Friday, December 30, 2011

Three More Working Vehicles

I thought I'd wait until we were residents of Henderson to expand my toy working vehicles collection. I was wrong.

Target was the first errand for Dad, Meridith and I, with Sprouts and Pavilions afterward, and we were there because Dad needed Imodium A-D or something like it. "Something like it" won out because it was cheaper than the brand.

We were at the register, Dad paid, and as he was leaving, I realized that I forgot to look at the Matchbox cars in the toy aisles. Meridith called Dad to let him know where we were and that we'd be at the car in a few minutes, and off I went, fairly rushing, fueled by my enthusiasm for my collection.

The tow truck still wasn't being sold separately from the car repair service set, but I first became giddy from finding a "Dallas Fort Worth Airport" hazmat truck. Then a green garbage truck with a sun and a green leaf in a white rectangle in the middle on each side, the stem of the green leaf saying "Live better in a clean world!", with "Go Green" under the leaf and word stem.

The back of the garbage truck is slightly open, and you press it down, and it comes back up to its original place. It's meant to be the crusher that comes down to make room for more garbage.

The final working vehicle I found was a water truck, labeled "Aqua King" on the underside. The inside of the truck is full of what's supposed to look like greenish bottles, their tops sticking out like you see on the road. This is one of my favorites.

I love how relatively cheap my hobby is, with these vehicles being $1.07 each. For now, at least, I don't go searching often for mine, and my hobby started by happening to find that five-pack of city vehicles, including the ice cream truck and moving truck, at the same Target. I was just browsing aimlessly.

I still want that tow truck, but now that I've searched on eBay, probably not the one I've been eyeing in that five-pack. There's so many other Matchbox types, including a "GMC Wrecker" released this year, another from 1990, and still another from 2000. I think I've found something to do while working on my writing projects.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Stormy Present: The One Episode of The West Wing That's Bothered Me for Seven Years

After creator Aaron Sorkin and chief director Thomas Schlamme left The West Wing at the end of the fourth season, the show entered a severe creative slump that only lessened with the spectacular episode "The Supremes" (guest-starring Glenn Close and William Fichtner as potential Supreme Court nominees), and then lasted until the seventh season, when the show got halfway and almost three-quarters to being Sorkin-like. I hung on. I had watched The West Wing from the beginning in 1999, graduated high school between seasons 3 and 4, and moved to Southern California between seasons 4 and 5, which should have been a sign of what living in Southern California was going to be like for eight years.

No matter how much John Goodman's Glenallen Walken was wasted as an Acting President (There was so much more they could have pursued with that storyline than just partisan sniping), no matter how bad the writing got, I was there. I kept hoping for better. I knew that without Sorkin, the show could never again reach the greatness it had consistently achieved, but I wanted enough of my show back to justify still watching it. I'm fascinated with the presidency, historical and fictional, and I just wanted my show to work again.

When "The Stormy Present" originally aired on January 7, 2004, I was hopeful. John Goodman was returning as Glenallen Walken, and James Cromwell was guest-starring as former president D. Wire Newman, the last Democratic president in office before Bartlet. All three were flying on Air Force One to the funeral of former president Owen Lassiter, a Republican, and likely Bartlet's predecessor, as Lassiter had served eight years in office throughout the '90s (The West Wing universe is markedly different from ours, especially with the differences in election years, which fans online have theorized about at length).

This was a few months before Reagan had died, so the funeral was modeled on Nixon's in 1994. It was being held at the "Lassiter Library in Costa Mesa," "The one with the fake Oval," as Josh states in Leo McGarry's office. Nixon's library does not look like what they filmed. It seems more vast, and quietly haunting, not just because of the funeral at hand, but I guess all presidential libraries are haunting in a way, with a recap of power, photos all over, various historical videos (The starting point of the Nixon Library has a video of Pat Nixon accepting a gift of two pandas from China for the National Zoo), accomplishments heralded, and scandals kept on the down low, save for the Nixon Library which apparently has a new Watergate exhibit that hews closely to the truth and not created by loyalists, as the previous exhibit was.

Bartlet with Newman and Walken could mean that the men would talk about their time in office, how they feel personally about the huge burden placed on them as leaders, however temporarily it was for Walken. It would be interesting to learn what it was like for Walken when he was summoned to the Oval Office to become Acting President. All we saw at the end of the fourth season was him coming down the steps of what might have been his home, or the Capitol building, and being ushered into a waiting car with a security detail there, and then climbing out of it and walking up the steps to the back end of the White House.

None of that happened. The episode was also about a protest in Saudi Arabia shouting for democracy, and the thought by Newman that Walken's actions of bombing Qumar (fictional Middle Eastern country in our world) in retaliation for Zoey Bartlet's kidnapping may have helped foster the protest. It's just policy discussions between Newman and Bartlet, and then all three after Walken joins them when the plane lands in Missouri to pick him up.

I still somewhat like the episode because of the presidential library setting, but Newman gets more play when discussing with Bartlet how he felt when Bartlet revealed to the world that he had multiple sclerosis. Walken is reduced to sitting with Bartlet on a bench, recounting a trip to China with Lassiter. The show is generally only 42 minutes, I get that, but here was a grand opportunity for reflection of a kind. Instead, the episode is also jammed with "B" and "C" storylines of Josh mediating a dispute between Connecticut and North Carolina on who actually owns a copy of the Bill of Rights that was stolen by a Union soldier during the Civil War, and C.J. finding out if the Department of Defense is heading up mind-control research. Useless storylines. What was so wrong with spending more time on Air Force One, and at the Lassiter Library, a little more time than just the last 11 minutes? There's former members of Lassiter's cabinet on the plane, including one named Bobby Bodine, "who I think tried to sell back Alaska as Secretary of the Interior," as Toby tells Josh on his cell phone while walking to the plane. Shouldn't Toby talk to these men that incense him so? He may not come to an understanding with them, if they'd want to talk to him at all, but just to put more meat in the episode. Here is a long-ago administration in the same plane as one that's most likely in the second year of its second term (I can't quite determine here what year the Bartlet administration is in, but that feels right).

There's a covered outdoor area of the Lassiter Library that Bartlet and Newman somberly walk through, and there's a banner with Lassiter's likeness on it. Here is this man's presidential library. Here are these men who have served and are serving in the same office. Reflective moments were sorely needed in this episode, from those former Lassiter cabinet members, from Walken, from Newman, from Bartlet (though he does get one when he talks with Toby, who's having trouble writing Bartlet's eulogy for Lassiter). What does it mean to these men to have been in power, to have power? How does it change them?

All of that would have been most welcome. But still I'll watch that episode occasionally (I am right now on Amazon), reminded of Reagan's death and the events that followed, and watching the Reagan funeral motorcade on that freeway from our apartment in Valencia in that summer of 2004. And it continues to inspire me for one presidential history book I want to write. I watch with regret, though. Always regret.

More Hope

Not that I need any reassurance that moving to Henderson and always having Las Vegas available is the right path for me, but it's always nice to have those moments along the way to it that give more than you thought was there. Much more. And I've already thought there to be so much to look forward to already.

I'm reading a novel called Greyhound, published by AmazonEncore, about a 11-year-old, nearly 12, who's put on a Greyhound bus in Stockton, California by his feckless, uncaring mother, pushing him off to Altoona, Pennsylvania to live with his father's grandmother (a father who left long ago), because she doesn't want him to interfere with her new life with her new man, Dick, another man in a long line of men. This is a three-and-a-half day journey for the boy, with many well-defined characters along the way, the best so far being the kindly Mr. Hastings, working behind the ticket counter at the Los Angeles Greyhound terminal, and Marcus Franklin, his seatmate out of Los Angeles, a Langston Hughes and Miles Davis conoisseur.

I'm only on page 58, out of 240 pages, and I love this novel. I was on page 20 a few minutes ago and I knew that it was going into my permanent collection. Most important to me is where AmazonEncore seems to be based. On the copyright page, there's a P.O. Box address that ends with "Las Vegas, NV 89140."

Great literature does exist in, and come out of, Las Vegas. It is a place for readers and writers just as much as it is for dreamers. I will be proud to be part of it, because there's so much to see, so much to feel, so much to write about. From there, anything is possible for me, and AmazonEncore's existence gives me more hope. Maybe it was just a matter of convenience for the company, to not have that division ensconced in a thickly-populated metropolis. Even so, they have the right idea. The writers that fuel AmazonEncore may not come from Las Vegas (Steffan Piper, the author of Greyhound, lives in Los Angeles), but the books themselves do. The city is part of yet another valuable service.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Got to Be the Only Uptick in That Aisle

Yesterday, the end of a long list of errands (post office, Sprouts, Walmart, made long by the time spent at the latter) led us to Albertsons to pick up what apparently is the only decent bread in this valley. It's the only one Mom has found that is tolerable, and we hope to find many good kinds in Henderson and not just one.

Albertsons is also the only store I know of in this valley that sells individual Matchbox cars. Target sells only five-packs, one of which I picked up and considerably expanded my collection of working vehicles. I haven't checked Toys"R"Us because the location here has always felt like the Wal-Mart of toy stores, just where you go to pick up obligatory birthday gifts for someone's kid.

At this Albertsons, in recent weeks, I've bought a forklift, a "concrete specialists" truck, and an "MH Authentic Austin Performance Parts" vehicle, which looks like a close cousin of a hearse. I figure that in supermarkets, at Walmart, at Target, heck, at anywhere that caters to customers, they keep tabs on what sells. Now, whether my purchases of individual working vehicles at Albertsons made such a difference, I don't know, but last night, I went to that empty toy aisle as always (It doesn't seem like anyone buys anything from there), flipped through the individual cars, noted what I already had, and then found in the back a water tanker truck, "Construction Water Supply Delivery." Exactly what I hoped to find just as a working vehicle, and it gives me hope that maybe somewhere in Vegas or in Henderson, the tow truck I want is sold individually, because I surely won't find it here.

The water tanker truck brings me to 11 working vehicles so far, and it'll only keep growing. I was always fascinated by garbage trucks when I was a kid, and I think I like these vehicles because they've got a purpose besides transport. They're not just showing off. They're a part of something. Once I have more room in our new place (even though it's actually smaller square footage than this place, but my DVDs are all in two binders and I'll be moving with less books), I'm thinking of adding big rigs.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Covered in Books, But Not Overwhelmed

Mid-afternoon yesterday, I began reading an anthology called Steampunk!, which involves worlds with machines made of many gears, clockwork, airships hovering about, and I know I'm not explaining it very well, but I'm still immersing myself in it and it is awe-inspiring. I want a way to have now that expansive feeling when I spent all day in Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, going between Space Mountain, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, and Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress, that unspoken encouragement to imagine big, dream big. I get that with this anthology, and as I resume an interest in Superman, and seek out more sci-fi books, I feel I can have it all the time.

Sara, an old, very dear friend of mine who is making great strides toward becoming a human rights lawyer at Florida State University College of Law, recommended to me To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis in a list of her favorite books when we reconnected at the start of this year. I thought nothing of it, then, but later in the year, I thought I had purchased it out of curiosity, yet let it languish just like countless other books in my room.

With this new craving for sci-fi books, and so invigorated by the stories in Steampunk!, I remembered To Say Nothing of the Dog and thought I still had it in my room. This, of course, meant pulling out stacks of books that inevitably fell. Lola of WOMEN: WE SHALL OVERCOME offered to organize my books for me, and I refused, because I have certain stacks in place, one with all Las Vegas and Florida books (the former for the future, the latter for nostalgia-at-a-glance), another of books I want to read over the next few weeks or months, and others just haphazardly organized. When you don't look at those stacks closely every day, and put back the books that have fallen out of place without thinking anything of it, there's no reason to consider organization.

I'm not overwhelmed by the sheer number of books in my room, but it is clear that once we move to Henderson, settle into our new apartment, and I get the bookshelves I was promised years ago, I am going to come up with an organizational plan. I can't do it like this anymore. For now, being that all my DVDs are now in two big, heavy-duty binders, those box shelves are empty (yes, box shelves, fashioned from the boxes we moved with, which are still whole), and once I determined what I didn't need to read right now, I shoved a lot of books into those shelves and into the bottom box shelves too. It's not a case of out of sight, out of mind, but rather getting some floor space back and maybe vacuuming it one of these days.

I couldn't find To Say Nothing of the Dog. I may actually have been remembering checking it out of the Valencia library a few months before it switched from County of Los Angeles to City of Santa Clarita control. But that craving for sci-fi books is strong, and so I found the other steampunk anthology I bought last month, as well as the Superman novels I bought, Soulless by Gail Carriger, the 600+-page The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy book I have that contains all the novels, the Jules Verne book I have with all his novels, as well as many Charles Dickens novels I bought that I want to read, including Hard Times, Great Expectations, and Bleak House. The 2005 miniseries of the latter book is what turned me on to reading it. Unrelated to science fiction, but the same desire.

Cleared floor space means room for a very important stack, that of the books I'm using for my research, as well as books I'm reading for insight and inspiration, such as The Season by William Goldman, his chronicle of the 1967-68 Broadway season. It's not what I'm writing, but it's that kind of framework that Goldman employs. Plus I've ordered a few other books which are directly related to what I'm writing, and I want to see how those authors did it. I'm never intimidated by reading those who have done what I want to do; I just want to study their approach, and see what works for me.

My room looks a lot better, now that I've also cleaned up the junk that was littering my floor, such as loose papers and past issues of The New Yorker that I probably won't read now. The October 13th issue that I picked up from my floor is still folded back to the page that begins a profile of IKEA, and I intend to read that, now that it's sitting right in front of me.

Hopefully this reorganization of my book stacks is a sign that we'll be moving soon. I'd like that to be the final time of doing that here. I know I can't take all these books with me, and I don't mind that. But I would like some hint that this is getting me closer to the future I want. Can't predict what others are going to do, but I hope those others are giving thought to bringing my dad into their company so we can finally get started on really enjoying our lives, and I can seek the job I want.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

If She Does, Then I Will

The thought of another relationship is so far in the back of my mind that it has to fight its way through the loads of research I'm doing for my book, the movies I want to see again on DVD, the episodes of Red Dwarf I want to watch, the movies I want to see in 2012, the upcoming two Knicks games this week, future blog topics, the leftover pumpkin pie in the fridge (Not ideal, but I'll take what I can get for now), my search for the person who made, or created the recipe for, the perfect Sysco pumpkin pie I had at Six Flags Magic Mountain, the books I want to read in the next couple of weeks, the movies I still have on the Tivo in the living room, the books I want to write after I'm done writing my second book (hopefully with a publishing contract attached), ransacking the Nevada history sections in the libraries of Las Vegas and Henderson once I'm a resident, etc., etc., etc. and still etc.

Yet once in a while, the thought protrudes a little. If I seek out someone for me, she has to be a voracious reader, has to know intimately the feeling of a great book, how it can do so much for you, make you feel like you can fly throughout the world, inspire you endlessly. No one who reads only for information.

At Ralphs yesterday with Dad, picking up a few groceries, including ice cream, more Silk soymilk, and two bottles of Arrowhead sparkling water for me, there was a big waist-height bargain book box in the middle of the frozen food aisles. I started digging through the books, not specifically looking for anything, but hoping for one or two grab-worthy titles, particularly because these books were selling for 3 for $10.

The paperback edition of Home by Julie Andrews was in there, but it stops before Mary Poppins and therefore includes nothing about Victor/Victoria, so I didn't want that. One day I'll read it, most likely when I check it out from the Henderson library. I hope she writes a second memoir that features those movies, and that's one memoir I'll buy, though I'll probably check it out of the library too since I won't have to buy so many books by then.

I came upon Nanny Returns by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, the sequel to The Nanny Diaries. I vaguely remember reading The Nanny Diaries years ago, but I liked the description on the inside flap of this part of the plot of Nanny Returns: "To compound the mounting construction and marital chaos, her former charge, Grayer X, now sixteen years old, makes a drunken, late-night visit, wanting to know why she abandoned him all those years ago. But how can she explain to Grayer what she still hasn't come to terms with herself?" I want to see how that plays out.

Digging past multiple copies of a book that wasn't notable enough for me to remember, I found My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., about how her knowledge of the brain saved her from a stroke she was having. I've got to know more about this.

Both books were $1.99 each, coming out to $4.29 with tax. I love finding cheap books that interest me. I don't know if Smith's or Vons in Henderson and Las Vegas have bargain book boxes like that one, but if they do, and if I spot a woman digging through those, as absorbed in the task as I was (I forgot I was in the frozen food aisle and only realized it when I looked up after finding those two books), I'm boldly walking over to her and striking up a conversation and hopefully getting her phone number. That's the kind of woman I want.

Day 5 of a Four-Week Pleasure Cruise

I went to bed at 1:45 this morning, hoping to get up before 9 so I could watch the Knicks/Celtics game, the start of the new NBA season. I didn't. It was 10:53 when I woke up and turned on the TV in my room to the heat of the 3rd quarter, or rather the heat for the Celtics, who were running fast, with the Knicks spending the rest of that quarter trying to close the point-gap. I don't like coach Mike D'Antoni because he looks like a schmuck, argues like a schmuck, and needs to stop coaching like a schmuck. Ok, there are going to be less practice sessions because the season is shortened, but Miami pulled way the hell ahead of the Dallas Mavericks in their game, and the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers were keeping it very close throughout their game, two points and then at the end, one point apart, with the Bulls winning 88-87. I'm not interested in either team, except for Bulls star player Derek Rose, and was only curious to see how the new Lakers coach would fare, but that was a truly suspenseful finish.

As to the Knicks, they won 106-104, and thank god for Carmelo Anthony, but he cannot be the only player on the team. The rest need to step up, besides the top 3, including Amar'e Stoudemire, my favorite player in the league. D'Antoni needs to get this team motivated, and I'm sure the game today didn't quell calls for him to be fired.

Reading a live blog I found of today's game, I see that a lot did happen before I woke up and turned it on, with the Knicks way ahead at times. I'll watch the next game in full on Wednesday, which is them against the Golden State Warriors on NBA TV, of which DirecTV has a free preview going, so I'm glad for that, not to have to wait until Thursday when they're playing the Lakers, with that game broadcast on TNT.

I can't watch basketball like others do, riveted to the screen, shouting at the TV with every play, although I did that in the fourth quarter, hoping the Knicks would get ahead. I enjoy suspenseful final minutes, but only when my team is a few points ahead. I prefer comfortable leads, of course, but that'll do, when the defense is good enough to hint heavily at a win. I always have a book open while I'm watching the game, which today was These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach, spurred on by seeing the trailer for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, starring Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson. Based on the trailer, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel seems to be just like The Bourne Identity (2002), in which the concept is used for a movie, but nothing else. These Foolish Things is about a retirement hotel in India, but from what I can tell, very few of the characters in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel are adapted from the book. Characteristics, perhaps, but not entire persons. It's why when the movie tie-in edition of These Foolish Things comes out (retitled The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), people will be surprised to find that little of the book is in the movie, and also that in These Foolish Things, the property is called the Dunroamin Retirement Hotel, not The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. As it happens, the movie goes the right way on its own because the first 78 pages of the novel are a bit too gray for a movie and it's obvious those who produced the movie wanted it to be internationally accessible; in other words, not too much for moviegoers to have to think about in terms of other cultures. Just see India, see the culture, see the British retirees, and go from there. I like wider exploration, but I'll accept the seemingly myopic view here because Judi Dench and Bill Nighy are in this, and Tom Wilkinson is always good, so I'm set. Plus, I love the trailer. I've played it almost as many times so far as I did the one for Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. By the time the movie comes out in May (pushed back from March, which was a perfect time for it), I'll have seen that trailer more times than the one for Ghost Protocol.

The turkey that Dad had shown us in the trunk in the parking lot of Wienerschnitzel on Friday was 10 pounds and was turned into a masterpiece by Meridith. She's got a gift, an instinct for food that will propel her to wherever she wants to go. She rubbed butter all over the turkey, under the skin too, unleashed a few spices, and it came out golden, nearly glowing. At dinner tonight, Mom said that there were many years in which she stayed up all night to make the turkeys we had, set an alarm for every 2 hours or so to baste it, and it never came out as Meridith made it tonight. And this was her first turkey, which she took photos of because as if we didn't know already, this was the one moment that shows a remarkable talent about to break open wide. The butter all over the turkey she learned from watching Food Network, and that's the amazing thing about Meridith's cooking: She can learn something from a source and then employ it as if she's been using it for years. Dad used to just dump marshmallows on top of the sweet potatoes before putting them in the oven. Meridith places each marshmallow in a circular pattern on top of the sweet potatoes until the top is completely filled. While I was washing the dishes from dinner, a break before dessert that included a just-ok Claim Jumper pumpkin pie, I said to Meridith that it's really something that our family has a fast-budding chef and a writer. I credit continued exposure to Walt Disney World when I was a toddler, and Meridith's first visit to Walt Disney World when she was nine days old. The imagination expands immeasureably there, especially a developing one.

This four-week pleasure cruise turned out exactly as I had hoped. I did everything I wanted to do, and to cap it off, my book research has become even more fascinating. It's a bigger puzzle than I first imagined, with the families of some late actors hard to find (if there even are families), and it's exactly what I wanted. It's more rewarding when it takes time to get what you want.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Someone Got It Right

Three Saturdays ago at Six Flags Magic Mountain, I tried the pumpkin pie I had been thinking about all day, at a table outside the Cyber Cafe in the central plaza with the glut of souvenir shops. It was the best one I had had in all the eight years I'd lived in the Santa Clarita Valley, though I don't think I'd been into pumpkin pie when we moved here. I remember many lemon meringue pies, some chocolate pies, an apple pie or two. I think I'd tried pumpkin pie when this valley began to get to me in the last four years. It's the one pie that's solid in nature, reliable, able to pull you through anything, a great comfort when you need it and even when you don't.

This particular slice had the perfect balance of pumpkin, spices and sugar. No one flavor dominated another and whoever made it knew just how much spice to put in. I vowed to e-mail Six Flags Magic Mountain and ask who had made the pie. I wanted to buy more.

I got a call this past Monday from a woman who works at Magic Mountain, possibly overseeing the food they sell there. I didn't ask. I was shocked because I didn't remember e-mailing Magic Mountain about the pie. Did I e-mail them that night, after I'd gotten home from the park? Did I e-mail them after getting home from Burbank after a day of IKEA, the Burbank Town Center Mall (and a few games of Simpsons pinball, Galaga, and a game of air hockey), and Barnes & Noble? After I thanked the woman for the information and hung up, I tried to figure it out. I honestly don't remember. I must have been really tired whenever I e-mailed them, yet I still was able to form whole words.

The woman told me that the pumpkin pie had come from Sysco. Sysco! The food distributor! Meridith was surprised when I told her where the pumpkin pie had come from, and told me she had heard something about them having test kitchens somewhere. Maybe that's true, to make sure that the products they push are of the quality they need them to be, but this pumpkin pie could not have come from a committee. This had to have come from the mind and heart of someone who had grown up with pumpkin pie, who had seen relatives make it, who saw how much nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger to put in, who had made their own as they got older and learned how they liked it and what worked best.

I doubt I'll be able to find that one person, if it even was one person who had come up with the recipe, but I've got to search. I've got to know. Even three weeks after, I still remember the taste of that pumpkin pie, and before I embark on my quest to find other great pumpkin pies in Las Vegas, along with chili-cheese and other covered fries, marinara sauce (Not the crappy, liquidy marinara sauces I've had here), and quesadillas, I want to get on the trail of this particular pumpkin pie, just to know.

Once businesses get back up and running after the start of 2012, and I'm deep into my book research again, I'll use the pumpkin pie search as an occasional break from it. There's a Los Angeles branch of Sysco with an "800" number, and I'll start there. I know it's a corporation, so it's very likely that they won't be as easily forthcoming as the woman from Six Flags was, but I've got to try. And even if nothing comes of it, that taste will be a good start for my pumpkin pie search in Las Vegas, to find one just as good or better than that one. I don't see how it's possible, but it can be there.

Day 4 of a Four-Week Pleasure Cruise

I think the last time I went to Edwards Canyon Country 10 to see a movie was in late July of 2008 for The X-Files: I Want to Believe. I'd seen many episodes (but not the entire series), and knew enough about the alien mythology and other stories featured on the show to hope for another feature film that could be as interesting and complex as what I had seen.

I didn't get that. I got a half-baked story that maybe was created just to put something on the screen, to keep people aware of the franchise, to say, "Hey, X-Philes! You say you'll do anything for the show you love so much? Pay to see this! That'll test your loyalty!" Since its theatrical release, which flopped, there have been occasional rumblings that in 2012, we'd get the alien X-Files movie we hoped for, to match the whole 2012-being-the-end-of-the-world thing. If Chris Carter is indeed working on that screenplay, I hope he's taken more time to figure it out than he did for this one, which could have been just another episode of the series. That's not why I sometimes go to the movies.

Mom, Dad and Meridith got the much better deal that day. They were seeing Mamma Mia!, and so was I when I walked into their auditorium after feeling down and disappointed from what I had just seen, a waste of Mulder and Scully. That didn't last for even two minutes. I was so thoroughly charmed by sheer playfulness that at times wasn't afraid to be silly (I don't remember which part was playing when I walked in, but Mamma Mia! is just that kind of movie where you can come in anywhere and you're immediately sucked in), that after it was over and we were outside the theater, I suggested that we buy tickets for the next showing and get right back in line. We didn't, but we did go back the next day and I bought the tickets for all of us.

We've never needed to go to Edwards Canyon Country 10 since then because any movies we'd seen were always playing at Edwards Valencia 12. It was always convenience because we were closer to that one from Saugus.

But I didn't need to pay $18.50 to see Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol in IMAX at the Valencia location. And Mom wanted to see We Bought a Zoo. Valencia had these showtimes: 11 a.m. for We Bought a Zoo and 1:05 p.m. for Mission: Impossible. Canyon Country had them five minutes apart, with We Bought a Zoo starting at 12:55 p.m.

So to Canyon Country we would go, and while Mom and I were at the movies, Dad and Meridith would do whatever they wanted to do.

Once at the ticket window at the Canyon Country theater, I bought both tickets. $9.50 is far less painful than $18.50 and I had a $20 in my wallet. Both tickets came out to $19. Why have Mom pay separately?

We got our tickets, went inside, and looked at the prices for popcorn and soda and candy. Ridiculous. Theaters strive to turn a profit on the concession stand since the movie studios take most of the ticket price, but if the managers of these theaters wonder why people aren't buying popcorn and soda, this is why. $6 and $7 for different sizes of soda is not worth it, not even for the Icee-like kind they had.

I went into Mom's auditorium to make sure she was settled and had the seat she wanted, and then I went into my auditorium, full of expectations. I had been so dazzled by the trailer I saw many times online, and thought that the James Bond producers had better up their game.

My expectations were met. The gadgets used in Ghost Protocol were shown as part of the missions, never shown off. The virtual reality screen that simulated a hallway inside the Kremlin was just there, just part of the work. The black computerized adhesive gloves that Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, of course) uses to scale the world's tallest building in Dubai work for a time and then one of them craps out. Skyfall, the next Bond movie, will have a new, young Q played by Ben Whishaw, and I hope the Bond producers keep to what they did in Casino Royale in any gadgets simply being part of the job.

The biggest asset to Ghost Protocol is director Brad Bird, who started his career with the animated The Iron Giant, and then wrote and directed The Incredibles and Ratatouille at Pixar. He knows how to tell a story. He knows how to move around characters, how to give just enough to an audience to let them work it out on their own and remain engaged with what's going on. He believes an audience is intelligent enough to piece together what's happening, and I wish the rest of Hollywood would have more faith in us moviegoers like that. We're given just enough about the entire, disavowed IMF team (including Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg and Paula Patton) to get a sense of who they are, but not to be overwhelmed by their presence. They're not bigger than the screen. Tom Cruise, in fact, is far more serious than charismatic in this installment, and when he's bantering briefly with his team, it's as part of the team, not him above the team. He's done well here.

Bird and the screenwriters also know that a villain is more threatening when they aren't seen that often, yet their motives are known and worrisome. In this case, a man named Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist), who believes nuclear war to have a pleasant, cleansing effect on the world in order for it to start fresh. He has Russian nuclear codes, and access to a device. The IMF team, after the Kremlin has blown up (though not by their hand, obviously), have to work alone with no backup, no further gadgets or weaponry, to stop Hendricks. Hendricks is seen a few times before the obvious climax between him and Ethan, but is mostly shadowy. That won't work for Skyfall, since Javier Bardem, one of the greatest actors in the world, is playing the villain, but I hope the Bond producers allow him to be shadowy at times, but with his motives eventually looming large.

The commercials for Ghost Protocol have been hyping the stunts on the Dubai building, and the hype is justified. There's been nothing like this in years, perhaps in a decade. It's genuinely suspenseful, starting when Ethan has to lose one of the adhesive gloves while climbing up one side of the Dubai building. It's not unusual to call out "Oh shit!" or "Holy crap!" when Ethan tries to get into the computer server room in another tower, and then has to get back out, back to where his team is.

I hope this is the movie that gives Paula Patton more roles. I liked her a lot in Swing Vote as the reporter who tries to get Bud's (Kevin Costner) full story, trying to get it through his daughter (Madeline Carroll) at one point. Her range is rapidly growing, since there's no trace of her character from that movie, and I know she's been in other movies as well besides these two, most that I haven't seen, and one (Just Wright) that I couldn't sit through because it was awful at the start. And for a career that's had 12 roles so far, co-starring with Kevin Costner and Tom Cruise is quite a major batting average.

Pixar is a potential incubator for great live-action filmmaking talent. Brad Bird has proven himself (and I hope he makes more live-action movies), but the real test will be when Andrew Stanton's John Carter is released next year, based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' tale. Hollywood's still not understanding that it needs to treat audiences more intelligently, because we are. Give us entertainment that makes us glad to spend two hours at the movies, to feel that we've spent our time well. Ghost Protocol is a good start for a return of sorts to that. And something else I got out of it was seeing how Jeremy Renner was, being that he's the lead in The Bourne Legacy, which I'm excited about, even with Matt Damon not there. It'll be fascinating to see this particular universe expand through another agent that was also part of the Treadstone program. Renner's got the skills in this one, not just in action, but also in his acting. He may very well make the impact that Damon did in The Bourne Identity.

Adding to my fourth day of this four-week pleasure cruise, Mom and I met Dad and Meridith at Wienerschnitzel nearby, where I had my usual pastrami sandwich and ultimate chili cheese fries, and a cookie dough Freezee, which tastes more real than a McDonald's McFlurry. And you get more candy, or cookie dough, from it.

By the time we finished at Wienerschnitzel, it was nearing 5 p.m., so there was nothing else to do but head home, finding out that Dad had bought a turkey for us for Christmas Day (we're Jewish, but it'll be a nice change from the Chinese food cliche), which he showed us in the trunk, and finding at home that the mailman had delivered Red Dwarf: The Complete Collection and the 2005 Bleak House miniseries starring Gillian Anderson. Both went into my second DVD binder.

Tomorrow is the fifth and final day of my four-week pleasure cruise, with the first game of the NBA season at 9 a.m. here, New York Knicks (my favorite team) versus Boston Celtics (Doc Rivers, my favorite coach). I hope I'll get up early enough, preferably before the start of the game.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Poseidon: The One Movie That's Bothered Me for Five Years

Poseidon cost approximately $160 million, was filmed on adjacent soundstages at Warner Bros. (One as the ship right-side up, the other upside down) and at Staples Center (as the ship's dance club), and was considered a flop with only $60.6 million earned domestically.

Every few months, I watch clips on YouTube, disappointed that Poseidon missed a major storytelling opportunity that could have possibly saved Warner Bros. some money and produced a much better movie. Obviously, as a remake of The Poseidon Adventure (of which I'm a fan and which was my reason for seeing this), Poseidon has to feature a cruise ship being capsized by a rogue tidal wave. With special effects far more advanced in 2005 than they were in 1972, it could be a ship with more capacity than the Titanic, more to show than The Poseidon Adventure. Once the new Poseidon capsized, bodies could be shown floating in the water along with deck chairs and other vast detritus of a cruise ship. In the ballroom, where the central action takes place, dead bodies could look more eerily real, and they were in this remake.

The screenwriter, Mark Protosevich, is better at writing special effects than characters. His career began with The Cell, starring Jennifer Lopez, which was outstanding because the artistic special effects were handled by an incredibly talented director in Tarsem Singh. The journey through the serial killer's mind was much more fascinating than anything that could be revealed about Lopez's character, properly presented as a tour guide through this twisted mind.

Protosevich also wrote I Am Legend and contributed the story for Thor. Future projects, according to his IMDB page, apparently include an American remake of Oldboy, directed by Spike Lee, Jurassic Park IV (though that project is always in so much flux that it's never certain who wrote it until the movie is made and the credits are concrete), and Freakshow, based on a comic, for which he wrote the screenplay and will direct. The failure of Poseidon obviously didn't hurt him since what he wrote on the page had to be brought to life by others, including director Wolfgang Petersen, who made a much better movie in the depths of the sea with Das Boot.

Protosevich's characters in Poseidon are only mildly interesting on the surface, since they're at the mercy of the special effects, with explosions throughout the capsized ship, the gas tank falling through the floor of the lobby, which is now the ceiling, and killing one of the members of the group trying to get out of the ship, and lots of rising water. To start, there's Kurt Russell as Robert Ramsey, an ex-firefighter and ex-mayor of New York City whose administration sounds like it was under a cloud, from the very little we learn. Emmy Rossum plays his daughter, Mike Vogel plays her fiance, Mia Maestro plays a stowaway helped along by a steward (Freddy Rodriguez), Josh Lucas plays a gambler, Jacinda Barrett plays a single mother (with Jimmy Bennett playing her son), Richard Dreyfuss plays an architect devastated by his boyfriend's breakup with him, and Kevin Dillon plays Lucky Larry, who isn't so much lucky as obnoxious, and is exactly the kind of role Dillon's Johnny Drama would have been seen playing on Entourage.

Think about this. This Poseidon holds over 2,000 passengers. The ship capsizes. The ballroom eventually floods, killing Captain Bradford (Andre Braugher) and hundreds of others, including Fergie (credited as Stacy Ferguson), playing a singer named Gloria. At the end of the movie, the survivors get into a raft as the ship begins to right itself, and then sinks. All that remains are these survivors. More people died on this ship than Titanic.

It was enough to make me think about writing a sequel just for myself, just to come to terms with what this production missed. I understand them wanting to make it bigger than The Poseidon Adventure. The majority of the budget was for special effects, as the exterior of the ship, especially during the capsizing, was entirely CGI, and it's in Guinness World Records as the most detailed computer-generated designs.

If they had done it the way I've been thinking about it for five years, the ballroom flooding could not have been shown, and they probably would not have wanted to miss that opportunity, since the flooding in the original movie was never seen, only heard. But maybe there would have been a better movie.

The survivors float on the raft after Poseidon has sunk, and at the fadeout before the end credits, we see a helicopter approaching the raft with a search beam shining, and ships in the distance racing to the raft. These survivors would be famous around the world. The media would descend on them, wanting to know everything about their ordeal.

If the movie had started that way, with those few survivors being rescued and the entire world shocked about the magnitude of this disaster, it would have been more promising. Start it with news bulletins throughout the world about the sinking, with uncertainty about who survived. Cut to the survivors, on board the rescue ship, in shock, blankets wrapped around them, what happened to them not fully registering yet because these are the first moments that they could rest after spending all those hours going from the mid-section of the ship to the bottom to get out.

A cruise line has lost an expensive ship, and so those executives are scrambling to figure out what to do. There will be questions, such as if they should try to raise the ship in order to piece together what happened. Thousands lost their lives. There will be lawsuits.

The survivors begin thinking about their ordeal, and there are flashbacks to their time on the ship before it capsized. The problem with this is that these are the only perspectives. Captain Bradford is dead, and so are the officers who were on the bridge trying desperately to turn the ship. Those sequences would be gone, so the suspense wouldn't be there as much, save for the survivors trying to get off the ship, which could be exciting enough on its own if handled right with the flashbacks.

Once that rescue ship gets to a port, those on board will see that the dock has been flooded with media. The entire world wants to know the survivors' stories. How do the survivors cope with this sudden fame? Is Robert Ramsey still remembered in New York City as a shoddy mayor or is he celebrated for giving his life to help the other survivors?

And intercut with that plot is the cruise line trying to figure out what to do, with some unscrupulousness thrown in. Blame Bradford and his officers, even in death, for what they were unable to stop? These rogue waves cannot be predicted or pinpointed. They just happen.

The original Poseidon Adventure was founded not just on the special effects, but also the relationships between the survivors, such as Jack Albertson and Shelley Winters playing husband and wife, and Red Buttons as a bachelor. Poseidon would have gotten much more mileage if it had gone that way too. The media presence alone in light of the worst ship disaster in history would have been a fascinating perspective. And I would have liked this movie a lot more.

Three Dreams about Women

I went to bed at 2:17 this morning and woke up at 10:39. In between, I marveled yet again at what goes on in my head during sleep. I have entire theme parks in there, Walt Disney World in a far different incarnation, rollercoasters, pinball machines, huge school campuses with ornate marble staircases, math classes that I prefer to skip, movie theaters to haunt, and, of course, women. Not often anymore, but when those dreams happen, I always lay in bed after I wake up, thinking, "How in the heck did THAT happen?"

The first dream involved a relationship-ending argument with Kirsten Dunst. I don't know why it was Kirsten Dunst, but I'm relieved it wasn't Drew Barrymore or Renee Zellweger. It was most apparent that I wasn't interested in saving the relationship, and perhaps I had lost interest a long time ago. In trying to argue my side, I mistakenly called her "Lisa" at one point, which I don't read anything into because I could never date anyone who reads books only for information. I told Kirsten that I had liked her since Bring It On, and had wanted her even then, so why would she think things had changed? Again, just arguing without feeling, without meaning, which isn't my style. Arguing isn't either, but when I'm passionate about something or someone, I show it.

The second dream took place at a variation of Walt Disney World, not the incarnation that I know so well, even though I live on the other side of the country. There was a holiday version of the Jungle Cruise being tested, and this one was indoors. A woman came up to me, asking if I'd like to take part in it, and she had a twinkle in her eyes when she asked me this, which made me play it low-key, since it was clear that she wanted to lead and impress herself upon me. I didn't mind at all. I went on the ride, but nothing else happened with the woman, because the dream ended while I was on the ride.

In the third dream, this particular woman appeared only in an e-mail. I had been to a restaurant months ago and had scribbled my name and e-mail address on a scrap of a postcard in order to be informed about some event that was happening at the restaurant. I received this e-mail and it was the woman who worked there to whom I had given that scrap of postcard for the future information, who just wanted to say hi, wondering why I hadn't been back lately, heavily hinting her interest.

Those latter two dreams were nice, but it doesn't make me move faster in pursuing a relationship. I've got a nonfiction book list that's growing longer by the day (Last night, I added to the list a late actor I've always admired, who I believe never got the biography he deserves), a future home city that I want to know intimately from one end to the other, a glittering city beyond that whose entire history I want to know, a small library branch inside a mall that I really want to see, the Pinball Hall of Fame that I would be happy spending a lot of time in (I think there was a Galaga arcade game there), and so much else to do and experience in my new home state, when that finally happens, as well as my desires to visit New Mexico and all the presidential libraries in the nation. My interests alone keep me pretty well occupied and very happy. Now if only Matchbox would sell its cars individually instead of just five-packs, I could get the tow truck I really want for my working vehicles collection.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Randomness of a Tuesday Night

I don't have enough for a full-course, meaty entry tonight, so there'll be some randomness, which is suitable for a Tuesday night that feels like it's simply whirling through outer space. Not a great deal going on; I read some of one of the books I'm using for research for my own book, still have to read the rest, and this is still as specific as I'll get for a while, at least until I have two chapters written and can pitch it to publishers and search for an agent, in order to try for the big publishers.

I'm thinking of seeing Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, day 4 of my four-week pleasure cruise, on Friday. I love the high praise I've read from critics who demand that you see it in IMAX because of the action sequences. I won't. I'm not paying $18.50 for IMAX. If those critics want to pay for my ticket, I'm all for it, but I'm happy with seeing it on a regular screen. That's all I need.

Every other day or so, I check the movie schedule on the Lakeview Cinemas website, the two-screen theater that's inside the Hacienda Hotel and Casino outside of Boulder City, on the way to Hoover Dam. This casino overlooks a vast ocean of desert, so imagine Jack and Jill playing there, as it is right now. It's a shame, but if makes the Lakeview Cinemas owner some money and keeps the theater running, that's fine, because it just reopened after a months-long closure. I really wish I could be there on Christmas Day because It's a Wonderful Life is playing at 3 p.m., just once that day. Seeing it in that setting would be most memorable, but I'll have to settle for DVD for my first time, probably tomorrow night or the day after.

Speaking of Christmas movies to watch, I've also got the original Miracle on 34th Street, as well as National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, my favorite Christmas movie. Any Christmas movie that has a SWAT team at the end is my kind of Christmas movie, along with a dog yakking up a bone under the Christmas dinner table, which is the one scene that makes me lose it, laughing until I can't breathe.

During Dad's time off from work, which lasts until January 17, since it's a combination of winter break and required furlough days, I have to go to Beverly Hills for a few hours, to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Margaret Herrick Library. This will be for research for my book, so I'll be allowed in and I've memorized their procedures and rules. They have shooting scripts for all four of the movies I'm writing about, as well as a transcript from a 2006 Academy screening of the first movie, featuring actors from it. I need it all. I've memorized the movies, but I know there was an extra hour shot for the three sequels for television broadcast, and I'm hoping the scripts for the three sequels have that, because I can't find most of the footage on YouTube, and those extra hours were never released on DVD. I'm excited about this experience because I'll have history in my hands that means a lot to me, scripts from when those movies were in production. Mom read the procedures on the website today and looked at the hours of operation and suggested a Tuesday would be the best day to go because they're open until 8 p.m., whereas on Monday, Thursday and Friday, they're open until 6, and closed on Wednesdays and Saturdays and Sundays. Tuesday would be best because while I can skim past the scenes I know so well, I want to make sure I get everything out of the scenes that are rarely seen now, and the most out of the screening transcript for details about the making of that first movie.

After What If They Lived? was published, I was in awe about signing up for an author's profile on Goodreads, which became my main account. I didn't realize until early this evening that I could do the same on Amazon. I signed up for an account through their Author Central, and my awe is triple what it was for Goodreads. Click right here for it!

I started reading No Place Like Home by Barbara Samuel on Sunday, intending to read as much of her work as I can while impatiently waiting for The Garden of Happy Endings, which she wrote as Barbara O'Neal, which will be out in April. I love what I've read so far, another novel that takes place in Samuel's beloved Colorado, but I'm still only on page 19. My research comes first, but I want to find a balance that lets me read other things too, if only for 20 pages at a time. However, considering that I spent much more time reading other books rather than the ones for my now-aborted previous project, it's understandable right now that I've not yet gotten back to No Place Like Home. Today, I received Samuel's A Piece of Heaven, which takes place entirely in New Mexico, so I want to get to that one soon. I'm hoping it strengthens my desire to visit New Mexico (Created by reading O'Neal's The Secret of Everything), not that it needs any help, as I've been reading a lot about New Mexico, learning about its culture, and interested in Georgia O'Keeffe's experiences there.

The part of my brain reserved for blog entries is dry, so I think I've covered everything.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Weight Lifting DVDs

Just like last Monday, I spent most of today putting my DVDs into a 400-slot binder. This was my second 400-slot binder after filling up my first one completely, rendering it suitable weight lifting equipment. Same one like the first one, I bought it from Fry's and now knew what I was doing. There was less frustration with the DVDs not always going into the fabric-backed plastic slots at first, and I didn't miss an entire page of slots like I did before, making me move DVDs back many spaces, one after the other. The instances in which I had to move DVDs back or forward was when I missed a DVD in my chronological organization.

In this binder, all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls came first (My first DVD binder has a bevy of TV shows in the first 200 slots and about 50 more in the second 200, including seasons 1-4 and 7 of The West Wing, all four seasons of The Big Bang Theory, all eleven seasons of Married with Children, and the first and second seasons of Perfect Strangers), followed by all Bond movies up to Quantum of Solace (I'm such a fan that I even keep the awful ones, such as A View to a Kill), and then the rest of my movies in chronological order, with some exceptions. Sequels to Clerks, The Bourne Identity, and Back to the Future go next to the first movies, and I put Charlie and the Chocolate Factory next to Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory for easier reference. The 70th Anniversary Edition Citizen Kane set had not only the American Experience documentary that was part of the previous two-disc set, but also the HBO movie RKO 281, about the making of Citizen Kane, starring Liev Schreiber as Orson Welles and John Malkovich as screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz. Those discs are together too.

I got immense satisfaction from putting all these DVDs in one place and getting rid of all the cases. They weigh a lot when you hold one stack of them. Unfortunately, as I chucked more and more DVD cases into the recycling bin, the book stacks in my room began to look a lot larger, and I don't think I can take all these with me. My permanent collection goes, of course, but as to the others, I know I'll have to give up many and I have no problem with that, but I only will as we get closer to moving because I'm not going to be stuck without anything to read, and I'm not getting a new library card with the Valencia library because there's no point. The only library card I want to see is one with "Henderson" on it.

Also creating more satisfaction for me was that I apply this kind of focused work ethic to my book research. I took these DVDs out of so many cases and put them in individual slots. For the book, I'm plucking facts from many different sources and organizing it in one place. Just like flipping through these binders and feeling inspired by seeing all my favorite movies and TV shows in one place, I think about what I have to find out, by watching the movies, by reading various books, by seeking interviews, and I feel the same inspiration. I can do this. I want to do this.

And now I can also practice weight-lifting with my DVDs while deciding what to watch next. For the next few months, that'll be the movies I'm looking to write about for this book, continuously to pick out all the details I need, as well as whatever else strikes my interest. Probably Swing Vote again. I need another New Mexico fix.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Day 3, Part 2 of a Four-Week Pleasure Cruise

Before we walked into All Amusement, before I knew what was in there, Mom decided to go back to IKEA with Dad because he hadn't eaten. It turned out that instead of the trio going to Universal CityWalk, they had been talking in the car for 45 minutes, and moved their conversation to a nearby Starbucks. Convenient and cheaper, and in attempting to make us residents of Henderson, the conversation was much more important than the setting. Nothing moving on that front yet, but I hope it was the conversation that does it for us.

Mom told us that she and Dad would meet us at Barnes & Noble and off they went, and off Meridith and I went into All Amusement. Tokens were required for the games, two each for Galaga and pinball, four for air hockey. I played Galaga first and reveled in the discovery that if you press the "fire" button firmly, hold it for a second, then lift your finger off it, your ship keeps firing and you don't have to keep pounding the button. Cheating, yes, but the only chance I got to play it that way. Other times, I'm always pounding that button as if I'm suddenly a butcher behind the counter, and ducking and weaving as if the aliens are firing at me. Funnily enough, during the bonus round when the aliens fly down in a row or in another lockstep pattern and you try to eliminate all of them, I eliminated all but two. My aim sucks when I can fire without making an effort. It's more honed when I have to do the work.

I saw Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring when it was in theaters, and I liked parts of it, but it's not my kind of genre. Therefore, the Lord of the Rings pinball machine I saw was not for me. Now, The Simpsons Pinball Party machine, well, I still have a picture that I drew of them when I was in 1st grade. Therefore, my machine. I remembered also playing this at the arcade at Ventura Harbor Village, but this one was better-calibrated. I was a million points away from a free game, and could have easily gotten it, but it went down the left side and into the drain without a chance to hit it back up into the board.

Meridith and I never play air hockey competitively. We're always just grateful to find an air hockey table since we don't go to arcades often. The last time I remember going to one was back in June (), also for Galaga and air hockey. Unlike that table, there was no chance of keeping accurate score with the table we played at, since it was so slow to keep score and therefore we got a few more turns out of it than what you can usually get for four tokens. Up to 7 points and then the table shuts off. We got three extra turns.

The last time we were at Ventura Harbor Village, I remember really playing that air hockey table like a madman, whacking at that puck mercilessly. Now I reserve that energy and insanity for Galaga.

This time, I played it calmly. Didn't matter if I won or lost. Doesn't change the curvature of the earth, or the state of affairs anywhere. Meridith loves air hockey like I love Galaga, so I'm always happy to indulge her. While I played, I was thinking about what I could use as an outlet while I write my second book. I've got months to go before I start writing even a chapter, with an outline to slowly form while I get more and more information, but when it finally happens, what do I use? I've got books unrelated to my research, lots of them; I've got my DVDs, I've got whatever will be on the Tivo in our new apartment, with Jeopardy! always an evening staple. Then I've also got the Pinball Hall of Fame off the Strip, where I've been three times and have worshipped accordingly. It doesn't feel like the writing will be that hard, but I can't write all the time, and I'd love to just stand at a pinball machine, idly thinking about my book, while hoping to get a free game out of whatever machine I'm playing. It's ironic because there I am playing one game already and I should be enjoying that, but it's that sense of achievement of doing more on a pinball machine. Plus, it's safe to say that I love pinball out of anything else I could play at an arcade. That dollar you're likely to use at a slot machine on the Strip as your way of gambling cautiously is what I put into the change machine at the Pinball Hall of Fame and dash to my favorite machine. I'm perfectly satisfied with not getting a financial return on the money I spend there because I'm doing one of the many things I love about living.

So when Meridith made a few goals, I simply reached down, got the puck, and continued. I like the rhythm of the game, the clacking of the puck against the sides of the table, that determined look Meridith gets after a few times when I successfully block her. It's not vicious, all in fun, but I know that look because it's my look whenever I'm playing pinball or Galaga.

The game over, we left All Amusement and I spotted Maui Wowi Hawaiian Coffee & Smoothies, which showed off bottled drinks in a window, including water, which I desperately needed after that game and which I was sure Meridith wanted. I bought two regular-sized Arrowhead bottles, got 50 cents back, and decided to go back into the arcade and play Galaga once more. Still awful at it when the fire button is stuck.

The Barnes & Noble across the street from IKEA is very much about books, though very quietly. There's no outspoken staff recommendations on cards under certain books in the new releases, and this doesn't seem like the kind of location to have storytimes or book club discussions. It's just here to sell books. Come in, motivated by some book you want to read, find it, perhaps discover something else you want as well, and eventually leave. That was the exact order for me.

In the mall, I was thinking about those editions that Barnes & Noble hawks of, say, five Jane Austen novels together, or a few Dickens, or Gray's Anatomy, or any other book that looks like it has a leatherbound cover with a long, thin fabric bookmark inside and gilded pages. Specifically, I was thinking of The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I have the 2005 movie tie-in edition of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but wanted the other books without having to pay for them separately. 815 pages of Douglas Adams for $25 seemed like a good deal. As soon as we reached Barnes & Noble, I went straight for the table stacked with those editions and found it. You have to want a book that has the eyeless round green being sticking its tongue out at you. That's my kind of book.

Whenever we go to this Barnes & Noble, I always look at the magazines since we rarely go to this one and they've got a much better selection than the one in Valencia. Nothing like The Normal School this time, and since this had been the third day that I was walking great distances, or what seemed like great distances, I had to sit down, and I did so on the floor in front of the writing and history magazines, which included science fiction anthologies which I picked up and held on to as I walked through the rest of Barnes & Noble, but decided that if I wanted to read more science fiction, I had to decide first which aspects interested me because it's vast.

While sitting there, I found Writer's Digest Yearbook Presents The Writer's Guide to Creativity. I didn't have the idea for my second book laid out like I do now, but I felt like I needed this since there's an interview by Anne Lamott in it. And headlines on the cover such as "Make the Most of Your Writing Time!" and "How to Write Your Way Out of a Rut" made me consider that there will be times when I need those articles. Ruts do happen. They don't last very long with me, but I know what they feel like.

I went into the fiction aisles to see if they had all of Barbara O'Neal's books and there was How to Bake a Perfect Life, The Lost Recipe for Happiness, and my favorite: The Secret of Everything. I went to the science fiction aisles and walked right back out after 10 seconds. So many authors, so many worlds. I'm a little intimidated by it, but I keep in mind that there are humans in these novels and they have emotions and problems and joys and sorrows and problems solved just like I do. On days when the writing's not coming, I'll remember to see what kind of science fiction would interest me.

Back in the fiction aisles, I remembered how much I had enjoyed The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle because he observes aspects of real life slantwise that brings new meaning to them. The typical things of each day are made different, more interesting. And then, there was 691 pages that made up T.C. Boyle Stories, and one of the rare times I don't mind paying full price for a book, because $20 seems justified for that many pages, especially with the promise of most likely getting the same satisfaction I had before.

That was it. That was all I needed. The magazine, The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and T.C. Boyle Stories were enough. One thing I plan to do once in Henderson is haunt the library book sales as well as the used bookstores. I find a lot more at those because there's a bigger chance of discovery of what you've never heard of before that instantly appeals to you and you wonder why you hadn't found it before because clearly it was made for you. And then you think, "Enough of that. It's enough that I've found it and I'll start reading and that'll be that."

I don't lament that there's not a community feeling to the Burbank Town Center properties because it knows what it is. It's not trying to be something it isn't like many areas in the Santa Clarita Valley. I was there for those purposes, I got what I wanted, and there was nothing more than I wanted. That seems to be how it goes for all other shoppers there.

Now, this was last Sunday. Today, we went back to Fry's so I could get another 400-slot DVD binder, and back to IKEA to eat. Last Sunday, Dad brought home some of the ribs he'd had there, I tried a piece on Tuesday, and wanted more. The cornbread that had come with his ribs was just sitting in the fridge, so I had that too, and I wanted all of IKEA's cornbread. If there's some kind of chemical agent in this food that's meant to enslave Americans and turn us into zombiefied consumers, moreso than usual, I'll take my chances.

This time, I had the ribs and the cornbread and found out that the ribs came with fries, so I had mustard with the fries, as well as spinach and cheese crepes and an almond cake with buttercream and butterscotch, the latter the main attraction of the cake since I love butterscotch. Every single time we go to IKEA, the food is excellent. It didn't change. There is a rigid consistency there that I wish many institutions in our country would learn, with the hope that things would get better by implementing it. IKEA can do it with Swedish meatballs alone. Ok, they've got a lot to answer for with the instructions included in those hopeless build-it-your-damn-self kits, but that consistency is awe-inspiring.

On the way home, we stopped at the Walmart that overlooks Six Flags Magic Mountain, and in the electronics department, there were holiday movie DVD displays. Last week, I got in the mail from Amazon A Charlie Brown Christmas, which is my favorite Christmas special. At Walmart, I found National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, my favorite Christmas movie. Any Christmas movie that has a SWAT team busting through a house is my kind of Christmas movie. Every time Cousin Eddie's dog yaks up that bone under the table and the whole thing shakes, I lose it, needing time to get off the floor and resume breathing normally.

I don't count today's errands as part of the four-week pleasure cruise, just an observation that some of what we did last Sunday carried over into this Sunday, sans the mall and Barnes & Noble. When we parked at IKEA, I was thinking about Galaga again, but it's not worth the stuck "fire" button. It's the one video game for which I like to make an effort. I don't play anything else.

Weekends like this one that include rollercoasters, pinball, Galaga, Swedish meatballs, macaroni and cheese, pumpkin pie, new books bought in a bookstore, DVDs, air hockey, crepes, do not happen often here. When it does, it's total pleasure without question. So it shall be where I know I can find this kind of happiness all the time. This is good training.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Day 3, Part 1 of a Four-Week Pleasure Cruise

The Burbank Town Center Mall and its outlying areas, including IKEA and Barnes & Noble, are built for a maximum shopping experience and nothing more than that. There is no sense of community to be found there because people from all over visit, including Mom, Meridith and I last Sunday while Dad talked with the CEO and one of the other influential bigwigs from K12, which is all about online education. He arranged to pick them up from Burbank Airport after they dropped off their rental car, hours before their flight out, and take them to see Universal CityWalk, then drive them back to the airport for their flight. Dad had to meet them at 3, so we had plenty of time beforehand and therefore left the house at 11, on our way to Fry's in Burbank, where I constantly hope to meet Bill Prady, the co-creator of The Big Bang Theory, after learning months ago from his Twitter account that he shops at this Fry's.

Mom and Meridith wanted to look at waffle makers, and it was finally time for me to get a DVD binder. I'd researched a few online, and seen what Target offered in Case Logic binders, which I didn't buy because I don't like the stitching. It looks like it could come loose within a few months of heavy use. (I later learned from an acquaintance on Facebook who knows his DVD binders that he has a Case Logic binder. Still doesn't convince me.)

A visit to Fry's means a look at DVDs I can't find in Best Buy, what they won't sell because residents in my area aren't that willing to explore. I love that I can find The Big Kahuna, starring Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito, and Peter Facinelli (which I own), as well as The Pajama Game (which I also own). Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are also there (I've got them too). I also spotted The X-Files: I Want to Believe, but not DVD sets of the TV series, which makes me wonder where Fry's priorities are, because that movie was garbage, and we finally deserve an epic alien conspiracy chapter in movie form. I also say this because I was hoping to find maybe one season set cheap enough, preferably the first season, and that's when I found that urgh-inducing sequel.

Whenever I'm at Fry's, and it's been a long time since the last time I was at Fry's, I always end up buying DVDs, but always ones that hew to one of my many interests. I nearly bought the Ethan Hawke Hamlet because I received in the mail the Kenneth Branagh epic version and it sparked my interest in other versions of Hamlet. But even for just $6, I didn't want to get it because if I didn't like it, I'm out 6 bucks. That doesn't square with my ordering books from that I've never read before, yet I spend money on those, but most don't go above $4. $3.95 with free shipping, though it's generally $1 for the book and the $2.95 for shipping is folded in, so the shipping technically isn't free. I'm still paying for it, but I don't mind. A movie demands time. A book lets you have as much time as you want. Something like that.

Then I found the new Patrick Stewart version from the Royal Shakespeare Company which was produced by the BBC, and even though it was $14 for a 3-hour DVD, I still wasn't sure. This is why I can't wait to have a local library again, when there's the chance of finding not only these versions of Hamlet, but adaptations of Shakespeare's other plays. I've never seen any version of King Lear, and I've heard intense things about that one. Shakespeare is not my favorite playwright, nor will I join in on that argument about whether he's the greatest playwright who ever lived thereby ruining it for future playwrights, but he does know how to wring the most drama out of any situation.

Walking through the aisles of DVDs, I checked the concert DVDs for Phil Collins and Sade, and found nothing of Sade, and of Phil Collins, his Finally! The First Farewell Tour and Serious Hits...Live!. Both over $20 and neither really worth it to me, since I love the energy of his Live and Loose in Paris concert that I proudly own on DVD. I checked out Serious Hits...Live! from the Valencia library many years ago, and didn't think much of it. Good for the songs, but not to watch again.

I also kept in mind Dragnet, anything about Las Vegas, and any movies I like and want on DVD. That was the case when I found the double-disc set of Sister Act and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. I like the first one, Dad likes the second one, always watches it whenever it's on one of the cable channels. So he can have what he likes whenever he wants, and I can have what I like, though I'm keeping both in my DVD collection.

In the TV DVDs, I found Dragnet for $3.99, four episodes from the 1950s series, these episodes from 1953. I was hoping for more Dragnet than that, but I'll take what I can get because I like Jack Webb. His writing is no-nonsense, but there's a kind of clear-eyed urban poetry to it, and his business-like narration gives it an interesting air of authority. He can be understanding, but you wouldn't want to mess with him if you were any kind of criminal on that show. He knows Los Angeles intimately, and the research he did for the series served him very well. I keep meaning to listen to the Dragnet radio show from the late '40s, and now that I'm spending more time on the computer doing research for my second book, I should and I will.

In the drama section, I found The Time of Your Life starring James Cagney for $3.99, from Alpha Video, the same company that put out the Dragnet DVD I found (That also reminds me that I still have the 1954 Dragnet feature film on the living room Tivo). I'd bought it once at the 99-Cents Only store, but didn't watch it and eventually got rid of it because I had too many DVDs, this being years before I only just recently figured out that a DVD binder is the best solution.

I like that The Time of Your Life takes place in a bar, yet another self-contained world that, in this case, can't reach out to anyone or anywhere else. And there's a pinball machine in the movie. It doesn't take much to get me interested in a movie. For example, I will follow director Joseph Kosinski anywhere because of the creatively inspiring dystopian visuals in Tron: Legacy. When his next movie comes out, I'm there.

This time, I will watch The Time of Your Life, considering that it was a passion project for Cagney and his brother William. Plus, the little I saw of it a few years ago I really liked because Cagney is the center of that world.

I nearly passed by the small documentary section, stopped and went right there. I found a DVD containing footage of flying over Florida, past Walt Disney World, and thought I might like it, but the DVD rattled inside the case, which meant it was loose, and I didn't want to spend $10 on a DVD that could be scratched up. Plus it was a sign that even though I could still fondly remember what I loved about Florida, I needed to fully concentrate on my future home. Not that I haven't, but there's nothing in Florida anymore for me. Too many years have passed. It was right then that I found Vegas: The City the Mob Made, a 10-episode documentary acreoss two discs. No DVD was loose inside the case, and what better way to learn much more about the history of Las Vegas? After we finally move to Henderson, I'm ransacking the Nevada history sections of the Clark County and Henderson library systems, but for now, this will do along with the Las Vegas books I've already bought.

After spending over 45 minutes in these DVD sections, I went to where Mom, Dad and Meridith were, among the binders I needed. There was a TekNMotion binder that looked sturdy enough, held 400 DVDs, and was $35. I needed a binder already and this was it. I bought it, of course, along with the DVDs, and spent the next day putting nearly all my DVDs into that binder. I have to buy another binder to fit the 100 or so DVDs that are left.

It always seems to me that IKEA exists for those massive changes you want to make in your lifestyle. You don't like how your house is decorated, so you decide to spend hours at IKEA to see what might fit you. And if you do go to IKEA for little things, you don't spend as much time because you know exactly what you need. The little things for me are Swedish meatballs, and after Dad dropped us off at the sidewalk in front of IKEA, we went right to them. Three trays on a cart piled with three dishes of Swedish meatballs with gravy and lingonberry sauce, with one side of mashed potatoes and two sides of macaroni and cheese, one side of spinach-and-cheese crepes (for me), one side of french fries (mostly for me), a slice of Swedish apple cake (for me), one separate side of macaroni and cheese (for Meridith), and little paper cups filled with ranch dressing and mustard. Whenever Meridith and I see those dispensers, we always get overenthusiastic. She filled 6 cups with ranch dressing for her, and 6 cups with mustard for me. And there was also three slices of garlic bread, one for me, one for Mom, and one for Meridith. It's great garlic bread, with the garlic an even flavor.

We found that the best table was one that Mom originally wanted to avoid because it was right next to where people stand in line, if the line gets that long. But sitting there, you don't have to weave past other tables to get to yours, you don't have to wait when others get up before you can get to your table, you can just do whatever you need to when you want to, including going back to the drink dispensers to refill glasses with "lingonberry drink," as IKEA calls it.

Those Swedish meatballs are pure heaven. IKEA isn't working to try anything fancy with what it serves. It knows what works and it sticks with it. I like it for that reason, that I can go there and know that the spinach and cheese crepes are going to be exactly how I like them. They changed cakes since last time, introducing this Swedish apple cake which was not as good as the chocolate cake they had last time. I'm hoping for a new one when we go next.

After dinner, Mom looked at a few things, I got a bag of individually wrapped milk chocolates with butterscotch pieces inside (I love butterscotch and always seek out anything that has it), we got ice cream from the counter near the exit, and then went to Burbank Town Center Mall. It's a nicely-designed mall with three floors, and it has to be because it can't muck about. You dither with your business and you're gone, just like Steve & Barry's, which used to be on the top floor of the parking garage, next to those parking spaces, above Barnes & Noble, but that t-shirt emporium is gone and that space is still empty. Partly the economy, but mostly byzantine business practices that I'm sure are still trying to be figured out by those involved in it, even with the business long gone.

If you want clothes, there's plenty of clothing stores. Need lotion, there's Bath & Body Works. Just want to walk around, there's a lot to look at. This is one mall that actually meets needs. It's not trying things internally that ultimately make no sense to customers. What you want, they've got it. For me, that was All Amusement, which sounded like video games, which don't rapidly interest me unless it's Galaga, and pinball, which always does. I had to wait for Mom, Dad and Meridith to come out of Bath & Body Works, and it was an adventure all its own in trying to find a bench since all of them were taken, and when I sensed someone was getting up, I rushed to that bench, but the person I thought was getting up wasn't getting up so quickly. I still waited, and then as soon as they got up and cleared it, I grabbed it. Turns out I didn't need it since not 30 seconds later, there they were outside of Bath & Body Works. No matter, since we went down the escalator to the second floor, spotted Macy's, walked toward that, and there was All Amusement. Glorious, joyous All Amusement. Everything I could want in one arcade. There was a Pac-Man/Galaga arcade machine, Lord of the Rings and The Simpsons pinball (That would be so cool if it was one machine, but it was two), and air hockey for me and Meridith.

(I didn't think I'd need a part 2 for this entry, but I do. More book research calls. The rest of this tomorrow.)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Day 2, Part 3 of a Four-Week Pleasure Cruise: Would It Have Been Better If?...

Looking out at the rest of the park from the Sky Tower, as it begins to get dark, the light touches the rollercoasters and ride vehicles and trees and walking paths in such a way that it makes it all the only place in this entire to have feelings. When it's sunny out, and even when not, it assumes full control. It is confident of its power in offering up so many rollercoasters, in ensuring that a lot of people have a good time. When the sun goes down as it did in those moments, it feels sad that people have to leave soon, have to give up this temporary world for what awaits them wherever they come from. It wants to get a stranglehold on the sunlight, push it back up, and spread it out to the entire park again. People can't leave yet. There's still so much to do.

This is why it closes at 6 p.m. in winter. There's not enough lighting throughout the park. What is there is suitable only to the immediate areas, but never beyond that. You'd have to bring in floodlights if you wanted to illuminate the park entirely, but that would be too harsh. Near the Golden Bear Theatre, there's lights in the souvenir shop, and a few other places, but not among that walking path. You can get to where you're going, though, by the arcade ahead and brighter lights as you get to the central plaza near the front gates.

The elevator came back up and that was it for us. No reason to stay longer. There's a lot less memorabilia than there was last year. Maybe some of it was being spruced up, maybe they rotate it. It didn't seem like enough, as if there's indifference here as to whether people know more about the park as it was. It's one of the rare instances here that the attitude of the Santa Clarita Valley has crept in: No history. Only the present and the future are allowed.

Going down in the elevator with a few other people, including two employees, I knew already what the park looks like at dusk from on high and what the seemingly distant valley looks like too. So I spent those few minutes looking at the wires of the elevator moving in the structure as we went down. You can see stairwells, all painted orange just like the rest of the tower, and once on the ground, the other elevator, which wasn't in use since there weren't that many people in the tower. Never are. It's the same line of thinking used at Superman: Escape from Krypton. If the crowds grow, then they'll use the second vehicle.

We passed Ninja, and I felt like seven times on it had been enough. "7" is a major number in Las Vegas, and it felt right with a farewell to it that way while looking ahead to my new home.

At the top of Samurai Summit, across from Ninja, is the Orient Express, an air-conditioned tram that takes guests from there to the central plaza of Six Flags without having to walk back down the steep hill that takes you up to Samurai Summit. It was the best way to get back down since we were beginning to run out of time, with it being 10 minutes to 5, and the park closing at 6.

The Orient Express has two trams, operated by the same cable, and when one tram goes down the hill, the other goes up to the Samurai Summit station, and then they reverse. It's not long to wait for a tram, and it was a relief to sit for a little bit. My feet don't hurt like they used to before I lost all that weight, but the day began to wear on me. Not sleepy just then, but tiredness began to settle in all my joints. There was still more to do, since Meridith wanted to ride Colossus, and I had d promised that I would go on it with her.

To get to Goliath, you walk past the Magic Moments Theater building, which is used about as much as the Golden Bear Theatre, and there's the entrance for Colossus. Then you weave through where longer lines would be until you reach the loading station. They were running two trains, so it wasn't long to wait for ours, and it was when our train bolted out of the station that I realized that Colossus is the father, and Apocalypse is the son. Colossus races up the first lift hill, and when I saw the steep drop, I said "Oh shit!" out loud. This was harrowing. It jerks you around so much, up one hill, down one hill, up one hill, down one hill, that you don't have a chance to breathe for even a second. Then there's another lift hill and you drop way down yet again. It's said that the Colossus trains on both sides (There was an empty loading station across from ours) were used years ago to race each other, and during Magic Mountain's Halloween festivities, the trains run backward. I still shudder at the thought of that.

After I knew it was over by Meridith no longer pressing herself into my shoulder and screaming with her eyes shut tight, as she did on Apocalypse for equally good reason, I felt a bit of a headache, which went away as I regained my balance after we got off. I told Meridith that I was done with rollercoasters, and I mean it. I can't do this anymore. Riding the wooden Hurricane rollercoaster 19 times in one night at Boomers in Dania Beach was easy because I was in my teens. It was also easy to ride Space Mountain at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in 2000 after eating an entire turkey leg because I was in my teens. In March, I'll be two years away from 30. I know there are some daredevils well older than me, and rollercoaster enthusiasts I've seen at various websites, including, who probably had this love instilled in them at a young age. Reading I did. Movies I did. Aviation I did. Not rollercoasters. I'd be fine with never riding another one again if not for the Desperado in Primm, Nevada, one of the first things you see after the state line in that complex of three casinos and an outlet mall, which I'll ride for home state pride, and the taxicab rollercoaster at New York-New York. But other than those two, I'm finished. At least with Superman: Escape from Krypton, it was just one tall curve and then back down. I know there are easier rollercoasters and I've been on them, but I've lost my interest. Better that my time with all that is replaced with more books and more writing, and probably more Galaga too.

On the way back to the front gate, Mom called Meridith and told her that she and Dad were at the Cyber Cafe and they had already gotten me my pumpkin pie. See, pumpkin pie, butterscotch anything, types of pasta, those are other fine replacements for my interest in rollercoasters, especially with pumpkin pie being my favorite kind. And after the pie we had had at Thanksgiving that we bought frozen from Walmart that had to be baked, I was looking for one far better. When we got to the table where Mom and Dad were sitting outside the Cyber Cafe (with all the computers inside in use, of course), and I got a plastic spoon from inside, I found the pumpkin pie I had wanted for so long. The pumpkin, the spices, the sugar, all melded so perfectly. It was a welcome comfort after the physical turmoil of Colossus, but most of all, it was amazing to me to find this here. I can understand the funnel cakes being so good since they make them on-site, but where would they make a pumpkin pie? They have each slice in individual clear plastic containers, so maybe it's brought in from somewhere else. I really want to know where that "somewhere else" is, and I've just gotten the idea to e-mail the park and see if anyone knows. There are a lot of things worth living for, and that pumpkin pie is close to the top of my list.

We ordered another slice to take home for Mom and I to share, and I told Mom that I decided not to ride Ninja again because first of all, we were already away from Samurai Summit and I didn't want to hike up there again, plus the Orient Express eats up more time and I wanted to make sure I got my Superman t-shirts and anything else Superman related that looked interesting to me. Plus I told her about keeping it at 7 times in honor of Las Vegas, and because the appeal of Ninja to me is gliding past those trees. At nighttime, it doesn't have the same effect. You're just gliding through darkness, and the trees are just outlines of something.

Walking through the main souvenir shop in the central plaza was an immense pleasure. A tinier crowd this time, and I found two Superman shirts, one in a can, and another with the Six Flags name under the image of Superman. Others were comic book covers and too specific for me. I like a general Superman on my t-shirts, open to all possibilities.

While they waited for us when we were on Colossus, Mom and Dad picked up the pickle and the school bus from package pickup at the Looney Tunes Superstore. On the way out, I went into that store to find a relatively unscratched red Superman cup (Has a clear plastic mold of Superman on the left and the right), since the ones in the main souvenir shop looked terrible, more scratched up than is worth buying just to have Superman. Most in the Looney Tunes store were no better, but I did find one that didn't look so bad, and I wanted a spare.

So that was it. All that was left to do after leaving the park was stopping at Grand Panda to pick up the beef chow fun that Dad had ordered for dinner, and at Chronic Tacos for Meridith and I to get what we and Mom wanted. I was still thinking of a chicken and cheese quesadilla when we walked in, but breakfast items are served all day there, and I spotted a picture of a breakfast quesadilla with cheese, eggs, potatoes, and veggie, chorizo, or machaca, which is shredded beef, grilled onions, and tomatoes. I chose chorizo and my god, not only was it filling, but this was what every quesadilla needs to be: Hearty, confident in its combination, and offering up so much good stuff in every bite. Taking our orders home for dinner was perfect because not only were we worn out from the day, but I preferred to be at home, enjoying my quesadilla at my own pace. I don't eat as fast as I used to, but rare is the time that I slow down for something, and this was it. Between the french fries, the pumpkin pie and this, the meaning of life to me seems to be pure pleasure in whatever you love and savoring every moment you have it. The next time we go to Chronic Tacos, that quesadilla is mine again.

Going back to the question that has been part of the title for three entries, I think it would have been better if I had gotten a season pass. When I was in line with my Superman t-shirts and a small Superman desk light I found, there were three people in front of me who were from somewhere else, because the guy at the register told them to have a nice flight back. I was surprised that people venture as far as here, what with Los Angeles, and Anaheim containing Disneyland. But I understand it because perhaps they wanted a different perspective of this region. People watching alone would have made a season pass worth it. A lot to observe and be entertained by, and a lot to write about. A chance to continually explore a different world, to just sometimes watch rollercoasters in motion.

I can't go for a season pass now. Last year was better because though our situation was fluid like it is now, I didn't feel that drive for movement like I do now. Not that I didn't want to leave for home this year, but it felt like things had to take more time to develop. Having passed in August our eighth year of living here, I've become much more antsy. A season pass wouldn't work because it'd be an all-the-time reminder that we're still here. It's not just about having a place to live; it's about where you live, where you're happy. For a final time, though, this was the right feeling. Casual, absorbing everything that I've loved about Magic Mountain, and leaving with a smile. That was the way to do it.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Day 2, Part 2 of a Four-Week Pleasure Cruise: Would It Have Been Better If...?

During my french fry reverie, oblivious to the crowds passing across from me away from Goliath, and to the booming noise of the one running Superman: Escape from Krypton train, my cell phone buzzed. It was Meridith, saying that she, Mom and Dad were at the souvenir shop across from the Golden Bear Theatre, and they were still selling Thomas the Tank Engine items, this time for 75%, way up from half off when we went to that shop last year. Upon Six Flags giving up its licensing for Terminator and Thomas the Tank Engine, the Terminator rollercoaster became Apocalypse, and Thomas Town, which had Thomas the Tank Engine as a train kids could ride, became Whistlestop Park, the most generic-looking train station you will ever see anywhere. Six Flags is not good at in-house creativity, also evidenced by the pre-show videos passed by on the way to the Apocalypse loading station. More on that fresh hell later.

After finishing the fries, collecting the unused mustard packets (and there were many, since I'm always overzealous for mustard), and putting them back in the container behind the front counter, through the open window, I began walking past the food court, past Goliath, toward the Golden Bear Theatre.

The problem with this particular shop is that if it's doors aren't open, you miss it completely, pass right by it. The double doors were open this time, yet I still didn't notice it. I thought it was further up than where it was, and called Meridith to ask where the heck I had to go. She told me not past the arcade, I turned around, walked past the huge fake tree that you can walk through into Looney Tunes World, and saw Dad standing in front of the shop. I went in, saw the Thomas the Tank Engine toys still unclaimed, and noticed that the park's also still trying to get rid of Superman: The Escape t-shirts, which could be collectors' items if the ride hadn't been so rickety toward the end of its operation.

I also looked at the Batman, Superman and Green Lantern merchandise on display (The latter because of the opening of the Green Lantern: First Flight rollercoaster in the D.C. Universe section of the park), and then spotted a three-tiered metal display case full of toy cars, including fire trucks and school buses. I have an aversion to police and fire vehicles because they're fairly typical of any community, expected, and therefore not really all that unique to my working vehicles collection. I wanted the school bus, though, picked one up, determined that all the parts were intact, and paid for it at the counter.

One of the things to love at Magic Mountain as a once-in-a-great-while visitor is that they have package pickup, which means you can have your purchases sent to the Looney Tunes store right near the entrance and exit gates of the park, and pick them up later, though not until after 3 p.m. And that's what I did: I had a toy school bus sent over there to pick up later.

After Mom and Meridith had looked around, and determined that we had enough toy Thomas trains for our dog Tigger that we bought during our visit last year, we walked to Cyclone Bay, which most visitors don't seem to bother checking out unless they're there to ride Apocalypse, or drive go-karts, or try bungee jumping. There's also carnival-style games that require little effort, such as one you pay $5 for to hit a round metal platform with a mallet to try to make the bell ring at the top. You do that twice, and then you can pick any prize that they have there. Meridith did it and choose a Tweety cape for Mom that she had been eyeing for her last year.

Then came hell. Apocalypse. Meridith wanted to go on it since it was a wooden rollercoaster. You enter under the sign, then walk through a maze of a queue before reaching the first part of the building that has a pre-show video running of people under attack by some vicious force, and psyching themselves up to defend themselves and their families against it, but it's not really clear what it is, and, at this point in its operation after switching from being a Terminator rollercoaster to this, which required new pre-show videos to be shot, no one really cares. No one is required to watch the pre-show video. Once you're allowed in (We had to wait a few minutes while the small crowd in front of us cycled through the building), you just walk past those monitors and loud noises emanating from the sound system, pass through another room that used to have the top half of Terminator robot bodies, ignore another flat-screen monitor with more of that pre-show video, and then walk up a set of stairs to the loading station for the ride, choosing which "sector" you want to be in, meaning which part of the ride vehicle.

Also here, the ride vehicle currently in use rushes overhead and the screams are LOUD. I wish I had taken that as a clue to what I was getting into, because Apocalypse has major anger-management issues. You speed to the first lift hill, go swiftly up it, and then zoom right down and the speed never lets up. It's vicious. There's one really wide turn that's hell to go through, and there's also the turns that go through narrow wooden tunnels that let thin shafts of light through. It leaves you extremely shaken up.

After we got off and walked out of the Apocalypse area, I told Meridith that Apocalypse is one rollercoaster that could use some serious therapy to smooth out whatever makes it pissed off at the world. It should be torn down to make way for something different, but considering the major cost likely involved in building the thing, they're probably going to keep it. To me, it's a waste of space, but I guess it appeals to thrill-seekers much younger than me. Even when I was that young a decade ago, I didn't go for that kind of rollercoaster. I was satisfied and happy enough with the Hurricane rollercoaster at Boomers in Dania Beach, Florida, which closed a few months ago. That was a wooden rollercoaster too but it wasn't as abusive as Apocalypse. It was fast, but it didn't jolt you, and going down those short hills was pure sugar for the pleasure center of the brain.

After leaving the Apocalypse area, we found that Dad had gone on ahead of us and was in the Coaster Candy Company shop, where truffles are sold at the counter, and there's displays of various candy, including huge lollipops that are actually holders for 12 much smaller lollipops. M&Ms are prominently featured, and there's also bags of candy with the Coaster Candy Company label on them, most of it brittle, including peanut and cashew. What caught my eye was almond brittle, I was thinking of getting it, and I have no idea what stopped me. My attention was focused on getting a quesadilla at Los Cuates Mexican Grill nearby. As Mom and Meridith looked over the chocolates at the counter, and Meridith found a large chipotle-accented pickle in a pouch, I decided to go over there and get my quesadilla, but after standing in line for a few minutes, I had a closer look in the kitchen, and it didn't look all that great. Not that it wasn't safely made, but it didn't look like my kind of quesadilla.

After Mom, Dad and Meridith came out of the candy store, Meridith told me she had the pickle pouch sent for package pickup. Meridith's always been one to do the most wonderfully weird things, and this was one of them. A school bus and a pickle at package pickup. I still smile at that.

Dad remembered that Guillermo, one of the teachers at his school, works part-time at the Mexican food counter in the food court building near Goliath, so we trekked over here, walking under the part of the Superman track, that shattering noise out and about again, and Mom covered her ears as we walked under it. We got to the food court, and no Guillermo, as well as no quesadillas. Just burritos. Then, Mom decided on something better: Because of my generosity in buying the toys that we donated to get the free tickets, we'd stop at Chronic Tacos to pick up dinner on the way home. This meant a guaranteed great quesadilla for me, and I was thinking about a chicken-and-cheese one.

We crossed the courtyard near which is a three-point basket contest setup with prizes such as jerseys, and finally went into DC Universe for the roasted corn that we all worship. But first, The Flash: Speed Force, in which you sit in connected vehicles that spin around and around and around, the G-forces growing and pressing you against the left side of your vehicle. It used to be Atom Smasher back when the area was called Gotham City Backlot, and the two rides at the front (including what is now called Wonder Woman's Golden Lasso of Truth) were themed to Looney Tunes. It looks a lot better now with the DC Comics theming, brighter, with much more to see, and ever since refurbishing the Flash ride, it's a lot smoother.

The roasted corn stand was remodeled and expanded, and is now called Kent Farms, after Clark Kent and his earth parents. There's a large oven on the right side, the top door of which can be opened, revealing a revolving rack of corn in their husks, the ends of the husks blackened. The person behind the counter tears off the husk, and it's a beautiful, slightly crunchy, oh-so-good sight, especially when the corn is wrapped in paper, the majority of it dipped in butter, and many options with which to season it, including lemon-pepper seasoning, salt, pepper, barbecue seasoning (That one was new to me), as much as you want.

We were behind someone ordering, and the guy behind the counter opened the lid of a rectangular storage fridge, putting something on the corn, but I couldn't tell what. All I cared about at that moment was that the lemon-pepper seasoning was on the side counter and I needed it right away. Once we got our corn, and Meridith went to find out what Dad wanted on his (At the circular table we found with the Superman logo on it, across from Green Lantern: First Flight, so we got to watch the craziness of the spinning double seating), that's exactly where I went, but first surprised to find barbecue seasoning, and suddenly conflicted. Did I want lemon-pepper seasoning all over my corn this time? How much barbecue seasoning? I soon decided on half-and-half by the time Meridith came back and told me that Dad wanted seasoning salt and pepper on his, and Mom wanted part lemon-pepper, part barbecue seasoning. Meridith had lemon-pepper, and became very full by the time she was done with her corn, and I decided I wanted another.

After deciding to get one for Dad too (When he looks like he wants something, he always says "No, I don't want it," though I have no idea why and I don't have ample time in my world to analyze that one), I asked the guy at the counter what it was he dipped into for those other customers, and he said it was parmesan cheese. The kind you shake out of the container onto pizza and pasta, and what was going to make Meridith's jaw drop, because after she had seen parmesan cheese on roasted corn on some kind of food truck show, she wanted it, and said that if this roasted corn stand had parmesan cheese, she'd dump it all over her corn, give back the container, and say that they ran out and to refill it, after which she'd do it again.

The lemon-pepper seasoning wasn't as appealing to me now as it had been last year, so I asked for parmesan cheese on my corn. The guy poured it on, I asked him how much he was able to put on, and he replied, "As much as you want." I'm not as greedy as Meridith would be in such a situation (Though her greed is justified since she loves cheese as much as I love books), so I asked for it to the end of the corn and that was it. After I got back to our table, I showed Meridith what I had found, she asked shocked questions about where it was, and I let her have as much as she wanted, which wasn't much, since she was full.

And oh god was it wonderful! The roasted corn was still hot enough that the sprinkle parmesan cheese melted on it and in between the kernels, and while I knew that the parmesan cheese had not been available at the roasted corn stand's previous incarnation, I wish it had been, because I would have gone for this every time. Quite fitting for a final visit to Magic Mountain to discover the really good stuff. Only when we're getting ready to move do we get the nice things. It happened in Florida too. That's not to say that Florida was an awful state to live in (I will forever love it for growing up partly at Walt Disney World, and to be a dreamer where dreamers are always welcome), but we'd always find what hadn't been apparent when we'd lived in a particular area for a few years.

It was beginning to get dark, and I told Meridith I wanted her to have a picture in front of the Superman: Escape from Krypton logo before nightfall. We all trekked up the steep hill leading to Samurai Summit, which took longer for Mom and Dad, so Meridith and I hustled up the hill, and reached the Superman area. There were kids climbing on the fake ice crystals directly underneath the sign, where I wanted her to stand, so she stood in front of one of the ice crystals, almost under the Superman sign. I took a picture with her cell phone camera, and then she stood next to one of the red S logos which are on either side of the area in front of the ride. Then a picture of the huge "S" on the ground, and we were done. Time for the Sky Tower.

This time, it was getting darker when we got to the Sky Tower, where the elevator ride up takes 5-6 minutes, and this was the first time we had been up there at dusk. It has always been in the daytime, bright enough to see absolutely everything throughout the park, and there was the symbolism of our time in Santa Clarita hopefully ending. Inside the tower is the museum, which features costumes and maps and props from Magic Mountain in decades' past, including a time where there were many shows, such as a dolphin show, animal show, and many comedy shows. Had they kept all that, it would be a much better park than it is, more to do for others who don't want to ride rollercoasters all the time.

I looked out all the windows at all the sections of the park, paying special attention to where Ninja was located. If I had had a season pass this year, I would have been able to enjoy this sight all the time, get a different perspective, and see the Santa Clarita Valley differently, at least in location in the distance. My feelings on it wouldn't have changed, but to get a skewed sort of view of it would have helped me tolerate it more.

(I worked again today, and am feeling bushed. Final part of this day tomorrow.)