HARVEY WEINSTEIN, BRAVE WOMEN, AND HYPOCRISY

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I’ve been obsessed with the fall of Harvey Weinstein these past few weeks.  I was about five feet away from Mr. Weinstein up in Sun Valley a few years ago.  He is just as hairy and creepy looking in person as his pictures indicate and I can’t imagine the horror of being in his radar.  As a former HR executive for a major corporation, and two small companies before that, I’ve seen and heard more than most in terms of sexual harassment.  The only thing Mr. Weinstein got right is that harassment in the workplace was common in the 70’s and 80’s.  For those of us who began our careers in that era we know that leering glances, off-color remarks and outright propositions happened all the time.  A successful career not only required skill in the selected profession but also being able to fend off the inevitable advances.  To paraphrase Winston Churchill, our greatest skill was being able to tell the perpetrator to go to hell in such a way that he’d enjoy the trip.  We never reported such events.  Frankly, I don’t think anyone would have cared back then.  I once had the head of HR asked me to “walk on the beach” with him after an offsite dinner.  I think his definition of walking on the beach didn’t include much walking.  He got increasingly angry with each rebuff.  He finally gave up but from that point on his formerly praising attitude toward my work turned to one of criticism.  I reported the incident to the head of personnel relations, but she felt her hands were tied.   After all, going over his head to the President of the company seemed like a far reach in the 1980’s.  I left the company shortly after that.

So I’ve read with interest the remarks some have made castigating the women Mr. Weinstein harassed for not stepping up right after he groped, raped or pleaded with them to watch him shower.  I have an issue with Ashley Judd (more on that later) but I think she got it right when asked to reflect on how she responded in 1996 to Weinstein’s first proposition to her.  She said she would tell her younger self, “Good for you!  Good for getting yourself out of that situation without any harm being done.”  Sometimes that’s enough – just getting yourself out of harm’s way.  The people who criticize the scores of women Weinstein harassed do not understand how frightening and paralyzing it is to be in that situation.

All that said, I do have a problem with the number of very powerful women who have kept Mr. Weinstein’s sexual predilections quiet for so many years.  After all, it is widely reported that his methods for intimidating young women were known for decades.  So well known that a clause was written into his contract citing increasing monetary penalties for each lawsuit brought due to his misconduct.  I understand young, wanna be actresses not wanting to speak up about the most powerful producer in Hollywood.  But where were the women who were already famous and successful?  Why didn’t they speak up, either individually or collectively, to protect those who couldn’t?  Are we really supposed to believe that Meryl Streep “had no knowledge” about his harassment and Hillary Clinton was “shocked” to learn of his behavior?   These women who claim to be so much in the forefront for women’s issues were silent.  They found it convenient, for career or for cash, to overlook it.  Which brings me back to Ashley Judd.  She has been called “brave” by many who laud her for speaking out against Mr. Weinstein.  I was on board with that until I saw her interview with Diane Sawyer in which she said that in 1999 she was seated at a dinner table with him and told him off.  She noted, “I found my power and I found my voice.”  Think of the scores of women who would have been spared his deviant behavior had she used her voice to blow the whistle on him publicly at that time.

I have seen “brave” firsthand.  In the late 80’s I received a phone call from the Administrative Assistant to a senior manager in one of our major offices.  She was sobbing as she told me that the evening before, as she entered her boss’ office at the end of the workday, he pinned her against the wall, kissed her and was trying to get her blouse off.  She was able to escape his clutches and run from the building.  The following morning she called me from home.  She explained that she really needed her job – she was self-supporting and it was a very tight job market after the 1987 crash – but asked if I could call him and ask him to leave her alone.  When I explained that legally I had to have the situation investigated she panicked and asked me to forget that she called.  Of course, we had to proceed with an inquiry and she courageously told her story to the investigator.  We fired her boss the next day.

In my opinion, “brave” is an appellation belonging to that young woman, and all the others like her, who blew the whistle in the moment.  There is little bravery in waiting 20 years, once there is no longer a risk to personal or professional well being.  It seems to me that the height of hypocrisy is to be lectured about standing up for women from those who sat silent for so long.

ALL I WANT IS A CUPPA JOE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

“I’ll have a half double decaffeinated half-caf, with a twist of lemon.”  Those of you who enjoy a good comedy will recognize that line from the 1991 movieL.A. Story.  The line was uttered by Steve Martin’s character, Harris, with the deadpan delivery that only Martin can pull off.  At the time that coffee ordering scene was meant to depict how pretentious coffee drinking had become.  We laughed and laughed at how ridiculous people could be about coffee.  Oh how innocent we were then.  Last week The Telegraph reported that Starbucks boasts that they now offer 87,000 different drink combinations.  Thanks to the “secret menu” underground, people have come up with all sorts of ways to bugger up a good cup of coffee.  I know this because I spent most of the summer standing in line behind the person who was trying to come up with drink #87,001.

