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.