Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Second Farewell Tour

Last Friday afternoon, with Mom and Dad still in Vegas, having a full day of looking at other apartments and mobile home parks just in case (they found where we're going to live, but just wanted to look at possible backups that we hopefully don't have to use. I'll elaborate some other time), the extensive changes I saw at College of the Canyons didn't surprise me as much as total ignorance of history yet again, which I know is to be expected from the Santa Clarita Valley, but this time, it was truly breathtaking.

During the First Farewell Tour, I decided on that Wednesday that we should have a Second Farewell Tour, to our old apartment in Valencia, and to College of the Canyons to see what has changed since Meridith and I went there as students, my time there further back than hers. Then a walk around the mall, not so much a Farewell Tour since we've been there many times already, but rather as a reminder of the better life to come in Las Vegas with better malls, not just a repository for Hot Topic and Forever 21.

The apartment, situated behind a shopping center that includes Pavilions supermarket and Peet's Coffee and Tea, was the same as the last time we went, a few months prior. It's a revolving-door apartment. No one stays for very long. It's either a starter, or just temporary digs until fully deciding what to do. For us, unfortunately, it was a starter. If we had stayed there for all these nearly eight years, I still wouldn't have liked Santa Clarita, but it wouldn't have been as bad to me as it is. It was peaceful, the one place in Valencia where you could truly clear your head of all the noise and make your own oasis, filling it with whatever you wanted. You want only music and books? You can have it. You want to spend all your free hours at the pool behind, but connected to, the clubhouse? It's yours.

I remember a second-floor neighbor who had his fish tank balanced on the ledge of his patio, plugged into the socket out there. I don't know how he maintained that balance, but he must have had some serious confidence. Very little probably worried him.

In that apartment complex, you always meet people very briefly, but the few impressions you get are nothing of the shallowness that pervades the rest of the valley. People are just trying to make their way through the day, hoping to live it how they want. The clubhouse staff, those in the rental office mainly, were really the only shallow-looking ones. Nothing much to them. But that was it. You could go to Stevenson Ranch, you could go to other parts of Valencia, you could go to whatever parts of L.A. you wanted, see the mindlessness, come back and know that your apartment would not be bombarded by all of that. It was truly home for a time. Not a home I could have seen myself in for the rest of my life, but suitable for when we were there. We should have stayed there longer and not moved into pretty much total isolation in Saugus.

After stopping at Jamba Juice, and then the post office to drop off my check to the IRS, Meridith and I walked to College of the Canyons. No bus needed like the one we took from Saugus to that Pavilions shopping center. I wanted to show Meridith the route I sometimes walked, though it was from the bus transfer station to COC, yet we walked through that transfer station on our way. Meridith always waited for the bus because she was loaded down with textbooks, binders, and her knife kit for her cooking classes. She'd never seen that rising and falling set of sidewalks like the ones we walked, like the ones I walked all those years ago.

Getting to the campus, I saw the sober-gray parking lot signs that hadn't been there when I was there. Comparing my time there to Meridith's time, my COC was bare bones. My cafeteria at the back of the Student Center had long tables tucked into corners, my favorite being one in the way back of the cafeteria, on the far right, if you're standing at the entrance. Instead of doing my math homework, I'd read many books, but mostly Subways are for Sleeping by Edmund G. Love whenever I got a copy from either the Hawthorne or Norwalk branch of the County of Los Angeles library system through my Valencia branch.

Those tables are gone, replaced by one small circular table with bluish armchairs around it, and one at the other end of the same arrangement. I think there were long tables on the main cafeteria floor as well, or maybe not, but now there's a lot more circular tables with black chairs around it. The kitchen areas were closed, including the Subway stand (that's closed until the start of the fall semester since they don't make significant money during the summer, being that those areas are only open until noon or 1 p.m. during the summer), but I noticed that the Subway stand was moved from the start of the area to the end, facing the cafeteria, and where it previously had been now has beverage refrigerators lining that wall. I don't know how COC manages to do it, but that wall looked solid, just like many other walls I saw.

After the cafeteria, Meridith took me over to Hasley Hall, where she had attended one or two classes, and which had never been there when I was there. Not completely there. It was just beginning construction when I was there. But now, this washed-out gray building with automatic glass doors that slide apart when you approach them, a burbling small waterfall on the ground floor, and the film department now having its own theater there, I first wondered where in the hell the school had gotten all the money for this building, and then was impressed with what they had done. They have turned education there into even more of a sanctuary. People can study whatever COC offers in complete peace. The classrooms are most impressive, wide and without the usual stigma of costly education. I'll bet this is exactly why fees have gone up and up time and again, which makes me glad I graduated long ago. Plus, the former journalism department has a cluster of rooms there too, although the in-print Canyon Call was disbanded and now COC has Cougar News Online, which to me is vastly disappointing because newbie journalists should have the pleasure of seeing their name and their words in print. I know that the industry is veering from that, but on a community college campus, journalism students need that. I have all five weeks of my time as interim editor of The Signal's weekend Escape section in print. It wouldn't be the same to me online. I can flip through those pages, know why I put in what I put in, what I was also doing when I wrote my own articles for the section, and what I was already thinking about for the next week. These are my memories in print.

Knowing that here was the journalism department on the second floor of Hasley Hall, and there was the film department on the first floor, what happened to the building formerly known as the M building, now known as Mentry Hall? (That's another thing: They gave actual names to these buildings, no doubt based on how much money those names donated, but it was simpler to just have letters. The buildings don't change much on the outside just because they're given names.)

We went to the second floor of the building because that's where the screening room was for the film department. It's still there, but the door was locked, so I couldn't see if anything had changed, though I doubt it. No reason for it to change.

My biggest shock was on the first floor of Mentry Hall, where the former newsroom of the Canyon Call was. The door was open, and right in front of me, a white wall. The glass case displaying old cameras was nice to see, and obviously a clue into what this part of the building now was. When we walked in, two darkrooms were to our left. To our right, what used to be the offices for journalism advisors Jim Ruebsamen and Lila Littlejohn (who has worked as the editor-in-chief at The Signal and now the City Editor, I think), are now either still faculty offices or conference rooms. But next to those rooms were just solid wall. They had torn out that newsroom and now there's only walls. How did they do it so fast? Is there anything still within those walls or is it truly solid wall?

Oh, but that's not all. We went up to the second floor of Towsley Hall, and where I used to take that door across from one of the elevators into a hallway to go to my English class, there's only two classrooms in that now-small section of space, one across from the other. That's it. Where did the other classrooms go? And again, how fast did they tear them down? Because that being solid wall, nothing behind it can remain.

I'm not against that kind of widespread change. The College of the Canyons I knew is not the College of the Canyons my sister knew, and that's not the College of the Canyons current students know. I can live with that, just like how Walt Disney World today is not the Walt Disney World I knew. But at least in that case, there are fans and Disney historians who know what came before, who have memorabilia related to those times, who know what the parks looked like before various changes in different years. I know that I can't expect the same because this is Santa Clarita after all, but COC could use a historian in much the same way. Did someone at least take photos of those hallways now gone? Does the library keep such records? I don't know and I don't think I ever will know, nor do I want to because it's not my place. I hope there are, though, because I remember, and I'm sure not staying here.

Across from the extensively grassy Honor Grove area, where students laze about and where graduation ceremonies are held at the end of terms, and under Towsley Hall, Meridith and I stood at an automat-type vending machine in which you press either the left or right arrow buttons and the racks spin, revealing sandwiches, Red Bulls, ramen cups, burritos, plastic spoons and forks. You find what you want, line the plastic door up to where you want it, put in your money, slide that door open and take out what you want. I asked Meridith to take a photo of it:

I don't remember if this vending machine was around when I was at COC, but it looks old enough to have been there during my time. I never went into that area much, so I wouldn't have noticed anyway. But it seems like the only constant you can find at COC now are the vending machines. Sure they took out the candy vending machine with M&Ms and Snickers and Reese's, and so much other good candy in California's Quest for Better Health (not a name of any program, but that's the attitude of it), but that's just one machine. The others I knew are still there.

The library is all I'm really grateful for at COC because it sustained me in the weeks after we moved to Santa Clarita, when I was trying to figure out what all this was and where I could fit into it if we had to live there. I found a bit of that fitting in at The Signal, but not enough to really feel like I was part of something good. Granted, I gained necessary experience that I could use for what I want to pursue next as a writer, but that wasn't quite enough. At the library, I had all those books, all those novelists to pull down and read, and it was different from going to the Valencia library because it wasn't as public. It was just me and those books. Mine to figure out what I wanted. I could sit on the floor with one long bookcase looming in front of me and one behind me and never have to get up for anyone passing by.

Alas, the library was closed by the time we got to COC (It closes at noon during the summer and we got there after 1 p.m.), but that was ok. It's not my library anymore; it belongs to others. This campus hasn't been mine in so long, but I can still see those ghosts, knowing that that wall used to be the Canyon Call newsroom, knowing that those two classrooms used to be a hallway to English department classrooms.

It's different at the mall. On our walk to COC, we passed by construction of a pool behind the Gold's Gym building, which used to be Borders. I couldn't imagine where there would be room for a pool, but a no-longer-used loading dock is a good place to have it. A Gold's Gym across from Wolf Creek Restaurant & Brewing Co., and near the Edwards Valencia 12 movie theater is still odd to me, but these changes don't really matter. Businesses will take up space wherever they can find it. Thank god for Chipotle, though. That was the best quesadilla I have had in a very long time, much less greasy than Chronic Tacos makes them.

Facing Las Vegas, I won't miss anything in Santa Clarita. But if I was to miss anything about this valley, COC doesn't rank very highly, not even for sentimental reasons with the library. An education haven, sure. A quiet campus at which to study. And at the now-COC Performing Arts Center (it had a few other names over the years), I saw Frank Ferrante as Groucho Marx in a one-man show, and Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain in a one-man show. I sure won't forget those. But there is nothing at that campus that I will pine for, because the UNLV campus has it beat. It's huge, and even if you just drive around, you can still get lost if you don't have a general idea of where you're going. You have to pay attention to those signs around the campus. I still haven't seen the library, though I want to, I want to tap into any historical archives they have there, I want to play at the arcade there, I want to look around in that bookstore again, and I know I'm going to have a lot of fun there, even though I'm not a student. They welcome everyone, no matter why you're there.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Letting Me Go Easy

The Santa Clarita Valley and I have always been at odds, as has been well-documented. But last night, we agreed on a permanent truce, triggered by a simple act.

I've never believed that there are any truly good people living here, just vapid, shallow people, with the great exception of former Signal columnist and weekend Escape editor John Boston, who was my mentor at the newspaper for a time, who showed me through his methods of writing and editing how to feel truly free in one's work, to explore anything, and to write about it too. He was just one person, though. What about the rest of the valley, which to me has never had heart, never compassion, never any indication that it cares?

I could say that tonight was just coincidence, but I like to believe that it was the valley's doing, offering the end of our always-fractured relationship. The Showtime series Episodes turned me from an unfortunate resident back into a very happy tourist, but I also needed to emotionally disconnect from this valley. And I have.

Throughout the evening, I heard splashes and little-kid voices from the community pool that the right side of our large patio overlooks. Also some adult voices, but mainly the shouts of those kids. As nighttime officially arrived with a near-to-8 p.m. darkness, I heard a thump on our patio, across from our kitchen window facing the "neighbor" across from us (not really a neighbor in that sense, just the standard definition of one who simply lives across from you). I opened the door that leads to the patio and heard the little boy of the group tell his grandfather that he wanted to draw things, be an animator, and his grandfather jokingly replied, "Are you going to make enough money to take care of your grandfather?" These kids sounded like the most well-behaved group that ever visited the pool in the nearly seven years we've lived in this place.

I turned on the patio lights and found a new, green tennis ball on the ground. I picked it up and wondered where it came from: Was a nearby neighbor too overzealous with throwing the tennis ball a short distance to their dog? Then I realized that it must have come from the kids because it sounded like they were also playing on the path that leads from the pool area to the pool gate, which passes right by the high wall of our patio. So they threw it, and it landed there.

I debated whether to keep it, give it to Kitty, but she loves her orange tennis balls. I had no use for it because I don't play tennis and the basketball in my room is my ball of choice. I walked over to that wall and threw the ball back down the path toward the pool area. I heard one of the kids exclaim, "Someone threw it back!" and in unison, whether two or three kids, I heard "Thank you!" I called back, "No problem!", and went back inside.

Living in Santa Clarita for nearly eight years and experiencing other parts of Southern California, you learn a lot about who people are, how to tell right away whether they'll help you or harm you in some way, what they want from you, and if they're sincere. I am grateful to this region to have learned all that without having to play poker to learn, but hated all the baggage that came with it, all that I had to endure.

This was nice. This felt to me like the valley's truce. And it came after learning that Dad's job interview went well, that Mom and Dad may very well have found our home in Las Vegas. All I'll say so far is that it's in Las Vegas. They'll probably look at more developments tomorrow to have a backup plan just in case, but if this works out, we'll be residents of Las Vegas. There are enough stores nearby to please Mom, so we have the basics in food shopping and anything else we might need; it's eight miles from the Strip, and Mom told us that you can't see it from inside this development, but when you pull out, there it is: My desert dream. I've also learned about my potential home library branch, and received the happy news that my beloved Pinball Hall of Fame is only four miles from there.

Perhaps the valley knows before I do that we'll be leaving very soon. I hope so. I'm still not happy that we spent all these years here, but what happened last night makes me reconcile the fact that that time is gone and now it's time to make up for it, quicker than I ever imagined. Because there will not only be a lot to make me quickly forget about the unhappy experiences I've had here in Santa Clarita, but I'll be so busy with research for books and novels I want to write about Las Vegas that it may be like I've never known anything else but Las Vegas, save for our happy years in Casselberry, Florida up to 1992, of which I see Las Vegas as a continuation after a very long interruption.

From Santa Clarita, I take only my detailed education in how to read people. And I'm grateful that it let me go easy. My heart, mind, and soul are already in Las Vegas, and my body is just waiting to get there.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Gentle Waves of Soy Milk, Not Rip Currents

I'm trying to remember the last time I had corn flakes, and the year doesn't come to mind. I've always been a Cheerios fanatic, ever since I was little, when my parents used it to keep me quiet in stores (sometimes I screamed because I liked to hear my voice). They always kept a steady supply on hand. Maybe corn flakes were for vacations, in keeping with exploration of things not part of daily lives. I'm sure I've had it sporadically throughout my life, but not enough to remember one key rule about corn flakes filled up to near the top of a bowl: Don't pour milk (or soy milk, in my case) as heavily as with Cheerios, which each have a hole in the middle and can therefore handle a deluge of milk with grace.

I realized this on Tuesday when I poured soy milk over Kellogg's Corn Flakes, but moreso yesterday. Pour your milk of choice too fast, and it fairly dives off the flakes and belly flops onto the counter, exploding in different directions. Before the first bite, I had to mop up the Olympic Diving Team with a paper towel.

It's a good lesson not only in proper milk pouring depending on the cereal, but also in life: A gentle touch in everything, always. Or else you have to mop up more than you ever expected.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The First Farewell Tour

Mom and Dad set out for Las Vegas in a rented Chevy HHR yesterday afternoon, a little after 2. They'll be back on Saturday, which leaves Meridith and I to do whatever we want, but without use of the PT Cruiser since we don't drive the roads here, and it's the only car we have right now between the four of us. Even if they were home, we still wouldn't use it, because it has to be treated very delicately, and even if we would, it's not worth it because we still need it to get around and it can't go great, great distances. Plus we're looking to trade it in for a younger car when the time comes. It's aging rapidly.

So, with time to ourselves, what to do....





A water bottle for each of us?


A plastic bag for the basketball and the water bottles?


Meridith wanted to go to the Circle K near our place, so that was our first stop. She was looking for new spicy-flavored Slim Jims: Chili pepper, jalapeno, and habanero. Circle K had them, but they were only the monster sizes.

Next was Circle K and they only had mild Slim Jims, since the customers they get are often mild-mannered.

Then we walked through the Seco Canyon Village shopping center, which looks nothing like a village, but of course the name of a shopping center or a strip mall is never supposed to reflect what it is. It's supposed to be more than the setting actually is, with the hope of blinding people to how dull it is. Or at least that's how it is with Seco Canyon Village, which offers a veterinarian, dry cleaners, Papa John's, dentist's office, a vaguely Italian restaurant, and a credit union bank. CVS is the anchor of this shopping center. Very small. Doesn't feel at all like a home shopping center.

To walk from our apartment to way out to the intersection next to Rite Aid is about 1.9 miles. 1.9, and it took us three hours to walk there and back with many stops on the way. We walked from CVS through that shopping center, past many neighborhood entrances, to the park to see if anyone was playing basketball. If the court was empty, we were going to shoot some hoops. We're not that good that we can play a full game.

The hoops were being used, so we kept on walking, past the elementary school, to the 7-11 on that side of the street where we also didn't find the regular size spicy Slim Jims Meridith wanted. After that, we crossed the intersection to the Shell gas station convenience store to check, and nothing there either.

Then Rite-Aid, first to look for the Slim Jims and finding the same mild ones that CVS had, and then, hey! How about some ice cream? They've got that Thrifty ice cream with scoops that look like rounded squares. A scoop of butter pecan for me in a sugar cone and a scoop of Circus Animal Cookie ice cream in a regular cone for Meridith, with the frosted cookies mixed into the ice cream. Not pieces; whole. Meridith found three in her scoop.

We walked the length of that Rite Aid shopping center, remembering that the Goodwill store was in the back. Once we got to the corner of it, Meridith called Mom and told her about our walk so far and that we got ice cream, and Mom said to her that we sure know how to make the most of our time. We sure do. Plus, she and Dad were going to Golden Corral in Hesperia, a buffet we haven't seen since Florida, so it was only right that we did something good for ourselves, and that was ice cream at Rite Aid. But that wasn't all.

I love the old books at Goodwill, seeing what people owned before that's now in these stores. When we walked past the kitchen items to get to the books, I said to Meridith that it's like looking in other people's houses, except it's legal!

I was also looking for a VHS copy of Neil Simon's I Ought to Be in Pictures, since it still hasn't been released on DVD, and I wanted to own it on VHS since I still have a VCR, and it's the same reason I own The Glass Menagerie, starring Joanne Woodward, John Malkovich, Karen Allen, and James Naughton, on VHS. I want these two movies on DVD already and I think that day may be coming soon since Warner Bros. has the Warner Archive and Sony has its own made-on-demand disc service, releasing previously unreleasable old movies for fear that they wouldn't turn a profit. But here's a way for people to have them and for the studios to still make money.

The walk to this intersection and the long walk back, through those neighborhoods, past a blue clapboard house with a country feel that I want to find a variation of in Las Vegas one day (not as a house, but as an apartment or something of that ilk), was to look at this area more closely, to see what we didn't see very often because we always drive right by it, to feel more the fact that this valley can never rise from what it is. I know it even more now. It seems to be fine with what it is, but it's not my kind of fine, so that's good enough reason to finally move on out. And yet, it was also to do what we've never done in these 7 and 3/4 years we've lived in Saugus: To get ice cream from Rite Aid and just walk around. To sit at a picnic table at the park to rest our feet after a long walk, which was much more out of necessity than a wish, but we've never sat down at those tables, just to sit and watch the little scenery there is, the cars blazing by, the people walking around the park, the people walking past us with dogs who it turns out were headed for a dog obedience class being held in a nearby section of the park.

It didn't increase the goodwill I've never had toward this valley, but it made me realize that somehow, people have found their lives here. I don't know how they do it, and certainly they're made of different material than I am, and that's good. It's home for them, and they treat it as they please. Their ways don't jibe with my ways. Therefore, still no connection to this valley after all these years, which is as expected. I will leave with no regrets, nothing to reconsider. I found the limited scenery peaceful at least, even with the traffic right near me. So there was that, but still never enough.

On the walk to 7-11, Meridith and I planned what I call our Second Farewell Tour. It may or may not be tomorrow, depending on if someone comes out to fix our broken washer, but it will definitely be either Thursday or Friday. We were originally planning to go to Valencia Town Center Mall to try the burgers from Burger King's summer BBQ menu, since we both tried the bacon sundae last Sunday, and we'll still do that, but we also want to walk to College of the Canyons and walk around the campus to see how our old haunts have changed (the library and a table far in the back at the cafeteria for me; that same table for my sister since she hung out there with her friends) and how the campus has changed in general from when we both went there at separate times. We haven't been back since we each graduated from there, and I would like to go to the bookstore once without hyperventilating over how much I have to pay for a textbook, which I did every time I went there as a student. Now I can do it as an outsider and laugh at those prices. But if they have any Sam Shepard plays for the theater classes again, I'll buy them used, or new if the price is reasonable. Plus I want to see what the English department is pushing these days. Plus I'd like to see the old journalism newsroom which they might be using for something else, since student journalism classes were cancelled in 2009 and the Canyon Call newspaper was disbanded, long after I left. Apparently, there's an online news publication, so they may be using that newsroom now.

Mom and Dad are in Las Vegas for a job interview Dad has on Thursday, and starting today, they're going to look at mobile home parks they've researched. Nothing barren or hopeless-looking. They've found a few that apparently have a community feel and they want to investigate further, including a senior mobile home park that allows Meridith and I there too, since we're over 18. That's Mom's first stop, and she'll go from there. She's hoping that it'll be as easy as when they found the Super 8 that they're staying at on the Strip, across from Bellagio, with views of Planet Hollywood, the Cosmopolitan, and a slight view of New York-New York. I think it will be, because it happened exactly like this 7 and 3/4 years ago. They went back to Southern California in late July 2003, while Meridith and I stayed home with Tigger in our condo in Pembroke Pines, Dad had a job interview then too, got the job, and they found our apartment in Valencia. We're hoping that it plays out exactly the same way because this will be the first time we've felt at home anywhere since 1992, when we sadly left Casselberry in Central Florida for Coral Springs in South Florida, after having spent many happy years there. Happiness is coming again!

For now, the Second Farewell Tour is coming, and it's necessary. When I needed to find some kind of footing in Santa Clarita, to get clear of that frenzied cross-country move from South Florida to Southern California, to figure out who I was in Southern California, that library at College of the Canyons was there for me, and so was the empty campus at 3:50 p.m. every Friday afternoon, after my cinema class, which I loved to walk before I began my walk from the campus to the bus transfer station across from the mall property. Peace in the middle of a vortex. That's what it was. I need to see it one more time, to see what changed, and to remember and to appreciate again. Besides my family, at least that was there.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Be Open to Everything

The smaller double-decker cart filled with what we needed, Dad, Meridith and I went to the emptiest checkout lane at the usual Sprouts in Valencia. Only one person ahead of us, and the last of their items were being scanned. Dad took up his post at the check-writing counter, watching the prices, Meridith stood next to him, and I wheeled the cart next to the bagging area, next to a bagger named Alex. I found that out from her nametag.

The employees at Sprouts range from indifferent (stockers) to friendly but guarded (those behind the vast meat counter) to they'd-move-in-with-you-if-you'd-let-them (checkers and baggers). It's not a disturbing friendliness, like they've been watching you for all the months you've been shopping there and know exactly what you're getting, just the kind of friendliness you know from those you're friends with.

After I stopped the cart, Alex asked "Paper or plastic?", and I immediately answered "Paper," before Dad started in on his well-worn question to Meridith and me: "Kill a tree or choke a pelican?" I usually don't have a reason to decide what the groceries should be bagged in since we have enough plastic bags for the garbage pails around the house, and enough paper bags to collect the full bags from those pails every Friday. But I knew we were getting low on the paper bags, so I got there before Dad.

What happened next, I'm not entirely sure. She first held up Dad's bag of pretzel nuggets, saying, "These look good," directed at me. I could only smile the smile of a guy who doesn't know what the hell is happening. Then she saw the book in my hand ("The Loop" by Joe Coomer, which I'm loving enough to cart around with me in places I don't usually carry books, including Sprouts. I brought it in on the off chance I'd have a minute to read a few lines), asked what it was and I showed it to her. She asked if it I liked it, and I said I did. Then she said she loves to read, and I should have chimed in, should have asked what she liked to read, who her favorite authors are, what her favorite novels are. Not really as an "in," since we're moving, but just to find out what kind of reader she is.

I didn't ask any of that, though. All I could manage was "I'm a speed reading nut," and I don't think she even heard that. I felt awkward. Her comment about the pretzel nuggets, looking at my book, the question about what I was reading and if I liked it, were not at all part of the usual bagger service. Other female baggers at that store just bag and move on. Was she flirting with me? Did I miss my chance by not following up immediately by asking her what her favorite books are?

I mulled this over after we left and went to Pavilions, and spent an hour there, then when we went home and all throughout this evening. I may have been flirted with, but I'm not sure, since my only experience has been in 11th grade when I know for sure that Stefanie Markham flirted with me while we were at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's school newspaper awards at an auditorium in the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art. She had the best pair of legs I'd ever seen, and put them against my pant legs. I was just joking around with her, didn't think that I was flirting, but I was wondering then what the heck was going on.

I still can't tell if Alex was flirting with me. But I do know that I don't know how to flirt back. Does it just happen? Is there a rhythm to it to be established from the start? I figure that if you happen upon a person that attracts you, then it comes easily. But I've had minute experience with that, and that's not really the focal point for me anyway.

If she was flirting, and even if she wasn't, Alex indirectly reminded me to always be open to everything. In Santa Clarita, you become set in your ways as a matter of survival. You have to go to work, you have to go food shopping, you have a set of chores to do on this particular day, and you only go to this movie theater in the afternoon because it's less crowded than the other one, and more pleasant. It's the only way to combat the ennui before it overwhelms you.

Alex showed me that in being able to reinvent myself when I move to Las Vegas, I need to open wide my heart and mind. There are books to read, those that will come from my new home library, books to write, states to travel to, experiences to have in my home city. What has always worked here in Santa Clarita as a matter of survival won't work there, and I'm ecstatic about that. I can become the person I was never able to be here. I need to go wider, be fully open to anything and everything that will happen in my life. I have my plans, but those plans should also be flexible. What I'm so sure of now, I might not be so sure of later depending on what happens there. Just go with it. I thank her for that because I needed that reminder. It's going to happen soon, we're going to move, and I need to be ready right at the start of what I've wanted again ever since we left Casselberry in 1992, when I was 7.

Besides all that, Alex was strikingly beautiful, sporting dirty blonde hair. If she was flirting with me, I was really lucky.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Another Batch of DVD Reviews

Looking at the list of my DVD reviews for Movie Gazette Online, I noticed that I lean heavily on documentaries and TV shows. I want more foreign films and stand-up comedy, but they don't come my way often. Not that anyone else snaps them up like I do, but that various labels release them too slowly. There's one in this new batch of DVD reviews, and I received a Dutch movie on DVD called Miss Minoes. I'm not sure yet about how much longer I'll be writing DVD reviews, what with a new job coming and research for the books and novels and plays I want to write, but for the time being, I keep hoping for more foreign films and stand-up comedy. I don't think my current leanings will change a great deal right now since I'm watching That '70s Show: Season Four for review, and Designing Women: The Final Season is coming in the mail for me to review. I really don't mind it since it's fun to jump around various episodes, not watching all of them, but enough to get a good feel for a series.

So here's the latest:

Zero Bridge

Law & Order: Criminal Intent - The Seventh Year

Love is On the Air

Trial & Retribution: Set 5

That '70s Show: Season Three

Monday, June 11, 2012

What I Want

First and foremost in Las Vegas, I want a home. I know I'll have it, but I'm still amazed that I can finally have it. I can settle into Las Vegas and know that I belong, know that the roads, the landscapes, the buildings will not shift into the forms found in another state. I can firmly plant myself and not move ever again, except for travel, which is always temporary movement anyway.

I want real bookshelves. I've used former moving boxes as bookshelves because it's what we had. Sure I could have bought some bookshelves for my smallish room, but it wouldn't have felt like home because it didn't feel like my room. It was just where I lived part of my day. I didn't feel close to it. Now that I know I'll be home, I can find bookshelves I know will be an important part of my life, and mean a great deal to me, not just for the books on it, but the bookshelves themselves because I'll have bought them in my home city.

I want a library card, and I know I'll have that, but I also want to find a library that I can go back to over and over because I love it, like I did the Pembroke Pines branch of the Broward County libraries, and also the Southwest Regional library of the same system, in the same city. I loved getting lost in those stacks, finding my way to books I didn't even know I wanted to read until I found them. I remember walking through the Boulder City library on our trip in May 2010 and it felt cozy. Everyone was welcome to seek the knowledge they wanted, and many books were old, but well-cared for. I want to find a library like that in Las Vegas and feel that it's mine.

I want to try to grow basil. I love the smell of it, a kind of saltiness. Windowsill basil. Basil that I can get right up to and examine the leaves. No small garden.

I've heard about disc golf, and want to try it. You throw a flying disc to a target. I don't think I'd ever strive to be professional at it. Just have fun. There's a few disc golf courses in Henderson. I'd like that.

Most of all, I want peace. I want to enjoy every day, knowing that I love where I am. I can't wait to have that again. I haven't had it since I was a little kid in Casselberry, Florida, in a house that had a tangerine tree on the right side of the house, a basketball hoop next to the driveway, and a huge tree in the front yard. There were space shuttle launches, with the space shuttle lifting off so close that you could see the American flag and "USA" on the wings, and glass-shaking sonic booms when it returned to the atmosphere. And there was Old Town in Kissimmee, Walt Disney World, of course, the Bubble Room restaurant, and Stirling Park Elementary, my elementary school in my neighborhood with the rotunda in the middle, and entrances to grade levels circling around, with tall bookshelves next to each entrance, serving as the library for the school, with the check-out desk on the circle in the middle after you walked down three carpeted steps that wrapped around that check-out desk.

That's all. I welcome anything else with the widest open arms, eager to take in everything, even the summer heat. I'll adjust, and remain just as happy as on any other days.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Anchored, But Adrift

I haven't written as often here because I'm starving, and I'm hungry. Starving because of the limitless emptiness of the Santa Clarita Valley, unsuitable for anyone whose health is bolstered by happiness and imagination. With Las Vegas coming soon, I can ignore it well enough, but what had only been just part of daily life in the years before this upcoming move becomes more vivid when thinking about what lies ahead in Las Vegas. Hungry for my new home, which is coming soon, and so I fill myself with bananas and other healthful foods for my physical being, and books and the occasional movie for my mental and spiritual being, currently reading Star Trek and other sci-fi books, and the rest of my Las Vegas book stack.

I could write about memories made during our most recent trip back in January, being stunned by the discovery of healthy-looking people at the Galleria at Sunset mall in Henderson, compared to the emasculated, miserable-looking masses here. And that private screening of Beauty & the Beast 3D at 9:30 at night with my sister, just downstairs from our room at Fiesta Henderson. Just take the elevator, walk a few hundred feet upon reaching the ground floor, and there you are in front of Regal Fiesta Henderson 12. I will get used to movie theaters being inside hotel-casinos, but my fascination with that will never fade. I want to write more about the latter and in fact have written part of that entry, and will write it in full soon.

I should write more, though, about Brooklyn Bagel, about Popcorn Girl (their nacho cheese popcorn is dead-on. Are you in a popcorn shop or a madly wonderful laboratory?), about Smith's supermarket in that same Henderson shopping center where I got my toy flour truck (brown with model bags of flour stacked in the back) in 2007, and my toy fast food truck most recently. I haven't felt a sense of community in a supermarket in years, and there it was, part of a neighborhood, part of meaningful lives.

I've written at length about what I plan to do after I become a resident of Las Vegas, and compared Santa Clarita and Las Vegas enough. I feel like there's not a great deal of energy while waiting for that momentous day of finally going home. I've never been more excited about anything in my life, truly, so maybe not writing as much is a way of building up my creative energies to burst when I finally arrive, constantly replenished by the unreal-yet-so-very real sights, sounds, smells, and tastes I experience, and then experience again and again in a city in which I hope to spend the rest of my life.

Even with my hesitancy to believe that I have more in me to write about on here when there sure would be based on that recent trip alone, and of writing projects I'm pursuing, something slips in like our visit to the Goodwill store yesterday, where I saw enough VHS Emmy consideration screeners to make me even more happy that I'm leaving this valley. I've been too close to Hollywood in this valley and I don't like it. It's funny to think, though, that parts of King of California were filmed here while I was living here and I didn't even know about it, because I still didn't have an inkling of what this valley was all about, until finding out that it was about nothing, that anyone could come through here, turn this valley into anything they please, and it would fit because it has no personality of its own. But I've said that before, I know. At least I found one useful screener in that collection, of Don Quixote, starring John Lithgow. I want to write a modern-day adaptation of it, and it serves as some of the research I have to do for it.

Creative energy should not only come from place, but it's damned hard to be inspired where you don't like to be. Nevertheless, I'm always thinking about Las Vegas, of all the streets I've yet to see, all the casinos I've yet to walk around in, the buffets, the restaurants, the arcades, and going back to the Pinball Hall of Fame on East Tropicana Avenue, of course.

Yesterday, I thought about a novel I really want to write, about a famous Las Vegas historical figure's encounter with a famous visiting historical figure. The famous visiting historical figure actually did visit Las Vegas, but his encounter with that famous Las Vegas historical figure is an urban legend, hence my desire to turn it into a novel. I received a book in the mail about that famous Las Vegas historical figure that I originally thought was a biography. I found out that it's a novel, but I'm encouraged by this, because its author had to have done some research on the figure before writing this novel. I can read it and get a feel for this figure in this historical fiction and go from there. And perhaps this author even wrote about that encounter, however briefly. I can't write any part of that novel right now because I need the newspaper archives at a few key Clark County libraries, in addition to ransacking the Nevada history sections for my own knowledge, as well as research not only for this novel, which will take place in either late '40s or early '50s Las Vegas, but also for another book I want to write about a certain aspect of Las Vegas history. Nothing shady, although some of the figures around it were shady, but that's not the overall emphasis.

Still, inspiration doesn't come easily while waiting, though I should ignore all that because really, I can write anything I want here. I'll try to do better, even when the errands are the same ones we always do. I won't have to deal with this for much longer. It's why my mom bought a snowglobe with the Luxor pyramid inside, and "Luxor Las Vegas" on the side. It's her beacon of hope. It's mine too. We'll soon be there, and I'll be writing more than I ever have. Best maybe to just do it leisurely for now, much like that 2:30 a.m. walk through the casino floor at Fiesta Henderson on our first night there, totally empty, Sara Bareilles' "Vegas" playing on the overhead sound system, and me not reacting to it in any way because I knew I was home. Yet when I got back to our room, I went to Amazon on Dad's laptop and downloaded the song to my cloud drive on there, to be downloaded and put on my MP3 player when we got back here. The endless energy will come.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Great Book Dump

By August, we'll be residents of Las Vegas. No question. So it had to be done anyway. I thought it'd be done later. A Salvation Army truck would come, or some recycling truck by appointment to take it all away, except what I really needed. Frustration won out. Frustration over not being able to find Strawberry Shortcake Murder by Joanne Fluke in my room. Before, it had always been on top of one of two of my DVD binders, either the left one or the right one depending on what else I had stacked on top of each, but always there. But nothing this time. Did I move it to another stack? Did I tuck it into one of the former moving boxes that I've been using as bookshelves for the past nearly eight years? I wanted to read this second of the Hannah Swensen Mysteries to see if I wanted to continue the series, since I liked the first one, Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder. Slight, but fun to read.

I went to my room to look for it. I checked the right side of my room, the stacks next to my bed. I checked the left side of my room, stacks encroaching upon my bed. Books began to fall from the bookshelf box on the far right side of my room. I tried pushing them back in, but they kept falling out. I had them stacked in such a way that gravity could not have fun at my expense. Knowing that the stacks were no longer protected, down they went, again and again. I got so frustrated that I shoved books away that were next to me on my right, and two floor stacks fell. I couldn't take it anymore. I love books, but I reached my limit, and my favorite books were now buried in this pile. My first thought was hoping that I hadn't bent them by accident. My second thought was that all this had to go. Right now. The garbage and recycling bins were at the curb to be picked up in the morning and there was still room in each of them. I deeply apologize to fellow bibliophiles who might be incensed by what I'm about to say, but I had to do it. I was drowning in books and it didn't matter to me if they went into the recycling bin or the garbage bin. I was going to use the space that was left, and as I found out, there was plenty in each. In fact, one more bag can go into the recycling bin, and I'm going to do that once I order Strawberry Shortcake Murder again and shut down this computer.

It's 1:12 a.m. and I've been at it since 11:30 last night. I couldn't handle the monster that it had become, the monster that I willingly created because I love books so much. I had books that I ordered on the recommendation of friends, that I had read and enjoyed. But they didn't feel like me. Some of the time, I wasn't reading what I wanted to read. Until the past month, my Las Vegas book stack remained tall. I began shrinking the stack not only because we'll be moving there soon, but also because that's where I want to be. That's where I'll thrive. I want to know absolutely everything about it. And then there's a neglected book about the making of Blade Runner and an equally neglected book about the history of the banana. I love Blade Runner, and I love bananas. Why haven't I read these books yet? I ditched two biographies about Supreme Court justices William Brennan and Felix Frankfurter. I'm not intimidated by large books, but I can't read these right now because I don't have the time. I'll seek them out again once I have my Clark County library card. Oh, a library! What a dream! I'll have a library again! After control of the Santa Clarita libraries passed from the County of Los Angeles to the City of Santa Clarita, I didn't get a new library card because I hated how the City Council effectively cut off the city from the rest of Los Angeles. Santa Clarita is already isolated enough by mountains and freeways. Why make it worse?

The worst thing about all these stacks in my room was that I couldn't get to my favorite books. They're in a box on the floor and they were covered up by two stacks of books in front of it. When I wanted one of my favorite books, I had to perform a most precarious ballet, moving those stacks out every so slightly to where I could reach into that box, find the book I wanted, and pull it out without upsetting those stacks. I couldn't take it anymore. I need those books at all times and they should always be easy to get.

With the exception of the books that fell out of that far-right box, I'm not dumping any other books from any of the other bookshelf boxes. Those can wait until later, or the next day. My biggest concern was getting my floor space back. Right now, having dumped what must have been at least 200 books, I have carpets again. On my bed is an explosion of books that I'm going to keep for now and choose from whenever I need another book. These are higher-priority books, including Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America by Jeff Ryan, and Starting from Happy by Patricia Marx, one of my favorite New Yorker writers. I want to read these and others. They won't be buried like they were before. And if I don't get to them before we move (my permanent collection is my most important priority), I'll just write down the titles and look for them in my local libraries.

Despite all this, I've ordered more books. That would seem to defeat the purpose of the Great Book Dump, but 90% of them are Star Trek novels, which I will read as soon as they arrive. For example, Star Trek Vanguard: Summon the Thunder by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore, arrived in yesterday's mail and I started it last night. If I had ordered only the books I wanted to read over time, I don't think I would have had such massive stacks in my room. I wanted to read all those books when I ordered them, but my interest in most of them faded, as I discovered during this.

I know those books could have gone to Goodwill, or the Salvation Army, or organizations in the Santa Clarita Valley that distribute books to poor people. I've donated a slew of books to Goodwill, and the only location we go to is the truck in Golden Valley, behind the Target shopping center, and we don't go there all the time. I couldn't take these stacks anymore and I had to do this. It'll be less for me to think about when we begin preparing to move, and I get clear insight into what I'm truly interested in reading. I'm devouring these Star Trek novels, and want more science fiction, and I've found a few science fiction novels in my room to read alongside my lifetime goal. I want to reread some favorites in my permanent collection. I want to read that book about the making of Blade Runner. I want to take pleasure in reading, not just from a really good book, but also in feeling close to books by having fewer stacks, not to be frustrated by their largess. This needed to be done, I did it, and I'm much happier. I'm not going to let this happen again. Books are my life, and as long as there's a steady stream, I'm satisfied with my life. I'm comfortable with them again, and I'm not going to lose sight of that. No more haphazard collecting; only what I truly want for my permanent collection, and what I want to read, and will read, right then and there. I feel much better.