For Talisse


I wrote this for my new granddaughter:

When I look in your eyes, I hear the soft strumming of a mandolin, punctuated by finger cymbals.

The universe celebrates your birth by dancing a giddy Tarantella led by a magic dragon strewn in a million flowers.

When I look in your eyes I see swaying palms
and olive trees of peace.

The precious fruit of life bursts forth and nourishes
your soul.

When I look in your eyes, I see perfection
wrapped in a soft pink cloak.

Posted in Family, Granddaughters, Living, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

My Fifteen Minutes of Fame


On a Cheer Day, I can See Forever


ALUMNI OF THE WEEK: Patricia Alfano 1965-1968

It was 1965, and I was trying to find myself—not that I was ever lost—but merely confused. I wanted to do something I loved with the skills I had acquired at the ripe old age of 18.

By that time, I studied ballet, tap and jazz for 15 years and performed with the USO (United Service Organization), took part in a stage production of Peter and the Wolf (I was the bird) and danced on TV.

Art and dancing were always my main enjoyments in life, in spite of the fact that my father wanted me to study law. “You can argue with anyone about anything and win,” he would say. “You need to be a lawyer.”

One day that year, I heard an announcement on the radio that the Philadelphia Eagles planned to hold auditions for cheerleaders. They were looking for women with dancing talent more than cheerleading skills. Thinking I just might have a chance, I drove to the Philadelphia Armory and auditioned. Bernadette Donnelly, a former New York City Rockette, and Mary Watson choreographed the routines to which we performed.

I made it.

Being an Eaglette was one of the best experiences of my life. It wasn’t just the camaraderie (shout out to Jean Borrell, Cheryl Gargiulo, Terri Salmond, Pat Morris and Sandy Flynn), the thrill of performing, dancing on the Mike Douglas Show, ushering at the Second Annual Quaker City Jazz Festival at the Philadelphia Spectrum or the hoards of cute guys who followed us down the street as we marched to Franklin Field that taught me about confidence, perfecting my craft or the belief that I could do anything if I tried. It was much more than that. It was the spirit of the experience—that ethereal stuff that creates pure joy.

In 1968, I left Philadelphia and moved to Washington, D.C., which meant saying goodbye to my beloved Eaglettes. One year later, I headed west to San Francisco, California.

I returned to college to study technical art and graphics so that I could earn a living doing the other thing I loved besides dancing—art. I landed a job at a small art studio in Mountain View, California and then worked in the video game industry where I drew dragons and other cool stuff.

After the video game company went out of business, my husband and I opened an art studio that provided illustrations for high school and college textbook publishers. It was a huge success until art-based technology caused the price of hand-drawn illustrations to plummet.

My family and I moved around quite a bit. In 1988, we relocated from Santa Cruz, California to Sarasota, Florida, and then in 1992 to Austin, Texas where I worked at The University of Texas at Austin (UT) as an illustrator.

When our son graduated from UT in 2004, we all headed back to California. I got a job in marketing at San Diego State University where I wrote, did web design and became involved in all things hi-tech. Our son moved to Los Angeles to work in advertising. Two years ago, we left San Diego and joined our son in Los Angeles who now works for The Music Center.

As my interest turned to writing, I won several writing contests, and had my stuff published here and there. I became a CNN iReporter and began doing freelance writing and illustrating for web-based and print publications.

So far, no one has asked me to dance; but I do remember some of the South Rampart Street Parade and Eagles Fight Song routines from my Eaglette days.

I am currently working on a project for my son’s (Monk Turner) latest record album, God Complex, which features the 12 gods of Mt. Olympus singing autobiographical tunes.

You can read more about my adventures (and see my artwork) on my blog:

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Furniture and the Decline of Civilization


A sketch of my dining room

My Crib

If what I learned at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City is true, our civilization is definitely on the decline.

The museum had this little display of bowls, which went from crude to elegant and back to crude. The guide explained that the care taken in producing these bowls coincided with the rise and fall of a particular culture in Mexico.

In my opinion, the lack of pride in workmanship in America and elsewhere tells the story of our eventual demise. For instance, I grew up during a time when if you needed furniture, you went to a store, chose your item, and it would be delivered just as you saw it in the showroom. It was well constructed and delivered assembled. That piece would last forever—and one did not have to put it together or sacrifice price for quality.

