Older Blogs


Edward Lawrence Reed (February 2, 1929)


Following a life of heroin addiction, imprisonment, and numerous rehab attempts, this extraordinarily gifted vocalist gained national recognition in his late seventies for an inimitable delivery of jazz vocals.  Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Reed moved with his parents to Los Angeles’s Watts neighborhood in the late 1930s. His parents lived across the street from Charles Mingus’s sister, Vivian. The teen-aged Mingus sometimes babysat Vivian’s toddlers and welcomed young Ed into his sister’s home.  Here the iconic bassist shared his knowledge of chord changes and how they relate to melody with Reed who internalized the knowledge. Later it became a base for Reed’s unique vocal delivery. While incarcerated, Reed encountered jazz greats like Art Pepper, Frank Butler and Frank Morgan, fellow inmates and drug addicts who helped him develop his vocal talents. After attending Jazz Camp West in 2005, Reed began recording songs at the insistence of his instructors. Reed credits his mother, Ruth, a gifted singer, for his musical skills and often incorporates memories of her into his jazz concerts.

Developed a health education lecture series called “The Art and Practice of Living Well” 

Recognized as Downbeat’s Rising Star Male Vocalist in 2014. Soon—mid 2021 at this writing—to release his autobiography with wife Diane entitled Double Helix: A Memoir of Addiction, Recovery and Jazz in Two Voices. 

Ed Reed

Drawing by Alicia Schooler Hugg

Your voice:

A soul-stirring sound that captures its listeners

Creating hallowed vistas upon which spirits linger   mesmerized

They escape their grey-swaddled yesterdays 

To embrace a magical now

A Celebration of Life – Michelle Rene’ Martin (1960-2018)

January 31, 2020

To commemorate the passing of my daughter, Michelle, who departed this sphere on October 24, 2018, I’m posting one of her favorite compositions . Michelle was blessed with an extremely gentle nature and often expressed her heartfelt belief that “animals are better than people.” As a teenager, she’d take in friends’ ailing pets and nurse them back to health. Those of us who have lost a child know that it is the most heartbreaking experience a parent can endure. I’ve posted this poem in Michelle’s memory. The photo below captures the two of us a year before her death.

Michelle Rene' Martin
October 25, 2018

Live A Dream
How sad it is to lose a dream
And not fly like a bird
To silence out a calling voice
So it is never heard
To never walk along a path
To never blaze a trail
How sad to sit alone instead
With no story to tell
How do we recognize when we
Just only fail ourselves
There is no one to come along
And fill our empty shelves
We must therefore look deep within
And see what it is there
Before we are to live a dream
That is only ours to share

by Michelle Martin

Black Women Poets: Unchained II–Mari Evans 

January 31, 2020 

          I first learned of Mari Evans while researching for a presentation on female poets of color. I’d decided on three women to share with my learned group. I considered Maya Angelou, who I encountered years back as an Op Ed journalist for a Central California valley newspaper.  But the artist was so well known and well published, I felt I could add nothing to her flame.

Then I thought of Maxine Hong Kingston who was in my journalism class at Edison High in Stockton, California–but who admitted being drawn to poetry as a retreat from the more challenging task of novel writing.

Nikki Giovanni was considered for a third choice, but she is still evolving as we all, living creatures, are doing. So I focused on those departed women who burst onto the world stage, did their thing and, having significantly lighted the world of literature, departed.  Sojourner Truth captured my imagination and my heart, and her story precedes that of Mari Evans, the second such soul who made my cut.

Mari Evans (July 16, 1923 -March 10, 2017)

This article was taken from Goodreads



Mari Evans  was born in Toledo, Ohio, attended the University of Toledo and later taught at several other schools, including Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., and Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. She began five years of writing, producing, and directing for an Indianapolis television program, “The Black Experience,” in 1968, the same year her first poetry collection, Where Is All the Music?, was published. With her second collection, I Am a Black Woman (1970), she gained acclaim as an important new poet. Her poem “Who Can Be Born Black” was often anthologized.

Her later collections include Nightstar: 1973–1978 (1981), whose poems praise blues artists and community heroes and heroines, and A Dark and Splendid Mass (1992). Continuum, published in 2007, contains classic poems from Evans’s previous collections as well as new work inflected by the same unique insight into African American life that defined her earlier oeuvre. In her works for young readers, Evans often touched on difficult topics such as child abuse ( Dear Corinne: Tell Somebody, 1999) and adolescent relationships ( I’m Late: The Story of LaNeese and Moonlight and Alisha Who Didn’t Have Anyone of Her Own, 2005). Evans’s plays include River of My Song (produced 1977) and the musical Eyes (produced 1979), an adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. She edited the anthology Black Women Writers (1950–1980): A Critical Evaluation (1984) and published Clarity as Concept: A Poet’s Perspective (2006), a collection of essays commenting on African American politics and family life.

And what follows is my favorite for this time, this place, this world.

I am a Black woman

I am a Black woman
the music of my song
some sweet arpeggio of tears
is written in a minor key
and I
can be heard humming in the night
Can be heard
in the night
I saw my mate leap screaming to the sea
and I/with these hands/cupped the lifebreath
from my issue in the canebrake
I lost Nat’s swinging body in a rain of tears
and heard my son scream all the way from Anzio
for Peace he never knew….I
learned Da Nang and Pork Chop Hill
in anguish
Now my nostrils know the gas
and these trigger tire/d fingers
seek the softness in my warrior’s beard
I am a Black woman
tall as a cypress
beyond all definition still
defying place
and time
and circumstance
on me and be

Black Women Poets: Unchained 

January 31, 2020

Silent No More

To commemorate Black History Month and honor the recent outcry of females united against sexual harassment and the Trump regime, I will focus on the poetry of three outstanding African American women:   Sojourner Truth, Mari Evans, and Alice Walker.

Sojourner Truth (1797-1893)

Born into slavery in New York and originally named Isabella (Belle) Bemefree, she was one of the great abolitionist and women’s rights speakers of her time. Following a profound religious experience in 1843, she changed her name and continued her stirring speeches at camp meetings, churches and conventions. Renowned for her support of righteous causes, Sojourner Truth’s name and life have inspired generations of African Americans.  One speech in particular, delivered at the Women’s rights Convention in Akron Ohio, in 1852, stands out. The poem was adapted to the poetic format by Erelene Stetson from a copy found in Sojourner, God’s Faithful Pilgrim by Arthur Huff Fauset, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1938). It has become a touchstone not only for African American women, but for women around the world.

Ain’t I a Woman?

That man over there say
 a woman needs to be helped into carriages
 and lifted over ditches
 and to have the best place everywhere.
 Nobody ever helped me into carriages
 or over mud puddles
 or gives me a best place...

And ain't I a woman?
Look at me
Look at my arm!
I have plowed and planted
and gathered into barns
and no man could head me...

And ain't I a woman?
I could work as much
and eat as much as a man —
when I could get to it —
and bear the lash as well
and ain't I a woman?

I have born 13 children
and seen most all sold into slavery
and when I cried out a mother's grief
none but Jesus heard me...

And ain't I a woman?
that little man in black there say
a woman can't have as much rights as a man
cause Christ wasn't a woman
Where did your Christ come from?
From God and a woman!
Man had nothing to do with him!
If the first woman God ever made
was strong enough to turn the world
upside down, all alone
together women ought to be able to turn it
rightside up again.

Wino Brown, The Skid Row Sage 

January 31, 2020

Having spent a good portion of my childhood in a tenderloin hotel operated by my mother in Stockton, California, in the early 1950’s, I was privileged to know some of the street people of the day.  Some became my role models, casting indelible marks upon my own persona.  Such a man was the one we knew simply as Wino Brown.

Wino Brown was an educated man. If any of the other street folks needed advice, legal or otherwise, they could always count on him. Articulate and soft-spoken, he told us kids that he’d been a lawyer back East before the Great Depression, had taken to boozing and, in quick succession, lost his job, family, and the comfortable lifestyle that accompanied them.

Chronologically, he was somewhere in that vast valley of middle age  so inscrutable to children, and wore a salt and pepper moustache to complement his graying hair.  He kept both neatly trimmed, which we thought unique for a wino.

Though his clothes were that frumpy looking second-hand store brand, Wino Brown kept them and his person passably clean.  But the telltale smell of alcohol permeated his being.

We kids rarely noticed this, though because we truly loved Wino Brown. Not only did he watch out for us on those sometimes-mean streets, but this skid row sage “adopted” our beloved dog Spot as well.

Spot, a female of indeterminate breed who came with the hotel, was about 13 years of age when we inherited her.  “Fast approaching old age for a dog,” Wino Brown instructed.  She had that rotund body so characteristic of spayed mongrels, and was sprouting a smattering of gray throughout her black and tan coat.  That dog seemed to take the place of the family whose loss Wino Brown lamented from time to time.  He lavished her with care and affection, bathing her, making sure she was fed her daily fare—a can of Skippy dog food at suppertime—and keeping her water dish in the hall near the kitchen door replenished.

As the years slowly passed, Spot became increasingly frail.  When she became too ill to walk, Wino Brown would cradle her in his arms and walk the three blocks to Dr. Waidhofer’s Dog and Cat Hospital to get her treated.

Wino Brown paid for these visits with funds he usually reserved for the port wine that was slowly consuming his innards.  He must have had a pension of some kind, because he kept his rent paid up as well.

I’ll never forget the last trip that Wino Brown and Spot made together.  On that particular day he must have started in on the port a bit earlier than usual.  It was muggy and overcast, and the alcohol was a catalyst for the beads of sweat that glistened upon his furrowed brow.  But he was bent on a mission: the focus of his existence had grown increasingly listless and refused to eat.  It started raining hard outside.  Nevertheless, Wino Brown bent down and scooped Spot up, once more, into his arms.  Spot looked up sadly into Wino Brown’s eyes, stuck out her tongue and licked his cheek.  Then off they went.

Wino Brown returned an hour or so later, dripping wet, his arms empty.  Tears streamed down his cheeks as he broke the news to us:

“They had to put Spot to sleep, children.  She’s gone to doggie heaven now.”

With bent shoulders, he turned around and trudged back out into the storm.

We saw less of Wino Brown after Spot’s demise and ultimately he faded from our lives.  I often think about him, however, with fondness and, in this world of grown up, silently thank him for lending some meaning to the word “selfless.”

I still love you, Wino Brown.

Oh Lord don’t let them drop that Atomic Bomb on Me! 

September 30, 2017 


by Alicia Hugg

Ah spring, the season when all of our fancies lightly turn to thoughts of love and rebirth.

This spring generous rains have greened the grasses and encouraged their lush growth along the gentle slopes of our foothills. The wildflowers are back, lending an air of ageless beauty to our country roads. Fruit orchards bring forth delicate petals that float gently to the ground, covering it like lace.

With the abundance of water comes the promise of bountiful crops to sustain the appetites of a nation hoping to overcome the impact of an economic recession the likes of which has not been seen since the days of the Great Depression.

My mother used to talk about that Depression, the hard times she had feeding a family of six.  One soup bone, she’d say, would make a kettle of soup to fill the empty bellies of her entire brood. People who survived that era endured the gnawing fear that such a time might return. They stockpiled food and other necessities to guard against the threat of having nothing.

Those of us who arrived at wartime carry another kind of weight inside, a weight borne of the fear of destruction by nuclear bombs.

As a small child growing up in the Watts section of Los Angeles in the 1940s, I cringed in terror underneath my grandmother’s solid mahogany dining room table during the many blackouts we had then.  The idea was that with the city in darkness, the enemy wouldn’t know where to drop those horrible bombs.  Thick blankets covered our windows during those air raids; blue light bulbs replaced our regular lighting, adding an even greater sense of the macabre to that point of my existence.

“But gramma, I don’t want to die!” I’d plead, my heart pounding wildly against my chest.

Hush child,” came my grandmother’s reply, her ever-stoic demeanor seemingly unruffled by events around her.

A few years later, after moving to the Central Valley city of Stockton, the fear of the bomb continued to menace my childhood. There were bomb drills at our elementary school. We practiced hiding under our desks and shielding our heads with our arms—as if this effort could protect us against an enemy bombing. Those who were financially able invested in bomb shelters. We envisioned the day when the bright flash would consume our horizons and the ensuing radiation melt the flesh from our bones.  No more springs, only a dry desolate land with few survivors of the holocaust to come.

Flash foreward. How silly all of that behavior seems in the wake of technology that made hydrogen bombs obsolete and bomb shelters one of history’s greatest white elephants. Today’s reality is that there will be no white flashes.

So now we relish our springs, taking heart in the continuing miracle of life’s cycles: the sweet clean scent of a newborn babe; the look of awe in the innocent eyes of a toddler as she marvels at the struggle of a chick to free itself from the protective shell that has ensured its beginnings; the child in the schoolyard, enjoying a recess from the rigors of reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.

We are buoyed by the signs around us that love continues to spring eternal, as we observe young lovers caught in the throes of courtship.  In the words of Kahlil Gibran, these manifestations of “Life’s longing for itself” renew our own faith in the miracle of being.


Alicia Hugg Cutting 

August 26, 2017 

Tis the season. Sonoma County beckoned the Rain God and because she had been on a long hiatus due to her last outpouring, she overreacted and soaked the valley with a deluge not seen for years. Naysayers lament that this is not enough to make up for her sustained absence. But the Rain Dancers who wooed her into compliance disagree.

