Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Book Found in the Saddle Ranch Chop House Men's Room

It's not something I think about at all, at least not until late this afternoon. My sister's love of cooking and food rubbed off on me only in that I read a lot of food-related books, but not necessarily cookbooks. For example, I'm currently reading Ivan Ramen: Love, Obsession, and Recipes from Tokyo's Most Unlikely Noodle Joint by Ivan Orkin, which is part cookbook in the way of ramen, but only part. However, my sister's interest in restrooms anywhere, everywhere, doesn't burrow that deep into me. It made me think today, though, when we went to Sunset Park, across from McCarran International, in Las Vegas, for the food truck festival they were having.

On the way to the grounds of the park where it was happening, I stopped in the men's restroom on the way because of all the water I had had earlier in the day. Even after a year here, I'm still learning about proper hydration in the desert. Not that I don't drink enough water, but when you're in your apartment most of the week, like I am, in my family's apartment, still searching for work and waiting to see what happens with various possibilities, you don't feel the need for so much water, since you're inside. But today, with all the roads driven and the next possible apartment complex looked at in an older stretch of Henderson, near the historic Water Street--more activity, essentially--I needed more.

While standing at the urinal, doing the expected urinal thing, I started thinking about the restrooms I had been to, inside such casinos as The Cosmopolitan, the MGM Grand, the Mirage, the M Resort in Henderson, Ravella at Lake Las Vegas back when it was Ravella at Lake Las Vegas, and the Hacienda near Boulder City, as well as the restroom at Tire Works, once or twice at Fry's Electronics, and so many others. There are stories in all those places. Not necessarily the restrooms, but I mean the places themselves, the moments before and after that relief, the discoveries you make even when you're just going to the restroom for nature's grand purpose for us in there.

In short, I was reminded of the Saddle Ranch Chop House in Universal City, California, pretty much next to the entrance to Universal Studios Hollywood. We went there in 2009, and I remember the fresh fruit kettle they had available, which looked like a little cauldron, and contained the freshest fruit I had ever had in Southern California. No piece of fruit after that experience ever matched it. I think I had their "Create Your Own Omelette" as well, part of their All Day Ranch Brunch section of their menu.

Now, I have been in restaurants, such as Buffalo Wild Wings, where there are small TVs behind plastic, above the urinals. I think at a Hooters or two, there were sports sections taped up above the urinals. It may have been there, or it may have also been at Buffalo Wild Wings, depending on the location, either here in Henderson or the Buffalo Wild Wings in Palmdale, California. I'm not sure. But I'll never forget what I saw above the urinal at Saddle Ranch Chop House, surprising because of being in Southern California, where books and reading don't always feel like major priorities, if at all.

Above the urinal I was at, there was a small poster for a book called Down at the Docks by Rory Nugent, which intrigued me immediately because the author and I have the same first name. In fact, seeing Nugent's name there inspired me to read all the books by those with my first name. I've yet to make a great dent in that desire, but I will.

Never mind that the book's about New Bedford, Massachusetts, a fishing port in dire straits, not at all wealthy as it used to be. Any subject, written interestingly enough, can capture me all the way through. Plus a Rory wrote it, and therefore I wanted to read it.

I checked it out of the Valencia Library in Santa Clarita, back when I had a library card there, before they cut off connections with the other libraries in Los Angeles County as part of that system, and privatized the three library branches in the valley, forming their own library system. In protest, I refused to get a library card in the new system, but in hindsight, maybe I should have, as it would have made those final years in Santa Clarita easier to bear. It's just like the annual pass to Six Flags Magic Mountain I was thinking of getting year after year, but was told that I shouldn't because we would be moving. But then we didn't. And I thought again of getting the annual pass, but was told the same thing. And then we didn't again. And in hindsight, maybe I should have anyway. Now a year and two months removed from the Santa Clarita Valley, I'm relieved to be out of there, but perhaps I wouldn't have been so scarred by that too-long existence there if I had had the library card and the annual pass.

Anyway, I started Down at the Docks then, but didn't read it all the way through. Not that it wasn't interesting, but other books got in the way. Then after we moved to Las Vegas last year, to the Valley Vista All-Ages Mobile Home Park near Sam's Town, I checked it out of the Whitney Library. Same thing. Other books again.

We've been living in Henderson, in an apartment complex along North Green Valley Parkway, for two months now. And neither of the three major branches of the Henderson District Public Libraries has a copy of Down at the Docks. And I didn't feel like getting it from any of the Las Vegas-Clark County branches because I'm not near any of those libraries anymore and I don't want to ever go back to the rundown Whitney Library, which, in the year I used it, was only a refueling stop for me. I didn't use it for anything else because I never felt comfortable there, what with not only the two security guards on duty at different times walking around often, but also the cops occasionally. It was not in a good neighborhood, but it was the closest to our mobile home park, and therefore the one I went to every Sunday.

So this time, I ordered a copy from at the end of October, cheap enough for $3.95 since I'm still looking for a job, and I fortunately don't buy as many books anymore, since the Green Valley Library is within walking distance, on the same side of the street as my apartment complex. I call it my annex, where I keep my other books.

The copy I ordered was the original hardcover edition, since paperback was a tad pricier, and I always liked the hardcover design more. It came from Blue Cloud Books in Phoenix, Arizona, although when I received it, the return address was somewhere in Oregon. Go figure. But I got it, and that was the important thing, and I had no need to return it anyway. However, when I turned the book over, I had the biggest laugh in quite a while.

Blue Cloud Books. Phoenix, Arizona, Arizona being next door to Nevada, close enough that you can enter Arizona past Hoover Dam and go an hour ahead in their time zone, turn around, drive back across the Nevada border, and you're an hour behind again. You can cross time zones that fast in that part. So yes, I would expect that some books from Nevada would end up with Blue Cloud books. But I didn't expect that it would be a discarded library copy in fine condition, nor that above the barcode on the back, it says "Las Vegas-Clark County Library District." I laughed aloud for a while because this book found its way back to Nevada! It could have gone to Tampa, Florida, or Austin, Texas, or Montpelier, Vermont, but no, it arrived here, back where it had started from.

I don't think I'll get anything quite as funny from my brief stop in the Sunset Park restroom, but it got me thinking about those different moments, thought processes while doing your business. Perhaps not as detailed, but there are those instances such as this one. They don't happen often, but I pay close attention when they do. And I think back to other such pit stops, and there's nothing I can think of that's like this, but there are stories to be mined, possibly short stories. I think part of this interest may also stem from Sam Shepard, one of my heroes. I didn't think of it until just now, just this sentence, but I went to my main bookcase and pulled out Day Out of Days, his latest short story collection from 2010. In it, starting on page 67, is a 2 and a 1/4-page story called "Cracker Barrel Men's Room (Highway 90 West)", a story heard about a man mistakenly locked in the men's room at Cracker Barrel for the night, with Shania Twain songs playing on a loop, driving the man crazy. To me, Shepard is one of the few writers who gets the American West, who can find depth in different parts of the deserts, even when there seems to be nothing there. It's an incredible gift, particularly when you're trying to make sense of it, wanting to know it, wanting to understand it, like I do, and you need a guide. Shepard is my guide.

So maybe Shepard inspired this line of thought. The subconscious brings up things that you don't expect until you're in whatever you're in in a different approach. But I still think it's my sister. Just like she also looks at the back of products to find out where they're from, like I always do, I believe I thought about this closely because of her interest in restrooms. I don't think I would have looked so closely at the opulent detail in the men's room at the Cosmopolitan had it not been for her influence. And you know what? It is pretty interesting. I wonder what I can do with it. I'm sure I'll find out soon enough.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

We Are Still Connected

Sometimes I think of California.

Anaheim. Downtown Disney and parts of Disneyland.

Buena Park. The Buena Park Downtown mall, and the sadly long-defunct Po Folks restaurant, which was one of the very few saving graces of existing in Southern California.

Burbank. IKEA and the Swedish meatballs I fervently wish I could have back, if only the company would build here in Las Vegas, probably on the empty lot near Fry's Electronics in Town Square Las Vegas.

Ventura. Ventura Harbor Village.

And San Juan Capistrano. That small main street drag that once made me think I could live there, especially one or two historical houses with museum components located right next to the railroad track.

Yet, I don't ever want to go back to California. After those nine years, I don't ever want to see it again. I don't want to reconnect to it ever again, not that there ever was a lasting connection, save for the occasional piece of writing, like this one.

But even with that declaration, there still are two connections, though I can ignore the first one as much as possible.

Las Vegas is a weekend playground for many Southern Californians, by dint of us being next door to that region, and the money they spend and lose here is always appreciated, though that's all I choose to know about that. As long as they leave at the end of each weekend, I'm ok with them.

The second connection can't be brushed off so easily, but I don't mind it.

Back in my 19 years in Florida, depending on where you went or lived, there was Deer Park water. Zephyrhills. Names you'd only know in Florida. We have such a thing here in Southern Nevada, but to a more minor extent, alkalized bottled water called Real Water, based in Las Vegas and drawn from the Las Vegas Valley Water District. It's your basic tap water, but alkalized. I tried it once, and it's ok, but not as a regular supply.

Ever since our first year in the Santa Clarita Valley in Southern California, in Valencia, we've drunk Arrowhead Water, which, according to the bottle label I have in front of me, is owned by Nestle Waters North America Inc., based in Stamford, Connecticut. Neither the water in our apartment in Valencia nor our condo in Saugus was ever suitably drinkable to us, and I know we could have gotten a filter, but it was easier this way, rather than the whole matter of buying the filter system, using the filter, changing the filter. And who knows how much the water would have taxed the filter two or three times over? We wanted something reliable and we found it in Arrowhead.

Now that we live in Henderson, we still drink Arrowhead. It's here, since Southern California is next door. It was reliable there and it's reliable here. Same thing with the filter. Easier to do it this way since we know what we're getting with this water. And even with being relatively far away from the parts of Southern California I know, we are still connected to it, though more in a minor sense. Also on the Arrowhead label is this:

"Sources: Southern Pacific Spring, Riverside County, CA; Arrowhead Springs, San Bernardino, CA; Long Point Ranch, Running Springs, CA; Palomar Mountain Granite Springs (PMGS), Palomar, CA; Deer Canyon Springs, San Bernardino, CA and/or Coyote Springs, Inyo County, CA."

I've never been to Palomar. In San Bernardino County, we went to incorporated Hesperia once, for the Golden Corral buffet found there (we're all big fans of Golden Corral, my sister and I having been to it since we were very young in Florida), and to incorporated Victorville, to drive through it on our way to various trips to Las Vegas. Fortunately, that's all over with now since we're here.

We never went to Inyo County. No reason to. Ditto Running Springs, in San Bernardino County.

This is the only daily connection to California that remains. Sometimes I notice it. Sometimes I don't. It's the same way that I sometimes think about the few places in California that I liked. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. And they may end up further in my writing, or they may not. I don't know yet, and I much prefer being this removed from California. The water's better.

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Momentary Meeting That Spans a Lifetime

It's usually enough to walk into a casino on the Strip, see crowds of people, and know that the world's big enough. But sometimes, that's not enough of the world. Sometimes you need another person in front of you, asking for directions, to truly see the sheer width of the world, someone you'll never see again. Not that I planned it that way. It was a brief exchange, completely unexpected, which makes for life's most interesting moments.

Yesterday, my family and I went to a consignment store directly across from two runways and various taxiways at McCarran International, which meant that most of the time they were inside, save for when I was needed to give my opinion on a bookcase Meridith wanted for her room (much better than the one she had found at another consignment store, made up of alternating shelves, one above another, one on the right, one slightly above on the left, one slightly above on the right, and so on) or to see a lamp Mom thought appropriate for my room (A three-bookcase set from Macy's Home Store is being delivered on Thursday, and my new, and first, reading chair, from Big's Furniture, is being delivered on Friday), I was outside, watching Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Westjet, Allegiant, Volaris, and other commercial jets take off, as well as many private jets. I was in heaven. My heaven. If the owner of this consignment store would hire me to simply sit on one of his padded, stylish stools outside the store, bringing in people simply by my presence, I would be happy. And in fact, I brought two people in, or at least I think I did. One woman, for example, parked, looked at the store, and asked me if this long length of the store was the entire store, or two separate stores. I replied, "It's the entire store. You'll have to go inside to find out."

But that's not the meeting that inspired this blog entry. An hour passed of Mom, Dad and Meridith looking inside the store, then an hour and fifteen minutes, but I did not mind that at all. I was happy right where I was, and even though the uniform blue and orange and red color scheme of Southwest 737s bore me, I smiled every time I watched the nose gear retract on one of those 737s after take off, and watched the nose gear door close. I love how quickly it closes, and it was the same with the 757s and 767s I saw, as well as the JetBlue A320 and the American Airlines MD-80, which is longer than I remember, but it had been a long time since I had seen one.

An hour and fifteen minutes, maybe. I don't know. I only looked at my watch to see if it was getting closer to the time that a 747-400 might land. There were enough flights coming in from the west coast on the runway on the left side of my view, and planes coming in from the rest of the country on the route that passes over the mobile home park near Sam's Town that I used to live in, and I didn't even know there was a runway that far afield, but there is. I understood where those planes landed after flying over my former mobile home park and then banking. According to the website FlightAware, a British Airways 747-400 landed at McCarran at 7:49 p.m. yesterday evening, long, long after we had left that consignment store, and a Virgin Atlantic 747-400 landed at 2:48 p.m., which was an hour after we had left that consignment store.

As I sat on that stool, watching a lull in the takeoffs, seeing an American Airlines MD-80 get a pushback from the gate, and a Delta flight waiting on the taxiway to head for the left-side runway, a car pulled into the consignment store lot about three spaces from me. A guy got out, short hair, wearing a Motley Crue t-shirt. The car looked new, in better condition than many cars are where we used to live, and about average for our area of Henderson. He came up to me and asked if I could help him, speaking with an accent I couldn't place, but knew right away it wasn't English, it wasn't Irish, it wasn't anywhere in Spain, but it was somewhere in Europe. Czech, maybe? I don't know. I wasn't going to guess, or ask him, because I wanted to learn what he needed help with.

I replied, "Sure, what's up?" and he, not understanding my American vernacular, said, "Yes, thank you," and asked me where the rental car places were.

I wasn't entirely sure. I needed a few seconds to think about it. I knew that he couldn't go back the way he came since that was only more of the field of the airport. It didn't lead to the terminals or Avis or wherever he rented the car. I told him he had to circle the airport the other way and he would eventually find it.

He thanked me and walked away, and as he did, I noticed that the back of his t-shirt heralded "Evening in Hell," which is the name of Motley Crue's residency at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino here. I called out to him and asked him how it was. My fault, because he thought I meant the car and told me it was fine, and I replied, "No, no, I noticed your shirt. How was the show?" He smiled and gave me two thumbs-up. Like wine, Motley Crue does not interest me, but it does help boost our economy, so I wanted to know.

After he left, I thought of two things right away. First, I should have told him to drive past the McCarran Marketplace shopping center, where Walmart is, because passing that, he'll eventually see the digital terminal boards which would tell him where to go. Unfortunately, I remembered that after the fact. And secondly, I'll never see him again. And that amazed me. As he pulled out, I noticed either his wife or his girlfriend was sitting on the passenger side in the front, so I thought that their luggage was probably in the trunk, and they'd return the car and take a shuttle to wherever their terminal was for their flight home, somewhere in Europe. It had to be. I'm sure of that.

Years ago, I met people I've never seen since, like that attractive girl about my age in 1994 when my family and I were at Universal Studios Orlando and there was some kind of juice survey we were invited to take and she was with her family. And there was also Bridget, who I met in line at Kongfrontation on that same day. Brief conversation, and then gone. Just like that. Same with that guy. I'm a little disappointed, because I wanted to know more about him, if it was his first time in Las Vegas, how long he had waited to take this trip, what his first night was like here, and also more about his own home. But it looked like he had to get going, had a flight to catch, so I just told him what he needed to know and he was off. But I also realized one of the blessings of living here, that as transient as it is, and as hard-edged as it can be, you sure do meet a lot of interesting people here, and he was one of them. Silently, I wished him safe travels home. People like him are the reason that Las Vegas continues to exist, that they put money into our economy, but to me, they're more than that. I'm always curious. And I was glad to meet him for that brief moment, to know a little bit about him, including his love of Motley Crue. The world is vast, but with moments like that, it's never boring.

Addendum: Looking at the departures from McCarran on FlightAware in the hours after I saw him, I noticed that there was a Condor Flugdienst (Condor for short, of course) flight to Frankfurt International in Germany at 5:43 p.m. The Boeing 767-300 is still in the air, with 3 hours and 53 minutes to go, for a total flying time of 10 hours and 19 minutes. That could be him, since it was a little past 1 p.m. when we briefly met, and I think it's advised that for international flights, you arrive four hours ahead. There was also a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-400 bound for London Gatwick that departed at 5:20 p.m. But I don't think that was him. Everything else before those flights were domestic routes.

Politicians talk about international turmoil and strife all the time, but I wonder if they really mean international turmoil and strife amongst themselves. There I was, a regular guy, an American, talking to possibly a German guy. No problem there. No conflict. Certainly one of the most interesting experiences I've had here of late. I liked the little I knew of him, and I hope for more experiences like that.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Still Here

Still here. Still living. Still in Southern Nevada, this time a resident of Henderson for two weeks now. I should write more, and I will, eventually. Nothing's keeping me from it. I'm just exploring my new home, figuring out what to write about it, what to wonder about, what to exclaim about, what to think deeply about. There's a lot, and it will all come soon. Actually, it feels easier writing here than it was when I wrote in the mobile home park in Las Vegas. Life feels easier here, even while still waiting for a job to come, even as I continue to send out resumes. It's a little worrisome, but it doesn't poke at me constantly. It's because of this place, this apartment complex, this neighborhood, the fact that the Green Valley Library is on the same side of the street as this apartment complex, and I've walked there and back twice in two weeks and loved it both times.

More to come soon.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Omnibuses Versus Regular Books

I don't feel comfortable with omnibuses, related novels or works put together in one or more whale-sized volumes. I don't like hefting 700+ pages to get to favorite scenes. It makes books feel weightier than they need to be. They should be balloons, not anvils. I realized this while on page 144 of More Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin, the second of his celebrated masterwork series, this paperback edition a Harper Perennial 2007 reissue.

I love the Tales of the City series, knowing Mary Ann Singleton, Brian Hawkins, Michael "Mouse" Tolliver, Mona Ramsey, and, of course, Anna Madrigal, the grand lighthouse landlord of 28 Barbary Lane. In fact, with two weeks left before my family and I move to our new home, a neighborly, pleasant, peaceful forest of an apartment complex in Henderson, I've checked out of the Whitney Library the bulk of the Tales of the City series to reread them and decide which ones I want to buy for my permanent book collection after we move. My widescreen TV is becoming the living room TV because I want bookcases in my room once and for all, and the Tales of the City series should be part of that.

I don't like omnibuses because they clump stories together in a mass. An introductory page does separate each novel, but you're holding the previous novel while you're reading the next novel. I understand the convenience of referencing a scene from a previous novel that relates to a current novel, but it's not for me. If I want to check something in the previous novel, I can dig into my collection and pick it up, on its own. Every book needs its own space, its own mass.

Back in Santa Clarita in May of 2012, I bought an enormous book containing the first three Tales of the City novels: Tales of the City, More Tales of the City, and Further Tales of the City. I had been thinking about the series again, as happens many times a year, and I wanted to spend some time in that San Francisco again. So there I was, with those three novels, and I enjoyed the experience as I always have, but I didn't feel entirely comfortable. It was because of that book. I wanted Mary Ann and Brian and Michael separate from those different times in their lives, not those times pressed so close to each other.

Yes, compared to omnibuses, the separate novels take up more space on a bookshelf, but there's such deep, harmonious pleasure in looking at those novels, proud to know they are yours, thinking about which one to read again. But there are exceptions. I have huge volumes of all of Neil Simon's plays, and I'm happy to have his genius comedy and wit all together. And it feels right to have all of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novels together too in The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The universe is awfully vast, and that book makes it look slightly more manageable, but only just.

I bought Tales of the City two weeks ago for my permanent collection. That has to be with me. And I reread Michael Tolliver Lives and Mary Ann in Autumn, the latest two installments, around the same time as I bought Tales of the City. Those are on my list to buy after I move. And maybe I will end up buying the entire series. But I want to be absolutely sure. I also want the pleasure of visiting with these wonderful people again.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Wandering in Primm

Tonight, I'm at the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas in Primm, directly on the Nevada-California border.

Well, I'm not actually there. Depending on what I'm doing on a given evening, usually when I'm writing, I go to different places in my mind: The Nevada Room and then the fiction section at the Boulder City Library, the Student Union at UNLV, the World Literature section at Lied Library at UNLV, downtown Henderson which is also known as Water Street, the main drag of Boulder City, the Cosmopolitan on the Strip, and even back into my past, such as the shopping center across from Grand Palms in Pembroke Pines, Florida that included a Winn-Dixie and Regal Westfork Plaza 13, as well as the Fashion Bug store that Meridith loved, but which is now sadly gone, just like the one here in Las Vegas.

Tonight, having finished the freelance writing newsletter for which I compile job listings, I'm feeling slow. Not lazy. Just slow. I've got a few details I could research for one of the plays I want to write, but I sit here watching clips from The Hunt for Red October on YouTube, one of the most intelligent thrillers ever made. It's not because I don't want to write this play; it's just one of those nights, especially with the vastly uncomfortable heat in this desert, which has become even more relentless. I don't think I'll get used to it, but next year, I hope to be able to at least tolerate it. And with the heavy rain that roared in last night and Friday night, what can we expect tonight? Anything? I hope not. I'd like to not have to shut down the computer yet again while jagged lightning flashes outside.

Oh, I could finish At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon, the first in the Mitford Years series, which I previously read in September 2010, but apparently hadn't paid as much attention to it as I am now. I'm certainly enjoying it more than I did then. Plus, I want to see what the rest of the series is like. But I'm not quite there yet, to get off the computer just yet and finish it. Nor do I feel like stocking the new 400-slot DVD binder I bought from Fry's yesterday. I had to because yet again, I don't want to haul in moving boxes more DVD cases with the DVDs in them. I don't need the cases. I know what these DVDs are about.

And strangely, I don't feel like going back to the first season of Boston Legal yet, which I checked out from the library, along with two canvas bags full of books, including A Light in the Window, the second in the Mitford Years series. And two books about President Reagan are in there too because it's presidential history, and I like to skip around. Lately, I've been reading about Harry S. Truman. Not wanting to continue just yet with Boston Legal is strange because I could listen to James Spader do great honor to the English language for hours on end, even to the end of time. I love listening to him talk and I proudly place him as one of my major inspirations whenever I'm feeling blah about my writing. Him, and Tony Kushner's screenplay for Lincoln lately, the reason I bought the movie on DVD and the published screenplay. My favorite character in that? The lobbyist W.N. Bilbo, played by...James Spader.

Whenever I go somewhere in my mind, it's just me. No one else. Wherever I go is empty. I haven't felt like writing anything lately because some of the days blend into each other pleasantly here, and what do I pick out first? Or, rather, do I pick anything out or just let the entire block push through, looking ahead to the days following? I've been to Ellis Island twice this month, nothing unusual, just the usual $5 in free slot play, the disappointment being that on my latest visit, someone was on "Montezuma," my new favorite slot machine and would not get off, judging by them playing 40 lines at a time, their takeout boxes from either the barbecue restaurant or the cafe sitting on an adjacent swivel chair. With the $5 in free slot play, I play 90% for pleasure and 10% for more money. My favorite there used to be "Coyote Moon," which remains my favorite slot machine overall, but being that they took out the machine that was the friendliest in payouts and left the one that's tighter than a prostitute's first day, it's not as fun because there was a flow to the other one I liked. Even if I wasn't poised to win a couple bucks, it at least let the bonus round come a little more often so I could watch the coyote approach the campfire near the Indian blanket and crouch down when the fire sparked up with the message about the spirits giving me 5 free spins. I always hoped I'd win the bonus round because the graphic there was the coyote watching the shooting star before the reveal of how many credits were won, and then throwing back its head and howling. I love that.

"Montezuma" is my new favorite there because of the theming, which is not IGT, my favorite slot machine company, this time. It's Williams, which used to make pinball machines before deciding that slot machines would now be more profitable. Aztec theming, with temples and feathered headdresses and eagles and gold. I love this one because as the roulette-like wheels that indicate the forthcoming bonus round come up, there's a drum boom that sounds and the machine vibrates. I love that drum boom, as well as the Aztec music that plays during the bonus round, although I wish it would play throughout the entire game. There's no music during regular play, not like there is with "Coyote Moon." That's my only problem with "Montezuma," but I can just sit at that machine and stare at the theming and imagine different stories, or even use it to think about my own writing. That's really my only motivation for playing slot machines anymore, and even so, I don't use my own money if possible, such as with that $5 in free slot play. Only if it's a machine that I absolutely must play and there haven't been those in quite a few months. When you're a tourist, gamble all you like. But when you're a resident, you can't keep up the same tempo. It's taxing on the energy and wallet, and if you don't keep a regular schedule of some kind or have strong aims for what you want to do in your life, this city will eat you up. It nearly did me when we first moved here in September and there were those first five nights sleeping on the floor, when we moved in and before our custom-made mattresses were delivered.

Ok, so maybe there are things to write about even when the days blend into each other. After all, if you can't find anything to write about in Las Vegas, quit. It's not that I can't find anything to write about, but I haven't felt that driving need lately. So I wander. Let's wander.

One side of the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas has a red, wavy metal sign that juts out steeply in the middle, like a flag flapping and then freezing mid-flap. The letters for "Fashion Outlet" undulate on it.

To the right of that sign, almost poking into its doorway, is the Welcome to Las Vegas center, with guidebooks and ads and flyers and history all around in framed pictures, and people there who have either lived in Las Vegas for a very long time or have lived there all their lives, which is how it was when we went back here two months after we moved to Las Vegas. To me, it's closed tonight because I can't top the guy I met behind the counter who not only knew so much about Las Vegas because he was a native, but he remembered the UNLV basketball team when it was coached by Jerry Tarkanian, who led it to a national title. What Las Vegan wouldn't remember that? But then, this guy was clearly into his city, and not just for the sake of a paycheck. You can tell who's really interested and who's not when they talk about Las Vegas, and this guy was, going all the way back in its history through our conversation. Besides, in these wanderings, I walk alone.

Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas is closed, but all the lights remain on, and select stores are still open for me to peek into. Pass the Welcome to Las Vegas Center, and you find the entrance that my family and I have used the times we've come here. Walk in, and you find that it's in-the-round. Start in one spot, walk all the way around, and you'll return to that exact spot.

To the left is Williams-Sonoma Marketplace, the discount outlet for the chain, and it's open for me because I want to see if they have any new mustard. I love mustard and I still want to write extensively about it. Plus I like to see if there are any interesting condiments. The only thing I have with me, though, are quarters, and those are for the food court. No mustard I haven't seen before anyway, but I hope they get something new in, being that they're on the Nevada-California border, and that invites a lot of interesting possibilities.

Walking out of Williams-Sonoma Marketplace, I notice again the shiny grayish flooring, which actually doesn't mar the mixed-up style this mall has. There are tall electric lampposts throughout, right inside! And the floors are nothing more than utilitarian. After it closes for the night, it's an easy buffering, ready for foot traffic again. Who comes out this far? You'd be surprised, but since there are so many bargains here, they come, by car, by hotel shuttle, by bus, by taxi. People stop by on the way in from California, like we once or twice.

If I go to the left now, I pass Coach and Tommy Bahama and Cole Haan and the Gap Outlet, and I eventually hit the entrance to the Primm Valley Resort & Casino, which is not where I want to be. But if I go to the right, I reach the food court and the arcade buried inside it.

So I take a right. And I pass by that entrance, which has, on each side, huge swimsuited statues of a man and a woman holding up white globes. Then the Banana Republic Factory Store (bargains for everyone, as you see), and Fossil, Inc., the Old Navy Outlet, Le Creuset, the Ann Taylor Factory, and so on. There's no straight line here. It curves. And it eventually leads to the food court, which includes Subway, Villa Fresh Italian Kitchen (which never looks so fresh), Hot Dog on a Stick, Kelly's Cajun Grill, and the family favorite, Tea Zone, which offers all kinds of boba teas and smoothies and slushes. To the right of that, a little further, in a near-cubbyhole next to the restrooms is the arcade. There's a basketball throw game and a racing game which may be The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, but I don't remember, so that's what it will be until the next time I actually go back.

Against the left wall, in the back is one of those Namco arcade machines that offers, together, Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga, my Valhalla. This is the reason for the quarters. This machine is far better maintained than the one at the Pinball Hall of Fame and thus far the only reliable one I can find in Southern Nevada. This is the one on which I finally got past level 10 after losing there every single time. I worship this machine for that and also because I love playing this. I love coming up with potential reasons for this alien bug invasion in outer space, or where they come from, or what kind of war this is. I always wonder.

A couple of games, 20 or 30, since I also have unlimited energy in these mental wanderings, and I go out to the food court to sit down for a bit and enjoy the peace. I wish there was a library here, which I know is impossible because it's a tourist attraction. I don't think I could live here, and it's a bit of a drive so it can't be done as often, but if they had a library with deep enough armchairs, with one always reserved for me, I'd go for it because there is a shuddering kind of peace in Primm. There is such transition because of the Nevada-California border, people coming and going, people shopping on the way in and shopping on the way out, people you might never see again, and you probably won't. It's a bit of a jolt at times, but then things always settle. You wander through this shopping experience--and yes, I consider it an experience--and you can browse with ease because it strikes a kind of balance between high-end shopping and then shopping for the rest of us. There are the ritzy kind of stores and then there's the Viva Vegas souvenir store, where I like to be, to see if they have any worthwhile shirts and magnets. The last time we went, no. But when I went to the Viva Vegas store at Las Vegas Premium Outlets South, I found a magnet with the Cosmopolitan on it, and you bet I bought that. I'll bet the next time I actually go to Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas, I'll find that same magnet there.

I get up from the table at the food court, and walk back the way I came. I don't need the Discount Smoke Shop, or Wilsons Leather Outlet, or Bauer Fashion Eyewear, or Silver Post, or even Crocs. I could go to the Character Outlet Gift Shop just off the food court, but they don't lean as heavily toward Disney stuff as the Character Depot in Las Vegas Premium Outlet South's annex property, on the same land. The last time I went there, I found a gray Walt Disney World t-shirt with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, Daisy, and Pluto in front of Cinderella Castle, and Tinker Bell above, and naturally it had to be mine. The time before that, it was the Tron: Legacy junior novelization and a sticker book that included a sticker of Kevin Flynn, which, to me, was a sticker of Jeff Bridges, one of my heroes, and where else would I find a sticker of Jeff Bridges? I don't think I can wait for the The Mirror Has Two Faces sticker book, after all.

This is the end of my time here. I've done what I've come to do. Just down the street, adjacent to the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas, is the Primm Valley Lotto Store. Since there is no lottery in Nevada, this is just a whisper across the border in California. In fact, here's something really cool to do: Stop your car just past the stop sign on the way into the parking lot, or on the way out, if you want. Your back tires will be in California. Your front tires will be in Nevada. Or just get out of your car after you park and do the same with your feet. Doing it at Hoover Dam, one foot in Nevada, one foot in Arizona, is cool, too, but you're at the Lotto Store. It's not as large, but it is quick. Back in May, when the Mega Millions jackpot was $600 million, a lot of people did just that, though further back, as the line to buy those tickets was monstrous.

Now I'm back in this living room, in this mobile home, eight miles from the Strip, and 44 miles from Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas. It's not like going back to boredom after having so much fun, like it was going back to the Santa Clarita Valley from anywhere during those years. Everything is interesting in Las Vegas, even the small things, because they may portend a bigger, more detailed story. However, I don't go to Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas as often in my mind as I do the Nevada Room at the Boulder City Library, or the main drag of Boulder City, especially the half-bowl-shaped park located beneath the Bureau of Reclamation building, or the UNLV campus. You'd think my love of Galaga would trigger more visits, but there are still a whole lot of books in the Nevada Room that I haven't read yet, still a lot of titles to linger over. And, when I need to write, what better peace for it? But I still do appreciate Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas, because I'm not like my parents, who went between Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York so easily. I never knew close borders like that when I lived in Florida. That's why that Nevada-California border is so fascinating to me. California's jurisdiction ends right there, and Nevada's begins. Just like that, just by that border marked so with those signs. It isn't just how smooth the roads quickly get when you drive into Nevada, though that does show an interesting difference in state governments. It's that there is my past, and here is my present and my future, so close together. I will not revisit that past by going back, but whenever we're at Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas, I like to look out at California, relieved that that part of my life is over, that there is no such thing as boredom here in Southern Nevada. There is always something to see, something to hear, something to smell, something to taste, something to touch, something to know. And then the stories come. And the mental journeys begin again.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Movie, A Few Years After the Beginning

I'm not sure if it still goes on, and I don't ever want to find out, but on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings, if there were no sports to air and no reruns worth rerunning, CBS 2 in Los Angeles would air movies you've never heard of. It would be more expensive, I'm sure, to air the higher-profile movies, so we'd get movies like Mojave Moon, starring Danny Aiello, Anne Archer, Alfred Molina, and Angelina Jolie early in her career, circa 1996. All I knew about it when it aired one idle Saturday afternoon on CBS was that I liked the opening song, "Lavender," by Watsonville Patio, and wanted it on my mp3 player. I watched nothing more than those opening titles, those tracking shots through the desert in Palmdale, as I learned just a few minutes ago.

I've played "Lavender" over and over (Try it here), but never was curious about the movie until now, when I'm in the desert in Southern Nevada, when it's 104 degrees outside right now and expected to be 114 on Friday, 116 on Saturday, and 117 on Sunday. So why would I even be interested in a movie called Mojave Moon in the midst of this heat, which keeps me inside the house and unable to enjoy my city during the day? First, because it's called Mojave Moon, because it reminds me of the evening to come, the time of day I look forward to most during the summer because I can walk my dogs a longer distance and be able to have my desert back for a few hours. I know it's the desert and it's expected, but still being relatively new to Las Vegas over nine months now, I'm still getting used to it. And I will get used to it, but the surprise will take some time to wear off. Yes, surprise, and a little disappointment, even though this is expected.

10 minutes into Mojave Moon on Amazon Instant Video (I rented it), I like it so far because it looks at streets not always known in movies set in Los Angeles. But Mojave Moon isn't only set in Los Angeles. On IMDB, the sole filming location is Palmdale, where we went many times when we existed in the Santa Clarita Valley in order to go to the only Sonic near us, a 45-minute-or-more drive, but still going out to even further isolated territory. If Los Angeles wants to call itself the desert (and it's not because of what it's built and what it has become), they would have settled in Palmdale, and Palmdale would have been Los Angeles, and there they could have called themselves the desert and meant it.

I liked Palmdale to a degree. I liked that it felt more honest than Los Angeles. There's no bullshit in the desert, at least on the surface. With people in the desert, your mileage may vary, but I've met more nice souls here in Las Vegas in nine months than I had in nine years in Southern California, genuine nice souls, and not posing for some kind of advantage. But I think I'm also interested in Mojave Moon because I'm long gone from Southern California, because I never saw Southern California at the time this movie was filmed. That's why I want Buena Park to be the end of my first novel, why I want to write extensively about Anaheim for my second novel, because I don't have access to them anymore. I know them well enough from the dozens of times I visited, but now I can really think about them, what they meant to me, what they'll mean to my characters. I know Buena Park and Anaheim go on, that they may have changed in some spots after I left, but I think the general feeling remains the same, such as Buena Park remaining a quiet, small town next to Anaheim, that cares about its history, that wants people to know, and that's why the ghosts of its history hang heavily on it. Not necessarily bad history, just what it once was. That's why I always liked Buena Park.

And being nine months gone from Southern California, I can look at Palmdale in this movie and not have that little dread. I liked going to Palmdale, of course, for Sonic, and for the Walmart across from it that was there for you to get what you needed, and it had what you needed, and it had a hardy soul to it. Yeah, I know, Walmart with a soul. But in Palmdale, even the stores have little bullshit. But I've also never known a movie before to be filmed in this particular desert, so I'm curious about that, too. Even with it being 104 degrees right now. Plus, I've always liked Danny Aiello, and, to me, Angelina Jolie looks a lot more attractive here than she is today. But mainly, what do they do in a movie set in that desert? That's what I want to know.

Even more pressing is that there was some kind of Irish movie, or near Ireland, that was released in 1996, and involved children, with some kind of math thing, that aired on CBS 2 one late Sunday morning, and I can't remember the title. I keep thinking that Colm Meaney or Aidan Quinn was in it, but no luck through IMDB. It may come to mind one day, but not today. Today is for the desert in Palmdale, for Mojave Moon.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Only in Words and Photos

On Friday, my sister had a job interview at M&M's World on the Strip that turned into two, which is a good sign. They liked her enough during the first interview that they had her do a second with someone else higher-up there. Or at least that's what it sounds like.

The directions given to Meridith for this interview said to park in the Showcase Mall parking garage. Obviously, not only because it's right there, attached to the building that houses M&M's World, but also because we couldn't park in the garage at New York-New York and walk across the street, or park in the garage at MGM Grand and walk through the casino to that sidewalk and then walk the length of the sidewalk. It was way too hot, and it was even hotter yesterday at 115 degrees.

It costs $3 to park in the Showcase Mall garage, and that may be the reason it's so clean. Few people park in there because the Showcase Mall isn't the only place they want to go. You only park there if you want New York-New York and MGM Grand and Monte Carlo at the same time, with the parking garage a central location facing all of those. If you want to walk even further, you can reach Aria and the Cosmopolitan. In cooler days, that would be reasonable. Not that day, or rather not for us. The tourists were out and about anyway, no matter the heat. Can't waste time when you're on vacation.

We parked on the fourth floor of the garage, the top floor I think, because M&M's World reaches the fourth floor with a full-size NASCAR car and various merchandise. It's a quieter floor than any other there. Meridith had to be on the fourth floor because that's where the interview would take place. When we got inside M&M's World, and Meridith asked an employee standing near a costumed red M&M character, she was told to wait on the left side, near the door marked "Authorized Personnel Only." Even with how compact the Showcase Mall appears to be, with a smaller Coca-Cola store and a Half Price Tickets kiosk, there's still room for offices in the back. Amazing.

I thought the big thing for me during this visit would be the free 3D movie, "I Lost My 'M' in Vegas," shown in a tiny screening room on the third floor. Not so. We parked and walked to the double doors that were an entrance to an enclosed walkway that would lead us to M&M's World. We opened the doors and I found the cleanest, the most peaceful, and the most low-key walkway I've ever seen in Las Vegas. White tile flooring, framed posters of upcoming movies at the entrance to the walkway and at the end of the walkway, courtesy of the nearby United Artists theater, and above, a wavy metal ceiling structure with small holes all throughout, and above that structure, wavy red neon lighting embedded in the ceiling. If there is a Heaven after this life, this is the walkway that I hope will be there. But more than that, I knew right away that I had to use this walkway in my first novel. And things changed because of that.

Originally, I wanted my two main characters to go to the Buena Park Downtown mall after eating at Po Folks, a Southern restaurant I grew up on in Florida, which had only one branch this far out, and it closed some time ago. But in my novel, it's still open. Now, I loved Buena Park Downtown, with its slight gloom, its gray color scheme, its mostly low ceilings because it felt like it had history, it had a semi-lived-in feeling, and it seemed to keep memories of those who walked through and who worked there. Not necessarily in soda stains, but just the feeling of the place, like if you stared hard enough at a wall near the entrance to the Walmart there, you could actually see who was there before you. Something like that.

The scene at Buena Park Downtown would have involved the duo going down to the first floor, to John's Incredible Pizza Company, where there would be a frantic search for the rare pinball machine on the massive arcade floor, a fervent belief that it's there. But after finding that walkway, and considering the information that my characters would be given along the way, across the country, in this search, wouldn't it be enough that the final piece come from the source they meet in this walkway? I'm not going to reveal why this source is there, but I like how it may play out. And because of that, because they can just go right to where they need to be after eating at Po Folks, it makes Buena Park Downtown an extraneous scene. It adds nothing to my story. But I feel ok about it. No regrets about not being able to use it. The story leads.

I was thinking about all this while watching an indie film called Littlerock on Amazon Instant Video. A brother and sister, two Japanese tourists, wind up in a Southern California desert town called Littlerock after their rental car breaks down. There is nothing to do in this town, and as Atsuko (Atsuko Okatsuka) observes, the stores are so far away. I'm trying to watch it, and it's not that it isn't good. It captures that disembodied atmosphere perfectly. But I'm not as interested in it as I originally hoped. I want to keep in mind Buena Park, Anaheim, Baker, and San Juan Capistrano. I need the first three for my writing, and the latter for my own memories. But the rest of Southern California, such as Victorville, Palmdale, and other places that mirror Littlerock? I don't want them anymore. I don't think I ever wanted them, but I needed them for nine years, to know them a little bit, for survival, to keep my head on straight during those nine long years. Now that I'm here in Las Vegas, they fade. I'm glad they do because I have so much here to fill me up, so much to explore every day. It's not that bad memories come to the surface during Littlerock, but the question of why I'm watching this when I've left it all behind. That's not my desert. It never was. Originally, I think I wanted to see Littlerock because I wanted to see how a filmmaker saw what I had known for all that time. Could they find some new revelation in it that I hadn't known? So far, no. It is what I once remember. Same as it ever was.

And yet, I have King of California in my DVD collection, and that's set in Santa Clarita, though it wasn't entirely filmed there. Why that? Why a movie that's meant to represent a valley in which I existed for nine long years? That's different. King of California is a Quixotesque story that is only partially about place. It is mainly about a frantic search for buried treasure. And it moves. It never dwells too long. Plus, it's not the actual Santa Clarita I knew, because there's no Santa Clarita Department of Mental Health. Plus it serves as one of many blueprints for my novel.

I don't read anything about Southern California anymore that's not research-related. I spent more than enough time there. But what I do read, if it's a novel to inform my own novel, or a book about, say, Anaheim or some aspect of Anaheim, I can handle that. I don't mind that. I think it's because for me, words don't take as much time as some movies do. Granted, Littlerock is only an hour and 23 minutes, but a chapter in a book about Anaheim would take far less time to read. I can get the information I need and move on and that's all I have to know about Southern California until I need something else, or something else comes up in my reading that I want to include in my work. It's the same with photos I find online, of Baker, of Buena Park. I can look at them for a minute or a few minutes if necessary and then move on. I don't need the atmosphere anymore. It's lodged in my memory for when I write about it. I don't need that mess of mountains and freeways. I don't even need the trains because our future apartment complex is located near the railroad track and I can have those trains. To watch Littlerock and be back in Southern California like that is too long. Maybe for me it's the kind of movie to watch in pieces, to fast forward, watch a few seconds, see where it leads, and go to another section. I got the gist of the movie in the first five minutes, so anything else to come would not be anything so new to me that I'd have to go back to previous scenes, scenes that I possibly hadn't watched, to know what's going on. Nine years is a long enough time that pieces of Southern California will always be with me. If not in my work, then the rare pleasant memories I had there, such as that day of research at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills. But it doesn't mean that I want to dwell, as Littlerock would have me do. Though that's not the actual purpose of the movie, it's what I take from it from my own personal experience. And yet, when I write the Buena Park section of my first novel, and write extensively about Anaheim in a later novel, I will be dwelling. The difference is that I don't mind being in either city in my mind. I don't need what doesn't matter to me anymore. Let it remain distant as it has for these past eight months and counting. As I watch Littlerock it's a reminder of what I'm glad to have left behind. After those nine years, to the point where I was trying not to lose hope of ever getting out of there, I made it out. In that way, perhaps Littlerock is a victory lap for me. I can watch what I want of it and it doesn't affect me like it used to. I've completely detached myself from it. For that, I'm relieved. It'll always be in me, but it's not me.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Changing, Permeating, But Never Disappearing

Every time we drove back to Santa Clarita from Burbank, from IKEA, or Ventura from Ventura Harbor Village, or Buena Park from Po Folks and Buena Park Downtown and Anaheim from Downtown Disney, I was always deeply disappointed and even a little down because my reason for living that entire week, to reach that day when we could go to those places, was over. We were going back to where there was nothing to do, nothing to connect to, nothing to want to think about in relation to the area, such as its history or its weaving roads. I experienced all those and it was time to move on from them as Santa Clarita approached. Not forget them, of course, but not think about them as much because there was the next day. What the hell was I going to do with the next day?

Two months ago, Meridith won tickets from Sunny 106.5 to see Shania Twain at the Colosseum, choosing May 31st, yesterday, as the evening to see her. I had been following news of her show back in Southern California, when it was a rumor at first, and now I was going to have the chance to see it for myself. I was excited, I was looking forward to it, but I wasn't breathlessly anticipating it as I did a day trip to Burbank or Ventura or Buena Park or Anaheim. They were all day trips. It took that long to get to each. There were other things to do in Las Vegas leading up to the concert, such as my weekly library visits, and subbing as a library aide at various elementary schools, and reading, and writing, and visiting casinos, and visiting Henderson, and going to a buffet (the one at Terrible's lately), and grocery shopping, and so much else that never disappeared like those days did. They last. They become part of my own personal universe here, what makes me what I am in Las Vegas, and what I feel about all of it.

Even when there are places we haven't been to in such a long time, I always remember the first time I was there, such as with Caesars Palace when we went last night, our first time since we were tourists. When the elevator doors to the casino floor opened, we were overcome by the Cher Army waiting to get to the parking garage after leaving the Colosseum. Cher's show was over, so they were invading. This was in May 2010, I think, and I remembered Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill being a lot smaller. And wasn't the entrance to the Colosseum much bigger than that? Maybe Cher's glassed-in costumes at the entrance made it seem bigger. I think Bette Midler was there at the same time, part of the Colosseum rotation, which now features Celine Dion, of course, Shania Twain, Elton John, and Rod Stewart, with one-night-only dates from Jerry Seinfeld popping up occasionally. Those are the major players, as well as Luis Miguel every September to celebrate Mexican Independence Day, which is great for us for tourism.

This time, when the elevator doors opened to the casino floor, no Cher Army. She left in February 2011. And then when we saw the entrance to Mesa Grill, I thought that it had been smaller. I was sure of it. But things always seem bigger, grander, awe-inspiring when you're a tourist. That's not to say that Las Vegas isn't awe-inspiring for me anymore. Going to Caesars Palace last night was walking through another dreamworld. There's a lot of those here. Sights you'd only expect to find in dreams exist here. Seeing Shania Twain in concert might well have been in a dream because if Meridith hadn't won those tickets, I'm sure it would have been another two years before I would have been able to see her. We can't readily afford those tickets. It would have taken a lot of saving.

After seeing the Shania store (which rotates the merchandise depending on the act. Her merchandise was front and center and then after her final show tonight before she leaves for the summer, the store will close briefly and Celine Dion's merchandise will be placed front and center and more prominently throughout the rest of the store, with Twain's and Elton John's merchandise threaded throughout), and having dinner at the Cypress Street Marketplace food court, the nicest food court I've ever been to, Meridith and I left Mom and Dad and went inside the Colosseum, taking an escalator to the second floor, to our seats, which were still first-floor seating, but rising way up near the back, one row before the seats against the wall in the back. Row O, seats 425 and 426, and center-stage for us.

There are all kinds of dreams to be experienced in Las Vegas and this one began with strips of curtain that had a forest digitally projected on them, in which fireflies appeared and a black horse appeared and then faded out. It was such a beautiful scene with the appropriate forest sounds and flute music to match. And then the show began with a video of Shania Twain on a motorcycle, riding in the desert toward a tunnel and once she reached the tunnel, the real Shania Twain was lowered from the ceiling on a motorcycle, the motorcycle steering to match the motion onscreen and then she finally landed gently to begin the show, to huge applause. I don't remember what song she started with, but I was still floored that I was here, seeing Shania Twain live.

There was an outdoor Western set, as well as a Western bar set for a few songs, and besides watching Twain perform, I like watching all the behind-the-scenes business in action, such as the changing of the sets. I probably pay closer attention to this than most, and I enjoyed watching special effects end and begin according to the song. My favorite part of the concert was on a campfire set, with dry ice fog simulating a campfire, with a gentle fake flame in the middle, and rocks around the campfire for Twain and randomly-selected audience members. Before this, during two songs separated by another song, she walked off the stage to the bottom sections closest to the stage to meet and greet the audience while she sang.

Then for the campfire set, she chose a girl who was there with her mother for her 18th birthday, a couple from Brazil who had seen her in London in 2004 when they were dating, an enthusiastic Brazilian guy who looked like he was wearing his country's flag as a shirt and a beanie hat, and most touchingly, a girl possibly younger than the 18-year-old one, 16 or 15 it looked like, who was overwhelmed and started tearing up on stage because she had been singing Twain's songs since she was 5. Twain had just finished tearing up reminiscing about her late mother and the greatest gift she gave her, her sister Carrie-Ann, and she started all over upon meeting that girl. She had the birthday girl and her biggest fan sit next to her on stage and there were two acoustic songs sung. Twain's love for her audiences is genuine. She is so appreciative of her good fortune in being this major star performer, and despite it being her second-to-last show before she leaves for the summer (her final show is tonight and then she's back in late November), she gave it her all for the entire show.

The final third of the show began with her singing "Still the One" to her white horse on stage, and then "From This Moment On," closing the show with "Man! I Feel Like a Woman." I loved the entire show, but I was especially fascinated by the musicians, the harmonica/piano player, the electric guitarist and the other musicians, because they were clearly in their zone. They have a plum gig with this show and they know it and they love performing as much as Twain does. The harmonica player in the song on the outdoor Western set became the piano player in the Western bar set, and he was jumping around while he was playing the piano. They clearly love what they do.

I was disappointed that "You've Got a Way" wasn't in the setlist, but that was tempered by the Colosseum being the crown jewel of Las Vegas. Meridith said that going to the Colosseum to see a show should be on everyone's bucket list. But I amend that to limit it to those who live in Las Vegas and who visit Las Vegas. She's right. It was built in 2003 solely to entice Celine Dion, and it has become a mega-entertainment venue. It's rightfully celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. I've been to a few showrooms in Las Vegas, with many more to come for sure, and I don't think any can type the Colosseum for class, for beauty, for gentle history. Everyone at Caesars Palace involved with the Colosseum take such loving care of it and it shows.

Now it's 5:09, the next afternoon. Michael Bolton is performing at Eastside Cannery at 8:30 tonight, and Mom and Meridith will be there since Mom won tickets for it on Sunny 106.5 on Thursday. I'm not thinking as much about Shania: Still the One beyond what I wrote, but living here, it'll always be in mind in some way. It colors my view of Las Vegas being a continuous waking dream. It makes me wonder more about those musicians, about what they do for work when Twain goes back home to the Bahamas for the break. I'm sure they find work somewhere, but do they already have it lined up or are they waiting until after the final show tonight? And where do they store those sets at the Colosseum? Do they truck them off to a nearby air-conditioned, climate-controlled warehouse, or is there plenty of room backstage? How does that work?

This time, and in previous times, I'm not disappointed that the experience is over. I'm still here, and will always be here, so it's still here. No matter how many years down the road Twain performs until she decides to leave, it'll never leave. I like that. For once, it's not about having to go back to real life as defined like it was in Santa Clarita. It fits squarely in my memories, in my imagination, and that's important to me. I can look at the Colosseum and know I was there, and also wonder what will happen next. Elton John is coming back to the Colosseum in September and October, and I'm hoping Sunny 106.5 gives away tickets. Because it's him, and after being at the Colosseum, I'm going to bang the phone away for those, trying my damndest every single time they're announced. But hopefully not every single time. I hope I win them the first or second time.

I know that it's partly because I'm local and not having to go through mountains and freeways that the show will never leave me, that I can always reference it any way I need to in heart and mind. But it's also because I'm finally home that I can do that, that I care enough to remember, and without regret, as it was for all those years, regret at having to leave pleasure. Here, it's always mine. That's how it should be, and I finally have it.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Pleasure of Local History

In Florida, I learned about Ponce de Leon, and the Fountain of Youth, and St. Augustine in my history classes. But there I was in South Florida, and there was St. Augustine in Northeast Florida. I could read about it, but I couldn't readily see it. We went there sometimes during my childhood, but the last time I could remember going was when I was reaching my late teens, when my paternal grandparents were with us on that trip, and even then it was relatively brief, although I do remember seeing the fort. But if I wanted to know more about it beyond those visits, there were the books. We didn't always have reason to go back and if it was a choice between that or Walt Disney World today, I would choose Walt Disney World first and then see if there was time later to travel on up to St. Augustine.

The biggest disappointment of moving from South Florida to Southern California, before nine years' existence in Southern California became the biggest disappointment, was that I only got to see Tallahassee, my state capital, once, and that was when we were driving out of Florida. That's where the legislature meets and that's where the governor's mansion is. I don't think I saw the governor's mansion on the way out, but I saw the Capitol. And that's all I saw of my seat of state government. In years to come, I want to go back to visit, to see how my old haunts have changed, and I'd like to see Tallahassee again, to spend more time, to have a closer look at what remained far away as we drove by.

It's because of that missed opportunity that I hold more dearly to me the pleasure of having history nearby in Las Vegas, some in Henderson, and in Boulder City. Mostly Boulder City, since it's my favorite place in Southern Nevada. I have here a book called Hoover Dam & Boulder City by Marion V. Allen, whose family lived in Boulder City, and who also worked on the construction of Hoover Dam (Boulder Dam back then). I always love receiving books from the Boulder City library because it's my favorite in the entire Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, although it operates differently in many ways from the rest of the libraries in that cluster, with a separate website for one, and you're given two extra days with any books you receive from that branch because of the distance. Boulder City is close enough to Las Vegas, closer to Henderson, but when you drive there, it feels like a different world, higher up in the mountains. Unlike the trapped feeling I always got in Santa Clarita, there's so much more to see here, so much more to wonder about.

Besides reading Hoover Dam & Boulder City out of my fervent desire to know more about the history of all that's around me, I'm looking for more information about Boulder City manager Sims Ely, who ran the town single-handedly during the construction of Hoover Dam. He was hired by the government to do so, to be sure that their investment did not go to waste, and I think there's more history of him to be found, more stories that should be told. To some, he was a despot, but that may be only because he didn't allow gambling or alcohol inside Boulder City. He strikes me as having been fair-minded, but there's not as much to be found about him as there should be. I hope to rectify that in time.

But more than any of that, I love reading about living conditions in Boulder City and Hoover Dam construction and know that I have been to both. I read these details and I know exactly what's being referenced, where it is, and what it looks like today. I'm not good yet with directions in Boulder City, which streets intersect and the easiest way to get to the Boulder City library, but I'll get there. I have lots of time for that. To be able to go to those scenes of history, to be there and remember what I have read and picture it right there is new to me. As mentioned, I didn't have the chance all that often in Florida, and there was very little history of Southern California that I cared to know, outside of Buena Park and Anaheim, and even then, I didn't get as deep into Buena Park, where other history might have been. So this is pretty much all new to me, always fascinating, and I don't think it will ever waver. Nor will the sheer novelty of the California-Nevada border being merely 35 minutes away, albeit with long stretches of road empty on both sides. Both my parents came from New York and therefore it was nothing to them to go into New Jersey or Connecticut and back again. The biggest thing for me in Florida in terms of travel like that was that it took only an hour to get from the east side of the state to the west side, from Pembroke Pines, where we lived many years before we moved, to Naples. Only an hour! And yet, there were no states to cross until you get to Northern Florida, and then out. The only time I had ever crossed borders was from the air, when we flew on Delta from Ft. Lauderdale to Newark in 1994, and all I noticed were mountains we flew over. I didn't even think of borders.

Now, when we're in Primm, especially at the lotto store to the left of the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas, I can look right out at the roads and see the border and the signs right there, one welcoming drivers to California on the right, and the other welcoming drivers to Nevada on the left. That I can see that, and I can see where history happened wherever I want, and see what it is today and if aspects of that history have been preserved (beyond Hoover Dam, of course, and the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum all the way in the back on the second floor of the Boulder Dam Hotel), at times means more to me than seeing the Strip just as often. I love knowing that others have been here before me and I always want to know what brought them there and how they reacted when they first saw it, and what they wanted to do when they got here, what they were looking for. Just another way of knowing that I really am home.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Milk at a Buffet

No matter if it's the Firelight Buffet at Sam's Town, Feast Buffet at Palace Station (Only that one time. It was awful enough to never want to go again), the International Buffet at Terrible's, or any other buffet I haven't been to yet in Las Vegas or Henderson, my drink order is the same: Milk. Always milk.

(There have been only two exceptions. Milk didn't seem appropriate at the pricey, utterly luxurious Wicked Spoon buffet at the Cosmopolitan, and I wanted to see how their iced tea was. Iced tea can tell a lot about a restaurant or a buffet, and they did it right at Wicked Spoon. Conversely, the iced tea at the Wild West Buffet at Arizona Charlie's on Boulder Highway tastes like it was brewed in a urinal, and the buffet was just as bad, only the pork stuffing coming through unscathed).

I love milk, especially Shamrock Farms' 2% Reduced Fat, surprisingly over anything my local Anderson Dairy offers, all of which tastes like water, except for their chocolate milk. Even their own 2% Reduced Fat milk is nothing more than white water. But I don't have milk all that often. For my cereal, I use Silk Soymilk. It holds longer than milk, which is convenient since I usually only have it once a day.

But at a buffet, it has to be milk for me. It's my tribute to Archie Goodwin, able legman and housemate to the sizable seventh-of-a-ton person that is Nero Wolfe in Rex Stout's series of novels. Goodwin loves milk. At any opportunity, even while on a case, he has it. It's one of his defining characteristics, besides his occasional frustration with what he sees as Wolfe's obstinacy, but is really Wolfe pursuing an avenue of thought that Goodwin hadn't considered yet, which may well be the one that keeps them in the black, and Wolfe in orchids and gourmet food, and certainly Goodwin in milk.

Since Wolfe never leaves their New York City brownstone, and never willingly when he's forced to, it's up to Goodwin to pursue what's on Wolfe's mind in a case, to interview witnesses, to catch the suspects that Wolfe deems are the suspects they want. And then when it almost seems hopeless, Wolfe has the solution.

I like this duo. I like their interplay, I like that when Archie is frustrated with Wolfe, there's still respect there. And I so love Wolfe's well-thought out reasoning that shows why he's a genius at solving cases. A buffet is a bounty of food, just like Wolfe solving the latest case produces a bounty of cash for the expensive running of his household. Therefore, milk at a buffet seems appropriate for me, not least because it brings Archie Goodwin there with me, and reminds me of that brownstone and the many happy times I've spent there so far and the times still to come.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Word of Law Filtered Through the Great-Grandson

In the past two days, I have finished Gideon's Trumpet by Anthony Lewis, about the Supreme Court case in 1963 that led to legal representation for those who can't afford an attorney. I've been inspired by John Houseman's wonderfully modest performance as Earl Warren in the TV movie adaptation, enough to want to read about Warren's life, hoping he was really that way (In the one scene that inspired me, Warren walks into the room where his clerks are and calls out, "Ken?" Arthur, one of his other clerks, rises and says, "Mr. Chief Justice," and so does another clerk, besides Ken too, and Warren says, "Don't stand up, don't stand up."). And I've just finished Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court by Sandra Day O'Connor. I am not a lawyer, nor do I have any desire to become one.

And yet, I am interested in the Supreme Court, in the federal courts, and in some of the lower courts, including my Nevada Supreme Court and my former Florida Supreme Court, as well as other courts extant in both states. A couple years ago in Southern California, when my father went to court to get the spelling of his name legally changed to ward off problems brought on by a criminal with the same name as him, including the no-fly list and a few financial issues, there were two cases ahead of him in the courtroom we were in, and I was fascinated by the procedures, so absorbed in them.

This is all due to my late maternal great-grandfather, Zeide as I knew him, who was a lawyer, as I learned from my mom when I grew up. She also told me that when I was a baby, he used to have me on his lap while he watched his beloved boxing matches on TV. This may be what led to me writing recaps of fantasy boxing matches for a website I've long forgotten, in the early days of the Internet, or my early days of it anyway. I'm not sure if his love of boxing inspired me to take that on, or if it was deep in the back of my mind and clanged when I found that opportunity, but I think it might be in my genes because I don't remember thinking about it at all when I found it. I haven't been interested in boxing since, though. I think it only cropped up that one time to gauge my interest and then disappeared.

According to Mom, who I believe because it sounded like Zeide had a caring nature and I strive to emulate that on top of my own, he was a devoted, honest lawyer who wanted what his clients wanted and worked his hardest to seek that particular outcome for them, whatever it might have been. He also had an extensive law library in the house where my mom grew up (she was raised by him and her grandmother, my great-grandmother of course, who I also unfortunately don't remember), and in fact, a year and a half ago, I ordered United States Reports Vol. 515 from the Government Printing Office, which had a low price of, well, I want to say $7.50, but it may have been slightly higher. But being on sale at that price, for 1,323 pages, I wanted to see what one of these volumes looked like, and to read it too. The full title is Cases Adjudged in the Supreme Court at October Term, 1994. This was back when William H. Rehnquist was Chief Justice and John Paul Stevens and David H. Souter, one of my favorite justices, were on the Court. When Mom saw it, she said, "I saw those in Zeide's library!"

My love of presidential history naturally includes forays into Congress and the Supreme Court, because all the branches of government interact. So of course I'd read about those battles and those rarest of rare Kumbaya moments, but being most passionate about the presidency, why would I explore the Supreme Court beyond what I read about it within the presidency?

It had to be in my genes once again. Otherwise, why would I go there when there's the White House, Air Force One, the Oval Office, the White House movie theater, foreign policy decisions, domestic policy, and so much else to explore that may well take the rest of my life?

It wasn't only Zeide's influence, most likely from his genes reaching through my mom to me. Here's the presidency, big and at times boisterous, facing the world head-on. Here's Congress, mostly boisterous. And then here's the Supreme Court, which, while it decides cases of potentially historical stature, seems so quiet. The justices do their work quietly. There are no cameras allowed during arguments in the courtroom. There are only transcripts and audio after the cases are argued, and then there are the written opinions released after they, or portions of them, have been read from the bench. In short, it's the perfect place for me.

The Supreme Court reminds me of my beloved libraries. In books at least, I can explore any aspect of them I want to, and I can have a fine, quiet, peaceful time while doing so. I visit SCOTUSblog every day to see what's going on at the Court and to find links to commentaries and concise, open explanation about that activity, as well as be surprised by some of the books coming out about the Court that I hadn't heard of before. That's how I found out about The Roberts Court: The Struggle for the Constitution by Marcia Coyle, which I of course ordered. I want to read it and I don't want to wait for my local library to get it in, not least because I'm not sure how often I'm going to be able to use the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District after we move, at least before I get a car, being that the few libraries in Henderson are all run by Henderson Libraries, totally separate from the LVCCLD. That doesn't mean you can't use both library cards. Wherever you live, you can get a Henderson library card if you want, but you can only obviously use it at the Henderson libraries. And I don't know how many holds I can expect for The Roberts Court. The listing in the LVCCLD catalog shows that there are four copies ordered for the entire district, but no holds so far. Even so, even after the book is released, it still takes time for the book to get to the district and then be processed and fitted with a barcode and then to be sent from the central location where books are processed, wherever that is, to be sent to those libraries, or to be sent from there to fulfill any requests at other libraries, which may well have been mine, but you see why I don't want to wait. It's about the Supreme Court. I don't want to wait. Some books I just have to have right away.

I am flummoxed by many of the legal theories posed in the books I read, and in the technical details of many of the cases presented to the Supreme Court, but that doesn't stop me. Nor does it stop my curiosity about the federal courts and the lower courts. Plus, I'm also interested in the writing quality of the Supreme Court justices, including the justices on the Nevada Supreme Court and the Florida Supreme Court. I've read a few of those opinions. Good so far, but some of them get tangled up in their legal vines. (I hate saying it like that, but it's true in some cases.) But the ruling stands, and that's what matters most in these courts.

I don't expect to be a legal expert, but remembering my experience waiting in that courtoom for my dad's name change, and my grandfather apparently doing much good in the law, I like reading about all of this. It's not only those, though. I love the silence to think while I read, to learn more about these laws, undoubtedly with less pressure than law school students go through, which is why learning it this way is for me and why I don't want to attend college again. I don't like classrooms and scheduled times to learn. Give me my books and I'll learn it. I'm happiest learning on my own, just like the Supreme Court justices do that sometimes-momentous work on their own. No influences, supposedly. No outside noise, well, not that they can hear in chambers. No interruptions. It's another library for me. I can spend years in here, and I will. I don't know if my grandfather actually read all those books in his law library, but I've a feeling he did. I'm sure the curiosity he had toward the law is the same curiosity I have. That's the only way to explain it. I'm not doing it for him, but I'm proud to follow him in that respect.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Save 80 Bucks. Audition for Wheel of Fortune.

The renamed Venetian Theatre was where Phantom - The Las Vegas Spectacular performed for six years. The centerpiece chandelier, which fell during every performance, is now permanently locked into the ceiling, its computer programming long since disconnected. It's not the first thing I noticed in the somber, gothic-themed, weighted-with-ghosts theater at 11:40 last Saturday morning, but the reminder was there when I looked up at it, along with the knowledge that preeminent Broadway director Hal Prince stood in this theater many times.

The theater had been remodeled since the show closed, with more seats extending to the stage, which I don't think could have been done before. The music of the night needed more room.

I wondered where the Phantom was now, what he was doing now. After the show closed, Anthony Crivello, our Phantom, went back to Broadway to audition, and I think he landed in one show. Maybe he's still in that show or maybe that show closed too. Nevertheless, he was a great supporter of Las Vegas like former Playboy Playmate Holly Madison, even gamely appearing on Wheel of Fortune during those Phantom years, whenever it was in Las Vegas for a few weeks.

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill's Soul2Soul is there now for a little while longer. Then they'll leave and be replaced with Priscilla Queen of the Desert. I don't know if the balcony seating on both sides of the theater is still used (I couldn't see the seats up there, if there were any), but with those offerings, I don't think they need to. There had been some buzz about Soul2Soul before it started, naturally. But it doesn't sound like it was a major hit. McGraw and Hill don't live here, instead flying in when it's time to perform on weekends, and that's understandable because they have other business in their careers to attend to.

I think if the box office take had been monstrous, Venetian officials would have tried to entice them with everything they could have ever wanted to stay longer. And guaranteed, Vegas Deluxe (, led by Robin Leach, would have had all the details of those negotiations. But there's nothing. As it is, the only big thing besides the impending remodel of the outside of New York-New York to build a park modeled on Madison Square Park, with shops and restaurants and a Hershey store, connecting it and the Monte Carlo and to an eventual 20,000-seat sports stadium, is that Olivia Newton-John will begin her mini-residency at the Flamingo possibly at the start of summer, performing when Donny & Marie aren't.

It's said that Tim McGraw wants to go back out on tour, and that's reasonable, but I don't think this show is going to come back. There's no word on what will follow the limited run of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, though that box office take will likely determine if they extend it, but I think they need something fresh, what with the Strip beginning to change in various places, such as the old Sahara becoming SLS Las Vegas next year, and an Asian-themed resort called Resorts World Las Vegas under construction for a 2016 opening.

But at that moment, at 11:40 in the morning, I'm sitting in a mostly empty row, across from an exit, next to Meridith, Dad and Mom. We're part of the audience for auditions for Wheel of Fortune. We filled out the small yellow applications outside the theater, while waiting in line, and dropped them in the tall box outside the theater. As we learn from the Jim Carrey-influenced, pop culture-loving host, whose name I've long forgotten, the applications are placed in a wire mesh drum and spun around and around, with applications chosen at random. Those names called go on stage, first backstage to sign in and have their photo taken. Then they stand on one of the five X's placed diagonally. The host interviews them, asking about their jobs, their hobbies, their passions, and it's there that they must be at their most enthusiastic, their most charismatic because that's what they're looking for in future contestants. Those contestants on stage would find out in two months either by a letter in the mail or by e-mail that they've been invited to the final auditions in Las Vegas. If they make it through those, they're on the show. Factoring in 6 weeks of shows being taped in July and August, which is five shows in a week (taped in one day, of course, which means the production will be here for six days), that's 30 shows. Three contestants per show is 90 contestants total. The odds are long, but we are in Las Vegas. We still hope.

Then the host spins the wheel on stage to determine what prize all the contestants will get (t-shirt, hat, mini-pack with a black shoulder strap and a keychain and "blinky pin," as the host called it, inside; or a "Surprise" that includes all those prizes and either a duffel bag or a smaller cooler bag), and then the contestants play the Speed-Up Round, which is the round when time's running out on the show and Pat Sajak gives the wheel a final spin, led by Morgan Matthews, who fills the Vanna White role for the Wheelmobile events.

The first show began and the host introduced himself and explained all this, and then introduced Morgan Matthews, who spun the drum and took out the first five applications, handing each to the host as she went along. I was surprised when Dad was called to the stage, and then I was called right after him, causing the host to comment, "A double shot of Aronskys!"

Originally, I didn't want to audition. When Mom heard about the Wheelmobile coming to the Venetian, Meridith immediately wanted to, and then Dad did too. I didn't, because while I'm not a stiff personality, I'm not that charismatic or demonstrative. I can get lively in conversation, but usually with one other person or a small group of people. It was Dad and Meridith's thing, not mine.

But then, I went to see Jeff Bridges, one of my heroes, in concert on Friday night at the Chrome Showroom at Santa Fe Station. Front row seat. Well worth the price ($88.50 via Ticketmaster, immediately when tickets went on sale), and my seat was right where Jeff Bridges stood while he played his guitars and sang, and directly in front of the keyboard on which he performed a few songs, including two from The Big Lebowski. When he played that keyboard and sang, he loomed over me at that angle and I watched him the entire time, his eyes closed throughout most of the songs he sang at that keyboard. I was in awe of the clear passion he had for his music, and on the way home, thinking about all that Jeff Bridges does in taking photos on the sets of his movies, drawing, writing his first book with Bernie Glassman, his Zen master, working to eliminate childhood hunger, attending Zen conventions, making movies of course, and now music, I thought to myself that I wanted to be a renaissance man at 63 years old like he is. But then I thought, "Why not start now?" I decided in the car that I would sign up for the chance to audition for Wheel of Fortune, but not for the purpose of becoming a renaissance man like Jeff Bridges. Mom has been watching Wheel of Fortune since Chuck Woolery hosted from 1975 to 1981. I wanted to increase our chances of getting tickets for at least one of the tapings, besides fighting like hell to get them when they become available in June, so why not increase them three-fold?

When I dashed down the steps to the stage after my name was called, following Dad as he did the same, I felt like I wasn't in my body. Was this real? Was this actually happening? I thought Meridith would be called first. She wanted it the most. But there I was, reaching the stage after figuring out how to get there, since there was a curtain in front of me that I thought led backstage (I didn't go behind it, though), and then three stairs immediately leading to the stage. I took the latter and was led backstage to a long table to sign in and then one of the production assistants, wearing a shirt that said "Spin This.", took a photo of me. Before that, I joked, "This is better than the DMV!"

I took my place on stage, the last "X", closest to the audience. I waited as the first three contestants were interviewed by the host, and then Dad, and I was a little nervous. But once called upon by the host, I went up there, told him and the audience that I'm a substitute elementary school library assistant in the Clark County School District, hoping for a full-time position. He asked me what I like to do, and I said, "Reading, writing, movies, pinball, presidential history and....more movies." (I think I got it all, because that comprises my life.) He zeroed in on presidential history, asking me who my favorite president is. "43 presidents and you want to know right now who my favorite president is?" I joked to him. In hindsight, I know there are 44, but I blanked by one.

I quickly thought about it and said "William Howard Taft," mainly because I'm reading about him right now and he does fascinate me. The host asked why and I said, "Because he didn't want to be president. He wanted to be Chief Justice of the United States and later on, he got his dream when Warren G. Harding nominated him and..." I'm not the lecturing type, but maybe I was still a little nervous because the host sensed I was going on too long and amiably moved me along with, "He really knows his presidents." I didn't mind that he moved me along since he had a show to run. I wished I could have compressed Taft's history fast enough, including the fact that he ran for president because his wife, Helen "Nellie" Taft, wanted to be First Lady, and he was devoted to her. I knew I couldn't include the fact that Taft was responsible for the Supreme Court building as we know it today, wanting a separate, grand building for this separate branch of the government, but he died before it was completed. That would have been impossible, but I wanted to get to Harding nominating Taft to be Chief Justice. Nervousness overpowers all, though, even when you don't actually feel nervous while on stage.

The puzzle began. The category was "Event." I think I guessed "L" or "M," but neither were in the puzzle. I knew what it was about a minute later, but the host was back to the beginning of the row and the fourth person before me in the row solved it: "Toga Party." As the host put it, just because you're on stage does not guarantee you a final audition, and just because you solved the puzzle does not guarantee you a final audition. They're looking for the whole package, with charisma, energy, and puzzle-solving ability all together, which flummoxed Mom after we had left the Venetian later in the day because all the time that she's watched the show, most of those people seem very subdued, so she doesn't know exactly what they're looking for if they seem all the same.

After leaving the stage, I went back up to our row, and we watched the rest of the first show. By the end, Meridith still hadn't been called up, so we went back to the elevator, downstairs (Mom uses a cane, so we don't use stairs), and got back in line for the second show where Meridith filled out a blue application and put it in the tall box outside the theater. We went back to the elevator, back to the second (or third?) floor, back to our row. Second show, no luck.

We got back in line for the third and final show of the day and Meridith filled out another application, a different color. And no luck again. After the final names for the second show were called, we got up and left the theater to get back in line before everyone else not called did the same thing. And after the final names were called for the third show, we left. What reason was there to sit for the rest of that show? Mom gave Meridith the option of going back on Sunday for those shows, for the hope of being called, but Meridith said she has three chances with those three applications, so that was enough for her. The host also said that those who aren't called on the stage still have a shot. During each show, he said he's going to take the remaining applications with him back to Los Angeles, pick a few at random, and those chosen will get the letter or e-mail inviting them to the final auditions. Meridith filled out each application differently, with her interests worded differently in each, with different drawings on the border of the applications. You have to stand out somehow to hopefully catch their attention.

There were a few people I saw during all three shows that I would happily give up my spot for in order to see them on the show. They need to be on the show. Based on what Mom said about people on the show seeming subdued, I may have a better chance than I think I do.

And the phantoms remain in the Venetian Theatre. The ghosts of Phantom of the Opera and soon Soul2Soul and future productions that will arrive and then leave either months or years later. Things always change in this city. But one thing that will never change is my happiness at the opportunity for free events that let me see places for which I would have to pay exorbitant amounts. This was the best way to save 80 bucks or more to see the Venetian Theatre. And the main feature on the stage is a "C" with its rear in the air and the arms of the C on the stage, lit in blue. That looks like the centerpiece for the Soul2Soul show, the one thing that couldn't be removed from the stage since it looks like it's attached to it, that is if Tim McGraw and Faith Hill use anything else besides that. Stools, of course, but I think that's it. For me, it's enough to have seen this theater, the only time I ever will like this, just like when we waited along with the rest of the crowd in the 1 OAK Nightclub in early March at the Mirage before we were all dispatched to the Beatles LOVE theater for the live broadcast of American Idol. If I make it to the final audition and then am invited to be on Wheel of Fortune, I'll do it. It means Mom would get to see the show live, and that's the only reason for me.