Wednesday, November 30, 2011

For the Love of a Great Book and a Big Pastrami Sandwich

I wasn't exaggerating last night when I briefly hailed Best Friends, Occasional Enemies by Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella as me never having been more in love with books. In fact, I may have understated it.

If you're a genuine writer, anything can be written about. Scottoline makes her travails on an elliptical machine very funny. Serritella, Scottoline's daughter, turns an attempt to get rid of the mice in her apartment into three epic parts. All that they write, from occasionally getting at each other, but never with malicious intent, to the powerhouse that is Mother Mary, Scottoline's mother and Serritella's grandmother (Wait until you see the photo of her wearing a lab coat simply because she'd found it at the Dollar Store and likes to wear it), to the occasional references to George Clooney (Scottoline's man of choice) and ex-husbands Thing One and Thing Two (Scottoline's reasons for happily living with her dogs and cats), makes me thankful that I pre-ordered this from Amazon. I'd read Scottoline's Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog and My Nest Egg Isn't Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space (which included a few pieces from Serritella, but not as many as this book), and when I heard this one was coming, I knew it wasn't one I could leave until I got a library card in Henderson. I needed this one now and it was worth every page.

It also made me realize that I can't merely wait for Scottoline and Serritella's next book, and there has to be another. There must be.

I'd been satisfied with going from Scottoline's first book of columns to the next and now this. But suppose her other books hold the same kind of satisfaction? Until I Googled Scottoline's name last night, I didn't know that she writes legal thrillers under the "Rosato and Associates" series, starting with Everywhere That Mary Went from 1993, the latest being Think Twice from last year. And then there's two serial novels she co-wrote with a bevy of authors, as well as six stand-alone novels, the sixth, Come Home, coming out next year.

I know I can't expect the same good-natured writing found in Best Friends, Occasional Enemies to be prevalent in her legal thrillers, but having read the first page of Everywhere That Mary Went last night on Amazon, I know I can expect the same level of knowledgeable insight from her (Being that she had been a trial lawyer) and writing that makes me feel comfortable even before I start on the first page. I ordered that one last night, and as soon as it arrives, it's shooting straight to the top of my reading list. A legal thriller suits me since I read Grisham in 3rd grade and continue to do so today, and one of my interests is the Supreme Court, and the inner workings of the lower courts, so it fits.

Shifting from books to food, Dad's birthday is tomorrow and he wants to go to MacArthur Park in Westlake in Los Angeles to get a picture taken with the sign (because of the song), and to Langer's Deli across the street from MacArthur Park. Being Jewish, we can tell if we're at an honest-to-kishka Jewish deli, and just by looking at the massive menu on the website alone, this feels like it.

For pastrami, I've contentedly subsisted on the pastrami sandwiches offered by Weinerschnitzel. It's the best I can do living in the Santa Clarita Valley where the only things that are Jewish are the little slivers of spaces for Hanukkah stuff at the supermarket. We're not the majority here, and certainly don't expect to be, but what brings in the most profit is what gets the most attention. In Las Vegas, it's different. Supermarkets there have a good-sized aisle for Jewish food. Packaged, sure, but at least it's more attention than we get here.

Compared to what Langer's has, I'm apparently not getting real pastrami from Weinerschnitzel, but I don't mind. It's cut very thinly, and it's good at least. That's all I can ask for from this empty-soul valley. But tomorrow, oh lord. I've scrolled through that menu and I've drooled many times. I'm not intimidated by the size of it, and in fact, I'm never taken aback by any large menu. Give me a 25-page menu and I can reduce it to what I want within two minutes. Speed reading is a major component of that, but I also generally go into restaurants with what I like right at the forefront of my mind. If it's an Italian restaurant, and I've been a good boy with my diet in the weeks before, I order fettucine alfredo. If it's Mexican, I want a quesadilla. If it's a Jewish deli, I want some kind of sandwich, big enough to make me not care about how many calories I'm consuming, just to be in awe of the masterwork in front of me.

Mom looked at the Langer's Deli menu first yesterday and she was intimidated by it. It has everything we've been starved of here, including whitefish and lox, but which, coupled with cream cheese, is a tad pricey at $15.95 for an appetizer. And you can have either the whitefish or the lox. Not both. And they've got matzo ball soup which I hope isn't served as large as it is at Jerry's Deli to try to cover up the fact that it's so-so. I hope there's respect given to the matzo ball in relation to the soup and vice-versa. I'm also harboring high hopes for the cheesecake. I love cheesecake. I can't have it often because I like my thinning frame. With a menu like this (, the hope is justified.

I looked at the menu late yesterday afternoon, scrolling past the hot sandwiches, the "daily entrees" including corned beef and cabbage and "One-Half Boiled Chicken", the steaks, the deli plates, though I had already decided what I wanted when I saw it at the top of the page. I was just seeing what else Langer's offered, just to be assured that this was the Jewish deli I had hoped to find after eight years of not having any.

A pastrami and chopped liver sandwich with "Russian Style Dressing." That's what I want tomorrow. They have chili cheese fries, but I'm not keen on that. It feels disrespectful. They have regular fries, and as long as there's mustard, which undoubtedly there will be, I'm fine with that. I just can't fathom chili and cheese on a separate dish next to a pastrami and chopped liver sandwich. Not when there's kishka and knishes available on the menu.

I told Mom I'd found what I wanted and she was stunned. She had picked out the pastrami and chopped liver sandwich too. For her genes, I'm grateful, as they include a steely resolve, patience, and a love of black olives and cheesecake. This wasn't really a surprise to me because with Jewish delis, what I pick is relatable to Mom or Dad or both. I've been raised well.

Deep, Passionate Book Love

I'm reading "Best Friends, Occasional Enemies" by Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella, and have never been more in love with books.

That is all.

For now.

Monday, November 28, 2011

That Old Feeling Again

Every month or so, I get an insatiable yen for anything to do with Superman, Captain Nemo, and Zorro. I want every Superman comic ever made, every book to do with Superman, Captain Nemo and Zorro, and every TV show and movie centered on the three of them.

But about a day or two later, the yen fades because of other books I want to read, other movies I want to see. Last month, it got as far as me watching most of Superman: The Movie from my sister's massive DVD box set that I got her for her birthday a few years ago. It includes all four Christopher Reeve Superman movies, as well as Superman Returns from 2006, cartoons and serials featuring Superman, and documentaries, along with a director's cut of Superman II and an expanded version of Superman: The Movie.

This time, it won't go away. I need to give some time to this craving. So in my room at this moment, I have 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, of course; Captain Nemo by Kevin J. Anderson, and Zorro by Isabel Allende. I also have the Zorro: The Complete Series DVD box set, which is the early '90s Zorro TV series. And I have the Smallville pilot on the Tivo, back from when it aired a week before the series finale (Or was it right before the series finale?)

But that doesn't feel like it'll be enough. I need more. So from Amazon, I ordered The Mask of Zorro, The Mark of Zorro (1940, featuring the greatest swordfight in movie history), and Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. From AbeBooks (, a slew of titles: It's Superman! by Tom De Haven, The Last Days of Krypton by Kevin J. Anderson, Enemies & Allies, also by Kevin J. Anderson (about Superman and Batman reluctantly teaming up), The Death and Life of Superman by Roger Stern, The Other Log of Phileas Fogg by Philip Jose Farmer, which involves a search for Captain Nemo, who's actually Professor Moriarty from the Sherlock Holmes stories, Voyage into the Deep: The Saga of Jules Verne and Captain Nemo, a graphic novel about Jules Verne writing 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Captain Nemo by Jason DeAngelis and Aldin Viray. Even though manga doesn't interest me, that one does because of Captain Nemo.

Oh, but we're not done yet. Remembering that the Warner Bros. Studios store site ( still had its Cyber Monday sale going (from which I ordered the third season of Night Court earlier in the day for $8.15), I searched for Superman DVDs, hoping that in the section of heavily discounted TV DVDs, the ten seasons of Smallville would be available, of which I was only interested in the first season to see if I like it enough to want more.

No chance of that, as they remained pricey at $47.95 each. But what about Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman? Yeah! I was an addicted nine-year-old when that first season aired. I especially loved a scene in which Clark Kent flew as Superman to China to pick up Chinese food, though as I learned, that had happened in a later season.

There on the Warner Bros. site was the first season of Lois & Clark for $12. And the first season of The Adventures of Superman with George Reeves. And Superman Serials: The Complete 1948 & 1950 Collection. Done, done, and done. I don't think this craving is going to wear off by the time any of these books and DVDs arrive. Thank god the books are always cheap.

Just now, while typing the Superman Serials title, I was reminded of the Dick Tracy serials, the 1990 Warren Beatty movie (which I watched a lot at the same age I was hooked on Lois & Clark), and the Complete Chester Gould's Dick Tracy books available, volumes of them. Thankfully, that feeling passed without kicking up anything in me. Dick Tracy doesn't have half the same effect as Superman, Captain Nemo, and Zorro do, though he's still a deeply rooted interest.

This is why I will always believe that the inside of my head looks like the sets on Beakman's World. Because not only am I thinking about these three great fictional figures, I'm also mulling over my desert playlist, full of music that I think represents, for me, Las Vegas, Henderson, Boulder City, and the surrounding desert, and wondering if Matchbox sells its cars individually, not just in packs. I really want that city bus.

The Flour Truck of Henderson

In Casselberry, in the late '80s, my four-, five-, six-year-old self loved plunging his hands into a rectangular plastic wastebasket filled with toy figurines and cars. Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Camaros, a Lamborghini, and a car wash set and a racetrack that hooked up on one end of a table, and letting the car go at the top, hoping it would build speed fast enough to race through the loop-the-loop on the other end. All with so much to love, though in hindsight, no clue why.

I guess it was the young American boy thing to do, probably the same reason I had a collection of baseball cards in a binder, though I liked basketball much more. I also read Motor Trend when I was eight and nine, but I don't think I was looking at and admiring specs and engines. Maybe just the cars themselves, the shapes, the style.