Like the manufacturers of the furniture, the delivery people also took pride in their work. They were respectful and put up with my mother who would change her mind a million times as to where she wanted the new furnishings placed. She sometimes had them rearrange other rooms as well. Then, she would search for a scratch or ding and call up the store to demand money off the bill. Of course, she always cooked a delicious meal for them, which they greatly appreciated.

a picture of my grandfather

My Grandfather

We were far from rich, but my mother used her artistic skills to make our home a showplace. I suppose she inherited her love of design from her paternal side of the family who own a furniture business in Teramo, Italy. Their pieces are like three-dimensional works of art—beautiful, unique, well made and creative. She then passed that love on to me. I remember my grandfather, a carpenter, teaching me about measuring twice and cutting once and why creating something beautiful by hand is important.

Once my mother made a cover for a sofa. She forgot the seam allowance and it was too small. Frustrated, she flung the thing into the middle of the street. We both stood at the window and watched as cars ran over it. Her face twisted into a look that showed she was searching for a solution, and after a few hours, she brought it back into the house and threw it in the laundry. Afterwards, she took it all apart and added piping. It fit. It also looked fabulous.

Today, I furnish my place with stuff from flea markets, garage sales, dumpsters, consignment stores (where I trade in other things) or Craigslist. We don’t have much, but what we have has quality workmanship. Even when we lived in a trailer for two years, I decorated it to look like something that could be photographed for a magazine. And if I lived in a cardboard box, my box would win an award. I would see to it.

I guess my immediate surroundings affect my mood more than most people. How can I get depressed when I can sit in my well-organized closet and look at all my stuff? It makes me feel both grateful and visually pleased.

The other day, I decided that I needed to find something for all my art supplies. Right now, they have taken over my space and are threatening to invade places where they should not be—like the bathroom. Easy enough, I thought.

I began searching on Craigslist, and then moved on to places like Cost Plus and Ikea. I’m not a big fan of having to assemble my furniture. First, I never do it correctly. Second, I need to recruit at least two other people to hold parts together as I add more parts (incorrectly). Then there is all the disassembling and reassembling—at least 20 times. Finally, as I scrutinize what I am about to buy, I hear my grandfather’s words on how to create a fine piece of furniture. Like the bowls in the Mexican museum created during the cultural decline, the quality makes me cringe.

As I looked for my art storage piece, everything I found was either too expensive, the wrong size or out of stock. Why a company would post an item when you can’t buy it online or in the store is beyond my understanding. At one place, I thought I would try to find out when the out-of-stock item would be available and get some answers to other questions.

Enter Anna. Anna is the online virtual woman who offers customer assistance. Anna is sometimes a snarky skank. When I asked about assembly help, I told her I didn’t want to have to put the thing together myself. Her reply was, “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”


I didn’t want to buy from them anyway. It has been my experience that their stuff, which is not that inexpensive, falls apart after a short time. Besides, the names of all the things are in Norwegian. Or Lithuanian. Or something.

I still haven’t found what I need for my art supplies. They stare at me from inside of stuffed bags scattered here and there. I will wait until I find just the right thing. It will be affordable, beautiful and whisper to me that there is still hope for our civilization.

Posted in Ancestors, Art, Culture, Family, Living, Observations, Traditions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hot in LA

SunsetStripWEBThe Sunset Strip in Los Angeles is known for its unconventionality—a freewheeling, act-as-crazy-as-you-want place where people see life as a big movie audition. One never knows if what is happening is really happening, or if it is just another film shoot.

Take, for instance, the day I was waiting for a bus in an outdoor dining area in front of a medical building in West Hollywood.

It was a typical Hollywood day: the sun was out; the traffic was bad; and just about everyone on the patio sat engrossed in his or her electronic device.

I had my sketchbook with me, as I always do and was busy trying to capture the image on a building that had a huge painting of Cindy Crawford on it for the longest time. Cindy had recently been replaced with the cast of Hot in Cleveland. I wanted to draw this building because it included so much of the stereotypical Southern California vibe—Hollywood architecture, the plastic model-slash-actress, palm trees and Sunset Strip commerce.

The stillness around me was only slightly interrupted by the Angelenos sipping their chai tea while simultaneously pecking at their gadgets. Once in a while, one of them would look up as if to make sure the sky was still there and think about what key to hit next. Isolated by their electronic world, they showed little interest in or awareness of their environment.

But, the calm and cool setting was about to unravel.

In the middle of trying to copy the billboard’s version of Wendie Malick’s face, the shrill of sirens blasting and police cars giving chase broke my concentration. I turned around to see a Ferrari at the lead dragging what looked like shrubbery and a chain. The procession came to a halt right in front of me after the police surrounded the Ferrari, got out of their vehicles and drew their weapons.