“This will end it all,” said Lillith, her lips curling into an enigmatic smile.

“No way,” chipped in Simon, still wearing sunshades in defiance of the prolonged wet spell.

“I think you’re both nuts!” exclaimed Marion, her I-phone ever at the ready. “It says here that the amount we’ve seen so far is only a drop in the drought bucket. It will do more damage than good.”

“What d’ya mean Marion?” asked Chuck, “seems to me that Mother Earth always provides enough of everything to sustain life.”

“Yes,” agreed Lillith with a toss of her thick black curls. “Chuck’s right. I’ve been around long enough to see that all things survive, even in chaotic situations. When it floods, the rivers, lakes and streams hoard the water. These watersheds provide water, often referred to as the nectar of the gods, in quantities sufficient to quench the thirst of all living creatures.”

“Well, what about those who dwell in the world’s deserts? i’ve seen many pictures of brown babies whose lips were caked with sand, eyes and stomachs bulging from the effects of starvation and dehydration. What about them?” Chuck’s voice grew louder with each word, and his posture was that of a wildcat poised for attack.

“Chuck’s right,” said Simon. “When you look at certain geographic areas, you wonder how they’ve managed to survive in the first place. There are the challenges of the extreme temperatures, sandstorms, and a paucity of water.”

What say you, heirs of sustained existence? Is survival inherent in our genetic make-up, or are we destined to erase one another as our current leadership disembowels all decency?

Days of Innocence, afternoons of Knowledge 

Alicia Hugg 

August 13, 2017

(From my Op Ed column published July 5,1997- The Stockton Record)

From my September perch in life, I watch the grandkids romp under hot July skies. Preoccupied with the gigantic bumblebee buzzing our backyard hollyhocks, they are oblivious to the ticking away of life’s precious moments. They cannot wait to grow up.

Bulletin from Grown-Upland: Time flies, whether or not you’re having fun!

The recent deaths of two silver-screen idols from the Technicolor world of my childhood saddens us all. These heroes ushered many of us from days of innocence to afternoons of knowledge. And while their passing strikes that familiar chord of grief within our hearts, it also fosters thoughts of our own mortality. The impermanence of life becomes emboldened when someone special leaves this Earth.

I remember Robert Mitchum as the sleepy-eyed screen tough guy. All the girls had a crush on him. There was that Mitchum mystique–a rakish, devil-may-care attitude. It overshadowed the Beatniks’, the Hippies’ and the Boomers’. It came through in the way his precariously dangling cigarette stayed glued to his mouth when he talked. We saw even more of it in his defiant, scandalous off-screen persona, and were intrigued by this maverick who refused to play by society’s antiquated rules.

Jimmy Stewart always seemed like a guy who needed help and made you want to be the one to give it to him. His was the special appeal of a helpless boy in a man’s body. His performance in Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and “Vertigo” made me a Stewart devotee. As a patriot, I marveled at his real-life war-hero status and his having achieved the rank of brigadier general in the postwar Air Force Reserve.

Our heroes flitted across those downtown movie-theater screens of yesteryear: the Esquire, the Fox Ritz and the Fox California–all located on Main Street, all favorite weekend retreats for yesterday’s children. We had it all on those smallish screens–Movietone news with its silly, crowing rooster; cartoon features; cliffhanger serials ending in those three familiar words, “to be continued”; previews of coming attractions; and double features.

Saturday matinees in the hot theaters before “refrigerated” air conditioning that beckoned us inside were especially exciting. Nothing quite equals the scent of restless preadolescents running up and down the aisles looking for buddies, or the unique blend of stolen kisses and popcorn.

Best of all, the movies were an oasis away from the watchful eyes of overzealous parents. Where else could you sneak a cigarette, even if you were a minor? It was dark and–who cared? The heroes all smoked, didn’t they?

Last week, in Rapid City, South Dakota, we lost the lovely Isabel. Tethered to an oxygen tank for the last few years of her life, Isabel owed her condition to that round, cylindrical piece of glamorized poison. It was not her fault. Even our sluggish judicial system–steeped in politics–is beginning to acknowledge that. No, Isabel was a child of the early 20th Century who took, quite literally, the message foisted by movies, TV commercials and the tobacco companies themselves. The ads promised female liberation, macho masculinity, and a perpetual state of tranquility. We still wrestle with the real rewards.

A beauty in her youth, Isabel was petite, kind, and made wonderful pie crusts–using lard for the magical texture. Her apple pies could have taken first prize at any county fair!

Like most of us who evolved from an earlier version of the 20th century, Izzy knew nothing of cholesterol and trusted the tobacco proponents. We heard from her every Christmas. She always remembered birthdays. We’d look for the beautiful penmanship on the envelopes from South Dakota. She was my sister-in-law.  We’ll miss you Izzy.

Outside, the children play. The crookneck and zucchini squash consume vacant spaces near struggling tomato vines. A giant sunflower droops its heavy head over the lone pumpkin. In the distance, thunderclouds herald the coming of a summer storm.

Everything’s coming up roses in Sutter Creek

June 27, 2017 

A wonderful thought accompanied my awakening this morning, no doubt inspired by an unforgettable weekend nearly twenty years ago in historical Sutter Creek.  The thought, obviously the beginning of a love poem, lingered briefly on the edge of sleep, then quickly slithered into that vast infinity of morning dreams:

“I will sing you rivers of magic and paint your tomorrows with love.”

With hummingbirds testing the wind and the sun casting a brilliant glaze over the town, we joined my late poet friend, Carol Gunther, on her First Annual Sutter Creek Rose Tour ’98. The tour, an escape to yesterday’s beauty, released my own pent-up poet.

Tourists met at the historic Old Sutter Creek Grammar School Cultural Center where we were treated to a continental breakfast of homemade muffins, fresh fruit and beverages. In consideration of summer’s arrival, there was plenty of bottled water to take along.

The Cultural Center sat on a hill overlooking the picturesque town. From its windows visitors were treated to unique “takes” of the multi-leveled community, and the old schoolyard flaunted its emerald-green lawns. A giant elm provided enough shade to cool most of the grounds. If you listened carefully, you could hear the laughter of children from some long-ago recess.

We embarked from this point, walking uphill. Near the top we paused for our first “rose sighting.” A grey-haired woman welcomed us to her garden and proudly described the variety of roses there. The morning sun glinted against her home’s corrugated tin roof, the kind that covered several of the dwellings there–perhaps to dispatch the infrequent foothill snowfalls.

A “sale pending” sign greeted us at viewing site number two. Giant cabbage roses in hues of yellow, deep red and pink–named for their tight cabbage-like leaves–dominated these gardens. With colored pencils we entered our observations into the exquisitely designed journals provided by our tour guide.

As our walk resumed, turn-of-the-century clapboard houses dominated the scene. Their gabled cornices, scalloped facades and white picket fences spoke to the town’s legacy. Some porches were strewn with white wicker tables, chairs and baskets.

We came upon an abandoned home that, according to local legend, sat crumbling on a large lot because of a family dispute. The siblings, neither of whom resided in the town, could not agree upon the disposal of the property and sadly, a home with the potential for great beauty, slowly deteriorated.  Despite the abandonment, roses flourished there! And, cushioned by the dead grasses, peach, fig, and fruit-bearing mulberry trees survived, all enshrined by barbed wire.

On Broad Street, the friendly home-owner spoke to us from behind a gate bearing this sign: “We can make it to the fence in 3 seconds, can you?” A Chinese Shar-Pei warily eyed the group, his shining grey coat covered with the characteristic folds of that fascinating breed. The owner knew our leader well and invited us into his park-like yard. The grounds featured cactus scattered generously among show quality roses. The trees, Liquid Amber, cedar, Japanese maple–many of which were planted by the owner 50 years ago–were tall, stately and beautiful. A soft, fuzzy Lamb’s ear plant captured my eye.

Just beyond Main Street, we climbed toward fashionable homes with well-tended gardens, gathering at tour’s end for a group photo op. The event ended with a gourmet lunch, catered by Carol, an afternoon writing contest and a meditation period.

I’ve often returned to Sutter Creek and each time memories of my dear friend and her inimitable rose tours accompany my visits.

Mingus Hometown Music Festival 

April 22, 2017

Nogales, Arizona

9th Annual Charles Mingus Hometown Jazz Festival

The crowd couldn’t have been more delighted when saxophonist Brandon Wright blew the first notes of “Goodbye Porkpie Hat,” the legendary world bassist’s tribute to Lester Young. Except when the MI Corps Big Band from Fort Huatuca broke out with a stunning rendition of “Fables of Faubus.”  Wright’s flawless delivery, punctuated with soaring rifs, stirred the crowd to applause, and when the band finished its set, not surprisingly, a standing ovation.

Special guest Wright, who performs with the New York City Mingus Big Band, earlier acknowledged that “Porkpie Hat” was his favorite Mingus song, and that when he first heard it, he knew jazz was his life’s calling. He said the medium has given him treasured opportunities like spending this week working with enthusiastic young jazz musicians in Tucson.

Nogales Arizona leans against its sister city Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, where cars crossing the border were backed up this Saturday like a Monday morning commute on San Francisco’s Bay Bridge.  So it was no wonder that Mingus’s famed protest song was welcomed by concert attendees, many of whom drove the 70 plus miles from Tucson to attend this annual event. “Fables of Faubus” is as pertinent in today’s political climate, tinged as it is with open racism and the potential of a wall separating the two countries, as it was in the 1960s, when minorities and women struggled against institutionalized racism and bigotry.

Mingus Hometown Project Director Yvonne Erwin this day realized her decades old dream of dedicating the Charles Mingus Memorial Park at the entrance to Camp Little, a former army base where my grandfather, Charles Mingus, Sr. was stationed. Camp Little is the birthplace of Charles Mingus, Jr.  and siblings—including my mother Vivian and her sister Grace. The community support was inspiring as were comments by local dignitaries, including Nogales Mayor John Doyle who promised continuing city support for the Project.

Significantly, this April 22 would have been Mingus’s 95th birthday.

Senior Travel: Hawaii, The Big Island 

Alicia Schooler-Hugg 

April 10, 2017 

Friday, March 3, 17

Hilo, Hawaii

This is Day two of my virgin visit to the Big Island. Cecil, my seasoned traveler of a husband, and I are here for a two-week getaway to what our Alaskan Airlines pilot announced is “paradise.”  Cecil was here once before as a young father. He loves to tell the story of his first trip to South Point years ago with his three adolescent sons.  South Point is the southernmost point of Hawaii and thus the southernmost point of the United States.  It is, he says, a destination of those who seek pioneer status in this lifetime.  To mark the occasion and the land itself, he instructed his unsuspecting boys to urinate on, and thus claim, the land. He, of course, took the lead in this demonstration.

*     *     * 

Since there were no available direct flights from Oakland to Hilo, our first destination, we landed in Kuilua Kona via Alaskan Airlines. To save time, money and frustration, I’d latched onto a Park ‘N Fly package online.  The deal included a hotel room minutes away from the Oakland airport the night before our 7:00 a.m. flight, two weeks of secure parking, and a hotel room upon our late night return to the Raider Nation. I’d highly recommend this to anyone having to travel some distance to and from airports!

Thanks to a brisk tail wind, we arrived in Kuilua Kona thirty minutes earlier than the pilot’s estimated five-hour flight time. I had nabbed the window seat, Cecil sat in the middle and a man traveling to his in-laws’ fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration occupied the aisle seat. One look at the flight attendant who greeted us reminded me that flight attendant job descriptions have significantly changed over time.  I remember when “stewardesses” were registered nurses, model thin, and attractive. Conversely, our attendant was mature, overweight and a not at all glamorous. But she was efficient.

Kuilua Kona’s airport was small, with only two luggage carousels. Unlike the cold weather we’d left in California, Hawaii’s weather was warm and humid.  Some passengers bee-lined it to restrooms to change into cooler clothes.

“Where are you headed?” asked one friendly woman when I commented on her clothing change.

“We’re going to Hilo,” I replied.

“Well, you should make it a point to book the boat tour to the lava spill sight,” said she, “it is well worth the price!”

“Geez,” I replied, “a Mainland friend suggested the very same thing before I left. We’ll have to check it out.”  But when I later approached Cecil about the volcano excursion, he vetoed it, saying the cost was prohibitive. Disappointed, I bit my lower lip reminding myself to be careful of the battles I chose.

Susan, our Saint Helena travel agent, had efficiently arranged all the details of our getaway, including car rentals, hotel bookings and airline tickets. Moreover, she did not charge us for her services. Cecil, a self-proclaimed “bleeding heart liberal” politically, but a staunch conservative where money is concerned, was delighted with her generosity.

We hopped into a late model white Nissan Versa with scratches on its lower body. I made sure the Alamo employee at the gate was aware of this so we’d bear no responsibility for bodywork repairs. She assured us that “bottom scratches don’t count.”

The Grand Naniloa Hotel was ideally situated on the Bay near downtown Hilo.  Nightly Hawaiian-flavored entertainment enlivened our evenings, and our room with a partial ocean view lived up to its three-star rating.  A restaurant on the ground floor featured soup, salad and dessert bars.  After the first evening meal there, we decided to explore other restaurants in Hilo.

Our three-night stay flew by.  As a now seasoned traveler, I’ve discovered that just when you begin to know your way around your new surroundings, its time to move on.

“That’s the beauty of travel,” declared my traveling companion.

Of Mice and Grandma 

Alicia Hugg 

January 18, 2017 

I used to laugh at my grandmother’s behavior when she spied a mouse in our house. She’d let out a bloodcurdling scream and, in a demonstration of amazing physical dexterity for a woman of 60-something, take a flying leap into the nearest chair, where she hovered in fear until the little creature–surely as stunned and frightened as she–scampered hurriedly away into the deepest recesses of the house. Following this scenario, my grandfather and brother were quickly summoned into the cursed room, usually the kitchen, to rescue her from the monster’s claws and certain bodily harm. The task then fell upon this dubious duo to rid the premises of the terrorist mouse forever.

Using skills no doubt passed down from his own father, Grandpa baited several of those huge wooden traps, the ones with the deadly metal springs attached, and placed them in strategic places throughout the house.

Watching him complete this procedure was fascinating for us kids, since his bait was usually small pieces of uncooked bacon or cheese placed onto the bed of the trap. We wondered why the mice were treated to these tasty tidbits when we were not allowed to partake of such rare morsels.

While we realized the nation was heavily into its second World War and that our food was rationed, we could not make the connection that catching the rodents benefited us all so was worth the sacrifice of the rare delicacies used to bait the traps.

Which brings me to the crux of this story: Did you know there is a very unique rodent super highway right here in the city of Stockton? If you live in Central Stockton, as I do, you might be sitting out in your backyard one evening enjoying the balmy breezes that accompany our lovely autumn weather and behold a light-footed rodent (often the size of a small dog!) deftly running along the aboveground cables that crisscross our neighborhood.

The rats are no wimps either. They are bold and consistent in their cross-town sojourns, seeming to enjoy taking the same route to wherever it is they’re going.

What’s more, they are smart and elusive. Unlike my grandmother, however, I cannot jump above the smoke-colored creatures, so must watch helplessly from below as they travel on, beady eyes glittering in the velvet darkness of night, along the Rodent Freeway.

My daughter, Michelle, the gentle animal lover who once confided to me that “animals are better than people,” might take a different view of these critters. I guess I’m partly responsible for her pro-animal outlook, having taken her years ago to see the semi-horror movie “Ben”–a movie about a gentle rat who turns savage when his benefactor disses him for a woman. Hollywood even produced a sequel to that one. You might remember a very young Michael Jackson singing the title song, which made the charts. Maybe it was then that he, too, became interested in animals and ultimately wound up with his own zoo.  I wonder.

But rats are no joke these days, especially for those who are homeless and have to vie with them for food and living quarters.  Many of these scavengers carry disease and their bites may be potentially fatal. Cities have been known to be overrun with these filth mongers and horror stories about their destructive capabilities abound.

We sure could use a Pied Piper or two in our town…

The Loneliest Road in America 

October 06, 2016 

Eastern Nevada high desert Highway 50 is appropriately dubbed “The loneliest road in America,” as it meanders across a desolate landscape with rare redeeming qualities to complement endless acres of sagebrush ranging from ochre to grey. Sane folks avoid this road, so traffic is rare–the exception being an occasional helmetless motorcyclist. I suppose there are no helmet laws in Nevada, or if there are, they are not enforced. This is hard for me, a nurse who cared for brain dead young men at a county hospital, to accept. Though its posted speed limits range an average of 70 to 75 miles per hour, Cecil sat the cruise control at 62. Those crazies we did encounter passed us, frequently saluting us with the finger. Lining both sides of Highway 50 at an elevation of 6500 feet, was a plant that resembled Scotch Broom, an attractive bush with mustard colored blossoms, adding eye-pleasing color to the sagebrush that dominated this area.

Scattered thunderheads crowned the nearby mountaintops, but we experienced just a light sprinkling of rain. The winds at this altitude were consistent, and travelers inclined to take this road less traveled would do well to have extra clothing for comfort and warmth.

For Midge With Love 

August 23, 2016 

The spectacle of foaming white waves crashing into the jagged rocks that line this particular aspect of the Pacific Coast is especially comforting as, once again having released a loved one through the doors of eternity, we seek solace where sea meets sand.
We have come to this place along the beautiful 17 Mile Drive near Carmel to push back the gnawing pain born from the loss of our baby sister,  Loretta, the one Grandma called “Fancy Pants.” Perhaps through pondering this stretch of dynamic earth, we can find answers to those questions of time, life and eternity that have puzzled all of humankind from the beginning.  The sea–with its ebb and flow–calms and soothes us.

The toll we pay on entering the Pacific Grove gate reminds me of others: bridges, conveyances, tuition–endless tolls that buoy us ever forward through this journey, this life.
The park policeman, a dead-ringer for “Today Show” weatherman, Al Roker, cheerfully provides us with shiny brochures outlining famous coastal vista points.
We continue and spot a thin man riding a bike along the left side of the road,
“Is that Clint Eastwood?”

“Nah, too thin.”
We must create laughter to dim fresh memories of the stark reality of death.  To do less would disappoint one who lived life as fully as did Loretta.
The memories form pictures that dance across my mind’s horizon.
“Midge” (another nickname for Loretta as diminutive child) was our princess–and my real live doll.  Momma made me, the oldest girl (and fully two years Loretta’s senior) her caretaker.  She became my shadow.
We talked of these things as she lay dying.  Our childhood, lost loves, rivalries, family stuff.  All trivialized by the impending journey to come.

“I’m going on a trip and I don’t need no suitcase.”
Wispy clouds drift overhead against a brilliantly blue sky and I wonder if she is there.  My mood is broken by discordant sounds from homely sea otters perched along the rocks staring back at excited tourists who photograph then and each other and jockey for loftier vantage points.
The Lone Cypress is still there, dressed in widows reeds, it seems, awaiting her sea captain–who, unknown to her, languishes in his ship at the bottom of the sea.
Cancer is an unforgiving disease, merciless and relentless in its quest to destroy.  And even while we have made great strides in the diagnosis of this plague, the treatment promulgated by our best medical minds has not reduced the numbers in terms of death from the disease.  In fact, cancer will soon take the No. 1 spot as the cause of death in these United States.

I am reminded of the nursery rhyme from Mother Goose when I think of these past few months of watching helplessly as my sister’s condition deteriorated.  It’s about “Old King Cole,” except in this case: All the poison (chemotherapy), the burning (radiation), the cutting (surgical excision) failed to put my sister back together again.  And, in the end, we learned that it was overkill and the failure of her autoimmune system to rally to the cause of homeostasis that was the real killer.
“I want to go home.”

In the end, she chooses to leave rather than endure another moment of agony.  We watch as she journeys homeward in ever-increasing intervals.  Her gaze is fixed beyond our world and she likes what she sees.  Her eyes reflect the wonder of the beauty.  She smiles.  The pain is but a memory.
A seagull swoops down onto the blanket of a picnicking couple. Startled, the woman shields her face and then looks quizzically at the bird, fascinated by its sudden boldness.  For a moment, the two size each other up.  And then the bird flies away, skimming the ocean’s sparkling surface before soaring upward toward the heavens.

Channeling The Voice 

August 03, 2016 

July 30, 16

Lake Tahoe has lost none of its allure over the five decades that I’ve circled its sparkling waters. With a shoreline of 72 miles, the California/Nevada state-line jewel still draws tons of visitors to sample its beaches, casinos, lodgings, restaurants, and winter sports. This weekend we saw folks of all ages clad in gear ranging from bikinis to motorcycle leathers soaking up the sunshine and azure skies, even as a mist cloaked the pine-covered Sierras and naked ski trails surrounding its rim. Parents crossed the lake’s boulevards, some pushing toddlers in strollers, others leading them along crowded walkways and streets sloping upwards to cabins, motels and campgrounds, all feeding their need for recreation.

Channeling Sinatra

We sought out the now shuttered Cal-Neva Lodge, where I’d met a charming and hospitable Frank Sinatra one long-ago summer. He’d traveled with an entourage then, consisting of Nancy, his first wife, their three children, and his then paramour, Juliet Prowse. We were there at the invitation of his valet, George Jacobs, whose brother, Larry, had just married my sister, Carol. From the moment we arrived, Sinatra treated our party like the celebrities we weren’t.  He embraced Carol and me, kissed her hand, presented each of us with a gold plated cigarette lighter engraved with the Cal-Neva logo, provided cottages for each of us and gave us the run of the place. That evening he set up a special table, front and center, in the lounge where he, and his protégé, Julius LaRosa performed. An unforgettable version of “I’ve got you under my skin,” stole the show.

Incline Village–a first for me 

At Incline Village, we dined at Lupita’s, a restaurant decorated with knotty –pine booths, countertops and ceilings, its signage promising “authentic Mexican” food.

“I think this was a fish house before,” said my astute partner.

“You’re right, “ said I, observing the collection of seashells and posted images of fish. But my Margarita, served in a glass rimmed in dark green, was just like I’d ordered: on the rocks, no salt on the rim. The factory we’d visited a few years back in Puerta Villarta produced an identical glass, so it, at least, was authentic. What made the dining experience even more unique were the authentic Mexican chairs around the larger dining tables. The sight of them transported me back to Sayulita, Mexico, where I’d first fallen in love with these artistic one-of-a-kind chairs. The occasion sparked a trip to the town where they were manufactured by devoted artisans, all male, focused on completing his part of the project to perfection. One worker carved the wooden strips for the chair base; another, using a commercial sewing machine, sewed the leather covering together for the perfect fit and so on. Each appeared happily focused on his assignment.

Wisdom gained through living this life helps us negotiate through it as smoothly as our receptors allow. Those of us who arrive with an overdose of ego resist that wisdom, sometimes for years. In a few cases the wisdom never “takes” (like a vaccination with outdated vaccine).  Today’s Lesson: Embrace wisdom.

Art and Soul of Jazz, The Mingus Dynasty Unveiled At Last! 

Alicia Schooler-Hugg 

May 26, 2016 

Just before her death in December of 2005, my mother, Vivian Alicia Mingus Myles, the oldest sister of Charles Mingus, Jr., handed me two plastic bags of letters, cards, and other documents.  She did not comment on their contents. I took the bags home, briefly reviewed their contents, and put them in a place for safekeeping.

It wasn’t until after her death that I closely reviewed my mother’s treasures.  On reading the personal letters from her family, I knew that part of my life’s work was cut out for me.  Letters from her father, Charles Mingus, Sr, her birth mother, Harriett, her brother, the iconic bassist Charles Mingus, Jr., her sister Grace and her stepmother, Mamie, cut deeply into the Mingus dynamic, and created a vehicle to share that dynamic with the world.

Through the letters, events that helped shape Charles Mingus, Jr. emerged. The letters were markers along his way to fame. Written during Mingus’s lifetime, by family members and Mingus himself, the letters take us inside the heads of their writers where we can embrace their emotions, challenges, hopes and fears.

Section One of The Art and Soul of Jazz, a tribute to Charles Mingus, Jr. focuses on the Mingus Dynasty, how it evolved, and who influenced it. It deals with the blatant racism surrounding its main characters and illustrates how roadblocks can speed the creative instincts of gifted visionaries whose genius exceeds societal boundaries. Its three chapters take the reader through Mingus’s early childhood, from his musical beginnings under the reign of a militarily trained father, to his success as a jazz pioneer. Letters written by Uncle Charles are key to understanding the complexities of the man.

Section Two features 94 biographical profiles, prose and original portraits of important jazz artists. The profiles are concise, chronologically sequenced and reflect the featured artist’s Mingus connection and jazz contribution(s). Each original portrait—paintings and drawings–by my sister, Carol Bowie, an award winning California Central Coast artist, was completed while Carol listened to and drew inspiration from the featured artist. Each profile was similarly crafted, as I, too, channeled each artist through his or her music. In this edition, I have taken the liberty of inserting a couple of my own illustrations.

Section Two also divides jazz eras.  Sequentially categorized, it includes jazz nobilities, starting with Jazz, The Beginning:  Eubie Blake to Sidney Bechet; From Swing to Bebop: Fletcher Henderson to Gerald Wilson; Progressive Jazz: Art Blakey to Chet Baker; and Fusion and Beyond: Ornette Coleman to Wynton Marsalis.  Significantly, each profile provides important details about the artist, and include birth and, if appiicable, death dates, awards, and legacy.  The book is ideally suited as a reference for universities, libraries, and booksellers.

Finally, the epilogue features additional insights, including musical families, child prodigies, trail blazers, and jazz geographics, citing similarities between the featured jazz artists.

As featured jazz artist Clint Eastwood said in his Second Edition Foreword: “This book is destined to become a staple for all serious jazz fans.”

The 2016 Mingus Hometown Music Festival 

Alicia Schooler Hugg 

May 12, 2016 

April 22, 2016

The road to Tucson, Arizona sparkled with desert trappings. We were intrigued by the surrounding verdant landscape of blossoming Socorro cactus, native to this part of the world, the napol or prickly pear cactus, and the spiny ocatillo with its flaming red fingerlings. Creosote plants vying for the sparse water needed to survive lined the highway. This day would have been my Uncle Charles’s 96th birthday.

We were scheduled to meet Yvonne Erwin, the creator and organizer of the Mingus Hometown Music Festival, at the Hacienda del Sol Resort. Yvonne had written the foreword for the third edition of Art and Soul of Jazz, a tribute to Charles Mingus, Jr., and is herself an accomplished journalist and jazz musician. It turned out that she lived near the resort, which was north of Tucson.

Highway 10 traffic overflowed with weekend travelers. Several bikers buzzed by us with just inches between our vehicles. Fortunately Cecil had drawn a map from directions secured online, and it was reassuring to see my masterful pilot navigating our journey.

The Hacienda del Sol Resort reminded me of some of the upscale motels we had occupied in Old Mexico. Its design, furnishings, embellished tiles, and ranch-like setting resurrected memories of sets from Western movies of my childhood. We entered through an open arched doorway over a path leading to “registration.”

Yvonne, her husband, Alan Hershowitz, and a couple of their friends soon joined us for dinner at the hotel restaurant. The group was headed for a Judy Collins concert with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra.

Cecil and I retired early in anticipation of the hour-long drive the next morning to Nogales and the Mingus Hometown Music Festival.

April 23, 16

The festival was held across the street from the entrance to the planned Mingus Hometown Park, which will be erected on the site of the Camp Little Army Base where my grandfather, Charles Mingus, Sr., was stationed just before he terminated his thirty-year military career. It featured jazz bands and vocalists from local high schools, the Sierra Vista Army Jazz band and a local jazz group, the Lopez brothers. All delivered compositions from the Mingus repertoire with enthusiasm and skill.

Gusty winds hampered the sale of Mingus tee shirts and my book. While festival admission was free, I learned that funds from the sale of raffle tickets and the Mingus tee shirts were donated to the Mingus Project, a non-profit organization.

It was gratifying to watch the energetic youngsters perform on the bandstand, something Uncle Charles would have loved, as infusing an appreciation for jazz into youngsters was one of his lifelong goals.

Thanks again to Yvonne Erwin, her supporters, and the citizens of Nogales for continuing the pursuit of the memorial to Charles Mingus, Jr. Posterity will reap the enduring benefits, musically and historically, of their gifts.

Cruising Desert Corridors

Alicia Schooler-Hugg

April 03, 2016

A trip to Borrego Springs delivers all you could ask for in a desert getaway. This Spring, thanks to record rainfalls, the Southern California desert explodes with orange-tipped ocotillo. creosote, yellow, lavender and orange wildflowers, and creatures native to its unique arid climate. From desert Bighorn Sheep to diamond head snakes, coyotes to jack rabbits scuttling to avoid the competition for survival, the sands support these lives.

Enroute to our San Diego County destination, we motored through Joshua Tree State Park, where families of mystical appearing Joshua trees greet tourists with their spine covered branches, looking more like arms, pointing skyward. Once past the park, the vast Salton Sea dominates the landscape, reflecting the clear azure skies above. There are generous groves of palm trees wedged so close together that one wonders how their fruit is easily plucked. That you can score a date milkshake from a roadside restaurant illustrates that access to this delectable fruit is a reality. And now for that poem:

For Grover Washington, Jr.

March 28, 2016

Alicia Schooler-Hugg

Some Come in a Blaze

Sax exhaling magic

You bring molten sound,

A musical landslide of rubies and roses

Spinning sanguine ribbons of mellow

You bring green sound,

Germinating growth like the flame tipped ocotillo,

Or the supplicant Joshua tree

Rising from soft desert sands

A musical landslide of emeralds

You bring magic

Sparkling like the universe of stars

Canvassing the blackness of night

Over desert creatures great and small

A musical landslide of diamonds

A mystical thrust of sound.

On Death & Dying and Seasons Flying

January 19, 2016

On Death & Dying and Seasons Flying

Written Friday, May 14, 2010

Updated Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Today is a typical overcast coastal morning. A wet fog obscures the pine-covered ridge of Annadel State Park usually visible from our front windows, which face west toward the Pacific Ocean.  We’ve had unseasonable weather most of the year—record rainfall, record cold.  Spring is dragging its feet, sloshing its way through overflowing rivers and lakes, unwilling to relinquish winter’s accouterments, hanging onto its misty dampness, reluctant to clear the way for sunshine and clarity.  Perhaps it is merely keeping time with this time of unrest and uncertainty.

I reflect on recent events:  The death, last Halloween, of my oldest granddaughter, Leslie Lenore.  At 37, she relinquished her spot on this earth, leaving behind children of whom she was proud.  They were indelible evidence of her time spent on this plain.  Human remnants of a life hampered by struggle, pain and disappointment.

Death, especially that of a loved one, is a show-stopper, an inevitable event that makes each of us slow down and examine our lives and time spent thus far. The imposing finality of existence begs the question:  Am I where I’m supposed to be?  Should I have completed law school those thirty-plus years ago, instead of cow towing to the ridicule of my brother who, some say, turned out to be a soul without conscience?  Have I squandered my time?  Did I do enough for my children?  Should I have done more?  Can I do more?  How much of the precious few minutes, hours, days, months, years (?)  I have left should I devote to my children, my family, friends, vocation, avocation?  I cannot judge, nor do I have the right to condemn another.  As the Holy Bible cautions:  “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

But we are all judges.  Not one of us hesitates to condemn our fellow creatures when he or she slips into a mode of what we perceive as “unacceptable” behavior or survival mechanism, e.g.  dealing or using drugs, or animals or other people.  We’ve all slipped in some way—it’s human nature.

I will soon relinquish my 70th year to the passing of time and my life.  As she lie dying from the ravages of the cancer treatment (not the cancer itself said the hospice nurse), my baby sister, Loretta, said a few things worth capturing for posterity:

“That was sure a fast 53 years!”

“I only wish I’da had more children!” (She had six–three sons and three daughters.)

“I did not know that dying could be so hard. It’s like being in labor, without delivering …”

“I’m going on a journey and I don’t need no suitcase!”

And, after reaching the point where she needed assistance to go to the bathroom: “This is not me…I’m outta here!” Whereupon, she ripped the oxygen catheter from her nose and died.

In retrospect, dreamlike, all time seems to have rushed by, but I didn’t notice the rush, the whisking by of the moments as I consumed them with things petty.  I used to scoff when the elders said “time is precious, use it wisely!”  Youth scorns such advice.  But old age demands it.

Happy Happy New Year – It’s 2016 and all’s well!

Alicia Schooler-Hugg

January 08, 2016

At last the rains have come–refreshing, renewing, and reminding us that our control is limited. Like most folks, I like to think that I have some control over my destiny. But with the passage of time comes wisdom and all we have to do is open ourselves up to it and the spiritual growth it delivers.

Knowing that my Generation Xers and Millennial kids and grandkids will find my words corny and even obsolete in this age of instant everything,   I defiantly step into this new year with continued hope for world peace and the sharing of love that envelopes each human heart. Have a happy and prosperous new year!

North to Alaska

Alicia Schooler-Hugg

August 31, 2015

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Aboard National Geographic Sea Bird

Glacier Bay National Park and Reserve

We entered Glacier Bay shortly after midnight and headed up bay, towards the Margerie   and Johns Hopkins  Glaciers. Our day was dictated by what we saw along the way. For example, a mother bear and her three cubs, seen on an earlier cruise this spring by some of the crew, had survived–which in itself is a rarity in these parts. This bear family created a lot of interest, with many amateur and even the professional photographers employed by National Geographic taking advantage of this rather rare photo op. This activity pretty much consumed the entire morning and the lunch afterwards, consisting of a delicious chili complimented by cornbread and salad was a great topping. The chocolate chip cookie inspired me to ask for recipes for both dishes. Jen, the activities person who doubles as masseuse and Yoga instructor was fascinating company. A professional ballet dancer, she lives in New York City with her boyfriend, a Shakespearean actor, and takes advantage of any work where she can use her many talents/skills.

Cecil was overcome by emotion at one point when he thought about the majestic scenery with which we were surrounded, and the insignificance of we humans–specks in the universe. How small we are, how little we know.  And thus it shall always be. His is such a special spirit. Listening to John Legend, the great new young voice that speaks for today’s youngsters was equally inspiring–an earth shaking experience.  We can only hope that those who follow us will have more insightful moments and open themselves up to freedom, peace among all species, respect for all living creatures and pride in our connectedness.

Tonight we lounge in our cabin–exhausted by the day’s activities and the realization that    our endurance has been compromised by our station in life. Cecil’s hip and my surgically impaired knee make us stand out from the crowd–and not in a good way. “I remember when I was one of the young one,” he often says. And I, too, remember those times. I joke that it is better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all. This covers many subjects, including lost beauty, youth, and of course, loves. We ran into other couples from other voyages along the trail to the lodge here at Glacier Bay. All ages were represented: the young, the old, the halt, the lame. Children lucky enough to experience this perspective, rangers, deck hands, and the wild life whose natural habitat is here. Faith, the Tlingit native woman who addressed our tour group aboard ship today said it all: We look at all things as having a spirit: the rock, the land, the bird, the fish, the people. When you view your world from this perspective, you get the most from living your life.

Margie Baker, Let her entertain you…

Alicia Hugg Cutting

February 20, 2015

In the musical, “The Sound of Music,” the nuns sing: “How do you solve a problem like Maria…how do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?” A similar phrase eclipsed my mind on meeting San Francisco chanteuse Margie Baker, with just a slight lyrical change: How do you hold a rainbow in your hand?  The answer is simple: you don’t. Instead, you bask under its layered multicolored rays, let its shine merge with your own, and spend a little time with the undulating soul that is Dr. Margie Baker: educator, jazz singer and sparkling spirit.

I met Margie Baker on a recent Sunday at the Burlingame Hyatt Regency. Accompanied by a four-piece ensemble, she wows Sunday brunch attendees with a medley of songs. With an energy that captivates her audience, Baker belts out her faves and those of her fans with an ageless voice that defies categorization.  As I watched her perform, I observed the reaction of others in the audience who were obviously as jazzed by her warmth and unique delivery as I.  Women from my peer group arose from their chairs in this elegant setting to snap their fingers and sway to the captivating beat of the music and the unique sound of Margie’s voice, an instrument that at once delivers nostalgia, heartache and joy. Demonstrating that her appeal is not restricted to those of a certain age, a small boy, no older than five, walked up to Margie, placed both arms above his head, and danced, his lithe figure not missing a beat.

Baker’s performance drew spontaneous applause from her fans, reminiscent of jazz responses to performances I’d seen back in the glory days of San Francisco’s North Beach. There, in the early 1960s, it was not uncommon to catch my uncle, Charles Mingus, at Broadway’s Jazz Workshop, while Carmen McRae’s name appeared on the marquee across the street.

Check out Baker’s website, www.margiebakervocalist.com  for times, places and availability of this award winning singer who has romped with Dizzy Gillespie and traveled internationally with the Monterey Jazz Festival.  By the way, I came across her quite accidentally while scanning the latest issue of my University of San Francisco alumni magazine. But, as the wise declare: there are no accidents. For a taste of honey, catch Margie Baker if you can!

On the Road: The Kindness of Strangers

Alicia Hugg Cutting

January 31, 2015

Return of the Long EZ

The Mojave Airport sits in an arid climate where cactus, grease bush, an occasional Joshua tree, and rattlesnakes thrive. Through the FAA aircraft registery on the internet, Cecil had tracked down his beloved Long EZ, and hoped he’d find it. Physical challenges forced him to sell the Long EZ 15 years ago. Owing to responsibilities of job and family, the building project took more than a decade to complete. But his heart was set on completion, which he did following Bert Rutan’s, (the Father of Civilian Space Travel) plans. The plans were purchased, incidentally, at this same Mohave Airport. Miraculously, Cecil found Ben, the owner for the past ten years, who was ecstatic to see his plane’s creator. What transpired then and there was a joy to behold. We were treated to a tour of his nearby hangar and a close-up and personal look at Cecil’s Long EZ.

The Rancho

Honoring nature’s significantly urgent call, we pulled into the Rancho Norteno, located near the turn-off to Bahia de los angles in Baja, California, hoping that Cecil could use their restroom. This was not a public restroom, so his fingers were crossed as he alighted the car and walked the short pathway to the front door. Proud of my “holding power,” I remained in the car hoping for a positive outcome.  Several dogs of questionable breeds sniffed Cecil who responded to their curiosity with calming words and light petting. Chickens also darted to and fro, seemingly excited by our intrusion An accommodating middle-aged couple directed my husband to their facilities just a short distance from their house. Solar-powered panels on their roof and the absence of power lines indicated a level of sophistication rarely seen in this Central Bajan location. As we exited by way of the dirt driveway, a small truck hauling three steers and churning up brown dust entered from the highway. We recognized the vehicle as one we’d seen earlier parked alongside the cactus-filled grounds adjoining the rancho. Two young men inside the truck pulled over allowing Cecil to pass unobstructed onto the highway.

New Year Musings

December 29, 2014

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Hotel Harrington

Washington, D.C

The persistent sound of dripping woke me from a restless sleep: Water dripped from the ceiling of our hotel room onto the end of our queen-sized bed. It was raining outside.

“Wake up Cecil! The ceiling’s leaking,” I implored, frantically shaking my sleeping spouse. The leak had created a puddle on his side of the bedspread. Engineer that he is and not wanting to move to another room in the dead of night, he approached the problem by attaching an ice bucket to plastic coat hangers, then attaching the rig to the leaking vent to catch the drops. Fortunately the rain soon diminished, and a bath towel placed on the puddle temporarily resolved the problem.

