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Medical professionals—backed up by numerous studies—say that socialization is important to healthy physical and mental aging.

Too often, retirees or widowed individuals become isolated, don’t want to attend events alone, feel cut off, or are dependent on others to push them to get out and be around others. One antidote we are fortunate to have here in the desert: many informal groups that routinely meet to share friendly talk over a meal—the aging comedians, businessmen, show biz vets, university alums and many others.

About 10 years ago, I returned to the desert after seven years in San Diego, where I completed law school, and I was looking for activities that would engage me to jump back into the local scene. The newspaper said the Democratic Women of the Desert was meeting, so I went.

This was a group of positive, motivated women who wanted to make a difference—they weren’t attending to show off their latest outfit or to dish about absent friends. I was ultimately invited to join the board, and looked forward to the board’s monthly working meetings over dinner at local restaurants.

There’s a special bond that is built when you‘re part of a small group committed to a common goal. That bond was the catalyst for a core group of us to continue the monthly dinners after we left the board. We hadn’t just worked together; we liked each other. This is a group of women who are frank, funny, educated and very much alive. I originally called the group “Dem Dames,” but we came to think of ourselves as “Divas,” recapturing a word too often used as a pejorative and giving it a meaning more akin to strong, focused, take-no-shit women.

Each month, one person volunteers to find a place that can handle 10-plus people in a setting where we can hear ourselves talk, preferably at a round table—and the place should be willing to do individual checks. Surprisingly, we have found many local eateries that meet those criteria and have terrific food.

Perhaps the best part of being a Diva is that, although we are all different ages with varying backgrounds—married, divorced, widowed, still working and long since retired—the camaraderie and shared values make our dinners totally relaxing and comfortable.

Although we share the same political persuasion and are active with campaigns, we seldom talk politics; rather, we share aches and remedies, family joys, funny stories, relationship concerns, good/bad movies and books—and all of the other the topics you freely discuss with good friends.

In April, retired teacher Marlene Levine, a La Quinta resident who’s called the desert home for 50 years, invited us all to share in her 80th birthday celebration as the Diva event for the month, and what a party it was!

La Quinta resident Pam Covington (“No, don’t give my age!”) came to the desert from Santa Barbara five years ago, and shared the name of a terrific dermatologist with me.

Anita Hoag, 74, came to the desert in 1989 from West Coast cities including Newport Beach, Malibu, Westwood and even Hawaii—all a far cry from her native New Jersey. Anita was a registered nurse, but subsequently became a buyer with Max Factor cosmetics. She always looks stunning!

Jan Seiden, 77, has been in the desert for 18 years. Currently living in Palm Desert, she describes herself as “the original valley girl,” having grown up in the San Fernando Valley. (“I can say ‘like’ a lot!”) After her career as a nurse, Jan became an electrologist and an expert witness for the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology.

Palm Desert resident Dori Smith, 68, has been in the Coachella Valley for 19 years. Her career was in marketing and communication, but she is known for having founded the local branch of Moms Demand Action, supporting sensible gun safety. I’ll always remember: “It’s easier to lock up a gun than it is to grieve a dead child.”

I’ve written about Dorys Forray before—she’s one of my role models for how to age well. A resident of Indio, Dorys is originally from Brooklyn and has been in the desert for 15 years. At 88, she is one of the most vital, interesting, delightful people I know.

Another friend I’ve introduced through this column is June Pariano, 73, also a La Quinta resident. June came to the desert in 2000 by way of Wisconsin and South Dakota. Her career went from manufacturing to advertising, but her local experience in a cosmetic dental practice might explain her perfect teeth. (When I mentioned that, she responded with a broad smile … and those perfect teeth!)

Phyllis Greene, a surprising 80, lives in Palm Desert. She’s been in the area for 21 years. Born in Chicago, Phyllis moved to the desert from Northridge. Her sharp wit must have served her well teaching science and mathematics to middle school students.

Priscilla Richards didn’t make Marlene’s birthday party, but she is another original Diva known for her wonderful laugh. And then there’s me—in the desert since 1985 (except those years in San Diego), a year older as of mid-May, and with so many careers it would take far too many words to include them here.

There are lots of special interest groups, nonprofits, committees and civic boards that meet to discuss and strategize on common subjects, from politics to health to education to LGBTQ issues to the arts to any policy topic you can imagine. And then there are groups that hang together because they share a common interest—a book club, chamber of commerce, animal rescue group, religious denomination or so on.

The Divas are none of these, regardless of what originally brought us together. We are lucky enough to have at least 10 best friends with whom we can relax, talk confidentially, and share our fears and foibles, while transcending age, background and financial status.

Happy Birthday Marlene, and thank you for reminding me how lucky I am to be a Diva!

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal” Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I’m starting a new streaming-radio gig on iHub Radio (ihubradio.com), That’s Life, after 10 years of doing a call-in talk-show about politics (which I’ll still be doing on iHub as well). That’s Life will be an hour-long show airing weekdays that explores the things that make us all able to relate to each other—subjects like, “Did you ever see your father cry?” or, “What’s the worst job you ever had?”

Well, that covers two shows during my first week. I admit that I’ve struggled to come up with ideas that span all cultures and ages, and will lead to an entertaining daily show.

This brings us to the amazing group of seniors who attend the weekly You Don’t Have to Be Hemingway writing club; I wrote about them in 2014. The group recently held its sixth twice-a-year “recital,” led by creative director Helen Klein, whose idea it was to start this group. Other participants were residents Phyllis Tucker, introduced by Helen as the queen of Las Serenas, the Palm Desert residential complex where the group meets; Jean Ashworth, once with NASA; Karyn Marmo, whom Helen describes simply as “very funny”; multilingual Rosie Nathan; and Janet Arnot, “grandma deluxe and aerospace aficionado.”

Although they are not professional authors, these women produce stories, memoirs and poetry that are touching, revealing, humorous and enlightening. Most of the writing is done in response to “prompts” that Helen proposes—topics like, “What is your best memory?”; “What do you wish you had known when you were younger?”; “Do you remember something you gave away that you wish you had kept?”; and “Imagine three figurines, a bowl, and a lace doily, then write a story about it.”

You know … prompts that are rather similar to the topics that will be covered on my radio show.

One of the most touching readings was by Phyllis Tucker, “Basking in Beauty,” about the beauty of the innocence of a child bringing the promise of a better tomorrow; the beauty of friendship and being part of the older generation; and what is learned from making mistakes along the way. She recognized the beauty in all of life, and love, and asked, “Who would want to live without it?”

She also expressed her humorous side with “Rudolph’s Resignation Letter,” about the red-nosed icon deciding to take a position with another herd.

Helen Klein wrote “Vertically Challenged,” about her own efforts to transcend being an ever-shrinking short woman. “Everyone is taller than me,” she lamented, “but I think about the list of ‘shorties’ including Harriet Tubman (civil rights pioneer), Charlotte Bronte (of the famous literary family), Clara Barton (the nurse who started the American Red Cross), and John Hancock (a leading patriot during the American Revolution and the first Governor of Massachusetts).” Good company to be in. She completed her story with, “Now if I could only find something to wear!”

Jean Ashworth has recollections of a simpler life growing up in rural Canada in “And They Call It Progress.” Jean considered what her grandparents might think of how life has changed. “I don’t think after having seven children that my grandmother would have thought much of Viagra!”

Rosie Nathan wrote about “A Big Stack of Records” she once found, noting that everything will die one day, but music will live eternally. Another of her stories was “Surprise, Surprise,” about a man suffering color-blindness who finds sunglasses with “magic lenses” and cries with pure joy when he finds himself in a technicolor wonderland. Rosie also tackled “Springtime Again” with images of flowers blooming, the sun shining, clear air, the smell of oranges, and a nest of robins. She’s carried away with the enchantment of it all.

Karyn Marmo penned a three-part account of “Passing the Baton,” involving a dog for which she was baby-sitting … and her husband’s efforts to buy the dog. “I didn’t want another dog. It looked like a small sheep with no hair. At the vet, it took a split second for the dog to need to be muzzled, looking like a miniature Hannibal Lecter.” By part three, “The little dog I swear I didn’t want is now the little dog I love.”

Janet Arnot’s contributions included “It’s the Pits,” recounting the time the gorgeous love of her life had just proposed … to her sister. “There he is,” she recounted. “I want to be swept up by him, the man of my dreams. I look across the room and see them holding hands and then he gets down on one knee. This isn’t how I pictured it.”

Helen closed the recital with “Say What?” “I consider myself a pretty nice person, a good-natured, even-tempered individual, but sometimes I get really pissed off! I may be in my 90s, but I certainly have all my faculties.” She then proceeded to rap!

These women—with their imaginations, energy and talent—are inspirations to me, especially now that I need a broad, all-encompassing subject five days a week. Some questions I’ve come up with so far came straight from “Hemingway” prompts:

“Who have you always wished you looked like?”

“What was your first time away from home, and how did you handle it?”

“What’s the most disturbing call you’ve ever received?”

“What do you remember most about your mother?” (Jean recalled that her mother only ever wore one perfume. “Whenever I feel myself missing her, I put some on.”)

“What was it like where you grew up?”

“What’s your favorite memory?”

I have my own story for every question. If you do as well, call me when I’m on the air at iHub Radio, and let’s talk.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal” Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

At what age do we finally figure out what our life is all about? Some of us never figure it out—while others are seemingly lucky enough to figure it out quite young.

Bryanna Czarny, 24, was born in Bellflower, Calif., as the oldest of five children. She spent her early years in Yucca Valley, and has been in La Quinta since the seventh-grade. She came out of a hard-working family: Her father has been a UPS employee for many years, while her mother has proven it’s never too late to go back to school for a career.

Czarny had done some acting in high school, including being nominated for a supporting-actress award. “I had acting coaches who believed in me and pushed me,” she says.

After graduating from La Quinta High School, Bryanna was dead-set on moving to Los Angeles to pursue her education toward a career in television and film production. “My mom kept saying I should go to San Diego, to study toward becoming a newscaster or doing public relations,” says Czarny. “But acting was my dream. Singing was my dream. I wanted to be in entertainment. They finally stopped pestering me.

“My story took twists and turns like I couldn’t have imagined. In the Coachella Valley, I was protected, but didn’t feel like I was expected to do a lot. In L.A., I got in with the wrong crowd and got into drinking and drugs for the first time in my life. I was abused. I was homeless. I even had a gun pulled on me once. I felt overwhelmed, like there was no way to find any help—no tutors or faculty support like I had in high school. No one really knew what was going on.

“I was told that my grades were slipping, and I was going to get kicked out of school. The hardest thing I ever had to do was tell my parents. I was lucky enough to finally talk with a counselor who told me, ‘It’s not over,’ and to pick my head up, go home and start fresh.

“Then an amazing thing happened. It was Christmastime, my first day home, with my car still all packed up. I got a text through a friend on Facebook, from a guy I didn’t even know—who is now my boyfriend. I feel as if God gave us each other. We were both going through things, and we were magically put together at what was then the lowest point in our lives.”

Czarny enrolled at College of the Desert. “Little did I know COD was my best option,” she says. “My life changed dramatically. I’ve been maintaining a high GPA, became captain of the soccer team, wrote for the Chaparral newspaper and was featured in The Desert Sun. I’ve had lead roles in COD productions, created the first annual COD talent show, and took part in student government.

