Invisible People

July 30th, 2013
By Riley McDavid Riley McDavid

(Mr. and Mrs. McD have been on their annual pilgrimage to the beautiful state of  Washington, including an idyllic few days among 100-foot tall pines in the village of Packwood. As is our vacation custom we are republishing an earlier blog.  This one, which is about the Next Meal Club, first appeared in November of 2012.)

For those of you not old enough to remember, which is just about everyone under 60, Naked City was a popular television detective series that told the fictional story of police work in a Manhattan precinct. The show, which aired on ABC from 1958 to 1963, was shot entirely in New York, and each episode was structured as a documentary in order to achieve a gritty realism.

Among the viewing public — the viewing public of a certain age, that is — the series is mostly remembered for the iconic closing line the narrator uttered at the end of each episode: “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.”

Think about that line next time you are riding the Metroliner to Los Angeles and looking at house after house just beyond the tracks.  Or when you are waiting in your car at a busy intersection and seeing dozens of anonymous people crossing the street.  Or when you are driving by a nondescript apartment building whose inhabitants are hidden from view.

When I was very young — maybe nine or ten — my friend Jerry Hayes and I were walking on the west side of Bangor, Maine, taking a circuitous route home after playing basketball at the Y.

“Can you help me?” a woman’s voice called out.

We looked up to the left and a lady was standing in the doorway of what could be described as, at the very best, a modest one-story triplex.  We asked if she was hurt or sick.

“No. My hall light has gone out and I can’t put a new one in.” Now kids that age can be a little suspicious of older strangers, and that we were.  Nevertheless we walked bravely up to the door and into the hall. She had a new bulb in her hand, and Jerry, who was a bit taller than I, climbed up on a chair, took the old bulb out and put the new one in.

She thanked us, and then asked about where we were going, and we told her. She wanted to know what school we attended, and we told her that too. Pretty soon we realized she didn’t want to let us go.   She desperately wanted company.  It turned out she lived alone and her only son was half a continent away in Kansas.

Eventually we pulled ourselves away but not before she had given us each an apple as recompense for helping her. Come back again, she said, but we never did.

There are indeed many stories behind the closed doors we pass in every city and town, and most of us don’t know but a tiny fraction of them.  I will tell you who does know them: our Meals on Wheels delivery volunteers.  Each one knows a dozen or more, and collectively they could write a book — many books.

They know people like the light bulb lady, elders whose spouses and friends have passed on and who need human contact as much as they need nutrition. They know people who are otherwise healthy but who can no longer drive and get to a supermarket for food. I met several of them once during a Meals delivery ride along.  Had it not been for Meals on Wheels, they would have been forced out of the emotionally comforting surroundings of their homes and into some kind of institutional setting. And mostly they know those who simply can’t afford sufficient nutritious food.

Statistics about this latter group are daunting. According to one recent study, 8.3 million seniors face the threat of hunger every day in America.  Every day.

And it’s true right here. 

“Orange County may be the land of plenty for some, but not everyone’s living the good life,” Age Well CEO Dr. Marilyn Ditty wrote in an op-ed. “It’s especially true for thousands of homebound senior citizens who depend on Meals on Wheels for their survival.”

You can help by joining The Next Meal Club.

“The what?” you ask.

That was the reaction Mrs. McD and I had when our good friend Arnie first told us about it.

“Ain’t you two never heard of that old saying, ‘I don’t know where my next meal is coming from?” he explained. “Well there’s tons of seniors right here in this county who actually don’t know where their next meal is coming from.  So Age Well has created the Next Meal Club so its Meals on Wheels program can help feed people who are in that kind of pickle.”

“How does it work?” Mrs. McD asked

“You send a donation to Age Well Senior Services,” Arnie said.  “Since people have to eat every day, ideally the donation is a recurring one — so much every month, for example. “

Send a check to Age Well at 24300 El Toro Road, Suite A-2000. Laguna Woods, CA 92637. Or go online to www.myagewell.org and donate using a credit card or PayPal. If you have questions, call (949) 855-8033.

Think about the big numbers for a bit — the 8.3 million seniors facing hunger every day and the nearly half-million meals Age Well provides every year. But mostly think about the smallest number — one.  Bring an invisible recipient to life by drawing a mental image of someone you’ve known who has struggled to get enough nutritious food. And make your donation today.

“In a nation and county as great as ours,” Dr. Ditty wrote, “no one should be going hungry.”

Coming up on the Age Well Calendar:

August 8.  The Annual Donor Recognition and Board Installation at the Ritz Carlton, Dana Point, hosted by First Bank. High tea, wine and cheese reception. The event will be in the Pacific Promenade from 4 pm to 7 pm. Tickets: $50 per person.  For more information, call (949) 855-8033

What Can You Do About Stroke?

July 16th, 2013
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

Here’s a name you don’t hear every day: Johann Jakob Wepfer.  He was a Swiss pharmacologist and pathologist who lived from 1620 to 1695 — a remarkable life span for a person of that era.

He contributed many important things to the field of medicine.  He was the first to warn us that arsenic and mercury and some other things that I can’t pronounce really aren’t good for us. But his most important contribution was his study of the vascular anatomy of the brain which led to our understanding of what causes stroke.

Some time around 400 B.C., Hippocrates, the father of western medicine and the man who gives his name to the Hippocratic Oath, first recognized stroke, which at that time was called apoplexy. Because doctors didn’t connect the condition with the brain, the cause of apoplexy remained a medical mystery for centuries.

It was not until the mid-1600s that Dr. Wepfer found that patients who died with apoplexy had bleeding in the brain. He also discovered that a blockage in one of the brain’s blood vessels could cause apoplexy, which eventually became known as stroke.

Today stroke is the Number 4 cause of death, and the leading cause of adult disability in the U.S. Each year in this country people suffer 795,000 strokes, 610,000 of which are first strokes. Stroke can happen to anyone at any time, regardless of race, sex or age.

Strokes, sometimes called “brain attacks,” occur because of a sudden failure of the brain to receive the oxygen and nutrients it needs to thrive. This can happen for either of two reasons: a vessel leading the brain is blocked or a vessel in the brain ruptures.

At this point I’m tempted to show how smart I am by defining the different kinds of strokes and proving that I can spell such exotic medical terms as ischemic and hemorrhagic.  But a more productive approach would be to forget the lecture and instead say what we all can do to prevent stroke.

Here’s the really good news. Experts say that fully 80% of all strokes are preventable.   Eighty per cent! Think about that. If you buy a lottery ticket, your odds of winning the big one are as tiny as 1 in 127 million against you.  But if you control your risk factors, the odds of avoiding a stroke are 8 to 10 in your favor.  So why would you not do that?

Here are some risk factors you can control:

Blood Pressure. If your blood pressure is regularly about 120/80, it’s in great shape.  If it’s regularly above 140/90, you’ve got a problem and should see your doctor to find out what to do about it. Diet, exercise and medication can help,

High Cholesterol.  Every body needs cholesterol, but too much cholesterol in the bloodstream can clog arteries and lead to a stroke or heart attack.  In addition to having an overall cholesterol reading of less that 200, you should have an HDL (good cholesterol) reading above 40, and an LDL (bad cholesterol) reading of less than 100. The best defense is a diet high in grains, fruits and vegetables, and low in saturated fat.  In addition, your doctor can prescribe medications that can help lower your cholesterol.

Diabetes. If you’re a Type 2  diabetic keeping your blood glucose level in the low 100’s is essential.  Weight loss alone can accomplish this in many people.  Doctors can also prescribe medication.

Controllable lifestyle factors. Maintain an anti-stroke lifestyle: a heart-healthy diet, regular exercise, no smoking, little or no alcohol and using any medication your doctor prescribes.

While there are some risk factors you can’t control — age, gender, race, prior heart attack, and family history of stroke — there is much you can do to switch the odds in your favor.

Diagnosing Stroke on the Spot

Two million brain cells die every minute during stroke, increasing the risk of permanent brain damage, disability or death. If you can recognize the symptoms of stroke and act immediately, you may help to limit the disabilities the person will incur and you may even save that person’s life. 

If you are in the presence of someone who is exhibiting symptoms of stroke, use the FAST method to do a layperson’s diagnosis.

Face. Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

Arm. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, such as, “Most grass is green.” Does the speech sound slurred or strange?

Time. If you observe any of these signs, it’s time to call 9-1-1 — immediately.

If you want more information about stroke prevention, diagnosis, treatment or support groups, contact the RTH Stroke Foundation in Laguna Hills.   Phone: (949) 305-8450. www.rthfoundation.org  Their sole purpose is to wipe out stroke.  Their seminars, support groups, and screenings are all free.

A final few words about Johann Jakob Wepfer.  Every year since 1990 stroke specialists have gathered for what is known as the European Stroke Conference. This year it was held in London, next year in Nice. In 2005 the conference began honoring one scientist annually with an award for, in the conference’s words, “outstanding scientific work in the field of cerebrovascular diseases and significant contributions to our knowledge about treatment of acute stroke.” 

They named it the “Johann Jacob Wepfer Award” in recognition of the pioneering work Dr. Wepfer did more than 350 years ago.  Dr. Wepfer’s name is not a household word, but among cerebrovascular scientists, he is a legend.

Coming up on the Age Well Calendar:

August 8.  The Annual Donor Recognition and Board Installation at the Ritz Carlton, Dana Point, hosted by First Bank. High tea, wine and cheese reception. The event will be in the Pacific Promenade from 4 pm to 7 pm. Tickets: $50 per person.  For more information, call (949) 855-8033.

A thousand words …

July 2nd, 2013
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

In spite of having to make a sudden u-turn after just leaving home (“I thought you had the tickets,” I said.)  the McD’s made it to Casino Night again this past Saturday, along with hundreds of others.   “An even bigger crowd than last year,” Florence Sylvester Director Shirley Witt said. When we walked in a few minutes after six, the dice were rolling, the decibel count was close to raucous, and dozens of salivating foodies were already snaking their way through the delicious offerings in the buffet line.

Some highlights:

• The gambling went on nonstop for just shy of three hours. Vegas Knights, which annually provides the tables, dealers and croupiers, were as professional and helpful as ever.

• Like so much else in the Age Well world, the evening was made immeasurably better by the dozens of volunteers handling tickets, dishing out food, and picking up the inevitable stray plate and soiled napkin. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Age Well has the world’s best volunteers.

• The Silver Foxes, always a terrific instrumental treat, took their big band sound to new heights this year.

• Thanks to the generosity of many individuals, merchants and other organizations, dozens of holders of winning ticket numbers went home well rewarded after the drawings that concluded the evening.   Most notable among them: Jerry Young of Laguna Woods Village who made his way to the parking lot lugging a brand new 37-inch Vizio flat screen TV.

This is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Florence Sylvester Center, thanks to the outstanding support of Saddleback Kiwanis and the major sponsorship of Dody Hohnstein and MemorialCare Medical Group.

“It was just a wonderful evening,” an obviously pleased Shirley Witt said as she decompressed from nearly an hour drawing tickets and handing out gorgeous gift baskets, money trees, high tech gadgets, and prepaid merchandise cards.

But enough of words.  Check out the smiling faces in the photos. And, oh yes, see the picture of Mrs. McD.  She’s standing at the roulette table.  (Unfortunately, her back is to the camera.)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

August 8.  The Annual Donor Recognition and Board Installation at the Ritz Carlton, Dana Point, hosted by First Bank. High tea, wine and cheese reception. The event will be in the Pacific Promenade from 4 pm to 7 pm. Tickets: $50 per person.  For more information, call (949) 855-8033.

Sea Change: Tanya Aguiñiga’s Bluebelt Forest

June 18th, 2013

This summer the museum opens a specially-commissioned site-specific installation by Los Angeles-based artist Tanya Aguiñiga. Aguiñiga will transform the museum’s upper level gallery into a forest of kelp, corals, barnacles, and other wonderful natural forms that one would typically find under the sea off Laguna Beach. Every object in the exhibition will be hand-made by the artist and her assistants using a variety of materials, especially textiles. By brilliantly recreating organic elements in unexpected, manmade materials, Aguiñiga enables the viewer to experience them anew. In addition to looking, visitors will also be able to explore the exhibition through touching, allowing for a truly immersive encounter.
.
Aguiñiga works at the intersection of furniture design and making, craft, and fine art, allowing each area to be informed and enriched by the others. The ability to successfully navigate between different worlds is something that she attributes to having grown up in the border area of Tijuana and San Diego, where she had to cross the border and move between cultures on a daily basis throughout her childhood. Just as Aguiñiga has been doing in her personal life, she inhabits more than one world through her work. The really remarkable part is that she has become a master of them all, as will be evident from this spectacular installation.
.
Tanya Aguiñiga (b.1978) received her BA in Furniture Design from San Diego State University and her MFA in Furniture Design from the Rhode Island School of Design. Among the awards she has received are United States Artists Fellow and USA Target Fellow in Crafts and Traditional Arts. She has also been involved in numerous community empowerment projects, including the Border Art Workshop (BAW/TAF), a collaborative of artists from Mexico and the US.

Expose: Beatriz da Costa

June 18th, 2013

The fourth show of Laguna Art Museum’s ex·pose series features the last project of Beatriz da Costa, who passed away on December 27, 2012 at age 38. Dying for the Other, a triptych video installation, offers a parallel consideration of mice used in breast cancer research alongside scenes from the artist’s own life. Da Costa suffered from breast cancer and underwent intense medical treatment to combat the disease. Her installation addresses part of our collective social consciousness—pursuing the advancement of science and medicine, but doing so at the sacrifice of other “less intelligent” beings.
.
Set alongside Dying for the Other is da Costa’s Anti-Cancer Survival Kit, a friendly and interactive approach to a somewhat taboo social subject. Bringing together the work of scholars and artists from many disciplines, the supplies and collected knowledge in the kit are meant for those living with cancer while also serving as tools for their loved ones. The components include a database of comprehensive research; a coffee-table style illustrated book providing guidelines for anti-cancer approaches; games designed for touch-screen mobile devices; and information on creating an anti-cancer, DIY garden. Da Costa said of the work: “It’s the kind of kit I wish somebody would have given me as a gift when I was first diagnosed.”
.
Beatriz da Costa was Associate Professor of Studio Art, Electrical Engineering, and Computer Science at the University of California, Irvine. Her work as an artist was multidisciplinary, promoting an awareness of the inextricable ways in which active and passive human action affects our environment.

Faux Real Exhibition

June 18th, 2013

In this summer’s main-level exhibition, Laguna Art Museum presents a collection of works by contemporary artists who mimic reality with a playful twist, in the process raising questions of authenticity and duplication. Often using off-beat materials, and showing a sly sense of humor, they take as their subject-matter items that anyone might pass over without a second thought, such as food, furniture, or domestic knick-knacks. By turning the ordinary into art, they get us to think about how things are made, what they are made from, and how we see them in our everyday experience.
.
Many of the works in Faux Real are about the pleasures of trompe l’oeil, the creation of an eye-deceiving illusion—the delicate ceramic works of Richard Shaw, for instance, or the sculptures of Matthias Merkel Hess and Lauren DiCioccio. Each artist, in his or her own way, offers a rich, textured challenge to us to question our visual surroundings. Kim MacConnel’s reconstruction of a living room extends the tradition of the interior genre painting, allowing us to move into the space.
.
While generally humorous in tone, the exhibition also includes works that, at some level, offer a critique of American culture and consumerism. The clay food sculptures of Julie Bozzi ask us to consider “American types” of food, presenting what could be Cold War-era, Sunset magazine images as a cabinet of curiosities.
.
In addition to those mentioned above, the exhibition includes the following participating artists: Michael Arcega, Sandow Birk, Libby Black, Amy Caterina, Daniel Douke, Ala Ebtekar, Cheryl Ekstrom, David Gilhooly, Jean Lowe, Gifford Myers, Kaz Oshiro, Elyse Pignolet, Walter Robinson, and Stephanie Syjuco.
.
On display on the museum’s upper level, the installation Sea Change: Tanya Aguiñiga’s Bluebelt Forest plays with transformations in a way that perfectly complements the Faux Real theme.

Arnie Makes a Pitch for Casino Night

June 17th, 2013
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

“You two going to Casino Night?” Arnie asked us.  At the time we were down on our hands and knees, doing some gardening in our front yard and Arnie was out for a walk. Before I could say yes, Mrs. McD spoke up.

“What Casino Night?” she said, pretending to be totally ignorant.

“Age Well’s Casino Night.  It’s June 29th at Club House Five in the Village. Six p.m. It’s the year’s biggest fundraiser for the Sylvester Center.”

“Never heard of it,” Mrs. McD said.

“Really!  I coulda sworn I saw y’all there last year.”

“Not us,” Mrs. McD said as she tossed another clump into a pile of weeds she had pulled.

Of course we had gone, but by now I figured I’d better go along with whatever game Mrs. McD was playing. “You probably saw someone who looked like me.,” I said. “A lot of people look like me.”

“That’s right,” Mrs. McD said. “Years ago at the Bangor airport a baggage handler came up to him and said, ‘Aren’t you the movie star?’ And before Riley could say no, I said to the guy, ‘Would you like his autograph?’ ‘I sure would,’ he said, and he gave Riley his Red Sox cap and asked him to write on the visor.”

“I was dumbfounded,” I said to Arnie. “What name was I supposed to sign?”

“So what name did you sign?”

“His name was Don, so I wrote ‘Best of luck, Don,’ quite legibly. Then I made a series of scrawls intended to look like a first and last name.”

“Who did he think you were?” Arnie asked.

“Clooney. Hugh Jackman. Maybe Stallone,” I said.

“Probably Buddy Ebsen,” Mrs. McD said. “Anyway tell us about this Casino thingy.” So Arnie raved on about what a great night it was every year and how much fun everyone had.

If you look between the two ladies at the table, off in the distance you will see the back of Arnie’s head.

“There’s poker and craps and roulette and blackjack and Texas Hold ‘em.  There’s even bingo if you’re not into industrial strength gambling.”

“You’re talking to the wrong woman, Arnie,” I said.  “She plays some heavy duty craps every time we’re on a cruise ship.” To emphasize my point, Mrs. McD screwed up her face, spit on a clump for good luck, rolled it towards the weed pile as if she were tossing a pair of dice.

“Well then you’ll love this,” Arnie said.  “For $25 you get a hundred bucks in play money, a super yummy refreshment table, and four hours around hundreds of people who are having more fun than a bunch of hogs in a…”

“Don’t finish that, Arnie,” I said. “We believe you.”

“Where do we get tickets?” Mrs. McD asked.

‘At the door or at the Sylvester Memorabilia Senior Center,” he replied.

“Memorial, Arnie,” I said.  “Memorial.”

“Right. Then at the end there’s a drawing for some really great prizes.   Not just a few.  I mean it seems like that drawing goes on forever, and there’s a bunch of hoopin’ and hollerin’ every time someone realizes they’re holding the lucky number.”

“What kind of prizes? I asked. Now I had trouble keeping a straight face, because just about every year Mrs. McD and I contributed a prize.

“A flat screen TV, an iPad, restaurant gift cards, grocery gift cards, money trees, mall gift cards and gift baskets, lots of gift baskets.  I won one of them last year. It had all kinds of cheeses from Holland and fancy shmancy crackers and little yummies wrapped up in gold and silver foil.”

“How long did it take you to eat all that?” I asked.

Arnie’s face turned really serious.  “Oh, I didn’t eat it,” he said. “I gave it to a lady on my Meals on Wheels route.”

Mrs. McD  straightened up and looked at Arnie. He had her full attention.  “Really?”

“Really,” Arnie said.  “This woman has no one.  I mean no one.  No husband, no kids, and I don’t think very many friends.  But she’s always happy to see me and gives me a big hug and asks about my daughter and all.  She raved about that basket for months.”

Mrs. McD stared at him for several moments.  Finally she said, “Arnie that was so sweet of you.”

“Aw shucks,” he said.

After Arnie continued on his walk and was out of earshot, I said, “Now don’t you feel guilty for tricking a nice guy like that?” She kept on digging without speaking.  “Wait! Are those really a couple of tears I see on the face of Hard Hearted Hannah?”

She picked up another clump and hurled it viciously at the weed pile.  “Hush your mouth,” she said.

Coming up on the Age Well Calendar:

Saturday, June 29: Casino Night from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Clubhouse 5 in Laguna Woods Village. Major Sponsors: Dody Hohnstein and MemorialCare Medical Group. For $25, you get admission, $100 in play money, and a bountiful snack table, You’ll also be able to win some great raffle prizes, including a flat screen TV, an iPad, restaurant gift cards, grocery gift cards, money trees, and mall gift cards, with more prizes to be announced. This is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Florence Sylvester Center, thanks to the generosity of many individuals and businesses and the outstanding support of Saddleback Kiwanis. Tickets available at the door and at the Florence Sylvester Memorial Senior Center.

August 8.  The Annual Donor Recognition and Board Installation at the Ritz Carlton, Dana Point, hosted by First Bank. High tea, wine and cheese reception. The event will be in the Pacific Promenade from 4 pm to 7 pm. Tickets: $50 per person.  For more information, call (949) 855-8033.

June 3 Golf Tourney to Support Age Well

May 29th, 2013
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

 

Former Angel and AL All Star Clyde Wright.

On June 3 Age Well will host the Clyde Wright Invitational Golf Tournament. But just who is this dude Clyde Wright?  (I use the term “dude” advisedly because it appears to be one of Clyde’s favorite words, as in, “That Blue Moon Odom, he is one goooood dude.”)

First there’s Clyde the big league pitcher.  He played for ten years, eight with the Angels, and one each the Brewers and the Rangers. In those ten years he pitched 67 complete games, a number unheard of in today’s game of middle relievers, set up men and closers.   He finished with a highly respectable career earned run average of 3.50.  His best season was 1970 when he had a 22-12 won-loss record, pitched a 4-0 no-hitter against the Oakland Athletics in Anaheim, and was named to the American League All Star team.

In his last three seasons, the designated hitter rule took the bat out of Clyde’s hands but in his first seven he was a better than average hitter for a pitcher.  He hit safely 69 times, including 17 doubles and four homers. His overall average was .183, and he hit over .200 in three of those seasons.

He later played for three years with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan.

Then there is Clyde Wright the retiree, who among other honors, is listed as one of the eight notable former residents of Jefferson City, Tennessee.  Today he runs a pitching school in Anaheim, does community outreach work for the Angels, and gives his time to charity events like the Clyde Wright Invitational. 

“The big thing when you retire is keeping in touch with all your buddies.” he said to Ken Goldenberg on Channel 6.  “You get to see them and tell stories, and every year the stories get a little longer and a little less believable.”

Clyde, the relaxed retiree, is quite willing to poke fun at himself.

“I’ve joined a select club by throwing a no-hitter,” Wright told Doug Miller of MLB.com. “I’ve also joined a select club by winning 20 games in a season.” But then he came back to earth. “I’ve also joined a select club by losing 20 games in a season. Not a lot of people can say they’ve done that.”

While waiting for the interview with Ken Goldenberg, another guest in the green room pointed out some historical trivia:  Clyde pitched the day the first man landed on the moon.

“Yeah, “ he said, “but she also reminded me that we lost that game, 8-3.”

The Clyde Wright Invitational

“I am a huge golf enthusiast and when I was asked by Age Well to put my name behind their golf tournament, I didn’t think twice,” he said. “At 70 now, I am a senior and I felt this was the perfect marriage. Aliso Viejo’s newly re-vamped 18-hole layout is a fun and challenging course. We have a great day planned and are looking for sponsors who are interested in putting their names behind one of the most important assets in our society, our seniors.” 

Wright isn’t the only retired pro athlete in the tournament. Twenty other NFL and MLB stars will be there as well, including Clyde’s son Jaret who had a standout ten-year big league pitching career. Among the others are Blue Moon Odom, Tommy Davis, Jay Johnstone, LeRoy Irvin, Marv Fleming, Rudy Law, Ricky Ellis, and more.

Foursomes are available for $1,100, including 18 holes of golf, plus cart, continental breakfast, box lunch, tee prizes, player bags with Angels hats, shirts, divot markers, sleeves of balls and more, along with the dinner buffet and opportunity to participate in an auction for valuable items.

Individual golfers can play for $300 each and will receive the same benefits. There is a special senior rate of $250 for single golfers age 55 or older and $1,000 for senior foursomes.

“We just want everyone to have fun so we have lots of special things planned,” Clyde says.

The festivities begin at 11 a.m. with a shotgun start at 12:30. The event includes a hole-in-one contest, a closest to the pin contest, and a putting contest, plus a longest drive competition and opportunity prizes.

How to register

“We’re not hard to find when people want to play in our golf tournament,” Clyde says.

• Call Age Well at (949) 855-8033.

• Go to www.myagewell.org

Coming up on the Age Well Calendar:

Monday, June 3: Clyde Wright Invitational Golf Tournament. Benefiting Meals on Wheels and other Senior Services. 12:30 p.m. shotgun start at the Aliso Viejo Country Club. Golf plus continental breakfast, box lunch, buffet dinner, and prizes for contests.  For more info, call (949) 855-8033.

Saturday, June 29: Casino Night from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Clubhouse 5 in Laguna Woods Village. For $25, you get admission, $100 in play money, a bountiful snack table, and the opportunity to win some great raffle prizes. This is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Florence Sylvester Center, thanks to the generosity of many individuals and businesses and the outstanding support of Saddleback Kiwanis. Tickets available at the door and at the Florence Sylvester Senior Center.

McDee Award Goes to ‘Temporary, Honorary’ Senior

May 21st, 2013
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

Those of you with good memories will remember that the McDee Award, which is given out irregularly, goes only to seniors who have made some notable contribution to the lives of others.   But this week the award goes to Jessica Silver-Greenberg, a financial reporter for the New York Times, who is at least three-plus decades shy of being a senior. So for the purposes of this blog, I hereby designate her a temporary, honorary, short-term, transitory senior.

Ms. Silver-Greenberg, a 2004 graduate of Princeton University and a Pulitzer Prize finalist for national reporting in 2112, is currently doing extensive coverage of the ongoing shareholder saga at JPMorgan Chase.  In the past she has covered all kinds of debt stories, including lending practices, debt collection, student loans, credit cards, and mortgages.  Some of her reporting is about consumers getting the short end of the stick when it comes to finances. Her McDee Award is for being so far out in front of the rest of American journalism on a particular kind of scam targeted at seniors — the pension loan scheme.  

Here’s how it works.  Say you’re a senior with a pretty good monthly pension payout, but not a whole lot in the bank.  All of a sudden you need a whopping big amount of money for a major medical expense or some other reason.  Or maybe you don’t really need it, but you want it.  Let’s say you want to buy an RV or even a yacht. Well there are companies that will advance you money against your pension.

“What’s the problem?” you ask.

Jessica Silver-Greenberg is tough on financial predators, but says, “I am very close to my 88-year-old grandmother, Ruth Silver. She is my inspiration for many things.”

In an April 27 story, Ms. Silver-Greenberg explained the problem, “The Times’s review of more than two dozen loan contracts,” she wrote, “found that the loans, once fees were factored in, could come with effective interest rates from 27 to 106 percent — critical information that was not disclosed either in the ads or the contracts.”

She wrote about Ronald Govan, a retired marine from Snellville, Georgia.   Mr. Govan had a military disability pension of $1,033 a month. A company offered him an advance of $10,000 in return for five years of monthly payments of $353 from his pension. According to both the New York Times and my Quicken loan calculator, that works out to an effective interest rate of 36% — a really bad deal at a time when you can get a mortgage for about three percent and when your CDs earn just a smidgen above one percent.  And by the way, lending against military pensions like Mr. Govan’s is illegal, but the companies doing so claim they are making “advances,” not loans.

I don’t want to give Ms. Silver-Greenberg too much credit, but if the timing I see is correct, a number of people in government took quick notice of these practices after the Times began publishing her stories.  (Apparently the old post hoc, ergo propter hoc idea isn’t always a fallacy.)

On May 7, about ten days after Ms. Silver-Greenberg’s seminal story, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced an investigation into pension loan companies.

“These companies are literally harvesting the hard earned pensions of seniors, military veterans and other hard working New Yorkers,” said Governor Cuomo in a statement on his web site. “Using deceptive practices to cheat people out of their pensions by enrolling them in backdoor high-interest loans will not be tolerated in our state.”

Benjamin Lawsky, the state’s Superintendent of Financial Services, echoed his sentiments. “These pension advances appear to be nothing more than payday loans in sheep’s clothing,” he said.

Massachusetts wasn’t far behind. On May 13, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin announced his state was taking action. “It’s a novel industry and it seems to be flourishing,” Mr. Galvin told the online site Investment News. “I understand the pressure someone may have to sell [their pension],” he added, “and we’re not saying it’s never appropriate [but] obviously you’re going to get less than the value of future payments.”

Attorneys general in several states aren’t buying the argument that the payouts are advances and not loans, and are going after the companies.  New York has issued subpoenas for ten of them, the ads for several of which popped up on my screen when I Googled “pension advances.”  Three are located in California, including two here in Orange County.  Others are in Indiana, Florida, Delaware, Michigan and Arkansas.

Consumer watchdogs generally urge that people steer clear of these loans. “Just don’t do it,” one said bluntly. But if you have a real emergency need for cash, see a legitimate financial counselor for advice before you commit.  If in the end you decide to get one of these “advances,” do the following.

• Don’t take the sales pitches as gospel.  What counts is what’s on paper, not what a salesperson told you. If you don’t understand the paperwork, take it to someone who does — a lawyer, an accountant, a financial advisor at your senior center.

• Make sure the interest and all other fees are spelled out specifically.

• If a loan officer presents you with paperwork, but tells you that you have to sign on the spot and can’t take it with you to look over, get up and leave — immediately.

On behalf of the thousands of seniors in Age Well Meals on Wheels and other  programs, and on behalf of any senior anywhere who benefited from the Times’s stories, thank you Jessica Silver-Greenberg.

Coming up on the Age Well Calendar:

Monday, June 3: Clyde Wright Invitational Golf Tournament. Benefiting Meals on Wheels and other Senior Services. 11 a.m. shotgun start at the Aliso Viejo Country Club. Golf plus continental breakfast, box lunch, buffet dinner, and prizes for contests.  For more info, call (949) 855-8033.

Saturday, June 29: Casino Night from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Clubhouse 5 in Laguna Woods Village. For $25, you get admission, $100 in play money, a bountiful snack table, and the opportunity to win some great raffle prizes. This is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Florence Sylvester Center, thanks to the generosity of many individuals and businesses and the outstanding support of Saddleback Kiwanis. Tickets available at the door and at the Florence Sylvester Senior Center.

Beatrice Vivian Divic, 1925-2013

April 30th, 2013
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

 

Besedka Johnson, nee Beatrice Vivian Divic

Beatrice Vivian Divic was born in Detroit in 1925.  She eventually had aspirations of becoming a model and in her late teens she went to Los Angeles to chase her dream. 

I know what you’re thinking — Beatrice Vivian Divic is the birth name of some star who went to Hollywood and later changed her name to June Lockhart or Dorothy Malone or Angela Lansbury, all of whom were also born in 1925.  But no, Ms. Divic’s life in Southern California followed a more traditional path.

In her late 20’s she married a painter named Johnson — an artist, not a house painter — whose first name, alas, remains unknown. Together they had three children, Jim, Marc and Lloyd. They divorced about ten years later.

Los Angeles Times reporter Valerie J. Nelson said that after the divorce “Johnson took acting lessons as a sort of therapy,” but never had any visions of becoming a professional actress. She soon remarried but that union also dissolved after ten years.

Now known as Johnson, she became a successful entrepreneur, opening a dress shop called Besedka in Woodland Hills and eventually another Besedka in North Hollywood.  According to the NewYork Times, she practiced yoga for much of her life. She moved to the Bay Area for a period and managed a condominium in San Francisco, but eventually came back to L.A.  Like so many of the seniors Age Well serves, in her later years she developed knee problems and worked out regularly as a form of physical therapy.

We’ve all heard the story of how the actress Lana Turner was “discovered” while sipping a soda at Schwab’s Drugstore on Hollywood Boulevard.  (If you’re too young to have heard that story and in fact have no clue who Lana Turner was, trust me, that’s how it happened and Ms. Turner went on to have a wildly successful Hollywood career.)

Ms. Johnson, who had long since adopted the first name of Besedka, was also discovered, not at Schwab’s but working out at a North Hollywood YWCA when she was 85. In 2011, the producers of the independent film Starlet were two weeks away from beginning shooting and still had not found an older actress to play Sadie opposite 21-year-old Dree Hemingway, the daughter of Mariel Hemingway.  In what can best be described as serendipity, Shih-Ching Tsou, an executive on Starlet, was working out at the same time as Besedka Johnson.

“When I saw her at the gym, I was stunned,” Ms. Tsou recalled in an interview with the New York Times. “I thought, ‘This lady is who we are looking for.’ ”

Ms. Tsou asked Ms. Johnson if she would be interested in playing the role. She was flattered but skeptical, so she told her son Jim who is in the film industry. “Mom,” he said to her, “do you know how many waiters and waitresses have slaved throughout their lives for the chance to get to do what you’re doing? Do it!”

So she did.

The film is about a growing and not always harmonious relationship between 21-year-old Jane (Hemingway) and 85-year-old Sadie (Johnson) after Jane discovers a hidden stash of money inside an object at Sadie’s yard sale.

The reviews were very good.

“The relationship,” said Entertainment Weekly, “unfolds with a matter-of-fact integrity that accepts all personal quirks, weaknesses, and sorrows as human and worthy of love.”

The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis, a notoriously tough critic, wrote, “A model, Ms. Hemingway… has appeared in only a few films and is a spectacular find, as is Ms. Johnson, a longtime Angeleno making a true, piercing screen debut.”

Roger Ebert gave the movie three stars and wrote of Ms. Hemingway and Ms. Johnson, “These two women, so very different, are the film’s heart and soul, inviting us to decide for ourselves what’s beneath their seemingly obvious facades.”

Besedka Johnson reportedly was an extremely nice person who was sensitive to the feelings of others, but the character of Sadie required that from time to time she be mean and antagonistic. Starlet director Sean Baker told the L.A. Times that after a scene required her to be particularly abrasive to Hemingway, Johnson “would turn to Dree and apologize for the way she was acting. It was so sweet.”

By all accounts Besedka Johnson thoroughly enjoyed her relatively brief moment in the sun, speaking at showings of Starlet and traveling to film festivals in Mill Valley, Austin, Texas, and elsewhere. After the movie’s critical success, several directors approached Ms. Johnson with offers of other roles but unfortunately she fell ill from an infection.  In early April she died in a Glendale Hospital.  She is survived by her three sons and by thousands of ardent fans who last year at this time had never heard of Besedka Johnson. She lives on, however, in Starlet, which is almost sure to become a cult classic.

Coming up on the Age Well Calendar:

Monday, June 3: Clyde Wright Invitational Golf Tournament. Benefiting Meals on Wheels and other Senior Services. 11 a.m. shotgun start at the Aliso Viejo Country Club. Golf plus continental breakfast, box lunch, buffet dinner, and prizes for contests.  For more info, call (949) 855-8033.

Saturday, June 29: Casino Night from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Clubhouse 5 in Laguna Woods Village. For $25, you get admission, $100 in play money, a bountiful snack table, and the opportunity to win some great raffle prizes. This is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Florence Sylvester Center, thanks to the generosity of many individuals and businesses and the outstanding support of Saddleback Kiwanis. Tickets available at the door and at the Florence Sylvester Senior Center.