CVIndependent

Wed11202019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

There are people you see often and think you know: the tennis pro at the club, the barber you see every couple of weeks, the market clerk who remembers your name, the co-worker you chat with at the coffee machine.

In my case, there’s the woman who engineers my radio show: I see her every Sunday. We share laughs and stories, and I sincerely appreciate everything she does to make my time on the air run smoothly.

I realized I didn’t know her at all the day she came in with her head shaved.

“Wow,” I said. “What a change! Did you decide to do that because summer’s coming?”

“No,” she said, wiping her hand over her newly hairless head. “Mischelle has cancer and is going to have chemo, and she’s worried about losing her hair. I wanted to show her how I’m right there with her.”

Marisol Valle is a board operator and on-air personality at Alpha Media, but she is so much more. Born in Indio 37 years ago, Marisol is the oldest of two; she has a brother, David. However, her mother is the oldest of nine daughters, so she has cousins and family everywhere around the Coachella Valley.

“I could never get away with anything,” she laughs.

Marisol graduated from Palm Springs High School in 1997. She went on to take classes at the California State University, San Bernardino, and then attended the Academy of Radio and Television Broadcasting.

“I’d love to have my own talk show on the radio, specifically taking on subjects that affect women and the LGBT community,” she says.

Was it difficult coming out to her parents? “My dad says he knew all along. My mom was angry at first, but that was because I hadn’t told her. They’re fine with me. It’s just not an issue. I was always a tomboy, but I dated boys and found them attractive. I guess I would describe myself as bisexual rather than lesbian, but I just don’t like labels.

“In my 20s, I had a better idea of who I was, and when I met Mischelle, I knew she was someone special.”

At the time, Marisol was working at Desert Arc in their social recreation department, shepherding Arc participants to events like the Special Olympics. “I was moved to the behavior-modification department as an instructor, doing vocational training, and subsequently became supervisor of that area. It was there that I met Mischelle. She was one of my staff.”

Marisol and Mischelle Avalos have now been together for 10 years, the last three of them married. “We were married under the Marilyn Monroe statue when it was in downtown Palm Springs,” she laughs. “Now that it’s coming back to Palm Springs, we’ll be able to celebrate our anniversary there every year!”

In addition to her job at the radio station, Marisol today works as a special education assistant at Shadow Hills High School, tutoring in math.

“I realize math is difficult for everyone,” she says. “I understand math, but I never really liked it. I now know how important it is in every aspect of your life, and I try to pass that along to all the students. You need to know math, even if it’s only so you can help your own kids with their homework. Besides, you never really know when you’re going to need to use algebra: It’s about problem-solving, and you want people to be critical thinkers in the world.”

Marisol would like to go back and complete her undergraduate degree: “As I get closer to 40, I realize the best way to motivate my students to complete their education is by doing it myself. I like being a positive role model for the kids, but I really need to do it for myself.”

Mischelle was diagnosed with cancer in May.

“She’s had five rounds of chemo so far,” says Marisol. “The sixth round will be the last, and so far, the results are looking good. The main thing is that she’s still working (at a Palm Springs animal shelter), and she has received so much love and support and words of inspiration from everyone.”

Have they thought about having a family of their own?

“I like children … at least other people’s children,” Marisol says with a hearty laugh. “When we first got together, we talked about it, but it’s a big responsibility. Maybe we’ll adopt. There are so many kids out there who need a loving family, and exposure to the diversity a nontraditional family can bring. Maybe we’ll decide to be foster parents. It’s so important the difference you can make being part of a child’s life.”

Currently living in Desert Hot Springs, Marisol and Mischelle are great examples of people in your life whom you may not really know—but who are making an impact on the world while following their own path.

As Marisol says, “I’m looking forward to the next chapter on the journey.”

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

The concept of “dementia cafés”—places where people, who all too often feel isolated and socially separated from their communities, can come together to relax and enjoy good company—has evolved and spread from Australia to England to Holland to Japan to San Francisco to Seattle to Santa Fe. It’s estimated that there are currently about 200 such cafés throughout the United States, designed to address the social implications of a dementia diagnosis on individuals, families, friends and caregivers.

Starting anything new is always a gamble, so as one of the founders of the Coachella Valley’s first Dementia-Friendly Café, I am proud to announce that the café is beginning its third year of operation this month.

At the first café, we thought we’d be lucky to have 15 to 20 people; 52 showed up. Clearly, there was a need.

Dementia cafés are not support groups or seminars or daycare. There are no presentations or literature, and no commercial promotions are allowed. It’s simply a place where people can meet others with similar experiences and concerns, and a place where everyone understands the need to just relax and enjoy being out in public without fear or embarrassment. The café is for spouses who need a break from their daily routine, or people who have been diagnosed but are still vibrant and independent, or friends who want to support other friends who are concerned about going out alone.

Too often, those with dementia (and their closest loved ones) tend to sever social connections at a time when they are needed most. There are lots of online sources for information as well as local organizations that offer support groups or counseling, but the café offers a chance to leave the disease at the door and just enjoy an afternoon with others who are happy to be able to do the same. 

