These Golden Years

Many of our friends may have heard about our successful book signing at Edgartown Books on Martha’s Vineyard. What you may not know is that I was a complete nervous wreck. It was my first book signing and I could barely write my name. In contrast, Morgan lay on the ground next to me, totally relaxed, with a big goofy smile. People walking down the street couldn’t resist him. I was afraid that no one would show up to buy the book, despite the fact that it was featured in two newspapers and the local radio station.  But as it turned out the best advertising was a smiling Golden Retriever, named Morgan. The line that formed to pet him, turned into the line to buy the book.

Whenever my nerves got the better of me, I would lean down and rub his head and the jitters in my fingers dissipated. For those who have read the excerpt from the book, you know that Morgan has not always been a source of tranquility. He was a swirling dervish of energy when we first rescued him. He was aggressive with other dogs and around his food. One of the things that calmed him to help him sleep was to rub his head gently. In those days I never imagined that he would ever be a source of calm for me. Or that he would become my assistance hearing dog.

But after a two-year, rigorous training course with a police-canine officer/instructor he’d come get me if someone was at the door. On our walks he alerted me to cars and people approaching from behind me. One night he stopped in the middle of the street for no apparent reason.  Then suddenly I saw two coyotes jump over a wall up ahead of us. Even though he is unable to walk now, in his senior years, he continues to assist me.

Just last week, from my bedroom, I heard him barking loudly and incessantly. Suddenly I smelled smoke in the air and rushed out into the kitchen, where he was lying, to find bellows of smoke pouring out of the microwave. I threw open the door to find a charred sweet potato. Thanks to our houseguest! Gratefully, I patted Morgan on his head and rewarded him with his favorite treat – a banana.

It’s impossible for me to believe that we just celebrated Morgan’s 14th Gotcha Day and that we’re back swimming together again. This has given us renewed quality time with Morgan which I pray will continue for as long as possible. Our boy may be 14 but in our hearts he’s still that year old, crazy boy, who jumped into my truck when we rescued him all those many years ago.


How I Learned About Love

Many of our long-time friends and followers know that I was born in a tough, Irish, working-class neighborhood in South Boston. My mother had to contend with four sons, of which I was the oldest. You don’t need a crystal ball to figure out where love fit into the list of priorities in our family. It was there somewhere in the midst of the chaos. I have no doubts.

It wasn’t until my first Golden, Nicholas, came into my life in 1982 that I finally understood what unconditional love was all about. Of course, everyone loves a sweet puppy. I certainly was crazy in love with him. It’s easier to love when the times are good. But when things became unbearable during the worst of the AIDS epidemic: when the love of my life had died; when sickness and death surrounded me; when my own life teetered precariously on the edge, it was Nicholas’ unconditional love that pulled me through it. With Nicholas, each and every day, there was love in my life.

I lost so many friends and colleagues during the AIDS epidemic that my heart closed shut. I didn’t want to make any new friends for fear I would lose them. Then this sweet, blond, fluff ball, I named Willy, arrived in my life. Slowly, this loving, gentle entity forced me out of the shell I had built to protect me. On our walks he insisted that I share my love for him with everyone we met. I resisted it at first. But as they say – Love Wins.

Now, my life has been blessed once again with another amazing Golden, Morgan. He is my first rescued dog.  It was during the great recession, in 2008, when animals were abandoned, sometimes left behind in homes. I knew that I had to do my part to repay the love that I had been so generously given.

Morgan was difficult at first. He was broken, in the same way that I had been. It was time for me to learn about giving unconditional love. With loving kindness, an open heart, and a lot of training, Morgan became a funny, photogenic boy that we’ve all come to love and care about and I can’t imagine my life without him.

So on this holiday dedicated to “Love” I am so grateful to my Goldens who have taught me to be open to love and to give it.

Toys For Homeless Pets

Our family has a different kind of tradition for New Years.  I always sit Morgan down the day after Christmas, when all the packages have been opened, and I tell him about all the dogs down at the Palm Springs Animal Shelter who don’t have a warm home like he has, nor family and friends to love them and take care of them, like he has.

I remind him that he has a lot of toys that he never plays with and that now he has even more than before. Morgan always gets a serious look on his face and then without even the slightest pause, he gathers up several of his old toys and puts them in a basket. I ask him if he is sure he wants to do this and he nudges my arm with his nose.

So we get into the truck and drive down to the shelter. He never wants to go in with me, he prefers to stay outside. I can’t blame him, it always breaks my heart going in there and seeing all those dogs in the kennels, staring out, hoping for a miracle. The volunteers are grateful and let me know that they’ll be put to good use. When I come back out, Morgan has his old smiley face on. I think he knows he’s helping his cousins. The occasion always calls for a good walk somewhere as a reward for Morgan’s generosity and caring.

This year, with COVID, the shelter is closed to the public and a large blue bin is stationed outside the front door for donations. Inside the container, alongside Morgan’s bag of toys were also gifts of pet beds, blankets and clean towels.

Our New Year wish is that until all homeless pets find their forever homes, everyone make a stop at their local shelter and give an unlucky dog or cat some new toys.

Happy New Year everyone from Morgan and his Dads.

Thankful & Grateful on the Golf Course

Hello friends. It’s Morgan. My Dad is letting me write this year’s Thanksgiving blog. First and foremost, I’m grateful for my Dads and how they take care of me. Especially since my legs have gotten weaker. I love my wagon-walks so very much. I’m also grateful that we’re remaining in Palm Springs for the winter. It’s so much more convenient for our walks than when we were living in LA. At our apartment in the city my Dads had to carry me up and down three flights of stairs which wasn’t easy as I’ve gotten a little wider as I’ve grown.

I’m also thankful the election is over and my Dads have stopped obsessing and bickering about it. My Dads always get wound up about elections but this year it was insufferable. I’m grateful that we’re now in a time of healing.

I’m thankful that there might be a vaccine soon. I feel sad about all the people who have been sick and have lost their lives. But it also means hopefully I will get to take walks again with my Golden pals, Rocky and Samson. I miss them both.

As I write this I’m sitting out on the front patio in the shade. The temperature is a mild 79 degrees. I’m grateful that the heat has released its grip. Soon we’ll be able to take some of our walks in the afternoon.

As I’m now in my senior years, or my Golden years as I like to tell people, I’m thankful for the very handsome undercover FBI agent who moved in two units down from us. I feel so much safer with Vincent around. Not that it’s an unsafe neighborhood, mind you, but you never know when something might happen. I’m sleeping much more restful with the law close by.

I am grateful that my Dads adopted “Ferris the Turkey” this year. See his picture below. He is quite the “Hot Shot.” But I am not grateful that we are having Tofurky for Thanksgiving – again. If anyone has any leftovers, donations are accepted.

My Thanksgiving Prayer is that all animals have food on this day of thanks and giving. And may they find their fur-ever homes like I did.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


Life on the Golf Course – Part 5

Summer in the desert can begin in May. Temperatures hover in the upper 80s to low 90s. It’s the time of year when the term “but it’s a dry heat” really means something. It’s always been one of my favorite months of the year. This last May was no exception.

The golf course remained closed because of Covid restrictions and people were out walking most of the day. More often than not with a dog. By this time, Morgan riding in his red wagon had become somewhat of a celebrity. Other walkers waved to him from a distance. It was sweet to see how enamored people had become with Morgan.

I want you to meet a few of his admirers like Henry the Horse. Known from the Beatles song, “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” The verse is “And of course Henry the Horse dances the waltz.” Well, Henry the Horse didn’t waltz during our encounters, but he did turn toward us and nod his head. On several occasions when we would run into Mr. Henry and his guardian, it was always a raucous encounter. As you know, Morgan has become quite the barker. Henry would snort and raise his head and trot off.

Daily, we passed by Miss Shelby, a 12-year-old Golden Retriever, sitting on her porch. Miss Shelby lived along the golf course as well and was always very polite and gracious. She wiggled her fanny gleefully when Morgan would roll by. Unlike you know who. He greeted her with trumpet-like barks as loud as an elephant. The noise was so loud, birds flew out of the trees and rabbits ran for cover. I think our boy was quite taken by Miss Shelby. And vice versa. Morgan’s always had a soft spot for the ladies. It’s sweet to see that he still has a touch of Romeo.

Every morning, it seemed like clockwork, we would see “The Bandana Lady. Named because she wears a bandana mask while she’s out getting her exercise. We’d never really spoken to her until one morning when she lifted her bandana and said, “I look forward to seeing you every morning. You make my day. I just love your baby.” Now she greets us each day, “Hello. How’s your baby today?”  Morgan doesn’t find her as interesting as Mr. Henry or Miss Shelby but gives her a couple of barks to be polite.

During this time of isolation and disconnect it is heart warming to see how Morgan in his wagon can bring a little smile to people’s faces. It’s time to come together and spread a little love to everyone we meet. Even if it’s just a smile on your face.




Life on the Golf Course – Part 4

We remember this past April fondly for several reasons. But before I tell you why, I want to share with you some local folklore. You’ve been hearing the name Tahquitz (tah quits) Creek Golf Course a lot in my blogs and posts. It’s the name of the golf course where we live and walk. What does Tahquitz mean, you ask?

Legend has it that Tahquitz was once a guardian spirit over all shamans, of the native Cahuilla Tribe who have inhabited this valley for over 2500 years. However, he turned evil and began using his powers to harm the Cahuilla people. Their chief banished him to the canyon now called Tahquitz Canyon where he roams as an evil spirit hunting for people’s souls.

Fortunately, we have not encountered Tahquitz on our wagon-walks, thus far. I credit Morgan for keeping us safe. They say that dogs are very intuitive, sensing danger that humans cannot. Things like storms and earthquakes and even tsunamis.

On some of our wagon-walks Morgan will suddenly start barking for no apparent reason. I don’t see anything or anyone near us. But a few seconds later we’ll turn the corner on the golf cart path and discover a dog and a human companion not far from us. On some walks we’ll see little desert cottontails running for cover. These desert rabbits like living on the golf course because they eat grass. In his younger days, he and Angel Cody loved to chase after them. It was funny to watch as they were never quick enough to catch one.

But there are times when Morgan barks when nothing is there. No dogs. No rabbits. Nothing but him barking. Could he sense the spirit of Tahquitz lurking close by? It’s these moments when I feel lucky to have Morgan protecting us.

We remember this past April fondly because it was the last time that it rained. For several days storm clouds covered the San Jacinto Mountains, entirely. The runoff surged down Tahquitz Canyon flooding the wash running through the golf course. With so much water the mallard ducks moved in with their ducklings. Morgan loved watching them from creekside.

April was important to me because seeing him so happy and full of energy, I began to trust that Morgan was going to be with us for a much longer time than I previous thought. This was a huge burden lifted off my shoulders. I was really able to enjoy our time together. I could fully delight in the adventures we were still having.

We’re all fortunate to have our canine guardians to protect and guide us through these challenging times.


Life on the Golf Course – Part Three

One of America’s iconic children’s toys is the red Radio Flyer wagon. Designed and handmade in 1917 by an Italian immigrant named Antonio Pasin. The first version was made of wood and he named it the Liberty Coaster in honor of the statue that welcomed him to America.

Starting the summer before last, just before we went “Back East” to vacation with my family, we had noticed that Morgan was having difficulty walking. Normal outings were taking twice as long, and we needed more rest stops. This made our visit more challenging as our young and active nieces wanted Morgan to be part of all our activities. It was here that I first wondered if I could teach Morgan to ride in the girls’ Radio Flyer wagon which they generously offered to us.

When vacationing on Cape Cod, we stay at the Provincetown Inn, which is a fair distance from Joe’s, our favorite coffee shop near the center of town. Every morning we would wake up early and walk with Morgan to Joe’s in order to secure one of the coveted outside tables. The only way we would make it on time this year with Morgan’s new difficulty walking was by having him ride in our nieces’ wagon.

James wasn’t convinced that Morgan would take to it. But I knew better. All we had to do was cushion it with his favorite blanket and he’d love it. It’s true the first time we put Morgan in the wagon he looked around with a puzzled expression of concern. But by the second ride our little Prince was wondering why we had waited so long to haul him around in it. Of course, all the attention he got from admirers riding down Commercial Street added to his enjoyment.

We didn’t know it at the time but teaching Morgan to ride in a wagon has made it possible for us to extend our time with him. When he collapsed in February and could barely move, we thought it was the end. However, it became evident that Morgan wasn’t ready to cross over the bridge quite yet. I knew it was time to purchase for Morgan his very own Radio Flyer wagon. And riding around in it seems to have given him a new lease on life.

When everything shut down in March, including the local golf course, we were able to take him on long invigorating wagon-walks on the golf cart paths with nobody around us.  It was like having your very own private park. The wagon-walks have been beneficial for all of our spirits in these challenging times.

Morgan now wakes us up every morning at six am with a loud bark, ready for his wagon adventure. We are grateful to Antonio Pasin for creating what is now a vital part of our life. Can you believe that the red Radio Flyer wagon is now over a hundred years old?  May we all enjoy such a long productive life and bring joy to children and child-like people across the world.


Life on the Golf Course – Part 2

When our vet told us to make arrangements for Morgan because there was nothing else he could do for him, I was devastated. Saying good-bye is never easy. It crushes you. I’d done this twice before for my first two boys, Angel Nicholas and Angel Willy. I remember the agony I felt when Nicholas was no longer able to walk, and no longer wanted to. Then again, when Willy suffered from congestive heart failure. Nighttime is always more difficult. During the day you can find something to do. Even if it’s just sweeping the floor.

Since we no longer had a back yard, we thought we were going to need to cremate Morgan. The thought that someone was going to take him away from me and bring him back in a box made me distraught. I spoke with our Golden friends, Doug and Al, Rocky’s Dads. They offered to let us bury Morgan in their yard. They had four Goldens already buried in their upper garden and said there was room for Morgan. It was a kind gesture and it brought me some comfort. I told them we would probably be traveling north soon.

I had lifted Morgan onto the bed so he’d be more comfortable. Throughout the day I checked on him at least several dozen times, hoping for a change. I sat with him. I laid next to him. But Morgan remained in this sad listless condition. Twilight was fast approaching.

I was in the kitchen making our dinner. When I checked on Morgan again his head was up off the mattress. What a wonderful sight it was to see. As suddenly as he fell into that lethargic state, he snapped out of it and his famous smile returned. Food had always been a motivator for Morgan so he must have really liked the smell of the tomato sauce that I was cooking.

As relieved and grateful as I was, I wasn’t convinced that we had much more time with Morgan. Even though he was now alert, we still had to carry him in and out to do his business. I wasn’t sure what to do. I certainly didn’t want him to suffer or be in any discomfort just to keep him alive.

I reached out to some friends and the general consensus was that Morgan was not ready to leave us. So we decided to buy him a red Radio Flyer wagon to ride him around in for our morning walk. Thus, began our daily wagon-walks with Morgan.


Life on the Golf Course

Not in a hundred years could I have seen myself living on a golf course.  And I never expected to be grateful that I do. High season in Palm Springs starts in January when all the movie stars show up for the Palm Springs International Film Festival Gala, which we annually attend. Over the years we’ve been fortunate to meet Clint Eastwood, Sean Penn, Ron Howard, Helen Hunt and Tom Bosley, to name a few.

This past festival (pre-covid), we were lucky enough to find a place to stay right on the Tahquitz Golf Course as everything was sold out. We were familiar with the golf course. Our longer-time friends and followers may remember that we started coming to here with Morgan and Angel Cody when it got too hot to hike up into the surrounding mountain trails. On the green grass the temperature for our evening walks was several degrees cooler and we often ran into the rain showers of the sprinkler systems which cooled the boys off even more.

We had a fun January, with daily walks around the fairways filled with banana treats. During the afternoon we took in a film or two at the festival. Our favorite was Stage Mother – a hilarious comedy about a Texas church choir director inheriting her late son’s drag queen club in San Francisco. Another favorite of mine was Miss Fisher’s Crypt of Tears from Australia. It’s based on the Netflix series, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. I was looking forward to the premiere and was surprised to see the theater packed with devoted fans dressed up in 1920s flapper costumes.

On January 30, as we were packing to vacate, Morgan stopped walking, literally stopped walking. We came home from a late afternoon outing and he just lay on the floor and wouldn’t move. We rushed him to our vet who refused to give Morgan additional shots. He told us they weren’t helping him anymore and there was nothing else he could do for my Golden boy. He advised us to make arrangements.

We decided it was best to extend our stay in Palm Springs for what we thought were going to be Morgan’s final days.


Not My First Pandemic

I got my blood work results back from the lab at Eisenhower Hospital today and the news was good. My A1C, the marker that determines diabetes, is 5.9. That’s nearly normal. My viral load for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is undetectable and my T-cells sit at 700 which is within the normal range.

HIV has had a profound presence in my life for nearly forty years. Ever since 1981 when the first opportunistic infections appeared such as Kaposi’s sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that develops from the cells that line lymph or blood vessels. I can remember waking up at night worried that I might get sick. Back in those days, AIDS was nearly always fatal and no one knew how it was spread. To date, HIV has killed 750,000 Americans alone.

I remember dressing like astronauts to visit friends in the hospital sick with AIDS. Like today, hospitals in major cities were overwhelmed with patients. In San Francisco, where I Iived, those early AIDS patients were put in isolated rooms and left there. It’s the truth of those terrifying times. I can only imagine how many died alone without the comfort of family or friends. I didn’t suspect that the nurses or attendants there were homophobic. They were just terrified like the rest of us of dying themselves. Evangelicals like Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority in Virginia, routinely stated, “The AIDS virus isn’t just God’s punishment for homosexuals, it is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.” I wonder who his son will blame for this pandemic?

I feel sad and angry that so many people will die needlessly in this COVID-19 pandemic. I honestly believe it could have been stopped. It should never have gotten to this point. It doesn’t surprise me with regards to the current administration’s lack of urgency.

It was six years into the HIV epidemic before President Reagan gave a speech in 1987 about AIDS.  Only after his friend Rock Hudson died in 1985 did Reagan take it even remotely serious. Nearly 90,000 Americans died of AIDS while Reagan was President.

For 15 years, from 1981 till 1997, I worried that I would succumb to HIV. Why would I think otherwise after I watched the love of my life die in 1987? I remember vividly the day when the first KS lesions appeared on his body. I was sure that I was next. It wasn’t until 1997 when safer medications became routinely available that I began to hope that I might survive.

Now, there’s a new pandemic. And many of the leading AIDS doctors and scientists and activists are now being interviewed on the nightly news, sharing their experience in the fight to cure AIDS from years ago.  It’s surreal, honestly. Dr Fauci is one of my heroes in the HIV battle and now here he is once again the face of knowledge and understanding about the novel COVID-19 virus. The man most of the country trusts for advice and a strategy.

Dr. David Ho, of Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, was a leading scientist in finding HIV treatment. Now he is leading the charge to find treatments for the corona virus.

Gregg Gonsalves, a Yale University epidemiologist and health care activist was also an AIDS activist. He was part of ACT-UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. I was a member of ACT-UP as well. Time Magazine called ACT-UP “the most effective health activist (group) in history” for “pressuring drug companies, government agencies and other powers that stood in their way to find better treatments for people with AIDS – and, in the process, improving the way drugs are tested and approved in the U.S.”

Now, thanks to all that past research and programs at the NIH and the FDA that were funded to prevent AIDS, that research is now being applied to the novel COVID-19 virus.

We can thank ACT-UP for this triple drug combination attack against this virus. We’re hearing phrases like “viral load”, protease inhibitors, attacking the virus at different places! The HIV medication Kaletra is being tested against COVID-19 along with other AIDS medications. All of these are familiar terms. I thought that these words were in the past; that they were behind me. Now here they are again on the nightly news.

The coronavirus has a lot of folks freaked out, and rightly so. But I have to admit, I’m not that worried about my own health. I live a life framed by a pandemic all ready. I can’t worry any more than I already do about HIV.  I’m not careless or nonchalant about it. I am wearing gloves and now we have protective masks to wear out of the house.

I’m confident we will get through this new pandemic if we listen to experienced experts such as Dr. Fauci and take this threat seriously. Stay home, stay safe, and as a pandemic survivor I can tell you there is hope.