COVID Cruise Calamity: September 2022

My family recently took a dream cruise to Alaska, home of the amazing Mendenhall Glacier and Endicott Arms, majestic bald eagles, fierce black bears and the cunning COVID calamity.

Whoa there, back up the bus!

You read right. Out of 13 family members who boarded this love boat, about seven of us came home with an unpleasant souvenir. A beast more fierce than any snarling grizzly – COVID.

Surprisingly, most of us had never experienced a bout with the virus.

Now, before you join the legion of social media venters: “I took a cruise and caught the bug!” “The cruise line didn’t protect its passengers,” “People boarded elevators without masks and no one reprimanded them…” I can safely say, when you go on a cruise, there is absolutely, unequivocally, without a doubt no way possible you can attach a virus infection to a cruise line.

I thought our cruise company did an admirable job of ensuring the safety of passengers. And, everyone on that ship tested negative to board.

That said, we did travel through crowded, unmasked airports. We did undertake a number of land and boat excursions where maskless folks may have gotten a bit too close for comfort (not placing blame as I was stuffing my open-air face with complimentary donut holes many a time).

On our various stops, I do recall some overcrowded gift stores, including a certain famous tourist attraction in Juneau where about 100 people were crammed into a tiny gift shop. I slapped on my mask once I realized there was a bit too much heavy breathing going on.

Yes, there were far too many opportunities for cunning COVID to infiltrate our well-planned vacation.

It revealed its presence to me in the form of coughing, sneezing and congestion on the day of our return. When we got home, I thought, I should just do a self-test.

Within minutes, both lines faintly appeared, indicating positivity.

I immediately texted our group, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news….”

Suddenly, my mother who had been experiencing congestion onboard and two of my sister-in-law’s who holed up in their cabins for a few afternoons, came to mind.

My brother and sister-in-law home-tested my mom the next morning. Yup, positive. Within the following day, our group text pings rang out with chimes of “positive.” My brother at first said, “I just have a cold,” but eventually got the plus ping himself.

Through the din of this rapid-fire testing, I realized some people don’t necessarily want to know if they’re positive. You know, what you don’t know can’t hurt you.

As this was my first verified experience with COVID, I can safely say, It could have been worse.

I felt pretty crappy around day two, but then, things eased quickly.

I told one of my brothers who I’ve nick-named “Alex Keaton” for GOP-related reasons, that I was happy to be vaxxed and double boosted. That this was undoubtedly the reason for the virus’ weak reaction.

He said, “I don’t know if it’s all because of THAT…”  (In the past I had been accused by Mr. Keaton of drinking too much of the COVID Kool-Aid.)

Uh huh.

That said, I was RELIEVED that COVID found me. I had been wondering when the ball would drop and that I was finally experiencing what millions had survived. In my case, I likened it to a common cold, nothing more.

When those two little test lines first appeared, I immediately recalled the early days of the pandemic – people on respirators, body bags, endless case counts.

Thankfully, that appears to be in the past, and fortunately, all my family was fine. The recurring variant waves and booster upon booster have weakened the virus to something most of us can cure with cold medicine.

I hate to admit that going on that cruise was worth every nose blow, every cough, every sneeze, but it was. And, I would do it again in a second.

What I learned by stepping upon those planks, was a reminder of the importance and frailty of life. The significance of family and of laughing and of loving and being able to experience the miracles of nature and humankind.

The being in the here and now.

And, that, perhaps is the greatest remedy of all.

With that, I end this as “Poolside from PS.”

It’s a Dry Heat: August 2022

Summer is my favorite season in Palm Springs. The tourists have flocked back home, lengthy lines have subsided at local eateries (some of which close for a siesta), and a general sense of calmness settles upon the city.

Alas, this world of well-being does come with a bit of heat, but at least it’s a dry heat as we like to say.

This time of year, my spouse likes to call our little hamlet “an inferno.”

Yes, we are smack dab in the season where daily temps surpass 100. As I unfurl my Coolaroo window shade, I am reminded of the lifestyle accommodations that need be made, making us all feel a little like lizards under rocks.

The weather newscasters regularly remind us of the importance of hydration. My first full year out here, I developed an irregular heartbeat, was constantly thirsty and my eyes hurt. A quick trip to the cardiologist taught me the importance of Gatorade and electrolytes. Once I developed an affinity for these necessities, poof, no more abnormal heartbeat.

My optometrist cautioned, “Your eyes are very dry. Use drops daily.” Voila, no more gritty eyeballs.

It is also important to know when and when not to do certain things. Walking the dog? Better get up before 7 or poochey’s tongue may be dragging behind him/her on the warm pavement. Like to garden? Don’t forget that plant netting lest your precious greenery turn a brittle brown. Wash the car? Do it when it’s cool or your windshield will crack (or is that just an urban legend?).

Even though certain day-time provisions need be made, the summer evenings are not to be believed.

I like to go out to my pool near day’s end. I lay on a raft and marvel at the blueness of the sky and the languidness of desert life.

The sunsets of the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa ranges are like watching a nightly fireworks show, each setting sun a burst of beauty. Fast forward to 9 p.m., you are often greeted by a subtle breeze which bathes you in a blanket of warmth.

And, when the cicadas begin their evening symphony, it is like you are marveling at a maestro at work.

When I first moved here, my friends asked, “How do you live in 100 degree heat?” My response is always the same. “Do you sit outside all the time at your home? It’s no different here. We just use air conditioning more often – way more often.”

Speaking of which, if you’re ever at a loss for words at a pool party, simply ask, “What do you set your thermostat to?” That is sure to get a rally of a conversation started (I always say “That’s a personal choice which every individual must make”).

That said, I’m generally a 78 degrees during the day, 75 in the evenings and 74 at bed time kinda guy. I know, TMI.

If July is famous for its balmy, sultry nights, August is known for its often soupy, uber-moist, monsoonal flow. Yes, a little moisture is good for the complexion, but come those days when the Salton Sea is smelling like a burning match and the monsoons are dripping their way over from Arizona, you’re apt to want to take a little vacay from your permanent vacay.

It’s kind of like living in Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory.”

Yes, humidity can suck the life out of you, and if there’s ever a month where I check the calendar days off as they pass, it’s August.

That said, locals know with the passing of August we begin transitioning back to the cool, fun-loving destination we are.

By September, the restaurants have re-opened from their summer hiatuses, the snow birds flock back into town and locals find their utility bills slowly start to creep down.

Until then, I will content myself with being able to ride my bike down Palm Canyon Drive with nary a car in sight, while enjoying the warmth on my face and the summer air brushing across my cheeks.

After all, it’s a dry heat.

And, with that, I end this as “Poolside From PS.”

Get Back On That Camel: June 2022

After three years of lockdown, I venture to say that more than a few of us are pontificating the pondering of placement of our toes back into the vacation pond. Having just returned from Egypt and Greece, I can safely say – it’s time to get back on that horse, or in my case, camel.

My saga began three years and two weeks ago. At that time my spouse and I were packing our bags for a long-planned excursion to the above-mentioned countries. We were more than excited. I had even learned words like Hatsheput, Memnon, Sobek and Haroeris (Egyptian names ain’t for sissies!).

Then, just like that, COVID sent that dream slamming to a shutdown.

Flash forward to fall 2021. Things were beginning to loosen up and we were chafing at the bit to once again become global explorers. Our plans reignited in earnest.

We plotted, planned, schemed and contacted our previously used travel agent, only this time purchasing trip insurance with a COVID inclusion.

Everything was going along smoothly and then two weeks before our trip, I began to get cold feet. A bump in COVID cases sent me into a tailspin. What if things shut down again while we were abroad? What if we couldn’t gain access to the COVID tests needed to traverse countries? What if we caught COVID in Egypt? Would I be there until I mummified?

I began to feel that this whole trip was a mistake – so much so that I confided in a friend who travels that I was thinking of cancelling. He explained that he had experienced the same feelings while planning a recent trip to Portugal and Spain. He went and miraculously made it back to U.S. soil in one piece.

I was reassured enough that before we knew it, we were dozing on an airliner headed over the great blue sea.

After 18 hours of flights, we landed in Cairo, a bustling metropolis of 19.2 million inhabits. Based upon what we saw, they appeared to all live within the same three blocks.

It was total insanity. And, it was amazing!

There are no words to describe the awe you feel perched upon the back of a camel as you meander by the Great Pyramids of Giza. Nor, do I fail to stop smiling at the visage of the Sphinx, sitting regal and austere for well over 2,500 years.

From there, the Egyptian sites cascade like dominoes in slow motion: the cruise on the Nile; the Temple of Philae; Kom Ombo and its Temple of Sobek & Haroeris; the enormously tall Temple of Horis; the Valley of the Kings with its intricate underground tombs; the Luxor Temple and vast Temple of Karnak.

We needed a COVID test to enter our next destination, Greece, so our tour guide arranged for a doctor to come to a restaurant where we were lunching to swab our passages (yes, this doctor made “restaurant calls”). I was amazed at the can-do attitude of the Egyptians, and, yes, we tested negative.

In Greece, we visited Santorini with its hillside villages topped by roofs that look like Hostess SnoBalls; Mykonos’ iconic windmills and meandering mazes of white-laden streets; and the ever-watchful Acropolis in Athens.

Just thinking back to what we experienced takes my breath away…

Back to my tale. As we quickly learned, we were not alone in our quest for adventure. Everywhere we went we encountered English-speaking tourists – most from the U.S.

Talking with these strangers who quickly became friends, was kind of like that scene in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” where all the people climb up Devil’s Monument, seemingly called upon by aliens. Only this time, it was the sites of Egypt and Greece that summoned them.

We spoke with people spanning from Northern California to the East Coast. It was like we were all long-lost cousins as we shared our adventures and decisions that led to us to once again travel. All of the differences we experienced at home were non-existent. We were simply Americans on holiday, enjoying the sites.

One evening, we were dining on the plaza overlooking the bay of Mykonos. It was a beautiful, mild evening. As we sat feasting upon seafood, I looked at the parade of families, couples and friends strolling the beachfront promenade.

I was suddenly overwhelmed by emotion as I realized each of these travelers from countries all around the world had been through the same things we had recently. The stress, the pain, the losses, the uncertainty of a world changed.

But, that didn’t stop them from enjoying that evening, that place, and each other. They smiled, laughed and gorged on gelato.

The memories are still fresh in my mind. I realize, we may go through many things in life, but some remain solid and the same. The Great Pyramids, The Sphinx, these ancient reminders tell us of the passing of time, the good and the not-so-good. I’m glad I hopped back on that camel. It makes me feel that the good will always be what we remember most.

And with that, I end this as “Poolside From PS.”

These Fires Run Deep: April 2022

I saw a bumper sticker a few days ago that read: “Remember your grandparents were at Woodstock” and it got me thinking.

It may be difficult to conjure images of today’s gray-hairs adorned in tie-dyed rags, torn jeans and stringy long hair, smoking pot and getting jiggy with it while rolling around in muddy fields, but I’m convinced it happened.

And those from the Woodstock generation can back me up.

Now, they’re older and retired, after spending a life of doing who knows what; those youths of promise and vitality long passed.

Palm Springs may be awash in a sea of gray, but one thing I’ve learned from these desert dwellers is to never underestimate the power of that gray.

These fires run deep.

Dylan Thomas once wrote: “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

I never understood what that concept meant until recently.

I was hiking up the Frank Bogert Trail and came across an elderly couple making their way down. It was a bit of a steep hill, so I was surprised to see them coming down – and at quite a rapid pace I might add!

This caused me to question my assumptions of aging – they appeared to be in their seventies, yet they were bounding down that hill with more vitality than any 20-year-old. I wondered how they made this mountain trek seem like wading through so much tissue paper.

I was also reminded that I hike, practice yoga, frequent the gym, and take long and splendiferous walks. All these activities make the getting gray part more agreeable. My friends ask, “Why the intent? You certainly don’t look like Superman.”

The only response I can provide comes from deep within – this is me raging against that good night.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d say I’m closer to the early side of a sunset; still have a ways to get to that good night and close of day.

But, I know it’s in my future – and I’m gonna put up one heck of a good fight before the knock out.

I have two friends who are 70, which to some may seem ancient, but when you meet them you would swear they are both in their early sixties. Both are vital, current and can be seen at Bruno Mars and J-Lo concerts.

I uphold them as archetypes of where I want to be in 10 years, you know the hipster g-parent role model. They are a far cry from my own grandmothers at that age: all roll-up knee high stockings, comfortable smocks and house slippers.

Times certainly have changed – and for the better too I might add.

I don’t think folks feel as compelled to “act their age” any more. I mean, who created these definitions anyway?

I see what a vibrant community Palm Springs is. How those in their sixties bloody each other at pickle ball and can be seen cruising down Palm Canyon Drive on street bikes. They are out enjoying long evenings over the warm summer nights and strolling arm in arm at VillageFest.

This is how life should be regardless of age, but with them it takes on added weight.

I’m sure in the back of their minds they may be hearing, “Old age should burn and rave at close of day!”

The fact of the matter is they’re living their lives with as much vitality as they have. They are determined to make the bestest, mostest, happiest, whateverest remains of what is left.

I have come to admire that, and as I age, I am indeed aware of how deep these fires run – and how they will not be extinguished without a good fight.

And with that, I end this as “Poolside From PS.”

Just Say “Hi”: March 2022

Disneyland may be the happiest place on earth, but I’d venture to say, Palm Springs is one of the most friendly places on the planet.

And, as we traverse these “times that try men’s souls” to quote Thomas Paine, there ain’t nuthin’ wrong with that.

Yes, I can already hear the “How can you make such assumptions? Have you seen some of the local posts on social media?”

Yes, setting those aside, I venture to say the majority of people who live out here do enjoy their lives and are a nice, good stock. My personal experience is that there is a certain friendliness to folks out here.

Coming from nasty, old L.A. where I was born and had lived my entire life, I was not accustomed to people saying “hello” to any passerby, nor to them gesturing “please go ahead” while in line at the supermarket.

When I first made Palm Springs permanent three years ago, as I walked my dog in the mornings, people would smile, wave and say “good morning” or “hello.”

At first it creeped me out.

I’ve seen “The Stepford Wives” and I was wondering how long it would take before they tried to recruit me into their group of zombie robots.

I would embarrassedly feign a “Uh, hi.”

After a while it began to soak in and it didn’t feel like such an effort to shoot back a “Well, hello there!”

I’ve learned, people like to say “hello” as it is an acknowledgement of another human being in their space. Their friendly smiles reflect that as well.

It’s not just people walking that proffer these kind gestures. Gardeners say “morning” as they go about their mowing, the post person gives a wave from his/her little van, and the UPS and FedEx delivery people give nods of their baseball caps.

It is like these people like life in the desert enough to want to share their appreciation and it reflects in their interactions with strangers.

Like them, I quickly came to embrace this feeling. Now, it no longer feels forced or untoward. It feels natural and it is the way I want to live – perhaps a bit friendlier than I had been during my working life.

While walking, I can always tell the visitors. They are usually hidden behind oversized sunglasses, wear bawdy straw hats like you might see at a beach resort and are always whispering with intensity on their cell phones. They may as well have been walking past a ghost for all you’d know.

When I say “hello,” at times I receive these vacant stares, akin to “You talkin’ to me?” Why yes, you’re the only person on this street.

It is these “I am so busy I don’t have time to acknowledge you” people that I have made my personal mission to convert (I know, kinda passive, right?). When I see one of these types getting ready to bowl me over in their path, I crack a wide smile and say “good morning.”

It totally throws them and forces them to look up from their phones – to see the beautiful desert mountains, our rich blue skies and fun and quirky inhabitants. I mean, isn’t that why you’re visiting?

I like to think of it as my small way of improving humanity.

I feel better after I say hello to people and it is definitely a good way to start your day. I think if more of us sought out that interaction, we all might be in a better space.

So, the next time you see another human being while on the street or in a supermarket or pumping gas, try a “Hello” or “Good day.”

Take a Hike: February 2022

I have never considered myself to be “outdoorsy.” I mean, sure I liked to camp every now and then, and I appreciated the wide open spaces, but I am not one of those REI-inspired, granola-eating, wool sock-wearing kinda people.

Then, I moved to Palm Springs.

Throughout my life I had been drawn to the magnificent San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountain ranges. Their beauty has always calmed and centered me, and they provide a stunning cloak of refuge for the Coachella Valley.

When I moved here, I quickly learned that a lot of other folks appreciate their beauty as well. So much so in fact, that this time of year, you see little dots of people climbing along their expanses. At night this can be quite dramatic as you see pinpoints of light traversing the hills of Tahquitz Canyon as night-hikers make their way home.

During my first full-time year out here, I had settled into a nice gym routine. Lift weights, pound the elliptical machine, rinse and repeat. I like to sweat, so that did the trick.

Then, COVID struck.

No more gym, no more exercise machines. As I am taco-obsessed, I wondered, “How am I to work off my addiction?”

“Look to the hills!” A voice called in my head. “Take a hike!”

It was March, so it wasn’t too hot. I took my first big trek – South Lykken Trail. It is a “moderate” hike and my pulse did get up to 120 bpm a few times, so it was a sufficient work out. I liked commandeering the rocks and monitoring my progress going up the hill.

What I did not anticipate, however, was the beauty at the top.

Suddenly, I was overlooking all of Palm Springs and I felt such a sense of awe – I mean how could a place be as beautiful as this?

I hiked further and came across a herd of big horn sheep.

Talk about a jaw dropper.

I wasn’t sure how to respond to their presence. I didn’t know if they would try to butt me or bite me or kick me down the side of their mountain.

So, I stood there in awe and quiet. Suddenly this feeling of gratitude and beauty overwhelmed me. How does something so incredibly striking as a bighorn grace this crazy planet?

And yet, there they stood, eyeballing me, as I looked at them with tears in my eyes.

I slowly walked away, understanding that I had been in the presence of greatness, at least for a few minutes.

I walked back down the hill, thankful that I had been granted this gift.

From that point on, during the cooler months I have made it a point to take a hike at least once a week. I have expanded my treks – Araby, Museum, Indian Canyon, North Lykken, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, you get the picture.

Looking back two years, it was weird the first year of the pandemic. We were all still under heavy mask-mandates, not knowing exactly how COVID was spread. While hiking, the majority of people I encountered were always fully masked and respectful. We gave each other wide berths as we traversed the trails.

While I was huffing and puffing under the thickness of masks, I would say to myself: “Imagine how easy this will be when masks go away?”

Ha!

Well, it’s been a few years and I find around October that I once again get that itch to hit the trails. Each time, I find new paths and new adventures.

I like to play games with myself while on these treks.

My favorite hiking playlist is John Williams, who just so happened to have penned the themes for “The Poseidon Adventure,” “Earthquake” and “The Towering Inferno.”

I am a BIG fan of seventies disaster flicks, so I often fantasize that I am the last living person on the planet, searching for signs of life amidst the rubble while being lullabied by these overwrought scores.

It’s a lot of fun.

I find that hiking is an incredible way to practice mindfulness. When you are confronted by uneven paths, prickly bushes and side-slanted rocks, there is absolutely no way you can do anything else but to be in the moment. To be present.

I find that the hour or two I am on a trail is like taking a mini-vacation from myself. While on the hill, all I can think about is the path ahead of me and what it will take to get up the next part without breaking my leg. Then, before I know it, I’ve made it to the top and back, a bit tired perhaps but strangely at peace.

Nothing can beat that feeling.

So, if you find yourself in search of something new, I only have one thing to say… “Take a hike!’

And, with that, I end this as “Poolside From PS.”

Good Deed Doing: January 2022

A little good can go a long way.

I discovered this over recent months as frustration with issues like homelessness, COVID and the divisiveness in this country began to weigh on my shoulders like a 10 pound sack of russets.

I wondered, “What could I, one small speck of a human being, do to improve things?”

The answer, I find, is easier than it appears.

I typically give to Coachella Valley nonprofits – FIND Food Bank, The Coachella Valley Rescue Mission, etc. My donations have increased since the pandemic as nothing pries my tight wallet open like the sight of vehicles lined along Avenida Caballeros with those seeking food to keep their families fed.

Before Thanksgiving, I was at Smoketree Plaza when I saw a “Fill This Bus” event going on. Without a thought, I walked into Ralphs and filled a bag with the groceries I would want to see on my Thanksgiving table. Into the bus they went!

It felt great to do that spur of the moment “good-deed-doing” and it gave me a spiritual boost for a few days.

Turns out, one shot wasn’t enough and I soon needed another fix. I began looking for more good-deed-doing opportunities. Remember that movie, “Pay it Forward”? Over the years I kept the concept in my head, although I didn’t act on it often enough.

Finally, one day a few weeks ago I was in line at the 99 Cents Store (the best place to get those pumice stone toilet cleaners). A lady stood before me and seeing I only had a few items, asked, “Would you like to go ahead of me?”

Since I retired a few years ago, I have forced myself to take things more slowly and she appeared a bit rushed, so I said, “Thanks. I’m good.”

As we waited, we chatted about our mutual distaste of broken tortilla chips as she toyed with a bag she had in her hands. Her clothes were stained and she thumbed through her purse with that “I hope I have enough to pay for this” look.

The clerk began ringing up her items.

Suddenly, it went off like a lightbulb in my dim brain. “Pay it forward!”

When the clerk finished ringing up her items, I blurted out: “Would it be okay for me to get these for you? I need to do a good deed today.”

She looked at me in disbelief, while perhaps wondering “Is he some sort of trafficker who’s gonna shove me into a van outside?”

She responded. “Really? Are you serious?”

“Yeah, if that’s okay with you.”

She smiled as wide as could be and said, “That would be really kind. Are you sure?”

I had never been so sure.

After she left, the clerk said, “Hey man, that was good of you. The world needs more of that!”

I thought, yes we do as I walked out into the parking lot. The woman ran up to me, stuffed a business card in my hand and said if I ever needed help to call her.

Elvira was a housecleaner.

I got in my car and suddenly started weeping. I cannot describe the feeling of gratitude I had as I recalled times in my life when I was struggling and never thought I’d get ahead. Now, I was in the position to share my blessings and it made me feel good to do so.

A few weeks later, I was in a particularly foul mood and decided to visit Taco Bell (don’t judge) as I had a Dorito taco craving (I said don’t judge). I was looking at the menu, barely aware of the woman who was mumbling to my left. She said, “Go right ahead, I can’t make up my mind” followed by all this other gibberish. I looked over and saw she was likely a homeless person who was deep in a conversation with herself.

I ordered my food and she continued talking and trying to make sense out of the menu. I smiled at her and without blinking, told the clerk, “I’m gonna pay for her order.”

I turned to the woman and said, “What should we get you to eat? My treat.”

She said tacos and “French fries, I want French fries.” The clerk smiled, “We don’t have fries.”

I was thinking, “She might be a regular here.”

We went back to selecting her food. It was difficult as she changed her choices constantly and asked for fries a second time. At that point, I said, “How about we get you a burrito box?” or whatever the current special was.

She said thank you and a whole bunch of other things I couldn’t understand. I paid for her meal and handed her the receipt.

“You sure you don’t need it?” she asked gingerly.

“No, you keep it.”

I sat down to eat my lunch and soon she got hers.

While dining, I looked over at her as she ate. It was as though all these flies were above her head talking to her at the same time as she was trying to eat. She would chew, talk and whisk them away, chew, talk and whisk.

As I looked more closely, I noticed she looked about as well kept as a homeless person could be. I thought, “She might have been somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother, somebody’s….”

And, amidst all these voices in her head, she was able to express thanks over the kindness of a stranger. I felt humility rise in my throat as I once again felt gratitude.

My mood suddenly lifted like clouds breaking in the sky, and the Dorito taco had never tasted so good.

I noticed that this time I didn’t even hesitate to step in and help. It felt natural and I knew it was the right thing to do.

I mentioned my newfound hobby to a friend and he said, “Don’t you think you’re being presumptuous? Assuming people need your help?”

It didn’t matter, I explained. They hadn’t asked me for anything. I volunteered freely and the benefit I received far outweighed any of my good-deed-doing.

I have decided to add good-deed-doing to my arsenal of self-maintenance tools. I mean if we care for our physical and mental health, why not do the same for our spiritual well-being? Plus, if each of us made an effort to do one kind thing for a stranger every now and then, imagine how the world could change!

This I have learned because a little good-deed-doing goes a long way.

And with that, I end this as “Poolside From PS.”

PS Posts

Giving Thanks: December 2021

It’s not often that you’re given a second chance, but I’m smart enough to know – when it happens, carpe diem! It is because of this opportunity redux that I now find myself giving thanks for gifts I didn’t realize were right in front of me.

My understanding of the importance of this came during the recent wedding of my niece. The family lives in Fresno, so coming from Southern California, I guess you could define it as a “destination wedding” – well, for me at least.

My spouse and I drove my mother up north the day before the grand event. I love my mother, but like most moms, the thought of spending 3 to 4 hours driving through dust fields and produce orchards with her was a bit daunting.

While I was in the work force (I am now “retired”), on trips such as these, my mind was always preoccupied with thoughts of what I needed to be doing at work, rather than focusing on what I was presently doing, such as driving Miss Daisy, I mean my mother. This caused me to at times become annoyed with the banter – didn’t people realize I had important stuff going on?

Strangely, this time it was different.

We arrived at our hotel, checked in and soon were meeting my siblings and their families for dinner at a local Italian restaurant. In the past, my mind would have been muddled with thoughts about which deadline I had to meet or which project needed completion, rushing through dinner so I could get back to the hotel room and check my work emails.

What I learned after ending my career a few years back, was how much of an intrusion all that corporate ladder-climbing caused on my familial and personal life. As that part of life has ended, I now find my mind free to enjoy the presence of other people.

As we sat through dinner, the conversation flowed freely; my great-niece and nephew who are toddlers kept the table entertained with their antics. I asked myself, “Why didn’t I see this when my own nieces and nephews were that age?” I was also amazed how much laughter was taking place. I didn’t seem to recall that in my past life.

It is probably because I was so obsessed with the next job, the next promotion, the next, well you get the point.

The following day was the wedding. As we sat during the beautiful ceremony I looked over at my nephew who was playing with his niece, my grand-niece. She was thoroughly enjoying the situation and as I looked up at the altar to see my niece who was being wed, it reminded me that I too once played with her like that.

I realized the profundity of the passing of years. I recall my constant ladder-climbing while my nieces and nephews grew. I missed many family events as I was always working or traveling for work. They didn’t seem to mind my absence and refer to me as their “funcle.” Inside I knew, it was all smoke and mirrors, I was playing with them while planning my next career move.

During the wedding dinner, I felt somehow different. I noticed how young everyone seemed. Suddenly, I was sitting at the “old people’s” table and I was unexpectedly fine with it. There was music, toasts and dancing, and through the joy of it all, something happened – I became quiet in myself.

I looked at all my family scattered throughout the room, and realized these people have always been a part of my life, whether I wanted it or not. And, they were always there if and whenever I needed them – whether I realized or acknowledged it or not.

I understood it was now my time to be part of it; to accept it for what it is.

At one point in the evening, one of my sister-in-laws pulled me out of my seat, “Let’s dance Manuel.” Before we knew it, my spouse and other family members joined us, and as we moved with the beats of the music, I felt washed over in the knowledge that these people were and are all a part of me. It is an indescribable feeling.

I know, some people may be saying “Well, you don’t know my family” and that is true, and this isn’t meant as a slight to those who can’t have relationships with their families. In my case, for too many years I kept mine at a comfortable distance as I was always the “different one,” understanding that they couldn’t possible appreciate who I truly was.

Now, I see, it doesn’t matter.

They have their flaws and I have mine, but now I see when we’re together, none of that is important. What matters is we have these wonderful and sometimes complicated memories which are part of our bond. We have blood ties and we share a long and complex history. We are also creating new memories for be called upon in future times.

Since our return, I haven’t been able to shake the feelings I experienced in Fresno. I wonder “How did I not see all of this for so many years?” 

I realize it was a trade-off. By sacrificing time spent with loved ones I was able to secure an early retirement.

When I stopped working, I vowed to myself to make up for the lost time. I have since made concerted efforts to take my mother to doctors’ appointments and to do other “family” things. My trip to Fresno proved it can be done – and be enjoyable at that.

I give thanks for having all these crazy, lovely people in my life, and I look forward… I look forward to my other nieces’ and nephews’ nuptials and to seeing my great-nieces and nephews growing and continuing our family line.

And, when the time comes for me to pack it in, I know I will smile as after all the years of neglect, I made it all back – I will give thanks for being given a second chance to appreciate the things that surround us each and every day.

And with that, I end this as “Poolside From PS.”

Just Who Is Nextdoor: November 2021

When I first bought my home in Palm Springs you can imagine my excitement at receiving an email inviting me to get local updates on my very own “Movie Colony East” neighborhood. 

The web site was Nextdoor.com and I signed up and put up my first post. “Hi, I’m Manny and I look forward to meeting all my new neighbors!” So many “thumb’s ups” and “hello’s”; I felt so welcome.

Back then I was still a “weekender,” commuting back and forth to Los Angeles. I felt at ease while away as I kept apprised on my little hamlet with updates on things like crime, coyote-spottings and a plethora of lost and found pets.

For the unknowing, Nextdoor.com defines itself as “the neighborhood hub for trusted connections and the exchange of helpful information, goods, and services.”

What I have since learned is that it can also be a forum for caustic, over-bearing, anger-filled personalities – which can be quite entertaining if you’re in the right frame of mind for that sort of thing.

I discovered the dark side of Nextdoor.com when I moved here permanently. At first everyone seemed so very nice and civil and helpful and made me feel oh-so-welcome in the place I chose as my retirement home. One post even saved my Tecoma Yellow Belles from a horrible skeleton moth invasion (heck I didn’t even know I had a Tecoma Belle before seeing it on Nextdoor).

Then, the pandemic hit.

It was as though a seismic shift happened overnight – imagine the magic kingdom turning into nightmare on elm street.

Suddenly, comments were littered with pejoratives such as “idiot,” “fool” and “I’ll squash you.”

Really? Where did all the civility go?

Suddenly Nextdoor felt uncomfortable. At one point, I responded to a post and received a response: “Well, Manny Padilla, you’re just a plain, stupid idiot.”

Huh? I checked to see who wrote the comment as I figured it must be someone I knew. I thought a total stranger who knew absolutely nothing about me couldn’t possibly call me a stupid idiot.  It usually takes a while to figure that out about me.

But, then, there it was, plain as day. A total stranger had indeed called me a stupid idiot.

I wanted to lash out (I’ll show them who’s an idiot!), but after taking a few deep breaths, decided to take the high road.

“Dear XX, there really is no need to call a total stranger a ‘stupid idiot.’ I would hope we’re all more civil than that.”

So there.

I must have got the person where he/she lived, as they sent back an apology.

I found myself one day walking through the supermarket and wondering: “Could that be the man who called me an idiot?” No, he seems too nice. I continued, “Could that be the lady who posted something saying they’d die before wearing a mask as they aren’t a sheep.” No, she’s too old and frail-looking.

From then on, I’ve learned to be more cautious about my questions and responses. This has been trickier as it seems every post lately ends up taking a political slant.

For example, a recent discussion on a proposed Palm Springs disposal fee increase. Within a few comments on the thread, responses started drifting to “Whatever is costing us more money, I think we all know who is responsible…”  (Insert subsequent banter here.)

Huh? I knew the president had power, but I didn’t know he was powerful enough to increase rates on our local trash pick-up.

We also have a ton of posts on local crime. If you’re new to Nextdoor.com, you might think we have a crime happening every second here (which isn’t the case, I check the stats). Yet, there it is, once again, plain for all to see: “Crime is out of control and the city does nothing and it’s because of who we have as elected officials – especially in Washington!”

And then, that topic and thread, like so many others before it, goes down the worm hole.

Another popular theme is COVID. Yes, we’re talking masks and vaccines.

There have been a few posts about “XX supermarket isn’t enforcing mask protocols, boycott it!” or “They didn’t ask for my vaccine card at XX restaurant – nobody go there. They’re killing people!!!!”

O.k., I exaggerate, but some of the posts and responses are akin to that. Seriously.

Yes, I understand how serious COVID is (lest I be called a stupid idiot again), but I do understand that at this point in the game, everyone knows what’s at stake and what the rules are. I find it hard to try to go after local businesses over something that truly is out of their control. So I refuse to jump on that band wagon.

As you can see, posting on Nextdoor.com these days can be a bit of a minefield. As mentioned, I’ve learned to tread lightly.

However, every week or so, I’ll see a post which gives me hope anew. “Hi, I’m XX, I just moved here and look forward to meeting all my new neighbors.”

Be careful what you wish for…

And with that, I end this as “Poolside From PS.”

Learning to Detach: October 2021

Take a deep breath for five long seconds. Hold it for five. Now, release for five.

Doesn’t that feel much better?

If the above sounds familiar, it is because it is a commonly used breathing technique to help reduce stress. And, it’s been something I’ve been practicing a lot lately.

You see, it appears that just when we thought things in the world were settling down and that big ole’ nasty virus was gonna be a ghost in our rear view mirror, things have again amped up.

For me at least, they’re at a point where I feel the need to “detach” – for lack of a better term. I am learning however, this “detachment” does not come easily and it does indeed take practice – lots and lots of it.

Once news hit that a vaccine was being rolled out, I think many of us – falsely – assumed it would just be a matter of time before everyone received their shot and we could once and for all get back to normal after a stressful year or restrictions, death and disease.

Spoiler alert: I never thought there would be a debate over actually taking the darn vaccine.

We’ve all had lots of vaccines – for the measles, mumps, tetanus – but this one is different. It has not been around for as long. And, its debut came attached with some political debris. It seems folks decided to turn medicine into politics and suddenly the roll out of this vaccine became fraught with debate.

As we’ve continued to see new outbursts of variants, we all agree – this has gone on long enough. One day out of frustration I posted on Facebook: “To the unvaccinated: Your ‘personal choice’ is killing people!”

Uh oh, danger Will Robinson.

Suddenly, I learned several of my family members had not been vaccinated nor do they have any intentions of doing so (from what I’ve read many families are experiencing this). It was bad enough to have the realization that one of my family members could get sick and possibly die because of their unwillingness to follow a health protocol, but what made it worse was that I started a bit of a spiff online, right there on my FB post.

I did not anticipate this and did not want it. Suddenly the “us vs. them” was within my family and it was causing me personal distress. I did my best to quell the situation and then came to a decision – “Manny, you have to detach from these conversations and this situation. It is way too stressful and could cause damage to your relationships.”

Oye, is that easier said than done.

I avoided social media for a bit, dialed down my news consumption and began practicing meditation again, saying to myself “You can only control yourself and your reaction to things, nothing more. The universe continues to unfold as it should and this all shall pass…

…Now breathe Manny!”

With that breath came calm. I tested it out by looking at Facebook and Twitter (I wasn’t going to let any post get my goat!).  With practice, it began to work.

Having conquered Facebook, I decided to try nextdoor.com as I knew that would be an even greater challenge.

For those of you who don’t know nextdoor.com, it is a web site where folks post information about things going on in their local neighborhoods. It can also be a hotbed of malcontents who anonymously go for the throats of any neighbors who don’t agree with them.

I looked at the posts: “They didn’t check for vaccine proof at this restaurant – boycott it!” “People walked around without masks in the supermarket – report the management!”

My fingers trembled at the keyboard. I wanna, I wanna, I wanna…. Breathe five, four, three… My fingers calmed and my brain slowed down.

I learned an obvious yet valuable lesson: “You don’t have to respond to everything.”

There are still days when my fingers get the best of me (don’t get me started on political memes), but I am finding myself to be much more content by not responding to every little post that screams: “Respond to me!”

My outlook is improving and I am resolved that “Whatever people do with their lives comes with consequences which don’t necessarily involve me.” As I’m getting better at this detachment thing, I’ll leave it at that.

And with that, I end this as “Poolside from PS.”