Wednesday, September 7, 2016

To dream, perchance to dream some more

Somehow I never got that message -- the one that says,  "You only get one chance in life, kid, and that's it!"  I've never been one to have just one goal or dream!  I tend to have several of them spinning at once in my head and in my heart.  And I suppose they won't stop spinning until I leave this world behind or until I run out of life-force energy.

That's not to say that I don't get bummed out when a dream of mine doesn't come to fruition.  It's pretty heartbreaking, in fact. That's why it's all the more important to have another one waiting on the sidelines!

Dreams are a funny thing though. Some days they are alive and well, then suddenly and unexpectedly on another day -- dead in the water!  The sun always comes back out though and when it does I'm ready to give it another go! Because making dreams come true is part of what life's all about.  At least for me.

Being a dreamer can be distracting and annoying for those around you.  (Here's where I have to apologize to my friends and family who have endured my pipe dreams and half spun crazy ideas for decades now -- Sorry 'bout that!)

If I have any advice for anyone out there pursuing their dreams I would say that it's important to try to stay grounded in the real world while doing so.  Watch your budget - don't over-use your credit card or ask for big loans from family and friends (unless they have more money than they know what to do with).  Do your best to dream responsibly!

I'm a believer in age appropriate dreaming too.  I don't think it's realistic to dream of making the major leagues as a ball player and just getting started at the age of fifty, or hoping to become a ballerina at forty. Having unrealistic dreams is a set-up for misery!

And, as I grow older I really try to merge my dreams with helping others in some way. As an example, I love to paint and sell my art, so collaborating with others and painting something for them that is truly meaningful takes me outside of myself and my orbit, which is a good thing because I get pretty tired of orbiting around my dumb self!

Living in a very dry and fire prone area of California during a five year drought has been a real drag and very anxiety provoking, but it has also been oddly productive.  It has somehow lit a fire in my psyche as I realize that nothing lasts forever.  Any day could be our last. No time to waste!  Thoughts like these motivate me to get off my ass and do things that I would normally keep putting off.

One of those things has been to publish several short stories that I've written over the years. This past month I've made it a goal to re-write some of them, write a few new ones, edit them and get them out there! With the help of Amazon.com (Thank you Jeff Bezos!) I can check another dream off of my list  -- I am now a published author!  Through CreateSpace, which is the print publishing branch of Amazon.com, I learned how to format my book and create a cover for it, making it available not only as an e-book but a physical old fashioned paperback that can be held in your hands or used to swat flies with!

I am excited to announce that this book of short stories (13 tales in all) is now available!! The first story can be read for free by clicking on one of the links below.

And if by chance, you feel as though your dreams are behind you -- or that it's too late -- or you're too old -- or you don't have enough money -- or... (fill in the blank here  _______________), please consider dreaming a new dream.  It's not hard to do. There's no one but yourself to stop you from growing a new dream in your heart and in your mind.  Life is meant to be lived and experienced and it is a gift, so please don't waste time with excuses or procrastinations. Fires can start anywhere!  I hope I've helped to light one in your imagination to keep on dreaming -- and dreaming -- and yep, perchance to dream some more!




Monday, April 11, 2016

100 songs and counting

I started writing songs a very long time ago. So, when I recently heard about a website called Bandcamp  I was really happy to discover that it's a place where I could archive my songs and some of my art too.

I've spent thousands of hours and dollars too, writing and recording my songs.  So I am incredibly relieved to have found a place for them on line where people can listen to them (for free if they so choose). I'm slowly extracting them off of dozens of CDs that are gathering dust in my music studio.  So far, I've archived over a hundred.  I'm hoping to add another hundred before it's all said and done.

One of my favorite songwriters (Joni Mitchell) once said, "At the point where I'm trying to force something and it's not happening, and I'm getting frustrated with, say, writing a poem, I can go and pick up the brushes and start painting. At the point where the painting seems to not be going anywhere, I go and pick up the guitar."  

I can really relate to this quote and I'm thankful for the possibilities of being able to write songs and paint pictures.  I may never gain the kind of notoriety or fame that Joni Mitchell has gotten, but that's all right. A true artist isn't interested in fame or fortune. It should not be the motivating reason to express oneself. And if it is, are you really an artist in the first place?

So, for now, it's 100 songs and counting.. which you can access by clicking on the link below.  As long as I'm healthy enough, I'm never going to stop writing songs and painting pictures. It is a big part of who I am.


Friday, February 26, 2016

Remembering Big Al


There are some dates, when they come around each year that cause my mind to drift - to ponder, remember and reflect.  February 26th is such a date for me. Why, you might ask? Because this was Big Al's birthday.  

And who was Big Al, you might ask?  He was a small Lebanese man who was larger than life! Hence the nickname, Big Al.

I met him in 2003 while working on the Spielberg movie, The Terminal.  He was there working as a background actor and I was too.  And it wasn't long before we became fast friends.  The days on the set were long and even though he was over 80 years old he would wake up at 4:00 in the morning and make the trek to Lancaster from Inglewood each day for three weeks for a very early call time.  (With the help of his good friend and talented A.D.,  Dave.) After the movie was finished filming Big Al and I remained friends.  Since I never had the opportunity to meet my own grandfathers, he took on that role for me.

One of my favorite memories with Big Al was playing Backgammon with him. He was sharp as a tack and won most every game!  He was also quite the chef. One of his specialties was hummus. He would make it from scratch and it was really delicious!  (See his recipe below.)

Big Al was born in Beirut, Lebanon on February 26,1919.  Although he died on December 24, 2005, he will always be in my heart.  He may be gone, but I will never forget him.












Tuesday, January 19, 2016

To Catch An Embezzler



In May of 2007 I took on a temp. job.  It was a two week assignment which was a perfect fit for me considering I am quite challenged when it comes to committing to anything long term.

Within a week I was offered a full-time position. I smiled and thanked the President of the company, and explained to him that I was a free spirit and didn't like to get tied down to any one job in particular.  He told me to sleep on it. So I did. 

And then the next morning I accepted the offer.

Fast forward five years. Yep. Still there! And accumulating an absolute fortune (for me, any way) in my 401-K which was why I decided to accept the offer in the first place. And now I was being asked to take on more responsibility - processing checks - accounts payable and receivable type stuff.  But, by this time I could barely get myself out of bed in the morning. I was beginning to get pretty depressed and my body was even getting in on the act (anxiety attacks, headaches, frozen shoulder, etc.). Office work was not what I moved to Los Angeles to do so many years ago. (Not that there's anything wrong with it...) So, I declined that offer and even took a demotion as I began planning my escape.  

The question that popped up in my head often during that time was, "Why am I still here?"  And then there was the other question, "How can I get the hell out of here?"  Part of the dilemma was that I absolutely loved my co-workers. They had become like family to me. So, in leaving that job it would be like leaving my 'work' family! 

One of those co-workers who had become like family was the one who was hired in my place to do accounting type stuff.  She was a lively, attractive woman who had impeccable taste in fashion. I don't think she wore the same outfit twice and the jewelry and shoes she wore were amazing too!  (I myself had one good pair of work shoes and I never wore jewelry at all, mainly because it took every ounce of my energy just to get to work on time. Who had time to accessorize?)

Any way, back to my story.  It was September 13, 2012 and my co-worker had to leave early that day. So I was asked to go through some files to look for a series of monthly invoices from one of our vendors.  And, that's when 'it' happened.  It was a moment that I will never forget because I just knew that something was very wrong the moment I saw it -- an invoice from the previous October had been xeroxed. The second one had the invoice number whited out. (Why would anyone white out an invoice number?)  There were different check stubs stapled to each invoice, each in the amount of $7,000.00. I showed it to my boss and by this time it was almost 5:00 p.m. so she told me to look in to it further the following morning.  

Man, it was hard to sleep that night!

As a kid I read nearly every Nancy Drew book that came out and then Agatha Christie and more recently Ann Rule's True Crime non-fiction series. So I have always had an investigative kind of mind, bordering on paranoia!

The following morning, my boss and I rejoined forces and took a look at the bank statements from that month. Sure enough, the second check for $7,000 was made out to a company that had nothing to do with our business. We looked at each other and our faces turned white.  Luckily my embezzling co-worker was off that day. My boss and I spent the rest of the day looking for other checks that had been forged.  By the end of the day we had found about 12 checks which had been manipulated adding up to about $30,000.00. For nearly ten months this had been going on, my co-worker leading a double life, smiling and being the best of friends with us, while stealing thousands and thousands of dollars right from under our noses. Wow!

The following Monday she was taken away in handcuffs and we thought that justice would be served. But, boy were we wrong!  She was released from our local jail within six hours and a few days after that she wrote to the President of our company pleading forgiveness. She was desperate and needed the money (for more designer shoes and jewelry perhaps?). She would pay back all of the money (by this time $94,000) as soon as possible. Thank God he declined her offer and did not drop the charges.

All of us in the office were in shock. My boss, understandably suddenly trusted no one, locking her door behind her, even to go to the restroom. 

We all thought that our justice system would kick in and that our embezzling co-worker would receive a harsh sentence, several years in prison along with restitution. But that's not quite how it worked out.  

After about a year, the case went to trial. She received a whopping three months in prison and was 'forced' to pay back $25.00 a month.  Really? They say that crime doesn't pay, but unfortunately, some times it does. In looking in to embezzling cases further, especially in California, there is a huge flaw in our justice system when it comes to white collar crime.

I continued working at that company until it was sold at the end of 2014.  

Below are a few tips that I’d like to offer. If you know someone who owns a business, please pass this list on to them. It may help them save a little money and a lot of heart ache.


·         If you use a signature stamp for your checks, keep it locked in a safe.  If you sign your own checks, don’t use a lazy or simple signature style.  Make it difficult for others to forge.  And, you may want to require two signatures for larger amounts.

·      Check your bank statements every month. Look at each check closely to make sure that you know who the vendor is. My co-worker even paid her utility bills (Dept. of Water & Power) using company checks, so look CLOSELY. It may not be easy to detect.

·         Use less checks and more auto-pay options. But, if so, make sure that you know which companies are signed up – and check those statements monthly as well.

·      Don’t allow your accounting employees to come in at odd hours (early morning or late night) unattended.  Don’t give them an opportunity to have the office to themself.


·         If you have security cameras, take the time to review them weekly if not daily.  You have a right to know what’s going on in your office, your store or home.


·         Communicate with your employees.  Are they having financial difficulties?  (My co-worker was about to declare bankruptcy and instead she opted for embezzling.)


·      Don’t underpay your employees, or flaunt your own personal wealth - or give your employees reasons to become resentful of you. This may cause them to feel justified in stealing from you. This is how the mind of an embezzler works… THEY are the victim. THEY deserve to have what you have. THEY want their fair share, etc.


·         Try to avoid a rapid turnover of employees. This will increase the odds of a bad seed taking root in your office or company.


·       Establish long term relationships whenever possible with your employees. The more that you know about your employees, the less likely you will become a victim of embezzlement. (At the same time, be aware that people can sometimes live double lives, fooling you in to thinking that they are to be trusted... Sadly, this is not always the case.)

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I never asked the question again, "Why am I here?"  I know exactly why I was there.  It was to help catch an embezzler.  Hopefully she has learned her lesson despite the light sentence she was given.  I myself believe in a higher law. And I believe in Karma. What goes around comes around. I also believe that we are where we are for a reason.  Whether it's a job or a relationship, there is always something to learn about yourself and others.  And when the time is right to move on, it will present itself to you. And then you might even look back, like me, and say, "Oh, now I get it!"

Monday, January 11, 2016

To Honor Elena Kramer and others - Please light up Bouquet Canyon Road

One week ago today we lost a beautiful young woman on Bouquet Canyon Road. She touched so many souls - many who never met her but felt a connection to her.

For me, it was softball. My Dad was the coach on my team when I was a teenager. He would take us to Dairy Queen if our team won. And if we didn't, I would hear all about it on the way home from the games.

Being a resident on Bouquet Canyon Road and living so near the accident, I've had several conversations now with my neighbors who were also devastated by the fatalities of Elena Kramer and James Rodriguez a few months prior.  We are all brainstorming - trying our best to come up with some sort of solution, and one that will not require years of survey studies, community meetings and voting ballots.  

It has come to our realization that there is one thing that can be done right now - and it is very easy to do.  (But, we need to get the word out.)

LIGHT UP BOUQUET CANYON ROAD during daylight hours -

"National and international studies have found that using headlights reduce daytime vehicle accidents from 5 to 15 percent. One study reported daytime headlight use reduced head-on fatal accidents by 5 percent while head-on fatalities involving passenger vehicles and motorcycles dropped by 23 percent, according to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis."

So, please TURN ON YOUR HEADLIGHTS while driving during the day through the Angeles Forest on Bouquet Canyon Road and into Leona Valley. Do it for your own safety and also to honor Elena, James and so many others who have died along this dangerous corridor. And please tell those you love to do so also while on this route.

ALSO -  I have recently discovered that the road was slippery on the morning of Elena's accident. She may have hit a patch of ice or frost.  Please, everyone - take it easy, especially around the bends during these winter months.  

Life is precious. Take your time. Take care.

Monday, January 4, 2016

We lost another life today. She was only nineteen years old

I awoke this morning to the sound of a helicopter circling above.  Living up Bouquet Canyon in the Angeles Forest, there are usually only a few reasons for this; either a brush fire or a car or motorcycle accident.

Tragically, this morning it was a car accident that once again took the life of a driver passing by. If you've ever driven up Bouquet Canyon Road through the Angeles Forest going to or from the Antelope Valley, you know that it is a beautiful, but treacherous route. Thankfully, cell phones don't work up here so there is no chance of someone texting or talking on their phone while trying to maneuver the hairpin turns.  There are no guard rails and few passing lanes. And there are no CHP vehicles to keep people honest.  It is a road that is completely out of control with fatal accidents occurring almost monthly and nonfatal accidents occurring weekly. And it is where my neighbors and I live, some of us part-time and others, year round.

Whenever I have to drive down the canyon and in to the Santa Clarita Valley I make sure that my things are in order. It's strange living some place where you have to confront your mortality in such a conscious way, but this is how I live, never knowing if I'm going to make it back alive.  And the frustrating part about it is, it doesn't have to be this way.

But, CHP blames the County. And the County blames the Forest Service. And the Forest Service blames the CHP... or the County. And it's enough to make you dizzy as you watch them all take turns stalling and making excuses for why nothing ever changes. Meanwhile more people die.

I suppose that the obvious answer would be to lower the speed limit, but when people drive slower it is too tempting for others who like to speed through the Forest to pass illegally, going over the double yellow lines, with curves and turns, at times every forty to fifty feet.  Most likely, there would probably be more accidents if the speed limit was lowered.

With the recent closing of Vasquez Canyon Road, Bouquet Canyon Road has seen a sharp increase of daily traffic. Add rain and ice to the mix and it is quite possible that there will be a record number of accidents on the road this winter.  Most of them aren't fatal but this morning we lost another young life. Her name was Elena Kramer and she lived in nearby Leona Valley.  I heard that she was on her way to sign up at College of the Canyons to play on their softball team. At nineteen years old, she had her whole life ahead of her. The road conditions weren't bad. No rain, no ice (although one reader has commented that he drove past the accident moments later and it was raining lightly). Perhaps a deer ran out in front of her car. Maybe she was changing the radio station and took her eyes off the road for a split second or someone else ran her off the road while trying to pass her. We'll never know. She died alone in her car while I was just waking up in bed less than a quarter mile away.

I didn't know her but I still care about her and her family. When I stood in silence for a moment at the scene, I said a prayer for  her. And I pray now for a solution to the larger issue too. Because I know that there will be another death soon. And I am fully aware that it could be me. So many times these past twelve years, driving on Bouquet Canyon Road, I've had such close calls.  And every time someone dies on this road, I stop and think, what can be done?  I'm no Civil Engineer. I'm not a Congress Woman or local Captain of the CHP.  I'm just one person, and I have little power.  Okay, I have no power...

But, if I did have the power to do something, this is what I would do:

GUARD RAILS -  Putting up guard rails on the sides of the road around the bends that have steep drops would help cars from plunging down in to the creek bed or the steep ravines.

MEDIAN GUARD BARRIERS - All the way through much of the Angeles Forest, a white cement barrier would stop drivers from drifting over the middle yellow line and right in to oncoming traffic.

SPEED BUMPS -  Before each residence (and there are over 100 cabins on Bouquet Canyon through the Forest) I would put in speed bumps that would cause drivers to have to slow down.

CAMERAS -  Cameras would  be motion censored to photograph all vehicles and monitor their speed. Several posted signs at the entrance to the Forest on either side would warn drivers that tickets will be sent through the mail to anyone caught speeding.

POLICE PRESENCE - Morning and evening commutes and weekends are the worst times to drive up and down the canyon.  This is when police presence needs to be stepped up.  If it's not in the current budget, it needs to be! No more excuses that "there just isn't the money for it".

In my opinion, L.A. County, CHP and the Forest Service each share in the responsibility for this young girl's death and the deaths of dozens of others throughout the years.  And each day that goes by where they do nothing and another person dies is, again, in my opinion a tragic failure on their parts to fix the problem of Bouquet Canyon in the Angeles Forest.

Who will be next?  It could be me. And if it is, at least I will have died knowing that I spoke out about the problem, instead of remaining silent once again.

Elena Kramer's 1999 Ford Mustang

Found near the accident scene. She loved to play softball

16 year old James Rodriguez died in August just 40 feet away

The worst part of their job. They would like to see changes made too


There is power in numbers: 

Please call the phone numbers below and let these agencies know that too many people are dying on Bouquet Canyon Road.  

  • U.S. FOREST SERVICE:  661/269-2808
  • CHP -  661/294-5540
  • COUNTY PUBLIC WORKS - 661/222-2940






Wednesday, November 18, 2015

I Am My Father's Daughter

A few weeks ago I heard a song on our local radio station (KHTS) which pretty much weakened me to my core. It was like kryptonite for me. There's nothing worse than trying to drive when your eyes are full of tears, Not to mention it's not very safe! What was the song, you may ask? It's called My Father's Daughter. It's a new song, sung by Jewel and Dolly Parton, written by Jewel and Lisa Carver. (I've attached the link to the song below.)

If you've ever delved in to your ancestry, (and if not, I highly recommend it) you'll have a much larger scope and understanding of who you are. When I heard the lyrics below, many of the stories I learned about my ancestors came flooding back in an instant.


"I am the accumulation of the dreams of generations
And their stories live in me like holy water
I am my father's daughter..."

Yes, I am my father's daughter and I am also a third generation musician, with my musical roots extending not only from my father's side but my mother's too.  My grandfather, Jack Cooper Sr. played saxophone and clarinet in Pennsylvania. In fact, music was his ticket out of the coal mines when he moved to Detroit, Michigan in the mid 1920's. His father worked in those mines for 30 years upon arriving to America from Poland. In 1930 my Great Grandfather died in a mining accident (along with his brother) when he was 60 years old. I can't even imagine how hard he worked and what his lungs must've looked like. How I wish I could thank him for his sacrifice. (I am truly standing on the shoulders of giants.)

My father began playing sax and clarinet when he was in his teens. In 1942, while my Dad was playing in his father's big band in Detroit, Pearl Harbor had just been attacked. My Dad enlisted as a musician and in doing so he was able to not only support the war effort but entertain the troops while he served in the Navy up in Kodiak, Alaska.

I never did get to meet my grandfather, let alone sit on his knee or go fishing with him. He died a few years before I was born. Shortly thereafter my father put away his saxophone for good. It was a sacrifice and no doubt, a painful one. In fact, I remember watching a big band with him at a casino about twenty years ago. While they played the classic song, In The Mood  he had tears in his eyes. He told me once, that was one of his favorite songs to play. I'm pretty sure that he let go of his musical dream to live a more conventional life; to raise a family. He worked for nearly 35 years in an office job that left him feeling stressed out and overwhelmed.  I think that's why the song lyric below pierced through my heart like an arrow when I heard it:

"I am my father's daughter
I have his eyes
I am the product of his sacrifice..."

Music has always been my salvation while simultaneously my frustration ever since I was a teenager.  I wish we lived in a world that valued music more, making it more available to learn in schools, allowing more musicians to live more comfortably.  Unfortunately, it is now even harder to make a career in the music industry; so much is given away for free on the internet now.

For this reason - not to mention my age, I am at times tempted to give up my music for good and settle back in to an office job. I should mention that I did give up my musical aspirations for about seven years, working in an office when I was in my mid-forties. But  now I'm back to playing bass and guitar and writing songs (currently in a band called My Friend's Band).  Some day I may be inspired to walk away from it all for good, but one thing will never change: I will always be my Father's Daughter!

Thank you, Dad for the gift of music you passed on to me. I will gratefully carry on this torch for as long as I'm physically able to.

Jack Cooper Sr. and Jack Cooper Jr.


  
 Jack Cooper Jr. & Jack Cooper Sr.

 
Forever in my heart - Always!

 If you'd like to watch the official video for My Father's Daughter, please click on the link below.




To see a video from a recent performance of mine (singing a song I wrote called Fightin' The Good Fight) please click on this link: