Sunday, January 30, 2011

Only Pleasure in One Day

I wrote an entry long ago about Buena Park ( that I want you to keep in mind during this.

We went to Newport Beach early yesterday morning. An hour and a half to get to a board meeting of the California Business Education Association (CBEA) at the Fairmont Hotel. The most important purpose was to meet a representative of the Clark County School District in Nevada. It was so successful, that it's gotten me even more excited about wanting a job as a full-time campus supervisor. The representative couldn't stay long because of a 2 p.m. flight back to Las Vegas because Governor Sandoval's budget is still not final, and the district is still sussing out its maneuvering capabilities within the budget. There will be cuts, but as I hear it, there will be room for me. My resume made a great impression, not only the experience I already have as a campus supervisor, but also my first book, which I made sure stood out in bold under the "Achievements" sub-heading.

The meeting began, and Meridith and I walked out of the room, first encountering her disappointment that the gym across from the meeting room could only be accessed if one was a guest. But we found the door leading out to the pool, and I should backtrack just a bit. After we got to the hotel, and were being walked to the elevators by three women who had arrived already (and were quite possibly staying at the hotel, because this was day 2 of this CBEA conference, day 1 having been an evening meeting, and today, day 3, being a tour of the Fairmont facilities to determine if they'd want to hold their conference there in 2012), I spotted free copies of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal on a table near the entrance to a $30-per-head breakfast buffet (what the hotel offers, I suppose, not what a business convention had for its guests), and took copies of each.

Meridith and I went out to the pool, to chairs about a row behind the row facing the spa and the pool. Meridith also noticed cabanas with yellow curtains and flat screen TVs, and wondered if we should take advantage of one of those and I told her no. We never go to places like these (not a complaint, just an observation, though based on everything else I saw in the hotel, I would love to live there), and we should be surrounded by the world, rather than shutting out the world. Being surrounded by the world included helicopters flying over often (There must be a helicopter flight school nearby), private Cessnas flying over, and commercial jets climbing out to destinations unknown to us. I spotted Southwest 737s, United Airlines 757s, and Alaska Airlines 737s, all coming out of nearby John Wayne Airport, which I guess is where the helicopter flight school must be located, and there must also be convenient runways for private planes.

We were sitting on plush, padded, burgundy-colored pool chairs, with the option to drape a towel over the entire chair, as two people who had arrived before us had done, and which all of the people who came after us would do, too. We didn't. It's rare that we get to sit in chairs like these. The pool our patio overlooks doesn't have chairs like these.

I started in on the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and Meridith took off her shoes and socks and started in on "Sundays at Tiffany's" by James Patterson. When I had reached a section of the Wall Street Journal that had a front-page article and recipes inside about artisan sandwiches, I handed it over to Meridith. She spoke to Mom by phone occasionally through our hour and a half at the pool (Mom's been ill for the past week and a half and is now beginning to get better, so yesterday was a day for her to rest even more while we were in Newport Beach). Towards the end, I spotted an early-20s woman who had walked into the pool area quietly, and when I looked up again from "The Remains of the Day" by Kazuo Ishiguro (My yearly reading of my favorite novel, sometimes twice-yearly, depending on what's on my reading list and what's been buried in my reading list), she was in the pool, and it was a fascinating sight. Not only because she was a woman, but because it looked like she had always belonged there. In fact, after I had watched, entranced, and had spent a few more minutes inside "The Remains of the Day", I looked up, and not only was she not in the pool, but I couldn't spot her. "The Remains of the Day" is always engrossing, but I don't think I wouldn't have noticed if she left. I asked Meridith, "Where's the little mermaid?" She didn't know what I was talking about, and I explained to her what I saw. It was a few minutes later, as we were getting ready to explore the hotel, that I saw her, lying facedown in a red bikini. What a vision. What a great start to what would turn out to be one of the most fulfilling days I've had in such a long time.

We were on the third floor, where the meeting room was, and the pool. We walked down those hallways, across long carpeting with peaceful-looking flowers in the design, and past doors with some room service trays next to them. One tray, which I call the All-American Platter, because it had to have had a burger on it, had a few french fries still on the plate, and ketchup smeared across it. There was also another tray, though I can't remember if it was this floor or a floor further up (10 floors in this hotel), in which we took small glass bottles of Heinz Ketchup and Grey Poupon to show Mom after we got home. It's something to consider, since we're not likely to use condiments all that much anymore, since we've all begun dieting. Well, Meridith has, Mom has, and Dad's slow to start, but I think he will start, and all this was inspired by me, who began the trend, which will no doubt become permanent.

Each floor had vending machines of different drinks, mostly the same on each floor and where the ice machine was in each hallway above the second floor. Gatorade, Coke, a Starbucks one, Powerade, and a few others, the bottles behind the plastic screen, and when you push the button under each bottle, the bottle vends from inside the machine. We didn't get anything from any of those machines because those were far too pricey. $3 for a Monster Energy Drink? I don't drink those anyway, but considering the number of room service trays we saw out in those hallways, I don't think those machines are used very often, not even by the Air France personnel that stay there. Well, maybe as a novelty if it's a new staff member.

I believe it was on the fourth floor that we spotted a sign next to double doors that said "Air France Lounge - 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m." I mistakenly, and rather stupidly, thought that there was actually an Air France terminal at John Wayne Airport. Not so. Rather, this is a convenient location for Air France employees, as it's 20 minutes from LAX. In fact, when we had finished walking the 7th floor, an Air France man had gotten into the elevator with us, and I mistakenly thought he was a pilot. I, as an aviation enthusiast, should have been more observant because during our brief conversation of American English, and French-accented, sometimes halting, English, I only noticed then that on his suit was not the three stripes of a First Officer, or the four stripes of a Captain. It turns out he was a flight attendant heading back to France. I asked him the most important question to me, if he was heading back on the 747, and he said he was, and I wished so badly that I could see it up close, but I doubt anything like that could have been arranged. After all, the man was heading back to work. Time to go back to Charles de Gaulle. A long flight back from LAX.

Every floor we walked, we went through each hallway, all the way back to the doors leading to the stairwells. I stopped Meridith a few times, told her to walk back a few feet, and then walk forth again, under the air conditioning vents, because it smelled like Disney air, what we noticed at Walt Disney World, at Disneyland, inoffensive air I'd probably call it. But not so much, just the freshness of it, air that lets you know, if you haven't noticed already, that you're truly somewhere different. As we went higher and higher, Meridith took a picture on her phone of the tennis court, and I noticed more and more of the color of that girl's red bikini, also that she had brought a book with her, and I fell for her a little more at each floor. I hoped that the book she was reading wasn't something by Lauren Conrad, and Meridith told me that she didn't look like the kind that would. I didn't intend to pursue anything further, I wouldn't hope to be bold like I wasn't at that pool in Orlando when those British girls were around, but it was enough for me just that a girl like that was there. After all, in the Santa Clarita Valley, I'm pretty much starved for women. Then, as we reached the ninth floor and looked out the long window there overlooking the pool, I noticed she was sitting with someone, maybe her mother, feet in the pool, reading her book. I know I would have had the perfect opening line, asking what she was reading, and maybe she was visiting from another state, which would have made it much more interesting, but since I was only in this part of the world for a day, and probably won't be back before we move (Not that it would matter anyway, since a hotel is always a transient world. The people change while the building and the jobs inside remain the same), I didn't see much value in it then. Now, as I write this, I do, but I don't regret it as much as not talking to those British girls back in 2000, because that was truly a novelty.

We reached the 10th and final floor, walked around, Meridith took a photo of the tennis court from that height, we walked the hallways, and that was it for the exploration. Elevator, please, down to the first floor. We got there, passed the bar and the restaurant, and went into the gift shop where the woman working there not only seemed to watch us the entire time, but seemed suspicious because we didn't buy anything. I have some sympathy for her, because, at least to me, it doesn't seem like a prime job in the hotel. It's just there in case anyone forgot anything, like some kind of lingerie pantyhose or something like that. Otherwise, it's ignored, because most people either have the books or newspapers they want, particularly those free ones, and surely they've brought along the magazines they want to read, because the selection available in that gift shop was pretty pathetic. I wanted to see if they had any peanut butter crackers, because I was a bit hungry, and had a yen for them at around noon, because I always have a bit of peanut butter at lunchtime. Not on a sandwich, not even on crackers, just a bit on a spoon instead of how much I always slathered on bread, 68 lbs. ago. The gift shop didn't have any of those.

