Domenica Scorsa

An invitation to festa della mamma lunch, at the home of friends in Sicily can start as early as 11 am and carry-on until dusk. Silvana, Natale, Francesco and Pamela prepared an outstanding al fresco afternoon for us. Casa Barone-Vallone is situated at the foot of a lush mountain inhabited by assorted fairytale creatures: fox volpe, rabbit coniglio, wild boar cinghiale, and falcon falco. Any movement of the eye on the terrazza is consumed with vibrant flowers planted in an array of weathered vessels.

Eggplant pieces were cut a half-inch thick, soaked for an hour in water, salt and olive oil; Francesco said this takes any bitterness away, a small tip before putting on the grill. As the year progresses eggplants contain more seeds; our melanzane grigliate didn’t have a seed to be detected. While the eggplant cooked, bearing rustic grill marks, each was basted with olive oil, diced mint, oregano and garlic. If I should eat only one dish at my final hour, I’m putting grilled eggplant with olive oil, mint, oregano, and garlic on the top five.

Grilled yellow, green, and red peppers peperoni were also plated with Silvana’s cured olives from their trees, alongside semistagionato, a cheese so sharp it made my cheeks pucker. What’s an antipasto without bruschetta? In Silvana’s case, the topping was blended into a course purée, then spooned onto slices of toasted Italian sesame bread.

Natale and Francesco grilled two types of sausages: one classic Sicilian with fennel, another much darker, made with wild boar salsiccia di suino nero dei Nebrodi, fattier, unusual spices and to die for. The chicken was pounded super thin, seasoned to perfection, grilled three minutes on each side. Soon after, spring red onions wrapped in pancetta came off the grill, along with halved plump tomatoes.

I desperately wanted to eat slowly, except my brain wouldn’t cooperate. The pistacchio and nocciola Vernaci gelato went down far too easy, followed by Panificio Cacioppo biscotti.

Our afternoon was accentuated by the sound of bells worn on sheep who descended a nameless mountain. They graze all day on glorious land; like clock-work the herd passes our host’s home, sometime thereafter helping produce exquisite Sicilian cheese.

Silvana surprised us with a short drive to visit Chiesa Madonna di Fatima, nestled on the mountain’s neighboring ridge. The minuscule church was celebrating its annual Mother’s Day mass which spilled churchgoers outside. It’s almost encouraged to stroke Our Lady of Fatima’s statuette, all public displays of affection felt customary; any prayer though was held in private.

Silvana, Pamela, Jeanette, LouLou and I returned to Casa Barone-Vallone an hour later to catch the sun’s exit behind the mountaintop while birds sang the day farewell, utterly magical savoring Silvana’s closing treat — lemon granita, homemade from her dreamy garden.

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Pioggia Rossa

Sicily comes into view southwest of Italy, northeast of Tunisia, smack dab amid the Mediterranean Sea.

Most Sicilian occurrences are untamed and pronounced, more so than Italy (if one could believe that’s possible).

There’s an imposing mountain outside our window, its jagged peak often looks shrouded by cloud cover; the opposite windows face the adjacent Mediterranean Sea — essentially we’re sandwiched essentially between two powerful energy sources.

Splotches of terracotta dust appeared outside following a recent downpour in Castellammare del Golfo. The town’s alabaster marble sidewalk slabs became evanescent Jackson Pollock pieces. Relentless Sirocco winds blew north over the Mediterranean Sea transferring rich African topsoil mixed with precipitation.

LouLou, our fourteen-year-old daughter, had this to offer, “Even the rain here has culture.” I believe she’s spot on.

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I should preface this stating: I’ve been clean and sober twenty-seven years this coming Thanksgiving. Having said that, I may have but one bittersweet memory — that of homemade red wine.

It was at Aunt Josie’s dinner table five and a half decades ago; her husband, Uncle Mike sat on the opposite side of the table in their second floor Ozone Park, New York duplex. Uncle Mike was the kind of guy who rough-housed with me; he’d untuck my white dress shirt, pull the clip-on bow tie off, then mess up my slicked Vitalis hair, laugh uncontrollably, hearing Jean, my mother give it to him, “Mike, he looked so nice when we got here, look what you did to him.”

Maybe I was all of five, but still recall Uncle Mike’s jug of Dago red wine stashed under his dining room chair during mealtime. He’d pour me a quarter inch, bop the side of my head, coaxing, “Hava dringa.” I remember his basement brew’s distinct aroma as much as the full-bodied flavor like it was yesterday.

Meandering through Castellammare del Golfo these days I’ve spot countless Uncle Mike characters; although they’re complete strangers, I actually feel I know them.

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Because my mother, Jean explained just how passionately her mother, Anna D’Angelo conveyed life in Castellammare del Golfo, from then on Sicily sounded utopian to me. Jean heard Anna’s reminiscing during the Great Depression inside an Upper Manhattan tenement apartment on 111th Street shared with six other siblings. When winter became unbearable, Anna warmed bricks in the kitchen oven before placing them in her kid’s beds so they wouldn’t turn into icicles overnight.

Anna arrived Ellis Island in 1917, a year following my grandfather’s arrival. Seeking any American opportunity twelve years later upon the 1929 crisis must’ve had my grandparents feeling their decision to immigrate was futile. Nevertheless, Anna kept her family full on Italian bread and pasta, adding butter as a rare treat. From age five, Jean was comfy in those cramped quarters where family bonding drew close ties.

I presume shattered, my grandfather left Anna for hard liquor and fast women, alongside another heartache, my grandmother’s deep longing for Sicily. Anna sat youngest, Jean on her lap, speaking Sicilian saying, “You should see where I come from.” With welled up eyes, sixty-five years later, Jean told me Anna said, “The water is aquamarine, floors are made of marble, we ate off china and drank from cut crystal.”

I sold my newish Toyota Tercel in 1994 to help gift Jean her seventieth birthday present — a trip to Sicily. Specifically to see Castellammare del Golfo (our first visit) the very same town Anna tearfully waved goodbye to in 1917.

A Day in the Life I ❤️NY

New Yorkers who purchase Metrocards seem accustomed to commuting on the subway. When Jeanette and LouLou join me on trips to Manhattan we Uber or Lyft around town, alongside using either rideshare company from neighboring airports. After checking out of the Sixty LES last month, I popped into the Citibank on Grand Street; thereafter walked a few blocks to Delancey and Essex Street to catch the F train, with four stops until Jay Street in Brooklyn — there meeting the A Far Rockaway bound train — letting me off at the Howard Beach station connecting to JFK’s Airtrain.

Essex Street subway station in the Lower East Side is harsh. An elderly man sheltered there since last November was just as bundled up; his folding shopping cart still overflowing, amid an entire two hundred square foot circumference, pungent of his urine soiled clothing. I held my breath hurrying across the platform toward a neutral smelling area, yet instantly reminded I was in Manhattan seeing a reasonable size rat scamper in and out of the subway tracks.

Fortunately I only had one small bag; there were plenty of seats on the F; the A somewhat more challenging, though managed to fit between a man and woman at the end of our car. There were so many people who boarded at Jay Street, I could barely see the doors open and close feet away. Impossible to sit back, only the tip of my tailbone rested on the bench’s edge. Knowing the farther we traveled into Brooklyn, eventually reaching Queens, one of the two passengers sandwiching me would get off, leaving an actual seat.

Several stops into the Express A train’s progress, a commotion took place at the opposite end of my car. I certainly couldn’t see with so many sardine-like passengers crowding against each other, nor fully heard what was going on. The loud voice came from an older woman who I presumed to be a beggar scrounging for change from passengers who might show mercy. As expected the further we got from Jay Street, the emptier our train became.

This vociferous woman remained standing in place, her ranting drowned out by the train’s screeching metal against metal and frequent braking. Suddenly the A train emerged from the dark tunnel we’d been barreling through, making way to baby blue sky and endless tombstones bordering an undulating Queen’s cemetery. The woman continued, though at this point I could clearly hear she spoke with a strong Caribbean accent. Curious about the exact nature of her bellowing, I waited until the next stop, plopping myself down inches from her stance. A young black guy across from me removed his Beats headset, listening to what I came over to hear. She wasn’t homeless; grandmotherly head to toe attire, well kept, including her fingernails. If I say the whites of her eyes were aglow, I should also report her teeth illuminated as well — a stark contrast to the woman’s ebony skin.

Rather than make direct eye contact I looked every which way other than into her eyes; though the longer she continued, I became even more intrigued of who she was. The woman didn’t hold a scrawled out cardboard sign pleading destitution. Instead she stood, gripping the vertical pole, riding the A train that afternoon with different purpose. I’m absolutely certain by the wealth of memorized scripture, she probably spent years doing the same on numerous New York subway lines. One phrase she repeated between verses, extending her open palm to the A train passengers, “God loves you, you, you, you, and you.” Nobody was excluded; in a sense she offered benediction to each of us. Nonbeliever passengers appeared to ignore her sermon; most riders stayed engaged on their smart devices.

It was time for me to stop behaving awkwardly and make eye contact with her. She scanned the train, then peered down sensing my stare; I nodded, acknowledging her public blessing. She grinned broadly in response, pouring out utter joy; her genuine smile bowled me over with bliss. Seconds later I got off at the Howard Beach station much calmer, happier, and centered than forty-five minutes earlier boarding at Essex Street. I made way across the elevated open air platform, watching the train pass, glimpsing her gritty pulpit move toward Rockaway.

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Seeking Balance

Contrary to a surprising number of comments, famiglia di Schiavo weren’t ever absolutely sold San Diego would be called home. As luck would have it a clause in our six month lease stated we could vacate early by paying a penalty fee. We might have stuck around longer, but for virtually the same expense, going to Castellammare del Golfo and Carrizalillo felt more exhilarating. Traveling to Mexico over two periods would’ve saved us more money, however, Sicily holds an allure that was too hard to resist.

We turn in our San Diego keys April 18th; afterward work in Los Angeles and San Francisco prior to departing April 29th for London, Rome, then Palermo — arriving Castellammare the night after Jeanette’s upcoming birthday. Norma, a friend and culinary genius assured us Outerlands on Judah in San Francisco would be her top suggestion for Jeanette’s birthday brunch before our lengthy evening flight.

Last week I was talking with someone, explaining we’ll head to Mexico after Sicily between work in San Francisco, Dallas and New York so we can detox. Somewhat puzzled she asked, “What in heaven’s name do you need to detox from after Sicily?” I started to list, “pasta, bread, cheese, sweets…” when she interrupted, completely understanding, “Oh yeah, all the things we shouldn’t eat.”

Last spring when local Castellammarese who hadn’t encountered us previously inquired what brought our family there, I bragged, “My grandparents left here for America one hundred years ago.” This year I can say one hundred and one years. Most who live in Castellammare realize they live in an idyllic environment. Bordered by an aquamarine Mediterranean — another side arid mountains formed by sand colored stone — farm produce delivered daily — crisp air — scruffy fishermen selling their morning catch portside seven days a week, all the while several town church bells jog any newcomer’s memory of forgotten centuries.

Two million adult Muslims take part in an annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Castellammare del Golfo has that strong a pull for us. My mother, Jean met LouLou once, six weeks after LouLou’s birth; Mom passed on two months later. Though my mother was born in Detroit, LouLou senses a closeness to her nona in Castellammare more so than anywhere else, including New York and San Diego where Jean lived. LouLou’s familiar steps throughout Castellammare, since her third birthday, places LouLou precisely where Jean walked when I treated my mother for her 70th birthday twenty-three years ago. Families do all sorts of leisurely activities together: some jet ski every spring break on Lake Havasu, others spend weeks summering on tiny Maine islands. Sicily is our tradition — heart-lifting upon arrival, a melancholy quandary leaving, wondering when to return.

I was shocked days ago asking LouLou what she most looked forward to eating there. Apparently she’s fond of the same flavors as Jeanette: homemade ricotta, Sicilian olive oil, Marsala sea salt, vine-ripened tomato, and Cacioppo bread. There’s little satisfaction for us to eat that exact combination anywhere in the United States; each of those stateside ingredients just don’t hold up to their Sicilian equivalent. I’m going straight for sautéed slivered red onions with capers and minced cayenne chili, the last second finished adding anchovies, served over pasta or on crostini, either way I don’t care. Vernaci Gelateria opened their store in March as usual. Pancho serves delicious in-house gelato through October before closing for winter. Pancho, Marisa, Ylenia, Giorgina, and Francesco Vernaci are a close-knit family operation, they keep locals and tourists content from noon to 3 am every day. Jeanette likes modica and coconut, LouLou’s partial to mint and licorice; I’m sticking with my latest favorite, mandola granita.

It would be crazy leaving Sicily’s culture directly hitting Mexico’s soil, however, ten days in the U.S. is generally enough time to neutralize our senses before becoming immersed elsewhere again. There are one hundred and seventy steps descending to Carrizalillo Cove, which really isn’t a big deal; it’s the sunny climb back up from the Pacific that winds us, following an afternoon swim among sea turtles.

While away from Mexico, Jeanette and I frequently crave a Puerto Escondido jugueria’s 32 ounce beet, carrot and ginger juice we each consume for breakfast. Depending what LouLou prefers that morning, she’ll alternate between fresh squeezed orange juice, Mexican hot chocolate, or atole, a warm thick rice drink, reminiscent of horchata. Our last Carrizalillo visit left us short on mango and pineapple, neither were in full swing; this trip we should have plenty on stock — super refreshing midday, accompanied with papaya and lime.

No matter where famiglia di Schiavo plants roots this coming August, my palate will miss the intermittent luxury enjoying authentic Sicilian pastries, or Oaxacan mole, although not enough to hinder me from starting life’s next volume.

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Going Platinum With Life

I was offered an option starting my Vidal Sassoon apprenticeship in 1977, “Do you want to specialize in cutting or become a colorist?” Wet behind the ears forty years ago, the reason I chose cutting wasn’t because chemical application is harmful to clients and those hairstylists who apply it. My rationale — haircutting had and still does have a rhythm I prefer than applying chemicals on hair. However, through experience determined although one might not like a haircut, it does eventually grow out. Decades of hair chemical application does in fact produce negative effects which more often than not lead to alopecia areata (partial hair loss.) Some clinical researchers argue chemicals used on hair can cause cancer.

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During a recent consultation with a new Manhattan client, I went as far as to say, “No hairstylist in their right mind would nudge any client away from using hair color.” To clarify my statement and soothe the perplexed expression on her face, I explained such an unorthodox comment would reduce any hairstylists income by half, leaving revenue exclusively from cuts. Her eyes instantly widened, surprised by this tidbit coming from an insider.

Vanity is one powerful force that frequently supersedes prudence. The vast majority of obstetricians ask expectant patients if they use hair color; Dr. He or She immediately suggest all mothers-to-be postpone hair color until after delivery before applying more herself or scheduling another appointment at the salon.

Most feel heart-wrenched seeing a present day emaciated polar bear on the brink of extinction taking their last steps across bone-dry land. I have similar feelings observing a client’s front hairline following untold years of using hair color. Many patrons who succumb to a colorist applying highlights or one process color frequently end up with hair feeling less than ideal. It’s inevitable, this client and others similar will in all likelihood experience unnecessary hair loss too, becoming thinner faster than the natural aging process.

My stance opposing chemicals and excessive heat on hair doesn’t waiver. It’s been a custom of mine to preface any initial consultation expressing, “You’re free to draw your own conclusion, whatever your decision is I’m grateful for your Jehrcut patronage.” Finishing on a lighter note, I’ll usually joke saying, “I’m not the hair police, I won’t arrest you.”

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The trillion dollar beauty industry, alongside entertainment’s star-studded bedfellows rarely, if ever, speak out against damage suffered through typical beauty regimes, specifically on hair. Perhaps more significant is an overall unattainable bar the beauty industry places on women, absorbing this information as early as toddlers. A more in depth beauty industry reveal can be found in my nonfiction narrative, Mr. Haute Coiffure.

Bleach blonde Gwyneth Paltrow posting an image of herself on Instagram one random morning without makeup, wearing a tiny $250 white t-shirt and $900 faded low-rise jeans probably won’t be America’s prime candidate to spearhead voice for women calling on drastic change in the beauty industry. Neither Hillary Clinton’s faux blonde representation nor Sheryl Sandberg’s imitation brunette blowout advance change in beauty — both encourage the status quo. Entertainment, politics or America’s premiere women business leaders fall short in this arena: Kelly Ripa, Nancy Pelosi, Marissa Mayer included.

America’s momentous Time’s Up movement shouldn’t be devoted purely against criminal male behavior. This camp should expand being multifaceted and gender inclusive, breaking down any inequity toward women, the beauty industry no exception. Will someone kindly forward this article to Charlize Theron? Okay, I’m flattering myself, though who doesn’t once in awhile? I believe her affiliation with my crusade could be more fulfilling than modeling in picturesque layouts for Christian Dior.

Recently I saw a blacklisted celebrity who resurfaced on the cover of L’Officiel; she appeared stronger than ever. I just might pass Theron’s agent’s invitation to a meeting if Lindsay’s agent emailed afterward. Lindsay Lohan’s struggle was a circus, in spite of previous lows she emerged quite stoic and beautiful. Come to think of it, Judi Dench teamed with Lindsay Lohan would be an astounding coup, a generational crossover advocating inner beauty alongside Jehr Schiavo.

My capsulated mission statement — confidence and radiance exuded through inner beauty. I’m male, hardly an image women would imagine to front an essential battle encouraging an alternative direction from the vapid beauty industry, though how many of us a decade ago would’ve guessed Oprah Winfrey be POTUS in 2020?

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On Bullying (You Can’t Make This Sh*t Up)

Found images by LouLou Schiavo

Such a pity America’s laws protecting us from violence seem terribly ineffective. Law enforcement will not intervene until an actual crime is committed, quite often too late as victims already suffered assault or God forbid worse.

LouLou learned plenty during her first week of school ever, starting February 26, 2018. She graduated nine days later March 9th with flying colors, at, of all places, San Diego Police Headquarters, a block from the Urban Discovery Academy where we, as parents, should not have enrolled her.

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Following nine days being bullied by fellow homeroom students, in conjunction with deflection, denial and defending by UDA’s outgoing principal, Diana Cornejo-Sanchez — counselor, Loreleigh Chung — including several teachers, it became apparent LouLou’s homeroom verbal abuse and physical injuries she braved through outside of class would continue; these incidents turned more severe each day. Started day two with ringleader, N, a fourteen-year-old girl who threatened LouLou firing, “You better watch your back.” Prior day LouLou was on her way to class with E who asked her, “How was class?” LouLou responded with two passing comments about N’s ill classroom behavior, expressing it was “obnoxious” and “she’s kind of an airhead.” E instantly reported back to N, which prompted N’s threatening words to LouLou. Rather than solely absorb N’s threat, LouLou confided in the school counselor inquiring, “What should I do?” Their conversation concluded with LouLou shortly thereafter apologizing to N who responded, “Okay, no problem.” Not true. Soon afterward LouLou asked a question in humanities class; N sarcastically blurted in front of the entire room and teacher, “What a stupid question.” Later, a boy behind LouLou needled her, “I bet you didn’t do anything being homeschooled.”

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I wasn’t privy to this abuse her first week; I was out of town working in Dallas, San Francisco and Mendocino. The last bit of encouragement I offered LouLou before leaving,“I have the utmost confidence in you; I’d never ask you to do something you’re not capable of.” A blatant yellow flag (if not red) shot up speaking with LouLou by phone while I was in San Francisco. Asking her how school was that day she casually answered, “Some kids were fooling around with box cutters in class today,” as if this should be a regular occurrence at school. Little did I know four days later LouLou would be ambushed, then dragged against her will into the school bathroom by N’s girlfriends demanding she wash off a Marilyn beauty mark on her cheek. Meanwhile N lie in wait sitting on the bathroom sink watching LouLou struggle in the doorway, reiterating her posse’s order, “You better wash it off.” Five day later, unaware any of this transpired, once at home, I questioned where did the fingernail scab imprint on her arm come from; she immediately brushed it off, “I don’t know.”

During Math/Science period Ms. Bayliss was seated giving directives, for whatever reason LouLou and the entire class were standing. Ms. Bayliss lifted her head to ask, “Whoever is banging something, stop it!” Following three attempts Ms. Bayliss asked, “Can someone please tell me who’s making that noise?” LouLou nearby took the request for face value, naively whispering, “tall, afro” for fear mentioning W’s name. Immediately thereafter students issued LouLou their threats, “Snitches get stitches.”

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LouLou was in every aspect completely ecstatic about starting school; a brand new experience to broaden her knowledge, while meeting kids her age. The mere idea of losing this dream come true sent her resiliently rushing back day after day believing their ridicule and physical abuse would eventually end. Two days after returning home, Urban Discovery Academy had a previously scheduled quarterly parent-teacher conference. Jeanette, LouLou and I sat across from her homeroom teacher, Ellis Clay (covering Humanities/English) Señora Kennedy (her Spanish teacher) and Melinda Bayliss (for Math/Science). Six of us exchanged pleasantries, all agreed LouLou needed most attention in Math. Conversation then shifted to Clay who inexplicably told us, “it’s a dog eat dog class.” Mortified to say the least, I asked Clay to clarify his comment. Officer Moore, who interviewed LouLou two days later seemed visibly shaken hearing Clay’s poor choice of words. Perhaps more so than LouLou describing the bathroom incident or being hit in the mouth by A’s fastpitch (coincidentally, N’s boyfriend). Even why we were there, to file a police report — LouLou’s four square inch knee abrasions with bruising brought on feeling petrified A might repeat his aggression a day prior, only this day running toward her full speed playing capture the flag.

UDA doesn’t have a nurse. Mr. Carson, an administrative assistant handed LouLou some bandaids, then complained, seemingly impositioned, when LouLou requested more saying, “What do you need extras for?” All he had to do was look at her knees, clearly a few bandaids wouldn’t cover her wounds. Not one employee at her school called or emailed Jeanette to explain: LouLou hit her nose, chin, elbow and removed several layers of skin from her knees on their playground. Astonishingly, no one since has been curious enough to follow-up wondering how LouLou is doing. Accident or not, A didn’t apologize for hitting LouLou’s mouth with the tennis ball. He’s a star pitcher apparently, true to form, A failed to help or offer, “I’m sorry” for the injuries LouLou suffered as a direct result of his hostile intimidation. I’m livid, although try to invite Jesus’ immortal words, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they do.”

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Walls of education and thoughtful parenting shape what we hope to be a civilized society. Wild conduct condoned at UDA is secondary, parental guidance is number one; ultimately parents too must be held accountable. Now, if Judge C’s daughter, N, had persuaded her three impressionable girlfriends to trip LouLou down the school stairs, making LouLou’s current recovery time a different story altogether (injury of spinal cord, neck or back) who then should be held accountable? Just N’s pliable girlfriends or C’s scheming daughter too? In any event, March 9th’s police report, conducted by Officer Moore, will be public record in a matter of days; maybe LouLou’s transcript will pique a sharp detective’s interest for further investigation. At the minimum this post puts Urban Discovery Academy on deserved notice for their brazen negligence.

Upon returning to class after bandaging her own knees, a female classmate prodded LouLou, “How does gravel taste?” UDA’s outgoing principal, Diana Cornejo-Sanchez, has no skin in the game; she suggested N and LouLou sit down and talk it out. Instead, Jeanette demanded for the third time LouLou change homerooms. Jeanette’s request was denied, “absolutely not” she closed by saying, “The eighth grade would be off balance 30-27.”

I spoke with LouLou regarding the bigger picture: how the world doesn’t always appoint the finest role models we look up to, especially those holding prestigious positions of power. Either Judge C is impartial at home, turning a blind eye to his cunning daughter or conveniently compartmentalizes his sound logic elsewhere — set aside for the United States District Court where he presides.

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Self-Imposed Quarantine

Other than paring down possessions, not much could’ve prepared us for our global bedouin way of life, having no end date, though lasted a decade. It took us the first two years to purge a three bedroom, three bath, tri-level live-work loft and subterranean garage’s belongings to fit inside a 4’x5’storage unit; necessary for quick exchange of personal effects every eight weeks prior to seeing patrons in America. Two of the four containers inside our storage unit housed LouLou’s stuffed animals, worth every penny of twelve thousand dollars spent during ten years ensuring Piggy and company’s well-being.

Ubering to hotels from BOS, DAL, LAX, JFK, and SFO, checking in, receiving Instacart deliveries for sustenance, days later completing that engagement, returning to the airport hardly qualified residing in America. It wasn’t until grocery shopping recently when I bumped into another cart, looking up to see an acquaintance, who appeared ten years older (as do I) when it actually registered just how lengthy our travels had been, whether in Southern Europe, various spots throughout Mexico or Southeast Asia.

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Before gaining full re-entry status (out of necessity) we elected a soft short-term landing rather than plunging into our exact, yet to be determined destination of choice. Our summer 2018 creative launchpad hasn’t revealed itself thus far — though LouLou’s high school has.

The lack of daily responsibilities which come with living abroad, alongside that unfamiliar routine became addicting, however, as addictions go, they wind up becoming an utter nuisance sooner or later. Freedom fastening my seatbelt before takeoff, minutes later daydreaming while clouds drift by eventually morphed into the mundane — undoubtedly I became jaded to the nth degree. Over time upon foreign arrival, what had once been an exotic culture felt repetitious — another rut in distant lands.

Our six month stateside pop-up requirements were to regroup within proximity to a major airport (pivoting to work) in a toasty climate, though not humid, with, if possible, an easy on the senses environment, without pretension and light traffic. Eight is by far my favored number; it represents infinity. This town’s main freeway running east or westbound is Interstate 8, concluding in San Diego’s Ocean Beach; a rare Southern California leftist enclave, these days boasting million dollar price tags for puny two bedroom bungalows. I spoke with someone in Midtown Manhattan last week, she mentioned the high that day was 28° with a low of 14°; I practically felt guilty admitting it was 77° here shortly after 9am. For my money, the most gorgeous stretch of urban/rural roadway in California serpentines south or northbound through San Diego’s Balboa Park, formerly Cabrillo Freeway, presently U.S. 163.

Jeanette, LouLou and I have been in San Diego a month now after my departure forty-two years ago (graduating sixteen hundred hours of cosmetology school, alongside Caryn Johnson aka Whoopi Goldberg) living here between age eight and eighteen ten miles east of Downtown. Not much changed: surfing reigns supreme, neck and neck with micro breweries, Mexican food is abundant, sunsets still jaw-dropping, and serene people, almost alarmingly so. There is something quite possible about San Diego “air” which transmits a hypnotic vibe, blended by sun scorching the Pacific’s brine, San Diego’s mountain pine trees, along with Mexicali’s manzanita.

A classic “air” infused scenario was the San Diego Chargers debacle, this town’s meat and potatoes for almost sixty years. Alex Spanos, the Chargers owner demanded a new stadium; he didn’t get it, then opted for Los Angeles, where his team now shares an antiquated stadium with the LA Rams, another humdrum NFL team. San Diegans burned their Chargers gear in bonfires throughout San Diego County January 2017. That was last year; fans breathed San Diego “air” for fourteen months and all is bliss again.

Jim Fitzpatrick, San Diego Magazine’s publisher must be catching his evening shut-eye al fresco, consuming twice as much San Diego “air” as other residents. Jim insists his magazine should solely cover technology, believing San Diego’s tech industry closely rivals the Bay Area. Such narrow-minded vision from this influential individual, as too Spanos, prevents San Diegans from their much deserved broader recognition. On the other hand, perhaps Fitzpatrick may have a more selfish ulterior motive: if San Diego was to burgeon the way it should, San Diegans may someday reluctantly bid farewell to their city’s quaint appeal.

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Dallas February 26-27
San Francisco February 27-March 3
Emerald Triangle March 3-6
Boston March 16-17
New York March 17-19

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Winter Solstice 2017

If anybody was hoping to read my warm-and-fuzzy holiday prose, this ain’t gonna be it. No worries, I’m not slithering down a Grinch path, it’s just that this past year didn’t feel glorious by any stretch of the imagination. Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m thoroughly grateful for Jeanette, LouLou, our health, alongside friends and patrons, but what a trying year.

Those residing full-time in the United States endure a divide fueled with hatred and animosity so thick one can cut it with a knife global weather patterns are more alarming every year wildfires, hurricanes, and earthquakes reached biblical proportions cancer is running amok within our immediate core of loved ones the Dow Jones continues to skyrocket, so does America’s homeless population need I mention Pyongyang’s insanity well-known males, pillars of American culture, many who’ve long been revered are reduced to rubble overnight senseless mass killings occur on a frequent basis, shamefully I feel desensitized; innocent victims become numbers. Call me sentimental and nostalgic, however, the olden days were far less stressful. It’s lofty peaks I should really be concerned with, somewhere on the horizon rough periods as these reappear. If I remain optimistic, realize the future shall inevitably bring harmonious days again.

Winter-Solstice-02I was wrongly convinced to believe I’d lead a life of bachelorhood; the holiday season were months I’d dread each and every year without fail. December 24, 1993 I dined on fettuccine alfredo; Kraft Grated Parmesan Cheese, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup and American Beauty pasta bought from a corner grocery store on 1st Avenue. Lara and I brought it back to the East Village Hell’s Angels headquarters on 3rd Street, where she shared an apartment with Teddy Vice-President of the New York City chapter. ​Christmas​ ​was​ ​impossible​ ​to​ ​escape; I​ ​ducked into Las​ ​Vegas several Christmas’, it’s​ ​there​ ​as well​, menorahs and dreidels too, along with tour​ ​buses​ ​packed with wide-eyed​ ​chain-smoking ​tourists​. Other years wasting time in after hours bars, coming out of Christmas Eve wandering into Yuletide dawn was the most degrading, surrounded by other wayward artists, tough-guys, hard women, alongside irrational undercover police.

I hadn’t ever heard of, let alone eaten s’mores until my first Christmas Eve spent with Jeanette 2002. We roasted marshmallows over a crackling fireplace inside our Sonoma Mission Inn suite, suddenly my holiday attitude changed.

Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day can be a tremendous challenge, particularly without a conventional home nor extended family; this holiday season brought new meaning to testing our patience. What most desire, I suppose, is an enchanting atmosphere during the holidays. We, the tenacious bedouins reenacted, if you will, the Three Bears tale from November 8th until December 19th this year galavanting across this tender planet. Thank heaven for accumulated hotel points and SkyMiles. Sicily, especially Palermo was buried beneath mountains of visa bureaucracy. Carrizalillo, Oaxaca lacked adequate infrastructure, specifically convenient internet availability. South Beach, Miami in a nutshell: all show, void of any palatable substance.

Eventually Goldilocks did stumble upon a comfortable bed, suitable chair and porridge just right. This holiday season we traveled, searching nearly twenty thousand miles, finally discovering a total surprise for our Christmas haven. Days into South Beach, Jeanette googled rates at our top hotel pick, finding an irresistible solution at their Southern California property, minutes from Jeanette’s longest standing, dear friends. Lately my holiday satisfaction comes driving, while hearing LouLou sing-along to Christmas songs on Sirius XM; she’s memorized each carol verbatim.

winter-solstice-2016.jpgThose who were willing to take the plunge this year (or years prior) on cryptocurrency (if they trimmed profits) can happily stuff their Christmas stockings till they’re blue in the face. One patron mentioned she and her fiancé are buying a Tesla X for the measly $3,000 they invested in Bitcoin last year; their investment grew exponentially, Tesla’s model X sticker price, $135,000. Not one Italian I spoke with a few weeks ago believed cryptocurrency could hold water; I didn’t see any electric cars in Milan nor Sicily for that matter neither.

Seven days after Christmas arrives 2018; exactly a week following, I’ll reach a milestone decade, same birthdate as Elvis and Bowie. After early January’s Jehrcut engagement in San Francisco and Los Angeles, Jeanette, LouLou and I take flight once more to the “Land of Smiles,” where pouring water over a gold, perchance silver Buddha can cause tranquil effect.

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