November, 2010:

ODDITIES ON THE DATING SCENE

Not ready to settle down, in past years I was more inclined to meet a variety of men and singles advertising was fine with me. Perhaps it’s the curious writer in me. Everyone has his/her funny habits, unusual preferences, and weird fantasies.

Charlie was a never married but extremely picky lawyer. He had sent me flowers instead of a letter when he answered my ad. He had to do some imaginative maneuvering to send the flowers since the Los Angeles area Singles Register newspaper would not give out addresses. After I thanked him for the blossoms, we had several long, analytical and philosophical telephone conversations before the first (and last) date was arranged. He required a certain kind of date and would accept no variations. After I met him at his apartment, we had to have brunch at a hotel near the Hollywood Park racetrack, which is actually in Inglewood. Then it was time to go to the track and watch the races while he bet on the horses. He was so busy with his betting that I seldom saw him.

At the end of the seventh race, he came out to the stands to get me—he had won! He took his $12,000 in cash and proceeded to hide it under his shirt and in his boots. It was a lot of money to squirrel away. The day wasn’t over yet; now it was time for Margueritas and Mexican food in Hollywood. Charlie didn’t seem to mind all the “filthy” money next to his skin! It was early evening when I left him and all his money. I think I was a rather inconsequential part of that date. I never heard from him again. He was probably back at the personal ads lining up his next “perfect” day at the races.

British actor Matt Smith - reminds me of my unusual date!

My most unusual date by far was with a transvestite. Though his ad mentioned he liked costume parties, I didn’t know his preferences initially. When he changed into his gear—a French maid’s outfit, high heels, and a blond wig, the show was on. Eventually he was attired in a white negligee  while we played Trivial Pursuit and watched the Lakers game, and he wanted me to give him makeup tips! This incredible story deserves more than a blog post. I’ve written a long short story and will eventually publish it. I submitted it years ago to Playgirl magazine. Perhaps I was ahead of my time or they didn’t believe me because they rejected it.

Tripoli Memories

Celebrating Thanksgiving in 2010 reminds me of a long ago Thanksgiving in an exotic country in the Middle East. Since I am so blessed with great memories and am in touch with many of those who shared similar adventures in Tripoli, I am sharing this blog post once again.

Tripoli—an ancient city on the shores of the Mediterranean with unique  smells, sounds, landscape has never lost the magic it held in my heart. I notice as I get older that life seems to go in circles; my Southern California domicile has the same weather and blooms with many of the identical plants that I first came to know and love in Tripoli.

Teenage me on Via de Gaspari, Tripoli

As a young American teenager in the 1950s, I was fortunate to spend several of my formative years in a wondrous Middle Eastern world. It was an extraordinary time made more so by my awakening to the world and to the mysteries of blossoming womanhood, a rite of passage from age twelve to age fifteen, though looking backward often adds its own sentimental patina to events. My parents had come through a difficult time in their marriage and were enjoying each other again, and my strict and demanding father left me alone, within reason, to have a splendid time socially.

What changes were wrought in my life during that impressionable time, an ideal time to be living in such a unique world! My long wavy hair, which I wore in a ponytail, was cut there by an Italian hairdresser and fashioned into a short, curly do and I discovered I had naturally curly hair. My flat chest experienced its first budding of breasts and along with it came an active interest in boys – American boys, English boys, Italian boys. I heard my first really dirty joke, learned swear words and explicit gestures in Arabic and Italian, got embarrassed by my own farts, and had my first make-out session with a boy who truly knew how to kiss.

Libya is under Gadhafi’s thumb now, and I often wonder what changes oil and despotism have made upon Tripoli. In the middle 1950s it was a bustling, fairly cosmopolitan city inhabited by Arab (we were taught to call them Libyans), Italian, British, American and an assortment of other European and Middle Eastern nationalities. Both the British and the Americans had military bases, and international oil companies were drilling for the oil that would eventually make the country rich beginning in 1959. Libya, for the first half of the twentieth century under Italian rule, had only gained its independence in 1951, and that auspicious occasion had been marked by the renaming of a main thoroughfare, to be forever after known as 24 December Street.

Like many major events in the life of an Army brat, I wasn’t sure I wanted to uproot and travel to such a strange land. I was shocked when my father received orders to report to North Africa. We were stationed at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, at the time, and Africa couldn’t have been more distant from civilization as far as my twelve-year-old mind was concerned. Morocco was our first assigned destination, specifically the peculiarly named Nouasseur. Then, for some governmental reason (Morocco was having violent political problems, as it turned out), the orders were changed to Tripoli – Wheelus Air Force Base. My Army Corps of Engineers father would command a military group that had something to do with maintaining that strategic airfield, the closest, large American location to Russia, an important fact in those Cold War days. He would also be traveling to mysterious places such as Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia.

Our little family, which included Darby, my two-year-old brother and Joan Tupper, my six-year-old sister, boarded a military prop plane at Maguire Air Force Base in New Jersey the week before Thanksgiving 1955. We left a snowy landscape and headed southeast over the Atlantic, our circuitous flight path leading us first to the tiny Azores Islands. Propeller-driven planes, not as efficient as jets, required refueling stops. We landed on the islands about 3 a.m. Azores time, were roused from sleep, and dependents and military personnel were herded off the plane and onto waiting buses for a trip up a windy mountain road for breakfast in a non-commissioned officers club. A couple of hours later we were jammed back aboard, but mechanical difficulties kept us on the ground several more hours. Then it was on to Nouasseur Air Force Base in Morocco for another stop and finally on to Tripoli. Military planes, whether carrying troops or dependents, weren’t on fixed schedules. You landed when you landed.

What seemed like days but was more than likely some thirty hours later, we reached our new home. It was 9 p.m. in Tripoli, but after so much time and so many time zones, who could tell. No snow on the ground here: the weather was temperate and probably no colder than 55 degrees. Only after a good night’s sleep would we regain our land legs and clarity of hearing – the noise and vibration of prop planes had a habit of disorienting the body, which included sight and hearing, for hours.

An officer from my father’s new command met us at Wheelus Air Base and drove us the eight miles into town to our temporary quarters – the Albergo Del Mahari, a hotel that definitely marked our passage into an Arab country.

The flat roof of the white stucco hotel was highlighted in front with a dome that sat upon two pentagon-shaped, windowed bays. Just under the dome was a high bay accented with a multi-paned, oval window on each of its five sides; under it was a flatter and wider bay with opaque, rectangular glass-block  windows on each section. Its unusual design, to which I would soon become accustomed, reminded me of a tiered wedding cake.

Tired and disheveled, we were led under a portico and through the hotel’s glass double doors into a spacious marble-tiled lobby. Each side of the five-sided lobby faced a different courtyard; the center of each courtyard contained either a fountain or a small, rectangular pool. Vines covered the courtyard walls; small trees, many of them poinsettias, dotted the space and surrounded several benches.

Our tiny suite of rooms was reached across a courtyard with a fountain, and our suite faced the courtyard garden. It was like an enchanting scene from Arabian Nights — the mosaic designs, the unfamiliar, musky fragrance of the air.

The boulevard along Tripoli Harbor

My excitement turned to apprehension as I surveyed the tiny bedroom my sister and I would share: two narrow single beds covered by dark red-striped bedspreads. The strange surroundings almost overwhelmed me. I felt disoriented and fearful – gone were the familiar touchstones of stateside life. And it all smelled so odd. I couldn’t wait until we had our own place and were surrounded by our own furniture.

Our private bathroom changed my mood.  The very deep rectangular tub was unusual, even ludicrous to American eyes. The tub was designed as a seat; when the bather was seated, the tub would hold enough water to reach our armpits. There was no stretching out in this oddity. Prominently hung on the wall was a urinal, with no sign of a regular toilet. Obviously a man’s convenience was more important in this Middle Eastern palace. Giggling at the incongruity, the two of us found we couldn’t even improvise; it was too high to fit our private plumbing. We’d have to find a normal toilet to use.

Remembering Bobby Kennedy

The Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez wrote a very touching story today about Juan Romero, the Ambassador Hotel busboy who held Kennedy’s hand in the pantry as he lay dying in June, 1968.  The photo taken of the kneeling Juan Romero and Robert Kennedy sprawled on his back after being shot is a famous one. Romero, now 60 and a resident of San Jose, made a special trip with his daughter to Kennedy’s grave site at Arlington National Cemetery to honor his hero’s memory; Kennedy would have been 85 on November 20. Romero was greatly affected by the memory of that night and, Lopez said, honored the presidential candidate’s memory by “living a life of tolerance and humility.”

When the magnetic Robert Kennedy was killed, I was living in the San Fernando Valley. It was sad and depressing to know he was killed in my new hometown. I couldn’t help but remember the times I had seen him years before in Virginia and Washington, D.C. in the  early 1960s. This Life Magazine cover of June 14, 1968, makes me tear up even now. RFK was running along an Oregon beach followed by his dog Freckles.

Robert F. Kennedy and his dog Freckles

I had first seen the magnetic Robert Kennedy when I was a freshman at William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and he was campaign manager for his brother John Kennedy’s election as president of the U.S.  My real thrill came a couple of years later, in 1962, when President John Kennedy created an educational summer program for college students working for the government in offices in the Washington D.C. area. To initiate the program JFK himself met with student workers on the lawn of the White House. Although I don’t recall a word he said, it was probably an inspiring but short speech on how we were going to learn something about the inner workings of government, which was to take place several times during the summer at Constitution Hall, an auditorium near the Washington Mall that sat 4,000 people.

Student workers were bussed from various offices to spend a couple of hours listening to important members of government. I was picked up where I was working at Washington National Airport. I met my friend Barbara, also working for government, at Constitution Hall that afternoon. We  listened to some long-forgotten government officials and Robert Kennedy, the Attorney General at that time. What wisdom they imparted to us students, I no longer remember.

When the speeches were over, Barbara and I walked back to our busses. Barbara was the girlfriend who accompanied me to the U.S. Senate a few years before when we’d seen John Kennedy as a senator. I’ve written a blog post about it.

We were ambling along close to Constitution Hall when we passed a ramp leading to a building entrance. A limousine was parked there, angled downward, ready to leave with its passenger. We both glanced over and saw Robert Kennedy in the back seat, blue eyes flashing. He had spotted us and gave us a huge genuine grin and we smiled back, delighted that we’d seen him.

I lost touch with Barbara years ago, but I bet she also has a vivid memory of seeing Robert Kennedy, whose inner being seemed to pour out of his eyes.

Lopez’s column quoted something Robert Kennedy said, and it deserves repeating: “What we need in the United States is not division…not hatred…not violence or unlawfulness, but love and wisdom and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country…Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to take the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world…”

IMAGINATIVE ADVERTISING in PERSONAL ADS

Does it look better than it tastes?

A sucker for imaginative writing, I’ve learned a few lessons about the truth or fiction behind “personal” advertising. I answered an ad from a man who called himself handsome and a talented writer of energy and spirit. He claimed that trumpets would blare and cymbals would crash when he met the right woman. When we talked, he told me he lived in Redondo Beach and had a view of the Pacific Ocean. He owned some unusual decorations, like a six-foot hand-carved Polynesian alligator, but his prized possessions were a line drawing by Picasso and a Spanish bullfighter’s cape.

When I met him, I discovered he was much older than I’d thought (he hadn’t admitted his age). He had difficulty walking, was hunchbacked and had prostrate problems. He told me he wasn’t expecting Dolly Parton, and I took that as a compliment–I was in shorts and a low-cut blouse. His beach apartment balcony had an ocean view if you leaned over and squinted through the buildings in front of his. The treasured wooden alligator made walking difficult, but it was one of the few mementoes that had survived five marriages and lots of alimony.

Turned out he was a child psychiatrist, a rival of the famous Dr. Benjamin Spock of Baby and Child Care fame. He had written five books and claimed he’d coined the term “parenting.” I did find a couple of his books in my local library afterward.

He bought lunch after showing me all his treasures, but it was a litany of his complaints about all his former wives. He was looking for someone to take care of him and listen to all his misery. I wondered why I’d spent so much time listening to him. Was I too polite or just not savvy enough yet?

The most daring experience I had was flying to New Orleans to meet an Israeli biochemistry professor at Tulane University. He had read my ad and didn’t care that we were geographically challenged. We had had several interesting conversations and after he’d seen my photo, he was convinced I was the one a psychic had said was perfect for him. He made good money, evidently, and wanted to fly me to New Orleans for a weekend. I felt he sounded trustworthy and I’d never been to the “Big Easy.” One of my girlfriends thought I was out of my mind, but agreed to keep an eye on my kids.

The professor was fairly recently divorced and had come to the States to forget his troubles with his former wife, who had custody of their children and had remained in Israel. He was polite for the most part and did show me around New Orleans, but after he’d shared all his anguish with me, he soon realized he’d made a mistake and wasn’t ready for any kind of relationship. I left a day early.

It seems my psychic reading of a few years before was coming true. She had told me that I would not leave any stone unturned in life. I hadn’t found the right stone yet, apparently.

Being Single — IT’S NOT ALL FUN AND GAMES

While it’s enjoyable to meet potential relationship material at local watering holes, then and now,

US Navy Blue Angels in formation

there are many bittersweet stories among the patrons. Since I was always interested in people’s personal stories,  I got to know something about various “regulars” of the male gender, and a few became friends.

One such person was Bill, a former Navy fighter pilot, who’d been part of the highly skilled Blue Angels, and flown in the Viet Nam War. He was up to having fun of all sorts, even if it made him look foolish. During Happy Hour at a classy bar restaurant one night, a girlfriend of mine challenged Bill on his offer to do something crazy. She dared him to take off his trousers and boxer shorts (he was wearing a suit and tie) in front of everybody. He managed to slip them off without causing too much of a stir: his shirt had a long tail, which kept him modest. He handed her his boxer shorts and stood there grinning while people stared. Since only his bare legs showed and not his naked fanny, no one protested.

So far, I’ve never seen Bill’s stunt repeated, but a male friend once told me he rode a horse naked (a la Lady Godiva) to a local Western bar for Halloween.

During a time when I was having financial challenges, Bill, who had bought a brand new Porsche and was feeling generous, lent me his older Porsche for about a month. As I got to know him better, I discovered Bill’s charm and enthusiastic boyishness had periods of highs and lows, as did his life. He suffered from bipolar disorder, which soon became evident. During manic times he’d take several showers a day (enough to begin peeling off his apartment’s bathroom wallpaper) or pop in for a visit and head for your wine with a large plastic “to-go” cup  (he ignored any rules about drinking and driving — he drank while he drove). I often wonder what happened to this essentially sweet man.

Before Match.com and all the Internet dating sites, Los Angeles had the Singles Register newspaper, which was readily available and crammed with hundreds of ads from all over LA. The ads were somewhat similar to the more modern ads of today, but without the bells and whistles of graphics, photos, tapes, and computer services, etc. A man or woman with an imagination and willingness to create an enticing ad could have a field day exploring Love or Lust. Things weren’t as threatening in the days before AIDS sprang into full life.

In my personal ads I mentioned I enjoyed walks on the beach, candlelight dinners, great conversations, good movies, and the like when those descriptions were a bit fresher. This type of ad is totally passé at this point, but then so are newspapers. The method of contact was also old-fashioned. The respondent was required to send a letter (the kind that uses stamps and is now called snail mail) and encouraged to send a photo. Those letters could be flowery and clever or very simple. Analyzing the handwriting, if you knew how, gave a clue about personality.

I’ve always appreciated creativity and good writing, but I soon learned that the “buyer” must beware; not everything or every person was as advertised. Photos weren’t necessarily current or very representative of the person: a common complaint now on the Internet. Oddly heartening, however, was the fact that these advertisers often genuinely believed what they wrote about themselves. Optimistic advertisers actually did see themselves as looking younger, having all their hair and a great body. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, even if it’s just your own eyes.

ITALIAN HONEYMOON – A COMICAL ENDING

Gloomy view from our balcony at the Hotel Aurelia

Going to Italy is not always a guarantee for sunshine and fun. My newlywed husband and I discovered that on our honeymoon to Milano Marittima in 1965.

In our quest for the sun, Hans and I decided on a short trip to San Marino, an ancient separate country within Italy.

As the bus climbed to the top of the little mountain country, instead of sunshine, we had managed to get even more socked in. It might has well have been raining, and it was so foggy we could see almost nothing, much less the so-called spectacular views. We got off at a restaurant before we reached the top; there would be good Italian food and better yet, some wine to soothe us.

San Marino--the way it was supposed to look

When we came back to the hotel, a few hours later, there was still no sunshine and the next day was no better. We decided to call it quits and go back to Germany. Heaters and oysters, even Italian food, didn’t make up for lack of sunshine. We weren’t getting any warmer, not even with sex. By this time it was nearly Easter.

The next day we packed our heavy bags, wondering why we’d brought so many clothes and the tennis rackets. When we got back to the train station in Rimini, we discovered we’d chosen the wrong day to travel. Italian workers love to strike and the trains hadn’t been running for three days. That it was almost Easter made it worse; the station was packed with people. First class reservations didn’t mean a thing! To add insult to energy, the sun was coming out!

There were no seats to be had—it was standing room only. For the first leg of the journey we were packed in at the back of one of the cars near the W.C. (toilets). There were not enough cars to hold all the passengers wanting to go somewhere, like home for the holiday. We had to stand by our heavy suitcases. Hans was very obliging and good natured: he would lift the young passengers, who needed to go to the toilet, over the suitcases.

We rode standing for an hour or so before we reached another train station. They were going to remove some cars so we had to get off the train and find our new car. Trouble was, the cars hadn’t all stopped near a platform, which meant we had to carry those heavy suitcases through the large rocks surrounding the train tracks until we found the designated car.

For this segment of the journey, we were lucky to find a seat. It was a fold-down seat in the mail car, an interesting location and somewhat entertaining as we watched train workers sorting the mail. Hours later, and another transition from one train to another, we actually found a regular, fairly comfortable train seat in a fully packed car. No scenic ride back to Germany. By the time we got to our Mannheim, Germany, destination, it was near 3 a.m.

At that time of the morning, we didn’t want to spend the money for a hotel and Hans’ room in the BOQ wasn’t available. We made the best of it by having a drink and a light snack. We shared a table, as Europeans do, and watched the interactions of the people sitting around it.

I have a vivid memory of a young blond German woman entertaining her GI companion. She might have been charging! She had apparently bought a new bra and wanted to show him how pretty it was. She thought nothing of pulling her sweater up and modeling it, not only for him, but for everyone else at the table and nearby. We Americans were absolutely clueless in bra design in those days. Hers had colorful flowers on a green background.   American women were still wearing white, beige and black.

A SCREWY ITALIAN HONEYMOON

Tossing the bridal bouquet before leaving for Italy

My cousin, Ray Scott, a country-western singer, is planning a music tour in Italy for November. Thinking of Italy reminds me of my unusual Italian honeymoon long ago, a cause for many laughs.

My ex and I were married in Frankfurt, Germany, in early April. Hans was a Lt. in the Army, I was working as a secretary for the Manager of the Heidelberg Officers Club, and my parents were stationed in Frankfurt.     Since it was still chilly in Europe, we thought we should go south for a honeymoon and find reasonable accommodations. I suggested the island of Majorca, but Hans knew a travel agent who could get us a great price in a nice hotel right on the Adriatic in Italy. Milano Mirritima was very close to Rimini and could be reached easily by train from Germany. We figured the weather in Italy was bound to be better than Germany, even if it was barely Spring.

The hotel boasted tennis courts, a beach, and plenty of things to do when we needed a break from romance. Believing we should be prepared for all occasions, we packed our largest suitcases, with tennis racquets, of course. I had spent money on new outfits and took them all; I was not a light packer.

We had had a formal wedding at an Episcopal Church that served both Americans and Germans. The reception was at my parents’ military housing on Hansallee. Although the day was overcast, it was warm enough to have a bar set up outside and food in the living/dining area.

My military father drove us all crazy preparing for the wedding and reception, and I wondered if my mother and I would survive to enjoy it. A couple of hours into the lively reception, Dad, who believed in “getting the show on the road,” encouraged us to get down to the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof in plenty of time for the train. We had a couple of hours to stroll around and check out an area that was ripe with hookers. Train stations were always full of potential customers.

The trip south on a sleeper coach (we had splurged) took all night and into the next day. We disembarked in Rimini and took a bus to the small beach town of Milano Marittima. The brochure was quite inviting but the weather that first day was just cold and gloomy.

We were impressed with the modern looking Hotel Aurelia with its artistic marble floors; it was clean and the staff was very helpful.  Our room with a balcony was a few floors up and facing the ocean. We were looking forward to a warm sunny week. The next day also dawned gloomy and overcast. Marble floors are not inviting when the weather is cold.

What the hotel was supposed to look like in sunny weather.

Not a day to take a dip in the ocean, we walked around the small town and had delicious prosciutto and wine. Fortunately, we’d brought sweaters along with all the beach attire. There wasn’t much to do as far as exploring, so we did what honeymooners do. The staff was quite solicitous, encouraging us to eat oysters and eggs, which were supposed to be good for your sex life, and they brought us a portable heater in case our body heat wasn’t enough. We had special service in the dining room. They could practice on us since the hotel was essentially empty except for one other couple. No wonder the price had been ideal!

Where was the sun Italy was famous for? Not here. Perhaps we could find sunshine nearby? We discovered there was a separate country a few miles away. We bought tickets for a bus jaunt to San Marino, an approximate 38-square-mile mountain and one of the smallest states in the world after the Vatican and Monaco. Although the mountain was less than a half-mile high, maybe it would get us out of the moisture and overcast. It was worth a try.

To be continued…

Hamsters, etc. — Heaven & Hell

A wee hamster feasting

The craziest critter episodes in my life concerned my son’s hamsters. Before we got a dog, we bought a female hamster Hansi named Peaches (because of her color). She was too lively for her cage and wheel and soon broke one of her delicate legs. We took her to the local vet who recommended she be put down since hamsters cost so little. In a noble gesture, we paid the $90 for the amputation. She thrived a few months more and nearly lost another limb before she finally succumbed for good.

The next hamster had babies. A couple of them escaped their cage and headed for the kitchen. I was hosting a dinner party when several of us heard munching noises and deduced it was the missing little beasts. One of the guests suggested bringing the mother close to the dishwasher where the hamsters were roosting. That did the trick.

I discovered the hamster damage the following day when I ran the dishwasher and the kitchen flooded. Those darn critters had chewed a big hole in the water hose!

My daughter Heidi had a hamster briefly, until the Siamese cat I’d adopted snuck into her bedroom one night. The clever pussycat managed to open the cage and the noise of munching woke Heidi up. She and her brother grabbed our cat away but it was too late for the little hamster.

Dogs aren’t always the perfect pet either, especially when your kids leave the Halloween candy out. Our cockapoo, Cockles, had a feast, which included the foil wrappings on various chocolate goodies. My kids discovered a sick dog after school; since I couldn’t get home, they had to carry our cockapoo down a hill and a few blocks to the vet for a stomach pumping and an overnight stay. I wish I had a photo of that journey.

My friend Joanie lives in a mountainous area of Temecula, south of LA, and I enjoyed a weekend visit not long ago. She hasn’t lived so close to the wild before and told me how her beagle, despite her advanced age, was still spirited and eagerly chased after a coyote when they first moved in. Afraid for her dog’s health, a barefoot Joanie chased her for almost half a mile before the beagle had had enough fun. As I was dropping off to sleep on the first night of my visit, I heard two creatures chasing each other right outside my window. One set of footsteps was heavy, the other set lighter. They scampered by so quickly I didn’t get up to look out the windows. I was convinced it was probably a mountain lion chasing his midnight snack. I shivered a little and went back to sleep.

Probably the cutest encounter I can relate concerned Mama Duck and her five wee ducklings. Enjoying the apartment pool with my neighbors one summer not long ago, we all stopped to gawk at a mother duck leading her little ones right into the pool for a swim. We all got out to enjoy the scene. Mama led them around, directed them all to get out and then had them all jump in again. My landlady, being a more practical sort, got out a broom and shooed them out for good. No duck crap in our pristine pool!

Some years ago, I had an animal trainer for a neighbor. Jules Sylvester and his wife lived in the apartment above me and we got to know him quite well. His business, Reptile Rentals, was a flourishing occupation for the movie business. Not long ago he appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno; he’d brought a python. But that’s an entirely new story for a later time.

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