by Ruby Comer
The Plaza is the place! This is my home away from home. It has all the amenities of my camp in L.A., and more. There’s a swimming pool, a spa, a golf course, a fitness center, and best of all, housekeeping service. The rooms are condo-size with stoves, patios, skylights, and some provide stunning views. And this is peachy—they provide a flashlight to find your way in the desert night and to better see the remote control (yes, this old broad needs glasses). As you know, my little prunes, Palm Springs is my usual getaway to escape the urban jungle. So for Valentine’s, I decided to treat myself to a week of leisure at this affordable yet luxurious resort.
One day I tee off on the third hole and slice my ball. Ditzy me. It curves and lands on the fairway of the fourth hole. While searching for my ball I meet a gentleman who just pitched a ball up on the green. Hmmm, could that be my ball?, I wonder. We begin to chat and, holy Toledo, he spots my ball. He’s Greg Schmitz, a local merchant who owns Palm Greens Café in downtown P.S., a healthy organic eatery, right up my old alley. He bakes pastries and blends phytonutrient smoothies…for the love of Mike, I’m there! He invites me to meet
him there the next day.
Ruby Comer: What a charming place, Greg. [He’s behind the counter. I sit at one of the high round wooden tables and he joins me.] Tell me about you, Mister.
Greg Schmitz: I’ve been involved in sustainable, organic nutrient delivery [healthy eating] for the past twenty years. My belief is that when our food is closer to the farm we eat healthier. Eating a tomato picked fresh and ripe off the vine delivers many more nutrients than an unripe store-bought tomato, which is costlier.
Ah, yes. [I peruse the menu and order a date shake that’s made with almond milk.] You mentioned yesterday that you grew up on a Nebraska farm. Your parents were certainly a healthy influence. Greg, what’s your first recollection of the AIDS epidemic?
It was 1975, I was still in the closet, and attending Creighton University in Omaha. I had my first sexual encounter with a guy I worked with at a restaurant. Afterward, I remember asking him what those purple marks were on his skin. He said he had recently been diagnosed with Kaposi’s sarcoma, a rare cancer, but not to worry, he would be okay. He moved away to San Francisco shortly after our encounter and I never really thought of him again until ten years later when other friends of mine started developing the same skin lesions.
Hmmm, in ’75. Yikes. What impact has the epidemic had on you?
After college I moved to New York City and worked in the fashion industry as a model and eventually had my own clothing company. In the early nineties I began spending more time in Los Angeles and eventually closed my New York showroom and moved there. I look back now and realize that the eighties were so fast and furious with all of my friends sick and dying from AIDS. I did the only thing I could do and that was to run. I ran to Los Angeles hoping to forget and start over, thinking my past would not catch up with me. I didn’t want to deal with the fear and guilt of being alive while all my friends were either sick or dead.
I’m sure many others can relate.
My friends’ deaths haunted me, Ruby. I remember my good friend Barry, who was also my doctor, told me that it was probably not a good idea to get tested for HIV. Barry said I was not psychologically stable enough to handle the test results and since there was no therapy for AIDS, he felt I should wait to get tested. I was frightened, but I believe not knowing my status nor not having to decide whether to go on AZT was a huge gift Dr. Barry gave me.
I came out to L.A. to be with my closest friend, Fred, who had begun AZT therapy. I witnessed his horrible suffering, and then his death. It was this experience that ultimately saved my life. I focused on alternative health therapies that led me on an incredible journey. I studied Chinese herbs and medicine, acupuncture, Chi Quong, I meditated, did internal exercises, and martial arts of the Healing Tao. I also studied Ayurvedic Indian medicine. What I began to discover was each ancient healing practice focused on maintaining life force energy and using herbs and foods to maintain vibrant health.
How incredible your journey was, Greg. Did you ever test for HIV?
In 1997, I was living in Hawaii when I finally decided to get tested due to the drug treatment breakthroughs. [He takes a sip of hot oolong tea.] My HIV-positive diagnosis was no surprise to me, Ruby. After the diagnosis, my partner and his daughter, who was visiting from San Francisco, did a twelve-mile hike to the top of Haleakala, Maui’s famous volcano. We then went out and had a beautiful dinner and celebrated life and love.
What a grand, novel idea. How are you doing today?
I believe it was the best thing for me to take the cocktail and I never had any serious side effects. Everyone must make their own decision about their health regimen and what treatments to use. I do, however, encourage everyone to eat healthy organic fruits, vegetables, and meat and make exercise, meditation, and charity work a part of their regimen, as well. Helping others, even in the smallest way, comes back to the giver in the most magnificent ways. [I slurp up my last precious drop of date shake.]
The Palm Greens Café gives a ten percent discount to all the clients of the Desert AIDS Project [DAP] and to all the people who work or volunteer there or at Revivals, resale stores that donate all proceeds to DAP.
Good to hear, Greg! Anything else? [He asks the waiter to bring me a “square treat,” which is his own concoction of an energy bar that’s sweetened with Agave syrup. I was tempted to try his signature raw apple pie with an almond/date crust, but, next time!]
Once a year Palm Greens Café donates thirty-three percent of that day’s sales to help support DAP. We also give to The Trevor Project and the Rainbow Fund.
[Tasting the treat.] Oh, Greg, I’m taking a couple of these home with me—outta this world! You absolutely care about others, Greg, which I assume is why you opened this restaurant.
Indeed. I like to share my love of food with others through my restaurant. I believe there are many roads that lead us to balance. If your intention is to live in harmony with others and to enjoy life in balance, then that is what you will experience. Intention is everything.
My intention is to always be open to new discoveries and new therapies to keep me in balance and in harmony with others. I love making tasty soups, salads, and desserts and I feel blessed that people want to pay me money for something that I love to do. HIV/AIDS does not have to be a death sentence. It is a life sentence. What you do with that life is up to you. Namaste.
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by
e-mail at [email protected]