Monday, September 26, 2011

Insular Worlds

Late yesterday afternoon, as Dad pulled into a parking space near the deli entrance of Ralphs in Valencia (There's the deli entrance on the right side, and the produce entrance on the left side on the other side of the parking lot), I closed Five Chiefs by John Paul Stevens on a page in which he was talking about the tenure of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. And as I walked to the deli entrance behind Dad, I began thinking about my interest in the Supreme Court and realized that everything that interests me are insular worlds.

I've been debating about whether "insular" is the right word. Merriam-Webster's second definition ( is "characteristic of an isolated people; especially: being, having, or reflecting a narrow provincial viewpoint."

Provincial. Ok. Merriam-Webster's definitions of that, under "adjective" (, include "limited in outlook: narrow" and "lacking the polish of urban society: unsophisticated." The second definition, to me, is a subjective term, and the justices of the Supreme Court certainly aren't limited in outlook, based on the experience they bring to their positions and opinions they have formed over decades which inform the votes they cast and the decisions they write, and "characteristic of an isolated people" seems like the wrong kind of definition, being that people throughout the world come to them, including those who populate the courtroom as viewers, and the lawyers that argue the cases, and defendants and plaintiffs seeking judgment, but in a way, they are isolated. There is only this Supreme Court in the United States. And the work of the Court is very much cloistered. Maybe "cloistered" is the better word. Or "secluded." But the words I seek for description are still debatable when applied to my other interests.

After I picked up a basket and Dad and I walked to the deli to wait for potato salad (for Dad) and half a pound of American cheese (for us), I went right back to where the carts are stored and picked up the September issue of Southern California Gaming Guide. On the cover is "Sycuan Casino: Reimagined." I've never been to this casino, only San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino in these eight years in Southern California, but the article about the changes interested me. In a way, casinos are cloistered, "providing shelter from contact with the outside world," according to another Merriam-Webster definition. The world here is gambling and bingo and buffets and poker and sports betting and everything that makes being over 21 a lot of fun. My fascination with casinos is because of Las Vegas, of course, but I'm always curious to learn how other casinos operate, even if I never go to them.

Tying into casinos is my interest in bingo halls. Now those are not only indeed cloistered, but they're an entirely different culture, a lot of fun, a lot of camaraderie that comes easily, and it's very friendly, because you're playing on the same level as everyone else. It's not like poker. Everyone has an equal chance here. I remember at San Manuel how a couple at the table across from us four let us borrow two of their daubers, before we bought our own from the snack bar, and we handed those daubers back to them when we left, along with the ones we bought, thanked them, and they told us that it was their pleasure. Just like that. If you're not familiar with bingo, anyone there is very helpful. Of course, I say that with the experience of the San Manuel bingo hall. I can't vouch for others, at least until I go to them, which I intend to because there is something to be written extensively about that culture, and I want to write it, whatever it might be.

Some malls are insular, that if you drive away after and go to another mall, you likely won't find the same experience, especially if it isn't a Westfield-owned mall you go to. I'm thinking of the Galleria at Sunset in Henderson, Nevada (my future home), where I've been, and which Mom has told me has a small Henderson library branch there. Now, at any mall, I look around, and I wonder who designed the mall, who built it, who created the artwork, all those anonymous people who should be known more.

I'm also interested in insular experiences, such as being a chaperone for Meridith's Grad Nite in 2007. I remember going with her to Valencia High one morning, hanging around until the bell rang, and then seeking out the teacher in charge of Grad Nite, introducing myself and asking if I could be one of the chaperones for it. I was told I could, and I walked in triumph back to the bus stop in front of Ralphs, waiting to go back home. I had woken up a little after 6 for this, and it had been well worth it. Meridith's Grad Nite for me was better than my own Grad Nite because of such amenities as free cookies and cheese cubes and crackers and drinks for the chaperones, as well as salads or chili or breakfast plates either when you got there or at around 2 in the morning. There was also screenings of Deja Vu and then The Queen playing in the theater on Main Street that now houses Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln again, but used to play a 50th anniversary short film hosted by Steve Martin. In that same theater area, amidst all the mementos and models of attractions in the park, there was also a caricaturist drawing the chaperones as well as Disney characters, though by the time I found out about that free opportunity, the reservations list had already been filled up. I still enjoyed watching the guy drawing Disney characters and the chaperones wearing Mickey ear hats. This was my one and only Grad Nite, so I was a fresh faced newbie, but I noticed the veterans, the chaperones sitting in front of the Plaza Inn, next to heat lamps, conversations afloat, and there was one guy sleeping on a long padded bench in the lobby of that theater, so I chatted with his wife a while.

I've also been in pursuit of really good covered fries, and it seems like an insular pursuit. Not necessarily chili-cheese fries, but something different in fries being covered with cheese. Looking at this Wikipedia entry (, I noticed that there's "pizza fries" in Philadelphia, topped with mozzarella cheese, with pizza sauce on the side. Possibly.

We were at Weinerschnitzel last Saturday, after Mom and Dad picked us up from the movies, and I had "ultimate" chili cheese fries, which were the basic chili-cheese fries with onions sprinkled throughout, though they became too much toward the end, too dominant. When I become a resident of Henderson with easy access to Las Vegas, I don't intend to eat chili-cheese fries or any other kind of covered fries too often to find my ideal combination, but it will be one of my occasional pursuits when I'm there.

Speaking of Las Vegas, the very definition of an insular world there would be the Pinball Hall of Fame on East Tropicana Avenue. You come in, you find your nostalgia, and you play it. There's no frills, no distractions, just the machines that you remember fondly. There's 152 pinball machines, from 1947 to 2009. And besides those, there's 54 arcade machines, including Super Mario Bros., Ms. Pac-Man, and Tetris. I'm not sure if Galaga is also there, but if it is, I'm spending my time right there, ducking and weaving as I always do as I fire, as if the aliens are firing right at me. It's how I play, and it's one of my favorite ways of living in Vegas.

Those are the major examples of my interests in insular worlds, and there are probably more, but I'll bet that those I figure out after having written all this will relate in much the same manner.