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Anita Rufus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did the writing career come about?

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

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

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

What brought them to Palm Springs three years ago?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Hamlin doesn’t make those kind of mistakes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My cousin and my friend have figured that out.

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

Don Cilluffo found his calling in his native Michigan.

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

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

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

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

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

Cilluffo grew up with his grandparents just around the block.

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

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

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

So what took Cilluffo into acting and theater?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s a champion wrestler, a medal-winning runner and a concert pianist.

One other thing about Mike Zorick: He’s blind.

Zorick, 70, has been an Indio resident since 1980, and has overcome obstacles that would surely have stopped others. Shortly after his premature birth, in Hartford, Conn., a medical technique used at that time led to an overdose of oxygen and left him blind.

Zorick’s parents, wanting him to escape discrimination, sacrificed and saved to afford him the best possible opportunities to overcome his disability.

“People would look at my eyes and see nothing else,” he recalls.

He was educated at Oak Hill School for the Blind through high school. In the fifth-grade, Mike began wrestling.

“I was kind of forced into it by the recreation coach,” Zorick says. “He said, ‘If you don’t wrestle, you can’t come to PE anymore.’ I ended up beating an undefeated champ and won the tournament!”

Zorick remembers his parents teaching him that, in spite of being small, he should never start a fight—and if he still got into a fight, he should never let the other guy finish it.

“I knew I had to work harder than anyone else,” he says.

Those efforts certainly paid off. Zorick has won numerous competitions around the United States, and his Indio home’s walls are covered with medals and certificates.

“I moved to California after high school and was three-time California state champion in Greco-Roman wrestling,” Zorick proudly beams. He has received numerous awards in several weight categories, as well as for judo and weightlifting.

While still in high school, Zorick also began running.

“My coach said it would build me up for wrestling. I was on the high school track team in 1963,” he says. “I was running a two-mile event and started to really like long-distance running.” Once again, medals followed.

“I ran with a partner for a while,” says Zorick, “but my uncle made me a special device with an extension that could hug the rail, so I could run on my own around the track.”

Zorick says he was a good athlete but not a good student, yet he continued his education, getting an associate’s degree in music and physical education at Los Angeles City College before transferring to UCLA for his bachelor’s degree. He also received a teaching credential in Florida, has taught classes at California State College, Los Angeles, and served as an assistant coach at La Quinta High School.

“I had to sue to get the teaching credential in Florida,” he says. “My biggest challenge has always been that I knew I would be rejected by the sighted world, no matter what I did. I just always do the best I can and let the chips fall where they may.”

Overcoming yet another hurdle for someone without sight, Zorick began playing the piano in fourth-grade.

“I was in a music class for blind kids,” he says, “and I started with Braille music. Now, I just learn one hand at a time. For concerts, I have to memorize about 120 pages of music.”

Zorick focuses on classics by composers like Chopin and Brahms. “I like music with harmony and melody,” he says. “One piece I still need to learn is Brahms’ Rhapsody No. 4.” He has played more than 20 solo piano concerts at venues including Foursquare Church and the Family YMCA of the Desert.

Zorick’s lifetime partner is Nancy Noble, a former movie actress and artist originally from Chicago, who has devoted herself to supporting Mike and his varied endeavors. One needs to be around them for only a few minutes before their genuine love and support for each other becomes apparent.

“I made a list of 10 things that I knew I needed in a partner,” Zorick laughs. The list included being a team player; an honest person with good morals and a love of truth; willing to not live with animals or children; a good helpmate; a non-drinker and non-smoker; a runner or bike rider; and able to drive.

Zorick and Noble met in Los Angeles when she became a reader for him.

“I thought it would help my acting,” she says. “Mike needed someone to take him running, so I rode a bike he had. We were friends for two years before we decided to commit to each other. My father told me not to marry him, but my mother said she knew we would be together forever and told my dad to get over it.

“With Mike, to meet his conditions, I even got rid of my cat,” she laughs.

Zorick’s life has led to many lessons—of value to those both with and without sight. He has written a book, Making Weightand has a website that includes a 17-minute video of him talking about his life. He and Noble have spoken to thousands of students about his athletics, his music and the challenges of being blind.

