Monday, October 30, 2006

The New Adventures of Captain Marbles: Welcome to the Matrix

You can see the changes on the street. A drunken man asleep next to Slots-a-Fun, blocking the sidewalk. A huge, fenced vacant lot where the Westward Ho used to be. Pieces of conversations started by seniors, mentioning casinos that no longer exist, like the Thunderbird.

I checked into the 48-year old Stardust on Thursday night, knowing that the casino/hotel only had a few more days before it, too, was demolished. My brother Marvin, aka Captain Marbles (a nickname from the same era), had comped me a huge suite at the old hotel.

The room was larger than my living room, my office, my den, and my two bathrooms combined. When I told him that, the Captain said to himself, “I never got anything like that,” and insisted on coming up to take a look.

We spent the last World Series game in that room, watching LaRussa’s Cardinals take it all. During one break, he started looking for the second bathroom. “There is only one bathroom,” I said, “but it’s humongous.” He replied that their suite at the Rincon had two bathrooms, and was at least 1800 square feet. It was terrifically humongous.

As we left to go back downstairs to the casino, he told me to take all the samples of shampoo and soap before I checked out the next day. And Kleenex.

The point of this trip was to fly in to Vegas to see my brother. He had just recovered from a bout with colon cancer, and pronounced himself cured after an experimental treatment with a new powerful drug. However, it wasn’t the treatment that left him weak on Las Vegas Boulevard this October evening. It was advancing age, a number of health problems that had taken its toll, and the fact that his sedentary lifestyle doesn’t easily accommodate walking on the Strip from casino to casino, like we used to.

So, we only stuck to a few places. He and his wife stayed at the Riviera (in a slot tournament package), I stayed at the Stardust.

When I met them at the Stardust, we immediately crossed the street and went back to their casino, the Riviera. I think the Captain likes the Riviera because it evokes memories of Dean Martin and the Rat Pack. It has that feel to it. It’s a lot larger than the Westward Ho used to be, however, and so we kept getting lost in it.

We talked about dinner that night. Marbles informed me that I couldn’t have dinner with them, though, because they got a big, free steak dinner and a show with their package. However, what he didn’t realize was that the suite he comped me came with $100 in free meals….a day. So I ate my steak dinner in the Stardust cafĂ©.

I watched him play Texas Hold ‘Em at the Riviera poker tables, right in front of the elevator to their room. The buy-in was only $45. He suggested I join him, but I really don’t know how to play. He replied that he had learned everything there was to know about Texas Hold ‘Em from video poker and from internet gambling sites, so he felt confident. He had to wait, however, for someone else to show up at the table before they could get started. He won the first few hands, but grew frustrated with the table rules. The rules on raises were quite stifling, he complained to the Asian woman dealing the cards. Can’t you change them? He wanted a higher limit. Apparently the Riviera insists that the first raise is $2, the second and further raises are $4. The Captain couldn’t fake or scare anybody out that way. He eventually lost his buy-in, but went on to tournament Texas Hold ‘Em. The rules, apparently, were different there; I think he longed for the limited raises of the previous game. He only lasted an hour in the tournament.

In the meantime, I found several penny slots that I enjoyed playing. And I found some Reel ‘Em In games – the fishie game is my favorite. I discovered this game in the early ‘90’s, I think it was – the first slot machine that enticed me. The first video-game-type slot machine. The first bonus round I had ever seen. But these slots were nickel machines, which was okay, but they were ticketless, which meant I had to either put buckets of nickels into play, or wait until I won over 1,000 coins to cash out (so that I wouldn’t have to handle the dirty coins).

On the first night, when I said goodbye to the Cap’n and his wife and wandered back to the Stardust, I discovered an entire bank of gold: five Reel ‘Em In Slot machines in the Stardust! These machines had the latest technology, and featured FOUR different bonus rounds. The only complaint I have of these machines is the music. It’s not as catchy as the earlier versions. But the earlier bonus rounds had no variation. So these new machines were slot heaven. And they were penny slots! Which means I could play 15 lines at 1 cent each (although usually I went up to 2 cents).

When I’m playing those games, I have no idea what time it is. I don’t even care if I lose. I just enjoy playing them.

I also discovered Cops and Donuts, a slot game I played sparingly before. But when Leon pulled me over for speeding, told me “Hold on there, Starship Captain!” and asked for my excuse, I was hooked. I also liked it when Chip ate all the donuts at the donut shop during the other bonus round. Fantastic.

Las Vegas with Captain Marbles is like The Matrix. On the one hand, there’s reality. Ooh, we don’t like that so much. Our conversation takes us to the casinos of old, when Sammy, Frank and Dean played to packed houses and might join us at the tables at midnight for a little gambling of their own. We look around and there are few of those old casinos left. The cab driver told us that young people like the new ones best. “But those kids don’t have any money!” exclaimed the Captain. You tell ‘em. So, the seniors, the ones with money and the ones without so much, gather at the older casinos still, huddle together, waiting for the end of their favorite places to play.

The Matrix of Las Vegas is also where Captain Marbles is the high roller, and where the casinos treat him with the proper respect for being so. They comp his rooms. Invite him to slot and poker tournaments. Give him free steak dinners. Even give his sister free steak dinners.

The good side of the Matrix for me lies within these slot machines. Where I can dip my fishing pole into another lake, if I’m lucky, and fish for that whopper with the Canadian mounted police hat on. Or hope Chip can eat enough donuts to take me to a higher plane. Or wait for Frank the dog in Men in Black to lead me to where those aliens are in the MIB game.

In the meantime, the cocktail waitresses would bring me whipped cream-frothed pina coladas as my fingers hit the “play again” key. They didn’t show any emotion about being out of a job in two days, on Monday. I wondered how they were going to cope. But wondering took me out of the Matrix, an unpleasant place to be, and Las Vegas is more about delivering the magic trick than telling us how it’s done, or how the magician will pay his or her bills tomorrow.

The Stardust closed down a day after I checked out. All of its furnishings, everything – except for its slot machines – will go up for public auction on Wednesday. One more gone. Many more are scheduled for demolition. The Captain finds out the gossip from the casino operators he befriends as he plays his high-stake games. After all, many of the workers from the closed Westward Ho went to the Riviera. And, I suppose, many of the Stardust people will do likewise.

I’ve come back to the other side of the Matrix. To reality. To be honest, it’s easier living here. Until I make another trip back to see Captain Marbles. It really is his home.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Shared Newspaper

The guy came up to me at the Mammography Center at Kaiser, leaned over and said, boldly, "Is that your newspaper?" "Yes," I said, as I was squirting Systane into my eye. "Can I read your Sports section?" he said again.

"I'm sorry," I replied, "but I'm reading it." I hate it when men do that to me, assume I'm not going to read the Sports section because I'm a woman. There it was, lying there pristinely, the Oakland Tribune sports section. I hadn't even opened it yet.

"Mr. Jackson," the nurse then called from the counter, "you're in the wrong section." "Damn!" he said, and he shuffled off.

Hey, I can't blame people in Oakland for wanting to read the sports section. It ain't about the Oakland Raiders, or the San Francisco 49ers, two non-entities who are so bad that they're having discussions like, "Gee, if the Raiders' offense played the Raiders' defense, do you think anyone would win?" Nope, it's all about the Oakland Athletics, who finished their season by winning the ALCS, smashing the Twins, but losing the Division Series, being smashed by the Tigers.

The A's have just unceremoniously dropped their manager, Ken Macha, not really blaming him for the lack of oomph at the end, but, rather, blaming him for not saying hi to the back-up catcher.

And now there's a lot of speculation about who will take his place. The waiter at the Montclair Egg Kitchen this morning asked me about it today. "Do you think it's Wash? Lache? How about Geren?" I like all those guys, I replied. What an exciting time in baseball -- ironic, isn't it, that the exciting time happens days AFTER the season is over?

I was on the last bit of my newspaper when the lady sitting across from me in the Optometry section of Kaiser asked me, "Is that your paper?"

Monday, October 16, 2006

The End of the 2006 Season - Not with a Bang but with a Whimper

I dreamed last night that I was in the A's locker room in Detroit, pad in hand, shoulder to shoulder with 100 other journalists, trying to get a sound bite from Milton Bradley.

He wasn't talking, and no wonder. The A's had just been swept, 4 games to Zero, by the Detroit Tigers. The A's were only 4 games removed from going to the World Series.

It ended sadly, it ended badly. There's no other way to describe it. If they had won one game, but they lost all four, looking like they were totally bewildered by the Tigers' pitching staff, our starters wondering what happened.

There is still the absolutely wonderful regular season of 2006 to look back on, a marvelous memory that will carry us into Spring Training 2007.

But for now, I'm just sad. Sad for players like Milton, who played his heart out. Sad for the fans, who dream about interviewing the players in a distant locker room, one last time.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Oakland A's vs. Detroit Tigers - Game Two

I stayed home last night and watched the 2nd game on T.V. this time. Aaron and Cheryl went to the game.

I text-messaged Aaron before the game that Blue Moon Odom, that old-time A's pitcher who threw a shutout to the Tigers in 1972, would be throwing out the first pitch. He had never heard of him. I did not know at the time that Cory Lidle had died in an unbelievably tragic plane crash in New York City. The Coliseum had a moment of silence for Cory, for his memory. I remember being distraught when they traded Cory away from the A's, knowing that we had a fearless young pitcher there. How very sad.

Did Lidle's death throw off the A's players? I don't know. I doubt it. As Eric Chavez cited in a local newspaper, he couldn't get 9-11 out of his head when he had to play soon afterwards, but this he could push to the side of his mind and concentrate on playing. Yes, he missed a ball that would ordinarily have been his (but not an error). But who knows.

It was a tough game, hard fought. Every time the A's scored, the Tigers came right back to put points on the board. Their pitching staff throws some heavy heat, and our bats, save Bradley and Kotsay, could not keep up. Frank Thomas, our Big Hurt, left 6 men stranded on the bases, including the last at-bat of the game when he popped up. We found ourselves on the other side of the dash, 8-5. It was exciting up to the end.

Very sad. Still, the death of Cory Lidle puts some of this into perspective. It's just a game, made sadder when we lose a valiant player. Cory had just played his last game, for the Yankees during last Saturday's playoff.

On Thursday we'll continue in the cold, dark nights of Detroit. Rich Harden will throw his 98-mile-an-hour fastball, if it doesn't freeze before it gets to the plate.

I can't wait.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The A's Are in the PostSeason!!

And not only are they in the Postseason, at the time I'm writing this they defeated the Minnesota Twins to go to the American League Championship Series (ALCS) for the first time in 14 years!!

I am overjoyed except for the fact that I went to the first game of that series last night against the Detroit Tigers....and it wasn't a rip-roaring time.

Let's start with the fans. Only 35,000 attended (with 1,000 people walking around seatless...just imagine that...) which made for plenty of room to walk, well, for the most part, and get hot dogs and stuff. But the 35,000 who attended are not the greatest fans in the world. Many of them seemed to be newbies, people who just come out for the rah-rah part of it and don't know the team or the stadium.

For instance, the guy in front of me was booing Barry Zito in the 2nd inning. Booing him!! And he had an A's cap on! Just who is your team, buddy?! And the group behind me was grousing because they spent $75 a ticket and expected more. They left in the 7th inning.

The guy immediately behind me tapped me on the shoulder at about the 3rd inning to inform me that he had just spilled his beer on my jacket and my seat. That was nice of him... (One thing I've never understood: why do men insist on having their beers in their hands when they're on their feet, cheering? Why not just put it in the cup holder and wait until you're stable and sitting before you reach for it? I know the answer to this: they can't bear to be parted from their adult beverage.)

Barry's pitches at that point weren't fooling anyone and we were behind 2 - 0. The next inning we were behind 5-0. But our bats and our defense couldn't pull us out of that 4th inning deficit.

Milton Bradley and Jay Payton produced an RBI, but that was it. Our hit total was in the double digits, but we couldn't string enough of 'em together. And, I'm sorry to have to say this, but Mark Ellis would've turned two!! Instead, D'Angelo Jimenez, his replacement, made an error and initially looked a little hapless.

In baseball there's always tomorrow. There aren't too many tomorrows left, however, with Kenny Rogers waiting to pitch Game 3.

But we still had a good time. Jamie drove up from Santa Cruz to join me. And it's the ALCS!! Only four teams left!! It was grand seeing the red, white and blue bunting, and the players toeing the foul lines as they're introduced. I love it!!!!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Most Holy of Days

I told my friend last week that I was going down to Lake Merritt to throw bread crumbs into the water, and watch my sins float away.

She stared at me for a moment and finally replied, "Is that some kind of Jewish thing?"

Yes, it is. And tonight is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. We transgressors will gather at the Paramount and listen to Kol Nidre, a Jewish prayer recited in the synagogue at the beginning of the evening service on Yom Kippur. According to Wikipedia, the latest of my Jewish resources, "It is written in Aramaic, not Hebrew. Its name is taken from the opening words, meaning 'All vows'".

This is my second High Holy Days. This time it's with music. I intend to be blown away.