Aug 27, 2008

Vegas in 48 Hours

Larry and I returned from hell –– I mean, Las Vegas: a constant onslaught of noise, heat, blaring music, slot machines, drunken gamblers, trashily dressed women and sleazy ogling men. And that was just the shopping mall.

I realize that lots of people love Las Vegas. In fact, it’s surpassed Disneyland as the #1 tourist destination for families. I guess for the occasional caged wildlife on display in the lobby. "And if you are bad, Timmy, we will throw you in that cage." Okay so people come for the hotels. The Strip is now populated with megaplex resort hotels that offer luxury rooms, dining, high-end shopping, and mega-pools. Even topless pools.

Larry and I didn’t come for the gambling, drinking or shopping. We came to see the Cirque Du Soleil’s Beatles LOVE show which was at the Mirage. That hotel cost $180 a night, but that’s not how we roll. So we ended up across the street at the Imperial Palace, at $55 a night. I had requested a room away from the strip, so they had placed us in a separate building wedged between the parking garage and the AC turbines, accessible only from a frontage road. So they moved us a room attached to the main building, looking down at the parking garage.

On the way to our room we stopped to admire the art in the gift shop window: I guess I would call this "Mermaid with Severed Head." No wonder Vegas is so popular. There is Something for Everyone. Our room was fine. Away from the street, it was quiet, minus the A/C noise, but at least the AC worked. The bed was firm, and the sheets were clean. That’s all we needed. Oh, and Larry wanted a pool.

It was a large over-chlorinated bath, and our fellow $55 a night guests were of the gangsta variety. Well, that’s what you get when you pay $55 a night. I read on one website that you could go swim in other pools. So we got out of the Clorox, dried off (in five seconds in the 100+heat) and went to explore pool accessibility at some of the other hotels. Ceasar’s Palace, the Mirage and Treasure Island (they have a wave machine). The pool was cordoned off and had a guard gate, and you have to flash your hotel key card to get in.

I asked the pool guard if we could buy a day pass.
“For Topless Pool,” he shrugged. “Twenty buck for ladies, fifty bucks for guys.”
“We can’t buy a day pass for the regular pool?
“How about if we buy massage packages at the spa, which is adjacent to the pool and from where I’m standing, I see women going in and out to the pool patio?”

Next time, Larry suggested, we’d come with friends and get a suite and split the cost. Or find a pool that sells day passes.

Like I’m going to come back?

We went out to the street to walk around, and within five minutes I was on sensory overload. There were booths selling all sorts of tchotcke and trashy clothes, leather faced women who wanted to spray cologne in my face. A row of illegals were shoving business cards at us: they read, “Women direct to you.” They weren’t women on the cards, just naked torsos. A truck drove by hauling a mini billboard for “Girls Who Want To Meet You.” A Latina gal with bleached blonde hair relaxed in a thong and bra. She didn’t look that excited to meet anyone.

Larry is full of surprises. He cries watching Lord of the Rings, he loves Disneyland, and has the White Stripes and Kelly Clarkson on his iPod. Larry doesn’t like fakery or glitz, so I was surprised to learn that Larry has been to Vegas a few times. “We liked the buffet at the Rio,” Larry said. “But the Excalibur’s got a nice pool.” How many times had he been here? Several. Mostly with his ex-girlfriend. And look how that ended? Years of therapy. He said therapy was to heal from the relationship; I think it was to heal from Vegas.

After a nap we looked into dinner. We thought we might want to do one of those buffets, since I’m into sushi and Larry is into fatty pork. I went online and found a terrific website: Cheapo Vegas. They will give you the low down on everything from hotels to food. Check out their buffet descriptions.

Round Table Buffet: Consistently ranked in the bottom third in Las Vegas, the Excalibur is underperformed by few. You can get indigestion for the price of a decent meal. Casseroles and low-grade meats sit under heat lamps in this enormous buffet. Stay away at all costs.
Fellini's Ristorante Italiano: You know what would be cool? If this restaurant had a Federico Fellini theme. They could have a giant statue of the Virgin Mary floating overhead, and a bunch of crazy Italian clowns dancing around, and your waiter would repeat the same words over and over. But it doesn't.
a Creperie: We could make a tasteless joke involving a homonym on the name, but we're too classy for that.

We hadn’t eaten anything but string cheese since breakfast, so we needed to eat eventually. We walked south a couple blocks, past one of the older YEE-HAW GAMBLING HAWL hotels and found the Paris. It was a huge relief to get out of the heat and into some relative quiet. The first floor casino’s ceilings were high, so it wasn’t as noisily. They were painted like the sky and artfully lit so you felt like you were not in Paris, but in a Disney ride about Paris. Larry and I strolled around and for the first time since we got here I started to relax. Wow, I was tired. And hungry. We made it down the Parisian themed passage of shops, until we realized we were heading into Bally's. So we turned around and walked back along the fake Paris street.

I spied an older couple walking toward us with their adult, handicapped son. They each had an arm on him, helping him walk as he looked up at the architecture and the fake sky. Just as they passed I caught the expression on the son’s face. Joy. It was the most spontaneous, real moment I’d witnessed since we got here.

It took nearly an hour for our waitress, a fireplug Russian named Olga, to get us our food. We walked back through Ceasar’s Palace, arguably the largest hotel on the strip. It spanned two entire blocks. I stopped in The Cher boutique (she's doing a show) and bought a magnet for my friend Matt. We just to rewrite Christian praise songs sung by Cher. Lke this old one by Steve Green
Do you believe...people need the Lord (need the Lord, need the Lord)
I believe something inside me saying ... He really is the open door, whoa...

Outside the Cher boutique, Larry spotted a poster advertising an art gallery with Peter Maxx, “just ahead in the Forum Shops. But the deeper we walked into the Forum shops, the further from Peter Maxx we went. We never found Peter Maxx. But I did see a woman who looked just the bleached blonde Latina “Girl Who Wants To Meet You.” She was heading into a gangsta hip hop bar. Maybe for a date. Maybe for a job.

A set of fountain statuary started moving, and with the help of some very bad holographics, started acting out the myth of Poseidon or Neptune or Aqualung. That's when we left.

We did stroll through the Bellagio on the way back. Despite the annoying excess, we did find some amazing art: like this ceiling display at the front desk. All blown glass. I guess I appreciate extravagance in art. Something you can't own but you can enjoy. Besides, it was free to look at. Unlike the trashy 'girls who want to meet you.'

The next morning, we woke up late. Larry felt dizzy. So we found a Wallgreens online next to the MGM Grand, and took the overpriced but air-conditioned monorail down the few blocks to the MGM Grand. We had to walk at least the same distance through the maze of shops and casinos to get out to the street. Wallgreens was out of Smart Water so I got Larry some electrolyte supplements and we walked back in the heat.

There was no way we were going for a Clorox dip. We tried the Mirage again, but the pool was closed. “There’s a lightning storm on the way,” the guard told us and a bunch of other poolgoers.

Why can’t we go in the water, it’s just lightning.”
You don’t want to get electrocuted,” the guard explained.
The guy was still pissed off.

I wanted to see Hoover Dam, so we got in the car and drove west. By tht eime we hit the freeway heading south to the dam, the storm had moved in. buckets of rain, shots of lightning. An emergency wanring came on the radio and told us, “Turn around, don’t drown.” SO much for Hoover Dam.

We made it back in time for a nap. I took a shower. Problem was, the water wasn't draining. I fished this out of the drain. Notice the layers of differerent color hair, matted wtih oil and soap scum and goo. My guess this was a hairball months in the making. Maybe years.

Not that I was hungry after that, but it was time to go get dinner and wait for our raison d'etre en Vegas: the Beatles LOVE.

We went over the Mirage and decided to eat at “Cravings Buffet. I could have sushi and Larry could have fatty pork. The food wasn’t that great. Maybe it was the hairball still in my memory. Or maybe it was the fact that everything was dried out. The macaroons were nice, though. We walked around the casino. I was hoping to find CNN on a jumbo tron. Don Miller was giving the benediction at the democratic national convention, and we wanted to see it live! Maybe they'd have CNN in the sports betting area. I imagined über-reactionary pastor Mark Driscoll betting 5 to 1 that Don prayed like a heretic. But no CNN. We snuck back into the café, but the convention was over for the night.

It was time to see LOVE. Larry and I had been talking about seeing it since it opened two years ago. I’ve never seen a Cirque Du Soliel show, so I could tell you I was pleased. But that would be an understatement. Not just because I love the Beatles and I’ve been playing the LOVE CD all year. Beatles producer George Martin and his son did the music, using a thing called “mashing.” Take the opening track: They take the opening chord to “A Hard Day’s Night, follow with the drum solo from the end of Abbey Road, add the guitars, the escalating strings from A Day In The Life, and then boom, in comes “Get Back.” But when we actually heard that music and watched the opening, it was incredible. I burst into tears. This is from a BBC documentary on the making of LOVE. Scroll ahead to about 40 seconds into the clip and you’ll see the opening.

They didn't show the Beatles faces until the very end of the show, and it paid off. When they finally did, Larry and I cried. I just missed John and George. I guess I missed part of my own childhood. I missed what good art really can do for your soul. It was worth it, enduring all of the gaudiness and faker of Las Vegas, just to see this show.

We stopped at Hoover Dam on the way home. Larry and I both love road trips. We haven’t done much since gas skyrocketed. But we’re both working long hours and don’t get a lot of time together. So just hanging out in the car for five hours is a treat. It was a great way to celebrate our first two years. I feel pretty blessed, I married a guy who cries at Lord of the Rings, and at the Bealtes LOVE show.

We’re already talking about going back. For the Beatles. Not for the buffet.

Aug 22, 2008

A Pinch of Fall

Wow. Summer is almost over. I'm noticing fall approaching. The barely perceptible change of light has bought on a slight melancholy. My sister called a few days ago, she noticed it too. Wherever the earth is in its elliptical path around the sun, we are losing more minutes of light per day than in the steady mid summer. To me, it feels like a pinch. Like I'm being pinched ever so slightly with melancholy and nostalgia.

The nice thing is, Larry's been on vacation. Tuesday is our anniversary, so we are going to Vegas. I despise Vegas. The first time I drove through Vegas, I was in seventh grade, on the way to a ski trip. We arrived at about 8am and stopped at a supermarket to get Cheetos and coke. At the front of the store, where they usually stock charcoal and rug shampoo and ATMs, there was a line of slot machines. Fat ladies stood at the slots, spending their grocery money. Outside a balding man in a ratty jacket wandered aimlessly along the sidewalk. My brother said he looked like he’d had a frontal lobotomy. We got out of there fast. Two years ago we drove through Vegas on the way back from Denver. We hit Vegas at midnight and needed a cheap motel to crash. We spotted an exit, but along the frontage road was some strip club. There were over a dozen police cars, yellow crime tape, and a wall of people getting herded into police trucks. We didn't stop.
But, we are going to Vegas for our anniversary. One reason: The Cirque du Soleil's Beatles LOVE show. It’s been there two years and it’s not going anywhere else. Wish me luck

The only thing Larry wanted for his anniversary, besides a firm bed in a quiet room in Vegas, was a Dodgers T-shirt. So this afternoon we went looking for one at Target. They were sold out, but I did buy him a new muscle T-shirt (his current one is so stretched out, the armholes go down to the end of his rib cage. Larry has chest hair. this is not good ).

I also convinced him to let go of his bachelor penchant for tube socks and buy ankle socks instead. Why do men buy tube socks? Is it too confusing with the heel curve? Too hard to figure out how to to figure out how to match up the sock heel with your own? So what if there's no front or back. Invariable you've got a bubble at the front of your ankle. They’re vile.

Besides, Larry has been wearing tube socks with shorts. Tube socks. Shorts. Until today. Witness Exhibit A and B. It’s a very subtle change, but I like it.

Our search for the Dodgers t-shirt took us to the Arcadia Mall. My writer friend Diane is a teacher. Diane writes for Burnside Writers Collective as do I. She wrote a great three-part piece (1) (2) (3) about how she didn't buy clothes for an entire year. It changed how she looked at clothes and retail marketing. As Larry and I browsed the mall, I kept thinking about Diane’s piece. I realized something: Diane is right, retail stores lie to you. They convince you that you need a bubble shirt or fly eyeglasses or those insane prints last seen on Lovey Howell.

I realized something else: I have, to use Joseph Campbell’s Greek Mythic structure, crossed the Threshold. I am officially too old for Wet Seal, Forever 21, and sadly H&M. I used to shop at H&M in New York, back when I was still producing collagen. I can no longer do it. Oh I might slip in and buy an H&M accessory, and I'm not ready to resign myself to Talbott's, but when the low rise pencil leg jean came back in this spring, that was it.

Neither Larry and I are big shoppers, but we loved hanging out all afternoon. I love being married to Larry. We get along, we make each other laugh, we think the other is cute, he lies about my face not getting wrinkled. And we enjoy hanging out. Even if he's in one room surfing the web and I'm in another room... surfing the web. Or being productive like sewing or watching netflix ... we like being around one another. Like having a best friend. Larry also comes fully equipped with a super awesome sister. Dianna makes me cards. She is creative and artistic like her brother.

I'm also e also trying to economize on our food bill. So I pulled a bag of corn and a bag of peas that were losing the battle against freezer burn. I had bought them when Larry fell on the stairs and bruised his hip and used as ice packs. Well this evening I made a pea-corn salad, added an old can of garbazo beans, some onion, vinegar oil and garlic. I now have a slew of marinated veg salad to tide me over until we can buy more meat.

Larry took a look at it and pulled out a frozen pouch chicken pesto sausages to grill. He insisted on calling them "brats,” I told him I didn't think Germans made sausages with pesto. But he feels more like a man if he's grilling bratts than sautéing pesto sausages. I won on the tube socks. So I allowed the bratts. I let it go. It worked wonders. When we cleaned up after dinner, look what I found in teh rubbish pail. I didn't have to ask.

I'll soon be ready for the fall and the industry that is borne of that melancholy. It's no wonder the Jewish year ends about now. It's time to harvest, take stock, repent and clean up my act. And get going.

I’m off to sew some more tea cozies. Larry is writing.

Happy Second Anniversary, Larry. You get cuter every year. Especially with shorter socks. And hair.

Aug 1, 2008

A Week Of Loss And Love

My mother came to visit for a week. She lives with my sister Nancy and her family in Colorado. Mom came last summer as well, and again over Christmas with my sister's family. I'd been looking forward to having her here but I'd been worried, too. (Mom had a stroke in 2001 which took a chunk of her vocabulary. She has been declining verbally and physically ever since).

Nancy and Phill warned me that Mom has gotten weaker. They also warned Mom that if she didn't go out for a walk every day she couldn't come to LA, because we've got a long flight of steps from the street up to the house. Mom did make it up and down once a day, but by the end of the week she was tired, forgetful, and a bit loopy. I was warned of that, as well. The loopy thing.

I remember the first time she did something troubling. It was probably back in 2003, when she still lived in California. I took her up to Farmer's Market on Fairfax. Mom had gone there when she was in high school. We went to Dupars for dinner; or rather for the nostalgia, as the food was sub-par. The rest rooms were located out in the market stalls, and Mom left to go use it. Nearly ten minutes passed and she had not returned. I went out and found her wandering off toward the parking lot. It shocked me to realize she wasn't sure where she was, or maybe how she got there, or with whom. Today it shocks me to think I'd let her out of my sight.

That's one of the inevitable tragedies watching someone fade. You get used to it, bit by bit, dying synapse by dying synapse, until you forget what they were like before they disappeared. Of course I can picture her as she once was. But I can't connect that intelligent, articulate woman to the frail, senile old lady at the dinner table. Mom once critiqued a movie as 'lacking verisimilitude.' Now she struggles so much to find the words that she often elects not to talk. Or she isn't even thinking in big words. She's off somewhere.

The French phrase for senility is retomber en enfance, which translates to "fall back into childhood." If old people fall back into their childhood, my mother must have been a sweet young girl. She's grateful, content, and very polite. She called Larry "sir," I guess because she met Larry long after her stroke, and she can't find a place in her brain to store his name. She's easily entertained: we have a giant cactus that has sprouted its swan song -- a thirty foot tree pod-- into the sky, and then it will die. Every morning mom marveled at it, as if it showed up overnight. And whatever I served her to eat, she thought it was "wonderful!" Maybe that's because one morning she got up before I did and tried to eat a square of candle wax).

Earlier in the week she was fine. We were praying for Larry because his job is sucking the life out of him. Mom offered up an eloquent prayer, full of multi-syllabic, lyrical words. It's like the place where prayer is stored in her brain didn't get touched.

Mom has felt nostalgic over her former life as in Costa Mesa. I called one of Mom's old friends, and took Mom down to see her at the end of the week. Two nights before, I showed Mom what her house looks like from a satellite, courtesy of Google Earth. I also showed her some street view shots and she was in awe. Complete awe!

But Saturday, the day we drove down, she seemed detached. I drove her past our old house and she didn't do much more than shrug. I wondered if it was too hard to look at it. But mom wasn't one not to cry. No it was somethign else. I took Mom to her friend's house and went to visit my favorite high school teacher a couple blocks away. I wasn't away more than two hours, but when I came to get Mom, her friend said "she seems confused, I think we wore her out."

Mom was sitting upright on their couch, eyes closed. I nudged her and she looked at me.
"It's time to go, Mom," I nudged her.
"I don't want to go," she replied. "I want to sit here."
Her childish response took me aback. "Are you too tired to walk to the car?"
"I'm just going to sit here," she stared at me.
"You can lay back in the car, I'll put the seat back."

I thanked Mom's friend for taking her to lunch and tried to be as casual about it, so as not to alarm her friend. She stood out on the parkway as we drove off. I saw her lift her hand to her mouth and I wondered if she was stifling tears.

Like maybe she was wondering if it was the last time she'd see Mom. I try not to think about it myself.

Mom seemed more detached and quiet after our trip down to Orange County. Less engaged. I found myself relating to her more like she was a child. But after she went to sleep I tried to describe my mother to Larry -- what she was like when she had full use of her mind and words.

I lamented that Larry never got to know her as she used to be. I lamented that I didn't get to have enough time with her as a peer. She's not the same person.

But soon enough a reply came to me, from God I can only guess: she IS the same person. Just because she can't express herself like she used to, or even think clearly, she is still the same person. It's up to you, Susan, to love her that way. Love her like she is, love her like who she is now is the summation of her soul, despite how much is hidden from my limited view.

It was a hard week for my sister's family, too. They have three cats, and one of them died of an infection. The cat was only 1 1/2 years old. Everyone loved Elsa but she was really my niece's cat: Emily is a beautiful 12-year old girl, sensitive, artistic and intuitive. She has a great capacity for empathy and caring, and she loves animals. And Elsa was her cat. So it's pretty sucky. Her brother Jonathan is pretty broken up about it too. He Emily are INFs, on the Myers Briggs test. Introverted, Intuitive, feeling. A hard day when a pet dies. Nancy and Phill are very supportive, and they know it's going to take time. Nancy cried and read this passage from Romans 8 at Elsa's funeral: The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope, that creation itself would be liberated from its bondage.

Just as I was writing this post and trying to be philosophical about my mom, Nancy called to say that mom's behavior has been kind of whacked since she got back on Monday: like sitting on the front porch for long stretches, saying she's waiting for the train to come get her. So, my mother's detached behavior, at least at the end of her week with me, wasn't usual. She may have had another mini stroke, or her senility has been exacerbated by fatigue. She doesn't have Alzheimer’s, but there are some similarities between it and vascular dementia. Patients need lots of regularity. So it's quite possible my mom won't ever make the trip out here again.

I asked my nephew Matt, who's almost 15, how he's dealing with Grandma's health. It affects everything, he said: where they can go, how long they can be gone away from home if Grandma is at home. And if she's with them, they have to leave when she gets tired. Now, if Grandma's lucidity has dropped and it doesn't improve, they can never leave her alone.

"Wow, that's a big load to carry," I replied.

"Well she's part of the family," he replied. "It's like having a brother with a disability."

"That's right, I agreed. She may not be able to talk well or think straight, but she's the person God sees and loves."

"Yeah. And God always teaches me something through things like this," Matt offered.

"So it's an AFGO for you: Another Freakin Growth Opportunity."

Mat laughed. "Yeah. Definitely."