Higher up in the hotel, Meridith and I spotted a Jamba Juice across the street, and she had a $25 gift card. Today was a day for breaking my diet, and why not begin in the right fashion? We walked out of the gift shop and were getting set to head across the street, so we could sit on the patio there, sip whatever concoctions we would decide to get from Jamba Juice, and wait for Dad to be available for lunch, but as we crossed the lobby, after I picked up a free Newport Beach magazine guide from the concierge desk, Dad called Meridith and told her he was coming down to pick up lunch from across the street, and wanted to make sure we were waiting in the lobby. So we waited, as long as it usually takes for Dad to get down from the discussions he has with those who share with him his interest in business education.

We looked for lunch, walking the sidewalk running the length of the outer hotel property, and then crossing the street to a small shopping center that looked like it had a few food places there. But that wasn't the shopping center to be. Rather, it was one that had a Korean BBQ place and Quizno's. Dad stood outside, talking and talking and talking to Mom while I waited impatiently, because I wanted lunch. I had eaten early that morning, as I always do a little after 7, and needed something. But better for Mom to have the good news about the warm reception from the representative upon seeing the resumes than to wait until later when she would have been more tired.

We went into the Korean BBQ place, where there was nothing that really stood out to me. Quizno's was the obvious option, and I saw in their nutrition guide that there was a veggie sub, but it didn't look like it in that shop (though I suppose with lettuce and tomatoes readily available, they could have done something). I ordered a Chicken Cordon Bleu, which had only 420 calories, so I was good (I watch the calories a lot more closely, and I keep my sodium intake low in the morning, gradually increasing it in the afternoon, and letting the evening be the time when I consume the most, though not with abandon). And it was good. We went back to the third-floor meeting room, Meridith had some kind of taco salad, Dad had a small sub like I did, but I forgot what he had. After lunch, Meridith and I had intended to go to Jamba Juice and also to a Mexican place that I hadn't seen that had quesadillas (A woman sitting near us had gotten quesadillas from that place), and I wanted one of those. But how do you leave a meeting room when there's a meeting in progress without looking impolite? It's not a matter of observing social conventions, but rather making the least noise possible. So we stayed, and I still had the three newspapers with me (on the 8th floor, I swiped the Orange County Register from in front of someone's door), and "The Remains of the Day". But instead of continuing to read about Stevens' trip through Salisbury, I looked through the regulations packet of the CBEA, learning not only of what the positions of President, President-Elect, Secretary, Treasurer, Past President and others entailed, but also the names of those who had received lifetime membership. At this point in the meeting, two people at the long table on the left (we were sitting at the one on the right), were going on about what the CBEA website should contain in order to drive traffic there and this big gentleman, who I think carried his weight better than John Goodman ever had in the years before he finally decided to lose weight, talked about having a blog on the website, to announce what was going on in the CBEA, important dates, etc. Then I realized what these board members were overlooking, and it came from the names of these lifetime members, as well as the decades in which they had received lifetime membership. There were some who had received lifetime membership "prior to 1950", and then there were the '60s, '70s, '80s, and so on. To me, this organization was ignoring its history. Beefing up the website is fine, having a blog on there is fine. But these names must have meant something. There was a gray-haired woman there who seemed well-versed in the minutes of past meetings, and no doubt she was an expert on the minutes of meetings held years and decades before. Had there ever been a time when she had looked at the historical archive the CBEA surely had?

There was also talk about what the CBEA could do to bring in more members, never mind the circumstances of business education teachers being laid off, thereby partly thinning the membership. But what I felt was being ignored was attention to history. What collaborations had there been in the '50s between the CBEA and various business communities? What partnerships had there been in the '60s and '70s? Think of the world events that changed history. In that context, I was also thinking of how the organization might have changed. I mean, look at how business was done and is done. We've gone from the typewriter to the Internet. That's a major leap. The CBEA should concentrate on what it did then, and what it does now. Obviously there's a fine line between necessary promotion and self-aggrandizement, but I think it could be made subtle, the CBEA's achievements and the history of where it has been.

Not only that, but what about interviews with past members, the ones that are still in touch with the organization? Looking at the list of members awarded lifetime memberships, how many from the '70s are possibly still alive? Why not see what they did as members and if there's anything they continue to do today that they carried with them from their time with the CBEA? There's a lot of untapped potential in the history of the organization alone to strengthen it. It can't only be about making a better website, although that's very important. It also has to be in remembering who you were and what you are because of who you were. I'm thinking about e-mailing the CBEA Past President with these suggestions, since I also gave her ideas for keynote speakers for the WBEA (Western Business Education Association, of which she appears to be the president) Conference, including reaching out to the Las Vegas business community, since they're obviously involved with business every single day. It's the only way to make Vegas work. There could be a lot of insight if the keynote speaker is a casino executive or someone high up like that, or maybe someone who manages a chain of stores in the area. And by that, it could be seen what business education does.

I wanted to wait until the meeting was over to talk to the CBEA president about my ideas (I do not want to participate in these ideas, I have no further interest in the organization beyond the time I spent at that meeting, but I think the CBEA is missing out on great opportunities within that can make them look better to current members and future members), but Dad told me that the meeting ended at 5 p.m. It was nearing 3 p.m., so out we went, out to the valet to bring our car over, and out to the South Coast Plaza mall in Costa Mesa.

We had not been to South Coast Plaza in two years. The last time, when I had seen that Boudin SF, an expert in sourdough bread, was there, I wanted to get a loaf on the way out, but had forgotten. I would not forget this time. I was also remembering the stores that had been in the mall the last time, and was amazed to find that even with the tumult of the economy, those stores, such as Puzzle Zoo, remained. Actually, it could be expected that Puzzle Zoo would remain, because people always need diversions of many sorts. I was hoping to find another writerly action figure like the one I have on my nightstand of Mark Twain, but no luck there. Just Edgar Allan Poe, James Joyce, and Twain together in a three-pack, from the same company that had made the one I have at home. I said to Meridith that it would be nice if the same company would make an action figure of Groucho Marx.

I found a small space shuttle for Meridith, with the NASA logo on one of the wings, and decided to get it for her only if I found something for myself. There were basketball action figures, of Kobe Bryant, of Dwight Howard, but none of Amar'e Stoudemire, my favorite player, the center of my favorite team, the New York Knicks. There was even a player from the Minnesota Timberwolves, but what does it take for the NBA to do the same for Stoudemire? I also found an action figure of Fran from the TV show "Dinosaurs," but no Baby Sinclair, which I would have bought right then and there. There were "Ren & Stimpy" action figures, too, but no Powdered Toast Man. There was also an old package with a Dick Tracy gangster, Pruneface, I think, but I would have only gotten it if it had been Dick Tracy himself, or Mumbles, which Dustin Hoffman played in the Warren Beatty film.

No basketball trading cards to be had, and the models of Boeing 747s were far too expensive for me. $35 for a Qantas 747-400 that you still have to work for, in snapping the wings into place, I don't want to work for that price. I want it already done. I wasn't disappointed, though, but rather glad that those airplane models were there for those who wanted them. Puzzle Zoo embodies every possible interest one could have with wood and cloth and game boards and action figures, and more expensive things, such as Star Wars memorabilia. But the one thing that became most valuable to me was on the revolving stand with magnets on it. And on there, I was able to do a quick comparison of the comedy I found funny back when I was growing up and what's considered comedy among young people today. There were magnets for "Fred", which I know aired on Nickelodeon and I was flummoxed. This is what's considered funny? A kid acting like a jackass on a sugar high?

I know I'm showing that I'm indeed getting older by this, as it has been for all previous generations (This argument will never cease), but then I found a magnet of Calhoun Tubbs, Blues Great, from "In Living Color." I never watched "In Living Color" when it originally aired, because I was in kindergarten. But I watched it in later years and on DVD, and Calhoun Tubbs, with his catchphrase, "Wrote a song about it. Like to hear it? Here it goes.", is a lot more funny than a kid who doesn't slow down to think about what he's going to say. It's not a matter of being self-conscious, but taking a breath for at least a few seconds. Calhoun Tubbs, always inappropriate at funerals, as played by David Alan Grier, knew how to do just that. I bought that Calhoun Tubbs magnet, and it's now on the lower half of the fridge. If there had been a magnet of Blaine Edwards and Antoine Merriweather of the "Men On..." sketches, I would have bought that, too.

South Coast Plaza hadn't changed a great deal since we visited two years ago. I think it benefits from being in an upscale area, where, even though the economy has affected many, it hadn't touched the people for whom 80% of the stores are geared, such as Gucci, and many jewelry stores. I'm sure visitors from other states have also been plentiful. Initially, I wanted to walk the entire mall, as well as the separate building connected by a covered walking bridge, because I hadn't seen everything in such a long time. But, considering that 80% of those stores aren't for me, and Dad's growing impatience (He doesn't like to spend too long in one place when he doesn't believe it to be necessary, even when it's something I like), the time at the mall was shortened considerably, and rightly so, since the stop after South Coast Plaza was Downtown Disney.

But, to get back to the mall for a bit, there were two major spots to hit in the first building. Williams-Sonoma was the first, since my sister, a fast-budding chef, loves that place. The only thing I didn't like about this Williams-Sonoma is that nothing was on the stove to soon be sampled. Only coffee was brewing in a most novel coffee maker, where the water supply was in a container next to the machine, connected to the machine. I was a little disappointed, but I liked how the atmosphere of culinary majesty was still there.

The second major spot was Vie de France, which has so many delectable French bakery goods. But that had to wait as we went across the bridge to the connecting building, where Borders was. I wanted to see what bargain books there was and if any interested me. On the way through the three floors, I found Sports Chalet at the top and stopped in to see if they had any Knicks jerseys. Of course not. This is Southern California. Only the Lakers exist here. Not even any Knicks action figures, just like at Puzzle Zoo, for which I partly blame the NBA, but also Sports Chalet for unfortunately being correctly biased, because who are the biggest customers likely to come to that store? The residents. So you have to sell the merchandise that matches the area. But I'm a Knicks fan. And therefore, I'm out of luck.

And now, Borders. As soon we walked in and I spotted the bargain bookshelves, I found "The Best American Travel Writing 2009" for $3.99, and "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker for $2.99. I snatched up both, and then found "Real Ghost Stories" for $7.99, necessary for my research for my second book. Meridith and I went to where the movie books were, hoping that my book would be there. No luck. Amazon has it, Barnes & Noble has it, but not Borders. Maybe purchases like my book to sell to customers is not a great priority because of the financial trouble Borders is in. I don't mind. I love Barnes & Noble, and I figured to give Borders a bit of money before they go down in flames later this year. I did find "The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History" by John Ortved, and I fearlessly decided to buy it, despite it being new and therefore $15. It was also in paperback, much more manageable than the hardcover version, and I found the same to be true with "Robert Altman: The Oral Biography" by Mitchell Zuckoff, which I found in the mail after we got home later in the evening. The hardcover version is so unwieldy, and thank god it sold enough to merit publication in paperback because despite 500 pages, it's easier to carry and hold in paperback.

Across from the registers were a bunch of boxes with books in them, discounted, and offered as "Buy 1, Get 1 Free." Right away, I found "The Anthologist" by Nicholson Baker. It didn't seem like there was anything else, but I didn't mind. Then appeared "Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency" by Barton Gellman, again a case of the paperback version being easier to manage than the hardcover, as I had found out when I checked it out in hardcover from the library a long time ago. I flipped through "The Color Purple" and decided not to buy it. It would be better for me from the library.

So those were my choices. And the receipt, which came out to $33 and assorted change, showed that I had gotten "Angler" for free, paying $3.99 only for "The Anthologist."

Being that there didn't seem to be anything else to see in the Borders building, and certainly not anything else to buy, we went back to the main building, down to the first floor to Vie de France. We stood in line, and Meridith talked to Mom on the phone, asking her if there was anything she wanted. She reminded Meridith about a thick slice of bread, that was rather like sweet bread. I tried to explain it to the genial gentleman at the counter, but didn't do very well at it, so I called Meridith over. The man said it was a bread pudding-type bread, but he was out of it. I noticed a croissant with egg and what must have been sausage in it, and asked for that. It turns out the croissant had egg, sausage, and cheese, and I devoured the whole thing before we even left that area. Well worth breaking my diet for that one day.

That was it. That was all Dad could handle and we left the mall. Ever since Book Soup closed at South Coast Plaza, there's been little reason for me to linger for a while since then. And because I obviously wasn't going to afford anything at Gucci or any of the other high-end stores (I'm happy with my smaller-sized jeans from Kmart), there was no reason to stay longer anyway. Except for Boudin SF, which I swept into, grabbed up a bag of sourdough croutons, ordered up a good-sized loaf and a bread bowl, paid for it all, and I was out. I don't waste time when it comes to my sourdough bread. I like bread you have to work for.

We got to Downtown Disney at dark, and despite it being a Saturday night, it was pretty calm. On a stage with big drums was a musician named C.G. Ryche, across from the ESPN Zone. Good, deep, spiritual-feeling music, good for the soul. There was real concentration in his music.

Our goals at Downtown Disney were two: Dad likes the bagged Mickey pretzels from the confectionary store near the walkway to one of the entrances of the Grand Californian, more an out-of-the-way entrance. It doesn't announce itself, but if you know where it is, you benefit. We got to that store, found the pretzels, and Dad got two big green bags. I got a smaller blue bag, because I hadn't had them in a long time and this was a no-diet day anyway. Dad and Meridith also got a few cookies, an oatmeal raisin one for Mom, too, and we went to the Grand Californian.

I love the Grand Californian. I love that in some way, I can connect it to the night I was a chaperone on Meridith's Grad Nite trip at Valencia High. There is a reason for that. When we went through that entrance and approached two pairs of comfortable-looking chairs, a few feet apart from each other, with long rugs featuring only roses in front of them, I told Meridith to first take a picture of the rug. On a stage, it won't matter, because the audience won't see it, or not see it all that well, but I wanted it for my own mental atmosphere. I want to write a play set at the Grand Californian, in only these two chairs. I don't know who the two people are who will be in these chairs, I don't know yet what brought them there, beyond some vague idea of a cheerleading competition the two are chaperoning for separate schools or some kind of honor of those schools marching in a parade, but I do know that it's 2 a.m. when they sit down in these chairs. It's been a long day at Disneyland, a visiting day ahead of the performances in the parade or the cheerleading competition or whatever, and despite all the walking around the entire day, they are tired, but not falling asleep-tired. It's not quite nervous energy, but it's in the middle of somewhere. And that's all I know so far. I do know that I want to capture the atmosphere of that time of night (as I've had a lot of experience living those nocturnal hours), especially in the shadow of a darkened Disneyland. It's also an opportunity to tap into my love of all things Disney.

Meridith took a picture of me sitting in one of the chairs, and a woman was sitting near me in the other chair, oblivious on her cell phone. That actually helped so I can get a sense of the staging. And then, after that woman had left, I had Meridith take a picture of both chairs empty. Even though I'm at work on research for my second book, I still think about other projects, especially this one, and wonder if it would be possible to work on these concurrently. I'm not there yet, but maybe. I'm already having so much fun with the research for this second book, that maybe I should double the fun.

As we walked to where the restrooms are, off the gargantuan lobby, Dad was on the phone with Mom, who he had been talking with about restaurants, but in particular, one he had planned to take us to, even though he had brushed it off as being McDonald's when we asked where we were going to go for dinner, so he thought we wouldn't be able to think of anything else. But I knew what it was. I knew it was Po Folks, blessed spot in heaven for country fried steaks, sweet tea, and peach cobbler. I had planned to forego the sweet tea so I could have the peach cobbler. I didn't need even more sugar.

But Dad got off the phone with Mom and told us that Po Folks had closed, that the corporate headquarters in Panama City, Florida had closed the Buena Park location.

Buena Park has so many ghosts as it is. Historical ghosts, recently-deceased business ghosts, the ghosts of tourists who had been there, went back home long ago, and yet their presence can still be felt in some way. I'm not being kooky, but there's just that heavy, almost comfortable feeling of history there. You can sense that this town has seen a lot. And it must have certainly seen something with the closing of Po Folks. I guess those in charge decided that it wasn't worth having a location clear across the country because it likely took a bit more time to keep watch on that location than the ones in Florida and Alabama. That was the last location I had left. In Florida, I grew up on Po Folks as a tyke all the way through to my late teens. The same location I had been to as a tyke was the same location we went to all through my teens. Then that location turned really corporate and it closed not long after. Its biggest mistake was eliminating the one night of the week for all-you-can-eat country-fried steaks.

I wasn't heartbroken over the Buena Park closure. We didn't go there very often, but it was special when we did, especially the printed tablecloths with items listed from what must have been turn-of-the-century catalogs. I had been looking forward to the peach cobbler, when I figured out even before he said "McDonald's", that we were going to Po Folks because we were close enough to it. So where could we go now? No idea, but that wasn't the chief concern.

We got to the Grand Californian lobby, and it felt less awe-inspiring, possibly because I've seen it so many times, but no less inspiring. I've seen photos of the lobby when it was late at night and completely empty, and naturally, the feeling one gets from it being full of people and being completely empty differs, but it's also the design of it, the wood paneling, how high up the floors are, the shadows you see from people walking those floors. Oh, and the chandeliers and the big fireplace. And the kids sitting in small rocking chairs, watching Mickey Mouse cartoons. This is not a cloistered Disney property like some at Walt Disney World feel, though that is not a disadvantage. But here, you get a sense not only of the company at work, but also California itself, the history, the hunting, the wood lodges. And of course the tourists, a most interesting slew of people to go in and out of the building. None as interesting as the girl in the red bikini, of course, but you get a sense on the faces of those people of why some have traveled this far. This is truly an enjoyable time.

After that, we went to the World of Disney store. Nothing for me to buy, personally, but for Mom, a $35 print of a painting of the Partners statue, her favorite thing in Disneyland. Then we walked back to the entrance of Downtown Disney, but past it, since I wanted to see what had been done with the Disneyland Hotel ever since they shut off the waterfalls, closed the glass shop and tore the whole thing down to build new things. Mom was very disappointed when I told her this on the phone, but I was more disappointed because the back areas of the property were blocked off at the front. You couldn't get near there at all. I guess they're doing more work than I thought.

Before we went to the Disneyland Hotel, we stopped to look at the menu for Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen. I liked the thought of eating there because of the jazz music and the New Orleans cuisine. But $24 for barbecue shrimp and andouille grits? Forget it. I'm content with my Quaker Oats Instant Grits at home. Andouille grits sound unique, but I'm sure I could make it on my own if I want. ESPN Zone had nothing either, and Dad said we could probably find something on the way home, maybe even a barbecue joint he remembered was on the 5 on the way back.

We ended up at Tony Roma's, which Mom found was in the area and called to find out exactly where they were. We parked in a small hotel lot, which reminded me of a Howard Johnson parking lot right at the start of downtown Las Vegas that we parked in to get to the smallish Cuban restaurant on the property. Being that this part of Anaheim was a tourist district, I expected it, and because of that Howard Johnson, I was used to it. It was no big deal to me to find a parking lot so narrow. It's what there is when you want to get the most space possible out of an area for the sake of tourist dollars.

After walking into Tony Roma's, and as the host was walking us to our table, Dad took two sections of that day's Orange County Register off the bar, and I did the same with the sports section. We sat down, I opened my menu, and I immediately found what I wanted. Two chicken breasts on top of rice, with creamed spinach on top of those, served with a "fresh vegetable." That's usually code for "your choice of a side." I was looking at the sides, spotted french fries, but did I really want french fries when rice is on the plate? I saw there was also "toasted garlic seared green beans." That sounded good. And it was a vegetable, so I'd be getting my personal vegetable requirement for the day. Upon ordering, the waiter told me that it came with broccoli. That was fine with me. Before that, I was still wavering on the french fries anyway, so it all worked out. My sister had some kind of pasta dish, a spicy one at that, and Dad had St. Louis ribs.

Whoever steams the vegetables in that kitchen knows how to do it, and that's the only way I can eat broccoli from now on. I tried them raw a few times, thinking that I had liked them that way once, but I didn't like them that way at all. The steamed broccoli was just crisp enough, yet soft enough to be the way broccoli should be. The flavor was still there. And the chicken with the rice and the creamed spinach, I don't think that was creamed spinach that came from some warehouse. They had to have made that in the kitchen throughout the day. It was different from what Boston Market thinks is creamed spinach, and different from the creamed spinach that Lean Cuisine has. It tasted comfortable, if you know what I mean. It was the perfect end to the most fulfilling day I've had in months. During dinner, Meridith saw some flashes of light outside and I figured it was the fireworks from Disneyland. That close to Disneyland indeed.

No dessert for any of us, though we did order a full onion loaf to take home, which we'll have with dinner tomorrow night. We walked back to the car, and for me, it was nothing to be in such a small area. It actually felt like home. I was reminded of what home might soon be.

We got home, and I was exhausted. Not fall-on-your-face exhausted, but the exhaustion that comes after living in complete pleasure the entire day. I went to bed a few minutes after Saturday Night Live came on, and I was probably out 20 minutes later, until the morning. I was still groggy at a little past 7, so I kept my eyes closed and rested until 8:18, which was better.

It's rare that I get a full day like this so full of everything I could want in life, including reading. I know it's up to me to make every single day like that, but it also partly depends on the circumstances surrounding you. I can find mostly equal satisfaction in the books I read every day, when they're really good, but I mean just going out there, just exploring like that, just walking every single floor of a hotel, just like that. I didn't think anything of any of the people I know somewhat on Facebook, or those to whom I write letters, or anything in my past, or anything in my future beyond my resume being seen by that Clark County representative. I was just there. I was looking out those windows at the hotel, and I was just there. The days are pretty interesting that way.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Here It Is: The First Day of a New History

This afternoon, at 2:48, before I decided to check the mail, I thought to myself, "It would be nice if my copy of "Travels with My Aunt" arrived today." Never mind that I was anticipating picking up "Reading Jackie" from the library or delving into my annual (sometimes twice-annual) reading of "The Remains of the Day" tomorrow.

I checked the mail. Six packages in the locker next to the mailboxes, all for me. I brought them back to the house, opened up the Netflix envelope containing disc 3 of the fifth season of "The West Wing" (I loathe that season, but one episode, "The Stormy Present", about the funeral of a former president that is attended not only by Bartlet, but former president Newman (James Cromwell) and former acting president Walken (John Goodman), continues to fascinate me, probably because of many visits to the Reagan Library, considering the breadth of the property, the details inside by the artifacts there), and then turned my attention to the packages.

The other titles don't matter, but suffice it to say that they are also books I've been looking forward to reading. In the final package, I pulled out "Travels with My Aunt" by Graham Greene, a paperback Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition from 2004, celebrating the Graham Greene Centennial. On the cover is a gentle drawing of what must be a dahlia, with soft yellows within the petals, and right in the middle of the flower, darkish red, and then fading pink, and what looks like black in the middle. I thought it to be dark blue, but looking at it in better light, it's black. The cover design was by a man named Paul Buckley, who, checking Google, was or is, at least in 2006, Vice President Executive Art Director at Penguin Group USA. The dahlia illustration was by Brian Cronin, who, again Google, is a very professional illustrator, as evidenced by his website: This man not only knows how to draw and use colors to create new worlds, but what he does create corresponds so closely to the books themselves (he also did the cover of Greene's "Brighton Rock" for the same quiet centennial celebration) that a new generation may very well connect his cover artwork as closely to Greene's words as previous generations had done with the other covers of Greene's works.

I immediately fell in love with this copy, as soon as I pulled it out of that packaging. I never once regretted returning to the library that particular copy of "Travels with My Aunt" that I had checked out twice, and when I saw this copy, I forgot about that one. I can easily begin a new history with this book. I will cherish this one every day, I don't think I'll go as far to mark it up as I will when I get all of Neil Simon's plays for my birthday, but I think it will eventually be as well-worn as those will be.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Florida: Where Dreams Become Words

A couple of months ago, on Facebook, I reconnected with Sara, a former 9th grade crush from Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines, Florida, who let me down easily enough then with the information that she was in a long-distance relationship that she wanted to stick with. I'm glad I kept up with her, but not for reasons of hoping to rekindle whatever I thought there might be if we had begun dating.

Sara is one of the smartest people I know, and no, that's not a generalization. These people have the same brain type as me. There's also another good friend in Texas, Blake, who loves movies just as much as I do, and is currently attending film school. Why film school in Texas? Think about Robert Rodriguez. That's why. You can do it anywhere.

I think it was last month that Sara decided she was done with Facebook, that whenever she went to the beach, whenever she had a fun time doing something she liked, she always framed it in terms of the kind of Facebook status update it could be. She didn't want that anymore. She wanted to have life slow down considerably from the fast dash it becomes on the Internet. And she did. She let her friends and "friends" on Facebook know when she was deactivating her account, and that day came, and she was gone. But before she did, I asked her if she'd want to keep in touch. Not through e-mail (though I often send her jokes by e-mail), not by phone, but by letters. Actual, handwritten letters. And she was game.

So I wrote my first letter to her early on this month and got her first letter last week. Where I prefer to write on a legal pad for sentimental reasons (my maternal great-grandfather was a lawyer, used them all the time, and once wrote me a letter on a sheet of one when I was very little), her way is far more novel than mine: She writes inside a blank card, which, on the front, has understated artwork of a tree with multi-colored bubbles as leaves. At first, when I took her envelope out of my mailbox, I was disappointed, not because I had written so much and it seemed like she had written so little, but because I was worried it would turn out that she didn't want to write much of anything. My only measurement for this sort of thing at that point was from Blake, my erudite and dryly funny Texan friend, with whom I had started the same thing.

When I opened the envelope, took out that card and began reading, wow. She's just like me. We can say so much with fewer words, though I'm sure she would differ in her opinion, because my latest letter to her was 11 pages, with a separate 5-page follow-up because I had forgotten something else that I love about California, as she had requested in her letter. And yet, in those 11 pages, in those 5 pages, I had gotten right to the point, while including very detailed descriptions of things.

She still lives in Florida, "on a barrier island off the coast of northern Central Florida," as she put it in her first letter. In my first letter, I had imagined where she lived to be so peaceful, and she confirmed it was, but without a fountain, as I had thought. She told me about her cul-de-sac area, the flowers around her house, the makeup of her town. I was thinking about her card letter this morning when I realized that I was indeed born and raised in the right state. Not that I had had any nagging doubts; how could I when part of my childhood was spent going to Walt Disney World every weekend and sometimes during the week just for dinner? How could I when the two biggest things for me at Old Town ( were the taffy-pulling machine and the candle store, watching those candle makers dip the wax into various colors and then carve it to reveal a different-colored rainbow inside each one?

Florida is not a land of expectations. It is a land of dreams. It is where if one dream deflates, you find another one to carry with you. There is a social strata, but only behind gated communities, of which I lived in one, Grand Palms, in Pembroke Pines, but it was too spread out to be considered a community. It took us two miles after the gate to get home to our condominium, and two miles out again. We didn't live in one of the ritzier developments, and that was fine. It was enough to have the view of the golf course, to occasionally piss off the golfers playing when my sister and I would sometimes walk the sidewalks of the course. It wasn't only their course, and I don't care that they were peeved. My father and mother's money went into it each month. It was ours, too, in our own way.

In Florida, you live however you wish. You work, of course, in order to have what you need, if you can work, but you go about your life the way you see fit. One of the greatest governors Florida ever had was Lawton Chiles, Walkin' Lawton. In 1970, when he ran for the United States Senate, he decided to campaign by walking 1,003 miles from Pensacola to Key West. It took 91 days. He met people of all kinds throughout Florida, and it was by that close, personal attention that he became a senator through 1989, after which he ran for governor in 1990 and was elected, and served two terms, up until his death, which brought his lieutenant governor into office for a little over three weeks until Jeb Bush was sworn in. Chiles was one of the great men of Florida history. He lived his life the way he saw fit. That's how we do it.

In the years of my dreams (a.k.a. real life) in Florida, there was also the space shuttle. In Casselberry, we lived close enough to Cape Canaveral, that on the radio, there would be an announcement about the shuttle lifting off, and we would rush outside to the backyard, and see the shuttle, so close that we could see the American flag on one of the wings. And we would be well aware of the shuttle's return, listening closely for word of when it would re-enter Earth's atmosphere, because when that sonic boom hit, everything shook in the house. We've only had that experience twice here in the Santa Clarita Valley, and it was milder compared to those days. But I didn't mind it. Where else in the United States could you live like this, where it seems like the shuttle is taking off a mere few feet in front of you, and where Mickey Mouse is not only always close, but also inside your house? We were, and still are, Disney nuts. In that house, we had big Mickey and Minnie mirrors that faced each other on one wall, a Mickey telephone, I had Disney bedsheets, and whenever we went to the Land pavilion at EPCOT, I would always have the kids meal which included a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (Amidst my research for my second book, I'm also using the opportunity to track down exactly what kind of peanut butter that was in that sandwich because I can still remember the taste, and I wish I could have it again), and a Mickey's sorcerer apprentice figurine. At home, I filled up a whole bucket with just those.

Also at that house in Casselberry, I remember the basketball hoop next to the driveway, which began my lifelong love for basketball. I remember the tangerine tree next to one side of the house that survived many cold winters, except for the last one, which was the most bitter of all, at least when we were there. I remember the big tree plop-smack in the front yard, across from the front door. Could it have been oak, just like the one Sara says is in her front yard? Maybe. I just remember that it was big enough to inspire me to want to build a tree house, which happened just like the time machine I wanted to build. The biggest thing I did in that tree was fall out of it once, but I remember sometimes climbing into it and sitting there, imagining, but never dreaming. I already had the dreams all around me.

The biggest regret I have in my dreams was in 2000, when we visited Orlando for the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC), which my dad went to every year for a few years. I forgot where we stayed, but British tourists were also around at the same time, which meant British girls and lots of musical accents. I remember one night at the hotel, their clocks were running differently than our American ones, because at 9 p.m., they were still at the pool and in the pool. I wanted so badly to boldly go over there and just strike up a conversation, but I was too nervous. I watched them get out of the pool, go back to their rooms, and then those doors closed.

The last time we visited our old home was in 2003, starting on the Friday that Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was released (It was a 36-hour visit, and as soon as we got to Orlando, my parents dropped off Meridith and I at the AMC Pleasure Island 24 so we could see it. While we were there, our parents checked into the hotel), and it looked very run down. I don't remember if the basketball hoop was still there, but it was clear that even with the occasional messes to clean up inside the house, even with the salamanders that had managed to get inside the patio, even on those days where the house didn't always look its best, it still looked better than it did in that condition. It saddened me; I couldn't believe that someone would dare treat my dream like that. But that's how people are. And perhaps those who live there now aren't from Florida, but decided to spend the rest of their decades there. I hope it's at least in partly better shape than it was when we saw it.

I know I can't live my dreams again. Those times are gone. But I strive to still live my dreams in a different fashion. It's why I write. And with this second book, I'm living it all again. I'm remembering riding the Tomorrowland Transit Authority at the Magic Kingdom over and over when we visited from South Florida. I'm remembering that same time in 2000 during the FETC, when my mom and sister and I went to the Magic Kingdom (My dad, still at the conference, came by later in the afternoon), and it was a morning of Early Entry for hotel guests. This very nice older gentleman who was manning one of the gates to the monorails listened to our stories of how we used to live in Casselberry, how we visited Walt Disney World every weekend, and he let us go through. We didn't tell those stories in the hope of that happening, but we were just recounting who we were when we lived there. We loved it. And I remember that because of that guy, I rode Space Mountain, my beloved Space Mountain, three times before it began to get crowded.

On that same day, we ate at the Crystal Palace buffet, and the Pooh that was walking around wrote me a note indicating that he knew me. I asked who, and Pooh wrote his name. It was Beth Lambert, who I went to school with at Silver Trail Middle. She disappeared into the back after her moments as Pooh were over, she re-emerged as herself, and we hugged, talked about the past, and about our current lives. I look on Facebook occasionally, haven't found Beth yet, but I want to know what she's up to now.

I started reading in Florida when I was 2, and I started writing when I was 11. I remember the exact moment that inspired me to become a writer. I was in a thrift store in South Florida, a big one, with racks and racks of clothing, merchandise in glass cases, and bookcases full. I looked through the books they had, and found one, a compilation of four of Andy Rooney's books. We watched 60 Minutes every Sunday night, and I remember seeing Andy Rooney once in a while, but I remember it most as the time of the week that had the most car commercials. I flipped through that book, looking at the various headings, and I was amazed. You could actually write about restaurants, about barber shops, about road trips? You could write about pencils, Sunday mornings, and beds? I was a voracious reader, but I thought those kinds of things were just part of the everyday norm. You just live them and that's that. He wrote about those like they belonged in a book, and I know they were, which astonished me. I wanted to do this.

At home, I tried writing about what Andy Rooney wrote about, exactly as he wrote about them. It was then that I realized that each person has their own style. I couldn't write like Andy Rooney because I wasn't Andy Rooney. I needed to write like me. I needed to figure out how to do that. And I think I have. I'm not a supreme egotist about it, because I know there will forever be something for me to learn about writing, but I'm satisfied so far with where I am.

My dreams are still here, even though I don't live in Florida now. I am a Floridian, forever and beyond.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"What If They Lived?" by Rory Leighton Aronsky, for Rory Leighton Aronsky - Part 2

The doorbell didn't ring. The dogs barked, and even through that double noise, I heard someone put a package near the door. And there it was. A smaller box than I expected, but my publisher sure knows how to get the most use out of smaller spaces. I opened the box more carefully than I would a package from Amazon or from one of the booksellers who must think me one of the family now, and there it was. My book. Five copies of my book, per my contract.

I wasn't as overjoyed as my mom, my dad or Meridith was, because I had spent so much time with this book. I read so many books and took so many notes and transcribed all those notes in order to write these essays. I spent days on word choices and sentence structure alone, determining what I wanted to say and how it could best be said. There were times when I wondered if a period would be more suitable than a semi-colon. Was there too much in this paragraph? Should that one sentence at the end actually be the beginning of a new paragraph?

So much to think about, so much to write, though I've no complaints about the journey. I was surprised when Phil Hall, who spearheaded this project, invited me aboard. I couldn't believe it. My first book could happen without the struggle of dealing with the peripatetic publishing world. My name could eventually be on a book and all I had to do was write what was required in this project.

At first, I didn't want to do it. I had no confidence. Sure, I had written movie reviews and some of my own work, but this was too big. Too scary. Too much to do. Mom told me that I had to do it. I would never find an opportunity like this again. Most people have to deal with rejection after rejection from publishers and go through that struggle right at the start. I had to do this. So, reluctantly, I told Phil I'd do it.

Then came the books. 20 or so of them, plus solid articles online, and interviews with people I found who I considered experts on the actors I wrote about. It was hard, tedious work, and I hadn't even gotten to actually writing the essays. That was its own struggle, too.

But now it's done. I remember in middle school hearing about how I should become a writer, but I assured those who suggested that that I didn't have any ideas. Well, you have to write in order to have any ideas, but first you have to read, and I've been doing that since I was two years old. And after this book was done, after I lost 60 pounds (and am still losing more), and after I rethought my priorities in my life, I began to have more ideas. I thought about my love of the American presidency and vice presidency, the history, the personalities, the people surrounding those great positions of power. There are at least two or three books for me to write within that passion. Some weeks before I received my five copies of "What If They Lived?", I had a dream, and a piece of it led me to the idea for my second book. All I will say is that it will be fiction, and the frame for it is my love of book-length reportage, of which I seem to read more than novels and other fiction. I know there will be a struggle this time. Since I don't intend to pursue my ideas yet for books about two of my favorite actors (I have to see if there are significant stories in their lives, first), there's no chance of this book being published by BearManor Media. So I have to steel myself, and I'm ready. I know how harsh the publishing world can be. I'm grateful that Phil Hall basically protected me from those realities by this ready-made idea, the second book in his contract with BearManor Media. But I'm prepared. All I know is that I want to finish this book and see it published by the time I'm 30. That's it. The rest is an adventure just like my first book was.

So when those five copies arrived yesterday, I was pleased at what I had accomplished, but not overjoyed. I had done everything I could do for this book. It's in the hands of the readers now. Naturally, I hope for the best, but I've already moved on to the research for my second book. Last night and this morning, my mom joked that I was reading the wrong book (I'm finishing "Travels with My Aunt" by Graham Greene). I told her that I read my book enough times while I was writing it, and therefore have no need because I know it so well already. The only things I did do when the book arrived was to make sure my favorite sentence remained intact (It's in my essay on Marilyn Monroe, about one guy she knew that wanted more, but Monroe "didn't want that kind of more."), as well as my favorite speculation (John Gilmore on James Dean. And I only wrote brief sentences to help connect those thoughts). Once I was satisfied, that was it for me with this book. I only involved myself with signing copies for Mom, Dad and Meridith, with appropriate inscriptions. I have the other two copies, and I will see about a hard plastic covering to protect the covers of all five copies. But other than that, I have no reason to read it again. I've long been thinking about what I have to do for this second book, what I have to read, what literature I have to reference to see how those authors did it and figure out how I want to do it. I've determined that once I answer all the questions I have (and I know there will also be questions that crop up during the research), then I will begin writing this book. Only then.

Because of "What If They Lived?", I now have the confidence to be the writer I hope to be. But, to be a proper writer, you have to keep writing, you have to keep thinking, you have to keep reading. And I've moved on to doing just that.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

In Las Vegas, There is Hotel Room Food (Not Quite Room Service)

"I felt glad that I had not lost my temper, but nonetheless I was shocked and needed a little time for reflection, so I climbed down on to the platform and began to look around me for food. It was the last chance before Belgrade next morning. I bought six ham rolls off a trolley and a bottle of Chianti and some sweet cakes--it was not so good a meal as Chicken would have provided, I thought sadly, and what a dreary station it was." - Henry, narrating in "Travels with My Aunt" by Graham Greene

"It seemed at first another and a happier world which I had re-entered: I was back home, in the late afternoon, as the long shadows were falling; a boy whistled a Beatle tune and a motor-bicycle revved far away up Norman Lane. With what relief I dialled Chicken and ordered myself cream of spinach soup, lamb cutlets and Cheddar cheese: a better meal than I had eaten in Istanbul." - Henry, having returned to the security of his dahlia-centered world.

Chicken is the dinner delivery service retired bank manager Henry Pulling relies upon after a day of tending to his dahlias, the only real claim he has to an identity in the world. (He's not that retired, though. Think of it as ordering up pizza delivery.) If anyone should know him, they would likely know his dahlias more, that is until Aunt Augusta sweeps into his life and sets him on a course with her on a trip through parts of the world, which includes the Orient Express. But that's not why I've got these words here.

I read that above passage, and I didn't think of Henry Pulling dialing Chicken for his evening meal. I thought about the rooms my family and I have stayed in at America's Best Value Inn on Tropicana Avenue in Las Vegas, comfortably removed from the Strip, which is very convenient when it's 11 p.m. and you just want to get back to your room to bed, ahead of a day full of future hopes and hopeful house hunting. I thought about the binder in each room with information on the property itself, the emergency exit plan on the back of each door. Then my memory's attention went straight to the menu for some company that provided salads, hamburgers, desserts and wonderfully greasy appetizers such as mozzarella sticks to these rooms (I can only assume that they're wonderfully greasy, as most mozzarella sticks tend to be). Oh, there were also pizzas on that menu, and I imagined not only the usual delivery car with pizza boxes inside that delivery bag, but plastic bags with styrofoam containers holding all the victuals one could strangely want, when there's a diner just a few steps (or a few hundred steps, depending on which room is yours) ahead of the Best Value Inn rooms. But I suppose it's a matter of privacy then, of tiredness, of not waiting to journey back to the Strip or surrounding areas just to have something. (By the way, $8.99 for mozzarella sticks? It had better be mozzarella I can't readily find at Smith's in Vegas, or Ralphs here in the Santa Clarita Valley.)

When we drive past the California state line, into Nevada, I see the casinos that make up Primm Valley. I see the smallish rollercoaster (smallish compared to others I've been on in Florida and California) on the grounds of one, and the outlet mall near another, and I think about those employees. I think about the dealers, the pit bosses, the waitresses who live nearby, who may be hoping for something better, but being that this is such a tightly-knit area, at least in past construction of these casinos, it's not a huge dream at the moment, just something to help gradually get to that big dream. Little steps first.

When we get to Las Vegas proper, near the Strip, past the MGM Grand and the Tropicana, I think about the dealers there, and the pit bosses on the Strip, and the cocktail waitresses at Caesars Palace, who, depending on what hour you get there, wear these wonderfully short white outfits that remind me why I love and will forever love this rarefied world of gamblers, of dreamers, of imaginative chefs in high-priced restaurants, of parking garages where it's guaranteed that you'll find at least one out-of-state license plate as soon as you pull in, the product of intrepid travelers looking for life that truly cannot be found elsewhere.

But, looking at that menu in those rooms at America's Best Value Inn, I think about the people who make the food for delivery to these rooms, and I'm fascinated. I hear the planes take off from McCarran, I look up into the night sky, and I know not only are there obviously the pilots on board as well as the passengers either going back home somewhat victorious or totally devastated, but there are also those in the control tower monitoring the plane's progress from gate to runway to sky before handing the plane off to the next air traffic control center, those who cleaned the plane before its departure, those who man the ticket counters, those who sell the books and magazines and candy designed to distract people from the fact that they're now in a metal tube hurtling faster through the sky than they ever could on the road in their own cars.

To get to the point, while perusing that menu, I wonder where that building is located, when deliveries are made of lettuce, of mozzarella cheese, of dough for the pizza. I wonder how the people who work there got to these jobs from wherever they were before. Do some of them work for this small company because they want to feed weary and excited travelers who might not yet be ready to explore the Strip but still need something to eat? Do they work there because there's quite possibly less pressure to perform and deliver than there would be in the buffet kitchens and other prestigious kitchens on the Strip? Or is it just a stepping stone for some who eventually want to work in those kitchens?

Las Vegas is seen by many to be a transient land, where people don't stay long enough to form lasting and meaningful connections. Yet I am looking forward to becoming a resident and finding a connection like that. Despite the cynicism surrounding Vegas regarding its transient nature, I think it can be done. There are natives there. There are people who have moved there 15 years ago, who hopefully have daughters within their families who might be beneficial for me. There are hundreds of thousands of stories to be found each day. And, being a writer, I need that kind of place. Sure I'll have my full-time career as a campus supervisor at a school there, because money is nice in order to live comfortably enough, but all those stories. Getting all of that just from one menu in my room near Hooters Casino Hotel, can you imagine the other stories that are waiting? Just in the Pinball Hall of Fame alone, off the Strip, across from the now-closed Liberace Museum, there are at least 100 stories amidst those machines and the guy who lovingly maintains them. This is what I've been waiting for. And thank god for Graham Greene for indirectly bringing those thoughts back to me.

"What If They Lived" by Rory Leighton Aronsky, for Rory Leighton Aronsky

Five copies of my book, per my contract, arrived today via UPS in a box smaller than I expected, but no less anticipated. More on my impressions once I get past being stunned that I'm now an author.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Do I Want That Copy of "Travels With My Aunt"?

Maybe it was last year, or the year before, when I wrote about my love for the book "Subways are for Sleeping" by Edmund G. Love, about the every day creativity of New York City's homeless population in surviving. I discovered the book most likely out of curiosity after I had put it on hold and picked it up at the Valencia library. It stayed with me through all the time I spent at College of the Canyons. I checked it out often. I decided one day, some time after I had graduated, that after all it had been through with me, all the times that I read it, that it belonged with me. So I told the library I had lost that copy (I knew which one it was because it was a greenish cover, while the only other copy from another branch was an aqua blue), paid $34, and it was mine. I still have it, in a stack of favorite books that includes "The Remains of the Day" by Kazuo Ishiguro, "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" by Cory Doctorow, "Travels with Charley" by John Steinbeck, "The Music of Your Life" by John Rowell, and now "Two Gentlemen of Lebowski" by Adam Bertocci. "A Week at the Airport" by Alain de Botton, which I haven't finished reading yet, and which I bought from today, will soon join that stack because I want my next book to feel just like how de Botton writes. I don't intend to copy his style exactly, but that's part of my research, to see how others handle book-length reportage, since I love it more than fiction, even though this book is going to be fiction.

Recently, I've become enraptured again by "Travels with My Aunt" by Graham Greene, which was published in 1969. In 1972, it became a movie starring Maggie Smith, which I checked out of the library yesterday in widescreen, on VHS tape. I must be one of the very few in the nation now who still owns a VCR. I was planning to finish reading the novel today, in order to watch the movie properly tomorrow morning, but it's late now and it's been a busy latter half of the day with a few errands.

Same situation as "Subways are for Sleeping": Do I want this copy, too? Do I want to pay however much it would be after I said it was lost? I think this is the same copy I checked out last time, but that was the first time. This is the second time. It's not the 13th, 14th, 15th or 16th time. I feel a kinship with this copy, but really not as closely as with the other book.

It's not a question to be answered by the time I return this hardcover copy, which is pink, with illustrations of a bird inside a curved glass encasement, next to a black urn with a dahlia sprouting out of the top, the dahlia being the main character's favorite flower, which he maintains in his garden. I answered the question a few days before. Yes, I love this copy. But I think it's because of the sense of discovery of this story, and that I love it for bringing this story to me. But it's not the same as the deep connection I have with my acquired copy of "Subways are for Sleeping." Not only did I feel that I had truly discovered a writer like Edmund G. Love to enjoy, but he kept providing me with more to explore each time I read the book. And how unassuming that green cover is, just with the title on the spine and "Love" below it, I know what's in the book every time, but I always get that thrill every time I pull it from the stack. This copy of "Travels with My Aunt" is slightly more obtrusive. I may get the same thrill, but it would only be from the words. I don't mind that this book apparently began its library life in 1988. I don't mind the aging smells coming from it. It's part of why I do and will forever love reading, for smells like that, which also reveal its history, maybe just a bit of each person who reads this particular copy. But it doesn't feel like it will fit as well in my collection as that copy of "Subways are for Sleeping" does.

So I went to the other day and ordered the Penguin Classics edition from 2004. I can begin my own history with that copy. And, save for hopefully a passionate female book lover, it will never pass through anyone else's hands. It will be mine.

Sam Mendes: 007's New Boss

I was watching Annette Bening in "Mother and Child," marveling not only at the seamlessness of storytelling esteemed writer/director Rodrigo Garcia embodies in his films (and why I was stupid to give up "Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her" when I was getting rid of an excess number of DVDs), but also at the gradations of Bening's career. I realized how actually over the top her Caroline Burnham was in "American Beauty", which I knew was the point when I first saw the film at then-Muvico Paradise 24 in Davie, Florida (It's Cinemark now, though I've learned that that company has not changed any of the Egyptian theming, and it's nice that one thing I remember from living in South Florida has not changed drastically in the years since I've become a former resident), but I didn't know the extent of it.

And then, by extension, I got to thinking about Sam Mendes, the director of "American Beauty" and one of my favorite filmmakers (Garcia is another, and Barbra Streisand is probably the third). I'm still amazed, and very happy, that he's directing the next Bond film. It's pure joy to me, and one of the personal benefits of having been a Bond fan all this time. Some say that the Bond director is just the worker bee, just the one to answer to the producers, but with Mendes, that seems to be just a quarter true. With Mendes, and with his prestigious filmography (including "The Road to Perdition" and "Revolutionary Road"), I imagine this film will be an equal partnership, and Mendes will no doubt make his mark on this next Bond film. It will be in his style.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Day's Plans - Conclusion

I got the bananas, and the gala apples, and the Bartlett pears, and the carrot chips, and the Yoplait Greek strawberry yogurt, and the hummus (Sabra spinach and artichoke, until I get to Trader Joe's, because there's a hummus there I want to try, though I forgot which one it is. I'll know it when I see it), and the Cheerios, and the library books (among them, two Nigella Lawson cookbooks just to read, and a huge book on ghost sightings. Time to begin research for my second book), and I love my mp3 player even more now.

No pita bread, and I don't mind. I do not think of the Sara Lee brand at all when I think of pita bread, and that did not look like pita bread. That looked like a pita bread philistine's idea of pita bread.

The Day's Plans

I don't have bananas. I need bananas. I don't have gala apples. I need gala apples. I don't have Bartlett pears. I need Bartlett pears. I don't have carrot chips. I need carrot chips (or baby carrots. I've become fond of them lately). I don't have pita bread. I need pita bread. I don't have Yoplait Greek strawberry yogurt. I need Yoplait Greek strawberry yogurt. I have roasted garlic hummus. I like it. But I need other hummus. I'm almost out of Cheerios. I need more Cheerios.

I have library books. I also have library books to return. And I need to pick up library books that will begin research on my second book. I haven't yet cycled my way through the rest of my mp3 player. I need to do that, to take pleasure in having deleted everything that was on there, and starting again and finally making it the way I want it to be.

(The first paragraph is dedicated to my first grade teacher, Mrs. Turner, at Stirling Park Elementary in Casselberry, Florida who had set forth a writing prompt about what we would buy if we had all the money in the world. I answered with the first thing I would buy (I don't remember what it was), and then followed up with each subsequent purchase, beginning with "After I buy...." whatever it was. I received my writing journal back with "Too many 'After I buys'" as her comment. Well, Mrs. Turner, I can do it any way I want now. And I have my first book to prove it.)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Lost My Dream Girl. I Hope There's Another One.

Last Wednesday, after spending most of the afternoon at IKEA in Burbank, and then wiping out two gift cards and paying some of my own cash at Barnes & Noble for 7 books and a magazine ("The Normal School," the most unique literary magazine I've seen in years), we stopped at a $1-only used bookstore near Fuddrucker's, where we were going to eat.

I ended up paying $9.88 there, for such as books as "The Brethren" (about the Supreme Court from the 1969-1975 terms), volume 2 of Richard Nixon's memoirs (The White House years), and "On the Road with Charles Kuralt." But those, even though they are always important because they are books, weren't even remotely important compared to what happened.

Meridith came up to me as I was on the right side of the store, looking at those shelves, and told me there had been a woman, about my age, at the counter, though she had only seen the back of her. The woman had brought books up to the counter and the guy ringing it all up said, "Only five?" The woman replied, "Well, I bought 12 last week."

Damn it damn it damn it damn it damn it damn it damn it!!!

If Meridith had seen more of her and could recognize her, I would have asked her to follow her, bring her back, and I would have seriously proposed marriage right then and there.

That's why, on all my profiles on a few dating websites I signed up for (the most convenient being OkCupid, because it's free), I added this: "You must love books, or be willing to love books."

Monday, January 3, 2011

God's Dandruff

It snowed yesterday in Santa Clarita, especially in our Saugus neighborhood. For a while, through the afternoon, the snow didn't really stick to anything, then it did. And I achieved many of the goals of my imagined childhood, save for building a snowman. I made a snowball and threw it at my sister, who did the same to me later. It's only fair. I threw a snowball against a tree. I stuck my tongue out to catch the snowflakes and was immediately, happily, reminded of a boy's declaration in "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (I forgot which boy) of "needs sugar."

I did not, however, accomplish my greatest wish. I forgot to not pee for the entire day, and therefore I could not write my name in the snow.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Who Are You?

Yesterday, during a spate of boring errands with my family (though the company is never boring, and neither was my salad lunch at Panera), I stood at a bird cage inside PetSmart, admiring a cute blue parakeet that kept staring at me, and vice versa. After our finch Jules died a few days ago, no. And especially not with two dogs in the house. They're more understanding of birds now, but still, with parakeets needing to also be outside the cage to be played with, it's not worth the risk this time. Our dog Beaumont, back in Florida, didn't mind the birds we had. He was loving, but mostly into himself anyway.

Anyway, I went to look at this tall cage that basically introduced the bird section, and there was a $599.99 orange-and-greenish bird inside that cage. One of the employees, a girl who looked like my age, came around and asked if I needed any help. I said no, and she said, "Ok." But it wasn't your typical ok, like a dismissive ok. It was more like one of gentle mocking disappointment, like "Okaaaay." Not sure how much gentle mocking was involved, but she captured my interest right away, especially when she went to the side of that expensive bird's cage and began talking to it. Now clearly she loves this job, and this bird. But how much of that was perhaps a show for me? Was she trying to impress me? Was she interested right off? I don't really know, since I'm not good yet at accurately reading the intentions of women. I'll bet that when I read this entry a few months later or even a year later, I might laugh at that statement, maybe being better at it. But I wonder if she was interested in me in that one moment. If I was anyone else, an older gent with disturbingly wild hair, she might have given a simple "Ok" and moved on. But to go from me to the bird just like that? I don't know. I know with her being an employee of PetSmart, things have to be sold, but it's unlikely she would have received any commission from finding this bird a home. Do they have commission for things like that?

She did help me with two things. First, she showed me that I want a woman who is interested in birds, animals, whatever. In 7th grade, I dated Irene, whose house was a menagerie of animals, almost a farm. I loved it. That's part of who I am.

Secondly, I don't want to go another year without someone. I'm going to be 27 in March. I want my Nora Charles. I want my Amy Adams. I want my Erin O'Brien (Hi, Erin!). I know it may not be easy at the start, I know it will take time, but I want to seriously start the search. It's time.

I hope that girl said "Ok" like that and was interacting with the bird like that because she was interested. I wasn't really sure how to react in that moment, but I thank her for reminding me of one of the major priorities in my life this year. My first book will be out in February, I'm gradually reaching less than 200 lbs., I know the full-time career I want, and I'm thinking hard about what I want to write next (Another book of essays? A play?). Yes, it's time.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Mini Pinball Wizards

They gathered around like moths to a flame.

Actually, around a pinball machine. My pinball machine. Fishing-themed.

I couldn't confidently ascertain their ages, even though the DJ at Skating Plus in Ventura on that pre-New Year's Eve day had called for rink races about a half hour prior, separate age groups joining in the mad dash around, and sometimes around again (for the older kids, two laps), and it was easy to see the demographics of the place for that day. But they looked to be about six or seven years old, maybe eight. My audience. All boys. A curious audience. I always adore a curious audience.

I plugged 50 cents into the machine and the game began. The plunger was actually shaped as a fishing rod and all you had to do was press a button on the top, and the ball would launch. Easy enough, and certainly easier to operate than the Nightmare On Elm Street machine to the left of the X-Files machine, which was to the left of me, and which I had played before. It was ok, but nothing particularly exciting. This machine, however, excited me. It was easy to operate, and it didn't require strenuous effort. I don't mind strenuous effort if the machine is well-calibrated, and this one was, but it called for a more easygoing style, my kind of style.

The kids watched as the ball went around the board, as the flippers shot the ball into parts I hoped would reap high points. And then the questions began:

"What's a long cast?"

"What's a short cast?"

Both easy to answer. The long cast, in the matter of this game, is when the ball goes completely around the board before reaching the flippers again. The short cast is when I immediately shot the ball into the hole almost directly above the right flipper for easy points.

They asked about the mechanics of the game, and they were fascinated by the multiball function, which I achieved many times. One kid, upon seeing it lit up on the machine's screen, informed me that I had to reach 26,000,000 for a free game. Easily reached, the game made a sharp, clacking sound and I had won my free game. During that game, the points to reach for a free game became 31,000,000, which I never accomplished. A little too difficult when you're only at 10,000,000. Not that the kids broke my concentration at any time (we even talked a little bit about basketball, and I expressed my recent preference for the New York Knicks, not because of how they've been playing recently, but because, to me, they embody a passion for basketball I've been looking for, should I wish to attach myself to a team after getting back into the game, watching it anyway. And after watching the Knicks, I do), but this wasn't the type of pinball machine I was playing for a high score. I could easily do that on Cruisin' Exotica, which was right across from the table my mom and I were sitting at, watching my dad and Meridith skate.

After the free game, I dug two more quarters out of my left pocket and asked the kids, "Want to see that again?" They did.

Being a substitute campus supervisor at my dad's middle school, I enjoy seeing that generation interact. I always hope for there to be little ruckus during the day, and I mostly get that. I could never teach, though. I never want to. I like being outside, where the kids act more naturally. In a classroom, there's expectations from teacher to student, and the student has more to worry about than merely what they're having for lunch and who's bothering the hell out of them today.

These little kids around me at the pinball machine, I don't know if their parents noticed, and if they did, they probably saw what I've been good at all this time. I'm good with kids. I have an instinct for who they are, what their personalities are like. I can figure them out right away. With those middle school kids, if I talk to them, I know I can somewhat level with them, while retaining my authoritative state as a campus supervisor. With these little kids, I didn't feel the need to be cutesy. They asked questions, and I answered them, simple enough. They got the gist of the game right away after I told them what a long cast and a short cast was, and just like me, they got really into the game when the multiball function was activated, keeping as close watch on the three balls rolling around the board as I was.

I loved their company. Somehow, I got them, and they got me. I was just one of them for those 20 minutes or so, because I'm completely enamored with pinball machines. After the final free game was over, well, that was that. I said to them, "Later," and I went back to my table to continue reading the 2005 Food Issue of The Oxford American that I had brought with me. I couldn't be expected to watch skating the entire time, and the more I read, the better my days are.

There was one other kid I liked, 10 or 11 years old, maybe 12 (I'm really good at determining ages, as you see). I was playing Cruisin' Exotica, the machine on the left, because the steering wheel on its twin to its right was far too loose, and I had trouble steering in the Vegas stage. Before this particular game, on this particular machine, I had won a #2 spot on the top #10 list for Hong Kong medium, which starts off the Cruisin' Exotica mode if you choose it. During this game, I was at the airport, rolling under a landing 747, and the kid sitting next to me, watching me play, said, "If you're in 2nd or 3rd place, just take your foot off the gas and put it right back on for it to go faster." I never knew that, and I replied, "Thanks, man!" It worked! All this time, I had thought that once you press down on the gas, your foot stays there, and that's all there was to it. As fast as the car goes, that's the speed, I thought. This was amazing. I also scored the #9 spot on that top 10 list. Thanks, kid.

10 pinball games that day (including two free games of T2 at the bowling alley next door, and a pool-themed machine, complete with a large cue ball), as many games of Cruisin' Exotica as people left quarters in the machine (sometimes I had to put in an additional quarter, sometimes two), and burgeoning minds watching me. Add to all of that the first half of the Knicks/Magic game that night, which I Tivo'd and got up to halftime before I went to bed, and it was a perfect day.