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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

According to Psychology Today, the common understanding about the brain—that the left side controls logical and analytical thinking, while the right is intuitive and creative—is a myth. Regardless, lifelong artist Judy Nemer Sklar has made ample use of both sides during her journey through life.

Born and raised in St. Paul, Minn., Sklar remembers starting to draw when she was about 5 or 6 years old.

“It was really cold in Minnesota, and everybody had one of those old furnaces,” she recalls. “My early memory is coming down the stairs with my papers and pencils, getting under the table with my feet on the furnace, and drawing the women from the fashion pictures I had seen in the newspapers. My parents saw my interest and sent me to an art school before I even got into regular school. They always encouraged me.”

Sklar’s father had a chain of jewelry stores, and her mother worked with him. She also has an older sister, a teacher; and a younger brother, an engineer. She remembers her late father as being loving, tender and quiet. Her mother is alive.

“My mom is still very current, and a very happy person. She lives in assisted living, and everybody there loves her,” Sklar says with a smile. “They wanted to give her a kind of ‘make a wish’ gift. She said she wanted to meet (former Minnesota senator and Saturday Night Live alumnus) Al Franken. He actually came and spent a whole day with her. It was wonderful!”

In her early 20s, Sklar relocated to California. While looking for a part-time job, she met Jerry Sklar, an accountant who worked in Century City.

“He had a practice working for entertainment clients and was looking for a secretary who could relate to his clients and be a problem-solver,” Judy says. “He saw my chatty side, and the truth is I loved (solving) all their problems. When we ultimately married, we still worked together, and although he didn’t see my art as a serious profession, he told me to ‘go enjoy yourself.’ For our years together, I was definitely using both sides of my brain!”

Years after completing a year of college in Minnesota, Sklar completed her degree at Chapman University in Orange, in 2010, and ultimately earned her master’s degree in humanities at California State University-Dominguez Hills in 2016.

Sklar and her husband for years had a home at The Lakes in Palm Desert and visited the desert often. After Jerry was diagnosed with cancer, Judy became much more involved with their business endeavors. When their Los Angeles home was damaged by the 1994 Northridge earthquake, they made the decision to settle in the desert.

“Our home had been almost destroyed by the earthquake, but we were still able to live in it until the rains came,” she said. “We had about five minutes to get out (when the rains came); it was destroyed.

“Jerry could still work, and in addition to his L.A. clients, we had developed some clientele here in the desert. Plus, I saw that there was a niche market in business management for seniors here. Although I had to get more and more involved in the business (while also) caring for Jerry, I never dropped out of art; I just had to compartmentalize it.”

It was during her husband’s illness that Judy went back to school to earn her master’s degree. “That is what saved me and brought me fully back to art,” she says.

Jerry died six years ago, after they had been married for 29 years.

While still working with her business clients and producing her own art, Sklar is also sharing her passion for self-expression by teaching classes and holding workshops.

“Although through my work with my husband, I became much more verbal, you need silence to be able to think about what you want to do artistically,” Sklar says. “My workshops are about embracing your creative life. My passion is for people who say, ‘I can’t even draw a straight line.’ I say, ‘Who cares?’ It’s about how to use your creativity to get in touch with who you are. It’s like planting a seed.

“For some of my students, it’s really transformative. They can find their true voice.”

Sklar’s art has been shown in galleries throughout California, and she has won juried regional and national art awards. Her work has been showcased in magazines, and is in selected private collections across the country. She is a past board member of the Artists Council of the Palm Springs Art Museum, was a juror at the La Quinta Arts Foundation, was a member of the docent council at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

“When I was a docent at LACMA, I would get in early through the workers’ door where all the art was coming in and the crates were being unwrapped. I saw so many things that inspired me,” Sklar says. “I work mostly with watercolor mixed with collage. Some things I can do in a day; others can take up to eight months. I have an unusual style of working. I rarely draw something out first. I’m always changing it as I go along.

“I’m beginning to show again; I have a group show coming up in Los Angeles. I guess I would describe my work as figurative but abstract. For me, color is everything, especially a rich palette of primary colors. I often sit and watch people for inspiration. I use music and snippets of conversation. I might see something on a T-shirt. I keep a drawing journal where I just jot something down that I will use later on.”

You can learn more about Sklar’s work at judynemersklar.com.

“I’ve been on a transformative journey in my life, and as a middle-years person, I believe whatever we’ve garnered in life is what we have to give,” she says. “It’s important to know what is in you and be willing to let it out without being worried what others will think. If I had a child asking whether they should pursue their passion, I’d say, ‘Just do it!’

“Your goal in life should be to find your own passion, and then your mission in life is to give it away.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. 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 I first went to the radiologist,” says Phil Drucker, “he told me, ‘Other than the cancer, you’re a really healthy guy.’ I’ve been a vegetarian, haven’t smoked since I was 22, and hardly ever drink. I kept thinking, ‘This just isn’t possible.’”

Drucker, 60 and a La Quinta resident for the past eight years, was born and raised in the Los Angeles area. The eldest of three, his parents were children of immigrant parents.

“My mom’s biggest impression on me was not what she said, but rather what she did,” says Drucker. “When I was in elementary school, there was a teacher’s strike. Most people backed the teachers, but my mom didn’t. She put on her miniskirt and go-go boots, and wrote a sign: ‘I pay my taxes. Why aren’t my kids in school?’ She taught me that when you think you’re right, all you need is an army of one.

“My dad was very old-school European. He worked for the Department of Water and Power for 38 years, a union guy. He was a complex person, a deep thinker who kept to himself and didn’t talk much. The main thing I remember is that our house was full of books. He loved books—never threw one away.

“My parents hadn’t gone to college, so it’s kind of funny that when I got a scholarship to college, my dad said, ‘This college thing is really great, but did you ever consider going into the Air Force for 10 years and retiring with a pension and then going to college?’ I figured if I didn’t do (college) then, I never would.”

Drucker did take the scholarship and went to Cal State Northridge for a year. He later attended Santa Monica City College for a year before going to UCLA for a degree in fine arts.

“Music had been in my family,” Drucker says. “My sister played piano, and my brother took up the saxophone. I learned the clarinet in junior high school, because my parents didn’t want to pay for a new instrument, and my dad had an old one he had played.”

At age 16, Drucker took up the guitar and later played in various bands. “It was in the 1980s,” he recalls, “in the post-punk scene. Through my 20s, I got paid for playing, and got to tour to Europe twice along with all over the U.S. and Canada.

“When I stopped playing music, I knew I needed a ‘real job.’ I had worked in a letterpress company while I was in school, and went back into that world. I kept finding myself as the person who was the liaison to lawyers, handling things like contracts and copyrights. A lawyer I worked with once said to me, ‘Do you know the difference between what you do and what I do? About $150,000 a year!’”

At age 34, Drucker decided to go back to school. At that time, entry into law school at the University of La Verne required a personal interview in addition to taking the Law School Admissions Test. “When I met for the interview, the admissions director said he’d been doing his job for 20 years and had never had someone come in with a degree in fine arts. But he said he found me interesting, so I got admitted.

“Because of my undergrad degree, I knew about music, painting, graphics, copyrights—and it interested me how the law around those things had materialized over the years. I hadn’t thought about the fact that copyright and patents are covered in the Constitution, and that it’s actually a limitation on First Amendment rights.”

Drucker graduated law school at 36, and at 40, he passed the bar on his first try.

“It’s kind of funny,” he says, “that my brother also became a lawyer. He’s in PI (personal injury), and I’m in IP (intellectual property).” In addition to his practice, Drucker became an expert on constitutional law, including teaching and public speaking.

What should people know?

“First, if you’re ever stopped by the police, be nice. They have a gun, and you don’t,” he says. “Second, don’t mess with immigration agents at the airport. They can throw you into a dark room for up to 72 hours.

“The Constitution doesn’t really grant you rights; a piece of paper can’t give you rights. What makes us unique is we are the only nation conceived on the concept of ‘natural rights,’ born with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The piece of paper lays out what the government CAN’T do, and is only as good as those using it.”

After a life of eating healthy and working out regularly, Drucker last year was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer.

“I had never been in a hospital before. I even still have my tonsils,” he says. “I didn’t go to the doctor routinely, but my stomach was bothering me, so I went in and had a blood test. The doctor called me the next day and said I had to come back immediately. I had another blood test, and it turned out my hemoglobin level was way lower than it should have been. The doc said I shouldn’t even have driven myself over. He said by law, he couldn’t let me leave, and that if I walked out, he’d have to drag me back. I ended up in a wheelchair taken to the hospital, and they said I’d have to stay at least 48 hours. They’d have to give me blood to try to get my count to an acceptable level.

“It finally dawned on me to ask, ‘I don’t have cancer, do I?’” he says. “It turned out I did, but it hadn’t metastasized. The doctor said in six more months, that wouldn’t have been the case.

“I had surgery and they found five nodes infected, so I had to have chemotherapy—pills at first, and then infusions—and I had 28 radiation treatments. It feels like they take you to the brink of death’s doorstep, and then your body kicks in, and they encourage it to heal. It was really scary. I got depressed and felt so fatigued, but I kept up my teaching schedule through that semester.

“The infusions are done in a large room with lots of other people, and I realized one day, looking at everybody, all hooked up to the same machines, that it didn’t matter who we were—we all wanted the same thing: to get better. That’s what binds me to all other cancer survivors for the rest of my life. It confirmed what I’ve always believed: We are all one.

“Most people take their dog to the vet more than they routinely go to the doctor. It’s a mistake. The fact that I ate vegan and worked out was probably the only reason they were able to get the cancer in time. They tell you to think positively, but you think, ‘If this could happen to me, what else can happen?’ You experience vulnerability, helplessness, a sense of futility. I never thought about giving up, although there were very dark days.

“I’ve gotten into mindfulness, living in the moment. I know life isn’t about the past or the future; we can’t change them anyway. They tell you to decide if you want to share your experience, and I’m willing to help anybody going through what I did.

“Whatever is going on in life, you have to find the gems in the mud. That’s what keeps me going.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. 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

Felina Danalis, 46 and now a Palm Springs resident, was making a difference on a global scale.

After graduating magna cum laude in international relations from Georgetown University, she earned a graduate degree in international economics at Johns Hopkins’ Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, including a year studying in Italy and an internship with the Associated Press. She then walked straight into a job with the World Bank.

“I was in the department that helped countries get development money,” she says. “I wanted to help make the world a better place. After all, I had been schooled in free-market solutions to everything, and I wanted to know more about the world. I traveled to places like Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and Macedonia. It was fascinating, and the best training I could ever have had as a first job—if you don’t count folding sweaters at Benetton while attending college.”

After her three-year stint at the World Bank, Danalis worked for the Greek foreign minister, who wanted an adviser to his cabinet who had international-development expertise.

“I couldn’t read or write Greek,” she says, “in spite of my parents both having come to America from Greece. I actually lost a lot of my hair the first six months, just from the stress.”

After two years advising the Greek cabinet, Danalis was recruited by the European Union to go to the Balkans as a program manager when the European Parliament allocated funds for the Serbian government.

“I was on track to being a true American success story,” she says, “but then I was in Belgrade when I witnessed a horrendous incident that would change my life.”

In 2002, Danalis and a friend were sitting in their car when a man walked past them and began to get into the car parked in front of them.

