Gallery LouLou, Santa Fe, NM

The throw of the dice this week lands on the night before Christmas. I can almost hear everyone talking at once, the children’s laughter, and the crackling fire. I can smell Nana’s baked turkey and buttery potatoes, as I sip hot chocolate and imagine which presents beneath the tree are mine. Last night while watching A CHRISTMAS CAROL, I was reminded of Christmas with Nana. If I want to experience something I’ve lost, or something beyond the horizon, I watch TCM.
As the story transitions moved from the rich class to the poor, I thought of the disparity between the two societies at Christmas. Some of us are thankful to receive one gift, and others are hiring the Christmas Tree Decorator to decorate their tree.
Christmas with Nana in her deeply cushioned home in Encino was perfect. I  sank  into the velvet pillows and moon shaped sofa. She whisked through the house on high heels, dressed in East coast tailor-made suits, draped with an old- flowered print apron,  and waving a dish-towel. For the duration of Christmas Eve and Christmas day while all of us screamed, giggled and dropped candy on the shag carpeting, Nana tended to my Mother, my Aunt Pat, and her six children, my step-grandfather, who was in charge of documenting every moment on Kodak. I remember the porcelain cookie and candy dishes Nana filled, the eggnog with a pinch of nutmeg, the flecks of decorative snow we picked off the tree, ornaments attached to everything, and the tiny marshmallows in my cocoa. Nana went all out on Christmas. She used to confess with Sunday school shame, “I hate to say it, but our house is the prettiest on the street.”

My grandfather was perched on a ladder for days decorating the house. All of us children were wrapped in blankets and gathered around the tree in the living room. In order for anyone to cross to the den, they had to navigate around an assortment of limbs, dolls, and toys. Nana made me believe in Santa Claus and the reindeer’s. I reminded her to clean the fireplace before we went to bed so Santa would not be burned.
All of these memories are flushing out from THE CHRISTMAS CAROL, and mirroring the story in a paradoxical way. Because I was a fortunate child, and surrounded by so much love, Christmas is still about that flicker of human kindness, giving presents, and dissolving religious boundaries. A great way to begin the New Year, and with that, I wish you all a Very Happy New Year. .
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BEFORE  I think  how to respond to a stranger,  I  feel them;  the gestures,  expressions, tones of voice,  movement,  conversation, mannerisms, and the eyes.   I acknowledge feelings first, then I think.

UNMANNERLY  I can improvise a dance to any music,  except ballet and tango.  I don’t feel rigid and life’s burden lifts when I dance.   Lately, at dusk my day ends with vinyl soul and rock and roll music. It works wonders for the dinner hours on your own.


THE sense of sprite  or gloom in the city reaches me when I’m driving.    I feel a whirl of sensory  perception from the drivers faces.   To witness  the joyous reciprocal ink of friendship between shop keepers, cops and other cops, city workers, and service technicians trying to fix satellites, and cables  in a city of inconsistent infrastructure.

SOME of my principles are unsupported with experience,  but more with GROWING UP WITH GANGSTERS  training that I cannot erase.    My  theme is unbalanced, I take the extreme path instead of the path with arrows.  It is why writing settles my sea-saw.  As I sit in my antique wooden chair looking out, a  feeling  leaps to the clouds;   creamy linen-white like parasols floating through the radiant royal blue sky.  A  tiny thread of blush pink ribbons the outskirts of Santa Fe.  Beneath this canvass are the stick branches of winter trees, then a gust of wind blows the last leaves into a dance.  The sedate and quiet surroundings relieve my spinning head and I just continue to sit and not fidget.   Every pedestrian that passes becomes a source of study. There is a woman who walks weekly with a Parrot on her shoulder. This draws attention to her and she relishes the conversation with her Parrot, who appears to love to sit on her shoulder.  The old man with the bent back that walks with his chin resting on his chest is a storyteller.  I have a difficult time understanding him.

HE’S  told me that he knew Elliott Barker;  who owned my house for fifty or more years and was the  distinguished New Mexico game warden, environmentalist, and author who coined Smoky Bear.  After the cub was rescued Elliott took him to President Roosevelt and asked that the bear become the mascot for preventing forest fires.   Men and women with legacies like that leave some presence in their residence. I think that is why I feed the twenty-five birds, six doves, white-tailed hawk, and Homeboy, the squirrel.  I live in Elliott’s office.  Maybe even wrote where  he did.

THERE  is always commotion and a raucous of human emotion coming from the hotel across the street.  Staff workers chatter into laughter, truck loaders shout and spit,  deliveries stop traffic and sometimes a bad boy yells out obscenities.   Cops are always dropping by to check-on some hotel hiccup.  Dog walkers tug at their dogs and the Santa Fe street vagabonds dart by staring at the brick sidewalk.   This street activity is in slow motion pumping along with the beat of my heart.

SOME people appear to drag their bodies rather than the other way around. I wonder if all the global google news has weighted us down.  Young bohemian gals walk by  and turn towards the house when they hear the music.   Facial strain and deadness erase their youth,  even when the music is pumped up jam or rock n roll.   This nonchalant  detached  behavior  bothers me because I am an aloof!      The exchange of human voice and expression is our background symphony, along with the birds, crows, power saws, blowers, and sirens.  This street is part of my theme;  a juxtaposition of affluence and simplicity.  I am a 21st century flapper clinging to the roar of independence, self-expression and breaking rules.  If  we  feel the chord of festivity,  we should not hold back.  I am going out now to see if  I can feel Christmas.  images XMAS










The oaks and  elm trees are almost naked;  butterscotch leaves are face down, like half eaten lollipops. Lurching in the east; a mass of thick charcoal clouds without any wind to push them towards us.  This outdoor stillness and the hum of my refrigerator are subtle signals of the approaching hand of winter. The silence is like a cooking pot cover that secures my spirit into acceptance.  Listening to classical piano concerto’s, blue grass on Saturday, the blues on Sunday and rock & roll on Friday. Musicians are my guests, as much as the wild birds that pluck  from my feeders.

Sometimes, solitude feels like a draft and no matter how many sweaters I  put on, the seclusion tugs at my bones. There are a lot of us soloists that reside in Santa Fe. We are not questioned or scolded for our behavior, we are left alone!  If I am drawn into an empty canvass of what seems my destiny, I draw the opposite silhouette.  I am the light against the dark.   The green light in my head  reminds me that I have my teeth, my long legs, and some passion for almost everything that God and man created.  I just can’t decide which passion to follow. Should I do a  museum, gallery, lecture, drive to Taos, go to a concert, dance at El Farol, take Flamenco lessons, engage strangers in conversation, watch old movies, read more of the stacks of books on my bedside table. Should I interview the straggly teenagers in the park or hit up the high rollers? Should I write, submit or edit:  clean the laundry room, make a thick chili stew, iron my clothes or pick up leaves. Living unstructured is a discipline that threads easily some days, and when it doesn’t, I have to control my passion for daydreaming.

My daydreams: to inhale ocean air, to bogey board, to hike, ride horses, go to Lincoln Center, the wine county, Prague, Sicily, and Russia. My passion to be around little children at Christmas and stare at their patent leather shoes, and to eat pumpkin pie for breakfast, to converse on philosophy, the arts, social trends, and the interior life.  My passion for impulsive trips on the road to Kentucky and Tennessee, anywhere I’ve never been; I will go.  The obstacle I place in front of me; I don’t want to travel alone. I’m plain afraid. I’m afraid to fly more than two hours, my sense of direction is worse than anyone I’ve ever met, and I pack too many clothes to carry, and end up with a raw neck and numb arm.

Once in Annecy, France, I walked for hours trying to find my hotel. I circled the squareOld part of Annecy (France)

twelve times. I’d not eaten a meal in several days because my coin satchel was half full . In a moment, I just fainted and swooped down to the ground. A Frenchman was kneeling beside me when I opened my eyes. We sat on a little iron bench, and he offered to take me to dinner.  He was so kind, he kept bringing food to my hotel because he said I didn’t know how to travel.

The train of clouds are still in the east; fluffy white cream and silvery puffs of pastry. They too cannot decide whether to cry; or remain strong and commanding.

Dating is one passion I never had.   Even when it was as organic as sharing a cup of coffee or taking a walk after dinner. Dating now is about business and getting connected. It’s selfish sex with a price. I hear men and women tell me these stories and my response  freezes.  ‘Oh yea, she wanted $250.00 for a few hours; without sex.’  For  a woman she is expected to be complete; with independence and like total clarity about who she is and what she wants. ‘He  told me I had too much baggage; who doesn’t over fifty?’  I think we are always in an  evolution of  personal understanding of our experiences.  You can’t put people into cross word puzzles and expect them to stay there.

Now, hours later the clouds cried, and their tears pranced in a slight wind. I curled into my favorite club chair and watched a 1937 screw-ball comedy, ” We’re Rich Again.”  Like my Dad used to say;’ You’re whole life can change overnight.’  My bed is warm. My friends are loyal. I allow myself to write everyday.


What is this nonsense? Am I really listening to a national complaint against,

Christmas? Who needs a job? Whoever you are that started this, dig yourself a hole in the ground and meditate for a month.

I’m half Jewish, half Catholic-all I know about my mother’s religion is the holidays. They remind me of her, and how the two weeks transformed our home, because she happy, really looking forward to seeing her mom, and sisters, and nieces and nephews….

Whoever you are, watch Hallmark television. We are saps for comfort.


SMILEY’S DICE   Adventures in Livingness

Adventures in beginnings, starting over, and rewriting a story you’ve lived many years is the same as re-writing a story. It takes the same blind courage.

Behavior change (James)About half between forty and fifty years old, you hear people say, “It’s too late to start over,”  It’s not true. I hope it never feels like that when I wake up. Just thinking about it makes me run in circles. Behavioral change is essential to living a full life. In the middle of the night I woke up as if it was morning.  When I looked out the window, the moon was white as a  laundered tablecloth, staring back at me. It said get up and write.

I retreated to my corner of the world, a tiny room bathed a blush pink and gold, and wrote from beneath the goose down comforter. The moon watched.   Now that the lights and decorations are placed in the cartons, the wrapping and ribbon tossed away, a landfill of disturbing, distressing, and terrifying global news is dumped on us.  I do not understand the external world of political and international power, wealth, and motivation.

I fled that world a long time ago when I learned that men who controlled the paths of others were dangerously self-serving.  I recall my father sitting on that green velvet sofa, holding the remote in one hand and watching a news program. He turned it off and said to me, “Luellen, everything that goes on is fixed; you cannot hide your head in the sand and think otherwise.” I nodded my head in understanding, while internally I thought my father was suffering from his usual psychosis.  Eventually I crossed over, and forfeited my interest in politics. The forces of evil have shattered that glass of indemnity.

This year is not about vapid resolutions catering to our comfort, it is about survival. It’s about transforming behavior and habits, excesses and denial. Doing it in a group, makes us feel less traumatized. Imagine, all the thousands of people paddling the same current; forcing back the mortgage lender, relinquishing precious possessions, driving a car with a shattered windshield, wearing coats without any down feathers left, and wondering when the pink slip will arrive. Alienation and neurosis are at the root of people’s aggression and discontent. It can lead to unexpected violence, and then to massacre and war. It is a collection neurosis that grows worse every year.

The inner world, where each of us faces a truth no one else knows, is ruptured. All I can think of is bringing a little bit of light to someone you know is in darkness.


It you were to ask my father, a man of Jewish faith, raised in a strict Orthodox home, why he celebrated Christmas, this is how he would answer.

“You can’t get away from it, what are you going to do, hide your head in the sand?”  He didn’t voice resentment or personal humiliation celebrating Christmas. My father ignored regulations and conventions for a living, so a religious variance was no different. Half his associates were Jewish, and the other half were Italian. This may account for his interpretation of the Holidays.

In the first weeks of November, I would get a call asking to meet my father in Beverly Hills and pick out the Holiday cards. The meeting began like this every year.

“Is that all you have to wear to go shopping?” examining   my unmatched jeans, and pull over sweater.

“What’s wrong with this outfit?”

“For crying out loud! You look like a gypsy.” After we finish here go to Saks and pick out something for the holidays, you can’t go to Arthur’s like that!”
Then I would follow behind him, twitching with scorn until we sat down to look through the sample books. First, we looked over the messages suited to both Jewish and Catholic faiths. Then we chose a card, a font style, a color, and then he began editing the message. It usually took several hours. He wore his thick reading glasses and studied each sample card, and asked the sales clerk many questions. I remember showing signs of waning interest, and then he’d take off his glasses, stare  directly in my eyes, and say,

“What is it Luellen, am I asking too much of you again?”

“No, I answered. He could feel my impatience with the assignment.

“Which color do you like?” he asked.

“I like the gold.”

“We did gold last year, this year should be different.”

Once he settled on all the details, he ordered two-hundred cards. It never occurred to me that he wanted my participation because I had something to offer. I thought he just wanted company. He could not stand to be alone during the holidays.

Once the cards were delivered, I was told to come over and help address the envelopes because he liked my handwriting. We sat on the same blue and green crushed velvet sofa he had since he moved into the Doheny Towers.  While I crouched over the glass coffee table, he held his guarded black telephone book, and watched me write out each envelope. He compared all the cards he had received from the previous year against his own list, to avoid missing anyone. Sometimes I did not finish until after midnight, and left him sitting there studying and counting the envelopes. Every year, the completion of the cards, was the event that signified the beginning of the holidays.