“I was even lucky enough to meet Mary Jane Sanchez-Fulton,” a member of the COD board of trustees and a local political activist, “who took me under her wing. I helped her run a march at the state Legislature supporting education. I also got seriously involved again in acting and was lucky enough to get the lead role in Sylvia, for which I was thrilled to win a Desert Theatre League award up against so many experienced people.

“I think I had to go through the struggles to be as strong as I feel right now.”

Czarny is close to her parents, although she doesn’t think they fully understand what she went through.

“I know I messed up, but I’m a whole new person now. My eyes are open,” she says. “I know my family just wants me to be happy and successful, and I’ll do whatever I must to make them proud of me. If I had lots of money, I’d want to (help) my dad retire so my parents wouldn’t have to work so hard. I don’t always say how much I appreciate them.

“I’m not ashamed of what I went through, because I feel as if I can be a messenger for others. Although I still love film and singing and acting, I now know that teaching is the right path for me.”

Czarny, however, has not abandoned her dream of acting and singing. “I’ve been acting since I was a little kid. I even got to do the school announcements over the intercom in elementary school!

“I still hope to get on American Idol or The Voice,” she laughs.

The best advice Czarny has received: “My best friend always tells me, ‘If ever you’re down or in need, keep a fighting spirit, and keep a smile on your face.’ I’ve learned to tell myself: ‘You are beautiful and special. Don’t ever let anyone take away your dreams. You’re capable of achieving what you want through hard work and dedication, and when you get a ‘yes,’ it’s worth every ‘no’ you’ve ever received.’ Whatever happens, never give up.”

I wish I had learned that lesson by the time I was 24. Don’t you?

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Palm Desert resident John Peters, 66, came from a confused family background—which, in anyone else, might have led to dysfunction, insecurity and/or any number of psychologically traumatic results. But this ebullient man has not only prevailed—he has triumphed.

Peters was born the youngest of four children in Intercourse, Penn. (Yes, that’s really the name.) His father died 6 months before he was born—and his mother remarried and moved, leaving behind the four kids. His two brothers were sent to an orphanage school; his sister was placed in a similar school.

“There were no social programs back then for a young mother like there are today,” Peters says gently.

Peters was too young for a placement and was adopted and raised by his great-aunt and great-uncle in an Amish community.

“The (Amish) kids were all the same (as ‘normal’ kids), just wearing different clothes,” he says. “Intercourse had a population of about 800. You couldn’t get away with anything!”

Peters’ awareness of how different his family situation was began to develop when he was around 6 years old. “I remember distinctly that a bunch of us were out playing, and this girl called me ‘adopted baby.’ I ran to tell my ‘mom,’ and she told me she wasn’t my mom, but that my ‘Aunt Ruth’ was really my mother.

“I didn’t trust anybody after that.”

Peters found out who his natural father was through a half-sister, born during his father’s previous marriage. (He didn’t connect with her until he was 48 years old. He has also reconnected with his natural sister; they became friends as adults.)

Peters’ interest in education developed when he almost flunked out of high school. “I was put in special-education classes,” he says. “My adoptive parents never went very far in school and thought high school was the top of the line. I loved history and business, but I had never learned how to study. As a senior, I think I was taking about 12 periods of shop!”

He found an outlet in martial arts. “My adopted mom had such limited exposure; she didn’t even want me to do sports,” he recalls. He learned jujitsu from a Sunday-school teacher who had military and police-work experience. Peters went on to learn Kodokan, a specific form of judo in which the competition to take down an opponent is key.

Peters left Intercourse in 1969 to move to Washington, D.C., and went to work with the FBI as a clerical employee. He completed his undergraduate degree while at the FBI, and would then go on to earn a doctorate in applied management and decision sciences, a master’s in career and technical education, an MBA in marketing and management, a master’s in public relations, a bachelor’s in criminal justice, and certificates including a teaching credential with the state of California.

Peters’ final assignment with the FBI was at the training academy at Quantico. “I left because it just wasn’t what I thought it would be,” he says.

The constant moving was also an issue, as Peters was raising his two sons as a single parent. “Mothers didn’t know what to do with me when I showed up at school functions,” he laughs.

He left the FBI to do on-the-ground police work, later becoming an expert witness and trainer for police departments across the country regarding police and correctional-institution policies. He is currently president and chief learning officer of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths, Inc. and has been the senior trainer and president of Defensive Tactics Institute, Inc. He also has his own consulting company. Finally, he has produced eight books and 35 videos.

Not bad for a kid raised by people who didn’t believe in education.

Although Peters traveled most of his professional life, he settled full-time in Palm Desert last year.

“I came here on business in 1984,” he says, “to edit a film about defensive tactics with flashlights for police training. I was so impressed with this area. It’s the most beautiful place.”

He bought a condo and commuted between here and Las Vegas, and then held on to it until the market rebounded. Today, he lives with his fiancée, Marilyn, in the house they purchased last year.

They met in a Cal State class. “After we met in class, I remembered her. She stood out in the crowd,” Peters says. “The day we took our exams, we talked. Then I got an email from her months later. We met for coffee. She suggested we walk together, one of my favorite activities, and I assumed she lived near me, since she wanted to start at 6:30 a.m. I was floored when I realized she had driven over all the way from La Quinta. The rest is history.”

As if he didn’t have enough going on, Peters is the president of the Palm Springs Writers Guild and loves encouraging others to pursue their dreams.

Given the headlines about the difficulties faced by law enforcement, what does Peters think we should know?

“I look at my work with police through a lens of honesty,” he says. “When ‘rogue officers’ get in trouble, whether by use of excess force or sexual misconduct, too often they are kept on the job. Some people make mistakes and need to be held accountable.

“Although cab drivers, firefighters and other professions have higher rates of death, police face ‘excited delirium’ behaviors that can be the result of a variety of causes, from dementia to drugs to mental illness. Yes, police need to police their own, but never forget that cops are targets by virtue of their uniform. With the police, the uniform itself means that their deaths are not industrial accidents—they’re murders.”

What’s next for Peters? “Writing topics I want to write; getting involved in community organizations; and part-time teaching.”

One of Peters’ most enjoyable projects was researching how Intercourse got its name. It’s a story I’ll leave for him to tell.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Most of us live our lives within the boundaries and expectations set for us by our families and society. Some of us are lucky enough to discover our calling—like a bolt out of the blue.

I had a friend who was something of a ne’er-do-well in his youth, but late one night while standing on the deck of a ship, he had what he could only describe as a revelation: His calling was to preach the gospel. He pursued that career for the rest of his life.

I met Coachella Valley resident Kate Zenna at a Palm Springs Women in Film and Television event. She is smart, articulate, personable and enthusiastic—and like my aforementioned friend, she found her calling via what she describes as an epiphany.

Zenna was born in Montreal and lived for a time in Newfoundland before she and her younger brother (“I make him tell people he’s my big brother!”) were raised in Toronto.

“I went to Queen’s University,” she says, “and I was always running late. At the last minute that I had to declare a major, I ran into the building next to where I was standing and ended up majoring in geography—the same degree my mom had. My parents used to say, ‘She’s going to be the one,’ meaning I was expected to go far. I thought I might become an environmental lawyer.

“I was only a semester short of graduating college when I literally had a vision. I felt as if I were in a trance: I saw an older version of me on a stage. Somebody was telling me and showing me that I was to be an actor. I had always been kind of shy and awkward, never wanting to be the center of attention. Suddenly, I was going to quit school and do this thing that I had never even considered. My parents freaked out!”

Zenna’s mom urged her to complete her bachelor’s degree. “She said, ‘It’s important to have those letters after your name, in case you need something to fall back on,’ and luckily, I listened to her.”

Zenna auditioned for a part with a local community theater—and got the job. “I remember thinking, ‘This isn’t that hard.’ I moved to Vancouver to study acting at their film school after I graduated. I had to rediscover who I was. It had all been as much of a shock to me as to my parents.”

Meanwhile, Zenna’s acting career flourished. “I was getting lots of roles. And my first paying film job, in Toronto, got me a supporting role nomination for the Canadian Screen Awards.”

A major change in Zenna’s life came when her mother became ill. “There are always situations where somebody has to step up,” says Zenna. “I’ve always been that person. I got really involved when my mom got sick. It flipped a switch in me about taking charge.

“After my mom died, I spent the next three years feeling like a shaken-up snow globe. Finally, I came to Los Angeles, and in 2004, I got my green card and got swooped up working steadily in television and film.”

Zenna has been in major studio movies as well as cable productions, and has worked on all the major television networks. “But even getting lots of jobs, I had to make a living. I know my value as a human being goes beyond just waiting for the phone to ring.

“I learned cooking from my father, and I made really good vegan meals for myself, so I decided to start my own food business. I’m willing ask for help and to accept help, and I knew I needed financing and a mentor. I went online to a website that puts people together and met this amazing CPA from Texas, David Wolfe. He came to L.A.; I gave him some of my food; and his reaction was, ‘I could eat this every day!’ He decided he would mentor me. Meanwhile, I realized that he did promotional videos, and I thought I could ‘mentor’ him to be better on camera.”

Today, Kate Zenna and David Wolfe are partners in ZennaWolfe, a company that uses working actors to train executives how to be themselves on camera. They also co-authored a book, The Responsible Artist: A Financial Guide for Conscientious Creative Souls Who Keep the Dream Alive and Have a Great Life Along the Way, to bring sensible financial awareness to people in artistic fields who too often leave decision-making to others—with potentially disastrous results.

“The book is financial, spiritual and emotional help for everybody, but particularly for artists,” says Zenna. “I’m very protective toward the younger actors who don’t realize what can happen, because the industry won’t take care of you.”

Zenna moved to the Coachella Valley last year.

“As much as I adore about Los Angeles, it got to the point where I realized I wasn’t living the kind of life I wanted. The traffic was paralyzing, and it was the reason I rarely saw friends or took advantage of the incredible cultural events. Since moving to the desert, my social life has not only been revived—but is thriving. And the one thing I noticed most when I moved here is that the people seem so happy! It’s like a small town, and everyone shares the knowledge that we are simply so darn lucky to have found our way here.

“My days are full of fun and include work, writing, creating, connecting with friends or meeting new friends, enjoying the personalities of my dogs—and, of course, cooking healthy and delicious food.

”I’ve always been supremely curious about people and why they’re the way they are. At 13, I wrote an essay about what was at the core of human essence. There are so many layers, including our genetic DNA, family influences, personal experiences and even geography. People need to get out of their own way, but they don’t know what they don’t know.”

Perhaps, like Zenna, they will be lucky enough to have an epiphany.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Can a man ever accurately create realistic, legitimate female characters? Palm Springs author David Hamlin thinks he knows the secret.

“I’m a good listener,” he says. “I’m a great admirer of women who break glass ceilings. There are barriers to be taken down and not accepted, so I write about strong women who fiercely fight for what they want. Throughout most of my adult life, my good friends (have been) women.”

Hamlin’s first two works of fiction, Winter in Chicago and Winter Gets Hot, feature a female protagonist, Emily Winter, a clever and determined reporter working for a Chicago paper at a time when women are just beginning to fight entrenched sexism and reach beyond writing about fashion and entertainment.

Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Bethesda, Md., Hamlin grew up in a household where there was always a daily newspaper, and where dinner conversation included the political realities of growing up close to the center of government.

“We had neighbors who were high up in the military or members of Congress or working in government agencies,” recalls Hamlin. “It was the culture all around us, and I had the good fortune to experience a superior public school system where we learned an appreciation for government and social action. That was a time of the Freedom Riders and the Congress of Racial Equality. I did participate in some demonstrations.”

That grounding led to a stint as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) volunteer.

“I spent three years at the University of Maryland after high school and decided to take what is now called a gap year,” he says. “The VISTA program was about a year old at that point. I trained in Chicago at a time when VISTA’s focus was poor and Indian communities. When I signed up, they were focusing on urban areas so, I ended up working on poverty programs in Newark, N.J.

“That was a time when groups like Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and activists like Tom Hayden were recognizing the needs in black communities. It became the ‘college radicals’ versus the VISTA volunteers. I trained as a community organizer and ended up in Philadelphia for about nine months.

“I gained a far-reaching appreciation for what the Constitution’s framers had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment. We take free speech for granted. The public conversation needs to be wide open, with all ideas, and with regular citizens able to pick and choose what to listen to and what to say, without interference by government.”

After graduating cum laude in English and government from Nasson College in Maine, Hamlin ultimately got involved with the American Civil Liberties Union and served as the executive director in New Hampshire. He was recruited to Chicago—and the infamous Skokie case happened when he had been there only 18 months.

“From the day I arrived until I left Chicago, one of my driving desires was to use that platform to help people understand more of what the Constitution says,” Hamlin says. “The Skokie ordeal was when the ACLU supported the right of Nazis to march in Skokie, Ill., a community with a lot of (Holocaust survivors). It lasted through 19 months of extreme stress and tension. I did most of the media contact and public speaking, and I finally left soon after, largely out of exhaustion.”

How did the writing career come about?

“I had done some writing for an independent newspaper while I was working with the ACLU, but the big project came when I was asked to write a book about the Skokie case,” says Hamlin. “That led to The Nazi/Skokie Conflict, published in 1980, a first-hand account of one of the most controversial free speech cases in the 20th century.

It was the first time I thought of writing as a profession. My dad had been a publisher and editor and an international reporter for The New York Times. My older brother was an editor. We always had books in the house, and I learned to enjoy reading very early. I discovered mysteries while I was in college.”

Hamlin and his wife, Sydney Weisman, began a public relations firm when they moved to California. “We met when I was with the ACLU in Chicago. I sponsored a conference for lawyers and I needed to get a good publicist. She walked in the door, and we’ve been together now for 41 years.”

What brought them to Palm Springs three years ago?

“We lived in Los Angeles, running our own business, so extended vacations were never an option,” Hamlin says. “We spent time in Palm Springs whenever we could, so it seemed like a natural choice.

“I had written for clients, including a book about the 75th anniversary of the (landmark Los Angeles) Farmers Market. I’d written opinion pieces and even a political satire column. But I wanted to take a run at fiction. You need focus and energy to do it well, so we decided to retire.

“When it comes to writing, you just have to start. That’s the only way to learn how to do it—and read good writers. For me, it was authors like Elmore Leonard, John D. MacDonald, Joseph Wambaugh, and Canadian Louise Penny. There are so many, but I never read them while I’m writing—I don’t want to even inadvertently steal something.”

The striving reporter featured in Hamlin’s first two books is being retired for the time being.

“I want to spread my wings a little,” says Hamlin. “I’m in the early stage of writing another book right now.

“The arc of feminism that I experienced made me a great admirer of women. Their voices are different, and their approach to everything from personal relationships to the culture around them is different. At the ACLU, I began when women were banging on the doors of society. I always interacted with strong women demanding equality.

“One of the lessons I’ve learned in writing a female character came from my wife. She goes ballistic at the idea that men always write about the kind of women who are in jeopardy and running for their lives. She says, ‘Why in God’s name would a woman be stupid enough to wear high heels in the jungle?’”

David Hamlin doesn’t make those kind of mistakes.

Hamlin will appear at Just Fabulous, 515 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, on Saturday, March 10, from 2 to 4 p.m.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

When you meet Marc Saxe, your first impression will be that he’s calm—and always ready with a smile. He doesn’t fit the stereotype of someone who sells timeshare properties—and perhaps that’s because his background is also not what you would expect.

Saxe is 70 (“Telling you that is like being shot in the head—it’s a big number!” he says) and a Palm Desert resident; he was born in Indianapolis and grew up in Dallas. He spent a large chunk of his life shuttling back and forth between Texas and Colorado before finally settling in Southern California.

Saxe and his older sister were born into a family of Lower East Side New York Jews. His parents had been high school sweethearts, yet subsequent marriages combined two families so that, as Saxe claims, “My aunt is also my cousin!”

Saxe’s father was in the fur business when the family moved to Dallas, and later became a representative for several clothing lines before opening his own business.

“My dad got ill in 1963,” recalls Saxe, “and he was treated for an aortic aneurism by none other than the famous Houston surgeons, Dr. Michael DeBakey and Dr. Denton Cooley. That was a big deal!”

Saxe recalls browsing in an old book store and finding a Yale University album with the name of his grandfather—one of the first Jews to get a law degree from that school. “I remember the name had been scratched through and a Jewish star drawn next to it. You don’t forget things like that.”

Growing up in North Dallas, Saxe and his family lived in a largely Jewish area of the city, and he was unaware of discrimination in that setting. “While in high school, I remember spending many nights a week attending open houses for Jewish kids in a very supportive environment.”