 

As you regular readers know, we travel a lot during the summer months and I am embarrassed to admit that we often schedule our departure times based on when the local Starbucks opens.  “Opens at 5 a.m.,” my husband will report.  Which means that I set the alarm for o’dark thirty and we are cruising through the drive-through window at exactly 5.  The advantage really does go to the early bird in these cases because most people who are crazy enough to be up at that hour just want a plain, strong cup of coffee.  If Starbucks offered to mainline caffeine at that hour I think they get blockbuster results.  The problem with Starbucks occurs later in the day when the Steve Martins of the world arise.  If we venture into a Starbucks between 8-10 a.m. we are invariably met with a long line of people who are seemingly stumped by all of their choices.  The photo (right) was taken in Sun Valley a couple of weeks ago.  I was the 9th person in line at 9 a.m.  By the looks and age of the people in front of me I assumed I was in the company of fellow “plain drip” drinkers.  That’s what I get by categorizing people by age.  Unfortunately I was behind people ordering the new maple drink, which was doubly troublesome because the baristas weren’t quite sure how to make it.  So I stood in line for more than 15 minutes just to get two cups of dark roast drip.  I was ready to leap over the counter and pour the darn stuff myself.

Each time I find myself in this situation I harken back to my working days in San Francisco.  In the 1990’s Starbucks opened a location in the basement of the Bank of America tower.  Directly across the hallway was a Max’s Diner, which featured delectable baked goods and a self-serve coffee station.  The beauty of getting coffee there was you could pour your own coffee and throw the required payment into a jar and walk out.  They operated totally on the honor system.  The managers at Starbucks soon realized that they would lose the plain coffee drinkers like me who just wanted a fast cup of coffee.  Their solution was to establish two lines for coffee: one for just a plain cuppa joe and the other for people who order foo foo drinks.  It was a perfect system.  Unfortunately I have not seen this replicated in any other location.  And with 87,000 drinks available the lines are often filled with confused people who, to my caffeine-addicted self, seem decidedly clueless to the notion that real coffee does not include whipped cream, soy, caramel sauce, coconut water or any of the hundreds of other additives available.  So while I was waiting in that line at Sun Valley I came up with a great idea – why not have a high-end coffee machine that could be self-serve?  One could use either a credit card or the Starbucks app to access it.  It could grind fresh coffee (maybe two choices of blend) and then dispense it into a cup.  I’m sure Starbucks could pay a vending machine company to come up with something appropriately fancy looking so that even Steve Martin would be proud to obtain his coffee from it.  It would save time, labor and money.

Mr. Starbucks:  you are welcome to use my idea any time.  Just consider it my contribution to the “drips” of the world.

 

 

 

 

 

MY AUNT MARILYN MONROE AND SUN VALLEY

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Until the age of 10 I thought Marilyn Monroe was my aunt.  Our Uncle Dick had a deep and abiding love for Marilyn.  So much so that he bought a life-size poster of her to hang in the cabin at Lake Tahoe.  As a way to explain why we had a picture of a blonde bombshell in a bikini so prominently displayed, Uncle Dick and my parents tried to sell us kids on the notion that she was our aunt – therefore, it was a family picture.  They didn’t try very hard to sell the idea and my brothers weren’t buying it at all but I wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed.  I was mesmerized by her and, as you can see from the photo, I tried to emulate her when I could.  When she died in 1962 I was on my way to Girl Scout camp for two weeks in the Sierras.  The morning paper’s headline screamed “MARILYN MONROE DEAD!”.  So while other girls were shrieking with joy about escaping parental supervision for a week, I was bawling my eyes out over the death of my “aunt”.    Of course, with time, I better understood all of her problems and sexual peccadilloes  with the Kennedys but I still admired her glamour and her intelligence (her IQ was 168).  Today I channel her every December when I sing the “Happy Birthday” song to my brother in my best Marilyn-to-JFK impression.  And, truth being stranger than imagination, I discovered a few years ago that Marilyn Monroe is also a descendant of Mayflower passengers John Alden and Priscilla Mullins.  So, she actually IS my aunt – just 15 times removed!

 

But our common ancestry is not the only thing that Marilyn and I have in common.  She filmed the movie Bus Stop in and around Sun Valley, Idaho during the winter of 1956 and frequented The Ram restaurant.  The Ram is our favorite place to hang out and is the oldest operating restaurant in Sun Valley.  Over the years stars from Gary Cooper and Clark Gable to modern media titans Oprah and Mark Zuckerberg have dined there. The photo (right) was taken of Marilyn on the night before the Bus Stop company left Idaho to return to Los Angeles.  As you can see, Marilyn wasn’t afraid to partake in the local cuisine.  No rabbit food for her – she tucked into a steak and baked potato like a truck driver.  Apparently she loved to eat, which is just another reason to adore her.  At the time she was criticized for wearing such a “manly” sweater, as if Marilyn could look “manly” in anything.  But there may have been a good reason for her bundling up – shortly after her return to Los Angeles she was hospitalized for 12 days with pneumonia.  She blamed her illness on having to wear skimpy clothing in the heart of an Idaho winter.  Still, Bus Stop turned out to be one of her best performances.  Today one can drive a bit north of Sun Valley to visit the North Fork Store (named Grace’s Diner for the film) where Marilyn performed her magic.

For the past 29 years, we have traveled to Sun Valley in September and have had dinner at The Ram.  In fact, because our anniversary is at the end of August, we usually save our special celebration dinner for The Ram.  The photo (left) was taken on our 25th anniversary.  The food is always good and they even have a cocktail named after Marilyn.  Whether sitting inside in the old-fashioned booths with the antler chandeliers or outside on the beautiful terrace overlooking the duck pond, The Ram has always provided great atmosphere and a feeling of history.  Larry Harshbarger, who has been playing the piano at The Ram since 1979 always accommodates our requests.  It is an evening we anticipate with joy each year.

 

This year we marked 30 years of marriage in August so for this special occasion we planned on a romantic dinner at The Ram, listening to Larry and enjoying a Marilyn cocktail.  On our first day in Sun Valley we walked up to the restaurant and were greeted with a boarded up façade. The Ram and the adjacent areas are being renovated for the next three months.  According to the information posted on the fence, The Ram’s interior will be gutted and modernized.  The only remnant of the past will be the antler chandeliers.  The “new and improved” Ram will feature an open kitchen.  I hate open kitchens.  Isn’t the whole reason for going out to dinner is so you DON’T see a kitchen?  I want my meal to appear as if by magic, in the arms of a waiter who bursts through swinging doors carrying a tray filled with plated food.  Open kitchens, in my experience, render conversation with your table mates nearly impossible.  The clanging of pans, shouting of sous chefs and the occasional dropped silverware all conspire to make a cacophony of sound with decibel levels near that of a jackhammer.  So I don’t know what I hate more – that The Ram is being renovated or that it will now feature an open kitchen.

All I know is – I’m sure glad Aunt Marilyn isn’t alive to see this.

UP IN SMOKE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

The Western United States has just undergone one of the most vicious and destructive wildfire seasons on record.  In Idaho, Montana, California, Oregon and Washington over 2 million acres burned this fall.  That’s bigger than the entire state of Delaware.  Worse, nine firefighters lost their lives and over 500 homes were burned to the ground.  There are many reasons being proffered for this increase in activity – lightning, hotter than normal temperatures, and the ever-present idiots who left campfires burning or, worse yet, intentionally set the forest ablaze.  I can personally attest to the smokey conditions that have caused so many problems since we had the misfortune to be vacationing in three of the wildfire areas this summer.

We arrived in the Central Coast in July just as the Alamo fire in Santa Maria broke out, growing to 29,000 acres and spewing black smoke and ash our way.  The following week the Whittier fire broke out near Santa Barbara, destroying an additional 18,000 acres and consuming a Scout camp.  The fires and smoke, coupled with our already disastrous TurnKey Vacation Rentals condo made for a rather  inauspicious beginning to our summer travels.  But we weren’t done yet.  In August during our two week stay in Mammoth Lakes, Yosemite endured several fires that consumed 14,000 acres of brush.  Each day we would stick our heads out the front door to determine if the wind was blowing the smoke our way.  We lucked out about half the time.

But wait…there’s more!  In September, as we prepared for our annual trip to Sun Valley, Idaho, a spate of new fires broke out.  I checked the EPA Air Quality website only to discover that the entire state of Idaho was either red or maroon – unhealthy for everyone.  Our good friends who were scheduled to visit us cancelled their trip due to respiratory issues.  We wavered a bit but ultimately journeyed up and luckily, the air began to clear the day we arrived and has been increasingly better.  Of course, the reason it’s gotten better is that it’s SNOWING.  In September.  Go figure.

So it seems our summer that was planned to contain plenty of hikes and golf games has been replaced by reading novels and hearing  more than we ever wanted to know about air particles.  But our minor discomfort is trivial compared to the small business owners in these remote mountain towns that rely on tourists to make their bottom line.  Both in Mammoth and Sun Valley we’ve talked to many of them who complain about the Forest Service policy of letting fires burn out if they aren’t endangering structures or humans.  This is a rather new policy that has been increasingly implemented over the past decade.  The argument goes that before the European settlement of America, forest fires consumed  20-30 million acres each year (for comparison, we’re on track for 5 million this year).   The Forest Service only began actively fighting every fire in the 1930’s.  But now they have adopted the new policy, citing that the burning of the forest is Mother Nature’s way of cleaning out and allowing new growth to thrive.  The policy has the added benefit of not endangering firefighter’s lives.  But those arguments don’t take in to account the smokey air nearby inhabitants are forced to breathe or the many forest animals who die or the diminished tourist visits that fuel the engine of small town economies.

