Sunday, April 29, 2007

Midnight Rides

Here's something fun to do--in a dorky, historynerd sorta way:

Use the google and type in "Sybil Ludington." Count the number of hits you get. Oh never mind--I'll do it for you. You get about 45,000 hits.

Not bad, considering you've never heard of her.

Now do the same thing for "Paul Revere." You get a lot more hits.

Which is a bit of a shame, since Sybil pretty much did exactly the same thing Paul did--she rode out to warn people that the British were burning Danbury, Connecticut.

Only, unlike Revere, she did it without a support system or an additional group of people to help.

And she assembled a force of about 400 soldiers, who, although they were too late to save Danbury, managed to drive the British foces right back to Long Island, and right onto their ships.

Oh, and she did this after she had put her eleven brothers and sisters to bed--she was only sixteen at the time.

Also she also rode 40 miles, compared to the dozen that Revere rode.

On unmarked roads.

In the rain.

Forty miles in the dark in the rain--ask someone who rides a horse how that must feel.

Seriously, ask. Cuz I don't know. I doubt it feels anything like 'pleasant.'

All of this took place 230 years and three days ago. But most of the world has never heard of her. And there's certainly not a cookware named after her.

There's a little town in upstate NY where she's recognized. Twenty years ago, I shot a documentary about New York's role in the Revotionary war, and I stopped by and shot the hell out of that statue posted above, because there was precious little else about her anywhere. It's a shame, really. It's such an interesting story--moreso than Revere's if you ask me.

But here's the thing--Paul had a penis.

Now, I know that poor Sybil had a lot of things stacked against her besides her gender. Danbury is far less well-known or as important as Boston or Lexington. And there's no way that Longfellow could have written anything as elegant as
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere
with a name like Sybil Luddington.

But still...

Is it too much to ask that we honor more people in this country than just the white men?


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Random Seven

Colleen tagged me with this meme: Seven completely random things about myself, and then tag seven people.

1) In college, I was a serial pratfaller. I would fall just for the fun of it. Going into class, in the cafeteria, or just walking across campus, I would take a dive on a whim. My favorite fall was down the stairs at my college's library. The stairs started right inside the main entrance and were about 10' wide, and went straight up four flights, narrowing slightly on each floor. It was a 50' drop and about a 70' run, because each floor had a 10' or so landing, which meant that I would have to do some sort of flip or roll to keep the impetus. It was a bit scary, too. I could seriously hurt myself or some other unsuspecting student, which meant that I would have to be very loud as I fell, so they'd know I was coming. I picked an early Thursday evening to do the fall, figuring that there would still be a few folks around, but not too many (the weekends at my college tended to start sometime Wednesday). I grabbed a huge pile of books and hung around the stairwell on the fourth floor until the stairs were nearly empty, and then, with a loud, wobbly yelp, I tumbled down the stairs, scattering books with me, until I landed at the bottom, where I stood up and walked out as if nothing unusual happened.

2) I don't like to order the same food as anyone else in my party at a restaurant. I always try to be the last person to order. I try to find as many things on the menu that I might like as there are people in my party. My default backup order is almost always Cobb Salad. If we're having dinner, and I order Cobb Salad, that means someone else at the table is eating my dinner.

3) My father and I shared the same middle name. When my brother was born, he got my dad's first name as his middle name. Since I was the second born, I got his middle name. That sort of symmetry appealed greatly to my father. I often wonder if the real reason my folks didn't have any more kids was because my dad ran out of names.

4) I constantly get left and right mixed up. I have all my life. Which makes it extremely difficult for me when I'm directing, and telling my camera ops to 'pan left' or 'pan right.' I almost always will say 'left' when I mean 'right,' unless I really concentrate. I used to use my wedding ring as a mnemonic. I can't do that any more.

5) I was terrified of kissing when I was a kid. I was sure I would get it wrong. Even into high school, I didn't kiss anyone. I hugged my prom dates goodnight. My first kiss was when I was a freshman in college at a costume party. I was a drunken Captain Kirk, and I found myself on a couch next to a drunken witch. Little Feat's 'Waiting for Columbus' (one of the best live rock albums ever) was playing, and the song was 'Mercenary Territory,' and we were both singing along:

And I did my time in your rodeo
Waited so long and I've got nothin' to show
Don't you know, that I'm plain ol' loco
But the fool that I am I'll do it all over again

And then the Tower of Power Horns' Doc Kupka starts laying down the most growling, soulful, aching bari sax solo, that screamed a lifetime of unrequited desire that builds and builds and builds to this incredible fifteen second, two-plus-octave glissando that I don't think one sax player in a thousand could pull off...*

...and I found myself with a tongue in my mouth. Thank you, Lowell George. Thank you, Captain Morgan. By the way, I have no fucking clue as to who that witch was. Whoever you are, thank you, too.

I didn't kiss a sober girl (or a girl while sober) until several years later.

6) I've haven't had a whiskerless chin since January, 1980. I trimmed the full beard down to a goatee about seven years ago, but I've had a beard for more than a quarter century. None of my kids have ever seen my clean-shaven. I mentioned that I was considering shaving it off to my two youngest, and they both wailed in protest. So I guess I'll keep it a while longer.

7) Every morning, I meditate for half an hour. I begin my meditation with this prayer:
O God! Refresh and gladden my spirit. Purify my heart. Illumine my powers. I lay all my affairs in Thy hand. Thou art my Guide and my Refuge. I will no longer be sorrowful and grieved; I will be a happy and joyful being. O God! I will no longer be full of anxiety, nor will I let trouble harass me. I will not dwell on the unpleasant things of life. O God! Thou art more friend to me than I am to myself. I dedicate myself to Thee, O Lord.

Random enough, I hope. As far as tagging--I'm not sure the readership of this thing gets up much past seven anyhow, so if you've read this far, consider yourself tagged.


*Seriously, if you've never heard this album, buy it. Or just download this one song off the album. It's worth 99 cents just to hear that solo.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Bright light city gonna set my soul
Gonna set my soul on fire
Got a whole lot of money thats ready to burn,
So get those stakes up higher
Theres a thousand pretty women waitin out there
And theyre all livin devil may care
And Im just the devil with love to spare
Viva las vegas, viva las vegas

Las Vegas has lovely walls.

You see them everywhere-high, warm, reddish-brown walls. Along every street, surrounding every community. Even if they aren't gated communities (and many, many of them are), they are walled communities.

Even the walls along the highway are lovely. Many of them have art on them. Some of it celebrates the Las Vegas centennial, some of it just looks tribal. By 'tribal,' I mean 'of or relating to the indigenous people who once lived in the area.'

Las Vegas has lovely highways.

In addition to the walls--put there, I'm assuming, for sound abatement for the walled and gated communities sprawling just the other side of them, the overpasses are often also arftul, with the name of the road we're crossing under spelled out in bas-relief, often in an italicized, serifed font. And the dividers are carefully maintained as well, landscaped with tall palm trees, yucca plants, and lush grasses, all as native to the area as the people on the other side of the walls, and all requiring careful maintentnence, including regular waterings.

The parts of Las Vegas that aren't walled are divided up into two parts: shopping centers and casinos. The casinos I'll get to later, but an interesting feature of the shopping centers is the high, high number of 'learning centers' in them. Little storefront schools with names like 'Club Z!' 'Kumon,' 'The Learning Center,' 'Kids Campus,' and 'Children's World,' appear right next to the Ross Dress for Less and the TGIFridays. Seriously. You can't drive a mile in Vegas without seeing one.

The reason for this, according to Lt. Trouble, is because the Clark County School District, in his words, 'sucks ass.'

Las Vegas has lousy schools.

The schools are severely underfunded, teacher morale is as low as the grades, and no one really seems to care. Those who can afford it send their kids to these storefront schools, and those who can't, or don't care, well...according to the El-Tee, Vegas is one of the few places where someone can make a lot of money without even a high-school degree. If you're friendly, energetic, and above all, sexy, there's always a buck to be made. And not just in prostitution. Cute waiters and waitresses can regularly come home with thousands of dollars of tip money.

So, no one really cares about the education system. That leaves more money for the walls, roads, and dividers.

If you were to decide where the absolutely, positively worst place to build a major city would be, you would have to look long and hard to find someplace worse than southern Nevada. And if you were to make the main goal of that city 'entertainment,' that would make it even worse. Because in twenty-first century America, 'entertainment' means spectacle and comfort. Bright lights. Lush lawns. Air conditioning. Dancing waters.

Water's a big thing in Vegas. It's everywhere. The Bellagio has a 'dancing water' show every hour. The Venice is surrounded by canals, where the graduates of some of the best music schools in the country paddle tourists around in gondolas, and sing snippets of arias to them. Most of the canals are inside, under a painted tuscan sky, with the temperature a pleasant mid-seventies.

Power's big in Vegas too. All the lights, all the shows. All the air conditioning. I wonder how much power it uses in a day?

And what does it give back?

You know as well as I do. It gives nothing.

Not a God damned thing of value.

And yet we flock to it, flee to it, this mecca of excess. And not just to visit--to live. The city is growing by seven thousand people a month. Seven thousand. That's a mid-sized town. That's more people than lived in my home town, per month, moving to Las Vegas. The entire population of Milltown, New Jersey moved there in January. Andover, Kansas, pulled up stakes and headed west in February. Gunnison, Colorado moved in back in March. And now, with April almost over, we'll stop by and welcome Bluffdale, Utah.

I sure hope Milltown brought its sunscreen. It gets pretty ugly come August.

The people come, and they visit. They spend their money there--lots of it, and not just on gambling. They spend it on shows, and on trips up towers, and on amusement rides that cost more for one ticket than I would spend for a day pass to our local amusement park, and on dinners and on limos and rooms and luxuries, and all of this spending is a lie.

Because it's not sustainable. And the fuck of it is, we know it. We know it and we choose to ignore it.

The water's going away. It's drying up. The water level on Lake Mead's dropped something like 50 feet in the past decade. And it's being pissed away--on lawns and in swimming pools, and quite literally, every hour in front of the Bellagio.

Temperatures are rising. So the good folks spend more time indoors, running their air conditioners, using up more and more power.

And the money. Where does the money go? Pretty much exclusively to folks like Kirk Kerkorian, Steve Wynn, and their investors. They're making billions. And whatever they're giving back is probably pennies on the dollars they're making.

So which will go first? The water? The power? The money? Because one of them will go away. Maybe not entirely, but certainly enough to notice. And that will cause the other two supports to give way quite quickly, and the whole shebang will end.

Like Sodom and Gommorrah. And although it will be biblical in proportion, no Divine Hand will be needed to cause this city to crumble. Maybe there's be another energy crisis, this time not an Enron-enduced one, but a real one. Or perhaps it will be the interest rates those sub-prime loans given out to New Baltimore, Pennsylvania, that suddenly double or treble a few years down the road, that will start a mass exodus of workers. Or perhaps the water will simply evaporate. It tends to do that in Nevada. It's a desert, you know.

And then, suddenly, the construction boom will go bust--right in mid-hammer swing. The megacasinos will suddenly not have enough workers to staff them--not that it matters, since the cost of keeping the place cool has priced the rooms out of reach of most people anyway.

And who wants to take in a show, when water restrictions limit the number of times you can bathe, or even flush the toilet?

This is all speculation on my part, of course. I've been wrong many, many times before. But I can't help thinking that the best thing that Las Vegas can be, in the end, is the canary in the coal mine. Perhaps its death will wake us up to the realities of the world around us.

I started this post with a snippet of a song that was written about this town. I think I'll end it with another bit of poetry--written 90 years before Las Vegas was founded, but, I fear, very appropriate to the way it might end:

And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Of Shoes, Shampoos, and Guns

We got to the airport ninety minutes before the flight, and we were worried that we wouldn't make it.

Because once, a few years ago, somebody tried to smuggle a bomb in their shoes. The bomb was a dud, but that didn't matter. Because one guy one time tried to blow us up with his Hush Puppies, we now had to take off our shoes and belts.

And, because there was a group of people in London who were trying to conceive of a way to smuggle a bomb onto planes using liquids hidden in bottles (which, most people with any knowledge of this believe, would have at worst caused the person mixing the chemicals to suffer some serious burns), we now can only carry small plastic bottles onto the plane, and they have to be in ziploc bags.

My son's bag had to be pulled aside and checked because his mom had given him a small bottle of a special shampoo for his hair. Even though the bottle was the right size (less than 1.5 ounces), it was not in a plastic bag. It was confiscated.

As we all know, the baggie is all that stands between us and safety. You're either with the SC Johnson Company, or your with the terrorists.

Perhaps, sometime, somewhere, someone killed someone else by ramming a bottle of shampoo down his or her throat, hitting it with a shoe to force it deeper and deeper. So I can't say for certain that no one has ever been killed by shoes or shampoo, but I'm betting the number of deaths from these particular items is hovering right around zero. I'm betting you could add in a plethora of hand lotions, colognes, beverages and other confiscatable liquids to the mix and it still wouldn't get the death toll up to double digits. That doesn't matter, though. The reaction from the government through the Department of Homeland Security was quick and decisive in these instances: extra precautions and outright bans. Meaning sweating that we'll miss the flight because the line through security was hundreds of people long. At 4:50 am on a Wednesday.

Yesterday, a student walks onto a campus in Virginia, and opens fire. Within minutes, more than 30 people are dead, a similar number wounded, some gravely. The kid might still be firing now if he hadn't saved a bullet for himself.

This is not the first time this year that someone had been killed--killed, not potentially killed--by a gun in this country.

Not the first time this year? Hell, it probably wasn't the first time that hour. I know, lots of other things can kill you--knives, cars, explosives, even, yes, a shampoo bottle hammered down your throat by a shoe--but of all those things, only one of them was built with the exclusive purpose of doing what it did; namely, kill, and kill quickly.

The reaction from Washington?

"The president believes that there is a right for people to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed," spokeswoman Dana Perino said yesterday.

Let's recap: My 11-year-old son can't walk onto a plane with an ounce and a half of shampoo in his backpack, but some basket case can legally buy a gun that can shoot 25 rounds in ten seconds, and walk onto campus (or into the Post Office, or into a McDonalds, or into your daughter's daycare center) and start pulling the trigger.

There will be a reaction, to be sure. I'm sure that any number of security agencies are right now contacting any number of colleges, telling them that, for a fee, they will man the doorways to the classrooms and cafeterias of our nations colleges, ensuring a greater sense of security due to the presence of more guns and the absence of a few pesky rights.

Because, God knows, all of our rights should be thrown away to increase our security.

Exept, of course, for the right to bear arms.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jog

5:00 AM, PDT:

Lt. Trouble: Got everything?

Me: Yes.

Lt. Trouble: Are you sure?

Me: Of course I'm sure. I spent half the day yesterday packing to make sure it all fit. You realize you and your girlfriend gave the kids about three pounds of candy each?

Lt. Trouble: Did you pack your camera?

Me: Of course I packed it! Do you think I'm some sort of idiot? I wouldn't forget that! It's got all my pictures--including the ones of me and The Queen of Dorks. I'm not forgetting that!

Lt. Trouble: Okay, if you're sure--let's get to the airport.

5:00 pm, EST:

Me: (on the phone) Hi! We just landed! It was a good flight....ummm....I think I left the camera in my bedroom.

Lt. Trouble: Yeah. We'll mail it to you tomorrow.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

I Am Here.

Actually, not yet, but by lunchtime on Wednesday.

Between then and now will mostly be travel, or preparing for travel.

I have no idea if I'll have the time or inclination to post while there. If I do, you'll be the first to know.

Or maybe the second. Definitely in the top five, though. This site doesn't get much traffic.

I'll be back to Swillburg on the 12th!