Monday, August 25, 2014

Another Bowling League? No, Thank You.

Last year, soon after the school year began, Dad, Meridith and I joined a school district bowling league at Sam's Town in Las Vegas, the core of the league made up of retired school district employees, including those who ran, and still run, the league. In fact, one of its members has been at the center of power of the league for 20 years, giving me hope that people, outside of devoted natives, do live here longer than a couple of years.

The before-the-holidays feast we had included the best lasagna I've ever had, and therefore it was worth it for that. But it went on too long. It stretched from the beginning of the school year to near the end, in late May, which I learned from other league bowlers is way too long for a typical league. There were many weeks when it felt like it, when sitting there, waiting for my turn to bowl felt like waiting at a bus stop for the bus to finally show up.

So burned out was I by the length of that league that I refused to join the next one that Dad and Meridith decided to join, this time at Wildfire Lanes here in Henderson, the only bowling alley close enough to our home, connected to Wildfire Casino, with Wildfire Grill nestled within. It was enough for me to show up with Mom at the beginning of this particular league to watch them bowl, and for two more times after, and then that was enough. We went again recently when Mom learned that Meridith's teammate was not going to be there (that teammate spent more time gabbing with other players she obviously knew than being a teammate), but that's been it.

Tomorrow is the last day of this league. After this, Dad and Meridith plan to bowl again, this time with one of them bowling with the security guard at Wildfire, who bowled with Dad as a substitute a few Tuesdays back, who we like a lot. He's an easygoing guy, friendly all around, always up for anything. For a moment, I actually considered joining this new league if it meant bowling with him, but I don't want to. I'm now far enough removed from that school district bowling league that it doesn't affect me like it did immediately after to turn me off from joining that next league. But I don't feel desire enough to be part of another league. Pulling on bowling shoes again, watching the hook of my ball, even though it's an unsanctioned league and therefore played purely for fun, it doesn't appeal to me like it did before. In fact, the last time I was in a league before that school district bowling league was when I was 9 years old, bowling every Saturday morning at Don Carter Lanes in Tamarac, Florida, after Mom and Dad had bowled there in their league the Friday night before.

I'm not as passionate about bowling as Meridith is, as interested as Dad is. Meridith wants to improve her game, and has been to a regional PBA pro at the lanes at Sunset Station, also in Henderson, twice on separate Sunday mornings, and it's helped. But I don't have that drive. Given the choice between bowling and reading, I'd rather read.

Now, if there was such a thing as a Galaga league or a tournament, I'm there. I love playing Galaga, and I especially love playing it at the arcade in the food court at the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas in Primm. But no arcade of any kind in this valley can sustain that, not even the Pinball Hall of Fame on Tropicana, because there's only one Galaga machine there. If there was, I'd be there, every week, trying mightily to boost my score and my ability to make it past Stage 52 on fewer quarters.

This comes to mind because I'm not sure yet if Mom and I are going to be at the final session of their league tomorrow. All I know tomorrow, while waiting on word of various jobs at different schools nearby and a little further, is that I'm going to the Green Valley Library in the morning to volunteer as I usually do. If we go, we go. I've been through the last session of a bowling league, and once was enough, but maybe it's better at Wildfire. Nevertheless, if the security guard at Wildfire joins Dad on his team, I'll go more often. I always have books with me, and there's a digital jukebox with all my favorites on it, from Sting to Annie Lennox to Phil Collins to Sade to Elton John. I like watching more than bowling now. Bowling means focusing on one frame at a time, in that very moment, and then waiting for your turn, not always being able to notice everything around you. Watching, I can notice everything around me, and wander sometimes to the arcade in the back to see the Dance Dance Revolution machine back there, the one that's serving as inspiration for a novel I want to write, though not set in either Henderson or Las Vegas. I've got plenty of other potential works set in one or the other.

Being at Wildfire is a nice change from Sam's Town because at Sam's Town, you have to take the escalator into what is essentially the basement of the casino, where the entire bowling alley is, whereas at Wildfire, you just walk into it from the casino or from the back of the property from that parking lot. There's three different entrances. Plus, with far fewer lanes at Wildfire than at Sam's Town, yeah it puts more financial pressure on the company to bring in a lot of people, but it genuinely feels like a neighborhood bowling alley. These are the people you might also see at the Smith's supermarket across the street from Wildfire, in that opposite shopping center, or at the Smith's on North Green Valley Parkway. The people here actually live here. It helps, not least because there's no trek to Sam's Town from our home, and it saves a lot of time.

So maybe tomorrow. Or maybe next time. Either way, I like experiencing bowling this way now. And if I ever feel like bowling, or if Meridith asks on days outside the league, I can. I don't need to do it every week.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Syndication, Without the Hype

It's that time of year again!

If you watch this new series, you're never going to think of TV the same way again! If you watch that new series, your bald spot will fill in and your libido will return and beg your forgiveness for leaving like it did.

Watch that channel's new lineup on Tuesday nights, and you'll never be bored with your life ever again! EVER! Weren't you listening? They said "Ever!"

Over and over, the same demands for your time and attention, the same kind of clips expressing the deeply-plumbed drama of each new series, the same attractive people you'd never find in your local supermarket, the same promise that the new series that might have snagged your interest will be premiering on this date and time, and continue in that time slot, at least until the ratings of the second episode don't meet the network's insanely high expectations. Bye bye attractive people! Bye bye attempted intense drama that just felt cloying instead of intriguing!

What to do? What to watch? What else to do with your time?

I've been collared by that hype, too. Madam Secretary on CBS automatically got me because of my love of presidential history, real and fictional. I like the outcast aspect of Scorpion, also on CBS, with those geniuses of various stripes that are expected to save Los Angeles International Airport from total disaster, and if you've seen the over 2-minute trailer, they do. But I hope they'll be more than that.

No, ABC, I'm not interested in How to Get Away with Murder. I'm curious about your sitcom Cristela because I like how Cristela Alonzo eschews a handheld microphone in her stand-up act, bringing her closer to the audience, which might be what she intended. Yes, that's enough for me to consider watching a new series. It doesn't take much.

Still, I'm weary from all the commercials. Yes, it's that time of year, and I know it's to be expected, and yes, it's definitely better than campaign ads. So much better. Subtlety is a foreign word to network television, but do they not want me to watch their shows? At times, it gets to the point where I'm hoping for an extra erectile dysfunction commercial in place of another commercial for Katherine Heigl's new series on NBC, whatever it's called.

Lest you think I've been watching too much TV lately, you should know that the main TV in my household is in the living room, which is also where the VCR (for a few select movies I have that still haven't been released on DVD) and DVD player are. It's where I watch reruns of The Big Bang Theory on CBS, hence the commercials for Madam Secretary and Scorpion, and where Mom, Dad, and Meridith watch the latest episodes of America's Got Talent, hence the commercials for Heigl's new thing. Even if you fast-forward, as I do since I Tivo those reruns, you still can't avoid them. Viola Davis is still there on ABC, introducing her course of "How to Get Away with Murder." Come to think of it, why is ABC on? Oh yeah, the news. It's not me. My dad prefers the local ABC station for the news.

I know this happens every year, and it's the same with the movie industry with awards season coming up. I lived through that when I wrote movie reviews, as a member of the Online Film Critics Society, receiving advance DVD screeners in order to vote in our awards. I was so taken by that in my early years as a member, and totally gave up at the end. It wasn't fun anymore, because it was the same cycle. Only the movies changed, but then, come awards season, they really didn't change that much. So I've always been aware of hype, even though I'm not deep in it anymore.

Syndicated TV shows engage in my favorite kind of hype: Not much. The shows that are purchased for syndication were popular or somewhat popular enough to merit syndication and so the only effort that the stations airing these syndicated shows need to make is to let viewers know that these shows are coming. The commercials aren't as frequent. Viewers may know about those shows already, and if they're huge fans and don't have them on DVD, or they do and are just too lazy to pull out the DVDs (as I am most of the time with The Big Bang Theory, despite owning six seasons), then advertising is moot. Even new viewers might already know about the shows, but either haven't had time to watch them or didn't think of them until now. Melissa McCarthy & Billy Gardell introducing the upcoming arrival of Mike & Molly on FX is useful, but doesn't need commercial after commercial because people already know about it.

My favorite piece of syndication advertising happened in 2004 or 2005, when my family and I lived in the Santa Clarita Valley, in Saugus after a year in Valencia, and I attended classes at College of the Canyons. Early on, I took the #4 bus from College of the Canyons to the transfer station on McBean Parkway in Valencia. For some reason early on, though I haven't been able to pinpoint it, I always walked from the transfer station to a bus stop across from the entrance to the transfer station, in front of the back section of the parking garage for the Valencia Town Center mall. Either it was because I naively didn't think that the #7 bus (which goes from Six Flags Magic Mountain to Seco Canyon Road & Bouquet Canyon Road in Saugus, my streets) stopped at the transfer station, or I wanted to get away from the occasional noise of the transfer station and have a spot to myself. I can't be sure which one it was. Perhaps it was both on a given day.

To my right at that bus stop was a poster behind glass, lit from behind when the sun had set just enough. It was for The X-Files on KCAL 9, Friday nights at 8 or 9 p.m. It was the logo, and Mulder and Scully, and that was it.

I was impressed that KCAL 9 remembered that people live in the Santa Clarita Valley, enough to advertise The X-Files. Despite being located 30 minutes north of Los Angeles, it's so isolated by mountains and freeways that if ever there was an earthquake even more violent than Northridge in 1994, it would be cut off from everything. No access to anywhere or from anywhere. It's also isolated by crowding in on you during the week, reminding you of not much happening there. You work, you shop, you go home, that's it. That's a healthy majority of life anyway, but it's not a city with much else to offer, unless you're part of the community that likes this kind of living, and that community is there. Not my kind of living. No matter what I did there, from those COC classes, to working at The Signal, the exclusive newspaper of the Santa Clarita Valley, to seeing 4th of July fireworks from the parking lot of Pavilions supermarket, it still felt isolated.

Yet, on late Friday afternoons and evenings, a crack always opened up in the valley, encouraging you to go nuts if you wanted, explore whatever you wanted, walk the paseos from Valencia at sunset, bike to Stevenson Ranch, do whatever you wanted that made you feel more alive than you usually do during the week. It wasn't only because the week was over, not only that relief sometimes. It felt like a freer valley, perhaps because others had gone to Los Angeles for the evening or Anaheim or Burbank, or wherever else they went, to get out of the valley. Therefore, the valley was mine in a way. I'll write about it in more detail some other time, but that's why I loved late Friday afternoons at 3:50, after my cinema class at COC, because the campus was mine. Very few people were there around that time, and if I could have had its library like that for the entire weekend, I would have ran right for it. I loved the quiet of the campus then. I could do anything.

KCAL 9 might have figured that Friday nights were when geeks would be home, and they would probably watch. To me, it was one of many options, even going so far as to explore the entire universe in an evening if so inclined. The valley just felt that possible, even, surprisingly, that exciting. But only that late afternoon and evening. Saturday was always back to normal.

I loved that poster, that advertising because it became part of Friday, for the months that it was there. Even when I'd see it on a Tuesday, I knew it would fit right in again at the end of the week. That was all the advertising The X-Files needed in Santa Clarita. No hype. Just part of the fabric of the valley. Syndication is nice like that.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Where Am I? Am I Here?

When my family and I went to the Whitney Library on East Tropicana Avenue every Sunday in Las Vegas, when we lived near there nearly two years ago, I always stopped in at the art gallery just off the entrance, which was also where the library's restrooms were. The library was in a somewhat dicey location (though dicey enough for the cops to visit often enough that I always jokingly thought they were avid readers come to pick up another stack of books), and to me, as dingy as the library felt over the year that we visited, as much as it seemed more an escape from the area rather than an adventure into it, the art gallery saved it. There were paintings, and there were 3D graphics on display, and there were photos from various contests.

The latest contest, before we moved to Henderson, I think involved young photographers. There was this one photo, amidst a train and the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, that I've never forgotten, so much so that I took a photo of it on my cell phone and transferred it to my flash drive. I wrote down the photographer's name and tried to find him online, but no luck. No information. That name is now lost to whatever landfill took in that sheet of paper after I threw it away. I wish I had it now, because that photo embodies the life I like to have. It would seem to be part of a river, but being that a river is generally wider, it looks more like a stream, with slanted banks of grass on both sides (less so on the right, with more bushes without anywhere to sit), and thin-trunk trees on both sides of the stream, leaning into the sky, creating an effect that looks like an A at the far end of it, without the bar that makes it an A.

I thought about this photo on Tuesday while I was talking with the security guard at the Green Valley Library, where I still volunteer twice a week, also on Fridays. I expressed to him my amazement that here we are in the desert, there further down is the Strip with all its casinos and all the reasons that people come to visit, there are all the plants to see all around us, and yet, we think of other places, other things. We don't really study this valley, really get into it, or at least I haven't to a great extent yet.

We talked about his desire to visit his native Philippines again, to go fishing there, to buy an RV and travel around the country, to visit Oregon and the massive redwoods there. Here we were, standing in the lobby of the Green Valley Library, a few people passing by at a time, probably from different states as well, and yet in conversation, we were in the Philippines, where he told me how big the fish are in the rivers, in Oregon, where I could imagine those redwoods, in that RV, me telling him about the cross-country trip we took in five days when we moved from South Florida to Southern California in 2003, and my regret that even though we drove through Louisiana, we couldn't stop in New Orleans because we had two dogs and two birds in the car, and Dad had to get to the Santa Clarita Valley to begin his teaching job at La Mesa Junior High. This was two years before Hurricane Katrina.

I also told him how I wanted to travel throughout New Mexico because of The Secret of Everything by Barbara O'Neal, how evocative she makes it in that novel that makes me want to see it for myself. And yet, we also drove through New Mexico, briefly, during that cross-country trip, and I knew nothing about it then. I don't think I remember anything from that stretch.

To think of other states, other places, instead of right where you are, instead of looking up at that big night sky and connecting it a few miles down to the Strip, it must be all that desert, all that space. The ghosts of the past, the good and the bad, can have immediate room and board there, and while wandering one's own piece of landscape, be it an apartment complex or a sidewalk on the Strip in between a barrage of delights, they come. They remind. They ask you where you are, where you have been, why you are here, out of all the other places you could live in.

Or maybe it's the license plates. Montana, North Carolina, New York, New Mexico, Florida, Arkansas. Southern Nevada, particularly Las Vegas, seems to be the one spot in the nation where you can see all those states on license plates, as well as those who moved here from elsewhere, and then leave again. The transience is staggering. But man, it fits what I've always called this region: America's Waiting Room. Most people here don't necessarily wait, because you can't. You have to do something right away. But they do take time. They move here from whatever didn't suit them, and they spend the first year figuring out if this area is for them, be it in Las Vegas or Henderson. There's the disturbingly barren Pahrump, and Laughlin too, but it takes a special kind of hardened soul to live in either of those places. Clark County is where a great many of the resources are, so the majority live here. Laughlin is considered part of Clark County, but not in the way that we know Clark County. If you want to shop for groceries or do any other kind of shopping there, you have to drive over the border into Bullhead City, Arizona. The traffic over that bridge is terrific.

We did the same thing. We figured out if Las Vegas fit us, and with the high renters' insurance and car insurance, and the dangerous neighborhood we lived in (though it could hardly be considered a neighborhood in the traditional sense because of how everyone shrinks away into their own world there for their own safety), it didn't. We needed to be somewhere else. And now, for nearly a year, we're here in Henderson.

It's not that Henderson lacks interesting sights. Downtown Henderson, also known as Water Street, is one of my dearly favorite places in all of Nevada. Not only is City Hall there, and the surrounding benches and subtle trees that make it so peaceful, but the Henderson Convention Center is the smallest convention center I've ever seen, and perfect for Henderson, because unlike its neighbor down the street, it doesn't strive to be as big and loud. It's a break from Las Vegas, certainly, but less so than when Ventura, Anaheim, Burbank, even Palmdale were breaks from the empty monotony of the Santa Clarita Valley. It's more like recharging for the next experience.

I think it's an overall combination of the above. I do like it here, and I especially love nighttime when I'm walking the dogs, how the stars sparkle even more down here in our part of this apartment complex, where there's some light, but not as much in other sections. I've never seen a sky this big in Florida and California. I don't think of myself as a mere speck in the universe when I look up, but rather where I can go in this sky that gives weighty pause. Not only under it, but through it, at least in my imagination. What can I explore? What can I write about? What can I write about that would be inspired by this sky? There's so much that's possible, and even with the summer's rentless heat (being landlocked, it's much hotter), I don't mind it because of those moments at night when I look up and just float. I've looked up at those enormously, shapely clouds at night whenever they drop by, and I want to write exactly like those clouds are. I will some day.

I can't help thinking about other cities, other towns, other landscapes because this is what Southern Nevada has become, what it might always have been. People come from all over the country, as tourists and as residents, and they're always welcome. Some of them leave too quickly for my liking, but that's the nature of this region. People figure out where they want to be, if it's here, and if so, they stay here, or they go elsewhere. But in a way, I think Southern Nevada provides a rest for them, like a waiting room does. We won't be entirely disappointed if they leave, maybe just a little bit or more if we know them well enough in the time that they're here, but we want them to know what they truly want, what would make them truly happy. It's a hard valley, not only in weather, but in making our lives work here, but that's what life is. It embodies life in that way, but it also gives us options to turn away from the hardships for a while, to indulge in our individual pleasures, and they certainly can be found here, or they can arrive by mail. Our bases here may be solid when we arrive, or shaky, but we work at them to whatever we desire and hope that it works. Sometimes it works, and so we stay, or it's so unworkable that we have to go somewhere else that works for us. It's not the kind of region you can go to and feel at home right away, unlike other historically-laden areas or neighborhoods that have been around for decades. You have to work at it, and yourself, from the start. I remember a tenant further down, where I walk the dogs, who seemed to be the only one who lived in an apartment that's near the end of our parking lot, facing Green Valley Parkway, which is still further down (we're set far enough back from the traffic that we can't hear it, and it's wonderful). I saw him a few times, always when he was walking into his apartment in the evening. Now, he's gone. Last night, I saw that the lights in the apartment were on, a ladder in the middle of the living room, the maintenance guys having left everything as is. Maybe one or two of them were coming back later in the night to do more work, but more likely, they just left it for the next day.

That guy's gone. He's wherever he wanted to be next, wherever he felt life would be better. I wonder where he's living now, if he thinks about what he left behind here, if he thinks about that apartment being empty, if he figures that that apartment is still empty, or even if he cares about it at all anymore. Probably not, because he didn't like whatever was here for him, whatever he was while he was here, and he moved on.

Things change more quickly here than anywhere else I've lived. That's not just the Strip talking, but all the people moving in and out. Possibly there are less vacancies in our apartment complex than there have been in the last two months (the upstairs apartment on the right, in the building directly across from our front door, has new occupants), but consider that one side of our apartment building, the side containing my window and my sister's window, was painted a milk chocolate shade of brown to see what color the owners of the complex might want to paint the entire property next. I think it should be left the off-white it always has been. Sure parts of it look aged with the dirt that's there, from wind and occasional rain, and sprinklers at ground level, but the way it is now shows that this property lasts. It's not trying to cover up something unsavory. It has been here, and no matter how many people move in and out, it will still be here, still decently maintained. It tries in the midst of constant upheaval.

Ultimately, I think that's why, even though there's much to see here, and much to do, I think about the photo of that stream with those trees over it, wanting to be on the bank of it, just sitting there, looking at and listening to that burbling water, and developing an interest in rivers that I'll pursue with books that I can find on the subject. It's not that I don't want to be here. I am here and I like it here.

It's not that I read about New Mexico and Florida and am working on a few writing projects set in the parts of California I lived in and visited (I also have a few writing projects set in Vegas and here) because I want to be in those places instead of here. I like it here, and besides, I'm not widely-traveled, not least because I don't have that kind of money, and I'm not sure I'd spend it on that first and foremost if I did.

It's because with all the relative instability I see around me, with people moving in and out, with different license plates seen all the time, with the face of the apartment probably changing (it's the first time that something's changed while I've lived somewhere. Usually it happens after we leave), I need stability from elsewhere. I take some of it from downtown Henderson, and from the elegant, quietly ritzy sections of the hotel lobby at Green Valley Ranch, and sections near the rooms, but I also take it from what I've known before, what I still want to know, what I want to explore more. I only think of other places to shield myself more against the transience, to not be as surprised and somewhat disheartened by it. It helps, and even so, the variety of people here also helps, especially those I help when I volunteer at the Green Valley Library. Where else can I help a new medical career arrival from Kentucky, a retired Air Force officer, a Paris enthusiast, and a seasoned traveler who wanted the huge books of maps, likely to plan out the next leg of his trip, Henderson being a stop along the way? There's that too which ironically produces stability, interesting people you come across who you want to know more about, and probably won't, which is where imagination comes in. It's where writing comes in. I'm here, and yet I'm everywhere.