Monday, October 15, 2018

"Summing Up: 'Rancho La Puerta - September 29th To October 6th, 2018'"

Deprive me of “Piano Privileges”, if you must.  Accuse us of “Stealth Smokerism”, if you dare.  Despite niggling quibbles – the Dining Hall chairs get increasingly uncomfortable as I get older – for me, Rancho La Puerta remains “The Happiest Place on Earth.”  (That doesn’t have “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Animatronic Abe Lincoln.”  But, you know… they’re different.)

Two Reasons I Love Coming Here:  The people, and the place.

First evening…

An octogenarian “Presenter”, offering lectures on “Conflict Resolution”, introduces himself thusly:

“I’m Abe.  I’m so old I was around when the Dead Sea was just sick.”

That would not be the last or the creakiest joke he would bestow upon us that week.  

But he told them all with a twinkle.

Two women, working individually in the Lounge, assembled a one thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle in three days.  Three days was how long it took me to discover the location of the oatmeal.

I learned of a woman whose next visit to the Ranch would be her one hundredth.  (As opposed to my 37th, but who’s competing?)  When exactly did she start coming?  I imagine her standing outside, waiting for them to finish it, and when she stepped in for the first time, she said,

“One!”

A visitor from Denver, claiming his wife was the “Biggest ‘Foodie’ in the world”, backed up that trumpeting assertion, revealing,

“We once flew to Portland for donuts.”

And then, there was the woman who almost killed me on a hike.

Let me record this “Pithy Aphorism”, before forgetting what it is.

What was it, again?

Oh yeah.

“There is a thin line between courtesy and dying.”

Stitch that on a pillow, and commit it to memory.

Her name was Jean.  No, it was Jane.  No, it was Jean.

At the ten or so minute mark of the morning “Woodland Hike”, Jean came up from behind me, immediately bombarding me with questions.

I thought she was a reporter. 

From The Hiker’s Tribune.

Here’s the thing, though.  I lack a memorable aphorism to easily embed it into memory, so I’ll just say it “regular.”

Quite often, people who start out bombarding you with questions are, in fact, merely setting you up.

When you eventually reciprocate, asking them a question – “Snap!”, the sound of an animal, caught in a trap – that is exactly what they’ve been waiting for.

From then on, they proceed to “Command the Floor.”

And they never.

Give it back.

I can’t tell you how many interesting factoids I learned about Jean.  Which is not the problem.  I myself have been known to reveal information on one’s dying to hear.

“Tell us about it.”

Ah, I see “Blue Italics Person” is along for the ride.

The problem was, while Jean – Or was it Jane? – No, it was Jean – went on, chronicling her mu-traveled biography – San Clemente, to Stanford University, to Ohio, to her current home in Charlotte, North Carolina – she proceeded at faster pace than a seventy-three year-old man with “heart issues” was able to comfortably keep up with.

Although I tried.

Because I did not want to be rude.

What was I going to tell her?

“I’d love to talk to you.  But at this pace, I won’t make it to breakfast”?
I had no choice but to match Jean stride for stride.  Till…

A CONCERNED JEAN:  “Do I need to call someone?”

My heart pounded like an Apache drumbeat before the attack.  I huffed and puffed like superannuated steam engine.  Once, on an upgrading portion of the trail, when required to respond – and this is as close as I came to alerting her to my distress – I said,

“I’ll tell you when we are going downhill.”

The woman never got the hint.

The single “upside” of this harrowing experience?

I finished the “Woodlands Hike” in record time.

I met lots of interesting people during our week at the Ranch.  Way more than I ever encounter at home.  By which I do not mean Los Angeles.  I mean my actual home where I spend the majority of my time.  Housekeeper.  Letter carrier.  That’s it.  (The UPS Person rings the bell, and takes off.)

Think:  “Urban Hermit –  Hungry for Contact.”

That’s what I get, visiting the Ranch.  Mixing it up with a hair stylist from Berkeley.  Learning “What’s a tajine?” from a restauranteur from Aspen.

And when I am not talking to people…

I’m just lookin’ around.

At the natural viewscapes, like the picture at the bottom.

(Taken on the “Woodland Hike” by Myra Pomerantz.)

Why do I come back?

The place.

And the people.

Oh yeah.  And the hammocks.

All they have to do is rethink the laminated notice on the Steinway.


And it’ll be perfect.





