Friday, May 27, 2011

A New Las Vegas for Us

Las Vegas continually redefines itself. Historical casinos change (Tropicana). Historical casinos close (Sahara). New casinos open (Palazzo), and the landscape itself changes, such as with the proposed ferris wheel that is soon to be built, that will be taller than the one in London and change Vegas's skyline. You have to expect that kind of change and adapt to it if you're either a repeat visitor or a resident. But when that change first happens, it's a shock. Not so much that you hoped it wouldn't happen (And believe me, I wish it hadn't happened), but that first time, you just can't believe that it's happening.

Dad called the America's Best Value Inn on Tropicana Avenue, the one we always stay at. We've known the manager there ever since we first came to Las Vegas because our dog Tigger was allowed there. There were pet-friendly rooms, not so much pet-friendly landscape for Tigger to do his business easily (He hated walking those rocks to find a spot to piss on), but just that we could do that was a relief because there was no one in Santa Clarita, no place that was reliable enough that we could feel good about boarding Tigger there.

The manager provided us with a decent, manageable rate every time we were there, well aware that we intended to become residents soon enough, as soon as the Clark County School District loosened up enough for Dad so he could find a teaching position there. Not only that, but he was such a nice guy, and was our introduction to the good people of Las Vegas, and we've found many others since, such as the two guys I met who run that movie poster business at the Fantastic Indoor Swapmeet on Decatur Boulevard.

When we last saw him, he had gone to the doctor about growths that he had and had the physical evidence of it with bandages. Unfortunately, it's gotten worse. Dad learned that he's completely cancer-ridden, couldn't continue on in the job, and was replaced. The new manager told us that she couldn't accomodate the rate the former manager had given us.

So Vegas changes around us. And we change with it. Dad's at the dining room table right now, thumbing through a AAA travel guide that he picked up at the AAA office across from the Valencia library on the way home, figuring out not only where we should stay (possibly nearest to or in Henderson, since we've got to look for apartments there and see what Boulder City has, too), but what hotel would provide the best rate for us. I don't mind not going to Hooters Casino Hotel as often as we did because of its proximity to America's Best Value Inn, but it really sucks that that great good man has to contend with cancer. He always made the time to chat with us whenever we saw his door open, and that made all the difference to us. It helped make us even more comfortable with the area, and certainly when I had my doubts when we got out of our rented SUV on that first night, and I looked around and thought that Vegas was even more desolate than I had imagined. It took a walk through the Mirage, and dinner at the Carnegie Deli to make me less uncertain, and that manager completely eliminated the rest of my doubts just in listening to our story about where we had come from, what we had intended to do, and recommending to us areas to look at to live and some restaurants, too. I truly won't forget that or him. The cancer news doesn't sound good, and I hope he's at least comfortable enough and can do whatever he has his heart set on in this forced retirement. He deserves that.

A Man Can't Dance Like That

For the past three days, I've been reading White House Diary by Jimmy Carter.

That's all.

It's a big book at 538 pages, especially with sometimes-multiple diary entries per page. It has been a huge help, especially for two of my books, being that Carter is an interesting president in what he read while in office, and why he read those books, once for political gain, other times themed to what he was doing, such as the steamboat cruise aboard the Delta Queen, where he spent a lot of time in the pilothouse, and also read Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain.

But it's been a huge mistake to read only that for three days. I realize that now. Here I am, still futilely thinking that I can get through a majority of the presidential books I checked out before the Valencia library closes for the transition from County of Los Angeles to City of Santa Clarita control, and I'm going about this entirely wrong. Again.

When I was doing research for What If They Lived? and had an even tighter deadline than my published-again-by-30 one, not only did I check out a massive amount of books, and not only did I read them all, but that book was all I worked on. Every single day. Not much of a break for anything else beyond eating and sleeping.

I don't have quite the same mindset as before, especially owing to having lost a significant amount of weight since October of last year. But I don't want to feel that same pressure of having to read these books in order to get another book written. Then, I just did it. I had that deadline, had to do it, and I enjoyed some of it, especially the Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Paul Lynde, Brad Renfro, Aaliyah, and Heath Ledger essays (The first because of all the detail involved in his life as an intricate part of the silent film industry, Lynde because of all the clips I got to watch over and over on YouTube and I even Netflixed his Halloween special; Renfro, Aaliyah and Heath Ledger because there are no books about them and therefore my research was exclusively online and I had to put it all together like a big jigsaw puzzle, which was a lot of fun), but this wasn't really my subject. I do have favorite actors, but I've always been fascinated more by directors.

I love the history of the presidency and of the men who were our presidents. My favorite decades for presidential history are the 1930s on. I am just as comfortable reading about Truman as I am Carter. I am perhaps more fascinated by Nixon and Reagan because I've been to the Nixon library once, and the Reagan library numerous times, though I liked the Nixon library more.

But I don't want to grow tired of this. I can't feel again like I have to rush through these books in order to produce something. Every time this happens, I end up having to reorder my immediate reading list, like I will today. Besides White House Diary, I've also been reading an essay anthology called Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times, a biography called Sandra Day O'Connor: How the First Woman on the Supreme Court Became Its Most Influential Justice by Joan Biskupic (I'm also fascinated by the personalities and inner workings of the Supreme Court, past and present), and Unstrung Heroes by Franz Lidz (I saw the movie starring John Turturro, Andie Macdowell, Michael Richards and Maury Chaykin and loved it, wanted to read the book, and I ordered the DVD for my collection, which I received yesterday). Further back on my reading list, what has remained there without being read much further yet, is Ask the Pilot by Patrick Smith (owing to my interest in aviation; a series of columns in which Smith answers questions asked about aviation in all its facets, mostly commercial travel), Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail by Caitlin Kelly, and The Company We Keep: A Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story by Robert Baer and Dayna Baer, about meeting while working in the CIA.

It's not the amount of books that causes the trouble. It's always the instance being too gung-ho about my research. Reading should always be a pleasure, no matter what you're reading for whatever purpose.

There's no question that I'm not going to finish reading White House Diary today. I need a break. Tomorrow, I intend to return the rest of the books in the American Presidents series from the Times Books arm of Henry Holt and Company. That's what I think began this trouble because it's all that I've been reading up until now for my research, and even though it's useful to me to get an overview of each president, I've become tired of the format and still I tried to force myself through them. Big mistake.

Do I want to continue the Sandra Day O'Connor biography? I'm only 13 pages into 432 pages, so it's no problem if I let it go for now. I'm further into Unstrung Heroes, 39 pages of 194. Plus, the story's an inspiration to me with all that eccentricity.

The bottom of my reading list will remain. I'll get to those books. I'm never worried about that. But I need to add a new book. I need something that lets me luxuriate in words, kind of like a spa massage to relieve the tension. Bookmark Now could do that to some degree, but I need something even more vast. Maybe Best of the Oxford American: Ten Years from the Southern Magazine of Good Writing. Florida is still the South, no matter the technicalities. Driving from a point in South Florida to Naples, it takes an hour to cross the state from east to west, and you drive through Alligator Alley, where alligators can be seen at the side of the road. That's southern. Don't tell me otherwise. I am proud of that. Southern writing is genuine. There's no attempts at posturing. No assumptions on anything. What you read is what was lived, proudly, tragically, never with a broken spirit.

Or maybe the first of the Cornbread Nation anthologies, subtitled The Best of Southern Food Writing. Intense passion for the South is right here. I learned about these when I read the 2005 food issue of The Oxford American. It's all food writing. There are some themes. Volume 2 is The United States of Barbecue. Volume 3 is Foods of the Mountain South. I have all the volumes, though I intend to go in order. So the first volume might do me some good today. I need words that don't have a personal purpose.

Mr. Carter's Plains, Georgia is as interesting to me as my old stomping grounds in my beloved state, but not today. Relief needs to come. And so does a better organizational plan so this doesn't keep happening.