Saturday, June 25, 2016

If Artists Were So Lucky

My best friend and I have been having roughly the same argument over the past decade. About what you ask? Well, my feelings that sports figures make too much money. I always mused how can a man or woman who is playing a "game" demand and GET the sums they are being paid to play said games. A million, ten million, twenty-five million a year to play ... baseball, basketball, football, soccer, tennis; games we all played as kids and often played for our PE requirements in high school.

The most valuable soccer teams and players in worldwide soccer
We had a particularly heated "discussion" the other night after a few Margaritas when I brought up the topic of the 10 most valuable soccer teams and players in the world. We were watching Argentina beat the pants off the Americans in the Copa America Championships at the local watering hole. I had read the article on the left that afternoon at lunch. It was an eyeopener.

Later that evening, I spotted an article online talking about art and how the market was red hot right now. They mentioned a series of new museums where billionaires show off what they have collected over the years as they have reaped their fortunes.

Suddenly it dawned on me there were three things at play here:

  1. You have the artist, usually a poor starving creature, that in death might become famous. Van Gogh certainly comes to mind where an unsigned painting of his, recently re-discovered, is worth $25 million and he never made a dime.
  2. The collector who literally buys low and reaps the rewards as the years go by. Think of Peggy Guggenheim with all her Jackson Pollack's today worth hundreds of millions. One Jackson painting now being display in Iran from the Shah's wife's collection was appraised at $250 million.
  3. And finally the collector to be that amasses a fortune and then wants to do something with it. You could think of Carnegie, Rockefeller, Getty, Broad and possibly today Magic Johnson. 
I had to consider, what is the difference? And artist toils away for up to decades often in obscurity. A successful athlete, probably less than 1% of all players in the market has at best 10 - 15 years of potentially high earning power. If you watch ESPN enough, the talking heads prattle on about some of these athletes with terms usually used to describe a painting, or book, or music ... men and women who are artful, inventive in their moves, have a vision of each play, willing to try new moves. Wouldn't that describe paintings directly from the mouth of some docent?

The difference of course is that as a friend said, "Never invest in something that eats." The lifespan of a star athlete is as long as the next serious injury ... and event that will end his career instantly. The sad thing is that many will end up bankrupt in 8 - 10 years, about the same amount as lottery winners. With crippled bodies and with or without college degrees (ever seen the writing of O. J.Simpson?) many are almost functionally illiterate. For every Magic Johnson 20 or more will be poor and bankrupt in a few short years. While many artists toil away, unless they breathe in too much solvent, or fumes from some other material they use for their art, they generally have a longer lifespan. Picasso died in his 90's painting almost till the very end and was one of a very few artists, like very few athletes, that became extremely wealthy. Sadly though, not as wealthy as the patrons who bought his art and later had it appraised for far more than they paid for it! Supply and demand. It is the same for the world of art as the world of sports.

One of the guys in my old church group would repeat, and often, when discussing the world, politics in particular, "Money turns the crank." I realized as I apologized the next day, that who am I to judge? No one is putting a gun to anyone's head to reap those millions bouncing a basketball, hitting that home run or barreling down a football field in front of thousands of screaming fans. Sports, like any kind of art, takes us to another place, a place where the burdens of life are momentarily put aside allowing us to appreciate what we ourselves cannot do.

Ultimately though, great artists like great athletes can only offer the world their talent. Their talent is what makes them unique. Or, as George Orwell says at the end of ANIMAL FARM, "Some animals ARE more equal than others."

Thank you for reading my blog. Please check out earlier blogs that discuss how we and many others design the lives we live.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

How Dogs Change Our Lives

While I did write about my dog Maggie, my current companion, a friend sent me this and I found it was TOO good to pass up. I howled at each set of cartoons and if you are an animal lover, especially if you have a dog, this will certainly resonate with you.

Is this design? Well, let's put it this way, we design our lives in a variety of ways and pets of any kind are part of the living we design. Think about it. Painting, gaming, working, petting....

Here is the bachelor leisurely at dinner. Remember before, eating in peace and now after? Don't leave anything out on the counter either. A friend dog-sitting discovered the last piece of cherry pie he was hungering for had its tin licked miraculously clean on the kitchen floor. We had to pump Maggie's tummy after she took off the counter at least several pounds of Christmas cookies and eaten them bag and all. She looked like she had saddle bags along her ribs before we had her tummy pumped out.

Ah yes, what you car looks like after your companion rides shotgun with you. I had to replace a stolen vehicle and wanted a light color fabric here in the desert of Palm Springs. Watching Maggie, who's a black lab rapidly greying shed hair on the rental car seats I decided that black fabric was just fine. Brushed today she sheds today as well! That lovely Mazda dove grey fabric would look like hell in no time at all!

Luckily, as a man I have no stuffed things ... well, except for a stuffed duck that squeaks. Yup, that too is torn apart after one too many games of tug-of-war. After all she is a retriever!

Remember those days of disposable income before a pet? I don't either. Instead its bags of food at Petco, bills for shots, Vet bills, doggy poopy bags since free plastic shopping bags are a thing of the past ... and of course doggy treats. She even knows where they are and if mentioned goes to the kitchen and waits.

I can remember my iPhone took all kinds of scenic photos ... now it is replete with photos of the dog ... begging, sleeping or playing tug-of-war. They just are so cute!

The lifetime of your electronics. I must admit mine doesn't hurt them per say, but she has a habit of walking through cords disconnecting the plug outlet and hours later, when using say an iPad or more critically your iPhone, you find the battery power is less than when you plugged it in. A quick look finds the charger laying on the floor as she patiently looks at you laying beside it.

Yes, remember those Star Trek binges on Netflix, or gaming for hours on the Internet or tossing back a few with your buddies? Well, with a dog those days are pretty much over. If you are sitting there watching TV a cold nose nuzzles you and reminds you its time for a walk. Not just any walk either ... but a loooong walk where every tree, bush, telephone pole or hydrant must be meticulously inspected today and every day, forever! Mine has taken to looking for lizards. For a 9 year-old dog she is wickedly quick. Because retrievers look up like humans, lizards are not safe on walls either! The lizard population here at the complex is diminishing or disappearing before she can find them.

I don't know about you but, well, I wouldn't want her any other way. I have created a life for the two of us. She is one of the sweetest dogs I have ever owned and is loved by all. However, just like having a child changes your life, there are more than a few similarities living with man's best friend!

Thank you for reading my blog. Please check out earlier blogs that discuss a wide variety of topics that all record the designs of our lives.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Father's Day 2016

My GMC truck was stolen here at the condo
so this is the replacement, a very red Mazda CX-5
The last 6 months have seen many changes in my life. In fact more in these months than probably the last 20 years. I went to court December 4, 2015 for my divorce and freedom, I moved from the Assisted Living Home I wrote about earlier in Alhambra, CA  to Palm Springs, CA, January 4, 2016. Well, truth be told, my life will never ever be the same.

It was only in talking to a friend regarding "my" feelings about being a father on Father's Day, telling him what being a father meant to me, the events in Orlando, FL, a visit to my sister, our first face to face meeting in nearly 20 years and the email where my daughter revealed that she had married two months before, that I began to reflect on all that has happened to me in the last 18 months. He urged me to write them and express what I told him. Since I have not heard from my son and the email from my daughter was a reply from a Christmas message, well .... I respond here.

I was delayed in knowing what I was. I had a plan ... college, work, marriage, a home and two children. When that was all achieved, well, there was no more plan. I wanted kids. I can remember each of their births like it was yesterday. The son that popped out like a cork caught by the doctor before they both sat on the floor, to the daughter with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. The labors were mercifully short. Four hours for the son, 2 ½ hours for the daughter. The first thing they saw when opening their eyes was me as I held each of them in my arms. I cried then at their birth and I cry now at my loss. I realize I can't ask for forgiveness, instead ask for understanding. You see, that at the age 69 it was revealed that I was Gay.

My childhood was, to say the least, difficult. Rather high maintenance, something I only realized a few years ago, my mother didn't know what to do with me. It was difficult for her and in reflection my father was actually more of a mother. He died at 40 when I was 16 to a blood condition that I inherited and nearly died of at 55.

After graduation there was a sidestep into the Peace Corps, then returning in the 1969 recession ended up at K-mart and a transfer a few months later to California in 1970 where I have remained ever since. I married in 1977 to a wife more than 10 years younger who became a teacher. We have been married 38 years now. My divorce petition, for obvious reasons, was filed in October 2015 but still drags on.

I loved my children and became, to the best of my ability, a good father. I drove them to the doctor, twice weekly when my daughter was diagnosed with asthma for her allergy shots, soccer games, swim meets, for years to their grade and later high school ... many of you know the drill. It was a pleasure watching them grow and mature. In fact if asked, I would say having them and helping with their ability to be independent was the hallmark of my life as a man. My mother once told me that she never held me, "I wanted you to be independent." In fact the hours of rocking them, being with them, always on call for a hug, shoulder for tears was what made them independent. They had a safe place and warm hug to go to. I never did.

Living on my own has not been easy. Because I came out as a Gay man, I lost much of my family and friends, in fact friends I have known for 40 years and more. It seemed to make little difference that I was the same person after it was revealed; the fact that a 69 year old man was Gay was all it took.Yet the few friends and family I've kept have been incredibly supportive, understanding and kind.

One of the reasons I moved to Palm Springs was that it was a safe haven, though after Orlando is any place safe? In fact, so many of the men I've met here had similar stories. When you are in the closet, you feel that you are all alone. Because men don't talk, oftentimes, we never know. Despite the fact my doctors said that there was no reason to tell people I was Gay or what my HIV status was, it was none of their business, I think that finally, Orlando brought it all to a head. The truth be told, LGBT people have no choice, IT JUST IS. I have yet to meet someone who choose to be Gay. Why would you? History has shown over and over again being different "in that way" can lead to irreparable harm. The time, though, for all of us has come to speak out.

A friend sent me a link to MSNBC and watching it on my phone I turned to my sister and told her to change the TV channel to MSNBC. All day we watched as the story unfolded. Yet 10 minutes into the horrifying news I turned to her and said, "He was gay." Comments by the ex-wife, the crazy father and people that knew him point to this fact. The most homophobic people are usually deeply closeted gay men or women who in protecting their secret seem to make a crusade in outdoing their "straight" friends in denigrating their LGBT brethren. How many homophobic ministers or politicians have been exposed that, like J. Edgar Hoover, had skeletons in their closet? Only their skeletons were in fact living, breathing lovers of the same sex.

Fatherhood is a privilege. While for some it is easy to procreate to know those that can't and want children is an overwhelming sadness. I believe that children temper us, forcing us to think of another besides ourselves. You learn that love is limitless; there really is something besides yourself. Holding my babies I realized how helpless they were, how dependent they were on me and their mother. A good parent puts them before self even when the desire to be alone, to sleep, to have fun is trumped by the lack of sleep rocking a sick child, putting off that fun party because you can't get a babysitter, doing things for them instead of yourself. Your entire life changes. I can't begin to tell you how many friends expecting their first child would chat after the birth and recount what we had told them was true. It isn't a long time in actual years though, there are times when it seems like it will last forever. There is sacrifice to be sure yet the final product, we hope, is worth the price.

While the society I grew up in seemed to portray TV father's as bumbling idiots little good except for bringing home the daily bread, sociologists will tell you a father is important in the raising of a child. They allow a bit more freedom to children, they are or can be a firm presence when necessary and teach their sons and daughters what it means to be a man or woman, Gay or straight.

Happy Father's Day. Every father worth his salt, I congratulate you today. You know what it takes and hopefully took the time to do it right!

Thank you for reading my blog. I encourage you to read earlier posts because I believe design and the design of living go hand in hand.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

You Can't Go Home Again: You may not want to either

Palm Springs right now is hot. VERY hot. After days of living a kind of monastic life hiding from the heat of up to 115º and unless it was pee & poop time for my dog Maggie, who I might add seems oblivious to the heat concentrating instead on catching lizards, we hid inside! Anyway, you lay low, very low when the temperatures climbs to 115º.

Brookdale - Alhambra, CA
Last weekend, bored out of my mind, I  mean how many movies, how much TV and how many books can you read? I decided to visit friends in my old stomping grounds. Well, one after another was busy, not home so with Maggie, riding shotgun, I decided to visit my old assisted living home, Brookdale Alhambra.

I entered there a little more than a year ago in a wheelchair. After a series of medical issues I was placed in this facility after leaving both the hospital and a therapeutic care facility. I could walk but barely. While I never liked the home I did make some good friends and so since no one else was around, I decided to visit friends and see if anything had changed.

NO ONE wants to go into assisted living, even if they know, deep inside, they are unable to care for themselves completely. Facilities such as this merely warehouse you until the inevitable or they are no longer able to provide for almost hospice like needs. So, some walk, use canes or walkers or are in wheelchairs, sometimes getting around alone but often being wheeled about by a caregiver. It has a specific design management of residents and often, the residents are not happy.

Brookdale lobby - the death watch awaits
Brookdale Alhambra is one of a chain of residents with homes in 43 states managing (they say caring) for over 110,000 residents. Or as they say in OUR BRAND PROMISE: "Our brand promise tells prospective residents, family members, referral sources, partners, the media and investors that Brookdale is different and special. We are the industry leader and are changing this industry - something that no other senior living company can say." Ah ...  let me count the ways.

As one of the few that was able to leave NOT feet first but actually move and drive away, this facility, and you have to question all the others as well, was not up to snuff.

Simply entering the lobby was the first clue. As you later learn, the same people sit in the same chairs and snooze away there all day. It is depressing at first sight. If you sit in one of the "designated" spots, fights would break out. Until humiliated into action, the director finally replaced the burnt out bulbs in the lobby chandelier. It was a dreary place with a half hearted attempt to decorate monthly themes dictated by management in Tennessee.
From the garage to the lobby.

Typical Brookdale carpet
The place was filthy. Originally a motel built back in the 70's, the doorways were too small for wheelchairs. The red carpeting looked like it came over on the Mayflower and had been cleaned about as many times. There were two elevators, small things that could barely hold two people and two wheelchairs. For many it was the only way either to the lobby on the main floor or to the dining room one floor above. The entire structure had three floors. In case of a fire we were told, only on asking, to just stay in our rooms. The doors were fireproof. I was told by those in the know, they weren't. The other elevator went down to the garage and you went across the garage to the lobby and more carpet that caused many of us to trip, was removed and then put back into place so we could trip some more. All in all not a very safe environment for those with even the slightest disability.

It was good to see old friends. Some of the staff was still there (I moved out in January 2016) and many of the residents I knew, or at least those I wanted to see. I have talked to another resident who left because he just couldn't stand the place. They were both surprised and pleased to see me. We caught up on events ... people who have passed, new staff and what has been going on or more likely not going on.

Panorama of the dining room
Entry into the dining room. The metal
sash was so high wheelchair residents had
to enter backwards
Seeing that so little had changed was depressing. The lobby was a dreary as ever, the walls and floors were scuffed and the carpet still filthy. When they all said to come to lunch at 11:30 I followed them down, sat down with them at their table and answered questions. They were interested in my new life in Palm Springs, my trips, the moving and setting up of my condo rental.

However, as I talked my eyes wandered about, remembering the seating of everyone, noting that the chandeliers still had burned out bulbs and wondering if the carpet would ever be fully cleaned or replaced. A carpet in a dining room with seniors that dropped things all the time? Really?

When these issues were brought up at the residents council meeting, you could write a book on the list of reasons why it couldn't be done.  Case in point. The light switch that controlled the lights over the table I and my partner sat had a timer switch. Why, no one knew. It was nearly impossible to keep on and would shut off while you ate, if you could get it turned on. I pointed that out to the director finally and man oh man what a stream of excuses. It turned out my partner was a retired contractor and just looked at her. I said, "Michelle, you go to Home Depot, buy a normal on / off switch, take this one out and replace it with the new one. Five minutes tops." She didn't know what to say. However, that evening, we had a new switch.
Typical dining room chandeliers

The lighting in the dining room was so bad in certain areas that the cook had to bring out a stool and tried to replace some of the bulbs. I don't know, saving electricity? Since they were all CFL's wasn't that the point? They used less power? Maybe they were trying for a romantic ambiance or hiding the food.

However, it was when they brought the food out to choose from, that I nearly retched. It was the same crap and to a man or woman all opted for either a grilled cheese or hamburger that was actually pretty good. Nothing had changed and while I was offered lunch several times, I just couldn't. It looked that bad. I don't eat white rice to this day!

Our evening entree - beans and hot dog or slabs of tofu

We were supposed to have two entree choices ... one western and one Asian (at least 70% of the residents were Asian) but over time rice was offered on both entrees and they would serve items a good many of us were not supposed to eat.

One night was so bad, I got up and walked to a pub nearby that served wonderful craft beer and had a menu that was palatable.

Drip dripping away
For awhile there would be a daily menu. But when items were changed from what was printed that was dropped. Then they would place a sample of each meal for us to choose from. I can't tell you how many times many of us  would choose something else. For me the big problem was foods that had Vitamin K in them. If you are on blood thinners, you can't eat broccoli, spinach, cauliflower or drink cranberry juice, grapefruit juice, green tea and such. Guess what was on just about every lunch and dinner? Finally the servers would take out the offending vegetables and we would have flecks of them remaining with our carrots, corn and whatnot.

And if this doesn't turn your stomach while you are eating, you have a much better constitution that I do. Sitting near the kitchen dirty dishwater would creep in from the kitchen. This occurred more than once in my 10 month stay.

To be fair though, I will say that for a few months at least, this probably was the place for me to be. A series of pneumonia episodes laid me low and soon after arriving there, an orderly that checked on residents day and night found me unconscious on my bed, unresponsive running a 103º temperature. I was taken to the hospital where I remained for nine days. My lungs had completely filled with fluid.

Yup, salads were lettuce and dressing
For a home that "is different and special" getting fresh fruit and vegetables was a chore. In fact, you snooze, you loose. A few people would take all of the fruit if either apples, oranges or bananas were placed on the counter to take. Evidently they counted them because if the 5 or 6 of each were gone, there weren't any more. The same could be said about the salads ... something you had to ask for and then verbally make if you didn't want literally lettuce and dressing.

Yet, at the same time there were amazing shortcomings as well. Many of the bathrooms had had new fiberglass shower stalls installed yet not one of them had handholds. Bringing this up to the director I was told to get a suction cup type from Walmart. And, that would be when?  With no driver and fighting to even get to doctors appointments trips (though promised in the literature) getting anywhere was out of the question. I was told on and on why they couldn't be installed. When I slipped in the shower I had to page for help that took at least 30 minutes. I was naked and wet and couldn't get a good enough handhold to get up. After my last hospital bout, I found that two new handholds had been put in my shower even though a million reasons were given to me why it couldn't be done. Then later they went from room to room to see who did and didn't have shower handholds.

One night I woke up in the common restroom laying on the floor twisted in my walker. I pushed and pushed my alert button yet nothing happened. Luckily I had my cell phone with me and called the lobby to send someone to get me. I couldn't get up. Thirty minutes later, I know I was watching all this on my iPhone, they came to rescue me. I never used that walker again.

Crafting class
There were high points. As a crafter I had always wanted to teach. The several opportunities I had were laid low by two years in a row of illnesses. So, I volunteered to teach a class at the home. Even at 69 I was a youngster. Some couldn't speak a word of English, some did their own thing but I would get a crowd of 8 - 10 every week. I was given just about no budget so had to make do with what I could find around the home. We did have fun and I would see my students carrying around their latest project all day after class.

There were things to do and residents could participate or not. One of the biggest hurdles though was that everything was in English and many of the residents were Chinese. Some of those spoke Mandarin, others Cantonese and while the written language is the same, the spoken part is totally different. Still, many were game and I enjoyed working with them. I quickly learned seniors were little different from kindergarteners. I finally relaxed and let them do their own thing. Even at an hour, and oftentimes more, it was exhausting but exhilarating.

Even Christmas got short shift. Whatever
was found in closets and the decorations
made by my class, were the decorations.
When staff tried to take credit the class
vocally added that many of the decorations
were theirs, items printed by their teacher, me!
I have no idea what the other Brookdale's are like. Friends here in the desert took me to a facility of theirs here in the Coachella Valley and the difference, at least from the outside, was like night and day. However, I can easily understand why seniors don't want to go to them. You are ripped away from your surroundings, your support system ... church, shopping, friends, family are suddenly gone and you enter a kind of regimen that revolves around your meals and medications. It wasn't until after dinner, unless you just decided you wanted to miss a meal and could, that you had some truly free time and then, well, it was bed time!

Seeing all this after moving away, setting up my own digs as a bachelor, traveling again, experiencing freedom for the first time in many years, I realized how we design our lives. We all fall into a rut and truth be told, resent those that have, like me, broken from the past and are willing to forge a new life. Each person has to take their own path. With or without a lifetime partner, there are times in our lives when we need to start all over again. Renters next door sold everything and have moved from place to place now for six years. Husband and wife, older than me, seemed very alive and were wonderful people to chat with! So, as I saw firsthand it can be done.

Assisted living may be in my future again, but this time I hope that I will have more of a choice and that can help me make a decision that will be best for me.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please check out earlier blogs. All have a common these of how our lives are designed and how we respond to that!