Saturday, March 31, 2012

A World of Ideas: Writers Review

I promise my blog won't become a repository of links to my DVD reviews. I've just been pumping them out quick lately. The latest is Bill Moyers' A World of Ideas: Writers.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to, of course, write whatever spurs me on to write, as well as more Henderson Press posts. With there now being a firm time that we'll move, I want to read the rest of the issues of Henderson Press, up to the latest, whenever that might be, and I'm also going to start shrinking my Las Vegas books stack in my room. I've started with Super Casino: Inside the "New" Las Vegas by Pete Earley, and I'm thinking of reading The Desert Rose by Larry McMurtry next. I have a combination of novels and nonfiction books, all about Las Vegas. This will serve as a transition to ransacking the Nevada history sections of my local libraries after I become a Henderson resident. I will learn what there is in these books, and then I want to know everything else, everything from the beginning of Nevada. I'm gradually doing the same for New Mexico, for my trips in the years to come, but Nevada takes priority, especially Henderson and Las Vegas.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Four Months (Or Less) Left!

Dad has to initial some papers at the bank in an hour. They'll take 15-30 days to process, and once they're through, we have three months to move out, which means in four months or less, I'll finally be a resident of Henderson, Nevada! I'll have everything I've wanted so badly and much more. Plus, it brings me a bit closer to my life's goals of traveling throughout New Mexico, and to the rest of the presidential libraries and museums throughout the nation. I've got quite some time before I can even begin planning those trips, but to finally have a home, and a home base, and to feel comfortable where I am, my goals become more possible.

Sandwich #1: Egg Salad Hoagie from Pavilions

Dad, Meridith, and I went to Sprouts and Pavilions for groceries last night since Mom has a mammogram appointment late this afternoon. In a refrigerated case near the entrance, I saw one of the "All-American Sub Sandwiches" that are on sale for $5 today. I couldn't handle that much sandwich over two days. It wouldn't have only been for me, but that thing was bigger than I thought! Whoever makes those has to have the utmost concentration so all the elements stay together. It seems like a game of Jenga! But then, that would be the Dagwood sandwich, whereas a sub sandwich sits squat.

In the Vons/Pavilions ad was a listing for hoagie sandwiches at $2.99 each. Upon seeing them next to that lone massive sub sandwich, I found that it's $2.49 each if you buy two. Not really worth it, because the "Turkey & Jack" (Monterey Jack cheese) hoagie I picked up looks like it was made without much care. I know a job's a job, and you do whatever's necessary in that job each day in order to earn the money you need to live, but one of the slices of cheese was jutting out from the middle of the sandwich, moreso than a slice of cheese usually sticks out from a sandwich. Part of the turkey looked torn, and the lettuce was haphazardly placed. I wanted to try it, but not like that. For me, a sandwich with meats and cheeses should be designed well. That was a sad design.

Then I saw an egg salad hoagie that is the exception to my personal rule because you can just glop on egg salad, making sure it's spread out evenly, or at least if there's one noticeable glop in the sandwich, it spreads out when you bite into it. I hadn't had egg salad in a while, and wanted to try this one, which included, according to the label, "chopped celery, dill pickle, and onions." Plus, I couldn't remember the last time I had a hoagie roll. It's the burly construction worker of bread. It can take a lot of punishment.

I just finished it, and the hoagie roll itself stood out to me first. If they make these things behind the deli counter and then wrap them with the price sticker and the barcode and ingredient list, then they've got a fine bread supplier. The same would be even if these sandwiches are simply shipped to the store. Obviously the expiration date is close to the date you buy the sandwich (the expiration date on mine was tomorrow, the 31st), but even so, the bread held together, no matter how long it sat in that refrigerated case until I got there, no matter that it sat in the fridge since last night until a few minutes ago. It held firm the entire time. That's bread I can respect.

Whoever made the sandwich was smart, because egg salad directly on the bottom slice of hoagie roll is going to get soggy quickly. The top slice isn't much to be concerned about. Lettuce leaves were placed on the bottom slice, then the egg salad was put on. It's elementary, and quite obvious, but important if you're not eating a sandwich right then.

The egg salad was decent, well-mixed, but though this was my first time trying it like this, I'm not fond of dill pickle in egg salad. For tang, I'll stick with mustard in egg salad. Condiments can stick out any which way they want in meat-and-cheese-based sandwiches, but I prefer a smooth egg salad.

This was a good start to my quest for great sandwiches. I'd place this one in middle territory. It's reliable for when you need something for lunch, but don't want to make it. Heaven it's not, but it does the job it's made for.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sandwiches: The Most Personal Food

Who the hell invented the sandwich? They ought to write a book about him! - Fat sandwich eater in Barfly (1987)

Meatloaf, pasta dishes, Thai food, all kinds of cultural food, really; pizza (which can be turned into a sandwich, but doesn't count because it started as pizza), salads, they're not personal overall. There's individual recipes, and family recipes, and therefore expectations to deliver. A sandwich is private; it's all up to you. You can put meats, cheeses, toppings, vegetables, whatever you want, in a sandwich. There are suggested methods of sandwich construction so that the bread doesn't get soggy from condiments. After putting two slices of bread on a plate, separate from each other, I put cheese down first before mustard if I'm going to eat the sandwich later. I wish I had thought it to be done that way when I was in elementary school. Whenever my mom made me cream cheese and jelly with cheese, the cream cheese was on one slice of bread, the jelly on the other, and the slice of American cheese in the middle. By the time I sat down in the cafeteria for lunch, the sandwich was soggy. I've no complaints because a sandwich is a sandwich. If you eat it right away, then you can prevent that. But if later, then you've got to build defenses against a soggy sandwich. You don't want the contents of a sandwich falling on a table or in your lap.

I also remember that the times I made lunch for myself for school, I loved peanut butter and jelly. Peanut butter thick on both slices of bread, with a lot of strawberry jelly smushed in the middle, jam whenever I could get it. Good for peanut butter cravings and for sugar desires. It's why I began to get heavy without noticing it. I just figured it was part of growing. Working in his father's bakery, long before I was even a mildly dirty thought, my dad didn't think in terms of weight or health. All that chocolate, all that bread, all those cookies and cakes and other confections: Yes, yes, YES! It's why he got diabetes later on. He manages it well today.

Lately, I've developed an interest, a fascination, an obsession with the sandwich. After we settle in Henderson, I want to find a decent marinara sauce, a good butterscotch sundae, a perfect fettucine alfredo, a pastichio as wonderful, or better, than the one I had on my birthday at Athena's in Canyon Country, and a few more things I'm probably forgetting right now, but toward the top of the list is a great sandwich. Or, preferably, great sandwiches.

I stopped eating sandwiches regularly when I started losing weight back in late 2010, but I want them again. Not as regularly as before, because I want to explore. I want time in between sandwiches (most likely not more than two days), so I can appreciate the ingredients, the construction, the taste. I'm serious about my personal quest, but I'm not going to be snobbish about it. I believe that most anything can be part of a great sandwich. It depends on how you put it together, how you make the tastes of the individual ingredients blend. Bacon doesn't work alone, though my sister would surely argue that I'm wrong about that. It needs partners and contrasts. I'm not sure yet what those would be for me, but I do know I'd want mustard on a sandwich that includes bacon.

There is an irony lying in wait: How personal is a sandwich if you order it from a sandwich shop, choosing from a menu put together by others, and someone makes it for you? I think it's still personal. You chose a particular sandwich from Subway or from some truly local joint (the best kind to support) because it suits your tastes. And after it's made and you pay for it, and you either eat it right there or take it with you because it's early morning and that's your lunch for while you're at work, that sandwich is yours. It's what you want. When you sit down to eat it, it's just you and the sandwich, whereas with a meatloaf or a lasagna, it's a bigger investment. It takes more time. I believe you get closer to who you are with a sandwich.

I've come to realize over the past two months that I will never be a chef like Meridith. She's gotten enough experience that if there's a hot surface and she touches it, she doesn't feel it right away. She's done that much cooking. She jokes with me, though I know it's probably true, that she's well on her way to having asbestos fingers. She's not worried about calluses. It's part of cooking as well as she does.

When she told me that, I knew I wasn't going to reach her skill level, nor do I want to try. I'm content with reading books by food writers, articles, columns, recipes, learning about the food culture of different states and countries. I am content to limit myself to making sandwiches, because whereas ingredients meld into each other in lasagna and cakes and cookies and whatnot, ingredients in a sandwich remain staunchly themselves before being eaten. Then, bite after bite, they work together, bringing forth flavors not possible when those ingredients are on their own.

One of the few things I've liked about the supermarkets in Southern California is that in Vons and Pavilions for example, you can get freshly-made sandwiches right there at the counter. I've never tried any, but I like that the option's there, and I'm sure I can look forward to it in supermarkets in Henderson and Las Vegas. In the weekly Vons/Pavilions ad, though, in the $5 Friday section, there's "All American Sub Sandwiches," which serve 3 to 4. "Made fresh daily," it says. I plan to see what's in these sandwiches if we go on Friday. Ham or turkey or roast beef, I'm sure, but I hope they're made well. Solid construction and all. A well-made sandwich is a monument to the stomach.

It may well be a good start to my close study of the sandwich. I want to know a lot more. For now, here's links to my two favorite sites for sandwiches thus far: Scanwiches and A Sandwich a Day.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Adam-12 Review

I wanted my review of Adam-12: The Final Season to be a front-to-back tribute to Jack Webb's narration style on Dragnet. I got the beginning down, but realized as I went on that the opening monologue is really the most narration on the show. Other bits of narration are much smaller and interspersed throughout the episodes. So it went from a tribute to that to just me. I still like how it turned out.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Boldly Going...Where So Many Have Gone Before

In the summer of 2010, severely overweight, buzzing on caffeine (not knowing that caffeine was causing most of my problems), staying so deep inside my body, worried about what was going on and not doing anything about it until mid-September, I watched a lot of TV. I lived for afternoons of That '70s Show, I watched episodes of iCarly (created by Dan Schneider, who also created All That, which I grew up on, so I had an excuse besides worry pushing me toward these places), I even sat through episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond, against my better judgment, which I didn't have then, which explains why I watched it. I also remember episodes of The Galloping Gourmet, which would have been fun if I hadn't been feeling so badly about myself.

Then there were afternoons in which I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation. Star Trek: The Next Generation?! Me?! This was when I worried that something had turned inside out in my brain because I never watched this in elementary school or middle school or high school. I knew some things about it through pop culture osmosis, but not as much as talented Trekkers (Trekkies? What's the latest on that?) do. Nothing of it really interested me.

And yet, why the hell didn't it interest me? My favorite childhood movie was Flight of the Navigator, which I proudly own on DVD. I also read various sci-fi novels then.

When we went to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in the years after we moved to South Florida, I spent the entire day in Tomorrowland, riding Space Mountain as many times as I could, depending on the line, admiring the star map at the entrance and the photos of galaxies that you pass in line. I looked up at the ceiling projection, watching shooting stars, staring at all that futuristic design in wonder. Obviously the seeds of full-blown sci-fi exploration had been planted a long time before I got to the point of watching TNG. There was also a day during this mind-and-body worry that I didn't want to go out and face the world because Star Trek: Generations was on BBC America. It helped me ignore my immediate world.

Since that summer, I watched either one or two episodes of TNG, but that was about it until late last year, when I got more into it. I watched a few more episodes; oh, and there was also the movie in 2009 that I saw on the strength of the trailer that I watched over and over, awe-inspired by it. So that had to push it along faster.

There's the old Star Wars vs. Star Trek argument, and I side with Star Trek. More planets, more galaxies, more starships, more impressive technology. I don't want a lightsaber as much as I want a holodeck. I'd rather have the USS Enterprise than the Millennium Falcon.

I admit, however, that TNG is the only Star Trek series I've seen thus far. Eventually, I'd like to see the entire run of The Original Series, The Animated Series, all the episodes of TNG (I know for sure I haven't seen all of them yet), Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, and all the movies, save for Generations, which I not only saw on BBC America, but I also bought it for $5 at Big Lots along with Insurrection, which I still have to see.

This past weekend, I pulled out of one of my book stacks Star Trek by Alan Dean Foster, the novelization of the movie. I enjoyed Foster's skill at descriptions, but I wanted better. I know that no book can possibly top the movie, but I wanted that same sense of wonder I felt when I saw the movie, what made me buy it on DVD. So I've decided that I want to read all the Star Trek novels. A filmmaker friend on Facebook referred me to his nephew who recommended the Destiny, Titan, Typhon Pact, and Deep Space Nine books. I will read them all.

Another filmmaker friend on Facebook, upon reading my intent, said, "Good lord, you know they've been publishing Trek books longer than you've been alive, right?" I do. I am not intimidated by the sheer number of novels that have been published. In fact, two days ago, I ordered from a seller on Mission to Horatius, the first Star Trek novel. I want to read all these series chronologically, despite the sheer number of some of them, and if it takes years, that's fine. I'm an easy traveler. I'm just looking for continuous adventure in my sci-fi reading. I'm not here to argue about which captain is better, which series is better, which whatever is better. My only favorite character thus far is Riker. I'm sure I'll have more soon enough. I know there's widespread hatred toward Wesley Crusher on TNG, but having read Wil Wheaton's books, and reading his blog regularly, I just watch him with fascination.

So here I stand, boldly going...where so many have gone before. And if there are any Star Trek fans who read my blog, who have read the books, what are your recommendations? What should I look forward to? (If one of my followers is indeed who I spoke to on Facebook, I've got your recommendations down in a Word file. But any additional insight from you is always welcome.)

Monday, March 26, 2012

"Home" is a Big Word

I got up at 12:51 this afternoon, after going to bed a little after 3 this morning. I felt down because I didn't want that to happen. If I got up at 11, that's fine because I'd have most of the day ahead of me, including one hour left of the morning. But 12:51 already puts me squarely into the afternoon and what can I possibly do with just the afternoon and the evening? Come to think of it, do I really need the morning that much if I'm in a state of flux right now what with waiting for the day to come when we finally escape from the Santa Clarita Valley for good? Yes, I do, because I need to transition myself back to the morning so I can wake up early during that one time or two more times that we're in Henderson and Las Vegas and not feel like I did after we got home. (More to come in a future entry.) That of course entails going to bed earlier, which I will do because I need to be up earlier in those instances, and after we move, when I've got a job again that requires me to be up at 6:30 or perhaps even earlier.

To have a fulfilling day in this valley, you have to ignore your surroundings. There is nothing interesting here during the day to inspire you, to make you feel secure. After I got up and thought I would probably accomplish absolutely nothing today, I immediately thought about that, how there's nothing here, how's there everything in Henderson and Las Vegas. I'm tired of just thinking about the Galleria at Sunset mall, about finally getting a library card again after what will be a little over a year, about driving roads I know I can drive and street names worth memorizing. I want to be there. I want to do all those things.

Still we have to wait. But not too much longer. Late this afternoon, Mom and Dad signed a paper, an approval of the appraisal, or something else related to the house. Well, I know it was something related to the house, but I only paid attention to its significance of bringing us to the point of handing this place over to a realtor when we're ready, when Dad's assured of a job over there, which we think will come soon, because we are not spending another year here. We're done.

It's overwhelming to me, though, and not in an emotional way or feeling like there's so much to do and I'll never get it done. Suddenly, I have all these options coming to me, all these things I can do in my two new hometowns, all these sights to see, all these roads to explore, all these Nevada history books to read (and once I have my library card, I'm going to ransack the Nevada history sections). If we had stayed in Valencia instead of moving to Saugus, the transition from Santa Clarita to Henderson would have been easier because at least we would have remained in a hub of things to do, things going on, and it never took long to walk to the library from our apartment. But having been starved of genuine parks, of shopping centers that feel like they're centered on a sense of community, of living somewhere that has just one high and low temperature for miles and miles (not eight or nine different climate zones as it is here in Southern California), that's why I'm overwhelmed. I can have my favorite mall whenever I want, and also set out to explore new malls. It takes a mere 20 minutes to reach the Pinball Hall of Fame on East Tropicana Avenue in Las Vegas. And I was serious when I told my mom I want to explore every single inch of Henderson and Las Vegas, and then Summerlin. I want to know everything about my two hometowns.

When we lived in Florida, I had Walt Disney World every weekend and sometimes during the week for a few years, and then we moved to South Florida, where I occasionally had the Sawgrass Mills Mall (take a helicopter above it and it's in the shape of an alligator) in Sawgrass, the Coral Square Mall in Coral Springs, and the Pembroke Lakes Mall in Pembroke Pines. It wasn't only malls, though. I had Publix and Winn-Dixie and parks and other points of interest as well, but I never had them in any one place because we moved so many times throughout Florida. I never had a home base from which I could go to other places and then come back to it. This time I will. I know I can make a great life in Henderson. And I know that when I travel throughout New Mexico in the years to come and go to all those presidential libraries, I can always go back to my home base in Henderson.

I know I'm only 28, and that things can change in life, but I don't think so with this. Maybe I'll visit Walt Disney World again one day, but at this point in my life, I can't only have Walt Disney World nearby. I need a lot more now, and Las Vegas fits it with a hedonistic lifestyle I passionately believe in. Whatever pleasure you want, you can probably find it there. And that's another huge load of history I want to study. Plus, the Midwest and East Coast would be far too cold for me in winter. So Henderson and Las Vegas are it. It's where I truly belong, and I feel it all the time. When we walked through the Galleria at Sunset mall, I thought to myself, "I think I've had dreams about this mall." Considering the dreams I do have often about malls and amusement parks and Walt Disney World, I belong there. All of it, including the rollercoaster at New York-New York and the Pinball Hall of Fame and various other arcades I've not seen yet, should be part of my waking life too. I wake up from those dreams, look around, and think, "I'm still here?" Here in Santa Clarita. But waking from those dreams there, I'd think, "I'm still here!" Huge difference to a soul seeking daily vibrancy.

The word "home" has only four letters, but it's big. In those four letters is everything I've ever hoped for, everything I never considered when I lived in Florida because I felt secure even with being relatively rootless from so much moving. I never knew how much I was missing in Florida until I came here. I want roots, finally. I need roots. I want to know that where I am is where I can always be. It's there. I can feel that vibrancy every minute I'm there, looking to that Las Vegas skyline, going to Chinatown there, passing by the airport and watching planes take off and land. I loved it when we drove past Fort Lauderdale International and planes would take off and land above us, and when we'd go to Miami International to park and watch the planes, and experience the same thing. I can have the same thing all the time now at McCarran International. It's there for me whenever I want it, even when I'm not thinking about it, seeing planes seemingly hovering in the air as they're on approach to land at McCarran.

As much as I think right here about what home will mean to me, I will fall right into its rhythms once I become a resident. I will begin to know it right at the start, making up quickly for these eight years, and it'll be like I've never lived anywhere else, which is what I want. I'll always appreciate Florida for making me what I am, but this is where I want to be, where I know I'll thrive, where waking up from a dream leads to living a dream. What better hope for life?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

New DVD Review

This review, posted today, is the one that has truly made me feel at home at Movie Gazette Online. I truly feel like I can do this without worry about my writing now, since I've got nothing at stake anymore.

Tidbits from the Third Issue of The Henderson Press

One of these days I'll write more about my trip to Henderson with my family back in January, hopefully by the time we go again, either in April or a little later. As it stands now, and as it likely will be, we'll probably be residents of Henderson by late August, at least before the new school year starts.

I have a guest post I wrote for Janie Junebug's blog that I want to post, but only after I've written everything I want to about Henderson (including me and Meridith's first movie in Southern Nevada, and the Galleria at Sunset mall), since most of it takes place after we got back, with quick flashbacks to certain points during the trip.

Since I don't feel like writing about any of that tonight, I present what I've learned from the third issue of The Henderson Press, dated November 19 - December 9, 2010. This feels different for me because before we went back to Henderson in January after two years away from Meridith and I, I'd forgotten the layout of Henderson and thought it to be a quaint, peaceful town near Las Vegas, small enough to really feel like a close-knit community. The articles from the previous two issues gave me that impression too, but actually being in Henderson again, I was dead wrong.

It's huge, but it's still peaceful. As busy as certain areas of Henderson can get, they're always welcoming. And I've come to realize that the way The Henderson Press is written is perfect because it does bring Henderson together more closely. The Las Vegas Review-Journal can't possibly report on every single thing going on in Henderson unless it's as big as the police chief of Henderson announcing her retirement last month. For everything else, including that huge story, I go to The Henderson Press. Even as a weekly paper, it's still very thorough.

So here's what I've gleaned from the third issue, Vol. 1, No. 3:

- There's a Veterans Memorial Wall at City Hall. I will visit it, since I want to know all the history of Henderson, including its people.

- There are apparently two Nevada State Railroad Museums: One in Carson City and the other in Boulder City. As of 2011, according to reviews, it was still open, but there's no website for the Boulder City one.

- A quarter-page ad at the bottom of page 3 announces an online business directory on The Henderson Press website. It's still there, and I guarantee I'll read every listing. I want to know about all the businesses I might pass by on my way to and from work once I'm there.

- At the time of this issue, the Henderson police department was building a joint training facility with the Boulder City police department.

- Las Vegas Natural History Museum. As long as there's exhibits about Nevada's natural history, I'll be there.

- Nevada State Museum on South Valley View Blvd. in Las Vegas. I want this!

- Phillips Furniture in Henderson sells "clean used furniture," as they advertise. I think I know where I'm going for bookcases hopefully in good condition.

- Henderson has the Henderson Symphony Orchestra, and I will only attend a concert if works by Schubert or Gerswhin are included.

- On South Water Street is an Italian restaurant called Emery's La Barrista. The menu on its website has fettucine alfredo, and, as a resident, I want to find as many great fettucine alfredos as I can.

- A column by Dr. Robert Fielden on page 15 states that "Henderson was built under the Roosevelt administration specifically to manufacture magnesium bombs for World War II in 1942. To keep the plant from being sold off as war surplus after the war ended, the State of Nevada authorized the Colorado River Commission to purchase the facilities. In 1953 the city was incorporated and named and named after Nevada's US senator Charles B. Henderson. Its population then was approximately 7400 people, and the city covered 13 square miles. Today the city has grown to serve more than 250,000 people living within a 94 square mile area." Ok, so it's not as quaint as I thought after two years away from it, but it's still approachable. Not only will I ransack the Nevada history sections of my local libraries after I get a library card, but I also want to know more about Charles B. Henderson.

- I love this final paragraph in Fielden's column: "From time to time, in future pieces I'll report on other influential Henderson pioneers and the role they played in making Henderson the best place in Nevada today for all of us to live." I hope he delivered what he promised in later issues.

- The "Upcoming Events" calendar lists a children's program at the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve featuring education about roadrunners and sandwich terns. The website mentions that the "Preserve is home to thousands of migratory waterfowl as well as numerous resident desert birds." It's generally only open until 2 p.m. throughout the year, except for June, July and August, when it's open until noon due to the heat.

- Two and a half pages of coupons. I hope that's still prevalent in current issues.

- In the "Transportation" ads, a 2009 Toyota Corolla Sedan is being offered for $14,967. Findlay Toyota. I should have known it's from a dealership. No used Corollas this time.

- There's also houses listed for rent and for sale, houses that I'll never know because an apartment rental seems much more reasonable. I'd rather someone else fix a fussy toilet for me, costing less than it would if the toilet was in a house.

- Full back page ad for Johnny Mac's. I really want to try their wings.

By the time this move begins to get really serious, I want to have read every single issue up to the latest one. Time to catch up.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

My Latest Review

My latest review for Movie Gazette Online was posted on Thursday. It's about the History Channel documentary, The Presidents, which is being rereleased on DVD on April 17 in thinner packaging, with the addition of the A&E Biography episode about Barack Obama. What better time than an election year to push it out into the market again? I really liked it. And I've stuck to what I said about reviewing only what truly interests me.

Meridith's Birthday at Souplantation

Thursday evening, nearing the end of the one day of separation between my birthday and Meridith's birthday, Meridith decided on where she wanted to go for dinner on her birthday: Souplantation.

Across the country it's known as Sweet Tomatoes, but in Southern California, it's called Souplantation. I don't know why. Tax reasons come to mind, but then that's always the case when I learn of changes in business between states.

When we first went to this Souplantation last September, I loved it. I loved the blueberry muffins full of tiny blueberries that burst blue inside, the chocolate muffins with syrupy centers, the fettucine alfredo with enough four-cheese sauce to make me get two more bowls. What may also have made the difference was going there on a late Wednesday afternoon rather than a late Friday afternoon, when the Valencia Town Center mall shopping district becomes the premier social hub of the Santa Clarita Valley. Add to that four regular screens and an IMAX screen given over to The Hunger Games at Edwards Valencia 12, and it was easy to see why the tables were crowded so.

Souplantation starts at the entrance with a loooooooong salad bar with spinach and various hand-tossed salad, including a Caesar salad that's made every 20 minutes that Meridith waited for. She loves freshly-made everything, so watching lemons squeezed and garlic pressed and cheese sprinkled on was worth the wait. I didn't take any, but she really went for it.

Along the salad bar are various accessories including shredded cheddar, crumbled blue cheese, and pasta dishes, including tuna tarragon and country macaroni salad with ham. Keep this in mind.

When you reach the end of the salad bar, nearest to the tables, you pay your $10+. You can go back to the salad bar while you're there without having to pay again, since you're already there and somehow the people at the two registers opposite each other (there's two salad bar lines, left and right) know if you've been there for a while. Perhaps it's from walking slower and slower as you eat more and more.

We found the ideal table, directly across from the soup bar, in front of the soda machines, diagonal from the door through which employees go carting trays of dishes, and pushing carts with containers of cut vegetables for the salad bar placed on both levels. That door would be annoying to some, especially with the banging of dishes in the back, an employee slamming soup bowls atop other soup bowls near the soup bar, and people walking up to the soda machine that sits behind the table, a partition in between. We didn't mind it, since Meridith loves hearing the activity of a kitchen, and it was easier for Mom than walking across the main dining room to get soup, buttermilk cornbread, and pasta.

The soup bar had many different kinds of soup, such as a New England clam chowder that had very few clams and a lot of potato, Irish leek potato soup, broccoli cheddar soup, tomato basil soup, and a chicken noodle soup in which all the noodles and chicken sat at the bottom of the pot, which I suppose is the best way of it if you want more broth than noodles, but there wasn't enough chicken. The thick noodles, however, were good. And there was a vat filled with baked potatoes with appropriate condiments on the side.

The bread station, in between the soup bar and the pasta station, had those chocolate brownies, the blueberry muffins, grilled cheese focaccia and four-cheese focaccia, and slices of sourdough bread wrapped in red cloth, with small paper cups of butter on the glass shelf above it, and a squeeze bottle of clover honey next to the butter.

To the right of the bread station, the pasta station, with four-cheese fettucine alfredo, the same disappointing, watery macaroni and cheese like last time, and penne arrabiata.

Potatoes. Starch. Pasta. Starch. Breads. Starch. The pasta salads at the salad bar. Starch. What's the best way to keep turning over tables, to make sure that no one stays too long? Give them potatoes and pasta and breads and pasta dishes at the salad bar!

It is nice at the start, with a lot of selection, but then is easily seen as a genius scheme at the end. It's obviously not a buffet restaurant that can easily offer seafood (my favorite kind of buffet), but there is no food there to lighten the load while you're eating. You're there for a short time as a result, and then you're gone. Considering its location, near the mall and closer to the movie theater, I'm not surprised. Eat and go. Eat and go.

It was nicer on that Wednesday last September, being that it was fairly empty, and felt leisurely. Meridith liked it, though, and that's what mattered most. But geez, sitting at that table, watching people pour out of the parking garage to walk across the street to the movie theater, wow! However, I won't read The Hunger Games until sufficient time has passed, if I read it at all. I don't like to ride hype. I decide what I want to read in my own good time.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

An Instead-Of Birthday

Yesterday, I had an instead-of birthday.

Instead of continuing to be frustrated with my finicky mp3 player that only ever plays half the songs I put in it, my parents and sister got me a new mp3 player, the same model, with 8 gigabytes instead of 4. You'd think it would be the space issue that prevents me from hearing all the songs I put on that player, but when I did sync songs from the computer onto the mp3 player, I'd have to give it at least an hour to put half of the songs on the mp3 player. Before our trip to Henderson in mid-January, I deleted every song from my mp3 player and started again. It took two and a half hours for over 200 songs.

This time, I have a better-made version of this mp3 player. When I transferred 204 songs from the computer, it only took 20 minutes. Much, much faster. Plus, all of them are there because after it turns on, it shows "204" under the # song that I'm on. If I'm on the 43rd song on this mp3 player, it shows "043" above "204."

My only quibble is that after I speed past 40 songs while it's paused, it doesn't skip as fast. I have to push the tiny lever to the side once, then wait a few seconds while it goes to the next song. I was annoyed with this at first, but in a way, it reminds me to appreciate the unfolding of music. I don't have to rush from song to song, even if I don't want to listen to a certain one at that very moment. Just cruise along to the next one in good time. It'll be perfect for when we go back to Las Vegas and Henderson so I can get back into the habit of just letting life flow by, as it is when we're there, and surely as it will be when we're residents.

Instead of Chronic Tacos in Saugus, I decided on Athena's in Canyon Country for two reasons. First, I looooooove feta cheese. Can't have it often because of how fattening it is, but there was the opportunity to have it in spanakopita and in pastichio. Second, Athena's has been in business for all eight years that we've lived here and probably earlier than that. No matter the state of the economy, it has lasted. And I wanted to do something different as a transition into the life we'll live in Henderson and Las Vegas.

The restaurant itself is large enough to hold a good-sized crowd, depending on how many tables are pushed together for some parties, but it fortunately doesn't have that feeling of being too crowded, too overextended. Everything there is made fresh. Mom and I ordered chicken noodle soup with our entrees, as is given, and then Meridith got the dinner salad she ordered with her quarter dark meat rotisserie chicken, and still my spanakopita had not come out. I first thought the waitress forgot about it, and then I realized that everything here is truly fresh, a rarity in the Santa Clarita Valley where factory-line creation seems common.

And oh, was it worth the wait! I'd been thinking about this ever since I first read the menu last Friday, lingering over the words "spinach cheese pie" in the appetizers section, fantasizing about spinach and feta cheese in phyllo dough. It was a triangle of pure heaven. I first reveled in such a heavenly taste, and then wondered why we hadn't tried Athena's in the eight years we've lived here. And it made sense yet again: We only discover the good places in an area just as we're about to move, which means we'll be moving soon. That's always how it happens and fortunately, we'll always have good places in Henderson and Las Vegas, without moving again.

The pastichio was layers of pasta with ground beef and cheese in between. To me, this pasta tasted lighter than what I usually experience in Italian dishes, which makes me like Greek food even more. I would like to find something like this in Las Vegas as well.

Instead of letting this only be a day of celebrating my 28th year, I still thought about my writing projects, especially my novel. While waiting for the soup, I looked out into the parking lot (we were seated next to the window that looks out on a few lanes of traffic, and from where I was sitting, I got a pretty good view of the parking lot), and saw two guys talking, one smoking, and thought about the two main characters in my novel. I watched these two guys because they seemed to have the rapport I was looking for, even though I had no idea what they were saying.

Then they came into the restaurant, took a table at the back, and a few minutes later, more family and friends belonging to a birthday party in the restaurant arrived, and so did other patrons. I liked the setting right then as I surreptitiously listened to the conversations around me without turning my head. Here was this birthday party with a lot of excited chatter, and there were those two guys at a back table, eating. One of the things I want to show in this novel is that these guys are part of society as anyone is, but they exist more on the edges of it. Where birthday parties go on, where crowds are, they stay to the side, mainly because of one's obsessed mission. At the same time I glanced at these two in the back, I also looked out at the traffic on the street next to us. I've been thinking about a truck for the road trip that these two will take, and intend to research miles per gallon on these trucks. It's not so much overkill as wanting to figure out where these two will go and how in their search.

Instead of a standard birthday cake, I went for an Oreo ice cream roll that I found at Walmart Supercenter back in late February. We got home and relaxed for a bit, letting the food settle before we had it, and it was perfect. Whenever Dad gets a frozen Claim Jumper chocolate silk pie, I usually grab the bulk of it because I love the sturdy chocolate crust and in fact, I only eat the pie for that. So to have Oreo crumbs all around and inside a roll of ice cream was definitely for me.

This was the perfect final birthday in Santa Clarita for me. It felt looser than past birthdays, I think because we know we're moving on, whereas past birthdays just signified another year here. That everything was perfect was a terrific farewell. It was the best birthday I've had here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My Lights at Night

I've been thinking a lot about the novel I want to write, to the extent that I paced the dark living room at 2 this morning, talking to myself, trying to figure out why one of my two main characters wants so badly what he wants. In that half a chapter I didn't even know I wrote, I have what he was like in high school with his passion. The other main character, the narrator of this novel, saw him in action in high school, watching in awe how he didn't seem to be there. It's like he was one with what he loved. It may be the reason why the narrator decides to join him on this vast road trip. It's something he can't see himself, but he wants to understand it. In idle moments, the narrator has occasionally thought about this guy, and here is this chance to see firsthand perhaps why he is what he is.

Vague, I know, but I'm still working out countless details. Last night, before the pacing, before talking myself through different scenarios, I looked up the website of a mall here in Southern California that I want to use for my novel. Before a certain restaurant closed in the town where this mall is located, we used to go to that restaurant and then to the mall. That mall retained the heavy historical feeling of that area, like the ghosts of the past were always there, and I loved that because the mall was honest. There are few frills to it. There were no outlandish decorations to try to attract people (perhaps during Christmas, but I've not been there then, and from what I know of this mall, I think they'd do a few things for the holiday, but not everything), no gigantic signs pointing to this side of the mall and that side of the mall, no enticements beyond what the stores sometimes offer in sales. There's also a pizza place/arcade/amusement center in that mall that replaced the whole downstairs area, which included a uniform store. Strange as it is for these two men to be going there without any kids with them, the obsessed main character has his reason and he thinks it might be in the arcade there.

Whenever Mom, Dad, Meridith and I went to that mall, it was always either in the late afternoon or in the evening, after it got dark. That's when I want these two to be there. The restaurant I mentioned has been closed for a while now, but I'm thinking of setting this novel in a time when it's still open, or keeping it open anyway, which reminds me that I should get its old address from Yelp.

Before thinking more about this novel that's been in mind for two years, I never realized how much an author puts him or herself into a novel. Obsessions, curiosities, past pain, favorite things, it can all be there unless the author decides to write a different novel entirely. But even then, even in another genre, you still find pieces of the author because what they've written has obviously interested them enough to spend a few years with it alone.

It also got me thinking about why nighttime is my favorite part of the day. I don't need a lot of night. I just need enough before I go to bed. But in thinking about that restaurant and that mall, I thought about them at night, seeing the streetlights, the lights in the parking lot of that mall, the lights inside the restaurant seen from the outside, how brighter they are at night.

I don't think I could have my characters living entirely at night, but I do want those moments where they're looking at the lights around them at night, thinking about something, thinking about this search that they're on.

When we lived in the apartment in Valencia, when I walked Tigger at night, I always took him to the edge of sidewalk next to one of the apartment buildings that faced the closed and locked maintenance shed, where the golf cart was kept in the garage there, the one that the women in the sales office would use to take prospective renters around the property to empty apartments. I stared at this maintenance shed, with the same mindset I have whenever walking through a Walmart or Target or strip mall or outlet mall or outdoor shopping center: I wondered who the electrician was who installed the light above the maintenance shed's office door. I wonder who installed the hoses that allow people to wash their cars inside two separate stalls next to the maintenance office. I thought about how amazing it was to me that this maintenance shed, and those two car wash stalls just sit here, totally still, while the rest of Santa Clarita and Los Angeles rush about, doing whatever they must because this seems to be the only time to do it. I think I went to that particular spot at night because it felt like the calmest place in the universe, the zen-like center of the whirlwind.

My lights at night do include the Las Vegas Strip, but to a lesser degree. It's only part of my life in Vegas and Henderson. On our most recent trip to Henderson in January, I remember us driving through Victorville at night, and at the far end of one side of the road, where you could see buildings lit up, there were trees in front of all that and it seemed like fairies were flitting about, or just a deluge of fireflies. To me, there's a kind of magic in the night because during the day, everything is exposed. You can see the roads, you can see the houses, you can see where you put your garbage and recycling bins for pickup. But at night, you can imagine that the roads lead to new lands hitherto undiscovered in your state, perhaps those of a different dimension that's only accessible by making a specific wrong turn.

It's why I only keep the light on in the kitchen that's above the sink when it's my night to wash the dinner dishes, and I keep the blinds open. When it's dark enough that you can see all the house lights on the mountainside above us, I look below that, past the rail top iron fence that's at the back end of the pool, down to a neighborhood below us where there's one bright white light on, attached to a garage. I of course think about the electrician who installed it, where their job has taken them now, if they're even still an electrician. But I also think about the darkness in that neighborhood, of the trees so still, of the flowers sitting there, of there being some adventure out there in the darkness, something to see that you can't know in the daytime. It's there.

I don't think I'd have my characters roaming the darkness all the time, but I do want to put in there those memories of nighttime being so fascinating to me. It's that mall, and also that motel we stayed at in Alabama when we moved from South Florida to Southern California in August 2003. It's that maintenance shed in Valencia, and it's those late Friday afternoons at College of the Canyons after my once-a-week cinema class ended. It's so much I'd want to include in whatever night scenes I produce for this novel, and what I can't, lest it be overkill. But it's all about seeing what I can use, what would be good for the story I want to tell. That's why I talk to myself at 2 in the morning, and why I sometimes act out my characters, getting to know them and understanding what they want. It's my adult playground.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

More of the Same of My Southern California Dream Home

More pictures of the same spot, looking up at my dream home at Ventura Harbor Village.

Two things came to mind today as I thought about this location: First, I'm not even sure if there's a shower in the square footage behind these windows. A bathroom there must surely be, but are these units also for living? If so, then there should be a small kitchen too. I'll probably never find out, but that's how I'd like it if I became a resident.

All I'd need in that apartment is a bed, a couch, a coffee table, a TV, a DVD player, and basic cable (for Jeopardy! and The Big Bang Theory on CBS), and I'd devote the rest of my space to bookshelves. Inspiration for my own writing would come from what I have on those shelves, what I get every week from a hopefully nearby library, and just by walking the grounds of Ventura Harbor Village. Tourists wander, the line grows long at Coastal Cone, and I can always watch boats sail the harbor, as well as gawk at the mammoth ones that are docked at various slips.

The price for a bowl of New England clam chowder at Andria's Seafood Restaurant is $6.09. If I hit the lottery or had a job there that pays well enough to maintain such a harborside lifestyle, then yes, I could have it every day for lunch if I wanted, but I wouldn't want to get tired of it. So once in a while for lunch, on an idle Tuesday or Wednesday that just feels right for it.

My preferred space is the third window on the right. In yesterday's entry, I linked to the hardcover edition of The Ha Ha by Dave King. Where the foot of the bed is in that photo is where I'd place my bed under that window on the right. It feels right. For me, it would also feel like every day is the weekend. Every day should feel like the weekend anyway, but being that my dad is a teacher, and I'm a substitute campus supervisor, Monday through Friday feels like Monday through Friday. Not so much in dreading Mondays because any day you get paid is a good day, but just that schedule of the week with weekends off that makes a Friday feel like the universe has aligned itself, and Saturdays and Sundays entirely up to you. Or maybe it's just where we live right now. Once in Henderson, I'm sure I can make every day feel like the weekend. There's more to see and do there than there is here.

Ventura Harbor Village has a Greek restaurant called The Greek at the Harbor. I'd be set. They've got feta cheese, and moussaka, and baklava. They've also got window seating where you can look out at some of the boats. Feta cheese and that view would suit me fine.

Lately in my head, I've been hanging out at Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas in Primm, right near the Nevada/California border, and the Buena Park Mall in Buena Park, where Po Folks used to be, and where Knott's Berry Farm is. For a long time, I've been fascinated by that mall's utter straightforwardness. Nothing to try to entice shoppers to go there. It's just there, and people do go there, and they shop there, which I know is the purpose of every mall, but this is also a rare mall where you can feel history hanging heavily over the area. It's not just perhaps the ghosts of Buena Park's founding fathers, but also past citizens themselves. It's the one city I know of in Southern California that keeps its history alive, and even if it didn't, you could still feel it like you do when you're walking around wherever you are in Buena Park.

I've also thought about Ventura Harbor Village beyond these entries. Because of it and San Juan Capistrano, I've always been amazed that peace can be found in Southern California. It's not a frantic rush to wherever you need to go, wherever you have to go, and whatever you have to do. Life can exist without that silent pressure. I don't have it anymore since I know I'll be going home to Nevada soon enough, but I hope there are people in Southern California who do call that part of Ventura, and San Juan Capistrano, home, for the reasons that I believe it can be home. They must appreciate it every day. It seems like it would be a good life, but maybe even more if the state wasn't so overtaxed. Plus I don't drive freeways, and once I'm out of California, I'm never coming back. It'll be home in my imagination until I arrive home and then it'll be in the back of my mind. I won't have to fantasize anymore. But I will always appreciate what Ventura Harbor Village has done for me and my imagination, because I felt relaxed and I was shown that life exists outside that franticness, and it set me on a course to find better for myself, which I've found in Las Vegas and Henderson. You can't ever forget a locale that does something like that.

My First Review in Two Years

I love the arrangement that Rebecca Wright over at Movie Gazette Online offered me, of reviewing only what truly interests me, and writing as many or as few reviews as I want. As I work on my next books, I like having the opportunity to write reviews again, this time without my once-fervent desire to be a full-time film critic somewhere. I can have a lot more fun with it now!

My first review in two years was posted yesterday, about the documentary Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird. After you read the review (or before), click on my name and you'll find the bio I wrote for the site.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

My Southern California Dream Home

If I was a different Rory L. Aronsky, content to live in Southern California for the rest of my life, and making enough money to move wherever I want without concern, or hitting the lottery to the same effect, I know exactly where I would want to live.

At Ventura Harbor Village, in Ventura, above the arcade containing my beloved Galaga machine, above Coastal Cone where a butter pecan malt tastes oh so sweet and oh so wonderful, there is square footage up there, separated by walls, that could conceivably be used as offices. A psychiatrist could hang a sign there if they wanted, or a real estate agent, or some business that requires an office in place.

Outside the back exit of the arcade, next to a pair of restrooms, I stand north, looking up at windows that make up my favorite spot, above a carved-in sign that says "More Shops and Restaurants":

This is my Southern California dream home. I'm not sure what the square footage is behind any of those windows, but I would set up an apartment there. I would want to live at the harbor, looking out at all the boats, sitting on a bench having a butter pecan malt, and playing Galaga whenever the arcade is open. All I would need to know is how close I am to the nearest library.

In fact, there's a novel called The Ha Ha by Dave King that I bought last month, 30% for the novel itself, and 70% for the cover, because it reminded me of standing on that very spot where that picture was taken, imagining the window open just a bit, the blinds up just a bit, the foot of my bed right under that window, and me laying on it, reading. I could make a peaceful life for myself there because I feel so at ease every time I go there. Sure, there may be problems in Ventura itself, issues that have festered, but unlike the Santa Clarita Valley, where I feel like I'm crushed under so much bullshit disguised as passivity (though I've sadly gotten used to it over the years, and will be well over it by the time we move), being at Ventura Harbor Village makes you feel like no matter if there are problems, there is a time for them and that's not this time. Not so much ignoring for the sake of relief, but a more easygoing nature toward solving issues.

This is where I would be, happily, if I was a different me.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Time is the Only Difference Between a Kindergartner and a 27-Year-Old

Ok, there is puberty, and high school graduation, and trying to find a job that doesn't kill your soul until it finally does 30 years later (something I've managed to avoid thus far and work hard at keeping it that way), but all those events involve time. What is planted in your mind at a young age usually carries over to your adult body and heart. I noticed this last weekend when Mom, Dad and I were at Walmart Supercenter, but I have to start way, way back, when I was a kindergartner at Sterling Park Elementary in Casselberry, the only school I went to that was in the same neighborhood as my house.

For years, ever since writing it down when I was 8, I thought my first memory, the first time I noticed that I was alive, was when I was in line with my kindergarten class, coming back from lunch. (I remember that life was pure black all around me, until that moment, when it all faded and I saw those pictures in front of me. Since then, I've recalled memories from when I was three.) We were all waiting to go back to the classroom, and Mrs. Moffat was probably doing a head count. Next to me were drawings that older students had done and I turned to look at them. I got so absorbed in them that I didn't even notice my class had already begun walking back to the classroom way across to the other side of the rotunda. When I finally looked up, the door to the classroom was closing. I was on my own to walk back. When I got back, Mrs. Moffat noted that I was late by making me move my name, written out on a long strip of paper, from the "Happy" list to the "Sad" list on the wall.

I was acquainted with a few of my classmates, but never on such speaking terms that they would have told me it was time to go when our line started walking, or even pushed me along. It was the same for the rest of elementary school, then middle school and high school: I preferred to do things on my own, which is why I hated getting into groups for projects. I felt I could get them done faster on my own. Also, this was Mrs. Moffat's first year teaching, which explains why she didn't call me to join the line. Either she didn't think to do that, or she was secretly sadistic, taking pleasure in a student moving their name over to the "Sad" list on the wall. I don't know, and only years later did I learn from Mom that I was in Mrs. Moffat's first kindergarten class.

That close attention to artwork has not faded over time. At Walmart Supercenter, as long as I have a book with me, I can go anywhere in the store. This time, I needed a pack of Fruit of the Loom socks so I didn't have to put my dwindling sock collection in the laundry every five days so I could have clean socks.

Before that, Mom and Meridith looked at the pens in the pen aisle, and I was behind them at the head of that aisle, looking at the posters on offer. There's an artist named Christian Riese Lassen who creates such stunningly beautiful artwork that you just stand there in awe, staring, wondering on which wall of your house you can put a poster of one of his paintings. One of the posters featured at Walmart was this one, of two horses standing in front of a waterfall background. He uses stylized colors to create a scene you'd want to rush right into if you could, to bask in the tranquility and pure love of life in it. I'd seen it also at the Walmart on Kelly Johnson Parkway, the one that overlooks Six Flags Magic Mountain, and stared at it just as intently.

This time, I'd been looking at it long enough that when I finally teared myself away from it, Mom and Meridith had already left the pen aisle. I walked past it, looked to my left and found them walking past the electronics department, far from me. Once again, I was what I have always been. Paintings do that to me.

Lazy Dog Cafe vs. Chronic Tacos

Next Wednesday is my birthday, marking 28 years in this world, and the final time I'll have it in the Santa Clarita Valley. Meridith's birthday is the following Friday. She was born on March 23, 1989, and so our birthdays are separated by a day.

Last week, Mom reminded us to think about where we want to eat out on our birthdays. There's not a lot of reliable options for eating out in Santa Clarita. If you find a place you really like, such as the only decent Jersey Mike's in Santa Clarita located in Canyon Country, you stick with it forever and always. There's not much risk-taking here because there's not a lot of restaurants here to start with. If you really want to explore food of all kinds, you go to Los Angeles itself. But to go there involves navigating the usual freeway system that for years has looked like it was designed by a committee of cokeheads, and it takes time to get anywhere while feeling like you're getting nowhere. I don't mind taking time to get somewhere if I was in, say, New Mexico, but when you're trying to live day-to-day, you want convenience. We have it here, just not enough of it. Here, we have only two movie theaters in the entire valley, and Barnes & Noble is the only major bookstore left. The Signal, the exclusive newspaper of the Santa Clarita Valley, complains about the lack of everything when there's nothing to legitimately complain about in the opinion section, but nothing will get done. No businesses that would be useful here will come here because despite its growth, Santa Clarita still has a limited population and not a lot of tourists, whereas Los Angeles sees to everybody, tourists included. If you're going to deal with the same California taxes wherever you go, Los Angeles is your best bet to park your business. It's why this valley is what it has been for all these years, devoid of anything that could distinguish it interesting to visit or even live in, where the only truly interesting part is Six Flags Magic Mountain, and that's its own property, surrounded by nothing else of this valley.

So with all this, food choices aren't promising enough for exploration. That's why for my birthday, I'm sticking to standards. And I'm not sure which standard yet. I've narrowed my choices down to Lazy Dog Cafe or Chronic Tacos. At Lazy Dog Cafe, they allow dogs in the outside seating, yet the inside feels like you're not important enough to be there. No velvet rope, but just an air of superiority, where successful real estate agents go to laugh wildly and get hammered at the wide bar in the back and watch sports. It's a fake rustic setting, but it doesn't matter much because the food is why it's on my list. They've got a grilled cheese there made up of cheddar, gouda and jack cheeses, all melted together on parmesan sourdough toast. One bite of that and you wonder why we have diets. Yet the last time I had the sandwich, I was deep into my mental prison in late summer 2010 after that anxiety attack in Las Vegas brought on by being overweight and ingesting way too much caffeine, so I didn't enjoy it as much. I wasn't sure what was wrong with me, knew there was something was wrong with me, but too freaked out by what was wrong with me to do anything about it. It's one summer I'm glad to forget, but am also a tiny bit grateful for, because I figured out what my priorities were, that I had to take care of myself again and did it. And I became stronger from it.

Going back to Lazy Dog Cafe wouldn't trigger any of those memories. I'm never disturbed by thinking about the past. But I'm not sure if that's where I want to spend my birthday. The grilled cheese is incredible, but that should not be the only reason I go. I want to go where I feel like I can be me. Then I think about Chronic Tacos in Saugus, close to our house.

We've been there so many times and it has been my lifeline for quesadillas, first for chicken-and-cheese quesadillas, then just cheese after I lost 60 pounds and wanted to keep it that way. They have flatscreen TVs on that show some extreme sports channel that doesn't interest me regularly, but it's still amazing to watch surfers ride those waves and off-roaders going fast enough to flip any mere mortal over and over down a mountainside.

Most important to me at Chronic Tacos is that the people behind the counter know not only how to make the quesadillas and burritos and tortas and other items very well, but they also care enough to do it right. It doesn't matter who you are; they take your money equally. There's a digital-screen Coke machine in the back where you tap the screen to indicate what you want to drink (heck of a lot of choices, including Vanilla Coke), and then press the large silver button in the middle of the machine, and your drink comes out of the spigot.

That quesadilla. Oh that beautiful, beautiful quesadilla. Cheese goes on the tortilla, the guy behind the counter closes it up, puts it on the large industrial-looking grill, and closes the lid, moving on to the next order and then taking out the quesadilla about two minutes later. It's brown on all sides, the cheese always melted perfectly. I've known a lot of quesadillas, since it's one of my favorite foods, and Chronic Tacos has always produced ones that rank consistently at the top of my list of great quesadillas.

Then it got even better in early January when we went to Chronic Tacos yet again and I found out that they were offering breakfast burritos, quesadillas, and tacos. The quesadillas had eggs and potatoes in them, with a choice of bacon, chorizo, veggie, or machaca, which is shredded beef, grilled onions, and tomatoes. I chose chorizo, since I love its slight spiciness.

We sat down at a table near the door, and I remember that an episode of The Simpsons was on, and the family had gotten sick from a new environmentally-friendly burger at Krustyburger. I laughed out loud, right there at the table, when Homer puked in Lisa's saxophone. There was no sound from the TV, but you could tell pretty well what was going on. I think one or two people looked up when I laughed, but it didn't matter. I had a breakfast quesadilla in front of me (they serve it all day), and it was incredible. It was grease done right. It was so satisfying and went down so easily. Normally, what you eat in Santa Clarita doesn't matter a great deal. You only do it in order to live, as is expected with eating. But this was the one time I remember truly enjoying something I was eating. That's what food should be as much as possible. This is the rare place where it happens. Plus, that episode of The Simpsons was a bonus.

Chronic Tacos has always exuded that feeling that you can come right in, order what you want, and be guaranteed a pleasing experience. It doesn't matter who you are; everyone's welcome. I think it's where I want to go for my birthday, but it just amazes me that there aren't more eateries in this valley like this one. It's like everything else, though. If you want to do anything interesting, eat out at anywhere interesting, shop at anywhere interesting, you have to leave this valley. Always. But at least Chronic Tacos stands for always doing interesting things with Mexican fast food in a valley that could use more interesting things. I'll use it as my transition from here to Henderson, because what Chronic Tacos has in its food, in its way of doing business, is multiplied thousands of times over there, and most of the time even more creatively. It helps remind me of what I can look forward to over there.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Thanks, David Wagner!

I know you've just come in to visit me, but turn around and go see David Wagner for a bit. On his blog today is an interview I did for him because how can anyone say no to a man who uses pictures so well in his posts to tell jokes and to punctuate what he talks about?

In today's post, David has made my words look better than I can ever hope to do for myself. I always vow to to learn how to post pictures on here, but books always get in the way, and I look at blogs like Pearl, Why You Little... and relax, because pictures don't suit every blog. Perhaps they're not right for mine. Links seem to be enough when necessary, like the one above this paragraph that I hope you'll click on. If you're still here, I hope it's because you opened that link in another tab or browser. If you haven't, get to it, please.

Thank you, David, specifically for two pictures: One of the sailboat far out to the horizon on the water. It fits me. And the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter sign. It doesn't cause frightening flashbacks, but god does it bring back such wonderful memories. On the stretch of the Tomorrowland Transit Authority that passed overhead next to the line for that, I always liked to look over the side as much as I could to see how crowded it was. Looking at that sign, I also think of my beloved Space Mountain, and that one visit in 2000 where Mom, Meridith and I chatted with an older guy manning one of the gates to the monorail station at the Ticket and Transportation Center (without ulterior motive), talking about our deep-seated memories of Walt Disney World as frequent weekend visitors from the late 1980s to the early 1990s, and he let us in to catch the monorail to the Magic Kingdom, which was only running to let hotel guests in for Early Entry, which allowed them, I think, an hour and a half of the park to themselves before everyone else was brought in. I rode Space Mountain three times before it started to get crowded!

Read David's interview with me, and then read his previous posts, and visit him often. Whereas he describes me as "Mellow, warm, comfortable," David is a ping-pong ball that never stops bouncing, never stops zooming across a room. He's a lot of fun to read and I don't think you'll find another blogger that can use pictures as well as he does.

A Genuine History Book

I love Daedalus Books. I love flipping through the catalog I get every two months, circling titles that I absolutely have to buy, and checking off titles to look up on Goodreads and mark as "to-read" in my account.

I only visit the Daedalus Books site to buy the books I want so badly. I never browse there because I'd vacuum out my savings account alarmingly fast (despite the company's always-met promise that you'll save money when you buy books from them), and I need a good portion of that money to buy or lease a car that runs after my family and I move to Henderson. In fact, I'm working again on putting a full stop to buying books, except for those that cannot wait, such as The Garden of Happy Endings by Barbara O'Neal, which is coming out on April 17. O'Neal's The Secret of Everything is what makes me want to go to New Mexico so badly, and I'm a fan of hers forever.

It sounds like it could be a vicious cycle, me, a bibliophile, trying to stop buying books. I have so many in my room I can choose from, and once we reach Henderson, I'll have a library card and my book-buying habit will drop off precipitously. I'm only doing it now because I refuse to be part of the City of Santa Clarita's libraries, after the City Council cut ties with the County of Los Angeles library system, deciding to create their own, and causing the loss of a few million titles that were available through the County of Los Angeles. The Santa Clarita Valley is isolated enough as it is. This action isolated it further.

Getting back to Daedalus Books, I've found less titles to buy right away. This is no fault of the company, but rather my attempt at self-control, determining what books I can wait to read. And then there is one book, a genuine history book, that I needed so badly that, if I lived near their warehouse outlet in Columbia, Maryland, I would have rushed right over there and possibly even bought two copies, despite it being 640 pages, though thankfully in paperback.

This book, Sears, Roebuck & Co.: The Best of 1905-1910 Collectibles, is what the tablecloths at the Po Folks restaurants in Florida and Buena Park had. There were listings from Sears, Roebuck & Co. touting many items that probably were used by Southern people, my people. I looked at these drawings and read the copy of each item with pure fascination. Someone used this glass pitcher. Someone played that piano. Someone treasured that corncob pipe.

When I saw this book in the latest Daedalus Books catalog, I rushed over to the computer, found it on the website, and ordered it, having had an account on the website for almost a year now. I wanted to see what other items Sears, Roebuck & Co. had sold in its catalog. I don't know how Leslie Parr, Andrea Hicks, and Marie Stareck found these pages in good-enough condition to reprint them (I want to find out), but here they are. This is what families pored over, figuring out what they needed and what they wanted. An Edgemere banjo cost $3.80 back then. A Beckwith Imperial Grand Organ, 475 pounds in five octaves, and 550 pounds in six octaves was $46.75. That was a lot of money then.

Pulling this book out of the Daedalus Books box yesterday afternoon, I felt myself getting so close to history for the first time in weeks. There is a great deal of history in the book I'm writing about the making of the Airport movies, but it's a detached history. It's concrete. It happened. I can only get as close to it as my dogged research and interviews with people involved in the making of those movies will allow me, the people especially. I haven't interviewed everyone I've sought yet, and some may refuse for whatever reason. Here, in this Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog, these items were sold, the families who paged through the catalog are long gone, and so are the copywriters and the artists that drew the items. But I still feel them with me. I want to know who they were. Did the copywriter in charge of writing about clocks, perhaps, like his or her work, or was it just to feed their family? Did they aspire to write more than this? Did they want to work at a newspaper or write novels? And were those artists happy enough just to be able to draw, or did they paint on the side as well, or did they look to better also? Perhaps, like me, the copywriters and the artists did this job to bring in money while they pursued their true passions.

I want to know more about the people and families who ordered from this catalog Do some of those items still exist, owned by descendants? Did those who ordered violins and organs get exactly what they ordered? Did those who smoked the pipes listed here find great quality as advertised? Who were they?

This is only a sampling, of course. These reproductions only cover collectibles, or, rather, what are considered collectibles today. There were a host of other categories that Sears, Roebuck & Co. pushed. How did this catalog manage to do so much by sheer force of those behind it? What kept them going besides good old American commerce?

This line of thinking happens with a lot of things. I walk through the aisles of the Walmart Supercenter in this valley and I wonder who created the blueprint of the store, what architect is profiting so well from such ventures, what project they're working on now. I look at the lighting fixtures high up on the ceiling and I wonder who installed those, and what stores they had done in the past, and if they only work locally or travel around the country. It's the only way to make a Walmart seem interesting. I don't feel the presence of those who worked on this Walmart or the Target in Golden Valley or anybody who worked on the casinos that line the Las Vegas Strip. But I do think about them, about who they are, and I wonder where they are now.

I remember one late night at Fiesta Henderson in which I was walking around the casino floor and saw yellow tape surrounding four video slot machines clustered together. There were a few guys there who had put down a smelly tar-like substance, I guess to repair a few small holes in the floor or whatever it was that brought them there. They were sitting around, one guy texting, two talking, probably waiting for the substance to harden. They're the people I always want to know more about. Unless there's major repairs going on somewhere, you don't see people like them often. And you don't really think about them because you've got errands to do. In my mind, I can't help being surrounded by them. I want to know their part in my world, just like I want to know more about those who put together the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogs, and did what should be considered heroic work, because that looks like it was a lot to do, like gathering the universe in pieces and trying to put it together in some way that makes sense.

This book is going into my permanent collection, even without me having read it all. I know I'll be referencing it for years to come. The 1897 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog is also available from the same publisher, so I think I'll be buying that one soon. I can't wait to wander fully through this history and learn about what people wanted in their homes and their lives.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Socks, Books, and Nothing from New Mexico

Last Friday evening, Dad, Meridith and I went out to get groceries while Mom stayed home to rest. Our usual route took us to Sprouts Farmers Market and Pavilions, with a different stop at Albertsons because the fish looks better there now than at Sprouts. It turns out that Sprouts has merged with another company, and also plans to expand into Las Vegas, so that explains why the quality of foodstuffs there has begun to nosedive over the past few weeks.

At Sprouts, there was a basket near the refrigerated case that has containers of potato salad, cole slaw, tuna salad, chicken salad, pasta salad, and whatever other kinds of salads that aren't really salads that you can glop into plastic containers. In the basket were little bags of Zapp's Potato Chips, touting a "Voodoo" flavor, a mix of five flavors, and the words "Original Cajun Kettle Recipe" at the bottom of the front of the bag. "Cajun" could only mean it was from Louisiana, but this could also have been a case of something claiming to be Cajun, yet it was manufactured in, say, Minnesota.

I turned the bag over, and indeed, it was from Louisiana. Gramercy, Louisiana. That's authentic enough for me! And it made me want to get closer to where I want to go in the future, specifically New Mexico. One thing I like to do in a supermarket, at Target, at Walmart, at any pet store, is to turn various products over to where I can find out where they come from. So I vowed to find something that came from New Mexico.

We had an afternoon of errands today, all four of us. First stop was Walmart Supercenter on Carl Boyer Drive because I needed more socks. I wore out a few pairs to the point of holes in the heels, and found myself running out of pairs more quickly and having to put them in the wash more frequently.

I don't think a great deal about clothes. 90% of my wardrobe is printed t-shirts. I don't like jeans that are too-dark blue. As long as they're a close-to-getting-gloomy blue, and they fit, I'll buy them. I love buying socks and underwear because I only have to be aware of my sizes, find the bags that match on the shelves, and that's that. That's all I needed when I found Fruit of the Loom crew socks, with gray heels and toes. Five pairs, $5.77 each, and I bought two bags. I turned the package over and found a location of Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Mom wanted to stop at Dollar Tree in Canyon Country, next to Big Lots, for a mobile thing she wanted to hang at the front door to make it a bit cheerier until we arrive at the front door we want in Henderson after we move. Near the far left of the store, in between two sets of aisles, I found racks of books and got excited, which is normal for me, but these were racks of books that looked like they might be worth something to me, so I got even more excited.

I had no idea that Robby Benson, the voice of Beast in Beauty of the Beast, among other roles, as well as a fairly prolific sitcom director in the 1990s, wrote a novel about that experience, apparently inspired by directing six episodes of Friends, called Who Stole the Funny?. There are undoubtedly elements of Benson's experience in here, though it's up to the reader to pick out what might be true or what they think is true. The Publisher's Weekly review listed on Amazon states that "Benson offers in his debut a derivative parody of behind-the-scenes Los Angeles that fails to skewer any of its easy targets." Well, he hits a few, I think. I've not been directly in the industry, but I've met many flakes involved in it, and my dad has met many Hollywood parents as well, having taught their kids. What Benson writes possibly isn't that far off. I'm on page 141 already, which is a good sign that I'm seeing this one all the way through, and I do cringe at some of the personalities featured, but it's not because of Benson's writing. It's because I wouldn't be surprised if these people do work in Hollywood.

I also found America the Edible by Adam Richman, host of Man v. Food on Travel Channel, American Adulterer by Jed Mercurio, which describes JFK's philandering ways in the clinical language of a detached psychiatrist (though Mercurio isn't one, which I think would make it all the more fascinating), Boys and Girls Like You and Me by Aryn Kyle (short stories, and one of them is about a raid on a neighbor's meth lab that strengthens a friendship between a "solitary woman and a teenage Goth girl," so I had to buy this one!), and Model Home by Eric Puchner, which I wanted to buy when it was published in February 2010, but $17 seemed steep. It's been in paperback since September 2010, the hardcover edition is being sold for $9.47 on Amazon, and I got it for a dollar. It's about a family keeping secrets from each other, including the patriarch having made a bad real estate investment, and the children are distant. They're forced to move to the patriarch's abandoned housing development in the desert and have to face head-on what may tear them apart.

I can relate. My father rushed us here to Southern California after he learned that he wouldn't have a job at Silver Trail Middle in Pembroke Pines, Florida, because the state put more emphasis on the FCAT exam, which meant far less money for electives, including him. I knew nothing about Southern California, didn't even have time to try to get used to the idea in some respect, and then there we were, living in an apartment in Valencia, which I liked well enough because it was at least surrounded by a supermarket, the local mall, the movie theater, and if you had an extra half-hour, you could reach the library on foot. But when I was a student at College of the Canyons in Valencia, trying to learn about Southern California, trying to make sense of it for myself, the books that I read were about Los Angeles, not about the Santa Clarita Valley. There were no books about the Santa Clarita Valley. That I was reading about Los Angeles trying to understand that should have been my first sign that things would turn upside down here, as they have over the years, as we've not had lasting happiness in any of those years. And that there were no books about Santa Clarita Valley should have been a sign that this was not the place for me, that there wasn't some focus on its history, which is an indicator to me about how worthwhile a place is. If its history is there in some form, either with a museum or on display at a library or a section of a library with actual books about it, then it's worth it to me. This never has been. Plus, I won't drive the freeways here. This byzantine maze has been insane from the day we arrived. Is it any wonder that drivers in this region are always ticked off? I want to see what this family in Model Home goes through in 1980s Southern California, if perhaps some of them feel as I have all this time.

Five books came out to $5.44. Let me repeat that: Five books. $5.44. For that price, I got a total of 1,518 pages to read. For as long as books remain this cheap, I will be happy for the rest of my life. While I likely won't buy as many books as I have once I get my Henderson library card (which is valid in the Clark County library system once a certain sticker is affixed to it at a Clark County branch that makes it so), I love so much that I can have all this for so little.

Contrast that with the 99 Cents Only store in Newhall. Their book selection hasn't changed in, I think, two years. I bought the hardcover edition of The War Within by Bob Woodward then, and there are still copies there. In hardcover.

Seeing this, I've come to believe that the Dollar Tree is for the rare reader that happens to walk in, like me. The 99 Cents Only store is for those who either don't like to read or don't have time to read or only read once every few years. However, this observation is based on only one store. It may be different at a store in Las Vegas, and Mom, Meridith and I did go to a store in North Las Vegas, but all I remember there, because of my excitement over it, was finding a VHS tape of The Best of Beakman's World for 59 cents, which I've since bought on DVD. They might have had books. Maybe it depends on where the store is located. They might not have reason to stock that Newhall location with books for the reason that very few sales come from books.

Before Dollar Tree, before the 99 Cents Only store, we went to PetSmart in Golden Valley, where I turned over bags of food, and toys, and cleaning supplies, hoping to find something from New Mexico. Nothing. I'm starting to think that New Mexico must not be so business friendly, at least toward any businesses that ship out goods. I have books by people who live in New Mexico, so that's good enough for me for now. I still hope to find some item from New Mexico in a store somewhere. Maybe I'll find something during our next visit to Las Vegas and Henderson, and maybe in further exploration after we become residents. Since Nevada is a bit closer to New Mexico than California, there should be something. I want to feel that I'm getting somewhat closer to my desire of traveling throughout that state, and while books and music and art do their part, I want a tangible example, something I can touch that I know came from there.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Another Rory for the Name's Reputation

A search for my first name on Google (I don't only search for my full name) reveals a fictional character on Doctor Who, an Irish golfer, one half of a musical duo called Joey + Rory, a blues singer and guitarist, a motivational speaker, another motivational speaker with the dammit-I-should-have-thought-of-that! web address,; a folk music artist, a Nashville guitarist, a New York State assemblyman, a minister, an author and British politician (Rory Stewart, who's written extensively about the Middle East), another golfer, a technology consultant, a so-so black-and-white photographer, a color photographer, an illustrator, and Wikipedia has a list of other Rorys, such as the ones with professions mentioned here, as well as poets, actors, football players, hockey players, a comedian, and a mixed martial artist.

Based on all that, I'm living up to the reputation of my first name. We Rorys either have artistic inclinations or unique careers. There doesn't seem to be any Rory with a job that deviates from that. And the Rory I found in a book I'm reading called Bowling Across America by Mike Walsh is no exception.

To honor his late father, as well as to do it for himself, Mike Walsh decides to bowl in all fifty states, gaining building media exposure, and soon a sponsorship from Miller to promote Miller High Life in exchange for a PR agency's support and $8,500, plus airfare to Alaska and Hawaii. Walsh is a grating attention whore after he sets out on the trip, but soon settles well enough into it that he's a decent enough guy.

While in Wisconsin, Walsh gets a call from a Rory Gillespie of American Bowler magazine, who wants to write a story about him and have someone from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel to also write a story about him. He meets with Gillespie, and learns that the magazine is part of the American Bowling Congress, which establishes the standards that bowling alleys abide by, and also tests bowling equipment, lane oils, and bowling pins, among other things. They're serious about what they do. The ABC merged with other organizations to become the United States Bowling Congress, but the aims are still the same.

So there's yet another Rory living up to the reputation of the name. When my parents named me, they had only heard of Rory Calhoun (they chose it not for Calhoun, but because they thought it was a unique name), and thought I was the only Rory in the world. Not so. But I'm proud to be upholding my end of the name.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Where Did That Come From?!

At Pavilions, I got the battered fish I've been waiting all week for (Fairly decent, but the crust at the edges was too hard), and while Meridith and I ticked a few tasks off her Pavilions list, I found in the cart a Las Vegas travel guide published by the Los Angeles Times. I flipped through it, finding ads for the Stratosphere, Carrot Top, Menopause: The Musical, and an ad for Phantom of the Opera, announcing "Final Months - Performances End September 2, 2012".

On the third to last page, there was a brief article about the Pinball Hall of Fame on East Tropicana Avenue, with photos of pinball machines and players framing it. The final three paragraphs nearly made my heart stop.

For two years now, I've had an idea for a novel that partly involves pinball, that's also a modern-day adaptation of a classic novel. The twist is that I haven't read that novel yet. I will, but what I know of it so far made me think about setting it in the United States today. I think that will only be made stronger when I actually read the novel.

The last three paragraphs in that article presented to me clearly what motivates my main character, why he's doing what he's doing. I'd been having trouble thinking of the "why" in the few times that I considered this novel, and this revelation makes me much more excited to work on this. I brought the travel guide home, especially for that article.

After dinner, I opened up the Word file for my novel and received a major shock: I wrote half a chapter, and I didn't even know I wrote it! I don't even know when I wrote it. It had to have been before I finished writing my share of What If They Lived? Maybe I had done it to let off some stress from working on that book.

The two pages, 1,287 words, read well enough, but it obviously needs a lot of work and certainly more words. I read it three times, and found that it captures the atmosphere I want. After I read those three paragraphs in that travel guide, I also was thinking about who these two characters would be, why they are the way they are, not knowing that here it was for me, already planned out.

It's a first-person narrative, from the perspective of the unwitting sidekick to the main character. I'm going to stick with that because I think if I wrote it from the perspective of the main character, it would be crazier than a reader could stand. What's the truth? What's not? The sidekick, incredulous as he becomes, at least remains clear-eyed about the journey taken.

But then, it could all change. I'm not sure yet. I'm still learning about who these two guys are. The only thing I'm sure of is that my working title is not going to be the actual title. Too obvious twice over. There's nothing in either word that would make someone want to pick up my novel to see what it's about.

The other day, I finished reading On Gratitude, which has interviews with celebrities about gratitude and what their favorite things are in their lives, and their working methods, especially those of the writers interviewed. Danielle Steel was one of the interviews, and she says she works on three to five books at a time. I can't get there yet. After we move to Henderson and I get settled, I want to work on two writing projects concurrently, but that's probably as far as I'll go. I'm going to read the source material for this novel, though, and get to know my characters more, because I want this one to work. I feel like this one could be something good.