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Lanny Swerdlow, tongue firmly in cheek, introduced himself thusly: “I’m gay, Jewish, an atheist, a liberal, in a mixed marriage to a Native American, left-handed and a tree-hugger.”

What else is there to know about this 73-year-old registered nurse? Quite a lot!

Swerdlow was born and raised in Los Angeles, the younger of two brothers. His father died at 32 when Swerdlow was only 2 years old.

“My ‘real’ dad was my mom’s second husband,” he says. “He was an accountant, somewhat distant, but a good dad and provider for our family. My mom lived a life of quiet desperation, pretty ignorant of the real world—but you have to remember that women in those days didn’t go very far. There were a lot of things she could and should have done that she never did. One of the lessons I got from that is: If I want to do something, I do it … even if it’s not always a good idea.” He laughs easily at himself.

Swerdlow had a choice of high schools to attend in Los Angeles. “I could go to Fairfax High, which was very white and Jewish, or L.A. High, which was very mixed.”

He picked the latter. “I wanted something different, and it opened my eyes to other cultures. … I was interested in theater arts; I wanted to go into that, because that’s what ‘homos’ did.” Instead, he got a degree in zoology and later studied fisheries’ biology.

Swerdlow surprised his family when he came out as gay. “They had come to visit me in Oregon, where I was working for the state Fish Commission, and were surprised to learn of my feelings. My mom cried; my dad was upset. They were my liberal parents! Then they said I wouldn’t be happy for the rest of my life. I told them I would go straight, but I couldn’t play that role. When I finally confronted them, they accepted me for who I am.”

Swerdlow got involved with the gay-liberation movement in Oregon. He started a newspaper, and the police-advisory board asked him to join and represent the groups with which he was involved.

“Every Friday and Saturday night, young people would congregate on a street corner, and the police had tried to do something about it for years,” Swerdlow says. “At one meeting, they asked me where else they could go. Six kids had come into my office to raise money to open a club, so I told them to find a place, and I’d help bankroll it. A Realtor friend found a place, but it was a disaster. I got seven kids to help me do the work, and they worked seven days a week for 10 to 12 hours a day. I gave them a 49 percent stake in the business.

“We opened an underage gay/lesbian nightclub which became well-known, but overnight, the problems began. The police started coming and busting kids for curfew violations, batting them around and dragging them off. I consulted a lawyer and sent a letter to the city attorney, who sent a letter to the police department. Then they just stationed two officers in front of the club, waiting for kids to come outside.

“I then went to the head of the police bureau and began to learn about how politics works. I told him we couldn’t run the club if he kept putting police in front of the club. He got on the phone, requested some budget information—and then we never saw police there again. I learned that just because something isn’t right, that doesn’t mean it will get fixed. I also learned that something can get done if you have something hanging over someone’s head, like the threat to take away budget money. My experience with the club taught me not to just trust the system.”

The nightclub, which was sold in 1997, included a mini-studio for making films. “We did Night Scene for local TV with a focus on gay issues, and another show called Outrageous, and then a show about cannabis common sense, to help push toward legalization. The kids did the shows, including learning how to do the technical stuff.”

Swerdlow’s parents lived in Palm Springs, so he and his husband, Victor Michel—his partner for more than 27 years—would often come down to visit them. Swerdlow’s mom had taken ill and needed help, so he and Michel came to the Coachella Valley and stayed; they now live in Whitewater.

“We like it there,” he says. “There’s no businesses, very little traffic, lots of places to hike, and it’s close to the middle of nowhere, but not too far from somewhere.”

His path toward becoming a nurse began when he got a call from the hospital about his dad.

“I realized he couldn’t take care of himself anymore, and I decided to become a medical tech, ultimately going to College of the Desert and graduating as a registered nurse in 2006,” he says.

Swerdlow became involved in Democratic Party politics, representing a Riverside County assembly district on the party’s state central committee. He serves on the San Gorgonio Memorial Healthcare District’s board of directors.

Swerdlow has been passionate about the legalization of marijuana for many years. As a nurse, he is cognizant of the medical benefits of marijuana use, and has specifically championed the need for the Veterans Administration to make it available, despite the federal government classifying it as a dangerous drug. He was instrumental in getting language into the state Democratic Party platform supporting legalization prior to the passage of Proposition 64. He also has an online radio program and leads the Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project, focused on the Inland Empire.

In 2012, Swerdlow started the Brownie Mary Democrats of California.

“I wanted to form the ‘Democratic Cannabis Club,’ but they didn’t want me to put that name on it, so I named it after the woman who was known for baking 600 brownies a day and delivering them to AIDS patients in San Francisco,” he says. “I want to get more involved in health-care issues, especially the need to ensure that everybody has coverage. And I’ll stay focused on cannabis. With thousands of people on alcohol or drugs, they can get off using cannabis. It doesn’t solve their problems, but it doesn’t have all the down sides, either. We need on-site use localities, and it should be as available as liquor.”

Lanny Swerdlow describes himself in a lot of different ways. I describe him as an effective activist.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

You may have encountered Brian Hess before—back when he was a child actor who told Mr. Whipple: “Don’t squeeze the Charmin!”

Hess, now 46, began acting in commercials when he was 5 or 6; his cousin was doing the same, and Hess thought it looked easy. He became an extra in several shows and worked with NBC; the acting helped pay for his education. Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in the Florida Keys, Hess and his family moved to California when he was 16.

“I was an athlete in high school who realized I wouldn’t make pro,” says Hess, “so I opted to join the Air Force. My father had been in the military, with stints in the FBI and CIA. He instilled in us that caring for people has meaning and is important. He said to work hard and not look for glory or seek recognition.

“My mom retired as a pediatric nurse practitioner, and both of my younger sisters became nurses. Mom said that caring for people has meaning and is its own reward, and that we should never stop learning, giving and caring.”

Hess never told the Air Force that he suffered from shin splints, and reached the point where he could hardly stand up. He went to the base hospital and was exposed to physical therapy for the first time. Once out of the service, he began work as an athletic trainer—and realized he wanted to do more with seriously ill patients, like those with brain injuries, amputees and stroke victims.

“I found I loved it,” he says.

When an opportunity arose to enter an internship working with brain-injury patients, Hess went to Charleston, S.C., as a physical-therapy assistant.

“It was a chance to get out of Los Angeles for a couple of years,” he says, “and it was my introduction to working with patients with cognitive impairment.”

Hess returned to Los Angeles, but four years ago decided to escape “the hustle and bustle,” and moved to the Coachella Valley. His family had spent time in the desert over many years, and he decided to make the move.

“I was raised near the beach in Florida, and I love the heat,” he says.

Hess joined the staff of the Eisenhower Memory Care Center’s Adult Day Center program and is currently its program coordinator. The program’s mission is to provide day care to functionally or cognitively impaired individuals in a safe, supportive environment.

“I’m particularly impressed with the staff,” Hess says. “The program has been operating for 36 years, and there are long-time staff who are totally dedicated. You don’t do this kind of work for over 30 years just because it’s cool.”

The program is in transition, with plans to expand to a new location where it can expand its availability beyond the current 49 patients.

“It’s great for me to feel like a catalyst for the progress being made regarding dementia and related diseases,” Hess says. “The level and scope of care are different than when I worked with brain-injury patients. I’ve learned much greater patience. Doing this kind of care is a different kind of job; you can’t just clock in and then go home. For me, it’s a 12-hour-a-day commitment.

“I want to find a way to get everybody on Earth who is affected by this disease into this kind of program. It used to be that Mom and Dad had direct family support when they aged, but now we have children and grandchildren bringing them in—even in-laws and distant family members.

“It’s hard for family to let go when someone’s capabilities have changed. You have to step into the patient’s world. If you didn’t know what day it is, wouldn’t you want people around to compensate for that deficiency? I tell families, ‘So your loved one has these memory deficits. So? The sky is still blue; the earth is still round, so what difference does it really make that they don’t know what day it is?’ It isn’t about what they can or can’t do any more. Here at the center, that doesn’t matter. We expose them to fun and games, laugh at jokes, listen to music and relate to them where they are. The abilities they have lost don’t factor into the time they spend here—and it gives caregivers a break they so badly need.”

Statistics show that caregivers often die before the patients for which they are caring, in part because of the stress associated with caregiving. The Eisenhower program also offers caregiver support and education, including the importance of learning effective communication skills.

“For me, it’s about reaching that one family out there that thinks they don’t need this,” Hess says. “Come for just one time is all I ask. It will make a difference. Once families realize this is available, and it’s here to help them, the light bulb goes on. I do as many public presentations and community activities as I can. I will market our services anywhere they won’t shut the door on me. I even leave fliers, ‘accidentally,’ by dropping them in supermarket aisles.”

One of the biggest issues around dementia and other types of cognitive impairment is the stigma still associated with the illness.

“People don’t want to admit this is happening in their family,” says Hess. “They try to shelter someone rather than bringing them to a program like ours. It becomes something people hide. For every one of the people in our program, there is another family out there that doesn’t look for resources. They think they have a grasp on it, because they haven’t burned out yet.”

Hess is continuing his education; he’s currently in a licensed vocational nurse program.

“This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and being here has been a catalyst,” he says. “I’ve seen how much nursing is involved in the care we give.

“I came on board here at a time of transition (with) this program. I actually thought, ‘If not me, then who?’ I actually jumped at the chance to do it. It’s an incredible opportunity, and I have to believe I ended up here in the right place at the right time.

“I’m a believer in doing things first and asking questions later. If you know you’re doing the right thing, just do it.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Conventional wisdom says that it takes at least four years to assess whether a startup business is viable, and seven to 10 years to make a business the success you had in mind when you began.

By those standards, Jenny and Oscar Babb have beaten the odds. The Babbs own four restaurants, three in the Coachella Valley, with the oldest being more than eight years old—and doing well.

Oscar Babb, 41, was born in Barcelona and describes himself as a “culinarian” (otherwise known as a chef) who cooked his way around the world—including working with Starwood Hotels in various countries—after leaving his native Spain in 2004. He cooked in the United States, originally in Seattle and then San Diego, before coming to the Coachella Valley six years ago.

“The Coachella Valley is the complete opposite of Barcelona,” says Oscar. “It has a special charm of its own, which is the greatest reason people have been coming here to vacation and retire for so long.”

Oscar has a sister, and he describes their mother as “a lovely woman and a fantastic therapist, hard-working, with a thirst for life and accomplishment.” He says his father loves discipline and order in his life (“He liked everything where it was supposed to go!”), but his passion is cars. Oscar recalls that after his father’s business career, he dedicated himself to auto classics, like his ’65 Dodge convertible.

“He would even polish the key!” Oscar says.

Jenny, 34, first remembers coming to the desert in 1985.

“I’ve always loved the Coachella Valley culture,” she says.

The eldest of three, she was born and raised in San Diego. Her parents have been married for 36 years, and her father is also a native San Diegan.

“My dad was very hard-working,” she says, “and a real leader of the family. He is stoic, even shy, and very ethical. His message was, ‘Do the right thing.’

“My mom was the bubbly free-spirit. I got that from her. Her message to me, way back while I was in high school, was, ‘Don’t let people get your goat.’ I’ve taken that to heart.”

Jenny earned a degree in business and marketing from San Diego State University, while waiting tables to help support herself.

“After school, I worked for a while at my aunt’s travel company doing sales management,” she says, “and then moved to The Broken Yolk, where I was managing by the time I left.”

Now married for seven years, Oscar and Jenny met in 2008 while both were working at a Broken Yolk location in San Diego. After helping other locations of the breakfast/lunch restaurant open, they decided they wanted to open some restaurants of their own: The Babbs agreed to take on Riverside County, to which The Broken Yolk wanted to expand. They opened their first franchise in Temecula. They later opened a Broken Yolk in La Quinta in 2014, and the Palm Springs location in 2016.

The downtown Palm Springs location, at 262 S. Palm Canyon Drive, includes an upstairs bar/restaurant space that has seen various owner/operators come and go. When the Babbs decided to open The Broken Yolk on the lower level of that location, they decided to open Moxie Palm Springs on the upper level.

“I always wanted to open a bar named to honor our beloved dog,” laughs Jenny, “and I think the name fits well with the Palm Springs spirit. We wanted the space to tell us what it wanted to be, and we came up with a neighborhood bar that reflects Palm Springs culture. We have bar food, are known for our craft cocktails, and have a very diverse offering of live entertainment every Thursday through Saturday, including acoustics, jazz, rock and Top 40 cover bands. We sometimes have a DJ—and it can get loud.

“Two Prides ago, our manager was talking about what we could do that would be different for the community—not just having rainbow flags. We threw a ‘Flamingo Party’ with lots of pink flamingos everywhere and a massive drag show. It was such a great party! Then Ross Mathews, from RuPaul’s Drag Race, heard about it, and some RuPaul ‘girls’ appeared that night. We now have a drag show every Sunday, along with a Bubbly Brunch.”

Oscar jumps in: “As a couple, we’ve always been around other people, making friends and experiencing new things and styles. The idea was to have everybody from every culture welcome—American, Mexican, LGBTQ. We’ve had an Irish fiddler, and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo.”

The Babbs expect to have children someday, but for now, they’re focusing on their business and their two English mastiffs. They describe themselves as huge animal lovers, and have bird-feeders all around their house. They love to hike with their dogs, and have already conquered Mount Whitney and Mount Everest (to the base-camp area). Amazingly enough, they also love going to new restaurants.

Jenny and Oscar Babb are having the time of their lives. They’re busy, successful and still expanding their horizons into new business ventures—like a partnership in a brewery in Mexico City.

“I really do enjoy the work,” says Jenny. “I’m a people-pleaser. I hate conflict, and that’s where Oscar comes in; he’ll confront things I don’t want to. Also, my friendships are important. We spend so much time together, it’s good to have some separate time. Sure, we want to (eventually) slow down. It would be nice to be able to go to bed early once in a while. We bit off so much so fast.”

Then both Oscar and Jenny agree: “But it’s our community and our friends—this is what we do,” Jenny says.

And they’re doing it well.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Julie Hirsh says she doesn’t understand why people would want to know her life story—but she’s underselling herself: From a career as a fitness trainer to her current work for Jewish Family Services of the Desert, the Indio resident has taken a fascinating route to where she is now.

“I was born in Berkeley, and my parents owned a toy store,” says Hirsh, now 55. “It was fun and unique—no plastic, all hand-made toys from around the world. They sold it when I was 10, and we moved to upstate New York, where they were from, into an old Victorian house on 200 acres. My folks fixed it up. … My uncle lived up there, and although we had visited him in the summertime, my folks had forgotten how cold it was in the winter.”

The family moved back to Northern California, specifically Sonoma County.

“My dad was an entrepreneur, and kind of a genius,” says Hirsh. “He would get bored very easily, so anything he did, it was full speed ahead. For example, he was interested in gardening, so he got a horticulture degree. But the toy store was still in his blood. He decided to make cute, whimsical wrapping paper with toy images, and he created posters; we had thousands around the house all the time. Then he got into woodworking and carving. Any hobby had the possibility of becoming a business. My father’s message to me was to put my dreams to work. Whatever I had an interest in, I shouldn’t let it be out of reach.

“My mom became an international folk-dancing teacher and created her own career at a junior college in Santa Rosa. Her message to me was to never give up on doing what I wanted to do. She taught me about tenacity.”

Hirsh received her bachelor’s degree at UC Santa Cruz in community studies, with an emphasis on social change and activism. “Actually, as far as the activism, although I was raised in the Berkeley area, and I remember the riots (in the 1960s), I was too young to have participated,” Hirsh said. “I was into physical fitness, at the time when aerobics was the thing, and I fell in love with it.

“I was living at home, and my mom said that if I got a job, I could move out, so I started looking. As a starving student, I got paid to work out, and then became a fitness professional for 27 years. After that, I went into physical therapy as an aide for about nine years.”

Hirsh felt she was working too much; she decided she wanted a normal job and to enjoy life with her husband, Robert, now of 21 years. “We were always talking about doing this or that and ‘when we retire,’ so we moved to the desert in 2009,” she says. “We’d had a timeshare here for a couple of years, and had experienced how hot it is in the summertime. In 2009, we decided to look at houses, just for fun.”

As was the case for so many of us who settled in the Coachella Valley, that’s all it took.

“My first job was with Agua Caliente, and then I moved on to the Desert Recreation District,” Hirsh says. “I was doing fitness as a personal trainer as well as teaching classes. I’m still focused on being fit; I work out every day, but now, it’s just for me. My husband, who works for the Desert Recreation District, is an avid pickleball fan.”

In 2012, Hirsh joined the staff of Jewish Family Service of the Desert, a nondenominational agency founded on the Jewish principle of “healing the world,” wherever in the world one may be. JFS has served social-service needs of the valley for almost 40 years, providing mental-health counseling, food assistance, support groups, services specifically focused on seniors, and youth programs targeted toward at-risk children. Hirsh oversees community outreach.

“I do presentations so people can know who we are, and I oversee the volunteers, including recruitment and training,” she says. “We drive people to medical appointments, have a ‘friendly visitors’ program for those who are isolated, and we provide social activities for holocaust survivors.”

Hirsh also describes herself as an animal-lover, with four cats “and a few strays who live outside,” she laughs. Turning serious, she says: “I’m committed to helping make shelters no-kill and finding safe places for animals who need homes.”

