So here is a little peek into my memoir. I elaborate on all off these subjects in subsequent chapters, and talk much about the childhood and path I am blessed to have had.
I do not mean this as a "kiss and tell" at all. It is simply the truth of a life lived with all of its color and spectrum of experiences.
MOMMY and DADDY
Mom with her prized possession, her great ass, would make fun of her “fat-assed” or “flat-assed” or “no assed” friends at any chance she could. She often scoffed and called other women fat-asses as long back as I remember. Her rich vocabulary included other adjectives as well; referring to men often as slouches, bums, scrounges, cheap skates, crumb buns, and losers. Women were floozies, stuck up, dirty-looking, crack pots, a wreck of the Hespice, a real tomato, or a plain Jane. When she flatters men it’s; snazzy, dreamboat, smooth, sexy, or a “go-getter.” She has special names for houses and cars too; shoe box, a shit box, filthy mess, an old junk.
Mom is way colorful against the grey and cement, and boarded up mills of Paterson, New Jersey. Her clothing always has a hint of Arpege perfume, or Channel #5. I still smell her.
“You know Dar,” she’d say often. “Some women have it, and some women don’t… You and me, we have it!”
Whatever IT was, I knew it was a good thing to have.
Dorothy Sunshine Legg is the illegitimate daughter of a teenage girl, Margaret Valentine, and a 57 year-old family doctor; Dr. Arthur Legg. She is born on July 28, 1922, entering this world weighing in at 2 pounds, and blind. Margaret gives Dorothy to her own parents who raise her until her teens.
Those were the days when women without husbands were scorned, and having a child was the ultimate disgrace. Hiding the identity of the real mom happens, and it happens a lot.
My mother lived in a basement apartment in Paterson, and I suspect hidden mostly by her grandparents who were the superintendents of the building. Mom’s mode of being is always great hubris covering shame, and feelings she is not good enough; not like other people. She steers clear of PTA meetings, churches, and all other community events. She is not a cupcake-baking lady for sure. My dad attends “meet the teacher nights,” and steps in at my holy Communion at the Methodist church. Mom often says “I feel so ashamed…” or “I can’t go Dar, I have a headache, daddy will go…”
Her grandparents keep her out of school until she is 7 years old. Underweight and sickly, she’s kept in the “open air” room at PS 14, forced to nap under an open window. Never quite catching up with her peers, little Dorothy drops out of school at 14 to go to work in a sewing factory.
My va va voom mom is a survivor, no doubt. Her looks and sexuality draw a lot of attention from men, and she flaunts herself at every opportunity; even into her last days. She unfortunately gets pregnant at 17 yrs old with her very first boyfriend, telling me they never even had real intercourse. Her virginity is verified by a doctor when the man she is dating refuses to believe it is his child. Mom marries Bob Collina at 18. She met this handsome, Catholic, US Marine at an Army dance in 1941. She already despises this controlling, well educated, upper class Italian with a very controlling mother of his own who oversees her every move in the house. My brother is 2 years old when she finally flees heartbroken from what she describes as an “abusive relationship” calling him mentally cruel and condescending. My brother remains with his father and grandmother who raise him until his father re-marries and has three more boys. His second wife committed suicide.
My glamorous, vivacious, easy to laugh, free to cry, gyrating, dancing, sexy Va Va Voom mom is plagued with obsessive compulsive behaviors, compulsively worries, suffers a chronic lack of self-esteem, myriad insecurities, and a narcissism preventing her from feeling or experiencing the world around her without feeling exposed and central to all that occurs. She feels judged and self conscious, and always tries to hide the fact that she is not able to read or spell well. I have to write my own notes to the teacher when absent.
Her biological father has a family and grown children, but did indeed love her and her mother Margaret. He wrote innumerable love letters to my grandmother about his devotion to his new daughter and their “miracle baby, … their love angel.” It is rumored he cured her blindness with some herbs and salves, and was happy to give her his last name, Legg. He created a trust in her name so she could be taken care of and go to college. Unfortunately he passed away when she was just a child, and in 1929 her education evaporated in a day.
No matter where or what we did, the world revolved around my mother’s moods, her hair being perfect, her clothing fashionable and sexy. Mom never ever appears outside of the house without lipstick. She wears a Fuchsia shade; has about 10 tubes of it around, all slight variations on this unique color. I confess I wear this color often.
It could take her hours to leave the house sometimes. I learn not to nag, and develop patience for this larger-than-life goddess. She’d hold her head high, stick her chest out, and grab my hand as we walk to the car as if she were making an entrance onto a stage. I often feel like a prop and accessory
God I love this woman. I was and am forever in love with her.
Dottie, or "Dot" as her friends call her, marries a kind-hearted, hard-working, handsome Dutchman in 1947; a laborer from immigrant parents. His mother is pregnant on the boat and delivers him on American soil; first born in the USA. He is handsome with black hair and bright green eyes, very white teeth, a great build, and has a keen intelligence and appetite for books and knowledge; and a great sense of humor to boot. Dad loves reading science fiction, novels, history books, and scours the newspaper cover-to-cover, even after working a 10 hour day. He always reads to me at bedtime. Always.
Mom dreams of Las Vegas, high-heeled shoes and matching handbags, mini- skirts, and where she might go to be ogled by men. She loves the movies and movie stars; especially Marilyn Monroe whom she begins to emulate more and more as her hair is bleached lighter and lighter, and her teeth all pulled out and replaced with perfect upper and lower plates. My dad gazing at her slow transformation, into her mid-late thirties, would say; "I liked you the way you looked when I married you honey."
Dad loves fishing and being at home with us. He never misses a meal or a birthday; and showers us with cards and special messages in the cards declaring his undying love and devotion to his little family. He even takes on my brother Bob and in many ways is more of a father to him than Bob's own father. He never misses a holiday of any sort to write out cards. I becomes the norm and the family tradition for our entire lives. I miss those cards that arrived like clockwork, always with kind words and money tucked inside. Valentine's Day, Anniversaries, Easter, Birthdays and any other reason, dad wrote cards up until hospice at 88 years old. I have a hundred cards from him, and mom, with extra notes and expressions of love in every single one of them.
Mom hated the outdoors; too messy. She only loves the sun and the beach. She yearns for the dance floor, and the allure of night clubs; to be part of something glamorous. She often spoke of wanting to go to the Copa Cabana in NYC. She even confides in me that she would have loved to have been a showgirl in Vegas.
We live in a four-family house on Madison Ave in Paterson. It is an Italian neighborhood and most people only speak “Sicilian” Italian. The men work in the tool and dye “shop.” The women hang the clothing out on the lines, stir the pasta, and have lots of children. We three are taken in by these Italians because my mom finds a BFF for life in Irma Russo while working in the factory. Dot and Irma are integral to my childhood, a misbehaved duo, who influence my world for life. I love them both so much. The Sicilian clan is bittersweet because their are some cruel things that take place, mom as the target, that I elaborate on in another chapter.
My dad is utterly smitten with Dottie, whom he calls Mickey, for an unknown reason. He only had eyes for her, and me; his queen and princess.
Inside our red and tan chicken-patterned wallpapered little kitchen at 309 Madison Ave, Paterson, New Jersey, she’d often burst out singing along with the radio hits in the afternoons. She’d start dancing and grab my skinny little arm insisting I dance with her around the kitchen until we are both in a heap laughing our hearts out. She’d swoon over certain songs; “Love Letters in the Sand,” “Itsy Bitsy, Teeny Weeny, Yellow Polk-a-dot Bikini,” “Let’s Twist!,” and a myriad of sad and longing love songs. Mom has secrets. She has secret whispered phone conversations, and a secret and not-so-secret private life.
Our square plastic radio sat on the second shelf of a three-tiered utility table. This table is made of metal; the type every working-class kitchen in the 50’s had somewhere. It came in either red, turquoise or white, with stainless steel piping up the sides. This piece of kitsch held the hamster cage on the bottom rung, the radio and some nicknacks on the middle shelf, and the bird cage with our parakeets, Peepers and Yellow head, on the top.
”Come-on Dar, dance with me ... like this ... make believe you have a towel behind you and are putting out a cigarette with the toe of one foot.. and then you are twisting!” We did it over and over that summer when Chubby Checker turned America on to their hips with his huge hit “Let’s Twist Again which blasted from every radio in the neighborhood. It is the summer of 1961. I am 9 years old.
The following summer I am dancing 3 shows a day on the famous Steel Pier in Atlantic City with a troupe of child dancers from the Jaqueline Donavan Dancing School in Paterson.; Chubby Checker is the headliner, and during one show he singles me out, calling me up onto the stage to Twist with him. My dad has the camera, and this dark, grainy moment is captured on 8 mm film! Another encounter with a huge star! "Round and round and up and down we go again.. baby make me know you love me so.... everybody let's twist!"
These hot and humid New Jersey days and nights throughout the summers are glory days. Mom always perks up in summer time; a time she could put on short-shorts and tan her face and body with aluminum reflectors, wear sunglasses, and strut along the sand of the local swim holes to cat calls. She’d wear her gold lame two piece suit, and prance the beaches to the stares of both men and women; women for reasons less than admiration. Sometimes she’d throw her head back and say in a sexy, put-off way, “What are You lookin' at?” if anyone gawked.