According to Palm Desert resident Lynne Bailey, “Socialization opportunities diminish with the disease—for the one with the disease and the caretaker, also. The café is a welcoming place and gives our loved one with Alzheimer’s an opportunity to socialize without explaining, without judgment.” 

One of the first challenges of the founding group was figuring out where to hold the café. Palm Desert resident Dee Wieringa, administrator at Caleo Bay Alzheimer's Special Care Center, worked with management at P.F. Chang’s China Bistro at The River in Rancho Mirage to establish a safe, social atmosphere, where people can come together in a relaxed environment. “So many people feel isolated,” says Wieringa. “There’s so much satisfaction in seeing them come out and socialize.”

We were amazed that some local restaurants with suitable space—and far from busy on a Wednesday afternoon—said our “clientele” wouldn’t be appropriate for their establishment. That kind of attitude was exactly why we decided to call it the Dementia-Friendly Café instead of using a euphemistic name. We were committed to finding ways to destigmatize the word “dementia,” since we all remembered how recently people would only whisper the word “cancer.”

Many of those who attend are dealing with Parkinson’s disease. One is Karen Kramer, a resident of Sun City Palm Desert. “We love coming to the dementia café,” she says. “We meet our Parkinson’s group there as a social event, and it is truly a lift.”

All too often, caregivers get into a routine that becomes self-perpetuating. One founder is Rupert Macnee of Rancho Mirage: “My role with the café was to greet folks and to circulate, bringing people together. The experience went a long way in helping me, along with my sister, to effectively manage our father’s care.

“I became much more understanding of his flights of fancy. I learned to accommodate his dreams and perceptions, without blocking them, or trying to make him ‘normal.’ My expectations of how I expected him to behave changed. I knew that to allay his fears was a No. 1 priority.”

Dementia in its many forms is an ever-increasing reality for many families. With that in mind, Dr. Soo Borson, another member of our original group, is beginning a Memory Café in Palm Springs in conjunction with Temple Isaiah. The first gathering is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 25, from 3 to 5 p.m.  Snacks, beverages and music will be offered. Everyone is welcome at no charge.

Meanwhile, the original Dementia-Friendly Café, held on the third Wednesday of each month from 3 to 5 p.m., is entering its third year at P.F. Chang’s. There is no cost to attend. Participants can order drinks or food from the happy-hour menu with separate checks, but no purchase is necessary.

I don’t really believe in horoscopes, although I read them every day. As I began this column, I read mine, which said: “Relationships are not simply about getting your needs met; they are about the profound impact that you have on others and how you are, in turn, affected by their stories.” That has been true for me these past two years as I have greeted everyone who has come to the Dementia-Friendly Café each month. 

Please feel free to join us as we move into our third year.

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

A great theater experience allows us to see our human selves reflected back—in a way that moves, informs and enables us to relate to the realities of the lives of others.

When I was 17, my father threw me out because I had stayed out all night. Shortly thereafter, I got pregnant out of wedlock and contemplated suicide. I remember despondently standing in front of a bathroom mirror, ready to slit my wrists, and suddenly saying out loud to my reflection, “If it’s that bad, it can only get better.”

And it did.

Those feelings were overwhelmingly brought back when I attended the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre production of Push, written by George Cameron Grant, and directed by Cathedral City resident Jeanette Knight. The play was this season’s Youth Outreach Production. I first experienced this CV Rep program last year, when the focus was on female bullying.

The theater buses in students from throughout the area to see a one-act play about issues to which they can personally relate. After the production, the audience discusses the play’s themes with the actors and the director, to explore their own reactions and experiences. It’s more than a learning experience: For some students, it’s the first time they have attended dramatic theater and realized its ability to impact an audience.

Push revolves around a young man who comes out as gay to his parents and faces immediate rejection by his stern father. After the boy is thrown out, he subsequently suffers another rejection—by the boy he has fallen in love with—and commits suicide by jumping in front of an oncoming subway train. The play follows the anguish suffered by his sister, who runs away from home and is discovered at the same train station, contemplating ending her own life. As she struggles with her own feelings, she questions whether her brother made a choice, or whether he was “pushed” by others to feel he had no other options.

The performers in Push were almost all students, some of whom have never acted before. Their ability to inhabit the roles and then discuss with the audience the impact of those roles as it relates to their own lives and experiences was not only educational, but also very moving.

Ron Celona, the founding artistic director of CV Rep, participated in the after-play discussion. He noted that the 1,400-plus students who had seen Push were not so focused in the after-play discussions on the bullying and rejection of the boy’s sexuality; instead, their focus was on the suicide, an issue they and their friends had already encountered, either personally or through troubled acquaintances.

Jeanette Knight, originally from Michigan, has been in the desert since 1997.

“My mother dragged me to dance classes, and I now thank her every day for it,” she says. “I stayed with dance, and that’s how I got into acting.”

Knight began doing musical theater, and “I fell in love with the whole theater crowd.” She completed a degree in theater at UNLV, but says, “I’ve learned so much more from doing it outside of college.”

Knight’s local experience includes working at McCallum Theater as the education program manager, running the Beaumont Actors Studio, teaching acting and improvisation at the Idyllwild Arts Academy, and teaching classes in improv at CV Rep. “I’ve learned so much about acting by teaching it,” she says.