Hirsh had a child before she married. “I didn’t let my parents know I was pregnant until I was about six months in, because I knew it wouldn’t go over well. Something in me said, ‘You’re going to be a parent,’ and not because I don’t support choice, but because that was my choice.”

Her child, Gab, is now 29. As Hirsh describes it: “Gab doesn’t identify as only female. I was the one who opened the conversation with Gab about identity. I had a feeling by the time Gab was in the fourth-grade that it didn’t feel like Gab was in the right body. Gab came out as gay while in college, and now Gab and Yanet have been together for quite a while, living in Long Beach.

“Robert is accepting and loving, no matter what. He just rolled with the punches. I’ve learned about pronouns. It’s not necessary to say ‘he’ and ‘she.’ It’s ‘they’ and ‘them.’”

What advice would Hirsh give to her own young self? “Be a good person. Treat and respect others as equals and individuals. Take the time to make informed decisions. And accept your child, no matter who they feel they are, or how they are comfortable identifying themselves.”

If anyone ever had a story to tell, one that could make a difference to others, it’s Julie Hirsh.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

She is an accomplished actress, teacher, wife and mother—a woman who makes a difference in the community.

Jane Fessier, 68, was born and raised in San Rafael in Northern California.

“I’m a perfect combination of my parents,” she says. “My mother was witty and an observer of life. She was the one person I could go to, always so loving and patient.”

Fessier’s father was the ultimate salesman—a real estate broker and storyteller with an aggressive nature.

“He could always fill up a room; everybody wanted to be around him,” Fessier says. “But he was somewhat impatient. I work on that constantly.”

Her parents moved to the Coachella Valley when her father got involved in the mobile-home business—and he encouraged her to follow.

“I was in my mid-20s and had been doing shows in the San Francisco area, but I wasn’t making much money,” Fessier says. “I had worked with my dad before, and he said, ‘You have to come down here. The market is upscale, and there’s lots of money to be made.’ I lived with them in a mobile home. I remember the highlight of my day was coming home and seeing what my mom had made for dinner! I wanted to make enough money working with my father so I could go back to the Bay Area.”

Fessier was often named the most-humorous student by her classmates.

“I could be goofy and silly,” she laughs.

After learning to play the cello, her mother encouraged her to study theater. While attending community college, Fessier was exposed to Stanislavski’s “method” style of acting—a way of getting into the motivation of a character to develop a realistic portrayal, employed by actors like Marlon Brando, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro and many others.

“I remember once I was told to think about something that I felt bad about, so I thought about how I had once hurt somebody, and I started crying,” Fessier says. “I realized you have to really feel it.”

Once in the desert, Fessier tried out for some local theater roles. During the 1980s, she worked in Palm Springs productions of Death of a Salesman, Oliver and Man of La Mancha, appearing opposite veteran actor Nehemiah Persoff.

“When I was doing Man of La Mancha, the director told me I had done fine in rehearsals, but that each time, I had done the same performance,” Fessier says. “Persoff was waiting for me onstage, and I was to sing the song about what was happening after my character had been raped. The director told me to close my eyes—and then he slapped me, literally knocking me against the wall. Then he told me to go out there and sing it. And it worked. I was totally in the moment.” While the move worked, Fessier says she was outraged the director resorted to violence to motivate her—and that at that time, she did not feel empowered enough to object.

Fessier’s plans to return to the Bay Area fell by the wayside when she met the man who would become her husband—Bruce Fessier, who recently retired as the arts and entertainment writer for the The Desert Sun.

“In 1983, the director of Man of La Mancha ushered me into a room where Bruce interviewed me,” she says. He later reviewed the show. “I hoped I’d be good—I never wanted to be an actress who wasn’t good. Well, when the review came out, it was a rave! Then Bruce called and asked me out to a party with Kirk and Michael Douglas. I said, ‘I’ll let you know.’ My mom said, ‘Are you crazy?!’ Six weeks later, we were sharing an apartment.”

After 35 years of marriage, Jane acknowledges that Bruce is the local star.

“Being married to Bruce, I find I’m standing next to him when he’s the one people want to interact with, so I can either be very shy—or the life of the party, without feeling any pressure,” she says. “I joke about how my father married me off, and then he and my mother went back north.”

After their two sons came along—Clay, now 31, and Parker, 29—Fessier began teaching youngsters.

“I had done some shows in the Bay Area with kids, and I enjoyed it,” she says. “Bruce is a great writer, and I directed and starred in one of his musical revues before the kids were even in kindergarten.”

Fessier taught children’s theater at St. Margaret’s School in Palm Desert.

“I remember when a parent told me her child wasn’t so shy any more. I love that I can make a difference in kids’ lives based on acting and performing,” she says. “It can help them to be happier and more well-rounded. My goal is to make it fun. I’ve worked with children with social anxiety, handicaps and learning disabilities, and it’s very rewarding to bring them out of themselves. As a teacher, I think about how to be the person I might have needed when I was a child. I teach children the Stanislavski method, helping them find ways to get into the emotion they want to portray.”

Fessier worked with the CVRep Conservatory for six years, training classes of 25 to 40 young students.

“I built an incredible program, and I’m so proud of it,” she says. “Unfortunately, I was somewhat shocked, even insulted, when they decided to shake up their pay structure, but the truth is that I had outgrown the program by then. I’m so excited about starting to work now with the Musical Theatre University at Rancho Mirage High School, where I’ll be working with third- to eighth-graders through the Palm Springs Unified School District. The MTU students are being prepared to pursue a career in musical theater, and some of them will go straight to Broadway. The program is that good!

“When David Green (the founder and executive/artistic director of MTU) called me and asked if I would consider becoming part of their family, I didn’t have to hesitate for a moment before saying yes,” Fessier says, adding that she will also continue working privately with adult actors.

Fessier projects a calm, warm, open personality. She and her husband are clearly in love and have built a family anyone could envy.

“We both know we’re very lucky,” she says, “and we don’t take anything for granted. We respect each other. We’re very close with our sons as well. Parker is an entrepreneur in San Diego, a real math whiz. Clay is a successful animator in Los Angeles. He has a girlfriend of five years.”

Fessier laughs. “I honestly wish they’d get married so I can be a grandparent. I want a grandchild while I can still hold one! I have to say, this is the best time of my life—right now.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Meeting Sandy Skinner was like getting together with an old friend: She is warm, open, candid, personable and vivacious.

Skinner, 65, has been in Palm Desert for about three years.

“When I retired,” she says, “I realized San Diego was unaffordable. I had a lot of friends here in the desert, and it’s a really nice place to live. I believe everything works out for a reason.”

Skinner’s mother was a stay-at-home mom who later worked for the Lutheran Church. “She was very spiritual, but also fun-loving,” remembers Skinner. “She always made time for me. Unfortunately, we lost her last year to Alzheimer’s.

“My dad owned a construction company dealing in heavy equipment. My younger sister, Paula, and I learned how to take out spark plugs and change tires. Dad would have parts laid out when we got home from school so we could learn how to do everything. He thought those skills were good for his daughters to know. My dad also loved sports. He played tennis and was ranked No. 9 in the senior league. He used to hit balls to us on the court as if we were playing dodge ball. I really learned about the work ethic from him. Unfortunately, we lost him young.”

Born in Inglewood, Skinner graduated from West High School in Torrance. “I regret not going on to higher education, but I’ve had a great career,” Skinner says. “I thought about going back to become a court reporter; then I got married the first time. I always thought when I got older I might go for classes in history, because I’ve always liked reading about it—although, I must admit, in high school, I hated it!”

Skinner’s career began in 1975 in a hospital lab. “My job was to pick up blood samples, things like that,” she says. “Then I started to study phlebotomy, learning how to draw blood. But I got a great job at GTE (a phone company) and stayed there for almost 25 years. I started in telephone repair, moved on to dispatch, then assignments, and then maintenance. I did have a very brief second marriage—a big mistake. My third husband, Gary, and I both worked at GTE.

“At one point, Gary had been reassigned to Hawaii, and I took a leave of absence for six months to see how (Hawaii) would work out. Our girls, Ashley and Brittany, were little then. I remember it seemed like it was all beach all the time; we lived near Waikiki. After six months, I realized I could only take being at the beach for so long.

“We lost our jobs within six months of each other when the downturn hit telephone companies. We moved on to Las Vegas, where I worked as an executive sales rep for Sprint Cellular. There was a lot of money to be made in that industry.

“Gary and I were married for 18 years (before divorcing), and I’ve always been glad I had my children with him.” Skinner’s eyes twinkle with humor: “Our relationship now is probably better than it ever had been.

“I now have seven grandchildren, and the hardest thing is to not see them very often. Getting together for holidays is especially hard,” she laughs, “since I’m spoiled and don’t want to go to Canada in the wintertime.”

Skinner elaborates: “Brittany had a great career at Bally’s in Las Vegas, and she always wanted to see part of the country, so she lived in Kentucky for a while, and is now in Indiana with her family. Ashley was working at a spa in Vegas. The man who is now her husband walked in one day, took one look at her—and that was it. She and her family live in Alberta, Canada.”

Skinner suddenly becomes quiet and somber. “Sadly, Ashley and her husband, Eric, lost a child, my second grandson, to brain cancer when he was only 2 years old. It hit us like a ton of bricks. I guess God wanted him for a reason. Now they have a little girl and another boy. Once again, everything works out for a reason, although we don’t always know it at the time.”

Are there things Skinner thinks people would be surprised to learn about her? She laughs. “I can do oil changes on heavy equipment, and I was a runway model for the Sears catalog, My mom sent me to charm school, and since I was 5 foot 9, it just worked out.”

Skinner loves to travel. She fondly remembers a trip with Ashley after the death of her grandson. “We went to Vancouver, British Columbia, for a couple of weeks, and it was good for my daughter to get away for a while. I love to travel. My sister, who works in San Diego, and I go up to Big Bear, and I’ve been all over Canada. I like to cruise; I’d love to go to Europe and see Italy and Greece. My sister just got back from Italy and Berlin, and I’m just waiting for her to retire so we can travel together. Although people are always saying it’s fine to go alone, I haven’t done that … yet.”

If money weren’t an issue, what would Skinner want to do? She answers immediately: “I’d move my whole family into one cul-de-sac where we could all live together. I’d have my grandchildren around me, and we could spend holidays together. That would be heaven.”

Skinner and I have so many things in common—a brief second-marriage mistake, a love of travel, working in telecommunications, and hating being far away from grandchildren. When Skinner confessed that she sometimes doesn’t remember things well, I shared my new mantra: “Aging sucks!”

I really relate to Skinner’s bottom line about life: “Everything works out for a reason.” After chatting with Sandy, I really came away feeling like I had spent time with an old friend.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

In medieval times, it was presumed a son would learn the trade of his father and carry on the family tradition—as a shoemaker, carpenter, fisherman or woodworker. Even in modern culture, children are often pushed to follow in their parents’ footsteps.

Mario Ricardo “Rick” Gonzalez, 42, a Palm Desert resident for the past 15 years, was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and raised in Indio. He’s the fourth of five children, with two older sisters, an older brother and a younger brother. His father, George, was born in Texas but left for Mexico at 13, where he eventually met Gonzalez’s mother.

“My parents met because of the jewelry industry,” says Gonzalez. “They all did silversmithing in Mexico. My dad is a traditional man who commands respect. He made his own life, with the odds against him, but he always came through. He grew up without his dad, so he didn’t really know how to be a dad. I understand. He’s very old school—machismo. I respect that to this day; he lives his life the way he wants to.”

Gonzalez describes his mother, Teresa, as very patient, quiet and a good listener, a woman who values loyalty to her family above all else. “From her I got an understanding of unconditional love,” he says.

After graduating from Indio High School, Gonzalez went to Cerritos College then into the Army Reserve. He worked for a time in the hotel and hospital industries. “When I worked at the local hospital, I learned how to talk to people, and to listen, and the importance of customer service,” he says.

Gonzalez then went to work with his dad at Jewels by George for a year before heading to the Gemological Institute of America at their main campus in Carlsbad.

“It’s the Harvard of jewelry,” he says.

After four years working for a jeweler in Carlsbad, he then returned to the desert in 2003 to once again work with his dad.

“I had more ideas and experience then,” he says, “and it was easier and more rewarding. I listen to what people say they want, and I look at someone’s finger and can see how a ring should fit. I know what a stone can do and can’t do. When it comes to gold, I can manipulate it. I couldn’t change a sink for the life of me, but I can see what a design would look like on someone’s hand.

“I stick to what I know and what I’ve learned from my dad. He likes challenges, and I do, too. It’s about how to get from nothing to a design that will work. My dad taught me that nothing’s impossible.

“When people come in for jewelry repairs, there’s always a story. It really matters to me when a piece of jewelry means something to somebody. When it comes to repairs, my job is to make it look like nothing ever happened, that they not see any change. It’s important that they know I’m going to take good care of their piece. We also take some special pieces on consignment.

“Jewelry is sentimental. I even cry sometimes when I give it back and see their reaction. I can’t remember names, but I can remember the story of that ring or pendant. People tell their stories through their jewelry.”

The shop is truly a family affair. It was originally established in 1984. He describes his mother as “the finisher. She has patience when it comes to intricate jewelry. I do everything—design, marketing, soldering chains. And people like to talk to me.”

What’s the most challenging work he’s done? “Repairing filigree,” he says. “It’s hours of work, and sometimes so fine and intricate.” He showed me a lacy filigree pendant; it was impossible to see where repairs had been made or how anyone could have manipulated the finely detailed work.

Gonzalez had mentors—but he bitterly recalls working for jewelers who took credit for work he had done.

Gonzalez was married for 10 years and has two daughters, now 13 and 16. “They have some artistic talent,” he says proudly, adding with a laugh, “and they don’t complain when they’re here at the shop.”

Gonzalez takes great pride in showing off the Incogem pendants the shop carries, with acrylic-encased diamond initials floating inside gold pendants. They were originally designed in 1978 by Charles Weinstein, a Belgian separated from his family during World War II (later reunited when the war ended); he eventually located in the Coachella Valley until his death in 2013.

Gonzalez is a soft-spoken young man who clearly takes his job seriously. How does he handle working with his traditional father? He smiles as he says, “He will sometimes say to me, ‘Good job, boy.’ He probably never got that himself in his life.”

Going into the family business is not always easy, but Rick Gonzalez is clear: “When I came to work with my dad, one day, everything just made sense.”

When you see his commitment and the quality of his work, you know Gonzalez made the right choice.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

What is it about the desert that encourages many people who come here to retire to instead rediscover their passion?

Joseph Gole (www.JosephGole.com), 72, is the cantor at Har-El Congregation, a Reform Jewish synagogue in Palm Desert. His career, in a way, began at age 9, when the teacher at his Hebrew school began to give him solos, and then at age 11 included Gole in Friday night services.

“I was actually the catalyst for my family becoming more religious,” he says.

“My mother wanted me to take math and science, but I knew I wanted to pursue music, because I knew that was where my strengths were. I did my first High Holidays service at 14, and while at Hebrew High school, when I was 15, my teacher brought me into another temple to do services. In high school, there was an arts direction you could take. At 16, I was singing with The Young Americans. I remember that while in high school, the choir teacher got another job and left; we had a madrigal group that I ended up conducting.”

Gole and his brother, an attorney, were born and raised in Los Angeles. Their mother, now 96, had emigrated from Poland at age 14. “She dabbled in real estate and could be very giving and charitable,” he says, “but … she had lost most of her family, and the trauma of those experiences never fully left her.”

Gole’s father, who died in 1999, was the youngest of nine children, born in America to Russian parents. “His mother was born blind,” Gole recalls, “and he was raised by his siblings. He worked as a contract administrator for the government. He was a very constant man, somewhat rigid, but he was also a frustrated musician and singer—that’s why he started me at 5 on the accordion. He was always very supportive of the direction I chose.”

Gole attended Los Angeles Valley College and then graduated from the music department at the University of Southern California.

“At 14, I had a band, hired the musicians, and played the accordion and sang. I put myself through school playing music at events like weddings and bar mitzvahs,” Gole says.

Gole’s first job as a cantor came at age 18 at Temple Emanu El in Burbank.

“It was part-time, a small synagogue, and I had a limited role,” he says. “I’d show up at services, conducted the choir, and assumed some responsibility.”

Gole later became cantor of Sinai Temple in Westwood, a Conservative Jewish synagogue, at age 25 and served there for 10 years. He moved on to other temples before returning for a second stint 18 years later.

In the Jewish religion, there are different strains of worship: Orthodox, the strictest in observances; Conservative, which relaxes some of the rules of the Orthodox—for example, allowing congregants to drive to services on the Sabbath; and Reform, which emphasizes Jewish ethical tradition over the obligations of Jewish law. The Reform movement, to which the majority of American Jews belong, has sought to adapt to modern sensibilities, and sees itself as politically progressive and social-justice oriented while emphasizing personal choice in matters of ritual observance.

A cantor is a clergy member who may lead worship, officiate at life-cycle events, teach adults and children, run synagogue music programs, and offer pastoral care.

Gole’s self-description as a cantor: “I’m not stuck in my ways. I like mixing it up. I like doing things differently. Until World War II, cantors were all European-trained and came from a very traditional environment. After the war, immigrants weren’t coming here so much anymore, and the schooling of cantors broke into different organizations.

In 2016, Gole—divorced after 28 years of marriage with two children, a son (now 26) and a daughter (31; “She gave me a beautiful grandson!”)—was renting in West Los Angeles when he realized what a value it was to relocate to the Coachella Valley.

“Although I wasn’t really ready for retirement,” he says, “I wanted to get away.”

Now working with Har-El, Gole is coaching a young man preparing for his bar mitzvah; and a young man singing for the holidays at the temple. He has gone on cruises as a pastoral presence for Hanukkah and Passover services on board.

One of his current joys is working with a group of older women who wanted to prepare for bat mitzvah, which was not necessarily available to them when they were young. Bar mitzvah has always been a rite of passage for young Jewish men at age 13, including the privilege of reading from the Torah in front of the congregation. In Conservative and Reform Judaism, bat mitzvah is now also available as a rite of passage for young women, generally performed by giving a lecture on a Jewish topic or reading from the Book of Esther in the Old Testament.

“The women I’m working with have developed a real sense of community,” Gole says. “The experience of studying together for bat mitzvah became very meaningful for them. To be able to have this interaction is what makes it all so meaningful for me.

“I realize now that at 25, I was scared. At 35, I was still in touch with people from my old temple associations. I hadn’t comprehended the impact I’d had on people—I hadn’t really appreciated (it) in the moment. That realization was very powerful for me, that I could touch people in such a profound way. It’s been an important part of my life ever since—the interaction with people at critical points in their life, whether happy or unhappy. The fact that I get to share in those moments offers a powerful opportunity.

“I’ve realized that my journey has been to explore and understand my inner self—a truly liberating experience. … My message is to follow your passion. Find mentors who will encourage you. Don’t be afraid. We’re all afraid. Just follow your heart.”

Cantor Joseph Gole has done just that, and rediscovered his passion here in the desert. Isn’t there a story in scripture about that?

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

How do you tell the story of someone who describes herself as a “diva/goddess”—especially when one of the first things she says is, “I can’t imagine anybody would be interested in my life,” in an apparent contradiction?

Let’s start the story of Cardriner (Car-dree-ner) Bowden in 1963, three years after the famous sit-in at the Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., an attempt to integrate public spaces. Bowden was a freshman at a historically black college, North Carolina A&T State University, where Jesse Jackson was also a student.

“One day I was told, ‘We’re going to integrate the theater today,’” she recalls. “I didn’t have anything to do that day, so I went. We stood at the back of the line, thinking if they started arresting people, we wouldn’t get arrested, and would have time to get out of there. They reversed the line, so we got arrested first. I was in jail for 11 days. It was actually a lot of fun. We were singing and dancing. Those not arrested were outside the fence. It didn’t really feel like jail.

“Of course, whenever I applied for a job, I had to list that I had been arrested. They look at you really funny. But then they’d ask about it, and once I explained, it became OK. It wasn’t held against me.”

Born and raised in Goldsboro, N.C., Bowden was an only child whose father died when she was just 6 weeks old. She was raised partially by her grandmother, but also lived for a time with an aunt in Washington, D.C.

“The school there was the biggest I’d ever seen,” Bowden says. “I’d come from a place where I used to know everybody. The family my mom worked for (in Goldsboro) was white, and they were very nice, but Goldsboro wasn’t the kind of place I wanted to be in. I remember there was a billboard on the highway that said, ‘The Grand Dragon of the KKK welcomes you to Wayne Country, North Carolina.’ … The black women were teachers or nurses or worked in the homes of white people. I couldn’t see graduating from college to go back there to live.”

After spending summers working in Washington, D.C., Bowden left North Carolina to move there after graduating from college with a degree in education in 1966.

“I didn’t really want to teach, so I became a secretary at the Veterans Administration,” Bowden says. “But I knew I really didn’t belong there. I decided to teach, and got a job in Clinton, Md., teaching typing, shorthand and business machines at the high school level. I was one of the only two African Americans they’d ever hired, but I was young and knew I could deal with what I would encounter in a white school. I remember that a child of the pilot of Air Force One attended that school!

“I actually had to rent a car to go to the interview, and before I could even get back to the sorority house, where I was staying, the principal had called to tell me he was hiring me. I told him I didn’t even have a car or the money to buy one, and he called me back to say he had talked to the teacher’s credit union and told them to approve a loan for me.”

Bowden pointed out that Clinton was the place where John Wilkes Booth went after shooting Abraham Lincoln. “It’s where Mary Surratt was hanged as Booth’s accomplice. The principal of the high school, during my first year teaching there, wouldn’t make me come to night meetings, because the Klan might be looking for me.”

After teaching for six years in Maryland, Bowden made her way to California in 1972 to get married.

“He was a guy from my hometown who had been in the military. After he was discharged, he wanted to stay in L.A., and I agreed to relocate,” he says. “I came out during Christmas break and took the exam administered by the Los Angeles Unified School District. I had already taken and scored high on the National Teacher Examination. When L.A. hired me, the first year, I started as a substitute teacher at a school in Watts. The other teachers were so impressed that at the end of that first year, they had a vacancy, and I was hired.

“They saw potential in me, and said I should go into administration. I never had any discipline problems in my classrooms, so I became dean of student counselors at Locke High School, but I needed a master’s degree to go into administration, so I enrolled at Loyola Marymount University. I’ve always learned that when you do good work, they reward you.”

Bowden went on to become an assistant principal; a coordinator for Angel Gate Academy working with at-risk middle school students; an operations administrator handling everything from complaining parents to difficult events like school shootings; and assistant director of violence prevention and intervention at the Board of Education offices.

Bowden, then divorced, decided to retire in 2007.

“I’d always loved the Palm Springs area,” she says. “When I was working, I’d come down in the summertime when hotel rates were cheap. I wanted to be in an active-adult community, and decided that Del Webb’s Sun City in Palm Desert fit the bill. It’s ironic that all the work I do here is actually away from Sun City.”

Bowden volunteered in the Eisenhower Medical Center boutique for six years; was a volunteer usher at McCallum Theater from 2008-2017, and serves on the board of the theater’s Muses and Patroness Circle; volunteers at Well in the Desert and is on the nonprofit’s board; advises Thermal high school students with their annual choreography festival; is vice-chair of the public safety commission at Sun City, helping residents by working with local police and fire departments to provide safety programs; and for six years was women’s fellowship chair at Friendship Church, organizing luncheons and obtaining speakers. Oh, and every year, she is Mrs. Santa Claus when Well in the Desert presents their Christmas meal with toys for the children.

“I see people who are homeless and struggling, and realize that could have been me,” Bowden says. “My mom instilled in me that I needed a solid education so I could always take care of myself. Everybody who comes through the shelter has lost a job, or been in a bad relationship, or someone died, and they become homeless. If I can say something to change how they feel about themselves, or help them see there can be a better future for them … listen, I worked hard and was fortunate. It’s not too late for anyone. You should never give up.”

I ask: How did she get such an unusual name? Bowden laughs. “I was the first grandchild on my mother’s side, and my mother told my grandma she could name me. Grandma then told one of her friends she could name me. I have no idea where the name came from or what it means, but I’ve certainly never met anyone else with that name.”

I’ve never met anyone else with the grit, charm, wit and dedication of Cardriner Bowden. She says she’s crazy, and laughs about her “mouth” and how it can get her into trouble—but she makes a difference, never shies away from confronting a wrong, and is fierce while always being kind and loving.

If that doesn’t describe a diva/goddess, what does?

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 9 to 10 a.m. on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Felina Danalis, 46 and now a Palm Springs resident, was making a difference on a global scale.

After graduating magna cum laude in international relations from Georgetown University, she earned a graduate degree in international economics at Johns Hopkins’ Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, including a year studying in Italy and an internship with the Associated Press. She then walked straight into a job with the World Bank.

“I was in the department that helped countries get development money,” she says. “I wanted to help make the world a better place. After all, I had been schooled in free-market solutions to everything, and I wanted to know more about the world. I traveled to places like Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and Macedonia. It was fascinating, and the best training I could ever have had as a first job—if you don’t count folding sweaters at Benetton while attending college.”

After her three-year stint at the World Bank, Danalis worked for the Greek foreign minister, who wanted an adviser to his cabinet who had international-development expertise.

“I couldn’t read or write Greek,” she says, “in spite of my parents both having come to America from Greece. I actually lost a lot of my hair the first six months, just from the stress.”

After two years advising the Greek cabinet, Danalis was recruited by the European Union to go to the Balkans as a program manager when the European Parliament allocated funds for the Serbian government.

“I was on track to being a true American success story,” she says, “but then I was in Belgrade when I witnessed a horrendous incident that would change my life.”

In 2002, Danalis and a friend were sitting in their car when a man walked past them and began to get into the car parked in front of them.

“He opened the door—and the car just exploded, and so did he,” Danalis says. “I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, couldn’t be alone and couldn’t be with people. It was a very frightening place to be. Everyone around me was well-meaning and said the equivalent of, ‘Suck it up. If you’re going to do work like this in the world, then things like that will happen.’”

In 2003, Danalis left Belgrade and went to live on the Greek island of Kefalonia, where her father had been born.

“I told people I was going to write a book,” she recalls. “That’s what you say instead of, ‘I’m having a nervous breakdown.’ In my year there, I learned so much about myself.

“When I got my graduate degree, it was handed to me by (former U.S. Secretary of State) Madeleine Albright, who was the embodiment of a tough woman. I believed that my toughness was my greatest asset. What I learned that year in Kefalonia was that my emotions and compassion were my greatest assets. I felt that the system that was preparing me to make it in the capitalist world had lied to me.”

Danalis moved to Athens and was there for 10 years, working as a consultant to the sustainability and corporate responsibility industry, helping companies improve their bottom line by focusing on people and the planet as well as profits.

An only child—born in New York and arriving in Southern California in 1980—Danalis came to the desert in 2011 to take care of her mother, who had Stage 4 cancer.

“I stayed in Palm Springs because by the time my mom died, I had made a home here,” she says. “Besides, I met the love of my life!

“My parents met each other at a Greek restaurant in Greenwich Village. Mom had come to the U.S. when she was 9, my dad when he was already an adult. My mom had had a traumatic childhood, so although she was very artistic, she never had the self-confidence to stick with any idea. But she always told me, ‘You can do anything you put your mind to.’”

While taking care of her mother, Danalis studied Buddhism and taught at the Buddhist meditation centers in both Palm Desert and Palm Springs. Since 2011, she has been pursuing her mission as a “mindfulness coach.” Danalis (felinadanalis.com) is a regular presenter at the Golden Door spa in San Marcos, working with individuals and groups online, and presenting programs for Planned Parenthood, Cancer Partners in Palm Desert, and the Mizell Senior Center in Palm Springs.

“There’s too much homogenization in the world right now,” Danalis says. “We need to stay in touch with our individual cultural roots, combining the best of our traditions with modernity. We’re all so stuck to our phones; it’s all about transactions but not about relationships. We sometimes forget that we are human beings with a connection to our history underneath it all.

“I’m concerned about the implications of economic inequality that results in a lack of access to health care. Stress has an impact on illnesses, and I believe we can make a difference in our own well-being by not focusing so much on ‘self-help,’ but rather on the cultural and social impacts that influence our health.

“Mindfulness, to me, is helping particularly women master resilience in the face of stress, anxiety and the drama in their lives, so that they are able to have more impact in the world. It’s a kind of spiritual fitness—just as we exercise our physical muscles to be physically stronger, we need to exercise our spiritual fitness muscles in order to be able to be still. Only then are we able to have a social impact that can change the world.”

Sometimes, traumatic events do not stop us; they can make us stronger. Felina Danalis exudes a positive energy that is infectious. She is still making a difference on a global scale—just not in the way she originally thought she would.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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