On the second-to-most-recent trip to Las Vegas, I returned to that little boy form, in a different aspect. We spent a lot of time in Henderson, deciding even then if that's where we wanted to live, exploring the area, seeing what fit and what didn't. We stopped at a Smith's supermarket, and I walked around in awe because it felt like a neighborhood supermarket should. It felt like people cared about what they bought, whereas at a Ralphs or Vons here, people just grab what they need on an errand, throw it into the cart, zoom right into the checkout lane, pay for it, and zoom right out. At that Smith's, it felt like people took their time to shop, to buy what they truly wanted, what would fulfill them.

It was also a supermarket of unusual sights, namely a circular display outside one aisle filled with toy cars and trucks. Toy aisles at Ralphs and Vons are perfunctory and brief, filled with cheap crap to buy only when you're heading to a birthday party that you really don't want to go to, and you have to bring something.

Here were cars, VW Beetles, school buses. I looked at all of them, picked a few up, not for nostalgia's sake, but out of curiosity, because I still have that part of me. I discovered that my taste for cars had been replaced by working vehicles: School buses, ice cream trucks, street cleaners, daycare transports, moving vans and trucks, anything with a daily purpose.

At that display, I found a flour truck, dark brown at the front, lighter brown in the back, with doors that open on each side, and light peach-colored bags of flour that are highest at the top, and seem to have tumbled toward the bottom. On the left and right side of where the bags of flour are held, the logo of the "Diamond Flour Co." is stamped, and each side says, "Good Quality & Good Service." It was probably about six or seven dollars and I bought it. I wanted it as a reminder of a good place, and to start a collection of working vehicles.

That collection grew by five at Target in Valencia on Friday night. While Mom and Meridith looked at styluses for the Nintendo DS (since we'll need some new ones soon), I found a Curious George doll that reminded me of kindergarten at Sterling Park Elementary in Casselberry, and Mrs. Moffat let each student take home the Curious George doll for one night and bring it back the next day. At the end of the year, one of us got to take it home for good, and it wasn't me. It sure wasn't as big as the one that I picked up. I hope there is still something like that in some kindergarten classes.

After I showed it to Mom and Meridith, I put it back and then stopped at the Matchbox aisle to see if there were any airplanes, namely commercial airliners. Nothing with real-life airline logos on them since that's too specialized and it's what hobby shops and stores such as Puzzle Zoo are for, and especially "The Airplane Shop" near McCarran International in Las Vegas, which I'm jonesing to visit the next time I'm there.

Looking more closely at the packs of cars available, I spotted a five-pack with a street cleaning vehicle ("City Cleaner"), a moving truck ("Move-It"), a blue-and-green polka-dotted ice cream truck ("Polka Dot Ice Cream Co."), a daycare bus ("Child Care Learning Center"), and a red van for roadside service ("Mobile Vehicle Service"). I grabbed it, loving that I could get these five for nearly $6. I'm not sure if I'll have another plastic rectangular wastebasket filled with these kinds of vehicles, since I'm far more choosy than I was back then (If it was a car and the wheels moved, I wanted it) and I intend to treat these much more carefully.

Right now, I'm searching on Amazon for what Matchbox cars are available, and so far, there's a water truck, a garbage truck, a "Wildfire Crew Transport" truck, a dump truck, an RV camper, a dry bulk truck, a cement truck, a forklift, and a city bus I'd really like to find. And thinking about the Cheeseball Wagon food truck from the food truck festival that opened the newly refurbished Auto Row in Valencia early in the year, from which Meridith got a t-shirt, toy food trucks would be most welcome in my collection. I hope there's some enterprising minds thinking about that.

That Long, Peaceful Night

DirecTV had a free preview weekend of the Starz! and Encore channels, and I Tivo'd a great number of movies, deleting all the episodes I had recorded of The Good Wife to make room for them, along with episodes of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations that I probably wouldn't watch despite my interest in them because many, many, many books take priority.

Early yesterday evening, I watched most of Same Time, Next Year, which is really skilled at understated dialogue, so that the laughs are bigger. The playwright Bernard Slade who adapted his play into this movie knows rhythms in dialogue and words within lines, such as when a pregnant Ellen Burstyn says, in reply to Alan Alda's question about whether she's comfortable, "In my condition, it's hard to be comfortable in any position."

I haven't finished it because I wanted to see if I could focus again on an entire evening of reading the rest of Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton, which is wonderful in the descriptions of a career as a chef, a career that didn't take a traditional path, but is incredibly tedious in the Italy section toward the end. The same vacation dredged up over and over through different contexts. Mostly, I wanted to see if I could read a 304-page book in one day, since I had started reading it after I got up at 11 that morning. I can, but it's mighty hard when I've only got a tenuous connection to a book. I connected to a few things said, and loved the culinary descriptions, but it took some willpower to get through many portions of it. It wasn't a matter of forcing myself; I just wanted to see where the story went, though more out of curiosity than interest.

And yet, I loved how the evening turned out because the TV was off, I was sitting on the couch reading, and the entire living room was silent. Just me and a book. Mom, Dad and Meridith were in the other room, Mom resting because of heartburn, Dad watching his Korean soap opera, and Meridith reading Chore Whore by Heather H. Howard, one of my favorite novels, and one she was curious about.

Reading like I was, I felt so light inside and so did the air around me. I was exactly where I belonged. On to the next book and more of the same!

Friday, November 25, 2011

10th Grade Spanish Done Right

10th grade at the main campus of Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines, Florida was strategy every day. There were so many students on that one campus alone, probably well over 2,000, that it's a wonder the buildings didn't bulge on all sides. It was two levels, and one stairwell to get to the second level, near the cafeteria, was so crowded between classes that you had to hold your breath just to have enough space between you and the person in front of you. If you didn't have to buy lunch in the cafeteria, then you didn't spend time there. Far too crowded, unless of course you were part of a clique that hung out there, but I wasn't, and didn't know of any since I wasn't very social, only when conversations occasionally formed around me and I was sucked in. I had a friend named Stephen, who was much the same way, and we chatted in the morning and during the day, but never hung out together outside of school. It was just that way for me: You go to school, do what's required by the system, and go home. After homework, the rest of the time is yours.

Spanish class was always in the morning, first class I think. I don't think that was why I failed, though. I dreaded it. All those phrases to learn, the different pronunciations, the sentences, and there was one assignment I remember in which you had to write an essay in Spanish. I was so inept at the assignments that I failed, and summer school was the only choice. It's ironic that I failed Spanish considering my newfound interest in Mexico, though I don't think I'll visit. I'll probably study Spanish anew because of it, but because I'm not confined within the pressures of a classroom, it'll be easier.

Mom and Dad kept on me about my grades, but failing Spanish wasn't such an issue. I'd go to summer school, hopefully get a better grade, and that was that. In previous years, I had gone to summer school voluntarily anyway to get ahead for the next school year, and it was because of this diligence that I didn't have to go to Hollywood Hills High at all for the last half of my 12th grade year. There was an arrangement made so I wasn't marked absent, and I got to stay home.

To give you an idea of when I retook Spanish, X-Men was the most hyped movie of the summer. Entertainment Weekly had a huge spread about it, from the cast to the plot to the special effects, ahead of its July 14th release. Movies played a major part in my Spanish class in summer school, since that's really all I remember about the class, and standing up for what I believed in, even when it pissed off the teacher and in turn got the class pissed off at me.

We were a good group, a few class clowns, but none that stood out to such disruptive effect. Friendly, temporary acquaintances all. The teacher liked the rhythm of the class, how lessons went by so smoothly, and I'm thinking it must have been a Friday when she decided to show a movie in lieu of doing anything else related to Spanish for the latter half of the day.

But it wasn't a good one. It was Fools Rush In, starring Salma Hayek and Matthew Perry, back when Friends got him movies and he wasn't as good a comedic actor as he is now. I had seen it a couple of years before and hated it, mainly because the director, Andy Tennant, did not and still does not know how to stage comedy. This is another example of influences previously being unknown. Part of the movie takes place in Las Vegas, which I feel can be home for me, and part of it was filmed in Taos, New Mexico, which I want to visit one day. Back then, I didn't know anything about either, and only knew about where I lived in Florida, what was around me in that area, and where I had been in Florida.

After the teacher told us that she was putting on Fools Rush In, I loudly groaned, and it was enough to make her change her mind and continue with classwork. And my classmates were ticked at me. But I didn't care. I wasn't going to sit through the same bad movie again. There are times when you should do for others, when you should bite your tongue, understand that it makes the other person happy, and just go through with it. This wasn't that time.

The last day of class arrived and the teacher decided to put on a movie since the class was over and there was nothing else to do. This time, it was The Mask of Zorro, starring Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Anthony Hopkins. I was much happier, especially because there were swordfights.

There are many instances in life in which you have to go through the crap to get to the treasure. That was one of them. I didn't care that my classmates were glaring at me, because even though I didn't enjoy some of the classwork, it was required in order to get a good grade. I had to do it. But even though I still had to sit in the class during a movie, I didn't want to have to suffer through what I didn't like before. Sometimes I stand up for what I believe in even if it inconveniences others. I don't do it often, only when I'm confronted by something that could threaten my wellbeing. This was also before I got heavily into reviewing movies, and saw other movies that were a lot worse, before I developed Teflon skin that could let me write a review of a bad movie and move on without being bothered further by it.

I'm most proud of not being affected by my classmates glaring at me and probably hurling a few complaints at me which have long been forgotten. One of my favorite songs is "Englishman in New York" by Sting, his tribute to raconteur and staunch individualist Quentin Crisp, who's one of my heroes. In that song is this lyric, which is one of my favorite quotes: "Be yourself, no matter what they say." I had been living it before I even knew about Quentin Crisp, and only now did I realize that I was.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving: As Comfortable as Stuffing

On Hanukkah, which my family and I celebrate, the world doesn't stop because not everyone is Jewish.

On Christmas, most of the world feels like it stops, but not all, because I'm not Christian or any other denomination that celebrates Christmas.

But on Thanksgiving, the entire world feels like it stops. There is no work for anyone to do, but I say this because neither I nor any other member of my family is an employee at the mercy of any of the corporations and companies that do their damndest to squeeze the ever-loving profits out of Black Friday, with some stores already open during Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving here is just me, Meridith, Mom, Dad, Tigger, Kitty, and our finches, Mr. Chips and Gizmo. We don't have to cook a great deal since it's just us, so there's one big dish of stuffing, two dishes of candied yams with marshmallows (since Mom likes them a lot), and either a turkey or the massive breast of a Butterball turkey, as it was this year. This also means that there's nothing to catch up on because we know each other, every day.

When I got up past 11 this morning, Mom and Meridith were watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in the master bedroom, and Dad was out looking for an L.A. Times. Before I even had a late breakfast, I got on the computer to see what Thanksgiving detritus there was, holiday wishes from good friends on Facebook and by e-mail, including one from Sara, always nice to see.

This day is as comfortable as stuffing. I was ticked off last night about how Sony packaged the complete series set of Married with Children, and decided right then to get a DVD storage binder for the discs so I didn't have to constantly take out DVDs to get the one I wanted and then stack them one on top of each other again. Today, I decided to go further: I'm going to get a huge DVD storage binder, perhaps with the capacity for 420 DVDs, so I can store 90% of my DVDs that way, get rid of cases I don't think I need beyond booklets that come with a few of the DVDs, so when we move, I can bring more books with me to Henderson.

There will be some exceptions, such as the complete series sets of I Love Lucy and M*A*S*H, because those are uniquely packaged, and my James Bond DVD sets, four volumes. But for movies like Unstrung Heroes, Murphy's Romance, Adventureland, My Blueberry Nights, and 84 Charing Cross Road, I don't need the DVD cases. All I want is what's on those discs. That's it. Why let those cases take up space in boxes? That's a waste, and in the new apartment, I can use that space that those DVD cases would have taken up for my books. For now, I'm researching various binders, received a strong recommendation from a Facebook acquaintance who knows what it is to store DVDs since he has hundreds, and I'll see what looks strong enough and will last for years.

Before dinner began, I finished reading the final three pages of Hopscotch and Handbags: The Essential Guide to Being a Girl by Guardian columnist Lucy Mangan, who is one of the funniest writers I've ever read, possibly the funniest, but very much in my top three. She doesn't strive to be funny, reaching for the laughs like Dave Barry does. Her thoughts are sometimes outlandish, but the laughs emanate from whatever she writes about, including womanhood in this case. Before the holiday, I thought that I would take these days to read all of that as well as My Family and Other Disasters (A collection of her columns in The Guardian) and The Reluctant Bride: One Woman's Journey (Kicking and Screaming) Down the Aisle, also by her.

But I looked at one stack of books across from the foot of my bed, on the right side of my room, and there at the top was Stranger on a Train: Daydreaming and Smoking Around America with Interruptions by Jenny Diski, about the two Amtrak trips she took throughout the United States. I decided that I wanted to travel in a book for a while. And under that one was The River Queen: A Memoir by Mary Morris, who traveled down the Mississippi in a houseboat called the River Queen. That will come after Stranger on a Train.

I don't brood as much as Jenny Diski does in the early pages of this book, but reading her descriptions of her childhood and teenage years, her reasons for being on a cargo ship from the U.K. to Tampa, Florida, the people she meets that she describes so well, I realized that I am exactly who I want to be. I am a passionate, voracious bibliophile with a job I love that I want to make full time so I can keep on reading and writing like I do now. I have books I want to write and see published, there's always movies throughout the year that I want to see (including Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the 3D release of Beauty and the Beast, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and many more throughout next year), I love to play Galaga on the Nintendo DS whenever I find the time and especially when I find an arcade machine, I love pinball, I love basketball, and I feel, even with Henderson and Las Vegas coming up in due time, that if I find someone to share my life, that'd be nice, but if not, that's ok. I don't want to push for it. I don't have that drive. I'm very comfortable with who I am. I've figured out the right blend for my life and it suits me perfectly.

In that same vein, I found that I want to read a lot more travel books (by travel writers, not the guidebooks, not yet anyway) about China, Mexico, and New Mexico. Las Vegas is a given what with the stack of books I have about it already, and hopefully being a resident soon, which will give me the most welcome opportunity to ransack the Nevada history sections at the Henderson and Clark County libraries so I can learn all about where I live and the state that I can proudly call home.

My interest in China began after reading The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones and wanting to know more about its culinary history and so much more about its history in general, as well as its literature. I wanted more about Mexico after reading about Anthony Bourdain's experiences in food there in his The Nasty Bits. New Mexico is because of The Secret of Everything by Barbara O'Neal. It's because of that wonderful, wonderful novel that I want to visit there one day.

However, I recently learned that the influence of New Mexico has been in my life far longer than this past September, when I read The Secret of Everything. After Andy Rooney had put squarely in my mind the notion of becoming a writer, I discovered in my early teens a book called Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life by Natalie Goldberg. Goldberg's advice about writing and the prompts she provided in order to provide fuel for writing made it feel like writing was about freedom, about writing whatever you wanted and not being afraid to do so. In that book, I remember reading about Taos, not even knowing where that is, though I do now. And I found out that Goldberg lives in northern New Mexico.

I need places that don't just talk about freedom, but live it. Las Vegas feels that way to me, even under the constraints of the economy right now. To me, it is about hedonism; it is about finding the pleasures that can enrich your life every day. Whatever weirdness you might be into, you could find it in Las Vegas, and you're part of keeping that freedom going there.

New Mexico feels the same way to me, but with more of a spiritual bent, more of an expansion of heart and mind through the scenery and the culture. I've got a lot more to learn about it, but it feels right to me. I don't think I want to live there, but I like knowing that it's there, and one day I will see it, greedily gulping all of it. And I hope that travel will coincide with my one major goal in life: To visit all the presidential libraries in the nation.

I didn't think about Thanksgiving like this last year because I was just rising from the dark pit of the anxiety that had so overwhelmed me from being vastly overweight, which was also brought on by so much caffeine consumption that I could have become an alternative energy source, and I had begun losing weight, but was still watching my own body so closely that I didn't consider anything else in my life.

These last months of this year and the beginning of next year are different because there is a future ahead, finally a future after eight years of living here, where there's no vivid color, no personality, no feeling that you're living well. I think more and more about Las Vegas, about Henderson, about our new apartment complex, about the Pinball Hall of Fame, about those casinos on the Strip that I haven't visited yet, about the libraries in the area, about my future career, about the Hacienda Hotel and Casino near Hoover Dam, about all that there is that will make my life better. It's pretty good now with the books I have on hand, but I want more. And Las Vegas and Henderson is more, much more.

I'm thankful for everything that you've read here, and Thanksgiving itself, the one day of the year in which the nation feels silent enough in order to do some considerable thinking, and center yourself fully, understanding who you truly are, and finally embracing it entirely, without uncertainty.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Occupy Best Buy: Valencia, and Sony's Bullcrap

Two nights ago, Dad, Meridith and I went to Best Buy in Valencia to look at other Acer computer monitors and compare it to the new one we got to replace a Dell monitor that had been with us for a few years and was dying, based on the greens looking yellow.

Tonight, we went back with Mom for her to look at the monitors and see if we could live with the one we have. There's been a lot of debate over the past week about it, and learning that square monitors are no longer made, only widescreen ones.

Passing OSH (Orchard Supply Hardware, which is exclusively Californian) and heading to the Best Buy parking lot, we saw tents already set up for Black Friday. This is Occupy Best Buy: Valencia. They're waiting for the deals. They're certifiable. It's much colder now at night than in past weeks and they're going to brave that for a cheaply priced TV? I know it may be simplistic to consider it like this, but exactly why is the government deeming our country to be an economic shitpile? What's this then?

Two nights ago, I had looked at all the DVDs and dug into the $4.99 DVD bin, thinking about getting The Wackness and Elegy, both with Ben Kingsley, because I hadn't seen them and Ben Kingsley is one of my favorite actors. I held those DVDs and The Notebook (which was being sold for $3.99, and I was thinking about it because I like Rachel McAdams, and Sam Shepard, one of my heroes, is also in it), considering it, and then didn't need them. I'll see them some other time.

Then I spotted the complete series set of Married with Children. $44.99 for 261 episodes on 32 discs. A pretty good price. I weighed it, but decided not to get it because I've spent a good deal on books as it is, and it would be nice to let my savings account grow a little again.

Dad went into Best Buy tonight with the Sunday ad, the section with monitors covered in pen markings with Acer model numbers and other information. But he forgot the front pages, which supposedly had more monitors listed, and Meridith and I went to get another copy at the front of the store. Keep in mind that the last day this ad was valid was today, tonight for me.

Meridith found the monitors for Dad in the ad, and while she was flipping, I spotted the DVD section. She handed it to me and my heart started racing a bit: The Married with Children set I saw the other night was actually on sale for $29.99, and this was the last night for it. $29.99 for 32 discs? Yes! The chance to have my favorite episode, "Movie Show" from the 7th season, on DVD along with the Christmas episodes, the pilot, and, of course, "No Ma'am!"? Oh god yes yes yes!!!

However, I remembered how Sony had packaged complete series sets of Norman Lear shows such as Sanford and Son. The DVDs were stacked one on top of the other. After picking up the Married with Children set, I jiggled it a bit, and it sounded like it hadn't been stacked that way. Where was the room in what looked like a smaller set? Meridith thought the DVDs might be stored in thinpack cases. I asked an employee if they knew anything about how this might be packaged inside, and they didn't know. But I wasn't going to miss out on this. I wanted this badly.

We got home about 20 minutes ago, I opened the set, and I'm pissed. What is with Sony's thoroughly shitty way of packaging these complete series sets? 32 discs are stacked on top of each other in two sections. To get to season 4, for example, you have to take out DVD after DVD and place them carefully on a surface that won't scratch them. And to do this also to put that particular DVD back? Screw this!

I'm not going to return the set. Otherwise, each season set is $9.99 at Best Buy (for now) and it would cost me far more that way than this. I intend to get a storage binder for this set, to not have to deal with this every time and to make sure they're well-protected. This is one of my favorite shows and I want to have these DVDs for a long time to come. But what does Sony find so wrong with charging just a bit more to properly package these sets? Warner Bros. does a fine job with its sets, such as The West Wing and Gilmore Girls sets, and what about the refrigerator packaging that was done for the Seinfeld set? This deserved the same consideration.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Center of My Universe is Becoming Whole Again

I have fond memories of riding the Tomorrowland Transit Authority at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, and I watch videos of it on YouTube, as well as the current incarnation with the sound turned off, since the new narration blows Mickey ear-sized chunks.

I remember the pervasive peace of Flanagan High School's 9th grade campus, all portables, not only because of my first crush, Sara, but because it felt like the world and everything in it was aligned, even in the general chaos of going from one class to another.

All that are just memories, though, even though I use the latter often when I write. I wander those grounds, thinking about if I've written what I've wanted to write in the way that I thought about writing it. In my mind, the campus is empty. I remember old acquaintances, I sit again where I used to have lunch occasionally with Sara and her friends, but I sit on those wooden walkways, managing my writing life at my own speed.

I apparently decided a long time ago that I needed a tangible center of my universe, even though I've just discovered this now. For the past few months, I've Googled "Hacienda Hotel and Casino", pulling up the website for exactly that in Boulder City, or, rather, east of Boulder City, since there's no gambling allowed within city limits. It's on Highway 93, and it's my new Walt Disney World.

That seems strange, considering how much the Strip offers, but I don't need the Strip all the time. It is merely part of the awesome freedom Las Vegas offers, a never-ending pursuit of hedonism that I fully support and hope to live by once I'm there permanently.

I first became attached to the Hacienda Hotel and Casino because of the view that takes your breath away. It truly does. There's a cliff near the casino that you can walk and with your back to it, you see a vast ocean of desert. To me, it felt like all the dreams I ever had in my life had combined to create this view.

I like the casino itself. It's 2,000% smaller than the average high-end casino on the Strip (My math isn't what it used to be, which is to say it never was, so I could be wrong), but there's a comfortable feeling to it. There's a small screening room with chairs where you can watch an old federal government film about the building of the Hoover Dam, which the Hacienda is near. I love that there's this little piece of history right there, footage of FDR dedicating it, and then when you leave, there's the card tables and the slot machines all around.

The one thing that makes the Hacienda the center of my universe is Lakeview Cinemas, which is located on the second floor and has been open and closed a few times since we were there. I've never been there, not yet anyway, but I love that here is this small two-screen movie theater, near Hoover Dam, and try finding any other movie theater location like this anywhere else. I wonder if any distribution people at any of the movie studios have ever thought about their reels going there, right in the middle of the desert bigger than anyone could ever imagine, right near an important piece of the nation's history.

It apparently closed a few months ago, maybe not doing decent business, maybe for renovations. I'm not sure of the story, and I'm not going to speculate because I love this location for a movie theater and I'm just happy to see it's opening again on Friday.

Every couple of days, I went to Lakeview Cinemas' website (, and back in September, I learned that there was a new ice machine put in. In October, new projectors and refrigeration. I always looked at the old movie schedule from June. Nothing ever changed on it since it was so buried in the past, but I marveled again and again at this movie theater, to which I'm sure people from Boulder City and hopefully other areas came. This movie theater seems to be just about the movies, nothing like the corporate chains push. You come in, you buy popcorn and soda, or a hot dog, or a cheeseburger, or White Castles, or pizza, or soft pretzels, and you go see your movie. That's it. Nothing simpler.

Generally, the movies that come to Lakeview are at that second-run point. Happy Feet 2, for example, is coming there some time in December. There's no rush here. The movies in the multiplexes right now will come, but at a cheaper rate for Lakeview. And I don't feel a driving need to see many movies on opening weekend (The only final one for 2011 for me is Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol), so this place is my ideal.

Occasionally, Lakeview gets prints of old movies, and one page of the website promises a "Clint Eastwood Film Tribute," though it doesn't say what movies will be featured, and promises "Coming This Fall! To the Hacienda." The theater was closed during most of the fall, but even if it doesn't happen, the owner, Gary Bouchard, seems to pride himself on featuring old movies on an equal plane with recent releases.

I've never met Gary, so I don't know personally what kind of guy he is, but I do like his honesty on the website, not only his updates on the progress of the renovation of "Theater 2" for example, but also the misspellings sprinkled throughout the website, such as the offer of a "Whole 14 Ince Pizza" on the menu pages. An egregious error to some, but I don't mind it. The theater will still stand. The movies will still play. However, I do want to try an "Old Fashioned Rootbear Float." Gary might be on to something if he put, say, chocolate gummy bears into the root beer float, or found bear-shaped glasses for the root beer floats. To me, the misspellings give a sense of personality, and in the desert, there needs to be a lot of personalities. It's why I can't imagine being a writer anywhere else.

On the Hacienda website (, I look at the entertainment schedule and the food specials, which never change. There's one ad I like on the site ( that's obviously Photoshopped, but that's what it looks like, and it's part of what feels like home to me in Southern Nevada. You walk in, and there are many stories to be told right away, just like when you drive the Strip and you see all the people walking the sidewalks and you wonder where they're from, why they're there, what they want from their vacation. I go further with the casinos. I wonder about their construction, who built them, who was in charge of what, even who designed the bathrooms. The stories never cease, and that's how I like it.

I'll inevitably check the Lakeview Cinemas site again to see if a schedule was put up, and especially what movies are being shown. I'm not home yet, so I've got to get my taste of home, which also reminds me that I should be reading more back issues of Henderson Press, like all of them since I've only read the first issue so far. I've got to get to know my future hometown a lot better than I do right now. I know some street names, I know what surrounds our future apartment complex (A few supermarkets, restaurants, shopping centers, all good things to explore), I know the policies of the Henderson libraries, as well as the stores that are in the Galleria at Sunset, but more. Much more. When I finally get there as a resident, I want to feel like I've already been there for a while. This is the best way to start.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Motivational Pants

We were at Walmart Supercenter today, a Sunday. And not the average harried-parent-trying-to-make-sure-the-little-brat-doesn't-starve-so-the-school-doesn't-call-child-protective-services Sunday. This was definitely a pre-Thanksgiving Sunday. Carts so close that you could see what your temporary acquaintance was buying, and they didn't care if you were looking. They just wanted to get through, like you do.

Meridith told me that Nina, the girl I mentioned a few entries back, was behind the returns and exchanges counter, and I caught a glimpse of her after leaving the men's restroom at the front of the store, near that counter, but decided to do nothing more. I can't. Suppose she's exactly what I've been looking for, and then there's that emotional tsunami that comes with the fact that, oh yeah, I'm probably moving to Henderson, Nevada in the next few months? I can't do that. Therefore, she shall remain a beacon to me of what I want in a woman being available. However, I go only by looks on that count, since I didn't talk to her, but she looked intelligent.

I also decided that it was time to stop bullshitting and shop for pants (The past couple times we've been to Walmart Supercenter, I didn't feel like it). I have one pair that I use regularly, that fits me decently. I can't go to Las Vegas the next time on one pair, nor when the time comes to move.

So many brands, so many prices. And I wasn't going to wear light-colored denim jeans either. I like them with a blue gloom, not clawing for attention. My personality comes directly from me and my graphic t-shirts, such as Galaga, Beavis & Butt-Head, The Big Lebowski, The Jungle Book, the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, and many others. Not my jeans.

I tried 34x30, which is to say that I got half of my left leg in one pair. 36x30 allowed me to get both legs in, and to zip up, but in order to get out of them, I had to push them down, tight as they were. I was worried that I was going to be stuck in them.

On the second reconnaissance mission for pants, after putting the rejected pile into the cart to the right of the fitting rooms, I found Wranglers, regular fit, 38x30, one pair lighter than the other, but both the darkish blue I like. Back to the fitting room and the hope for a better tomorrow, and jeans I could take home.

After discovering that the blue sweatshirt I was wearing was actually an extra large that I hadn't gotten rid of after dropping 60+ pounds, I tried on the large Fruit of the Loom blue sweatshirt I had found, but didn't like how it felt, though I think that's because of my fierce aversion to sweatshirts. I don't like them. They're uncomfortable, even after being washed. It's not a suffocating feeling, but rather that winter tries to box me in and I won't let it. I was born and raised in Florida, with humidity that makes your sweat start to sweat. In the past few weeks, I've gotten away with wearing a Fruit of the Loom white t-shirt, and then one of my graphic t-shirts over that, with a thick-enough jacket to provide more warmth. It worked when I was a campus supervisor on Friday, though it wasn't as frozen-daiquiri windy as it was today, hence why I was stuck wearing a stupid sweatshirt.

I didn't want the sweatshirt that I tried on, but I know I have to get one or two or three sweatshirts to replace the extra large ones I don't need anymore because now when I wear them, there's enough fabric to make two medium-sized sweatshirts, and that does not look good on me.

Now to the Wranglers. They fit, but only just. I could bend down and I could squat without them tearing and leaving me with only the belt loops. I could zip them up, but on one pair, there was a tiny bit of space left by the zipper at the top. It absolutely wouldn't go any further, but the zipper flap takes care of modesty for me. I could wear them, and they would be useful as a continuous reminder to lose more weight. I have been working on it, and I'm grateful that I had a few days last week at work in which I walked around a lot. Some of this weight is stubborn, though. It won't leave. I don't bother with weighing myself on the scale anymore because I follow my diet strictly during the week, I let go a tiny bit sometimes during the weekend, and it'll go up a bit and down a bit, so why should I go up and down with it too? I don't need that conflict from numbers. I got enough of that in my middle and high school math classes. I just keep on doing what I'm doing, and eat vegetables much more often than I have lately, and I'll eventually get to where I want to be.

Both pairs of Wranglers cost $31.54 ($15.77 each), which was a relief for me, because I spotted $21 price displays for some other brands of jeans and dreaded the thought of paying that, before I found the Wranglers. I bought them, and one day soon, I hope, I'll slip into them and find that they fit comfortably. What better motivation to lose even more weight than having pants that'll grow once you shrink? Well, that, and female bibliophiles in Las Vegas, I hope. But this is first and foremost for me.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Three-and-a-Half Hour Miracle, or: The Stuff Domestic Olympics are Made Of

Way early yesterday morning, I tried watching John Grisham's The Rainmaker with Francis Ford Coppola and Danny DeVito's audio commentary, but was too tired and went to bed at 2:26.

