Saturday, April 19, 2014

Why Nixon?

I've finished reading the exhaustive, the enormously-illuminating, the thoroughly-researched, the continually-fascinating Pat and Dick: The Nixons, an Intimate Portrait of a Marriage by Will Swift, and I find myself yet again craving more about Richard Nixon. Despite extensive chores still to do today, such as cleaning the mirrors, sinks, and toilets in the two bathrooms of this apartment, and vacuuming in the bathrooms and in my parents' bedroom so their mattress can be turned and their new sheets put on, I put Frost/Nixon, starring Michael Sheen as David Frost and Frank Langella as Richard Nixon, in the DVD player to watch for the umpteenth time. I'm also thinking about Oliver Stone's Nixon either after that or in the days to come, since I also have that on DVD. And on hold on my library card is 31 Days: Gerald Ford, The Nixon Pardon, and A Government in Crisis by Barry Werth, to reread, and The Conviction of Richard Nixon: The Untold Story of the Frost/Nixon Interviews by James Reston, Jr., whose writing I was in awe of the first time, and a second reading might spur me to order it for my collection afterward. Oh, and I also have the C-SPAN documentary series on DVD about all the presidential libraries, including Nixon's, which I went to once when my family and I existed in Southern California (though we went to the Reagan Presidential Library more often because of the beautiful, expansive view from the replica of the South Lawn, as well as the incredible potato chips made fresh at Reagan's Country Cafe, pretty much the main reason we went there toward the end of our years in Southern California), as well as the American Experience: The Presidents DVD set, which includes a documentary about Nixon.

In my floating book collection (books I haven't read yet that may or may not become part of my permanent collection), I have JFK's Last Hundred Days: The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President by Thurston Clarke, and 1948: Harry Truman's Improbable Victory and the Year that Transformed America by David Pietrusza, who makes these historical events come vividly alive again, as if they were happening again.

This past week, I read Eleanor And Harry: The Correspondence of Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman edited and with commentary by Steve Neal, and I always eye David McCullough's biography of Truman, which sits on the same shelf of the bookcase on the left side of the wall directly next to my reading chair. And of course, Robert Caro's epic look into the life of LBJ prods and pokes at me, while I hate not being in New York City so I can see Bryan Cranston play LBJ in All the Way. Andrew Jackson hangs around the edges, and I would like to know what FDR's presidency was like for him in the middle years, not the famous final ones.

Why is it then that Nixon keeps taking control of my passion for presidential history, even booting out William Howard Taft for a time, even though I want to know if Taft truly did not want to be president and if his wife, Nellie, pushed him into it because she wanted to be First Lady? Why am I consistently fascinated by a dark, shadowy figure who regained some measure of political respect in his later years, with his brilliant foreign policy analysis?

It's got to be the contradictions and the complexities of the man and his presidency, wondering if he was a good president, if he would have been even better had it not been for Watergate? My dad insists that he was a good president, but he just got caught. Well, there was the increase in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, but I still wonder how much of that was him. I read from conflicting sources that he either spearheaded the legislation for both or that others led the charge for it instead of him, and all he did was blankly sign his name to them. I don't know. Is it even possibly to find the clearest, unvarnished truth about Richard Nixon? Probably not. But in my reading, I would hope to get as close to it as possible, what sounds reasonably certain, and Will Swift comes close in Pat and Dick, particularly in focusing on his and Pat's marriage. I was curious about what their marriage was like when the Checkers speech happened, and Watergate, and his years in political exile. I got my answers to all those questions, seeing a marriage that used to be considered cold and distant, and there were moments like that, but they never lasted long there. There seemed to be a love that didn't need public confirmation, that was content to just be. Of course, I was born during President Reagan's re-election campaign, so these books and those documentaries and the footage to be found online are all I have to learn more about Nixon's life and presidency and post-presidential life. I do have my parents' insight to some degree, but my dad's insight only goes so far, and my mom's insight isn't extensive, being that she wasn't as interested in politics as my dad was at that time, in seeing history being made right then and there.

It's like with Frost/Nixon, which places Nixon (Langella) in the hospital at the time that Gerald Ford pardons him on television. Not true, according to Will Swift, who simply states that "On Sunday morning, September 8 [1974], Pat and Dick drove through Southern California fog on their way to the secluded and lush 220-acre Palm Springs estate of their friends Walter and Lee Annenberg. While they were en route, President Ford addressed the nation on television, announcing he was granting Nixon a full pardon for all offenses he had committed or might have committed during his term in office."

A shot of the Nixons driving to Palm Springs, intercut with a shot of Gerald Ford granting the pardon, then the pardon speech as a voiceover during that shot of the Nixons driving, wouldn't have been as dramatic as Nixon lying in that hospital bed from that attack of phlebitis, slowly opening his eyes as he hears Ford grant him the pardon, as is portrayed in Frost/Nixon. Any historical movie should not be taken as gospel anyway, but should hopefully fuel interest in learning more about the events potrayed. As I read that bit from Swift, I remembered that scene in Frost/Nixon, understood the dramatic license taken, and moved on. To at least understand history, if not convinced that the truth is apparent, you have to read so many different perspectives. And while I strive to read more about Richard Nixon, to understand more about him, to see the extent of the Constitutional peril he brought upon the country, Calvin Coolidge remains ignored. Rutherford B. Hayes finds himself sitting next to Ulysses S. Grant and both are eyeing Coolidge warily in the same ignored space, be it a parlor or a bar or whatever in my imagination. I imagine that people had the same visceral reaction as they watched the Watergate hearings. They were hooked on them, just as I am through all this history of a man who was not easy to know to begin with. The reason I'm so passionate about presidential history is because I want to know how these men handled being in power, suddenly having these great responsibilities thrust upon them, whether through elections or taking over from their mostly-slain predecessors (William Henry Harrison seems to be the sole exception, dying from pneumonia). I've always seen the presidents simply as men in powerful positions. They've obviously changed in many ways by the time they leave office, but they're still like you and me. Still human. Still getting up in the morning like we do. Still getting dressed like we do. Still eating like we do. Who were they before they became president? Who were they after? In the cases of Carter, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and eventually Obama, who are they now? Do they wish they were back in that Oval Office, even those Constitutionally ineligible now? Or are they relieved to be done with all of that, content in their roles as elder statesmen, just like Nixon eventually became?

It all matters to me, and yet, I keep going back to Nixon. Maybe it's trying to understand how he could be so cynical about all the groups and particular people he lambasted in those recordings in the Oval Office, the inherent racism. Where did it all come from? How did the insecurities develop? I know some of it, but I still want to know more. It's not so much a search for the truth about Richard Nixon, without all the competing viewpoints, but more fascination with how it's not easy to really know. One book will say this, and another book will say that, and another book will come far out of left field to presume this. I feel like I should be reading about Bill Clinton's presidency because that's the one I grew up in. I was 5 when George H.W. Bush became president, and then 9 when Bill Clinton took office. Now would be the right time since enough time has passed in order to really consider it from all different angles.

But Nixon remains at the center of my passion for all this. It could also be because he was brilliant, but the insecurities and the nastiness (though mellowed years later) crowded it out. Did one emotion dominate the others for a while? He was known to become depressed at times, so how did it affect him during the presidency? There are so many questions, and not all of them will yield easy answers. I know that for sure. For me, it could be that the search is endlessly interesting. I want to know many presidents' administrations from beginning to end, possibly all of them if I hopefully live long enough (I'm hoping for well over 100 years old), but perhaps I want to start with this one because it was a mysterious administration at the same time. A political monolith, as his handlers tried to present.

So I will watch Frost/Nixon later. Maybe even Nixon to marvel at Anthony Hopkins again. There are still lots more books about Nixon that I haven't read, including his memoirs, so once I get out of the way of Watergate (which seems impossible, but it still confounds me enough that I at least want to understand more the entire arc of it before I move on to earlier events of his presidency, including his attempts to end the Vietnam War) after 31 Days and reading James Reston, Jr's book again, I'll get to those.

Or maybe it should be like a wheel. Spin it and find out which president I should spend time with for a while. Because I have a feeling if I keep this going, I'm never going to get to the others. Not that I haven't read about FDR and Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln and William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson and Andrew Jackson and John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and the others already, but just like Nixon, I want to know more about them too. I'll extract myself somehow. Eventually.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Passover, Las Vegas Style

(Originally, I was going to call this post "Passover, Nearly Las Vegas Style," since we're in Henderson, and while Sunset Station is a casino, with a buffet, and slot machines, and a comfortably wide bowling alley, we're still in Henderson, even though we're very close to Las Vegas, down the street. But casinos and buffets in this region did start in Las Vegas, so it is Las Vegas Style. No need for me to be pedantic about such a thing. It is what it is and what it always has been.)

We haven't had the full-on, Seder-driven, Haggadah-reading, Why-Is-This-Night-Different-From-All-Other-Nights Passover experience in years. I can't remember the last time we did the Four Questions. But I don't mind that we haven't, because it takes a while. You have to wait and wait and wait and wait before you eat, and yes the history as it is believed is important to me, but I can read about it elsewhere because I want to eat!

That's why I like Thanksgiving. You say a prayer or two, you tell Aunt Gracie to give it a rest for five minutes, and you dig in. Well, we have the same thing coming for Passover the Monday or Tuesday after next. In fact, it was a shock to us to see that our existence is actually acknowledged, after nine years of nothing of the kind in the Santa Clarita Valley in Southern California. A Kosher section in a supermarket, just to see what's around? Are you kidding? You get maybe a shelf, maybe even two shelves if management is feeling generous. Otherwise, you're on your own. Go to Gelson's in Encino. Maybe they'll have more.

We had gone to Sunset Station yesterday afternoon because they're doing a promotion called "$1 Million Scratch and Win." If you earn 300 points on the same day, you receive a scratch card that's guaranteed a winner, for $1,000 cash, up to $100 in free slot play, up to 50,000 points, free buffets, or other prizes. Dad originally thought you only had to walk right in and you'd get one, or maybe he thought that you only had to play a dollar. They may say they love locals, but it's not that easy. It was only when we got there that he found out you had to earn 300 points on the same day. Oh well. Meridith had to go to the bowling alley anyway to see about bowling balls, since she wants one, but hasn't found the right one yet.

We had to go to the Boarding Pass Center, as it's called, for some matter related to our cards, possibly seeing if our address had been changed from the one in Las Vegas to the one in Henderson. I don't know, since I was standing further back, doing what, I don't know. But as we walked by the buffet, we saw a sign for the upcoming Passover buffet, and we were stunned. We had been well ignored in Santa Clarita, so what could we possibly expect from the rest of the West, despite such luminaries as Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson being in this region? It's not so much Las Vegas itself, but our immediately local area that we wondered if there was anything for us, related to us. And there it was. There, on the posted menu, hard-boiled eggs, salmon with figs, matzo ball soup, charoset (a dark fruit-and-nut paste meant to harken back to the mortar our enslaved people used to built the pyramids), beet horseradish, and so much else I've already forgotten. Dad went to the front counter at the buffet to ask the price. $10.80 with a Boarding Pass, the membership card. $20 otherwise. We're bringing our cards with us. And Mom noted that gefilte fish wasn't listed on the board. But maybe that was only part of what will be offered. Maybe gefilte fish will be there. However, it doesn't matter as much because we can always get gefilte fish for ourselves at home (actually, for Mom, Dad and Meridith since I don't like it), and we have to be part of this! I've never really liked the Station casinos because they've always struck me as stingy with generally tight slots even here in Henderson, and Palace Station has the worst buffet in Las Vegas. Granted, we haven't been to every buffet in Las Vegas, but I highly doubt it'll fall lower in the rankings, even though the buffet at Arizona Charlie's is just as bad. While I will never go back to Arizona Charlie's on Boulder Highway, that buffet did have sausage stuffing, which was actually very pleasing, and I won't forget that, whereas the Palace Station buffet had nothing redeeming about it.

You have to drive just a little to get to Sunset Station, but I still consider it part of our community. And we have to support our community, we need to support our community, we want to support our community with what's been offered, because we exist! After all this time, we are acknowledged! And I just hope this Passover buffet is a lot better than Palace Station's buffet. Since they've gone to this length to present this buffet, it means they're making some kind of effort, and I hope it shows. For so long, I've wanted to support a community I can call my own, and with this, and so much else it is, this feels like the one. We already do that with Food 4 Less essentially next door to us, buying one or two things or more every week because we want them to stay open. Not that they're having any trouble staying afloat, what with the parking lot being nearly full every day, but every little bit helps. Even though I don't really like the Station casinos, I like Sunset Station a little more because of this. This means a lot in a time when we're still trying to find our place here. There's progress, and this is a major boost.

Friday, March 21, 2014

An Experiment with a Reading List, Amidst Other Things

Today is my 30th birthday, which, outside of the pursuit of a steady career with a pension that I know is an important component of getting older, means that it's time to write what I really want to write, to pull my future books into the present. I have two immediate ideas for biographies, one about the relatively controversial making of one of the first movies I ever saw, when I was 5 years old, and two ideas for novels. I'm not sure where to begin yet, but I know that the facts I can get for one biography are near me in Boulder City, while seeking more information via e-mail, the only way to do this. I know that just like my first book, some of the research will be monotonous, but the ultimate goal matters most: I want to be published again by the time I'm 35. Originally, I wanted to be published by the time I turned 30, but existing in Southern California didn't inspire any movement toward that goal. Plus, there was the fervent desire to move from there, which, from 2007, took five years. That was also an emotionally taxing time. Here, in Southern Nevada, it's a lot easier to write, to be inspired by what's around me. The Las Vegas Valley doesn't close in around you. It gives you time and space to think about what you want to do, what you want to pursue, what you want to be. We may not have a solid core of community as others know it, but I like that people can simply be here, in any way they wish. And while I still don't like it, I'm gradually getting used to the transience around me. In fact, while a substitute aide at Nate Mack Elementary yesterday, doing recess field duty after my lunchtime, one of the kids I know from my day of being the substitute P.E. aide two weeks ago, came up to me to tell me that he and his parents are moving to Portland, Oregon during spring break.

Now, I've heard of people moving back to the east coast, moving to California, moving to Arizona, but this is the first I've heard of Portland, Oregon. An interesting change from the usual suspects, and from what I've heard of Portland, I think he's going to have a very interesting, creative childhood there.

Anyway, my main reason for this post is not only to say that I intend to continue my "Where Was I When I Read That?" series, but that I'm also going to start a new series, an idea I had this morning, looking at the bottom two shelves of books in my left-side bookcase at the side of my room. It's there that I have Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original by Robin D.G. Kelley, owing to my interest in piano jazz, that will also be a major focus in my life from now on, really all kinds of jazz, but more with the piano and saxophone.

This book was at the top of a list I created in my account on the Henderson Libraries website, which I was originally very much against being changed when they created a new design and system for the website. I thought the previous one, which I've ironically long forgotten, was better and more personal, more community-centered, but this one has worked out just as well. And just like Facebook keeps changing, I simply get used to it.

Before my family and I moved from Las Vegas to Henderson, I created a list in my Goodreads account called "Henderson Library Needs," which included books I had checked out in the Las Vegas-Clark County system, but didn't have a chance to read, though I still wanted to read them. And since the Henderson Libraries also had them, I could read them there, being that where I am in Henderson, I want to support the Henderson Libraries more.

After we moved, and after I got a Henderson library card, I found that I could make lists on this website of anything I wanted, be it books, DVDs, or jazz, though I haven't yet done the latter. And I decided to create a list called "Books to Put on Hold." It started out small, 10, 15 books at a time. Now it has 191 books, starting with Thelonious Monk, starting with the aforementioned book, sitting next to me under Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones, of which I'm on page 127. I deleted that Monk listing after I checked out that book, and so Thelonious Monk: His Life and Music by Thomas Fitterling now graces the top of the list.

A lot of these listings are based on passions of the moment. When Peter O'Toole died, I looked for his two autobiographies and found Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole, and Oliver Reed by Robert Sellers. That's #6 on this list.

Further down the list is Moneywood: Hollywood in its Last Age of Excess by William Stadiem at #42, which I noticed in February when there was an Oscars-themed book display at the Green Valley Library that I kept restocking as a volunteer. While I don't write movie reviews anymore, I still study movie history. That is an inextricable part of my life.

And so on. Different books based on different interests, and all waiting to be read. Some are a block of related works, such as wildflowers, and others are one-off. And the list will surely grow. But even with that, I want to do something else new for this blog, that of writing about this list as I read either each book or two or more at a shot. I want to see if there is more to this list than just the obvious themes and interests, if they are related to each other more than those. It begins with Robin D.G. Kelley's biography of Monk, and we'll see what emerges as I read them in order. Some of them are also connected in a "Where Was I When I Discovered It?" kind of way, especially when I was a substitute library aide at different elementary schools and spotted some of these books. A few are part of the week that I ran the library at Lewis Rowe Elementary solo. I have plenty of stories about the pleasure of doing that.

Ultimately, I want to see how these books might be connected further. That, I think, will make this a lot of fun. Plus, it'll be a way to keep writing about books during those times that I'm in between book reviews. Not next week, though, since I have to read The Plover by Brian Doyle for an April 1 deadline for BookBrowse, but certainly afterward.

Monday, March 3, 2014

To Finish or Not to Finish?

If you don't like a book, don't finish it. Or skim through the rest to find out what happened for your own edification and then leave it behind forever.

It sounds easy, but not when you're devoted wholeheartedly to a character or a series, like I am to Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe, that seventh of a ton, orchid-loving, shut-in-by-choice gourmand. Oh, I like Archie Goodwin, Wolfe's legman, well enough, especially his love of milk, and all the stories are always from his perspective (I may be wrong about this, so be gentle if I am), but I love spending time in that Manhattan brownstone with its floors containing Nero Wolfe and Archie's office, Fritz Brenner's holiest-of-holy kitchen, with all the culinary masterpieces that emerge from it; Wolfe's and Archie's bedrooms, and, of course, the plant rooms where the orchids are, where, without fail, with some extreme exceptions (such as gunfire bursting through the plant rooms, decimating them), Wolfe is there from 9-11 a.m. and 4-6 p.m., all of it tended by his gardener, Theodore Horstmann.

I haven't yet read all of Rex Stout's journeys into one of my favorite worlds, nor have I read all of Robert Goldsborough's continuations, taken up 11 years after Stout died. I did read Goldsborough's first continuation, Murder in E Minor, but probably have to reread it again because I don't remember much about it. I do remember that it placed Wolfe and Archie in the 1970s, which was an interesting change. I loved his prequel to the series, Archie Meets Nero Wolfe, so I thought I'd have something to look forward to every time Goldsborough has a new Wolfe novel out, although Archie Meets Nero Wolfe was the first one since 1993.

His latest Wolfe novel is called Murder in the Ball Park, and it seems to place Wolfe and Archie quite a while after they first met, which, judging from Wolfe reading Eisenhower's Crusade in Europe, is 1948.

I'm on page 112. I've been on page 112 for the past day and a half, partly because I've been busy with freelance research work, but mostly because every page brings a new frustration. The mystery of who assassinated state senator Orson Milbank during a baseball game at the Polo Grounds does not move along. And by placing this story at a time that I'm sure Stout himself covered feels to me as if Goldsborough, by this act, wants to be considered in the same league as Stout. To me, he isn't. A different author can play with what a previous author has left behind, but with reservations, if that world has been so well-established, as this one was by Stout.

In this novel, Goldsborough plays too fast and loose with how Wolfe and Archie operate, even who they are. I could never imagine Wolfe saying "Egad" in reaction, as he does at the beginning of chapter 14. "Phooey" yes. I've read that and it works. Maybe Wolfe has said "Egad" during Stout's time writing him, but it most likely was smoother than it is here. Also, I love reading Wolfe's speeches to potential murder, or otherwise, suspects for that reason. Goldsborough had a fine handle on it in the prequel, so I don't understand why there's a sudden inability to do it here.

With Wolfe's eating habits, I can accept Georgia ham broiled, as he has for breakfast in bed one morning. but I wince at squash with sour cream and dill and avocado with watercress and black walnut kernels. That seems very un-Wolfe like and certainly un-Fritz like. And it does not at all speak to the enormous love Wolfe has for fine food and the opinions he holds forth on it. It's as if Goldsborough just drops them in to meet what's expected of a Wolfe story, without getting into why.

But once again, it's the snail's pace of the story that nearly kills my interest in this novel. Wolfe and Archie do investigate every angle in every novel and novella and short story, but it is never this slow. There have been novels in Stout's repertoire that have not been entirely up to snuff, but still move along swiftly enough. Here, we meet every possible suspect, each less interesting than the next, including a barely-written mob boss who would have been more fascinating in Wolfe's presence if he and Wolfe had been permitted to have a discussion about their different sides of life, their ways of living. Something like that. Not very long, but Wolfe is worldly, and there would have been a lot of potential in that.

I'm up to the part where the late state senator's lover and former press secretary has decided to run for his vacant seat, and still I crawl through one page and then another. It's not that I feel I'll be doing Wolfe a great disservice if I don't finish this. This is a different Wolfe, a Wolfe that was better in the prequel, and maybe he's just as good in Goldsborough's '70s-set versions. Plus, there's so much talk here between Archie and others, including New York Gazette man and Wolfe resource Lon Cohen, but it's not even entertaining or useful talk. It's just enough to push the story along without feeling, without what usually makes these stories a joy to read. There's not much joy in this one.

Throughout the rest of the day, I'll think about whether to push along, to see it through to the end, or skim. I'm such a fan of this series that in the now-rare times that we go to a buffet in Las Vegas or Henderson, I always order milk to drink, as a salute to Archie Goodwin. I know this is Goldsborough and not Stout here, but Wolfe is still Wolfe to me, despite the "Egad." It's hard to shake off devotion.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Where Was I When I Read That?: Paper Towns by John Green

Dolphins in the desert? Yes. Just like all the residencies of those famous or formerly famous singers who want stability of a sort. A couple months here, a couple months there. A chance not only to remind audiences of who they are and the power they can still bring to their songs, but also to figure out what they want to do next, albums they can record, maybe even a national tour if the ticket sales from their residencies make that seem possible.

The dolphins don't have that kind of option in a residency. They're here to stay, or at least for as long as the Mirage keeps Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat. Because nothing's permanent here. That goes for life itself, of course, but here, things seem to disappear faster. Restaurants open and then close. Two apartments I always saw lights on in at night when I walked the dogs are off. Those people are gone. Even the couple that lived in an upstairs apartment with a perpetually watchful dog at the window, who was here before the holidays, is gone. The blinds of that apartment are open slightly, revealing nothing inside.

That's why here, you hold onto what's permanent to you, what lasts in your mind and your heart, even though it may be gone. Fortunately, Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat has always remained, even before my family and I moved to Las Vegas in September 2012, when we were anticipating moving there and kept up on everything Las Vegas from the Santa Clarita Valley in Southern California. According to lasvegas.com, it opened in 1990. I don't know if the dolphins have been there since the beginning, but that's where this story begins.

Before last March 23, my sister's birthday, my mom signed her up for a program at the Dolphin Habitat called Painting with the Dolphins. During our nine years' existence in Southern California, she also swam with the dolphins at Sea World in San Diego. This program was also pricey, but it would be worth it for her since she loves dolphins.

Being that the first hotel we visited in Las Vegas at the start of our first trip in 2007 was the Mirage, home to the Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat, we voted in the 2009 elections in a trailer behind the Mirage. And when American Idol came to the Beatles Love theater at the Mirage for live broadcasts last February, we went to the show featuring performances by the guys competing. So the Mirage has essentially been our home casino, even though we visit sporadically. It made sense not only for Meridith to be able to paint with the dolphins, but for it to be at the Mirage. It's one of many things we know intimately in Las Vegas.

After you pass the ticket booth at the Secret Garden, and before you get to the ticket-taker podium just before the entrance, you walk past a winding garden path, with uniform bushes taller than you. Once you get in, you have the souvenir store right next to you, the public seating for the dolphin shows at the main pool behind you, rising bleachers. Behind that main pool is a holding pool for dolphins in need of care, or baby dolphins not yet ready for public viewing, and in the back, facing the entrance to the Secret Garden, is a second, smaller pool, where the painting sessions are held and where the dolphins are just to play around, to throw balls around and play with other toys they're given. Just after the main pool, across from the snack bar, is a winding path down to the basement area, with large windows where you can watch the dolphins underwater. Every part of this place is interesting, making you wonder not only how they planned this, but how they maintain it in the midst of the desert.

As could be seen in my first entry in this series, about Archie Meets Nero Wolfe, I bring a book with me everywhere. And the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat was no exception. This time, it was Paper Towns by John Green, who I got hooked on after reading The Fault in Our Stars. I haven't read all of his books yet, as I don't like to bombard myself with so many titles from the same author as once. It's why I read the Nero Wolfe series, and the Alphabet Mysteries by Sue Grafton book by book, one at a time from the Green Valley Library. Yes, it would stand to reason that if I like an author enough, I should inhale everything else they have, but there are also other books to read. There's always a mix I have that doesn't favor just one author. Many authors.

Paper Towns is immediately my kind of novel because it takes place in Central Florida, and being a Florida native, I'm automatically interested in anything to do with Florida. I especially appreciate a novel that can gradually reveal its offerings over a day if necessary, which is the case with many novels I read while I'm out somewhere. That day at the Dolphin Habitat was different, though. We had gotten there earlier because Meridith's time to paint with the dolphins was at 12:30 p.m. There's that and 3:30 p.m., and those are the only times to do so in a given day.

I definitely would not miss what Meridith was experiencing, so the book stayed with me, closed. We went into a small room just off that tiny holding pool for the dolphins, where Meridith and another person got an orientation of what painting with the dolphins would be like. She chose her paints, and I made sure to take lots of photos during the process.

Mom, Dad and I then went to the second pool to grab a spot right at the mini curving wall that surrounds the pool. Those who work for the Dolphin Habitat don't make Painting with Dolphins as much a show as the one in the main pool with leaping dolphins and all of that, but people gather just the same. Not just the families of those painting with the dolphins, but other tourists. It's a nice, curious crowd.

The paintbrushes that the dolphins use are attached to a pacifier that the dolphin holds in its mouth, with the paintbrush sticking out and they move the brush up and down and side to side. Meridith well remembers the name of the dolphin she painted with, but I don't. Cosmo comes to mind, but I think I've just got The Jetsons on the brain, after Cosmo Spacely. I think the dolphin's name was stronger than that.

I had to get as close to Meridith's side as possible because I had the phone camera and wanted to take as many pictures as possible. There was the photo taken of Meridith with the dolphin, as provided by the program, along with the dolphin's painting, but it's always nice to capture the entire experience as it's happening. And Meridith had quite the experience because before they left that room, they had to take off their shoes and socks and roll up their pants before they headed out there. Then at the edge of the pool, Meridith kneeled on a towel, met her dolphin, and the person in charge of that painting session explained to Meridith the dolphin's personality and what it could do in paint, and then the dolphin began painting.

I loved watching this. Meridith, being hugely into dolphins, loved swimming with them in San Diego, and she was a rocket ready to go off at the dolphin painting. Being that close to a dolphin was big enough for her.

Now, since it was her birthday, she could do anything she wanted. And that was most likely the highlight of her entire day. But we ended up spending the entire day at the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, from 11:30 a.m. or so, to when it closed at 5 p.m. We went down to the basement level to look at the dolphins underwater a few times, and visited the Secret Garden with its panthers and leopards, and I think there were either a few monkeys or apes. My only mission for the day was deciding whether or not to buy The Living Sea IMAX film on DVD, upon seeing that it was narrated by Meryl Streep, one of my favorite actresses, with songs and music by Sting, one of my favorite singers. It would seem to be a no-brainer, but the price was $15 or $16, so I needed some time to think about it. It never left my mind, though, throughout most of the day.

What I loved most about the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat was that sense of being nowhere else. Sure, the Mirage hotel loomed above, with the Beatles Love banner, but that didn't matter. There were the trees in the Secret Garden, all the bushes, and low-hanging leaves that made you think you couldn't possibly be in Las Vegas, but were in a truly different world. I'm sure that was the intended effect because it worked on me. Of course I knew that I was in Las Vegas, because I was living there. That's unavoidable. But within the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, I wondered why I would want to be anywhere else. And I didn't mind that we spent the entire day there, because we just sat at one of the tables near the snack bar and in front of the souvenir store for hours. And those hours didn't matter. It was enough to just sit there and relax. And what better place to read Paper Towns by John Green, to get so completely into that Central Florida world, to hope that high school senior Quentin Jacobsen soon finds Margo Roth Spiegelman, his childhood friend and next-door neighbor, who he's been in love with forever. I had always hoped that in some novel, an author would really use Florida, really get into it, and not just reference certain points and move on. John Green is that author. He knows streets and sunsets and buildings in Central Florida. I've always hoped that someone would see poetry in my home state and Green gets it right.

But it's also the circumstances while reading a book, where you are, what you're doing. It was cool on Meridith's birthday, but not too cold. We had jackets with us and had to use them while we were in the shade for a time, facing the second pool, but at that table in front of the souvenir store, no need. And those people working at the Dolphin Habitat really got to know Meridith and us too. They were genuinely surprised that anyone would stay for the entire day because people go to see what they want and then they move on. But when Meridith explained that she really loves dolphins, they understood. It makes no sense to rush when you're a resident, not when a hefty price was paid for Painting with Dolphins. It cost a lot, but it was worth it for her.

And it was one of those days that just made sense. Where else was there to be? Why not really get to know a place? And we did. I got to know every inch of the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, and thinking about Paper Towns today, which inspired this second installment in the series, made me put it on hold on my library card to read it again. Maybe to recapture some of that time, to make more vivid some memories I have of that day, but also to read it to pay close attention to how Green portrays Florida, since I'll be using it for the beginning of one of my novels in time to come.

It could have been Paper Towns itself that also contributed to the effect of the day, and parts of it certainly did, but I think it was the day itself, a day perfect for reading, where you don't have anywhere else to be, where you could do anything you wanted, even mounting an adventure within the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, whatever it may be. But reading and being in those surroundings was enough for me. I hope for more reading days like that one.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Where Was I When I Read That?: A Potential Series

One feature I'd like to add to my blog in the coming weeks is "Where Was I When I Read That?" I was looking through the "mystery series" section of my Goodreads account to see when I read Fonduing Fathers, the previous White House Chef Mystery novel by Julie Hyzy, and if I had marked Hyzy as one of my favorite authors, so I could add the latest novel, Home of the Braised, to my "Currently Reading" section and mark it accordingly.

Just now, while writing this, I reached Fonduing Fathers and discovered that I indeed marked her as one of my "favorite authors," making her part of that section. But on the second page of the "mystery series" section while searching for that one, I spotted Archie Meets Nero Wolfe by Robert Goldsborough, his prequel to the entire Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout, which tells of how Archie Goodwin, while an ex-security guard, met Nero Wolfe, based on the bits of insight dropped by Stout through his novels. I started it on May 11, 2013, a Saturday, and finished it the next day. I remember that Saturday well, because it was one of the days of the San Gennaro Feast on Blue Diamond Road in Las Vegas, held in a large swath of parking lot in a shopping center containing a decrepit looking Sears, for one, and a Fuddrucker's nearby. We went not only to see what Italian food there was, but I wanted to meet Lena Prima, the daughter of the great Louis Prima, who, besides being an excellent trumpeter and singer, was the voice of King Louie in The Jungle Book. I wanted to ask Lena if it was true that her father and Phil Harris actually recorded "I Wanna Be Like You" separately due to schedules that could never meet. It seems impossible that they could have, since the call-and-response between them toward the end of the song is so immediate, but apparently, it's true. The editing of that song is flawless.

The time to meet Lena Prima was when the concert portion of the day was going on, from dusk until well into the evening. There were a few acts before Prima took the stage, and during the second-to-last act, I spotted her at the side of the stage and went to meet her. She told me she had never knew about that story, but figured that it might have been true, and was impressed at my enthusiasm for The Jungle Book. She also autographed the two-disc Jungle Book DVD set I brought with me.

But Archie Meets Nero Wolfe remained closed during the concert. It had the most action when we four were sitting at a table under one of the many tents spread around for people to be able to sit and eat. Dad and Meridith had gone to walk around to see what there was, Mom was resting from the walk from an adjacent parking lot to this point, and I was reading.

I haven't read any of Goldsborough's other Nero Wolfe novels, which continued the series after Stout died, but I want to. I was impressed by this one because of Archie and Nero Wolfe meeting, and also the instant rapport between them, even when Archie was just one of the crew Wolfe employed to look into the kidnapping of the son of a wealthy New York hotel tycoon. Yes, Wolfe can get brusque with Archie at times, but his respect never wavers, and here it forms. There were times while reading at the San Gennaro Feast that I was vaguely aware of where I was. I was deep in the tycoon's mansion, witnessing the crew being assigned their roles, Archie as the chaffeur.

The one time I put down the book was when I went to look to see what I wanted to eat. I found a stand selling sausage and pepper sandwiches and bought one. it was over $6, and I wish it had been cheaper, because I wanted another and another and another. Mom agreed, because even from her one bite, she was amazed at how good it was. The sausage snapped in all the right places, and the red and green peppers were perfectly grilled. The bread should have been more crusty, though. And even though there were other stands selling sausage and pepper sandwiches too, including one that was selling them at a discount at the end of the night, the last night of the feast, in fact, one was enough. We didn't go to the September San Gennaro Feast, and aren't likely to go back to another one, because once was enough. It felt disorganized, and the one major booth selling pasta did not know how to do it well. It was mushy more than it was pasta. And with the prestigious exception of Lena Prima, and Italian singer/tenor Aaron Caruso, whose CD I bought for my mom, who autographed it, and who graciously spent a few minutes chatting with my mom and I, the rest of the concert was worryingly mediocre. There was one woman on before Prima who has never met a song she couldn't murder. Even the quietest, most subtle love song would not stand a chance against her.

But Archie Meets Nero Wolfe remains, every time I look through that list, reminded of the San Gennaro Feast and the time I had with it that day, well-spent time.

My next post in this attempted series will either be about Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books by Nick Hornby, or The Neon Rain, the first Dave Robicheaux novel by James Lee Burke, which relates to what seems to be our annual visit to Steak 'n Shake at the South Point Hotel Casino Spa on Las Vegas Boulevard South, because one novel I read just before this past Christmas, The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski, was with me on that latest visit. In fact, if it is The Neon Rain, I might cover The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow in the same post.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Job Hunting. Life Changing.

I didn't realize that I hadn't posted since November 17. Every time I logged on here in the past month, it was just to keep the account active. I really didn't have much to say. After all, what can be said about job hunting, about trying to change your life for the better, about deciding to write a hell of a lot more this new year than last year? A lot of other people are going through it, too. But it's a challenge. Not in the motivation to find a job, which occupies all my waking thoughts, but in just trying to figure out where I belong, where I can thrive the best. And even then, it's more hope about finding work that not only pays decently enough, but being proud of it every day. And I know many positions that, if I was hired, I'd be proud of my work every single day, because I'd be providing people with something they need, something they want, something to satisfy them, either through work in a supermarket or Trader Joe's, or even the local movie theater. I'm going for everything I can possibly find around me.

And yet it's hard, you know? You worry. You hope you get in somewhere, that someone sees you're good enough to work for them and can help make that business shine. You e-mail different people, fill out different applications, and keep on hoping. You can't stop hoping. As my mom says, you've got to keep plugging away. Something's got to give, something in your favor. I'm hoping that my resume and my pleasant demeanor do that. I'm willing to work. I'm ready to work. My book reviews at BookBrowse, despite being satisfying to me creatively at times, aren't going to pay everything. They're not going to get me the car I eventually need, the health insurance I need, the paychecks I need in order to get some stability that way. But it's part of what I do. Same thing with my writing. I've got a few writing projects I want to start this year, including a short story about a dying pigeon in Boulder City, not to show that Boulder City is a great place to die, but just the peaceful beauty of it, that the pigeon, having lived in Boulder City for his short years, chose a wonderful place to live. And then there's the novel or two I want to work on, as well as a nonfiction book involving Boulder City. But the job search comes first with the writing in between.

So where do I fit in? I want to know. I want to have that relief already that comes with being hired for a job, that you know you're being paid, that you know you can do the work you've been hired today with pride, with satisfaction, with consistent good cheer. I'd have all three for sure. Every day. I just hope it comes soon enough. The sooner the better in order to do good, solid work.