Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Important Edibles

About two weeks ago, we went to the Cheesecake Factory at The Oaks Mall in Thousand Oaks to pick up slices for each of us for what we thought would be a visit to the beach here in Ventura and having our cheesecake there. But the Thomas Fire and the subsequent smoke blanketing our region made that impossible. So we had our slices at home a day or two later.

At the Cheesecake Factory case, I spotted one called Chris' Outrageous Cheesecake and decided to try that without knowing anything that was in it. When my mom, my sister and I were at the Cheesecake Factory a few weeks before that for dinner, I tried the Adam's Peanut Butter Fudge Ripple Cheesecake, and that was more palatable than the monstrosity I subjected myself to: Chocolate cake, brownie, coconut-pecan frosting, and chocolate chip coconut cheesecake, to crib from the order that the layering is listed on the website. It made me wonder: Why does Chris hate people? What happened to shake that life so badly early on?

Now, I've done bad to myself over the years. In my mid-20s, I devoured tubs of Extreme Moose Tracks ice cream from Ralphs in the middle of the night, while not going to bed until 5 a.m. Yeah, I was an idiot, both to myself and to my health. In that same time period (it may have been because Santa Clarita tended to feel isolating, and what are you supposed to connect with there besides going out of the valley in order to do anything interesting?), I also inhaled so many Dr. Peppers over a span of months, that I had a worrisome caffeine problem. Mainly too much of it. Try sleeping under that condition. No chance. I finally pulled myself out of it after realizing how truly awful all this was.

But none of that was as bad as that slice of Chris's Outrageous Cheesecake. I sat at the dining room table, forking my way through it, appalled at how this one slice of cheesecake completely disrespected the sanctity of cheesecake, and decided right then and there that I need to taste again simply to enjoy it, not to just taste to shovel whatever into my mouth and go back for more and more, unthinking. In other, thinner words, I needed to get back on a diet and fast. Forget all the milk chocolate squares I had indulged in in weeks' and months' past. The worry of job hunting will do that to you. Never mind the one bag of pork rinds my mom, my sister and I shared in one shot back in early November (my love of all things pig knows no bounds, though). Forget the different root beers I had tried, and the egg nogs I had tasted in order to find the best one here (that was necessary, though, because having left Las Vegas, I no longer had the egg nog from Anderson Dairy, which, to me, was the best one there, and that's a local brand). I needed to partition my eating life once and for all. Keep it to more fruits and vegetables for my daily eating, and save the really important things for every now and then, but also know what those really important things are. Keep a list so there's never any doubt.

That list, diet-motivated or not, has varied from place to place, everywhere I've lived. In my teens, living in South Florida, I loved the chicken nachos at Miller's Ale House in Pembroke Pines. Huge portion, and I cleared off the entire platter. Extra cheese and no jalapenos always helped. Come to think of it, I also loved them in Las Vegas because there was a Miller's Ale House at Town Square. It's the one restaurant I've been to where my order has never wavered, from then to now. But those days are done. There's no Miller's Ale House in Southern California. As to boba tea places, such as No. 1 Boba Tea in Las Vegas, I ordered a peanut butter and banana smoothie from the first time we went there, to the last time five years later, no matter if we went to the one in Chinatown in Las Vegas, the newer Galleria at Sunset location in Henderson on Mall Ring Circle, or the one on Eastern, in the massive Target shopping center, which was our go-to-location.

But that's gone, too. I don't lament it because here I am, with so many new experiences, and still more to try. In Oxnard, which is one of the unhappiest cities I've ever been to, I was relieved to find that they have a Vallarta supermarket, so we don't have to schlep to Santa Clarita for one. They have two in Oxnard, and Mom and Dad had gone to the dingier one when they were visiting here, but we were lucky to bump into the much cleaner one last month when Dad was looking for a Fallas bargain clothing store. There, I discovered something that, when I have it, is better than books. Seriously. It's chicharrones which, in this case, are mainly pork fat. I'll have to get the name of this type right next time, but when I had it, I knew that this was paradise. That slice of Chris' Outrageous Cheesecake is what put me back on a diet, but those chicharrones are what keeps me on a diet because I want to be ready for the next time we go to Vallarta.

With this in mind, I've come up with a list of those foods important to me. Not the daily essentials, like bananas. I already know those. But those which I most likely would go to great lengths for if I had to, but fortunately, I don't have to for most of these. Some may require adjustments, as will be noted. But all this is who I am in foodstuffs:

Tillamook medium cheddar cheese.

Kroger blended vanilla yogurt (especially in the large tub from Ralphs. I have given up other yogurts for this one).

Grilled pork sausage spring rolls from Pholicious in the food court of the Pacific View Mall here in Ventura.

Vietnamese iced coffee from Pholicious in the food court of the Pacific View Mall here in Ventura (Vietnamese iced coffee became my lifeblood after my sister introduced me to it at 99 Ranch Market on Maryland Parkway in Las Vegas at VeggiEAT Express in their little food court. The iced coffee at Pholicious isn't as good, but it's good enough. At The Oaks Mall in Thousand Oaks, they're opening a Vietnamese place in the food court and I must try the iced coffee there. I hope for it to be like the iced coffee at VeggiEAT Express, but considering my limited options in this part of Southern California, I'm not going to get too choosy).

The ham-and-cheese croissant at Master's Donuts that is not only generously filled, but is also the longest croissant out of all the donut shops I've been to thus far in Ventura.

The carnitas quesadilla at Vallarta (the best quesadilla in the Ventura County area. The runner-up is the cheese quesadilla at La Salsa Fresh Mexican Grill in the food court at The Oaks Mall. My local quesadilla at La Mancha Mexican & Seafood in the food court at the Pacific View Mall is way too heavy, although the basic quesadilla at Snapper Jack's Taco Shack in downtown Ventura is acceptable).

Peerless Coffee & Tea's black tea, from Oakland (I tried this tea at Ojai Pizza Company in downtown Ojai, and it was the first tea that made me want to search for teas that taste like they should be in libraries. This one tasted like a wood-paneled, gently-lived in reading room, like the Ojai Library is to me. However, the Thomas Fire caused the Ojai water supply to shut down entirely at one point, and Mom doesn't trust the water supply to get back to what it was before the fires, so advised me not to go for the tea next time when we're there. The next time we go, it'll have been a while since the fire passed through a section of Ojai, so they might have already settled the water issue, or at least set about making sure it doesn't go off again like that. Even so, after we go to WinCo next where Meridith told me that there's a tea strainer there that would be useful for me, I'm going to order the black tea sampler they have to find out if the other teas are just as good, and to pinpoint the one I loved at Ojai Pizza Company. Or I may just stroll on in next time and ask them the exact name of that particular tea. Based on what the Peerless website offers, I think it's the Peerless Royal Blend, which boasts a "smooth, fragrant aroma and flavor." And yet there's also the Assam, "a strong, dark flavor with a heavy body." Yet this was for iced tea, so it might well be their Organic Tropic Star Classic Black for iced tea. Either way, I know I've found my tea company).

Lean Cuisine's Roasted Garlic White Bean Alfredo (This, with Great Northern beans, is what got me deep into beans. They'd always been on the periphery of my life, because of my mother's love of baked beans, and especially black beans and rice, so I guess the interest was just lying dormant. I love this because of the beans and have set out to see what other beans I might like. I'm not big on baked beans like Mom is, but give me beans as part of other dishes or flavored well enough on their own (even refried beans as it turns out), and I can be occupied for quite a while on this subject alone).

A large order of angel hair pasta with pesto (basil, garlic, olive oil, cheese and nuts) and fresh basil from Presto Pasta in the Vons shopping center right down the street from our apartment (I'm actually starting to get tired of this combination, despite my love of basil, so I may try the pomodoro sauce again, or venture into marinara. I don't know yet).

Producers Dairy Premium Egg Nog from Fresno (I can only find this at our sole Ventura Walmart, but it is the best one because not only is it thick enough like egg nog should be, but the nutmeg appears just enough to show that it's nutmeg, but not enough to start to taste like it was made in a homey arts and crafts store. Trader Joe's egg nog is too thin and tasteless, and Kroger's egg nog remains too expensive here, at $3.50 for a quart, but that one was just so-so).

Hershey's Symphony bar (the creamy milk chocolate kind, not the Hershey's standard that comes in Kisses and such. This is what makes me not have as much of Reese's anything as I have in the past, so I can have this every once in a while instead).

Veggie omelette from Busy Bee Cafe in downtown Ventura (The newest addition to my list. The first time Meridith and I went to the Busy Bee Cafe, it was so-so. Meridith's fried chicken was mostly dry, and the stuffed French toast I had of peanut butter, banana, and strawberries didn't taste all that worth coming back again. But this second time, along with Mom and Dad this time for their first time, this was the right time. Better cooks in the kitchen, for one, and I tried a veggie omelette that had carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, and red and green peppers. It wasn't your typical omelet because they used pieces of all the vegetables, so you got basically a golden-brown sheen of eggs all over the vegetables, which was fine with me. Broccoli and cauliflower done like this is pretty much the only way I can eat them, and I loved how well-browned the cauliflower was, along with the sourdough toast and their home fries, with smaller cubed potatoes than I normally see in other home fries. I know I'll be getting this every time we go. It felt simple and unassuming, and I liked that, too).

It's not as urgent to me as all these, but I'm also looking for a decent chocolate malt (one in which I can taste the malt, too, rather than it being drowned out by overly sweet chocolate ice cream) and a patty melt. Busy Bee Cafe has a patty melt, but after that veggie omelette, it's going to be hard for me to consider anything else (witness the peanut butter and banana smoothie from No. 1 Boba Tea for five years, and the chicken nachos from Miller's Ale House for practically all of my life, though the gap begins now. But come to think of it, there was that gap for nine years in Santa Clarita, too).

