Books are the gateway to imagination

Books are the gateway to imagination
Morgan welcomes you to her personal blog

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Woody Allen is back with a great new movie

Over the weekend I saw Midnight in Paris. I've been a Woody Allen fan for years, and my husband went to school with him, so seeing this film was a natural. It didn't disappoint.

We were enthralled from the first scene through the last, and so was the audience. As one would expect from an Allen movie the direction was perfect. Owen Wilson, in particular, was a standout. Okay, he is the star, but Wilson played his character so well we were with him every step of the way. Until the last line in the movie, you don't know if it is his imagination or not propelling him back in time. The celebrities he meets all pull it off in such a casual manner, it could be real---but is it?

Wilson has had his share of bad parts in recent years, and this one should put him back in the star ranking. I can't think of anyone who could have done it better.

The Paris scenery is captivating, and for anyone who has been to Paris it is right on. I enjoyed memories of walking the Champs Ellysees, eating mousse at a sidewalk cafe and just being immersed in the experience that is Paris. A quick flash of the Arc du Triomphe reminded me of the time I climbed to the top via a winding staircase comprised of what seemed like 500 stairs. I was panicked, wondering how I would get down when the person I was with, a fellow who was familiar with Paris, admitted that he'd played a trick on me and there was an elevator.

The story unfolds beautifully to a somewhat predictable conclusion. I highly recommend this movie because Woody Allen can still make a film that transports you to the world he creates. Allen doesn't need high tech devices and so many special effects the story gets lost in the process. All he needs is a good story, skilled actors and his superb direction.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Growing up in a happy family

Here's to my mother, Rosetta Lachman, whose brilliant smile guided us through the good times and the bad.

Some of us are fortunate---others are not. Every day the lucky ones read about horrific family situations and wonder how anything like that could ever happen.

But the people living in these disfunctional, sometimes violent families know all too well. I remember a fellow I dated back in the 1980's. His was an alcoholic family, given to vicious arguments at family dinners once his parents and siblings had consumed more booze than they should have. He only indulged in a glass of wine now and then. Once he said, "I can't stand going to those family events because I know all too well how they end."

My sister and I were so lucky. We had a wonderful mother and a wonderful extended family. Our dinners were filled with humor, horsing around, love and everything that goes with the sort of families depicted on the old "Father Knows Best" show of the 50's. I was 17 and my sister was 12 when our father, only 49 years old, was felled by a heart attack. We never knew of Mom's struggles to keep her head above water financially because she soldiered on. There was little insurance, as Dad had his first heart attack when he was 44 and was never able to get more insurance after that. Still, our apartment was filled with laughter and we were raised believing we could do anything we set our minds to.

Until we were adults with our own lives and families, we thought everyone had families like ours. The old Three Musketeers motto "all for one and one for all." We did lose track of the aunts, uncles and cousins on Dad's side after several years, but Mom's family remained close knit---they were always there for each other. Some in Chicago, some in Los Angeles and one in Phoenix. Mom, born in 1909,  was the youngest of ten children. Her brothers and sisters were all dedicated to each other. Many lived into their mid and late nineties, including Mom who nearly reached 97.

I remember the first time I witnessed the back-stabbing possible between siblings. I was in my thirties when I experienced the treachery that existed in my second husband's family. The stories I heard about why they were not in communication with each other seeme so foreign to me. Apparently, his grandfather had been notorious for not trusting banks. The family figured he had a minimum of $25,000 stashed in his apartment in the 1960s. The old man died and while the funeral arrangements were being made, one of the sisters stole the money, then embarked on conspicuous spending within a few weeks. The others stopped speaking to her. His mother's brother cheated her in a real estate deal, then sued her for commissions due to him for selling her an apartment building she lost because of cooked books that he was aware of. One more scratched off.

His mother's younger sister borrowed money to cover her husband's gambling debts. When it wasn't paid back, the two sisters never spoke again. This was so shocking to me, but my ex was used to it and accepted it as normal.

Today as I sit at my computer, time has passed and all of those older members of Mom's family are gone. I reflect upon how much it meant to all of us to be raised in a loving, positive atmosphere and how it helped to shape our lives. My cousin and I remain close, I write books with my sister and consider her my best friend, another cousin just told me they're moving to Las Vegas and I stay in touch with another cousin in Chicago. But the days of those crazy fun-filled family dinners with up to 40 people at a clip are gone, too. I miss them.

Monday, May 23, 2011


Just when you think you've seen everything on the news something comes along that makes you take notice.

Imagine that you're a cop on the freeway and all of a sudden you spot a speeding wiener wagon. What to do? That's just what happened in Scottsdale, AZ and it took 5 police cars to pull it over. There is more to the story, but the newscaster I saw reporting the event, complete with video, tried to keep a straight face and promised more later.  Unfortunately, he didn't have the details yet and I couldn't sit glued to the tube waiting for more titillating tidbits, so all I can write about is the memory it evoked.

So often one thing triggers the image of another. This news flash reminded me of the time my sister Phyllice and I actually got to go inside a wiener mobile and even got our own wienie whistles. We were doing a San Francisco sister long weekend--she lived in Juneau, Alaska at the time and I lived in L.A. We decided to go to the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose (great attraction if you haven't seen it). As we approached it, I spotted a shopping center down the street and, to my delight, a vintage car show in the parking lot.

I'm a vintage car lover, so I couldn't resist taking a peek. We made the detour. I dragged my sister from one fantastic car to another, and as we reached the end there stood the Oscar Mayer Wienie Wagon in all of its---well--wienie wonderfulness. We made our way around the iconic vehicle with strains of "I wish I was an Oscar Mayer wiener" playing in our heads. The door opened and the driver popped his head out.

"Would you girls like a tour of the wagon?" Naturally we hopped aboard, entering the realm of ketcup and mustard toned carpeting and everything else designed to scream hot dog. He showed us the custom dash, the "interesting interior" and allowed us to shoot some video, now long gone or possibly buried away in some storage box that will never be opened. Before we ventured back into the parking lot, he presented each of us with our own wienie whistle.

Back in the lot among the other classic cars, we decided to shoot video of Phyllice standing against the hot dog on wheels. In our mock commercial, Phyllice gave a pitch, then wrapped it up like a real pro. She tooted her whistle, flashed a million-dollar smile and quipped, "It's wienielicious."

How great to have memories like that, reignited by a picture, a sound, a smell, or in this case a speeding, wild wienie wagon.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Well, the prediction of doom once again failed to materialize. I for one wasn't worried because like I said, I had plans for today. Last night, I joined two of my friends here in Las Vegas and we went to the Echoes of the 60s rock and roll show at Planet Hollywood. I'd seen it before, and couldn't wait to go back. It didn't disappoint.

If anyone in the audience was worried about Harold Camping's apocalyptic prediction, it sure wasn't evident. It is an absolute feel-good show and I highly recommend that anyone who likes rock and roll check out this foot-tapping, finger-snapping, clapping experience. What better way to celebrate life on this earth than following the progression of rock from the Wall of Sound to the British Invasion and Motown. Add the West Coast introduction of surfing music and the psyhedelic strains of Woodstock at the end of the 60s for a fun journey peppered with personal stories from the cast--performers who traveled that road.

The show is produced by Gracie and Greg Fulljames and was conceived by Bill DeLoach, a member of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons for over twenty years and Danny Gans' piano player for more than a decade. In addition to DeLoach, (who does a hilarious impression of Mick Jaeger) the show features singer Marilyn James, multi-talented Ray Allaire, Michael Erardy, Fred Champoux, and Michael Dubay. Click here to find out more about them. Then buy a ticket and rock out.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Following up on James Durbin

Like many, I was shocked when James Durbin was ousted in the number four position on Idol. I haven't watched Idol since. The potential this season to skew voting because any person can cast up to 50 votes really turned me off. But I have followed what's happening for James. And, it makes me very happy.

He says that when he tried out for Idol he had no money, no job, no car, no driver's licence and no high school diploma. He was living at his mom's house and couldn't affort to buy diapers for his son. James had spent years being bullied because he was so different, diagnosed with Tourette's and Asperger's when he was ten. That was after his dad died when he was nine. He credits his fiance Heidi and young son with giving him the will to turn things around and provide his family with a good life by trying out for Idol.

James not only has the talent, but an ability to give young folks facing physical or mental challenges a glowing example of what is possible when the will and belief are there. Never in the history of Idol has a contestant below the top three had an official homecoming, but 30,000 fans welcomed James back to Santa Cruz in an event approved by the Idol powers that be. In an appearance on Ellen DeGeneres' show he said he had to learn to embrace the fact that he was considered weird. He jammed with Randy Jackson and Jimmy Fallon on Fallon's show and there is buzz about him recording an album. James has lots of people in his corner, and much more to deal with than the average performer.

I think this likeable young man will join the likes of Daughtry and Jennifer Hudson as one of the Idol contestants who didn't need the title to make it big. He has talent, he's a true showman and can wow an audience. Add to that a gracious, charming personality and you've got the whole package.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Apocalypse Again?

Okay folks, once again the end of the world is supposedly coming--this time by massive fires-- and a fellow named Robert Fitzgerald, a 60 year-old Staten Island resident, has put his money on the line. Either he believes it or figures he'll get back his investment with interest when it doesn't end on May 21 if enough of the people who did buy into this also buy his book.

Every several years someone or many someones hop on this bandwagon, but here we are--still standing! As for Fitzgerald, a retired MTA employee, according to the New York Post he spent his life savings to the tune of about $140,000 on subway posters, and ads on bus kiosks and subway cars. Yep! He set up a campaign to blast the message: "Global Earthquake: The Greatest Ever! Judgment Day May 21, 2011." Wait a minute. The tongue-in-cheek commentator on this morning's news said it would supposedly be  fire. Do they have their signals crossed, or will the fires trigger Fitzgerald's alleged earthquake?

The first question one would have to ask is 'why would someone spend all that money on advertising?' Well, in the case of Fitzgerald, he's written a self-published book, The Doomsday Code. He claims the Bible offers "proof that cannot be dismissed." So is it all a big advertising campaign? Does he hope folks will shell out the money for his book before everything goes KAPOW? After all, if his premise is true, they won't need any money after Saturday.

I don't know about you, but I have plans for Sunday. Apparently Fitzpatrick based his book on the teachings of a fellow named Harold Camping, an 89-year-old radio host. This guy has a rather poor track record when it comes to end-of-the-world prophecies, because he also went public with a prediction that the world would end on Sept. 6, 1994. If my math is right, that's just under seventeen years ago. Long enough for a kid to be born and graduate from high school and any number of other events. Heck, today's Camping's prediction for 1994 came to pass, neither the teens nor Beeber would have seen the light of day. Maybe that's a bad example, but we definitely wouldn't have had Facebook and the internet as we know it today.

Many, many years ago one of my friends was sucked in by a fiery minister who preached all of the bad things in Revelations. She walked around terrifed for days that she would go to heaven and her Lutheran husband would be left to endure Hell on earth. I remember consoling her by saying I was likely to be on Earth, too, so I'd look out for him. I wonder how many of Fitzgerald's books will be sold before last swipe of a credit card, and how will he feel when he opens his eyes on Sunday and nothing has changed?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Dear attorneys who do their own TV commercials,

I know you're spending your advertising bucks to get my business should I find myself going bankrupt, in an accident or any number of other events that make one scream, "I'm going to sue," or "I want a lawyer!" Advertising should be effective and inspire the person watching to feel you're the only one who can do the job.

I'm sorry, but most of you just aren't hacking it for me. If I'm going for blood, I don't want a really nice guy. I've gone that route and been screwed over royally by the diabolical opposing attorney. He has no idea how many people I referred to him after he wiped the floor with my nice guy. I don't want an attorney who is obviously reading a script and whose movements are one step beyond robotic. If litigation is involved, I want Perry Mason posturing and compelling the jury to believe every golden word that spills from his mouth.

If you have a suit that looks like it came of the "complete suit, shirt, tie, shoes and more for only $100 rack" I don't want you. That doesn't say success in my book. I also don't want an attorney who looks like they should be the defendant instead of the one hired to defend.

If I was going bankrupt, I'm not sure an attorney promising only $500 or $1,000 DOWN to get action started would make me pick up the phone (if it was still connected.) After all, if I had some money, I probably wouldn't be filing at all. And that word "down" is scary. I'm sure many people in dire straits wonder if they will have to promise their soul and future income to the devil for the rest of the payment.

Before going on TV to do that commercial--the one that will inspire people to stampede to your door and beg you to counsel them, take a look in the mirror. If you didn't know you, would you want to hire someone with your presentation? Don't get defensive because--well, you're you. Do your pitch in front of that mirror and view the person looking back at you as someone you've never seen before. If your honest reaction is one of the above, or something I haven't even thought of that says, "This isn't your man (or woman)" take thee to an acting coach and stylist. That is, if you are still hell bent on doing your own commercial.

As for me, and I hope I never find myself in that position again, I would be looking for someone who oozes self-confidence, has a good courtroom appearance, a compelling style and is believable even if the presentation is a fabrication worthy of a fiction bestseller.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Water for Elephants

Yesterday I saw "Water for Elephants." This is a very well-done movie that I highly recommend. I wasn't sure what to expect with Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattison, and even though many critics didn't feel the fire, I thought it worked. There were no remnants of a vampire about Pattison and you did care about him. I felt the frustration his character was experiencing, and the cruel circus owner/ringmaster August played by Christoph Waltz was right on. Reese was the abused wife---caught between love and hate. Afraid to stay but afraid to leave.

For me, the show stealer was Rosie the Elephant. What a love and how outraged I was when she was abused. She put me in mind of an elephant that used to be in some of the Las Vegas Hilton shows. The Hilton elephant Tanya was adorable---and she skipped with a nice pink bow tied around her tail. Back then I knew the sales manager at the Hilton, later the general manager of the Flamingo, and he said sometimes when things were slow they would take Tanya into the casino because she loved to pull the handles on the slots.

But I regress. This movie kept my attention all the way through with a cheer the hero, hiss the villain attitude. Oh yeah. I wouldn't be happy until August went down.

It's Saturday so this is short, but if you have a chance to see this movie by all means buy the ticket and travel back to 1931. Hal Holbrook, Pattison's character as a very old man, grabbed your heart.  Like I said, it has my recommendation.

Happy weekend.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Last night American Idol did it again!

Yep! This is definitely a RANT.

The multi-talented James Durbin, who never hit the Bottom Three once, and consistently delivered amazing performances, didn’t make it into the Top Three. Meanwhile, Haley Reinhart, albeit she has a good voice laced with occasional pissy attitude, sat on the bottom three stool four times, but she bested James and became a top three contender. She is joined by laid back Scotty McCreary and more mature than her age Lauren Aliana.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and James was my hands-down choice to become, as Ryan Seacrest would say: The nexxxt Amerrican Idol! Obviously a huge number of voters had another idea or James wouldn't have been bumped--or was it a huge number? Wish we knew the spread in votes. It would probably be interesting.

Like I said, everyone is entitled to their favorite and certainly justified in placing a vote for the singer they love. Here is the rub for me. Is everyone entitled to FIFTY VOTES if they vote online? See, if you do the math, and wonder where the SEVENTY-TWO MILLION votes came fromthe number that faux-astounded Ryan you would see that only 5,000 voters could reasonably commandeer the laptop until they hit FIFTY VOTES EACH.
Whoa. That’s TWO HUNDRED FIFTY THOUSAND votes! But, take it up a notch.
If FIFTY THOUSAND teens, tweens, middlesters or oldsters hit those keys FIFTY TIMES EACH, it becomes a whopping TWO MILLION, FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND VOTES.

Now that’s surprising, but it could have been worse. When  online voting was available at the start of the season, the vote limit was ONE HUNDRED VOTES PER COMPUTER. The number in my example would have swelled to FIVE MILLION from only FIFTY THOUSAND individual voters.

If you check the net, so many people are posting angry rants about the latest debacle. First it was the very talented Pia and now James. The judge’s praise for some of the outstanding contestants throughout these recent years seems to have been a curse rather than a boost. Look at what happened to Adam Lambert, Daughtry and Jennifer Hudson and several others that should never have been ousted when American got it wrong. And, then there was Chicken Little, but that's another story.
Many of the super-talented ousted contenstants went on to become superstars, or at least became successful performers, leaving that year’s Idol in the dust. Only a handful of the Idols achieved what those talents did. Lambert’s debut album outsold Kris Allen’s debut album by more than two to one the first week and he has thrilled audiences all over the world with his Glam Tour. Daughtry is a success story in itself and need I say more about Hudson? She nabbed a well-desrerved Grammy and an Oscar. Then there are the many of the also-rans like Constantine who went on to star on the stages of Broadway.

I predict James Durbin will become a star because he is the whole package - an innovative, dynamic singer and consummate showman. I would pay to go to his concert --- he’s metal/rock and I’m a bona fide senior, but I cut my teeth on rock and still love it. The guy is compelling on stage and that transcends age unless you hate rock or metal. Then you wouldn’t pay to see the best of the best anyway, because they’re not your thing.

The bloom is off the rose for me with Idol, however. Frankly, I don’t care which of the remaining three win. They simply aren't exciting. I certainly won’t clear my schedule to stay glued to the TV as I did when it meant one more performance from James Durbin. If I have time, I’ll watch. If not, I’ll do whatever is important to me. Too bad. I looked forward to seeing James every week, wondering what he would do next.

So, with all of that said, sometimes a boot in the butt is a boost and I say to James, “You are one talented dude. What you do from a vocal and performance angle while conquering your physical challenges boils down to absolutely stellar performances every single time. In my opinion, you are destined to join the likes of Daughtry, Hudson and Lambert. Godspeed to you. I foresee big things for you and your lovely wife and son.

As for Idol, you’ve skewed the voting power of America with those fifty votes, and put it in the hands of a few to produce millions of votes. What about having the judge’s opinions count for a portion of the points like many similar shows do? That way America gets its say, but so do professionals who recognize talent and also know what will sell. Otherwise, I’m afraid Idol will descend deeper and deeper into the fiasco I think it’s becoming.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Just when you think things can't get worse, they do. We learned our beautifully landscaped front courtyard and backyard were "dedicated use public space." We should have known that and what it meant, but we didn't. In other words, although those enclosed areas were part of our home-buying contract, and were dedicated to our exclusive use in the deed, they actually belonged to the HOA as public space. After four years of thinking they were ours to do with as we pleased, their nasty attorney informed us that we had no say over what the HOA decided to do with them since we didn't "own" those areas. Yes, we'd paid for the gardener and landscaping from the day we closed escrow, but all of a sudden the HOA laid claim to our sanctuary.

They sent in a crew to tear up all of the porcelain tile in both the back and front and tore out beautiful plants, then loaded up a dumpster with what had been our dream yard and courtyard. We stood by helplessly. Our attorney had checked every possibility of contesting this and came up empty-handed. He said only very cruel people would take this approach. They sent in a contractor to install plain cement in place of the slate-looking tile and ran it right up to the edge of the house and fences surrounding the property, leaving no room for plants. One funny thing did happen, however. There were some trees along the back fence and a small planted area remained in the courtyard. In their zeal the stupid contractor cemented right over the sprinkler controls. Since the sprinklers came with the house, we were able to insist they break the concrete and liberate the sprinklers.

As for repairing the house, by now the bitch president of the HOA had become ill and was replaced by her husband, a retired physician who was even worse than she was. He was backed by one resident who abused his wife and daughter and another who was a henpecked husband exercising his muscle with us. What a team! They forbid us to talk to the contractors, question them or anything, or they would cancel the repairs. One day my husband heard people in our back yard and went out to see what was happening. The President from Hell was conferring with the contractors, deciding how else they could cut corners. My husband tried to join the conversation---after all it was our home and we were paying the mortgage and HOA dues. This ass got right in my husband's face and yelled, "You just go back in the house! You're not allowed out here while we're discussing the repairs."

He came back in shaking and called the attorney, who consulted with construction law experts with long track records. The verdict? We were screwed.

They had accused us of causing the drainage problems by overwatering our lush landscaping (before it was all torn out with a vengeance) in a yelling/shouting HOA meeting that left me in tears with all the residents of the complex giving me hateful glares. The Terrible Three had convinced everyone that we were devils incarnate out to cheat the HOA out of money that should be theirs. It turned out that the roots of four big trees next to the pool, on HOA property OUTSIDE our fence, had penetrated the substandard pipes and totally blocked them. When the common areas were watered (HOA property) the runoff had nowhere to go but under our house. That plus use of inferior building materials caused a foot of water to fill the space under the foundation and weakened it even more.

It should have been over when the repairs began, but as Murphy's Law would have it there was yet one more obstacle. Mr. "I'm The Big Shot HOA Prez" had taken to blasting in and out of our yard, yelling at us if we dared venture out when he was there, and strutting around as though he owned our house. The constant harrassment had become unbearable. We decided to call our attorney to have him warn opposing counsel to rein in his client. That was a Saturday. We'd had a nice dinner with our attorney only a week before, and had mentioned the problem to him. However, at that time we thought we could deal with it, but it had gotten so much worse. On Sunday I scanned the obituaries in the L.A. Times as I always do looking for neat names to use in my books and stories. I stopped at one that looked familiar, and said to my husband, "Look, honey, this fellow had the same last name as---" That's as far as I got. Our attorney, who was in solo practice and was about 52, had died of a heart attack on Saturday.

Okay. We couldn't let the opposing attorney know that ours had died because then we'd have to start from scratch with someone else and we'd already invested $40,000 with Daniel. That plus all the time it would take to bring a new attorney up to speed. It was a balancing act until the construction was complete, and we took a truckload of crap from the HOA triumverate, now absolutely drunk on their own power and how they'd "brought down the people in the luxury home in the back." We had to keep Daniel's death secret at all costs.

Finally the nigtmare was drawing to an end. Things had been fixed in the cheapest way possible, but the good news was before he died, Daniel made sure that the settlement included HOA documents indemnifying the house and grounds against any further claims resulting from the faulty construction. We WOULD be able to list the house for sale once everything was done, and that wouldn't come a moment too soon. Any buyer would be guaranteed that the defaults, that were now a matter of public record, had been fixed but if anything further went wrong the HOA would have to foot the bill. Our lives had become four years of living hell in the house we'd loved so much thanks to a power-hungry HOA.

As an author, I'd decided I was going to kill this guy in a story. I'd have him floating face-down in the pool and those thoughts comforted me through the ordeal. Years have passed, and I have yet to write the story. In the meantime, both he and his wife passed away---I saw their obits in the L.A. Times. But I will write that story and it will be a humdinger. So, dear friends, now you know why I shudder at those three letters: HOA.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A word about HOAs and why I quake at the mere mention of the word

HOA. The mere mention of that is guaranteed to make my blood boil and my hands shake. This morning on The Rant on Channel 5 in Las Vegas one lady commented on the undue control from her HOA and another said she should have read the CCRs when she bought her house, or lived somewhere else.

Okay, there are two sides of the fence, but CCRs are like a volume of War and Peace, and few people carefully read every word. Then there is the factor of  whether the board is populated by reasonable people or power mongers.

I've been on the first lady's side in the worst way---emotionally and financially to the tune of $40,000 in legal fees! Sure, it's easy to say "read the CCRs" and most people are reasonable when they accept an HOA office. But  there are those who regard being President or Vice President as their personal royalty and the peons who own properties and pay dues are simply their subjects who will do their bidding. Unfortunately, several years ago in Mar Vista CA, three of those power mongers were elected to the board of our HOA.

We had a beautiful, unique house that we loved to pieces. Three-thousand feet of soaring ceilings and so many windows in the living room you almost had to wear sunglasses inside. So, why was it unique? Because it was a condo and the rest of the complex was comprised of a four story, sixteen unit building--four on a floor. More about how that came about in tomorrow's post. There was a walkway between our house and the main building, we had a private courtyard, reasonable size private back yard and private entrance to the complex pool. Idyllic. With no houses behind us, we even had a view of sorts. We wanted to live there forever. That is until it started to crack and settle. The big building was having problems as well, that became very evident when one on the residents said her dog's ball rolled downhill in her kitchen. At the time I was President of the HOA.

I hounded the developer until they had engineers do evaluations and indeed there were some severe construction defaults in both buildings. To make a long story short, I was traveling extensively for business at time and as the negotiations with the developer and builder became more and more intense, I had to step down as President and assumed the position of Vice President, but bear in mind I was the one that got the action going.

The woman who stepped in as President was very controlling and it was her way or the highway. Her husband was a medical doctor as my husband was and who knows---maybe they were jealous that we had that wonderful home and theirs was a nice but average condo. As soon as she took over, the first sign of problems developed. She convinced the board that our freestanding single family house simply couldn't warrant the same scrutiny as a big four-story building, and insisted we didn't have any major problems, despite reports from two engineering firms. Our house continued to crack everywhere, some cracks as wide as 1/2" to 3/4" wide and many feet long. Doors were totally out of square, ceramic floor tiles cracked and the fight with the developer and builder continued.

Two years later the complex received a $1.9 Million settlement. Yep. We had serious problems. Over $200,000 was allocated to fixing our house and the rest would be used to repair common areas and units in the big building. Now the President and the Treasurer teamed up.

They called a general meeting of the residents with one purpose--to question why should they spend $200,000 to shore up the foundation of our house (which was discovered not to be to code as the house continued to "sink"), fix the substandard drainage from the pool area that continued under our house and out to the street and a multitude of other problems when it was only a house? The triumverate insisted it was better to keep the money in the HOA and have a strong reserve account. They wanted to literally put band-aids on our house while they did the full fix for the big building. They aligned the other residents against us saying that we were looking to cheat the HOA and remodel our house at their expense. There was a foot of water under the foundation, now the wide cracks were becoming visible outside as well as inside and the balcony upstairs tilted at an unnatural angle. The big building repairs were completed and they hadn't even started on ours a year later.

We finally hired a construction attorney and the battle began. It raged for $40,000 (non-recoverable) and a year and a half. During that time living in the complex became unbearable. No one wanted to believe our part of the story. At one time we smelled gas between the big building and our house and reported it. They said we were imagining it, until a telephone repair man reported that he smelled the gas. Grudgingly they had it checked by a plumbing company. A hole the size of a baseball was developing in the line between the buildings and by that time had almost eaten its way completely through the pipe. The plumber informed them that entire complex could have exploded. Still we fought to break the shackles that tied us to  the home we once loved. We couldn't sell it or rent it under the circumstances. All we could do was pay the mortgage, the HOA dues (which were twice anyone else's since our house was much bigger than the largest unit in the main building) and sneak in and out of our house like thieves in the night. The nasty attorney for the HOA treated us like criminals and made bizarre accusations that were applauded by the committee of three. They made all of this available to the other residents as though it were the truth.

In arbitration they finally agreed to do the very minimum allowable to fix the house, and literally evicted us from our own home with three day notice for the two-month-long repairs to begin. They said if we tried to negotiate more time, they would cancel the repairs. The settlement had provided for reasonable relocation expenses for any resident who had to move out for repairs. We were in hotels for two months, as the repairs kept getting delayed, and they refused to pay us one penny.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Remember old mobile phones?

This morning I was watching a commercial for AT&T touting all of their new cell towers and improved service. Well, I'm really not a fan of AT&T because I had to report them to the PUC several years back when they tried to gouge us for $300 in termination fees. But that's another story. By the way...we won.

The commercial got me to thinking about how far mobile, and now cell, phones have come. From the wonder of wonders---a phone that you could carry around like a briefcase with a regular telephone receiver---to the equivlent of a mini-computer you can hold in the palm of your hand. There were the seemingly impossible Dick Tracy wrist radio and the shoe phone in Get Smart, but those were in the funny papers and on TV. What could come next?

I thought back to my first exposure to a phone-on-the-go. I was working for a Beverly Hills commercial real estate development firm many years ago and the obnoxious sales manager got a mobile phone installed in his Cadillac. Back in those days, not many people had car phones. His looked like a telephone receiver installed on the console between the seats,and reception was questionable. Lots of crackles and pops accompanied by static, but, hey, it was a status symbol and if there was anything Richard Denman wanted it was to be thought of as a hot shot.

I don't know if people didn't want to talk to him on his mobile or he was just looking to impress, but every time this jerk pulled into the sub garage of the office building we would get a call. The minute we heard the snap, crackles and pops, we knew who it was.

"Um, this is Denman. I'm, um, pulling into the garage. Do I have any messages?"

The receptionist's eyebrow would rise in her distinctive way, the office manager would groan, "Dennnmmmannn?" and when she nodded we all giggled. I don't think he ever knew what enjoyment he gave us in the middle of a boring day.

Then phones evolved. You could actually carry them around with you, and possibly injure your shoulder in the process. They came in a handy case with a shoulder strap, weighed several pounds and still had a regular phone receiver attached to the apparatus in the case.  I taped an exercise show back in the 80s and I saved it for the following commercial. In today's world, it's kind of hilarious.

A very attractive Asian woman walks along the sidewalk by the Marina with this case containing the phone slung over her shoulder, happily chatting away on the telephone receiver while she ambles past the boats. Ah, L.A. Cellular could make this idyllic scene yours. The message was that important people had mobile phones and lots of leisure time. Why not make this yours for only a few hundred dollars and a hefty monthly fee?

These days every teeny bopper has a cell and their parents can track them on GPS should they desire to while the kids lol and gaily text their "buds" in a language I have yet to master.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Thoughts about crooked neckties

This is something that has bugged me for years. With all the people making sure the makeup, lighting, wardrobe, etc. is perfect for TV talk shows, why are the men's neckties often crooked?

Seriously, I don't mean to nit pick, but once you zero in on this it becomes like punching the other kid when you see a yellow car or whatever the "spot" of the day is. You cannot, and I repeat CANNOT, watch the show without your eyes locking on the crooked tie.

One of my favorites is David Gregory on Meet the Press. His grooming is impeccable---except for the tie which is always off to the side. Yep. The knot is almost never squarely in the middle. Sorry, Mr. Gregory, but someone should straighten it before you go on the air!

Okay. If you decide to join Crooked Tie Spotters Anomynous, I guarantee you'll never watch another talk show again without seeing offenders. Happy Sunday.

Why I believe in fate

I had to write this while it was fresh in my mind. Unless you watched the Today this Sunday morning, the names Joe Parker and Rick Hill won't mean anything, but it's an amazing story. A story that validated why I believe in fate. Joe and Rick, two guys in their thirties who were both raised in Massachusetts actually share the same father, but they never knew each other.

Joe was placed in the foster system as a tot and Rick lived in the next small town. Somewhere along the line Rick learned that he had a half-brother, but never tried to find him because he didn't have a clue where to start.

Fast forward. It's 2011 and Rick and his family took a trip to Hawaii. They weren't staying near Wakikki Beach, but rather on the other side of the island. For some reason, Rick said he didn't know why, they circled the island that day and took a walk on the beach. Rick, his wife and kids stopped to pose for some photos with the surf in the background. A typical tourist thing to do. Mom or Dad takes the shot while everyone says cheese. This time something different happened.

Enter 38 year old Joe, who had moved to Hawaii and was working in the hospitality industry. So he's walking along the same beach, sees the family taking photos and offers to take a shot of all of them. As Joe said, "I'm in the hospitality industry now so I decided to be hospitable." While they were talking, they both noticed the New England accents, and as people from the same area often do, each asked the other where he was from. Turned out they lived one small town apart.

Then they exchanged names of people they knew. That's when the world stood still. One of the names was their mutual father. The half-brothers had found each other through a quirk of fate. Why was Rick at Wakikki Beach that day when he never intended to go there? What prompted Joe to move to Hawaii and how did he wind up on the same stretch of beach at exactly the time his half-brother and his family were taking their vacation shot? What prompted him to offer to take a photo?

No one can really answer those questions, but it's why I believe in fate.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Lovely Memory

I spent most of the day working on reviewing the pre-proof for the new Silver Sisters Mysteries book, "Vanishing Act in Vegas." After a few hours, I decided to take a break. The intelligent thing would have been to take a drive or do something away from the computer. Not me. Instead I logged onto my Facebook account and was greeted by a message from my daughter Jakki that brought back a beautiful memory from long ago in a rush of flashbacks.

The song Jakki posted a link to on the Facebook message was Chuck Mangione's BELLAVIA. At first it sounded like the YouTube video had the hiccups, because the same strain repeated over and over. Then all of a sudden, there it was---our "Palm Springs" music. Visions of Highway 111 on the way to Palm Springs CA, Jakki and my son Jason, only a few years older at that time than Jakki's sons are now, a temperate breeze ruffling our hair as we flew along the wide open highway in my big 1970 Buick convertible with the top down and the radio blaring Bellavia. The music was so perfect for the day. It felt like the freedom to do whatever we wanted to.

Would you believe that until she posted the link today, I never really knew the name of the piece. It was simply our Palm Springs music. She mentioned stopping at the big brontosaurus at the side of the road, which was really a small museum later joined by a T-Rex museum. Sort of an icon of the road for anyone who has traveled that way. Upon seeing it in the middle of the desert, most kids shout, "Oh, can we go see the big dinosaur?" and my kids were no exception.

The power of music is amazing, isn't it? Think about it. We remember the words to songs years and years later, but might not remember what happened a few days ago. All we have to do is hear a few notes. Quite often a string of images, experiences or sights and sounds come right along with that memory of lyrics, more or less like the magician continuing to pull handerkerchiefs out of his sleeve.

So to Jakki I say, thanks for that string of memories today. I loved it. There are certain trips I remember so well, and that was one of them. I was still an interior designer back then and working on designing a corporate condo in Palm Springs. I had to install the accessories---the finishing touch, and decided to bring the kids along for the weekend. Just the three of us, beautiful weather in Palm Springs and Chuck Mangione.