Never Write Blog Posts

Not the public variety. The ones where you utter foolish statements ragging on people close to you and broadcast it to the public at large. The best reason not to do this is because you will always come across as an assclown.

On Friday my literary agent called me. I was surprised to hear from him as it was a long weekend and neither of us were on a first name basis with each other. In fact, my agent hadn’t returned my voicemails and was quite surprised to find that I was indeed one of his clients. Nevertheless, we chatted a bit about how inept we both were at making turkey and the associative guilt we felt at being relegated to mashing potatoes. Even then I was writing a blog entry in my head: he was calling me to tell me that I should probably write a pretty darn nice novel if I ever expected to be published. Again I was lazy. Again I lacked time.

The reason he was calling me was to tell me that he was leaving the publishing business, as well as his wife. He also told me that he had unexpectedly contracted herpes simplex from a Bob’s Big Boy waitress and that I should probably not tell this to anyone. He said he hated to use the word ashamed but that’s what he was. I was stunned. I told him I understood and that I would keep all this confidential. He fucked too much and he wanted to leave his wife. He doesn’t know what he’ll do, but hopefully he’ll be able to find a regular sexual relationship at his STD support group.

I asked him if this was the reason he had forgotten that I was his client. He said, “No, Ed. You have a tendency to shoot your mouth off.”

“Well, at least I’m not Sandra Scoppettone,” I said. “And at least you’re not a real person but rather a figment of my imagination which I can use for a satirical post.”

“That’s true too, Ed. But like most fictional characters, I too have feelings.”

Anyway, I promised to send him a Purina fruitcake later in the year and wished him well. And we concluded our call.

But unlike most professionals, I couldn’t really function after all this, even after about twenty expensive hours of psychotherapy and enough antidepressants to knock a circusful of elephants on their asses. Who will be my new agent be, if I’m going to have one?

Not to insult anyone, but this agent is the last of a certain breed…he is, in fact, one of those rare Border Collies who is not only capable of reading, writing and speaking the English language, but setting me up with publishing houses without so much as stopping to fetch a newspaper. He mentioned the possibility of one agent and I asked how old the person was. Not only was this new agent human but he was twelve years old.

I know any agent I take on is going to be a little different, but twelve? This kid can’t even get into a PG-13 movie! And I can! I’m not saying an agent at this age has to be horrible! In fact, a pederast down the street recently knocked on my door to inform me that he lived in the neighborhood, per the requirements of Megan’s Law, and he assures me that twelve year olds are more adept in certain areas than older people. I’m not certain I believe him.

Still, if this twelve year old agent can get me the gigs, and I can put my innate agism aside, concentrating on his skills as a professional, well then maybe I just might get through this thing.

Pardon me while I buy my new agent an ice cream cone.

Perhaps It’s Because Today’s Films Need More Dancing

James Tata says that Catherine Hardwicke’s Lords of Dogtown is well worth seeing. But more intriguingly, there is this description: “There is a scene where Adams seduces away Peralta’s girlfriend that is amazing. There is a party. Peralta leaves her behind at the party (last time he’ll make the mistake of leaving his girlfriend unattended at a party, I’ll bet) lying on the grassy meridian of the sidewalk, and Adams, who has had a crush on her all along, leaps down from a high wall, landing, cat-like, next to her, and then starts a sinuous dance. Again, as described this sounds a bit hackeneyed, but it is a remarkable bit of acting.”

Indie Bookstores: Not Unlike a Bedside Manner

Bookdwarf, who is apparently more quick on the draw with my hometown newspaper than I am, points to this interesting claim by A Clean Well-Lighted Place President Neal Sofman. Sofman discovered a study of Chicago merchants illustrating that local retailers recirculate more of their sales dollars into the local economy than do chains. The study in question can be found here. If this is indeed the case, then why are the big publishers spending a substantial chunk of their promotion money placing authors into large corporate venues like Borders (and, for that matter, withholding their authors from smaller and more independent media outlets)? Would not a more targeted and devoted audience of readers more inclined to buy books and shift cash into the local economy be a more effective marketing strategy?

Lies, Damned Lies and Freakanomics

Freakanomics. Like every sophisticated American looking for a conversational entry point at a cocktail party, you’ve read it and been astounded by the conclusions. Yes indeed, Virginia, economics can be applied to everything! As per the free associative argumentative style that seems to run rampant and unchecked in today’s popular nonfiction titles. (Thank you, Malcolm Gladwell, for opening that Pandora’s box.)

Well, as it turns out, the two Steves got the economics wrong. Two economists (both of them, strangely enough, named Chris, proving an economic equation I’ve always found true: Two Steves + Two Chrises = Mayhem) from the Federal Reserve Bank have come forward, finding the research and statistics to be of questionable value.

Economist Christopher Foote notes that he spotted a missing formula in Steven Levitt’s initial research and that this programming oversight makes Levitt’s conclusion that the legalization of abortion reduced crime rates invalid. Apparently, Levitt failed to account for the crack wave of the 1980s and 1990s and, Foote says, Levitt’s failure to count arrests on a per-capita basis renders the abortion effect null and void.

This isn’t the first time that Levitt’s conclusions have come under attack, but this is the first time a high-profile economist has taken on Levitt at length. Levitt says that he hasn’t changed his stance and that the abortion effect holds true in Canada and Australia. Levitt himself has responded to these charges on his blog, noting that he will post a lengthy response once he has fully parsed Foote and Goetz’s paper. For the moment, Levitt confesses that he’s embarassed that he forgot the pivotal data, but insists that the data still matches up “when you run the specifications we meant to run.”

I’m quite curious about the viability of the abortion effect myself, but I’m quite surprised to see one of the world’s top economists insist that his hypothesis is right without actually running any results. I’m no scientist, but I know that my high school chemistry teacher would never give me a pass until I had proven a hypothesis. (The exploding test tubes that resulted from these experiments are another story.)

So, Dr. Levitt, when will you run these specifications? This correspondent, for one, will be watching.

DFW/Moody

On Monday night, I attended the David Foster Wallace/Rick Moody reading at the Herbst Theatre. But I do not offer a report here, predominantly because (a) I had essentially travailed from plane to apartment to evening entertainment in a remarkably short period of time as considerable rain hit my hatless head, (b) I forgot to bring my notepad, (c) my parietal lobe is presently overburdened and (d) I had decided to actually enjoy this particular event rather than chronicle it. However, for those who are curious, Mr. Tito Perez has offered his report on what went down, far better than anything I can offer here, given the four above preexisting variables.

I’ll only add that Rick Moody proved to be less impressive than I expected, essentially an overgrown surfer dude in the guse of a public intellectual. (His squeaky “Hey dude” voice did not help.) Where Wallace riffed successfully on certain subjects, was quite self-deprecating and willing to confess his naivete to the crowd (by contrast, Wallace’s voice struck me as a pleasantly sincere computer programmer), Moody was unwilling to plead ignorance on certain subjects, often answering questions without any thorough understanding of the subjects.

At one point, the subject of post-9/11 fiction came out. Moody opined that nearly all fiction had turned realist and predictable and that the critical climate encouraged this. Moody complained about some critics and reviewers of this genus who were quite savage in their analyses. B.R. Myers’ “A Reader’s Manifesto” was brought up, but Moody implied that Myers was, as is the fashion of post-9/11 literary criticism, going out of his way to belittle anything considered ambitious. Moody considered Myers’ recent review of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close to be one of the cruelest reviews he had read in recent memory. But I think Moody was missing Myers’ point and mischaracterizing him. For one thing, “A Reader’s Manifesto” was written before 9/11 and could not therefore be categorized as a reactionary response tied explictly to the political clime (and Moody seemed to believe that politics had an inherent effect on literature). For another thing, while it is clear to anyone that Myers does not care for pomo stunts, Myers’ initial manifesto essay was primarily concerned with asking where today’s Knut Hamsuns, Ernest Hemingways, Albert Camuses and James M. Cains might be found and why the current reading climate favored digression. If fiction concerns itself to some degree with realism, then why are pure exercises of this type discouraged? Even though I revel in reading postmodernism epics myself, I still think Myers’ question is a fair one to ask, if only to preserve a myriad of novelistic forms within the current literary climate.

The evening’s primary problem was its format. Rick Moody was apparently the center of the evening, with David Foster Wallace attempting to interview him and Moody often failing to parse when Wallace was asking him a question. But in Moody’s defense, I am not certain if Wallace, who is a fantastic digressor in person, even knew when he was asking a question. Wallace had thoroughly prepared for this evening. His copy of The Diviners was meticulously tabbed and flagged and he had a thick file of all of the emails that the two men had exchanged with each other before this evening. And it was Wallace who read the passages. But Wallace’s mode of questioning involved a lengthy observation that he had espied from Moody’s novel, followed by a digression and then a moment of confusion when Moody failed to jump in.

Make no mistake. When Wallace was off on a tangent, he was quite an interesting talker. Two high points of the evening involved Wallace pointing out the preprogrammed responses that come with preaching to the converted on either side of the political perspective and on the subject of irony (as explored in his essay “E Unibus Pluram”), where Wallace still maintained that a work of art that was unabashedly sentimental was more of a revolutionary act today than embracing the hip and edgy in contemporary art.

But the evening was badly in need of a moderator. When two highly introspective writers attempt to interview each other on stage, inevitably you have lengthy periods of silence, mumbling and assorted confusion. The two men frequently asked the audience if they were indeed talking sensibly and articulately, and seemed genuinely mystified about why they were there.

I was also highly perturbed by the wireless mike setup, which severely afflicted Wallace. The mike had been placed catastrophically close to Wallace’s nose, resulting in the man coming across as a Midwestern Darth Vader.

A few other random observations:

1. The subject of how to concentrate upon art during political turmoil came up. Spec., is art important when some heinous Republican policy goes down? Wallace confessed that the 2004 election had acutely bothered him. He had not expected these results and could not believe that they had happened. Thus, it had made him less inclined to pursue fiction and more predisposed to write essays like “Howl” and “Consider the Lobster.”

2. In light of the sentimental novel as contrarian artistic offering thought above, Wallace mentioned that he had attempted a novel along these lines, “thankfully, something you will never see.”

3. When the two men were pressed to name the top five novels of the ’90’s, they had difficulty doing so, with Moody placing Underwold, The Gold Bug Variations and both Infinite Jest and Purple America in this pantheon. But in their defense, the large group we had collected to attend this event attempted to do the same at Max’s Opera Cafe and managed to rattle off about ten titles, although with some effort and some clear confusion over whether certain titles had indeed been published during the 1990’s. (For those who wish to comment on this post, what would you consider to be the top five novels of the 1990’s? I suspect the difficulty here invovles the incredible glut of tepid Barthelmie knockoffs, largely encouraged by Eggers & Company, which, as far as I’m concerned, single-handedly sounded the death knell to postmodernism.)

4. The subject of last year’s National Book Awards ceremony, with the strange controversy of the “five women from New York,” came up. Moody suggested that he was surprised that so many people exepcted Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America to get its due, but suggested that innovation could only be found outside of the establishment. As an example of this, he cited an author he had found on the Internet who had written a story called “Four Square” (multiple search engines can’t seem to dig up this story and I don’t have the author’s name; so, if anyone has any leads, I’d appreciate it), where an author had divided each page into four quadrants and the reader jumped from one quadrant to another, following the story on each page.

[UPDATE: Mr. Esposito has his report up.]

[UPDATE 2: Rick Moody has apparently responded over at Tito's.]

[UPDATE 3: The experimental writer that Moody referenced above is Tim Ramick (who has kindly responded to this post) and his story, "Foursquare," can be found here.]

Ethical Nightmares from Tanenhaus’s Dream Factory

Sam Tanenhaus apparently has no problem violating the New York Times’ Ethical Journalism Guidebook. So opines Ariana Huffington, who notes that assigning Kathryn Harrison, who had been slammed in two previous Dowd columns, to review Maureen Dowd’s Are Men Necessary? is a violation of the Times‘ credo to avoid “the slightest whiff of favoritism” (Rule 134 in the EJG). Huffington suggests that hiring Harrison swings the favoritism in the opposite direction.

To play the devil’s advocate here, if we momentarily consider the Times to hold any stock outside of the laughing variety, Huffington may not be going far enough. Rule 141 in the EJG states:

Staff members who have a publisher or a movie contract, for example, must be exceedingly sensitive to any appearance of bias in covering other publishers or studios. Those with any doubts about a proposed arrangement should consult the standards editor or the deputy editorial page editor.

Granted, both Tanenhaus and Harrison can get out of this through a loophole. Tanenhaus himself does not have a publisher or a movie contract. But assigning Harrison to review Dowd was a clear case of fanning the flames of bias. This paragraph from Harrison’s review, for example, has very little to do with the book:

LIKE most people who work hard at seeming to be naturally funny, Maureen Dowd comes across as someone who very much wants to be liked, even though she has problematically joined forces with those women who are “sabotaging their chances in the bedroom” by having high-powered careers. “A friend of mine called nearly in tears the day she won a Pulitzer,” Dowd reports in a passage about men threatened by successful women. ” ‘Now,’ she moaned, ‘I’ll never get a date!’ ” Reading this, I can’t help wondering if Dowd is that self-same “friend.” After all, it’s rare that she resists naming her friends, most of whom have names worth dropping: “my witty friend Frank Bruni, the New York Times restaurant critic”; “my friend Leon Wieseltier”; “the current Cosmo editor, my friend Kate White”; “my late friend Art Cooper, the editor of GQ for 20 years”; “my pal Craig Bierko”; et al.

If the intention here is to settle a personal score or to ape a Dale Peck-style attack mode, why is this review even being published in the Times? If Dowd’s book is, in Harrison’s view, quite awful, then surely the text itself would provide enough examples. And surely there were any number of outlets who would have pushed Harrison further over the edge and provided a more legitimate medium for this competitive ruckus.

Without providing a source, Huffington claims that Dowd complained to Tanenhaus about the review-author matchup. Tanenhaus apparently suggested that if Dowd couldn’t handle criticism, then she shouldn’t write books.

Perhaps Tanenhaus’s intention in hiring Harrison was to demonstrate to NYTBR naysayers that the Times does indeed review books impartially while still abiding by the Gray Lady’s ethical mythos. Well, if this were the case, why hire someone quite prepared to sabotage Dowd, thus spawning a grand mess of journalistic ethics?

Unless of course the NYTBR is no longer about ethics, much less thoughtful reviewing. In which case, why indeed should fiction publishers hold credence in a weekly media outlet that prefers to blow its column inches on redundant sentences like “No mere page turner, this is a page devourer, generating the kind of suspense that is usually the province of the playwright or novelist.”

Bad Sex Award Longlist

The Bad Sex Award longlist has been announced. And it looks like John Updike, ever the fey pervert, has finally made it into the mix. About damn time, if you ask me. I love Updike to death, but I cannot read any of his novels without that inevitable WTF moment, where an introspective sexual description comes out of left field. (Immediate example that comes to mind: early moment in The Witches of Eastwick where character is preparing salad and suddenly starts comparing cherry tomatoes to testicles without any particular impetus.)

End of the Year Fiction Lists

It’s not even December yet, but the fiction lists keep rolling on. For the record, we won’t reveal our lists until the end of the year.

(Thanks, Richard Nash, for some of these.)

But He Doesn’t Look Anything Like Campbell Scott

Harper’s has named a new editor. His name is Roger D. Hodge. He is 38 and was once turned down as an intern, only to be called back later, eventually becoming a deputy editor. What’s particularly amusing about the Times article is that Jack Shafer, perhaps the silliest man ever employed by Slate, seems slightly miffed at being passed over, noting, “Who wouldn’t want to edit a magazine that had a seemingly bottomless philanthropic fund to finance it? If they called me and asked me to take the job, I’d pack my bags tomorrow.”

Hodge himself, however, states, “There is a global war on terror, a war in Iraq and we have a presidential administration that is collapsing. And we don’t seem to have any politicians that know what to do about it. It is a very interesting time for Harper’s.” Much as I might enjoy Harper’s, I’m wondering whether such knee-jerk reactions, which have apparently resulted in increased sales, are the stuff of intellectual debate which cuts across multiple perspectives. Since Harper’s, as Shafer has noted, has colossal funding, would it not make sense to challenge all political perspectives? A preprogrammed anti-Bush rant might win you instant applause from a liberal crowd, but I’d hate to see the MacArthur Foundation’s resources wasted on conveying preprogrammed platitudes to a bunch of hoary-haired lefties who need to feel reaffirmed.

Of course, there’s one easy solution: Hire Vollmann to contribute journalism on a regular basis.

Notes on Vegas

The fundamental difference between Las Vegas and Reno is that, in Vegas, people disguise their loneliness through lust. In Reno, people are merely lonely. Which itself is a sad thing. But at least Reno’s rudimentary loneliness is a pure form. It isn’t an emotion occluded by the most ridiculous (yet invisible to the participants) of masks, with all of this blunt kabuki theatre aided and abetted by the casinos’ perplexing labyrinths, atavistic pit bosses and false incentives. (Sign up for the One Card and you’ll get comped! Maybe. But only after you’ve fed the casinos with about two hundred hard-earned American dollars without any cash return.)

Anyway, this Vegas lust I’m talking about takes on many forms: lust for cash, lust for the human body (whether through disparate carnalities directed towards one’s partner or the endless reminders of the flesh that are de rigueur for the Strip), lust for what America considers sinful behavior. The latter type is particularly interesting. When one considers the entire spectrum of human history, the aberrations themselves don’t stray all that far from the natural course of deviant human behavior. From the savage conversations I overheard at various craps tables, it seems to me that there is a barely withheld desire to throw off shackles and race pell-mell into debauchery. It is there in their rude treatment of the cocktail waitresses. I observed one man who did not tip a waitress once, even when he was $200 ahead, and who regularly asked the waitress, “Get me another Coor’s, you cunt.” It is there in how easily amused many of these gamblers appear to be by throwbacks to a more liberated time. I played one slot machine called “Fortune Cookie,” which featured a racist Asian chef caricature who, of course, mispronounced English and grunted all sets of two-letter words (such as “Po Po”) with a brio designed to attract the type of person who probably pulled the wings off of a buterfly as a child. I was quite amazed by this, but I was perhaps more perplexed by how the large man standing behind me thought this was the funniest thing he’d seen since American Pie. I then immediately abdicated the machine to him.

It seems to me that the United States, being a fairly hilarious mess of contradictions, is still governed four centuries later by some offshoot of the initial Puritanical impetus that got us all here in the first place. Perhaps Vegas serves as a wakeup call that Americans aren’t nearly as civilized as they pretend to think they are. I should point out that we were one of the last nations to give up slavery and that we regularly fail to provide our citizens with the kind of welfare and socialized medicine common in other nations. Perhaps people come here because this apparent “deviance” is not only discouraged within their native environments, but somehow tied into a residential home’s property value. Will a stigma against an atheist neighbor who likes to hold wild orgies at his split-level hacienda take off about ten thousand bucks from an assessment? You tell me. But I truly believe that Vegas serves as a refuge for those not permitted to be dissolute in their native environments.

The signs in Vegas are more grammatically correct (and decidedly brighter) than Reno, but at the expense of giving the many thousands who daily roll through this libertariantropolis a false sense of entitlement. Only in Vegas could Carrot Top find a steady income. Only in Vegas would the Bellagio’s bombastic founts be considered a thing of beauty to be observed across a eight-lane thoroughway rather than accepted as the living cartoon this aquatic monstrosity truly is. Only in Vegas will you find Hispanic day laborers employed through the dissemination of pamphlets and other literature, all of it advertising questionable strip clubs and the like. The day laborers snap their fingers as you walk along Las Vegas Blvd. and they appear to be there 24/7. (I was accosted by a few around 2 AM.) They are some of the hardest workers to be found on the Strip.

One feels dizzy, nay completely disoriented, in the hopeless mesh of casinos at the intersection of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Blvd. One does not so much walk back to one’s hotel room, but engage in a mini-Bataan Death March through sounds and crowds that show no sign of abating. The hotel room is the only refuge. Wild sights and cries can be found at all hours. I watched a long-haired shirtless man walk along the strip in forty-degree weather. He was without shoes. Whether he was hoping for a literal metaphor that expressed very clearly how he had lost his shirt, I cannot say. He walked with considerable celerity.

Personally, I answered a wolf call from across the street in Las Vegas Blvd. and I shamelessly danced to the Go Gos while walking past the Tropicana. Now these are things I would likely do on any happening evening. But then I am considered to be something of a Macadamia nut amongst peers.

If I have learned anything from watching people in Vegas, it is this: Perhaps some of our folkways need to be reassessed so that, every so often, people can answer a wolf call without fear of social retribution. If Vegas can help us affect this goal amongst the population at large, serving almost as an urban halfway house between those who would refrain from fun (for whom I genuinely weep) and those who have learned to embrace their inner goofball, then I fully support its continued existence, however ridiculous its makeup.

More Random Observations

1. The people in Riverside gather together for an annual ceremony that essentially involves some random guy hitting a light switch. That and a few fireworks. Was actually quieted by a suburban mother when I mentioned that the North Pole had recently signed GATT and had been employing elves as slave labor. Her two year old scion, who could not have been cognizant enough to understand me, was apparently risking being “corrupted” in her words. Sometimes I have a big mouth.

2. Never underestimate the incredible devices that can be found at Toys R Us. Recent acquisition (nothing purchased on Buy Nothing Day, mind you): a Jeopardy machine that includes three remote buzzers. Ideal for lying on a setee in a lazy position and trying to remember the capital of Kazakhstan. The machine’s cmphasis on literature questions has frustrated certain family members, who have proclaimed an unfair bias in my favor. Although I have not been answering every question in an effort to keep things fair. Total cost of machine: $5.00.

3. Also never underestimate the books that can be found in used bookstores. For a mere $6.00, a mint copy of Terry Southern’s Candy — one of the few novels of his I haven’t yet read.

4. I am astonished at the amount of driving that is done down here. I’m used to walking places.

5. Walk the Line: Enjoyable biopic, largely because of the way Cash’s music exists as a character between silent moments. Joaquin Phoenix, whom I have never really been a big fan of, finds a good balance between finding his own take on Cash and remaining tortured without another over-the-top Gladiator-style performance. Even if they diluted the inmates’ wild roars during the At Folsom Prison sequence, Joe Bob says check it out.

6. Thanksgiving food loses its appeal after precisely 62 hours. It never lasts the full three day test. Doesn’t mean it isn’t tasty all the time until then.

7. I have managed to read about 250 pages. Which means, I suppose, that I’m taking this vacation thing somewhat seriously.

8. Also don’t underestimate the Santa Ana Winds.

9. I played tennis for the first time in three years and am seriously considering this as a sport I might be able to take up (read: something I can likely sweat severely over while retaining that sense of having shed calories and meeting an appropriate level of physical exertion which causes my arms and legs to be quite fantastically sore). It was worth it to run after the ball — in large part, because there was always a chance that I could do something even when running dramatically from one side of the court to the other. I didn’t hit the balls over the wall as many times as I expected to and I even managed to effect a little spin upon my returns. The thing that worries me about taking up tennis in San Francisco is that there are probably a good deal of tennis players who will trounce me even if they play easy with me. Perhaps tennis lessons are in order.

10. Suppose I should sleep.

A Few Random Observations on Reno

  • I am a bit thrown back by the question: “Smoking or nonsmoking.”
  • The Cal-Neva casino has the following message on its marquee: “Dog and draft: $1.50.” I am a bit bemused by the fact that there are no articles whatsoever before these two nouns. However, another sign did in fact refer to “A Bud.” What this suggests to me is that if a beer has a brand name, it is worth referring to by an indefinite article.
  • My notes are all packed away, but I believe the historical shrine in front of the County Courthouse reads: “Before the white man came,” as if to suggest that it is the white man who, above all, matters here. The only other memorial is one devoted to World War II.
  • I highly suggest that you order a chicken Caesar salad in a steakhouse. It throws the staff off a bit. In fact, the steakhouse menus are devoid of vegetables altogether — outside of potatos.
  • And speaking of restaurants, I attempted to dine at the Circus Circus steakhouse without success. Despite the fact that there was no customers there to speak of, the maitre’d said that I couldn’t dine at his establishment. Because there was a very strict dress code and I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt. He intimated to me that all shirts must have sleeves. I pointed out that mine did, but that they were in fact shorter. But they were sleeves nonetheless. I then pointed out to him the steakhouse’s barren environs and asked him if anyone would really care if I, a short-sleeved shirt man, dined at his establishment. The maitre’d in turn said that if he made an exception for me, he’d have to make an exception for everyone. I pointed out again that, at the present time, there were hardly great throngs of people trying to barge their way through the doors. He still refused. So I ended up supping at the adjacent Americana Cafe, which was similarly barren and had a staff-to-customer ratio of 19 to 1.
  • A Circus Circus security guard called me “a highly disturbed man” because I wore my Cabinet of Dr. Caligari tee-shirt. I pointed out to him that it was a high watermark in German Expressionist cinema and a good flick to boot. The guard says he’s seen the film, but insinuates that it is not an experience he wants to repeat again.
  • There is a theatre in the Downtown Reno area! Just south of the Truckee River on Virginia Street. Recent offerings included Mamet and Albee. So don’t diss Reno for being without culture.
  • The one phenomenon that I am unfamiliar with is the large boorish man with the not unattractive, skinny and dutiful wife/significant other. I saw about six such couples in various restaurants and I wondered what the women were doing with such louts. (Louts being defined not as anything stereotypical, but we’re talking men who publicly disparage their wives/SOs, burp audibly, stuff a napkin underneath their necks (instead of placing it in their laps), and force their wives/SOs to do all their work, such as paying the bill and flagging down the waiter, while they sit burping and stuffing their faces without abatement.) I call a few friends about this and they remind me (Mr. Boho) that some people marry for money rather than love, and willingly hope to coast by on their looks. Sometimes my optimism gets in the way of reality.
  • When an artist records a mainstream pop hit, I wonder whether he’s really proud of the fact that it’s being played at a casino while people are losing money.
  • So many sad people.
  • I’m the only person who dances on the Circus Circus shuttle while the cheesy music plays up. Some kids join in with me and we all start laughing. One asks to buy her an ice cream cone. Since I’m essentially killing time and it’s better than supporting the Casino Development Fund with another terrible, money-losing round of blackjack, I oblige.
  • Why are so many kids unsupervised at 2 AM?
  • Who was the person who decided that the pawn shops on Virginia Street belong on the east side (with the exception of Harrah’s) and the big casinos belong on the west? Perhaps the idea here is that “going west” involves hope. If the zoning people intended this as a joke, they are truly sick-hearted people.
  • I can’t even fling the Circus Circus chickens right. Meanwhile, ace parabolic calculators, who are half my age, wander off with large stuffed animals.
  • There is very little concern for pedestrians in this town. I wonder if the pedestrian has the right of way in Nevada. I am nearly run over three times — two times by large sports utility vehicles.
  • Nothing beats cruising down Virginia Street in a Mustang. Then again, living in an urban center and not owning a car, driving is very much a novelty to me. Although if you play my kind of music, cowboys will look over at you as if they are ready to kill you. Apparently, it’s a provincial offense to blast LCD Soundsystem along their turf. Fortunately, I was able to talk myself out of a potential Duel situation by flashing them a smile and the thumbs-up sign.
  • Gotta go. My laptop battery’s just about shot. Happy Turkey Day, one and all.

Notes from a Reno Blackjack Table

I put a Jackson on the blackjack table. It is a $3 table, but I play $5 hands so as not to be completely declasse. There’s only one other player at the table – a guy to my right. He’s polishing down Corona Number 12 and he is quick to announce this to me, although his speech is very slurred. His large meaty hands paw a tower of $25 coins. He wears a baseball cap and the brim covers the top third of his head. It appears that the cap has been set at the tightest possible notch in the back. And since his eyebrows are very dark and bushy, and since he is very inebriated and he seems to be undulating, the man looks like an extreme closeup of Robin Williams wearing a pith helmet.

The dealer is letting loose terrible coughs – like some archetype out of a Doestoevsky novel. She’s about 40, with shoulder length dirty blonde hair. Her name tag indicates that she’s from California. She’s clearly in some serious kind of pain. Her hands shake as she deals the cards (or, rather, as she throws them to some close proximity, which is often dangerously close to the cards firing off over the table’s edge). Her eyes grow quite large when she talks with ardor and when she gets the sense that someone is actively listening to her. But otherwise, from what I can tell, between the coughs and the people who’ve treated her like dirt, she’s in a difficult spot. Every hand, there’s at least several hard hacks of phlegm from the dealer. It sounds as if no amount of internal bellowing can loosen these suckers.

The other player takes no notice of this. But he does check out a cocktail waitress’s ass.

“That’s some cough you have there,” I say. “Is it because you’re subjected to all the second-hand smoke?”

“I don’t know what it is exactly. Every time I come in, there’s something hot, dry. Don’t know what it is.”

The other player fires up a Winston. I catch the dealer’s face momentarily drop. I wonder why they haven’t put her on a nonsmoking table. But then pit bosses are hardly the world’s most sympathetic figures.

“It’s also the desert air,” she says. “This is the second major thing I’ve had since I moved up here.”

“How many hours do you work?”

“Forty, fifty this week.”

“Eight hour shifts?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you ever see the outside during an eight hour shift?”

“No. But maybe I’ll go into the spa room. That might help.”

“Maybe you should try resting. Breathing oxygen instead of taking in this contained atmosphere. If it’s bothering you. Don’t they pump in oxygen into casinos?”

“That’s only in the movies. If they pumped oxygen into the casino, then you’d have the cabin effect.”

The other player asks where the restroom is. The dealer tells him. He leaves the table and never returns, leaving about $500 in chips. I wonder if the casino will confiscate this.

The dealer at the adjacent table, who has no immediate customers (it’s a $10 table and the clientele right now is thin and ass-poor) and who has been listening to this conversation, asks, “What are you talking about?”

“Don’t worry,” I say. “I’m following you.”

“I don’t know how,” she giggles. And it’s the kind of giggle you hear from someone when they are not in the greatest of existential spots. The kind of giggle that is a person’s last attempt at joy, an effort to play down a miserable situation of colossal proportions. I hear many of the vagrants in my neighborhood giggle like this.

“Everybody would be too happy,” she says. “You’d have dealers laughing.”

“But if everyone were happy, they’d be more inclined to gamble. And this would be good for the casino and good for the dealers.”

“One lady said that I shouldn’t show up.” Giggle. “But of course that was a joke.”

I’m amazed that the $20 has lasted this long. I know that I’ll eventually lose it. But for the moment, I score a blackjack and tip the dealer my winnings.

“You know, I used to live in Sacramento. And during the summer, the pollen in the air sometimes made it difficult for me to breathe. But when I moved to San Francisco, the ocean air really helped me. And I breathe a lot better.”

The dealer tells me that she grew up in coastal California towns too. But she says that she spent most of the time partying.

“My friend tells me that you can die of this. Coughing and breathing.”

The pit boss, resembling a former football player in an ill-designed suit during a halftime show, approaches with a martinet-eyed woman with a clipboard. The dealer coughs and coughs. And when the hacking has abated, she then apologizes to the pit boss for not placing a silver dollar between a certain increment of chips. They don’t say anything or look at the dealer. Their eyes are fixed only upon the casino’s booty. They leave. But a beefy security guard in a short-sleeved white shirt crosses his arms and looks at me. I wonder if any of the surveillance has picked up our conversation. It doesn’t help that I’ve won the last five hands.

I don’t want to get the dealer in trouble. So I stop talking with her and deliberately blow a hand where the two cards add up only to 12 and the dealer’s face card is a King.

The guard leaves, satisfied after the dealer has confiscated my $5 chip.

She coughs again. It sounds very close to bronchitis.

“Have you seen a doctor?” I ask.

“Oh yeah. Just the other day. And he said that there are these great yellow goo trapped in my lungs.”

“Can you feel the phlegm when you breathe?”

“Oh yeah. And it just won’t come out.”

I’m wondering if she even did see a doctor. Surely, he would have prescribed an inhaler or suggested that the harmful casino environment should be avoided until the phlegm clears up. Or perhaps she’s overlooking telling me a detail like this because she really needs the cash.

“I’ve been thinking about a plan,” says the dealer in a quieter voice. “Saving up cash, getting away from this town.”

My last five dollar chip is swallowed up.

“Well, that’s it for me, I’m afraid. Please take care of yourself.”

Just as I’m about to get up from my chair, she puts her arm down on the table to get my eye contact.

“Thank you for being a nice person.”

All Signs Point to Lunatic

The Cool as Hell Theatre Podcast talks with a man named “Rex Reginald” who claims to be the author of a book called The Party Crashers. Apparently, Mr. Reginald claims that the producers of the film The Wedding Crashers ripped off his book. But here’s the interesting thing: There’s no trace of any book authored by Rex Reginald at either the Library of Congress or ISBN. In fact, the only book named The Party Crashers is a novel written by Stephanie Bond. Reginald claims in Rice’s podcast that he’s involved in a major lawsuit against unidentified producers and studios, that he’s about to get paid big money to buy a mansion. Perhaps he might want to consider investing this cash in a publicist who might be able to plug his nonexistent book.