Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What Las Vegas Will Be Mine?

For this lamentation, I'm tempted to pull out the argument that mediocrity reigns while the creative minds go broke. But that implies that the creative minds didn't do enough to promote themselves better, and more inventively than the mediocrity. It's just not true, especially since the economy is the runaway locomotive streaking over everything.

There's a bookstore in Henderson, Nevada, near Vegas, called Cheesecake and Crime. Or there will be until February 28th when, after a year, they're closing because of the economy. Cheesecake and Crime (http://www.cheesecakeandcrime.com/) is billed as a "Mystery Book Shop and Cheesecake Joint." Books and cheesecake are enough for me to quickly drop whatever I'm doing and revel in both. I don't read mystery books often, but from what I had read about the bookstore, it sounded like the staff was so knowledgeable about mystery books that they could have easily led me toward the right beginning, if not for how far I unfortunately am from there.

If you live in the desert, you know what you're doing and know exactly why you're there. It's not the kind of land you wander aimlessly. It breeds some unique things and this bookstore was one of them. I could see myself going there often, perhaps even working there if there was room and if I was in the midst of my online courses from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. But distance and incentive preclude that, since my dad still hasn't gotten word from the Clark County School District of Las Vegas about any business education teaching positions opening up. That district is dealing with the same problems as districts all over the country and it's hard, because on the last trip we took to Vegas, I knew it was home. I was more relaxed inside the Office Depot we went to for a few things not stocked in Santa Clarita. A lot of the buildings we passed on the road, I felt like could never get tired of seeing them. Getting back to Santa Clarita after that trip, I felt a depression duller than the last night we spent at Hooters and then the Luxor. Sitting poolside at Hooters that night, I knew I didn't want to go back. This was home now. But I would never leave my dogs behind and so my family and I returned here, a valley that suffocates you as soon as you come from a trip, refreshed. The same thoughts curl into your mind, the same boredom, the same brief disgust at how incommunicative people are here and then quickly getting used to it again. Right now I've got that concern again about what would be if we went to Vegas again, believing that there is stability to be found here instead of over there, which hasn't been the case since we had to evacuate for a day because of wildfires in October 2007. Yes, we have a house and all, but there's nothing to do here. You have to go to the San Fernando Valley for that, to Burbank, Los Angeles proper, and the distance goes on and on, but always as far from this valley as you can get. At least in the Las Vegas area, you're never far away from what you might want to do.

We plan to look deep into Henderson the next time we go, to see if there are any houses that interest us and if it looks like home. Already Las Vegas feels like home, but we want to find the house to match. And yet I wonder what Las Vegas will be mine when we hopefully move there soon. "Soon" would be nice, but who knows, when it all hinges on the school district? I'm already a little discouraged with Cheesecake and Crime closing. But I hope that Blueberry Hill (http://www.blueberryhillrestaurants.com/), a local chain of family restaurants, will remain. I still need some of those personal landmarks gathered during three trips to Vegas.

The Strip has changed. More buildings are being erected, ventriloquist Terry Fator is now at the Mirage while Danny Gans, the former resident performer at the Mirage, is at the Wynn, and I can live with that. But even with the relatively little time I've spent on the Strip (even though it's been mere hours combined), it's hard to imagine it without the Folies Bergere show at the Tropicana and La Cage at the Riviera. I never went to either show (on our second trip to Vegas, we went to see The Amazing Johnathan at the Sahara (he's now at the Harmon Theatre at Krave at the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood) and a Russian ice skating show called ICE: Direct from Russia at the Riviera which is the most boring show I'll probably ever see in Las Vegas), but it's just having those billboards on the Strip, and on the marquees outside the casinos that gives a sense of stability, makes you truly feel at home. Well, at least me. And I know that acts will change at each casino, but there's the hope that they'll remain long enough to not to be totally jarred when new acts come in.

Then in the Las Vegas Sun came the rumor that comedian Bobby Slayton might be leaving the Hooters Hotel and Casino soon. He had a role as the host of a hard-news TV show in the movie "Bandits," and I've heard some of his comedy. All good. One of the taglines used for his show is, "Sit. Roll over. Play married." I like his acidic humor, but right now, it's hard to imagine anyone else being there, since he was the first headliner for the casino when it opened. I was impressed to find Hooters in this form that first time in Las Vegas, off the Strip (we stay at America's Best Value Inn, which is adjacent to Hooters), and at the time, I liked the coffee shop diner they had there. Cheap prices and the food was good. I was especially proud of my second time in Vegas because I had three steaks in four days. When in Vegas, indulge deeply in your personal pleasures.

The diner closed because I'm sure it wasn't bringing much value to Hooters at that point. They replaced it with a country-western bar, and it fits. And the management expanded the Hooters restaurant there, so it all works out. I briefly mourned the loss of the diner the last time we were at Hooters, but it's not so bad, considering all the other choices for food on the Strip and elsewhere, also in Primm, located just behind the state line.

Las Vegas obviously thrives on tourism and that's what worries me. If this stimulus package takes proper effect, it's going to take time for things to stabilize and I've a feeling it's not going to be an explosion of sudden energy. But even so, people are looking to turn their lives right side up and Vegas doesn't sound like a priority. Not only that, but even if the economy can be stimulated, there's all those people who have lost jobs. They're looking and they're hoping, and it's not the time to be spending a few days in Vegas.

But I want Vegas to succeed again. I want it so badly because I've finally found where I belong. I know it and it's taken years to find it because of all the times we've moved within Florida and then to Southern California and the Santa Clarita Valley, and then one more move across the valley. It was bad enough when, after our second trip to Vegas, the Clark County school district enacted a hiring freeze in response to the district's dwindling budget. Then came the economic freefall and here we are, still waiting. I don't want to wait anymore, and I've got the feeling a lot of other people don't want to either. We want our money to be good again, we want steady jobs, we want a lot of things that are tied into this economy. I just hope it works out enough to get my family and I to Vegas. My mom likes it because there are always things to do, whereas here there's nothing. My dad likes it because since Vegas is a cluster of service industries, business education is crucial. Or should be. I'm not sure what the consensus is toward it right now. My sister likes it because her future educational institution is there: Le Cordon Bleu, the cooking school. She wants to one day work at the Mesa Grill, Bobby Flay's restaurant at Caesar's Palace.

Me, I love it not just because of all that I've described, but because I would also like to work at McCarran International Airport one day. It feels like my kind of airport, one that is neutral to all the people that fly in and out, the big winners and the big losers, the casual gamblers and the hardcore poker players, the newly-arrived tourists and the 28th-time veterans. All I want is to work near the planes there. For me, that's happiness.

Soon. I hope for that every day.

Scraps of Literacy: An Introduction

Before I was smacked by the idea of featuring those receipts which print out after someone has checked out books either through the self-checkout computer at the Valencia library, or at the front desk with the wildly varying number of librarians at that long counter at any moment, I never paid much attention to those receipts. By the time mine print out from checking out books at the front desk, I've accumulated a mile of paper. I'm not just a voracious reader, but also a fickle one. When I was younger, I would stick with books that didn't seem to be working, just because I felt I should make it to the end. Whether out of a foolish obligation to finish a book because of having started it already, or out of hoping that the book might get better, I believe what the young believe as they get older: I was dumb. Now if a book doesn't work for me, I close it and let it go. I did that recently with a book of lectures entitled "The Courage to Be" by Paul Tillich, as it contained dense language that my former critical reading, writing and thinking teacher from College of the Canyons would have had multiple orgasms over. A disturbing thought, as that teacher, Deanna Davis, never looked like the kind to engage in such pleasures. If she didn't agree with your opinion of a detailed essay she was teaching, to demonstrate various factors in a persuasive essay, she would dismiss it. She always favored those who agreed with her opinions. Never an open-minded sort.

I thumbed through a few pages of this book, skimming over passages, and I was horrified. This was exactly the kind of language I was subjected to in her class, of people writing in complicated ways to show off their presumptuous importance. Most of what was in the textbook required for the class was exactly that. Davis wrote the same way in her syllabus for the class and in other documents I have found online. You can't be sure that there's a human mind behind those words. Words should elicit passion. I don't think she's ever found it.

Now, stepping off that fast-moving tangent, I couldn't get into this book because as smart as I believe myself to be when reading, and having accrued so much vocabulary since starting to read at the age of 2, I couldn't make my way through this book. I was originally interested in it because it delved into topics close to me at the moment. The product description is thus, from Amazon.com:

"Paul Tillich describes the dilemma of modern man and points a way to the conquest of the problem of anxiety. This editions includes a new introduction reflecting on the impact of the book since it was written."

That's me. I'm not confident in my own work and am a little anxious about what might be ahead. I wonder what will be upon starting online courses from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and what comes after. Not what should be thought about at this point, I imagine, since apparently the "fun" of all this is in the discovery, but I've only been receptive toward that in certain things, and education is not one of those things. Discovering great movies, discovering involving books, yes. But this side of life, I'm trying to get used to that. I thought that the book might help ease some of those concerns and suggest ways to just face whatever's coming with calmness and confidence. Not overconfident, but just enough to make it all work. This was one of the sentences:

"Nonbeing is no threat because finite being is, in the last analysis, nonbeing"

My head's pulsing right now and I think I feel a sharp pain. Does anybody else smell toast?

Yeah, what I skimmed through was that bad. I don't expect the English language to be surgically clean, but words should at least be in an order that one can grasp, if not the first time, then at least the second or third time after, not the 30,456th time.

Getting back to the receipts, mine print out long at the front desk each week. Some of those I clipped into separate sections to make them easier to scan in my dad's classroom at his school last week. They're never an attention-getting length, since there hasn't been one instance where I've checked out 50 items at a shot. Before the new library computer system was installed countywide, the monetary limit for checking things out from the library was $500. So, at the library, I'd have to look at the inside flap of each book, note the price (they always went by the price the book carried), and add it all up to make sure I didn't end up over $500. This relatively new system (it's been a while now since it was set up) makes it a lot easier because I know where I stand at all times. My account is always at the maximum 50 items anyway.

While scanning this first round of receipts that day at my dad's school before my main work as a substitute campus supervisor, I noticed that there are distinct differences between the receipts given after items checked out at the front desk, and those that print out from the self-checkout computer, where you place the back of your card under the red scanner light and then place each item's barcode under that scanner to register, until you've scanned them all and take the card off from under the scanner. Then that receipt prints.

Here's what may be the first of the "scraps of literacy" to be mused over in a future entry:

Under the business about the location of this library, there's the time of when this transaction took place (03:35 pm). The items appear next, along with due dates which aren't entirely valid. 23:59 would be 11:59 p.m., and on the Friday that these DVDs would have been due (unless the patron renewed them online), the library's only open until 6 p.m. But it's a time standard for the entire computer system. They'd never tailor the due time to when each library in the countywide system closes. It was already enough of a great expense to bring over brand-new computers with brand-new conveniences for the library staff (such as receipts printing out whenver an item was scanned, and being notified that the item was to go to a different library. Before this sytem, librarians had to write out a hold receipt by hand with vertical strips of paper provided, filling out the required information. Now they just tap a button on the computer, the receipt prints out, they slip it into the book or DVD or CD, and the items are picked up to go to wherever the next destination is). People know when their items are due anyway.

The bottom of this receipt, with the number to call for renewals, or the website to visit, along with "Have a great day!" are only seen on these receipts from the self-checkout computer.

Now we come to the receipts given after checking out books from the front desk. I will use this one, from November 23, 2008 as the example. Don't mind the smudges. They come from having these things in improper storage. I only put all of them in a zip-top plastic baggie when I took them with me to my dad's school that day.

The differences here begin with the full address of the library printed on the receipt from the front desk. In each of the listings, there the "Item ID" with the number following, the "Date charged," noting the date, as well as the time it was checked out, and then the due date with the same time as the self-checkout receipts, 23:59. There's notations as well for whether something's a music CD, as you see there for "Brown and Roach, Inc." And the biggest difference, of course, is that more ink is used to print these receipts.

Now I can proudly say: Welcome to my reasons for this blog. More to come in the next few days, though with only 12 receipts to choose from so far (this past Sunday at the library was a wash for receipts since the outside of the entrance to the library, where one would normally find receipts crumpled and thrown around, was clean, and I'm not daring enough to go digging in the rectangular wastebasket, located under the machine where you add monetary value to cards used in the copy machines), I plan to space them out as far as I can without losing the rhythm.