Friday, October 12, 2018

"Notorious"

Written at Rancho La Puerta, October the Fourth, 2018.

I practice the piano with four eyes. 

One eye on sheet music.

One eye, focused on my hands.

One eye, fixed to the piano keys.

And one eye, looking for the arrival of someone who will make me stop playing the piano.

No wonder I am making all kinds of mistakes.  I am (at least) two eyes in arrears, my attention perilously divided.   

Though, at my request, bordering on insistence, I have received permission to continue practicing on the Oaktree Pavilion Steinway, despite laminated instructions for guests not performing in evening concerts not to, I fear the on-duty concierge who countermanded the prohibiting ordinance was not authorized to do so. 

Although I acted like she was.

While reacting internally like she wasn’t.

It was not just my natural infuriation to the interdicting “You can’t.” – “But I want to!”  Clearly, I do not appreciate when that happens.  It triggers an “Entitled Princeling” response, “His Royal Loftiness”, coldly rebuffed in his intentions.  Heads will definitely roll!

But beyond me, the Ranch has a longstanding philosophy, which is about nothing if not spiritual harmony and personal wellbeing, a nourishing oasis from outside intervention, reconnecting us with our deeper, more spiritual selves.  No TV’s in the room – it fits.  No phones in the Dining Hall – of course.

“The Steinway’s not intended for visiting guests”?

What’s that?

“Jarringly inconsistent”, is what that is.  Incongruently discriminatory.  Come on!  Are we not equal here at the Ranch, that welcome haven against hierarchy and status?  Consistent with that leveling philosophy, should we not all enjoy equal access to tinkling the Steinway’s elevating ivories?

A sour note resounded at the Ranch.

And, this time, it was not delivered by me.

“An unfortunate happenstance”, I concedingly allow.

And then, this happened.

It started with a call to our room from a different concierge.  (The Ranch originally did not have phones in the room.  Was their subsequent addition, retrospectively, the “Beginning of the End”?)

The call proceeded, formally but politely:

“Mr. Pomerantz?”

“Yes?” 

“It has come to our attention by some of your neighbors that they have smelled cigarette smoke coming from your patio.  We are not sure if you are aware, that the Ranch is a smoke-free environment and we ask our guests not to smoke anywhere on the property.”

(Note:  It sounded like he was reading from some official “Form Letter.”  Stay tuned for validating confirmation.)

I immediately assured him I don’t smoke.

“And your partner?”

“She doesn’t smoke either.”

The concierge appeared sufficiently persuaded on that account.  But the next day, we found a letter in our “mailbox”, that began:

“Dear Guest,

It has been brought to our attention by some of your neighbors that they have smelled cigarette smoke coming from your patio…”

You see?  That guy was reading.  The complaint had now apparently moved up the authoritarial “Chain of Command”, the arriving letter, signed by the “Director of Guest Relations and Programming.” 

A “Director”, no less. 

That guy was big. 

So here we are, visiting what, for us, is the proverbial “Heaven on Earth”, ordered to stay away from the Steinway, and accused of illicit cigarette smoking on the patio.

How did that unfair “outing” eventualize?

We are staying in casita Flores – 26. 

Apparently, the people in Flores – 27” ratted us out.

Inaccurately, because neither of us smokes.

I thought I was just being silly the day before when a passing guest, preambling a compliment, said,

“I heard you playing the piano in Oaktree Pavilion”, and my joking reaction was,

“Shhhh.”

But who knows?  Maybe it wasn’t a compliment, but was, instead, a threatening warning?

(ACCUSATORILY) “I heard you playing the piano in Oaktree Pavilion.”

You see how different it sounds that way?  You know, the 1984 version?

I knew I had to be careful.  My credibility was hanging by a thread.  I mean if a man can use a piano he has been specifically told not to, surely he can lie about smoking cigarettes on the patio.

Or cover malevolently for his wife.

The place had definitely changed.

We were unquestionably “marked” Ranch guests.

In a Nirvana, seeping with treachery.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

"Could It Be Magic?"

Written at Rancho La Puerta, October the Third, 2018.  (Somebody special’s birthday.)

I write this, surrounded by spiritual mountains.  On my last trip here, when my granddaughter accelerated her arrival and was born six weeks early the day after I got home, the mountain’s “House (invisible, but to me) Mariachi Band” sang me an encouraging song, assuring me not to worry that went (in part),

“She’s on her way,
They’re gonna have a little baby,
They’re gonna call her Golda, maybe,
She’ll be okay.”