The next phone call would be to come over and wrap the Christmas presents. I failed in this category, and my sister took over. It was worse than the cards because if her wrapping was unsatisfactory, she had to do it all over.

The next ritual was the outfit, the one I would wear to Arthur’s Thanksgiving party. This had to be classic and colorful. He always said to avoid black, because I should save that for when I’m older. He had to preview the outfit before, and if he disapproved, he would accompany me back to the store to select something else. Appearances were not every thing he used to say, they were number one in making an impression.

All through my twenties, I had to maintain two wardrobes, one for him, and one for me. I’m still dressing one part Al Smiley’s daughter and one part Loulou.

On Thanksgiving Day, the tradition was to arrive at his home at noon to walk.  Like the cards, and the outfit, the walk, wasn’t negotiable, it was part of my tutorial. We walked two hours along Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica. He walked with his head a notch above everyone else, to diffuse any interference. People often greeted him, and he kept walking. If I asked who that was he would say, “A lot of people think they know me, just keep walking.”  He walked with his eyes, as much as his legs. He walked with the intention of continuing to school me on human relationships, right down to meeting a stranger in the street.

“Now, be at my house at 3:00 sharp for Arthur’s.”

“Same crowd going this year?” I asked

“Why? Does the same crowd bore you?”

“No, I’m just asking.”

“Well don’t ask silly questions. Arthur can have any crowd he wants, who the hell cares. He saved my life– many times. He asked us to be a part of his family, you should be grateful; one day you’ll figure it out. Not everyone gets invited to Arthur Crowley’s home.”

Every year we were greeted by Arthur’s slightly tipsy blond bombshell wife, who opened the front door and cooed, “Allen dawling, where have you been?”  She kept us standing there;  as long as her routine lasted. My father said she was a showgirl. When I knew her, the shocking pink skintight outfits were Vegas outdated.  She was Ziegfeld Follies beautiful, and always at least two scotches ahead of everyone else. My father wowed her with compliments; I could tell she needed desperately.

We headed to the bar, where the Crowley crowd was admiring Arthur, dressed in a black tuxedo with a red rose, and mixing cocktails. He beamed like a Christmas bulb.  The home was Beverly Hills garish luxury: sunken living room facing the pool, and heavily decorated with dead animals head, Arthur’s trophies, from big game hunting in Africa. I was informed the display was, strictly for show.

At every party there was at least a handful of token celebrities, a comedian to keep the party alive, old clients that became friends, and mutual friends of my father. Dad was in control of the party. If someone dipped too far into obscenity, or tasteless cynicism, he would close in with a subtle reprimand, and remind them, “Careful, my daughters are here.” He was not a big drinker, but he held his glass up, as if he were, and I watched while all the others got drunk, and my father was the only one left with sober humor.

Each year, as I matured, the people became more transparent and likeable. There was one woman in particular I remember. A woman in her fifties, with a face recently chiseled of time by a surgeon. She hovered over me, with her diamond encrusted hands on my shoulders, and unwound the lament of the rich, older, divorced woman. She was envious of my youth, my uncluttered life, my complexion, and my father. Mostly, she was disturbed by her loss of innocence; there was not any trace of it left.  While I sat there, self-conscious of my inexperience and sheltered life, she symbolized a life of bad experiences, ones she could not take back, and ones that were mixed up in greed, power and money. I asked my father who she was, and he warned me to keep a distance. I tried to explain what I felt, but I did not know how. All these years later, I understand that woman.

Then there was the stainless scrubbed beauty that had been discovered in Hawaii and married a wealthy tycoon. She appeared in the Hawaii Five O series for a few years.  She never spoke; she just sat on the bar stool, smoking and wore her clothes with ornamental style.

During the dinner at the formal dining table, all the guests ate with minimal appetites and talked with dragging dry tongues.  After dinner, we returned to the bar for nightcaps. Gradually the cajoling and antics turned into literary chopped liver.  I left the gathering and sat on the sofa with their young daughter, Princess. She was blonde and fair skinned as albacore. She sat on my lap in silence and apprehension. I tried to influence her mood, but she just stared back at me, in the same manner I had with the divorced woman in diamonds.

The Crowley parties were dreaded every year, except when there were no more. Like my father once said, be thankful you are invited, and understand that they will not always be there.

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