When I saw the guns, I screamed for everyone to get down. Still texting, they calmly obliged, not missing a stroke. From my vantage point under the table, I was able to peer through the glass enclosure and watch the scene unfold. I took a quick inventory of my possessions to decide which one might be the most bulletproof. Only my sketchbook came close.

Everyone was now prone, and only the drink and food items were left on the tables. Even the security guards had taken cover. I kept listening for the word, cut! But it never came. An eternity passed as I switched my attention between the guns in front of me and the ants crawling at my side. When finally I could see the alleged perpetrator safely secured and the firearms put away, I sighed with relief.

At that point, I used my newly discovered powers to announce that it was once again safe to rise and sit at the tables. The patrons obliged and calmly assumed their earlier positions as if nothing had happened.

After clearing the intersection, they all drove away: the Ferrari still sporting the shrubbery and chain, heading towards Beverly Hills; the suspect in the back seat of a police car; and the cops taking off in different directions.

But, this is Hollywood, and what followed one of the most heart-pounding experiences of my life was typical for this town.

Within minutes, a TMZ tour bus stopped at the exact place where the incident had just happened. I could not figure out why TMZ didn’t follow the police cars for a story. They were still visible in the distance. Instead, they headed towards the star’s homes in Beverly Hills.

Maybe they would find the Ferrari.

Behind the tour bus, the actor, director and producer, Rob Reiner followed by his entourage, nonchalantly crossed the street to go to lunch.



Posted in California, DPChallenge, Living, Misadventure, Observations, Weekly writing Challenge, Writing challenges | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Geishas with Guns


Sharing my art is how I express joy. It is also how I vent my frustration.

I used to paint pictures of pretty flowers and bucolic scenes. Now, my work sports geishas with guns and ballerinas with baseball bats. Today, a girly hoodlum wearing an ornamented hairdo is more interesting to me than a pot of geraniums.

Blame it on 2013—the worst year I could ever remember—starting with the legal battle I fought and won against my former senior apartment landlords who were abusing the elderly residents, and ending with the death of my beloved father. In between, I received a diagnosis of a serious medical condition, moved twice, bid farewell to my cherished 1997 Nissan pickup and reluctantly took part in a few other unpleasant adventures.

Once I was content to draw inside the lines and on traditional materials. Now, I want to splatter my anguish all over the place: on mannequins, trash cans, film canisters and anything else I could find that will accept what my rattle can and paint markers have to offer. The outer manifestation of my inner world has to show that this once calm and rational female will tell her story like a geisha-gone-wild.

All the turmoil of the past year got me thinking—how do strong women deal with adversity and ultimately triumph? How does a geisha who serves, performs and wears a happy face cope when what she would really like to do is figuratively blow away her misery?

Looking for some role models to follow, I came across that of Erin Brockovich, whose story I had heard many years ago. Former beauty queen turned advocate, if Brockovich were a geisha with a gun, her weapon would be an AK-47.

Her website describes her moxie:

Erin’s exhaustive investigation uncovered that Pacific Gas & Electric had been poisoning the small town of Hinkley’s Water for over 30 years. It was because of Erin’s unwavering tenacity that PG&E had been exposed for leaking toxic Chromium 6 into the ground water. This poison affected the health of the population of Hinkley. In 1996, as a result of the largest direct action lawsuit of its kind, spear-headed by Erin and Ed Masry, the utility giant was forced to pay out the largest toxic tort injury settlement in US history: $333 million in damages to more than 600 Hinkley residents.

A quote on Brockovich’s website reads:

If you follow your heart, if you listen to your gut and if you extend your hand to help another, not for any agenda, but for the sake of humanity, you are going to find the truth.

I thought about this as I poured over civil codes and landlord-tenant law to research remedies for the mental and emotional abuse of the elderly. Other than a brief stint at a law firm, I had no formal legal training—only guts and the memory of my father telling me I would make a good lawyer.

“You should be a lady lawyer,” he would say. “I never saw a person who can argue about anything with anybody and win like you can.”

My father was way ahead of his time when it came to women’s liberation and the prospect of me jumping into the ring with the big boys.

While working on the lawsuit, I got a call from my doctor. During a routine physical, lab tests showed I had a serious medical condition. This diagnosis began my journey through a maze of “007s,” (doctors with a license to kill) and drug regimens whose side effects had me seriously considering death as a viable option to the treatments.