Rain earlier that evening ended a typically hot and humid late summer day in Washington, D.C., where Cecil, the trip planner, felt we should stay before we crossed the Atlantic for our European vacation. A duel purpose spurred the brilliantly conceived idea: reduce jet lag by acclimating ourselves to East Coast time, and visit our nation’s capitol.

Our first day had gone well: breakfast at Harriet’s Family Restaurant in the historical Harrington Hotel—within walking distance of the National Mall, the White House and the city’s many historical attractions. We walked to the Washington Memorial, studied the Vietnam Memorial, and gawked at the newly erected memorials to women who served militarily in wars and conflicts. The heat and humidity demanded water to keep us hydrated, and we hailed a taxi for the ride back to our hotel.

“What kind of food are you up to for dinner?” asked Cecil.

Why don’t we ask the desk clerk to recommend a place to eat?” I suggested. My mind harked back to a decade ago when my corporate employers put me up at four and five-star hotels with “concierge” staff who directed guests to top-rated restaurants and popular attractions.

Clyde’s Restaurant, an establishment within walking distance of our hotel, was recommended by both desk clerks. The restaurant’s ambiance was highlighted by jazz standards playing softly in the background, and garden fresh salad makings. Dale, our server, was entertaining and prompt. But at meal’s end, a sudden downpour forced us to take a taxi back to our quarters. A young black man emerged from the small crowd gathered at the restaurant’s entrance, offered to hail a cab for us, did so, then held out his hand for a reward. His action shocked me, as he was clean cut and well-spoken. Neither Cecil nor I had less than a $20 bill on us, and told him so. The “helper” then had the nerve to ask the cabbie to change the $20!

“I’m homeless,” he said, “and so is my family.”  We instructed the Haitian cabbie, who’d refused the young man’s request for change, to drive on.

Journal Note: It’s 1:00 a.m. now and I’m hitting the sack. Today’s Lesson: Chivalry is dead.

I will fix this thing!

September 3, 2014

Hotel Harrington

We were upgraded to a room down the hall with a king-sized bed, larger closet, and a microwave oven. Both were top floor rooms, thus the leak.  Cecil said the desk clerk expressed no surprise when he learned of the leak.  Organized leader that he is (as pilot), he outlined our day:

“We’ll take the metro to the mall, lunch at the American Indian Smithsonian and then explore the aeronautics museum.”  Had it not been for my pesky knee, I would have savored the subway experience.  It so reminded me of the metro in Paris, except there were escalators easing our D.C.journey. The heat compelled us to take a taxi to the Martin Luther King Memorial (MLK), since we had another eight blocks to go after leaving the subway.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

 “What a beautiful tribute to a great man,” I thought on entering the memorial plaza.  A statute, created by the “foremost sculpturist in the world,” said our park ranger guide, dominated the plaza. The Chinese artist, Lei Yixin, from Changsha, Hunan Province, was selected from an international group of outstanding sculptors gathered in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 2006 to create stone sculptures in an outdoor studio. The monument depicts the human rights activist in great detail, his profile facing the Washington Memorial.  Majestic, I thought. The stone walls leading to the statue featured carved excerpts of Martin Luther King’s famous words, including letters from the Birmingham jail, and quotes from his 1963 Washington D.C. “I Have a Dream” speech. The ranger presented an historical rundown of Dr. King’s accomplishments, including his trip to India to study Mahatma Ghandi’s nonviolent approach to civil rights.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

The National Museum of the American Indian

“It’s lunch time now, let’s head for the National Museum of the American Indian,” suggested my personal guide and companion. A charming young D.C. resident we met on the shuttle ride from Dulles airport to our hotel highly recommended this museum cafeteria for its “great” food.  I’d fallen in love with Indian bread ten years ago on a trip to South Dakota. The interactive museum exhibits were rife with episodes of Indian history excerpted from the History television channel. The singing, rituals, and drum beats reminded me of historical documentaries about African countries; and, for the first time, I consciously made a connection between the two cultures whose rituals illuminate and sustain their ancestral heritage.

The National Air and Space Museum 

A tour of The National Air and Space Museum next door occupied the remainder of our afternoon. Outstanding exhibits included Amelia Earhardt’s, who along with her publicist husband, George Putman, used her fame to start an unsuccessful line of clothing. An early advocate for women’s rights, the spunky pilot turned down six marriage proposals from Putnam before consenting. Still, she insisted that the word “obey” be stricken from their otherwise traditional marriage ceremony.

Another exhibit featured the Tuskegee Airmen, college graduates of the Alabama university, who emerged during World War II as the first African American pilots. Their performance in successfully escorting US bombers through enemy lines target is legend. My having met and interviewed three of these outstanding gentlemen, along with their equally brilliant wives, was one of the defining moments of my nine-year stint as a weekly Op Ed columnist for the Stockton Record, a Gannet publication.

Next to catch our attention was an exhibit honoring aviation pioneer brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright, whose persistent campaign to launch flying machines transformed the transportation world. Watching Cecil’s reactions to all of these exhibits was like watching a baby playing with one overhead crib toy after another. Emotionally engaged from the start, my pilot lingered at several other exhibits as we made our way to the exit.

We taxied back to our hotel, enjoyed cool drinks in the lounge, and returned to our new room before walking the few blocks to the Elephant and Castle for a light supper. The wine list featured a Kenwood, California champagne, so naturally we ordered a glass.

“Vacations are a way of celebrating life,” said Cecil, raising his glass in a toast.

“Right on darling…I’ll certainly drink to that!” I replied.

Midsummer Wanderlust Enhances Drought Awareness

Alicia Hugg Cutting

July 19, 2014

If you’re like me, you still get that childhood urge to “go outside and play!”  Wanna do something about it?  Let’s go!

Recently, sparked by a need to pick up our grandsons from one summer camp and transport them to another, my husband and I took a weekend journey to Shaver Lake.  Located in the high sierras, this hidden gem of a redwood forest retreat overflows with summertime activities bound to whet your appetite for more. There is a marina where you can rent boats for fishing; expansive campgrounds for tent and RV camping, and if you prefer the luxury of indoors in nature’s great outdoors, rental cabins are available. The smell of pine mixed with that of eucalyptus sharpens the senses. Hiking trails abound. A restaurant with a full-service bar beckoned after we dropped our precious cargo off at their designated campground, and we enjoyed some quiet senior playtime with the locals. All said, this would have been a perfect setting except for one thing: the D-word is alive and well here, and it spells D-R-O-U-G-H-T.

Yes, the lake and its inhabitants are severely compromised by the lack of water. Missing was the  rush of water cascading from the nearby gigantic dams.  Even the ferry boat that transported folks across the water was inoperable: not enough water to float the kids to their campsites!  In all of his 60-odd years of camping at or near this lake, my husband had never witnessed such a lack of water. We deducted that since this was a Southern California Edison water site, that part of the state will soon feel the effects of this serious drought.  And, once that happens, we will all feel it.

Local signs tell us that many residents and businesses are contributing to our urgent need to minimize our water usage. Even I, accustomed to long showers and an abundance of running water, have begun to conserve. Like the urge to play outdoors never leaves us, the urge to conform based on our human connectedness still prevails.

Maya Angelou: And still she rises…

Alicia Schooler-Hugg

June 10, 2014

The passing of world renown poet and essayist, Maya Angelou, prompted me to resurrect some of my written reflections on this inspired and inspirational woman.  After re-reading her poems, “On the Pulse of Morning,” and “They Went Home,” I recalled a time when I had the opportunity to actually observe this wonder of a woman in person.  It happened when I was lucky enough to attend the graduation ceremony of the Class of 1993 at the University of the Pacific (UOP) in Stockton, California.  This unforgettable and truly historical moment occurred just four months after her eloquent delivery of “On the Pulse of Morning,” which she composed in a hotel room, at the Inauguration of William Jefferson Clinton on January 20, 1993.  Angelou was only the second poet in U. S. history—Robert Frost was the first, for John F. Kennedy–invited to compose an inaugural poem. That spring, Angelou was invited to receive an honorary doctoral degree at UOP  and I, as the only black op-ed columnist for The (Stockton) Record and long-time admirer of hers, felt compelled to be there. It turned out to be the opportunity of a lifetime. Before discussing the poem that I feel most captures Angelou’s essence, I will share my written observations–captured by my May 30, 1993 op-ed column–of that memorable occasion:

“The late afternoon sun shone through the leaves of tall, stately trees sheltering the rim of the lawn in front of University of the Pacific’s Knoles Hall—creating a dappled effect against the background of the outdoor stage especially erected for the occasion.

A great lady would grace this spot today.  Maya Angelou, renowned author, poet, playwright and actress, would receive an honorary degree here this very afternoon, Friday, May 21, 1993.

It is for me a familiar setting. Knoles Hall contained the campus English Department, and was the site of most of my classes when I attended UOP years before as an English major—the place where I cut my literary teeth. So now I would have a connection to a charismatic historical figure: a common alma mater.

The connection cuts deeper than that. Like every other woman in America who read Angelou’s first autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” I felt a common bond attributable to gender alone. Being of African American descent strengthens that bond.

The scene is festive.  Banners, hung at discreet intervals around the chosen spot, lend color to the occasion. The Michoacan mariachi band is playing. A handsome black youth enthusiastically distributes copies of the “New Poets Generation,” a publication featuring neo-revolutionary poems.  Inside, photographs of Huey Newton at various stages of his reign as Black Panther chief, decorate its pages.

The processional begins. An audible stir of anticipation arises from the audience. The music of the bells, played by university carillonneur Karen Hastings, casts a surrealistic aura upon the occasion.

And then I see Maya Angelou; she passes so close that I could reach out and touch her.  She is much taller than I had imagined, at least six feet, standing head and shoulders above most of the university dignitaries marching with her. Her carriage is straight and engenders within me a sense of pride.

The speeches that follow provide glimpses into the lives of the honoree and her mother, the late Vivian Baxter, who chose to live out her later years in Stockton. After an eloquent tribute to Angelou, Lawrence Meredith, professor of religious studies, adds, “ . . . and just as this caged bird can sing, so can we all.”

Municipal Court Judge Rolleen McIlwrath, an avowed fan and friend of both the poet and her late mother, is no less eloquent and borrows a word coined by the writer herself calling Angelou our “shero.”

But it is Heather Mayne, assistant professor of English, who captures the essence of the occasion when she refers to Angelou as a “personal icon.”

When Angelou finally comes on after being presented the honorary degree, she is all the way on.  She stuns the audience by singing, in a rich and resonant voice, a rousing medley of multilingual songs, including “Jikele Mweni” (The Retreat Song) by Mariam Makeba, an African singer and once protégé of Harry Belafonte, and concludes with the Jewish folk song “Hava Nagila.”  The crowd is mesmerized.

“I have no modesty,” she tells her adoring audience, “it (modesty) is a learned affectation.”

She acknowledges the racial diversity of the audience and instructs that because “we are all paid for,” we should all feel liberated.

Her message to the graduates: “Please let us so live that we will not endure decades of useless virtue and inaction.  Liberate the human mind and spirit beginning with your own.”

Maya Angelou’s “On the Pulse of Morning” is, of course, no ordinary poem. The piece is the story of humankind and Earth’s beginning. Its own beginning resurrects stirrings of ancient myths created by touches of truth about who we are and where we come from.  It tells about our ancestors’ struggles, our connectedness to those ancestors and our connectedness to each other.  Through the poem, Angelou reviews the evolution of humankind, noting how wars and pestilence have dominated our world since time began and how the tale of humanity spins off its axis when racial and tribal differences spurred villages, countries and nations into drawing lines in the sand over which they dared their neighbors cross.

Angelou begins her poem with the use of the solid and familiar, bringing into focus for common visualization a rock, a river and a tree, and what each means to us as we make our way through this human journey.  The following first two stanza provide the universal setting for Angelou’s poetic message:

A Rock, A River, A Tree

Hosts to species long since departed,   

Marked the mastodon,

The dinosaur, who left dried tokens   

Of their sojourn here

On our planet floor,

Any broad alarm of their hastening doom   

Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,   

Come, you may stand upon my

Back and face your distant destiny,

But seek no haven in my shadow,

I will give you no hiding place down here.

Deep within the body of the poem, she also touches upon that phrase she seems to love: “Each of you, descendant of some passed-on traveler, has been paid for.” The poem ends with hope, the hope that springs eternal within each of our earthbound breasts as we plod across the stage of life to our dusty, but certain deaths.

Angelou was a disciple of Shakespeare as a child and committed all of his sonnets to memory following a period, where, as an eight-year-old, her mother’s boyfriend raped her. For several years after the incident, she would speak to no one and was considered mute by most.

Angelou’s “They Went Home,” is a great example of the versatility of this writer and poet.  In this poem, as in most of her other poems, her bodacious nature shines through and she delivers it with humor, but also with a very strong message to women.  It tells of a woman’s insight into affairs with various married men.  And it  honors the sanctity, or safety in some cases, of marriage.  Safe for the male to have his cake and eat it too!

I spent part of my childhood in the same Stockton neighborhood that Angelou described in her first autobiography, and remember some of the characters she mentioned there. Due to its status as an agricultural center and the only inland port city in California, the city attracted large numbers of male “transient” field workers. Many hailed from the Southern USA, and some came from as far away as China and the Philippines. A number of workers were single, and prostitution thrived in Stockton.   I like to think that Angelou’s “They Went Home” was inspired by her Stockton experience.  The title gives the poem away:

They went home and told their wives, 

that never once in all their lives, 

had they known a girl like me, 

But… They went home.

They said my house was licking clean, 

no word I spoke was ever mean, 

I had an air of mystery, 

But… They went home.

My praises were on all men’s lips, 

they liked my smile, my wit, my hips, 

they’d spend one night, or two or three.


A national treasure with a wealth of knowledge from which many of us have drawn, Angelou will be remembered for her wisdom, courage, eloquent delivery and tenacity.

Mexican Travel – How Safe Is it?

March 26, 2014

Tuesday, February 25, Copola, Sinaloa, Mexico

To reach this rather isolated but colorful village, one must abandon the cuoto, or state toll highways and take the libre, or toll-free roads.  Highway 40, the road to Copola, is uphill and twisty. Small monuments in the form of crosses covered with flowers were placed along the roadsides honoring those who lost their lives on this two-lane highway. Signs advising cautionary driving were also plentiful.

As we drove up the mountain, I recalled last year’s journey along this same highway. Then I’d observed a young man riding a donkey along the roadside. He wore a large-brimmed straw sombrero to ward off the sun in this tropical setting, and both he and the slow moving animal seemed in no hurry to reach their destinations.

“There used to be more places to stop along here.”`Cecil pointed out a couple of closed restaurants along the way. A hotel and restaurant, once crowded with tourists bussed from nearby Mazatlan, was also closed. We learned that Mazatlan’s cruise ships had stopped providing tours to Copola in the wake of the increased presence of drug cartels.

But Hortensia, the 85-year-old proprietress of the Souvenir Mexicanos shop near the town’s entrance was still there, and It was she who I sought out. Small and agile, she’d made quite an impression on me last year when we visited Copola, with talk of her children who lived in Guadalajara. Hortensia small shop offered works by Mexican artisans from Tonala. With an engaging smile, she carefully wrapped our purchases of ceramic coffee cups and wall hangings. A nice touch for motorists touring the country.

On preparing to explore more of the village, we met an interesting couple: Kent and his lovelyl wife Rocie. They invited us into their patio for a cool drink and conversation. He is a photographer and had several of his works displayed on their patio fence. He lamented the lack of tourists due to the drug problem. We’d been in Mazatlan the previous week when the much publicized arrest of a drug kingpin went down.

The couple recommended we visit the church on the town plaza.

“You should drive up,” advised Kent. “The streets are steep and narrow.”

We parked the car near the plaza. It seems that every town in Mexico has plazas near a church. A teen-aged boy approached us. After describing the attributes of the area, Jose displayed a collection of wooden carvings he’d created. I purchased a small church carving. The young sculptor had managed to carve tiny birds on the piece.

“You should begin signing your works, Jose,” I advised. “One day you’ll be famous, and I’ll be proud to say I knew him when.”

That afternoon, we stopped in Tepic, the Nayarit state capitol, for lunch at Emiliano’s Restaurant. Cecil, a fan of Emiliano Zapata, was enchanted with the portraits of his hero all over the well-appointed establishment. The restaurant was highly recommended by the Lonely Planet Mexican guidebook, and were they right on!

We returned to Mazatlan that evening–after checking out more Lonely Planet recommendations. The Hotel Belmar, hailed as one of movie star John Wayne’s favorites at the height of his stardom, beckoned primarily because of its location overlooking the sea. The hotel was ancient and crumbling in places, but the view, as promised, was spectacular.

Cecil and I had a lovely evening walking on the windswept sandy beach after dinner in a nearby restaurant.

You Gotta Have Heart

Alicia Schooler-Hugg

February 04, 2014

February, the shortest month of the year, is crammed with celebrations. Starting with frenzied festivities around a shadow seeking woodchuck, and ending–every four years–in a role-reversal exercise aptly named Leap Year, this month is packed with action.

A Time for Black History

February is Black History Month. African-Americans bathe in their ancestors’ accomplishments and recognize outstanding feats of peers in a world where racism still raises significant boundaries. It is the best of times, providing a rare opportunity for persons of color to view faces we have yearned to see and listen to voices we have strained to hear. They come often during this fleeting season, priming our appetites for more history, knowledge, validation. They wear names like Barack Hussein Obama, civil rights activist Julian Bond, humanitarians Camille and Bill Cosby, and educator Cornell West. Younger stalwarts have grabbed our attention, people like musical artists Wynton Marsalis, John Legend, and Alicia Keyes, who have taken their fifteen minutes of fame way beyond personal gains to benefit the world.

A Time for Hearts

This month we celebrate Valentine’s Day, our children and grandchildren exchanging decorated paper hearts. As we remember the smell of paste from distant classrooms, tender thoughts warm our hearts.

But what about that vital organ nestled inside our chests? Yes, February is also American Heart Month, and there continues an urgent need to spread the word about heart health. According to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • About 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year–that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. More than half of the deaths due to heart disease in 2009 were men.
  • Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease, killing more than 385,000 people annually.
  • Every year about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack. Of these, 525,000 are a first heart attach and 190,000 happen in people who have already had a heart attack.
  • Coronary heart disease alone costs the United States $108.9 billion each year. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications and lost productivity.

Historically, women were led to believe that men were more prone to heart disease than women. This myth has been dispelled.  While women may manifest different symptoms during a heart attack, the disease is almost as prevalent. For example, a female colleague described “a sense of impending doom,” while undergoing her heart attack. There was no chest pain, no sweating, none of the cardinal symptoms she’d learned in her nursing classes.

The American Heart Association continues to deliver the message that the best solution to heart disease is prevention. Reduce heart disease and stroke by not smoking, controlling cholesterol and blood pressure levels, increasing physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight and drinking alcohol only in moderation–for women this means one drink per day.

Here are some practical tips for your next reading…

January 18, 2014

So you flubbed your last reading, what do you do?  Start out by not kicking yourself and knowing that the next time will be better. Instead of beating yourself up about it, congratulate yourself for having the moxie to stand before a group of strangers and read from your works in the first place. It gets better with practice.  Here are a few stage props you can use next time:

  • Start out with an icebreaker. Putting your audience at ease with a laugh or two engages your listeners, and does wonders for your own self-confidence.  Short funny poems or quotes work for me.
  • Acquaint yourself with the room before you take the stage. This will eliminate any surprises that might affect your delivery, and also gives you an enhanced sense of control.
  • Check out the lighting. When you’re reading from your book, you’re usually looking at a Times New Roman 12 point font size, which, when the lighting is poor, can slow (and sometimes even stop) your delivery.
  • To remedy poor lighting, instead of reading from your book itself, type the material and print it out using 14 points or more font size.
  • Check out the sound system.  Make sure the microphone is pointing in your direction. This is especially important if you’re preceded by someone taller or shorter than you. You might even want to check with the folks in back of the room to make sure they can hear you. Most times, they will let you know whether you’re coming through to them or not.
  • Acknowledge the MC, and any other person who worked to get you in front of a receptive audience.
  • Once into your reading material, pause between sentences to make eye contact. When people see you looking at them instead of keeping your eyes glued to your work, they will be more attentive, and more likely to buy your book.
  • Pay attention to your time allotment. Be considerate of the other readers on the program. The MC will usually track your time, but you should also be aware and spare her or him the embarrassment of having to cut your delivery short.
  • Allow time–usually five minutes or so–for a question and answer period. This provides an additional opportunity for potential buyers of your book to elicit information from you. It may even be the clincher that sells your book.

Relax, you’re gonna wow them!

So why did you write that book, and what happens now?

Alicia Schooler-Hugg

November 24, 2013

As anyone who has written a book knows, the real work begins when you’ve completed the thing. It’s the marketing that makes you crazy.

No one prepares you for the challenges you’ll face in the marketing phase of your book. Creating a ‘To Do’ list to get your book out there is probably the most efficient way to begin systematically conquering what initially seems like an insurmountable task. To help you with this phase of your writing, I’ll share my own list with more to follow in the weeks ahead. Here’s what you need to do, say the experts, to sell your book:

(1) Build a platform. What’s a platform, you might ask, as visions of hammers, nails, wooden planks and even a noose, dance through your head. Not to mention the dread of all that labor just to get the thing built. OMG! No, a platform is simply a way promote your brand, or the image you want people to see when they think about you, the author. For example, if you’re a memoir writer like me, trying to sell your captivating account of romance between persons of a certain age, you need to promote that image. Start your platform using the following tools:

  • Facebook – Facebook has a Bookmobile section, which I accidentally stumbled upon. Not only can you post your book here, but you can also post events to promote it. The site is quite user-friendly, and if you spend some time there, you might even learn to post friends’ books there. At least that’s what I’m working on now.
  • Readings – Best accomplished through joining groups like your local branch of the California Writers Club, an organization of writers helping writers. Other opportunities for reading may include your writing group, local library, booksellers, coffee shops, restaurants, and specialty shops.
  • Print on demand publishing companies are growing more competitive as this publishing method becomes more popular. Amazon has created innovative ways to promote your book sales, including online e-reads with short-term freebies for world wide exposure
  • Creating your own website and/or blog spot is another way to get yourself out there. Google potential sites, free and otherwise, and get started. You’re a writer now. Next step: publicist.

Yes its party time for writers in today’s cyber-world, so walk right in, sit right down and start the ball a-rollin’.

Midge, My Sister Loretta Jean Schooler-Hillmon

Alicia Hugg Cutting

October 09, 2013

September, 1995

The spectacle of foaming white waves crashing into the jagged rocks that line this particular aspect of the Pacific Coast is especially comforting as, once again having released a loved one through the doors of eternity, we seek solace where sea meets sand.

We have come to this place along the beautiful 17 Mile Drive near Carmel to push back the gnawing pain born from the loss of our baby sister,  Loretta, the one Grandma called “Fancy Pants.” Perhaps through pondering this stretch of dynamic earth, we can find answers to those questions of time, life and eternity that have puzzled all of humankind from the beginning.  The sea–with its ebb and flow–calms and soothes us.

The toll we pay on entering the Pacific Grove gate reminds me of others: bridges, conveyances, tuition–endless tolls that buoy us ever forward through this journey, this life.

The park policeman, a dead-ringer for “Today Show” weatherman, Al Roker, cheerfully provides us with shiny brochures outlining famous coastal vista points.

We continue and spot a thin man riding a bike along the left side of the road,

“Is that Clint Eastwood?”

“Nah, too thin.”

We must create laughter to dim fresh memories of the stark reality of death.  To do less would disappoint one who lived life as fully as did Loretta.

The memories form pictures that dance across my mind’s horizon.

“Midge” (another nickname for Loretta as diminutive child) was our princess–and my real live doll.  Momma made me, the oldest girl (and fully two years Loretta’s senior) her caretaker.  She became my shadow.

We talked of these things as she lay dying.  Our childhood, lost loves, rivalries, family stuff.  All trivialized by the impending journey to come.

 “I’m going on a trip and I don’t need no suitcase.”

Wispy clouds drift overhead against a brilliantly blue sky and I wonder if she is there.  My mood is broken by discordant sounds from homely sea otters perched along the rocks staring back at excited tourists who photograph them and each other and jockey for loftier vantage points.

The Lone Cypress is still there, dressed in widows reeds, it seems, awaiting her sea captain–who, unknown to her, languishes in his ship at the bottom of the sea.

Cancer is an unforgiving disease, merciless and relentless in its quest to destroy.  And even while we have made great strides in the diagnosis of this plague, the treatment promulgated by our best medical minds has not reduced its mortality rates. In fact, cancer will soon take the No. 1 spot as the cause of death in these United States.

I am reminded of the nursery rhyme from Mother Goose when I think of these past few months of watching helplessly as my sister’s condition deteriorated.  It’s about “Old King Cole,” except in this case: All the poison (chemotherapy), the burning (radiation), the cutting (surgical excision) failed to put my sister back together again.  And, in the end, we learned that it was overkill and the failure of her autoimmune system to rally to the cause of homeostasis that was the real killer.

“I want to go home.”

In the end, Loretta chooses to leave rather than endure another moment of agony.  We watch as she journeys homeward in ever-increasing intervals.  Her gaze is fixed beyond our world and she likes what she sees.  Her eyes reflect the wonder of the beauty.  She smiles.  The pain is but a memory.

A seagull swoops down onto the blanket of a picnicking couple. Startled, the woman shields her face and then looks quizzically at the bird, fascinated by its sudden boldness.  For a moment, the two size each other up.  And then the bird flies away, skimming the ocean’s sparkling surface before soaring upward toward the heavens.

A Bishop’s Life

Alicia Schooler-Hugg

September 09, 2013

He was the unexpected child, the “change of life” baby who both delights and confounds its parents, arriving just as the cradle is about to be relegated to the woodpile behind the barn.  Ah, but his would be the brightest spark of them all!

My grandfather, Alexander Robinson Schooler, was born on January 2, 1882, to John Schooler, a bi-racial German and black “mulatto” and his wife Almira, nee Leavell, a “black,” in Garrard County, Lancaster, Kentucky.

