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.