She parades that high fleshy ass at all times; an early precursor to the Kardashian claim to fame, wearing skin tight pedal pushers, short shorts, and sheath dresses. She is the only woman on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights clomping along the wooden slats in spike heels that get stuck between the boards every other step, once the heel breaking right off remaining wedged between two boards. This single event ruins my night on the rides. I still see the heel stuck, and feel the sickness in my stomach as she takes a shit-fit in public and somehow blames my father. In all of her days she never takes responsibility for anything. We scurry back to the hotel and the night is ruined. Dad would yell at her in frustration. “Goddammit Sweetheart, why do you wear such stupid shoes on the boardwalk?”
I mean, really Dad, you didn’t know?”
I am always in her glamorous shadow as a child and young teen, even with winning many beauty contests of my own which she enters me into at any chance she finds. The first beauty contest I win is in 1952 at the tender age of 8 months old. I win first place in the entire state of New Jersey, and 4th place Nationally. My picture is blown up and displayed in the window of the prestigious Meyer Brothers’ Department Store in downtown Paterson. I think mom and dad even acquire some money. I am their little star, and their pride and joy. At 2 years old I win the best dressed girl in the Easter Parade in New York City. Betty Hutton picks me out of a crowd of 50 or more children and I am christened by my first movie star when she holds me up high for the crowd to see and kisses me on the cheek!.
Irma, my godmother and mommy’s best best friend, is her ever-present side-kick. She’s half German and half Sicilian; strong, intense, gruff and all about the guys too.
Irma and mom sew up tight-fitting skating outfits with short laired skirts, with their newest Singer sewing machines; gossiping and howling in laughter, and whispering dirty little secrets in that precious kitchen. Irma’s nickname is “Irma the Body,” after a famous stripper. Irma is married to Mikey Russo, and has two boys my age. Irma is an untamable, cheating, thrill seeking broad. Mom and Irma are inseparable for the next 75 years! They dye each others hair platinum blonde into their 80’s. Irma is still living into her nineties; drinks two Coronas a night and smokes her Benson and Hedges every day. She tells me in my last visit to her active senior apartment, "Dar, agh, I'd like to date somebody, but these guys are old men around here; they're ready for the grave already, for god-sakes."
My dad buys mom a white Cadillac convertible after she calls our car a “shitbox.” She’s sick of the 1954 red Mercury with white leather interior, and wants something “snazzy. ” Dad comes in from work one night all dirty and dusty, and places a set of keys onto the formica table. “Here ya go gorgeous!” He gloats.
Mom goes into one her her best screaming and “crying in joy” acts and throws her arms around him, and we three go see the shiny new beast. Wow; here is parked, on the dirty curb, a white with black leather interior boat of a car, long fins, and a convertible to boot new car! We are rich for sure!
Mom and I go out cruising together: her in her white Go-Go boots and mini skirt. She picks me up in front of PS 21, wearing a hot pink head scarf over her teased platinum hair, and big black sunglasses.The other kids stand with mouths a-gape.
“Is your mother a movie star?” One of the little boys asks me, eyes like saucers.
I become embarrassed, am getting bullied a bit a school, and tell her not to come to the school to pick me up. She never realizes why, and never asks. A year later I turn down an invite to a dance from an African American boy who had a big crush on me. “My dad says I can’t can’t go to a dance with a negro boy, I’m sorry” I say, without really understanding. My dad worked with many African Americans and attended their weddings and funerals. He was well loved in that community. He often encouraged me to invite underprivileged kids over for lunch, or to play. I did just that.
I really like Robert Johnson and I was just telling him what my dad said. Dad thought a date at 10 yrs old was not appropriate. Within a few days a group of Robert’s cousins and friends follow me home, and he hits me in the back of the head with a toy gun knocking me out. The crossing guard helps me up. I never go back to that school. He may have been suspended, I do not know.
We move a mile or so away to Prospect Park, New Jersey, over Christmas break, into an all Dutch community with blue laws in tact. We have the right name. It is January, 1963. We live on a hill in a 700 sq ft apartment above a home residence. Mom considers this “moving up in the world.” We rent these 4 small rooms where I go from playing with Barbie Dolls to a full-blown teenager. Mom turns a tearful 40 here.
Years later in 1968, dad buys a brand new metallic green Mustang for us. He always drives the “work car;” a shit box my mother never sets foot in. I wear a wig-like hair extension called a “fall’ (a fake hair piece in a flip to my shoulders) Off we’d drive through Paterson, onto Route 4, and along the highway to Alexanders’ Department store, the one with the huge modern art painting akin to a Mondrian on the front, and across the street from America’s very first Mall, Paramus Shopping Center. Mom and I would shop till we dropped, dragging our cache of new outfits back home to model for dad. After a few months of this he remorsefully cut up our new credit card.
As I run across Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles for the first time, heart pounding, crossing toward the Old World Restaurant, wearing skin tight navy pedal pushers, my hair blowing in the warm sun; at 25 years young, I see men gawk, whistle, and wave from their cars. I wear inappropriate clunker University type boots from Wisconsin, but I have arrived. I am on the famous Sunset Boulevard, and I am intoxicated with this moment. With $70.00 dollars in my wallet, a perfect ass, a chiseled exotic face, and boundless energy and intelligence, nothing can stop me from making it in Hollywood, nothing! After all, mom tells me,
“I have it.”
I check into the Sunset Doheney Motor Inn on the Boulevard, for a week, and have $10.00 left.I have a ridiculous optimism and trust of life and the world. Somehow I'm thinking the world will adore me as my parents do. I have one phone number in my pocket; someone I met in San Francisco who claims to be the shrink to the stars. I call him from the top of the stairway in the Old World, where the pay phone is attached to the wall. I am about to experience my first #Me Too.. shock.
A few weeks later, at a party, Warren Beatty approaches me and says, “Ya know, I’ve been watching you work this room. You walk around at a party like you’re the only woman here with a pussy.” is his opening line. Wow, this is adult talk, I think.
Huh? I am intrigued, but way wary of this notorious Lothario.
“Really?” I squeak out in a half-giggle, confidently, and still scared.
He goes on, “Are both your parents beautiful?”
So goes my first conversation with Warren Beatty whom I met briefly at Mohammed Ali’s wedding earlier that month, seated in the front row with a Producer 55+ yrs old who was trying to impress me .
Warren has a way of stepping right into your sexuality and secrets. He has to know everything… And for some reason, women tell him everything. He is a genius at this investigative style of seduction. I tell Warren things I never tell anyone, and he shares secret stories with me about many of the rich and famous in his circle. He makes me feel special before I even think to sleep with him. I feel privy to some new moral code of freedom and exploration, intimate with the beautiful people. I have arrived. I am part of the IN Crowd…Glowing, I circulate the party meeting casually all the new Hollywood players. It is thrilling!
Back in New Jersey when I visit, Mom, Irma, and many of the other “girls” in the Wednesday night roller skating club drill me about the “movie stars” I’d seen around Hollywood. seated around the newest Formica table, I hold court to their unbelieving ears with tales about dinners at Jack Nicholson’s house, sitting with Cher at a table at an awards dinner, going to acupuncture with James Coburn, Having dinner with Lauren Hutton, and meeting Sally Field.
“Do you really know Jack Nicholson? “ They are incredulous.
Jack is a New Jersey favorite; after all, this is his home state. “Oh Yea”, I’d brag. Getting up and walking around the tiny kitchen, I show off my fresh face and 105 lb muscled body and high ass, just like mommy taught me. I am sculpted flowing sexuality, 70’s style: big hair, naturally curly, big eyebrows and lips, no makeup..”
“I had my best orgasm ever with Jack,” I boast to my mom’s friends who are spitting up their drinks in hoots and hollers “Oh Dar,” my mother is even shocked and embarrassed, but I detect pride and envy. I am grown up now for sure. I am living her/my dream.
“Dar tell us about their homes..”
In the blue collar world, a big home is the ultimate achievement. A home for a woman is everything; so much so she marries a man she doesn’t like.. for the house. I become animated as they egg me on describing the Jacuzzi at Warrens house, the gates and long driveways with intercoms to let you in, the artwork, the pianos, the phones in every room, the views from Mulholland Drive; a sea of lights as I dance the night with Jack and Mick Jagger and, the then 19 yr old, Melanie Griffith in Jacks living room, looking out glass windows to the LA valley below from the God-world.
Warren’s house, still somewhat under construction then, is amazing; the electric curtains, the views, the rambling waters in the back, glass, leather, a baby grand piano' and a movie theater I view many a film in over the years. I feel so tiny in his huge bed (a bed built for 2, 3, maybe 4 sometimes…) My mom and her friends are flush with excitement. Sharing my life; bringing to her what she couldn’t get for herself becomes a lifelong chore. I share everything with her and some edited things with my dad.
I’m in with the IN crowd, I go where the IN crowd goes.. Better still, I know what the IN crowd knows... so I thought…
So why do I wake up each day so frightened? My heels were getting stuck in the slates. Besides my extraordinary looks, charisma and flirtatious genius, I had no cards to play; meaning no money or social status; no class to be blunt, and no experience of any merit in acting. As Terrance Malick, a young hot new director, takes to me with great compassion and interest warns, ”Dar, you are in a pool of sharks and you don’t know it. Get out while you can!” He’d elaborate during one of our many hours of phone calls into the nights. “You need protection. I must find that for you…” Terry is a dear friend, a best friend in those first months. We never kissed or had the slightest romantic interest in each other. It is all intellectual and beautiful. I’d make him cry telling him stories of my childhood, and he’d coach me.
He sets me up with a friend from back east, a New York City aristocrat, bohemian writer; and good guy, all around: Mr. Rudy Wurlitzer16th. So comes my first serious arranged relationship as an adult. I listen to Terry.
Ah Rudy.. Rudy teaches me so so much about everything. He is my mentor, my spiritual and mental groomer. Its true Pygmalion stuff. He is a disheveled, chain smoking, groovy, pre-hippie, beat poet kind of guy, 16 years or so my senior, who is soft and smart, kind, and upper class. I never met a real blue blood before and it is an eye-opener in every way. We talk for hours about class and the dilemmas of the class system, and about suffering and Buddhism, meditation, India, and Tibet, where he wandered for years. We go to see Louis Malle’s Phantom India at the NU ART Cinema, on our first date in his Wrent-A-Wreck car. He chain smokes all the way there wearing a neck brace and shirt with burn holes down the front. I love him right away.
Rudy introduces me to Bikram Yoga although he never practices himself. I learn about Swami Muktananda (whom I’d met and received shaktipat from a year earlier in San Francisco,) as well as dissecting the many political realities of Hollywood and the movie industry. Once he arranges for me to me the venerable Dudjom Rimpoche for a private consultation in New York City. It is a 15-minute coveted opportunity to talk to the master of the Nyingma Tibetan Buddhist lineage at the new W16th street Meditation Center. I burst out crying in that room instantly, and ask if I “would ever marry,” lamenting my old age. Dudjom burst out laughing. We then both cry, and then laugh, for the 15 minutes; a “high teaching” indeed. Tears running down both our faces. I hear the absurdity of my request. I remember the compasion in his eyes. I leave the room flushed.
[It is now 41 years later, and my only child, born in 1992, whom I never tell about this seeming unimportant incounter, is a Tibetan Buddhist scholar devoted to the Nyingma Lineage. He is under the tutelage of Khenpo Sherab Sanpo, in Minneapolis where he visits and studies in the three year program. In high school he sends away for books and begins to study the Tibetan language. The dharma is the most important thing in his life. Strange coincidence. When I tell him about Dudjom he is astonished.]
At this time, 1977, Hollywood is rife with spiritual leaders/seeks/ philosophers; all kinds of people trying to be special and enlightened. We eat at restaurants with names like “the Source” and everyone is trying out yoga. Bikram is the main man then; and there is also Indra Devi, and the Larchmont Center for Yoga which is Iyengar based. There is the 4-H Kundalini Yoga center with Yogi Bhajan at its helm. I indulge in it all!
It is a new world of movie stars, yoga masters, music, sexual experimentation, unconventional living, older men, and a city of highly creative people all drawn to the dream in one form or another. Yogananda’s Center for Spiritual growth hung on the coast off Sunset Boulevard and also at the top of Mt Washington. I walk there, praying, breathing; “show me the way..”
The new Hollywood directors are strange and modern: Altmann, Andrew Joworski, Hal Ashby, Bob Rafelson. The world is rich and exotic and I never want to go anywhere ..I am finally Home!
I sleep on a mattress on the floor in a back room in the apartment of Paula Rafelson, the then girlfriend of Bob Rafelson (director of Five Easy Pieces, producer of the Monkees and Easy Rider, and many other films.) Paula recently left the marriage to his brother (hence the same last name) to go back to Hollywood and live with her 2 yr old daughter. We have a cute little cottage on Fountain Avenue, walking distance to the famous Schwabs, where I take the half mile stroll up the hill daily to play with my scrambled eggs hoping some casting person or agent will see me and put me in something; not the best strategy in Hollywood for making it. I have no car for the first 4 months in LA.
I see strange old stars there some mornings. Once Shelly Winters, fat and old, arrives in a Moo moo. It shocks me. She is an icon to my parents and to me on the big Drive-in movie screen, the same screen I first saw Head, and the Trip in 1968 which Rafelson also directed, and Jack Nicholson stars in. I remember one day seeing Sylvester Stallone flipping through some magazines looking cagy and very short; maybe worried about his next role. Now, in retrospect; perhaps coming to a meeting there over breakfast. Everyone in Hollywood looks afraid and anxious underneath it all to me come to think of it.
People would say to me. “Ah, so you’re the new girl in town, take the ride for all its worth, it won’t last long.” Or, “Be smart, know when to hold em, and when to fold em.”
I’m constantly being coached by Bob Rafelson and Terry Malick, who have their own industry problems. Terry views me with a mix of pity, awe and hope; and Rudolf Wurlitzer, the boyfriend, comes in and out of town looking for work as a screen writer from his permanent residence in New York City. Everyone is just as afraid as I am. Bob’s house across the street from the Chateau Marmont is Hollywood Central. I am a permanent fixture there, enjoying all. There are gatherings nightly; dinners, music, fun; amazing talented people. I am in heaven.
All these aphorisms and mini advices “Fake right and move left” “Don’t fuck anyone, ever” “Stop going to parties and being seen everywhere, be mysterious” Yes, all kinds of coaching but no help to move my career as each took me for everything I spilled forth.
“Dance for the people Dar, “ my mom insists when we have company over. “Put on your tap shoes and show them what you’re learning in dancing school..” ”Isn’t she adorable?” They’d all coo.. Or, “Grind the coffee for daddy Dar,.. show daddy how you grind the coffee,” as I bounce and gyrate in front of him in the kitchen against that wallpaper. “That’s enough Dar,” he’d always say giggling and blushing.”
My hero, my sweet loyal, loving gentle father is the love of my life. I once ask if I could marry him when I grow up. Both are amused and enchanted by this sweet request.
It is at breakfast outside a very fancy restaurant, at some 5 star hotel in Maui, I overheard two Israeli producers talking about me and saying the words “wrong father, … but gorgeous..” These words stab into my stomach and at the same time I am embarrassed my father has no position of power in this world. I have no serious appeal to a potential husband, or the upwardly greedy. In college I experience similar prejudices. A female friend once innocently refers to my father as a “Dees and Dems kinda guy”.. as I hesitate to name the unnamable, his profession, which is a major question when getting to know people in college, especially in Connecticut where the girls flash those big diamonds and designer clothes; a college where the New York City girls hang together making fun of we New Joisey girls.. My dad goes from a ‘heavy equipment operator,” to a “VP of GM.” It just works.
To be wedged between the warmth and love of my beautiful parents, through thick and thin; my movie star mom and loving protective honorable father; and to break out and expand into a bigger reality was and remains a deep gash in my heart for all of my life. They are the loves of my life, and now that is somehow not good enough.. .somehow they are made fun of socially.
My God, who am I?
I am in a hurry to remake and redo it all. I have to leave New Jersey, the meatballs, the Formica, the yelling and hollering and madness. I have to explore the biggest world I can. I have hunger for the world at large.
I am now in the world my dad distinctly and kindly a warns me not to venture into.
“Stay with what you know Dar. Don’t go to college ...i f you do go just go up the street to Paterson State and live here with us. and then he'd always say, "I'll paint your room!"
He continues, “Dar, sometimes it’s best not to see what other people have, and to stay close to people who are like you and love you.”
But, I wouldn’t have any of that. I have to go, and I dive right into the shark pool making a big honkin splash!
(to be continued and elaborated on)
I’ve been moving this body for over 6 decades, starting when I began dancing lessons at 2 ½ yrs old; bones barely formed.
Always gyrating my tiny hips to any beat, cartwheeling in parks and hallways, tap-dancing up and down wooden stairs on stages all over New Jersey, coming up on tippy-toe in ballet shoes, jumping into a high “Pony-Kick” and coming straight down into a split at 16, as a cheerleader; and then discovering Modern Dance and Yoga in college. My body never stops moving.
I can be spotted doing performance art and contact improvisation in the Bart station in San Francisco; and rehearsing nude at The Legion of Honor in SF for our dance troupe, “Players of San Francisco”.
Later into my 20’s, I’m dancing and groovin’ the night away on tall sparkly high heels, at the coolest nightspots on earth; Studio 54, The Mudd Club, Helena’s in LA, Club Lingerie, On the Rox, a very private club on Sunset Blvd... and many other, happening in the moment locales.
Put on the music, add sprinkles of beautiful people, artists, actors, and movers and shakers of the time; and I’ll show up and dance for hours anywhere; my 24 yr old body twirling as the kaleidoscopic sights and sounds of the decade soak into my brain and memory. Helena’s (Helena Kallianiotes) gruff voice is in the earpiece of my phone. “Hey Darlene, I want you to come to my club tonight and dance…” She’d order without much chitchat. I’m already sliding into something revealing and dancible..
I love to dance.
Best part for me; catching the rhythms of the music…and riding them over and over again; sometimes until dawn.
The wave of the disco, and being seenera all rolled up into one big heart-racing, body-pumping, platform shoe stompin, thrill ride.
Practicing doubles at Bikram’s Yoga College of India, standing between Shirley MacLaine and Rachel Welch, I am younger and more fit thanthem, I quip as we begin yoga practice in my narcissistic blossom of youth.
Attending every yoga class L.A. had to offer through the 70’s and 80’s, I strut into life with blind confidence, all shiny and just about perfect in health, beauty, and body…
“Those were the daze my friend, we thought they’d never end; we’d sing and dance forever and a day….”
Participating in advanced aerobics alongside famous athletes, skinny show biz beauties, aspiring trophy wives; I embrace aerobics and weight training for an edge on life, growing lean and lithe weighing in at 106 lbs at 32 yrs old. I dance in Lionel Richie’s All Night Long music video; a shoot that takes about 20 hrs, and does last all night long!
Sixteen years ago this month, Inner Fire Yoga, the first Bikram Studio in Madison, Wisconsin opens. I am teaching 10-14 classes a week at 51 years old, beginning a full time job teaching yoga: doing what I love! I am still doing what I LOVE now, teaching still every single day!
Each decade takes a bit out of the body for sure. Some days I just wish I could feel the kind of muscle strength I once boasted.
This year, 2017-18, I spend limping about, and for a brief period, forced to use a cane to walk.
. Depression and despair overwhelmed me a year ago, when 3 different medical professionals inform me I need a total hip replacement; ASAP.
“You are bone against bone …” they each say studying my x-rays… (and to add insult to injury) “Your lumbar is also critically degenerated, stage 5 of 5.”
One says, “It’s amazing you can walk at all.”
I step out into the cool autumn air and walk to my car thinking, “Shit, my life is over.”
Hmm, wheelchair bound, eating to soothe, I gain 10 lbs., and live on Ibuprofen and hydrocodone in a puddle of self-pity. Then I gain another 8 lbs. because, well, who cares.
Standing Bow Pulling posture is un-doable; can’t reach down to put my palm around my ankle on the right side; much compromising my hot Bikram practice. My Power Flow is less powerful, consistently skipping the flip dogsand ungodly push-ups. Yin affords me blocks and blankets to rest into postures keeping the joints as juicy as I can. Walking is a chore, and running impossible.
I do bike, and take a dangerous (have nothing to lose) 5-hour bike ride through Rome traffic just this May, wind in my sails... horns honking; and, I can still swirl these hips in circles and do the Warrior poses. Fuck it, I am not giving up my hip yet!
I begin to study all about THR, and hear good things for the most part; but a nagging resistance talks to me behind all the testimonials. I decide to take it into my own hands and also to find someone who is as abhorrent to this “amputation of the thigh bone … metal and screw-on” replacement as I am. Just the thought of a metal shaft being inserted into my thigh bone marrow drains the blood out of my head.
I love my body and all of its myriad sensations. I love to feel the flow of lymph and blood and fluids, and even more, to direct it. I inhale light and space and exhale tensions. I love micro movements, and I nerdily study fascial connections like a cat studying the movements of a mouse. I decide I am not ready for the saw to come near to my thigh bone.
In Sicily, I walk 139 miles and defy my prognosis. It is the Sicilian sun, the air, the language and the joi de viethat moves me along each day. This bucket listtrip throws “reality” and the doctors to the wind.
Today I complete six weeks of vigilance; a 7-day fast and liver detox, and a gifted doctor of chiropractic who sees twisted vertebrae, and scoliosis that might be treatable. He goes at it with all his knowledge and skill; and I make guided changes and improvements. CBD oil, supplements, softer exercise like swimming, and I’m walking again. I feel better and way happier. I think I can put off what is probably inevitable for another few years. I hope so.
Now I add Collagen powder to nutrition dense shakes, eat a more restricted diet to reduce inflammation, and experiment with cleanses. Voila! I’m not limping on most days.
Odd thing, my both parents grew up eating canned vegetables, white bread, sodium laden Campbell’s soups, boxed corn flakes, hot dogs and spam. The most exercise my mother ever got in her entire life was to vacuum.
They ate fat and grease and processed foods. Each lived to be almost 90, cancer and hospital-visit free. It wasn’t until her 80’s that my mom ever complained of back pain. She too had stage 5 lumbar degeneration, but she was 84 already. Dad never had any pain in his hips or back. Go figure…. I remember them very vital and traveling; even taking care of my baby, and then child into their late 70’s and 80’s.
Turning 67 is both old and yet, not old yet.
I feel it, but my mind imagines sailing in the Mediterranean, running on beaches in Fiji, getting an apartment in Amsterdam, and dancing at clubs to new sounds. I imagine Standing Bow for one full minute, and maybe even Standing Head to Knee, on both sides...
Pay attention to what your body is telling you. I felt this coming on for years and did not get help. I pushed through the pain and now am undoing much; starting again; slowly.
I teach 2-3 yoga classes each and every day. I still travel to train teachers and present master classes, workshops and retreats; most times without an assistant. I’m a more compassionate, ‘understanding of body issues’ teacher now. I say, with pride, maybe a better yoga teacher even though my physical prowess is half, or a third of what it was. Meditation and pranayama are far more interesting to me than Hanuman asana, or a flat stomach, yoga butt, and, ha ha, thick hair and eyelashes.
Aging is a bitch of sorts, no doubt, and it’s also an incredible gift. Ya gotta accept that we’re all moving in that direction. One can’t see it from youth, but in age there really is wisdom, and the stark realization of just how brief life is, and just how vain and foolhardy youth is.
Everything changes; Ancitta.
The principles of yoga make more sense than ever, and the “Middle Way” of Buddhism guides me when I begin to fret.
One day I will become dust. Yes, dust; perhaps in the air of some new dance club in Beijing or NYC or LA 200 years from now. Poof! One generation follows another, swiftly go they..
My grandmother is the flamboyant flapper ( I hear,) my mother doing the cha- cha- cha looking like Marilyn Monroe, me under the disco ball and stardust, and youth at death metal mosh pits; life goes on.
Death is a constant reminder to remember to LIVE!
Keep moving; mentally, physically, geographically, and emotionally. Interact, breathe, be kind, love, give, have fun, take risks, have a glass of wine.
Trust your inner voice.
“You are never too old, too sick or too weak to start again.”
Especially when I know I am privileged enough to get a new hip when that time does come; and it will.
I am so grateful … so grateful.
Deep, Deep, DEEPak, Desert, Dreams, Dazzle, Dharma, Dancing, Delights, Drunk on Shakti; Dar is in on the way to Bhaktifest for the 6th time in ten years. The ride out, over and through the dry dusty red beige hills is stunning; the air shockingly dry.
I set out from Pt. Dume, (the far north end of Malibu) and drive down the congested Pacific Coast Highway. I stop and take some photos of the famous "Pink Villa, I lived in, and way madly in love in, decades earlier. It still sits above the highway; is no longer pink, and has a kind of sad wear and lack-luster quality; a kind of been there done that quality; or maybe its just my perception. I proceed on, half in anticipation, and half in memory lane as I get closer to picking up three passengers from various places on the planet visiting the festival for the first time. We connected through a FB rideboard.
Scooping them up in Santa Monica, at the Airport, and on Windward Ave in Venice, we four squeeze into my economy Toyota rental and head off for the vast desert, and onto Joshua Tree Retreat Center, and into the Bhaktifest..
Dharma Mittra, Mas Vidal, Mark Whitwell, Shiva Rea, Janet Stone, John Smrtic, Dharma Devi, Saul David Raye, Deepak Chopra, Krishna Das, Girish, Jai Uttal, MC Yogi, and so many many wonderful teachers and beings all gather here for 6 days of celebrating creation and the pure joy of being alive in this precious lifetime.
We are excited. Two people are from Brazil (did not know each other or plan this.) Somehow coincidences abound at an event like this. It draws people by the heart strings, by spirit... and there is always magic happening.
Vacillating between the past and present is my experience now. I walk from the brilliant talk from Jeffrey Armstong on the meaning of the Sanskrit words and take in his vast knowledge of Vedic Sciences and Arts, at the exact same time as last year, and in the same workshop hall. I then proceed to order the same dinner of raw foods and an edible flower, and sit in the same spot at the dusty large table with the same shortage of chairs. Suddenly I'm in pain. Gas filling my torso like a helium balloon. I immediately realize these exact steps from last year. .Same gas, same place, same time.. Peculiar.
The difference from last year to this year is my body. This year I am not able to participate in the physical classes. I am stricken with hip and lumbar issues. I feel sad. All things must pass; even this vehicle, this perfectly toned and healthy dance-loving, asana-craving body is giving way now as I approach 67. Yet, the wisdom teachings have me this time, which brings me to my new respect for Mr. Deepak Chopra.
I never thought much of him. I dismissed Deepak Chopra as a media star with charisma, selling out for the big bucks with that elegant accent and TV sound bites. How aweful judgement is; especially ignorant judgement. Deepak is attending Bhaktifest for the first time, and I'm lucky enough to be right up front for the Wisdom Panel. I watch him carefully and listen carefully. I admit he is brilliant, kind, present, and real. Shiva Rea also seems more centered and less "On Stage" this year. She speaks honestly and openly about her son who suffers depression and anxiety. Jai Uttal also comes into focus through my former judgements. He is such a talented musician and the kirtan is off the charts wonderful! He too is on the Wisdom Panel with Deepak and Shiva, and the conversation gravitates toward the youth and children, and how they struggle so with anxiety and depression in this messy, harsh world, no matter how much we love them. Deepak states at one point that 70% of the children under 12 in schools today will have jobs that have not even been thought of, or invented yet. How do we educate for that unknown? Give them love and freedom, and trust they will find their way. Technology is not all bad.. it will unite them and the world if we use it with that intention. Deepak means "light."