He attended college at the University of Houston, majoring in political science with a minor in computer science and math. “I actually dropped out after one semester, because I wanted to see if I would get drafted, but then I went back,” he says. “I actually thought I might become a lawyer, like Perry Mason. But then the 1960s came along. My brother-in-law was in Vietnam, and I felt pressured by the threat of the draft. The people in student government were making sense to me, so I got involved in the free speech environment at UH. In the late 1960s, the counter culture was really happening.”

It’s not surprising Saxe gravitated toward jobs in sales, given his father’s background. “My first job was when my dad was working at the Merchandise Mart in Dallas. His friend gave me some stuff they had leftover and told me to go sell it. I knocked on doors, and I did sell it all—even things like mustache wax, for heaven’s sake. I also worked selling ice cream.”

Through all those years, Saxe was also interested in music. He began playing the guitar at age 14.

“I played around with friends and at the occasional restaurant. Some of my friends had moved to Austin, where the music environment was really happening in Texas,” he says.

Saxe moved to Denver and got a job teaching music. He also went into a graduate program in architecture for a year. “I eventually went back to Austin to hang with my old friends. Then I (went) back to Boulder, doing landscape design and working with developers.

“I was constantly going back and forth between Texas and Colorado, but I realized I was in my mid-20s and needed to get serious about guitar and music if I was ever going to. I originally came to Southern California to go to the famed Dick Grove School of Music in L.A. I had to choose between performance art and composing/arranging. I chose the latter.

“I went back to Colorado in the early 1980s and focused on the production side of music. I’m still writing. I like to write songs that tell a story. I’m working on putting in a home-recording studio, and I wouldn’t mind being a ‘one hit wonder’ and hearing one of my songs on the radio.”

When Saxe answered an ad to sell timeshares, he got hooked, and is still in that business today.

“In the old days,” he says, “there were a lot of con artists. I used to say half were idiots, but a quarter knew what they were doing. I didn’t want to teach anymore, so I learned how to do it, and found it was fun. I was talking to real people, and it was like sitting around just talking with friends. I don’t know any other job that lets you put aside everything about your own situation and just focus on the fun and economics and emotions associated with what you can offer to others.

“Selling is a lot like acting. You have to have a different persona so you can effectively respond to different people and their needs. The timeshare business is perfect for someone like me.”

Saxe met Cathy, his wife of 32 years, in 1985 at Antone’s, an iconic site near the University of Texas campus in Austin. “It was April Fool’s Day, her birthday, and I was hanging with some friends. She and some of her girlfriends came in, and I asked her to dance. She said it was her birthday, so I gave her a kiss. Then I got her phone number. We were married less than a year later. I have to say, Cathy stabilized me. She’s the keel to the boat.”

Saxe’s philosophy of life: “A tai chi master once said to me, ‘You don’t dig a lot of holes; you want to dig one deeply.’ That never made sense to me. I admit I’m something of a dilettante, and I wanted to dig lots of holes—not get stuck doing the same thing all the time. I guess I’m totally schizophrenic: Each thing I do fills some part of my personality. I don’t see how someone can walk through life and be blind to everything other than what they do.

”There’s a median in life. I like being in the middle of everything. If you look around, there’s always somebody better off and somebody worse off. My feeling is that you need to be happy with where you are.”

If you know Marc Saxe, you can see that he is.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

This is a personal column, about me, Anita Rufus, one of your neighbors, and my holiday-time trip to the island of Samoa.

My cousin, Barry Rose, with whom I’ve been in love since I was 16, and my very best friend, Barbara, whom I met when she was 19 some 54 years ago, just got married at Barry’s resort, Coconuts Beach Club, an idyllic slice of paradise some 12 flying hours from Southern California.

Barry and Barbara met through me, more than 50 years ago, so I was asked to walk them down the aisle. What took them so long? Timing is everything: Through marriages and deaths, Barry and Barbara finally were ready to be happy with each other.

Coconuts is the result of years of work, begun when Barry and his late wife, Jennifer, wanted to find paradise. They left Beverly Hills in 1984 and traveled the world over, not finding what they had envisioned. After developing a list of criteria, they settled on the South Pacific, including places like New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tahiti and the Cook Islands. The place that fit best turned out to be Western Samoa—due to its size, stability, safety and absence of serious diseases. Perhaps the most influential criteria were the culture and the friendliness of the Samoan people.

After years of negotiations, a lease for the property they wanted in the village of Maninoa was finalized in January 1990; that November, a limited opening took place. Together with an amazing architectural designer, Robert Ross, Barry and Jennifer’s vision began to come to life.

Coconuts has grown into a thriving, lush and very special place. The rooms, called fales (fa’lays), have thatched roofs that are fully waterproofed, air conditioning and purified water; they are spacious with four-poster beds made of bamboo trunks, rock-lined tubs with showers, and porches where one can sit and look toward the ocean. The food is gourmet: local fish, New Zealand steak and papayas are to die for. The staff members, mostly from the local village, are friendly and accommodating—their laughter floats throughout the property.

When Jennifer got ill, Barry took loving care of her for several years. Barbara, who knew them both, got in touch with Barry to offer her support and friendship. She was single once again, and after Jennifer’s death, the conversations between Barry and Barbara began to increase to hours daily—with him calling from Honolulu, where he lives when not in Samoa, and her calling from her lovely home in Beverly Glen in Los Angeles.

Barbara agreed to travel to Hawaii for a week—an extraordinary decision for someone I’ve never known to act on impulse—and the relationship blossomed. Barbara soon decided to move to Honolulu, and in three short weeks, she sold her house and either got rid of or shipped over her belongings. Barbara and Barry are both beaming with happiness, having once again found love.