“Students ask lots of questions,” says Zorick, “but the one that always comes up is, ‘What is it like to be blind?’ I always answer, ‘It’s normal.’ I can feel what things look like. Even though I can’t see faces, I remember voices, so it’s frustrating if people don’t identify themselves when we meet. And I hate it when waiters ask Nancy what I want, as if I can’t answer for myself.

“Whenever people said I couldn’t do something because I’m blind, my attitude was always, ‘I’ll show you!’ I’ve always taken discouraging people and used them to my advantage. I had to find out for myself whether I could do something.”

What would Zorick want to see first if he could somehow gain his sight?

“Of course, I’d want to see Nancy.”

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.

Cathedral City’s Lynne O’Neill has been in the Coachella Valley for only a year and a half—but in that small amount of time, she has already made a large difference.

Born in New York, the middle child in a family with four brothers, O’Neill moved here from New Jersey, where she practiced family law. A graduate of Springfield College in rehabilitative counseling, she also had a stint with an all-girl band, Lilith.

O’Neill, 63, came out as gay two years after the Stonewall riots in 1969.

“I spent the 1970s driving around talking about politics,” she says. “Then I was in an auto accident and broke my back. I knew I would never be a rock star. My dad was a lawyer, and he wanted me to go into law. I was third in my class in my first year and became editor of the law review. I was lucky enough to get a clerkship with the appellate division and spent my time writing appellate briefs.”

An associate of her father got her into family law, working on properties and licenses. “In my 30s, I thought maybe I wanted to try cases,” she says. “When the AIDS epidemic hit, I was no longer interested in who gets the refrigerator when couples split. I shifted my focus to doing pro bono disability advice and guardianship issues. I focused a lot on women with AIDS and issues regarding their children, and what would happen after their death.

“People forget that around that time, there were real concerns about things like housing, burial rights and even getting served in a restaurant. I was involved with legal groups working to help with everything relating to those with AIDS. Professionally and personally, in the mosaic of activism, it’s great to march in the street—but how do you really make a difference?”

What brought O’Neill to the desert?

“It was winter, and I had slipped and was lying in the snow with broken ribs,” she says. “I thought about my friend Joy Silver and the life she was living here. I just thought, ‘What am I doing here?’

“I came here to retire, play canasta and go swimming. But after this last election, with all the hate rhetoric against the Latino community, I remembered why I became a lawyer. I wanted to take my skills and training and translate them into doing something with meaning.”

It was in the post-election malaise that Courageous Resistance: Palm Springs and Other Desert Cities was born. The group initially focused on why it is important for each city in the valley to declare itself as a sanctuary city.

“The whole idea of sanctuary cities is so misunderstood,” says O’Neill. “It’s based on something the late Justice Scalia said: You cannot commandeer local law enforcement to enforce a federal mandate. Background checks regarding immigration status is a federal mandate.

“Government and empowerment work from the ground up, so we began Courageous Resistance to provide a jurisdictional blueprint of what the powers of the federal government are, and how state and local law enforcement should relate to those powers. We started with 17 people, and we now have over 1,700.”

The group mobilizes local activists to meet with politicians, in person, to make a difference in local policy.

“One victory builds upon the next,” says O’Neill. “We need to shake up these local fiefdoms. We need to mentor new activists on how to get things done and what questions to ask of elected officials. We can influence local ordinances that make a difference in real people’s lives.”

O’Neill and the group are initially focusing on immigration issues and the goal of universal health care.

“Our goal is to get people involved and empowered,” says O’Neill, who is now working on her friend Joy Silver’s political campaign for the District 28 state Senate seat.

Her advice to others? “Do something!”

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.

Why is a standup comedian pawing through boxes of old family letters—and being so serious as he does it? Why does his wife say she’s the funny one in the family? And how do two Los Angelenos adjust to living in the desert full time?

Meet Tom and Casi Parks.

Tom Parks, 67, was born in Washington, D.C. The eldest of three kids, he went to grade school in South Carolina and high school in New York before spending time in Texas, and ending up in Los Angeles. He studied journalism at the University of Florida—and before long was hosting Not Necessarily the News on HBO.