And as it turned out, they wound up calling her Golda, and she was – and is – robustly okay.

So there is definitely mystical craziness around here.  “Skeptics Unwelcome.”  That is simply the way it is.

Okay.

Also on my previous visit about ten months ago, if you’ll recall, I had requested a casita (an individual cabin, as are all the accommodations at the Ranch)  conveniently located near the Main Lounge, and had been fortunate to receive one.

Unfortunately, as I discovered when I arrived, the Main Lounge was under serious re-construction and my “conveniently located” strategy went immediately out the window.  (Introducing of an interesting “wrinkle” to “irony”:  You get what you want, minus the precise reason you wanted it.)

Understandably, therefore, upon my arrival for this visit – and once again receiving the “conveniently located” casita, I wanted immediately to check out the new and improved “Main Lounge”, which, I’d been told, had taken four months to refurbish.

Before even unpacking, I proceed the conveniently short distance to the Ranch’s nearby Main Lounge location.  From the outside, it is a little disappointing. 

It does not look at all different.

I step inside… and here things get eeIily, “Doo-doo-doo-doo.”  (Twilight Zone theme song.)

I head into the main room, I sit down, I look around, searching for the upgrading adjustments…
And I cannot see…

Anything.

The Main Lounge looks exactly the same.

I mean exactly.  Nothing at all has been altered.  Same layout.  The doors, the fireplace, the windows – all in the same place.  They’d even retained the adjacent room’s closeted "Phone Booths”, where I used to call home.  Why did they keep those?  Even I have a cellphone.  Who sits in a booth to call home?

The place felt curiously bizarre, being the duplicate image of its earlier incarnation.  If there were a ranch contest called, “What’s changed?”, the “Trick Question” winner would be, “Nothing at all.” 

This was an alien planet, that looked exactly like Earth.

Four months of constant construction?

And we get the old lounge’s identical twin?

What a confident building!

ARCHITECT:  “Any suggestions?”

CONFIDENT BUILDING:  “Yes.  Take pictures of the current arrangement.  And then, copy those pictures.”

Can you believe that?  Imagine you had to the opportunity for a “do-over” of yourself.  Would you really change nothing?”

“Better eyes, and considerably more muscles.”

That’s the minimum I would ask for.  And given time, they would definitely be more.

But this place…

“I am perfect the way I am.  Hit me, again.  Exactly the same.”

I had heard that the lounge’s most serious issue was fixing the roof.  Could it be that that’s all that they did?  I don’t think so.  We just had a new roof put on our house.  It took two-and-a-half weeks!  And our house is considerably bigger than the lounge.

We’re talking four months of construction!  They had to make more changes than that.  But if they did…

Where were they?

Like a bad actor going, “Am I dreaming?”, I kept showily rubbing my eyes.  Could nobody else see what I saw… which was nothing?  I felt like the kid in the Hans Christian Andersen story, beholding the “Emperor’s New Lounge.”

“Isn’t it beautiful?”

“What!”

I have been here 37 times.  I know how this place works.  So I’m wondering, is this just some mystical “Ranch Magic”?

Who knows?

There could be this beautiful new lounge.  And somehow, mysteriously,


I am still seeing the old one.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

"Rebel"

Written October the Second, 2018.

I’m at Rancho La Puerta.  I have come here, I’ve been told, 37 times.  It’s true nothing remains the same.  And neither does this place.  At our arriving buffet lunch – for the first time I can remember, 

They serve peanuts.

There goes the neighborhood. 

Serving peanuts at the Ranch?  What’s next?  “Baked Alaska”?

I am fine with this nutritional addition.  I do not see “The Fall of The Roman Empire” in peanuts.  Caramelized pecans?  That’s testing the boundaries.  But peanuts, the Ranch’s regulated regimen can withstand. 

One of the things I look forward to doing here is playing the Ranch’s Steinway Grand Piano, which is located the… wait, I gotta go look it up.  It’s in some exercise building, but I do not know which one.  Yes, I have been here 37 times.  But, since I rarely participate in classes, if when someone looking for a gym goes,

“You’re an old-timer here.  Where’s…”

“I don’t know.”

Okay.  It’s called Oaktree Pavilion.  They do exercise classes in there, but also host regularly scheduled evening concerts.  And let me tell you, the sonorous resonances in that place, especially when it’s totally empty…

Folks, you have never heard “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” till you’ve heard it in Oaktree Pavilion. 

Even with mistakes, the Steinway was built for that Song of the South Oscar winner.

So, okay.  Everything changes.  I get that.

Still…

Ready to practice, I step into Oaktree Pavilion, making sure I interrupt no one.  No classes in session.  No preparation for the next class.  No janitorial maintenance. 

A fully empty pavilion.

I remove my sneakers – as instructed by the posted signage – and pad over to the Steinway. 

And…

As I am about to remove its protective cloth covering – of a fabric similar to the covering of a Torah – I see a laminated notice sitting on top, which has never been present in all my visits to the Ranch.

I peruse the laminated notice, which says this:

 Dear Guest,

This piano is for the use of the guest musicians to perform for you. 

The beautiful piano in the Main Lounge is for the use of the guests.

                                                                                                             Thank you!

With an exclamation point!  Like we should be excited by this startling edict, which, though politely composed, is, in fact, a chilling “Declaration of Dismissal.”  (Tevye, banished from Anatevka.) 

There it is.  In protecting plastic.

Suddenly, I am no longer permitted to use the piano.

You can imagine my reaction.  (Westerns Fans:  The “Open Range” cowpuncher spotting the signifying barbed wire.)  (Non-Westerns Fans:  I was really upset.)

Restricted from tinkling the Steinway?  Who was I hurting?  I practice for forty-five minutes, at most.  I know I play terribly, but does that really damage the piano?

I feel seriously distraught.  The suggestion of using the “beautiful piano” in the Main Lounge is ridiculous.  There are people in there.  Reading the paper.  Doing the crossword.  Checking their “Net Worth” on their devices.  Who wants their peace and quiet impeded by a struggling piano player, stumbling through “When You Wish Upon A Star.”

Numerous feelings well up inside me.  Annoyance.  Disappointment.  A “throwback” infantile helplessness.  But the most tumultuous feeling of all is

Righteous Indignation. 

(Hey, I’ll capitalize both of them if I want to!)

I know myself.  Fundamentally, I am a congenital “Good Boy”, dutifully coloring within the lines.  If something’s “No”, then it’s “No.”  I grumpily complain, but take no ameliorating action.  I just impotently stew. 

But there’s another part of me – not a big part but it’s there – a part, bristling vociferously against senseless prohibitions.

One example. 

(Leaving you thinking, “If there’s one, there has got to be more.  I shall not dissuade you of that assumption.  Accurate or otherwise.)

You walk to an intersection where the light has just turned “Green”, arriving fractional moments too late to suppress the “Walk” button.  As a result, though the light distinctly says, “Green Light – Go”, the “Pedestrian Crossing Signal” below it registers, “‘Orange Hand’ – ‘Don’t Walk.’”

What essentially does that mean?  It means waiting all the way through that “Green” and then through the following “Red” until the signal cycles around again to “Green”, where, having in the interim pressed the “Walk” button, you can now lawfully cross the street.

Which makes entirely no sense.

When the light turns “Green”, the “Pedestrian Signal” should immediately say, “Walk.”  Because it doesn’t – even though you may have missed pressing the “Walk” button by one second – you are dutifully obligated to wait.  Throughout the whole ensuing “Green”, and, of course, the subsequent “Red.”

An inordinately long time.

I say, “No.”

And rebelliously act accordingly.

At the risk of arrest, a fine and possible incarceration if I truculently protest, I boldly step into the intersection, crossing – safely, and with impediment to no one – towards the admonishing “Orange Hand.” 

That is the kind of person I (occasionally) am. 

Okay.

So here I am, standing at the corner of “Steinway” and “Trouble.”  There could be serious consequences if I deliberately disobey the interdicting order– possibly the loss of the rewarding chocolate chip cookie on Friday – but I cannot help myself.

You have to fight for the principle.

“Give me 'Piano Privileges' or give me death.”  (“Overwrought”, perhaps.  But I am a disenfranchised artiste.)

Knowing there is a law above the mean and arbitrary Rule of Man, and willing to face the punitive consequences, come what may, I sit down at the piano, take out my sheet music to “Remember Me” from Coco, and I begin to practice.

And as God is my witness,


I have never played worse.