The wedding at Coconuts was just what it should have been: picture-perfect. Barry wore an 'ie lavalava (a man-skirt, the custom dress for Samoan men), and Barbara wore a crown of flowers. I walked them from their fale to the beach, accompanied by a strumming guitar. The staff had constructed an arbor draped with flowing fabric and trimmed with flowers. After I said a few personal words that I had written and practiced for hours, a local minister had them say their vows. It was magical.

Along the beach were friends and family who had come from Arizona, North Carolina, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Fiji and Bali, along with the Coconuts “family” of staff and local invitees. A jolly celebration ensued.

After my return, I was asked what the highlight of the trip was for me, obviously other than the wedding. I will treasure the sound of the surf, eternally rolling toward shore. I loved the schwiffing sound of the dried fronds used to sweep the walkways throughout the day. I will never forget the stifling humidity, so enervating to a desert resident. I enjoyed the slow pace of Samoa, the lazy schedule, the walks along the beach, the sublime sunsets, and the occasional sheets of rain with children splashing in the pool in the downpour. I was able to read six books in two weeks—pure heaven!

The real highlight, however, was the people who had come to witness the wedding—some I had known before, and some I met as we joined together for this momentous occasion. They are a multicultural and multiracial group of friendly, smart, interesting, down-to-earth individuals, including Barry’s son, daughter and grand-daughter.

There’s the Coconuts architect and his beautiful Balinese wife. The TV producer and her husband, a doctor and teacher at Harvard who also lectures worldwide. The lesbian paper-hangers, now retired. (There’s a good story there.) The psychologist who knew how to listen to others and spoke pearls of wisdom. The hairdresser and the makeup stylist. (They made the bride look fabulous!) The stunning author and broadcaster who filmed and snapped everything. The watercolor artist, one of Jennifer’s best friends, SO happy that Barry has found happiness again. The brilliant photographer and her radio executive/philosopher husband. The Hawaii restaurateur and his California wife. The jazz fans from Honolulu. And there was the other Barry Rose—talk about coincidences! (After finding out he and my cousin shared the same dentist in Honolulu, he quipped, “I almost took a root canal for him!”) On our first night at Coconuts, someone said: “You can always tell a lot about people by who their friends are.” Amen to that.

One other moment stands out for me: the evening when I strolled to the open-air dining room to have a pre-dinner drink, with a clear blue sky, the sun setting and the sound of the surf in the background. Low-key music is always playing, everything from classical to jazz. That night, I entered to Sting singing “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?”

My cousin and my friend have figured that out.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Don Cilluffo found his calling in his native Michigan.

“It wasn’t business or accounting, which is what I was supposed to be good at,” he says. “It was when I did an interpretive reading from The Godfather and got an ‘A’. When you do something really well, you just know. It was so rewarding—that feeling of gratification out of communicating a character, the passion of that character. I knew I wanted to share my talent.”

The actor and director comes from St. Clair Shores, near Detroit. He has been in the Coachella Valley for the past eight years.

“It was the weather,” he says. “I was tired of shoveling snow and wanted to get to a warmer place.” Cilluffo and his long-time partner, Tom Hipp, live in Palm Desert.

Born into an Italian-Catholic family as the middle child—with an older brother and younger sister—Cilluffo calls himself “a late bloomer.”

“I was supposed to be the intellectual; I got all A grades,” he says. “My brother was supposed to be the artsy one; he got the dance and accordion lessons. But growing up, we were all exposed to theater, dance and music.”

Cilluffo grew up with his grandparents just around the block.

“That saved me,” he says. “They always just loved me and showed me lots of attention. When I was about 8 to 10 years old, I was selling vegetables from their garden.”

After three years at Wayne State University, Cilluffo dropped out. “I had started working in a flower shop when I was 15. I was making good money in the floral industry. I was a pretty good businessman, and I was creative and inventive.”

Cilluffo came out as gay in his mid-20s. “It was considered a mortal sin, you know. My mom was crushed, but she got over it. I think my father knew before I did. He used to say, ‘I worried about you son, but you turned out OK.’”

So what took Cilluffo into acting and theater?

“When I was in elementary school, my mom said I was a born actor. I believed her. I was doing flower-arrangement classes for a local youth theater, and they told me I just had to try out for Jesus Christ Superstar. I had never had any training, but they told me they just knew I could do it.

“I lucked out, and then learned everything I needed to know from the elders at the Grosse Pointe Theatre just outside Detroit—set design, acting, directing, even studying improv and comedy with a teacher from Second City in Chicago. I loved it all.

“I ended up being with the theater for 40 years, and won awards for acting, set design and directing. I also began doing commercials and got a (Screen Actors Guild) card. But I followed my mom’s advice and didn’t want to ever depend on it for a living. I stayed in the flower-shop business for 30 years.”

Cilluffo has worked locally with Desert Theatreworks, Dezart Performs and Script2Stage2Screen, among other companies.

“I usually do comedies, and I’ve won some local awards, but I was really proud to be honored for playing a serious bad guy in To Kill a Mockingbird,” he said. Cilluffo’s next project is The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife with Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, coming in April.

When I asked about his most memorable moment in theater, Cilluffo’s eyes lit up. “One of the most beautiful sets I ever built was a cottage by a lake. We had artificial tree trunks, a dock with a sand beach, vines, lots of fall leaves we had collected, and a false perspective. I love making magic on a stage.”

As a director, Cilluffo’s philosophy is to help actors see a character through the character’s eyes—and then see that character through their own eyes. I’ve worked with Cilluffo on a couple of presentations, and he spends a lot of time explaining the character’s motivation.

“It’s easy to see a vision, but much harder to communicate it and make it true,” he said. “… It was 15 years before I began to direct, after workshops and classes. You have to be able to communicate and make it true for the audience. When I work with actors, if they put out their best, I can’t ask for more. If you get 95 percent of your vision, that’s a big success!”

If money weren’t an issue, what would Cilluffo do? “I’d love to produce a movie and be the star—but not direct it. It’s too hard to direct yourself. As an actor, I may feel the emotion, but I can’t know if I’m giving out what’s needed for the viewer to feel it.”

Don Cilluffo was fortunate to be affiliated with a strong, influential regional theater for so many years. His advice for locals aspiring to follow a similar path? “Find people who see your potential and are willing to work with you … then listen and learn from them.”

Is retirement in Cilluffo’s future? “I don’t know what retirement really means, except it’s a time when you can do everything you want to do. I can’t see myself retiring. I’d be bored. In fact, I’ve recently taken up rediscovering the Italian foods my grandmother made.” His homemade olives are incredible!

“And I‘d like to go to Sicily. I love the idea of being able to see my face in somebody else—and there, I’d get to see it in everybody!”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I first met Deanna Bogart when I saw her playing saxophone and sitting in with the band at The Nest in Indian Wells. I was struck by the joy with which she played—which makes it seem as if the music is coming through her rather than the instrument.

Bogart, 58, a Palm Desert resident for four years, has been making music since she began playing piano by ear at the age of 2. She went on to the guitar, to the saxophone, and to writing and singing her own songs. Whether it’s blues, boogie, jazz, rock or country, she does it all.

“I was born in Detroit, the middle of five sisters, and raised in New York and Arizona,” says Bogart. “I remember what it felt like to always be the new kid in school. When it came to music, I just knew it was something I could do, in spite of being kicked out of the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music at 5, when I didn’t want to learn to play the notes!”

She laughs with the same sense of abandon you hear when she plays.

“At about 9, I began playing the guitar. My mom had bought a guitar from the Spiegel catalog and was playing in the living room while I was in my bedroom. I could hear she just wasn’t playing well; the timing of the chords was off. I walked out and grabbed the guitar out of her hands, knowing I would probably get in a lot of trouble. I showed her the right way to play the chords and then gave her back the guitar, and went back to my room expecting the worst.

“Mom tapped on my door, and when I opened it, she gave me the guitar.”

At age 14, Deanna got a job, and her grandparents agreed to match what she was able to save. She bought a 12-string guitar that she still has to this day.

In the fifth-grade, at age 11, Bogart wanted to be in the school band—and decided she wanted to play the saxophone.

“To this day, I don’t know why,” she says. “But I was told girls don’t play saxophone. In my 20s, learned to play the sax by ear, and now when people respond, I can’t tell you how it affects the 11-year-old inside me.”

Bogart’s first experience onstage was also in the fifth-grade. “When I closed my eyes and sang, nothing else mattered.”

Bogart left home at 17 and came to Los Angeles on a bus. She met musicians who turned her on to an opportunity to sing harmony. Her first gig was at 20 with a band on the road. Being a woman in what was a man’s game was a challenge.

“One of the lessons of my life is that people try to thwart you along the way, so my music is a way of showing I can do what they thought I couldn’t or shouldn’t,” she says. “When things are scary, if you just push through, something amazing happens.”

Bogart’s professional life has indeed been amazing. She is the winner of three consecutive Blues Music Awards for sax, and has been featured at music festivals and clubs all over the world. “I was recently in Norway at the Dark Season Festival, on the edge of the Arctic Circle,” she says, “and then two concerts in London. I’ve played in New York and Washington, D.C., and I’ll be in Panama in February.” She has played with Ray Charles and B.B. King, among many others.

On a trip to Las Vegas, someone broke into Bogart’s hotel room and took her instruments, passport and identity. “I got the instruments back, but I’m still fighting through the ID theft and bank fraud. I feel as if the people who did this are the real victims by having chosen to do what they did. Something good will come of it—I believe that’s the way the universe works.”

Bogart also took a trip to Egypt to play at the pyramids during a “Blues on the Nile” tour—and it was was life-changing. “I came in on a camel, playing my horn,” she laughs.

Bogart is the featured draw at the annual Jam on the Rocks, at a private home up Highway 74 overlooking the Coachella Valley; the event has become a large draw for locals who love blues and jamming. (The next one will be in November 2018.)

Being on the road is not easy, especially for a single mother. Bogart’s daughter, Alix, is now 23 and heading into a career as a marriage and family therapist.

“Even though we were divorced, her father helped, and that made it possible for me to do what I do,” she said.

Watching Bogart lead her band—excellent musicians with whom she has played for the past 20 years—you sense the intimacy with which they relate musically. “For me, it has to be authentic,” she says. “I trust them, and they trust me. That’s what live music is all about. I’ve always wanted to work with people better than me.”

When Bogart first began writing songs, they were on the guitar. “When you get into the intention of the music, you connect to your true self,” she says. “I had music and lyrics in my head that wouldn’t go away. But I’m the most undisciplined writer ever. It takes until a deadline, and then I go into my psychotic place and get it done.” One of her most beautiful songs was written for her daughter, “Back and Forth Kid.”

Bogart loves to do improv rather than just stick to written music. “My chaotic, inconsistent life was good training for improv,” she says. When you watch her play, you’ll marvel at the way the music comes through her—whether she’s banging out blues on the piano or riffing jazz on the sax. No two performances are ever alike.

“When you get into the intention of the music, you connect to your true self,” Bogart says. “I never wanted to be famous or a star. It’s not that I want to play, but that I need to. I don’t know how not to be me, for better or worse.

“I just know I wouldn’t be alive without music.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors