Monday, June 23, 2014

Walmart vs. Smith's in Books

Four months ago, Mom and Meridith went for a haircut at a Supercuts in the Eastern Commons shopping center in Henderson, which has the Smith's supermarket as its anchor. So Dad and I decided to go to that Smith's for a few things, and after picking up bagged mixed salad, flour tortillas (for me, because I wanted to see if there was any brand good enough at it. This one was just ok), and juice, Dad went to wherever else he goes in a Smith's, and I went to the books, to see if they had anything interesting.

Books in supermarkets lean toward romance novels in small towns, some sci-fi novels outside of the usual suspects such as Star Trek, and, at least in the West, a good selection of Westerns, namely from William W. Johnstone. And there are mystery novels in sometimes whimsical settings, such as diners, coming mainly from Berkeley Prime Crime and Obsidian.

At this visit to Smith's, I indeed found one mystery novel set in a diner, called A Second Helping of Murder by Christine Wegner, which turned out to have been the second in Wegner's Comfort Food Mystery series, but I was intrigued enough by it that I didn't care that I was starting with the second novel. I wanted to read it, and I bought it, not waiting to see if the Henderson Libraries have a copy, because they usually don't, being a much smaller system than the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District. Some titles you can count on being there right away, like the latest, most widely publicized book and DVD releases, but books like this one either enter the system later, or not at all.

Then, about two months ago, before the Smith's on East Sunset Road, also here in Henderson, started undergoing a massive remodel, I went to the book section there and found Murder on Bamboo Lane by Naomi Hirahara, the first in her Officer Ellie Rush Mystery series. While it does take place in Los Angeles, with Ellie patrolling various streets on her bicycle, and while I never want to see Los Angeles again in person after nine too-long years in Southern California, I'm curious to see how it's covered by people who live there, who clearly like it better than I ever did. So I bought this one too.

This is about the average for Smith's: Every couple of months, there's a book that interests me enough to buy it, but never the hardcovers. I won't spend $19 for whatever's on the bestseller list or whatever's been highly publicized. I know that my local library will likely have those books, or chances are that I had already pre-ordered that book on Amazon and it's within an order that includes four or five other books at a shot. Amazon's not bad when you know what you want right away.

Before yesterday's visit to my favorite Walmart in the Eastgate shopping center on Marks Street, yes, also in Henderson, I can't remember the last book I bought there. I always visit every book section, seeing what's new in paperback, always avoiding the hardcovers, and usually walking away with nothing because I don't need the latest Jack Reacher novel or its reprints. That series doesn't intrigue me.

Yet, at that Walmart, I noticed The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson, billed as "The First Novel in the Longmire Mystery Series." I know that the TV series on A&E has been around for a while, but I've never watched it. And I've heard of Longmire, but never pursued the series, because I'm usually busy with other mystery series, such as Nero Wolfe by Rex Stout. But here it was. Here was the chance to see what the Longmire series was about from the start. And $5.99 for a hefty paperback is a pretty good price, a far cry from the bevy of Robyn Carr novels I usually bypass every time. So I bought it, and unlike the previously mentioned mystery novels, which still sit in my stacks unread (but I will read them soon enough), I'm going to start reading this one. The bookmark in the first page is proof of that.

(Looking at the back of both A Second Helping of Murder and Murder on Bamboo Lane, I find that both the Obsidian Mystery and Berkeley Prime Crime labels are run by Penguin. Same company, and it figures that The Cold Dish was published by Penguin too. It seems that the only time I have books from different publishers is when I pre-order them from Amazon. Walmart and Smith's seem to be for Penguin books only.)

Whether Walmart or Smith's is better for books is a draw. Smith's at least stocks more less conventional mysteries, while Walmart sticks to the standards, yet lets one like The Cold Dish into its ranks. I expect that in any couple of months, I'll find another paperback novel that interests me, and it'll either be from Walmart or Smith's yet again. But since I already have two from two different Smith's, I hope Walmart picks up the slack. It's not that I don't have enough books already, or that I don't go to Barnes & Noble whenever the mood strikes (I haven't gone lately, though). But during errands for the other parts of your life, it's good to also take care of the main part of your life.

Monday, June 9, 2014

This Is How You Remind Me of What I Really Am

Songs that call forth certain times, certain places. I have three of them:

Wichita Lineman by Glenn Campbell

Photograph by Nickleback (the only song of theirs I have listened to more than once, and still do)

Set Fire to the Rain by Adele

Wichita Lineman reminds me of Florida, the sonic vibrations in the song meant to evoke wind blowing across wires bringing back those long roads seemingly to nowhere, even though we always knew where we were going there. There was an orange juice stand that I swear was halfway between Pembroke Pines and Naples, where we went sometimes to visit Dad's aunt and uncle. I don't remember the name, but I do remember the free orange juice samples, and the seemingly endless cups available.

I also think of Orlando, those roadside shack tourist attractions, and Old Town in Kissimmee, with that candlemaking shop I always stood inside in awe, watching those candlemakers draw forth colors from that wax that somehow was possible after dipping the wick in those different colors numerous times, carving them, and showing off wax rainbows. I do think about Walt Disney World during this song, and that one trip to Universal Studios in 1994, but mostly, while listening to this song, I think of the land of Florida, what was always there when Walt Disney World couldn't always be there. I remember our backyard in Casselberry, running out there through the patio to see the space shuttle take off, so close that you could see the American flag and "USA" on one of the wings. I remember the large tree in front of our house there that I always thought of building a treehouse in, but that didn't happen, not least because I fell out of that tree once. And there was the basketball hoop at the side of the driveway, the only time I had a basketball hoop of my own, but I don't mind it because I spend more time these days watching basketball than playing it. I was never one of those who went on a tour of the Everglades, but I remember the gnarled branches and the small canal, and the mess of leaves and all that was behind our condominium in Coral Springs, and, when walking to Borders back then, seeing that canal with all of nature around it, the fortunate mess it created and not always by litter.

I also think about The Bubble Room in Captiva, that beautifully-kitschy restaurant with bubbles blowing all around and pop culture memorabilia, the toy train running throughout, and incredible cakes I haven't been able to match either in Southern California or here in Nevada. The list goes on, but Wichita Lineman always brings all of Florida back to me.

Photograph was a coincidence when we first visited the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. It was playing on my mp3 player when we were riding up the winding hills to the Library, happy to be away from the nothingness of the Santa Clarita Valley (to do anything interesting there, you have to leave). I was not yet as deep in my love of presidential history, but I was curious to see what a presidential library looked like, what it had about a presidency, and I was especially interested in an entire presidency being summarized in one library. Not every event could be covered at length in the museum, but they made sure Reagan's love of jellybeans was prominently displayed, in the souvenir store in jars you could buy, on the desk in the Oval Office replica, and aboard the old Air Force One.

Photograph is about looking back at the past, wondering if you should have done things differently, and missing all of it. I guess it's the music that gets me thinking about the Reagan Presidential Library, that reaching back, and I think about every single time we've been there. We went once for the museum and the Air Force One exhibit, and every other time, it's always been for the greatest freshly-made potato chips we've ever had at Reagan's Country Cafe, which is one of the two reasons we went back often. The other reason was the view from the South Lawn replica, of those small mountains in the haze, of the building going on in the hills below the Library, unrelated to the Library.

Mostly, whenever I listen to that song, I think of the exhibits in the Library, which are positively primitive compared to the digital upgrades the Library has had, which happened after we moved to Las Vegas. I liked the State Dinners exhibit as it was, the table replica, the place settings, the information about the various State Dinners held in the Reagan White House. I also particularly remember a covered, outdoor exhibit that showed off Nancy Reagan's many dresses, and the fabric and the designs made me wonder how closely she kept tabs on the making of each dress. Probably very closely.

And of course I think about Air Force One because of my love of aviation, walking through the tight quarters of that Boeing 707, marveling at how many hundreds of thousands of miles that plane had traveled, and also looking at the adjacent exhibit diagonal from the plane which tallied up those miles and pointed out exactly where Reagan went in his eight years.

I of course have my opinions about presidents, about their effectiveness as leaders. But for me, a president is a president is a president and they all interest me no matter their political affiliation, no matter what they've done or didn't do for the country. I think the Reagan Library is what set me off on my lifetime goal of visiting every presidential library in the nation. A few years after that first visit, we went to the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, and I marveled at the stark differences between the Nixon Library and the Reagan Library, namely that the Reagan Library had a lot more wealthy donors and was therefore able to create an essentially theatrical experience of Reagan's presidency, whereas because of the shadow that Nixon left under, his library did not have as many wealthy donors, although they were undoubtedly devoted to him, and so there seemed like a more honest assessment of his presidency, or at least one in progress, being that the Watergate exhibit was being torn down to make way for a more straightfoward, non-biased one, which the previous one had been, mounted by Nixon loyalists. There, I liked the exhibit on Pat Nixon, the gifts sent to the Nixons that were in glass cases, the replica of his desk in his New Jersey office, stacked with books (I once e-mailed someone high up in the Nixon Library, asking for a list of the titles that were on Nixon's desk, but I never got an answer back. I was genuinely curious, always interested in what a president reads). I liked the films they showed about Nixon's life, and the low-key feeling of the entire library, that you could explore whatever you wanted, go back to it twice or three times, and you'd have all the time you needed without being prodded by theatrics. There was also the house Nixon was born in, right on the property, as well as the helicopter that Nixon flew off in from the White House lawn during his final morning as president on that day, also the one used for the same scene in Frost/Nixon.

Set Fire to the Rain is the newest addition to my list of reminder songs, and one that seemed fairly obvious from the start. If you walked through our massive mobile home in Las Vegas on an idle Saturday afternoon (so massive that the air conditioning bill was $300 a month and I hesitate to think about what heating costs were during the winter), there was always a radio on in the second living room that we never used extensively, near my parents' bedroom door, and Sunny 106.5 was always the station, which had, and still has, the habit of playing the same songs over and over throughout the day. When Skyfall the latest James Bond movie, was preparing to come out that November, they played Adele's song constantly when it was released, at least 20 times that day.

Now when I hear Set Fire to the Rain, I think about all of Valley Vista All-Age Mobile Home Park. I think about walking our two dogs at night, past that one streetlight that always winked off, the bulb going but no one replacing it until it was nearly time for us to move out and move on. I remember the bushes I always liked, the tall ones that for some reason reminded me of Boulder City and the Boulder City Library, which I always thought about whenever I saw them. I remember the tiny carport we had, when Dad had to stop the PT Cruiser (and then the Toyota Corolla) just before the stairs leading up to the laundry room, which was our entrance, because the car was right there and it wasn't worth walking around to the front door stairway. We'd walk up to the back door, walk through the laundry room, and there was the media room (where we kept the big-screen TV I owned, the DVD player, the VCR, the collection of DVDs, and not much else, not even a chair or a couch. It was easier to sit on the floor), my room, Meridith's room, and to the left was the kitchen, so it was always easy to bring in groceries. Plus, we always stored water bottles on the floor of the laundry room, another reason why it was easier entering that way.

Hearing that song, I also think about the few times Meridith and I walked around the entire park, and those days when it was cool enough outside that many mobile home front doors were open, and we passed one mobile home just past the clubhouse, and from inside were these incredible cooking smells, not just of dinner being made, but a history there. It smelled like someone was reaching from deep inside their heart and soul and bringing forth what they remembered fondly, what they wanted to recreate in their kitchen. I was so tempted to tell Mom and Dad that we wouldn't be home for dinner, to try to convince those inside that mobile home to invite us over for dinner. I wanted to taste what they clearly loved so much. There wasn't sauce out of a jar or defrosted meat coming from that kitchen. It all smelled fresh. It smelled like a brown sauce with something else, because a red sauce is noticeable right off, but a brown sauce takes time to understand.

I also think about that one mobile home in the back row, which made up the spine of the park, with all the Western decorations, including defunct kerosene lanterns, vases with steer skulls carved into them, statues of howling coyotes, and those beautiful statues of Indian women with baskets, kneeling at the river. I would have been curious to see how they decorated their home on the inside, but I saw from afar once that the couple who lived there were smokers, and I would have stayed on the outside just to ask. Last we went there, when the entrance gate was open because of a party in the clubhouse, all the Western decorations were gone. Things always change quickly after you leave.

And of course I think about the neighbors, the ones next door who were always loudly repairing air conditioning units (not ones connected to our park), and cars and whatever else their skilled hands could repair, as well as the family of neighbors diagonal from us who were always good for screaming at each other outside, but most of the time inside loudly enough that you could hear it. And also the guy I talked to occasionally who worked, and probably still does, as a custodian at the Thomas & Mack Center. When we were there this most recent time, I was tempted to get out of the car and knock on the door to see if he was available for a few minutes, but I surmised that he was likely sleeping, having to go in later that night. I wanted to see how he was doing, what was going on since he left, but maybe it's better that the past as it was remains that way.

I'm sure I'll have more to write about individual aspects of that mobile home park, and in fact, I should write more here anyway. It's been too long, and I always seem to let this blog go on too long without anything new. But this is a good start, the first inspiration I've had in a long time for this blog. With the latest book review for BookBrowse still to edit, and two books to read and review soon, perhaps it'll light a fire in writing more here. I hope so.