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.