When Ron Celona approached Knight about directing Push, she jumped at the chance. “I really like doing this kind of theater,” she says. “We can’t sweep these issues under the carpet. The kids who come to see these shows are our future.”

There are two local efforts devoted to assisting young people who feel unsafe or who are aware of someone else who feels threatened or hopeless: Sprigeo is an anonymous reporting and investigation service to deal with bullying, harassment or intimidation in or out of school, with which the Palm Springs Unified School District is affiliated. SafeHouse of the Desert helps teens in crisis; those who feel threatened can go to any Sunline bus stop or McDonald’s and get free transportation to SafeHouse.

My parents finally allowed me to return home, but only if I gave my child up for adoption. In those days, there was no real way a teenage unwed mother could make it, so I lived with the hope that my son had indeed been able to live a better life than I could have given him. My first-born son and I were happily reunited after over 40 years. He is a gay man.

At the end of Push, when the sister decides her life is worth living, and her father apologizes for having rejected his son and contributing to his death, I was overcome with tears. All I could think was: I am so thankful that something inside of me knew it would get better, and that my son was adopted into a family where he was loved and accepted.

CV Rep is truly making a difference. In Jeanette Knight’s words: “It’s rewarding to have a hand in art not just for art’s sake, but to be a part of theater that can help make the world a better place.”

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

Whenever I mention Janet Newcomb to anyone who has met her, one word always comes up: “Nice.”

Newcomb believes she’s considered “nice” because she grew up with traditional Midwestern values.

“I don’t even really think about it,” Newcomb says. “It’s so embedded in me: ‘Be a lady.’ ‘Say thank you.’ ‘Remember to pat people on the back.’ It’s just who I am. I want everybody to be happy.”

Raised in Grosse Pointe, Mich., Newcomb graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in psychology.

“It interested me,” she says. “I got married to my first husband and went to Washington, D.C. I got a job there with a defense contractor who was doing psychological warfare research.”

Newcomb’s job later moved her to Los Angeles ,where she completed a master’s degree at Pepperdine University. She met her second husband, Don, and they married in Hawaii. Newcomb moved to the desert from Los Angeles after Don was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

“Some friends had retired here,” says Newcomb, “so we decided to come down and settle.” Don died in 1990.

“When I decided to stay in the desert after my husband’s death,” she says, “I needed a job.”

Newcomb opened Siena, a shop in Indian Wells selling specialty Italian cookware.

“For about a year and a half, it was great—but then the recession hit, and people weren’t buying expensive cookware. My friend, Gayl Biondi, told me I should do public relations. By then, I had made a lot of friends, so that was the incentive that sent me in that direction.”

For more than two decades, Newcomb has been representing local businesses—specializing in restaurants.

“My passion was always cooking and eating,” Newcomb says, “and I especially like to support local family-operated businesses.”

Newcomb’s father had been a columnist for a local newspaper while she was growing up. “His column was called, ‘I’m Telling You,’” she says. “It was kind of a social column.” It’s no surprise, then, that Newcomb became society editor for Palm Springs Life magazine, covering fundraisers across the Coachella Valley for more than five years.

“I’m very curious about things,” says Newcomb. “I’m interested in what’s going on in life. I like people, and there are so many interesting people, especially in the local charity world.”

I first met Janet Newcomb when she was doing a live weekend show called Walking on Eggs at the same radio station where I work.

“Food wasn’t getting much attention,” says Newcomb, “so I thought it would be fun. I had guests and talked about local agriculture. People could call in, and I tried to always make it informative. People just cook and eat, but I think hearing about how others do it is interesting.”

Newcomb’s relationship to local charities has not been restricted only to writing about them. She served as president of the board of Shelter From the Storm; she was involved with the World Affairs Council of the Desert, a local group that focuses on international issues. She is currently a member of the Roar Foundation, actress Tippi Hedren’s big-cat rescue organization, and is a board member of the Cal State-San Bernardino Palm Desert University Associates, working to raise money for student scholarships.

Newcomb and I have the same manicurist, Paula Vaughn, who describes Janet as “warm, always with a smile. She’s one of the most humble people I’ve ever known. Be sure to ask her about the ballet and fencing.”

Ballet?

“Coming from a family with a history of heart disease, I’ve always been interested in health and exercise,” Newcomb says. “When I was a young girl, my mom insisted my sister and I take ballet lessons. I did ballet in D.C. just for the exercise. Then, when I was transferred to L.A., I went back to ballet again with a small company. I even had a couple of times onstage!”

Fencing?

“When I came down to the desert,” says Newcomb, “I met Leslie Taft, the fencing coach at College of the Desert, who has the Desert Fencing Academy in Palm Desert. It’s great exercise for coordination and balance, plus it’s aerobic. But it’s very tricky; you have to train your body to be alert so you don’t get stabbed!”

What’s next for this active woman? “I’m still doing some PR work, especially for restaurants,” says Newcomb, “but I’m definitely slowing down. I look back and think about my life and what it means to mature. In my 30s, there was always competition. In my 50s, I had enough experience to have calmed down and just be who I was.

“Now, I’ve mellowed. I don’t see any point in ever saying anything bad about anybody. Everybody’s doing the best they can with what they have. I’m not God; I can’t change you. You are who you are. Like me, or don’t like me—it’s your problem, not mine.”

Pattie Daly Caruso (yes, she’s Carson’s mom) is one of Newcomb’s closest friends.

“There are so many incredible things about her,” says Caruso. “Janet is one of the most special people I've ever met. She’s been warm and wonderful from the beginning of a friendship that began decades ago. The word ‘awesome’ is so overused, but it applies to her. She’s loyal, genuine, interesting and interested. I feel blessed to have known her!

“And she’s definitely nice.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. 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

The Peace in the Streets Global Film Festival offers young people around the world an opportunity to share their experiences and ideas about creating peace—by making films.

Carole Krechman, a 12-year resident of Rancho Mirage, is the driving force behind this transforming project, which is sponsored by her group, The Peacemaker Corps, a non-governmental organization established as a result of Carole’s experience as chairman of the board of the Friends of the United Nations.

Carole took a rather circuitous path to this endeavor. She graduated from Beverly Hills High School and went on to study architecture at UCLA. She spent many years redoing homes for famous people in the entertainment industry (she can drop names with the best of them!) before moving her specialty to roller-skating rinks, and then in the 1990s, to “family entertainment centers” including ice rinks, bowling alleys and so on.

“I’m especially proud of working in the late 1970s to establish the World on Wheels in South Central Los Angeles,” she recalls. “After the Watts riots, there was a need to rebuild the community. We convinced local politicians and the police that we could provide a safe environment for kids to come. We installed metal detectors, and ended up with a place that was safe and self-integrated, where young people could find companionship and community.”

Carole spent nine years working on projects in China, and as a result was asked to join the board of the Friends of the United Nations, a nongovernmental organization. In 1995, she was made chairman of the board.

“That was the year of the 50th anniversary of the UN,” she says, “and our role was to tell the world what was going on at the UN, to disseminate information that would help to build civil society around the world.”

Carole remembers the impact of listening to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. “He called for a decade of peace and tolerance,” she says, “and the Friends of the UN thought about creating a tolerance award. I left Friends in 1997 and spun off the Peacemaker Corps as a stand-alone NGO specifically focused on young people and those goals.”

Carole was able to secure a grant from Department of Housing and Urban Development and worked in partnership with malls around the country to offer restorative justice programs for youth.

“Our goal has always been to bring people together as colleagues instead of enemies,” she says. “We use education to empower youth to be actively involved in peacemaking in their own communities. When they attend mall events, they can download a free app to participate in global networks and activities.”

The Peace in the Streets Global Film Festival allows young filmmakers to use any technology available to share their own stories. Entries must be no more than five minutes long, and are judged in three categories: age 8 and under, 9-13, and 14-18.

“It hits my heart,” says Carole, “to get a film done on a cell phone from a young boy in a refugee camp, talking about the conditions and expressing his hope for a better life.”

Among the 2015 award winners are two local films made by participants in the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Coachella Valley and Palm Springs. Ashelly Alvarez, of the Boys and Girls Club of Coachella Valley, took second place in the 8 and under category with her film, “Coachella Valley Peace in the Streets.”

Tiwahna Whyte, Vanessa Ledezma and Hayden Poulain of the Boys and Girls Club of Palm Springs won third place in 2015 in the 14-18 category. Their film, “Finding My Strength,” is a powerful personal statement by Tiwahna, who was bullied; she shares the way she handled her reactions. She first talks of confronting a bully and opening a dialogue that led to them becoming friends.

“All I did was stand up for myself. It was the first time I felt powerful. I said, ‘This is how I feel, and you can’t do anything about it, because I’m still going to do what I’m put on earth to do,’” she says in the film. Later, when she was again subject to bullying, she developed coping skills that included writing and sharing her feelings. Her film is a compelling testament to the difference it can make for youngsters to learn from others facing similar situations.

I urge you to go to the film festival website or scroll down to the end of this article to watch the amazing award-winning films submitted by young people from all around the world. The messages include one young man’s response to bullying: “Turn around and look at yourself.” A young girl walked around the streets of New York asking, “If you could change the world in one sentence, what would it be and why?” and submitted responses that vary from eating healthy to making peace. Another boy’s film, depicting physical confrontations, concludes, “You always have a choice, and it can change your own and everyone else’s lives.”

Carole Krechman has created and nurtured a wonderful organization dedicated to educating young people about their ability to influence each other to make a better world.

“I want kids to know they can walk anywhere in the world and know they’re not going to die, that violence won’t end their life,” she said.  

What have you done lately to make a difference? Supporting the Peacemaker Corps might be a good way to start.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. 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

Some columns are more difficult to write than others. This one will attempt to transcend partisan politics while I examine my unexpectedly overwhelming emotional reaction to the nomination of Hillary Clinton for president.

In June, I wrote about the reactions many local women had as they voted for a woman for president in the California primary. However, voting in a primary is not the same as actually watching a major party select a woman to be its candidate. That was history being made in real time, and many women I know—as well as some men, and many of my Republican friends—were similarly astonished at the intensity of their emotions while watching the Democratic Party officially nominate Hillary Clinton.

