About Me

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After 35 years in public education as a university administrator and a high school English teacher, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalists awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Friday, August 30, 2019

They Called Her Dummy

Every time our fourth-grade teacher told us to open our books for the day’s history lesson, I braced myself. She would ask each student, one by one, up and down each row, to read a paragraph aloud. Every time Wanda (not her real name) was asked to read. Sister Ursula had to help her sound out each word. Whatever spark of interest had been kindled in me by history that day would be snuffed out by Wanda’s painstaking struggle with words.

Those of us who didn’t need the teacher’s help figured Wanda was not as smart as we were. We generally ignored her. When I once overheard one of my buddies tell her she was a dummy who smelled bad, I didn’t have the courage to speak up in her defense.

The only reason Wanda did not get bullied more openly and often is that we were in a Catholic school. We knew bad behavior would be met with the usual punishment: knuckles rapped by a nun, swinging a wooden ruler, followed by a one-hour sentence of kneeling in the hall on the hard linoleum floor to give us time to think about what we had done.

Fast forward 30 years to the day I met Karen. We were cast together in a community theater production of Angel Street, the stage version of the 1944 film, Gaslight. As I got to know her, I learned she could have been Wanda. Not the one I knew, but someone else who could not read before the age of 10. She was called a smelly dummy by Brucie, Michael, Jerry and John, her public school’s apostles of bullying.

In Karen’s case the name-calling grew to include forcing her to dodge pebbles thrown at her. At recess she sought protection from her tormentors by hiding behind a building. The playground was just another battleground for her.

Karen was lucky to have a mother who encouraged her, helping her with her spelling after school each day. But she also found comfort from her fantasy friend, Bette Davis.

From the earliest she could remember, Karen wanted to be a movie star. She often retreated to her bedroom to act out scenes from her best friend’s movies, waving an imaginary cigarette in grand gestures, the way her idol would do.

By the time Karen reached high school her difficulty in reading had been overcome by her talent on stage. Her success in leading roles in college led to a call back audition with Otto Preminger. But, even at that time, the damage she took to her self-esteem as a grade schooler robbed her of the self-confidence required for that all-important audition with the legendary director.

Preminger sat on a high stool, in a darkened room, peering down at the timid, aspiring actor before him. He asked Karen, “What have you done?” Forgetting the accolades showered on her previous leading roles, she could find only the words, “Oh… nothing.” Never again would she come as close to achieving her dream of movie stardom.

Karen told me, despite her experience in professional and community theater over the years, she has never been able to overcome a feeling of not being good enough, stemming from her lifelong struggle with reading.

When her daughter encountered the same problem in school, Karen sent her to a learning disability specialist, who diagnosed the problem as dyslexia, a word Karen had never heard.

She learned dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence, but only with the inability to automatically match the letters you see on a page with the sounds those letters and combinations of letters make.

It turns out Wanda and Karen were not dummies, after all.

Here’s what researchers at the Yale University Center for Dyslexia & Creativity  have discovered about dyslexia:

--Dyslexia is an unexpected difficulty in reading for an individual who has the intelligence to be a much better reader.

--While people with dyslexia are slow readers, they often are very fast and creative thinkers.

--Dyslexia cannot be cured, but with accommodations, it need not keep a person from excelling in whatever occupation they choose.

--Dyslexics do not see and write words and letters backwards. That’s an ongoing myth that can’t seem to die.

--One in five of the U.S. population has dyslexia. With about 140 residents in this senior living community, I’m guessing Karen’s not alone.

Here are some warning signs of dyslexia that show up in elementary school.
--Slow and awkward reading
--Trouble reading unfamiliar words, making wild guesses because they can’t sound out the word
--Avoidance of reading out loud

But here are some strengths of dyslexics as they reach adulthood.
--Excellent writing skills if the focus is on content, not spelling
--Exceptional empathy and warmth
--Success in areas not dependent on rote memory
--The ability to come up with original insights
--Inclination to think outside of the box and see the big picture
--Noticeably resilient and able to adapt

Karen chooses not to join Book-of-the-Month clubs because of the burden of her slow reading and the time she must set aside for writing her own books. But when her 2015 San Diego Book Awards Winner, Helga: Growing up in Hitler’s Germany, was chosen for discussion by our Château’s book club, she found the time to attend.

