Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Movie Dream

I found myself in the lobby of a massive movie theater last night, holding the leash of a fluffy white cat, who seemed content with my company.

I walked into one of the auditoriums, which was equally massive. The screen seemed to stretch the length of a football field, and it wasn't like the old CinemaScope screens. No curves. Completely straight from left to right.

The rows were the same length. I sat in the second row, the cat next to me, and watched what looked like another Simpsons movie. In fact, if the production team of The Simpsons Movie decides to make another one, Another Simpsons Movie would be a perfect title in keeping with their brand of humor.

In another theater, without the cat, I saw The Avengers, which is being released on May 4. My only thought throughout it was, "Doesn't Joss Whedon know how to shut up?" He wrote and directed the movie and it was like his dialogue never let up. It doesn't seem like that'll be the case with the actual release, but I was pretty teed off at having to sit there for what might have been three hours, watching a bunch of superheroes explore more of their emotional minefields than was absolutely necessary for a feature film. It felt like it.

That wasn't even the half of it. Before these movie theater dreams, I had another dream in which I met the cast of The Big Bang Theory, lost a shoe, and watched as Kaley Cuoco unsuccessfully tried to start her junk heap of a car. Jim Parsons seemed put off by all of it (Not possible in real life since he's fascinating to watch in interviews), though Simon Helberg was genial toward me. I have no idea where Kunal Nayyar was, or Johnny Galecki for that matter. So not the entire cast, since Melissa Rauch and Mayim Bialik also weren't there, but I consider Jim Parsons the power center of the show, so it worked out for me.

But this was nothing compared to the dream I had the night before these ones, in which I raved to Wesley Snipes about how awesome he was in Demolition Man and how he seemed to have so much fun doing it. He said to me, "I wouldn't have taken the role otherwise."

In dreams, my head is a fun hangout spot. I've heard about lucid dreaming, controlling your dreams, and it might work, but it's not for me. I spend enough time during the day in control of my reading and my writing, doing what I want to do in both, and what I need to do in order to make progress on my second book. I prefer to give myself over to whatever my dreams have in store, letting my unconscious do the work for a while so I can take a break. With dreams like these, and the ones I described in previous entries, why would I want to control them?

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Grad Nite Distinction

I ordered The Queen for my DVD binder collection, and received it last week. After putting the DVD into one of the remaining sleeves in my second DVD binder, I noticed a paper insert with the chapter titles and a list of the bonus features, and on the other side, ads for Deja Vu, starring Denzel Washington ("Now On DVD"), and Venus, starring Peter O'Toole ("Coming Soon To DVD").

It reminded me of a distinction I'm proud to have: I attended my Grad Nite at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in 2002, and I chaperoned Meridith's Grad Nite at Disneyland on June 7, 2007 (I still have the original ticket). But Meridith got the better Grad Nite, though no complaints from me because I got a better Grad Nite through her Grad Nite.

Since I had essentially grown up at Walt Disney World for many years, the one thing I was excited about was bringing along the movies to to be shown during the drive there. In 6th grade, on the end-of-the-year trip to then-Disney-MGM Studios, someone brought Tom & Huck and Cool Runnings. I remember those two, since they came one after the other from 5:30 in the morning until we got to Orlando a little past 9, but I think that The Sandlot was also shown, possibly on the way back. I just remember that every long school trip seemed to include The Sandlot, though that didn't seem to be the case on the 8th grade end-of-the-year trip to the Magic Kingdom, with Men in Black and Mousehunt shown on the way back. But again, I think The Sandlot was part of that, because surely something had to be shown in the morning, and that might have been it.

This time, I was in charge. I brought The Emperor's New Groove, because it's criminally underappreciated, and Toy Story and Toy Story 2. The Emperor's New Groove got some good reaction, though not many of my classmates were paying attention to it, but I did like that I heard one of them laugh loudly after the spider ate the fly and the fly, screeching for help beforehand, said, "Too late."

After putting Toy Story in the VCR and fast-forwarding through the previews, I had to use the bathroom at the back of the bus and while in there, I heard the entire bus sing along to "You've Got a Friend in Me." A great Disney movie (Disney-Pixar in this case) turns us all into kids again, which, to me, is the best way to explore life.

Stopping at Fort Drum for a long break to eat and stretch, I remember that there was a Revenge from Mars pinball machine from which I won a free game, and it was as if the rest stop was prepping me for disappointment. Once at the Magic Kingdom and back in Tomorrowland, my favorite part of the park, I found that the Tomorrowland Transit Authority was closed, because they probably didn't want rowdy teens throwing things down from up high, and Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress was closed, because they probably didn't want rowdy teens damaging the Audio-Animatronics that would be exposed to them. To make it worse for me, the CD jukebox that I loved hearing my favorite songs from throughout the Tomorrowland Light & Power Arcade during a visit in 2000 was shut off. Space Mountain, my favorite ride, was open, but it was a 75-minute wait, so I only got to ride it once. Plus, I had no idea then that that would be my final time at the Magic Kingdom, at Walt Disney World entirely. Our last visit was on July 9, 2003, in Downtown Disney, the day Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl opened in theaters, which I remember very well because Mom and Dad dropped Meridith and I off at AMC Pleasure Island 24 as soon as we got there from South Florida. Dad was presenting at a business education conference, and this was all the time we had. I wanted to see The Curse of the Black Pearl there because it was being digitally projected, and I wanted to know what digital projection was all about. It was in its infancy then, blurry at times, but they were getting there.

We didn't go to the Magic Kingdom on that final visit. No time. I may go back to Florida, to Walt Disney World in the years to come. I know it's changed (I keep up on the latest news out of Walt Disney World), but I want to make up for that utter disappointment. Because of predicted idiots (and there's always a few in every crowd), I lost out on two of my most favorite attractions in Tomorrowland. I hope they're still around whenever I return, though I intend to bring an mp3 player with me, with the Tomorrowland Transit Authority soundtrack I remember, because the current one is garbage, giving nothing but advertisements for all the attractions the average visitor already knows about when they walk into Tomorrowland.

I became a chaperone for Meridith's Grad Nite when I went to Valencia High with her one morning to talk to the teacher in charge of it. It was the one rare time I got up early since I was long done with classes at College of the Canyons, and I hadn't yet reached that long stretch at The Signal, where I eventually became interim editor of the Escape section after the eminent John Boston left after 30 years of service to the paper. I had a lot of time on my hands.

The teacher was fine with me being a chaperone. I asked in April, so I had until June to wait. When it came, that one night, that glorious Thursday night, was everything I had hoped for, and even with the strict rules given about not screwing around, making sure to be back at the bus by 4:30 a.m., and coming to us chaperones if there were any problems, I felt this immense freedom around me, like the earth had sagged in total relaxation, encouraging the same in others. Mom and Dad dropped off Meridith and I at the school, and while Meridith waited for friends, I hung out in the office of the PE teachers with the other chaperones, idly listening to the conversations going on, appreciating how beneficial it is to just be an observer. This was going to be a good crowd. A few looked like veterans of Grad Nite, and knew exactly what they were doing. This would be my first and last Grad Nite as a chaperone because after Meridith, what reason would there be to do this again? I wouldn't have the connection I did by her being in the school, and it wouldn't make much sense otherwise. Besides, it only mattered to me that I got to do this for her Grad Nite.

Someone hung up big signs against a cargo container sitting nearby, with letters to show where each student should line up to get their Grad Nite ticket. A-C last names lined up at the far left and so on. I passed out Grad Nite tickets and joked with the chaperone next to me, who had actually seen Airplane II: The Sequel! I thought I was the only one, and more than that, he liked it too! So we were trading quotes as we passed out the tickets.

Once we got to Disneyland and parked in the lot reserved for the buses, we found that they weren't using the trams to get people to the entrance. We had to walk. It took a good 10 minutes, and I joked around with Meridith and her friends, an easy rapport. And once in the park, we were on our own. Chaperones could be as vigilant as they wished or just check in occasionally at the Plaza Inn, where there was a buffet of cheese cubes, crackers, cookies and brownies for them, as well as the option for either dinner or breakfast from the counter service, and the soda machines were available too. This was where I found most of the chaperones, obviously veterans. They'd done this for years. No need to change what's worked all this time.

Already, I was making up for my crappy Grad Nite just by the amenities alone. But being a Disney nut, I couldn't stay at the Plaza Inn all night. I went on the Haunted Mansion, my favorite ride at Disneyland, once, then went to Tomorrowland, where the theater for Honey, I Shrunk the Audience had only me and about 10 other people in it. They still ran the film.

I liked Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, mainly because of Eric Idle as Dr. Nigel Channing. It was becoming disturbingly dated before Captain EO returned, and I doubt it'll be back after Disneyland feels it has had enough of Captain EO, but it was an excellent respite from the crowds inside the park.

After 2 a.m., I went back to Plaza Inn to get breakfast, a scrambled egg-and-sausage platter that was pretty good. Minute Maid orange juice was in one of the spigots of the drink dispensers, and it's the worst orange juice I've ever tasted, severely watered down and an affront to the oranges used to make it. But that's a minor quibble compared to the complete relaxation I felt. There were no problems from any of the kids, none had reported to the First Aid station, and the night was good.

The reason that paper insert in the DVD case for The Queen reminded me of my distinction is because we chaperones received an additional flyer that detailed the amenities available to us, such as the food, and, in the Main Street Opera House, a caricaturist drawing Disney characters for us (You had to write your name on a sign-up sheet there), and showings of Deja Vu and The Queen. Both had been released on DVD earlier in April, and both were released by Disney, so what better movies for the adults?

In the Opera House, I was disappointed to find that the sign-up sheet for the caricaturist was already completely filled up. No room for me. However, the conversation I had with a couple who were both teachers, who had been chaperoning Grad Nite for many years, made up for that. Inhibitions always lower as time drags on and people become more tired. What I liked most about this couple was honesty you don't readily find in Southern California. The wife told me about past Grad Nites they had chaperoned and entertaining incidents, as well as where she and her husband were teachers. It was one of those conversations where the atmosphere and the company matter more than the details. For a little while, you're connected as a few people in the same position, in the same place, just passing the time enjoyably.

I think I still have that chaperone paper somewhere. All I found on my nightstand today was the guide map, which also listed where the dance areas were, as well as the times for the "Grad Nite Explosion!" fireworks. I don't remember what time they started Deja Vu, but The Queen was being shown at 4:15, which I tried to stay for, waiting inside the theater as the end credits for Deja Vu rolled. But all of us belonging to Valencia High were expected back at the buses before 5 a.m., and I had to do my part in shepherding out the students who I knew to be part of our crowd. Plus, the main souvenir store on Main Street was so dense with people that waiting to pay for anything was nearly impossible. Meridith couldn't get what she wanted to get because of it, because we had to get going. In hindsight, I wish we had stayed and waited because this was Meridith's one chance to do this, at this time, in this instance.

Whereas I had been on an air-conditioned charter bus with TV monitors in the ceiling and a VCR attached for my Grad Nite, Meridith's Grad Nite went with regular school buses. So getting back on board to go back to Valencia High, there was no movie; just the silence of the deadly tired.

These four and a half years later, I still think about that night. There's a play in there somewhere that I'm gradually drawing out. I want to write about that electric feeling throughout the park, so I've been thinking of what situations would make the best drama. Perhaps loaded conversations of some kind. After all, at Grad Nite, the future isn't far behind, graduation from high school and all that; a seismic shift into a world hitherto unimagined while in school.

And I also still think about the chaperones. I was a chaperone just that one time. I'm sure many of the people I saw, perhaps even the couple I talked to, are still doing it, still screwing up their body clocks for that one night. It's only once a year, but it's still a lot to do for just once a year. I remember seeing chaperones also sprawled on the floor in the lobby of the Opera House, sleeping. Those are undoubtedly the ones who have done it before. They've seen it all, and there's nothing new about it.

It's the kind of night I want to replicate somewhere in my writing, that utterly wonderful freedom (yes, despite the rules in place) where I felt like I could wear the Mickey Mouse costume if I asked earnestly enough. I could have skipped past Splash Mountain if I wanted to, counted all the big globe lights lining the walking paths (I lost count), subtly listened in on snatches of conversations around me, which I did while having breakfast outside at the Plaza Inn, though it was so damn cold by then. At 2 in the morning, the air bites at you.

I like to live in between fantasy and reality, taking in each as I see fit. Reality is for the paychecks I receive, the research that is to be done for my next book, and eventually the writing of that book. Fantasy is for the ideas that are still in my head, such as that new novel I want to write one day. I hadn't spent so much time in my head in years as I did today, working out the preliminaries in my head of how I want to tell this story. It's a lot of fun in there, so much space I have to walk around and see the sights as they come, such as that main character for this novel right in front of me. I don't know him well enough yet, but I hope we'll get along easily.

Meridith's Grad Nite doesn't rank as somewhere I like to hang out in my mind, but for just a whiff of inspiration when I need it, it's perfect. It brings me back to growing up for a time at Walt Disney World, where my writing life started before I even knew that I was going to be a writer. It seems that everything in one's life creates such strong roots and vines that things are connected that you never imagined could be. I just go with it, much like I did that night, carried along by sheer joy. It's living at its finest.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Profitable Dreams?

Every night, settling into bed, I don't know where I'll be. I could be at yet another variation of Walt Disney World, making sure I don't forget to ride Space Mountain (as I did many times many years ago), or at another school campus, deciding I could miss math class without consequence, or climbing opulent marble staircases to the roof of those campuses to get such an expansive view of the city around the campus. In the past few months, I've gotten back a dream where I'm walking the streets of a very shiny-looking town, easygoing atmosphere, with some stores bearing bead curtains as entrances. The big square of this town has many brick buildings surrounding it, and though I haven't seen what's in those stores yet, I'm just happy to be amidst such peace, and such a big town to explore. I don't even remember seeing any cars driving by.

Lately, my dreams have been giving me creative injections to put toward my projects, whether or not I'm currently working on them. I had a dream last week that I was interviewing George Kennedy extensively for Mayday! Mayday!: The Making of the Airport Movies, and I came up with questions I didn't even think of while I was awake. Then last night, I had a dream involving a time-travel idea. I can't say whether it's a unique time-travel idea because I don't know. It may have been on the level of that time-jump device thing that's used in the upcoming Men in Black III, which I don't like. It seems like merely a screenwriting device just to get Will Smith to the late 1960s, rather than anything remotely imaginative. I know that my dream didn't have anything as creative as the DeLorean or the TARDIS, but I know that the guy I saw in this dream had time traveled somehow, but very low-key.

I don't want to write a screenplay for this because I've been near enough to Hollywood for eight years, and been to 20th Century Fox in Century City, to know that I do not want to ever get involved in that merciless muck. I'm thinking of a novel, but I don't want to get fouled up by what's come before me. That's not to say I won't read what's come before as inspiration, but I have to remember that it is inspiration, and I can try this however I want. I'm not going to work on it right away, since other books have priority (Not just the Airport book, but the ones I want to write after), but I'm going to start reading time-travel novels to learn what's been explored. And yes, I've read The Time Machine. I don't think I could call myself an avid reader without it.

None of this compares to a dream I had that still haunts me. In it, I had an idea for a fully-fleshed out novel, characters and all. I knew how to write it, where it was going to go, and as soon as I woke up, it faded before I could write anything down, as if the Fates were telling me, "No, no, you do your own work." I know I could have had a first draft in a couple of weeks. But in the year that followed that dream, I realized that I was being told that I could do this; I could write more books. And that's exactly what I'm working on right now, and why I have ideas for six other nonfiction books after this one, why the number of novels I want to write has risen to two, why I've got a few ideas for plays that I want to attempt.

There are some dreams where I'm at a Six Flags-like park, but it's much larger than the average Six Flags and sometimes, I'm walking right next to a rollercoaster. I always look closely at the color of the coaster, the mechanics, the ride vehicles, marveling at how I'm right there, right where I want to be, my imagination never letting up. I'm in the right line of work, right where I want to be, and I hope dreams like these will pay off in the years to come. I'm going to try.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Cooking Lesson #1: One Potholder is Too Few. 20 Potholders are Just Right.

Even just grocery shopping to restore what I always eat during the week, Santa Clarita is still Santa Clarita. Yet, on a Friday evening, it becomes pleasant, like it's stopped pushing and shoving and is just there, the universe completely aligned right behind it. We stopped at the bank to deposit some checks (Mine from my work with the freelance writing newsletter whose listings I compile every Sunday-Thursday evening for the next day), and I got out of the car and looked out at the scenery around me, the empty lots, the apartment complexes nearby, and it felt so peaceful. Not that there's any new promise to this valley come Monday or any other Monday, but it gives a glimpse of perhaps what it once was with less people or what it once hoped to be, maybe an oasis from L.A. living: Calm to be found from a distance.

Sprouts and Pavilions had everything I needed, from yogurt to bagged spinach to shredded carrots to frozen TV dinners for during the week. I'm so grateful to have spinach and shredded carrots again because I was tired of the heavy gas I had from dinner the past few nights without it. Bananas only help so much. And blueberries and blackberries were $5 each in one-pound containers, so it's a relief to have those back. They're otherwise priced out of reach. And yes, sadly, $5 for that size is cheap.

We got home, put everything away, and Mom showed Meridith photos of the new apartment complex she found for us in Henderson. The other one that we thought would be The One has turned out not to be so desirable, not least because it looks smaller than in photos, like in order to reach the living room from the dining room, you have to press yourself against the wall and slowly edge your way toward the couch, but not making any movements beyond that. Accidentally lashing one leg out to the left can possibly cause dishes to fall off the table, or the walls to vibrate. It's not as constricted as some New York City apartments, but Mom wants something more comfortable, more welcoming. So do the rest of us, for that matter.

This new apartment complex has great possibilities. For one, the apartment space is much roomier. The outdoor surroundings are most welcoming, and since it's a pet-friendly complex, there's a lot of grass, which is exactly what we're looking for because we don't want Tigger and Kitty to have to navigate rocks and pebbles in order to squat. Tigger did that when we first went to Las Vegas and stayed at America's Best Value Inn on Tropicana Avenue, off the Strip, next to Hooters Casino Hotel. He did his business on rocks and pebbles, but hated it. He won't have to go through that ever again.

The complex is called The Summit at Sunridge Apartments. I've always wondered who comes up with the names for these complexes, whether it's just one person reporting to one boss, or whether it's a creative committee. I like that name. The Summit says to me that this is where life meets good living. And Sunridge sounds nice, like standing on that ridge puts you squarely in a bath of sunlight.

While Mom described the property to Meridith and showed her what The Summit was surrounded by on Bing Maps, I grew impatient. It was already a few minutes past nine and I wanted to eat. I barely cook anything in our household, leaving that to Dad and Meridith for meals that require more than just pushing buttons on the microwave. The last time I made anything substantial was a few years ago when Meridith had a home cooking project to do for one of her classes at College of the Canyons, and the only thing I remember from that is a Hawaiian macaroni salad I mixed.

So, with Meridith an excellent cook/chef/master of all things food, and me reading food writing occasionally from being influenced by her, what's the best way to eat faster? Make it myself. Or at least attempt to because I don't know much about how to check that something's done, at least in the oven. That's easy to do with the microwave. Oh to be a rank amateur again. And here's my chance!

I took out nonstick foil from the cabinet, put a sheet into a baking pan and initially placed 30 mini corn dogs side by side, before dumping the other 10 on top of those after asking Meridith if I should put them all into the pan (I was wondering if I should use another pan because there were so many). Meridith pushed the other 10 into the crowd and the rest of the mini corn dogs seemed to just easily spread out to make room for the new arrivals.

Before this, I pressed the "bake" button on the oven, which beeped with "350 degrees" appearing on the readout and 10 minutes to pre-heat. After the mini corn dog placement on the nonstick sheet, there were 5 minutes left before the oven beeped again to show how proud it was to reach full heating capacity.

Putting pans in the oven even with full heat as you open the oven door is easy because the pan's cool and therefore the potholder is easier to put to one of the sides. Now, I realize this isn't actual cooking with kneading dough or whisking eggs or boiling or anything like that, but it's big enough that I decided to do this on my own because I'm usually content just to read about food and cooking, not to actually participate in it. If I'm hungry enough and it's beginning to get late in the evening, I become someone I never imagined.

Oven beeps, mini corn dogs go in, and I have 10 minutes to wait, according to the instructions on the back of the box which indicate that much cooking time for thawed, and 15 minutes for frozen.

10 minutes pass, open the oven door, take the pan out with the potholder and see if the mini corn dogs are hot enough. Meridith just places her hand on the corn dogs because she's used to heat, to burns, having spent so much time in kitchens already. She's developed a kind of immunity to what mere mortals like me would be burned by. Oh yes, more on that in just a second.

They're not quite hot enough, so back in the oven they go for five minutes. I thought they were already thawed enough to merit the 10-minute cooking time, what with having left the box out after we got home and put groceries away, since those were what Meridith and I were having for dinner, and then 10 minutes for the oven to pre-heat, and then baking pan placement, but apparently not.

Here's where it went horribly, horribly wrong. Five minutes were up, oven door open, Meridith checked the mini corn dogs again and they were hot enough. This oven was at 350 degrees and the pan was at that temperature too. I still had one potholder with me and I tried to take out the pan with just that potholder, forgetting that a pan cannot be held on just one side, especially not a long pan. The pan should be sideways, or, at best, held on one side with two hands.

It would have been smart to take out another potholder before the five minutes are up, but being a rank amateur, there I was, holding onto the pan with one potholder, the pan tipping, me trying to right it, and burning myself brightly on it at least three times while trying to get it up to the stovetop. My right hand was directly on burning metal. Struggling mightily with this pan, I finally shoved it onto the stovetop, the mini corn dogs sliding to the back end of the pan, and got a frozen flower-shaped ice pack from the freezer to put on my fingers.

There was only a natural wild panic in my body while it happened, my brain obviously screaming that it was too hot and the nerves in my fingers reacting in kind. I wanted to get the pan off at supersonic speed, but I wasn't panicked. It was just the wrong way to do it. And then Meridith showed me that with a pan like this, she holds the end with two potholders, one for each hand. Or I could have turned the pan sideways in the oven and taken it out with one potholder on each side.

This doesn't put me off of cooking, despite two jutting white skin bubbles on my ring finger and my pinkie on my right hand, my ring finger sporting the biggest one. Looking it up on Google just now, I've found that these are blisters. They don't put me off of cooking, but I know for sure that I could never do what Meridith does. She's used to such things. She's cooked for many years. Whatever she touches turns into something you crave right after you eat it. So she knows about these blisters, she's had them, and she's not afraid of them because she knows that sometimes they'll happen.

I'm not afraid of them either. They're not pleasant to look at, but they teach me to be more careful the next time I take something out of the oven. I'm sure there will be a next time, and before there is, I'm stitching 20 potholders together because that sounds like the right number for safety. I know that I actually want to make something next time, and though I'm not yet sure what it will be (I'm thinking of maybe a peach cobbler or one of my other favorite foods), but this blog isn't going to turn into a chronicle of an attempt at an insane number of recipes like Julie Powell did with what turned into Julie & Julia. I'm influenced by my sister and the food writing I've read in the past and the recipes I've pored over within that food writing, but I'm inspired by no one. I've just never cooked extensively, and I think it's time to learn a few things about it, just so that if I'm hungry and it's getting late, but no one else is ready yet but I know I want to eat before it gets too late in the evening, I know what to do. And even though the microwave is good for convenience, it becomes too convenient. I want to mix and scrape and measure and pour and cut and mash and crack and toss and everything else that cooks do. I was in a cooking class in 11th or 12th grade, but it was one or two dishes a week, hardly enough to really get the feel of a kitchen atmosphere and where you stand in it. I want to learn just enough to become proficient. Being burned by the pan is not an ideal start, but it's a good start to show that there will be accidents, but to be vigilant enough to minimize them.

I'm ready for this. It could be a lot of fun.

Finding Weekend Reading from One Book

I got to page 256 of The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth by Alexandra Robbins before I quit. I liked Robbins' strong storytelling, but couldn't stand how she beats the reader over the head with the same facts already discussed 50 times in previous chapters. I guess she, or her publisher, must be of the mindset that the denser the arguments, the more important they must be. It didn't help this book.

Because it's Friday, I decided to pick my next book at random. Except for my stacks of presidential books in the living room, and my Las Vegas and bedside stacks in my room (The latter full of books I want to read right away, with "right away" always a relative term, but as long as they're there, always reminding me of that, then there's a chance I'll get to them soon enough), no other stacks of books have any particular order. Completely random, some having been constructed based on when I got them in the mail, or that I put them at the top of one stack because I wanted to read them right away, but then they got lower in that particular stack.

On top of one stack pressed against a Disney-themed comforter still in the sturdy plastic packaging, I noticed Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine. I had put The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth in the Goodwill box, I wasn't ready to continue FDR by Jean Edward Smith, and it being Friday, some randomness not only could be part of Friday being a free-feeling sort of day, but could shake out the cobwebs in my writing. Treasure Island!!! it was.

I'm still surprised at what I've read so far. It's about a college graduate with an English major who doesn't have much of a future in any avenue of her life, who works at The Pet Library, which loans out pets for a certain period of time, who reads Treasure Island and decides that her life should have that kind of adventure, that daring, that swashbuckling, even. She's foolish, self-centered, mostly oblivious to the feelings of others, but what a character to have in a novel! Imagine Sarah Silverman, but with only a tiny sliver more tact. I've got a little less than halfway to go, and I'm already wondering when Sara Levine's next novel will be out. She writes like I would like to all the time, with boldness and fearlessness that never lets up. It can be done, I think, but Levine makes that work. It's about boldness and fearlessness in service to her characters and she does it so well.

I read the back flap of the book, about who Levine is, and amidst so many other credits that should merit her many more book deals because her writing's so good, I found out that her writing was featured in The Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: Work from 1970 to the Present. Since I will be working in nonfiction for years to come, I also want to read as much of it as possible and that title sounded interesting.

I looked it up on Amazon, and the cover looked familiar. I went to my room, to the second shelf under the top of my nightstand, and found it. I think I bought this when I was considering writing a journalistic novel that took place in one day at a theme park. It turned out to be far too ambitious for me then, but I kept the books I had bought as research/inspiration, and this was one of them. There are essays in it, memoirs, and journalism, and I think I've found my weekend reading. I'll use this as a segue back into my research full-force. I had a dream last night about interviewing George Kennedy for my book, and I came up with questions I hadn't even thought of while awake. It's time to get back to work, and this book will certainly prime the pump, after I'm done with Treasure Island!!!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Not Writer's Block. More Like Writer's Molasses.

I keep thinking that I should avoid this type of entry, that it seems too self-centered, too egotistical, and by doing it, aren't I writing anyway? It does count, doesn't it?

But then, this is my blog. I can say anything on here. So I say this: I haven't been able to think of anything to write in two days.

I intended to follow up my entry about the Fiesta Henderson with one about Regal Fiesta Henderson 12, continuing my Henderson series, but I haven't felt that urge to as I do with many other things I write about. I realize now that it's because in my mind, I haven't spent enough time in that hallway where all the auditorium entrances are. Just one hallway. I need to see it as clearly in my mind as when I was there and then try writing about it. Because it was an impressive hallway. I need to show it off, but I want to do it properly. Properly to me, anyway, not trying to impress the world with wordy prowess, which sometimes I have, but tonight, I don't feel it.

I think I know the trouble, though. After we got back from Henderson, I tried continuing Everywhere That Mary Went by Lisa Scottoline, hoping I could become interested in it, because I love Scottoline's essays, but despite a legal setting in this first novel, nothing grabbed me. I then grabbed Hail to the Chef, the second novel in Julie Hyzy's White House chef mystery series and devoured it. Give me the White House and the people in it and I will happily read for hours, like I did with that one.

Because of Hail to the Chef, I got a heavy, frantic craving for presidential books and began FDR by Jean Edward Smith, 800+ pages which I obviously can't polish off in one day. It still rests at 105 pages, not out of boredom with it, but because I looked inside one of my box bookshelves and noticed The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth by Alexandra Robbins, about why those students who exist on the fringes of social circles are usually the ones who make great strides in the real world. I'm on page 239 and will probably finish it by the time I go to bed.

Then there's my research for Mayday! Mayday!: The Making of the Airport Movies, which hasn't yet progressed much beyond me receiving in the mail photocopies of the documents I requested be photocopied at the Margaret Herrick Library. One of these documents was a call sheet from The Concorde: Airport '79, detailing what sets were being used on stage 12 at Universal that day, the actors required on set, the times they were expected in makeup and then on set, ready for the day, which, on Tuesday, January 30, 1979, began at 9 a.m. Looking at this one sheet, the treasure out of all the pages I requested, I'm thinking of seeking permission to use this as one of the photos in my book. It ties right into what I intend my book to be, and people, especially those who know these movies and who are into movie production or aviation, should see these.

To continue the research, I should dig into the stacks of books I have for it. But I haven't done that either because my rhythm's off in two ways: One, that trip to Henderson interrupted my work for good reason, and I haven't gotten back into a routine that helps me do as much as possible each for my book, and two, I have to deluge myself with books, and I've spent more time online this week than reading. And not even for any useful purpose such as finding contact information for those actors I want to interview for my book. Just wandering in and out of book-related sites I've bookmarked, reading Disney park message boards, watching the pilot of Smash (As masterful a pilot as The West Wing was, and this could very well be my new West Wing), and ordering a few books I want to read.

The obvious solution here is less time online (save for when I want to write an entry here), more time reading, more time with my research (How else will this book be written?), and probably not being so hard on myself just because I have writer's molasses. I don't like it, but it does happen. I'm betting that going out tomorrow evening to pick up more groceries will help, since I haven't been out all this week (No campus supervisor at La Mesa needed a substitute). This valley isn't ideal living, but different air and scenery ought to help, even though it's eight-year-old scenery. Getting my favorite lemon yogurt ought to trip something in my mind, spark new inspiration, and certainly the atmosphere of a Friday evening ought to help too, the universe feeling like it's aligned.

But first, less time on this computer, starting now.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Henderson Chronicles, Part 3: Fiesta Henderson

There are undoubtedly tourists who visit the Las Vegas Strip that, within the span of a few days, feel overloaded. So much to see, so many lights, so much packed to the sides of one roadway. What do you see first? How can you see possibly anything, really, when there's so much that reaches out, wanting you to go here, eat here, gamble here, spend money on souvenirs here?

Las Vegas has the right idea. When people are in this part of Nevada, they are here. There's nowhere else to go like there would be if you were to drive from Los Angeles to San Diego as a tourist, as my family and I did when we first visited Southern California in April 2003. What you see is what there is.

It's not a bad thing. It demonstrates the justified confidence Las Vegas has in itself to provide people with truly unforgettable experiences, depending of course on what you're planning to do because some experiences can become forgettable depending on alcohol intake.

This is why Henderson is a terrific counterpoint to Las Vegas. If you feel overloaded, just drive off the Strip to Henderson. See the town where most Vegas employees live. I don't think there are many who could live where they work. Celine Dion has property in Lake Las Vegas. The Amazing Johnathan, my favorite act in Las Vegas, lives in Henderson, with a garage that has a lot of classic cars and a drive-in movie screen, and he creates one hell of a disturbing display on Halloween. He is the expert on dark ambiance. It's not just spookiness. Blood curdles. He has that twisted talent.

The most relation that Fiesta Henderson has to Las Vegas is its sign at its entrance. It's big, it's bright at night, with green light pulsing down the sides, and advertisements on the white billboards within about what benefits gamblers might find. On the Thursday we were there, the 19th, you had to earn 300 points in the slot tournament area to receive a sweatshirt with Fiesta Henderson's logo on it.

That's as far as it stretches to match Vegas, and with good reason. This is a casino for locals to pop in, play a few slots, see a movie at Regal Fiesta Henderson 12, and it is not empowered to create such a high-voltage atmosphere because people in Henderson live life regularly as anyone does, just wanting a bit of a break from the world, or perhaps even working in a less blazing universe like Vegas is. It's relaxed, it's easy, and it only asks that you hang around for a bit and see what it has to offer.

For us, it offered a room on the 8th floor, and a fairly better experience than Mom and Dad had when they stayed there for three nights last June. One night, the shower dripped loudly all night, and then the Internet wi-fi service crapped out, with the front desk telling Dad to call Cox Cable to find out what was wrong. The hotel couldn't do it themselves? What happened to guest services?

I didn't dread our stay there because first, we got two free nights because of the problems Mom and Dad had had on that visit, and perhaps we'd be treated a little better because of it. We were treated reasonably, though the sink backed up halfway before we left to go downstairs to Fatburger, and later that night, the bathtub backed up, requiring the plumbing guys to come up again, and then on Thursday night, our last night, the Internet wi-fi crapped out yet again. Nothing could be done about it, and Dad wasn't going to bother with it, and I felt fine without Internet access. That's why I didn't write another blog entry after the first one, written three hours after we had arrived.

The casino floor has two entry points. One is toward this big tree decoration where a Denny's is behind it, and the other is near the food court that includes Fatburger and Subway, the box office and entrance to Regal Fiesta Henderson 12, and a Starbucks next to that. It's like walking through a tightly-spaced farmer's market, having to squeeze past slot machines at times. And there are some very impressive slot machines, such as one with a Breakfast at Tiffany's theme that deceitfully presents itself as a penny slot machine. It actually requires a 60-cent minimum bet. That was the only one I was hoping to try, but I wasn't going to spend 60 cents on one spin when I could easily get a book from one of the local libraries there one day for either 25 cents or 50 cents, and I'm sure there's magazines sold for 10 cents. I'd get more value out of any of those than I would out of one spin, no matter how technologically impressive the machine, especially with the silhouette of a cat walking across the digital display of the lower buttons, and clips from the movie also used.

I was hoping to find a new Zorro slot machine I had read about in the Southern California Gaming Guide, but it appeared that Fiesta Henderson decided to blow a good portion of its budget on the four Breakfast at Tiffany's slot machines, the two The Hangover slot machines, and two Godzilla-themed slot machines, the latter looking like 3D through the glass screen also being used as a digital display. Subtly.

Slot machine themes at Fiesta Henderson are mostly plain. The idea here seems to have been to buy up as many cheap machines as possible and save most of the money for just a few of the really new ones, advanced technology and all of that. Give players something to gravitate toward. Me, I need a theme I can get into, and a Bruce Lee one wasn't going to do it, nor was an "Alfred Hitchcock Theater" one (with the famous director a cartoonish figure on the video screen), nor ones themed to Egypt, the wild west, cats, and others I've long since forgotten. It's like me with the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. I love the way that it is all year, with those 999 grim grinning ghosts gallivanting around the property, because I can use my imagination, think up my own stories involving them. How did this ghost get here? Why does the one in that coffin want out so badly? What makes the doors look like they're breathing? With the Nightmare Before Christmas theme toward the holidays, the story is already set. Someone else has decided on it and I can only stand to ride it once just because it's the Haunted Mansion, and then I can do no more because I don't want to be at the mercy of someone else's storytelling. The Haunted Mansion is the only instance in which I feel strongly about that.

With slot machines, I don't necessarily need a kind of bare-bones storyline that I can fill in, but just something to involve me. The most I could think about while playing six slot machines across two days at Fiesta Henderson (Including two called Kitty Glitter and Miss Kitty, which I only played because of our dog Kitty) was about who created these themes, whether there were conferences about them, who built them, who decided that the other symbols outside of the theming should be Js and Qs and Ks and 10s, how long these particular slot machines have been here, how much they've paid out so far, and exactly how many bonuses each slot machine would give me before it finally gave up on me for being a pussy gambler with only one dollar in it, playing only one line. I'm comfortable that way.

I need a more involving theme from a slot machine, though. Breakfast at Tiffany's would have done it if it had truly been a penny slot machine. Some more basic slot machines do the trick, such as one called Cops and Doughnuts, in which one bonus round has you choosing excuses for speeding on the screen (One says, "It's dangerous to drive the speed limit.") and gaining more credits, or double the credits from that. Plus, the video reels include donuts, photos of the different police officers in the game, jail bars, and a few other things. Much better than J, Q, K, and 10. It's not one I seek out often, but it is my dad's favorite slot machine, so I usually know where to find him when there's one available.

Fiesta Henderson also has this invisible sheen of cigarette smoke. It's not as heavy as in some casinos, where you can almost see it in some spots, but it's there, not only from those in the casino currently smoking, but past smokers too. It's not as dominating, but it's like you can smell past visitors, perhaps even those who have been there months ago.

In its drive to not be so demanding, Fiesta Henderson just sits there. Explore whatever you want. Go upstairs to the slot machines there, see the closed bingo room, the trash that still has to be rolled out to the dumpster, the numbers board shut off. See where the buffet is, how big the serving stations are, and then look down on the casino floor, almost directly above the Denny's. After 1, 2 in the morning, janitors come out and clean up a few areas, since it's the best time. Repairs are made, and very quickly too. One collection of slot machines was closed off early Thursday morning and later that day, I saw no trace of the equipment that was there to do whatever they had to do.

It fits in perfectly with Henderson's unassuming nature, saying that anyone is most welcome to visit. For Las Vegas tourists more adventurous than those who prefer to remain on the Strip, it could be decompression from the rush of the Strip, that is if they think of it that way. Remember, different Vegases for different people. Henderson has personality, but it's not eager to show it right away. It wants people to explore, to see what they like, what they want to do, and then the city will reveal itself, always for the good, and always gradually.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Henderson Chronicles, Part 2: Previously Unknown Food

At the end of last May, when Mom and Dad drove to Las Vegas and Henderson for three days that turned into 10 because of the PT Cruiser breaking down, Dad didn't want to eat regularly. He has a steel mindset of wanting to get things done, such as getting to Las Vegas from the Santa Clarita Valley, such as the job interview he had there, such as looking at apartment complexes with Mom, which led them to the apartment complex we thought might be ours, but doesn't seem so viable anymore. We're looking at others, and the best thing about Henderson is that there are so many other complexes available and a lot of builders erect them near shopping centers for convenience. Today, Mom looked at one online and said about it, "You could fall out of bed and land in Vons."

When we started out for Henderson in the late afternoon of last Wednesday (the 18th), I wasn't going to stand for not eating regularly as Mom reluctantly had. On our way out of the valley, Mom pointed out McDonald's, but Dad wordlessly passed right by it. She pointed out Wienerschnitzel and we, in our rental Nissan Cube, breezed by. I put my foot down and suggested strongly that we eat before we leave the valley because it was going to be over three hours before we reached Baker and the Grewal Travel Center, a combination gas station/convenience store/food court. Dad surprisingly agreed, turned around, and we parked at Wienerschnitzel, where I had my usual pastrami sandwich and ultimate chili cheese fries, Mom had an Angus pastrami dog on pretzel bread and a root beer float, Dad had a mustard dog, and Meridith had an ultimate double chili-cheese burger and jalapeno poppers. I took this first meal out as a good sign for what was to come. In Henderson, we were bound to find what could never be found in Santa Clarita, something satisfying, something made differently than the generally processed assembly line here, something made by real people.

We checked into Fiesta Henderson at 12:10 on Thursday morning, spending time getting settled in our room on the 8th floor, then went downstairs an hour later to the food court right at the casino floor, which also had the box office and entrance to Regal Fiesta Henderson 12 next to it, and a Starbucks next to that. We'd looked at the menu for Fatburger on Dad's laptop upstairs, so we knew what we wanted there. Mom only wanted a Sprite, Dad had a Baby Fatburger, Meridith had an order of Skinny fries, and I had a sausage and egg sandwich, onion rings, and a strawberry ice cream milkshake, which was authentic strawberry ice cream because halfway down, the ice cream began melting.

Fatburger is as would be expected, reliable, being a chain known well in nine states. Despite copious frying, the onion ring coating was a bit loose, but the sausage and egg sandwich was good for additional energy at 1 in the morning, being that I wasn't ready to go to bed yet. Not after having all that, not with so many slot machines in front of me, and wanting to find the new Zorro slot machine I read about. Fatburger wasn't indicative of the kind of food available in Henderson, but it showed that it was good. And it could only get better.

Thursday was our busiest day. We started at a shopping center on North Green Valley Parkway, at Brooklyn Bagel for breakfast. This is where they seem to make their own cream cheese, judging from one of the employees taking scoops of cream cheese from a big metal bowl and putting it into individual containers for sale, containers with the Brooklyn Bagel name on them. There, I had what was called a morning wrap-up, wheat kind, with three scrambled eggs, ham, and cheese. We never go out to breakfast in Santa Clarita, so I have nothing to compare it to in that way, but on quality alone, Brooklyn Bagel far outdistances anything in eggs, ham and cheese in Santa Clarita. Most importantly, the employees are very polite and clearly love what they do. And you know you're getting high quality there because it's open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. They're getting everything ready while you're still asleep. Even getting there very late in the morning for breakfast, it was all still fresh. People come, but it's not a mad rush. It's a steady stream, and a polite one at that.

We couldn't go this trip without driving up and down the Las Vegas Strip at least once, and this included a visit to Chinatown. There, at a place called Mr. Sandwich, we had drinks, and all I remember is that I had a strawberry smoothie (Thick and real), and Meridith had a blueberry drink with boba, tapioca balls usually used in bubble tea, but can really be put into other kinds of drinks.

Dinner was at Ohana Hawaiian BBQ in the same shopping center as Brooklyn Bagel, in the same shopping center as a popcorn store called Popcorn Girl which uses real sauces for its popcorn, not powder. They give samples, Meridith tried their "Mac 'n Cheese" flavor, and she knew right away that this was the real stuff. Somehow, they had managed to match the flavor of macaroni and cheese in popcorn. Dad bought a bag of dill pickle popcorn and the same thing: The popcorn tasted exactly like a dill pickle. Henderson boasts a great deal of creativity in many pursuits, and popcorn was a great surprise. In fact, Henderson encourages it. Here, you feel like you want to do so much for this city, to contribute something of value, to help keep the city riding high.

At Ohana, I had chicken katsu, which was fried chicken strips, with macaroni salad and two scoops of rice on the side. There were also malasadas, deep-fried and sugared yeast balls, for dessert. Couple all this with NBA TV playing on the flatscreen above us with an old game on, and I was completely satisfied. Again, just as fresh as Brooklyn Bagel had been, the same high quality, and it still amazed me: People actually care here? People actually want to do well in what they do? I want to do well in what I do! This is truly home!

We got back to our room at Fiesta Henderson at 8:15, and then Meridith and I went downstairs to Regal Fiesta Henderson 12 a few minutes after 9 for the final showing of the day of "Beauty and the Beast 3D," at 9:30. Meridith wanted to try the popcorn in Nevada, and it was another example of caring, though more muted (I'll describe that more in a future entry about this particular movie theater). None of the popcorn in the large bucket we got was carelessly burnt at the bottom. Plus, at this theater, they keep the butter dispenser behind the counter at the concession stand, and know exactly how much butter to put in. Just enough to spread throughout the entire bucket, but not too much that the popcorn is positively drenched in it. Whenever I go to the movies, I don't buy anything from the concession stand anyway, but this was a special exception, being that it was our first movie in Nevada.

On Friday morning, breakfast was at Dunkin' Donuts near Fiesta Henderson after checking out, and not a great one. I had ham, egg and cheese on a croissant and the croissant broke off too easily from being toasted too much. The hot chocolate was so-so, not at all what Brooklyn Bagel had available in a dispenser (That was chocolaty). It's more a kind of Dunkin' Donuts that you go to if you have to get to work or elsewhere quickly. You just pick up what you need and go. It's not one to sit in for a while. Very business-like.

Hours at Galleria at Sunset included me, Mom and Meridith sitting for a while at the food court, and I had a fruit and maple oatmeal from McDonald's there, which I've found that I like after trying it for the first time on the morning of my eight hours at the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills for my research. At that McDonald's in Valencia, they'd accidentally given us an extra oatmeal, but I kept it, saving it for during the day, when I took a break from my work mid-afternoon.

The only thing I really noticed about this oatmeal at the Galleria at Sunset food court is that whereas overregulated California requires that the nutritional facts be printed on the side of the cup, Nevada doesn't have that same issue. They trust their citizens to know what they're getting. And I knew exactly the oatmeal I was getting. Same kind as in Valencia. Same kind that I'll find in other McDonald's throughout the rest of Henderson and Las Vegas. But it also depends on the people and there was another example of someone doing his job well, what looked like maybe the manager of this location, or senior staff. Hierarchies exist for purposes of paychecks, I'm sure, someone gets paid higher, someone gets paid lower, but I don't get the feeling in Henderson that they exist as they do in places like Los Angeles. People have jobs to do, and they do them. They get paid, and they go home to do whatever else their lives entail. In Henderson, a job is only one part of their lives. There's other things to do too. It's important in order to live, but it is not a driving force.

The oatmeal was the end of my exposure to food in Henderson. After Dad's job interview, we had to start back to the border into California, and it was getting late. One major tip to impart is that if you've gone on vacation and you've had all that I've described here, don't have a footlong chipotle chicken and cheddar flatbread from Subway on the way back. I've got more on this in the weeks to come, but you end up having chipotle breath burps often.

And yet, even with having tried some new things, I've covered barely 1/16th of 1% of what's available in Henderson and Las Vegas. There's so much to try that it can take you years to get through it all. One place I'm psyched about either next time or as a resident is a Steak 'n Shake inside South Point Casino. In fact, I'm calling South Point Steak 'n Shake from now on. We had it in Florida, but there's none in California. South Point's Steak 'n Shake is the only one in Nevada. What life takes away, Las Vegas gives back, including good food.

The Henderson Chronicles, Part 1: I Need a New MP3 Player

It's a huge honking sign when two days in Henderson makes me not hate the Santa Clarita Valley anymore. I still don't like it, but I can tolerate it now and ignore all that has frustrated me for eight years because I know I'll be home soon enough. I can ignore the shallowness now, the logos of Walmart, Target, McDonald's, and other big businesses seeming to be the be-all, end-all in this valley, whereas those same logos are just part of Henderson, not dominant.

I can't simply write a day 1-day 2 recap of all that my family and I did in Henderson. This isn't a day at Six Flags Magic Mountain. This was an introduction to a life with roots I can finally have. Spending more hours in the Galleria at Sunset mall than we did on a visit in 2010, we walked through all of the mall, and I looked up at the ceiling with decorations near that are lit up at night and I truly believed that I dreamed about this mall, or a mall just like this one. On the way into Henderson, I felt like I could drive those roads. Most importantly, I want to be part of this. I want to work here, play here, explore here. I want to know everything that Henderson is and was in its history, the same as I do with Las Vegas.

Therefore, instead of a typical recap, I'm going to stretch this to many entries over this week or more than that. I'm not quite sure yet. But I'm going to start with a problem that I thought was going to be a solution.

The Monday before we left (the 16th), I deleted all the music from my mp3 player, an import from Hong Kong which boasts four gigabytes of space, which seemed to be the biggest at the time. Or the cheapest compared to what the American market was charging. Mom bought it for me and I was enthusiastic about fitting well over 100 songs on this thing.

The constant, annoying pinprick problem about this mp3 player is that it doesn't play all the music I put onto it. Some of the songs just don't show up, despite me syncing the music from the computer onto this player. Looking at the files inside the mp3 player on the computer, I see that those particular files that don't show up are in the player. So what's going on?

I still haven't figured it out. I thought this latest thorough cleansing would help. And it nearly did. One Elton John song, "Club at the End of the Street," never showed up before, and there it was now. Depeche Mode's "Strangelove" was finally there too. But now, the entire soundtrack to the 1999 Broadway production of Putting It Together had disappeared. And I had left enough room in the hope that all the songs I had downloaded to my mp3 player would show up, 1.5 gigabytes worth.

There's an old radio program, CBS Radio Workshop, that had an episode called Subways are for Sleeping, based on the Harper's magazine article by Edmund G. Love, which Love turned into a book that I proudly own. I had the episode on my mp3 player last year before deleting and starting over, and I thought I'd have it again this time. It didn't show up.

I liked that my mp3 player seemed more organized. Songs didn't look like such a jumble as I scrolled through them. The Christopher Cross and Sting albums I have were finally together. It was finally easy to get from Annie Lennox to Donna Lewis without having a long distance to travel between them. But still, half of what I had put on my mp3 player was nowhere on there.

It didn't affect my vacation in Henderson. I listened to it on the way from Santa Clarita to the road we use to bypass the Las Vegas Strip and go on to Henderson, taking a break when we stopped at the Grewal Travel Center in Baker. But that was about it. I was mostly reluctant to use it while we were driving throughout parts of Henderson because I don't get radio stations on it and it's rare that we hear radio stations of Las Vegas in the actual area, or near it in this case. But why bother also with an mp3 player that's apparently not working much for me anymore? I've had it for a few years, so it's probably time to replace it anyway.

It's impossible to top listening to the live version of Depeche Mode's "Strangelove" while driving through darkened areas of Southern California that have bright lights in the distance on the left. Really dark. Like you'd think you were looking at a fairyland at rest.

I don't know if I'll get a new mp3 player by the time we go to Henderson again, but I've got to see what may work and what's reasonable because I want to have all my songs available whenever I want, not just half of them. Or maybe it's better to wait until we're residents of Henderson to start looking. Contribute to the local economy rather than giving money to this valley. I think I can wait longer since I only use my mp3 player on long days of errands here, and the errands haven't been that long lately. Plus, things are relatively cheaper in Southern Nevada and that's worth the wait.

(I promise the entries will get better, certainly more interesting. Four days with no writing beyond what I jotted down in my composition book left me rusty, and this was the best way to start to shake out some of the rust. Something basic before I get to details important to me.)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Home in Henderson

We got to Fiesta Henderson and checked in a little after midnight. It's now 3:16 and 10 minutes ago, I came up to the 8th floor, to our room, from the casino floor after playing three penny slot machines. Not playing to win. I slip a dollar in, play one line at a time, and zone out into my kind of meditation, but this time, instead of thinking about my writing or various other things in my life, I just deeply appreciated that I'm home. I feel good here. We bypassed the Strip completely and drove to Henderson and I felt like I could drive those roads easily. They're manageable and navigable. It's impossible to get lost on the way to wherever you're going, and since I want to explore every inch of Las Vegas and Henderson and Summerlin (The latter merely out of curiosity), there's no way I'll ever get lost here. Besides, if I take a wrong turn occasionally (doubtful that it'll be before work, wherever that will be), there's always something to see, something to explore.

We found out that the entrance and box office of Regal Fiesta Henderson 12 is right next to the food court, barely touching a Starbucks right next to us, and across from one of the casino floors, this particular one wall to wall with slot machines from penny to $1. Very convenient for tonight when Meridith and I go to see "Beauty and the Beast 3D," either at 7:15 or 9:30 since we'll be busy during the day.

Oh! And speaking of things to do today, Dad drove us around our future apartment complex and I love it! The Review-Journal rack near the mailboxes looks a lot better than The Signal's in Santa Clarita, and the mailboxes are not only pleasantly close together, but there's a bulletin board above the middle section of mailboxes where residents can post various notices. There was one I noticed promoting a book called Confessions of a Pool Hustler by Robert LeBlanc. He lives in Las Vegas, maybe in that apartment complex which is the only way I can think that a postcard about his book would be pinned to that bulletin board, unless he knew someone who knows the bulletin boards around Henderson and posted it there. Nevertheless, I love that no matter what angles people play here, at least they seem honest in their intentions. LeBlanc wants to sell more copies of his book. Others want to win the World Series of Poker. Others just want to win at bingo or make a good life for themselves, as I do.

We also ate at Fatburger in the Fiesta Henderson food court a little after 1 a.m. I had a sausage and egg sandwich which was two sausage patties, fried egg and cheese. And I also had onion rings and a strawberry shake. I was hungry since Wienerschnitzel before we left the Santa Clarita Valley came hours before that, so it worked out. Not exactly what I would have wanted to eat (I would have preferred something healthier), but at that hour, you take what you can get and that sausage and egg sandwich was worth it. It's a fine start to the food to look forward to again here for the next two days. It tasted good and that's what mattered to me, plus the strawberry shake was terrific, and it was real ice cream since it began to melt toward the bottom.

While we were driving to Henderson, I never read any of the books we brought with me. Whenever we drive somewhere outside the Santa Clarita Valley, I spend a lot of time staring out the window, looking at all the sights, including what seemed like a crowded fairyland from afar before Victorville. It was just lights in the distance, industrial lights, streetlights, whatever, but there's a kind of magic to it at all at night.

The car Dad rented, a Nissan Cube, is like a refrigerator box on wheels, but it's sturdy, everything works, and that's what matters. The windows in the back are a combination of a hacksaw on its side on the left, then a strong rubber divider in between, and then a capital "D" with way too much junk in the trunk. It's a D that spent a lot of time in line at McDonald's, KFC, Taco Bell, etc., etc. That's the part of the window that opens, and when closed, it seems like a window on an old Greyhound bus; it seems like you can pull that "D" side of the window back a bit without having to push the button to lower the window.

It's 3:33 now and I'm lucky there've been nights in the past week when I've gone to bed past 3. Not ideal when I'll probably be up by 8 or 9, but I'll take the chance. Tomorrow we meet the new manager of our future apartment complex and that'll be an honor considering the peace of mind I feel there. I intend to be a model resident there, treating that apartment complex with the same respect it has given me in what it offers. I can't wait to see it in daylight.

More tomorrow night. Maybe a little bit after I get up soon, but I can't guarantee that, even though there's still more I want to write about yesterday.

Mom asked me how I felt about being here as we were driving toward the Strip before bypassing it completely. I didn't have an "Ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod!!!" feeling. It just felt so good, because I know I belong here and even with this being the first time in nearly two years that I've been here, it's still the same as I remember. It's everything I want in a home and it still delivers.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Traveling Book Debate, Part 4: One More to Add, Naturally

It's a little over two hours before our compasses point strictly at Las Vegas and Henderson. Another teacher is taking over Dad's last class of the day so he and Meridith can leave and once here, Dad's going to take the dogs to the kennel in Canyon Country, stop at Enterprise to sign for the car, then someone at Enterprise will follow Dad here with it so he can park the PT Cruiser in the garage. We'll load everything we need into the trunk of what is likely to be a Kia Soul, drop the Enterprise employee back at that location, and we're off to Baker and then Las Vegas and Henderson.

I have one more book to add to my canvas bag, even though I know I won't read most of what I brought. It's what a bibliophile does: We need books with us no matter what. I just got this one in the mail today, called Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction by Alison MacLeod, short stories about desire, loss, love, sex and whatever else MacLeod has planned in this. It was only published in the U.K., and I ordered it from a bookseller there right when I found out about it. From the back copy, some of the stories include "ECT patient Gloria, who falls for her anaesthetist, 'Dr Numb;...the cerebral Nick, who chases after the heavily pregnant Katie at an Ikea sale; and the legendary lovers Heloise and Abelard re-imagined for the twenty-first century." The ideas of these stories fit in with me craving the presence of my future home cities, knowing that when I get there, I'm going to fall for them all over again. So this is going into my canvas bag for that reason.

I've been put in charge of packing Mom and Dad's clothes into their wide blue travel bag, and my clothes and Meridith's clothes into our wide purple travel bag (Mom asked which color I wanted and I chose purple because it's Meridith's favorite color. I did that on our previous trip in 2010). In fact, that's what I have to do right now so that it's less to be concerned about by the time Dad and Meridith get home. Just sweep the bags into the trunk once our rental car arrives and that's it.

As the hours inch closer to our departure, I don't feel the vehement dislike for this valley as I usually do, definitely because I'm going home for a little while, and I know there's hope in the future with this and hopefully with Dad's success at his job interview on Friday. I hope to leave this valley and this state behind permanently and mostly forgotten in the coming months (I will only remember Six Flags Magic Mountain for the relief it gave me from this valley, and such sights as Hearst Castle further up into Northern California, as well as John Steinbeck's house, deemed an historical landmark, which makes me think every few months about reading Jackson J. Benson's biography of him. Hasn't happened yet, but it will), and zoom right into exploring every inch of where I love to be, of Las Vegas being all about hedonism, about the happy freedom that comes with it, and I know that's where I belong because I strongly believe in that.

And now it's time to get back to preparations. As Mick Hucknall of Simply Red sang in the song "Home": "I'm going home....where I belong."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Traveling Book Debate, Part 3: What's in the Bag?

In the middle of this afternoon, I decided all of what I'm bringing with me to Nevada in my canvas bag. Here's what'll be in it:

- Two blank composition books (I bought these a long time ago, but never used them, and now's the time to do so, not only to keep tabs on where we went and what we did, but also to look at the businesses all around and attempt to write copy for them in order to create a copywriting portfolio for myself, should I decide to pursue a career in that. I'm also going to write about what's all around me and how I feel while I'm there, because I'd like to expand my desert music soundtrack. I've done well enough so far with "Amazonia" by Paul Lawler and Paul Speer, and two tracks by Jeff Oster ("Serengeti" and "This Place"), among others, but I've done it at a distance from Las Vegas and Henderson. I want to take what I feel about each area after I come back to Santa Clarita and put it into choosing new music to be part of this soundtrack. No goal. Just a continuing hobby to have music express my feelings about my new home and that vast, inspiring desert atmosphere.)

- 28 Barbary Lane by Armistead Maupin (The first Tales of the City omnibus, and a perfect time with a little over four hour drive to Las Vegas to begin rereading the series by reading light, since most of this drive will surely be while it's dark outside. I learned earlier though that we have no more AAA batteries, and if my reading light cuts out, I'll have to replace the batteries with what I have in my fabric mp3 case. We'll probably get more in Las Vegas or Henderson, since prices are more reasonable there.)

- Everywhere That Mary Went by Lisa Scottoline (After reading Best Friends, Occasional Enemies: The Lighter Side of Life as a Mother and Daughter by Scottoline and her daughter, Francesca Serritella, I was curious about everything else Scottoline had written, knowing that the same lighthearted style would probably not be prevalent in those books, but after learning that Scottoline's main series is legal thrillers, I immediately ordered the first of them. I may not even read it because of all there will be to do in two days, but it's what I do, and my canvas bag won't be as heavy as it was on previous trips.)

- Dog On It by Spencer Quinn (I tried reading this novel about a dog named Chet and his private detective owner Bernie in May 2009, but it didn't take. Yet, the concept still interests me, that of the dog narrating the story, and participating in solving the mystery. I ordered it last year (I borrowed it from the Valencia library the first time), but hadn't even looked at it until now, when I was deciding what to bring with me. It's another first mystery novel, first in a series, so there's that, but also because it has Chet, it's worth bringing with me, since I'll be missing Tigger and Kitty, our two dogs.)

- Personal Pleasures by Rose Macaulay (I'll be taking deep pleasure in a lot of things in Las Vegas and Henderson, so it's appropriate to have this British satirical novelist's book with me about her own pleasures. It's also just the kind of book I like, reveling in pleasure.)

I'll bring new pens with me from the holder in the kitchen cabinet, cheap and reliable blue click pens from Target. I have two in a holder next to my bed, but those are nearly out of ink. I'll start new, since many of these experiences to come, such as seeing a movie at a theater that's inside a casino, will be new to me.

Dad and Meridith are done at work at 2:15, though Dad has to wait for his substitute to arrive since she has a meeting about a student first (It's another teacher who's agreed to cover for him). Once that's done, they get home, we make sure we have everything we need for this trip, and I presume someone from Enterprise is going to pick us up since we're renting a car for this trip. I don't know yet, but chances are we'll be out on the road toward 5 p.m., onward first to Baker (Our favorite rest stop, and really the only good one that there is on the way), and then to Nevada and our new home area. For the next three days, life is going to be perfect and hopefully it'll be successful enough to lead us to permanent perfection as residents of Henderson. I'm going to thoroughly enjoy everything about it.

The Traveling Book Debate, Part 2: Who Needs Presidents?

Toward 2 this morning, I was lying on my bed, watching "The Doorbell Rang," the first series episode of A&E's Nero Wolfe, on DVD, giving myself over completely to the delightful use of language in the series, how measured Nero Wolfe is when he speaks, that when he gets ticked over something, it's the equivalent of an act of war and easily understandable considering who he's usually up against. I also love the combination of Maury Chaykin's Wolfe (Chaykin became one of my favorite actors through this series and his brief role in Entrapment, the latter of which, to me, demonstrated his fearlessness as an actor) and Timothy Hutton's Archie Goodwin, as truly inseparable as Holmes and Watson.

As I listened to the dialogue, I looked around my room as I always do, not out of boredom, but doing some figuring of my own, looking at the stacks of books I have for my research, determining what I should start on when I get back from Nevada, looking at my Las Vegas stack and thinking about whether I should read one or two of them today, and looking at other stacks with so many novels pressed against each other, trying to remember if there are any that demand my immediate attention. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is one, not only because of the trailer for the movie and the commercials for it on TV, but also because right when I finished Greyhound by Steffan Piper and put it in my permanent collection, I wanted another book involving a young boy's exploration of the world. That one would appear to be it, even though I've not opened it yet, and will likely save it for when I get back.

I also looked at the stacks that are so close to my bed on my left side that I barely have to extend two fingers to touch them, exactly as I like it. I looked down the stack closest to me and found a book that makes me cancel out any presidential books I was thinking about bringing with me.

This book is called Personal Pleasures by Rose Macaulay, originally published in 1936, and published again in 1990. She was a satirical British novelist, and in this book, she writes about her pleasures, such as "Eating and Drinking," "Cinema," "Clothes," "Finishing a Book," "Meals Out," "Play-Going," "Walking," and "Writing." I'm going on a trip to where I find the most pleasure in my life. This book will join 28 Barbary Lane in my canvas bag (I'm still deciding on which two first mystery novels to bring). The presidents can wait until I get back.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Traveling Book Debate

In 2007, on our first trip to Las Vegas, I took a heavy bag full of books, despite the drive only being four hours, despite never having been to Las Vegas and therefore negating the need to read during my time there, or at least outside of our room at America's Best Value Inn on Tropicana Avenue, adjacent to Hooters Casino Hotel.

On subsequent trips, the bags got heavier, even though I barely read anything I had packed. Now here comes our next trip on Wednesday afternoon, and what do I bring? This trip is only two days, Wednesday afternoon to likely Friday evening (Dad's job interview with the Clark County School District is at 3 p.m. and we're going back to Santa Clarita right after he's done). Chances are Dad's going to go through the entire school day at La Mesa on Wednesday, with that day over at 3:10 p.m. Quickly home, barely a few minutes to put our bags in the trunk of our rented car (Probably a Kia Soul, which Dad likes), dogs in the car with us, and off we go to the kennel we're going to board them at in Canyon Country, and then out to Las Vegas. This seems like we'll be done at the kennel most likely toward 5 p.m. And it gets dark early here in the winter. So the first consideration is at least one hardcover book I can clip my reading light to, or a paperback that I've read far enough into that I can clip my reading light onto the first ten pages, or just enough to keep it steady.

Since I've not read any paperbacks yet that could hold my reading light, I'm thinking of the first Tales of the City omnibus by Armistead Maupin, titled 28 Barbary Lane, which contains the first three novels. I've wanted to reread the Tales of the City novels for a long time, and what better time to start? Two hours to Baker, along with my mp3 player, sounds right. Then there's the two hours after Baker, and then half an hour still after crossing the California state line into Nevada before reaching Las Vegas. No chance of seeing the billboards I like along the side of the road advertising shows and restaurants in Vegas. All dark.

So that leaves paperbacks during the day, but not very much, since I'll continually be looking out the window as we drive, seeing many of those streets in Henderson for the first time, watching for the route that leads to our new apartment complex, and most importantly, my family and I meeting the new manager there.

A vacation, however brief, is time to do things differently from what you do in your daily life. That obviously leaves out my research for my second book. No way am I bringing along any books related to it, despite my excitement about it. I have Everywhere That Mary Went, the first novel in Lisa Scottoline's "Rosato and Associates" series. I've also got The Ritual Bath, the first novel in Faye Kellerman's "Decker/Lazarus" series; Dog On It, the first novel in Spencer Quinn's "Chet and Bernie" series; and The Case of the Missing Books, the first novel in Ian Sansom's "Mobile Library" series. All mysteries, all first novels, and appropriate for this trip since this will be the first time I'll be seeing our new apartment complex, the first time I'll be going into Henderson knowing I'll be a resident there soon, the first time I'll feel like I'm truly home. So one of these books, or two, would be perfect. And three books would be enough in my canvas bag.

Or maybe four. Just one presidential book, even though it would seem roundly ridiculous to bring along Jean Edward Smith's 900+-page biography of FDR. FDR did dedicate Hoover Dam, footage of which is seen in a small screening room at Hacienda Hotel and Casino nearby, on a continuous loop. But there's no way I'd read 900 pages across two days, nor would I want to. It's the kind of biography I wouldn't want to read and then close for a while and then get back to it and then close it again.

None of this should matter since I'll finally be home. I can begin to see the local Smith's supermarket as a future resident, determining what I'd like to try in my first few weeks there, hopefully finding a sizable mustard collection more interesting than just two rows of French's. And there's also the novelty of a movie theater inside casino property, as it is with Regal Fiesta Henderson 12 inside Fiesta Henderson. Yet, books on this trip do matter, as they always have with me. And it's another first with me not carrying a heavy bag full of books, being more reasonable than before.

28 Barbary Lane will definitely go with me, then, and I've still got time to decide which two of those mystery novels I want to bring with me, and which presidential book I want from those three stacks of presidential books in the living room. Then that'll be it. No uncertainty, no falling back into that old habit. Las Vegas being about reinvention, this is a good start for me.

The "Poseidon" That Should Have Been May or May Not Have Existed

I've reached the end of my notes I've transcribed from my visit to the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library, looking right now at the brief notes I took on the Poseidon script by Mark Protosevich, though how much by Mark Protosevich could be debatable based on the number of people who wrote revisions. Did Protosevich step in after all those revisions, or was he responsible for the huge set pieces?

The front page of the bound script I opened at the library states "Previous revisions by David Scarpa, D.B. Weiss, Stuart Beattie, The Wachowski Brothers, Andrew Marlowe, Paul Attanasio, Akiva Goldsman, Kieran Mulroney & Michele Mulroney." Chances are that the Mulroneys were the first to write a Poseidon script, but it was deemed unsuitable and then Akiva Goldsman was put on it, followed by all the others. Too many viewpoints, too little coherency it seems. Andrew Marlowe is an interesting choice, being that he wrote Air Force One and Hollow Man, so he knew confined spaces.

Did any of these writers have the idea of the survivors being rescued in the opening minutes, followed by massive media exposure, and flashbacks to what had happened? It's something I may never know, but it is interesting that on that front page, it also says "Current revision by Akiva Goldsman." So they went back to him.

At the top right corner of the page is a list of future revisions, being that this particular script was the "Final White Draft - June 17, 2005." Future revisions happened on June 27, July 5, July 25, August 11, and September 12, in blue, pink, yellow, green, and gold pages respectively, most likely expanding on what there already was.

It turns out that even though some of the character descriptions are still shoddy, and didn't fare any better on the screen, Poseidon reads better on the page. Not surprising, but there was still a lot of wasted opportunity here. Undoubtedly, though, there will be books written about the current cruise ship crisis with the Costa Concordia and I'm sure Hollywood producers will try for the rights to various stories now. It's the way they are. But then, after the total failure of Poseidon when it was released, books might have a better chance.

Shots in "Lucky You" That Make Me Want More

Upon learning that we're driving to Las Vegas and Henderson on Wednesday afternoon, I extracted Lucky You from my completely full DVD binder (The other still has a few empty pages left) last night to refamiliarize myself with those streets I've missed so much, those views I've been away from for too long.

Lucky You was filmed in 2005, but not released until 2007, and The Aladdin, which is seen in the opening credits shots after Huck drives away from the pawn shop, became Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino by then.

Right when the movie begins, when Phyllis Sommerville, who plays the pawnbroker, is adjusting the earrings on that sheet of felt, "Las Vegas 2003" appears at the bottom of the screen and I immediately feel this hard pull of wanting to know what happened in Las Vegas in 2003, what it was like, what events there were, what changes there were, what whales gambled in the casinos ("Whale" being what casinos like because it means big profits for them, which is why they always offer comps to those usually very rich guests), what attractions opened, what attractions closed, even what the weather was like throughout the year. In 2003, I was visiting Los Angeles with my family, a mere four hours from Las Vegas, completely clueless about the riches it offers, even when you don't gamble. Understandable, since I was trying to figure out exactly what the hell Los Angeles was, this seemingly endless sprawl that you could spend years trying to find your place in, and still not have all that you're seeking.

That line at the bottom of the screen always reminds me of the history of Las Vegas and Henderson and Nevada itself that I still want to study. In fact, I have to put my research for Mayday! Mayday!: The Making of the Airport Movies on hiatus for this week. Today's going to be busy, figuring out what I want to wear while I'm there, if I can get away with a white Fruit of the Loom t-shirt under one of my designed t-shirts (I'm thinking of one or two Big Lebowski t-shirts), and then a jacket over all that, even though I've never been to Las Vegas in January. Today would also be the day to pack a few things, with the majority of the packing tomorrow. It's not much anyway. Just clothes for Thursday and Friday, and Meridith and I are sharing a duffel bag and so are Mom and Dad. Two pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks, two pairs of jeans, two shirts (I've looked at the temperatures which are quite cool, and am still thinking about if I should bring my blue sweatshirt. We'll be inside mostly, wherever we go, and our car will be a rental, so the heat will be quite reliable in there. I'm still not sure), and one pair of velcro sneakers. It's enough for me.

Tomorrow, just to get even more in that mood and feel some of that atmosphere through writing (Besides watching most of Lucky You again after I sign off), I'm thinking of plucking a few books from my Las Vegas stack. I could read through some of the books I have for my research, and the making-of movie books I have for guidance and inspiration, but I know that Wednesday will come up fast, and I want to be completely submerged in everything that I love, everything that I'm totally ready for.

Also in Lucky You, there's that shot after Huck (Eric Bana) has met Billie (Drew Barrymore), and he's riding his motorcycle down the Strip, past Caesars Palace, I think, with all those softly-glowing street lights lining the sidewalk. I'm not sure what street that's on. I still have to develop my navigational skills for Las Vegas and Henderson, but I repeat street names like Decatur and Tropicana, Sahara and Las Vegas Boulevard, Lake Mead Parkway and Boulder Highway, like the mantras I know they are.

Then Huck walks into the Bellagio poker room as the guy overseeing it is ordering breakfast over the phone for one of the players, and after the guy says to Huck, "Why don't you rest up a bit? You know we never close," there's a shot of one poker table where one of the players is eating a bowl of cereal. I look at that bowl and the dish under it, and I wonder where that bowl will go next after it's washed in the kitchens. What will that bowl be filled with and who will get it? I also think about the sheer enormity of the operations of these hotels and casinos and it's utterly fascinating to me. There are so many stories to witness and to write about. There's a reporter named Sonya Padgett in the Las Vegas Review-Journal who writes those stories. In July of last year, for example, she wrote about the MGM Grand's laundry facility in North Las Vegas. She lives the Las Vegas I love to learn about. It stems from monorail drivers knowing us when we went to Walt Disney World every weekend and parade performers stopping by on their route to say hello to us when I was a tyke. I knew that there was another side to Disney, that which was always in motion to keep visitors happy. It wasn't long after that that I learned about the Utilidors, the tunnels underneath WDW property, which is why you don't see Stitch walking through Frontierland. That's where the laundry facilities are for the park, costume shops, banks of computers for all the audio-animatronics in all the parks, and a whole lot more. That's why Las Vegas fascinates me in much the same way. I like the cocktail waitresses dressed in those pleasingly skimpy outfits at Caesars Palace, my favorite out of all the casinos, even those I haven't been to yet, but I also like to learn about what the custodians do to keep the casinos clean. It's always been who I am.

Oh, and there's also the scene where Roy (Charles Martin Smith), who wants to back Huck in the 2003 World Series of Poker, walks with him past slot machines at Bellagio, and I know that atmosphere so well, and I love to walk by and look at all those slot machines, quick glances at those playing at them. I always feel at home because I'm surrounded by so many different kinds of pleasure. What may not work for me works for someone else, but the option to have it if I ever wanted it is always appreciated.

This road trip to Las Vegas on Wednesday will be a relief. It's not just because I've been cooped up in Santa Clarita for so long that it's basicallly an "anywhere but here" feeling. It's also because I read the Las Vegas Review-Journal every day, and I visit the Las Vegas Weekly website at least twice a week. I want to hold actual copies. I want to read it in print. I want to get to know my local newspaper, to be very happy that I'll finally have a newspaper I know I'll read from beginning to end. I haven't had that since the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida. I don't read the Los Angeles Times because I don't relate to it.

It's also because I've seen those roads in Lucky You, and I know those roads we drove on previous trips, and I want them again. I want to see the traffic flow, I want to enjoy smoothly-paved roads, and I want to study them for myself, to begin thinking about routes for myself. What's the fastest way to go from here to here if there's a concert I want to get to in later years, say, Shania Twain when she arrives at Caesars Palace for her residency? What's the best route to take to get to my favorite restaurant? Even better, how close is the nearest library to our apartment complex? These are questions I can't answer in only two days, as this trip will be, but I can re-establish that base and work my way from that. I want everything that Las Vegas and Henderson mean to me and I know I'll get all of it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Differences Between a Little Over Eight Years Ago and Now

When FX aired The New Movie Show with Chris Gore in 2000, I knew of Chris Gore as the founder of the magazine and then website Film Threat, and that I wanted to be on his show, even though I was merely a stripling in movie reviewing, only a year into my time with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Teentime pages. I e-mailed Chris Gore about getting on his show and he said I had to be in Los Angeles to audition.

The evening I had gotten that e-mail, Dad and I went out to pick up Chinese food and in the restaurant while waiting for our order (I remember that the TVs inside were showing Rush Hour on TBS) and walking back to the car, I thought to myself, "Los Angeles? Isn't that on the other side of the universe?" I loved movies, but didn't have that hushed reverence that heartier movie buffs than I undoubtedly have, such as Leonard Maltin, and Robert Osborne on Turner Classic Movies, names I aspired to be like back then, but no longer. I knew Hollywood to be the center of moviemaking, but figured that with as many movies as Hollywood made during a given year, there's no way that the glamour we see on the screen could ever be matched in real life. Surely it was just a matter of putting up sets on soundstages, filming the scenes, then tearing them down again, or filming on studio backlots. I'd read that the work is usually long, arduous, and frustrating at times. No one likely swans around Hollywood in pearls all day.

When my family and I flew to Los Angeles from Fort Lauderdale in April 2003, I didn't know anything about where we were going. I knew we were going to land at LAX, one of the world's largest airports, and I was interested, as an aviation enthusiast, but not threatening to burst out of my skin from excitement. What could I expect from Southern California? Was there anything I could connect to? Why Southern California for job interviews? What makes Dad want so badly to try to find work there?

During those 10 days, we went to places it took us years to get back to. Dad had no trouble driving from L.A. to San Diego for a job interview at the school district offices there, yet it was years later that we finally went to Sea World. We took one of those tours of Hollywood aboard a nice-looking air-conditioned van, but have never done anything like that since. When we went to Six Flags Magic Mountain for the day, I had no idea that there was an entire working valley in front of it. When I went on Viper, I saw some collections of houses on the way up the track, but didn't pay much attention because this was the first rollercoaster I was on since the wooden Hurricane at Boomers in Dania Beach, and it was bitter cold that day, with drizzling rain lashing about like bullets at high speeds.

When Mom and Dad went back to Southern California for another 10 days in mid-July, they went to what I learned was called the Santa Clarita Valley, that entire working valley in front of Magic Mountain. Dad had a few job interviews there and by the end, one principal wanted him, the one from La Mesa Junior High. Dad took the job. Mom described to us over the phone the apartment she and Dad had found in an area called Valencia. From what she described, it seemed like a closely-connected community, wrapping around a pool area and a clubhouse with a gym. And hearing about a train system called Metrolink, I thought I could take the train to Los Angeles, to one of the major public libraries there, return books, check out new ones, and head back home. It sounded easy and I thought I could do it every weekend. I thought Los Angeles was so close together as to have everything accessible. I was naive.

I learned that the apartment complex could not be more disconnected, at least among residents, but at least it was comfortable. Los Angeles was so spread out that not only could I not reach any library via Metrolink on a Saturday or Sunday, but the freeway system made getting anywhere seem like an extensive strategy session was required before you did anything. During my first weeks at College of the Canyons, once I knew where my classes were, I spent time in the big library building, looking for every book there was about Los Angeles, trying to understand this city. It should have been a clue that I was trying to learn about Los Angeles and not Santa Clarita. It became more and more apparent to me as one year became two, and two became five, and five became eight, that in order to do anything interesting in Santa Clarita, you have to leave.

I pulled down Los Angeles anthologies, books of essays, histories, anything that could show me something about what this city had been and what it currently was all about. What set me at a disadvantage is that there was no time to learn anything before or after we had visited Los Angeles as a family. Dad was going to lose his job as a computer and business education teacher in the Broward County school system because then-governor Jeb Bush decided that the FCAT exam was more important than electives and that the funding for electives would better serve the FCAT exam. Or something like that. It's the only twisted logic I can think of.

The additional issue that cropped up after I had learned some things about Los Angeles is that I felt like I couldn't connect to anything. The city and the Santa Clarita Valley felt so desolate. People were rushing here, rushing there, looking to make their mark with this, with that, and never seeming to slow down. It feels like the past doesn't exist in either place, that it just takes up room that could be used for the future, and so they chuck out the past and pave over it so that the future has an easy time of getting in.

I don't know what made us think of Las Vegas in 2007. Perhaps Dad heard rumblings about his job being threatened again as it had been in Florida. The economy was beginning to trip over many cracks in the sidewalk, so there might have been an internal sense of unease within the district Dad works for. But what I do remember is that when I was in 11th grade at Hollywood Hills High in Hollywood, Florida, when my mom worked in the library there as an assistant, I learned that an acquaintance was moving to Las Vegas and my first thought was, "Las Vegas? Isn't that a desolate gambling outpost?" That was all I knew of Las Vegas: Gambling inside a huge desert.

Dad was going there to get his Nevada teaching license, to meet with someone from the Clark County School District, to scope out the area. Where would we want to be if we were going to move there? Could we make a life there?

Yes, we could. But now it's taken five years to get to our greatest chance of moving there with this forthcoming trip this coming week. We had bad luck not long after our first trip there because the district enacted a hiring freeze. And then the economy crapped out. Now it feels like recovery may happen, slowly but surely, and we've got a foothold we couldn't find before because of those circumstances.

Since 2007, we've been to Las Vegas a few more times, giving me the opportunity to learn more about the city, which I didn't have that first time in L.A. and Santa Clarita. I've seen sights that I'd be happy to see for years to come. I've been to the Pinball Hall of Fame three times, which I know will have my quarters many, many times a year. I feel comfortable in Henderson. Making a good, satisfying life for myself will happen there. Because of how many times we moved throughout Florida, and then the move to Valencia, and then the move to Saugus a year later, I've never felt like I had roots anywhere. I love Florida for all the imagination it instilled in me, but I never felt like I truly belonged in any of those cities we lived in. In Henderson, it's different. I feel like I can finally establish roots, that this can be the home base from which I can do everything else I want to do in my life, that after trips to, say, Missouri to the Truman Library, and Arkansas to the Clinton Library in the years to come, I can come home to Henderson and know that I am home.

Even if I had time to get to know Los Angeles and the Santa Clarita Valley, I don't think I would have felt as secure as I do with Henderson. For one, it feels so buttoned-up here in Santa Clarita. Everyone lives an image, but can never just let loose to be who they actually might be. There is always something they have to maneuver for, and with Santa Clarita being where many actors live, as others who work in Hollywood, it's always apparent.

There is image-making in Las Vegas, admittedly, but it's all in the pursuit of pleasure. What do you want? What would make you happy? Chances are they have it. For me, there's the happiness of having two library cards, one with Henderson Libraries and one with the Clark County Library system, used bookstores throughout the Las Vegas Valley, the Pinball Hall of Fame, easily accessible history of Las Vegas and Henderson through different avenues, casinos to explore, and so much else I probably haven't even unearthed yet. There is always something to see, always something to do. I've heard it said that it takes years to eat at all the restaurants and buffets Las Vegas offers. I believe it. But it's not only all that which attracts me to Las Vegas. It's also that everything feels so relaxed there. Driving slows down there. I've never driven in Southern California because I won't face those freeways. They're all M.C. Escher staircases. The only time I ever drove one was during driving lessons I took courtesy of AAA. That was it.

In Las Vegas, not only can you easily find where you're going while you're driving, there's an easygoing rhythm to the roads. You'll get there, and even traffic isn't so bad because there's always something interesting to look at. Plus, the roads are very well-maintained, so your car's not going to get shaken up a lot.

I think some of this will change after I've spent a few years as a resident, but for the good. I'll not always notice what I gawked at in my first year as a resident, but it blends in to become deep appreciation for where I am, what I do, where I go, how I live. I've felt comfortable every time we've visited, and I know that feeling will only grow larger after I've become a resident. That's all I've ever wanted in a place to live.