I would also like to find great grits that don't come from the Quaker Oats packets I use all the time, besides the crock of it that I liked at Bonnie Lu's Country Cafe in downtown Ojai. However, I suspect that that'll be the ultimate for me. They're not easily found here like that. By the way, the quesadilla at Bonnie Lu's places third on my list, with the exception of their pico de gallo, which is the best I've had anywhere! There are idle nights when I get lost in the reverie of the memory of that pico de gallo! To have tomatoes and onions and cilantro as fresh as what's in there, besides whoever makes it having the power of God to make it like that, I think they must have the Shangri-La of gardens hidden somewhere in Ojai.

So, with the exception of that Lean Cuisine alfredo, all this is why I'm sticking a diet for good. I don't know when we'll go back to the Red Brick Pizza right near our apartment complex, but that California Club salad I had there could surely help me stick to my diet. Despite what it sounds like, the calorie count isn't so bad on that one. They've got salad artists over there who know how to layer salads so that you're not left with a heap of romaine lettuce as you get further into the bowl. I can't wait to have that again.

I don't think I'll be adding to this list as quickly as I would have when I lived in Santa Clarita and Las Vegas (with L.A. being closer to Santa Clarita, as well as Anaheim, Burbank, and Buena Park, and Las Vegas being, well, Las Vegas, with doing things like coming up with a list like this as a distraction against the hard living there), but I know that I can look at this list for here, and be sure that I'll be getting something good every time.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Southern California, Part II

Now I know that I can split my years in Southern California into two parts. It wasn't enough to find out on Bing that to get from where I live in Ventura to Downtown Disney in Anaheim is close to and a little above two hours, depending on the route. I needed to see it on a map, even a partial map, as the case was with postcards I bought as bookmarks at a cozy gift shop at Ventura Harbor Village yesterday, one of them a map of Southern California.

There's Anaheim, with Buena Park just slightly north of it. Let eyes wander past Carson, Montebello, through Los Angeles, up to Simi Valley, and diagonally to the top left where Santa Paula is, and Ventura doesn't show up. But we're up there. Going from that Highway 150 marker at the top left, back down to Anaheim? Yeah, that's a distance. So the Southern California I knew from 2003-2012, from when I was 19 up until I was 28, is practically no more for me. It's true, anyway, because the Po Folks restaurant my family and I loved so much in Buena Park closed years ago, a staple for us when we lived in Florida, where I grew up. I can't pine for what's no longer there. I can imagine that it might be interesting to visit Pasadena again at the time of the Rose Parade floats being on display the day after the parade, but would it really be worth that drive? Certainly, with how long it would take to get there, the expectations would be even higher than they ever were before. Sure, the distance is less at only an hour and 13 minutes to an hour and 26 minutes, but on one January 2nd, when we were living in Santa Clarita, we left at 5 in the morning to get there by 7 so we could get in early to see the Rose Parade floats before the crowds built up. I don't think we'd try to do the same thing from here in Ventura, because from Santa Clarita, it was closer.

I don't mind perhaps not seeing that again, nor not going to Universal CityWalk either, or even visiting the Getty Center as often as I might like. In fact, we didn't do it that often when we lived in Santa Clarita, but it was a revelation every time, of the heart, mind and soul. Even so, we are here in Ventura, I'm now 33, and things change. Life changes.

To that end, this is indeed Southern California, Part II, smaller and more focused on what I want and need in my life, what's important to me, rather than the ephemera that was Universal CityWalk and other attractions. I'm still young enough, certainly, but I'm getting older. What do I want to do? Where do I want to be? What matters?

Here, it's having an actual downtown area, which I've never had accessible anywhere we've lived. Downtown Henderson was a drive that took us past the Fiesta Henderson casino, in an area that felt like a no-man's land, and while it was pleasant enough with City Hall there and a few smaller casinos, it wasn't enough to sustain an extensive amount of time. In Florida, at least when I was there, I don't remember there being such a thing as downtown Pembroke Pines, for example. In Ventura, all I have to do is take the 6 bus, and there's the Foster library, there's the movie theater, there's many different places to eat, many of which we still have to try. There's the Bank of Books bookstore, with no air conditioning, which the library also boasts, along with the Calico Cat Bookshop, which is sweatier than Bank of Books. And set further back from the library, up the hill, are two houses I adore, one built in a Queen Anne Style just after 1900 and historically preserved (a construction company called McCarthy is headquartered there), and a two-story house for sale by Berkshire Hathaway with a half-wraparound porch. If I could hit the lottery early enough for a few hundred million, I would buy that house and the old church diagonal from it that was a bed and breakfast before it closed. That would be my piece of Ventura.

In Ventura, it's also having three local libraries now, as opposed to two just a few months ago. It's the E.P. Foster Library downtown, the Ventura College library which is closed now from two days ago until January 7th, and then it opens on January 8 for the start of the spring semester. That disappointed me because I had hoped to check out the 1998 anthology A Southern Christmas for something to read to lead up to Christmas, but with the wildfires and the campus being closed due first to the fires and then to the pervasive smoke, that didn't happen. However, I may check it out when the library reopens, because I don't think I feel like waiting until Christmas starts to come around again.

Now there's also the Hill Road Library, just up the street from where I live on the east side of Ventura, past the Government Center where I took a test to qualify to be considered for a library page position, and where I'll go again early tomorrow morning to take a test in order to qualify for a librarian technician position (essentially the people behind the counter who help with searching for books and setting up library cards for new patrons). The size makes it more of an express library, something small for the community to come in, browse, and go, for the sake of convenience. If they have a little more time, they can certainly stay. It was also the first grand opening of a library we had ever been to, and I already had two books in mind even before we went, that I knew the new branch had: The Cooking Gene by Michael Twitty and Strays: A Lost Cat, A Homeless Man, and Their Journey Across America by Britt Collins. We got into the library before the festivities began, so I made a beeline for where those books were and I got both of them. Brand-new copies. In fact, that's one of the happy things about this new library: Most of the books there are brand-new, and there's still more to come. What I couldn't find readily from other branches is well-stocked here. Plus, I can walk to this branch whenever I want, though not ignoring the Foster library not only because of my love of the downtown area, but also because they have extensive stacks, with nonfiction books dating back decades even, novels, too. I like browsing through history like that. I hope they keep that going.

Let's see what else. There's my grilled pork sausage spring rolls and Vietnamese iced coffee at Pholicious in the food court at the Pacific View Mall, halfway to downtown. The mall is considered Midtown Ventura. There's the generous ham-and-cheese croissant at Master's Donuts at the start of the Walmart shopping center on South Victoria Avenue. I've tried a few other ham-and-cheese croissants at other donut places and this is the only one that really stuffs it well. There's the donut place a few doors down from Discount Grocery Outlet far down on Telephone Road, where they automatically cut the croissant in half for me (not that I want it that way, but I like learning about the different styles of donut places in Ventura), but I prefer Master's Donuts' croissant.

Oh yes, and if you turn off of Main Street downtown onto Thompson, there's the beach right in front of you. I can't forget that part because it's pretty much the main reason I was impatient to move to Ventura when it became possible: I was born and raised in Florida, therefore born to ocean breezes, and I needed ocean breezes back, desperately so after five years in the Mojave Desert. I'm not the sort like my sister and my dad to walk in the sand or get close to the waves. I like just sitting on a bench looking out at the ocean, simply in awe. To have it whenever I want now is still a little unreal to me. I'm still getting used to such pleasure close at hand.

There's still more to come, I'm sure. I haven't yet been to the Regency Buenaventura 6, Ventura's second-run movie theater, in the same shopping center as WinCo. This, despite them still showing Only the Brave, which came from Joseph Kosinski, one of my favorite directors. Job hunting is just slightly more important at the moment.

Reading that back, I feel like I have covered everything here. I've been to every part of Ventura, I've seen all of downtown, though I still want to walk through Mission San Buenaventura at nearly the end of downtown. Yet it doesn't make me wish for Downtown Disney or Universal CityWalk, or even Buena Park, which I liked because of its heavy ghosts of history that hang there. Even knowing as much of Ventura as I do now, there's still the history to learn. That continued yesterday in that gift shop with one of the postcards I bought. When I looked at this aerial photo of Downtown Ventura, I noticed that what's now the Crowne Plaza hotel used to be a Holiday Inn. I'm not sure yet how many years back that goes, but I want to know. That reminds me that there's also the Museum of Ventura County I haven't visited yet, where I'd hope for some room for me to work in their research library. I need to call the director of that library to find out how often a position might open there because they work within the same budget that's also for the Ventura County libraries. I'd like to be steeped in that history.

I've gone all this way and I almost forgot the Salzer's Music and Salzer's Video stores, across the street from each other on Valentine Road. I've bought DVDs from both places already, while searching each time for a copy of Employee of the Month, the one with Dane Cook and Jessica Simpson. Before, it was a frantic search because I had seen a few minutes of it on Comedy Central when we were staying at the La Quinta Inn on Valentine, waiting for our new apartment to be ready to sign for, and then for the movers to finally show up from Las Vegas, and I thought it was funny as hell. Last month, I saw it in full on Comedy Central and yeah, it was still funny, but the plot was labored, and the search isn't as urgent now, but I still want to listen to the audio commentaries for it. Each Salzer's store is great to browse and get lost in for a little while, not just to search for a specific DVD.

I actually don't miss the tumult of getting to downtown Los Angeles, even for a french dip sandwich at Philippe's. I don't miss us trying to find a space in the parking lot at Downtown Disney. But I do miss Porto's Bakery and Cafe, a Cuban paradise in Burbank, and if we ever get back there, I'm not only starting with my beloved mango mousse before moving on to my standard Cubano sandwich, but I might just try their roasted pork sandwich too (owing to my deep love of roast pork, started by #1 Hawaiian Barbecue near McCarran International in Las Vegas in that Walmart shopping center), then go on to another mango mousse, and take home at least two trays of mango mousses. I'm dead serious about that.

While I don't like what we had to go through in five years in Las Vegas and Henderson, it's interesting to have a clean break between Southern California lives and for each one to be completely different. Even with still looking for a job, I think I'm more content with Part II because we're not landlocked (including our nine years in Santa Clarita, we were landlocked for 14 years, all told), we can breathe better here (except for the smoke from the Thomas Fire lately, which has lessened, but it's still worrisome for our part of this region. It hasn't come back, but it still affects all of us), and there's a slightly slower pace to life here. I still have to adjust to that, but I'm getting there. This feels like it could be the right kind of life.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Thanksgiving at the Ventura College Library

In just two months, from last September (I needed to have proper ID first, through my driver's license), I've gone from having only the Green Valley Library on N. Green Valley Parkway in Henderson, Nevada, to reveling in having regular access to two libraries: The E.P. Foster library in downtown Ventura (part of the Ventura County library system), and the Ventura College Library, formally known as the Evelyn and Howard Boroughs Library. The latter library is the object of my most current fervent desire.

My sister and I went there last Tuesday, walking up to an enormous, grayish structure, the outside of which always reminds me of the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Just the way one part of the building curves around in gray and red. The Ventura College Library has almost the same feature, except that curving features long windows, and what looks like criss-crossing pipes.

At the automatic double doors that open onto the HUGE computer lab at the left, and in front of the stairs that go to the library on the second floor, there was a notice on the window next to the doors that said the library would be open on Monday, November 20 from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Tuesday, November 21 from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., both days without a librarian available. I'd say that's ok as long as someone's there to check out books that anyone might want. I don't have to go again for a while anyway since I have my five, which is the limit not only for "community members" like me, as stated in the policies, but also for students, which I was surprised to learn because I figured that they would have unlimited access during the academic year. Go figure.

Under those hours on the notice was the announcement that the library would be closed from Wednesday through Sunday (it's normally closed on Sundays anyway, except for during the summer, when it's closed from Friday through Sunday).

After I read that, I needed a minute before we walked in to go up the stairs. I had never felt such envy in a long time. If only I could have access to the library then, which I know is impossible since I don't have any association with the people who could make it happen, and even then I don't think it would happen.

I'm just thinking about it in my imagination: The entire campus empty (it's an unassuming, small campus that isn't concerned with much on a given day), and the library completely empty except me and all those books.

When you walk in, there's the librarian's desk, big and round and can easily be at home on any starship. To the immediate right is the leisure reading sections, which are good for being surprising once in a while. Back in September, when I could finally get my Ventura College library card after we had gotten our driver's licenses in Santa Paula (with the same numbers that we had left behind after we moved to Las Vegas), I knew that the library had a copy of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, which I had wanted to read since it was published in March, but was stymied by there being so many holds on the copies the Henderson Libraries had. Finally, I would have my chance. And I did, thanks to that leisure reading section.

Lately, my sister wanted to read Endurance, the memoir by astronaut Scott Kelly, and she was waiting, and waiting, and waiting for a copy to reach her in the Ventura County library system. Still waiting, when we went to the college library. After we returned the books, we went to the leisure reading section, as we always do, and while she was looking on those shelves to see if there was anything really new, I found a copy of Endurance sitting on top of the stacks. She was overjoyed when I showed it to her.

But generally, having been with this library in the past two months, the leisure reading section is generally anemic. Not that I expect them to get every single new title that comes out that I want to read, but you'll find much of the same stuff sitting atop the stacks, soon after moved to the shelves below, but not much there that could be exciting to have found or bumped into. Granted, Lied Library at the University of Nevada Las Vegas always had a phenomenal leisure reading section, but it's in that memory that I have to be aware: That was a university library. University. Seemingly endless budget. Ventura College is a community college in a small town. Much smaller. The population is smaller. The college has to scrape and snarl and growl for a bigger budget from the legislature in Sacramento. Not everything is going to be so readily available or so immediately fascinating as it was at Lied Library. However, beyond wishing for a few more intriguing titles in the leisure reading section, Lied Library's selections didn't make a difference to me anyway because I never went to that library often. Yes, I could have gotten there if it was one of my family's weekend errands, but the traffic to get to Maryland Parkway every time usually wasn't worth it. And then, I would have had to keep close watch on when the books were due, knowing that there would be a three-week limit and only two renewals allowed. Then it would always have been on a weekend because Dad worked during the week, and so did me and my sister for that matter. But yes, I do wish that the Ventura College Library had all five volumes of the Collected Works of William Howard Taft, like Lied Library has. Nevertheless, it's ok that it doesn't.

But now, I can get to the college library whenever I want. All it takes is a ride on the 6 bus across from the Government Center (or the 10 or 21 if they show up before the 6. I'm only ever concerned about getting on the 6 if I'm going to the Foster library in downtown Ventura) and it pulls right up at the corner, across from the library. All I have to do is get up and walk a few yards to the entrance. There it is, all for me. It's a fair trade-off from Lied Library, which, until that final farewell visit before we moved back to Southern California, I hadn't been to in months anyway.

On the right side of the library is the reference stacks, and there are a few culinary history volumes I'd want to read a bit of if I had the library all to myself during those Thanksgiving-fueled days. I know I can't possibly read all the books the library has, not with 63,529 books, nor would I expect to. But just to be among them, to be able to feel free to wander as I wish.

Right now, I've decided to dig into philosophy, and instead of one of those overview books that profiles the major philosophers, and even not-so-major but still notable for one thing or another, I'm picking at the philosophy section in the college library at random, whatever catches my eye.

On Tuesday, it was the Second Series of Jiddu Krishnamurti's Commentaries on Living, since the library doesn't have the first volume. It's him talking with people from all walks of life, and it looked interesting enough to me. Depending on how it is, I may go back next time for the third volume (I know exactly what it is), or go at random again and see what I come up with.

I can't stand that I can't be in that library during those days, but I will definitely be there in my imagination. There are World War II books I haven't even touched yet, as well as Stephen Ambrose's biography The Supreme Commander: The War Years of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. There are the Civil War books I might dip into, as well as some general books on the American presidency that I just found on my last visit.

And that's not even getting into the literature sections, with all their attendant letters, short stories, and so many novels that I guarantee are truly discoveries, a lot of obscurities on those shelves. You won't find any hype on those shelves, and that's how I like it for my own browsing.

It's just the thought that here I am, educating myself, on a college campus but without having to be of a college campus. I love college and university campuses anyway, and lived for Fridays at 3:50 p.m. when I was a student at College of the Canyons in Valencia, California. That time marked the end of my cinema class for the week and the campus was very nearly empty, so I could walk its lengths for a little while, feeling like I owned it.

To have the Ventura college library to myself for those days would be paradise. And I know exactly where my next books are, starting from those and moving on to whatever captivates me next. Pure bliss.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Reflections on Over a Month of Living in Ventura

The first thing to know about living in Ventura is that what you expected to do after arriving most likely won't be so, or at least not so often.

This comes after nine years of living in next-door Santa Clarita, before the five years in Vegas, being only half an hour north of Los Angeles.

Getting to Porto's, that heaven-sent Cuban bakery in Burbank, from Santa Clarita, specifically Valencia, say? 31 minutes if you can stomach the freeways. 51 minutes if you want to be more leisurely about it, for your own sanity.

From Ventura to Porto's in Burbank? An hour and 3 minutes via the freeway. But by relatively local roads? 1 hour and 51 minutes.

Now try Downtown Disney in Anaheim. Let's just do from Ventura this time, since it's well-established now how close Santa Clarita is to where we used to go when we lived there.

1 hour, 40 minutes on the freeways. 3 hours and 34 minutes if you want to make it insane enough without them.

So if I'm to finally have my mango mousse back at Porto's, I'll need a couple boxes to take home, to tide me over until the next far-away time. Ditto for Downtown Disney. I'd better see a Haunted Mansion t-shirt there to make the trip worth it. Mind you, it was always worth it when we went there from Santa Clarita, but the distance is now so great that even though I had wanted to go to the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood to see Mary Poppins Returns when it comes out on Christmas Day next year (1 hour, 5 minutes by the freeways; 2 hours, 9 minutes without them), I hope and pray and then pray again and then hope again that the Cinemark theater in Downtown Ventura, which is one of only two theaters in Ventura, and the only to show first-run releases, will have it on at least one of its screens on that blessed day.

And yet, I'm actually not bothered by any of this. The only thing I want more than any of this is to go to the mountaintop Getty Center art museum complex in L.A. some time in the future. I will weather hopefully 55 minutes without traffic for that because I want to be among that art. I want to be at a museum where there's space to really look at each piece, to find what I like and look for all the details of what makes me like it. Besides, I have a presidential library nearby, the Reagan Library, which suits my passion for presidential history. The last time my family and I visited Ventura together from Las Vegas (August of last year), we took a day out of our visit to go there. It was only 42 minutes. I see here that it's 50 minutes on local roads. We can handle that.

So most of Los Angeles now seems like news from faraway lands. But here's the trade-off: When we lived in Santa Clarita for those nine years, from 2003-2012, the highest it got in the summer was from 93-95 degrees. A few weeks ago, we learned on the news that one of the highs in Santa Clarita was 109. Plus, Santa Clarita is landlocked. A good earthquake will cut that valley off from everywhere. But it's not entirely that. Moving to Ventura was part of my father's retirement plan, to retire near the beach. He has a few more years to go, but this is the start of it. And what do we get here? 70 degrees. 72 degrees. Down to 71 degrees. Right now, it's steadily in the 70s, after a heat wave two weeks ago that eventually hit us on the final two days. Before that, I was thinking, "What heat wave? It's perfectly fine here," while other residents were complaining. Mind you, we had come from Las Vegas where 108, 109 degrees was an everyday thing. So we could easily think of those in Ventura as amateurs.

But on those last two days? My dominant thought became, "What fresh hell is this?" It was the humidity, too, which doesn't feel as prevalent in Las Vegas as it does here when it happens. I was born and raised in Florida and could handle humidity then, but having been away from my home state for so long, I think I lost the ability to simply absorb the humidity nonchalantly and move on. I couldn't handle it on the last two days of that heat wave. Odd, though, not having been far removed from Las Vegas at that point, but there you go. Becoming one of the natives already.

We're here for the weather first and foremost. We can all breathe, and my mom loves sleeping with a window open, a breeze sometimes blowing through the blinds, but the air mainly drifting through and settling down gently on her. It's a welcome experience we haven't had for 14 years.

And the rest? The apartment living? The job seeking? Both require adjustments. We're still waiting for maintenance in this new place to take a look at the washing machine, which, when it's on, sounds like a cross between the portal to Hell, living on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, and sitting in the middle of NASCAR turf on the racetrack while the cars are zooming by.

I've applied for a few book-related jobs, one library job so far, and I check listings every day on the Barnes & Noble website, the Ventura College website, and the City of Ventura website, the latter of which I'm hoping for a position actually in the City Hall building downtown, which seems to be made almost entirely of marble, and they have an admirable art collection that's meant to document the history of artists in Ventura, even providing a free guide to all the pieces in the building. To work among what essentially amounts to a small art museum there would be wonderful, and fits my desire for all kinds of history to know and be part of. A respectable part at most.

I went to the Ventura College library in the midst of job seeking there, also to ask one of the associate librarians if someone could take my resume ahead of a position opening up some time so they at least can know who I am (nope, all online). Within a collection that I can't wait to borrow from once I get a library card there (waiting on getting to the DMV so I can go from a Nevada driver's license back to a California driver's license, which should happen very soon), I found two biographies of William Howard Taft, possibly my favorite president, one of which is two volumes. I also spotted The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, toward the entrance/exit of the library, on shelves meant for leisure reading (this one was atop the stacks), which I've wanted to read since before it came out back in late March. Once I have that card, those are the four books I'm getting right away (it's a limit of five for residents. Students don't have to get library cards, and can use their student ID number to check out materials, probably an unlimited amount if need be).

There are beneficial adjustments. The town (it's too small to call it a city, and I like it that way) starts to roll up the carpet for the night at 9 p.m., and while it doesn't encourage you to lay down your worries until the next day like Sacramento does, it lets you be whoever you are, concentrate on whatever you want. I want the history of this town, the foliage, the trees, and so it gives all that to me. It doesn't feel like it asks for, or demands, anything back. Just search for your niche and that will do. That's what I'm trying to do. To do it here feels right. I feel more of a solid peace in downtown Ventura than I ever did in Vegas, and only a little bit in Santa Clarita when I stood on the patio of our condo in Saugus during many 3 a.m.'s, listening to the train whistle in the distance, echoing throughout that bowl-shaped canyon. Here it's pervasive, but undemanding. That's important. Even in Santa Clarita, there's a slight, underlying sense of unease, worry about this or that, and it's never-ending. You can worry here too, but there are also moments to breathe, to just take in what's around you, to make that 70-degree breeze part of your being. This is my kind of meditation. Soon enough I'll be hired somewhere here (I'm also looking at senior homes, a genetically-driven desire to do all the good I can for seniors), but at least I have all this while I'm plugging away at it.

Friday, August 4, 2017

A Placeholder for a New Place

I don't want to lose all this to inactivity, though I don't think I've been away for that long. So consider this a placeholder for when I likely get back to writing more regularly on here.

What's prevented me from doing so was our urgent quest to move out of Las Vegas, which began to happen when my father got a computer/business education teaching position at a high school near where we're going to live, in Ventura. Then finding an apartment was full of desperation, near-tears, and utter frustration because housing in Ventura is limited. The city does not want to expand willy-nilly, and so Oxnard, next door, is expanding rapidly in response. But Ventura is where we want to be, because Dad wants to retire near the beach, and he has a scant few years before he does. What better time to start? Plus, to us, there's more to do in Ventura than there is in Oxnard, although we'll be going to Oxnard because they have an elegant-looking shopping center that features The Container Store and Whole Foods, and I've heard a lot about that Whole Foods from my parents, when they went out there last February for one of Dad's job interviews (the second one, which was over the phone, is the one that scored him the job).

So I sit here on this Friday night, at 11:52 p.m., 8 minutes until the unfortunate series finale of @Midnight, which I had planned to watch come hell or high water, since the DVRs have to go back to Cox early enough tomorrow. I wasn't going to miss this.

We move out on Sunday, since that's what our movers had available and can't budge it. We'll stay at a hotel in Ventura until Wednesday, when our new apartment becomes available. We'll have our two dogs with us, which is fine, but likely without their cages, since we put them in their trunk in their various pieces and found there would only be a tiny bit of space for the clothes we'll wear for the three days we'll be waiting to get the apartment, and that still wouldn't be enough. If we took only that tiny space, then there would be absolutely no room for toiletries.

But the dogs are good sports. Our eldest, Tigger, when he was much younger, granted, traveled with us five days cross-country from South Florida to Southern California in 2003. Kitty, slightly younger than Tigger (12 years old to his 14), was with us when we moved from Santa Clarita, north of Los Angeles, to Las Vegas in 2012. They know the routine, not to mention the five times we moved in four years from Las Vegas to Henderson, and then through two different apartment complexes in Henderson, although they're both on the same street in Henderson.

It only gets busier tomorrow because we have to be sure everything is done to the letter before the movers come to pack and load everything in the truck on Sunday. Afterward, I might well sleep for a week, and then get started looking for a job in Ventura. After everything we've been through to get to this point, I know for sure that finding a job in Ventura will be vastly easier.

But for now, @Midnight and then a little sleep, and hopefully a shower sometime tomorrow so I don't feel crummy when we leave Las Vegas for good (leaving Las Vegas for good can only make me feel elated, though I plan to write a few novels set in Las Vegas, based on my time here. There's a lot to write about, with all I experienced in the city). And then it all ramps up and doesn't stop until we get to La Quinta Inn late Sunday night. And then we wait. But for the water pressure in the shower at La Quinta Inn, I'll be happy to do it.

More to come later, as a returning California resident.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Westgate Book Exchange

I was only at the Westgate Book Exchange, on West Charleston Boulevard, next to M&M Soul Food Cafe, once, which may explain why it's gone now. We went to West Charleston here in Las Vegas to try M&M Soul Food Cafe, and when we left, I drifted next door to Westgate. I am always pulled to stores that have extensive book collections, including the Goodwill in downtown Ventura, which I count as half a bookstore because of the huge wall of books it has near the register.

This one had rows upon rows of well-organized paperbacks, and there's even a photo on its old Yelp listing showing exactly that. I loved how whoever ran this shop had the mysteries organized so well, and while I don't read them often, I always want to find something markedly different when I'm in the mood. Hence this one that I'm reading right now which came from the Westgate Book Exchange: Flamingo Fatale: A Trailer Park Mystery by Jimmie Ruth Evans.

In our first year in Las Vegas, we lived in a mobile home park way down the street from Sam's Town, and though that's not quite the same as the trailers featured in this mystery, I know the atmosphere. I know the people. I know how loud the irritable, battling Lundys got toward each other diagonal from us. They didn't even have to be in their screened-in patio, and you could hear them. But they were history. They had been there since 1992, when Valley Vista All-Ages Mobile Home Park opened. It's under new ownership now, a different name, but I'll bet that the Lundys are still there, still sore at each other, still sitting in that screened-in patio on those rare quiet nights, looking over their tiny kingdom.

I know the Christmas decorations, how elaborate some of the neighbors got, and especially before, at Halloween, when one mobile home made it positively atmospheric. Not just the usual cobwebs and the fake bats, but dry ice fog for that night, with an almost-supernatural tinge.

So this mystery is definitely for me, but this is the first time that I've opened it since I bought it, an eventually futile attempt to read a great deal of what I have that's not part of my permanent book collection before we move. We're looking to move with as little as possible, not just for cost, but because Ventura has so much to offer for us, from antique stores to the bookstores I will most certainly frequent. Right now, I have a yen for world-class pianist Oscar Levant's books, but I don't want to search for them online. I've done so much of that in the past four years and had so many books shipped to me, simply because the only available bookstore nearby was Barnes & Noble on Stephanie here in Henderson, and my absolutely local library (located on the same side of the street as my apartment complex, though about 15-20 minutes to walk there) doesn't offer much that's truly adventurous, and certainly not that.

I want to browse those bookstores, seeking nothing in particular, but keeping Levant's books in the back of my mind on the off chance that I happen upon them. I want to give my money to the town, to support these businesses so they'll stay open. Salzer's, which has its music store on the left side of the turnpike, and its DVD rental store on the right side of the turnpike, has been open since the '70s, and in its current location since 1985, at least the video store side. Its owner, Jim Salzer, looks like if Derek Jacobi had spent his entire life in Southern California. That's where I want to be, in person, always in person. I'll rent from them once in a while, surely, and browse as often as I intend to haunt those bookstores.

Mostly, I carry over my experiences. I'm hoping for bookcases as well-organized as those that were at the Westgate Book Exchange, but a cozier atmosphere. I want to disappear into those lined-up books again, only emerging when I've found what I think will suit me. I think about G.W. Bookstore in Palm Springs, when we visited in October 2006, staying at what was then Hotel Zoso (now a Hard Rock Hotel), for the California Business Education Association conference for my dad. I remember walking in and finding a Vintage International Edition copy of The Remains of the Day from October 1993, when the movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson was released. I looked at the receipt I still have from G.W. Bookstore, an otherwise blank receipt, without the name of the bookstore, and I find that I bought it on October 9, 2006. I remember that the owner of the bookstore looked like he lived there, and it wouldn't have surprised me. I want to live like that.

Since Westgate closed, a few other independent-minded bookstores deep in the Las Vegas Valley have also closed. This is not a reader's town, I know, but it's still disappointing, given all the possibilities for when people are forced indoors by the horrid heat such as we're dealing with right now. Libraries should be even more open at this time of year, and some are, I've seen, but still not enough. This should be a storyteller's town, too, where people gather to tell their stories from places they've lived. Perhaps contests. Perhaps not. But just to gather around and fill this desert with memories of other places, other experiences, other excitements, other anything. I never had the ambition to try to establish anything like that here given all that we'd lived through in these four years, these four hard years that have seemed so long and yet, just the other day, I was thinking about when we first got here, and the next minute, here I am. Four years older. Surprised at the speed now.

Unfortunately, most of the stories I've seen here take on the same themes, in gambling, in drinking, never much in wonder, in creativity, in eccentricity. The Electric Daisy Carnival, which is happening this weekend, is the place for it, but I'll wait for the YouTube clips, and finish watching the documentary Under the Electric Sky, about the 2013 Electric Daisy Carnival, which I saw from my mobile home, at least the lighting being tested a few nights before it started. Huge beams of light flashing on and off and on and off and in different colors, and waving around, and it was like a promise that here you will find the freedom you seek, the life you've always wanted but never had the courage to go for. You can have it there, at least for three nights. It means many things to me, and I love the at times ethereal music, but I couldn't go out there as those hundreds of thousands of brave souls are doing at this very moment, trekking out to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway while it's well over 100 degrees today, and set to get even worse during the weekend, with 112 degrees and 113 degrees. Even in the dark, it'll still be 95 degrees. I don't envy them that, but I look forward to seeing how it turned out in photos and in videos.

No, my life now is in these bookstores, these libraries. I will be more mindful of my collection because there will likely be times I head there on my new bicycle (hopefully to work as well, which I plan to after I buy it in Ventura), and can't carry as much with me as a car trunk can. It establishes priorities, though. What do I want the most right now? Besides everything? What do I want to read right now? What's important enough for me to shoulder in the bag I'll be carrying with me while riding? Not many 900-page epics, I'm sure.

I wish the Westgate Book Exchange was still around, so I could see it at least one more time. But maybe, in light of these lifestyle changes, it's probably better that it isn't. I would dive into it again and come out with more than I should have before moving. At first, I will miss those days, but this is teaching me to relax with it. It will be there, but just be sure to visit often so it stays open. I will gladly support all the bookstores and libraries in Ventura. It's a start, on the way to knowing more about the town.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Real Energy of Las Vegas

It was only 100 degrees here in Las Vegas today, yet the sun and the heat were boring down like the 112-113 degrees it will be in the next few days. Not only does this hellish weather obviously not meant for those who grew up with ocean breezes sap one's energy and sometimes will to live (even with enough water and Gatorade to keep the body cool, it's still exhausting), but it also plays havoc with one's memory. You try to remember other summers here and think that something in particular happened last summer, but it could very well have been two summers ago.

I think about Sunset Park, just before the back end of McCarran International Airport, across from a McDonald's and Egg Works, where, even if it's breakfast time, they'll offer you cocktails or beer without hesitation. It works for those who have been deep into Las Vegas for far longer than we've lived here, who might even be functioning alcoholics, but not for us. Never for us. It's one thing about this valley that we've never forgotten, to scoff at it sometimes, to laugh about it, and also to see even further that this isn't our place. This will never be our place.

I've been to almost all the casinos on the Strip. I've seen so many of them change. The Cosmopolitan that I loved was destroyed by new ownership, changed to represent bland cool, as those powers that be see it. The biggest news coming from that resort lately is that they're expanding the convenience store on the first floor. The playlist heard throughout the casino and upstairs through two floors sounds like nothing more than what you would find on your daily FM station.

I've also seen the conservatory and botanical gardens at the Bellagio, way off the lobby, become less than it used to be, with what looks like budget cuts. The lavish holiday displays they used to do with such beautiful flowers wasn't as awe-inspiring last year as it has been in every year past. Part of the result, most likely, of MGM Resorts charging for parking, even residents. Because by charging for parking, expectations are raised. If we have to pay $10 and over to park in the garage, then we damn well better be treated to an unforgettable experience. Seriously. This is not only our time now, this is our money. And yet, when we went to Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage (also run by MGM), during the time that Clark County School District teachers and employees were admitted for free as part of Teacher Appreciation Week, it was the same kind of feeling. We had been there so many times and there were many guides lining the dolphin pools and in the zoo. Even with the cold, sometimes-driving rain that demanded an audience, that chased many guests away, there were fewer guides than there should have been. The dolphin pool at the far end, near the entrance to the zoo part, was closed off for remodeling. Remodeling remodeling? Or just because they can't feature both at once, with budget cuts again? We don't know. But it no longer feels like those who run Las Vegas get it. People are coming from across the country and around the world for experiences that they can't get where they live. To close down and tear down the pirate ships at Treasure Island for more shopping is not what it's about. The crowds that are coming in for the Electric Daisy Carnival this weekend know what it's about. They're coming to gather for a once-in-a-lifetime experience that represents who they are, what they believe in the sanctity and spirituality of their music, of their lifestyles, to be with people who are as ethereal as they are, as free and light and energetic. Like the Carnivals in years past, this will be an experience they likely can't get where they're from. That's what Vegas was about for at least our first two years. True, it could be that with every bad experience we had with apartment complexes and the school district, in hard living and jobs that were hard on us by dint of the complete disorganization and uncaring natures that populated the district, that it colors the rest of our time here. But lately, it feels like Vegas thinks it's obligated now only to give just enough, but not continually interesting experiences anymore.

It's always been hard to find those experiences here, even beneath the stress of bad apartment complex management and unnecessarily taxing jobs (I can't be entirely sure, but I hope back in Southern California, especially the area we're moving to, that people are actually willing to work together and not stomp on each other just to get to the imaginary top of the heap where they believe they'll have a better view and far more benefits). And when you do find them, you're never sure how long to hold on to them because there may be an experience equal to that not too long after, or maybe that's it.

Applying those experiences to your daily life, trying to make it better by remembering the sheer joy you felt during them, that's hard to do because what's been awful in air conditioning units breaking down, indifferent administrations in schools, smokers all around you with the smoke seeping into your apartment (our first year in Henderson), maintenance personnel that doesn't bother fixing anything you ask the front office to look into, upstairs neighbors that are noisier than humanly possible, completely pounds you into the ground. You're just trying not to wonder what the hell that loud bang was upstairs. Probably that little kid running into the kitchen again and deliberately not seeing the cabinets yet again. I'm just guessing on that one, but it's been that way over and over.

Really, all you can do is remember those experiences in passing, during an idle moment. Something to smile about before you have to get serious again in order to make it through the next day. And now that it's summer, with this goddamn heat? Those memories only get one cool in just being able to think about something else for a while, not to mention dunking one's head in cold water like Jean Smart at the beginning of that season of 24.

But I digress in an alarming fashion. Summer is indeed here, though not too much longer ahead of our move to Ventura, and I've been thinking about the real energy of Las Vegas that I saw only once but have never forgotten.

I think it was two summers ago. We had stopped at that McDonald's at Sunset Park, below McCarran's flight path, to the effect that I could see the treads on the tires of a Southwest 737 about to land. It was well into the evening, almost into the night, and it was a relief that the heat was finally laying off. A little bit.

I don't remember what we had gone in for. Not ice cream, because we would have had that right away. I think it was something Meridith wanted, or maybe Mom wanted it. Or, no, maybe it was something that Dad was getting for lunch for the next day, after his daily stint teaching summer school. Or breakfast, maybe. Maybe he was getting his sausage biscuit for the morning.

Either way, I know we were there for something. And I was looking out the side door, which faced the basketball courts at Sunset Park. They were packed more than I've seen any local basketball courts packed back in Florida, and in Santa Clarita, north of Los Angeles, where we had lived for nine years before moving to Las Vegas.

Summer hell here drives everyone inside. You don't play basketball under a napalm sun. You don't do anything. You find shade. You find water. You find a TV and you park yourself there practically all day, in air conditioning that works. Fortunately, in this apartment, it does, and it's running well right now.

At night, well, just watch out. Every street in Henderson, in the local enough parts of Las Vegas are packed. People need to get out. They need to go grocery shopping, they need a beer somewhere that isn't their living room, they need dinner out. And some need basketball.

Those guys I saw playing through that side door, at the exact time the 2015 NBA Finals we're going on, were phenomenal. You could have taken those guys on those courts, in those exact teams, transferred them to the NBA intact, and you would have had players on the level of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and others. Or, if there was money to be made in broadcasting streetball, you could have created a brand-new league right then and there. There was blocking that clearly had been planned in the air-conditioned confines of where they were living while they were waiting. They wanted these games badly, being cooped up all day, they were ravenous for it. They could taste it. And when it was time, they were there! They were alive! They were giving it everything they had and still more than that.

Two of the guys from the court came in while we were waiting for our order, and they were dressed for it. They had the shorts, the shoes, and they looked like the kind who hadn't quit after their first game. They looked like they could go four games before a break.

That's the way of this valley, though. You have to find the one thing that drives you and burrow into it deeply so that perhaps you aren't so affected by everything else that might tick you off or make things harder for you here. It's easy if you have a job that feeds right into the various industries that fuel Las Vegas. For example, when my family and I lived at Green Valley Country Club, one of our neighbors was Dave Browne, one half of The Black Donnelly's Dublin, who are on Facebook, and who perform fairly regularly at the Ri Ra Irish Pub at the Mirage, when they aren't touring the rest of the United States in such places as Newport Beach, California, Costa Mesa, California, Middleton, Delaware, and Lake Havasu City, Arizona, to name a few. He and his wife have Las Vegas as their home base and he travels from there and returns. When you've got your guitar, and you're damn good at it (even to the extent of making a Guinness World Record...look it up), you don't have to worry as much about the interior matters of Las Vegas.

But tonight, I'm thinking about those basketball players at Sunset Park. The temperature's only going to get worse in the next few days, but I've no doubt that they'll be out there after dark, playing hard, playing passionately, playing for that one moment that they've waited for, planned for, and thought about all day. To me, they are the real energy of Las Vegas, but seldom found. I want to find that more regularly in Ventura. It probably won't be as out loud as that, but just to know it through its booksellers, through the food at those diners we've heard a lot about, through the strawberry fields in nearby Oxnard, I want to be surrounded by it. Once every few months is not enough, despite its sheer inspiration.

(This post brought to you by the near-deliriousness of vicious summer heat, even with enough water, enough Gatorade, and trying to hide out deep enough in the coolest recesses of a Henderson apartment.)

Monday, May 15, 2017

14,000 things to be happy about. by Barbara Ann Kipfer

Saturday was a banner day for this book lover at the Deseret Industries Thrift Store on East Flamingo Road, not so much for this book lover who's moving in a few months.

Therefore, I found four Indiana Jones novels to join The Peril at Delphi, which I hadn't started yet, but I knew I wanted to read more after this one. I also found Not Quite Dead Enough by Rex Stout, one of the Nero Wolfe series, and Have Space Suit, Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein. At the same time I found the Heinlein book, I was also holding James Herriott's Dog Stories, but the paperback copy looked deeply aged, and to me, it's the kind of book to possibly bump into at one of the three bookstores in downtown Ventura. Either that or the library there.

I had also spotted a fat paperback called 14,000 things to be happy about. by Barbara Ann Kipfer. I flipped through it, found various things that have made Kipfer happy in a list on one page after another, 14,000 in all obviously. An amusing idea, but not much use to me, it would seem.

Then today happened. We went back to the thrift store because Dad had found a blue desk he wanted, but hadn't been very vocal about it until yesterday. That's what determined that we would go back today, and after Dad got home from work (I'm free, by the way, practically finished at Cox Elementary as its library aide. I cashed in the rest of my vacation days and my personal days, and the only day I have to show up again is the last day of school for students and support staff. I will use these coming weeks wisely in reading, writing, and movies I've wanted to see for a long time, as well as preemptively throwing things out, donating others, and arranging the rest for packing when it comes time), we went back.

14,000 things to be happy about. stuck in my mind when we got there and I went looking for it after we found out that the blue desk was gone, another desk in its place. Items at Deseret Industries pass through Las Vegas quicker than people do. Fortunately, the book was in the same place that I put it back, and I looked closer at that. Kipfer's introduction essentially states that this book is a product of 20 years of first writing down in a "tiny spiral notebook" things that made her happy, through larger notebooks and finally to personal computers, from sixth grade to 1990, when this book was published.

I flipped the pages again, looking at what had made her happy in very few words: A white-gold sunrise. Late Sunday breakfast. Loud radios. Night lights. Eating the right food. And still more. 13,994 more.

In my permanent book collection is a copy of The Best of McSweeney's Internet Tendency, which is to me today what Andy Rooney was to me when I was 11. Andy Rooney taught me that you can write about anything so long as you make it interesting enough. Woodworking, the interior design of fast-food restaurants, his experiences in World War II all were fascinating to me because he made them interesting to read. The Best of McSweeney's Internet Tendency touts on the cover "On the Implausibility of the Death Star Trash Compactor" and "Hamlet (Facebook News Feed Edition)", which teaches me that you can go even further, twisting a famous work to another perspective to make people laugh and also say "Hey, I never thought of it like that!"

So I bought 14,000 things to be happy about., surprisingly the only book I bought at Deseret Industries today, but I couldn't find anything else I wanted as badly as the Indiana Jones novels, the Nero Wolfe novel, the Heinlein novel, and the first volume of Dwight D. Eisenhower's memoir of his White House years, from 1953 to 1956. Plus, looking over the paperback shelves again, I saw that I cleaned them out of all the Indiana Jones novels they had.

The Best of McSweeney's Internet Tendency is my Bible, for inspiration on how I should approach my work, thinking about other ways in which a story can be told or which a blog post can be written, looking for the way that suits me. In that vein, 14,000 things to be happy about. will be my second Bible. Sure it's one person's epic list of what makes them happy, but many of these things make me happy, too. But for me, it's not about reading the list and being happy about those things. Whenever I look through this book, it will be to find something to write about, most likely for this blog. For example, overdue library books. I don't know why that makes Barbara Ann Kipfer happy, but I can write about my experience with them as a public library patron, and also working at Cox Elementary, where overdue books weren't such a factor, so long as students returned them some time, preferably before the end of the year, although with the librarian I worked with, it became an unnecessary federal case every time. After all, most returned their books so that they could get more, which was the policy there.

Or railroad stations. There's the one in San Juan Capistrano that you walk past to reach that dirt road with those small houses lined up at the side, acting as either souvenir stores, tea houses, or historical societies. With those overhanging trees across the road, it's where part of my soul lives. I could write about that some time, too.

But also, looking at these things in this book, I can also wonder why these things make Kipfer happy, perhaps even what they were since I don't know what many of them are, and I can also reach as far back in my memory as I can for some of them.

I'm not sure if I'll use the book title to mark these posts, but if you find more than the usual number of posts per month in this blog, you'll know why.

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Tradition Ends, Interrupted

I should have remembered, from when the darkening clouds threatened rain in Pembroke Pines, Florida on the day that we set out to move cross-country to Valencia, California in 2003, which took five days with two dogs and two birds and therefore, sadly, no time for New Orleans, even though we did pass through Louisiana and were most likely close enough in our route.

I should have also remembered when we moved from Saugus, California, also in the Santa Clarita Valley, and that early morning, there were those same clouds, before we moved to Las Vegas.

When we do move from Las Vegas in the coming months, back to Southern California, I don't think those same clouds will be there, because we'll be reaching the extreme heat of summer by then, and there are generally no clouds in sight during that immense hell. Yet, the city we're moving from, and really any city or town we've moved from, seems to sense that we're on our way out, that our daily attention is on what we have to do in errands and eating and working, but in the back of our minds, we're already driving out of here, to where the weather's more reasonable, to where we hope our lives will be more reasonable.

Yesterday, we did go to Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage. Locals are also being charged for parking now. At the end, it was $10 for four hours, but that hardly mattered. This was for Meridith, who loves dolphins, and has loved all the times we've gone there, especially when she had the chance to paint with dolphins for her birthday and has never forgotten Maverick, the dolphin she painted with, even going so far on this likely final visit to ask where he was. While the trainer gamely tried to say that he was isolated for the time being, she and my mom could read between the lines that it was breeding time, and so Maverick would likely find it more fun than performing for the tourists.

This time, however, a little over 60 degrees of cold met us and despite not finding anything on the weather websites I visit, or hearing about it on the news, it did rain. It drizzled at first, and then later on, when Mom and Dad decided to go back inside the Mirage, it was raining steadily. I thought I could get away with my Jungle Book t-shirt and my heaviest blue jacket, but no luck. Even in the stands at one of those tables, the wind blew some of the rain in and it was impossible for me to finish out my tradition of reading Paper Towns by John Green while there. I only made it to page 68. A valiant effort in the cold, but still too cold to read.

I'm not disappointed that this likely final visit was shorter than the others. We began at the Mirage as tourists in 2007. It was the first casino we went to after we checked into America's Best Value Inn on Tropicana and headed out to the Strip. The Carnegie Deli there was the first time we ate on the Strip. After we moved to Las Vegas, trailers in the back of the Mirage was where we first voted in Nevada. When American Idol had a live broadcast in the Beatles Love theater at the Mirage, we were there. And the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat has always been there in between. So it's appropriate that the Mirage was the final casino we visited before we moved. We've come full circle at our home casino. I'm glad for that.

I'm also not disappointed that I didn't finish my tradition. I don't know if by the weather the city was objecting to our leaving, that, to Meridith, it was showing that the dolphins were sad that she's leaving, because the city doesn't really care like that. But maybe it was getting the rain aspect of our moving out of the way nonchalantly, dismissively. "Oh, here you go. Here's what you've been through every time. Now you can leave and someone else will replace you where you're living and we'll be none the wiser and it won't matter." It doesn't seem to anyway.

It appears, though, that MGM Resorts charging for parking is not a positive move for them. There were far less trainers there yesterday than there had been during past visits, and sure, it might have been because of the rain, but I shouldn't think that would matter. Even at Bellagio, before the corporation began charging for parking, people were aware of the plan to the extent that Bellagio cut down the budget for the gardens and conservatory that people walk through to see the Christmas decorations or the Chinese New Year decorations and the last time we went, before paid parking began, it was clear that they had to scale back that budget because the profits just weren't there like they had been before.

I think that if you charge for parking, people have heightened expectations of why they're there. They want to have a good time with what they're paying, and the casino had better deliver. I suspect they're not delivering like they once did because they don't have the profit to back it up now, and so people are probably leaving disappointed at having paid however much they did for parking and whatever else they paid for, and getting a ho-hum experience. So they've either gone to other casinos that do charge for parking but might hold up their end of the bargain (ironic word, I know), or they're avoiding Las Vegas entirely and traveling throughout other cities, like Orlando maybe. They want to be tourists in cities where those cities appreciate tourists, not try to drain them dry and leave them wondering just why the hell they came there in the first place. That's for the residents, like us, though in our defense, Santa Clarita was no longer feasible, and we couldn't go back to Florida, because of the hurricane insurance and the hurricanes, in that order. We were trying to make a home here, even putting to the side for a time what bothered us about the place, although those problems gradually came as the years went on, and then they hit full-force later on.

The one highlight of our visit, however, was being in the underground viewing area, and seeing the rain from underneath the surface of the water in the pools. After Mom and Dad went back to the Mirage, Meridith and I went down there, and spent a little while watching the dolphins, especially hoping to capture video of a dolphin leaping out of the water and diving back in, creating a vortex in the water so Mom could see it (we did). Only after we could see the rain subsiding by less drops on the surface did we go back up and back to the Mirage. I'm glad to have at least seen the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat one more time. To me, it was the most relaxing place in Las Vegas and I appreciate it for having done that every time. Not so much this time, I know, but it was worth it all the other times. It was a sanctuary, an escape from the difficulty of living here, and it sought to remind you of that at every moment. I appreciate that. And it sends me back to Southern California a little gentler than I have been here, but not by much. I'll leave it to Southern California to smooth out the rest.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The End of a Tradition

This Sunday will likely mark our final visit to Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage, ahead of moving back to Southern California. It will also be the first and only time we'll pay for parking on the Strip, which I still maintain was a huge mistake, considering that that's where the majority of tourists in Las Vegas go, and it doesn't pay to be greedy about where or how long they park their cars.

This visit is once again courtesy of the Clark County School District, which has on its Teacher Appreciation Week page coupons for various activities, including free admission for a teacher and a guest at the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat. As with the last two times, the people at the ticket booths only care that you have a CCSD ID and my dad, a high school teacher, does, as well as me and Meridith. So we four will have no trouble getting in.

I think this is mainly for Meridith, who loves dolphins, but it's also for the rest of us because it's quite possibly the most relaxing spot in Las Vegas, the one place I've found here that is complete peace. I like seeing the dolphins, and even glancing at the tigers and other animals in the Secret Garden section in the back, but I love just sitting at a table in the shade, preferably near one of the dolphin pools, reading. And I've done that in all the times we've been there. In fact, this post follows a tradition I started in 2014, which you can read here.

Briefly, back then, I read The Fault in Our Stars, which got me hooked on reading John Green's other novels, and Paper Towns followed, on the day that we were celebrating Meridith's birthday at the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, in which she got to paint with the dolphins. Of course, I was there to see that, but in the other blank times during the day, I was reading Paper Towns, sitting exactly where I wanted to sit, reading in one of my favorite places in Las Vegas.

The next time we went there, I brought Paper Towns with me again, and I think by that time, I had my own copy. That next time was before the movie was released in July 2015, and of course I saw that in theaters. And I like the movie as equally as the book.

So here we are again. As is my tradition, I will bring Paper Towns with me again. And just like those other times, I'll probably read it cover to cover yet again. Thinking back to those other times with Paper Towns at one of those tables near a dolphin pool in the shade, I realize that my experiences at the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, with that near-spiritual peace, with Paper Towns, was rare stability in this valley. It wasn't just an hour, or an hour and a half, or two hours. It was the entire day. And in fact, it's why we plan to get there before 10 a.m. when they open. They're open from then until 5 p.m. and we're going to be there the entire time. It's one of the few places here that has meant so much to us, and certainly one of the flew consistently reliable places. I don't know yet how the rest of the Mirage might have changed (we considered it our home casino, what with all we had done there before we moved to Las Vegas and afterward, which can be found in that previous linked post), but I'm absolutely sure that the atmosphere of the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat has not changed. It'll be a proper farewell for us. And my copy of Paper Towns will always bear these many happy visits.

Friday, April 28, 2017

My Sacramento Regret

It was early February 2006. I know this because Action!, the satirical, raunchy Hollywood comedy series starring Jay Mohr was being released on DVD by Sony late that month. I was still reviewing DVDs then, and while my dad and I were driving to Sacramento, Mom told me on the phone from Santa Clarita that it had arrived, amidst other talk, such as telling her about the open-air truck loaded down with carrots that had passed us in the right lane.

We were going to Sacramento because Dad was a member of the California Business Education Association (CBEA, which he's rejoined ahead of us moving back to California), and the organization was hosting a day for its members at the state capitol, to tour the building, and meet their representatives, to emphasize to them the importance of business education, especially in such a competitive economy as California has. This was the time of Governor Schwarzenegger, and in fact, as we walked past his offices, the door to the outer office was open and I saw straight through there to him in his office, briefly, before we moved on.

While it was impressive to me to see the state capitol, which I had never done in Tallahassee, in my native Florida, I was taken with Sacramento. We were staying at La Quinta Inn, part of Hotel Row near the skyline of downtown Sacramento. Across the way was Restaurant Row, convenient for the weary traveler who doesn't want to venture far on the first night.

Now, I don't remember if this was after what I'm about to tell you, but Dad decided to stay in that night at La Quinta Inn, flipping through the channels, and he had stopped at Crumbs, that Fred Savage sitcom on ABC that centered around the family restaurant, with Savage a Hollywood screenwriter who returns home. I decided to walk the grounds near our room and soon climbed up to the second floor landing, then the third floor landing.

When I reached the third floor landing, I was stopped short by complete peace, which I'd never known in Santa Clarita, and, to me, Los Angeles doesn't have it either.

My view was of the Sacramento skyline towards 10 p.m. And to this day, it's the only city I've been in at that hour that gently encouraged me to relax, to not worry about anything. It seemed to say that whatever you needed to do could wait until morning. Just have tonight all for yourself. I'm not sure I'd want to live in Sacramento, unless it has a strong, sturdy library system (and even then, it gets expensive in that region), but I do want to see it again, even though the Rusty Duck, the wood-paneled, fireplace-crackling restaurant where CBEA members met has long since closed. But I do wonder, idly, if the diner is still there.

So maybe it was the night before the capitol tour and the visit to our state representatives. Dad had learned from a fellow CBEA member about a barbecue joint on the outskirts of Sacramento that was worth it. He likes barbecue, I like barbecue. So let's go.

That night, we set out to find it. We drove over railroad tracks, past sprawling electrical substations, and to an area we circled, drove away from, and drove back to twice, as if we couldn't believe it, and weren't sure.

In an industrial cul-de-sac, past boat parts outside one business on the right, and what may have been a chop shop on the left, or at least a slightly illegitimate car repair business (not a euphemism. It looked somewhat ok), there was the barbecue joint.

Swinging by it and parking for a moment, we could see inside through the door. It was open, but empty, with wooden picnic tables running the length of the room. And there were the white, wide menu boards against the wall above the kitchen. Should we try it? Would it be ok even if no one was eating there?

Dad nixed the idea. And just like any brief Sacramento visitor staying at La Quinta or any other place in Hotel Row, we drove back to Restaurant Row, to what, in memory, has become a nondescript diner.

I had a cheeseburger, which has become lost in the sea of cheeseburgers I've had since then. I don't remember what Dad had. Maybe a salad? That would have been rare. But just like Casa de Fruta in Hollister, the tents of fruits and vegetables and pies and its own small restaurant that we stopped at to pick up a pie, and Hearst Castle, where we toured some of the legendary hilltop property on the way back to Santa Clarita, I still think about that missed-out-on barbecue.

We should have taken a chance. We should have tried it. With that joint being located in such an out-of-the-way place, perhaps the owners were freakishly devoted to barbecue, and that would have made it a religious experience. Or maybe not, but at least we would have tried it.

Maybe it's still there, maybe not. Many an idle moment at work, I've Googled "Sacramento" and "barbecue," hoping to find it, or at least a Yelp page. But that was 2006, before Yelp. Could that joint have even survived in such a location? CJ's Barbecue in Ventura does, because it's part of a cluster of shopping centers down Victoria Avenue. That's easy. It has the social infrastructure.

But this joint, this Sacramento or near-Sacramento joint, 11 years later? A part of me hopes so, so that I can have my chance in years to come.

But it's likely that I'll always be sitting in that car, looking in, and then we drive away again. Again and again. In my imagination, I could proclaim it the very best barbecue I never had. But it will always remain a possibility. What could have been. I wish we had.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Back to a Musical Hobby

Last Monday, the first day back after spring break for the Clark County School District, I looked at my pile of vacation days and, since I'm leaving at the end of the year, I decided to take the remaining Fridays of the school year off. That's 7 of them.

Then, in the middle of last week, I thought, "Well, why not Mondays, too?" That way, I'd have a four-day weekend. Therefore, with Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday being the days I'd work, I'd have three days on, four days off. Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday would therefore be "Saturday-Saturday-Saturday-Sunday" and Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday would be "Monday-Thursday-Friday," likely the only time in my career that I'll be able to do this.

I thought about starting the Mondays off at the beginning of May, but then, you know what? It doesn't matter anyway. Teachers at my school are already counting down to the end of the school year, there's the hassle of the SBAC testing, and in submitting my letter of resignation about two months ago, I've already been replaced. My successor has been hired and is ready for next school year, so I'm old hat. And I can't be sure that these vacation days will transfer to my next job, being that there's a slim chance I'll be part of another public school district. That's way down on my list of jobs I want. I want to be a member of a staff this time, not just working with one person all day.

So taking off Mondays, too, begins tomorrow, the last week of the month. And tomorrow is also the end of my first four-day weekend. In this first weekend, I've finally been able to read a book again in one sitting, the first time in many months (The Calamity Cafe by Gayle Leeson, which was so-so). Then I did it again today with There I Go Again: How I Came to Be Mr. Feeny, John Adams, Dr. Craig, KITT, & Many Others by William Daniels. Oh, I want to do this again and again and again with the weeks remaining in which I'll have these four-day weekends, but I can't do it all the time. I have another book to review for BookBrowse, I have to update my resume and scan my letters of recommendation from librarians and my former newspaper editor (This week, I'm also going to contact the first reporter I interned for at The Signal, what with all the tapes I transcribed for him, and ask for a letter of recommendation from him as well), and update my profile on EDJOIN, which educational institutions across the country look at, especially ones in California. Since we're going to be living in Ventura, those are the libraries that I want seeing my information and resume and recommendation letters.

There are also a few movies I want to catch up on, though I've grown restless with those in favor of reading. I have to dig through the many DVDs I've bought sight unseen and pull out what I want to watch this very moment. And it has to be something that really interests me, else I'll be restless again.

But one thing I finally have time for again is a hobby I started when I saw The Cosmopolitan on the Strip going downhill before Deutsche Bank sold it to the Blackstone Group, which has a reputation for buying up properties, revamping them, and selling them off again. That's what's happened to my beloved Cosmopolitan. The digital art, sculptures, paintings, murals, and music were all important in creating a unique, inspiring experience that made you want to explore more of what they had all over, wanting to see that intricate spaceship sculpture by Kris Kuksi on the 3rd floor, after the secret pizza place, down the hall, next to the piano, before those conference rooms, and wanting to go to the Art-O-Mat vending machines to see what different artists there were from across the country with different pieces of block art being sold.

I found out on a visit a few months ago that the art has become an afterthought, most of the flatscreen TVs used for the digital art are gone (save for the ones at the blackjack, roulette, and craps tables, which are used to show football and basketball games), and my dear playlist had changed over to what you hear on FM radio all the time.

So, I'm creating a playlist which, to me, represents the Old Cosmopolitan on the Strip. I listen to KUNV, the University of Nevada Las Vegas's radio station, which Mom has on during the day. Sometimes I hear a piece during the smooth jazz hours that I want to use.

But mainly, I get my titles from the Music Choice Channels on Cox Cable, particularly the Sounds of the Season channel which, when there isn't a holiday like St. Patrick's Day or Mardi Gras or Christmas, they play "The Pulse," which is all dance music, chillwave, dubstep, and other types of electronic music.

So far, I have 10 titles, six from Music Choice, two from M83 (one from their "Oblivion" soundtrack), "Roses" by The Chainsmokers, and my latest favorite, "Walk with Me" by Wamdue Project. I wish I could describe this kind of music better, but all of it recalls for me the Cosmopolitan I happily walked through, imagining owning it all, and keeping it exactly like this. In creating this playlist, I'm also imagining on what floors these songs would have fit, such as what would have worked on the casino floor, what would have worked in the hallway leading to the Wicked Spoon buffet, just before Rose. Rabbit. Lie., what would have sounded right on the shopping/restaurant floor, and what would have worked for the convention hall spaces.

Strangely enough, the last two times I went to Green Valley Ranch, which, to me, is Henderson's only palace, I walked through their vastly remodeled lobby. In the wide, semi-carpeted hallway with the doors looking out on the pool area, leading to the lobby, I heard exactly the playlist I heard at The Cosmopolitan, which makes me think, and even hope, that whoever programmed The Cosmopolitan now works at Green Valley Ranch, that my musical heart and soul lives on.

Even after I move back to Southern California, I'm keeping this playlist with me to also remember the parts of Las Vegas I need for the novel or two, and a play, that I want to write that are set here. Despite the hell many times over that I've been through here, none of these works will rant about Las Vegas nor rail against it. That doesn't fit my characters. There may be a gripe or two in the play, but as for the novels, my characters just exist here, and at the end of one, simply leave, never to return, which is what I'll be doing, too.

And here it is so far, with its working title: The Old Cosmopolitan Las Vegas fantasy playlist.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Bridge to Southern California

In the next few months, my family and I will be moving back to Southern California, from Las Vegas, though not to Santa Clarita, where we lived for nine years before we moved to Las Vegas. This time, it's Ventura, where the beach life is less crowded than, say, San Diego, which works for my father, who wants to retire at or near the beach. Based on the prices we've seen for beach houses and even condos on the beach, it'll probably be near the beach, particularly one street my parents found near Ventura College, with beautiful gardens in the front yard so many of the houses, and a Little Free Library at one of them. One of the comforting things my parents found out in Ventura was that one of the employees at the Welcome Center in downtown said that she's a third-generation Venturan. Historical longevity. That's what I seek. Another thing is that the owners of the house with the Little Free Library, in a profile online about it said that they've lived in that house for 44 years, and no one has taken pictures of it. But with the Little Free Library, people stop by all the time to see it.

44 years. After living in an area where one of the biggest stories last year, broadcast live at 2 in the morning, was the implosion of the Riviera, I need to know that I'm following the many who have lived faithfully in one place. Perhaps I can find my place there, too. I'm looking forward to it, but I'm cautious. I have some minute hopes, but I'm leaving them to the side until I see more, until I learn more, until I experience more.

However, this doesn't count only for Ventura. It counts for the whole of Southern California, which I had for nine years, but didn't really think as fondly of it as I do now. First, I was in my 20s during those nine years, so I didn't know a whole hell of a lot back then. What was I to think when I was busy attending classes at College of the Canyons, interning (and then being an editor for a time) at the Signal newspaper, and at first being bored by the usual Friday errands of going to the Pavilions supermarket and then Sprouts, and on Sundays delivering empty bottles to the Target in Golden Valley for the CRV money back. It turns out, after four years in Las Vegas, that those were among the most stable times we had.

When we moved from South Florida to Southern California in 2003, we went sharply from one world to another. Different coasts, immensely different lives, overwhelming freeways. There was no bridge from one to the other, no transition to make it easier to know and get used to. Same with going from Southern California to Las Vegas. Each region keeps to itself.

There is, however, some small part of the Las Vegas valley that gives to those who are leaving. Maybe it's something that was meant to be eventually discovered, something that has always been in our subconscious. So yes, I know about coffee, as I am part of a coffee-drinking family. Not to an extreme degree, but me, I'm a hardcore tea drinker. French vanilla iced coffee from McDonald's, sure. Something every once in a while from Starbucks, yeah. But not a Starbucks devotee. Not a household with a constantly burbling coffee machine, or even a Keurig. I have at least 100 teabags in one of the kitchen cabinets, but nothing coffee-related. That would be my mom, who has Trader Joe's Instant Coffee Packets in the cabinet. I have a hint of coffee in my daily memories, but not total, undying devotion.

And yet, as is said, it's never too late. It wasn't Starbucks that did it, nor a certain variety that McDonald's introduced, nor what any other coffee place in Las Vegas has. It was an unassuming counter at the 99 Ranch Market on Maryland Parkway, an Asian market that caters to all different cultures there, and at that particular counter, they were offering Vietnamese iced coffee, which according to some hasty research, either a dark French roast is used, or a Vietnamese-grown French roast. Combined with sweetened condensed milk, it is my new promised land. Besides books, it's what I live for, although I don't pursue it often here because we don't live near 99 Ranch Market, and there's no other places like that vegetarian counter near me.

We went this past Saturday because we were thinking about where to eat out, and Seafood City, the Filipino supermarket across the street from 99 Ranch came to mind, especially its Jollibee fried chicken joint, which is far better than KFC can ever hope to be now. So we ate there, and then came a visit to Goodwill because my mom wanted to see if there were any tea light holders, as we're into those fake tea lights, battery-powered or otherwise. Turns out that Goodwill had a 50% off the entire store sale on April Fool's Day, so we took advantage of that for sure, even though we're moving in the coming months. Yet all that we got will fit nicely into our new household.

99 Ranch Market came after, and this was my second time having that Vietnamese iced coffee, second time in two weeks. I'm a slow learner, and it took my sister to introduce me to it. Some can meditate sitting cross-legged in total silence, but I can't. This coffee is my meditation, my calm, my zen. I've actually gone back on my diet faithfully so I can have the coffee a few more times before we go.

And yet, this is a strange city. At the same time it's kicking you in the stomach, making you double over in all kinds of pain, be it having to live in an apartment complex with more batshit crazy neighbors, or a school district that's hard to work in, it actually recognizes what you're going through, though not often enough. It only gives you a little bit of relief at an instance and then ignores you the rest of the time. I think in this case, perhaps knowing we're leaving, it threw up its hands and gave me something I can take with me to Southern California, a bridge to Southern California as it were. Because after my first time of having that Vietnamese iced coffee, I began doing research on where I could find Vietnamese iced coffee in Southern California, and found a few places, although I will not go to Rosemead. And someone told me that the Westminster area of Orange County has Vietnamese iced coffee on practically every corner. I'm there.

I just never expected this generally heartless valley to offer anything like that, to offer a bridge like this, to get me into learning at least a little more about my new area right away. Not as much as when I studied Henderson, because with all I read about Henderson, I thought it was going to be nice, going to be community-oriented, and it was nothing like that. Whatever I find about Ventura will be when I'm there, when I'm tooling around on my new bicycle. I know about CJ's Barbecue, I know about Andria's Seafood Restaurant at Ventura Harbor Village, I know about Ventura Harbor Village itself, and Salzer's music and video stores, and a few more things, but I'm only digging insofar as the job I want and where we're going to live. Everything else can come after.

I appreciate what the Las Vegas Valley has done in this, in making Vietnamese iced coffee my new heaven, in giving me something to look to in our next place. But once I cross that bridge to there, I'm burning it. I'm never coming back to Nevada for anything, nor do I want to. I hope Las Vegas understands at least that. I think it will.