After consulting a medical advocate and being told that only 20 to 25 percent of the physicians in the United States are any good, I began to familiarize myself with how the human body works, medical jargon and a myriad of studies and journals.

I switched back and forth between the medical literature and legal documents, sometimes losing my place between complicated precedents and cells that danced a wild salsa instead of performing their elaborate kabuki theater like they should.

Fortunately I found a doctor in Los Angeles who specializes in my affliction to take me on as a patient. He is in that top-tier of good doctors and turned my situation around in a matter of months. Unfortunately, I had to move to LA—after I had just escaped the abusive senior complex and moved to Solana Beach.

Prior to 2013, I worked in the style of the French Impressionists and told stories of things belonging to the bourgeoisie. The subjects included wine bottles that stood guard over sumptuous gourmet pastries and produce. I drew portraits of patrician women, both foreign and domestic.

I was a geisha with a water pistol back then.

When my father passed away the day after Thanksgiving, my whole world shattered. The last piece of glue that was holding me together snapped.

I never got to say goodbye. I was in treatment in Los Angeles while he was in the Intensive Care Unit in New Jersey. Only our spiritual fingertips could reach across the continent to touch one last time.

I comforted myself by recognizing that neither of us ever said goodbye anyway. It was always, “I will call you again real soon, Daddy.” To which he would answer, “And I’ll be waiting for that call.”

I always ended with “I love you Popsicle.”

His response was always “I love you too, Babycakes.”

He would have loved my geishas.

Posted in Art, Culture, death, Family, geisha, Living, Misadventure, Observations, Research | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Finding the Sun in Vancouver

Books“Maybe I should pour something for you that is a little more calming,” the sleepy-eyed, Seattle coffee shop barista remarked. Agitated with his slow service, I responded by rolling my eyes and loudly drumming my fingers on the counter.

The third day into a rainy road trip had taken my last ounce of patience.

It was early March, and my son had insisted that we—he, my husband and I—should all drive to Canada from San Diego, California in the new used car we bought when our 1997 Nissan truck with 300,000 miles succumbed to old age. He thought the trip might be good for me; cure my recent crabby attitude and all that.

His persistence stemmed from a concern over my wallowing in a deep, dark funk for several months. Concern over my father’s health, a surge of unexpected bills and harassment from new landlords, which resulted in an expensive move, had all but destroyed my optimism and resources.

At first I did not want to go but, eventually I relented, and the three of us piled into the new used car to go find Canada.

The first day of the trip was fine. The second day we crossed the border into Oregon and sheets of rain came down like a curtain, casting a morbid spell where I sat in the back seat of the car feeling sorry for myself. I just wanted to go home.

DrivingThe Oregonians annoyed me with their obliviousness to the rain. They blithely walked through it without the need to do anything to avoid getting soaked. I however, was an obvious tourist sheltering myself with a huge umbrella and wearing two winter coats, a hat and heavy gloves.

As if the rain and cramped quarters were not enough, somewhere between Eugene and Portland, my stomach rebelled. I was miserable. When the guys decided to stop and get something to eat at the food carts that are popular in the area, I protested, but got out of the car anyway.

Sloshing around the lot where the carts were, I spotted one where the vendor was pushing all sorts of stuff through a machine that poured juice out one end while it vomited pulp out the other. I liked his approachable and easy-going attitude, so I did what I always do when I like someone—I told him my life’s story. He suggested I try one of his drinks, which I bought. Whatever was in the drink stopped my stomach problems and lifted my spirits. I even stopped complaining—until Seattle.

Seattle had the most splendid public library and some of the friendliest folks I have ever met. Nothing seemed to bother them—not the rain, long lines or a barista who called each one “Dude.”

SeattleSignThat night we stayed in a place where everyone shared the bathrooms and showers. My irritation was palpable. At this point in my life, having a personal toilet in a strange place did not seem like too much to ask.

The next morning, I set out looking for my daily fix of coffee. I traipsed three or four blocks through more rain from the room with no toilet to the only Starbucks that opened at 6 a.m. Blasting through the doors, I stood for what seemed like an eternity as the overly mellow barista ignored my shuffling and finger tapping at the coffee bar before suggesting he pour me a more calming drink.

“No,” I snapped. “I don’t need to calm down. Just give me a cup of the house coffee.”

That afternoon saw the last leg of the trip. Canada seemed like some Land of Oz now and I just wanted to get there so I could turn around and leave.