The gains achieved by the suffrage movement have always been incremental—countries where women were allowed to vote locally but not nationally; situations in which women could vote but not run for office; places where voting rights were granted only to certain races or classes. For example, Britain granted unmarried women who were “householders” the right to vote in local elections in 1869, expanding that to include married women in 1894.

In 1893, New Zealand became the first country to grant full equal voting rights to women. Australia followed with women receiving incremental suffrage between 1895 and 1908, based on where they lived in the country.

Finland adopted full female suffrage in 1906; Norway followed in 1913, and Denmark and Iceland in 1915.

In 1917, when the czar was overthrown in Russia, universal suffrage was declared. Great Britain was still struggling with class distinctions in 1918, empowering women based on being older than 30, or those with a university degree or those who owned certain property. (All men 21 and older were then given the right to vote.)

The United States finally granted women the vote in 1920, when on Aug. 26, the state of Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment. It’s worth acknowledging that this occurred less than 100 years ago.

Black women didn’t gain full suffrage in South Africa until 1994. Qatari women received the right to vote in 2003; Kuwaiti women followed in 2005. In 2011, King Abdullah issued a decree ordering that Saudi Arabian women be allowed to stand as candidates and vote, but only in municipal elections. Their first opportunity did not come until December 2015.

Today, many women still do not have the right to fully participate in their government. In Brunei, there are no national elections at all, although there is universal suffrage for those 18 and older in elections for village leaders. In the United Arab Emirates, just a small percentage of men and women were allowed to vote for the national advisory council in 2011—in fact, one woman was elected to the council—but neither men nor women can vote for the nation’s leader.

There are women we know here in the Coachella Valley who were born before the right to equal agency was achieved here in the United States—and now they have seen history made again. While my own story has always included the right to vote, it has not always included things we now take for granted, such as getting credit in one’s own name, have access to birth control without anyone else’s consent, qualifying for a loan even if one has children, or being able to apply for any job for which one is qualified (as opposed to sex-segregated “help wanted” ads that were the norm when I graduated high school).

Given all of this history—both my own and that of women around the world—I was still not prepared for the overwhelming intensity of my reaction when Hillary Clinton’s name was announced as the official candidate for president by a major political party. Whether you support her or not, she made history—and that’s worth savoring as indicative of how much has changed in a relatively brief period of time. In evolutionary terms, 100 years is a drop in the bucket.

There are still those who resist the idea that a woman can be president, including a 50-ish woman I saw interviewed on television who said, adamantly, “The president has to be a man. Women have hormones, so it has to be a man.”

In other words … we still have a long way to go.

The impact of the nomination of the first woman as a serious candidate for president is not ultimately of importance merely because it is a “first.” It’s important because, whether Hillary wins or loses, never again in America will any little girl have to set her sights lower than any little boy.

That is what brought my unexpected overflowing tears. I admit to having been taken aback upon realizing how much it mattered to me.

I don’t know about you, but for me, that transcends politics.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. 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

Rancho Mirage resident Bill Marx is known both for being the eldest son of Harpo Marx (the mute, harp-playing Marx Brothers star) and for his own talent as a composer and performer. He and his wife, Barbara, are among those named in bold print as attendees at many local charity functions, and Bill is often a featured performer, combining his piano-playing talent with comedic stories about growing up Marx.

Raised in Beverly Hills, Bill became his father’s prop man at age 12 and his arranger/conductor by the time Bill was 16.

“Dad couldn’t read a note of music,” he says. “I’d write the notes in letters, and he could feel the rhythm and harmony.”

Bill’s dad decided that Beverly Hills was “too pretentious” and moved the family to the desert. Bill went on to study at the Juilliard School in New York and then settled in Los Angeles. While Bill’s father helped him hone his natural musical talent, most people don’t know how much his mother, Susan Marx, influenced who he is as a person.

Bill moved permanently to the desert in 1992.

“I wanted to look after my mother, and I took over the trusteeship of my dad’s estate and professional identity,” says Bill. “But instead of looking out for her, she had to look after me, as my shaky second marriage broke up. I thought I could always go back to living in Los Angeles, but when we started being together without my dad, (my mom and I) developed the best damn absurd relationship, so I decided to stay.”

Susan Marx was something of a trailblazer in the Coachella Valley. She had been in movies and was a Ziegfeld Follies girl before she married Harpo. They became parents to four adopted children; Bill is the oldest.

“When dad died, on their 28th anniversary in 1964, she had no ‘role’ to fulfill anymore,” says Bill. “She had no desire to remarry, although she was courted by lots of wealthy guys. She literally decided to ‘invent’ Susan Marx as a separate person.

“Mom broke into the Old Boys’ Club here, at a time when an outspoken feminist Democrat was not the norm,” Bill says. “She had an opinion on everything and wasn’t afraid to share it. She was the first woman on the board of College of the Desert and served on the board of Palm Springs Unified School District. She even ran for state Senate, endorsed by the local papers, and lost by only about 1,000 votes.”

Susan Marx had always been interested in education and preferred to give her support without fanfare. “Once, they wanted to honor mom by changing the name of a middle school,” says Bill. “Mom didn’t want her name on a building, but she said she didn’t mind them putting a small plaque on the door of the school library. She was just like that.”

When Susan died in 2002, Bill had already established himself in the desert, along with Barbara, whom he met in 1994.

“I had ‘de-citified’ myself,” he says. “Besides, I was doing Marx trustee work and playing a lot down here.”

While Bill is known for playing jazz and standards at various local venues and charity events, most people don’t realize the extent of his musical accomplishments. He is a classical composer whose work has included writing for movies, television and ballet; he’s also created concertos performed in major venues. He is the curator of the Marx Brothers’ legacy, and well known as a local “celebrity.”

“Celebrity isn’t what you create,” Bill says, with typical humility. “It’s what other people create about you. It’s my name value that has counted, more than who I am. I always knew I had a magical name, not just because of my dad, but also because of my mom, but she always said it was important that I get known not just for being my father’s son. I figured that when you have talent, you can use that talent rather than just giving a check or volunteering your time, so the best way I could help others was also my way of fitting into society down here.”

Bill has been using his talent for a greater purpose for more than 20 years. He has actively supported numerous causes, including ACT for MS, established by his old friend, local columnist and personality, Gloria Greer, who died in 2015.

“Mom had said to me early on, ‘There’s one person you need to know here, and that’s Gloria Greer.’ She asked me to be on the ACT for MS board, and I have been ever since.”

Bill currently performs for the public twice a week at AJ’s on the Green in Cathedral City.

“I was given the gift of music, and I like to keep testing my capability,” he said. “It keeps my brain alive, and I love the camaraderie and interaction with the audience. I had nothing to do with the gift I was given, but I do have to honor it. I think I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”

Bill has a large group of local followers, including other performers, who often show up when he is appearing. I was recently in the audience when jazz singer Diane Schuur, now a local resident, jumped up onstage with him and blew away the audience.

Bill has advice for young people: “It’s not enough just to have a door opened, even though it helps: You have to deliver. Set out to do something, and see it through—finish it. Don’t think of it as creativity; think of it as self-discovery. Everybody has a unique means of self-expression within them; it’s about how they choose to express it that makes the difference. When it comes out, it becomes unique to the one doing it.

“Trust your own instinct to find your talent. That’s the gift. I was just lucky enough to know what mine was.”

Lucky for us, Bill Marx is still discovering new ways to explore his gift and share it.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. 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

Imagine coming to the desert to start a new small business, put down roots and make a mark—with no existing ties to the community.

That is the story of Nikhil Mehta, a native of New Delhi, India, who relocated to Rancho Mirage last year to start Home Care Assistance, supplying trained caregivers who offer innovative approaches—so badly needed in this aging retirement community.

Mehta, 59, came to the United States at age 24 with his wife, Kavita. They went to college together in India, and although she then came to the U.S. with her parents, she returned to India, where she and Nikhil married 35 years ago. Mehta attended the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and graduated with a master’s degree in business. He and Kavita have two children: Arjun, 32, living in Los Angeles, and Jaya, 29, in residency at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix.

Mehta’s long and successful career includes 15 years at Xerox, where he was the vice president of finance for North America; he also had a stint at Citibank.

“I didn’t enjoy the banking culture,” he notes.

In 2000, Mehta moved to San Diego to be the chief financial officer of a biotech company. “We grew human skin for injuries,” says Mehta. “After Sept. 11, we sent a whole planeload of tissue out for victims of burns.”

Mehta moved back to Los Angeles and joined a company as a vice president for corporate development, and later took positions as a chief financial officer and chief execitive officer at a company in Ventura.

After riding out the Great Recession, he decided he needed to make a change.

“It just wasn’t a joy anymore,” says Mehta. “I got burned out. I was looking to do something on my own, specifically in the health-care industry,which had always resonated with me. In the corporate world, you’re not your own person. You have to answer to a board and shareholders. I wanted to be in a situation where I was my own boss.”

In 2014, Mehta began exploring small-business opportunities. “I asked a franchiser to show me some businesses in health care-related fields,” he says. “They presented a franchise with Health Care Assistance, so I went to Palo Alto and was blown away. I’ve been in many companies, large and small, and I know how to judge management talent. I was impressed.”

Mehta began to investigate the whole industry. “I realized that as society is growing older, especially with baby boomers retiring, this industry has only one way to go—up. So many people need this support, especially since 90 percent want to grow old in their own homes.”

He initially hoped to open a location in the western portion of the Los Angeles area. “I was so impressed with their business model. I told them I could help them expand their growth and raise money. They may have thought I was crazy,” he says.

The franchise company decided to keep that location under corporate ownership, but they offered Mehta the Palm Springs area.

“I felt so passionate about how we can help through this business that I decided to move away from the coast and come to the desert,” says Mehta. “This business approach goes so far beyond industry standards; I believe we are really unique in what we offer.”

How do you move to an area where you have no real contacts and start a new small business?

“It’s been a challenge,” says Mehta. “Gaining acceptance when you’re new to an area is tough. The Coachella Valley is very self-contained, especially in the health-care industry. Everybody knows everybody else. It takes time. I had one potential contract turned down with: ‘If you last a couple of years, we’ll take you seriously.’ It’s also hard finding good talent locally, and we won’t hire anybody without at least two to three years of experience. Then we put them through a training program so they can deliver our service professionally. Our standards are very high.”

With many established caregiving agencies already in the Coachella Valley, what does Mehta think sets Home Care Assistance apart? “We offer more than just routine caregiving,” says Mehta. “We have a cognitive therapeutic method that includes physical activities and brain-exercise routines that can actually re-establish brain connections and are designed to delay the onset of dementia or slow down cognitive decline.

“Caregivers work one-on-one in clients’ homes with a series of activities that go beyond just memory-training. We also focus on the executive functions of the brain relating to language, attention and visual/spatial perception.”

Despite high hopes for his business, Mehta sees challenges here in the Coachella Valley.

“I’m glad to see that there is now four-year higher education available locally,” he says. “Once this area is recognized for providing that kind of opportunity, more people will come here and want to stay when they finish school.

“From a business perspective, we need more investment in specialized training. The Coachella Valley is definitely growing, so we need to provide incentives for more businesses to locate here—and that requires having an educated and trained labor force.”

Like any new small businessperson, Nikhil Mehta is reaching out through chambers of commerce and social events to establish local connections to others in the local health-care community.

“It takes time and effort,” he says, “but it’s worth it for something you believe in. We’ve seen tremendous lifestyle improvements in our clients. Besides, our methods make it fun for the caregiver and the client.”

Nikhil Mehta is just one example of the talent and experience we have here in the Coachella Valley. We need to attract more people like him—people who are willing to make an investment in making a difference.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. 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

You feel it in your gut—that uncomfortable feeling of being stereotyped. A prejudicial belief that people with a particular characteristic—race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, etc.—are all the same means we don’t have to recognize others as individuals. It’s the ultimate guilt by association.

I was about 12 when it first happened to me. I used to pick up the evening newspaper for my dad every day at the guard shack at the old MGM Studios in Culver City. The guard and I had gotten friendly and exchanged pleasantries each day. One day, when my Culver City High School was slated to play a football game that evening against our arch rivals, Beverly Hills, the guard asked me if I was going to the game.

“I can’t go this time, but I hope our team wins,” I said.

“Well,” he said, “one can only hope you beat the kikes.”

I’m Jewish, but I had never before heard that term, nor had I experienced overt anti-Semitism. I lived in an area where many of my friends were Jewish, but just as many were not. I didn’t know how to respond to the guard—but I could feel in my gut that what he’d said was offensive, and that it somehow included me.

The word “kike” apparently comes from the time in U.S. history when there were lots of Jewish immigrants coming through Ellis Island. Many of them couldn’t complete the entry forms using the common English alphabet, and they didn’t want to sign with an “X,” because it seemed to represent a cross, so they signed with an “O.” The Yiddish word for “circle” is kikel, so the immigration inspectors came to call anyone who signed with an “O” a “kike.” However it began, use of that term to derogatively refer to Jews exists to this day.

Being blonde, and therefore not fitting the stereotype of what Jewish women are supposed to look like, I have often heard negative stereotypes about Jews casually thrown into conversation—things that clearly wouldn’t have been said in front of me if the speakers had known my identity, as if that should make a difference.

We’ve all had that experience, when a friend or family member drops some negative stereotypical term into conversation—“beaner,” “rag head,” “jungle bunny,” “Uncle Tom,” “chink”—usually without even knowing where the term originated. We can feel it in our gut.

All of this came to mind during the flap caused when the Trump campaign re-tweeted a post that had originated on an anti-Semitic website, depicting Hilary Clinton with a six-pointed Star of David against a background of money. It was subsequently explained and justified as “merely a star, like a sheriff’s badge.” There was no recognition by Trump nor his campaign that using an image representing an anti-Semitic image of Jews and money was, at the very least, worthy of recognition and apology.

If you don’t understand the history of how this image came to be associated as a negative stereotype of Jews, it’s easy to accept Trump’s explanation that “it was just a star.” In the Middle Ages, when the Church dominated European societies, people interpreted the Bible as prohibiting Christians from loaning money. Jews, however, were allowed to loan money, with interest. Many Jews at that time were prohibited from owning property or engaging in most means of making a living, so some of them became money-lenders. The stereotype was typified by Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice in his character, Shylock, a term now associated with loan-sharking. As banking took off in Europe, Jews were able to finance everything from wars to exploration. However, when the time to repay arrived, some governments passed laws that non-Jews did not have to repay, or, as in England under King Edward I in 1290, the entire national population of Jews was expelled (and incidentally not allowed back as a community for more than 300 years).

This negative stereotype associating Jews with money has, obviously, survived. For anyone not to recognize the negative connotation of such a stereotype is just ignorant. For anyone implicated by such images, it’s hurtful. You feel it in your gut.

Concerns about Black Lives Matter and attacks on police officers have highlighted yet other stereotypes: police power as synonymous with the abuse of authority, and race as synonymous with criminality. We are born into a national culture that has, from its inception, valued some lives more than others, yet we react as if this isn’t a truth that needs to be addressed.

If asked to identify the ethnicity of one who is extremely good at math, you’re likely to say Asian. If asked about athletic prowess on the basketball court, you’re likely to say African American. If I mention a national identity associated with drunkenness, you might immediately respond “Irish.”

Organized crime translates to Italian. Blondes are dumb. Muslims are potential terrorists. Native Americans drink and gamble. Black men are well-endowed and barely evolved from animals—hence depictions of our president as a monkey. Hispanics are illegals.

Asians are secretive, easily depicted as devious or spies. Germans, despite more than 70 years since their involvement in World War II and the Holocaust, are as militaristic. Latinos are lazy—think of the pictorial image of the sombrero siesta, or depictions of Latinos as unwilling to learn English and assimilate, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

Gays do not generally mince around with limp wrists, but when that stereotype is portrayed, they feel the negative characterization in their gut.

When leaders or public figures use discriminatory stereotypes to characterize political opponents or members of the general public, they are either indicating their ignorance of the historically negative implications—or they know and just don’t care.

Either way, we can feel it in our gut.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. 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

Born in the Coachella Valley toward the end of the Generation X demographic, Tizoc DeAztlan, at 37, is the embodiment of all of the best Gen X stereotypes: individualistic, entrepreneurial, tech savvy, goal oriented—and wanting to make a difference.

DeAztlan is a Coachella Valley native, born to Roberto, a lawyer, and Amalia, a social activist and feminist (and someone I’ve known for more than 25 years). He has two older sisters.

“Yes,” he acknowledges, “I was the baby in the family.”

DeAztlan says he was born into politics. “My mom instilled in me the need to see justice, and to not just settle for conditions in the community as they are, or for less than is fair.”

A graduate of La Quinta High School in its first graduating class, DeAztlan went on to graduate from Fordham University with a degree in communication. He lives in La Quinta with his wife, Briana, whom he met when they were both in high school.

DeAztlan has been actively involved in the world of politics, working on the campaigns of locals like Congressman Raul Ruiz, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, Coachella Mayor Steven Hernandez and former Assemblymember V. Manuel Perez. He remembers campaigning with his mom back when he was in the fifth-grade, and his dad driving him around before school to put door hangers on people’s homes.

“I’m involved in party campaign politics and in nonpartisan community organizing,” he said. “I see politics in everything. It’s up to each individual how much to engage. It doesn’t matter your position; there are so many ways to be who you are and play a role.”

DeAztlan’s first job, at the age of 19, was doing field research for the RAND Corporation in Los Angeles County, interviewing people about their lives, access to health care and other personal and community issues.

“It was the first time I saw issues on both a micro and macro level, and saw how research can affect people’s real lives,” he says.

DeAztlan’s latest venture—in coordination with Hugh Van Horn, former president of the Coachella Valley Young Republicans—is Perspectives, a nonpartisan discussion group that held its first meeting in Indio in June.

“Hugh and I are friends who always have discussions about lots of issues,” says DeAztlan. “It’s so easy to fall into ‘talking points’ that often miss the point. We realized people may have more in common with their neighbors than they realize, and wanted to provide a place for people to discuss and share information in a hopeful, compassionate and responsible manner with mutual respect.”

The first Perspectives meeting drew 30-40 people and a lively discussion. A few designated people shared their ideas or feelings on the topic, and then others volunteered to participate; this was followed by small group discussions involving everyone present.

“We want to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their own perspective,” says DeAztlan. “It’s important that if someone has something they want to say, they have a place to share it.”

DeAztlan hopes to tackle issues like income inequality, race, guns and the role of government.

“I think we have a responsibility to listen and learn others’ perspectives,” he says. “Groups like this happen more in urban areas, but here, we are so segregated by walls and geography. I’m confident people want an arena for discussion without restrictions. We want the questions to be open and give people the ability to learn more that will enable them to back up their opinions. It’s very sobering the effect that being around your peers in the community can have. It goes way beyond talking points. It’s worth much more than just reading about something or hearing it on television. You can’t eliminate the politics around lots of issues, but we want to eliminate ‘labels,’ and we want people to interpret for themselves.

”We’re often told to think a certain way about some issue, but our own lives can make us realize something completely different. You know, just because someone’s a Republican doesn’t mean they’re not a compassionate person. Just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you can’t be prejudiced against others. We all need to listen and learn from each other.”

No date has been set for the next Perspectives gathering, but they plan to announce a date and topic soon. Meanwhile, Tizoc and Briana have started an event production business that allows them to be involved in major events.

While Tizoc and Briana decided to return to the Coachella Valley after college, many young people do not, and yet others who do return have difficulty building their lives locally. Tizoc hopes to see a Coachella Valley future that includes more access to small-business loans, expansion of local education (like the four-year program now at Cal State’s campus in Palm Desert), more local development of technology, and access to jobs.

“Young people need to feel empowered that whatever their skill set is, there’s a local market for it,” says DeAztlan.

Tizoc DeAztlan is an excellent example of a generation that has felt the obligation to do something—and which is inheriting the power to get things done.

“Some choose to ignore, others feel the obligation to do something,” DeAztlan says. “I believe you have to want more than what is right in front of you.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. 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