I woke up to Mom asking me if I wanted to go to work, because the sub system for the Hart School District had called and a campus supervisor was needed at La Mesa. A paycheck on a Friday, any paycheck really, is always appealing, and so I said yes, and Mom went back to Dad and said so and it was done.

I looked at the clock radio on my nightstand: 6:00. I had only slept three and a half hours, but I was awake. Different from the other times I'd woken up to go to work is that I had about an hour and 10 minutes before, so I had breakfast, made lunch, and went back and forth on taking a shower, because my hair has grown long enough to the point where I don't like to manage it, and just try to wrestle it into flatness with compulsory combing. With a shower, I regain some semblance of control.

I didn't, and it was my biggest regret of the day, because I didn't feel good about it. I had gotten it as flat as it could go, with one section of strands standing out a bit in the back, but it still nagged at me. Nevertheless, off to work Dad and I went and this was the one time I was so grateful for my hours: 9:30 to 3:30, more than I usually am, because since Dad and I got to school around 7:30, I had two hours before I had to sign in and start my day.

I spent the hour or so before the bell rang at 8:35 on a computer in Dad's classroom, looking over the Black Friday deals the Warner Bros. store had, and immediately grabbed Night Court: The Complete Second Season for $7.50, which came out to $10-something with ground shipping and tax. I found the first season at Big Lots a year and a half ago, and every time we went after, I always hoped that the second season would be there, but always no luck. This turned out to be cheaper than the $15+ it's going for on Amazon, cheaper even than the cheaper rates by sellers on Amazon Marketplace.

Then I went upstairs to the teacher's lounge, which has windows that overlook the library, though that means nothing to me since Dad's classroom is right next to the library, and I pass it in order to get to the teacher's workroom that leads to the stairs that take me up to the teacher's lounge. With me was Here's Johnny! by Ed McMahon, and my mp3 player. I propped two pillows on the arm of the couch next to the perpetually empty book racks where teachers can bring books that they're done reading, but I couldn't survive or even tolerate life if my diet was only books by Fern Michaels and Nora Roberts. I'm always disheartened when I see that, because the faculty clearly doesn't seem to be a well-read bunch (Or maybe the ones that are keep their books to themselves and when they're done with them, donate them to Goodwill like I do), and the last time I discovered a really good find was when someone gave up a lot of Grisham paperbacks, including The Broker and the The Brethren. I grabbed them all except for Bleachers, since football doesn't interest me, which is why I couldn't get through Playing for Pizza, even though I wanted to try it to see Grisham doing something different.

Here's Johnny! helped me get over the immense disappointment of Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life. It's a breezy, touching, and very funny book about McMahon's 50+ years with Johnny Carson, and learning about him always being nice off camera, and leaving his work behind when he went home after the show (He didn't hang around after it was over) made him one of my heroes. I have a biography about Carson called King of the Night by Laurence Leamer that I intend to read some time this weekend, and I always Tivo Carson's Comedy Classics off of Reelz Channel, to not only admire Carson's gargantuan talent for comedy, but to study the skits as well.

It got close to 9:30, and I went back downstairs to Dad's classroom, put the book in my tote bag, went to the front office to sign in, and then went to the bathroom before going to the campus supervisors' office to get Alex R's walkie-talkie, since he was the one I was substituting for.

I love that I signed in, and then I got paid to pee. That wouldn't happen if I was a freelance writer, and I don't think I could ever be a freelance writer because you continually have to look for revenue sources, and I just want a paycheck to come in regularly so I can read a lot and write my books. I don't think the novelty of being paid to pee will ever wear off for me.

I don't like to talk much with my fellow campus supervisors. First, I'm there to do a job, get paid, and then go home. But mainly it's because I love walking around the campus when it feels empty while the kids are in class. And I did that a lot just to have something to do since there were very few calls from the office to pick up kids from classrooms. I didn't feel overly tired, but I felt snippy, so it was best to stay away from the usual conversations of what's going on lately in my life, which just seems to be asked to make conversation. I've never liked that.

While I rounded the corner of the first set of buildings on the campus, I thought more about whether I'd want a woman in my life. Two things came to mind: If she was a bibliophile to the intense degree that I am, I'd give it a chance. But also, I can't make that decision right now. I am surrounded by the sheer boredom of this valley. I don't have Hoover Dam nearby, the Strip is not a short drive to get to, the Pinball Hall of Fame cannot have all the quarters I can manage to bring at the moment, and so I cannot say whether or not I'd want the chance again because I'm not home; I'm not where I feel most comfortable. If I was, I'd certainly be more open-minded than I feel right now, so I know that it's best to wait. It's not a decision to rashly make.

I also thought a little about my books, not as much as before, because there's not much to think about now that I'm doing research for one of them. There's no fantasy aspect to it now; the work has begun and so the reality has set in. Not a bad reality, but just that in order to have another book to try to sell, I just have to do it.

Lunch was a pleasure because there was what's called Lunch Bunch, in which one of the teams of teachers at the school have lunch available for the rest of the faculty and staff. This team had a "baked potato bar," which is baked potatoes, toppings, salad, and dessert. I wasn't interested because I had brought my lunch (My favorite lemon yogurt, tuna in a flatbread wrap, spinach and shredded carrots, and an oatmeal raisin granola bar) and didn't want to be near anyone because the natural tiredness from only three-and-a-half hours' sleep was beginning to set in. In fact, when I drank from my water bottle during lunch, in which there was only one other person in the teacher's lounge, my left hand shook a bit. Lunch is always a reliable revival technique.

Later in the day, after supervising the kids at lunch, which for me means standing near the lines in which kids get their lunch from the kitchen (There's no cafeteria), I kept walking the campus, and thought about the plays I want to write, two- and three-character pieces. It felt to me like this campus, even with this valley's aversion to history, seemed weighted with memories. I remembered the first time I was a campus supervisor and was very popular among the kids who had known me when I was a tutor for the AVID program (some kind of college-bound thing) during the day in a science class and a math class, which spurred me on to do something else because I couldn't stand the rigid structure of it, how there was no room to just help out with questions the kids had about their work, instead following the program as written.

I was also thinking about the memories graduates of this school probably have, and I wondered about a play that takes place on a middle school campus, where a few 20-somethings return to the campus at night, managing not to attract the attention of the alarm system, who wander the grounds, comparing their lives now to their lives then, what they thought would happen then that didn't happen now. It's part disappoinment, part shock at the vast gulf between childhood and adulthood. Of course, that's just one of probably over 30 ideas I have for plays, though it's not a priority right now as I have three others I want to write more. The silence of the campus always does things like that to me, as well as appreciating the meditative qualities during those afternoon class periods. For me, it's the equivalent of sitting at a penny slot machine in Las Vegas and tuning out everything else, watching those reels spin and just thinking.

When Dad and I got home, I still didn't fall on my face from exhaustion. I opened the mail I got, took out books like The Pelican Brief, and three books by massively funny Guardian columnist Lucy Mangan from the United Kingdom. Dad decided it was finally time to replace our old computer monitor because the greens were looking like yellows, among other color distortions. Mom looked at how much monitors were selling for in the Office Depot circular on the website, and then Meridith, Dad and I went out not only to buy one, but to also go to $5 Friday at Pavilions, to get teriyaki wings, chicken tenders, and other things we needed.

Dinner was those teriyaki wings and chicken tenders, and it was 9 p.m. by the time I finished washing the dishes and covered the birds for the night, so it was time for me to read the comics that come by e-mail for me, such as Baby Blues, Mutts, and Pearls Before Swine, comics for the next day, and that, as well as a few book-related websites, was all I could manage. I had had it. I left the computer to Dad to hook up the new monitor, went to my room, put the first disc of the first season of Night Court in my DVD player, and that was it. By 11:10, the TV and DVD player were off, and I was in bed, fully prepared to crash hard into dreams.

Today, I feel like myself again. I've got Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon in front of me, and plan to also bring along The Pelican Brief when we go out to Kohl's and a few other places (I've realized that I can't keep delaying shopping for new pants, since I can't go out to Las Vegas next, whenever that might be, on only one pair. I hate spending that time trying them on, but I must. My weight is good, so it's not that, but it's just the boredom from such an act. Try this one on, see if it fits right, try the next one on, and the next; it feels almost robotic), and I've got a great deal of shows to watch on the Tivo in the living room. Thank god that hard crash didn't happen tonight. Tomorrow, Mom, Meridith and I have to go out early to get haircuts, and we have to leave by a little after 9 before our appointment at 10. I can easily go to bed earlier to get up earlier now because of yesterday. I feel wisps of effects from yesterday, but not as much.

I'm still amazed that I managed yesterday on three-and-a-half hours of sleep. That usually doesn't happen to me because I'm called the night before and therefore have ample time to make lunch, make sure I have the books I want in my tote bag, and go to bed earlier. In that case, I get about 5 and 1/2 to 6 hours of sleep and that turns out to be enough. I learned this was the second day Alex had been out because of the stomach flu, and that's why the automated sub system called that morning.

Sometimes the body's tested. There's no choice. And thankfully I got through quite well. Being paid for that is the best thing about it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Deep Disappointment Tempered by Whatever's Next

In the September 19 issue of "The New Yorker", I read a short story by Ann Beattie called Starlight, which was an excerpt from her then-forthcoming book, Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life. The excerpt, involving the taking of the final family photograph before the Nixons leave the White House was so fascinating to me because it considered what Pat Nixon might have been going through during that time, though there is no clear record of that. Beattie had apparently done a lot of research and thought about Pat Nixon's feelings, and written about the event from her perspective.

I was riveted and not only pre-ordered the book on Amazon, I also ordered Chilly Scenes of Winter, her first novel; Distortions, her first book of short stories; and The New Yorker Stories, a vast compilation of the short stories she wrote for "The New Yorker" over 30+ years.

I received Mrs. Nixon on Wednesday, and immediately dived into it, hoping that what I had found in "The New Yorker" would be spread throughout the 267 pages of this book with that purpose. I didn't.

The title alone holds more promise than Beattie, a masterful writer otherwise, produces. In her essays (which feel more like the lectures she likely gives at the University of Virginia, and I don't recall signing up for any college courses), she asks many questions about events in Pat Nixon's life, about those details that have never been known and can't possibly be known, mulling over them at length.

Instead of fully imagining various events from Pat Nixon's perspective, she lectures. And lectures. And lectures. She talks about other writers; she talks about the fiction writer's approach to writing fiction, but why do that at the expense of a potentially fascinating approach?

The feeling I get is that Beattie did all this research about Pat Nixon, read a lot of books about the Nixons in order to learn about her, wrote all the short fiction she could think of, came up short, and decided to fill out the rest of the book with these consistently annoying asides.

If Beattie wants to write a memoir ("Is what you've been reading fiction or nonfiction? Or is it my memoir, which appears--like certain weeds, I can't resist saying--only in the cracks?"), then she should, but should have stuck to what she's best at in much of her justifiably celebrated fiction. This feels like a lost opportunity, highly disappointing, and it's why out of everything in my life, I'm happiest that I will never run out of anything to read. Because I'm deeply disappointed about this book. I had hoped for what it seemed like I would be given based on that New Yorker excerpt and from the title. I wanted to see a different approach to what's usually written about public figures. What was so wrong with, say, a 10-page introduction, explaining the origins of the project, her interest in Pat Nixon, her intent, and perhaps either a brief historical blurb before each short story, giving it more context, or an appendix in the back with more information? Beattie seems so wrapped up in herself in this book that it's at times hard to find Pat Nixon.

I don't grind my teeth, but I've been feeling that for the past half an hour. Beattie could have easily made this into yet another great read, as her other books are. Does she not realize that college students aren't necessarily going to be the only ones who read this? There was a chance to do something really interesting with this, and it felt like she blew it.

Nevertheless, I must move on. I received in the mail yesterday Annie Lennox: The Biography, and though the writing seems iffy to me in the preface, I'm going to hang on because I'm a huge fan. But I'm going to move on with Here's Johnny! by Ed McMahon, owing to my newfound interest in Johnny Carson in the past year, watching and studying his skits, his monologues, and having Mom order me the Johnny Carson 2012 desk calendar when she ordered the rest of the calendars for the household (One for her, one for Dad, one for Meridith, one for the fridge). I could use a glimpse of a man who never got so wrapped up in himself.

I just hope Beattie either writes her memoir or writes another novel or set of short stories that returns her to the prestige that's been well-deserved all these years. Quickly.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Regaining My Equilibrium, But Still Lopsided

Nine hours of sleep through the night, and I was back to my old self after a long day yesterday of walking nearly constantly, partly for my job, but mostly for exercise. Because having the opportunity to be a substitute campus supervisor, and have all that time when the kids are in class, I want to get as much weight off as I can. It doesn't help when I don't have work the following day, though. John, the head campus supervisor was back today, a little worse for wear as I heard (He had been out sick), and so I was home. I was hoping for more days this month as the holidays approached, and maybe that will happen on Friday. I'll get the call Thursday night, get my lunch ready, my books, and happily head off to La Mesa with my dad, in pursuit of another most welcome paycheck. And if not, hopefully what's left of next week before the holiday.

Getting my equilibrium back entailed two unusual dreams. One was walking around this massive candy store and finding this container that was filled with what looked like Oreos with part of their tops broken off and various other chocolate and candy crumbles. I thought it was what might have been deemed unusuable by whoever had made the candy, but it turned out to have been what had been chewed on and spit out by people sampling the candy. Yeah. Disgusting.

The second dream involved this narrow bookstore in which Senator John Kerry was there, for what reason I don't know. I was excited to see all the books available and saw a darkened part of the bookstore further away and snuck over there to see what was there that no one else looked at since they were so busy looking at the accessible shelves. I also wanted to ask Kerry who he thought would win the next presidential election, but I didn't get the chance. Too much of a swarm of people around, though not necessarily for Kerry.

I spent the day devouring The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain, with brief stops to have lunch and get the mail. In one piece, Bourdain gushes over chef Gabrielle Hamilton, imploring her to write a book, saying that she'd make him look like a manicurist. This was 2006, her Blood, Bones & Butter came out this past March, and because of what I had read, I ordered it, $13 price be damned. I don't normally order books that are $13, but this seemed like an important exception to make.

I also had a long think, not entirely about Nina, the girl from yesterday behind the returns and exchanges counter at Walmart Supercenter (Meridith told me earlier tonight that she texted her, but hasn't heard back yet). I've been going back and forth on whether I really want someone in my life.

My favorite Supreme Court justice is David Souter, who retired in June 2009. He always struck me as a fair jurist, and not long after he retired and rushed right back home to his beloved New Hampshire, he moved out of his family farm and into a house that could stand the weight of the thousands of books he owns, which the farmhouse couldn't. He retired because he wanted to get back to his reading. He's always been a bachelor.

Is that me? Do I want what Souter has? I don't intend to emulate Souter throughout my life and certainly I have a personality far different from his. For example, he's a reserved soul, whereas I'm slightly more outgoing. Get me into a good conversation about books and my enthusiasm can be stunning.

Today was not only a good day because of The Nasty Bits. The mail came and I found one of two packages I was waiting for from Amazon, this one containing Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life by Ann Beattie. Beattie researched the life of First Lady Pat Nixon through many sources, and imagined what she might have said at various events from which she could find no records, and what she might have felt. There was an excerpt of this in an issue of "The New Yorker" in which the final Nixon family photo was being taken in the White House before Nixon left office, and it was all from Pat Nixon's perspective. This is not only what made me pre-order this book, but also what made me seek out more about Ann Beattie, ordering her first novel, Chilly Scenes of Winter, and the paperback edition of The New Yorker Stories, a vast collection of the stories she's written for "The New Yorker" for 30+ years.

I will never run out of books to read. I will never run out of books to be excited about. For this month, there's also the second volume of Stephen Sondheim's lyrics from 1981-2011, with observations by him on his career and the people he worked with and his thoughts while creating these many masterpieces. I have the first volume, of course, and am psyched about this one, especially to read about what he contributed to Dick Tracy.

And I'm also excited about Best Friends, Occasional Enemies: The Lighter Side of Life as a Mother and Daughter by Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella. I'd read Scottoline's previous two books of very funny essays and I love her and her daughter's easygoing style. I wasn't going to wait until eventually reaching a library in Henderson to read this one.

Then I have to wait until April for new novels from Sarah Pekkanen and Barbara O'Neal, whose The Secret of Everything made me want to know so much more about New Mexico, and want to go there one day.

While The X Factor was on tonight and I ignored it like I always do, I kept sneaking glances at Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life. Finally, I had a book I'd been waiting for, that I looked up on Amazon at least every other day, always checking the release date, always wishing for it to come faster. Here it was. The possibilities that I had felt after reading that excerpt could become a much grander form with this book. All I have to do is open it and find out.

Then before I logged on to write all this, I spotted Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon in a stack on the dining room table, and decided it was finally time to read it. Once I start Mrs. Nixon, no other book will matter, but I'll save this one for after.

My reading list keeps growing every day. I know I'll never read every single book that was ever published, and probably won't accomplish all of my reading list, but I have books I want to read and that's what gets me out of bed every day, well, that and working to be published again and again. Is that enough for me?

I go back and forth on this all the time, and maybe it's just where I am right now, sitting here in Saugus, not yet in Nevada, not able to be aware yet of all there is to do there, all there is to see. Maybe there'll be someone for me there, someone who meets my non-negotiable requirement of being a bibliophile, loving books so deeply that they could not imagine a day without them. But again, my reading list. Having someone in my life means less time for books. Or I could be looking at it wrong. Having a female bibliophile in my life could enrich my reading list and my life, could steer me toward books I'd never even heard of. I'd hopefully have the discussions I'd like to have, because I am the only bibliophile in this house. My sister reads, and so does my dad, but not often because of work, and then, not as many books as I read.

Souter or not? I don't know. I think it's best to not have a fixed view about this. Las Vegas is not the kind of city to be so sure about something. To live behind that glimmering gold of the desert would remind me every day to stay open to whatever may come. Plus, I did like that burst-of-light feeling in my heart when Nina smiled slightly at me. I'm secure enough with myself not to take every glance from a woman as a sign that there may be something more. Other glances I've received, I know it wasn't that. But it felt like that this time, felt like something more. For a moment at least, before falling back into the pushme-pullyou line of thought about this, I wanted that kind of smile all the time.

That's the thing: I don't feel that great pull that other people do in wanting to find someone. It's a slight tug, and it only happens once in a while. It seems like if I find someone, ok, but if not, that's ok too.

I'll just let this keep flowing as I always have. Everything else in my life, job, writing, reading, has a plan, including when I write here (Whenever I'm in the mood), so there should be one part without one.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Getting It Back?

Work is always a little difficult when not having been at it for a stretch of a week, as it was today. The extensive walking took a bit of time to get used to, my feet hurt a bit from standing in one spot for 20 minutes straight (Keeping watch on the kids buying snacks at brunch from the kitchen staff), but it wasn't from weight. Just getting reaccustomed.

The highlight of my day wasn't being paid for what I love to do or a day without any calls to pick up kids from classrooms. It was at Walmart, when Meridith exchanged a shirt she had bought for one of the same design, a smaller size.

The girl who was helping her at the returns and exchanges counter had gone to high school with Meridith, and I had seen her when we got in line. She looked like the kind who always plans something mischievous, a playful look about her. I was entranced. And then, when Meridith was signing whatever's necessary for an exchange, the girl looked at me and gave a slight smile. But it didn't seem like a polite smile. It looked like there was something else in it, something that told me that she noticed that I was looking and she liked it, and my heart felt like it had turned into a starburst and was radiating so much light.

Meridith told me that she texts this girl occasionally, and I asked her to text her for me, not necessarily asking if she's single, but to express my interest of talking to her. But the impenetrable problem is that we're eventually moving. Why is it that the nice things only come when we're getting ready to leave? The same thing happened in Florida many times over. Where we lived was nice, such as Casselberry when I was a tyke, but things got even better when we were leaving.

The funny thing is that in theory, I always thought that I'd be satisfied with books and writing. I thought that'd be enough, especially considering how much I read in a week. But looking at this girl, feeling like my heart had become a new source of electricity that could lower our monthly bill, I guess I'm getting back my interest. Not that I lost it entirely after breaking up with Lisa, but it was muted. And now it's back. I didn't feel uncertain when I asked Meridith to text her. And I was distracted at the checkout line when Meridith was handing me a bag to put in the cart and I didn't even notice because I was looking at the return and exchanges counter, hoping to spot her again.

Nothing may result from this, and I don't want to lead this girl on, but I do want to get to know her in some fashion. She looked fascinating. I wonder if she's an avid reader. She kind of looked it.

(Update at 9:27 p.m.: Meridith told me that the girl's name is Nina. Seems like I'm a fan of short names and I never knew it.)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Work, Glorious Work!

I don't like to make an entry this short, but I must out of excitement and the need for sleep in order to do my job properly. Yes, I am back at La Mesa tomorrow as a substitute campus supervisor. John, the head campus supervisor, is out sick, which means Alex, normally 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., gets John's hours of 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and I get Alex's hours.

Always nice to have another paycheck coming in, and I'm hoping this lasts throughout the week. I would like more, please.

Just Like Ollivanders in the First Harry Potter Movie

Mid-Saturday evening and once again dissatisfied with the bargain books on offer near the DVDs in the electronics section at Walmart Supercenter on Carl Boyer Drive, I walked back to where Mom, Dad and Meridith were, near the chips-and-crackers aisles, but stopped upon seeing that on all the flatscreen TVs, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was playing, specifically the scene where Harry seeks a wand with the help of Mr. Ollivander (John Hurt). He tries out two that cause some damage, and then he holds one that is clearly it. Light builds up behind him, a slight wind blows around him. He feels its power; it was obviously made for him.

That's how I felt toward midnight last night, having had enough of the TV and the computer in the living room, much more in favor of reading in my room. At first, I thought I'd attach my mp3 player to my radio and listen to that while reading, but Trucker: A Portrait of the last American Cowboy (as it's titled) by Jane Stern requires complete silence in order to know the roads, the personalities, the lives of the truckers profiled in this best and most definitive book on the American trucking industry, from its history to the present-day '70s, as this was published in 1975. Stern wrote this book solo, and her husband, Michael Stern, took the lively black-and-white photos featured in the pages.

It's not hard to find books that take you on vast adventures, but rare is the one that makes one particular industry utterly fascinating. Stern harbors no judgment on how these truckers live. What would seem to be an unkind word toward them is merely stating how the trucker feels. Stern doesn't couch her words in some grander scheme of life. This is how these men (and few women) live and work. It's just like you and me, living according to our beliefs, our loves, our passions, and our quirks.

This is my wand. It's different from the books that have previously inspired me, that have made me want to write like that. With those, there was a surface feeling of it. I remember those books, I remember what makes me want to write in those styles, but Trucker has burrowed deeper into me. Stern just gets to it. Here are these lives. See who they are. That's it. It's language created not only by extensive research, but actually traveling with many of these truckers, spending a lot of time at truck stops and at the other places truckers frequent. You're right there with them.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Heavenly Saturday Haul

This afternoon, Dad came through the front door with a long arm of packages from the mailman (along with the mail), using his chin to make sure the stack didn't fly out in all directions. It turned out that between two packages, he had been carrying well over 1,400 pages. And all of what he was carrying was for me.

Earlier this week, I had a yen to reread the Tales of the City books by Armistead Maupin, but I didn't want to pay for each one, cheap as they can be found at The two omnibuses, 28 Barbary Lane and Back to Barbary Lane would have to do. They came today, big and thick, and I can't wait. Well, I am excited, but they have been waiting, because other priorities took hold.

There was also Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan, which I'm reading right now. And A Cook's Tour and The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain, which will follow. But Trucker by Jane Stern, published in 1975, may come before them. The full title is Trucker: A Portrait of the last American Cowboy, and I'm really curious about this one. This was before Jane and Michael Stern became known for traveling the entire U.S. in search of great food.

Also in the haul was Lake Wobegon Days by Garrison Keillor (I listened to a few broadcasts of A Prairie Home Companion last year, and those stories from Lake Wobegon have always stuck, so I wanted to see what those stories were like in print), Seconds of Pleasure by Neil LaBute, and Proof of Heaven by Mary Curran Hackett.

I rushed through those last two titles because of a book that was immediately more important to me than any of the others. It's why Lost in Translation by Nicole Mones, her first novel, remains still at page 46. It's Trust Me: A Memoir by George Kennedy. That George Kennedy. The George Kennedy whose Joe Patroni in the Airport movies made me even more enthusiastic about aviation after I had turned 11 and was deeply into it. It was because of Patroni that I had begun to seriously consider a career in aviation, maybe in the Air Force (The first job I thought of was a mechanic for Air Force One), maybe as an NTSB investigator.

Those considerations are long gone in favor of hopefully a full-time career as a middle school campus supervisor so I can have plenty of time to read and write, which I need in order to write the so-far seven books and many, many plays I have in mind. But Patroni remains, that unending love for aviation, that vastly intelligent troubleshooting mind that knew exactly what was necessary at the crucial moment.

I had hoped that Kennedy would devote many pages to his role in those movies, but there was only less than a page about them, and yet I wasn't disappointed because what he had given me was something I'd absolutely never known about him, and a piece of trivia that fits in with all the movie trivia I love. I love those stray facts that are utterly fascinating, what's worth repeating because you can't quite believe that it was possible, and yet it happened.

First, from page 107, the first paragraph of what Kennedy offers:

"In the four Airport movies, I played a guy named Joe Patroni. Over the years, more people have told me stories about him (and what he did and said) than about anyone else. I was coming back from New York to LA in a jumbo, and it was pretty quiet. There was a bing-bong and a voice: "This is your captain speaking. Everything is fine, and we'll be a little early. Should anything go wrong, however, Joe Patroni is sitting with you, and we'll get him up here." I got a round of applause, and in my head I genuflected in the direction of Lloyd Nolan. He was right."

Kennedy describes Patroni perfectly. He is a guy. An average guy, with immense talent. He'll get along with anyone, but does not like anyone that does wrong by him, such as the pilot with a sneering sort of attitude in Airport who says that nothing can be done about the stuck 707 until the chief pilot for Trans Global is contacted. Burt Lancaster, as airport manager Mel Bakersfeld, tells the pilot that they can't wait, that the plane is blocking a runway and they need to do whatever they have to to get this plane out of the snow. "Joe here is licensed to taxi, so he'll take over," says Bakersfeld. And that's exactly right. Joe will get it done and he'll make sure to get it done right.

The bit about Lloyd Nolan is about what Nolan, one of Kennedy's childhood heroes, told him on the set of Airport, about admirers that will come to tell him about their favorite movie of his and describe what they loved about it and how it touched them, and to always pay attention to that. Nolan says, "Ours is a business of 'touching' people, and sometimes they tell you in such unexpected ways you just don't know what to do or say . . . but when you recall it, years later, it'll warm you all over again. People can really 'touch' back."

This next paragraph is partly what I never knew about Kennedy until now, and a remarkable piece of movie trivia, especially since the Concorde remains one of my favorite aircraft, even in retirement:

"I took flying lessons during the film and got my license on time, and later, multi-engine and instrument upgrades. I owned a lot of planes, single and twin, but the Cessna 182 was my favorite, and the Beech A36 is a close second. In the last Airport, I got to taxi the Concorde from the copilot's seat at Le Bourget in Paris. Quite a thrill. Universal rented it for forty thousand dollars an hour."

Kennedy not only played Joe Patroni, he was Joe Patroni in a sense. And I never expected that being part of the budget for The Concorde: Airport '79. Certainly the Concorde was used to a great extent (And as it turns out, the Concorde used in the movie was the one that crashed in 2000, killing everyone on board), but I thought that perhaps the budget for the original Airport had been higher. I do wonder for how many hours the Concorde was used at that rental fee. I wonder, and I think there's something there for me to explore further, what with how many times I watched all four Airport movies all throughout my teens.

I started reading Trust Me after I organized the other books, and finished it about an hour ago. When I really want to read something, I don't wait. And this was worth it, especially because it was as genial as Kennedy was as Joe Patroni and in other roles as well.

I hope the rest of the weekend will be equally worthwhile, especially with all these books around.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Find Me Another Job...

Find me another job in which you have to do nothing more the previous evening than make lunch and check that you have in your tote bag the book(s) you want to bring with you for before your shift starts and lunchtime.

Find me another job in which the beginning of the work day starts with such overwhelming peace at 9:30, a little over an hour before the real supervision begins.

Find me another job in which you can walk the empty grounds, making sure everything's ok, while thinking about the purpose and the structure of the book you want to write.

Find me another job in which it's at times cold enough (right now) that there's an office for people of your position that you can sit in, rest for a bit, and, yes, read, finishing the novel you so love during the penultimate class period of the day. (That was The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones, which has inspired me to seek out more about the history of Chinese cuisine and to read loads of Chinese literature and poetry, and about Chinese history.)

Find me another job in which it can be so quiet during the day that you only pick up one call, from the gym to the office, for someone to be picked up to go home.

Find me another job in which it's cold enough and windy enough that you don't feel like walking to the gym, and so you drive the golf cart there and to the office. And you get paid for it.

Find me another job in which you watch a trickle of humanity rush past the open gates to leave the campus after the bell rings, followed by large crowds that walk around people standing around, like water trying to get around a clog, before those twos-and-threes-and-foursomes walk away and the crowd continues its departure more forcefully.

Find me another job in which the crowd has left, some standing near the curb, some sitting on a wall overlooking the parking lot, waiting to be picked up, and you stand there, amazed yet again that it all builds to a crescendo and fades just as quickly.

Find me another job in which the last minutes of your workday pass so quietly that you wonder how you could have even thought about working in journalism or at an airport years ago.

You can't. I can't. That's why I'm a substitute campus supervisor at La Mesa Junior High and proud of it. I love it so dearly that it's what I hope to do, full time, after I become a resident of Henderson, Nevada. This is the ideal job for me, and I do it well. But most importantly, I'm happy with it. What better reason to have a job?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My Summer 1998 Movie Season

Reading The Gross by Peter Bart all day today, about the summer 1998 movie season that changed how Hollywood goes about its business, I was thrust into memories of my own experiences during that summer, in the section in which Bart, the now-former editor-in-chief of Daily Variety, analyzes the box office take from week to week.

Reading "WEEK FIVE Monday, June 8," I remembered wanting to see The Truman Show, because I was a huge fan of Jim Carrey. In 1995, at Regal Sawgrass 23, right against the Sawgrass Mills mall in Sunrise, Florida, I saw Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, and liked it better than the first one. I knew that Jim Carrey would not be the slapstick comedian he was there, but I was prepared, curious to see what he could do as a dramatic actor. And, seeing it at Regal Sawgrass 23, three years later, he was incredible in it, helped along greatly by preeminent director Peter Weir and the screenplay by Andrew Niccol, which gradually showed the cracks in Truman Burbank's manufactured world. I was stunned at the end, knowing I had seen a truly great movie. I still believe that.

However, that experience doesn't compare to the opportunity I got later that summer, in August. An aviation enthusiast since 11 years old, I was 14 when I had the chance to go to a weeklong summer camp at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach. I would be among like-minded enthusiasts who all had an eye toward a career somewhere in the industry, two as pilots. In fact, Philip, one of my campmates, was going to start classes there after the summer camp was over.

I loved it. I remember the nights that Russell, Evan, Philip, and a few other names I've forgotten discussed all aspects of aviation, poring over navigation maps, talking about our favorite aircraft. One of our campmates had flown in on the Boeing 777 and we were all envious. We sat in classes and learned about the basics of aircraft and of flying, and we flew from the Daytona Beach airport to a small grass strip in DeLand, two roomates to a plane, along with an instructor, switching places on the way back. I got the route on the way back, but permitted to fly only for a few minutes, not the entire time.

In the Student Center across the street from the dorms, I remember being introduced to Semisonic when Philip played the first bars of "Closing Time" on the piano in the rotunda. There was a significant echo in that space and it made those bars all the more haunting, and that memory lasted me for years, until the beginning of "Clocks" by Coldplay.

One of my fondest memories was on Friday, August 14. I remember the date specifically because in The Gross, in "WEEK FIFTEEN Monday, August 17", Bart mentions that the box office take for Halloween: H20 dropped 48 percent, and I still have the binder from that summer camp, including the activities scheduled for each day. On that day, one of our campmates was leaving, having chosen the half-week package, and we had a luncheon for his departure, and then in the evening, after dinner, we went with our RA to the Daytona Beach boardwalk.

This was after long, late nights we all spent discussing various facets of aviation. We had energy, but not a consistent supply. Or at least I didn't.

I don't remember what the movie theater was called in that area, but according to Fandango, there's one called R/C Ocean Walk Movies. Certainly if this is indeed the theater I'm thinking of, it had to be a lot smaller and more reserved back then. We were there to see a movie, the choices for us being Halloween: H20 and Saving Private Ryan. I had never seen any of the Halloween movies, still haven't, but I didn't mind what it was. I just loved being part of a group that loved what I loved, and I thought I was the only one, since neither Mom, Dad nor Meridith were interested in aviation.

We didn't seem like the types who would go for Halloween: H20, so Saving Private Ryan it was. And one of our campmates sprung for the tickets for all of us, so he got to call shotgun for the final days whenever we went somewhere in the van.

The movie wasn't until 10 p.m., however, so we spent a few hours wandering the boardwalk. Not a typical walk, though. We acted like we were air traffic controllers and pilots, giving our location, requesting clearance, taking off from runways, and on approach to airports. I was in the best company. Couple that with Daytona Beach itself, walking along the shoreline, and there was a deep beauty in the world that night.

We went back to the movie theater, and got seats next to each other. I remember the opening sequence, all battle, all gruesome violence, but everything else was sporadic or not at all. I got as far as the scene where the men are talking in the bombed-out church and the next thing I remember, the credits were rolling. I had fallen asleep, and not only that, but my campmates told me that I had been snoring and had to be poked a few times. I wasn't embarassed. Better them, who cared enough to try to keep me quiet, than someone potentially pissed off at the noise.

Reading those particular sections, and what the studios had put into these movies for the summer, I wasn't as interested in the behind-the-scenes details then as I am now. I didn't know anything about how Hollywood worked. There were all those figures in Hollywood worried about how their movies would fare, how much profit they could expect, and there I was, 14 years old, in a movie theater in Sunrise, seeing The Truman Show, and at that Daytona Beach theater, which was the furthest you could get from Hollywood. It didn't seem like the kind of theater that those who compile box office statistics would call often to get the per-screen total. It was the next year that I would begin writing movie reviews and learn so much about Hollywood itself that it seemed like as soon as I understand what I thought was everything, there was still more. And here I am now, hoping to use this knowledge to my advantage. My favorite movie experiences include that night, when I didn't know anything about Hollywood, and I sometimes prefer that now, but not being a film critic anymore, I'm happiest studying Hollywood in the 1930s because nothing can change what happened then. It's concrete, whereas the business of Hollywood today is always fluid. There's a feeling of comfortable security in that.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Can I Write Books Like This Forever?

I couldn't be lazy when What If They Lived? was handed to me, when I was given a general deadline for when my half of the book had to be completed and sent to Phil by e-mail so he could put it in the manuscript. As soon as I agreed to it, the research began. Every single day was given over to getting as much information I could about the actors I was writing about, but expediting it so I could give equal close attention to the writing, which was most important with it being my first book.

Today, I began research for my second book, centered on aspects of 1930s Hollywood. It took me weeks to get to this point. Not for time spent figuring out what books to read for this, what other resources I need to be sure I have all the information I need, but for sheer laziness. I'd think about starting the research over one weekend, and that weekend would pass because there were other books I wanted to read more. It's not that I don't want to write this book; I really do because it fits right into all the time I spent as a teenager reading every movie book I could find, thick biographies about directors (Directors are my favorite Hollywood personalities to read about), tours through the histories of the various studios back in the 1930s, and the odd biography of an actor. I loved looking at behind-the-scenes photos in these books, and I was always staggered by the long shelves of movie books at the Main branch of the Broward County Library system in downtown Fort Lauderdale on those occasional visits. I wanted to either take all those books home, or live in that library for a few weeks to eat up everything in sight on those shelves.

Perhaps the laziness was well-deserved. After all, I had been at work on What If They Lived? up to about a month and a half before its publication date, checking the proofs, making sure that what had been blessedly rewritten by Phil (because I severely overwrote a few introductions out of sheer nervousness over this being my first book) hewed to how I wanted it to read, and making sure that all of it read well besides. What If They Lived? was released in March, and at the time I was thinking that maybe I should start researching for my second book, it was mid-to-late October, getting comfortably into late October. So nearly 7 months had elapsed in between.

But I also have a personal goal: I want to be published again by the time I turn 30. That means I have a cushion of a few months right now before my 28th birthday on March 21, and then two years left after that. No more time to waste.

I began with The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West, which I remembered checking out once from the Valencia library, and I ordered it alongside other books that popped out at me, including one about the creation of Universal Pictures, another about all of the movie studios back in the 1930s, and a biography of Louis B. Mayer by Scott Eyman. There are others besides these, but they'll remain others.

The Day of the Locust was useful for the atmosphere I'm seeking for my book, getting the feeling down pat of these studios hard at work with their various assembly lines, as movies were made back then. I got many paragraphs of that, as the main character, Tod, weaves through a few productions filming on the lot. It matches what I'm hoping I can do in my own work.

I finished that earlier this evening, and am now reading The Gross by Peter Bart, which would seem to be an unusual choice considering that I'm focusing on the 1930s, but it gives me a structure to study. The way Bart wrote this book, flitting about from movie to movie in each chapter, is possibly how I want to write mine. Also, I get solid background on the workings of the industry circa late 1997 to 1998, and can contrast that to the industry in the 1930s as I read those books. I know the basics, I know the styles of each studio back in the 1930s, but it gives me more to mull over as I figure out where I'm going with this book.

Most importantly, I feel comfortable with this. I did a lot of research for What If They Lived?, that deadline gradually getting closer, and I was snippy to my parents and sister at times, but without that experience, I wouldn't be here, having learned what research entails, how to go about it, what works for me as I work. I'm not as nervous now. What If They Lived? is out in the world, and all I can do for myself and hopefully for my future writing career is just to keep reading, and just keep writing and see what sticks, and most importantly, write what I'm passionate about, which is why I have four books in mind after I finish this one.

I don't have a publisher for this one, so that will be a challenge, but one I'm ready for because the challenge the first time was writing a book, especially writing 10 pages and more compared to the mere sometimes-1,500 words I wrote for each Film Threat review. Screen It helped a lot with that too, making me write more than I was accustomed to, and I appreciate that I was pushed like that. It had to happen some time.

And I love not having a deadline of sorts, at least not a publisher's deadline. Of course I say that because two years and a handful of months feels like a lot of time to me. There's still an immense amount of work to be done, though. I'm enjoying it, so that's a start, especially the opportunity to read these books, to not have to write one word until I'm certain that I have everything I need, every source, every record, every piece that will be fitted into this book. This will also be the first time I'll make an outline. I didn't have to for What If They Lived?, because I was told what each essay had to contain.

I hated outlines in school because it never felt like they led to anything useful. I didn't need them for study aids, because I could understand whatever historical period we were studying without "A" being this, and "A-1" talking about this, and "B" referencing this, and, ugh, it just felt like bureaucracy inside a classroom. This time, the outline will lead somewhere, to more of what I'm happiest doing in my life. Plus, I feel so relaxed, so excited to see what these books contain for me to use for my own (with proper credit in a bibliography, of course, and credit after quotes when necessary). All I need soon enough is a full-time job that lets me keep doing all this. If I can read and write steadily for the rest of my life, then I've lived my life well.