Sunday, November 24, 2013

gambling in the valley of fire, star trek, a severe weather alert, tom jones, shooting deer, and frozen water pipes, or ... it’s not unusual

Last weekend was not the first time I was in Vegas. About 35 years ago I was there, stopping briefly while traveling across country from Chicago to Santa Barbara with my sister and her husband and two cats in a dusty, old, white station wagon, hauling a trailer full of stuff. They were moving to their first house; I was headed to a term of study in Mexico. In a message to me before my trip last weekend, my sister said:
Remember when we drove through there ... We went in one of the casinos and you put in one coin and hit the jackpot and walked out.
My memory is slightly different. As I recall, my sister allowed Jim and I exactly 30 minutes in Vegas, and yes, my sister runs a pretty tight ship. The whole trip was well organized with snacks consisting of saltines and sardines (or were those our meals?). We changed drivers every two to three hours to stay fresh. It was August, and Elvis was all over the radio.

Meanwhile, Id like to share this picture from the Valley of Fire
State Park, which is just outside of Vegas. See Picasso?

I remember it was dusk as we drove into Vegas, coming down out of some mountains, the city a beckoning glow in the middle of a darkening, flat expanse, like a pat of neon margarine in the middle of a burnt pancake. The only life at the end of a bleak highway. Beyond the glow, shadows and more dark, and beyond that a pale thin sunset stretching for miles.

And here we see a funky monkey head, right?

My brother-in-law and I were excited to try our luck on The Strip, and with exactly one half hour to play, the pressure was on. The pressure felt good. Like a challenge. I traded a dollar bill or maybe two for a cupful of nickels and settled into the slot machines, dropping coins, pulling levers, anticipating the clinkety-clink and clackety-clack and … nothing. Repeat. Then, in the twenty-ninth minute on my last nickel a racket of proverbial silver came tumbling out of my machine, and it made me panic, and it made me smile. I gathered up my coins, carted them over to the cashier, got me a twenty-dollar bill.

So which story is true? Did I win on the first nickel or the last? My sister’s story turned prophetic, for last Friday I was in a casino (anywhere you go in Vegas is a casino, from the gas station to the sushi bar), and Louis gave me a dollar to play. (Note: This casino was nowhere near as freaky as the one that looked like Paris. As a matter of fact, I liked this casino just fine.) I picked a machine—are they still called slot machines?—and sat down. I addressed the machine in a subdued yet Nortonesque-like manner, inserted the dollar bill, pulled the lever. Things whirled and spun and a chip of paper spit out, like the parking stub you get at the airport. Eventually, with a little help, I figured out I had won five dollars. The cashier turned out to be another machine, and with reluctance I let that machine suck away the stub of paper that proclaimed my winnings. When the machine spit out a five dollar bill, I relaxed. Okay. I get it. I gave the five back to the machine in exchange for five ones, paid Louis back his dollar, and went on my merry way, done with gambling for another 35 years.

Back on the home front, one of my favorite things popped up Thursday. A Severe Weather Alert.
Friday was sunny and mild, but along about 5:30, I saw this severe weather lurking behind the trees.

Soon it came rolling in.

By Saturday morning, with barely 10 degrees on the thermometer, a strong northwest wind, and an inch of snow by the door, Elliott’s paws were making a quick crunch crunch crunch as he dashed out. By Saturday night, the water pipes were frozen.

The Valley of Fire and the Vegas Strip are oddly similar. Both are testaments to creativity in the School of Non-Subtlety. The School of How Odd Can You Get. The School of How Grand Can It Be. At the Valley of Fire, the woman in the gift shop asked if we were Star Trek fans, then told us that Capt. Kirk’s death scene had been filmed just up the road in the Canyon of Fire. I searched for this death scene on YouTube, which you are free to watch, and found another scene filmed in the Valley of Fire. (Yes, I’m just guessing, but pretty sure). It’s a lot funnier than Kirk’s demise, especially along about 2:37.

If you are interested in a more serious look at the Valley, but not without its aliens, watch this video. The videographer walks to Mouse’s Tank, which is also what Louis and Finn and I did.

By now, with all this audiovisual, I am wondering if there is such a thing as The Vegas Influence. A lingering Las Vegas sensation. Perhaps Vegas is why I chose to play my Tom Jones DVD while working on candles the other day. I recently bought a portable DVD player / CD player / radio / TV (if only I could get a station) that fits nicely on top of my refrigerator.

See? There’s Tom. In my cabin.

My appreciation for Tom Jones came late in life—which may be the only way it does come—and the inclination, of course, is to share a video of him in his bow tie and ruffled shirt, dancing to beat the band and the ladies, but I decided on this clip instead.

The DVD set I have is a compilation of segments from Tom Jones’ TV show from the late sixties and early seventies, and on it are some of the duets he did with his guests. He sang not only with Burt Bacharach, but with Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, Joe Cocker, and Janis Joplin. (The best duet by far is with Janis.)

I suppose the fact that I like Tom Jones indicates that there is, indeed, a little Vegas in my soul. And just as Vegas is more than The Strip, so is Tom Jones more than, well, whatever you might think.

Due to the Severe Weather Alert, I had decided Friday to skip the Saturday market in Marquette. Instead, Saturday morning I lollygagged about the cabin and took my usual walk to the river. The thermometer remained just south of ten degrees, but the wind was not bad and the snow had paused at a depth of about three inches. A number of deer and coyote tracks crossed my trail, and, as usual, I got gaga over the Queen Anne’s lace, now sporting jaunty caps of snow.

Heading back to the cabin, I heard a shot. Then another, and another. Five in all, close together, and closer to me than I’d ever heard before. From each I could feel a slight reverberation. It’s not unusual this time of year to hear shots. People have gone into the woods, climbed up into trees, hid behind blinds, are shooting deer.

And did I mention my pipes are frozen?


  1. " a pat of neon margarine in the middle of a burnt pancake." That's really good. Boy, the words you use to paint Las Vegas! This town hasn't been described so perfectly since Fear and Loathing.

    1. "Neon margarine" was first written as simple, unadorned "butter." See why I've got to work at it? Can't wait for my copy of "Literary Las Vegas" to arrive. It includes some great writers.