“He opened the door—and the car just exploded, and so did he,” Danalis says. “I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, couldn’t be alone and couldn’t be with people. It was a very frightening place to be. Everyone around me was well-meaning and said the equivalent of, ‘Suck it up. If you’re going to do work like this in the world, then things like that will happen.’”

In 2003, Danalis left Belgrade and went to live on the Greek island of Kefalonia, where her father had been born.

“I told people I was going to write a book,” she recalls. “That’s what you say instead of, ‘I’m having a nervous breakdown.’ In my year there, I learned so much about myself.

“When I got my graduate degree, it was handed to me by (former U.S. Secretary of State) Madeleine Albright, who was the embodiment of a tough woman. I believed that my toughness was my greatest asset. What I learned that year in Kefalonia was that my emotions and compassion were my greatest assets. I felt that the system that was preparing me to make it in the capitalist world had lied to me.”

Danalis moved to Athens and was there for 10 years, working as a consultant to the sustainability and corporate responsibility industry, helping companies improve their bottom line by focusing on people and the planet as well as profits.

An only child—born in New York and arriving in Southern California in 1980—Danalis came to the desert in 2011 to take care of her mother, who had Stage 4 cancer.

“I stayed in Palm Springs because by the time my mom died, I had made a home here,” she says. “Besides, I met the love of my life!

“My parents met each other at a Greek restaurant in Greenwich Village. Mom had come to the U.S. when she was 9, my dad when he was already an adult. My mom had had a traumatic childhood, so although she was very artistic, she never had the self-confidence to stick with any idea. But she always told me, ‘You can do anything you put your mind to.’”

While taking care of her mother, Danalis studied Buddhism and taught at the Buddhist meditation centers in both Palm Desert and Palm Springs. Since 2011, she has been pursuing her mission as a “mindfulness coach.” Danalis (felinadanalis.com) is a regular presenter at the Golden Door spa in San Marcos, working with individuals and groups online, and presenting programs for Planned Parenthood, Cancer Partners in Palm Desert, and the Mizell Senior Center in Palm Springs.

“There’s too much homogenization in the world right now,” Danalis says. “We need to stay in touch with our individual cultural roots, combining the best of our traditions with modernity. We’re all so stuck to our phones; it’s all about transactions but not about relationships. We sometimes forget that we are human beings with a connection to our history underneath it all.

“I’m concerned about the implications of economic inequality that results in a lack of access to health care. Stress has an impact on illnesses, and I believe we can make a difference in our own well-being by not focusing so much on ‘self-help,’ but rather on the cultural and social impacts that influence our health.

“Mindfulness, to me, is helping particularly women master resilience in the face of stress, anxiety and the drama in their lives, so that they are able to have more impact in the world. It’s a kind of spiritual fitness—just as we exercise our physical muscles to be physically stronger, we need to exercise our spiritual fitness muscles in order to be able to be still. Only then are we able to have a social impact that can change the world.”

Sometimes, traumatic events do not stop us; they can make us stronger. Felina Danalis exudes a positive energy that is infectious. She is still making a difference on a global scale—just not in the way she originally thought she would.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. 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

She is creative, funny and a vibrant 87. He is laid back, nice to everybody, a supportive cheerleader and a cancer survivor still going strong at 91. They’ve been together for nearly 40 years and finish each other’s sentences.

Phyllis and Wade Tucker met in 1976 when they worked across the hall from each other. He had his own insurance agency; she was a secretary for a management company.

“Everyone in my office was Jewish; everyone in his wasn’t,” Phyllis says. “We used to call the distance in between the Gaza Strip.”

Wade remembers not liking her much, because she would always come into his offices to run copies on his machine.

“He told me I had to pay 10 cents a copy,” she laughs. They discovered they were both going through rough divorces—and the rest is history.

Wade (“It’s really John Wade, but I always go by just Wade; it was my mother’s maiden name,” he says) was born and raised in Beverly Hills. His father was in the real estate business.

“My dad drank a lot,” he recalls, “but wouldn’t touch a drop when he was working on a project. He had developments in the Palm Springs area, and I always liked it here, which is why, 19 years ago, when Phyllis and I retired, I wanted to move here.”

Wade and his sister were raised in a religious family. His mom, originally from Minnesota, was a Christian Scientist; his dad, originally from Connecticut, was Methodist. Perhaps the greatest lesson in his life was learned from his mom: “She taught me to always be nice to everybody, more even to the poor than the rich. We were in Beverly Hills, where there are so many rich people, and she would take my old clothes and donate them for those who needed them.”

Phyllis, the youngest of three sisters, was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., in a Jewish family that kept a kosher household. “My grandfather was a rabbi,” she says, “and my mother, originally from Kiev, Russia, and father, originally from Warsaw, Poland, had an arranged marriage. I’m so proud to know my father’s name is inscribed at Ellis Island.

“I got my sense of humor from my mom, who lived to 97 years old,” Phyllis says. “She used to joke that she had no wrinkles on her face, ‘But you should see my behind!’ She worked in a bakery all her life, and my favorite story is when a robber came into the bakery, and she got in his face with: ‘I work for a living. You should go out and get a job, too!’

“My mom taught me there was nothing more important in life than family. She was such a strong influence on me. My dad, on the other hand, was kind of just there. He was very quiet.”

Phyllis went to Drake Business School after graduating high school, while Wade went into the service during World War II as a paratrooper; he completed one year at Santa Monica Community College when he returned. Phyllis and Wade both had first marriages with children.

Although Phyllis and Wade met in 1976, they didn’t get together as a couple until 1981—and after Wade finally asked her out to dinner, they started to sneak home at lunchtime. She used to play April Fools’ jokes on him, once taping his phone receiver down so when he tried to answer it, the entire instrument came up; another time, she put dirt into his instant coffee.

“My daughter had lots of dolls,” she recalls, “and I once took the head of one of them and put it into the men’s bathroom toilet, so when they lifted the lid … .”

Wade and Phyllis got a motor home and traveled around the country for more than six years. “It was the best time of our lives,” she says. “We met so many people.”

Wade adds: “We’d drive into a park; someone would come by to say hello, and we’d have cocktail parties every night.”

Says Phyllis: “My mother would ask me, ‘How can you live in a truck?’ She didn’t realize it cost more than a condo!”

They say they’d put on shows in the motor home parks. “We’d do Roaring ’20s and dress up,” says Phyllis.

“She made me do it,” Wade adds with a laugh.

When Wade got ill with cancer, they decided to settle in Palm Desert, where they would be closer to consistent treatment.

Phyllis started an aerobic pool exercise group, and then joined the “You Don’t Have to be Hemingway” writing group (where I first met her five years ago). Her writing is almost always infused with humor. One piece was about the embarrassment of trying to squat behind her car to relieve herself in the middle of a long drive, with the constant complication of men stopping to help; another was about turning the tables on a sales-scam caller that concluded with him quitting his job.

Wade is the cheerleader. “He’s the one who told me I should start writing,” she says.

He chimes in: “She’s so intelligent.”

How did these charming, interesting and obviously devoted people become who they are?

Phyllis claims to have been very shy, “an ugly child” who had few friends and wasn’t happy as a young woman. “I felt lost in a crowd of one.” And yet, Phyllis is the now more outgoing and social of the pair.

Perhaps what unites them most is a sense of acceptance of where they are in life.

Wade: “You have to live each day the best you can and enjoy yourself. Don’t get mad at people when it doesn’t make that much difference. What’s happening in the world doesn’t have to make you mad. If you don’t like somebody, just don’t be around them.”

Phyllis: “I do get mad sometimes—at Wade’s illness—but you have to roll with the punches. It doesn’t make sense to be mad. Have patience. You have to hold on to a positive attitude, or you’ll hate life.”

Phyllis’ humor rises to the occasion yet again, mentioning that the writing group’s latest assignment is about describing a picture. “I’m picking the ‘Mona Lisa’ and assuming her expression is meant to say, ‘Hurry up. I have to go to the bathroom!’”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. 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

Indio resident Tod Goldberg, 48, talks very fast—which makes sense, because he has a lot to say.

The author of hundreds of books and articles, he is also the founder and director of the 10-year-old low-residency master’s program in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts at the University of California, Riverside’s Palm Desert campus.

“I wanted to have an MFA program on the business of writing,” he says, “so our participants get published or get their works produced. I see my job as getting my students’ work sold, and we’ve been extraordinarily successful.”

The program has had more than 300 students, with more than 75 percent of them being published or produced within two years of graduation from the program. Goldberg oversees a faculty of 16 and an online-mentor program, in addition to the intensive 10-day residency workshop, held annually at Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa in Rancho Mirage.

Goldberg, born in Walnut Creek and raised in the Coachella Valley, comes from a family of writers. His mother, Jan Curran, now deceased, was the society editor for The Desert Sun for many years. She had been a columnist and editor long before coming to the desert.

“I used to fall asleep to my mom writing her column. To this day, the sound of an IBM Selectric typewriter can make me fall peacefully asleep,” Goldberg says.

His father was a television news reporter and station manager; his parents divorced when he was 2 years old. Goldberg has three siblings, all older: his brother, Lee, a novelist and television producer; sister Karen, a lawyer and author; and sister Linda, an artist and author. “Between the four of us,” says Goldberg, “we’ve published about 100 books!”

Goldberg’s wife, Wendy Duren, is also a writer. They married in 1998, lived in Las Vegas until 2000, and then settled in the desert.

“We have no kids,” says Goldberg, “but we do have two dogs.”

Goldberg didn’t really learn to read until he was about 10 or 11 years old. “I was dyslexic,” he recalls, “and the first book I remember that had a profound emotional effect on me was Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. I stole that book from the library, because it was considered too old of a read for me at that age. My mom had a great appreciation of literature, and when she found I had taken the book, she marched me back to the library and told the librarian, ‘Every single book in this library belongs to my son!’

“Steinbeck was easy to read, but asked difficult ethical questions, like about the nature of love between men, and what it means to care for someone in such a profound way that you would take their life to save their life. It also made a difference that the book took place in Northern California, in places I had been. It was important to me as a writer to know that something that was made up happened in a real place that I could see.”

After graduating from Palm Springs High School in 1989, Goldberg earned his bachelor’s degree in English at California State University, Northridge, in 1994. “I have to admit I majored in ‘frat boy,’” he says. “I was a terrible student, but I was involved in student government and was homecoming king!”

He went on to receive his master’s degree in fine arts from Bennington College in Vermont: “I became an excellent student. I really cared because I was finally doing the thing I loved most—writing.”

Goldberg’s first book, Fake Liar Cheat, was published in 2000 by Simon and Schuster.

“I was very lucky,” he says. “After college, I had published short fiction pieces, so I had established a literary reputation. That makes agents take notice of you. I started writing the book in 1998, and it’s really something, seeing what you write in print.”

Although Goldberg’s primary focus revolves around crime and criminals, he cites Empire Falls—a 2001 novel by Richard Russo which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2002—as a major influence. “He taught me how to write from multiple points of view, and how small towns could mirror all the problems of a big world,” Goldberg says. “I’ve also been influenced by writers like Margaret Atwood, Aimee Bender and Susan Straight, who changed my view of magical realism, dystopia and our own Inland Empire.”

Goldberg has also written opinion pieces for various newspapers across the country, focused on violence in the United States: “I remember once seeing a boxer die in the ring when I was a kid, and I’ve written essays about the terrible side of life. I’m always trying to understand why seemingly normal people do abnormal things.”

A prolific reader, Goldberg can quickly rattle off a host of titles he read in various decades of his life: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (“It showed that absurdity had a place in the world”); crime authors like Ralph Ellison and Lawrence Block; Richard Ford’s Rock Springs and The Sportswriter (“He taught me that genre fiction could be mixed with other concepts”); and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried (“I learned the ability to look at the vulnerability of people in combat”). Goldberg is currently working on a series of four books about Rabbi David Cohen, a fictional character based on a real hitman from Chicago.

“I prioritize the things that are most important to me,” he says. “I write one to two hours every other day, but once I’m into it, I’m pretty regimented. Mornings, I read students’ work and sometimes write book reviews. I’m most creative in the evening, and when there are no classes, I’ll write from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m., but I also need to be able to turn it off. Wendy’s also a writer, so she understands. She’ll ask, ‘Who am I talking to right now: the hit man, the rabbi or my husband?’

“I’m a kind of method actor when I’m writing. I need to replicate a character’s language and keep it in my head; otherwise, the character doesn’t feel human. I’m fascinated by what gets people to kill. People make irrational decisions when they feel pressed against the wall. There are lots of great books about killing in a war, but in crime fiction, there’s a glorification of violence I find disturbing. In my books, there is always a ripple, a ramification, a consequence.

“I write because I have to, and because it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I’ve satisfied what I always wanted out of my life: a beautiful wife, and the desire to write and to teach.”

Tod Goldberg has a lot to say, and he has found a way to build his life around saying it.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. 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

Peripatetic is a word based on the way Greek philosopher Aristotle studied and learned: by walking about. Today, that word also describes an itinerant—one who travels about for duty and business.

Dan Paris fits that description.

Paris, 68 and a Rancho Mirage resident, was born and raised in Cleveland, in what he describes as “a Hungarian ghetto.” His father was a soccer-playing immigrant from Hungary who had worked in the salt mines as a child. His mother had been born in Cleveland, but Hungarian was the language spoken at home.

“Knowing another language is an advantage,” says Paris. “It’s like another culture given to you. … I was very inquisitive as a kid, and I always had to excel. … I’d get interested in something and stick with it for a while. I was always looking to do things that made a difference to me and that helped others, either directly or indirectly.”

Paris went to Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., initially planning to major in German, but he quickly changed to biology, thinking he would go into the medical field.

“I planned to become a doctor, but that meant being inside all the time,” he says. “However, the college allowed students to design their own focus, and I decided to make another major for myself in film. I took classes in film editing and camera work, and even made a film about an artist at the college.

“While at school, I took half a year off and went to Europe to work at the British Film Institute. After a week, I decided I was going to visit the great centers of Europe and Africa and shoot some film. I got a van in Amsterdam and drove to Paris and then to Morocco. I was fascinated with the London Tube (the underground transit system), which had a really creepy ambiance. I visited some family relatives in Hungary during the time when Eastern Europe was still under Soviet domination. I ran out of money in Morocco, so I worked on a fishing boat for three weeks while waiting for some money to come from home. When I got back to college, I put all the experiences together on film.

“While at college, I rented a basement apartment, and one of my memories is that the Humphreys were my neighbors!” (Hubert Humphrey was a senator who served as vice president from 1965-1969 and lost a presidential bid to Richard Nixon in 1968.)

Macalester allowed students an “interim term” to explore their own interests, and Paris had a friend at the UCLA film school. “He asked me to come out,” recalls Paris, “and thus really began my film career.”

Paris now describes himself primarily as a documentary filmmaker—although his peripatetic nature still prevails.

After college, Paris stayed in Minnesota for 20 years, working with a small film-production company. He was then offered a job in New York, but the weekend before he was going there, his then-girlfriend invited him to her family’s lake cabin.

“On the way,” he says, “her dad had to stop at this beautiful farm, 100 acres with a lake and a four-bedroom farmhouse that needed a lot of repairs. It was for sale for only $14,000. So instead of taking the job, I bought the farm. I’d had some experience in gardening, and I pretended I was a farmer for a year. I even rented a cow from a local farmer! I’ve made some bad choices, but I always pick the choice that I think will make me happy.

“After a year, I needed to get a job. I became a human-services technician at a state-run nursing home, which became one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It was a kind of dumping ground for people without family support or who had illnesses that nobody wanted to deal with. I had taken care of my great-grandma when I was young, so I jumped in. I made a documentary film while I was there, based on interviewing the residents. My attitude was that I was going to get into whatever their reality was from day to day, and not try to pull them into mine. That film was actually used for training at that facility for many years.”

Paris later began a career in log-building. “I cut the logs myself and built from the ground up. I just finished and sold a project in Idyllwild built in the old Norwegian style. I even taught classes in how to do it. And I just finished doing a house here in the desert that was featured during Modernism Week.

“I’m always doing several things at once. I put together small film festivals while I was in school. I did sponsored films for corporations while I was in Minnesota. I’m not about to earn a living as a documentary filmmaker, although my current project is filming a series of 15-minute profiles of people in the Coachella Valley who love what they’re doing. I search for unheralded individuals with a passion for their work, and their struggles to help themselves and others to find joy and celebration in their lives. I’d love to pitch it as a series for local film festivals or maybe to run on PBS. It would be a good project to do with film students at College of the Desert.”

Paris loves to cook, dance, watch sports and hike. His enthusiasm when he speaks is engaging. He’s been married to Lori for the past 28 years, and they have a blended family from prior marriages.

“We’re totally opposite,” he says. “She is cautious, a thinker, but we mesh well together, like oil and vinegar once they’re blended.”

Paris came to California almost 30 years ago after visiting his film-historian older brother in Los Angeles.

“I love the desert,” he says. “I love the diversity here, and I love the proximity of five grocery stores within a five-minute drive. But my first week here, I had a nightmare that I couldn’t find a parking space that wasn’t handicapped. That speaks to my anxiety.”

Dan Paris has settled into the desert life, but if his past is any prologue to his future, he will continue his peripatetic lifestyle, always looking for a new way to express himself.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. 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

La Quinta native Cruz Moore is a young man with a plan.

The 25-year-old was raised with his younger sister by their grandparents, and he says he was taught about responsibility and the need to follow a path toward the future. Moore’s path has led him to become a filmmaker, and one of his films, The Rise and Fall of Robert Benfer, has been accepted into the Palm Springs American Documentary Film Festival, and will be showing at 1:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 2, at the Palm Springs Cultural Center.

As a child, Moore was exposed to the full spectrum of film, influenced by his grandparents to see movies like The Sound of Music and Jurassic Park, and by his uncles to see science fiction and horror films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th.

“The full spectrum of human emotions can be found in horror films,” says Moore. “When you take human beings, isolate them in a threatening world and force them to survive, you find empowerment. You affect people on an emotional level.”

Moore says he was “the class clown, coming up with anything I could for comedy—that was just my personality. But I got a lot more reserved and subtle by high school.”

After graduating from La Quinta High School, Moore attended College of the Desert and earned his associate’s degree in liberal arts.

“I was too far along in my studies to switch majors when COD adopted a film degree, although I tended to hang with people who are into the same interests as I am,” he says. “I do intend to complete my bachelor’s degree in film.”

Moore’s 46-minute film in the festival is about Robert Benfer Jr., an award-winning clay-animation pioneer who gained a massive following online—before becoming what many call a huckster.

“I track his work, which had artistic integrity, and then how he changed into someone who was apparently a total con,” Moore says. “He offered his entire filmography in boxed sets on the internet. People pre-ordered them through PayPal, but the product was never delivered, and getting a refund required asking (for the refund) within 60 days of purchase. So many people were ripped off.

“My film chronicles the beginning of his career and his influence on young filmmakers, and I include interviews with his fans and what he meant to them.”

Moore says one of his strongest influences regarding the project was his best friend, Jimmy Mancilla; he introduced Moore to the work of Robert Benfer in 2005. “I thought I was the class clown until I met (Jimmy). He’s hilarious, always on point and an intelligent guy,” Moore says.

Is this endeavor the beginning of a career making documentaries? “As long as I continue to make films and make a name for myself, I’m not stuck in any one genre,” Moore says. “I’m into short films, music videos, documentaries and movie trailers—where I pull out clips to make a better trailer than the original marketing package. I’ve made over 100 videos, and my primary focus is that people get something out of what I’ve done.

“It’s actually astounding to see how much support the Benfer film has gotten. It shows me that no matter how esoteric or unknown a subject is, there is a fan base out there that will thank you for making the film.”

Moore says he’s been making movies since 2006.

“I started making my own films, recording almost everything, and submitting them to sites like FilmFreeway, where you can submit films by paying a submission fee,” Moore says. “Some of the sites even take submissions for free. I go to film events and festivals and meet people with similar interests—and I’m aware that the local film community is growing. We have festivals for international films, short films and documentaries. We need to encourage young people with these interests to stay here (in the Coachella Valley).”

Does Moore prefer documentary filmmaking, or does he also want to make scripted films? “There’s a big difference between documentary and scripted,” he says. “The biggest factor in scripted film is in crafting your own story from your imagination without falling into some stereotype. Documentaries, depending on the subject matter, might be easier, because the story is already there. And I’d be willing to direct others’ films.”

Moore works on a low budget, and works as a full-time projectionist at the Palm Springs Cultural Center. “I use Final Cut Pro for editing and do the writing and voice-over myself,” he says. “I haven’t really put together a crew.

“I just know that if you want to work in film, you have to put work into it every single day.”

Cruz Moore is a young man with a plan—and that plan is striving to make creative, diverse content on film. Getting his first festival acceptance into the American Documentary Film Festival is a sign that he is heading in the right direction.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. 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 residents Earl and Sandra Mitchell started out as high school sweethearts; today, they are retirees who finish each other’s sentences. Their paths in life were formed by higher education, but they’re now tapping into artistic skills they’d pushed into the background while pursuing professional careers.

Earl, 73, was born in Albuquerque, N.M., into a family with one brother and five sisters. His family moved to Compton, Calif., when he was 10. Sandra, 72, was born in Riverside and raised in Compton, with a brother and two sisters.

Earl and Sandra married when she was 19, and he was 20.

“When I was in high school, I fell in love with a beautiful girl, but I had to get permission,” Earl says with a laugh, “because at that time, guys had to be 21 to marry on their own.”

After high school, Earl studied at California State University, Los Angeles, majoring in business, accounting and finance. “I was then blessed to get a scholarship to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,” he says.

He worked as an accountant for 25 years.

“He was closed off in his room, studying like crazy (for his CPA), and I felt like I was slipping food trays under the door,” laughs Sandra.

Earl eventually changed directions and went into education, getting a doctorate in educational leadership from University of La Verne, and working as an assistant dean at Santa Ana College, before becoming finance director and eventually a dean. He retired as a teacher of accounting and finance.

Sandra attended her mom’s alma mater—Langston University in Oklahoma, originally as a music major.

“My mom exposed us all to music,” she says, “and I loved classical piano.”

But after a year, she wanted to return home. She married Earl at age 19, and then continued her education at California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles.

“But I knew I should get practical, so I went on to Cal State L.A. majoring in English,” she says. She followed Earl to Illinois and went on to get a master’s degree in elementary education, teaching and working in curriculum development and child development for 22 years. She also worked for a time as a pharmaceutical rep for Proctor and Gamble.

Earl and Sandra originally bought an investment house in Palm Springs, but as they prepared for retirement, a friend said they should look at Sun City. They did, settling in the Coachella Valley in 2011—and rediscovering a love of music.

Earl says he always knew he had a “decent” voice, all the way back to middle school, but he never had the courage to sing in public until he retired.

“My brother got me to join the choir, so I had to learn how to sing harmony, but being raised in a family with seven kids, I knew I had to be able to pay the bills,” he says. “I always said that when I retired, I was going to sing. It was easy for me to create lyrics, but I didn’t really know music.”

Recalls Sandra: “In high school, when he was courting me, he would make records for me. It was so sweet.”

Earl enrolled in voice classes at College of the Desert, and now bills himself as “a new voice in the desert,” crooning from the Great American Songbook with shows at Sun City.

 “I always made sure there was a piano in the house,” says Sandra, “but I really wasn’t doing music while I was teaching, other than being the accompanist for the holiday programs. However, I always did plan to go back to music someday.”

Sandra now also makes movies to commemorate special occasions—weddings, memorials and parties, for friends and family. “It allows me to lovingly and creatively commemorate treasured events for others,” she says. “Over the past five years, I’ve added over 100 of these movies to my collection.”

Earl and Sandra work as a team to put on shows in the community. “When we don’t have live music,” says Sandra, “I create the musical playlist and serve as the DJ and emcee. We contribute all proceeds from singing events to VELA Youth Fund, Inc., our nonprofit which provides financial assistance to deserving black youth in the United States, the Caribbean and Africa.”

VELA was conceived in 2016. It is named for Earl’s parents, Vessie and Leon (Mitchell), and Sandra’s parents, Elva and Aidsand (Riggins). “Our mission is to help black youth, especially during middle school years, when they are most at risk,” says Earl. “In Africa, it’s about survival, as well as education. It’s primarily education in the Caribbean, and in the U.S., it’s about youth development. Even here, there’s a need for safety nets. It’s too easy for kids to make wrong choices about what’s important in their communities, like joining gangs.”

VELA funds scholarships and partners with other charitable projects, with an eye toward eventually eliminating the need for such programs.

Earl and Sandra have three children, two sons and a daughter. Daughter Emily is also a singer whose career has taken her to Broadway.

“We always thought our kids should know how to play an instrument,” says Sandra. “One played the violin, and we considered getting an accordion, but the salesman took one look at us when we opened the door, said he left something in his car, and never came back.”

Earl adds, “You’d think someone selling an accordion would be more interested in a commission than what we looked like.”

After successful professional careers and during an active retirement, what advice do Earl and Sandra have?

Earl: “Work at having joy at all times. We’re happy when all is well and we feel good, but joy is to be happy when things don’t go well. A good habit to acquire is when something goes wrong, just say, ‘Thank you Lord,’ and reflect on the various blessings you’ve received.”

Sandra: “Recognize your God-given talents and abilities, and use them every chance you get. You may not succeed in every situation, but you sure as heck will accomplish a lot more than if you don’t try at all.”

Earl and Sandra Mitchell are two people who live their truth and are making the most of what they have accomplished to help others.

“After getting an education and having great careers, in retirement, we had to give back.” Earl says. And so they do.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. 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

Brayan Mendoza is only 24, but he has already experienced the American dream in some ways—through his immigrant parents and his own efforts to turn his love of movies into a career.

A resident of Desert Hot Springs for eight years, Mendoza was born in Palm Springs. He graduated from Desert Hot Springs High School and earned an associate’s degree from College of the Desert in English.

“I’d like to go back to school and study film,” he says. “Film did a lot for me. I was going through a rough patch and was close to the breaking point. I even thought about taking my own life. Then I found American Film Institute’s 100 Years …100 Movies and watched all 100 of them. I found so much happiness and joy in doing that. I credit film for saving my life and turning me on to that form of expression.”

Mendoza is currently hosting Flix and Picks on iHub Radio every Saturday afternoon from 1 to 2 p.m. (I also work at iHub Radio.) He not only discusses current films, including those on Netflix and Amazon Prime, but also comparisons to classic American and foreign films.

“It’s really important to me to know that people are listening,” he says, “but I don’t want compliments just for doing a show … or for being good looking! I’d rather get compliments for who I am and having something intelligent to say. I feel like I have something to contribute to the conversation, and I want to be able to move people. I want to be able to give meaning to various communities, not only as a movie critic, but as a social communicator as well.”

Mendoza’s dad is from Chapala, Mexico, and his mom is from Guadalajara. The family includes three siblings from his mom, and three from his dad. He is second-youngest in this blended family.

“I’d like to write a book about my parents’ story,” Mendoza says. “I want to be able to show what a positive difference immigrants make in the United States. My mom came to the United States to find her place in the world. She married and had kids, but had to go back to Mexico. My dad had to steal food and started working at age 11. My mom and dad had known each other as kids, and he was also out of his marriage. They came to America, and he’s now a citizen. My younger brother and I are the children of their marriage.”

Mendoza hopes to marry one day (“a man or a woman—I’m bisexual, and I’m happy to say my family is very supportive, very open-minded”) and have children.

“I want a stable career, maybe as a teacher, but I want to continue doing radio, even though I don’t have what I consider a ‘radio voice,’” he said with a laugh. “I try to make up for that through performance. I did once take a class in radio; I got a D. I just felt it was very limiting. I really only do voice work for my own projects.”

Does Mendoza want to be a filmmaker? In a way, he already is.

“I’ve worked as manager for my dad’s gardening company, and I’m a bookseller at Barnes and Noble, but I’ve also done intern work for a local LGBT comedian; edited and did a commercial for one of last year’s Oscar parties; and did a short film for the local Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast,” which supports gay-straight alliance clubs and LGBT youth programs in the Coachella Valley.

“My favorite genres are noir, fantasy, drama and horror movies, and I also like comedies. But film noir is my favorite—black and white, beautiful women, corrupt individuals, duplicitous motives, and villains not that different from the heroes. You watch a film from the ’40s with beautiful cinematography and a musical score—and there’s something really romantic about those movies. But, alas, I’m not sure they would work anymore.”

How does Mendoza prepare to see a film?

“I like to go into a movie blind, without reading other reviews or seeing film clips,” he says. “I like to have some knowledge of the film, just so I can anticipate more about what I’m going to see, but I don’t want to go in with expectations. You can see a great advertisement for a movie, and it turns out to be horrible—or it can be badly promoted but be a great movie. I want the audience to know that. Besides, most trailers for movies give away way too much.”

Mendoza’s influences include Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert (“Great sense of humor!”), Richard Roper, and YouTube critics Lindsay Ellis and Grace Randolph.

“Some write or do really long pieces,” says Mendoza, “but I try to do it in shorter segments. I explore the writing and acting, and what it means for the audience. I think of myself like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, discovering new things, and I take a little bit of that world with me when I go to see a film.”

Any advice for other young people in the Coachella Valley who hope to live their American dream?

“I want to be a good influence for LGBTQ youth,” Mendoza says. “My advice is to do life like a resumé—always looking to learn a new skill to improve yourself. Take risks; at least it will give you experience to learn for next time. Stay faithful to your career choices, but keep an open mind to what might happen. And work hard and network; get out and meet people, because you never know who can give you an opportunity.”

Brayan Mendoza is from a family that found the American dream—and he is living it into a new generation.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. 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 sensed fragility when I first met Crystal Harrell, due to her slight frame, gentle beauty and shy smile.

I quickly learned I was wrong—and found out how strong and determined she is.

Harrell, 23, is a native of the Coachella Valley—born in Indio, and currently residing in La Quinta. She attended College of the Desert, and graduated with a degree in communication and film from the California State University, San Bernardino’s Palm Desert campus.

Harrell’s family sounds perfectly “normal”: Her mom was a homemaker, with her dad working at Lowe’s (“My dad has never had to hire anybody to do anything!”), and a brother two years younger who is pursuing creative and graphic arts.

Harrell found her calling as a writer through reading. “I was always very shy,” she says, “but reading was a big thing for me. Before I could even read them, I’d look at picture books and make up the stories myself. Reading gives me time to digest, and to wonder whether the ideas resonate. My favorite book when I was young is Roald Dahl’s Matilda. I also loved Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, and Michael Crichton.

“In high school, I was on the newspaper, and then I was editor at COD. I like that kind of writing—so different from creative writing. I like to write in a journal. I have a desire to always learn more, and it’s a great feeling to send something out into the world for others. I like writing about local stories and current events, especially to reach people who aren’t from the Coachella Valley, who don’t really know how much the Coachella Valley has to offer. We have a multi-city spectrum offering very different things.”

Harrell’s story seems to be very “normal” … until she talks about the illness that totally changed her life. Pemphigus vulgaris struck just as Harrell had completed her studies at COD. It manifested initially as a couple of blisters on her nose before moving to her mouth and gums. She consulted dentists and got no help. She began to experience open skin sores on her body and consulted dermatologists—and still got no help. Everyone had something they wanted to try, from creams to pills, but nobody knew exactly what the underlying condition was.

Pemphigus is a debilitating autoimmune disorder that affects perhaps 10,000 people annually in the United States. Cells literally become separated, and the body begins to attack itself. Harrell finally took matters into her own hands—when her skin was literally falling off, and she was in pain to even wear clothing.

“It was a real struggle,” she says. “I didn’t know what I had. It went from a few blisters on my face and body to my skin falling off. It took about six months to finally know what was wrong. I started researching and got myself to Loma Linda, where they diagnosed it. Before that, I really thought it was the end for my future. I was then in my first quarter at Cal State, and I was determined to continue toward my goals.

“I’m in remission now, but you never know when it might come back. My body may be at war with itself, but I know I’ll come out victorious in the end. I have goals and dreams that are bigger than what I was dealing with.”

Harrell is grateful for the support of her family during the agonizing months of her worst symptoms. “I had faith that gave me the strength to push forward,” she says. “I was so pleased to have an article about all that happened get accepted to be published online  so I can help others be able to get diagnosed.”

Harrell’s positive attitude is evident when you spend time with her, and she is quick to acknowledge the influence of her family and her longtime boyfriend.

“My mom and I were always very close,” she says. “She encouraged me to dream big. If not for her, I might never have found journalism, because when I really didn’t know what direction to go in, she suggested it. Nobody else in my family is a writer. She always gave me the room to blossom—and my dad has been very supportive of my desire to write. I remember reading with him, sitting in his lap when I was young.

“I met my boyfriend my freshman year of high school. We connected through writing, through a way with words. He’s an aspiring film director. It’s a very special relationship, not based on outward things, but based on thoughts and a mutual passion for writing. I can feel words physically.”

Harrell’s day job is as a report editor for a medical legal firm in Indio, but she also does freelance writing, covering local events like the Palm Springs International Film Festival, and submitting pieces to community newspapers. Although she has “dabbled” in novels and poetry, her goal is to work full-time for a major publication, and to write a book about her personal struggle.

“Someday, I’d like to travel to Europe. As much as I love it here, I want to get out and explore,” she says. “I want to go places and meet people and learn. There is so much we never dream we can do.”

Crystal Harrell has an inspiring story to tell. Her strength and determination in the face of a debilitating illness are an example to all of us, as are her words.

“You have to find what gives you joy and hold onto that feeling. Happiness is the strongest medicine.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. 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.

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