Twilight Zone: The Accidental Sea

by Bob Sparrow

Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling

You are in a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. A world where your imagination is the only ticket required for passage.  Next stop: The Twilight Zone of Travel.

You’re on a dark, desert highway, cool wind in your hair, warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air.  Up ahead in the distance, you see a shimmering light.  Your head grows heavy and your sight grows dim.  You had to stop . . . but not for the night.

That shimmering light is 50 miles south of Palm Desert in a place that rivals Palm Springs in popularity and draws more visitors than Yosemite.  You are on the desert floor at 223 feet below sea level.

You have arrived at the wonderfully, bazaar Salton Sea.

Salton Sea in the 50s

You are just in time to witness one of boating’s 21 world speed records, as the high salinity makes boats more buoyant and, at more than 200 feet below sea level, barometric pressure improves performance.  Speed boats, water-skiers and fishermen populate this body of water that is larger than Lake Tahoe.  Its shorelines are dotted with beach-front motels, yacht clubs and fancy restaurants.  It is a place that caters to over one million visitors a year, looking to get away and relax in the sun and possibly to invest in what is called the ‘California Riviera’.

You’re at the North Shore Beach & Yacht Club, which just opened the largest marina in southern California, where celebrities including Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, the Marx Brothers, Jerry Lewis and Desi Arnaz gather at this Salton Sea beachfront motel.  Your plan is to have some cocktails, a nice dinner and take in a performance by the Beach Boys, who were appearing live that evening.  The only problem . . .

You are 60 years too late!

Shoreline of the Salton Sea today

The North Shore Beach & Yacht Club today

The North Shore Beach & Yacht Club no longer exists.  In fact much of what was built to lure visitors and investors to this area has been ravaged by 120-degree heat, 75 mile per hour winds but mostly by a body of water that was created when the Colorado River breached a dike in 1905, releasing water that became the Salton Sea, an ecological disaster dubbed the ‘Accidental Sea’.

1,000s of dead fish on Salton Sea’s shore

Over the years, due to the heavy alkalinity which causes a lack of oxygen in the water, the sea has become uninhabitable – in fact over 1.7 million fish died in one day . . . yes, in one day.  And if things weren’t bad enough, the Salton Sea sits directly over the San Andreas fault.

Salvation Mountain

If you continued your journey along the east shoreline of the sea, you’ll hit the not-so-bustling town of Niland, population of less than 1,000 – fewer during the summer.  From there, since you’ve already come this far, it’s just a short distance to a must-see attraction – Salvation Mountain.  Constructed by Leonard Knight, who started building the 50 foot mountain in 1984; this masterpiece is resplendent with not only biblical and religious scripture such as the Lord’s Prayer, John 3:16, and the Sinner’s Prayer, but also includes flowers, trees, waterfalls, suns, bluebirds, and many other fascinating and colorful objects.

And just when you thought that things couldn’t get any weirder, you continue east on the road another mile or two and find Slab City, ‘the last lawless place in the United States’.  And you ask yourself, can this ‘last lawless place’ really be that unsafe?  Here’s a quote from one of the residence of ‘The Slab’.

Entrance to Slab City

Slab City Library

“There are definitely some murderers in Slab City, but they would be stupid to do anything here. They might have killed people in the past but they surely won’t do it here, they are hiding. So you could say, this is one of the safest places on earth!”

OK, it’s time to get out of the sun and this Twilight Zone episode.  Thanks for joining my virtual tour; can’t wait to actually go there . . . or NOT!

THEY WERE SOLDIERS ONCE, AND YOUNG (2020)

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This is my annual Memorial Day piece, written in remembrance of the boys from my high school who died in the Vietnam war. After I first published this in 2014, I heard from many people who related similar stories about the loss suffered in their home towns or, worse, their families. So this weekend, as you commemorate the holiday, please take a moment to remember all of the brave young men and women we’ve lost in conflict.

Five boys from my high school were killed in the Vietnam War. For a small town like Novato, that was an enormous number. We were such a close-knit community that even if we didn’t know one of them personally, we knew a sibling or friend. So on my trip to Washington D.C. last month I scheduled time to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to see their names on “The Wall”. To refresh my memory I pulled out my high school year books and found them all – smiling for a formal portrait or posing for a team picture. Each image reflected a boy, fresh-faced and full of hope, his life stretching out before him. I looked at those young faces and found it hard to believe that their lives ended so soon after the bucolic days captured in the photos. None of them reached the age of 22, their dreams extinguished on the battlefield. While we, their classmates, lived long enough to enjoy the internet, smart phones and streaming movies, most of them didn’t live long enough to see color television. I reflected on the stories I’ve read of WWII vets who speak so reverently of the “boys who didn’t come home”. As I perused the yearbooks I finally understood their sentiment. It is only when looking back through a 50 year lens that one can appreciate just how young these soldiers were and how many of life’s milestones they missed. So on this Memorial Day, I’d like to pay tribute to “The Boys from Novato”.

Robert Johnson
Bob Johnson joined the Army in the fall of 1965, in what would have been his Senior year in high school. I remember him as a quiet guy, but very nice. Before he enlisted he asked his high school sweetheart to marry him – it would give them both something to hang on to while he was gone. His entry into the service occurred just as the war was escalating. He was sent to Vietnam in March of 1966 and three weeks later he was killed by enemy gunfire during “Operation Abilene” in Phuoc Tuy Province. As his former classmates excitedly anticipated prom and graduation, Robert had already made the ultimate sacrifice. In the 1966 yearbook, where his senior portrait would have been, his mother placed this photo of him in uniform along with a tribute. He was the first Vietnam casualty from Novato.

 

Mike Tandy

Mike Tandy graduated from NHS in 1965. His sisters, Sue and Sarah, also attended NHS. Mike was very smart and participated in the first swim team our high school fielded. He was an Eagle Scout and according to his friend Neil Cuzner, “he was highly intelligent, a great guy and an excellent scout. He was in the Senior Patrol and a young leader of our troop. He lead by example”. After graduation Mike joined the Marine reserves and was called up in January, 1966. He was sent to Vietnam shortly after that. On September 8th he was on patrol in Quang Nam with another soldier when his footfall detonated a landmine. He was killed instantly. He had celebrated his 19th birthday just five days prior. His classmates had moved on – either to college or working – but the Tandy family was left to grieve the loss of their son and brother. In 2005 Sarah posted to the virtual Vietnam Wall: “Thanks to all of you who come here and remember Mike. All of our lives were changed and I thank you for not forgetting.”

 

Allan Nelson

Allan Nelson played football at College of Marin with my brother, Bob. Allan’s sister, Joanne, was in Bob’s class and his brother, Steve, was in mine. So we were well aware when Allan was drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam in July, 1966 at the age of 20. Five months later, on December 1, we were devastated to learn he had been killed by gunfire during a battle in Binh Dinh Province. I still remember the day Steve came to school after Allan’s death; red-faced with tears streaming down his cheeks. He had always been such a happy guy but was now changed in ways that were hard for 16 year-old kids to understand. As I look back now, I can’t imagine what it must have been like for him to go home from school each day and face parents who were shattered by grief. Joanne posted the following on a memorial page and perhaps sums it up the best: “Allan was my brother, not just a brother, he was my best friend. All I know is December 1, 1966 was the saddest time for me and my family. My family loved each other so much, but when Al was killed the joy died in my family. Allan had his whole life planned. He had just turned 21 on Oct. 20th. When we were young, he couldn’t wait to be 21. I am so sorry for all the families that lost a son and a brother. It will be 33 years in Dec. The everyday sad feelings of loss are gone but on special days it still hurts.”

Jim Gribbin

Jim Gribbin graduated from NHS in 1966. He was on the football team and very active in school clubs and was well-liked by everyone who knew him. He joined the Army Reserves and when called up, became part of the Special Forces where he rose to the rank of Captain. He served two tours of duty in an elite MIKE unit. In March 1970 his unit was on a night defensive mission in Kontum Province when they were ambushed by enemy troops. Jim sacrificed his own safety by running into open territory – twice – to aid and retrieve wounded soldiers under his command. He was shot both times and taken to a rear medical facility where he died from his wounds. Ironically, for this affable Irishman, he succumbed on St. Patrick’s Day. He was awarded the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for Valor. Jim’s dad was a veteran of WWII who died in 2011. He requested to be placed in the same grave with Jim, with his name and vitals carved on the back of Jim’s headstone. One can only imagine the grief that he carried all those years. Hopefully he is at peace now that they are forever reunited. A complete stranger paid tribute to Jim in 2018 on the date of his death. You can read my post about it here: https://fromabirdseyeview.com/?p=7111

Wayne Bethards

Wayne “Ed” Bethards was in my graduating class, but I didn’t know him well. His family moved to Novato just before the start of our senior year. His mother, Betty Bethards, was the author of the international best-seller, “The Dream Book”. Again, Neil Cuzner has provided a bit more insight: “Wayne was a good person. He had a great love of baseball and had actually started a small league while over in Nam. He was sharing his love of baseball with the Vietnamese children.” Cuzner went on to say that Wayne was a religious person and did not want to kill anyone; he struggled greatly with his deployment. He was drafted into the Army and was sent to Vietnam in October of 1970. In January, 1971, he was killed while on patrol by the accidental detonation of a mechanical device in Quang Tin Province. He was the last boy from Novato High School to die in the war.

 

Jerry Sims

In April, 2017, I heard from a former schoolmate, Dennis Welsh, about Jerry Sims, a boy who died in the conflict whose hometown was listed as Novato. I found in my research that sometimes the Novato “hometown” designation were for those affiliated with Hamilton Air Force Base, not graduates of Novato High School. Since there were no records of Jerry at NHS I assumed Jerry was from Hamilton, but that was not the case. Dennis told me that Jerry moved to Novato from Texas in the Spring of 1966 to live with his sister. He tried out for the football team during spring training and made the squad. But despite that automatic inclusion into a social group, he was unhappy living in California and being the “new kid” going into his Senior year. Dennis said that he never saw him again after football tryouts and didn’t learn of his fate until he spotted Jerry’s name on “The Wall”. The fact is that Jerry left Novato and joined the Army in June, 1966 and was sent to Vietnam in November. On February 6, 1968 he and several others in his unit were killed by small arms fire in Gia Dinh province. Jerry was 19 years old. His former platoon leader said this on his memorial page: “I was Jerry’s platoon leader on the day he died. He didn’t have to be there, since he had a job elsewhere in Vietnam, but he requested a transfer. He had already spent a year with the Wolfhounds, but for reasons all his own, he wanted to come back to this unit. He died doing his job as a squad leader in my platoon.” It would seem Jerry finally found his home – and some peace – with his Army brethren.

When I visited “The Wall” I found the boys from Novato, each name etched on that long expanse of granite. I thought about their families and the sorrow they endured. It was overwhelming to realize that same sorrow replicated 58,286 times. Each of the names on that black, shiny surface represent a family forever destroyed. As I walked along the pathway I looked at all of the mementos that were left as tributes to the fallen – notes, flowers and flags mostly. But then I spotted something different – a tribute from Jim Dart to his brother, Larry. It was a Kingston Trio album (pictured left), along with a note about the good times they shared learning the guitar and singing songs together. I was overcome with emotion reading Jim’s note. My brother, Bob, owned that same album. He and his best friend, Don, often entertained our family playing their guitars and singing songs from that record. Bob was a Naval officer in Japan during the Vietnam war and was safely returned to us. I wept as I stood looking at the album, realizing that but for the grace of God – and military orders – how easily it could have been Bob’s name on that wall and me leaving a Kingston Trio album in his memory. I can’t imagine what our family would have been like without him. I ached for Sue and Sarah and Joanne and Steve and all the other siblings who never got to see gray hair on their brother’s head; their family gatherings forever marred by a gaping hole where their brother should have been. When I stooped down to take the photo I noticed that several other visitors had stopped to look at it too. As I glanced at those who were of a certain age I could see my own feelings reflected in their eyes. We know how much of life these boys missed. We mourn their loss – and ours.

*YOUR* GOOD

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

There have been many collective revelations over the past several weeks, but a new appreciation for teachers certainly ranks near the top.  Parents who have been required to work from home, with all the technological hiccups that engenders, have also been expected to home school their children.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that wine sales have soared in the past two months.  If I were the head of the teacher’s union I’d be forming a strategy for pay raises.  In fact, low pay was one of the primary reasons I decided not to become a teacher.  That, and I have little patience, which seems to be a requirement for working with six year old children.  Twenty years ago I was president of a non-profit organization that paired business people with local elementary schools.  We spent an hour a week reading to an underperforming child.  I loved it and an hour a week was enough to scratch my teacher itch.  But once a year we “played” at being the principal for a day.  I shadowed the principal, dealt with teacher/student issues, heard about heart-breaking home situations from CPS and tried to reconcile the annual budget.  I couldn’t even make it a full day.  After four hours I fled back to my comfortable office.  I am not proud of that, but it forever cemented for me that I had made the right career decision.

I had some good and bad teachers over the years.  I suspect that’s true for everyone.  Like any other profession, there is a wide range of talent and effectiveness among educators.  I was lucky enough to have three teachers whose examples, guidance and talent have stuck with me all my life.  Of the three, the very best was my high school English teacher, Bette Reese.  Until I landed in her class I was a middling student, with low self-confidence and grades to match.  I was more focused on boys and socializing than schoolwork.  Ms. Reese was a task master, constantly correcting grammar, spelling and composition.  She introduced me to Hemingway, Camus and Dostoevsky – pretty heady stuff for a high school junior.  I so wanted to please her that I found myself working harder and – miracle of miracles  – I became an “A” student.  Ms. Reese and I formed a friendship – I introduced her to Rod McKuen, the poet laureate of 60’s pop culture, and she took me under her wing, helping me to better appreciate good writing and the importance of using correct grammar.  I was lucky enough to be in her Advanced English class my Senior year, where my education was further honed by her unrelenting, steely resolve to make something of me.

 

I’ve been thinking of Ms. Reese during this lock-down as I have spent more time watching the news and reading social media.  I’ve been appalled by the number of people unable to write a cogent sentence.  In general, I am a bit of a stickler for grammar (although regular readers of this blog can attest that I make quite a few errors), but I’ve been brought to the brink of insanity the past two months.  Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – they are all swamplands of bad grammar.   The most common mistake I see is people confusing “your” with “you’re”.  Clearly they were behind the schoolhouse door the day that contractions were discussed.  I wish I had a nickel for every time someone has posted “Your the best” or “Your going to love this!”.  Ugh. There is no escaping the your/you’re error.  We received an invitation to a tony club opening in Northern California where the front of the card screamed, “YOUR INVITED”.  How many managers had to review that advertisement before it went to the printer?  I decided if they weren’t smart enough to know the English language I wasn’t dumb enough to give them my money.   TV news readers make so many grammatical errors that I can’t decide whether they skipped journalism school altogether or their scripts are written by a third grade dropout.  Whatever the excuse, it’s clear they never learned the difference between “well” and “good”. The reports on the COVID pandemic have generated a common question asked of or by reporters: “How are you doing?”.  About 1,000 times in the past two months the answer has been, “I’m doing good.”.  OMG – NO!  “Good” is used only as an adjective, as in, she makes a good Christmas cookie.  “Well” is an adjective or adverb, as in, I don’t feel well after eating her damned Christmas cookie.  

I wish everyone had been fortunate enough to have had a Ms. Reese in their lives.  There is nothing better than a teacher who instills an appreciation for a subject that gets buried deep in your soul.  Ms. Reese left my high school two years after I graduated and became an English and Journalism professor at College of Marin.  She eventually became the faculty advisor to the student newspaper where no doubt she used her magic on many aspiring journalists.  Sadly, Bette Reese died in 1979 at the age of 44 from pancreatic cancer.  To this day the college awards the Bette Reese Memorial Scholarship to a talented journalism student.  I can only hope they are maintaining her high standards, but I’m not optimistic.  If Ms. Reese were still alive she could make a fortune correcting the grammar of most journalists.  But I guess the point of a good teacher is that we carry on for them, sharing the knowledge they so generously shared with us.  So in the name of Bette Reese I’m going to continue to scream at the infractions on the news channels and social media.  Somewhere, somehow, I just know Ms. Reese is cheering me on.

Stir Crazy? Cabin Fever? Vinophobia?

by Bob Sparrow

Under the heading of ‘Is the cure worse than the disease? I offer some help to those who are going stir-crazy or are experiencing cabin fever.

First some clinical definitions:

‘StirCrazy’, derived from the use of stir to mean ‘prison’; a person is stir-crazy if they are experiencing isolation from civilization.

‘Cabin fever’ refers to the distressing claustrophobic irritability or restlessness experienced when a person, or group, is stuck at an isolated location or in confined quarters for an extended period of time.

You may also want to be on the lookout for ‘vinophobia’ – the fear of running out of wine while in isolation.

Are these ‘diseases’ real psychiatric diagnosis?  No, but they are real things.  Following are some suggestions by clinical psychologist, Joel Klapow, who wrote the suggestions to help people who are cooped up during a snowy winter, but I think you’ll see that they apply to us all during this ‘covid confinement’.  He says . . .

“These maladies are basically your mind’s way of telling you that the environment you are in is less than optimal for normal functioning.  It’s when you’re in a space of restricted freedom for a period of time that you can no longer tolerate.” He offers the following remedies (I offer my snappy rejoinders, following in italics) 

  1. Change your diet

Avoid high carb, high-fat foods, which can make you feel even more inactive. Instead, seek out lean proteins that contain a lot of omega-3 fatty acids. These can boost your mood, and often contain B12 and vitamin D, which help regulate your emotions.  (This is where that vinophobia comes in – I don’t know about all that omega-3, B-12 crap, but under no circumstance should you take wine out of your diet)

  1. Get outside 

Time in the sun will give you access to Vitamin D, which will boost your mood. (It will also get you away from your spouse and/or family that is by now on your last nerve)

  1. Get regular exercise 

Don’t feel like you need to go to the gym. Anything you do to keep your heart rate up for 30 minutes a day will help your mood. You can just go for a walk, or make a small change in your daily routine to see big changes in your spirits!! (What could be healthier than a good walk to the wine store?  It will be like lifting weights on the way home)

  1. Have a family game night

Get your kids – and yourself – away from computer/tablet/phone screens for a few hours and bond over some board games or puzzles.  (If the board games fail, try hide and seek, but once the family hides, don’t seek)

  1. Throw a party 

While it was nice to bond with your family over a marathon game of Monopoly, you might want to interact with other people. So consider planning a small party for friends or neighbors. Planning and preparing for the event will keep you active and help pass the time. With nice weather you can gather outside.  (My sense is that the most popular ‘party’ will be the party of the first part or the party of the second part in a divorce law suit)

  1. Change your decor

Sometimes, all it takes to make your surroundings feel different is a new look. Hang a picture or some other wall art or simply rearrange your furniture. (A new look could also include a face-lift, hair replacement or a . . . Oh, he’s talking about changing the look of your house – OK, move)

7. Avoid binge-watching 

Catching an entire season of the latest Netflix or Amazon series might seem tempting while you’re so confined, but . . . (there are not buts!  It’s the only thing that makes being cooped up tolerable – sorry I’m not going to feel guilty about that!!)  

8. Take up an indoor hobby 

Being forced inside can give you time to catch up on work or tackle a home improvement project you’ve been putting off. But you’ve also been given a chance to try out a new hobby; be creative – what have you always been interested in, but never had the time to do? (I tend to disagree with Mr. Klapow here, I am already heavily involved in two hobbies, binge-watching the latest Netflix or Amazon series and wine drinking.  My day is full!)

  1. Open the shades

You’ll not only make your surroundings feel brighter, but you’ll also help warm your house.  Once the sun has set, you may want to add ambiance, charm, and light to your rooms with some unique and stylish lighting.  (My surroundings will feel brighter when they are no longer my surroundings.  You want to brighten something up?  Put your ambient charm where the sun don’t shine)

  1. Think spring

We don’t just mean “Keep a positive attitude!” (Although that’s important too). Think about what you want to do when (he had when the snow melts, but for us it’s ) the pandemic is over and things warm up: adventures to take, an gatherings to plan, and new additions and changes to a new life-style.  Cabin fever doesn’t last, but we will. (Think spring my ass, it IS spring and it still sucks; I’m thinking 2021).  

As always, we here at ‘From A Bird’s Eye View’ are here to help you make it through the week.

 

 

AND NOW…THE NEWS…THE GOOD NEWS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Tyler Merrill

These past weeks have been trying…trying to kill us, trying our patience and trying to test our resolve.  Shoot – bad news was easy to come by even before COVID-19 hit us.  When is the last time you read a paper or watched the news and felt better afterwards?  My guess is it was sometime in the 80’s.  Which is why I want to devote today’s post to just that – people who give us something to cheer about.  I was inspired about a month ago, at the beginning of the virus outbreak, when I saw an interview with Tyler Merrill, the CEO of a clothing company, who stopped all production to focus on making medical grade masks for hospital workers.  He was appalled at the price gouging and competitive out-bidding going on and decided to take matters into his own hands to produce N-95 grade masks.  I was impressed by his generous effort.  His interview recalled something I know down deep – how good the ordinary, everyday citizens are in this country.  I felt bad that I needed reminding but it felt good to know that spirit still exists.  And then last week I discovered John Krasinski’s Good News Channel (or SGN as he calls it) on YouTube and my confidence is the goodness of people was solidified.

A Classic

In full disclosure, I have been in love with John Krasinski since his character, Jim Halpert, encased Dwight Schrute’s stapler in a mound of gleaming lime Jello on the first episode of The Office.  I’ve followed his career and enjoyed his personal high jinks, most notably his “prank wars” with Jimmy Kimmel.  If you need a laugh look them up on You Tube.  I’ve always enjoyed him and his particular brand of humor but I have new-found respect for him since viewing SGN.  In March he posted on his Twitter feed that we’d heard enough sad news and that he wanted people to send him some good news stories.  His feed was flooded with them in hours.  Which gave him the insight to know that people are really looking for positive stories and that there is no shortage of them out there.  So on March 29th he launched SGN.  So far he has produced five episodes.  “Produced” might be a bit of a stretch, as even he admits.  He is recording the show from his home office, with the colorful SGN sign his daughters drew as his only graphic.

John Krasinski on SGN

On each show he not only shows his humanity, but that of all Americans.  He lauds the front line health care workers, as well as other essential workers – transit drivers, utility workers, street sweepers.  He has surprised COVID health care workers in Boston with a trip to Fenway Park, complete with VIP treatment.  He has had Brad Pitt to do the weather and when he threw a prom for all high school seniors who are missing out on that rite of passage, he brought in the Jonas Brothers and Billie Eilish.  His interview with his old cohort Steve Carrell was both funny and touching.  But it’s his “Restoring Faith to All Humanity” segments that are worth their weight in gold because they feature ordinary people doing extraordinary things.  One episode featured a teenage cancer patient who celebrated her last treatment with a socially-distanced welcome home in her neighborhood that was so touching that I defy you to watch it without tearing up.  Another episode featured a young mailman who has 400 mostly elderly residents on his route, so he gave each of them a flyer offering to run errands or grocery shop for them in his spare time.  Most of them took him up on the offer.  I could go on and on with examples, but really, you need to watch the show for yourself.  I GUARANTEE that you will feel uplifted and optimistic afterwards.  There is also an SGN Facebook page that you can follow that features daily updates of good stories.  Watch SGN and you will be reminded that there are far more good people than bad out there and most of us are willing to pitch in and help without hesitation.  As one of the International Space Station astronauts said on SGN – “An Earth in crisis is still an Earth worth returning to.”

Finally, tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo and I couldn’t resist sharing this meme.  I hope you all find a way to have a Corona without getting Corona!

“Music was my refuge”

“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”                                                                                                                   Maya Angelou 

by Bob Sparrow

My friends, Martin & Taylor

Yes, I’ve been consumed mostly with music during this ‘house arrest’ we’re all experiencing.  I’ve been reading about it, as explained in my last blog, listening to it, trying to write it as well as play it on my 6 and 12 string guitars (named Martin & Taylor) – who have become my two closest friends these past few weeks!

Just prior to the pandemic I had a CD player installed in my car, much to my wife’s dismay.  “You have Amazon music on your phone, so you have access to virtually every song in the universe.  Why do you need a CD player in your car?”, she asked.  Well, it’s because, over the years, I’ve made somewhere around 100 ‘personal’ CDs – play lists of songs that can’t be found on Amazon, or anywhere else for that matter.  As well as a CD of songs that my best friend, Don and I sang in Atsugi, Japan in 1968 and a CD of us singing at our 50-year class reunion.

Her response: “What’s next, are you going to put an 8-track player in there as well?”

With Don, Naval officers in Japan – 1968          With Don at 50-year class reunion – 2011

While I thought that was pretty funny; I did think about that for a moment, but I’d have to go deep into the archives to find any 8-track tapes.  It would have been more logical to put in a cassette tape player, as I have a good number of cassettes.  I do have a cassette player in my office and I had the cassettes that Don and I exchanged while he was in Saudi Arabia, prior to the Internet, transferred to CDs – so I can now play those in my car.  Then there’s my vinyl collection, but I don’t think they make turntables for my car, so I’m content listening to them in my office (think, man cave).

As for playing my guitar, aside from practicing ‘Monday Knights’ band songs, our neighborhood has been doing some ‘Friday afternoon, driveway cocktail parties’ where we gather in a driveway, keeping our social distance, and having a cocktail.  A couple of Fridays ago, we hosted it and, knowing that everyone was really hard up for entertainment, I played and sang some songs from an anthology I put together called The History of Rock & RollChapter 1 is ‘The 50s’, where I gave some background of the songs and the writers, and played ‘Rock Around the Clock’, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, ‘Johnny B. Goode’, then threw in a couple of songs from the ‘Folk Scare’ taking place during the late 50s and sang ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone’ and ‘Scotch & Soda’.   At the conclusion someone mentioned something about not quitting my day job! Nonplussed, I’ve put Chapter 2 together, ‘The 60s’, but it’s not ready for prime time yet – heck, it’s not even ready for late night!

Vinyl collection

I’m also trying to write some songs and so have reconnected with former neighbor and song-writing partner, Doug Bynon.  I’ve got a whole bunch of lyrics rolling around in my head and he’s been pretty good at putting them to music.  We’ve done this before, creating song original songs – you’re not going to hear them on the radio, but it seems to scratch a creative itch in both of us.

While you may not want to sing, play or write songs, we can all listen to some great music.  I like what this next quote has to say about the music you listen to:

“Tell me what you listen to, and I’ll tell you who you are.” ― Tiffanie DeBartolo

If the DeBartolo name is sounding familiar to some of you 49er fans, yes, she is the daughter of the former owner of the 49ers, Ed DeBartolo.

So, if you’re running out of things to do . . . find some music you like and find out who you are!

I’M IN LOVE WITH PERRY MASON

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Raymond Burr, as Perry Mason

Well, here we are…still.  I hope you are all doing well and haven’t killed your spouse yet.  Okay, that might be a bit drastic but I’ve been influenced by crime TV during my “staycation”.  Specifically, I’ve been spending a lot of time with Perry Mason, the TV show from the 50’s and 60’s.  Some things have not changed much in the intervening years – just as with ther current show, Dateline, the spouse is almost always the perpetrator.  Hopefully, you are still experiencing wedded bliss and Keith Morrison won’t be knocking on your front door anytime soon.  But…back to Perry.  I stumbled across the series as I was surfing our 450 channels for something to watch.  As it happens, Family Entertainment TV (don’t worry – I’d never heard of it either) was starting the series from the beginning.  What the heck?  I figured out that to watch the entire series from beginning to end without any breaks takes up 10 days. Heck, I don’t have anything else to do.  Plus, I relished the idea of taking a trip down memory lane recalling those wonderful Saturday nights when I watched the show, intrigued not with Raymond Burr, who played Perry, but with his “confidential secretary”, Della Street.

William Talman, sad sack Hamilton Burger

It has been interesting watching the series as an adult. Obviously, beyond the tail fins on cars and the lack of cell phones, the biggest change has been the role of women. There was a woman judge in a few episodes but no female attorneys. Mostly, women played murderers or victims. But still, it turns out that the show influenced a good share of women.  Sonja Sotomayor, the Supreme Court justice, was one.  In her autobiography she says she was hooked on the law when during one episode Perry asked the prosecutor, Hamilton Burger, if he wasn’t troubled that he had spent so much time prosecuting Perry’s client only to find he was innocent. “My job as a prosecutor is to do justice,” Sotomayor quotes the prosecutor as saying. “And justice is served when a guilty man is convicted and an innocent man is not.”

That prosecutor was Hamilton Burger, who lost all but three cases to Perry.  Makes you wonder how the guy kept his job.  Turns out that William Talman, who played Burger, didn’t keep his job.  He was fired by CBS March 18, 1960, hours after he entered a not-guilty plea to misdemeanor charges related to his presence at a party that was raided by police for marijuana use. Back then they did not consider marijuana an “essential” business.  The shooting schedule was immediately juggled to minimize Talman’s presence on the show.  CBS would not relent, even after the charges were dropped.  In December 1960, after millions of fans protested, he returned to the show where he would remain until the end of the series.  Now that I’ve watched three seasons of the show I think I’ve figured out why he was so inept – every week he used the same line when objecting to Perry’s questioning of his witness: “Your honor, this entire line of questioning is incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial”.  Really, every frigging week he says the same thing.   Wouldn’t you think he – or the writer’s – could come up with something else?  No wonder he lost all those cases.

Della Street and Paul Drake

Paul Drake, Perry’s private detective, was the most fun character on the show.  He did all the dirty work – sneaking into office buildings, tailing a suspect or flying somewhere to gather background “dirt”.  Each week he seemed to get in and out of some perilous situations, often involving a beautiful woman.  Drake was played by William Hopper, whose mother was Hedda Hopper, the famous gossip columnist.  He was a big hunk of a guy and I always suspected that Della was torn between her crush on Perry and him.  Or maybe that was just my youthful imagination.  But back to Della.  She was played by Barbara Hale and I idolized her when I was growing up.  She had wonderful clothes, was smart as a whip, and she always got to stay in the room with Perry when a client spilled their guts.   I thought she had the perfect job.  Of course, now I realize that she was probably grossly underpaid, especially given that she seemed to be at Perry’s beck and call at all hours of the night.  Which makes me wonder how she afforded all those fabulous clothes. Nevertheless, Della was not just a secretary, although she fetched her share of coffee, but someone who Perry listened to and who often gave him the logic or clue needed to solve the case.

I just read that HBO is coming out with a new Perry Mason film in June, starring Matthew Rhys as Perry.  It will focus on the early days of his career, before he became a high-priced defense attorney.  I’ll keep an open mind, but I don’t know how it can possibly be better than the TV show.  No Hamilton Burger, no one in the gallery shouting “I did it!  I killed him.” at the last minute, and most importantly, no Della Street.  Somehow, that just seems wrong.

 

 

 

Music is the Moonlight . . .

by Bob Sparrow

“Music is the moonlight in the gloomy night of life.” Jean Paul Richter

Not that life is gloomy right now or anything, it’s just that it’s . . . different.  We find ourselves looking for things to do around the cell, er, house; things that will help us keep our sanity while in solitary or familial confinement.  We’ve completed most of those DIY ‘projects’, at least the ones that we were actually capable of completing, not the ones like fixing that leaky hot water heater valve or rewiring that electrical box.

So, let me suggest something that has helped me ‘pass the time’ – music.  Like me, you have probably found some solace in listening to  music, singing in the shower or watching (and re-watching) concerts on TV; and I say keep doing those things, but I’m proffering some additional literary therapy and documentary escapism.  Over the past few months, and particularly now that reading is one of my more athletic activities during the course of a day, I have found three excellent books and one Netflix documentary that I would recommend to any pop music lover.

The Wrecking Crew by by Kent Hartman

Flyleaf notes: “A sweet and wistful meditation on the early days of the music business, full of little gems and wonders fit for serious music fans and a commendable, long-overdue tribute to the legendary Wrecking Crew – the ridiculously talented, go-to guys behind so many hits. This book will make your head spin.”  You think you know who played the music on most of the hit songs you listened to?  You don’t!”

The Song Machine by John Seabrook

Flyleaf notes: “There’s a reason today’s ubiquitous pop hits are so hard to ignore―they’re designed that way. The Song Machine goes behind the scenes to offer an insider’s look at the global hit factories manufacturing the songs that have everyone hooked.”

Goodnight, LA   also by Kent Hartman

“The rise and fall of classic rock – the untold stories from inside the LA recording studios.  The music scene in Los Angeles was dominated by rock ‘n’ roll. If a group wanted to hit it big, L.A. was the place to be.”  Let the in-fighting begin.

Echo in the Canyon Netflix

Echo In The Canyon celebrates the popular music that came out of L.A.’s Laurel Canyon neighborhood in the mid-60s as folk went electric and The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, and The Mamas and the Papas cemented the ‘California sound’.

If you enjoy popular music, and by that I mean songs that were popular from the 60s to present day, you should enjoy the myriad of stories about the lives of people who made it all possible.

 

                                                                                           

“If music be the food of love, play on.”  William Shakespeare

Stay well!!!

GROUNDHOG DAY

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Happy Monday!  It is Monday, isn’t it?  I get so confused these days.  Usually I awaken each morning and before emerging from my bed I think about what day of the week it is and what I have scheduled on the calendar.  It’s sort of a memory test, plus the results dictate whether I’m happy about my day and bounce out of bed or whether I’m having a root canal and decide to languish for a bit longer.  These days, I am really struggling.  With everything on my calendar pretty much wiped out, one day just runs into the next.  It takes me several minutes to figure out the day and – sadly – many days I am wrong.  But I can hardly be blamed.  Just like Bill Murray, every day is Groundhog Day.

As an “at risk” person due to my age, I need to stay home unless I require food, medicine or money.  Frankly, I’d love to know where I could get some money.  I made the mistake this morning of looking at our brokerage account.  I know that the market has been bad but after looking at our balance I almost wish that our broker had absconded to Mexico and was spending our retirement money on pina coladas.  At least then someone would be having fun with it.  But…back to my “staycation” routine.  My first decision of the day is what to wear.  This used to be a fun activity, sorting through my clothes and putting things together. Now I’m down to deciding which color of sweat pants to wear.  I try to save the black ones for formal occasions – like when the Amazon delivery person is coming. After breakfast we take Dash the Wonder Dog on a walk and then I begin my anti-Covid 19 immunity response.  Right now I’m taking Vitamins C and D, a tablespoon of Sambucol Elderberry Syrup and a packet of Emergen-C.  I have NO idea whether any of that is doing any good but I figure it can’t hurt.  And, I haven’t gotten sick so, fingers crossed, hopefully it’s working, even if it’s all in my head.  Once fortified, I begin on my activities for the day.  I am maintaining my 10,000 steps/day routine.  It’s fairly easy this time of year when our weather is beautiful.  If the virus hangs on until summer and our fitness center remains closed I think I’ll be wearing holes in our rugs marching around the house.  Or, by then, the insane asylum.  But that’s a worry for another day.

All that takes me to about 9 o’clock.  That’s a whole lot of time to kill for the rest of the day trapped inside the house.  I saw a segment on the new-found popularity of jigsaw puzzles on CBS Sunday Morning last week and that reminded me that I had some puzzles stashed away.  I broke one out and started to put the edge pieces together only to discover that my eyesight isn’t what it used to be.  Several of the pieces that I put together did not actually fit correctly but I couldn’t see that so I had something of a jumble on my hands.  It’s still sitting on our dinette table and as this staycation drags on I’m sure I’ll get bored enough to take up the task once again.  Hopefully with better lighting.  My knitting friends and I have discovered (along with the rest of America) the magic of Zoom, the internet meeting app.  So on our regular knitting time on Wednesdays we meet up.  It accomplishes two things – first, it proves that women of a certain age can still master some new technology and second, it puts something fun on the calendar.

Alas, I have to admit that once I’ve cleaned the house for the umpteenth time, watched a few episodes of Grace and Frankie,  and then knit for a couple of hours, I resort to playing Candy Crush on my iPad.  It truly is amazing what a time suck it is.  On the other hand, it keeps me from looking at the latest coronavirus stats and worrying about the health and safety of those I love.  It’s only April 6th.  I know that we all can get through this.  I just hope that it ends before I’ve mastered all 6365 levels of Candy Crush.

The Lost Resort

by Bob Sparrow

Timeshare salesman

This week, every year since 1993, our family has vacationed in our timeshare at the Marriott Desert Springs Resort in Palm Desert, and we should be there now, but as everyone knows, the world has turned upside down.  When we bought the timeshare 27 years ago, Linda and I both had pretty good jobs, two young kids and very little savings, which is why we accepted the Marriott’s invitation to come out to the desert, spend two nights and play two rounds of golf.  The only caveat was that we had to listen to a 90-minute presentation about a timeshare, with a tour of the property including a boat ride on the man-made lake that goes inside and outside of the hotel.  We decided that since we didn’t have any ‘extra money’, we were a safe bet to resist the high-pressure sales tactics that we knew took place during those 90 minutes.

Taking a ‘boat tour’ of the Marriott facility

So we packed up our two kids, who were 7 and 9 at the time, threw in our golf clubs and left the frigid January southern California 68 degree weather, for the balmy 80 degrees in Palm Desert.  We walked into the timeshare presentation with kids in tow feeling pretty smug.  They immediately shuffled the kids into a fabulous playroom, designed to keep them fully occupied while their parents were being given the ‘third degree’.  The presentation was very convincing, but we knew we were safe because we were broke and nearly gagged at the price to purchase a timeshare week – $32,000!!!  At the end of the presentation, we thanked them and started to get up and said we just couldn’t afford it at this time (we were actually thinking, or AT ANY TIME!).  They then mentioned that, with a small down payment, we could pay over time, with ‘low, easy monthly payments’ (I thought they were going to throw in some swamp land in Florida too).  We looked at each other and sat back down.  “Just how small is the down payment and just how low are those easy monthly payments?,” we asked.  I don’t remember the numbers, but it was something we thought we could afford, so we bought, hoping we wouldn’t have ‘buyers remorse’ as we drove home.

“Are we there yet?” Yes!!!

As it turned out, it was one of the best purchases we ever made.  As mentioned in the opening, we’ve spent a week there every year; we’ve never changed the time of year or ever tried to exchange it for some place else.  We loved it! Our kids loved it.  Our friends and family that we invited out to stay with us, loved it.  What’s not to love? Great accommodations, great golf courses, great restaurants and great weather.  The best feature of all might be the fact that we didn’t have to get on an airplane to get there – we could just throw stuff in the car, drive for and hour-and-a-half and we’re truly in a whole different world.

The kids brought friends out, played in the pool and park areas, rode the shuttle back and forth between the villas and the hotel and later enjoyed meeting kids (some of the opposite sex as they grew older) around the pool and as they got much older, at the night club on site – Costas

Since that time, several of our friends have also purchased timeshare weeks at Marriott Desert Springs – at a more reasonable price on the ‘Black Market’ I might add.  So we’ve continued to enjoyed getting together out there for golf and socializing and the kids still make an appearance with their own families.  Up until last week, we were hopeful of spending our 27th year there in spite of all that is going on, as the timeshare villas were open and available as was, first, both courses at the Marriott Desert Springs, then just one.  We decided that if that golf course stays open, we could just as easily sit in our villa there, wash our hands and have an opportunity to get out in some fresh air and play some golf.  But alas, the other course, along with virtually every other golf course in California, closed.

The sun has set on the Marriott Deserts Springs Resort for most of 2020

We’re told we won’t lose the week as they may let us switch it for a week in August when the temperature there is typically north of 100 degrees. So, this week, instead of enjoying our 27th year in the desert, we’ve resorted to watching movies and washing our hands at home.  I knew this timeshare thing was a scam!

So our 26 year streak is broken, but we’re hoping that next year we’ll start another one.

Stay well!