getting there is half the fun, never had to drive from Orange County to Griffith Park in Los Angeles during commute hours. Griffith Park, where my hike to the HOLLYWOOD sign would begin, is only 42 miles away, but it took me exactly two hours to get there. Yes, that’s an average speed of 21 miles per hour . . . for two hours!!!  I arrived with little time to spare before the hike began and with a little bit of road rage.  It was a harbinger of things to come.

Not our group!

Our small hiking group was made up of a couple in their 60s, we’ll call them Jim and Wanda, because I can’t remember their names, who just arrived the night before from England and planned to ‘do’ LA, Disneyland and San Diego in the next 10 days. Another younger English lady, Leanne, a videographer, who didn’t know Jim & Wanda, also arrived from England the day before and was headed to Vegas in a couple of days to video a wedding. Nice blokes all.  Our hiking guide, from the company of Hikes & Bikes, was Ryan, a 20-something aspiring actor from New York, who expressed his disappointment that Bernie Sanders isn’t our president.  Not a good start.

Our group

The hike started at 10:00 a.m. outside the box office of the Greek Theater; it was already beginning to get warm and the first part of the hike was all up hill. So it made it harder to realize that the tour itself was already rapidly going downhill.  We observed a humming bird close by and Ryan told us that its wings were flapping at a rate of 70 times per minute.  Not wanting to embarrass him, yet, as we continued up the trail, I sauntered up next to him and whispered that the hummingbird’s wings flapped closer to 70 time per second.  He was amazed!  As the trail meandered up the hill, the L.A. skyline came into clear view. OK, not clear view, this is L.A. but the air was not quite something you could sink your teeth into yet. I took a few photos of the L.A. skyline and as you can see, it looked a bit . . . hazy (the word ‘smog’ is not allowed within the L.A. city limits).  I went on Google Images to get a clear picture of the L.A. skyline for a comparison, but soon realized that there are no photos of a clear L.A. skyline!

L. A. skyline

The group was actually very fun, other than the fact that they were mildly interested in ‘Hollywood things’, (why else would they fly all the way from England to go on this hike?) so, once Ryan told them that he was in ‘the business’ the narration of the hike turn into the history of actors in Hollywood. Ryan was happy to field their questions as he handed out his business card with his ‘head shot’ on it and talked about his auditions and the encounters he’d had with famous actors and actresses, as well as how agents of actors source their talent and what certain movie stars were really like. This is stuff you typically won’t find when you search information about the HOLLYWOOD sign, and stuff that I wasn’t really interested in, but the Brits were, so I pretended to be amused that one of them told a story about seeing Tom Cruise get into a car.

The hike continued to the Griffith Observatory where we learned about the eccentric Colonel  Griffith J. Griffith. Yes his parents obviously had little imagination giving their son a first name the same as his last, and later he gave himself the title of Colonel as he was never in the military, much less earning the rank of Colonel.  To say the least Griffith was a ‘bubble off plumb’ as his history included a small incident of attempted murder of his wife.  One night while drunk, he shot her in the head.   She lived, although lost one eye, and after he served two years in prison (yes, that’s it, but don’t get any ideas about shooting your spouse, the laws have changed), she was there waiting for him when he got out and remained with him until his death 16 years later.  So her elevator didn’t exactly go all the way to the top.  But he made a fortune in the mining industry and gave the land for the park away with the condition that a bronze statue of him would be erected on the grounds – a small price to pay for the nearly 4,000 acres that now include the Griffith Observatory, Greek Theater and the HOLLYWOOD sign.

Griffith Observatory

During our brief walk through the Griffith Observatory we came upon a map of the LA area, where Waldo, er Ryan indicated some points of interest. Unfortunately being from New York and not really familiar with the territory, he moved Newport Beach somewhere between L.A. and Santa Barbara. I was going to correct him, but he was on a roll, and the Brits didn’t really care where Newport Beach was.

The entire hike took a little less than 3 hours and covered about 6 miles and if you were asking me for a recommendation, I’d say, do a little research – if you read Monday’s blog you already know as much as the guide – and do the hike on your own. The main reason is that this hike never really got very close to the actual sign. I thought it would be interesting to get a little scale of just how big the letters are.  The picture of our group above (not the one with no clothes on!) shows us at our closest point to the sign – if you squint and look closely into the upper right hand corner of that photo, you’ll see the sign.

At the end of the hike the English couple needed a ride back to their hotel, which I was happy to provide and even happier to turn the car towards Orange County and head home albeit through commute traffic.  The things I do for you readers!

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My ‘HOLLYWOOD’ Story

By Bob Sparrow

The acting bug bit me early in life. I remember as a child telling my parents stories with great enthusiasm that were totally fabricated. I remember just for fun pretending I was someone else and telling strangers that I was lost or abandoned by my parents, just to see their reaction. Basically I was a really good liar. I remember getting into my mom’s make up, but hey that’s another story. So from an early age I felt that I was a natural-born actor. After all my older brother, Jack Sparrow was destined to become a famous big-screen pirate and sister Suz, well, everyone said she was a drama queen, so it was in my blood. As a child I remember my parents discouraging me from acting; they wanted more for me. They wanted me to have the things in life that they could never have, they wanted me to be the first in our family to graduate with a degree from Truck Masters. I knew early on that I was going to end up in Hollywood; as a senior in high school, I remember sitting in my microbiology class or was it my molecular biology class? Whatever. I remember raising my hand to be excused to go to the bathroom . . . and I never returned.  I went down to the railroad yard and hopped on the Burlington Northern heading south to Hollywood and never looked back. It wasn’t easy for a kid in tinsel town in those early years, but after a lot of rejection and a few years of living under the freeway, I finally got my big break. The rest, as they say, is history.

OK, perhaps I’ve taken a little too much license with the ‘Bird’s Eye View’ philosophy of not letting the truth stand in the way of a good story, but I do have a HOLLYWOOD story, or more precisely, a HOLLYWOOD sign story. Last week I did the hike to this iconic landmark, but first a little history.

First put up in 1923

The sign rests on Mount Lee, in the Hollywood Hills area of the Santa Monica Mountains; the original sign spelled out ‘HOLLYWOODLAND’ and was erected in 1923, with the letters being hauled up the mountain by mule, as an advertisement for a new housing development. It was only going to be up for a year and a half, but with the Golden Age of Cinema and the movie industry booming in Hollywood, the sign, with the ‘LAND’ removed, remained in place.  In 1978, with the sign in need of much repair, the Chamber of Commerce got a number of Los Angeles celebrities to each pay for the restoration of a single letter. Donors included such luminaries as Hugh Hefner, Gene Autry, Andy Williams and singer Alice Cooper, who donated in the memory of his good friend Groucho Marx. The sign was restored with the letters increasing in size to 45 feet tall and all together 350 feet long – about the length of a football field.

As you are probably aware there have been a number of ‘alterations’ to the signs over the years, some authorized, most not. The sign has read, ‘GO UCLA’, ‘GO NAVY’, ‘CAL TECH’, ‘OIL WAR’, ‘FOX’ and several more, but the most recent was ‘HOLLYWEED’ which occurred in January of this year and was the second time the sign was changed to read like this, both commemorating passage of marijuana laws here in California.

It was time for me to see the HOLLYWOOD sign up close, so I booked a guided hike.

My HOLLYWOOD Story (the hike), continued on Thursday.

Speaking of Elephants

by Bob Sparrow

An American tradition that has lasted more than 146 years comes to a close next month. On Sunday, May 21 at Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus ‘Big Top’ will come down for the very last time. And with it goes the threat that any of your children or grand children will run off and join the circus.

It was called The Greatest Show on Earth, of course that was before Tiny Tim or Charo created their shows, but it was indeed a great show. I can attest to that personally, but first a little history. The circus as we know it today started in 1875 when Phineas Taylor Barnum (‘P.T.’ to his friends) was convinced to lend his name and his money to an existing circus that soon combined efforts with James Bailey’s circus and purchased the first elephant born in the United States and later purchased ‘Jumbo’ which was advertised as the ‘world’s largest elephant’ – a fact they couldn’t prove, but no one could disprove it either. That’s sort of the way old P.T worked. You may remember P.T. Barnum as the person that said, “There’s a sucker born every minute”. Actually it was never confirmed that he said that and in fact, he was known to be very courteous to his suckers . . . er, customers.

‘Jumbo’

P.T. died in1891 and Bailey purchased the circus from his widow and continued to tour the east coast, until 1897 when he decided to take the act to Europe. A few years before that, five of the seven Ringling brothers had started a small circus in Wisconsin and when they heard that Bailey was taking his circus to Europe, they decided to head east, which apparently was circus-crazy. When Bailey returned from Europe he discovered that the Ringling Brothers were dominating the east coast, so he moved his circus out west in 1905. The next year Bailey died and a year later the circus was sold to the two remaining Ringling brothers.

As the circus gained in popularity and size, a train was needed to move the circus from city to city and it became a popular spectacle to see the train pull into town and watch the workers set up the tents and work with the animals.

In 1950 the train pulled into San Francisco when the circus was no longer performing in tents, but rather large permanent structure, so it set up shop in ‘the City’s’ Civic Auditorium. Our Dad and his Mom took brother Jack and me to the circus. I suspect that our Mom stayed home because she was pregnant with my co-writer. I remember a lot about that day and when I called Jack, who has the memory of an elephant, to ask him about his recollections, he happily filled in some of the details. We started recalling the things that we saw, the high wire act, the clowns (Emmett Kelly, the famous hobo clown was among them), a lion tamer, the ring leader in his top hat and of course, the ‘dancing’ elephants. We were amazed. To us, it was indeed the Greatest Show on Earth. You have to keep in mind that we didn’t have a television until a few years later.

The 5 Ringling Brothers

Through world wars, the Depression and various other wars and recessions, the circus endured and became part of our culture, part of Americana. But it’s easy to see why they are closing their doors, or tent flaps, now, what with their rising costs and dwindling attendance. With all the entertainment literally at the fingertips of today’s kids, the circus is too mundane, doesn’t move fast enough, too analogue in a digital world. I get it, but it’s still sad to see it go.

To Mr. Barnum, Mr. Bailey and to the five Ringling Brothers, you had an amazing run. Thank you for a great childhood memory.

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Nationally Parked

by Bob Sparrow

Is that finger pointing at me?

Based on its popularity with our readers, Suzanne’s blog last week obviously got a lot of you thinking about antiques you have stuffed away somewhere that you inherited from your parents and haven’t yet tossed. Or you may be thinking about all the stuff you have that will become ‘antiques’ that your kids will stuff away somewhere until they get tossed. That old spinning wheel lamp of Mom’s got me to thinking about an old antique that I’m not quite sure what to do with . . . me!

You may have noticed that I’ve changed my photos on Facebook because I looked at them over the weekend and thought to myself, “Who is this guy?” He looks like a real adventurer, a regular Indiana Bob”. I think I vaguely remember someone like that, but lately he congers up California Fats. That person in the old pictures used to go on hikes to exotic places and travel to the far corners of the globe. Not so much anymore. As I sat and perused my previous blogs this year, I noted that I’ve written about bank robbers, sitting in the desert, watching the Oscars, walking (not running) on the beach, pontificating on heroes, eulogizing Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds and proffering a ponderous philosophical tome on New Year’s resolutions. I haven’t gone anywhere!  I’m surprised I didn’t write about going to Nashville again, an adventure I wrote about last year, but didn’t actually go on. So I regrettably changed my photos.

Il Volo

Two weeks ago I did venture into Los Angeles, which in fact can be an adventure in itself, to see the singing group Il Volo. They are a trio of nice-looking, mid-20s Italian tenors, who made their U.S. debut on American Idol in 2011, not as contestants, but as guests, where they sang O Sole Mio. Their concert was awesome, possibly the best that Linda and I have ever seen, but the adventure to Los Angeles was without any muggings, murders or even traffic delays, thus my adventure consisted of simply sitting in a venue in another city.

My adventurous instincts were buoyed last week when I read that April 15-23 is National Park Week.  During those two weekends one can get into all National Parks for FREE. The 16th is Easter so there will be lots of tourists that day hunting for bear eggs and the 22nd is Earth Day, where we acknowledge . . . the earth . . . or something. The old me, or perhaps I should say the former me, which is the younger, thinner me, would have booked a hike in Yosemite or Yellowstone, but the new me is looking to Nationally Park my butt in an chaise lounge and watch the grandkids get frustrated trying to find the Easter eggs that I was too lazy to hide this year. I haven’t yet quite decided how I’m celebrating ‘Earth Day’, perhaps I’ll purchase a globe; on Amazon of course, so I don’t have to leave the house.

My newfound pastime of sitting also takes place when I’m plying my trade of selling Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (the old reverse mortgage, which I’ve heard had a bad reputation and my mother always said to stay away from things with bad reputations – I thus missed out on a lot of good times!) I really do enjoy working with my fellow seniors to help them with retirement financing when I can, although it seems to be making me heavier, but I’ve rationalized that it’s for a good cause. I have found that rationalization goes hand and glove with idleness.

The latest insult occurred recently when I stepped on one of those scales that print out your ‘fortune’, mine said, “One at a time please!”

But alas, summer is coming and my hip is fully healed (it’s actually been fully healed for about 5 months, but I’ve relied on it to limit my physical activity), so there are some adventures planned of which you’ll once again be coming along vicariously.   Once I’m feeling better about my increased activity level, I’ll post some more adventurous photos on Facebook as I’m not quite ready to go the way of that old spinning wheel lamp yet!

 

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Bank Robbery

by Bob Sparrow

No, this is not about Jesse James, Butch Cassidy or Bonnie & Clyde, but you may better relate to them when you’re finished reading this.

I don’t typically spend a lot of time looking at my credit card bill; two reasons: usually it’s zero so there’s not much to look at, secondly if it isn’t zero I immediately pay whatever is owed and file the statement. For whatever reason, last month, I looked over my last bill fairly carefully and I noticed some scary numbers and several ‘warnings’ from the credit card company.

The first ‘warning’ was regarding the Annual Percentage Rate for various activities. For example, a regular ‘purchase’ or a ‘cash transfer’ had an Annual Percentage Rate of 13.74%. A nice return if you can get it. Oh, I guess they can! I thought that seemed rather high, until I saw what it cost for a ‘Cash Advance’ . . . 25.49%! I’m surprised there wasn’t a quote from Guido, the leg-breaker, telling me that they have ways of making me pay.

The other ‘warning’ I noticed for the first time was under the ‘Payment Information’ heading. I had paid for part of an up-coming trip (yes, I’m going to get off my fat ass later this year and go somewhere!) with my credit card, to the tune of about $5,000 and thus I was ‘warned’:

If you make no additional charges using this card and each month you pay only the minimum payment, you will pay off the balance shown on this statement in about 19 years! And you will end up paying an estimated $11,575!!!

It goes on to tell me that if there is a penalty, like a late fee, there is a limit on what interest rate the banks can charge us – 29.99%. Well thank goodness it’s not 30%!!!

I know this has been going on for a long time, but as I researched further, I realized just how the banks have been ripping us off for years and I’M MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANY LONGER! OK, maybe I am, because I don’t have any other alternative and that’s just the way the banks like it.

Here’s some historical data to chew on, or perhaps it’ll chew on you.

Stumpf: “You expect me to get by on $130,000,000 this year?”

The bank’s rate to borrow money (the discount rate) has dropped from around 14% in the early 80’s to its current level of 1%, while the banks have only dropped their credit card rate from 17% in 1980 to 13.7% today. Let me do the math for you, the bank’s rate to borrow money dropped by 93% during that time period while their credit card rate dropped by only 20%. But they certainly dropped their Certificate of Deposit rate quick enough; that rate in 1985, for a 1 year CD was up to around 12%, today it’s around .25%, yes, that’s  right ¼ of 1%! Have you noticed that virtually all the banks have about the same rate for everything?   That’s called ‘price fixing’ which, in effect has all the banks acting as one, which is a monopoly. Both price fixing and monopolies are supposed to be illegal! To support the price fixing argument, take a look at mortgage rates; in the 1980’s they were as high as 18% for a 30-year mortgage, today they’re in the 4’s. Why have they dropped so precipitously? Because there are institutions other than banks that make home loans, so there is honest competitiveness.  I can guarantee you that if banks were the only ones making home loans, those rates would be somewhere around 12% today.

But there is a reason that banks need to rip us off, they have some fairly high compensation packages to satisfy. Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America made $13,722,849 last year. J.P. Morgan Chase CEO, James Dimon made a hefty $28,000,000 in 2016. Wells Fargo CEO, Timothy Sloan made a paltry $12,830,000 last year, but Wells had to pay John Stumpf, their former CEO, who left amid the ‘fake account’ debacle, $130,000,000 in severance pay. Boy, I guess they taught him a lesson!

So the next time you see a bank advertisement on TV or see one of those ‘warm and fuzzy’ posters in your branch, just remember that they are just trying to find another way to rip you off.

Anybody want to help me rob a bank?  I would be honored to be in the Butch Cassidy Bank Robbery Museum.

 

Stars in the Desert

by Bob Sparrow

As I was sitting out in the desert this past week, well I was not actually sitting in the desert, I was sitting at our Marriott Desert Springs timeshare, anyway, I recalled the first time I ventured out this way. It was in the early 70s and brother Jack had just started working as the restaurant manager at Ironwood Country Club in Palm Desert. Although I lived in Orange County, it was a particularly cold January and dark clouds hung in the sky as I traveled southeast on Interstate 10 to ‘the desert’. As I entered the Coachella Valley I could see that Mt. San Jacinto and the rest of the Santa Rosa Mountain Range was holding back those dark clouds so there was not a cloud over the entire valley. It was not only my first time in the desert, but it was the first time I could drive for an hour and a half from my home and find a totally differ ecosystem.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the desert; my impression of deserts had come mostly from movies where people were crawling on the sand dying of thirst, seeing mirages of palm trees surrounding a watering hole or of camels trekking across the wind-blown sand with nothing in sight as their destination but more wind-blown sand. This was not like either of those visions, Palm Springs was ‘Home to the Stars’

I learned that there were many famous people who had a second home in the desert, such as Bing Crosby (You can stay in his house today for $3,000 a night!), Frank Sinatra, with a piano-shaped swimming pool, Dean Martin, whose pool was filled with martinis (Just kidding . . . maybe), Sonny Bono (excuse me, Mayor Bono), Gene Autry, Liberace and many, many more. I subsequently found out why the stars back in the day made the desert their go-to get away place.

‘Interesting fact #1’: Most actors had a clause in their contracts, called the ‘2 hour rule’ where they could not be more than two hours away from the studio. Palm Springs was just under a two-hour drive, but a whole world away, so that’s where they headed.

But I digress; those aren’t even the stars with which I was first impressed. During that first trip to the desert, I certainly noticed that the weather was warmer, but the real ‘a ha’ moment for me came that evening, when I was sitting out on the deck of an Ironwood Country Club condo feeling a warm desert breeze, which hardly moved the umbrella in my mai tai, and I looked up to see billions of stars that sparkled as brightly as I’d ever seen them. The Big Dipper was bigger and dippier, the Milky Way was less milky and Ursa Minor looked Major. I could see half the planets in our solar system with my naked eye (the rest of me was fully clothed).

Aside from the spectacular stars, my other most memorable recollection was, ‘There sure are a lot of palm trees around here!” I did notice that these palms were a little different from the King and Queen palms with which I was familiar, these were Date Palms and there were thousands of them.

‘Interesting fact 2’ – This desert produces 35 million pounds of dates annually, that represents 80% of the U.S. crop. You may not have been aware that there are male and female date palm trees and you also may not know that they typically have trouble reproducing, so date farmers must climb the male date palm tree, collect the pollen then climb a female tree and pollinate its flowers. Caution: don’t try this with your date!

I learned more interesting facts about the desert, to wit

     #3: The 50,000 swimming pools are the most pools per capita in the country.

     #4: The thousands of wind turbines make it the largest wind farm in America

     #5: Over 100 golf courses make it the ‘Golf Capital of the World’

     #6: In 1980 the Cabazon Band of the Mission Indians opened the first casino in the U.S. on an Indian reservation; it is now called Fantasy Springs Casino Resort & Spa. I’m proud to say that my contributions (involuntary) have helped make it what it is today!!

For me the desert is truly an oasis, tons of beautiful and challenging golf courses within a few minute’s drive, great bars and restaurants, the Marriott Villas are a great facility and the weather rarely disappoints.

There was a bonus on this trip; I was introduced to some different stars – tennis stars. We attended the BNP Paribas Open tournament, which draws the top players in the world to the beautiful Indian Wells Tennis Garden. I had seen this facility from afar many times while driving through Indian Wells, but never been in it until now. It is ranked as one of the finest, if not the finest tennis facility in the world.  Watching Djokovic and Federer win their matches on a beautiful desert evening was something very special.

The stars in the desert just keep sparkling.