Friday, October 22, 2004


A young friend of mine is having job woes. His company went bust this week, which means that he is newly unemployed. He’s faced with pounding the street again, looking for elusive employment.

I feel for him. It’s tough out there. Why does he think I was in government for over 30 years, accepting lower wages (or at least the argument has always gone)?

His trials have made me think again about my first forays into the business world. Well, not INTO the business world. I stuck a toe in, and found it icy cold.

A few short months shy of graduation from San Diego State College in 1970, I went on a few interviews. One was with the U.S. Navy, as I had applied for officer candidate school. The woman I met with initially told me what they were looking for: “A woman of the times, someone who wouldn’t fall apart at meeting a Robert Redford-type!” She then told her horror story of watching three young women applicants lose their “cool” when they encountered a young blonde officer. Well, I knew that wouldn’t be my problem. I assured her that if that were the test, I’d pass.

However, I wasn’t the one for them. They were looking for a certain type, and I didn’t match that description. I later entered the service (enlisted rather than officer), four years later, but only after I tried a few other avenues.

I went to a personnel agency, and they seemed convinced that they could hook me up with a well-paying job. “What kind of job are you looking for?” I wasn’t sure. Maybe a bank position, like a loan officer. A personnel job. Anything that pointed towards a career, a profession. Any job where the training could be on the job.

My first interview for the agency was for a bank, for the position of a loan officer. I still remember the fact that the man never asked me any questions, never looked over my resume. He didn’t even talk about the job. He just talked about daily affairs, and then, as a punctuation at the end of his talk, he told me I should go home, get married and have kids. He then ushered me out the door. I thought to myself, “I can’t believe this! It’s 1970, not 1940!” I remember thinking that I was amazed that I was coming up against the same barriers that stumped my mother so many years ago when she, as a divorcee, tried to make a living to support her and her young son. Some things hadn’t changed terribly much after all.

The next interview was for a clerical job on the Navy base, a government job. Same kind of drill, not much difference. At the end of this interview, in which I was not asked a single question about my qualifications, he told me he had already hired someone for the job. That was an illegal practice under the circumstances, but I didn’t raise a fuss, knowing I still needed to work within this system.

I was finally hired from a clerical and typing test I had taken the year before. I entered my first real job, totally overqualified, in November 1970, as a GS-3 Clerk Typist. I believe I was paid about $6,000 a year. I was a great clerk-typist, and ended up meeting some great people who taught me a lot. I also met a lot of chauvinists who tried to hold me and so many others back. My fellow students from SDSC, at least the male ones, were getting at least double that in salary, in a real profession. It took awhile to get going, to discover what I really wanted to do and how to go about it. Probably 10 years.

So, my friend, I’m not by any means suggesting you wait 10 years. I’m just saying that there will be obstacles. There will be stupid bosses, stupid people who interview you. There will be times when may want to go to work for McDonald’s, just to avoid another interview. My message to you: Go for what you want, and don’t let anybody hold you back. And if, at the end of a long day, you don’t get the job, give me a call. We’ll do lunch. I'll buy.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Baseball’s been very, very good to me.

My love affair with the sport began in the late 1970’s, when I left the Navy and relocated with my girlfriend to Los Angeles.

Relocation was very difficult, physically and emotionally. We left all our friends, who were steadily leaving the service anyway, and we left our home in Nevada, where a two-bedroom trailer cost $90/month. House-hunting in L.A. after my first day of work was terrifying, as the horrible reality finally came through to us: we could not afford to live anywhere near my job, near anywhere that was nice. We finally found a one-bedroom apartment in Wilmington, in the midst of some of the worst squalor and crime in Los Angeles. On top of that, it took about 45 minutes to drive to work. In our small town in Nevada, it had taken five minutes to get to work, leaving you time to get a cup of coffee.

Our next-door neighbor was a biker, a real leather man who had the hots for my girlfriend. Not surprisingly, I didn’t trust him at all. He was living off disability from the Teamster’s. Since neither he nor Debbie were working, they spent a lot of time together.

He invited us to a baseball game. Only $8, he said, a promotion at Elysian Fields. The Dodgers. He drove us there in his station wagon through a maze of four freeways and bumper-to-bumper traffic. I was totally amazed as I walked into this blue cathedral of baseball. I had never realized that you could actually *go to these games.

Within a few months, I got promoted and attended training in Georgia. I got the “Dear Jane” call at the barracks-like housing they gave us for training two weeks before my return.

Still, I had baseball. I went by myself to Dodger Stadium, and it became a real luxury item. I found that I could buy agency "scalped" tickets, sold back to the broker by season ticket holders, and could sit in the reserve level, one level above field, and watch Steve Garvey, Mike Scioscia, Don Sutton, Ron Cey, and, yes, Dusty Baker play their hearts out. I remember many nights just falling asleep against the concrete pillar in that section, tired from all the overtime my promotion had given me. But I was happy to be in blue and have a home to go to.

But then I transferred to the San Francisco Bay Area. I lived in Oakland but I naturally loved national league teams and style of play. I went to Candlestick Park whenever I could. I found that tickets to the ‘Stick were comparatively easy to come upon. You didn’t need to buy scalped tickets, but could buy them on your own ahead of time. No matter what bothered you, you could always hang out at the park, sometimes hours ahead of time. Watch some BP. Look at the brilliant play of future hall of famers, like a young Barry Bonds. I couldn’t wear blue any more, but I felt I looked better in black anyway.

I attended a few American League games as well. As long as I had lived in Los Angeles (11 years), I never once attended an Angels game. It was well known that the Angels weren’t a good team. Just ask founder Gene Autry, who died without seeing his team advance to the playoffs. So, I started going to Oakland A’s games with my new family, which was beginning to appreciate the sport. We had watched the A’s fight the Giants during the great earthquake games of 1989, when I transferred to the Bay Area. My partner had just gone through a wrenching foot surgery, her third. In the fog of the powerful pain medication, she would cheer home the A’s. Her two sons and I sat at the foot of her bed and cheered her on as well as our team. Her boys learned the Star Spangled Banner in the car on our way to a home game the next year, hoping to convince their Mom to buy them a treat at the game.

I developed a new respect for the American League, and specifically for the hardy players of the Athletics, players who helped the A’s win four World Series’ rings. Players like Dave Stewart, Reggie Jackson, Dave Henderson, Bob Welch (a Dodger transplant), Mike Gallego, Walt Weiss, Carney Lansford, and, yes, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. How exciting those years were! The only thing I didn’t like about American League baseball was -- okay, the designated hitter rule. Isn’t that cheating? Doesn’t that lessen the number of strategies left to employ? And I hated the Oakland colors. Garish yellow and bright green were indicative of Billy Martin days, but not the LaRussa decade. The A's slowly changed their colors to a darker, richer combination.

The Coliseum was much like Candlestick Park, made from that old mold of separating the fans from the players. There was enough foul territory at the Coliseum to stage a Broadway musical with all the costume changes. The stadium is basically the same. Only the name has changed. That and the food, which has gotten considerably better in Oakland. Oh, and add in the Davis Wall, a blindingly steep facade of green built for thousands more football fannies. With the advent of The Wall, the sight of the Oakland hillside was blocked from our view.

I broke up with my partner in 1991, and started a new life on my own. In an effort to fill in the holes of this life, I started a new baseball partnership. Rick, a coworker, had the same passion as I had. Our buddy George did, too, but due to family obligations, never felt free enough to go to more than one game a year. Rick, however, had a very understanding family. In fact, his family is so understanding that (1) he attends games on anniversaries, birthdays, and national holidays if he has a ticket; (2) they give him baseball gifts for every occasion, knowing how much he loves the sport; and not at all least, (3) his girlfriend (now wife) always found the money in their tight budget to advance him so that he could buy partial season tickets with me. It may sound that I’m envious. I’m not. As a single, spoiled woman, I bought all the tickets I wanted as well. We're a perfectly matched couple of baseball friends.

For the past 13 years or so, Rick and I have shared tickets to the A’s and Giants. During each season, we suffer the slings of outrageous fortune as our team does or dies, usually the latter. Over the past several years we weren’t working next to each other any more, so we’d take the time to catch up on what his kids are doing, how my surrogate kids are faring. We would punctuate this conversation by standing up and yelling at an umpire, or cheering on a magnificent double play on the field. And then argue about how we would have done things as pseudo-managers.

Two years ago, almost to the day, I received a phone call from my doctor. He started out slowly yet quickly, all of a sudden saying to me, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but you have cancer.” He said something else about hating to spoil my weekend, but all the words trailed off in my memory. Within two weeks I underwent surgery to remove part of my diseased colon. I had no fear when I walked in, and none when I awoke in the intensive care unit. It’s only when I saw two friends’ faces, a day apart, that I realized, slowly, what risk there was. And now, now that I have time to think it all over, I know what risk there remains. I’m a survivor. For now.

The baseball season that year was a spectacular one, for both the Athletics and the Giants. But I was pulled in so many directions that year that I don’t really remember living it. I had very little leave, and thus went back to work a little too soon, two weeks after my operation and one week after I returned home. The stress at work was mounting as the demands increased, but at least I didn’t have the constant before-surgery stomach pain to deal with.

That entire ordeal made it so easy to make the decision to retire at the end of 2003. I knew I would be healthier if I retired. My job as supervisor had changed so much within the last few years as government agencies merged. My skill levels were not increasing fast enough to keep up with the changes. And, somehow, priorities in my life had shifted abruptly.

And so, in 2004, baseball came around again, sprouting up through the cold, solid ground like a new crop. The A’s dropped most of their money players and even their winning manager. We were able to keep Chavez, signing him to a new contract, but he’s still young, and Jermaine Dye has been injured for two years now. But new players like Kotsay and some promising young pitchers were going to make it exciting. The Giants still had Bonds, better than ever, recovering from the death of his father, his mentor. We lost Jeff Kent and an ailing Robb Nen, but picked up such veteran players as Grissom and Tucker. Baseball has changed. Our teams have changed. But they’re still as exciting as ever.

When I attended the ballgames this year, it was a different experience. I wouldn’t eat three of the drumsticks (my favorite) in one ballgame, constantly on the "vendor watch." I will usually opt for the Chinese chicken salad. And take an hour lap around the parking lot before walking in through the tightened security. I have time to listen to the commentators, edge in some music as well, chill out and watch the whole game rather than dash off in the 7th with all the unfinished business I usually had. I’ve changed.

Baseball and I continue to change. We’re both still here, surviving.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Captain Marbles Meets Las Vegas, Volume Two

It was a nice invitation from my brother, Captain Marbles: Meet me in Las Vegas in September. I’ll stay at the Westward Ho, he said, and you can stay for 2 nights for free at the Stardust. Unless you’d rather stay at the ‘Ho? No thanks. While I had never stayed at the Stardust before, it had to be better than the ‘50’s motel decor the Westward Ho served up to its loyal customers.

Even though I had met Marvin and his wife before at the casino, he still took me on the tour. This is where he had won a tournament. This is where he had won a huge jackpot. He showed me all his favorite machines. But in deference to my tastes, he showed me all the nickel slots in the small casino. I remembered them, and saw, with some dismay, that some had been displaced by other, newer ones. Still, there seemed to be enough fun ones to enjoy.
So, on that first day, I won some, I lost some, mostly keeping even while I played Monopoly, I Dream of Jeannie, even Reel ‘Em In, my favorite. I discovered new ones at which I did very well, like Alien and Rich Uncle.

I went to bed, exhausted after the first night, at about 11 pm. Marvin kept gambling. When I saw his wife Hide that next morning, she said that he had won big after she and I had left for sleep. Sure enough, I saw him in the early afternoon, talking to various staff members in the Westward Ho, telling them about his big score.

An incident that happened to Hide last visit came to light: a maid apparently took her blouse, as she couldn't find it when they were leaving. They complained to Westward Ho management when they got home, and the customer service rep told them to see him when they came next. When Marvin asked me if I wanted to go shopping, I thought it was for souvenirs. Little did I realize I was going with Hide to find a replacement blouse.

We met Jim the Customer Service Rep at the progressive dollar slots. Jim showed Hide and me to his personal Mercedes, and drove us the 5 minutes it took to get to the mall. He told me he thought it was a nicer response if he would take her shopping than just mail her a check for the blouse’s replacement, and he was certainly right. He asked her if she wanted Nordstrom’s when we got to the, she said....Macy’s? Yes! she said. Macy’s was her favorite. This was definitely an upscale Macy’s, with personal shoppers galore. Jim, who was dressed nattily in a suit and matching silk tie, chatted with me as we waited for Hide to make her choice of blouses. Jim, whom I recognized immediately as a brother, served many purposes at the Westward Ho and beyond. He worked on the slot tournaments and promotions as well as customer service at the casino. He was promoting the new Westward Ho which was being built, ready to open in about a month. “The old Westward Ho appeals to clientele who go to bed at about 10 pm,” he said, referring naturally to the Westward Ho’s aging clientele. “This one will bring in those who stay up a little later.” As we walked around Macy’s, he was looking at outfits that had size 0 written on them, trying to figure out what would work for his models on a photo shoot he was going to do in two days. Jim also has his hand in other endeavors, as he pointed out two shows on the Strip which he had choreographed. "I was a dancer for the first 10 years I was in Las Vegas," he said rather wistfully. "I have since grown in other regions," pointing to his waistline. "And these 19-year-old dancers look at me and say, 'God, you're old!'"

When Hide found a blouse -- a $90 one to replace her $12 blouse -- Jim paid for it with his Visa card, and we were on our way back to the casino.

Marvin was feeling good, having won the previous night and was winning so far that afternoon with two $400 jackpots, and so he said he was taking Hide and me to a nice steak dinner at the Riviera. We crossed the street to the Riviera at about 6 pm, but couldn’t get out of the entrance. As soon as you go in, they rope you in for a spin at their wheel. Now, Hide and Marvin know the spin very well, but they love freebies, so all of us stayed in the line a good 20 minutes to win a mug or a deck of cards. Marvin had ANYBAR-ANYBAR-ANYBAR, though, at the big slot machine, so he won some sort of lottery ticket. That meant we all had to go to the player’s club to see if he had won. He did not, but he got another freebie: a 2nd troll doll, surely the ugliest prize in the place.

We made it to the steak house, which is called Kristoffer’s. It was nearly deserted at that early hour, easy to get a table without a reservation. As we walked in, Marvin threw over his shoulder at me, “Do you want white wine or red?” Oh, wow, this is going to be a great dinner! I replied, eagerly, “White!” After he asked the hostess to re-seat us to another table away from the walk-by traffic, he said, “Do you want French wine?” He must’ve hit it big! I said, “No, no -- I prefer wine from California.”

The waiter handed him the wine list. We argued about which white wine. I wanted a nice Chardonnay, while he argued for Blue Nun. “Blue Nun?” I said, haughtily. “Blue Nun is so 30 years ago.” I picked out a Chardonnay, and we asked for two glasses. Marvin took one sip, and reacted. “This is too vinegary. I can’t drink this.” He then asked for a bottle of Blue Nun, as they didn’t serve it by the glass. The waiter, Bobby, seemed determined to get his tip; he said, “Blue Nun is very...consistent.” And that’s what the Captain wanted.

After I drank the two glasses of Chardonnay, I hazarded a glass of the Blue Nun. It’s easier to describe what it isn’t. Not crisp. Not oakey. Very sweet. I found that it helped having the other two glasses first.

The steak was absolutely delicious. I will remember that steak house.

Afterwards, we went to the Nickel Slots adjoining the Riviera. Marvin, probably to keep me company, played Monopoly nickel slots alongside me, but was frustrated because he couldn’t get the bonus round. I kept getting to the bonus rounds, however, on my machines, and was having a good time racking up the points. But after awhile, the 3 glasses of wine and all the food had a definite effect on me: I was falling asleep. So I went back to the Stardust, alone.

I knew I was checking out the next day, so I thought I should play there a little bit, maybe get a comp offer later for my play. I played Monopoly, and quickly won over 1,000 coins (nickles) on two machines. As I waited for the slot people to come over and pay me off, I played a machine I had never heard of before: Quackers. The point of Quackers was to get as many of the same pictures in a row, of course. The bonus round consisted of trying to hit ducks with a plunger, a real crazy, whacky kind of game. I liked it because it was a penny machine, and although I could’ve changed the denomination, I didn’t bother, figuring I could figure out what 1000 pennies are. Better yet, Quackers paid off in a ticket so you didn’t have to wait for manual payoff.

It was late on a Wednesday night, and still no slot people to pay me off for the Monopoly machines. So I kept playing Quackers. Finally they came and I could stop playing and go to bed. So I bet as much as I could at Quackers to play my money down. All of a sudden, I hit a bonus round that had huge numbers to it: 30,000 here, 20,000 there. And then there was another bonus round right after that. When I finally looked up, I was 110,000 points on the board. I thought, “Oh, a hundred dollars.” Then I stared at it again. Nope. Over $1,000. On a penny machine.

This trip must be about three that I’ve actually returned with casino money. Combine that with a shopping trip with a show choreographer and a fight over Blue Nun, and, well, you have a winning trip.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004


Comic-Con is the big event for collectors and film lovers. Oh, yes, they have comic books, too, but the big draw is the fact that the studios choose July every year in San Diego to promote their blockbusters.

This is the first one I’ve attended in the last 3 years. I’ve discovered that Comic Con tells me how old I am, and it’s not a welcome message. I’m 15 years old, or at least that myth lives inside my head. Sitting on the floor or standing in one spot for 5 hours for a chance at the first three rows in Hall “H” stubbornly explains to me just how old my body is. It’s a disturbing message.

The big annual Star Wars presentation with Steve Sansweet, Carrie Fisher, and young Anakin-turned Darth Hayden Christiansen is what Ricky looks forward to, and for that reason we’re in line for “H” as soon as the doors open. However, they’ve moved us outside in the sun so that the line can grow. We find out quickly that those who went above two levels and down, the first to enter, are ahead of us and in air-conditioning, as they came down to line the walls of “H.” We’re learning the system as we go so we can be quicker next time. As long as it’s fair, we comply with whatever rules there are.

We also saw screenings of “Alien vs. Predator” (surprisingly promising), Keanu Reeve’s new movie “Constantine” (surprisingly violent), Buffy star Sarah Michelle Gellar representing “The Grudge” (horribly violent), “Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow” (with guests Jude Law and Bai Ling), a surrealistic and unbelievably visual presentation by director Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller of Miller’s “Sin City,” young hip actors John Cho and Kal Penn introducing their new movie about the power of fast food and cameo appearances by buddy actors (“Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle”), and a spectacular presentation by New Line regarding the new “Return of the King” extended DVD (with witty remarks by prince David Wenham and hobbit Billy Boyd). There were many more, and we were in the front row. However, we missed everything else because we had to hold down our spot in line for 3-5 hours each day so that we could see the presenters.

I believe that the surprising attendance numbers for 2004’s Comic Con tells good things about the economy. Even on a Thursday, it was almost impossible to walk the middle aisle in the dealer’s room without bumping into somebody with a light saber. There seem to be more Hobbits this year than ever before, a testament to the popularity of Lord of the Rings. I’m beginning to feel resentful that the Hobbitses didn’t stay in the Shire this year. Where’s Gollum when you need him?

We won’t be returning to Comic Con in 2005, simply because it conflicts with Disneyland’s 50th anniversary celebration. Seven dwarfs instead of four Hobbits. What a trade-off.

Friday, July 09, 2004


I have a few friends who grew up in Stepford. Completely dominated in early life by the idea of the women they should be, an idea that was fostered both by the larger-than-life men in their lives as well as key women, it took determination, a lot of therapy and colossal courage to become the independent women they are today.

Knowing this, I think that Stepford is not a pretty place, contrary to both the 1975 and 2004 movies built upon the Ira Levin novel. It is also not a funny place.

The earlier film had the right tone. We followed the discoveries right along with Katharine Ross in this mystery. We were frightened, and we watched in horror when good friends like Paula Prentiss (you remember her in several beach blanket movies) fall under the Stepford curse.

This new film, however, is determined not to keep anything from us. Director Frank Oz acts as if we know all along what Stepford is, so there’s no use keeping it a secret. So, if we know what’s supposed to be happening, and the horror is telegraphed, the movie should have a lighter tone. It doesn’t.

And, in deference perhaps to the 30-year difference, Oz adds some modern touches to this latest treatment. We see a Jewish couple and, yes, even a gay couple fall into the trap. The gay angle, you would think, would elicit more laughs, as most of the stereotypes are played out. One of the funniest and most ironic moments of the play should have been when Roger, our co-conspirator, is “made” into a Republican conservative, his hair is changed, and his manner of flamboyant dress is ripped from him. However, that change, which happens in a matter of seconds, doesn’t have the impact of irony it should, and it certainly isn’t funny.

There are some wonderful performances here. Glenn Close is as close to a Stepford wife as possible. She just glows in these “smaller” roles as she ages. Christopher Walken is primarily used as a parody of himself. But since he’s already a parody of a parody, it’s hard not to laugh as soon as he comes onscreen. Matthew Broderick is developing into a fine comedian; his face tells you exactly what’s going on.

Nicole Kidman is fine, but she doesn’t take command of the movie, referring, instead, to veterans like Close and Walken. Kidman is much better in the beginning of the film when she’s the hyper T.V. executive – very believable as the wonderfully anal CEO right out of “Network.”

The real problem is that The Stepford Wives in 2004 is a comedy. At least I think it was supposed to be. There were a few moments when I laughed, mostly at Bette Midler’s clever deliverance of a line or two. (And, I’m sorry, but Bette as a blonde doesn’t seem “perfect” to me.) But the movie is too serious to be funny. The real truth, at least in my mind, is that the reality of Stepford is a tragedy. The town of Stepford still exists in America. Men still think if they could change their wives, they’d had perfect lives, and the women in their lives pass that message onto their daughters. But trying to squeeze laughs out of this “perfect” scene was a real mistake.

Thursday, July 08, 2004


“When you answer, answer s-l-o-w-l-y,” Ricky said to both of us. “If you’re going to give the right answer, make sure you answer after everybody else has. That’s how you don’t get picked for The Big Chair.”

Rick was giving Brandon, his teenage nephew, and me, his aunt, our last instructions on how not to compete in Disney World’s MGM Studios event, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

They tagged us as soon as we walked into the park. Ricky obviously didn’t want to play this game, as he edged towards the Indiana Jones Stunt Show while the Disney cast member spoke to us about the game, but it was clear both Brandon and I wanted to go inside the studio. We wanted to compete. So, Ricky gave in and followed us into the air-conditioned lobby.

I looked at Brandon and rolled my eyes at hearing Rick’s words of wisdom. Obviously, neither Brandon and I were going to follow this scheme. We wanted to win, kick butt with our knowledge of the American culture!

The studio wasn’t full, but as the time closed in on the 10 a.m. start time, more people kept coming in, no doubt funneled by the Disney reps. We were in “special” seats, the seats rimming the stage itself. I found out quickly that these seats gave us no advantage at all. The object was to hit the button A, B, C or D upon hearing the choices. Fast responses meant a chance to compete for prizes in front of the studio audience.

A kid was picked to be in The Big Chair from the first question. He was given very easy questions, but left very quickly when he had to answer a question about Bill Cosby’s T.V. family. They then picked the next person for the Chair, the person who got the most correct answers when the kid was up, the person who answered the questions the fastest, and that person in the audience happened to be…. Ricky.

Brandon and I were dumbfounded. W-h-a-a-a-t??? How could that have happened? We were instantly really excited! A family member made it to the Big Chair!

The very smooth Millionaire host asked Ricky what he did in San Diego. “Very little,” said Ricky. “He’s not kidding!” yelled out Brandon. The host did a little comedy routine around Rick’s answers, and then went to the game.

Ricky did very well, better than the kid, and we noticed that he was given tougher questions. He got to $16,000, but didn’t know which architect created Fallingwater.

As one of his lifeline choices, he opted to ask someone on the street. “On the street” in Disney World meant somebody right outside the studio. The Disney cast member handed her cell phone to the next person walking down the street, a mother and her two small children. Mom’s guess was incorrect, and Ricky was booted from The Big Chair. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright had created the Fallingwater structure.

At the end, they gave him his gifts and escorted him out. We had to wait until we were all the way out before we could finally ask him: What happened? What happened to don’t-answer-any-question-quickly-or-correctly, the strategy Rick was pushing at us?

He looked sheepish when he answered: “I lost my head.”

We never made it back to the Millionaire game, even though Brandon and I really wanted to, having had an appetizer of limited fame. Ricky couldn’t go back even if he had wanted to. (He didn’t.) He’s banned from playing the game for 30 days.

Should be enough time to get out of town.

Friday, April 09, 2004

"Hellboy" Movie Review

I've read a lot of comic books, and I've seen a lot of movies based on comic books. The former are usually art forms wonderfully created, at least in my memory, and the latter are normally badly done. Yes, you can cite the recent Spider-Man, but how many Hulks are out there? For that matter, have you seen the earlier incarnations of Spider-Man, including that live-action T.V. show? Horrible.

Hellboy gets it right. A deft screenplay by Guillermo del Toro that takes the time to set up his birth (a bit of a slow period in the film), shows you his temperament and the way The Big Red One uses humor, and slows down the action to show you his humanity as he reaches out to touch a kitten.

I've been a fan of Ron Perlman since The Beauty and the Beast, maybe even since that caveman epic he was in with no dialogue. Ron can act through a mask, and has often been required to do so. That's why they keep going to the same well. This one is deep.

Ron gets a lot of help from the sci-fi veteran John Hurt (The Elephant Man, Alien), and several others, including a naive FBI agent through whose eyes we get to meet this gentle giant.

I just wish every comic book adaptation didn't feel it had to build to an explosion between Good vs. Evil. Every time. God, that gets tiring. But even with that, Hellboy makes it entertaining for us and shows us his good side as he's whomping the monster's head against the rocks.

This is a definite must-see for any sci fi fan or anyone who wants to see clever people make good movies.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Viva Las Vegas with Captain Marbles

This is a chronicle of my recent trip to Las Vegas with my brother and his wife. (For those of you who don’t know where the moniker “Captain Marbles” came from, it goes back to when my brother and I were growing up in San Diego. We used to visit Dad’s Navy buddy in L.A., and the Viotti’s younger kids couldn’t pronounce “Marvin,” my older brother’s name. I told them it sounded like Captain Marvel, the T.V. hero at that time….only it came out “Captain Marbles” in their young mouths. Thus, Marvin’s nickname was born.)

It was to be a vacation of only four days, of visiting with Marvin and his wife, Hide. Only this time, it was on Marvin’s turf. “It won’t be at the fancy hotels you usually stay at in Vegas,” he told me a few months ago. It was the Westward Ho. I had never been there, but knew it by reputation some 30 years old.

When I arrived on Monday afternoon, I checked my luggage with the staff, awaiting a 3 pm check-in, and saw Marvin sitting by the Betty Boop slot machines just inside the door, just as he had told me. He took me over to the courtesy desk, and told me to ask for my package. When I did so, the man looked at me, puzzled. “You don’t seem to have one, Ma’am.” Of course I didn’t have one! My brother has played in this casino for 20+ years. I only played for 5 minutes, a year ago, when I was looking for him during one visit. Marvin sheepishly told me to buy the Wednesday night dinner package so that I could join them. “Mine was free,” he said. “It’s too bad you have to pay for yours.”

When we checked into the rooms, I couldn’t believe it. All the rooms of the Westward Ho are outside. Like a motel. Mine was basically down the block and up the stairs, so I had to schlep my luggage up one flight. The rooms are early ‘50’s. It’s like turning on the T.V. and finding Lucy on every channel. It was Spartan, very small, unappealing. Why would I stay in this room (which is perhaps the point)?

Shortly after we checked in, Brother Marvin gave me a tour of the Westward Ho. This was his place. The hotel/motel is a small place, not like the big casinos, so it was an easy tour. He showed me all of the dollar slots, all the progressive machines, that were his favorite to play. He introduced me to the slot pit managers. “See that guy over there? That’s John. He got a promotion. He now runs the slot tournament.” These guys are king here.

And, speaking of “kings,” he then brought me over to meet “Elvis.” The Westward Ho has a regular Elvis impersonator whose real name is Michael Kennedy. The guy who checked me in told me, “He’s pretty good with the physical resemblance.” Yeah, but what about the voice? Kennedy had the white jumpsuit, the black hair that was stuccoed onto his head, the sunglasses. He also had a little bit of a paunch, and trouble hitting that high note. At an Elvis early afternoon performance, Marvin went up to him and asked to sing with him. Elvis suggested he come back during the later performance. Marvin looked at me later with a smug smile: “He doesn’t want me to sing with him,” he confided in me. “I might show him up.” Thankyouverymuch.

The Westward Ho has some features for its VIPs that keep them comin’ back, year after year. Free comp’d rooms. Free ice cream at noon every day. A dinner show every Wednesday and Saturday, free to the guests who keep their level of play up to the standard. “Was the light on your telephone on this morning?” Marvin asked me Tuesday morning. I thought this was secret code for….well, something. No, I answered. He looked at me like I violated the unwritten rule. “You didn’t keep your level of play up,” he chided. “You’re going to have to play more.” Apparently the light guarantees you a free buffet breakfast or salad/pasta evening buffet. I had to settle for donuts and tea.

We ventured out two nights in a row. We went to the Las Vegas Hilton the first night to pay our respects to the Star Trek Experience (both agreeing not to take the ride, as it made us nauseous). We ate at Benihana’s, which was a great treat. We visited the new Palms casino. We spent some time at the Stardust and Riviera hotels, spinning wheels for free gifts and taking in the p.a. chatter. But the time spent away from homebase worried the Captain: he had to get back “home” to keep his level of play up, or he’d never see that dinner theatre again.

Wednesday night, they started lining up in the small casino area an hour before showtime. We were among the first. Marvin found John again, and spoke to him quietly, and John showed us really nice seats at a table built for 8. 2,000 people funneled into the room to enjoy the Inkspots on stage and a buffet dinner comprised of pot roast and fish I whose origins I didn’t recognize. Two drinks in plastic cups were included. Joining us at our table were couples from really cold states, all of whom smoked. I thought I was being slowly tortured in a cloud of poison. I made up excuses to go to the bathroom to get away from it. An hour and a half later, people were still going through the buffet line, but the show started anyway. I was surprised that I really enjoyed the show, as they had really pleasant voices and performed songs I knew from the ‘80’s. I did not, however, like the female singer that was part of the quartet. “She’s new,” Marvin offered me as a reason for her lack of talent.

After the show, he told me, “Wasn’t that a great show? You’d have to pay $1,000 for seats like that! And it was almost free for you!”

I must admit that there are slot machines I became rather fond of. I used to be a good gambler. I could play blackjack in my sleep. I knew the odds on craps, and which are the dumb plays and how to tip the “boys.” However, all I’m interested in now is some machine that takes my nickels and talks to me or plays really catchy tunes that I end up whistling later. Reel ‘Em In is my favorite, although they’re getting hard to find. Monopoly is a childhood favorite turned into perverse pleasure. Any slot taking television shows I used to watch and converting them into games that vacuum my nickels from me, that’s the one I’m headed for. I Love Lucy, The Addams Family, I Dream of Jeannie. Step aside, I hear the sirens call. And the Westward Ho had them all.

I began to feel no real need to step outside this little world. I spent most of my time playing the machines, checking in with Marvin and his wife, eating that strawberry shortcake with the mountain of whipped cream every afternoon, free ice cream at noon in the lounge, a foot-high margarita for 99 cents in the late afternoon, and then back to those favorite games.

And the next morning, the light was on in my room. I had arrived.

I’m back home now, in normal life. Not living a life that takes a lot of money to support a gambling habit. However, I’m just removed from it so I still yearn for it. I still hear Jeannie’s voice off in the distance, calling to me. “Hello, Master.” I’ll be back. And when I do come back, maybe I’ll get that free dinner show.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Shawn and I went to dinner tonight (Saturday, 3/13) at Emil's, the rib place on Pleasant Valley Road in Oakland (aka The Temple of Gustatory Delights, or "TGD") only to find a hastily written note on the door that they were closing tomorrow.  "And we're out of ribs and sauce," another note said.

But they were still open tonight, trying to serve an almost packed house.  We waited 10 minutes to be seated, in fact.  We talked to several of the older waitresses, our favorites, about the situation.  They learned of the closing 5 days ago, and were apparently still in shock.  The owner, they said, was faced with back taxes, rising costs, and a huge fee to renovate a leaky roof (among other things).  I asked one waitress if she had found another job.  No, but a bunch of them would be looking, starting tomorrow.

How sad.  No more grabbing a table in the back, knowing you wouldn't be disturbed for hours if you chose to stay that long.  No more staring out at the reservoir, watching the mosquitoes swarm for a hit on a passing duck.  Another cornerstone of my daily routine is gone.

I asked our waitress about a couple of things on the menu as we ordered.  "Out of rib-eye steaks.  No French Fries."  And at the end of our meal, I asked for lemon meringue pie.  She brought me a humongous piece o' pie, and another one, apparently for free.  "What are they gonna do, fire me?"  she laughed.