“To my mom,” he laughs, “doing comedy about the news was doing the news, so I hadn’t totally wasted my education.”

How did Tom end up with a career in comedy? “My mom loved broad slapstick. She roared when my brother hit me in the head with a ball,” he says.

“My dad had a quiet, reserved sense of humor. Dad had served as a bomber pilot in World War II, flying out of England, but was shot down in 1943, a month short of turning 22. He was in a (prisoner of war) camp for 18 months. When I was 14, Hogan’s Heroes ran on TV, and I was worried for my dad. But he started laughing, with tears in his eyes, and said, ‘I don’t remember it being this funny.’

“My mom also served, and she got one more battle decoration than my dad. They always argued about who was the toughest.

”When I graduated college, I was in Atlanta, and I had no idea what I was going to do. I was managing an apartment community, and I met a girl on the stairs. I asked her out (and was) totally shocked when she said yes. We went to see Harry Chapin at the Great Southeast Music Hall. Between his songs, he would tell stories and talk to the audience. I realized that was what I did at parties with friends, and I made them laugh. Friends encouraged me, and two weeks later, I got up onstage in that same club to impress that girl—but I wouldn’t have done it as a career if I hadn’t gotten laughs that night, from strangers. It was a revelation to me, and I’ve never thought of doing anything else.”

Tom’s career started with small college appearances that he booked himself. “(Colleges would) book anything for $100, and to me, that was huge money,” he said. “Once I did a few colleges, I had credits to my name. From 1976 to 1983, I had 700 college dates and was named Campus Entertainer of the Year and Top Comedian.”

Tom’s career includes a first appearance on The Tonight Show in 1987, hosting Not Necessarily the News on HBO in 1989, movies, television, Comic Relief, cruise-ship appearances, a game-show hosting gig, and writing.

In the mid-’80s, Tom was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. “I knew it was a possibility, since my dad had it as well, but when I passed age 35, I thought I had missed it.” Tom acted in a humorous film about diabetes which raised about $500,000 for the American Diabetes Association.

Tom’s current passion is old family letters, going back to the 1800s, including correspondence between his dad and grandmother while his dad was at war. Tom writes a blog at www.aboxofoldletters.com to share what he’s found.


Casi Finefrock Parks, 55, was born in Oklahoma City. She has a brother and is the youngest of three sisters. Casi comes from an artistic family: Her parents started a theater, and her two sisters are both painters. She was a dance major at the University of Oklahoma.

“I didn’t finish,” she says. “I got married, and when that was over, I came to Los Angeles, since my brother was in L.A. studying acting. My reaction was, ‘It’s California!’ and I never left.”

Casi went back to school for an accounting degree at California State University, Los Angeles. “I once worked for two gals who were with Prince and the Revolution, running errands for them while I finished school. I never met Prince, but,” she laughs, “I learned that having a backstage pass just means you don’t get to see the show.

“I started doing securities accounting during the online boom. I almost went to work with the FBI, but they said I had to carry a gun—an accountant in bank vaults! I’m very opposed to guns, so I backed out.

“I’ve finally decided to retire because I’m ready for a change, especially following Tom’s heart attack last year, although I may still look for consulting projects.

“I’ve always loved it here in the desert. I’m a big architectural buff, so I do the modernism tours, and there’s so much to explore. Plus, I can run to the store without it taking forever.”

Tom and Casi met online.

“I had never done it before,” she says about online dating. “I was career-oriented and almost 40, so I decided to do a two-week free trial. When I met Tom, I knew immediately.”

They lived together for eight years and married in 2009. “He got on his knee on New Year’s Eve and gave me a box of engraved stationery with both our initials on it. Besides,” she laughs, “I think he was tired of trying to find the right word for me. ‘Girlfriend’ didn’t feel right, and ‘partner’ could have meant a business associate.”

Despite Tom’s career, Casi says she’s the funny one in the family. “Tom is hilarious on stage, but quiet and reserved in real life, while I laugh too much! I talk to everyone, where he hangs back. But he’s the one who is organized at home, even though I’m the accountant.”

What are the challenges of retirement and moving to the desert full-time?

“You don’t end up doing the things you thought you’d do,” says Casi. “We’re remodeling the house, so we have to move out while the work is being done, and we have to build a social life and new friends to hang out with.”

As for Tom: “It didn’t feel like a big move, but it is a big difference,” he says. “I loved L.A., but I’m ready for life to be calmer and quieter.”

Adds Casi: “Life’s easier here, but you do have to keep an eye out for eating too much!”

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.

Pamela Kershaw Cole is one of those rare people who always seem to be in a good mood. Every encounter I have with her leaves me smiling.

One of the reasons for her infectious mood is her husband, Chet. “He first asked me (to marry him) when I was only 44,” says Cole with a laugh, “but I thought I was too young!”

Now, after six years together—almost five married—they have matching tattoos, his on his arm, and hers on her back, commemorating their wedding date: 12/12/12.

Cole was born in San Francisco in the “Summer of Love,” 1967. After some moves, she began eighth-grade in the Coachella Valley, graduated from Palm Springs High School, and currently lives in Cathedral City. Cole graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno, with a degree in education; received her master’s degree in education administration from Azusa Pacific University; and earned her doctorate in organizational leadership from the University of La Verne.

“I started teaching in 1996 in Cathedral City with third-grade students,” says Cole. “Now I specialize in non-English-speaking students, focusing on language development. Over the years, I’ve taught almost every grade, from kindergarten to eighth-grade.

“This year, I have sixth- through eighth-graders. Most of my students are total newcomers to English. I speak a little Spanish, which helps, but recently, I had a student from the Philippines who spoke neither English nor Spanish. I even have one student this year who has never been in a school classroom before.

“I get a really diverse group each year—kids who are super-smart academically, but who have little experience in a classroom. They’re eager, and they often show a different kind of respect, having come from families that have worked so hard to get here. Research says that it takes five to seven years in a new country to become fluent in the language. It’s exceptionally challenging … and so rewarding.”

Cole is the eldest in her family; a brother, John Kershaw, lives in Yucca Valley. Her mom died at 50 after a difficult fight with cancer. Her dad then lived in Reno—which helped lead her to do her undergrad work there.

“My mom gave me some really good advice,” says Cole. “Work hard, play hard. I’ve tried to live up to that. My grandfather was a colonel in the Marine Corps, so I learned about integrity from him, but I learned about character from my mom. She was an amazing woman who always had a good sense of the need for balance in life. Caretaking is very hard, but it was a real time of growth for me.”

I met Cole through local theater: We both participated in a staged reading with Script to Stage to Screen, a local company that does staged readings of brand-new plays. I was blown away by her natural ease onstage—especially compared to what I felt were my own awkward and unrealistic efforts.

“Chet, although he does teach sixth-grade, is really the actor in the family,” Cole laughs. “He studied acting. He says I’m interesting as an actor, but I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Trust me, you’d never know it!

“I started with S2S2S in 2012,” says Cole, “and it’s my only acting ever. I’ve never taken classes or workshops, but I must admit I love it. The truth is, I told myself about a month before I met Chet that I wanted to meet a man with a kid and find time to do community theater. (Chet has a 9-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.) I have to admit that the worst part for me is the applause: Although I may be gregarious, I don’t really like being the center of attention. What I most enjoy is the character development—the intuitive ability to develop ways to make a character come to life, to take a two-dimensional person and make them real.”

Cole has proven her ability to do that: She recently received a Desert Stars Award from the Desert Theatre League for Outstanding Supporting Female Performer in a Staged Reading, for her role in The Exit Strategy Club.

Cole’s connection to theater helped lead her to establish a theater for students: “I’m writing short versions of classic stories and directing, doing costumes and sets,” she says. And lest you think Cole has any free time, she also coaches new teachers for Riverside County, and teaches for Walden University online.

Cole has traveled some—to Europe a couple of times, to Puerto Rico, and around the U.S. “We got to visit Kershaw County in South Carolina. I found some ‘kinfolk,’” she laughs. “But if I have a bucket list, I’d either be in Florence, Italy, or at Lake Tahoe. My dad had a boat, and we spent some really good time together there. As hard as it was when my mom died, I think losing my dad was harder to handle. When your second parent dies, it feels like, ‘There goes my anchor.’”

Cole’s advice to local students: “Whatever you want to do, be fearless. My mom raised me with no money, but she always said to try everything and to put myself out there.

“Don’t have regrets. Try things. Life is short, and we only get to do it one time.”

Pam Cole is making the most of her one time.

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.

Ron Celona got bitten by the acting bug in the first grade.

“I played a spider in Little Miss Muffet … and refused to take off my costume afterward,” he says. “I walked all the way home from school in my spider costume, and have been on the stage ever since.”

Celona, 59, the founding artistic director of the Coachella Valley Repertory theater company, is a Rancho Mirage resident, along with his husband and partner of 32 years. Celona was born and raised in Philadelphia. He and his older sister lost their mom when Ron was just 7.

“My father was a tenor-sax player,” he recalls, “and although he gave up his career to have a family, he always encouraged me to follow my dreams.”

Celona’s professional career began when he was in the sixth-grade, after he had already performed in many theater projects at school and at his local playground.

“I continued my education after high school in New York,” he says, “at American Musical and Dramatic Academy. I graduated high school in June and moved that same September. After a few years working on East Coast stages, I moved to Los Angeles and continued theater studies at Cal State Los Angeles. While doing theater, I added television and film to my credits.

“But it wasn’t until I moved to the Coachella Valley in 1999 that I began my career as a producer and director. I produced the Joslyn Players in Palm Desert, and that turned into a successful community theater that thrived for nine years.”

How did CV Rep come about? In 2008, the stars were apparently in alignment.

“Frankly,” says Celona, “I was waiting for the right time in the valley’s growth. I modeled it after other companies, like South Coast Rep and Seattle Rep—companies that started out small and grew to be respected institutions in their communities. The board planned strategically so that we could grow slowly and successfully. The big goal was always to own our own theater building. … In the coming year, this dream is coming true, and we will be taking the next step toward creating a nationally recognized and respected theater company, for our communities’ residents and visitors alike.”

I love theater, and have been pleased to see the growth of several local theaters—each presenting a different experience that goes well beyond the old standard retreads. However, I became increasingly interested in CV Rep specifically because of its Youth Outreach Production program. Each year, CV Rep presents a play with a subject that is of particular interest to young people, and makes it available to students through the Coachella Valley—some of whom might otherwise never be exposed to live theater.

“This year, for the first time, we didn’t just bring students into the theater,” says Celona. “We were able to take the show on the road to local schools and reach over 3,000 students.”

This year’s show was Bully, a one-man show written and performed by actor, writer and producer Lee J. Kaplan, who explores his own struggle with bullying. Kaplan discovered his sixth-grade journal among some old boxes, and recalled the verbal, physical and emotional abuse he endured. His play includes him as several characters—his teacher, classmates, bullies, and himself—and examines how bullying can affect someone even well into adulthood.

The audiences are always able to talk with the cast and ask questions after the performances. Often, these questions don’t only explore the message of the play; many audience members share their own experiences.

The show I attended was not for students; it was an evening performance for the public. I was struck by those who shared their own memories and feelings.

Kaplan made it clear that bullying goes way beyond hurting someone’s feelings. It is the activity of repeated aggressive behavior intended to hurt or gain power over another. It is emotional, verbal and social abuse, and those bullied don’t know how to make it stop.

Kaplan’s lessons on how to defeat a bully: Stop caring about him. Tell somebody; don’t be ashamed, and don’t back down. Stop blaming yourself—it’s not your fault.

The one question Kaplan had to pause and think about was why bullying happens to one person and not another, even within the same family. He finally said, “I’ve known some people who seemed so sure of who they were, they seemed to walk straight forward through it all toward their own future. Somehow, bullying never affected them.”

Ron Celona, who clearly knew who he was and how to walk straight forward into his own future, had some influential mentors along the way. He first names the renowned Gordon Davidson, of Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles: “His wisdom and advice gave me the confidence in myself that I needed.” Then he acknowledges Sheldon Epps, of the Pasadena Playhouse: “He is always there for me when I have a question or need advice on our growing pains. I’m very grateful for his friendship and support.”

The Coachella Valley should be grateful for Ron Celona’s vision and dedication to our burgeoning theater community—and particularly for his commitment to its students.

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.