Tuesday, April 10, 2018


It was mixed, all right—at least for me.   

The Sun Princess cruise ship, which Rob and I and Chris and Betty-Jo boarded for a round-trip from and to Sydney--with New Zealand lavished in between—stretched to some 857 feet, with our staterooms beautifully plunked at the far end.  Any farther back, and we’d have been in the water.  The view out our sliding glass doors--past the neatly-furnished deck--highlighted a churning, aqua-blue “wake.” The wake was a continuous flow of white and teal bubbles, reminiscent of blue champagne . . . provoking fleeting thoughts of jumping in.   

That was the good news. 

The not-so-good news was that one of Rob’s and my favorite restaurants, basically a buffet called The Horizon (aptly named), was at the opposite end of the ship, meaning a destination thousands of miles away, clear to the bow and four decks up.  If you stood at one end of the blue-carpeted hall, you couldn’t see to the other end.  I’d stare down that forbidding blue trail and ask myself if I really wanted the food that much.

And then we’d begin the trek.  And I’d be thinking, This is good for us, we need this hike, then, God, how I hate this ! until we finally stumbled into the distant elevator, in what appeared to be a whole different country.  (My view, and mine alone—but then I’ve never embraced pure exercise . . . unless, like tennis and pickleball, it involves points.  Still, I may be the only passenger who came home four pounds lighter.) 

Our elegant Regency Restaurant was somewhat closer, with a significant section (“Club Class”) reserved for passengers in suites. There we met two charming couples from Tasmania—and by the end the men were jumping back and forth between our tables, sharing their favorite jokes. Happily, I’d brought a few of my books, soon given to some of our newfound friends.

A third restaurant, “The Sterling Steakhouse,” cost most passengers $29.00 extra just to dine there, and served each patron such obscene portions, covering the entire plate,  that I swear each of them received close to half a cow.  Even Chris, a steak aficionado, couldn’t finish his Porterhouse. While the others sliced and devoured, I spent the time staring regretfully at my mostly-wasted slab.   

However, the four of us were granted unlimited visits, thanks to unresolved leaks that initially took over Chris’s and Betty-Jo’s suite—wherein a few days of rainstorms sent floods of water pouring into their stateroom in and around the sliding glass doors and even through the light fixtures.  Their emails to the family said, “It’s raining equally, both outside and inside.”  For days they traveled with a plastic aqueduct lining the tops of their drapes, complete with various holes leading to seven buckets spaced out along the floor.  By the end, Luca, the officer in charge of guest-services, granted them so many perks that Chris said, “I’d gladly exchange some rain water for all those goodies.” 

On our third night, I was dutifully flossing over the bathroom sink, when I heard a “clunk,” and looking down saw that one of my crowns had dropped into the bowl. Horrified at first, I soon realized that nobody, including me, would notice a difference.  Eventually I stopped approaching each new town with the thought, I wonder if they have a good dentist.            

My favorite impressions of the trip were three-fold---first, the Sydney harbor, with its perpetual flotillas of every size boat. Two--that every afternoon about 4:15, we’d go to Team Trivia,  where we found various smarties to join for a sixsome, then competed with dozens of other teams playing for small prizes, but mostly for ego.  Once we came within one point of “winning,” but usually we did slightly better than average. The third-- going to sleep each night in what amounted to an especially comfortable queen bed, which quickly became a rocking cradle.  After a while, Rob and I found we’d wake up abruptly if the ship stopped moving.

Since the trip, Rob asks everyone, “What’s not to like about New Zealand?”  Anyone who’s been there mentions the green and serene countryside, the looming mountains, the huge population of sheep, the soaring albatross, the ever-gracious people, the roads you can travel without seeing other cars. Driving or biking through the uncluttered countryside is a trip through paradise.  At nearly every stop, Chris and Betty-Jo disappeared and managed to bike or hike for miles.  

Rob and I, confined mostly to cities, rode coaches, a train, a private car, and eventually (at Chris’ insistence), a V-8 Trike—which is basically a three-seated motorcycle with two side-by-side easy chair seats behind the driver . . . a contraption that makes you a spectacle as you roar through town. Besides that, we hiked a bit, shopped, and managed to “park” frequently on dozens of public benches. But hey, we were once the Chris and Betty-Jos of our travels.

Today our grandkids brag to their friends about us—that at our very senior ages (and I won’t admit to how senior), we’re still traveling the world.  For me, the trip was something of a triumph . . . that I managed to walk my way across most of New Zealand.      

Friday, February 23, 2018


These aren’t my words: they come from a letter to the Los Angeles Times. But how perfectly they sum up my attitude.         

Even now, after the Florida school massacre, the gun problem isn’t getting fixed. In spite of current outrage from students, parents, teachers, and the public, few have doubled-down on the one-and-only viable solution to mass killings: make automatic and semi-automatic weapons—like the AR-15—illegal.   

Nothing else can work. It will take time to get weapons-of-war out of gun shops—even longer to retrieve them from ordinary citizens.  But once banned, AR-15s will be used less often. Gun owners can rejoice over less-spectacular killings—down to one-by-one. 

Meanwhile, we’ve heard inane solutions from our president: turn our schools into armed camps; raise the age for buyers of war weapons; “fix” the mentally-ill (he doesn’t say how.)  While listening to families of murdered children, Trump’s remedies come out as though from the lips of NRA’s Wayne LaPierre . . . whose recent speech was infuriating.

Two Times letters are worth re-reading. From Terry Otsuki: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to members of Congress who have sold their souls to the NRA. May they find their humanity again and start taking action to prevent these mass murders.”   

And finally, Kim Eifert Krogstad says: “Other countries have mentally ill people capable of harming others. Other countries have young people who have been bullied or attacked by fellow students and are filled with rage. Other countries have despondent people who have given-up on life and want to go out in a blaze of glory. (Para.) But other countries do not have the kind of school shootings that we have here in the United States. The difference is that in the United States, we value our guns more than our children.”  

Monday, January 22, 2018


This time it was easy.

I’ve been present at a number of dramatic family moments, many of which entailed a significant loss of sleep.  But not yesterday.

This Sunday, after spending nearly a month in California, our granddaughter, Jamie, was headed back to Amsterdam.  Officially, Rob and I said goodbye to her Saturday night over a turkey dinner at Tracy’s house.  Unofficially,  I wanted to be there when she actually departed. So Sunday morning I showed up at our daughter’s home at ten a.m. 

As expected, in that last half hour some serious packing remained to be done.  But though her room was full of still-open suitcases, neither Tracy nor Jamie seemed the slightest bit rushed. In spite of her six-month pregnancy and rather magnificent girth, Jamie moved around easier than I did.  How nimbly she darted up the stairs, how simply she bent over to stuff more stuff in a suitcase.  (The “stuff” being a plethora of gifts resulting from two baby showers.)

“Ever seen these vacuum-sealed packages?” she asked, handing me a square, see-through plastic container. At first glance it appeared to hold dried fruit. 

“Never,” I said, noting that the small package was seriously heavy. Only with a close examination could I tell the packet actually contained lots of severely-compressed clothes. Moments later she used a pipe from the vacuum cleaner to suck air out of another such container. Whoosh, whoosh, and the package flattened out, mashing the clothes until it became half its size.

Next I witnessed an astonishing moment for a bulging suitcase that defied all odds of ever achieving closure.  Somehow Tracy’s partner, Paul, managed to muscle together the two sides and actually zip the zipper . .. which, on the other continent, would doubtless result in an explosion.  (I almost said to Jamie: “If you want to know what your father was like, watch Paul.” ) 

“Jamie,” I asked, as she continued to push and shove and over pack yet another suitcase, “how will you get the airline to take three cases? With one of them weighing 70 pounds?”   

“They’ll take two because I’m business class.”  She gave me a sweet, knowing smile. “The third one--well, I think they’ll take that, too.”  With such a smile, I thought, they probably will. 

 Which, of course, is what happened.   (If that over-compressed suitcase didn’t actually explode, it must have come close.) 

While my impromptu “showing up” yesterday did not include a loss of sleep, other such events have.  

Years ago, on Maui, after Rob declared “Don’t wake ME for this crazy project,” I nevertheless rose at four a.m. to join Chris’ new wife, Betty-Jo, Chris himself, and brother Bobby . . . so I could be there when the two boys flew their hang gliders from the top of Haleakala.  In awe, Betty-Jo and I watched in the dawn light as the two walked to the edge of a cliff and one-by-one, in silent drama, stepped off the mountain and suddenly disappeared—only to appear again as their wings caught the rising air. Ultimately, Chris and Bobby set a 10,000-foot world altitude-drop record—soon reported in newspapers everywhere.  (That was the year we started a family tradition—joining our kids on their honeymoons.)

On a sadder note:  The phone was on my side of the bed when Tustin Community Hospital called at 3:00 a.m. to advise that a family member needed to come immediately because Art Wills was critical.  Letting Rob sleep, I drove into the night, arriving in time to tell Rob’s Dad, “We love you, Art.”  With that, he lifted his arm to his chest, as though saying goodbye. Seconds later, he was gone.   

A few years later, somebody called after midnight . . . whereupon I jumped out of bed and hurried to a Santa Ana Hospital at one a.m. to see my first grandchild, Brandon, moments after he was born.  It happens I was standing just outside the delivery room when I heard his first cry.

Over the years I’ve learned it pays to be there for your family’s vital moments—even if it means a reluctant departure from a warm bed. Long since I’ve learned that the sleep-deprived night is temporary . . . but the resulting memories are permanent.