I dance and sing, and walk the dusty paths. I enjoy short wonderful encounters with remarkable people at their booths, or on a line, or a simple hug from a warm, large man at a kirtan. I lay down in the Jaganath Dome next to many other weary travelers, and am delighted by the visual journey and Hindu mythology coming to life in surround sound and visuals. My skin and feet are dusty and dry making my evenings soaking in the hot mineral baths in Desert Hots Springs even better.
This year I practice deep listening to people. I enjoy pure presence, and stop pressuring myself to "do it all," or consume as much as I can. I give up "trying to Get something." or worrying I am missing "the good stuff.".. This event is vast and rich, and everyone seems to get what they need from the experience.
Late at night after I am chanted out, I sit in the car listening to the distant chanting as I move slowly out of the grounds and back down the steep grades from high desert to low desert, under planetarium skies. The road winds and my cells feel electric through my fatigue. I look forward to hot mineral pools, and a huge comfortable bed, and most of all, to another day to live this priveledged life. I share my room with someone else I met on line and she is my perfect roommate. We share much, and are now connected.
Los Angeles is so spread out. I enjoy driving the curves and canyons, the traffic , the stars, the clothes, the shops, the coffee, the sea, and the casual elegance of it all.... I am contemplative as I reflect on a life that used to be. I feel nostalgia, shame, sadness, joy, loss, exuberance, deep sighing, excitement, love; a stillness in maturity as I look back on a life lived well and recklessly, and with pride and hope and optimism. I buy a hat. I buy a be-jeweled black velvet hat in the Malibu Colony shopping center. It is terribly over-priced. I snap it up immediately. The shop lady says "You look fabulous in that hat with your pure white hair, these just came in this morning!"
The glamour girl that is still me smiles as I plop down the new Visa guilt free.
HARE KRISHNA, HARE RAMA......
Om Namah Shivaya
Om Shant Shanti Shanti
So here I lay... on my back propped up with my pillows, staring into the light screen of my Apple, wondering why I just cant seem to sleep any more.
I haven't editted my website in half a year... opps ... and now, suddenly ... tonight, I JUST HAVE TO DO IT! Right?
OK world.. Here is what I think is happening.
I am turning 65, the calendar tells me. I have lived, and I have lived large and loud most of my life. Of course I can't just quietly turn 65, I have to fly across this round planet through time and space in a little metal can propelled by highly flammable jet fuel, over vast dark oceans, and hhhopefull arrive safely in Australia for some happenings being arranged in Noosa Heads, north of Brisbane.
Please don't judge me as a jet setting trust funder or anything. I'm not even middle class according to the stats, and I manage to travel extensively because of Yoga Karma...
Yoga Karma is what propels my world. I meet amazing people, and am on the go, staying fit and breathing, and learning non-stop. I love this world of yogis and weirdos. I love popping into a room and practicing asanas from here to "Jabib," ( a fictitious place my mom always refered to) and know that we each share this love of moving in specific ways, and probably can't ever stop doing it.
Oh, and I've tried to stop. It takes about two weeks and I am lost, sad, scared, depressed, and angry.... Gotta get back on da mat. And then, within hours I steer myself, or it steers me and something alchemical happens and all is right in the world again. How is that?
My enthusiasm and many experiments leaving and returning to yoga practice has taught me much. And that is what I love to do; teach the "much" I think I've experienced... and that is called Yoga Karma.. 40 years worth.
So Australia, here I come again. And then "Hello New Zealand" for the first time. I cant wait to meet you! I have the yoga tentacles connected to another studio there to appear and do the yoga thing. I love to just appear and give the gifts... and this is my Bliss, this is my Bliss.
I have other Bliss too; but for now, as as my eyes dry up and my body is aching to sleep, I am saying goodnight. It's been a long day of teaching.
I got some stuff done tonight. I sent flyers, and emails, and photos and and and and..... all I want to do is relax and breathe and become utterly present.
Don't we all want that..?... some mastery over the monkey mind, some mastery over that part of us that isn't quite good enough yet? Don't we all want the roar of all the things to do and accomplish to subside? I want, for one day to not feel like I am slightly behind answering my emails, snail mail, and all the tasks to get done..
Caught up.. hmm..what the hell is that anyway?
I never was comfortable with the little messes of living.. I'm beginning to see though that its always a little undone, or coming apart constantly, and to fight entropy takes a lot of energy..
On the mat, it all goes away. I have these neat little postures to focus on. I breathe and feel my pores sweating and my feet on the ground. I have mercy on myself for all the mad thoughts, desires, judgements and analyses my mind manufactures, non -stop.. I somehow through practice, practice allowing them to be while this other part of me enjoys the NOW.
So NOW .... Good night!
A rambling travel blog…a long winding one! Enjoy!
In the shadow of the cyclone and destruction in Fiji, it is a powerful lesson in Anicca (impermanence) to write this blog.
As we bask in our good fortunes, sometimes, boasting about the good times on FB, and distinctly hiding the shadow side to things, life occasionally slaps you awake when paradise takes a turn to the hellish side of life. When Mother Nature whips up a storm and people lose their villages and homes, and sometimes lives. We suddenly don’ t talk so loud; nor do we get any pleasure in being so proud.
I pray my new Fijian friends are OK and that their villages and lives are in tact.
Feb 5, 2016 6am
If you remember a few blogs back, I was dreaming about Fiji and spending hours on internet travel sites cruising all places and deal as the temperatures fell below zero just outside of my windows. And, voila! ... Here I sit, actually inside the pictures I so carefully studied. I’m living it all and much more …
“People travel to far away places to watch , in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” Dagobert D Runes
Magic happens, people connect, … this is a God thing... I got connected with some recent graduates of the Mark Whitwell advanced teacher training while in Nadi, Fiji; via Collectivo Cafe in Madison, Wisconsin.
As I wait for my friend I overhear a woman at the next table mention Mark’s name just as I was checking my emails to see if he was, in fact, at his home base in Fiji. Since I have never emailed Mark Whitwell, I found this synchronistic event odd and irresistible. I excuse myself and break into their conversation, slightly startling the two women. The woman adjacent to me spoke about being a yoga teacher and assisting Mark in Fiji several times. We exchanged emails. The conversation was economically short, but effective. The next day I receive n email with an introduction to a “Maddie,” and over the miles I am instantly connected to the Fiji Yoga community.
4 AM, it's me again, except this time I'm above the South Pacific about 40,000 feet. I've connected with two people to play with on this mysterious island out in the middle of the sea as I sipped coffee at Collectivo the week before. I’m planning Hot Springs, mud baths, snorkeling and sunbathing. I’ll bide my time and open myself to meeting people and connecting on as personal a level as possible. Hindus, Christians and Muslims, the mix of this country interests me as they co-exist peacefully.
I look forward to a variety of new foods, colors, sounds, sights and smells; and a vast ocean on all sides. These are the things I dream of squashed into my airline seat, blanket on my lap, light down coat zipped up, and an omelette in my belly. I'm still cold. LA was colder than I remember ever. Light down coats at night where a must.
Meticulously planned this time, after so may long solo journeys, I buy my dollars ahead of time for both Fiji and Australia, and began lining up a house/dog-sitters two months earlier; interviewing about 6 possibilities.
And even with my meticulous planning, it is a last-minute upset with my apartment sitter and care for my dog Cosmo falling through because I of series of faux pas…leading to desperate last minute calls, all hours of day and night, scrambling, trying to get help. My departure anxieties heightened to near hysteria throws a huge monkey wrench into my smooth plans. All this drives me insane. Seven people later I finally mange to get one 12-lb. sleepy dog settled, and 5 plants to kept alive, a last minute fridge clean out, and all kinds of closing up a now empty apartment. I feel overly indebted and exhausted...
Add more exhaustion from my flight to Los Angeles; I grapple with this now huge financial hit I didn't anticipate; starting my trip deeply in the hole instead of having all the expenses covered. And this too shall pass, and it did.
Anicca: Impermanence is one of the essential doctrines or three marks of existence in Buddhism. The term expresses the Buddhist notion that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is transient, or in a constant state of flux. The mutability of life, that time passes on no matter what happens, is an important aspect of impermanence.
I thank my beautiful and patient friends in Los Angeles who are so sweet and settled in their comfortable gorgeous homes which they opened freely to me to enjoy. I experienced great food and love for the five nights I spent there, and I thank you all!
Restless leg syndrome haunts me, and it keeps me up all night the second night in Fiji. I pray no one becomes my roommate and hears me thrashing around, legs up-and-down as I slap at my calves, and punch my thighs, trying to beat them into submission! It's crazy. I wonder what causes such a disturbance in this extremity. I hear a knock at the door and I say weakly, “I’m awake; Thank You,”as my morning wake-up arrives way too soon. That empty slightly nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach after a sleepless night is all I can feel.
I push on and get up, strolling out to the lobby. I close and lock the door to Room 7, and enjoy my simple breakfast facing the endless glass-calm sea; three kittens and mom cat are lined up next to my chair. My trusty aging iPad actually manages to get me online, and up pops a great photo of dear friends of mine from LA; a very handsome couple I had the pleasure to be cast as their “maid of honor” for at their wedding almost two decades ago. It has taken my my friend five or six years to finally get a Facebook account, so from my oceanfront breakfast across the world, I sent her an instant photo and say hello. And to think in college we had to wait in line with coins just to place a phone call.
Later this day I actually went to a real working phone booth and placed at call to the mysterious Mattie. In a few hours I am driving away with two young yoga students, Mattie and Lou, and brought out to a local lunch spot to enjoy a luscious, nose-running-hot, made-on-the-spot curry. Bonding unfolds. New friends, and the "heart of yoga" in common; we quickly brain storm a pop-up Yin Immersion on the island. Mattie volunteers to be my super-assistant, and within day or two, it happens at the Vivekananda Education Center in Nadi. Yin is scheduled for the night before I leave this Island paradise.
My 4th day soaking in the beauty and culture of FIJI I find myself in a air-conditioned Jeep sitting next to a local Fijian man talking about life. We are perched at the top of a long jungly, rugged driveway, idling as we wait for the bus to arrive to deliver me back to city central after a glorious 24 hours at this Coral coast resort. The side of this vehicle has a colorful panted logo which describes accurately Mango Bay Resort, “The Happiest Place in Fiji.”
I woke up at dawn in my lovely jungle hut/cabin surrounded in a soft white mosquito I did not need. I did not receive a single mosquito bite the five days I spend tooling around the island; nor did I use a drop of sunscreen. I am more afraid of sunscreen than the sun; just me. I avoided a burn (sort of) and escaped without one itchy bump.
I opened up my bright red door, and before me a paradise dream unfolds before my eyes, greenery, chirping birds, a lovely patio and a small winding path leading to the restaurant (without walls) facing the ocean. It is quiet, sunny, and hot already at 7 am. I think briefly, “Where is my companion, my partner, my lover?” And like a dozen natives asked me over five days, “Where is you husband?”
At breakfast, the waiter asks, should we wait for your husband? I say “Better not…”
In the town of Nadi the day before, I hoped a local bus and jumped off city center, cruising the dirty hot city streets stopping in shop after shop; not for shopping which I have very little interest in, but to overhear conversations, and strike up new ones. As one proprietor opens a case to the pearls, I am dazzled by one single pearl on a diamond clasp… He spots my interest and he says, “Maybe show your husband this and he will surely buy it for you; such a beautiful woman needs a necklace like this..”
Women, my age, don’t really travel alone and cruise around cities in paradise islands alone apparently. This middle-aged Indian man is astonished when I tell him I have never been married. I made a joke that “I forgot to get married” but he did not get it and just looked confused.
Pua my driver at Mango Bay, a well-built young man of 27 is making chitchat with me telling me about his family history at my prodding. He writes down his surname, and explains what it means. “My ancestors were boat-makers,” he tells me in his perfect English accent explaining the meaning of his Fijian surname; the one he had before being given the English name. Most Fijian tribal names were replaced when the island was colonized by Great Britain. He tells me he lives close by in a small village. He is articulate and clean-cut wearing the blue floral shirt stamped with the logo of the resort. I somehow feel sad. The world continues to shrink as smaller tribal cultures dissolve into the machine. Customs, language, and the delicate organization of a smaller group of people living out their lives together is fading.
Pua drives people up and down the long driveway to heaven day after day, among other things he does for Mango Bay Resort. He expresses gratitude to the English for helping civilize their culture, infamous for their fierce warriors and cannabilism less than 150 years ago.
Somehow we get to talking about yoga and the possibility of my having a retreat at the resort. He takes my name and email quickly as the bus rolls towards the stop. I try to give him one single dollar as a tip, and he refuses. I place it onto the dash and dash! I found out earlier that day in my snooping around and talking to the staff that the cook who made luscious food for me earns $3.00 an hour, Fijian dollars.. About 1.35 US.
I hop into the local bus, at first on the wrong side.. Oops, yes, they drive the opposite way and I am always jumping into the wrong side of cars, taxis and buses. My chariot is packed with all locals; me the single tourist, and the rest a mixed bag of Indians, Fijians, and Asians. I find a small wedge of an opening between two middle-aged women, one in full sari, and the other a local Fijian wearing a skirt and starched shirt. I am impressed by the personal cleanliness of the people of this country, stain free clothing, very conservative and colorful, nice practical simple shoes; mostly sandals, and well-groomed nails and hair. Unlike the ex-pats who are the smellier humans extolling the virtues of giving up daily showers and simply squeezing lemon under their armpits instead of deodorant; (bless their souls!) Life is a fun house no doubt!
As I snuggle between these two sleepy women in this large air-conditioned bus, I have the surprise of watching Robin Williams on the screen at the front of the bus in the movie, Jumanji. Yes, movies and TV series are screened for the entire 2 1/2 hour ride to Nadi, ... and I bet you all were thinking chickens and goats. Yeah … Nope... Jumanji; Robin Williams.
I can't help but wonder what Robin would think if he knew he lived on inside of this local bus on an island in the middle of the South Pacific rolling back-and-forth from the resorts and small villages along the sea and through the jungles each and every day as children sit delighted and frightened clinging to their dads or moms; as his Jungle curse unfolds on the screen and as the Real Jungles roll past just outside the windows. He’d grin ear to ear no doubt.
When the screen finally goes dark, on comes the music. "Born in the USA,” John Mellencamp is the first in the line up, then Reggae, Beyoncé, and finally Adele; as both women doze off at each side of me, my thighs touching theirs, and our chubby, warm arms press one against the other.
I grow pensive and philosophical as I study the side of each of their profiles, each so different; Indian and Fijian, their jewelry, clothing, hair, eyebrows, and make-up stem from different esthetics. I wonder about each life and assume they have children. I wonder if the people they love are at the end of this bus route. I sigh and imagine all the losses and struggles, all the laughter and love, and I'm suddenly holding back a flood of tears, my eyes stinging. I miss my parents, my brother, all the people I have lost. I am overwhelmed by our sandwich here on these worn seats...three women each around the same age, from three divergent cultures. We three exhausted for different reasons, and for this one and only moment in time, joined at the hips and shoulders. I take a deep breath and try to imprint this sensation of human coziness into my cellular self. I am emotional and full of love. I wish my son were with me.
I pray for world peace, equality, and a New World order. I study the gold and diamond earrings on the very dark skinned Indian woman to my right and wonder if her husband indeed bought her these earrings when they were courting. I see the skin scars from bug bites and the dry scalp of the older Fijian woman and wonder if she is as old as she looks, as I study her well worn hands. Each life unique and precious. Three rare human births in their individual wrappings of culture and biology is a wonder. It is so good to slow down and see the people when traveling.
The bed bunk room is intact when I return. My AirMac, my iPhone, my passport, and my money all where I tucked them. A new person is in the room. I see his stuff and he's taken my lower bunk while I was gone. I’ve been so happy not to have a roommate in a room with a private bath, and now, dang, someone strange … a man is now living with me.
I go to the front desk and tell them apologetically I need to change the room. Eventually I am moved to the same type of room (the budget traveler room) with a private bath and air con for $17. a day.) I grab the lower bunk. It's spotless and clean, crispy sheets, and within an hour there's a knock at the door. I open it, and a woman bursts in with a shiny main of long thick black hair, and a big red lipstick smile, a voluptuous body, and appearing well over 40. She stands before me holding out her hand and says an exuberant "Hello," in an accent I do not recognize. She is an exotic womanly woman, very beautiful and, unlike the other tourists in this funky beachfront compound who are a little travel weary looking and scruffily dressed, she is wearing a very attractive dress.
I apologize for having my bags opened as I re-pack, leaving her almost no room to walk in. This room cannot be more than 10+10; designed only for sleeping, not for hanging out in. There is no where to go except onto the bed to rest.I actually prefer this to 5 star travel which I am no stranger to. One time I was at a resort in Kona, Hawaii and at least three uniformed men bothered me with fresh towels, constantly emptying ashtrays and asking me constantly how I was, and did I need anything, I almost went insane.As my friend and I went out in the fake pool with plastic pedaling rafts, she looked at me and an sarcastically asked, “Are we having fun yet?”
"Oh I travel light,” My newest roomie explains in her perfect English with the mysterious accent. “I’m always going from country to country..” She declares. “I'm easy!" She continues explaining this stop. “I wanted a WOW experience on my way to Australia and figured 5 days in Fiji was the thing to do.” Ah, I think, a woman after my own heart.
I tell her I did the exact same plan...and we bond instantly. We giggle and she tells me a bit about her life...born in Bulgaria, living in both Malaga, Spain,(a place I have visited) and keeping a small apartment in Germany for access to all European countries. She shares her love of being single and traveling as she pleases. As fast as she burst, she was off to meet a handsome man friend and to explore the downtown night life.
I leave at 5 am and slip out without even her name. She is polite enough to wish me safe travels from her bunk above me. Two women passing through life.
I walk outside towards the beautiful pool and calm dawn dragging my two bags. The sea is lit in pastels. I get my complementary last breakfast; one cup of coffee, scrambled eggs, two slices of toast with jam. I share my eggs with all the local kitties who gather around my table for the last time. The cab arrives and I am off for Part 2 of my trip: Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Noosa, and perhaps Perth, Australia.
Relentless sunny-skies, temperatures of 92° I am in heaven. Of all the hats I own I failed to bring a single one. I also failed to bring sunscreen and am hoping the kindness of strangers will save me from sunstroke while visiting an Island for a day of swimming and snorkeling. I guess my plans weren't so seamless after all. Funny thing about traveling there's always the unexpected no matter how carefully you set your plans something always throws you a curve ball and as irritated as one gets in the moment it happens, you quickly realize that plans are just lans and life has its own momentum. Travel forces you to loosen up, flow more, and realize life isn't perfect.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor. Cath the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain
I decided to splurge and take a day trip to an island I went to South Seas Island on a cruise to snorkel and kayak I'm squeezed into two rows with four people across with about four nations represented. Fiji is a playground to Asian countries, Australia, Canadians, and Europeans as well, but surprisingly very few Americans. The few Americans I encountered I overheard complaining about “having too much chicken” on every menu, but mostly being frustrated because they couldn’t watch the Super Bowl; and no one cared a drop about the Super Bowl here, or setting it up for them to view.
Unfortunately on this one hour boat ride there squirms one undisciplined brat about the age of three punching onto the table relentlessly screaming for things while his parents seem oblivious to the disturbance he's creating for everyone. This new “parenting style” of non-discipline and lots of choices extends world wide apparently... give them everything and anything they want..never criticize or use harsh words or the Rod.. ever… Go Ahead, put a three-year old in charge of a boat of people …insanity: of course he is enraged! These parents are run ragged by their little darling boy. God help me, I hope I'm dead by the time all these entitled monsters are adults.
I stare at two older Chinese women who are studying the behavior of this child and I try to imagine what they are thinking as he screeched at the top of his lungs slapping the table demanding a biscuit his parents didn't have. "I want it, I want it now" he screamed as his mother smiled weakly and faintly staring blankly out the window holding her cherubic younger daughter. The father kept bringing goodies out from his bag on after the other explaining in detail the tastes of each and how "yummy" they were as his three year old son spit, threw or pounded them to oblivion spraying his crumbly venom across our communal table. Never once did this English gentleman apologize or try to get his boy under control. I felt murderous... And had to breathe and practice “loving kindness” … like crazy...
Everyone else had frozen, lying, smiles that appeared to say “Oh, how cute,” through gritting teeth, or “kids will be kids…" Little Napoleon had no fans on that hour ride to paradise.
Arrival. Depart big boat. Get onto small boat. Walk to community gathering on tiny island. Snorkeling, pool, beach, hammocks, bean bags, a BBQ lunch all await. BULA BULA BULA is the non -stop and often annoying word of the island. Much like Aloha but more relentless.
I enjoy a lazy delightful day. I see blue starfish and sharks, and colorful parrot fish, huge hunks of coral and a vast living sea bottom. I hold coral, and a starfish, and splash around underwater way out on a remote coral reef. The water is very warm and crystal clear.
Beached, I lay back onto the two bean bags and watch the palm fronds twirling and swaying. Later I pickup shells. I breath and do little. The suns warms my bones. FINALLY NOTHING TO DO and nowhere to go. I love this feeling.
I am enough as I am. I am free and relaxed and breathing in nature and beauty. The birds delight me with their endless chirping. A simple glass of water is a gift to my cells.I am in the NOW… for now..:)
“Your true traveler finds boredom rather agreeable than painful. It is the symbol of his liberty - his excessive freedom. He accepts his boredom, when it comes, not merely philosophically, but almost with pleasure.” AlDOUS HUXLEY
At breakfast at the Mango Bay Resort I am joined by Sunny, a man in his 30’s, scruffier than the others but ready to talk. I notice horrendous scarring on his arms and legs and ask about that. Sunny was driving with an Australian tourist when the driver crashed head on into another car; he could have been drinking. Sunny spent a year in the hospital. His driver paid about 50 thousand in bills but Sunny has a $40,000 debt he still pays. He also tells me about his child and child support. He says maybe what tourists see is not what its really like to be an islander. He asks is I would ever consider having a boyfriend or husband from another culture. I tell him maybe if I were younger but not now. He is puzzled. He thinks I am in my 40’s..maybe 47-48. I tell him the truth and he is shocked. He says 64 Fijian is a very old lady. We say goodbye.
I stroll over to the cook to thank him for such delicious meals. He is surprised. I look around at all the rich young couples in their 20’s, Germans, Chinese, Australians and New Zealand tourists, all staring down at their cell phones scrolling and looking bored. Some just sit in the pool staring..I realize no one thinks to thank the chef; at least in this group, even after so many $50.00 meals.
I think about my yearly income: poverty level in US standards. I realize how rich I am once again.
As we roll along passing villages and small towns, I peek into windows and doorways and see no furniture, no dining table and chairs. I see mats on the floor and sometimes people sleeping out on a cement slab porch. This imagery reminds me somewhat of the drive from Newark airport to my parents apartment; through Paterson and lower Haledon Avenue where people are hanging on porches on filthy couches sitting in the hot sun; babies, men, women, the elderly; all outside on littered street corners; a scruffy stray dog here and there. I remember locking my car door as we pass the dilapidated housing.
I sigh. I think about the luck of the draw, and my good fortune to have such an abundant life from such humble beginnings. Post WWII, when the economy boomed. City schools had good funding and college was accessible and affordable. A working man made living wage, and a simple laborer could buy a house. I always felt rich. I was taught gratitude every day from my dad. I think about Karma and ask myself now, “How can I serve?”
I think about how America has changed. The poor are so poor now. The rich are too rich, despicably so. I hope BERNIE SANDERS whose heart and vision I know would make a big difference in our country, maybe set an example for the rest of the world, gets the nomination; but all that seems so far away now as I walk to the beachfront and watch the calm seas for awhile more, enjoying a coconut, enjoying its savory insides; and at the "bargain" price of $4.00! “The end is nothing, the road is All.” Willa Cather
WRITING MY MEMOIR,
It is Christmas Eve and I find myself alone for the first time in my life on this oh so quiet night. My son went to visit a friend in Kansas, and my mom, dad and brother are all passed; leaving quickly together over 14 short, numbing months.
The trips back east have ceased, and my nest is empty. The delights of my early Christmas nights with them are a twinkling memory, and sometimes I wish I could have just one hour with them again; just one hour to inhale all the love and joy of our unique bonds.
Today, at the end of a challenging hot power flow class, I lay back onto my mat and my chest heaved with sorrow, as I cried under my facecloth. I miss them. Them: My dear ones I miss you each so so much.
I’ve been journaling all of my life, perhaps for as long as I could hold a pencil. Carrying a little flip-top mini spiral notepad with shiny inviting covers in four primary colors; red, green, yellow and blue, I’d document, exaggerate, and fabricate all kinds of stories while roaming the neighborhood. A man on a porch swinging gently on a glider would, in writing ,“have his heart mysteriously hanging outside of his shirt,” for instance… and so the story unfolded.
I also kept journals (then called diaries;) small leather, gold embossed pink, or blue books filled with drawings, songs, and pictures of my dog; locks of young hair taped to the pages, and all kinds of delightful pre-teen goofy things; gushing hearts and lipstick kisses for all the crushes I was captive to. A small key slipped into the lock and opened my private hideaway each and every day.
Writing letters to friends, and pen pals delighted me as well, and I found pals to exchange colorful painted letters with in many foreign places, like Kansas and Utah. These ornately decorated envelopes slipped into their postboxes like clockwork, and in a week or two I would find one in mine. What a thrill!!
It was exciting as hell to send postcards to TV and radio shows entering any and all contests. I once took a 3 x 5 notecard and drew all over it, and sent it to WMCA radio station in New York City and actually won the Top One Hundred hits on 45’s which came direct to my doorstep in a brown box! I was picked out of thousands of entries. Somehow with this single postcard I touched the glitter of the big city, whose skyline I could see from my tiny bedroom window. Night after night I’d turn and adjust my transistor radio in the windowsill facing the Empire State Building (way across the Hudson River) hoping to get good reception and hear a new tune, a new band, the music of the times; rock and roll, Motown, pop…, the famous DJ, Murray the K, read my name on the air; and Wow … I was connected to something big; way big! That moment was my first tiny bite of the apple which intoxicated me with hints of things to come; much bigger and better things to come…
I prided myself on my excellent penmanship, and loved the smells and texture of paper, pencil and fountain pen. The odor and feel of magazines like High-Lites, and Teen Beat thrilled me. Many an evening I’d tuck under my covers with a small reading lamp devouring all kinds of autobiographies, imagining what it would be like to actually be Amelia Earhart; and once constructed a huge slide out of scrap metal and cardboard, sliding down the side of my best friends backyard shed … playing out Amelia Earhart flying scenes replete with scarf and goggles. Each month the event of my teen magazine arriving sent me giddy to my room lost in a fantasy world of boys and clothes and concerts as I drank in each image and page, like a good teenie bopper!
After telling my Jack Nicholson story umpteen times, or the story about how I met and dated Richard Gere, or the night Al Pacino performed Richard III for me at 3 am, on my cement steps on W 68th St and Central Park West, it is clear I actually must write about all this. As a co-ed stripping in Wisconsin for extra cash, and getting many of the other dance majors to join me in the amateur contests at Diamond Don’s out in Middleton, is a part of history that must be documented. We dancers from Lathrop Hall imagined we were making a statement of liberation and new women’s freedoms as we gyrated with army boots and unshaved armpits and legs to “Jack the Knife.” Now that’s a story!
And how my mom picked me up at school in miniskirts and Go -Go boots, with platinum blonde hair, wrapped in a flowing pink scarf, wearing sunglasses, roof down. That long white car with the fins would roll up and I’d be horrified standing on the gritty street corner in Paterson, New Jersey, in front of PS 21, as the kids from the projects froze in their tracks, jaws agape at the sight of us, and timidly they’d ask,“Is your mother a Movie Star?”
I’d entertain friends through the years with stories from my childhood in Paterson, living in the upper corner of a 4-plex, and how my dad would come home from work each night, all covered in dirt and dust and baked on sweat, and scoop me up into his arms before scrubbing his hands with that rough white Borax soap, just to tell me smiling his big white bright smile, how much he loved me and my mother. I’d watch the hand-scrubbing ritual standing on the seat of a kitchen chair next to the sink, as the hub-bub and foreign sounds of all the loud Italians coming back from the "shop" drifted into our kitchen. I love the sound of the Italian language to this day.
Each Wednesday, walking the five,dirty, long inner-city blocks back to 309 Madison Ave, in and around large cracks in the sidewalk, following my nose as I drew near to the Russo/DeMarco family complex, my digestive juices set my stomach growling as those pots of steeping tomato gravy bubbled and led me to my beloved bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, presented precisely at 5pm, right onto that white formica table a few feet from the stove, in that little kitchen with the red rooster wall paper.
Telling stories was the way I learned to survive certain realities in my house, a way to entertain my mother, particularly to fend off her always lurking foul moods, rages and depressions. I told colorful stories as I danced and moved, animating my experiences to bring a smile to her face. She’d slap her side, or throw her head back in a hearty laugh; and I knew all was well and I’d be safe, for a time. My dad looked adoringly at me as he always did in my childhood, and particularly as I crafted my tales.
At 17 I threw myself out into the wild world. The summer of 1969 I deliberately lost my virginity, smoked pot, took acid, attended all kinds of rock concerts at the Fillmore East, Atlantic City, and at various clubs up and down the east coast. I wore flowery dresses and frangipani perfume. Out of high school two weeks, in a hotel room on Rt 4, Rick Deodato and I lost my coveted virginity. This life-changing event occurred over a bottle of Mateus and a bowl of hashish. Rick was a freshman at Villanova and took me to all kinds of concerts and events including the premiere of HAIR in New York City. Once we sat in the back seat of a cadillac with another couple in Totowa, N.J. smoking hashish as the men landed on the moon; radio on, listening to the astronauts, stoned out of our gourds, that hot July night...it was "Wow! Far out man..." The Vietnam war was raging, young people were getting too high, and men were walking on the moon. I was 17 years old.
I acquired every new album to come out, Ten Years After, Led Zeppelin, Doors, Dylan, Cream, Rolling Stones, Big Pink, my beloved Jefferson Airplane whose lead singer Grace Slick was my idol; and I lost myself in music and lyrics which seemed to soothe my adolescent angst. I displayed the LP’s proudIy on the floor against my stereo I set up on my fake green Oriental carpet next to my bed with the Indian bedspread everyone who was anyone had in their room. I left for college two weeks after attending Woodstock, and like a homing pigeon I returned home again and again to report on my expanding life and to relay my wild new adventures, in colorful detail, sparing my parents none of the glory, nor the gore. I delighted in these sessions as much as they did.
I’m more than compelled to write it all as memoir now for anyone to read. But more than anything I want my son to one day see my life in full context so he can understand the forces that are always at play from generation to generation, and to maybe begin to accept his life and the continuum and, to forgive me; his wild uncompromising mom who decided at 40 years old to bring him into the world by herself. The early years with my little boy are some of the most tender, heart-opening years of my life. HIs beauty and brilliance knocks me out still. These years grounded me after three decades of life in the fast lanes of Hollywood, Paris, Aspen, San Francisco, and New York City cavorting with the “in crowd” of artists, actors, musicians, writers, aristocrats, and a wide variety of eccentrics and wild ones. Always pulling my parents into my life, I once even took my mom back stage after attending Saturday Night Live and introduced her to the cast, forfeiting my invite to go dancing with Al Pacino and Robert Dinero at a private club; sending two of my girlfriends instead.
I’ve been putting shape to this kaleidoscopic delightful mess of a journey, and like a splayed dissected animal, am studying all the gory and fascinating details, hoping it all morphs into some meaning, into some healing … if only simply for myself. Right now my life story reads like a Jackson Pollack painting appears; all color and drama, and very large. I circle it and splash at it, add a story fragment here and there, and see no end in sight. This confusion is what stops the momentum, and I become overwhelmed. And I plug on.
I’ve read twelve memoirs in the last three months, and listen for the tempo, the honesty, the details, and am inspired by my comrades who lived to tell; particularly Pamela De Barres, Grace Slick, Peter Townsend, Keith Richards, and Carlos Santana,… to name a few.
I think way too much, and experience writers block more than not. I must write. I must write. I know it. I wake up in the night with fully formed paragraphs lurking at the edges of my cerebral cortex, and memories of amazing events I’ve experienced, only to fall back asleep and having the vivid pictures and words erased clean by morning.
I have perhaps 20 journals left after losing many in my wild rapidly changing scenarios, having moved over 60 times, always forgetting or losing something in those mad dashes into the NEW. I once lost two years of journals in San Francisco when a friend left the city and tossed my things into a garbage bin without ever telling me. My journals during this time burst with every detail of my days, dreams and desires. Every meticulous page vanished along with a footlocker, and a bright yellow bike, all left in the back hall of the Victorian apartment of Wyatt Landesman, brother of Knight Landesman of New York City, now publisher of Art Forum. Yes I will be,... ut oh, me bad, name dropping like crazy, people… but this is not a story about others. This is not a kiss and tell.. this memoir is about a girl from blue collar America, post WWII baby boomer bliss with freedom and a dream for big things; a thirst for adventure...and the guts to pursue it all.
My journals, post college, documented the tender early 20’s years, meticulously describing meeting “Jack,” our phone calls and the personal stories he shared with me. All this contact with fame instantly ignited my ambitions to move to Los Angeles and “to become a movie star;” and thus changing the trajectory of my life forever.
My everyday struggles in the dance/theater company “Players,” and the drama of communal living in the Haight Ashbury, being on food stamps and serving cocktails in the evenings, fired this dream as I climbed up and down the hills of foggy San Francisco, mostly like a trapped animal, depressed and lost at 23, trying to figure out how to actually get to the “city of angels” without a job or a dollar: trying to figure out just who I was. The structure of school was now gone. I was lost. With $70.00 lent to me, and a Swedish boyfriend to drive down with, I left with three outfits and a pair of boots on Feb 1, 1977; a few names scratched on a piece of paper, and headed for Sunset Strip. I checked into the Sunset Doheney Motel, for a week, and had a whole $10.00 left. I was 25 years old.
As I bobbed in the “pool of sharks” of Los Angeles, navigating around innocently, my nubile, dance and yoga-sculpted body swimming in these new waters, holding but one nostril above the water, I navigated clumsily this jasmine and honeysuckle scented world of stars, fast cars, pools, parties, alcohol and drugs..and the free wheeling sex-capades rampant during the 70;s. My diaries hit the land fill 250 miles north of Hollywood. Oh well...Now I was living my dream.
It was there, in Beverly Hills, I found my lifeline to Yoga at Bikram’s Yoga College of India. Bikram Choudhury was my rock through every affair and madcap trip. We'd talk late into the night and he'd lecture me to stop running crazy with "these people." I’d limp into his studio after ten days on the road with Hunter S. Thompson, 6 lbs thinner, wasted, but ready to become strong and focused again; doing doubles until I got my Self back, only to be called off for another wild adventure with the “good doctor.” Here I was studying yoga, training to teach; one of the coveted few Bikram chose to teach; and running with the Gonzo journalist at the same time whom I was madly in love with. Go Figure.
It was always the yoga practice that steadied me. It still is. After all the glitter faded and changed; (as Bikram predicted it would,) there it is as fresh and available as ever… Yoga. I am so grateful for this gift.
I now have the opportunity and the time to write. I feel 10 months pregnant with story. After 6 decades, life almost makes sense. I can see, feel, taste, and touch the spiritual line, the coherency, the whys, what’s and how’s of it all.
If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my memoir, He will make … putting it into someone’s hands who would be inspired to shape. If I don’t die before I wake, I will craft it… for goodness sake.
How could I not? It’s the only thing I obsess about day after day. I finally have nothing left to do. The New YEAR 2016 is upon us, and my intention is to finish this tale of tales for once and for all. I will produce a first draft this year… and hopefully screaming with vivid and colorful life ready for anyone who is interested to read.
So now to it!
I am planning to release chapters into my blog; a toe in the water. Feedback welcome.;)