Monday, September 28, 2009

Not My Post

The front page of today’s New York Times had an article about how families in Jakarta with servants handle the end of Ramadan, when all the servants go home to be with their families for two weeks.

Most of you know about Robert’s childhood in Indonesia (and Singapore, Malaysia and Guam.) What you may not know is that when he lived in Jakarta, his family had seven servants--- although, as he says, three of them were guards.

It’s misleading to stop at that point. So many families in that area rely on servants that it made the front page of the NY Times. Robert’s friend and driver, Sujarno, was considered to have an excellent position and his family thrived on the salary. As Robert put it, there is no middle class there. If you had the kind of work where you could grow your fingernails (right hand only, of course) then you were doing well.

This breakfast conversation fit with my recent thoughts on modern social stratification. We really are becoming a global society, with the castes separated not as much by geography as by ideology. Corporate conglomerates transcend national boundaries, sadly often becoming laws unto themselves. (This is as close to politics as I’m willing to skate.) When I think of my friends on Twitter, who reside in at least four different countries and whose ages span as many decades, the globalization theme continues.

None of this matters, of course. And it’s Robert’s childhood, not mine, which is why I said from the beginning that this isn’t my post. It’s the one he should have written. I guess I should close with “Never mind, then.”

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Vacuum Packed

Serenity. Peace. Zen emptiness, my mind was barren of thought or stress. A mental vacuum is as abhorred by nature as any other. Wham! Bang! Kapow! On went the computer and in rushed the world.

The older I get, the more stuff fills my time. Sure, everything takes longer – and not only because I have to go into a room two or three times before I remember why, smarty-pants. There’s more to do, and more people to do it for.

Pace is everything. One foot in front of the other and keep going. I gave that advice twice tonight in entirely different contexts. Everybody’s life seems full to bursting, it’s dizzy-making just trying to keep track of it all.

Then I look down and see that the dog’s bowls need attention. Everything stops again, until the kibble is abundant and the water is clean. Priorities bring balance, and tranquility reigns once more. Well, technically Jonah reigns, but he seems pretty placid about that.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Last Vegas Word

One of my favorite moments happened in the Ladies’ at Caesars Palace. I was taking pix of the art on the stall doors and ended up having a conversation with a nice and intelligent woman about the evolution of Las Vegas over the last 20 years and which casinos have the most interesting Ladies’ Rooms. This prompted a trip to New York New York for pix of the (apparently) famous pink toilets in the Mae West Ladies’ Room by the escalator.

But it wasn’t all gambling and toilets. First and foremost, there was the food. Roasted salmon, Robert’s 16 oz rib-eye with bone marrow, delectably artistic sushi, truffled onion soup with wild mushrooms, tea-smoked Arctic char, mountains of perfect pastry, fresh berry crepe with Tahitian vanilla whipped cream, elegant milkshakes (mine was caramel, pureed chestnut and vanilla, Robert’s was Irish Coffee,) --- going into the French restaurant and knowing the waiter so well I didn’t even order, he went into the kitchen and spoke to the chef about creating meatless courses I would enjoy that weren’t on the menu. It was goood.

You won’t believe this, I wouldn’t except there’s proof: one night we went into the hotel gym just so Robert could film me doing chin-ups before dinner. Inelegantly, but considering that I’d been eating excessively for days, it was a miracle. Nice gym, too, not that I’ll ever see it again. I go to Vegas to escape the gym.

Really, that’s what the trip was all about. Escape. From what to what is almost irrelevant, the escape happened and that’s what matters. Now it’s over and we’re back. At least I have all the pix.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Vegas Interstitial

Overheard at a slot machine: “I’d play this game but I don’t know how.” Put money in and hit the button, honey. Then wave bye-bye.

Random visual: Two Hasidim standing in an artfully lit foyer, listening to a loud guy in a louder Hawaiian print shirt, exactly two days before Rosh Hashonah. L’shana tovah. I took a picture.

Random sightings: Between the two of us, we counted nine brides. Not bad for September. Ironically, we only saw three in June.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Loving Las Vegas

Hello again my dears, darlings and random strangers. We’re home, and what a long strange trip it ‘twas.

Cue Munchkins singing, and put away your Ouija board. Crowds are back in Vegas. They weren’t tourists so much as hordes of glowering businessfolk, but it still speaks well for the economic forecast. Significantly, the casinos no longer pander, which means they don’t feel like they have to, which means that we-the-people have (in)discretionary income with which to gamble again.

Speaking of we-the-people, they were particularly entertaining this time around. Cameo: two young businessguys at the next breakfast table in a tres chic bistro in the Venetian. Overheard; “I’m here for you, Doug. This is all about you. It’s Doug’s world, and I’m just here to make it run smoothly and keep Doug happy.” Oil piled on cliché for ages before I looked and saw that he wasn’t talking to his companion, he was talking into a phone the whole time! Well, except when he asked the waiter for ketchup for his eggs. The waiter flinched, but brought it in a pretty little ramekin.

That was a momentary diversion before we received the oeufs au gratin, sautéed spinach, lyonnaise potatoes, cranberry toast with sweet butter and jam, sourdough waffles with fresh strawberries and selection of pastries. Like I said, it was breakfast.

The Pet Store convention spawned some amusing visuals, mostly people wandering around the casino towing large purple boxes with “Urine Off!” written in huge appropriately-yellow letters. Yes, I have pix. If you want to see them, just ask. We’ll get coffee. I have pix of all the food as well.

Then there was nice Peggy from West Virginia, in Vegas for the first time. She wanted advice on how to work the system. I did my best, and she took notes. Contrast this with a conversation I had at midnight, in the same casino, with a seasoned gambling lifer at the next poker machine. He gave me tips on how to work that system. He taught me well, I was there long after he went bust. No pix of either of them, sorry.

End Part One.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Shangri Las Vegas

Once upon a time, Las Vegas was sanctuary. We saw no one we knew. There was neither obligation nor responsibility. No matter how scant our budget, we ate both well and often.

After nearly a decade, that’s almost all still true. Knock on wood, I’m gearing up for satiety and bliss. We leave on Sunday. (Jonah is already preparing to take control of his country estate.)

The difference is that now we have lives in Vegas. We have people we see and people we avoid. More significantly, people know us. There goes my precious anonymity. The exponentially increasing familiarity makes it difficult to feel like a tourist but I’m sure we’ll manage somehow.

I’ll let you know in about a week. Behave yourselves, my darlings. Stories later.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Mediocre Expectations

We all know the drill. “Once upon a time” something happens. The good guys eventually triumph, and evil is punished proportionately. We, as readers or viewers (medium depending) live happily ever after.

How difficult is that?

George Peppard’s plans always came together. Tim Hutton’s do now. And no one, absolutely no one, messes with Angela Lansbury. Period. This is as it should be. This is the Tao of narrative.

Can you tell how irritated I am? We’ve been watching a pleasant but strangely unsatisfying murder mystery series on DVD. I bought the first novel in the series, to try to suss out what bothers me about the show. Oy vey, was that a mistake.

Okay, so I figured it out. Bad things happen in this book, as is necessary for a story, especially a murder mystery. Here, the bad things keep happening. Then we find out the worse things that caused the bad things to happen in the first place. Then it ends. Aargh!

Someday I will write the post I’ve begun a dozen times, pondering why we enjoy something as gruesome as a murder mystery. In the meantime I will watch Top Chef and reread stories wherein Evil and Rudeness are punished, and the hero(ine) wins in the end.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Dada Mambo

I got to see my dear pal Max today, which is always happy-making. You’ve heard me mention Max. If you get the chance, ask for his Marcel Duchamp stories. The cutesy-pie title for this post is misdirection. The meme du jour is surrealism.

Surrealism: melting clocks, chickens in shoes, whatever. To paraphrase Max paraphrasing Magritte: “Ceci n’est pas un blog.” Well yes, it is, but Max’s original joke is superb and I’m not telling it here. See his show. Now buckle up and hold on…

I had an interesting Twitter discussion a day or two ago. Put your eyebrows down, that’s not an oxymoron. @Neurasthenic is an intriguing and intelligent art student in Canada. We were talking about conceptual art theory and repressive authority structures.

The ideas somehow dovetailed with a novel I’m reading. One of the characters is a surrealist painter and former student of Andre Breton. Breton is the only surrealist I’ve ever read about in detail, albeit years ago, in the fiction of Lisa Goldstein.

Still with me? The last Goldstein book I read was called “Tourists” and had nothing to do with Breton or surrealism. But the clock of my life is melting; in a week or two we will be back in Las Vegas for our regular seasonal touristness. This is the Big One, folks. It’s Robert’s birthday! Don’t tell him he’s getting socks. Again.

Wait, I forgot. We were talking about surrealism. Well, that’s Vegas, baby. Juxtapose crude and elegant. Put a loud beer-drinker wearing a wife-beater and shorts inside an exquisite French restaurant. Stand in the Bellagio garden and be elbowed by someone who will only see the flowers when they get home and download the pix. Forget the Ugly Americans, though there are plenty, there’re also Ugly Everyone Else’s. My favorite haven is a bright, noisy, plastic-coated, delicious pit of despair that’s as separated from consensus reality as you can get without driving over yellow bricks.

I should be able to see Max once more before we leave. You can see him at