Grandpa was proud of his African and German heritage.  A prolific poet, he wrote about life in the United States as experienced by persons of color, illustrating our struggle through both satirical and serious verse.

Little is known about his childhood, but his writings express a profound love and respect for his mother. Poems about her portray a loving woman whose guidance positively shaped her children’s lives.  The following verse, plumbed from a 1931 chapbook he published, is an example:

  Our Mother 

 Mother thy teachings follow me

 And I’ll never more contented be

 No matter what may be my fare

 I feel the strength of your loving care

 The good examples you have set

 How you would scold me, then would pet

 Then would fold me to your breast

 And send me sweetly off to rest

With the exception of his brother, Leavell, who settled in Cleveland, Ohio, and with whom he maintained a close relationship, the fate of his older siblings—three sisters and four brothers–and his parents is unclear.

On August 4, 1909, my grandfather wed 25-year-old Carrie Weir Page, a schoolteacher, in Marion County, Indiana.  Their only child, my father, Alexander Page Schooler, was born there on September 21, 1918.

From 1909 until he moved to Southern California in 1931, my grandfather worked diligently as a minister to build and solidify churches and congregations in Indianapolis Indiana, Cleveland Ohio, and Chicago Illinois.  Grandpa never spoke about his ministerial training, but he gained international respect as one of five founding bishops of The Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (PAW), and, according to “The Old Landmark,” a website celebrating the apostolic heritage, wrote many significant hymns for the church and co-wrote several with celebrated Pentecostal songwriter Thoro Harris.

After moving to the Los Angeles suburb of Watts, Grandpa founded a Pentecostal Church of God in Christ on 107th Street near Compton Boulevard.  Articulate and fluent in Spanish and German, he attracted friends of all nationalities, from the Latino tamale pushcart vendor, to the white real estate broker on Central Avenue whom he consulted about properties. He acquired a ranch in Victorville, California, which he rented to a former parishioner and his family.

As the oldest grandchildren, my brother Philip and I occasionally spent weekends at the five-acre desert ranch in the early 1940s. We chased the lone goat around the yard, sandy dirt stinging our bare legs.  We watched Grandpa slop the hogs, their huge bodies layered with dried mud, grunting and squealing with delight as their troughs were replenished. We gathered eggs freshly dispensed by hens vying for the lone rooster’s attention. We dared the wrath of a rattlesnake and ran screaming to Grandpa when the dirt-colored reptile shook his rattlers at us.  It was on one of these visits, that as a three-year-old I experienced an event that would forever sustain my faith in God and belief in the power of prayer.

My grandmother was in the kitchen canning peaches.  I sat on a chair beneath a window watching her, aware that four-year-old Philip was playing outside with Selassie, the son of the renters named for the Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie. After Grandma removed the last batch of jars from the huge kettle, she placed it on the floor to cool.

“I’m going outside to check on your brother and Selassie,” she announced.  “I’ll be right back, just stay put.”

“Okay, Gramma,” said I.

I climbed up on the chair intending to watch her from the window.  But the chair folded and I fell into the kettle of steaming hot water.  I screamed, the pain was excruciating.  Grandma and the others came running and pulled me from the kettle.  She placed me on a bed and everyone formed a circle and began praying over me, speaking in tongues and petitioning the Lord to “heal this child!”  It seemed that an eternity passed before the praying stopped, but when it did I had not a blister, not a burn. And the pain was gone.

In the spring of 1943 when I was nearing my fourth birthday, my young parents divorced and we moved into our grandparents’ Antwerp Street home in the Los Angeles suburb of Watts. Besides Philip and me, there were my two younger sisters, Carolyn, two, and Loretta, 14-months.

Our telephone came with a party line monopolized by jabbering females. We children were forbidden to use the telephone without permission.  Once however, when I was about seven, there was an emergency that necessitated my telephoning for help.

Farmers at heart, my grandparents raised chickens. We often hosted Sunday dinners for church members, and fried chicken was a staple. It was no surprise then when Grandpa decided to expand his flock.  He purchased dozens of yellow baby chicks.  To keep them warm, he strung a bunch of lights together and draped tenting over the lights.  One afternoon when he was away the tenting made contact with the lights and caught fire.  The material’s high flammability fed the fire, which quickly developed into a maelstrom that threatened to spread to our neighbors’ homes.  Grandma tried vainly to douse the flames with buckets of water.

“Quick child, call the fire department!” Grandma was calm in times chaotic.

I ran inside and picked up the receiver. The line was busy: “Well, girl, then she said . . .”

“Please,” I interrupted, “I need to make a call.”

“That’s just too bad, little girl, we’re talking here!” came the snappy retort.

“But this is an emergency—there’s a fire in our yard, and I need to call the fire department.”

“Aw, stop kidding. You’re just lying to get us off the phone.”

“No, I’m not!  Our chickens are burning up and the fire’s gonna spread to our neighbors if we don’t get help here!”

The desperation in my voice finally convinced the women to relinquish the line.  Soon a big red fire engine pulled into our unpaved driveway, wheels churning up clouds of beige colored dust.  Two white helmeted firemen jumped out, unrolled the huge canvas hose and aimed it at the blazing inferno.

Seeing the tiny charred chicken corpses in the aftermath of the fire saddened us all and Grandpa never again tried to increase his flock.

Grandpa read voraciously and spent hours each day in his study—a small room he built just outside the kitchen door. Sometimes I stood nearby and listened as he prayed and spoke in tongues.  I remember his speaking of visions, messages from God or angels, experienced during his hours of meditation and prayer.

“What’s a vision, Grandpa?” I asked one day.

“It’s something so beautiful, child, that it’s hard to describe. It’s light and it comes, lingers, and then fades away.  It lets me see things more clearly, things that have not happened yet.  Someday you may understand.”

World War II was on, and as our block warden it was Grandpa’s responsibility to see that Antwerp Street residents complied with blackout protocols. When the warning sirens sounded after dark, we had to turn out all lights or replace bulbs with blue lights, cover all windows with woolen blankets and take cover underneath the large mahogany dining room table.

“But Gramma, I don’t want to die!” I whimpered, trembling with fear.

“Hush child!”

Summer Saturdays found us kids taking turns accompanying Grandpa on his downtown produce market forays, where he plucked discarded fruits and vegetables from vendors’ waste receptacles.

The trip downtown was just the first stop on Grandpa’s Saturday ventures.  In this pre-freeway era, we drove the long palm-tree lined boulevards south to Imperial Highway, then east past Alameda Street to canvass the plentiful junk and lumber yards.

With an eye for useful scraps, be it a car part to repair or replace a broken one on his beloved Model-T, or a piece of lumber for a building project, he’d pick through scraps of metal or wood.  Owners treated him with the respect reserved for a man of the cloth, and he often walked away with the precious find at little or no cost.

An especially memorable event was our cross-country trip to Uncle Leavell’s house in Cleveland, Ohio, during the summer of 1945.  It took us weeks to creep across the United States in the old Model T.  Grandpa attached huge canvass bags of water to the car’s bumpers for our desert crossing. In addition to changing a zillion flat tires along the way, the car frequently overheated, and he spent a lot of time pouring water down its steaming hot radiator.

There were other challenges.  Owing to Grandpa’s skimpy budget, we kids often found ourselves in strange churches on Sunday mornings, standing before groups of white faces, singing songs we’d learned in church and Sunday School.

 Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so

 Little ones to him belong, they are weak but He is strong.

Not quite the Jackson 5, we could have been named the Bedraggled 4!  How could congregations not respond to four innocents who never stumbled over the appealing words of the songs we delivered at the tops of our lungs?  The host pastor dutifully passed the collection plate, and Grandpa bought enough gas to get us going again.

Grandpa pulled along a small house trailer he’d built for the trip. Painted grey, it resembled an Airstream crafted from wood. Nights found us gathered around a campfire that Grandma used for cooking.  I still have a scar on my right foot from sticking it into a fire’s waning embers after being asked to check and make sure the fire was completely out.

We arrived in Cleveland just in time for Philip and me to enroll in school. We shot to immediate stardom in the other kids’ eyes.

“You guys came all the way from California, Hollywood, movie stars and all that?

“Yep, and we’ve never seen snow!”

“Well, you’re gonna see so much snow here, you’ll get sick and tired of it, just like us!”

But when October came, Grandpa packed us up and pointed the Model-T westward. Twenty-two flats and another miracle later, we were home.

About that miracle: Three-quarters into our journey home, while Grandpa was parking on a hillside road, the car’s back door flew open and three-year-old Loretta slipped underneath it.  Unaware of her fall, Grandpa continued backing up, running over her leg.  Realizing what had happened, he jumped from the car and scooped her into his arms. Both grandparents began to pray.  Loretta was not injured.

The years with my grandparents passed quickly and what faith I have today is a result of my time with them.  They never stopped praying, they never lost faith.

Grandpa left us in December of 1950, but his indomitable spirit lives on through his legacy of love and devotion to his faith.

Just Ask A Black Nurse

Alicia Schooler-Hugg

August 04, 2013

The controversy stemming from the refusal of a white father to let a black nurse care for his newborn child has spurred a caldron of discussion throughout the country. Now don’t think this is an isolated incident: Virtually every black nurse in America has felt this sting against her or his skin color at some point in their careers. That we can now voice these offenses through legal redress is what has changed.

As a seasoned nurse, one of the pungent “seasonings” with which I was sprinkled was the constant fear of being rebuffed by patients who still held that black was beneath them. This fear sometimes morphed into negative situations and, occasionally diminished when a positive incident happened. Take the time when I was a student nurse completing a portion of my clinical studies at a Catholic hospital in Stockton, California, for example.

Nuns ran the place with a firm hand, as nuns historically did in the early seventies. When they grew old and unable to conduct the demanding duties of hospital administration, they retired to their residence on the hospital grounds. If ill and unable to care for themselves, the hospital provided a special wing and medical services for them, including assistance with their activities of daily living, or ADLs the medical term used for such care. I was not aware of this until the day came when my assigned patient was one who resided in this special wing. So, on approaching the patient’s room, I was nervous and unprepared for what I might find on entering it.

I stood in the doorway, medical record in hand, and peered into the patient’s room. It looked like any other hospital room–small, furnished with a hospital bed, bedside cabinet and portable over-bed tray. Take care of a nun? I asked myself. They’re holy people, married to Christ, and take their marriage vows seriously.  I knew this because one of my cousins, devoutly Catholic, was a nun.

“Come on in child, I won’t bite. Nuns are people too, so don’t be shy. Just treat me like you do all of your patients.”

Relieved that my skin color was not an issue here, I completed my nursing duties quickly and efficiently, and was rewarded with the nun’s compliments about my professional skills. I left the room, ego intact, and felt certain that nursing was the right choice for the rest of my working years.

Then, there’s the reverse side of the coin. Once, through a lecture delivered by a master’s prepared nurse, I heard that persons of color endure over one hundred incidences of covert racism a day. In mulling her statement over in my mind, I had to disagree. Racist insults are a matter of perception, and perception differs from person to person. What I might perceive as a racist statement may mean nothing to another person and vice versa. We’re all blessed with our own peculiar set of idiosyncracies. Like snowflakes or grains of sand, our perceptions are as unique as are our personalities, environmental influences, mental health and a myriad of other factors that influence who we are as people and how we perceive our place in this chaotic, and beautiful, world.

Balance is the key to stability–right?  So if we take just so much of this and not so much of that, we can be kind to ourselves and those that matter in our lives. That kindness will then multiply exponentially. Pay it forward–life demands little more than that.

Loss in the Key of Life

Alicia Schooler-Hugg

July 25, 2013

The death of an old classmate always gives me pause, forcing me to focus on my own looming mortality. I learned of the beautiful Vivian King’s death yesterday, while browsing through the online edition of my hometown paper. Vivian was one of those rare creatures who possessed both beauty and brains. And so her passing has a special significance for me.

A conversation with a peer nurse this morning was another eye-opener into the reality and inevitability of aging. An attractive and vibrant woman, she told of a recent foot fracture that necessitated her wearing a cast for several weeks.

“Our bodies are crumbling,” she mused.

“I agree. I’m hearing from parts of me that I never knew existed.”

“You’re right. Funny how we take everything for granted until something goes wrong,” she returned. “I broke my foot–nothing traumatic, mind you, I just stood up and bam, some bones just collapsed spontaneously. Its my right foot, so now I can’t even drive. Have to rely on the old man to go anywhere.”

Osteoporosis, thought I, returning to my healthcare background as I always do when confronting physical challenges, my own and others’. So now we have bone density machines that measure whether your bones are strong or of the crumbling kind. As an African American female, my bones are not easily broken. If you’re a white female, you’re at greater risk for fractures–including vertebrae collapse and shatter of long bones.

So what to do? First, if you have not done so for a while, see your primary care provider. She will order bone density studies if “medically necessary”–meaning that you meet standardized criteria for having the tests. Yep, physicians must abide by federal and state mandated protocols in order to authorize diagnostic studies–especially if they fall into the more expensive categories. Should your tests disclose anomolies, you may be subject to more studies, medications or both.

Having spent the bulk of my nursing career in the healthcare insurance field, I know of what I speak. The concern I have these days is for my own aging self: will I ultimately end up in an understaffed nursing home, cared for my overworked and underpaid staff–mostly nursing assistants who must hold down two full-time jobs to support their families? I hope not. My daughters assure me this will not happen, but having become a mother while still an adolescent myself, I have three daughters who are officially senior citizens with maladies of their own.

Yep, there’s a lot to ponder out there all right. Inner strength is what keeps us going. We each have an abundance of this sometimes untapped resource to sustain us through the most difficult of times.

Granny Straddles the WorldWide Web

Alicia Schooler-Hugg

July 11, 2013

Definition of septo-maniac: A person who has reached the September of their years and whose mantra is now or never.

Granny’s coming out party was heralded this week through the release of her romantic memoir, Granny Does Europe: A Love Story. The long awaited story pulls the reader through major European destinations, including Paris, Venice, Rome and Barcelona and offers a birds-eye view of blossoming love between senior citizens. Here is the “trailer”:

A stolen kiss in a Paris doorway;a spat on a train bound for Rome; surviving the Sistine Chapel. Two seniors from diverse cultural backgrounds defy the odds & discover that love has no boundaries … Stifled for years by a fear of flying, the author pulls the reader along on her first European tour with a match made in cyberspace. At journey’s end travelers will agree that there is no end to beauty here, no end to faith, no cap to joy. As long as we live, breathe and have our being, we are becoming. In touch with our spirits we learn, we grow, we soar. In touch with our hearts, we love.

The book is available on Amazon.com and Kindle.

Checklist: Granny’s Ten Tips for Senior Travel in Europe

Alicia Schooler-Hugg

April 22, 2013

Checklist:  Granny’s Ten Tips for Senior Travel in Europe

 What I learned from my European venture: Granny Does Europe: A Love Story

  1. 1.  Secure the services of a travel agent familiar with the challenges of senior

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and The Automobile Association of America (AAA) provide senior travel specialists, and there are travel agencies dedicated to senior travel.  Surf their websites.

  1. 2.  Purchase a language dictionary or Translation App for your I-Pad or mobile phone to facilitate communication while visiting the country of your choice. 

At the very least, learn how to say “please” and “thank you” in your host country’s native tongue.  Courtesy is a positive universal trait. Familiarize yourself with gestures or words that may be culturally unacceptable tothat country’s residents.

  1.  Obtain a European plug adaptor for your computer and other electrical devices you plan to bring along.

Some hotels provide adaptors, but having your own will reduce stress.

  1.  Exchange cash for euros through your bank. 

Monetary exchange services at airports or in other countries cost more. Most banks provide this service with sufficient advance notice without extra costs to their customers.

  1.  5. Limit your baggage to one carryon and one wheeled suitcase for your clothing and other essentials at the baggage check point.Your carryon should contain:

   (a) A change of underwear

(b) medications

(c) your passport

(d) personal essentials accepted by security checkers.

Most airlines do not charge for a carryon that fits safely in the overhead compartment above your seat. Having these items with you will minimize any frustration should the airlines misplace your baggage. If feasible, leave extra room in your luggage for souvenirs or other purchases. Some shops will ship purchased goods for a fee, but postage is a strong consideration.

  1. Choose lightweight versatile wrinkle free clothing and know the current or seasonal average weather conditions of each place you will visit. 
  2. Select shoes for style and comfort that are appropriate for morning and evening wear.   

Many streets in Europe are cobble-stoned, and can be a navigational challenge to the senior foot.

  1.  Prepare a complete listing of all of your medications, including over the counter medications.

(a) List each medication by its generic as well as brand name, side effect(s), dosage and the medical condition for which you are taking the prescribed medication.

(b) If you have a chronic medical condition like diabetes, congestive heart failure, hypertension or have a defibrillator or other implanted device, a medical alert bracelet is recommended.

(c) It is also important to list allergies. Medical emergency professionals recognize bracelets and other medical alert devices internationally.

(d) Pre-pack a week’s worth of medications in a pill box marked for seven days to ensure you will not miss medications for that day.  Keep additional medications in their original container(s).

(e) Take an extra supply of over the counter medicines you have at home, such as pain medications (Tylenol or other non-aspirin analgesic), anti-inflammatory and antacids.  European pharmacies have medications in languages that may be difficult to decipher if you do not speak that language.

(f) Don’t forget to include a protective suntan lotion and bug spray. Mosquitoes are prevalent in the evening at the seashore and near other bodies of water.

(f) Know the location of a 24-hour pharmacy in each vacation spot, and the name of an English-speaking physician in that area.

(g) Hard of hearing?  Have extra batteries on hand for hearing devices.

  1.  Have an extra copy of your passport, along with another photo I.D. made and placed in a safe place.I keep an extra copy inside my wheeled suitcase.
  2.  Get plenty of rest between ventures!  Allow enough time for rest and stick to your normal routine as much as possible.  Nap, lounge, relax.

 Tweak this checklist and make it your own.  Each of us has different needs and priorities.  Most importantly, whether this is your Bucket List trip, or you are a seasoned traveler, be good to yourself.

Mingus Hometown Festival to Feature Saxophonist Charles McPherson

Alicia Hugg

March 26, 2013

Charles McPherson, world renown jazz saxophonist, will appear April 20-21, at this year’s Charles Mingus Hometown Music Festival In Nogales, Arizona, Mingus’s birthplace. McPherson played with Mingus over a twelve year period.  The festival, an annual event to honor the legendary bassist and composer, is sponsored by The Mingus Project and coincides with his birthday.  Mingus was born in Nogales on April 22, 1922, and died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease on January 5, 1979, in Cuernevaca, Mexico. Because he was my mother Vivian Mingus’s baby brother and my only uncle, my sister Carol Bowie, an accomplished artist, and I compiled a book in 2006, The Art and Soul of Jazz: a tribute to Charles Mingus, Jr., honoring him. During the research phase of the book, I contacted Charles McPherson, who graciously consented to provide a snapshot of his Mingus experience.  Here, from the book, is McPherson’s take on Mingus:

Charles McPherson: In His Own Words–Reflections on Mingus

October 18, 2005

“I spent twelve years off and on with Mingus.  In all that time there was a year that I didn’t play. Dannie Richmond was with him longer. We were just two of the musicians who played with him. There were hordes of people that worked with him.

I watched how he was with Buddy Collette. He was different. Buddy was a gentle spirit, yet a man. Do you know what I mean? I saw Mingus and Buddy together a lot. He had a certain kind of respect for Buddy. Just like Red Callender. Maybe it was because Red was older. Buddy was older too by just a year, but a year is a long time when you’re a kid. And they’d known each other since childhood.

I was nineteen or twenty when I joined Mingus in 1959 or 1960. Ted Curson, trumpet player, and Eric Dolphy, saxophone, were both going to quit and he needed players. I knew Yusef Luteef and Yusef knew we were in town–me, an alto saxophone player and Lonnie Hillyer, a young trumpet player–at a coffee house in the Village where there were jam sessions. Mingus came by and sat in with us and said ‘Okay you guys come on tonight.”

 We knew from the first night it was a gangster place, straight out of Hollywood. There was a problem with Mingus not being paid. We were in there and he was a huge imposing figure, must have weighed close to 300 pounds then. At the end of the gig he tore the piano up–began ripping the chords from it. I am thinking we are probably gonna get killed. But they were so awestruck they just watched. Mingus was fearless. He said ‘They owe me about two thousand dollars, so I did two thousand dollars worth of damage.’ We just thought ‘should we be happy that we actually got this job?’ I got a feeling this was gonna be some weird job. He was brutally candid and confrontational. He would do strange things like if there were some white men in the audience–in town for a convention or something–from a small town like Des Moines, Iowa, and they started talking during our performance, he would stop in the middle of the tune and tell them to shut up. Or take the mike and put it to one of their mouths and they wouldn’t know they were being heard all over the place. He might go into the bathroom and get a plunger and shake it in their faces.

Mingus really liked me. There was only one reason. When he was assessing you personally once he puts you in whatever slot he thinks you are then that is you forever. We were in San Francisco and we played a club. One afternoon we did a benefit for Kenny Pachen, a Beat poet in a wheel chair. Mingus knew him. After he did the benefit, Mingus started doling out five dollar bills to his band members. I looked at him and said ‘give it to Kenny.’ When I did this his eyes teared up and he looked me square in the face and said ‘Thanks Charlie.’ He saw in me something that the rest of the guys did not have. From that point on, I could do no wrong. We would be goofing off–like youngsters do, just having fun, laughing at things–but he never called me out. If he felt you were a good person, he treated you differently.

Later when I was 32 or so, I could tell the difference in his attitude toward me as I grew older. He related to me as a man. There is a gradation in feelings, a change. He seemed to enjoy working in an atmosphere of stress. Maybe subconsciously enjoying and setting up train wrecks–seemed to jump start something in him. On certain evenings everything was perfect–room-wise, audience-wise–I would look at him and he would have the most bored look on his face and sure enough something would happen. He would do a slight oratory and his music would become more inspired.

The Town Hall Concert was a good example of that. There was no written music. We were waiting for the parts to come so we could play. Mingus walks to the mike and says to the audience: ‘This is a Jazz Workshop. Consider yourselves lucky that you are actually privy to this.’ Bill Cosby was in the audience–I know him and his laugh–sometimes laughing his head off at Mingus’s antics.

About my being selected to play saxophone in “Bird.” I sent a tape and worked with Lennie Niehaus, who was in the Army with Clint Eastwood and scores all of Eastwood’s movies. I met Clint and talked with him.

My overall assessment of Mingus is that his music, especially his composition, is great. I took on a lot of his style through osmosis, I guess. I notice that in some of my original tunes I will say to myself ‘this reminds me of a Mingus tune.’ I was influenced by his composition.

There was something inside of him, a decency, in spite of his being volatile. If he felt you had that decency he actually knew that and responded to it as well. That made anything else he did his redeeming quality.

Buddy Collette is like that. There was a tolerance that Buddy had, a real gentleman, a diplomat. Here is a guy like Mingus with a ‘core decency’ and he tolerated him because he loved Mingus.”

For more information go to: http://www.mingusproject.com

Seige: A tribute to the Million Man March

Alicia Schooler-Hugg

March 14, 2013

Seige: A tribute to the Million Man March and to all of the marches to come…

by Alicia Schooler-Hugg

And so it came to pass that in a giant village square, a throng of African American males raised their collective voices against the weight of hundreds of years of oppression.

Diamonds erupted in the square, sparkling messages of hope, faith and love.  Soon the miracles began.

The crooked were made straight, sight returned to the blind, the hearing-impaired heard sounds of community for the first time, and those who previously could not speak delivered prophecies unto the elders.  What, then, became of the rest?

They were crucified.  The multitudes watched as crowns of thorns were placed upon their wearied brows.  They shouted their anger:

“Crucify them, crucify them.  For they are bowed but not defeated, bent but not fallen.  They hunger but are not starved.  Though their tongues are parched from an age of thirst, their campaigns against the monarchs continue!”

Among them dwelled the spirits of slave mothers whose fatherless sons strained for knowledge to survive the coming destruction.  House slaves now refused to sit silent in their insular kitchens while their kin wailed songs of sorrow in the fields.  Their attitudes revealed a hunger for the message; their shrugs of indifference created a needed diversion enabling those for whom the message was intended to receive it unaltered.

The messenger cried: “Peace, peace be unto you my brethren.  Know you that the light within is your key to salvation.  The light is life fueled by the soul within each of us, and we’re all connected by an invisible umbilical cord to the sun.  (Charles of Mingus noted the messenger’s fingers were crossed and strummed his truth from his bass).

And the Angela of Davis cried: “Nay nay!  Listen not to the water bearers, for you might drown in the River of Untruths.  Listen not, for knowledge must come in rivulets, not floods.  Listen not, for too much of it may create saturation and with saturation the end of learning, the demise of living.”

And the Colin of Powell said:  “There are no issues that we cannot all claim as a nation, no battles we cannot all fight as a clan and no problems we cannot all solve as one nation under God.  Remove those polyps please.”

Now the Louis of Farrakhan, his voice cut like crystal, said:  “Even though the word be stripped of blood, fear no evil.  I am responsible for comments that come unbidden from my flawless tongue.  I mean well, sleep well, eat well, am well.  Be you well and go forward, leaving lands to the landless and flowers strewn along the paths of change.”

The infants, long imbued with the Secret Knowledge of the Ages, cried: “Enough already.  We want to slide on the slides, swing on the swings and make loud preposterous noises when we’ve done the best we can.”

The young men in the square took heed.  When they had supped they said: “It is written.  We have mingled with the prophets, drunk the wine of contingencies and labored under love’s lost days.  Our Sammy of Davis danced for three decades—Bo Janglin’ through Christianity and Judaism, black and white and still they did not believe; Louis of Armstrong trumpeted his way through half a century, his sweet blues wafting to life’s ceiling; Josephine of Baker danced the seven veils of life, creating a coat through her many-colored children until the last one fell away.  And now our prophets call down through the mists:

“Listen and hear us well.  It was for you we lived and shouted the messages crafted to guarantee a place for your children and their children’s children.  Truth is life’s vintage byproduct, its best lesson.  Your task is simple, yet as hard as that of any living creature:

Seek out the great truths, embrace them, live them, and note their relationship to one another.  For without truth your lives will not have mattered and you will have cast not a stroke upon the canvas of eternity.  Life’s basis truths are eternal.  Live your own truth moment by moment and your crops will be bountiful.”

%d bloggers like this: