L.A. – What I Miss and What I Don’t

A couple of weeks ago, we had the pleasure of going to Chuck Skyco’s surprise 50th birthday bash in Manhattan Beach, California.

Ahh, a January drive from Vegas to L.A. and back. Just what Laura and I needed!

Naturally, while driving back to Vegas we had the inevitable highs and lows conversation about our trip. Since then, the conversation has repeated itself with several different people about what I/we/they miss and don’t miss about living in southern California.

The top picks for loving/hating L.A. are nearly unanimous.

Perhaps predictable.

Hate the Traffic.

Love the Ocean.

However, subtlety dwells within both responses. There are pros and cons of each.

The pros of the hopeless traffic situation in L.A. and the rest of southern California are few, but significant.
Number One, the drivers are great. Nuts, but great. I was driving our Prius in the carpool lane of the 415N over Mulholland in bumper to bumper traffic at 75 mph on a Sunday afternoon. Six lanes in each direction, packed, and people are flying. How I ever drove a 1966 Plymouth Valiant and a Cheep Cherokee in that kind of madness is a mystery.  (Though I still have fond memories of zipping around it in my red, 5-speed Celica convertible!)

Needless to say I missed my exit at Ventura Blvd. But, I am proud to say I managed to get over in time to get on the 101 and to our friend’s house in Sherman Oaks right on time.

Which brings me to Number Two, lots to do. It’s hard to be introverted when visiting a city of 20+million people. Plus, a significant portion of my adult life was in L.A. Laura’s too. Visiting old friends that have remained true and old favorite stomping grounds that may or may not have changed is always interesting and usually fun.

Loving the ocean is easy and probably pretty much universal. For me, living at the ocean was a life goal of mine since early childhood. I feel blessed to have lived alongside the Pacific for 15 years. Chuck’s surprise party reminded me of the fact because it was at the apartment above the Shark’s Cove in Manhattan Beach.

As you can see from the photo, we had a gorgeous sunset that night. But the parking situation there is crazy. Two hour meters that you can’t refill even on a Saturday night unless you find and erase the chalk mark on your tires that the parking nazi’s put there to catch you. In Venice it was even worse. Even on a cloudy morning like the Sunday Laura and I wanted to eat at the Sidewalk Cafe (their huevos rancheros is the best!).

So, love the ocean, but, be prepared to struggle (and pay) to get around. Even if you live there.

Plus, sadly, Venice Beach looks like it’s disputed territory again for rival gangs. Even though rents have soared and there’s no more rent-stablization. The streets look a lot dirtier too. Even though they don’t allow the cool vans, campers and RV’s of the artistic nomads of the West Coast to park for weeks at a time anymore. Without one gang controlling everything, petty criminals aren’t afraid of doing petty crimes and the evidence of chopped bicycles, empty purses and broken car windows proves it. The dicey parts of the Strand extend far beyond Pier Avenue now and reach all the way north past the Bistro and Waterfront Cafe (my old “Swiss Place”). Even the upscale shops and restaurants along Abbott Kinney Blvd. have become a target-rich environment for desperate people. I felt like we were close to getting mugged right in broad daylight on Westminster.

Mmm, it’s just like it was back in 1992 when I first moved there. I bet a lot of residents hear gunshots every night just like I did. Maybe you have to be a bad-ass from living in Hell’s Kitchen in New York like I was to see past the ugliness. It probably doesn’t hurt to have Hollywood stardust in your eyes too.

So, hate the traffic but love seeing old friends. And, love the ocean, but it’s more crowded than ever. Those little subtleties have made me appreciate our 15′ wide lanes in Vegas, much shorter lines at the grocery store, the big green park around the corner from our three-car garage house, and our growing list of new friends in the neon oasis we call home.

Oh, and the fact that tsunami warnings are quite rare.

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Keeping First Things First

Keeping “first things first” isn’t always easy. At least not for me.

Am I too easily distracted? Am I not disciplined enough? It’s these kind of questions that can send me into unwelcome, unproductive tail spins sometimes for days or weeks at a time.

Finally reaching the point of being satisfied with the novel I’ve been working on the past four and a half years (!!) is a momentous event. But lately I’ve been asking myself, Why did it take so damn long?

I suspect many writers, artists, entrepreneurs and project managers often ask themselves the same question. Now, as I’m simultaneously thrilled, scared and curious about the future, I also find myself looking back and trying to make sense of the journey.

This Friday is November 11, 2011, or 11/11/11. I’m hoping it will be the first day of life outside my hard drive for “For Rent: Dangerous Paradise”. I have my query letter already written and have met several agents and publishers at recent writer’s conferences that have expressed interest in the book. As the marketing phase of FRDP begins, I’m eager to complete the outlines for the second and third books in the hoped-for series.

I realize that I basically wrote FRDP three times. Most notably because my writing improved so much by virtue of writing practically every day for four years. However, in order to be able to write the sequels in less than a quarter of the time, I have to also look at other reasons why it took me so long to get where I am today.


My part-time work as a freelance journalist in Las Vegas requires keeping up with casino news, researching local history, new technology developments in solar and rail, and trying to keep up with new opportunities in social media. I’ve put a lot of work into the dozens of articles I’ve written and I’m proud of the two years I wrote steadily for Living Las Vegas and I’m proud of my ongoing tips on visiting and exploring Vegas for Las Vegas Getaways. Also, as a board member of the Writers of Southern Nevada (WSN) I helped organize and produce an excellent conference on Memoir Writing this past March with a team of other professional writers.

De-stemming our grapes!

For the past three years, Wine-making has been another big part of my life. From choosing the grapes, to de-stemming, crushing, turning the barrel, naming, bottling and designing labels for our blends, the process has been very rewarding in a variety of ways. For one thing, Laura and I have made some great new friends in a city where we started out knowing no one.

It’s an easy luxury to get lost in the internet also. Here are two great examples:

This video of a surfer girl and a couple of kayakers coming face to face with a whale in the waters off Santa Cruz.

Another is this one I just found today of a mountain lion and bear cub having a territorial dispute in the wilderness of Alberta, Canada.

Distractions are okay. They are part of being human in this hyper-connected world of ours and I have to:

1) allow
2) expect
and 3) rejoice in them.

Lesson Learned: Manage Distractions Better.

Many of the things that distracted me from working on FRDP made me a better writer and will end up in the proposed sequel: “For Rent: Dangerous Neon”, so some distractions will always be just part of the writing process.

(Admittedly, the animal videos fall squarely in the entertainment category, although even they led to setting up a You Tube account and publishing a few experimental clips – a learning curve that could prove useful in future online marketing.)


I spent three weeks outlining FRDP in May of 2007 while in-between jobs. When the “yours if you want it” return to CCH fell apart that summer, I proceeded to follow that outline and write myself into a nasty boondoggle. I based the outline on the exact number of units in my old Venice apartment building, twenty-one, which was FAR too many characters. After getting almost two-thirds of the first draft finished, I deleted six characters to trim the beast down. The spider web of personal intricacies I had woven together needed drastic re-invention.

When that hurdle was finally behind me and I had a complete first draft in the summer of 2009, I realized that moving from unit to unit in the building three times made the book WAY too long for a standard mystery. So I sped everything up by getting the police to the scene quicker and merging Section One with Section Two. Awesome. But it required another time-consuming re-invention of the spider web.

Lesson Learned: Update Outlines!

If during the process of writing something turns up that requires a substantial deviation from the original outline, SPEND THE TIME to go back and update that outline!


First things first requires commitment and versatility. Putting the butt in the chair everyday at the same time, though ideal, isn’t always possible. When it’s not, something else has to be sacrificed that day.

One of the speakers at the August meeting of the Las Vegas Writers Group, local freelance writer Carol Patton, made an excellent suggestion: set aside a specific time every week to focus on marketing. I have been practicing on expanding that suggestion to include news watch, social media and many of the “house chores” that too often consume an entire day.

Aside from setting aside Tuesday mornings for marketing, I’m testing a schedule for: keeping up with local and national publications, managing e-mail, sorting post office mail, paying bills, grocery shopping, cleaning up around the house, cooking, making Zazzy’s food and getting more exercise. So far, it’s working pretty well and I hope to have it fully implemented next week when this last polish of FRDP is over.

Lesson Learned: Put My Franklin Quest Daily Organizer to Use!

By admitting to the realities of life in the 21st century and the mistakes I made taking a less organized approach towards FRDP, I’m confident I will not only finish the “For Rent” sequels in record time, I will also be able to expand my horizons with local and national publications. Perhaps there will even be time to launch another video production enterprise.

But first, first things first…FRDP finished by the end of this week!

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Fear is the cause of too much sorrow and too much doubt.

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Chicago – Mackinac 2011

Mercedes and Chuck’s wedding on Mackinac Island in upper Michigan provided a great excuse to add a pre-week-end in Chicago and enjoy the drive up and down the pastoral state of Michigan.

Still trying to put it all in perspective. These are some my favorite pics from the journey. I’ve had fun enhancing some of them to match the moods of roads that circled elsewhere thanVegas.

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The Trop’s Back on Top!

The newly remodeled Tropicana Resort in Las Vegas is my new favorite spot on the Las Vegas Strip. I recently got a behind the scenes tour of the property and wrote this piece for Las Vegas Getaways about it >>> http://www.lasvegasgetaway.net/remodeled-tropicana-las-vegas/

Don’t worry Bellagio! If Laura and I would have won the Michigan Lottery last week we would have booked a suite for a week with you too!

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This Year’s Grape Expectations

Yesterday afternoon Laura and I bottled our 2010 wine at local wine making school, Grape Expectations. Dave Lucchese’s Group, of which we were a part, had a total of eight (8) barrels of wine this year. Total yield was somewhere in the vicinity of 2,000 bottles.

The perfect shoes for making wine!

The process of grape selection, de-stemming, crushing, fermentation, barrel turning and ultimately, bottling began last August. Like the days immediately after graduating from college, a bittersweet melancholy is now mixed together with excitement and optimism.

The blends with the most promise right out of the barrel were the Pinot Noir and the Barbera/Syrah. (the barbera/syrah blend we did last year with our other wine-making group won a bronze medal at last year’s awards banquet, so hopefully we have a repeat winner!). The Barbera/Syrah was big and jammy and we expect the tannin heavy wine to mature nicely, just like last year.

Getting every last drop of our Barbera/Syrah!

Wine-making is a delicate blend of exact science and fine art which constantly produces unpredictable results. With the exception of our pinot noir grapes (which came from the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County) the majority of our grapes came from the Paso Robles area of Central California coast wine country this year. Obviously, the origin and the year of the grape are major determining factors in wine-making. We live in the Mojave Desert and we’re not foolish enough to think we can grow grapes in an arid environment on an ancient and still very crusty and alkaline seafloor.

We’re fortunate to be able to get the 750 pounds of grapes we need per barrel from premier California wine country.

Bottling wine take team work!

Our Italian Red (Sangiovese/Cab/Syrah) also tasted promising and just like the group’s sangiovese last year it is immediately drinkable. Unfortunately, one of the cab blends tasted a bit tart and a little fizzy right out of the barrel. But, the same blend (90% Cabernet Sauvignon + 10% Merlot) won the gold medal in cab blends last year so we’re hoping that a little air and time can soften the tang and turn things around in the bottle. Often the body of the wine and its flavors need months, sometimes even years, to mature into something wonderful. We’re hoping this is the case with Barrel #3.

Though Barrel #3 is initially a little disappointing, our Barrel #4 cab blend (60% Cabernet Sauvignon + 20% Petite Sirah + 20% Cab Franc) is big and bold already. But although it’s good now, I’ll probably give it three to six months in the bottle to settle and dry out a little. There’s nothing like a big, bold, dry cab with a nice piece of lamb or a juicy steak right off the bbq!

There were about 40 people in Dave’s group this year and more than half showed up for the heavy bottling and casing work. Bottling a barrel of wine is definitely a fast paced, ten person per barrel process! It was a fun, foodie and wine afternoon shared by all. I baked an apple pie that surprised most who tasted it (one woman said it was, “Hands down by far the best apple pie she had ever had.” Wow. Thanks! But I thought the navy bean and kielbosi soup was awesome and our Bellagio master chef wowed the crowd with an amazing vegetable thick crust pizza with a separate prosciuto carving station. De-lish!

Charlie Peters and the menu for the 2011 Grape Expectations Awards Banquet

Thanks to Juli and Chuck Moore for introducing us into this group and much applause and kudos to Lisa and Dave Lucchese for all of their organization work. As usual, proprietor and owner of Grape Expectations, Charlie Peters and his team, did a great job supervising the work flow and making everyone feel appreciated.

Our Life is Grape label for our 2010 wines w/the Lucchese Group.

Since the group was so big, everyone was in charge of their own labels. Laura did a great job designing our “Life is Grape” labels for the two cases we bought into. Personally, I think she’s going to win one of the coveted label design awards at this year’s awards banquet in August. (Get your tickets soon. They sell out every year!)

In the meantime, we’re looking forward to Friday night, June 3rd when we bottle our Cab Franc/Petite Sirah blend with Jackie, Barry and the rest of our regular wine group. It tasted great in January when we turned the barrel, so expectations are high. (My personal wine reputation is a bit on the line with this one, since I lobbied hard for this particular blend! :- )

Wish me luck getting in selling a freelance article on our wine-making experience to one or more of the local or national mags in the coming weeks!

(I’m going to take Rick Lax’s advice and play “a numbers game” by pestering editors until one of them falls in love with my idea!)

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Pain Mis-management

As a long-time believer in self diagnosis of my overall operating systems, I am very grateful to be emerging from a most unpleasant, quivering delirium thanks to my new best friends since yesterday, gabapentin, aceyclovir and vicoden.

After one of the most intense weeks of my life, I am finally finding a semi-functional cruising altitude and have come to an important realization.

Stress kills.

When it doesn’t go after the heart, it can trigger a very common, very painful skin affliction – shingles. Shingles is the silly sounding name of the re-animation of chicken pox in adults. It lays dormant under the skin of anyone who had chicken pox as a child. It usually attacks older adults whose immune system is already stressed from some other ailment.

But it can also attack adults in their forties like me who bottle up stress over time without finding a proper outlet to relieve it.

Shingles is nothing like chicken pox either. In full bloom it feels like your skin is molten lava brewing over an angry volcano.

What I thought were hives last Wednesday morning looked like seven fire-ant bites of various sizes on my neck and shoulder. I self-diagnosed their cause and fixed the situation that I thought was causing my stress (a debt management issue). I Googled hives and sure enough, my blisters matched. With the stress out of the way though, I expected a quick recovery. I even stopped watching the news since the Japanese nuclear meltdown, tsunami devastation, Libyan conflict, Yemen conflict and our own military-centric government arguing about the wrong things in Washington, D.C. (it’s a revenue problem, not a spending problem!) – all of which only added to my stress level.

But, despite no small degree of self-determination and self-help, my “hives” spread rapidly and by Friday afternoon turned into a full-blown, bubbling terrain down my neck, shoulder, back, chest and even into my left ear.

And here’s where the pain mis-management really kicked in.

It was Friday. A college buddy I hadn’t seen in years was in town for less than twenty-four hours. I cut slices off my giant aloe vera plant in the backyard and applied the soothing balm right onto my boiling skin. I told myself the anti-histamine I’d been taking since Wednesday night was working; cutting out the bad news barrage on TV was working; eating right and avoiding alcohol was working. But plans fell apart (it’s a good thing Laura and I had given up going to restaurants for Lent). I’m sure I sounded like an incoherent mess to him when I tried to explain it on the phone. (sorry TJ!)

Reluctantly, I agreed with Laura to cancel our Saturday painting party so I could heal quietly. On Sunday morning, I woke up shivering in so much pain I could barely speak. My left shoulder, neck, back and chest felt like they were on fire. The huge blisters were on the verge of busting and clearly needed more than aloe vera and an anti-histamine. “These are wicked hives!” I told my wife. “I think you need to take me to the doctor.”

“Finally,” she sighed with a teary mix of sympathy and exasperation in her pretty blue eyes.

So she drove me to the nearby Urgent Care on Eastern and Horizon Ridge at 10AM Sunday morning. There were about a dozen people in front of us. I fought through the pain. Laughing at it, as I wiped away the errant tears that escaped the cracking fortress of my determination. Resisting the urge to run screaming into the wilderness of hysteria was getting harder and harder. When I finally got to see the doctor, Dr. Alfredo Hibbert, he diagnosed my ailment the second I unbuttoned my shirt. Shingles – adult chicken pox that lay dormant under the skin of anyone who ever had chicken pox as a child.

Except shingles are nothing like chicken pox. Even the name sounds silly and elicits little sympathy from anyone unfamiliar with the wicked nasty scourge. Shingles protect houses, right?

A much better name for shingles would be ‘Radical Fire Blister Syndrome’ or ‘Hot Lava Skin’, ‘Demon Pox’ or something along those lines.

I concurred with the doctor that they were painful, but I kept a stiff upper lip. (Why?) By 3PM Sunday afternoon I had two prescription anti-biotics and Zovirax, an immediate relief topical ointment. After taking the meds, later that evening I told my wife I felt like I was floating in electric jelly. Unless I moved, it hurt less. Sort of. But I told her (and more importantly myself) that I could feel myself getting better already.

But floating in electric jelly isn’t normal. Unlike milk, it does not do a body good!

Monday morning there were definite signs of improvement on the molten terrain of my skin. Even more improvement by that evening. However the pain wasn’t subsiding much at all and it was getting harder and harder to hide the fact from my wife. I drank two glasses of Merlot with dinner which dropped me into a cozy swoon. Ahh, nice. Temporarily.

I woke up feeling like shit but gritted my teeth and fought through the pain. My right hand started shaking uncontrollably early Tuesday afternoon. Then my whole right arm. If I concentrated I could stop it. But it was becoming almost impossible to concentrate on anything for much more than twenty seconds.

I decided to take a much needed shower before my wife got home from work. Zazzy, my ever faithful, adoring golden retriever knew something was wrong as I laughed and howled as the water electrocuted my nervous system. As the gentle spray cascaded over my skin, clearing away the multiple dry layers of sticky ointments and strong body odor, my dog’s instincts told her to try and open the shower stall door to release me from my self-inflicted incarceration of searing, mind-expanding pain.

When I finally got out of the shower, Zazzy danced in circles around me. With tears in my eyes, I smiled between gritted teeth and told her everything was going to be better now for sure. Her big brown eyes wanted to believe me … yet remained unconvinced.

When my wife got home, she knew something was seriously wrong with me. She does a great imitation of me from that night, which I hope to tape and put up here, or on You Tube in the next few days. It kind of looks like Frankenstein on LSD, which, when I reach back into my hazy, quivering delirium, is pretty much exactly how I felt.

By a lucky stroke of serendipitous fortune, my cousin Bruce sent me the latest draft of his screenplay via e-mail Tuesday morning. He and his wife have a family practice in Princeton (they’re both MD’s) and I’ve been giving him comments and suggestions on a screenplay he’s been working on the past several months. I mentioned the shingles. He STRONGLY advised getting some pain killers and recommended Gabapentin along with vicodin. “Or you will SUFFER!” he wrote back.

He also told me that on the pain scale, shingles equate to giving childbirth.

No shit.

I went back to Urgent Care on Wednesday, my fifth solid day of “giving childbirth.” I was delirious, quivering and probably looked like a strung out junkie jones-ing for a fix. But I was functioning. Sort of. Hell, I’d driven myself there, right? I was able to speak. In short clipped sentences. I saw everything through a flickering, kaleidoscopic daze very, very removed from any true awareness of myself.

I felt like I was circling the Earth, checking in with my body every couple of seconds, then returning into the ionosphere. God and I were on a first name basis and chatting away like junior high school girls.

Fighting through five days of ever mounting pain induced within me a uniquely intoxicated reality. My entire nervous system was electrified and in a state of overdrive like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I now completely understand the day-to-day lives of Frida Kahlo, Edgar Allan Poe and other mad, absinthe-addicted visionaries of the past.

I was right there, dancing on the edge of sanity with them.

Fortunately, we live in an age where there are options to inaccurate self diagnosis and self-medication. We live in the Information Age which really should be called the Age of Almost Enlightened Reason. (The Age of Enlightenment + The Age of Reason + the reality that ten of us can’t agree on the color of shit.)

I’ve come to realize that the mis-management of pain is a common, very serious side effect of stubborn adherence to a idealized end goal. Whether it’s to get over an affliction, ease the suffering of others, or balance a State or Federal budget, accurate information can be found and put to good use. Experts can be easily consulted. Immediate, effective results are achievable. If only we get out of our own way and do it.

“Yaba, Daba, Gaba(pentin)-do!”

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Inside Job – How to Order

Want to order a copy of Charles Ferguson’s “Inside Job” but finding it difficult?

Well, for now Amazon.com is taking pre-orders. Paul Revere would be proud of you for being a True American if you ordered a copy, listened and reacted to the real truth going on in the land of the so-called free.

Click Here to (hopefully) get your copy b4 it’s too late:

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“hiybbprqag” Forever!

Think someone is stealing your ideas? Imbed the word “hiybbprqag” in the properties of your filename, direct your in-house legal counsel to track and pursue, then sit back and watch the revelation go away. It’s cyber-Haliburton!

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Inspirational Quotes by Lou Holtz

I met Lou Holtz at the CCH annual meeting in 2005 and had a football tossed to me for Outstanding Performance which he signed later. He was a very inspirational man who transcended motivational sports talk to a higher level understanding of personal AND common good. #3 is my favorite.

#1 Show me someone who has done something worthwhile, and I’ll show you someone who has overcome adversity.
Lou Holtz

#2 The man who complains about the way the ball bounces is likely the one who dropped it.
Lou Holtz

#3 The problem with having a sense of humor is often that people you use it on aren’t in a very good mood.
Lou Holtz

#4 When all is said and done, more is said than done.
Lou Holtz

#5 You’ll never get ahead of anyone as long as you try to get even with him.
Lou Holtz

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