Friday, December 21, 2012

Back to My Temple

Handel's Messiah doesn't trumpet from invisible speakers when I walk into the Pinball Hall of Fame, my temple, for the first time since 2010, and my first time as a resident. Golden light doesn't pour down from a massive hole in the ceiling that wasn't there five seconds before. No.

The Pinball Hall of Fame isn't a monastery by dint of all the brightly-lit, sometimes noisy pinball machines on display. But it is my monastery. It's where I go for spiritual pinball fulfillment. I have played lots of pinball machines before, at Don Carter Lanes in Tamarac, Florida when I was in a Saturday morning kiddie bowling league, and other places, but never like this, never with pinball machines of different eras and arcade machines in rows for you to walk up and down, to find that one machine that is exactly you, to gape at the history of pinball right in front of you, carefully and lovingly restored and well-maintained. Any pinball machine that comes here has a new life, a new home, a way to always be remembered, to always be active.

The first time I went there, I was stunned by all that was available to me. I wanted to play everything. I laughed out loud when I saw The Addams Family and Twilight Zone pinball machines, because those had been the ones I played at Don Carter Lanes, the ones I could always rely on for a few free games because some kid had put quarters in them, but had to rush back to play their frame of bowling, and forgot about it. I always knew when to look, especially when there was a crowd around Mortal Kombat, because someone was bound to leave quarters in those pinball machines.

This time, at the Pinball Hall of Fame yesterday afternoon, I walked in and I didn't feel that rippling excitement that I did that first time, or even that second time. But that second time, I was just exhausted from all the rushing around, which took a major toll on me. I didn't have as much fun as I usually do there because I wasn't sure what was going on inside my body, though it was likely a combination of too much caffeine, too much junk food, too little sleep. Because I don't do caffeine anymore, because I eat better, because sleep comes easily with the previous two, I was better prepared for what I was looking for: The Tron: Legacy pinball machine, Galaga, and The Pinball Circus, the rarest pinball machine in the world, with only two prototypes in existence, one at the Pinball Hall of Fame.

Before we left the house for Mom and Meridith to go to their pedicure appointment at a shopping center on Tropicana Avenue that used to have Albertsons as its anchor and for me to go to the Pinball Hall of Fame, I also added the Wheel of Fortune pinball machine to my list, to play it for Mom, and the Superman pinball machine, to play it for Meridith.

Now, here I was, inside, looking around, looking down the ends of the rows from my vantage point. And the first thing I did? Popcorn. 25 cents. Drop a quarter in, making sure one of the free white paper bags is under it, and the popcorn comes out. I ate as I walked past the rows, first spotting the Tron: Legacy pinball machine and grinning. Next, my search for Galaga in the row on the far right side of the building, where all the arcade machines were. One Ms. Pac-Man machine had other games running on it including the war game, 1942, but it didn't look like Galaga was on it. The other Ms. Pac-Man machine that actually had Ms. Pac-Man on it was all that it had. No Galaga. Disappointed? No. It just means that during the two weeks of vacation that Dad and Meridith have, starting after work today, if we go back to the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas in Primm, I'm rushing right back to that Galaga machine in the food court, eager to try to get past Stage 17. That's all.

My first game was the Wheel of Fortune pinball machine for Mom. On Ball 3, the ball got stuck at the top, and I looked for where the ball was at the top, also looking for a volunteer who usually cleans the glass of each pinball machine, or the main guy who runs the place, to try to get my ball back. But it was time for me to try a skill I had previously only watched at Don Carter Lanes and other arcades with pinball, because the previous two times I was at the Pinball Hall of Fame, I didn't need to do this: I bumped the cabinet of the machine to try to put the ball back into play.

During this attempt, I discovered that some machines are more sensitive than others. If you bump the cabinet too hard, the machine displays "TILT," and your game ends immediately. I bumped the cabinet just enough to make it noticeably jiggle and the screen said "Danger," but the ball went back into play. The game ended pretty quickly after that. As you hit the barrier under each contestant in the machine, they guess a letter of the puzzle, which of course is "POWER BONUS." Pretty easy. But I didn't get further than the "P" and the "O" in "BONUS."

The Pinball Hall of Fame also has a drink vending machine, with varying prices for cans, plastic bottles, and glass bottles. It's $1.50 for Yoo-Hoo. That's what I bought, and I made the mistake of chugging it down faster than I've ever done with any other drink, just to get back to playing. I had an annoying headache later last night from that.

After chucking the glass bottle into the trash can next to the vending machine, I went searching for The Pinball Circus and found in the second-to-last row to the right. Sitting before me was $1.5 million dollars of pinball machine. Two prototypes were made, and according to the written text cards taped above the machine, one was tested in a Chicago location, and it was found to have made just as much money as Indiana Jones and Star Trek, the two most popular pinball games at the time of its testing. Both Indiana Jones and Star Trek were table-top pinball machines, whereas Pinball Circus is a vertical machine. Plus, another partner in the cost of this machine was not to pay an extra $1,000 related to something with the machine, so both prototypes were ditched in a back room at Williams Gaming (this was years before they ended pinball production and focused squarely on slot machines), until years later when two former WMS employees came together to give the Pinball Hall of Fame one of the prototypes, because of its rightly perceived standing as a museum for pinball machines as well. This is only one of two in the entire world.

The photos I took of the text cards on my cell phone (I couldn't take any of the actual machine itself because it remains mostly dark when it's not in play, only lighting up when you're playing it) are inconveniently blurry, and I can't quite read clearly the bit that says pinball fans kept searching for "The Holy Grail of Pinball," as this machine was billed, but never got to play it. That's exactly what I'm going for in one of the novels I want to write, albeit with a fictional rare pinball machine. It was hugely inspiring to me to read that part. The next time we go, which may well be during this two-week vacation of Dad's and Meridith's, I'm going to have Meridith take photos of these two text cards with the digital camera we have, hoping it'll come out clearer because I need this information.

During my only shot at Pinball Circus, I loved that when you shoot the pinball up the ramp that leads to the mechanized elephant, it lands on the elephant's snout and the elephant tips its head back to put it on the metal coiled ramp that runs right back down. I loved that! I think I saw the acrobat attached to the ceiling of the machine spin a couple times, but I'm not sure. I was so occupied with watching the elephant.

During Ball 2, the ball lodged somewhere in the left side of the machine and all I could do was hit the flipper buttons as well the "Launch Ball" button and the "Extra Ball" button in a vain attempt to put the ball back into play. I was not going to push the cabinet of a $1.5 million dollar machine, and especially not this one, the rarest pinball machine in the world. This is a shrine, a valuable part of the history of pinball. I was thinking of asking the main guy to see about it, but he's not the kind you approach about that, since he was doing something else at the counter in the back. They get to it when they get to it, and I'm sure they noticed it long after I left, when they shut down the machines for the night. Chances are it'll have been fixed before I go there again. I wasn't disappointed because I got to see the machine in person and study it. Some websites have photos of the inner workings of the machine, and there is YouTube video of the machine in action as well, but to actually be able to play it briefly was an enormous honor and is solely responsible for putting me back on my research for this one novel.

Tron: Legacy came next, and I wish I could own this machine. It's one of my favorite movies, and of course has Castor/Zuse (Michael Sheen) in audio clips on it, and it's so much fun to see the thin neon tubes line up along two of the paths the ball can take, to simulate light cycle racing. It's $0.75 for one game, or $2.00 for three, and later on, I put in $2.00. When I put a $20 bill in the change machine after I had had my popcorn and before I started anything else, I was amazed at how many quarters had come out. After we'd gotten home and I expressed my surprise over this, Meridith told me that $20 is 80 quarters. Well, it seemed like a hell of a lot more, and I'm glad I had the foresight to bring a plastic baggie with me in which to put those quarters.

The rest of the time was part walkaround, part being a vulture on other people's pinball games. I played the Superman pinball machine for Meridith, I played the Elton John Capt. Fantastic pinball machine, I played the Popeye pinball machine, I played the Space Jam pinball machine (I didn't even know they made one of those!), I played the Star Trek: The Next Generation pinball machine, which has a nice variation on the theme music, I played with the Peppy the Clown marionette, which you operate to music, pushing buttons to lift its hands and feet while the Jetsons theme song plays (only a quarter to play it), I got two tiny monkey figurines and an alien figurine from the toy vending machines that only cost a quarter just like the popcorn and the candy vending machines there, and I may be missing one or two machines, but that's what happens when you're in heaven.

As I was finishing my third Tron: Legacy game, I noticed that the guy next to me was having trouble with the Transformers pinball machine, the ball getting stuck or it cycling too quickly, and he left it. Little did he know that he left it on Ball 3, and so I played the remaining two balls. I'm not into Transformers, but I never pass up free pinball. Then, after Meridith called to say that she, Mom, and Dad were on their way to pick me up, I played the Ripleys Believe It or Not pinball machine for Meridith, then walked around once more. I found a pinball machine called Diner (not based on the Barry Levinson movie) in the far-right aisle, but thought about playing Tron: Legacy once more. As I got to the end of the second-to-last aisle, past the Pinball Circus machine again, upon which I hit the "Start Game" button and saw again that it said "Pinball Missing," I saw that the Austin Powers machine, one of a row against the darkened windows at the front of the building, said "Press Start." I did, and found that my old Don Carter skills came in handy because I got a free game. Someone had left quarters in there! Out of all the pinball machines I played, I scored the most points on the Austin Powers machine, possibly because the written sign for it boasted of powerful flippers, and that was true. The replay for the game, the score you have to hit in order to get a free second game, was a little over 100,000,000, and I was at 76,000,000 before my game ended. There's also the chance of getting a free game if the last two digits of your score match the two digits given by the machine after your game is over, but of all the machines I played and all the times I played Tron: Legacy, I didn't win a free game from any of them.

Next time I go, I want to try the diner pinball machine. That will be my first one when I get there. The second will be Tron: Legacy of course, and then I'll ask Meridith to take photos of those text cards above Pinball Circus that I need for my writing. I'm sure that with Meridith there with me next time, there will be air hockey. She loves air hockey, I like playing it, and they have a table tucked into the far upper left corner of the building. The row where the air hockey machine is is home to what seems like a game graveyard, with a semi-organized jumble of pinball machines and two Star Wars arcade machines, one of Episode I. It's a little haunting, but maybe they'll be turned on again, replacing a pinball machine or another game that's not making so much money lately. I don't think the Star Wars machines will find life again because there's not enough room for them anyway. And who would dare replace the '90s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade machine with one of those? You never shut down a classic.

The Pinball Hall of Fame is actually one of two personal temples. The other is the Boulder City Library, which I haven't been back to yet, but I consider it that because they're not afraid of old books (I love that somewhat musty, well-cared-for smell, and the mustiness is not from neglect. They really do take care of their books, but books do age), and they've kept their card catalog for the public to use if they want. They're not skittish about history there. But for a weekly temple, as in the library I go to every week, that would be the Whitney Library.

I still have quarters in my plastic baggie from the $20 I put into the change machine. I didn't have to use the other $20 I had, though I'm sure I will use it the next time I go. However, there won't be a two-year gap ever again as there was between this time and the last time. This is where I belong. This is where I feel most at home. And the best part, besides finally seeing Pinball Circus of course, was that my old instincts kicked in. I knew (mostly) how to keep a ball from falling into the gutter when it seems like it's going to fall in the space between both flippers. I don't have the courage yet to nudge like other players do, but I will soon, and yet I did ok with the strategies I used. I knew how to knock a ball back into the right or left inlane next to the flippers before hitting it again with the flippers. So that's a start.

Now that I'm familiar again with the layout of the Pinball Hall of Fame, I know exactly where to go the next time, but I'm not going to rush to where I want to be. At times, it's enough for me to just walk through the aisles, admiring all these wonderful examples of pinball history. There's even pinball machines from the 1950s, an entire aisle full of them. This is where I can fully embrace my love of pinball and sometimes watch those who share the same love. There's a lot of us, and this is truly a temple, where pinball will never die.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Can't Do It

Either before 6th grade or after 6th grade in summer school at Pompano Beach Middle in Pompano Beach, Florida, we who could nearly fill up an entire computer lab spent time there playing the games available on the computers, including Breakout, in which you had to use a paddle at the bottom of the screen to keep a ball in the air, hitting bricks. One day, we had a tournament in which the prize was half a box of donuts. Dunkin' Donuts I think. It was a large box.

One kid had gotten what was thought to be the highest score any of us could get, but then I beat him with a slightly higher score, and no one could beat me. So I won the donuts.

But what I remember fondly, though not as fondly as after it had just happened and a few years after, was the game Marathon, in which you had to defend yourself against an alien invasion. I remember the guns and I remember the aliens. Ugly beasts. I didn't realize until looking at the Wikipedia page just now that the game takes place aboard a ship called Marathon. But I remember the rocket launcher, and the napalm, and the various other weapons. I remember most the multiplayer mode which a few of us in the computer lab played, either next to each other or across from each other. In multiplayer, you were in an arena and you had to kill your opponents many times over. Or there was a race to see how many suicides you could rack up by pointing your weapon straight at the ground and firing, killing you instantly. The rocket launcher was a favorite for this because when you fired, your body flew into the air, bloody enough as it was and then landed hard on the ground. Who cares if we were in teams? All that mattered was that rocket launcher.

I write this because I wonder if my 6th grade self would have bought "James Bond 007: GoldenEye" for the Wii. Was I that excited over Marathon that any other game with weaponry and running-and-gunning in it would have been equally appealing? I don't think so.

Ever since we got the Wii, I've been eyeing "James Bond 007: GoldenEye." The Bond series is my Star Wars, so it would seem an obvious fit. Plus, you can play as Oddjob, Scaramanga, Rosa Klebb, and a few other characters from the movies. You would think I'd like that.

On Saturday, we went to Las Vegas Premium Outlets South (The North outlets are near Downtown), just outside the city limits, before the start of the Strip, where they have a permanent Disney Character Depot location. Being unceasing Disney fanatics, we had to go see what they had, and there, I found Mom a pink Walt Disney World t-shirt with the logo we knew from the late '80s, with Mickey Mouse in the middle. I knew I had to get it for her and I did. But before I did, I saw in a square glass case sitting on the counter near the register a copy of "TRON: Evolution - Battle Grids" for the Wii.

I love Tron: Legacy and I'm psyched that director Joseph Kosinski is going to make the third one. I'll follow him anywhere. I loved this dystopian computer world, and, of course, Jeff Bridges as Kevin Flynn. To me, it's what movies should always do, and this one did, in sucking you into a vastly different world and showing you around.

I eyed "TRON: Evolution - Battle Grids" with that in mind. I looked at it once in the glass case and then walked back to where Mom and Dad and Meridith were, and just after I got there, I went back to the glass case to look at it again. This is a sign that I'm probably going to buy it because the same thing happened with a framed art print of a tranquil courtyard at Colleen's Classic Consignment in Henderson. I kept walking back to it and then took it off the wall and paid $41 for it.

"TRON: Evolution - Battle Grids" was $14.99. I gave the woman behind the counter the shirt I was buying for Mom, and then pointed to "TRON" in the glass case and asked for it. I want to explore that world from different perspectives than just what the movie offers, which I of course proudly own on DVD.

"James Bond 007: GoldenEye" should be just as natural a fit. But it isn't. While "TRON" has the light cycles and the disc battles, and the light runners, "GoldenEye" has the guns and the bloodshed and the collateral damage. I can't do that. Ironically, I can watch it through all 22 movies I own, and Skyfall when that comes to DVD. But I think that's because I can leave it behind. It happens and later, the end credits roll and that's it. The DVD comes out of the player and goes back into one of my two heavy-duty DVD binders. Gone until the next time.

With "GoldenEye," I'd involve myself in it for hours, even days. What made the multiplayer mode in Marathon palatable was the camaraderie between all of us who were playing. We'd throw jokes at each other from across the room, next to each other (One classmate whose name I've long forgotten used to sing a song with me that we made up for it: "See us fly, watch us die, home run derbyyyyyy...."), and keep racking up the death totals. We were young. It was easily dismissed.

But I don't want to spend my time pointing a video game gun at other characters, firing, and moving on to the next part of the mission. I don't want to be Bond. It's not in my nature. I'm not a GoldenEye, Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto-type person. I fully understand the pleasure those games give others, but it's not my kind of pleasure. I'll stick with the Bond DVDs.

But I did buy this clock for myself. Now that's definitely me.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

One of My Literary Superheroes; At the Moment, the Literary Superhero

After I finished Loser by Jerry Spinelli last Sunday, and read all the way through his The Library Card on the same day, I embarked on a few book selections that left me feeling blah by yesterday.

Monday brought Dogfight: The 2012 Presidential Campaign in Verse by Calvin Trillin, normally a very funny writer to me, and I read most of it, but couldn't finish it. Not because of him, but because the nation has just finished enduring this presidential campaign. Trillin is great at verse that can make you laugh and, of course, nod in recognition at what has always been so obvious but has never been dissected like he does it, but I think this will be funnier with proper distance, like maybe a year and a half from now. That's not to say I'll finish it then, since books are constantly hunting me down, but it'll work better later.

On Tuesday, I read The Beekeeper's Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America by Hannah Nordhaus, a wonderfully droll reporter who profiles what it takes for bees to make honey, and those that help bees do what they've always done best: The beekeepers, especially John Miller, the man of the title, who outshines Nordhaus many times by his comments and e-mails to her. In a way, it's an Abbott & Costello act between the two. Seemingly effortless. After I bought that tall jar of orange blossom honey at the Williams-Sonoma outlet store at the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas in Primm, a book about honey came to mind, but not the title, and I set about tracking it down with a few word combinations in Google that I thought would get me it. I found that it was called Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey--The Sweet Liquid Gold that Seduced the World by Holley Bishop, which I put on hold at the library and now have here at home to read whenever I feel like it, which is not yet. On that same website, I found out about this book and liked what I learned, about how bees produce honey, about the queen bee, about the (mostly) trials of the industry and what beekeepers must go through to maintain a wisp of a profit to barely keep themselves going. It was an adventure into honey, and Nordhaus clearly had fun with the topic, but I learned something and that was it. I didn't feel a spark within me turn into crackling electricity, which is what I hope a book, any book, will do.

Yesterday was a tossup. Around Boulder City by Cheryl Ferrence is valuable only for the photos of life in Boulder City and at Hoover Dam in the late 1930s on. But her writing is embarassing, reading more like a 5th grader's book report, with clipped sentences and a sense of wanting to rush through it to go do something else, even though she's part of the Boulder City Museum and Historical Association. Obviously it was created as an update after 2000's Boulder City Nevada by Mimi Garat Rodden, which was also published by Arcadia Publishing. Rodden is a much better, more enthusiastic writer, not feeling the need to artifically play up Boulder City, which doesn't need it since there's so much there that's always interesting to explore and find something that you personally like about it.

I read Flying Blind, Flying Safe by Mary Schiavo, former Inspector General of the Department of Transportation in my early teens, and her outraged views of the sheer incompetence and complacency and collusion of the Federal Aviation Administration (this was in 1996; I don't know if the FAA has changed for the better or what new policies may be in place to improve the Agency's standing) made me want to work for the National Transportation Safety Board because it seemed to me that the NTSB was more serious about looking into airplane accidents and coming up with strongly-worded suggestions and measures to make sure they don't happen again or as often.

Those years have passed, of course, but I wanted to read it again today to see if my views have changed, not about the FAA, but if I felt the same way about the NTSB as I did back then. And I do. I even went to the NTSB website after I finished reading the book to see what positions were available, namely something writing-related, since that's where I am now in my life. The only positions available required education that would take me years to get and I don't want to sit in a classroom anyway. Plus, none of what they were looking for really interests me. Not to mention that those positions are located in Washington, D.C., and I'm not moving yet again. I'm happy where I am.

I appreciate what I've read over these past three days, what I've learned anew, what I've reunited with, but still no spark. No electricity. Perhaps the best remedy is to get off library books for a while, even though I have nearly 10 to pick up on Sunday (or possibly Saturday, since the dogs are being groomed at a place directly across from the library and they only take an hour, so it makes no sense going back home), mostly Steampunk novels that interest me. I want to get back into all that.

One of my new favorite authors of late has been Jay Gilbertson of the Madeline Island series, comprised of Moon Over Madeline Island, Back to Madeline Island, and Full Moon Over Madeline Island, the last of which just came out and which he self-published through Amazon's CreateSpace. Each novel is populated by the dynamic duo, Eve and Ruby, women to admire and worship for their strength, their good humor, their determination to live their lives on their terms. Madeline Island is real, located in Lake Superior, near Bayfield, Wisconsin. Gilbertson, being a native of Wisconsin, has a unique perspective he brings to his novels, as well as delightful characterizations that were enough to make me eventually buy the first two Madeline Island novels before the third one was available to order. I occasionally thought about those first two novels, but when I learned of the third novel coming out, I remembered how much fun I had reading them, how touched I was by many of the situations, and how badly I wanted to revisit these wonderful women. I highly doubt I'll be disappointed with Full Moon over Madeline Island, and while it has already become a playmate of the other two novels by dint of being stacked on top of them, it will certainly rejoin them after I'm done.

The one thing I vow to do every Sunday after I've picked up my latest spate of holds from the library is to not put another book on hold until I've finished one of the books I've checked out. If it's a series like Decker/Lazarus by Faye Kellerman, I read the current installment and then decide if I want the next one, which, lately, I do. That works well for series, and I try to apply the same movement to my other books. It doesn't work though because there's always another book that pops into my head, or one of my interests that I must read more about, such as presidential history. In fact, after I pick up the many Steampunk novels that will be on hold for me by the end of the week, I want to get back into presidential history and figure out what I want to read next, besides the reference book The Presidency A to Z, which I haven't dipped back into since the end of October, but which I've been able to renew over and over. There's no risk of it gathering dust since there are other books of my own on top of it and The Supreme Court A to Z.

A little bit of pressure develops when I put books on hold for the following weekend. I sometimes feel like I have to read the amount that's sitting on the hold shelves for me to pick up so it matches, so I don't feel like I lose out on anything. Some weekends I get lucky. Last week, I tore through 11 books, five I actually read and six I gave up on, and had to find only four books to bring back that I wasn't likely to read any time soon. This week may produce less books, but it depends because books I'm interested in at that moment sometimes don't interest me as much as the week goes on and I don't feel great regret in giving them up.

I know that reading books should be a continual pleasure and not a rush job. They are always a pleasure to me. Even with that bit of pressure, it doesn't affect how I feel when I'm reading. And yet, I was reticent about starting Full Moon over Madeline Island because again, I don't want to feel like I'm losing out on any other titles when I go to pick up the books waiting for me on Sunday (or Saturday). But I do need a break. I ned to go back to an author that has never let me down, who brings me so deep into Madeline Island that I never feel like I'm reading chapters. I feel like I'm actually there. I have many literary superheroes like that, and yet again, for the past two weeks, I've been tempted to reread, for the umpteenth time, The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty, even though I checked out his Art in America and The Dropper from the library and have yet to read them, even though I really liked Traveler, evidenced by Randall Pound becoming one of my heroes. But soon. Soon. Maybe after Full Moon over Madeline Island, I'll read what else McLarty has to offer, before I dash back to The Memory of Running.

In this way, Jay Gilbertson is one of my literary superheroes, and certainly the literary superhero at the moment because not only do I have the pleasure of experiencing a new chapter of the liveliness of Madeline Island, but through his works, he reminds me that it's good to go back to what you love, to what you hold close to you, to what becomes dog-eared because you've read it so much. That's what books are supposed to be. They're supposed to be that inviting, to remind you of what you loved so much about them the first time and offer up new insights every other time. Gilbertson's novels do that for me. So does Steffan Piper's Greyhound. So does Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day. So does John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley. So does Graham Greene's Travels with My Aunt. So does Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. So does A.M. Homes's This Book Will Save Your Life. So do so many others that, if I listed them all, they would be the same length as this post, probably longer.

But right now, the man with the cape is Gilbertson. I'm ready for the realization of the hope of more time on Madeline Island. I'm ready for my break. My library books can wait.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Book Goes Forth

I rushed through my lunch, washed the dogs' food dishes and water dish and tray, and quickly made Mom's lunch because I wanted to get to the clubhouse of our mobile home park before it closed at 3 p.m. You can get into it after hours if you call security to open it up for you, but there's not a lot to do there to merit spending more time than the usual few minutes. There's a flatscreen TV on a table with a couch and coffee table in front of it, there's a wider room in the back with tables and chairs, a small kitchen, a water cooler, and a fireplace. Unless one of the residents is holding a birthday party or some other party that necessitates opening up the clubhouse after hours, or the front office is having an open house, as they are on Friday with hors d'oeuvres and punch (With $900 a month in rent, I had hoped there would be pie or something more significant), that area isn't used much. The maintenance guys read the paper there in the morning, evidenced by the day's Review-Journal left lying around, but that's about all the play it usually gets on a daily basis. If you see cars lined up next to the entrance of the clubhouse, then you know something's going on, but most of the time, silence.

There's also a tiny gym with some broken-down equipment that probably has no hope of being repaired, plus that room could use a paint job. But being that the playground is missing the horses that were on springs, and the basketball court could used new hoops and nets, I don't think the gym will see anything new for a long time, if ever again. There is a list of things to be fixed, and I know there are financial considerations involved in doing so, but considering that they recently rented a bulldozer to pull out the plants growing next to the entrance and exit gates, I don't think there'll be much in the way of other cosmetic freshening. I can understand middle school basketball hoops maybe not having nets, since bureaucracies take time with whatever needs to be done, but the basketball hoops and the playground here are part of the face of this mobile home park. Part of the problem lies in many people moving out, including one now-empty mobile home across the street from us, and empty lots not being filled with anything except trash and bicycle parts and tiny bits of litter. It's not so bad as to mirror the city dump, fortunately. I think it gives the lots still more history, but empty lots means less money coming in. We are buried pretty deep in the valley, despite being near Sam's Town. Our entrance faces the back wall of another mobile home park across the street, so it's not as easy to find. The benefit is that security almost, almost seems superfluous, though I'm glad to have them. I see them during the day when I walk the dogs, when I go to see if the mail came, and when I walk the dogs late at night. They keep close watch. We hear sirens elsewhere around our park, but never within.

For me, the most important room in the clubhouse is diagonal from the TV and the couch. A little past the middle of the room to the right is a pool table with one of those long stained-glass lights you'd find above a pool table in a bar. Next to the pool table and further back are sturdy wooden bookcases, and to the left of the first bookcases against the back wall are two easy chairs and a table in between. This may well be the quietest library in Las Vegas because I don't get the sense a lot of people use it.

In August, before we moved, when Mom and Dad went back for Dad to sign his employment contract and to see Margaret, the manager of our mobile home park, to let her know that we were finally on our way, I sent with them a sizable portion of the books I had accumulated over the past few years in Santa Clarita, for the library in our mobile home park and the senior mobile home park which backs right up to ours. In fact, both are nearly mirror images, with the clubhouse of the senior mobile home park the same as ours, and Margaret oversees both.

When I finally got to see the library in our clubhouse, I saw that some of my books made it onto those shelves, and some went to the senior mobile home park, as I expected. Most of the presidential ones went to the senior mobile home park, and I imagine their bookcases are more packed than the ones here since some seniors there may have a bit more time on their hands.

Since the day I saw the library in the clubhouse, I've been there many more times, more often than before in recent weeks. You can take out any books you want and they trust that you'll return them. There are no cards, no sign-out/sign-in sheets for the books. Books obviously rank way below the rent check.

It's hard to believe that anyone besides me takes advantage of what there is in these bookcases. I've plucked so many from the shelves and brought them home that I now have two stacks of books that came from there. Some of the books, such as Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, used to be mine, when I had bought books instead of getting a new library card when the City of Santa Clarita opened their own library district after they broke off from the County of Los Angeles. I despised that action because the valley was isolated enough already. That only served to isolate it even more.

In those bookcases, I also found the third and fourth books of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, which I was excited about since I like this series much more than the Harry Potter series, and I had finished the second book of the series in April. I still haven't read them yet, but I'll get to them soon, if my library books don't get in the way again.

Yet, I made time over this past weekend for one of the books from that library, namely Loser by Jerry Spinelli. I had heard of Spinelli because I had heard of Maniac Magee, but I never read it. Not until I read Loser. Now, I put it on hold on my library card and I want to read everything else he's written. I think that's because I've never grown up in the traditional sense and probably never will. When I began as a substitute campus supervisor at La Mesa Junior High in Santa Clarita in 2006, I was popular among a group of the kids there because I had been one of the AVID tutors in their science and math classes. AVID's a program designed to push kids toward college without considering that there may be other avenues students would want to explore (The world always needs car mechanics as long as there are cars, and that doesn't necessarily require four years of college), and the teachers involved were always stringent about what should be done. We couldn't chat too long with the students outside of the work involved, we had to help them with whatever questions they needed answered. But I was an easygoing sort and usually joked around with the kids whenever I had the opportunity, and they liked me for it. To them, I probably seemed less stodgy than their teachers.

Besides that, my father worked at Silver Trail Middle, the same middle school I attended in 7th and 8th grade, so I've seen campuses more up close than most students do, especially in the morning as teachers and administration come in, and after school, when all the other students have left and the hallways look wider empty.

So I can read Jerry Spinelli's novels without hesitation. And besides, these kinds of novels are written by adults with the same mindset I have, though I don't have in mind any adolescent novels of my own to write. Or not now, anyway. I do have an idea for a short story that involves a girl going from being a little kid to a teenager and then to her twenties, an odd sort of way of looking at it, but that's been it so far.

The one major thing that Spinelli did for me with Loser is give me permission to breathe. Spinelli seems to have had as much fun writing about Donald Zinkoff as it is to read about him, and it's especially refreshing how Donald goes through his early years, not caring what anyone thinks about him. He's truly himself and that's all that matters. Spinelli writes in a playfully mischievous manner that I love that has told me, through his style, to relax. Don't get so worried about the work to come. If you like doing it, then it will turn out well. I was so relieved to hear that from another author, to understand again that while it can be hard, it doesn't have to be hard. Now, instead of worrying about potential story problems in my novels, I just go for it the way I thought about it and deal with the problems as they might come along.

My plan for returning books to the library in the clubhouse was three at a time or at least a significant handful if they're thin paperbacks in order to restock the shelves well. All that I've taken out could fill one shelf. To return one at a time seems like a waste of a walk, but I had to do that with Loser. I wanted someone else to find it, to be as overjoyed as I was with it. Hence the rush to get through my chores so I could get to the clubhouse before 3.

While I walked to the clubhouse, making a right turn halfway up my street, walking past one street with mobile homes on both sides, and turning into the next street, my favorite street because of how peaceful and removed it feels from the noise of the day and night (not as much noise, but the sirens can be heard clearly at night and I'm sure it's slightly muffled on that street), I told the book that I was taking it back home, to be discovered by someone else who would hopefully be as excited about it as I had been (I've read many good books lately, but none that had me as psyched as this one). I went inside the clubhouse, and made a right to the bookcases. Initially, I was going to put it against the copy of Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister that I used to own, but it wasn't at eye level. You'd have to bend down for it. Me, I scour entire bookcases and bookshelves. I'll always bend down to look at every title. But some don't. They make a quick sweep of the shelves that they can immediately see and if nothing interests them, they walk away. I wanted to make sure that this book is seen, and so I put it next to Leaving Cheyenne by Larry McMurtry, which I owned, but didn't read, and a Babysitters Club book. Before I left, I said to it, "Make me proud."

And then, of course, after that, I scanned the shelves and came away with There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom by Louis Sachar (It was read aloud in the Intensive Literacy Program I was an aide in during one summer school session at Sierra Vista Junior High in Santa Clarita, but I want to read it on my own), The Testament by John Grisham (I want to read Grisham's novels that came after The Runaway Jury, my favorite novel of his), and Knit One, Kill Two by Maggie Sefton, yet another title in the Berkley Prime Crime Mystery line. I'm still keen on writing a mystery novel that I may stretch out into a series, so I want to see how others do it.

So not only is Loser ready for another hopefully eager reader, but now it has more room to breathe. The next time I go to those bookcases, though, I hope it's not there. I hope some intrepid young reader has taken it to read and soon be delighted at the treasures it contains. Or an adult reader. Either way, it needs to travel again, but I hope it's as well cared for as it was here.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Book Reveals Its Past

Today began with an unusual sight at 8 a.m.: Me getting up before 11, continuing from yesterday when I had to get up at 7 a.m. in order to get to a required CPR certification course by 9. Now that I've got the certification, I can schedule my job interview and soon begin work.

But there was something more unusual than that, at least to this still-new Las Vegas resident, though it's pretty much an average day in Las Vegas. After Dad and I went to Dunkin' Donuts to get three Everything bagels (for him, me, and Mom) and one blueberry bagel (for Meridith), we went to the Smith's that's in the same shopping center as the Chinese counter service restaurant we like, and Las Vegas Athletic Club, to get cream cheese, cereal (which turned out to be Honey Nut Chex), and a few other things. In the bottled juice aisle, where gallons of water are at the end of the aisle facing the pharmacy, I saw a thin older guy who had the hair, the sideburns, the exact glasses, the boot-cut jeans, and the boots. With him was a woman who had the blazing red hair, the hat, the sunglasses, the white outfit. If you merely glanced, you could have sworn that Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret were shopping together. I don't know if he was an impersonator. I didn't ask. I only gawked. I don't know if they were here for the National Finals Rodeo, which started on December 5 at the Thomas & Mack Center, ends on December 15, and has engulfed the entire city, with country music acts and comedians come to perform, casinos offering all kinds of deals for cowboys and other rodeo attendees. It's one of our biggest events of the year because of how much money it brings into the city.

Being that they were getting a few groceries, I also thought that they might live here. Where else would a guy who looks like Elvis get steady work? But imagine that: A thin Elvis and Ann-Margret living together in their later years. There's a story somewhere in there.

After a bagel lunch at home, and a long day out that included the library (I prefer going on Sundays. It's my temple), Target, Walmart, the 99 Cents Only store, and Church's Chicken to pick up dinner, we finally got home, where I could finish The Library Card by Jerry Spinelli, who became one of my favorite authors after I finished his Loser earlier today. I want to read everything else he's written, including Maniac Magee. About 10 minutes ago, I went to the bathroom on the far right end of the house, which belongs to me and Meridith, to put a new pack of wipes in the Huggies wipes container that ran out of Huggies wipes long ago, so we use it for the wipes we currently buy. The Library Card was stretched out like a pooped bird on the counter, since I was reading a bit more of it before I put in the new pack of wipes, and when I picked it up to put my bookmark back in, a piece of paper fell fast to the white tile floor. I picked it up, and found that The Library Card was giving its history to me.

It was a square piece of paper from one of the computer systems used to check out books at the Whitney branch. You place each book on the counter surface which sends the barcode into the computer and the book title appears on the screen. When you're done, you press "Sign Out" on the screen and a list of the items you checked out prints out. This particular square was from June 28, 2012 (Thursday) at 1:12 p.m., and lists this book, and "One juvenile paperback" and another "One juvenile paperback" as having been checked out, making for three books checked out. ("One juvenile paperback," in this case, is what appears when a book is too light on the counter surface to be read by the computer and appear as its title.)

These slips give no indication of how many books someone has checked out on their card. On my inches-long slip, it doesn't say that I have 50 items checked out (49 books and one three-disc Johnny Carson DVD set), nor does this square slip say how many books this kid has checked out. All that's clear is that these three books were due on July 19. I won't ever know what those other two juvenile paperbacks were, but I hope they were also Jerry Spinelli novels. Whether that kid went to the library only once a week or went twice a week or however many times, I hope he or she is still going there, still taking advantage of all the books that are offered, hopefully becoming a writer in the process. Whenever I see kids at the library, I always wonder who among them might become a writer and what they will offer the world in their words. I can't wait to read them, from whoever might write them.

I believe every book on the shelves at my library has history. While I can't possibly know every single piece of it, save for the cosmetic history sometimes (such as the cigarette smoke smell in the large-print Robyn Carr novels), I'm happy to have gotten a little extra from this Jerry Spinelli novel, to see where it's been, and to send it back out into the world next Sunday with my greatest hope that others pick it up and deeply immerse themselves in it as I have.

Books here have history. I've got to get used to that. Not even Subways are for Sleeping by Edmund G. Love, the only book I bought from the Los Angeles County library system because it had been with me for so long and I love it that much, had that kind of history, despite having been in that system for a few decades. I'm always tickled whenever I get a book on hold from the Boulder City library because of how much history is in that building. They're not afraid of taking care of old books over there and they're given the best of care there. Last Sunday, I picked up The Betsy by Harold Robbins (I want to read all his novels, after reading Sin City, which was written in the late Robbins' style by Junius Podrug, while waiting and waiting and waiting to move here back in April), which came from Boulder City, and the age is there. It's bulky, as would be expected from Robbins; it's a little loose, but it's still sturdy and dependable. All these years and the book has not fallen apart. They're not allowed to over there. They're always useful and they will always have a home there. This library even still has its library catalog with the cards!

I'm tempted to put this square slip back somewhere deep in the book for someone else to discover its history. Since it came from the Whitney branch, it'll be shelved right where it came from and I don't think the slip will drop out of it. But what happens with the next person? Will they put the slip back in or tear it up and throw it out? I was thinking of doing the same, but what good would that do? It only denies this book its history. It's 14 years old, and its pages are slightly yellowed, but aging pages do not prove the usefulness of a book. To me, its usefulness is measured by how much it has traveled, the little creases, the bent pages someone made to mark where they were, even the minor accidental stains. A book well-used is an important book.

Just now, I thought I had lost that square slip of paper, forgetting that I had already placed it back inside the book for someone else to discover, to see this book's history. I shook the pages and nothing fluttered out. I flipped through each page and found it cozily wedged in between pages 66 and 67. I can't put my own slip of paper in there because it's way too long. I don't think all the other books I checked out are important in this case anyway. But I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to cut out the listing on my slip for The Library Card, and place it somewhere else in the book. I want the next person to know that it has also lived on here in December. I want to place it between pages 20 and 21, since that's one of my favorite passages, but that's too early in it, and there wouldn't be enough weight on it from other pages. Wedging it in between pages 112 and 113 would be best, since it's when Sonseray, the homeless boy, walks into a library for the first time.

To me, books are sacred, and so are their journeys. When I send this one back out, it'll be loaded with its history. It has lived, future reader. And from that, it has strength enough to live for you. By reading it, you'll replenish its strength to be ready for the next reader, and so on. That's the kind of "chain" anything I can get behind.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My Galaga Breakthrough

Saturday was Dad's birthday. We spent most of it on the California/Nevada state line, in Primm, on the Nevada side, at the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas. This is where you find your outlet stores, arranged in the round. Start at one entrance/exit and you'll end at that same point. Getting back to where you started from becomes the furthest thing from your mind once you see what's offered.

We were there because we couldn't be there on the day we moved to Las Vegas on that Friday in September, being that we had Tigger and Kitty, and our two finches in the car with us, and we were late to our new home. We had hoped to get there before the manager of the mobile home park left for the weekend, so Meridith and I could finally meet her. We were getting close to the time that she'd be leaving, 3 p.m. every day even though she lives on the same property, but why stay longer than you have to?

So we bypassed it. We didn't get to the Williams-Sonoma Marketplace. I didn't get to see the car that Bonnie and Clyde were killed in, countless bullet holes delivered by angry law enforcement. At that time, I had thought that it had been placed between one section of the mall and the indoor entrance to the Primm Valley Resort and Casino. Having written that, I now think back to when we were last at Whiskey Pete's in 2010, and didn't I see the car then? Hadn't we walked around enough that I spotted it somewhere in that casino? Or has it always been moved between properties, depending on how many visitors each casino and the Fashion Outlets get? I don't know. Looking through the photos in the Whiskey Pete's listing on, I find that someone took a photo of the Bonnie and Clyde car, which is dated August 21. So had we stopped at Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas that day, I still wouldn't have seen the car, which was one of the reasons I wanted to stop there.

At the start of this visit, which makes up incredibly for having to drive past on the first day, I still think I'll see the car. But first, we stop at the Nevada Welcome Center, where I have a long conversation with a native Nevadan about the UNLV Rebels, about Jeremy Renner's character in The Bourne Legacy hailing from Reno, about his experiences all his life in Nevada, about his travels throughout, a conversation that lasts long enough for Mom, Dad and Meridith to head into the outlets, leaving me behind to chat some more. When the opportunity's there, I take it. My fascination with Nevada never ends.

I walk into the outlets after reaffirming my hope to the Nevadan that the Rebels at least grab onto the Sweet 16 this season, if not make it all the way to the top. I hang a right, and find Mom and Dad walking from Williams-Sonoma Marketplace to Viva Vegas, the souvenir store with everything Las Vegas. Mugs, t-shirts, cigarette lighters, shot glasses, magnets, everything but bookmarks. I still can't find Las Vegas bookmarks. Yes, I know Las Vegas isn't thought of as a literary or even literate city, but we do have libraries, and they haven't let me down yet. I don't expect them to. Plus, we have the Vegas Valley Book Festival every year. However, Viva Vegas isn't geared to residents. I know. It's for the tourists either driving into, or out of, the state. Even so, some tourists read, too. My search for bookmarks continues.

After still not finding bookmarks at Viva Vegas, I decide to go where Mom and Dad have left Meridith: Inside Williams-Sonoma Marketplace. I want to see what kind of mustard they have, mustard that has to be better than the whole-grain French mustard I picked up on our way back to Southern California back in January. I first find smoky chipotle mustard in "collectible European glassware," as it's touted, and it's $8.95, though 30 percent off. Honey pops into my head. I must find honey. I hate walking through the aisle in the supermarket and finding the same kinds of honey I always see, with the same high prices. I know honey costs a lot to make, but the brands aren't all that interesting in Smith's. Here, I find Florida orange blossom honey, manufactured by the Savannah Bee Company in Savannah, Georgia. It's Florida, so I have to get. Never mind that it's $11 and change. When am I ever going to find this in Smith's?

I'm happy in my city. I've so much still to explore, still to read about, still to experience. But those instances of deep satisfaction, when you're absolutely certain of what makes you endlessly happy and you vow to pursue it, don't happen every day. It's not that satisfaction doesn't happen here; it's just that awesome, lasting feeling of knowing what you want and going for it that takes time to find. I want to keep reading, as I always do, I want to write more books, but I need something else, and I think that comes either in career or community involvement. I'm not sure which, yet. It's going to take some time to find.

The overall picture of one's life is, of course, a challenge. Naturally, it's the little things that emerge more quickly. And I found that after we had rounded the corner near Williams-Sonoma Marketplace, walked a little bit longer, and came upon the food court, which I had previously only seen in photos on When we came here as tourists, we thought the side of the mall with Williams-Sonoma and Viva Vegas was all there is. We hadn't realized that there was another side to the mall. And inside this food court was an arcade, which had driving games, and a hoops game, shooting baskets in 60 or 90 seconds (whatever it was, since I didn't look), and comparably higher-tech claw machines. There was nothing there for me, until, as Meridith and Mom were walking to the restroom, they spotted a Galaga arcade machine, actually one of those Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga hybrids, but to me, only Galaga matters.

In late October, at The Orleans, I got tickets for Meridith and I to see John Pinette, one of our favorite stand-up comedians. And in our family tour of The Orleans after I bought the tickets, we went upstairs to the movie theater and found a considerably larger arcade than what Sam's Town offers. Nothing else there mattered once I discovered the Galaga machine, and Mom and Dad and Meridith gamely hung around for a little bit while I played. I don't even remember what my score was, but I do know that I played badly.

Every time I've played, in Nevada, in Southern California, I never could get past Stage 10. As the stages build, the alien bugs get bolder, firing their bombs as they spin upward to join the formation. I always fire at them as they join that formation because I want to destroy them quickly so it's less work when the formation is complete. I don't know whether they won't fire their bombs if I hold my fire while they're getting in formation. But I do know they go at it faster with each subsequent stage, and my bad habit of wedging myself in one of the corners on the left or right side of the screen when the bugs break from the formation and fly downward, their bombs drifting toward me, but not hitting me, becomes more dominant.

When I play Galaga, you can hear me. I furiously bang on that fire button and I jam the joystick to the left or the right to avoid those bombs. I duck and I weave and I jump, as if I was playing Dance Dance Revolution instead of Galaga, like the bugs are firing at me and not my starfighter. I love this game because it invites my imagination to tag along. I wonder why my starfighter is so intent on eliminating these alien bugs, and I make up little stories about who these aliens are and who pissed who off enough to start this war. I remember the movie The Last Starfighter and I fondly think about Robert Preston, that consummate showman actor whose Centauri was his final role in that movie, and who made Harold Hill in The Music Man and Carole Todd in Victor/Victoria so memorable.

This time, however, I'm not thinking about Robert Preston nor the origins of those bugs. I want to finally get past Stage 10. I have four quarters, which means two quarters for one game, and two more to continue that game after my lives run out. I put in all four and start, and by the time the bugs are usually in formation in Stage 1, I have only one more bug to eliminate. That's the fastest Stage 1 I've ever played.

The game goes on, and I duck, and I weave, and I jump, and I bang on that fire button, and I jam that joystick to the left and to the right, instinctively avoiding those bombs, even as they become more numerous. Instinctively. That's never happened before. I remember how I've played past games, but before this game in this arcade in the food court at the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas, it's never been as laser-etched in my memory of how to play as it is now. My strategy suddenly clicks. I'm still in the bad habit of wedging myself, but I've never avoided those bombs so successfully before. Experience, yes, but I never expected it to click like this. And I feel it in my head, too, that it's there now, it's part of me now, and I can use it and improve my game even more.

When it's all over, when I've used the other two quarters and finally lose against the alien bugs, I find that I've reached Stage 17! 107,650 points! I've never gone that high before! It's far below the lowest score on this machine, at 240-something thousand, but it's good enough for me.

I take what turns out to be a break to have a banana slushie that Mom and Meridith got for me from Tea Zone, which makes the best slushies, the best Thai tea in Southern Nevada. Unfortunately, this is the only location. The proprietor tells us that he did have other locations a few years ago, but he closed them all and remained with this one because it's so far out of the way of Las Vegas, despite being only 20 minutes away. He couldn't make it against the competition that Chinatown poses in this market. The next time we go to the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas, which is guaranteed, we're going back to him. He told Mom that she should look for the sealing machine they have for the cups in order to determine whether an establishment has the slushies or teas, but as Mom said to us at the table, she's had so many different Thai teas already and they're nothing like what she had from this guy. Nobody can make it like he can.

The quarters that Mom gets in change from the slushies and the teas (I don't remember what Dad had) go to me, four of them for another game of Galaga. Same excitement, same movements in the second game. This time, it ends for me at Stage 16, with 101,050 points. More Galaga games will come in which I don't make it past Stage 10 again. I expect that. But now I know that I can get past Stage 10. I know how. I know what I have to do.

I was saving this for another entry, but I'll tell it here since it relates to Galaga: We got a Nintendo Wii, the first Nintendo system we've had since the original, spurred on by Meridith wanting ABBA: You Can Dance and wanting a Wii just because of it.

I can't play ABBA: You Can Dance, because I don't. I don't feel it like Meridith does. But I have tried the bicycling in Wii Sports Resort and the bowling in Wii Sports, and I like it, especially the 100-pin bowling, in which the number of pins builds in each single frame. There are no spares to try to get. You just knock down as many pins as you can.

I thought that I wouldn't spend as many hours playing the Wii as Meridith would. What reason would I have? I have books to read, my books to write, and sometimes a movie, such as it is with our recent library visit, in which I checked out Albert Nobbs, since it was directed by Rodrigo Garcia, one of my favorite filmmakers, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture - The Director's Edition. I want to finally have watched more than just Star Trek: Generations, and I want to do it chronologically.

Why would I need the Wii? But it turns out I do need the Wii, for the best reason I can think of. In fact, I thought of it while I was playing Galaga in that small arcade: I should see if there's any Namco Wii titles with Galaga in them. I've tried Galaga on Nintendo DS, and it's not the same. I need a joystick, or at least something that resembles a joystick.

And I've found it in Namco Museum Megamix, which has an odd variation on Galaga, having to protect Pac-Man rolling down various slides from the same kind of alien bugs in the original game, flitting all about these slides. However, the original arcade version is included in this! Plus, there's a Wii Nunchuck that came with the system that I can use. It has a miniscule joystick that I have to be very careful with, since this obviously isn't an arcade joystick, but now I can strategize at home! I can break my habit of wedging myself in the corner of the screen whenever those bombs get near me. When I played Galaga in that arcade, I discovered that in stages such as 13, 14, and so on, those bombs go right to where I am instead of simply next to me. I was blown up three times by them in those two games.

So I'll be spending more time than I ever expected to on the Wii because when I go back to that Galaga arcade machine, most likely at the Pinball Hall of Fame next, if it's still there, I want to be ready and able to dodge those bombs better than I do now. I want to destroy those bugs as they climb into formation and have lots more stages like Stage 1 in my first game in which there was only one bug left in the full formation. However, in one of the challenge stages in between stages, after Stage 10, I discovered a new bug that, when in a group, separates in a circle when you fire at it. I've got so much more to learn.

After that experience at that arcade at the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas, I can say without any doubt that besides reading, Galaga makes me endlessly happy. That's two. I know there's more and I'll either discover them or rediscover them in time.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Randall Pound: My New Hero

My list of heroes grows as often as the books I proudly own, which is not all that often. They have to make such an impact on me, and garner my undying admiration in such an unshakeable way that I can't imagine living each day without being reminded of them in some way.

Thus far, my heroes are Neil Simon, Stephen Sondheim, Quentin Crisp, Noel Coward, Johnny Carson, Jeff Bridges, Aaron Sorkin, Benny Binion, Diamond Jim Brady, Helene Hanff, Joshua Kadison, Mike Royko, Sam Shepard, and, in the fictional realm, Andy Capp, Baloo the bear in The Jungle Book, Murray N. Burns (Jason Robards) in A Thousand Clowns, Judge Harry Stone (Harry Anderson) on Night Court, Lord John Marbury (Roger Rees) on The West Wing, Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) in the Back to the Future trilogy, The Dude (Jeff Bridges) in The Big Lebowski (I'm wearing a t-shirt with a drawing of him that has the banner "He Abides"), and Brian Hackett on Wings.

Recently, deciding to branch out from The Memory of Running, one of my favorite novels that features two of my favorite characters in American literature (the overweight Smithy Ide and the wheelchair-bound Norma), I set out to read Ron McLarty's three subsequent novels: Traveler, Art in America, and The Dropper. I finished Traveler yesterday, and to my list of heroes, I add Randall Pound, whose description can only come from McLarty himself. I transcribed every scene featuring Pound so I'll always have it long after I return Traveler to the Whitney Library. All of it follows below. Renee, Jono's girlfriend, is a New York City firefighter, to give context to the bit from page 48:

Pg. 25-27 – “I pulled some beers, mixed a Tom Collins, and blended a frozen margarita. Getting the orders over the reverberation of the front room requires a great deal of concentration. I’ve become a passable lip-reader. I pulled two more McSorley’s, and the sandwich was here. I squirted a glassful of club soda and took it to the end of the bar, where Randall Pound spilled over his usual stool.
“Hey, Jono,” he said quietly.
Randall put a dog-eared paperback down on the bar and sipped an espresso. It’s amazing to see the tiny cup on the edge of his fingers. Randall Pound is a shade over seven feet tall and proudly keeps his weight at 390. His neck is surprisingly long for a man of his great size. A contemplative, almost aesthetic Slavic face sits on top of it, with huge green eyes, long proportional nose, and thick shiny black hair combed tight into a short ponytail. At thirty he carres an agelessness about him. Seven years ago Lambs entered into a frustrating period where bar fights and loud, aggressive customers were becoming a nightly occurrence. After I tried to break up one fight, both the combatants turned on me. The next day, nose flattened, both eyes black, and reeling from a mild concussion, I ran an ad for a bouncer in the Village Voice. A lot of impressive men turned up (and one woman with a black belt in karate). But it was the quiet, dapper Randall Pound who won the job. The interview went like this:
“I’m Jono Riley.”
“I’m Randall Pound.”
“If guys start getting out of line or fighting, what would you do?”
“They won’t.”
“They won’t what?”
“They won’t get out of line or start fighting.”
He always wears a tailored sharkskin suit. He owns seven of them. All metallic blue. He sits on the corner stool like he has every evening, without fail, for the last seven years. At the first sign of a problem, a waitress or a bartender will whisper to the offender and point down to Randall, who will slowly wave and smile. He was right. No one gets out of line. No one fights.
“You’re early.”
“We only did the first act,” I said. Then I added, “Audience walked out.”
Randall nodded thoughtfully. “I enjoyed it, Jono. I thought you rose above the limited material.”
“Theater, the printed word, language in the general sense has entered into a decline,” he said quietly. “I attended a seminar at Columbia just last week where Bill Gates’s futurist talked about the inevitability of fine and performing arts being marginalized.” He held up the paperback. It was a copy of Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis. “Tell that to Lewis. Tell it to Hem or Billy Faulkner,” he said.
“Is that the last one?” I asked through a mouthful of tuna.
Randall is a true eccentric. His life plan, as he has explained it to me, is to experience as many varied occupations as possible while devouring the whole of American literature.
Our Mr. Wrenn is the last of Sinclair’s canon,” he said. “It was his first book. It’s going to be the last one I read to complete it. After Babbitt, that is.”
Randall’s ten-to-four shift at Lambs is the only constant in an inventive and eclectic career that has included truck driving, construction working, hot-dog vending, supermarket stocking, bank telling, box-office managing, flower arranging, copywriting, street sweeping, census taking, and I forget what-all, but it’s still only the tip of the iceberg.
“How come you never tried acting?” I asked.
He looked at me, concentrated and serious. “Because I’m an odd person doesn’t mean I’m mentally challenged.”
I nodded, took some fries and soda. He took a delicate sip of the espresso. I must have been wrinkling my eyebrows or something.
“What?” he asked.
“What, what?”
“You’re pensive. Something’s bothering you, all right.”
“Uh-uh.” I chewed.
“Look, it’s reasonable to feel uneasy. You have chosen a dangerous profession. Peter Brook rather darkly ruminates about the deadly theater in The Empty Space.”
“You read that?”
“I found it unsettling. I thought about you. It made me sad.”
I held up my hand while I finished a bite. “Randall, I like it. It pisses me off a lot, but mostly I like it. Actually, there’s something else on my mind.”
I gave him a brief rundown of Cubby’s letter and some background. When I finished, Randall sighed thoughtfully.
“O’Casey says it correctly,” he said. “ ‘The world is in a terrible state of chassis.’”

Pg. 48 – “A half hour later, I hugged Robert and Jeff, and then Renée and I strolled over to Astor Place and took the Lex uptown to Lambs. I got two coffees, and we went to an alcove behind Randall Pound. He swiveled in his chair, and Renée got tippy-toed to kiss him.
“How was it?” he asked quietly.
“The audience stayed,” I said.
“He was great,” Renée said in her sort of serious way. “He is such a wonderful actor.”
Randall held up his espresso in a silent toast. He sniffed. “You been to a fire?” he asked Renée.
“Yeah, nothing much.”
He sniffed again. “You smell like toasted raisin bread.”
“Yeah?” she said.”

Pg. 224 – “We crossed the street and headed down to the Biltmore Bar, where there was a phone next to the men’s room. I punched in my calling card and my 917 service code. I had two messages. The first one was Randall Pound’s soft voice.
“Hey, Jono. I finally finished all of the Sinclair Lewis canon. Just now closed Our Mr. Wrenn and wanted to tell somebody. I’m on to Fitzgerald now. Making progress. Say hey to Renée. I’m on my stool and we miss you at Lambs.”

Pg. 259 – Chapter 36 – “Everything I wanted to keep after thirty years in New York City filled about half of the small van I had rented. Discards of my life flowed over cardboard boxes and plastic bags piled high in front of my old East Eighty-ninth Street walk-up.
I slid into the passenger side. “It’s like I was never here.”
Randall Pound nodded behind the steering wheel. “You were here, Jono. Things are things. They’re not important. Remember what Mrs. Joad said when the preacher asked her why they had brought everything they owned to California?”
“What did she say?”
“She said, ‘I don’t know.’”
We took Eighty-sixth Street over to the West Side. The apartment was in a brownstone on West Eighty-seventh between Columbus and Central Park. It had taken the two of us all day long and ten trips, the van bulging, to get Renée’s things up from Chelsea and a half hour for mine. I handed Randall a Coke. It became miniature in his enormous hands. I took one, and we drank in silence, our eyes swinging around the sunny room.
“It’s a big thing. Moving,” he finally said. “It’s like death and it’s like birth.”
I laughed.
“No, really, Jono. Any way you look at it, it’s something new. It’s an adventure. Sandburg, in a lot of his work, points out the essential insignificance of people. In the long term, I mean. These are the kinds of things that put the lie to that. You and Renée moving in, I mean.”
I dropped Randall off at his place and returned the van to a garage on West Twenty-third across the street from Pier 63."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thomas & Mack After Hours

The basketball game just ended on the radio. 85-57. The Rebels won soundly. My neighbor, Michael, two houses down, with the rough but not nearly calloused hands of the woodworker that he is (always a handshake either when we meet up or when I've got to bring one of the dogs back to the house), is either getting ready to go to work or is already at the Thomas & Mack Center, but not necessarily for the game. Maybe he was there that early, deep in the background, not at courtside, not in any of the seats. He, the South Carolina native, is a member of the crew that cleans the arena after everyone has left. He's one of many who tosses discarded food into the trash, who sweeps the detritus, the wrappers, the soda cups, whatever's around that people have either brought with them or bought at the stadium, but leave behind.

Yesterday, while Tigger was with me on his leash, I talked with Michael for a while, about the city, about where he came from before Las Vegas (Playa del Rey in Southern California, and he told me that he misses the beach, being right there, being able to walk to the shore like you'd walk to your mailbox. In our first conversation, he talked about how he misses South Carolina and even though he's been in Las Vegas for only nine months, he wants to go back. But to South Carolina or Playa del Rey, I'm not sure. Something tells me he'll be here for a few months longer at least, because the work is steady, and we all need that in this hoped-for economic recovery), about the hack job the maintenance guys did on the bushes (He trimmed the bushes around his property himself, and he did a far better job than those guys did), about his motorcycle which he won't be able to ride in the cold of winter, and, of course, about the Rebels, lamenting the post-Thanksgiving game in which they lost against Oregon, but becoming hopeful again after their win over Iowa State. We both agreed that the team can't keep shooting three-pointers arbitrarily. They need to have a far-reaching plan for the game, adjustable as the minutes tick off, but only when they're sure they can make the shot, then they should take it. We talk every couple of days, usually sooner after a Rebels game, and that seems to be enough. With him on the graveyard shift, we don't cross paths every day. But it's more than I ever had when I existed in Southern California.

I'm not sure what he'll be driving tonight. It was pleasantly warm today, but he'll probably keep both motorcycles at the end of his driveway, under that awning, since neither come with heat, like a car would. So it'll be whichever car is his, the one that isn't his wife's. But he may be there already, waiting for the crowds to clear out. Either way, he's faced less traffic than he would have much earlier. Or maybe he is there already. Why battle with the traffic coming out of Thomas & Mack after the game? He told me that when he did get to Thomas & Mack after the season opener against Northern Arizona two weeks ago, people were still trickling out because that game had drawn the biggest crowd in UNLV Men's Basketball history. On the day of the game, there were only 500 seats still available in an arena of 18,776 seats.

I haven't been inside the Thomas & Mack Center yet, but I love walking through empty spaces, and I'm looking forward to seeing the cell phone photo Michael's going to take of the inside of the arena after everyone's left, before the cleanup begins. I'm curious about exactly how much of a mess is made, if it's bigger on more crowded nights than sparsely-crowded ones, and if this matches the season opener, which was apparently very messy.

And what still amazes me is that this is only a minute crumb of one evening in Las Vegas. But it's just as interesting a crumb as all the others that make up my city.

Monday, November 26, 2012


Every day here at home, whether in Las Vegas or Henderson, or hopefully Boulder City one of these days to walk around again, I look for little pieces of life. Sometimes I like absorbing an epic arc by what I'm reading or if I briefly meet a particularly charismatic person, but most of the time, I like the little things. I don't need much to be satisfied.

During Black Friday, Meridith found out that Toys R Us was selling "ABBA: You Can Dance" for Wii. She's wanted it for a long time, even though she doesn't have a Wii, but that's coming soon, possibly from Best Buy, which advertises a black Wii with "Wii Sports" included, for $119. Normally, "ABBA: You Can Dance" is $39.99, so she had to grab this. Since she doesn't transfer money into her checking account all that often, and I wasn't sure how long this sale would last, I decided to order it. It wasn't for a surprise since she already knew about it. Besides, I eventually want to see what it's like, too.

$8.98 was an online-only price, but it could be picked up at a Toys R Us in our general vicinity, which meant the one on West Sunset Road in Henderson. Yesterday, I received the e-mail from Toys R Us that said it was ready for pickup, Dad printed it out today at his school, and he, Meridith and I went to Toys R Us late this afternoon since I was the only one who could pick it up, since they required not only the printed e-mail, but also a photo ID.

A woman was in front of me when we walked in, trying to figure out with a Toys R Us employee behind the counter how she was going to get the huge box of something she bought to her car. The employee had a hand truck with her, which tells you the challenge that was looming. Plus, the employee obviously wouldn't be there with the hand truck in tow once the woman got home.

But that wasn't the piece of life I found interesting. When I got to the counter and was waiting for someone to take my printed e-mail and check my ID, a man was next to me with four boxes of the board game Stratego, which I've only ever heard of. I've never played it and probably never will. When I was a kid, Guess Who, Life, and Connect Four were pretty much it. Every other game we had was either on the Nintendo or the Game Boy.

He put the boxes on the counter and explained that he had bought the game for his Boy Scout troop, but it wasn't the original Stratego. The employee helping him said it looked like the original since it said "The Classic Board Game" on the box, but he explained that it didn't have the same number of pieces that the original had. It had more. And then he went on to explain some intricacies of the new game versus what the original had, evidenced by one of the boxes that he had opened previously to check out the game, and I didn't catch any of that.

The employee helping me said that it would be 15 minutes before I could pick up the ABBA game, and so Meridith and I walked to the video game section so she could see if there were any more copies of the ABBA game, and there were none, which is lucky, since we apparently got the last copy, at least for now at that location. Then she asked the guy at the video game counter if they had any more Wiis, and they didn't.

Back at the Guest Services counter, which is nearly pressed against the entrance doors, the employee had a large, clear plastic bag containing the game, and first thought it belonged to the woman who had left with the huge box, but finally she turned around, saw us there, and knew that it belonged to us. I didn't mind that she might have momentarily forgotten, as long as it was there and as long as Meridith now has it.

Before we left, the Stratego guy was standing behind another customer who was also at the counter, holding four tin boxes of the 50th Anniversary edition of Stratego. That must have been the one he was looking for, and now he could exchange the not-original-Strategos for those ones. Now those Boy Scouts can know what real Stratego is.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hack and Slash

A few minutes after 12:30 this morning, I walked Kitty and then I walked Tigger. I walked them to the bush across from the porch of the house of the neighbor who I talk Rebels basketball with, and then to the pebbles-and-dirt patch under the streetlight near the back door of a house diagonal from that neighbor's house. Then to a small stretch of bushes with light violet flowers on a few of them, facing the guest parking spaces. Then onto the dirt in that island with the stop sign planted at the head of it, facing drivers who approach that turn in the early morning.

I like those flowers. And I also like the reddish flowers that are on the bush in front of the house belonging to the Lundy family (indicated by the sign on the outside wall nearest to their screened-in porch). And I know that winter's coming and therefore changes must be made. When I went to walk the dogs again a little after noon, I saw that the leaves on some of the trees seemed to have turned red overnight, winter charging in rapidly, though not as fast in the air since it's cooler, but not as bitterly cold as it was two weeks ago.

The stop-my-walk-completely shock came when I looked over to those bushes at the guest parking spaces as I walked Kitty to that same bush across from my Rebels neighbor's porch. The flowers were not only gone, but so was the dignity of those bushes. There had been no trimming, no clipping, no topiary care of any sort. Nothing to ease the transition of these bushes into winter. Yes, I can understand that there would be no leaves on them, that they would be bare, that the small petals of those flowers would have gradually fallen onto to the dirt, but it looked like branches of those bushes had crashed violently into one another, the top ones slamming through the rest, a confused jumble of sticks that looked like a Jenga game played by hyper toddlers.

This is a fairly nice neighborhood. A few residents are decorating for Christmas, and the one two houses down that decorated elaborately for Halloween, with spider webs draped over their front-door walkway and all throughout the tree in front of their two windows, is doing the same for Christmas. The streets here are kept clean, no streetsweepers coming through, but there isn't that much debris anyway. There is such peace at night, nothing that makes you uncertain of whether you belong. I can see the Stratosphere from where I stand at the end of our driveway, and at night, I can see the lights flashing in different colors, and the red beacon at the top blinking on and off to let aircraft know that it's there. I like that. I like that I can also see the colors undulating on the Eastside Cannery building from a certain spot near my neighbor's house, which is next to the empty patch of land right next to us. It's us, that space, and then the neighbor's house. I also like seeing just a tiny bit of the Boulder Station sign from far off, and of course my solid red beacon on top of Sunrise Mountain, which I look for every night.

Flowers can't survive in winter, at least not here. I know that. But I'm still disturbed by that hack and slash job done on the bushes. I've been trying to see the beauty in it, some order to it, but I can't. It's like someone placed a tiny bomb inside it and blew it outward from the inside. What bush here deserves that? Being Las Vegas, we don't have the market cornered on greenery, but what we do have, I always appreciate. I hope they come by later on or some time before winter's over to fix it up, to make it right again. When I walked Tigger, I went to the huge, long dumpster that's next to my Rebels neighbor's house, and is also next to the side entrance to the senior mobile home park, both of which are run by the same management. I saw the branches in there with leaves still on them, the branches with flowers also carelessly dumped in there. It's not right. You trim, you take off what the forthcoming winter doesn't need. You give it a little lift for the holidays, making sure that when the weather gets warm again, it can continue where it left off. Not like this. Not as awful as this.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Only We and the Librarian Showed

In a modest room off the entrance of the James I. Gibson Library, four middle-sized long tables made a square that suggested more of a less intimate AA meeting than speed dating. On a table near some empty book racks were a few bottles of water and a few books selected by the librarian in charge of the program to show off. And there was the librarian, 23 years old, one of many librarians here surely, but the one who spearheaded this program in hopes of bringing some of the community together, having done this once before.

23 years old. It made me wonder what the hell I did with my 20s, for a few seconds until I remembered that I wrote my first book and saw it published. She did remind me by just a recap of her life in Henderson (since she was 2 years old), that I need to haul ass on the rest of my writing projects, make them happen.

"We" was Meridith and I, Meridith having gone with me out of curiosity and bringing the Bobby Flay Mesa Cookbook to tell people about her favorite chef, if there were people who would come to this. There wasn't. There was only me, Meridith, and the librarian, whose name, incidentally, I forgot to ask.

The librarian told us that she put on this event once before, but the few people who came all knew each other, and it works better if people come who don't know each other. That would have been true if there had been more people there than just us three. And I know the librarian would have made sure that Meridith and I obviously don't get paired up to chat.

When I wrote on Facebook about no one showing up to this, I got one comment that was incredulous that I was looking for love in Las Vegas. Well, no, it wasn't that at all. I wanted to see if there were other bibliophiles in Southern Nevada who are as devoted as I am. I wanted to see who else called the local libraries home or a temple or a place of worship like I do. I wanted to get to know others who are just as content as I am sometimes reading two or three books in a day. Logic would dictate that I shouldn't have expected it in a state with a total population of 2.7 million, the majority living in Clark County. But then, I should, since the majority is here. And I know Las Vegas is a transient city and all that, even though this was in Henderson, but I do get a sense that those who live in Henderson are here for a long, long time. So I would have also hoped to meet those who call this city home.

I liked the aim of the program. I still believe in it. In fact, the librarian said that the next time she puts on this program, she'll call us ahead of time to let us know if anyone else has signed up. I'll be there again because this one librarian is trying to gather members of the community, to make the community stronger. I believe in it. I believe Henderson needs that more than ever, to fashion a stronger community, and this is one way to do it.

I'm not disappointed. I have my books. I have my ideas for future projects. I'm not going to start haunting Barnes & Noble in the hopes of finding another voracious reader. Mom says that I may find that person when I least expect it. Well, I don't expect it. If the chance comes along, it might be nice, but if not, I've got this enormous region to get to know intimately by visits to all kinds of places I still haven't been to and places I want to go back to (I desperately want to walk around Boulder City again, visit the library there, which I love because of its respect for old books, and to walk around the UNLV campus), and to study by way of the books that have striven to define it, both historically and by personal feelings. And all the stories around me every day, all the interesting people to see! What better city to spark creativity?

One night last weekend, I saw a Virgin Atlantic 747 sitting on a taxiway, waiting to be cleared to taxi to the runway and to takeoff. I saw Air Force One in the daylight, sitting at a far end of McCarran, back when Obama was preparing for his first debate in Henderson, and I'd seen a Virgin Atlantic 747 fly over me to land at McCarran, but I'd never heard one with its engines idling. I love that sound.

One day this past week, after we picked up the Michael Buble CD and the $25 gift certificate to the Ravella spa in Lake Las Vegas that Mom had won on KSNE, and after we went to two Barnes & Noble to find the connect-the-dots daily calendar Mom wanted for the new year, we went to dinner at The Hush Puppy, which has the weirdest rules, such as if you order one of their all-you-can-eat specials, you can't take home what you don't finish. I didn't get it either.

Anyway, at the table behind us, one guy was speaking loudly and I learned a bit about some of the trees we have in Las Vegas, including mesquite, and that guy being impressed by the crew that came to cut branches off of one. It was actually pretty interesting to listen to.

So I have all this. And I'm going to the library later today to pick up 15 books on hold, including The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (I like to wait for hype to pass), and Sanctuary, the seventh novel in the Decker/Lazarus series by Faye Kellerman (I've read the previous six). There's so much to do that if that person happens to come along, and I'm taken enough by her, I'll ask her to come along with me. Ideally, I'd like her to be of this area, of Henderson or Las Vegas and to have lived here for enough years that she knows so much that I don't, even with how much I know so far.

But if she doesn't, well, I'm ok with that. I'm not searching, I'm not going to search, and there's so much to do as it is! It's a good life here, a worthwhile life, far more than I've ever had before and more depth than ever.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Speed Dating with Books in Hand

I wake up very late Tuesday morning, leading into the opening minutes of the afternoon, not expecting to see Skyfall later that afternoon at Regal Boulder Station 11 (one of the best Bond movies, but On Her Majesty's Secret Service is still the best), not expecting to double my money on Coyote Moon, my favorite slot machine, at Boulder Station, after the movie, not expecting to go to Wing Stop for dinner that evening, and certainly not expecting to hear from my mother what I hear after I've dressed and walked into the living room:

"You're going speed dating!"

What? Me? Speed dating? Hola. Mi nombre es Rory Aronsky.

Let me back up to 3 a.m. Tuesday morning. I went to bed in the bed that I know is my bed, with all those books on the floor from the library and those which are my permanent collection. I know all those books.

I woke up in the bed that I know is my bed, in the room that I know is my room, pulling clothes that I know are my clothes from the closet that I know is my closet. Everything seems the same. When did speed dating decide to stroll on in?

After I shrug off the shock that feels like five minutes more than the two seconds it took to do so, Mom tells me that she found it in the View section, which is expressly written and printed for all the different areas of Las Vegas. We live in the Sunrise/Whitney area, so we get that section every Tuesday inside our regular Las Vegas Review-Journal.

She tells me to pick up that section of the paper, which is already on top of the rest of the paper, folded out to show the "Arts & Leisure" page, the bottom of which has the "Book Briefs" section. And here is the blurb that I read:

Find love among the shelves at the Date My Book event scheduled from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Friday at the Gibson Library, 100 W. Lake Mead Parkway. Singles are invited to bring a favorite book and chat with other readers in five-minute sessions. For more information, visit or call 702-565-8402."

I wasn't sure how to react. I'm still not sure how to react. As Mom put it, "It's better than a bar or any other place like that," and that's true. It's in a library, my place of worship, and I'd like to meet other bibliophiles like me. Mom wasn't pushy about it, not hinting that I should find a date, just that I could talk books with people for a while. She doesn't read a great deal, not finding a comfortable spot to do it in yet, Dad picks one or two books a week from the new books section of the Whitney Library, and Meridith reads steadily, but not to the extent I do. Three, four, five books a week, maybe more? I've done it countless times. I'm still writing, I still want to write the books and novels that are always swirling about in my head, but there are just some weeks that I want to chuck all those plans and just read. Perhaps this event would be good for me. I follow Mom's viewpoint about this, and I stick to this about the other possibility: If it happens, then I'll work from there. If not, that's fine. I don't discount the possibility, but I'm not actively searching for a relationship. I've got an enormous city and region, and eventually state, and other states, to explore, I've got books I want to read, and books I want to write, and that's enough for me.

Right now, my library card is at its limit. 50 items. All books. My holds are at the limit of 25. I hope to meet those who do the same as me, who keep the library system running. At the Whitney Library, every Saturday or Sunday, or sometimes Monday, I walk past the other shelves full of holds to get to mine, and I look for the first four letters of those last names that appear as often as mine do, wondering about that person, how many books they read in a week, what their interests are that keep them coming to the library. This may be my chance to know more about them, no matter that this is under the jurisdiction of the Henderson Libraries system and not the Las Vegas-Clark County Library system. In fact, reading the blurb, I thought I could return the then-three, now-five books that I'm done with, before realizing that I'll have to wait until Saturday or Sunday to do that because neither the Gibson Library, nor any other Henderson branch for that matter, will accept my books because Henderson and Las Vegas are separate systems.

They say to bring a favorite book. I know exactly what I'm bringing: The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. These two novels are always locked in a Battle Royale to become my favorite novel. I've read each one nearly ten times, with more re-readings to come. I'm sure I can talk about a lot in five minutes, so I want to include that. Other topics I have in mind are my love of presidential history, my lifetime goal to read all the Star Trek novels ever published (not as a Trekkie, but as a science fiction wanderer), my other favorite books (Naturally, I don't have just one, and a favorite novel, if that battle is ever won by either of those two novels, would not be my overall favorite book, since I'll never have one), those times I just have to pre-order or order a book from Amazon because I don't want to wait for the library to hopefully get it in, and whatever else might pop up. My side of the conversation will not be pre-planned. I will not have an outline in my head.

I know exactly what I'm wearing: Jeans, both pairs of which I'll put in the laundry today to determine whether I want to wear the lighter-colored jeans (they're not that bright blue, and I could never see myself wearing that kind of brightness) or the darker-colored, and this shirt, called Lose Yourself. After I agreed to this speed dating excursion, I determined which of my four book-related t-shirts would be most appropriate, not only for this event, but also because I'll be wearing it to see Christopher Cross at 8 p.m. that night at Sunset Station. No going home to change. "Lose Yourself" would be best because it's more detailed than my other shirts (save for the rainbow in this shirt) and is suitably low-key for the other outings of the evening, which also includes Fazoli's for dinner (across from Sunset Station), and then the 10 p.m. Spazmatics show also at Sunset Station, inside Club Madrid, where Christopher Cross will just have finished performing before they come on.

I still feel a bit weird about this, not in a resorting-to-meeting-people-like-this way, but because I have my city, I have my state, I have my books, I have my favorite movies, so what else do I need? But you know what? For nine years in Santa Clarita, there was really nothing to do. To even do one interesting thing in a day, you had to leave the valley, but because of the enormous stretch of freeways to get to Ventura or Burbank or Anaheim, you had to make a day of it. Now that I'm living in Nevada, in Las Vegas, I want to do many different things! I want to experience all there is to experience! I want to see if there are any female bibliophiles who are as passionate about books as I am.

And if I do feel a twinge of something upon talking with one of those bibliophiles, well, what better place for it to happen?

Always an open mind. That's how I've lived for two months here, and it's going to stay that way. So I'm going to enjoy myself and let go. No expectations. Just the joy of talking books with those who hopefully flood the holds shelves like I do, who come to the library with big canvas bags to stock up for the week. They're my kind of people, and I should meet them! And so I will.