Soon we’ll be heading back home but as a coda to our stay in Sun Valley, word around town is that Aspen Company is looking to buy Sun Valley Resort, just as they have swallowed up Mammoth Mountain, Squaw Valley and so many others.  If true, it would signal the end of the last large family-run ski resort in the West.  The quaint and historic Sun Valley we know and love just might be going…up in smoke.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INFLECTION POINTS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Inflection points –  events that not only change the course of  history but our collective psyche as well.  For many of us the first such event was the Kennedy assassination.  Prior to November 22, 1963, we were a nation energized by a young President with fresh ideas and plans – plans that were to be carried out by those “born of a new generation”.  When JFK was cut down it was shocking and unnerving.   And, one could argue, changed who we are.  There is a much-quoted conversation that took place after the assassination between journalist Mary McGrory and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then assistant secretary of labor.  She lamented, “We’ll never laugh again.” He replied: “Mary, we’ll laugh again. It’s just that we’ll never be young again.” Many hopes and dreams died that day, as well as our collective feeling of security and our way of life.  As some sociologists have noted, November 22, 1963 was the end of the Fifties.

The assassination changed us in ways we could not have predicted at the time.  After that, Americans increasingly distrusted the Federal government (particularly after publication of the Warren Report) and yet, ironically, it also precipitated the largest expansion of government into our everyday lives.  We became embroiled in a war that many argue Kennedy would not have supported and our culture was flush with sex, drugs and a whole lot of anger.  Of course, there were good changes as well – civil rights and the women’s movement to name two – but certainly the innocence of the prior decade was gone forever.  It also marked the rise of television over newspapers.  Everyone was glued to black and white screens, watching events unfold for three days.  And why not?  It was compelling and the only way to stay abreast of changing events.  For me, I remember watching Lee Harvey Oswald being escorted down that fateful corridor in the Dallas police station when Jack Ruby shot him.  The experience of seeing someone killed in real time was jarring and disturbing.  Millions of people experienced that same shock.  Coupled with the assassination, how could we not be affected going forward?

The next time I saw anyone murdered was sixteen years ago today – September 11, 2001.  I flipped on CNBC that morning while getting ready for work.  The first plane had already hit Tower One and the hosts were speculating that it was a freak accident.  They mused about whether it would have an affect on the stock market since so many trading firms were in that building.  Then the unimaginable happened – the second plane hit.  I watched it in horror; this time it wasn’t one person I saw killed, but thousands.  Thanks to the 24 hour news cycle we were all witness to  explosions and fire and falling bodies over and over again for weeks.  I’m not sure we yet fully understand the toll that it took on us. Surely our national mindset was altered after watching all of the carnage and grief.  A grief that I believe is still evident after all these years.

To this day many of us tear up when recalling the image of the Twin Towers collapsing.  It remains hard to think about the people who perished that day – people who left home for work on a bright, blue-sky Tuesday morning and never returned.  The very notion of that was – is – frightening and causes us, once again, to question how secure we really are.  The fear of an imminent terror attack began impacting our everyday lives that day.  Suddenly we had to remove our shoes at the airport and limit the amount of shampoo we carry on a plane.   Socially, it brought on a lot of change too.  For the first few months after 9/11 it seemed we were able to put our differences aside, but that fraternity soon dissipated and has now devolved to a point where divisiveness rules the day .   In many ways, it has been the 60’s all over again with an extra dose of anger thrown in.

Which brings me to the unintended consequences of 9/11.  At some level we live with fear on a daily basis – fear that it could happen again to us or someone we love.  We  witness repeated terrorist attacks carried out all over the world that target ordinary people doing ordinary things.  I believe that the discord in our society is, in part, a manifestation of that fear.  I hope at some point we can recapture the unity we had in the aftermath of 9/11 and once again pull together.  Hurricane Harvey, as devastating and heart-breaking as it’s been, has shown me that people really can come together when fellow citizens are in need.  Sandra Bullock put it best when she Tweeted:  “There are no politics in 8 feet of water.  There are human beings in 8 feet of water.”  Amen.  Maybe this is a new beginning.  A new inflection point that causes us to remember that more often than not, most of the time we’re all just human beings in 8 feet of water.

THE END OF AN ERA IN MAMMOTH

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

                        Horseshoe Lake

We just spent two glorious weeks in Mammoth Lakes, California.  Glorious because a) the house we were in was recently refurbished, which was a welcome relief from our TurnKey Nipomo nightmare, and b) Mammoth is one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Just ask the Europeans – who were everywhere we went.  We thought we had outsmarted the crowds by going when school was back in session but we forgot about August being the “holiday” month for Europeans.  We met some delightful people from England, Germany and Holland but the downside was every restaurant, hiking trail and lakeside was packed with people shouting in a cacophony of languages.  Still, it is one of our favorite places to visit.  My husband has been going there since 1960, when the mountain only had five ski lifts and we’ve been going there together for 30 years.  The majesty of the steep mountains and peaceful lakes never fails to make us gape in awe at the gorgeous scenery.

 

                      Kittredge Sports

Over the years Mammoth has retained a small town feel.  Some might think it too rustic.  Mammoth is known for outdoors activities – fishing, mountain biking and hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter.  Unlike many other mountain resorts in the West, it has had problems attracting and retaining high-end businesses.  For many years the local outlet mall was home to a Polo and Coach store, but both of those establishments have now closed and their spaces remain vacant.  The only new store this year was a sporting goods place that had the audacity (or bad luck) to open up directly across the street from Kittredge’s – an outdoorsman’s paradise that has been in business for 44 years.  We’ll see how long they last.  The largest employer by far is Mammoth Resorts, which runs all activities on the mountain and in the Mammoth Village complex.  The rest of the town’s population is made up of small business owners and those who are employed by them.  So one does not go to Mammoth to “see and be seen” or to rub elbows with the rich and famous.  Frankly, one of my favorite aspects about the town is that I only have to bring a pair of jeans and a casual shirt and I’m dressed to go anywhere.  In other words, it’s been a great place for slobs like me.  But all that is about to change.

On August 4th a deal was completed for the sale of Mammoth Mountain to the Aspen Company.   In addition to Mammoth, Aspen will now own Big Bear, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, as well as some smaller ski resorts in the Sierras.  They have big plans for Mammoth, although exactly what changes they’ll make have not been spelled out.  We were curious as to how the local population felt about the acquisition so we engaged in some conversations with people who have been around Mammoth a long time.  The opinions could not be more diverse.  For those who work for Mammoth Resorts – whether on the mountain, the Village stores and hotels or the golf course, they look forward to the infusion of money from Aspen.  They cited broken toilets, outdated facilities and general equipment that needs to be replaced.  Of course, they acknowledge that all of this “fixing” is going to come at a price and that price is going to be paid by the consumer. But hotel rooms and lift tickets are not the only thing that will be going up.  Since the announcement last spring that the deal was being struck, the housing market has gone berserk.  Normally one can find a plethora of deals on second homes that owners want to unload.  No more.  It’s a seller’s market in a big way.

Which brings me to the other side of the coin – the average person who wants to work and raise a family in Mammoth Lakes.  Rents have skyrocketed, forcing many people to find housing elsewhere.  One guy who manages the pet store said he felt fortunate to sign a three year lease, even if it was for a lot of money.  Many workers now are living in their cars.  Mammoth has pledged to build more affordable housing, but the sheer geographic limitations make that a remote prospect. We found many people worried about the effect of Aspen marketing to the “rich and famous”, driving out the very people who have made Mammoth such a relaxed and low-key place to visit.  It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few years.

                  Schat’s Cakes

I’m hoping that some of our favorite “haunts” will not be affected.  Burger’s Restaurant offers the best burger anywhere – it’s always our first dinner when we arrive in town.  The Stove is a wonderful place for breakfast – assuming you can get in, as the lines are always long.  It’s the type of place that serves your water in a jelly glass and has wooden benches for seating.   And then there is Schat’s Bakery.  I don’t know how long they’ve been in business but I first salivated at their goodies 30 years ago.  They are renowned for their Basque Sheepherder’s bread and the fresh turkey sandwiches they make, carving an average of 19 large turkeys every day.  But somehow I’ve always been more attracted to their desserts.   To enter their pastry area is to enter Heaven itself.  The photo I’ve included is only one of six display cases.  I can gain weight just standing in line.

I don’t know how Mammoth is going to change in the coming years but I’ll say this: if they do anything that results in the closure of Schat’s they are going to have a lot of ‘splaining to do.

THE MENTAL RENTAL

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

The view – its only redeeming feature

Here I am again…I hope you enjoyed Bob’s travel logs as much as I did.  While he was enjoying the midnight sun in Iceland and playing the Old Course in Scotland, I had planned to spend a month in Nipomo, a small community on the Central Coast of California where we have spent time over the past seven summers.  We have always rented through VRBO and have had wonderful relationships with the homeowners.  It was a good deal – they provide us with a nice house and we treat it as if it were our own.  A win-win for everyone.  But the Wall Street Journal ran an article this past winter cautioning against renting directly with homeowners.  They cited all manner of problems, from “phantom” houses where people would arrive at the given address to find no house at all, to owners who weren’t responsive to plumbing emergencies or insect infestations.  Instead, they advised, go through one of the professional rental agencies where you were assured 24/7 care and responsiveness.  So, since the house we normally rent had been sold, we rented a three bedroom condominium at Blacklake Golf Course through TurnKey Vacation Rentals.  We rented the unit for the month of July and eagerly anticipated getting the heck out of the Arizona heat and over to some cool, coastal fog.

                  Cups from 1985

We have been to Nipomo so many times that we had seen the outside of these condominiums countless times.  Our unit was adjacent to the fairway of the ninth hole and has a beautiful, expansive view overlooking much of the golf course.  Unfortunately, that is it’s only virtue.  As we entered the unit it all looked okay – dated, but comfortable.  Kind of like me.  It was only as we began to settle in the following day that we noticed how grungy the place really was.  Clearly the unit had been “glamour shot” on the TurnKey website.  The coffee pot was grungy and the coffee cups weren’t any better, as you can see from the photo.  The pots and pans were filthy and scratched, the potato peeler didn’t peel, and worst of all, the “pry open” wine opener had pried one too many bottles.  It took both of us 10 minutes to open a bottle.  I was getting so desperate I considred cracking the neck on the edge of the table and guzzling wine straight from the bottle.

     The sink that died 20 years ago

As bad as all that was, the sink was straight out of a horror movie.  In all of my rental apartments, as a starving student or poor working girl who could only afford bologna sandwiches on white bread for dinner, I have never had a sink this disgusting.  I tried to recall when we last had a tetanus shot.  So…what to do?  We decided to suck it up.  We drove to the local Ace Hardware to buy a coffee maker, pots, pans and coffee cups.  As for the sink, I scrubbed it within an inch of it’s life.  But cleaning it was futile…its life had been snuffed out long ago.  We made do and ate out.  A lot.  Four days after arrival the Wi-Fi broke down.  A representative from TurnKey came to fix it later that day and acknowledged that the unit was a bit “dated” and had the good grace to look embarrassed.  She said someone from TurnKey corporate offices would be in touch with us on Monday to discuss compensation to make up for the condition of the unit.

Of course, Monday came and went with no phone call.  On Tuesday I went to the mailbox as I was expecting a package and found a letter addressed to “Occupant” from the City of Nipomo.  The letter was pink.  I don’t know much about utility company billing but I’m pretty sure that pink is not a color you want to see.  I opened it, hoping that the city was simply notifying us of upcoming road work or utility repairs.  Nope.  The owner was delinquent in her payments so they were going to shut the water off within the next week if they didn’t receive their money.  So, again, I called TurnKey.  They were shocked, SHOCKED!, to learn of this.  It was going to be taken up with management and someone would get back to me.  Long story short, I finally heard from someone who said they would refund us $100 for our troubles and “not to worry” about the water bill.  Sure…these owners hadn’t replaced a coffee cup in 35 years but I was supposed to sleep soundly knowing they would pay their delinquent water bill.  Two days later I called again, raised hell, and they offered us another $300.

They specialized in LOUD

So now we had $400 to offset our “inconveniences”.  But we weren’t done yet. Every Wednesday evening they have band concerts on the lawn outside our condo.  Not real bands.  More like garage bands comprised of Baby Boomers who, “back in the day”, dreamed of becoming the next Beatles.  Now, they are just off-tune and loud.  But “loud” was redefined the following Saturday night when a wedding reception took place outside our window.  It featured a live mariachi band and a DJ who played heavy metal.  The windows (which of course were vintage 1985) had all the soundproofing capabilities of Saran Wrap.  For FIVE  hours the windows shook and the music blared.  Surely this is how we torture ISIS prisoners.  Needless to say, we were miserable.  We tried to put the best spin on it but our normally pleasing personalities were getting a bit testy.  Finally we realized that it was better to forfeit two weeks of rent and go home than to stay and be unhappy.  That is when, after 30 years of marriage, you know you’ve married the right person.  So we packed up and got out of there.   I called TurnKey to let them know we were leaving early.  The person had no knowledge of our previous calls.  Over the course of two weeks I spoke with seven different TurnKey “customer experience” people and – at their request – sent them photos of the unit.  Most never bothered to look at the email exchanges or the pictures of the unit.  To say the right hand didn’t know what the left was doing was an understatement.  The best example is when a manager called – at last, someone with some decision-making responsibility! – only to have him tell me he was from Florida and was calling about the water problem in the master bedroom.  Nope.  Not even close.

We ended up spending the remainder of the month in Scottsdale, where the weather was blessedly under 100 degrees.  Of course, the monsoons arrived which made my hair frizz and my thighs stick together.  But it was still better than looking at that sink.

COOLIN’ IT IN COLORADO

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

      Dash and Dad in the happy place

Each summer we take a week to visit the kids up in Colorado – it is always so good to see them and it gives us some respite from the heat.  This year we were especially grateful for the timing of the trip when we saw that the temps in Scottsdale were going to hit 113.  How smart are we?  Turns out, not very.  The heat wave that Arizona experienced was evident throughout the west.  The temperature in Cherry Hills Village was 93 on two days of our visit and when you add in the affect of the altitude, we felt like we were back home.  Except that the company was better.  Also, the mornings are really beautiful there  – cool and crisp.  Our favorite spot is our daughter’s backyard where, accompanied by Dash the Wonder Dog, we sat each morning with a cup of coffee to experience our happy place.  We mentioned something about moving in for the summer.  I’m not sure they heard us.

 

One of the many peaks in the park

Colorado is truly a beautiful state.  Just ask all of the Californians that are moving there.  Still, by LA standards the traffic is still bearable and with the Rocky Mountains always in view somehow being stuck in traffic isn’t quite as annoying.  This year our daughter thought it would be fun to explore Colorado Springs and the Garden of the Gods.  Garden of the Gods Park is a National Natural Landmark, with dramatic views and 300′ towering sandstone rock formations set against a backdrop of snow-capped Pikes Peak.  The name of the park came about in 1859 from a collaboration between two surveyors, M.S. Beach and Rufus Cable, who started out from Denver to establish a new town. While exploring nearby locations, they came across the beautiful sandstone formations. Beach suggested that it would be a “capital place for a beer garden” when the country grew more populated. Cable, however, was a bit more poetic (and dare I say perhaps less of an alcoholic).  His response was, “Beer Garden! Why it is a fit place for the Gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods.” The park is truly spectacular, with terracotta peaks and jagged mountains throughout.  There are numerous hiking trails, ranging from easy to “you’ve got to be out of your mind”.  We chose to drive around the park because it was too hot for Dash to walk.  That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.  There is a wonderful visitors center that provides guided tours, interactive displays and, thankfully, restrooms.  The Garden of the Gods was truly one of the most beautiful places we’ve seen – only a few minutes off of a major interstate and yet we felt that we were a million miles away.  It is definitely worth the trip if you are ever in the area.

      The lake at The Broadmoor

Our final destination in Colorado Springs was the famous Broadmoor Hotel.  The hotel is one of the grand classics of the country.  We looked up room rates a few weeks ago on the chance that we might want to stay there on our way up to Denver.  At a cool $470 per night for the least expensive room we decided we’d just drive right on through.  The grounds, as you might expect, are beautifully landscaped and meticulously maintained.  There is a massive lake in the back, nestled between the two major buildings of the resort. We ate outdoors at their Natural Epicurean restaurant where we enjoyed fabulous food in a tree-lined patio.  Of course we had to check out their three golf courses as long as we were in the neighborhood.  As you might imagine, they are groomed to perfection.  The Broadmoor will be host to the 2018 Senior U. S. Open.  I told my husband he needs to work on his game so he can qualify.  Best of all, The Broadmoor is dog friendly.  Dash the Wonder Dog made himself right at home, greeting guests as they entered the lobby, checking for any errant food droppings at the restaurant, and making a friend at the Broadmoor’s pet shop (right).  He found his new acquaintance to be a bit cold, but the owner of the shop gave him treats so all was not lost.

A chilly reception

After an hour of so of walking around the hotel grounds we finally concluded that we would have to leave The Broadmoor for another time.  But we will definitely be back.  As soon as we rob a bank.

 

IN THE DOG HOUSE

By Dash the Wonder Dog

Me…in my customary position

Well, as you read in Uncle Bob’s post last week, my mom has gone and done it now.  Her reckless behavior has resulted in the both of us being thrown in the hoosegow.  Not just any hoosegow – a Turkish hoosegow.  Although her intentions were good, she never should have used that photo without authorization.  Sometimes I think she isn’t functioning with all her marbles, like when she forgets to feed me on time.  All I know is that one moment I was relaxing in the lap of luxury on my leopard bed and the next thing I knew I was in a land far away, mingling with people (and dogs) who are far beneath my station in life.  Do they not know I’m a Cavalier KING Charles?  My mom keeps sobbing, something about “Midnight Express” and that her manicure is being shredded.  She wants me to dig our way out of here.  Seriously?  Sister, you got us into this mess so you can just suck it up about your ruined gel polish and get to work.  In the mean time, I will try to describe our conditions in this primitive place.

Bad Eddie – Don’t mess with him

I must say that the people you meet in a Turkish prison are very solicitous.  Really – they solicit everything.  We have been asked if we’d care for cigarettes, chocolate bars or a brick of hashish.  My mom jumped at the chocolate bar but I’m still holding out for a good antler bone.  They seem to be in short supply.  Unfortunately for me, several other detainees have brought their dogs along with them.  Just like humans, there is a pecking order among us canines.  At the top of the heap is Bad Eddie (photo right).  I don’t know what he’s in for because I’m too scared to ask, but my guess is that he bit off the leg of a sultan.  He rules this place with an iron paw and steals the meager rations from newcomers like me.  I have tried my best to bat my big brown eyes at him but I think I gave him the wrong impression.  Apparently I am not the first to learn that batting one’s eyes can result in becoming someone’s bitch, which is ridiculous because everyone knows I’m a male dog.   Bad Eddie struts around the courtyard with his “posse” of Rottweilers and Poodles, acting like they don’t have to obey the rules.  I have tried to instruct them as to proper etiquette, showing off my credentials as a Canine Good Citizen from PetSmart but I don’t think they’re impressed.  One of them actually lifted his leg on me which just isn’t done in polite society.  I think PetSmart could make a killing in this place.

Mom’s lunch…and dinner.

Mom doesn’t seem to be adapting to our new circumstances.  She keeps complaining about flies, rusty water and the sixteen other women sharing our 4×4 cell.  I remind her that every minute that she spends complaining is another minute that she is not digging!  Besides, in my personal opinion, I think the food here is doing her some good.  I don’t like to be critical but those five pounds she packed on at Christmas are still hanging around her hips.  Another few weeks in this place and I think she will be back in fighting shape.  As for me, I’m doing my best to supervise her, keep Bad Eddie at bay and bribe the guards for some organic bison/mango treats.  Hopefully by our next post all will be returned to normal – me lying on my leopard bed and mom resuming her manicure schedule.  Sheesh!  I hope she’s learned her lesson.  I don’t think I can face Bad Eddie again.

 

THROUGH MY FATHER’S EYES

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

The “muscle man” at Tahoe

This Sunday is Father’s Day, a day where dads the world over are supposed to put their feet up, crack open a cold beer, and be catered to by their spouse and offspring.  For those of us whose fathers have gone to their great reward, it’s a day that can be bittersweet.  For our family that is especially true as we think about how much our dad would have rejoiced in the addition of Addison last week.  I’ve thought a lot about my dad these past few days while reading articles by authors extolling the virtues of following their dad’s words of wisdom – “be thrifty, finish college, don’t hit your sister”.  Okay, I made that last one up.  I thought about things my dad said to me that were lasting – life lessons, if you will.  Sadly, the only lesson he sat down to teach me was how to order the money in my wallet.  I remember the day, as I stuffed bills into my purse in a slap-dash manner, he took me aside and told me that I should always order the bills in sequence, by increasing denomination.  So the one’s went first, then the five’s, etc.  Actually, I don’t think we got past the five’s because I was 17 and had no money.  To this day, when I put bills in my wallet, I always think about my dad and the lesson he taught me that day.

But lest you think that was the only lesson I learned from my dad, believe me, he taught me more about living a good life than I can possibly relate.  He just did it by his actions, rather than words.  He was incredibly kind, hysterically funny and a joy to be around.  I met a rather new friend of his once and she commented about how great dad was, to which I replied, “Yep, everybody likes my dad”.  She gave me a startled look and said, “Oh, no.  Everybody LOVES your dad”.  But why?  A few examples come to mind, examples that have stuck with me all of my life.   I recall a time during my first year in college I had a friend whose parents were transferred across country.  She was lonely and missed their comforting presence.  One day when she came to visit she and I escaped to my room to catch up.  When we emerged an hour later Pop was walking in the front door with her car keys.  He handed the keys over to her and gave her a big hug.  After she left I asked him what he was doing with her car and he told me he’d taken it down to the local service station, filled it with gas, and had the mechanic top off her oil.  “Why?”, I questioned.  “Because”, he said, “I know that if it were you in that situation I’d like someone to be looking after you”.  In that moment he taught me to put myself in someone else’s shoes – it can make for a kinder world.

Wearing one of Bob’s hats…and entertaining the crowd

Pop also lived his life with the utmost optimism.  He greeted every new acquaintance as if they were a long-lost friend.  Partly his demeanor came from being a small businessman in a small town, where word would travel quickly had he been rude or difficult.  But his happy persona was just natural – in any crowded room people always wanted to be around him because he always had a funny story and anecdote to relate.  My brothers loved this aspect of his personality, especially as everyone got older and my dad, well into his ’70’s and ’80’s, would continue to attract new friends, especially women.  When my brothers were with him in a bar neither of them could pick up a chair, let alone a date, but Pop always had beautiful women gathered around him.  He would laugh and joke with them, as my brothers tried to nudge their way in.  They soon nicknamed dad “The Chick Magnet”, but really he was the People Magnet.  He showed me that if you greet people in an open and friendly way, you will never want for friends.

A happy man with his favorite drink

I also learned a lot about giving back from him.  I cannot remember a time that he did not volunteer in the community.  For over forty years he served as a volunteer firefighter in Novato.  He was so revered that when he died the current fire chief drove a big hook and ladder up to his funeral.  He was involved in the school board, water district and the Rotary club, just to list a few.  When he retired and moved to Sonoma he decided that he wanted to help kids so he volunteered as a reader at the local grammar school.  Every Friday he took his classroom a big plate of treats (obviously well before the current allergy phobias).  He loved his “job” and they loved him.  One day he came home beaming because a 6-year-old girl had handed him the following note: Mr. Sparrow, When I grow up will you marry me?.   He taught me that sometimes the best reward you can get in life is giving to others.

I miss my dad, not only on Father’s Day, but every day.  We kids were so blessed to have him as a dad, to have grown up with someone so inherently funny and supportive of us in every way.  While I don’t have many “pearls of wisdom” to remember, I have plenty of actions to emulate.  So on Father’s Day, and every other, I do my best to live life through my father’s eyes.