No Holds Barred: “Easing into” getting out in the world

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An honorable visit from pal Sally Bedell Smith. Sally’s new book, George VI and Elizabeth, comes out in April. Photographs by Stephen Drucker.

I felt I had to return to the scene of the crime. It was exactly three years ago (January 29th) that I decided to go to Palm Springs since astrologers were predicting the end of the world — or at least World War III. I decided to “get out of Dodge” and drown myself in modern architecture, poodle parades and visits with pals. I returned home to three years of COVID and I never left my house again.

Pre-Covid memories of Palm Springs! Parade participants in a Rolls Royce, stocked with Poodles and Prosecco.

Obviously a lot has happened to all of us — mostly the loss of three whole years. Honestly I don’t think I ever came “back to normal.” I spent most of my pandemic time dealing with the loss of my 99-year-old mother and renovating my family’s 34-year-old house. It was a worthy project.

1987 vintage burglar alarm taped in prep and saved for posterity! Very Burt Reynolds!

But I chose not to come out for any “diversion.” I dumped out on shopping since I went nowhere and rarely dined out. I found the epidemic cleaned out all of my “obligatory relationships.” And I have to admit that I ended up enjoying the extreme COVID curation of friends and family. I liked my “bubble.”

Besides, with renovation comes letting go. I attempted to establish a “comfort zone” and create my own 5-star-hotel as my traveling days were dwindling. I felt I had already been everywhere when the getting was good.

Last year I was aware that the few people I had left in my life were “revenge” traveling and shopping up a storm. I was still being “careful” with what I wanted to put back in my life since so much went out. After all we had all been “sent home” for much of the time.

I didn’t want an “escape.” I had been “escaping from the world” for the last three years. But I was concerned that I had lost my skill for adventure or just plain change. I didn’t want to end up with agoraphobia.

But I liked the lessons learned from the pandemic; the importance of home, walking, meeting people outside, I did see people (not in groups) and treasured the few real conversations I had. COVID took away a lot of BS in life. And for many that has been hard to face – with or without the PTSD of three years gone. We all look, feel, and act a lot older. No matter the amounts of “revenge plastic surgery.”

Sunshine and me enjoying lots of quality time together.

So, I decided to “ease into” getting out in the world by returning to Palm Springs and staying again with Stephen Drucker (Style Editor Supreme who also took every photograph on this page!) and Frank Newbold (Hamptons Realtor Extraordinaire) in their Palm Desert Marrakesh gated community villa. It was the perfect setting to slowly and carefully settle me into getting socially acclimated.

First of all, I could easily drive there in four hours from my Scottsdale home (not ready for airport anxiety), and I was familiar with the serene all-white minimally Mod home which resembled a piece of heaven.

Marrakesh’s “pink Brigadoon” residential community was designed 45 years ago by Regency legend architect John Elgin Woolf. It was the perfect “halfway house” vibe for me. After all, healing is big in the desert — remember Betty Ford rehab center is close by.

John Elgin Woolf trademark front door at Marrakesh Golf Club.

In my days spent with Steven and Frank, they introduced me to a real plush “marshmallow” mattress (very hard to score) and taught me how to make coffee in their Nespresso coffee machine which changed my life. Now this is what friends are for!

A lot was riding on this four-day trip. Steven and Frank were willing to help me break the “no travel” spell with care and concern. If not, I would end up like Punxsutawney Phil — the famous Groundhog who comes out of his burrow on February 2nd only to race back to his hole for another six weeks if he sees his shadow. I was hoping for no shadow.

Stephen and Frank kept our schedule laid back. We didn’t dine out every night — in fact their fabulous glass round dining room table became “action central” to wonderful dinners and meetings with just one or two people.

The best dining room table at Stephen Drucker and Frank Newbold’s Palm Desert home — where “it all happens.”

As for all the modern home tours, we had done all of that years before. Besides their own Marrakesh Country Club will become the season’s “big design” event with the March unveiling of Superstar Designer Tom Scheerer’s three-year-long Country Club renovation.

Scheerer has managed to take the Kasbah themed relic into something chic and current. And since golf has returned with such a vengeance during COVID, country clubs are going to be big design attractions. Certainly, Scheerer’s Marrakesh moment already leads the way.

Marrakesh Country Club under renovation by super star designer Tom Schereer.

The Marrakesh Clubhouse reimagined.

It’s interesting that in three years the whole modern craze has been absorbed everywhere, not just Palm Springs. White glass box houses have exploded all over my neighborhood and other non-resort locations. Meanwhile in Palm Springs, Bravo Bachelorette parties and weddings are packing the high styled Airbnbs.

Palm Springs is giving Vegas a run for its “party hearty” bookings. Even the giant Marilyn Monroe statue (the 26-foot Seven Year Itch billowing skirt image in front of the Palm Springs Museum) is almost old news. Personally, I didn’t want to pose under her underwear backside like the rest of the Palm Springs world is doing.

Old news!

Instead, I wanted to meet 86-year-old 107.3 MOD FM DJ Don Wardell simply because his show on Great American Standards is the soundtrack for vintage Palm Springs and has been for the last 30 years. He’s a British born (sounds like Cary Grant) Decca records producer who even won a Grammy for reproducing the historic recordings of Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Dorsey. He is a walking American Standard archive.

Standing outside the Agua Caliente Casino on my way to meet DJ Don Wardell.

Wardell does his daily show from 2:00 to 5:00 PM on Mondays from the Agua Caliente Casino in the Cascade Lounge. There he gives out gifts of Johnny Mathis concert tickets and Bundt cake and car wash coupons to his live loyal fans as they sip mimosas and martinis while playing the slots.

With my hero at the Agua Caliente Casino lounge.

The scene has a slightly David Lynch feeling about it, but Don graciously asks everyone to join him on air as he did me. So, I asked him who was his favorite singer and what was his favorite song. He instantly replied with “Why, that is Ella Fitzgerald with the best song ever “‘Manhattan.”’ He was off and running telling of his dinner with Ella “at her house. She never cooked. She ordered it all from Trader Vic’s. It was a wonderful moment for me.”

With that he played the song while two frail souls came out on the lonely dance floor as their caregivers stood by with walkers at the ready. Clearly this music keeps many people alive.

When I walked out of the Casino, I realized we were on the corner of Dinah Shore and Bing Crosby Avenues. I wondered how long it would take for people to forget who Shore and Crosby were. Let alone all the other streets named for 1960s stars. Sometimes nostalgia can become depressing. And like everyone else, Palm Springs is changing fast — but with Don Wardell, the melody lingers on.

DJ Don Wardell and me on his 107.3 Mod FM Great American Songbook Show — the soundtrack of Palm Springs.

As for shopping, Stephen and Frank knew I couldn’t stand to do the famous thrift shops or the current El Paseo luxe retail scene. So, they took me to the greatest store I have been to in the last five years — The Ace Hardware Palm Springs (which is affectionately called “Gay Ace.”)

Ace Hardware Palm Springs — known for the best Mod style in town at reasonable prices!
Imagine at Ace — books on Palm Springs for sale.
Wearing my Ace signature baseball cap. Ace is the place!

What color! What style! Stocked with high-design items along with the standard tools, batteries, light bulbs and extension cords. You have water hoses in every neon color, Sunbrellas of every shape and size, and not priced the usual $3,000. An aisle of fabulous blinged plastic dishware, naked firemen straws, a whole aisle of floats of “hunks,” flamingos, sexy girls and swans.

They also have a Palm Springs book section, a shelf of BBQ spices as well as a sun hat aisle and modern front house numbers. This is beyond Gracious Home or even Target. Manager Brad Freer even offered to come to your house and help “style” your installations. Now I ask you!

Every color stack chair.
Chaises for everyone.
L. to r.: Full patio colorful sets at reasonable prices; An orange ensemble.
Shelves of Mod pillows.
High end furniture arrangements.
Table “fashion.”
Tables galore.
Plates and trays.
Great pool plastic plates and glasses.
Pizza dishes.
L. to r.: Spice shelfs at ACE?; Modern styled house numbers. That’s more like it.
Outdoor lighting — flamingo and otherwise.
Large flamingo sculptures.
Lawn flamingoes.
Inflatable hunks for one and all and half naked firemen straws.
Aisles of colorful hoses.
All color water hoses.
Sunbrellas and stack chairs in rainbow array.
The largest array of Sunbrellas all colors.
Umbrellas and fact garden decor.
Colorful containers in all sizes.

To finish our color experience — Stephen took me to popular La Michoacana Mexican ice cream parlor to experience every flavor (from coconut to pizza) and day-glow colored popsicles. It tasted like soap, but the look was eye popping.

A good stop after Gay Ace — La Michoacana Mexican ice cream parlor to keep the technicolor going!

I completed my stay with a visit from popular historian/author Sally Bedell Smith who was participating at the Rancho Mirage Writers Festival – the Super Bowl of writer’s conventions (one of many big Palm Springs gatherings along with Modern week, Film Festival, Dinah Shore Golf Tournament, and the Coachella Music Festival). We actually got Sally to come over to Stephen and Frank’s “roundtable” (again that theme of getting people to come to your house — no dinners out) to give us our own “meet and greet.”

Sally’s new book, George VI and Elizabeth; The Marriage That Saved The Monarchy, will be published in April and promises to be a bestseller. After all, her past books on the Queen and now King Charles were huge. This time Sally got lucky with intimate diaries and letters and takes us into “the inner sanctum of the Windsors.” How their marriage survived the tremendous tragedy of the war.

Me and Sally Bedell Smith and Stephen Drucker celebrating her new book, George VI and Elizabeth.

Sally writes with great heart and yet gets so much undiscovered hardcore information. She herself was deeply moved by this royal couple and she should know since she has done a book on the Clintons, and another on the Kennedys.

“The Clintons were dark, the Kennedys were supernovas, but George and Elizabeth were all about heartfelt devotion. They were not love at first sight but fell in love during their marriage. Their duty to each other and with the people’s hearts and souls was astounding … They always referred to themselves as ‘we four.’ The girls (Margaret and Elizabeth) were always included and a major factor for them.”

Stephen talking to Sally at his round dining room table.

Click to pre-order George VI and Elizabeth.

As for today’s monarchy? “No matter what, the Monarchy is the eternal flame in spite of everything that may happen.” It took Sally four years to get through all the documents and personal letters. She was taken with how united they were as a couple.

“They were together all the time, and you can see the struggles they went through but their dedication to the marriage and to winning the war was what they lived for.”

I asked her what she felt about all the recent monarchy upheaval and today’s battle with change. She gave me a quote from the queen as her answer:

“Change is constant. Managing it has become an expanding discipline. The way we embrace it all does define our future.”

Sally added:

“The Monarchy should survive and will survive as we all will in a new way.”

I got the message, got in my car and drove home.

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