Although Otto Preminger dashed Karen’s dream of movie stardom, I can’t hold it against him. Had she been an Academy Awards winner, it’s unlikely this small-town boy would ever have met her.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Not Your Typical Retirement Home

Things are quiet at the Crystal Palace Saloon in Tombstone, Arizona on this Friday evening of August 16, 1881. Saloonkeeper Quarrelsome Karen is badgering a poker player to order another drink, when Cutthroat Chris and his gang, Los Banditos Del Lago, burst in, demanding money.

Quarrelsome K refuses to cooperate, so Cutthroat and his gang drag the saloon’s best poker cheat, Oscar “Hot Tamale” Arango, out to be hanged.

Hearing the saloonkeeper’s desperate cries for help, Town Marshal Will arrives with his deputy, Gun-Slinging Sam, a former ballet dancer. They promise to guard the money, go after the thieves, and save Oscar.

There’s a shootout at the OK Corral. Ruthless Russell, the Los Banditos sharpshooter, staggers off, after being shot by Deputy Sam. He falls, lifeless, into the Corral’s pond.

Saved from the noose, Oscar grabs the money and shouts, “Whoohoo! It’s my money, now! I’m going to Disneyland!

This occurred last Friday night at the Château Lake San Marcos Independent Living, Active Adult Community.

The community center’s dining hall was transformed into the Crystal Palace, festooned with decorative reminders of the 1880’s. A stage set, depicting the OK Corral, stood on the grounds outside.  
Quarrelsome Karen was played by the love of my life. I was Roadhouse Riehl, a former preacher who became her wimpy husband. We were cast in the roles by Cutthroat Chris, (not his real name) the HOA executive director of this 55+ community. He wrote the script and directed the show.

The rest of the cast were Chateau employees, including kitchen staff, (Rattlesnake Richard and Oscar “Hot Tamale” Wrango), the resident services director, (Gun Slinging Sam), the maintenance director (Ruthless Russell), the activities coordinator (Hurricane Katrina) and the transportation coordinator (Wild Will). 

Six extras, posing as poker players, were young enough to be our grandchildren. They serve us our daily meals in the dining hall with consistent courtesy and professionalism.

Band Diego Oldies provided the dance music, with tunes from the 50's and 60's. Fifteen of our fellow residents, billed as The Red Hot Peppers, provided the line dancing.

According to an article in Berkeley Wellness, published by the University of California, Nov. 20, 2014, “The Many Health Benefits of Dancing”: Many studies have found dancing can improve balance, even in frail elderly people. Some have shown improvements in gait, walking speed, and reaction time, as well as cognitive and fine motor performance. It has been shown to reduce depression, anxiety, and stress and boost self-esteem, body image, coping ability, and overall sense of well-being, with the benefits lasting over time.

The dancers that night ranged from a 102-year-old gentleman, to a young lady in her teens. What they all had in common were their smiles.

Dinner/dance celebrations occur almost monthly here. On each occasion the attendees are multi-generational, with guests, including children and grandchildren of residents, welcomed with open arms. This place doesn’t feel like an old folks’ home.

Karen and I are looking forward to the Halloween party, our next opportunity to dress up in costume. Last year Karen went as Charlie Chaplin. I had hip replacement surgery the day before, so I wore my hospital ID wristband and posed as an operating room escapee. At 7 pm, giving in to post-operative pain, I pushed my walker back across the street to our condo, where I downed an Oxycodone and slept like a baby.

Today we’re booked on the Château’s monthly noon hour boat cruise on beautiful Lake San Marcos next door. Just another day in the life of this lucky couple, who found the right place at the right time in their lives.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Finding Desmond: My Supervisor Search

After discovering Karen and I cannot vote in city elections because our home is located in an unincorporated area of San Marcos, I’ve found we do live within the San Marcos School District, so we can vote on school bond measures. And, as County residents, we can vote in District 5 Supervisor elections. Jim Desmond, former two-term mayor of San Marcos, won his seat in the 2018 election, after Bill Horn stepped down from his 24-year reign.

Once elected, our county supervisors tend to remain there. District 2 Supervisor Dianne Jacob has the record. She’s in her 27th year in office, the longest serving supervisor since the five districts were created in 1889. District 1 Supervisor Greg Cox has begun his 25th year, and District 4 Supervisor Ron Roberts, gave up his seat, together with Horn, after his 24 years.

It wasn’t always that way. In the 104 years before Jacob took office, only Austin De Graf, who served District 4 from 1945 to 1970, and David Bird, who held the District 2 seat from 1941 to 1964, have come close to matching the incumbencies of Jacob, Cox, Horn and Roberts.

It begs the question: Why are our county supervisors so popular these days? I’m guessing it begins with their expanded use of media technology to promote themselves. Here’s what I learned from Supervisor Desmond’s website, under his priorities.

Promises Made Need to Be Kept --- April 30, 2019
In November 2004, 67 percent San Diego’s voters approved a 40-year extension of TransNet, a half-cent sales tax to generate funds for highway, road, and public transit projects. San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) is responsible for leveraging these funds with state and federal resources;

On April 26, 2019, SANDAG staff presented to the Board of Directors a new vision for the RTP. The new vision identifies numerous new public transit projects while removing the majority of the 14 unconstructed highway projects that the San Diego voters were promised in the 2004 TransNet Extension Ordinance.

The purpose of this letter is for the County Board of Supervisors (Board) to direct the Chairwoman to send a letter addressed to SANDAG on behalf of the Board opposing any modification to the TransNet Extension Ordinance; advocating for inclusion of the highway and road projects in the RTP.

Encinitas mayor, Catherine Blakespear, in a message to her constituents, addressed the issue this way:

“SANDAG prepares a plan every four years that looks ahead 50 years and asks,How do we want our transportation network to look in the next half century?”

Studies show that a few years after a freeway is widened, congestion returns to previous levels. It’s called induced demand – if you build it, they will come.

With his love of cars on freeways, my supervisor is clearly unconcerned by California’s requirement of a 19 percent reduction in carbon emissions from every person within the next 15 years, based on the emissions generated in the county in 2005.

Notably absent from Desmond’s website is any mention of climate change and the need to reduce carbon emissions to keep his district livable for following generations. Instead, on July 24 he sent a letter to his fellow supervisors titled, “Streamlining the Discretionary Permit Process,” to gain their support to make it easier for developers to escape the burden of the California Environmental Quality Act Process (CEQA) by allowing them to “self-certify” their projects.

His fondness for developers may be explained by their generosity in funding his 2018 campaign.

Twenty-one Desmond donors have District 3 San Diego home addresses, including the Chief Executive officer of ColRich Multifamily, a private, family run, residential real estate development and investment firm in LaJolla. The company has acquired, developed and managed more than 12,000 apartments and multifamily residential units in seven states (CA, OR, WA, CO, AZ, TX, UT). With several members of the Gabriel family in leadership positions, they donated a total of $4,200 to Desmond’s campaign.

Other notable donors from outside his District 5 include developers, real estate investors and construction firms. The following is just a sample.

--Touchstone Communities, a San Diego-based real estate investment and land development company, $1,300

--Kvaric Capital and Risk Management, San Diego, $1,600

--Gafcon, a San Diego firm with core expertise in managing complex design and construction activities, $1,600

--Cloverfield Management, Santa Monica, $2,050

--Suncoast Financial, San Diego, $1,600

--Marc Perlman Real Estate investment, Del Mar, $1,100

--Sudberry Properties, San Diego, $4,800

--Atomic Investments, San Diego, construction and development projects, $2,000

--Hilltop Properties, Escondido, $1,600

The total for individual donors from outside of his district comes to $37,800. Add another $25,000 from the San Diego GOP Political Action Committee, and the grand total of contributions from sources beyond District 5 comes to 20 percent of his $298,000 campaign.

Thanks to the San Diego County Registrar of Voters campaign financing website, as well as Jim Desmond’s, We’re now informed voters in our new home.