MuseumAs we left Seattle, the rain eased a bit and brightened the overcast sky. We were only 141 miles from our destination, which meant I could begin planning the return trip in my head.

At the Canadian border, the sun finally broke through the clouds. It blinded me for a second so that I did not notice the lush green countryside or the crystal blue water that surrounded Vancouver.TreesThe politeness of the people caught me off-guard as well. Everyone smiled. I wondered if the cart vender from Oregon who had settled my stomach and nerves shipped his drinks up there.

We checked into a motel painted hot pink and apple green on the outside and various other colors on the inside. A small, disorganized manager with a thick Indian accent gave us a tour of the place as if it were the Taj Mahal. His arms moved in grand sweeping gestures as he smiled and pointed out things like the heater and dilapidated lamps.

At that moment, I understood the true meaning of the quote, “Perception is Reality.” I realized it is not so much what life throws at us, but how we choose to catch it; and that a hot pink and apple green, falling-down dump can look just like a castle if we squint our inner eye a certain way.

My self-absorbed problems and emotions had held me back from actually seeing and simply enjoying each moment that I was fortunate enough to live. When I opened myself to that gratitude, I understood that it is okay to eat ice cream no matter how cold or rainy the weather is, enjoy someone singing a Louisiana blues song in a Vancouver farmer’s market and accept the fact that even though you do not have your own toilet, life will go on.

MapleSyrupWe took the coastal route home, stopping to put our feet in the sand and admire the rugged beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

The sun shone the entire way back—even in Washington and Oregon. But, by then, I would not have minded if it rained.


Posted in California, Culture, Family, Living, Misadventure, Observations, Parenting, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Weekly Writing Challenge–A Diverse Manner of Speaking

Montage of state representations

By Bohemian Opus

My friend still speaks with a New Jersey accent—but it is now laced with a Texas twang. Although he spent his formative years on the East Coast, his move to Austin, Texas affected his speech.

A typical sentence from him sounds like this: “Ah was fixin’ to cawl youze, but, you know, Vinny and his wAHfe, you know, Mabel Sue, came to visit for a tAHme.”

Many people I know struggle with getting rid of their native accents and colloquialisms when faced with moving to a new place. Some are successful; others like my friend wind up speaking a whole different language.

When I lived in Texas and it was time for a performance review at my job, my supervisor asked me to step into his office and “pull the door to.” I stood there speechless trying to figure out what he meant. “Pull it to what?” I asked. More silence. What he meant was for me to close the door. Fortunately for me, he had a good sense of humor.

My own East Coast vernacular has softened and changed since I left New Jersey many years ago. A move to California followed by one to Florida, and then another to Texas before returning to California has altered my way of speaking. I suppose a good way to describe it now is that my speech is like the song “A Little Bit Country, A little Bit Rock and Roll.” New Jersey is still there, but surfer-speak sometimes sneaks in along with a few southern words or phrases. For instance I might say, “I thought y’all gave a good tawk, fer sher.”

Like my friend and I making hash out of different regional accents and phrases, my Italian family made minestrone out of the English language. In the Italian-American neighborhood of my childhood, we called a dish towel a mopeen, which is from the Sicilian and Calabrese dialects, mappina. I did not begin to call the thing a dish towel until recently.

And I’ll never forget the day I told one of my teachers that her class gave me agita (heartburn).

One bad habit I inherited from my father is making up my own words. He is a pro at that. Whenever he can not fully express himself in Italian or English, he makes up something. Give-a-shitty is an example of one of his adjectives that he uses to describe a job poorly done. “She turned in a real give-a-shitty report.” Billowfied is another one. This word expresses the demeanor of a person who uses flowery speech and gestures while attempting to explain his or her way out of a bad situation. “She got all billowfied once I told her about the give-a-shitty report not being accepted.”

The other day I caught myself telling a lamp shop owner that the shade she suggested for my lamp base was too doilyfied, meaning it resembled something that would interest my grandmother. She gave me a blank stare followed by a request to please explain the term so she could look for a more suitable shade.

I used to fret over my accent, regional slang and not understanding what people in other parts of the country were trying to say. But now I decided that as long as I do not do a give-a-shitty job and act all billowfied to defend myself if I do; then it is okay to call a dish towel a mopeen as I pull the door to.

Fer sher

In response to the weekly writing challenge: A Manner of Speaking

Posted in California, Culture, DPChallenge, Living, Misadventure, Observations, Weekly writing Challenge, Writing challenges | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments