Here's our 2015 newsletter - and my wishes that you and yours enjoy a super swell 2016! Click the pic to download...
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Wednesday, December 23, 2015
Sunday, November 22, 2015
While attending the National Communication Association’s annual conference in Las Vegas, I learned that, yes, it is possible to do an all-nighter without gambling or clubbing. Nothing against those activities, of course, but Jenny and I wanted to explore some of Sin City’s other nocturnal delights. Here’s the itinerary:
6:30 p.m., Neon Boneyard: Joined by our pal Chip Hall, we wandered an outdoor museum dedicated to some of Vegas’s glittering, twinkling, glowing marquees that have drawn gamblers and gangsters to the desert for decades. The fee is a bit steep, and entrance requires a reservation, but the trip is essential for anyone who loves classic neon. Though many of the signs no longer function, strategically placed lights produce delightfully eerie shadows on these icons of the past.
8:30 p.m., Zombie Burlesque: Jenny and I had never seen a Vegas show, and I’m a bit amazed that Jenny OK’d this one as our first. The good news is that the “burlesque” was pretty much PG-13. A little skin, some naughty humor, but nothing too raunchy. Best of all, the theme was a goofy send-up of 50s and 60s atomic-age pop culture, a hidden history of America’s hidden zombies next door, and a genuinely sweet message about diversity that rings especially true in an Age of Trump. Oh, and free jello-shots.
10:30 p.m., El Cortez and Fremont Street: Jenny, Chip, and I grabbed a meal at Siegel's 1941, a comfy old school restaurant at El Cortez, one of Vegas’s original mob haunts. Their off-menu prime rib dinner is delectable [well, it's palatable], but this time I went for a wedge salad and some caffeine. Afterward we surveyed the enclosed zaniness of Fremont Street, where you can snap photos with a Tony Montana lookalike, rock out to competing 80s cover bands, and pay dearly to drink from a replica of the Christmas Story leg-lampshade.
1:30 a.m., Fremont Street and Vegas Boulevard: Jenny and I continued our adventures north of the Strip, driving around some of the city’s funkier environs in search of neon signage for a video I've long wanted to produce. At this point, we were both getting sleepy, but neither of us would discuss quitting. We both remember pooping out around this time in an ill-fated Santa Cruz all-nighter we attempted a few years back. Every time I proposed a retry, Jenny’d say, “Nope. This time we’ll wait for a place like Vegas or Paris.” Now that we were here, there was no way we’d give up.
2:30 a.m., Flamingo Wildlife Habitat: We returned to the Strip, racing south on an interstate that had been a traffic-jammed parking lot just a few hours ago. Inside the Flamingo, the “Vegas, Baby!” vibe had begun to sour for a few folks: Woo Girls crying in the bathroom, Bro Boys itching for a fight, couples arguing next to taxi cabs ("But you said you loved me!"), that sort of thing. Jenny and I made our way to the habitat, searching for flamingos and koi. I was a little annoyed that the lights had been switched off, but the sight of fish sleeping in their shadowy pools delighted us nonetheless.
3:30 a.m., Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens: While hard core late-night gamblers (Sorry, I mean “gamers”) plugged away, hoping for their big break, Jenny and I visited one of the Bellagio’s lesser-known destinations. The hotel’s high-end shopping mall offerings were closed, but the gardens remained available - and free! At the Conservatory, we wandered quiet walkways amid gorgeous arrangements of autumn blooms, stared upward at an indoor waterwheel, snapped pictures and - Hey! Did that tree just wink at us? Yeah, the Bellagio’s got an animatronic tree - because, of course it does.
4:30 a.m., Caesars Palace and LINQ: Getting our Third Wind, we toured Caesars Palace, which famously doesn’t include an apostrophe because, “Everyone’s a Caesar here.” Well, OK, but you could put the apostrophe after the second ’s,’ right? Never mind. Anyway we gazed upward at replicas of Italian statues, including a version of Michelangelo’s “David.” At LINQ we found an all-night breakfast at Hash House A Go Go. Jenny ordered Froot Loops, and I got a BLT Bloody Mary - because who doesn’t enjoy cheap vodka, soggy bacon, wilted lettuce, and a side of toast?
5:30 a.m., Luxor and Excalibur: I’d always wanted to visit the inside of the Luxor pyramid, so we drove about a half-mile south to our last stops of the night. The Luxor is suitably mammoth, a vast atrium filled with shops and restaurants and leering advertisements of Criss Angel and Carrot Top. Jenny was hankering to check out Excalibur, so we boarded a moving walkway through the omnitopian continuum and found ourselves in a Dungeons and Dragons fantasy domain that also offers 24-hour Krispy Kreme donuts. I figured my Bloody Mary needed some company, and the price was right.
6:30 a.m., Exit: Riding the travelator back to the Luxor and our parking garage, we noticed that the sun rise had begun to color the clouds in delicate wisps of pink. We wandered past creepy video gaming devices - the ones featuring life-sized and blandly sexy dealers who appear to look around before beckoning you from across the floor (“There’s a seat over here!”) - and exited into the cool morning air. Driving north and then east, the sun now glowed fully fat orange and round, celebrating the new day.
Next All-Nighter? But of course: Paris!
Sunday, November 1, 2015
This year saw a return of the Scotts Valley Pirates. Thanks to Vienna's expert help and advice during the set-up, Jenny and I had a fun time with the kiddies (not to mention a few parents wondering if we had any grog to share). And this time we added an extra feature: a real-life plank to test the bravery of any scaliwag who dare sail with us!
• 2014: Alien Autopsy [Pix and Video]
• 2013: The Return of Dr. Freightmarestein [Pix and Video]
• 2012: Pirate Dungeon II [Pix and Video]
• 2011: Just Buried II [Pix and Video]
• 2010: Alien Autopsy II [Pix and Story] [Video]
• 2009: Zombie Apocalypse [Pix and Story] [Video]
• 2008: Dr. Freightmarestein's Haunted Laboratory of Horrors [Pix] [Video]
• 2007: Psycho Circus [Pix] [Video]
• 2006: Alien Autopsy I [Pix]
• 2005: Just Buried I [Pix]
• 2004: Pirate Dungeon I [Pix]
Thursday, September 24, 2015
It's time once again for a pseudo-script, one of those goofy summaries I write from time to time to prepare for a lecture in the SJSU Humanities Honors Program. This time the topic is Voltaire's Candide, a sly satire of European failings that contains a thoughtful reminder of our obligations in a world of pain and misery to "cultivate our garden." In cultivating this script, I have emphasized some aspects and ignored a few others. Over time I might revise this effort. In the meantime, a warning: Voltaire took great pleasure in mocking organized religion. He seemed especially vexed by Judaism but managed to offend virtually anyone of faith. Just a reminder that even the most beloved texts can sprout weeds as well as blossoms.
Candide: It sure is swell, living here in this German castle. I’m simple and innocent, yes, but I’m trained by the world’s best philosopher, Pangloss, who has explained that this is The Best Of All Possible Worlds. And he must be right. For I have fallen in love with the best of all possible girls, Cunégonde. She’s beautiful and open-minded and, well, nothing could possibly ruin this lovely life of mine. Indeed – what the hell?
Baron: Not with my daughter, dude. I’m kicking you out of paradise.
Candide [waking up in a ditch]: Wow, that was disappointing. But I’m sure the Baron had his reasons. In the meantime, these two uniformed gentlemen seem to have been placed by providence here to help me.
Prussian Soldier: Indeed we have, young man. You’re just the right height to, to, to enjoy a free meal. Our treat!
Candide: Oh Pangloss, if only you were here to see how right you are. These truly are the best of all possible friends.
Prussian Soldier: Best of all, you’re in the army now!
Candide: What the hell?
Prussian Soldier: That’s a good lad. March smartly now; you’re a Prussian after all.
Candide: Actually I’m a philosopher, and I prefer to march in my own direction.
Prussian Soldier: I really must insist, my inquiring friend. Perhaps a few thousand strokes of the lash will set you straight.
Candide: Ow! The best of all possible punishments, I suppose. But what’s that noise, over your shoulder?
Prussian Soldier: Hurray! The battle begins!
Candide: A perfectly placed opportunity for me to take my leave. Say, I wonder what’s going on in Holland. I hear that the country is filled with kind Christians who will relieve my suffering.
Christian orator: Only if you condemn the pope first.
Candide: But I just want some bread.
Orator’s wife: I’ll pour some bread on you then. Well, it was bread a few days ago, before it digested in my stomach.
Candide: Ewww. But the best of all possible outcomes, I guess.
Jacques: Dude, you just don’t get it, do you? Look, I’m an Anabaptist, which means that I don’t hold with most folks’ views of religion. And I’ve suffered for my conscience. Live with me, my philosophical friend. I’ll get you a job and make sure you don’t starve.
Candide: Proof at last of Panglossian wisdom!
Pangloss: Which coincidentally I can demonstrate in the flesh, decaying as it is.
Candide: Pangloss! I could hardly recognize you, what with those syphilitic sores covering your face.
Pangloss: The price of love, my young friend. Remember that sweet young girl back at the castle, the one I used to teach in the garden when the Baron was away?
Candide: She gave you an STD?
Pangloss: One that can trace its lineage all the way back to the New World. Remarkable proof of the Great Chain of Being, yes?
Candide: And how is she now? And the Baron, and his wife, and Cunégonde?
Pangloss: Deader than vaudeville, I’m afraid. All of ‘em.
Candide: What the hell?
Pangloss: Yeah, the Prussians trashed the place. It’s for the best, really.
Jacques: Yeah, now about those pustules. I’ll get a doctor, get you cured, and then let’s head to Lisbon. I’ve got business there and you two can accompany me.
Pangloss: See what I’m saying? All according to plan.
Candide: If you say so. Say, what’s that wind lashing against the sails.
Pangloss: On the boat that we’re now on, heading to Lisbon?
Candide: What an odd narrative hint. But, yeah, that one.
Jacques: A terrible storm wrecking the ship. I must help the others!
Candide: Look, Pangloss, Jacques fell overboard, trying to serve his fellow man. Miserable fate!
Pangloss: The best of all possible fates, my innocent charge. The whole bay here was formed precisely for this purpose, to gobble Jacque into the deep: an essential cause to this necessary effect.
Candide: If you say so. Seems like a waste of a good Anabaptist, though. Well, as long as it doesn’t get any worse –
Pangloss: – Turns out we arrived just in time for the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755!
Candide: A precise mechanism, the watchmaker’s craft. Well let’s see if we can help the folks of Lisbon.
Pangloss: We seem to have been drawn here for that very purpose.
Inquisition Officer: I can think of a better purpose for you two. You see, we need to execute some heretics.
Pangloss: Yes, I do seem perfectly fitted for the hangman’s noose.
Candide: What the hell?
Inquisition Officer: Precisely. Good news, though, young man. We’ll merely flog you.
Candide: That’s not so bad, I guess.
Old Woman: Oh get off that stage and come with me, young man. There’s someone you should meet.
Cunégonde: Guess who?
Candide: Cunégonde, alive! Poor Pangloss said that you’d been killed, along with your brother, the Baron, the Baron’s wife, and –
Cunégonde: – No, not killed. Raped and tortured, yes. But not killed. Instead I was sold into slavery. A Jew wanted me, and a Christian too. They worked out an arrangement to share me, a lovely interfaith alliance, I suppose. Anyway, I saw you suffering under that terrible lash, and I asked the Old Woman to bring you here.
Old Woman: And now we’d better flee. You’ve stirred up some trouble, surprisingly kick-ass Candide, having just killed that Jew and Christian.
Candide: You noticed that, huh?
Old Woman: Yeah. We’d better take some horses and ride out of here. I’ve only got one buttock, but I can keep up.
Candide: You noticed that, huh?
Old Woman: Yeah. We’d better take some horses and ride out of here. I’ve only got one buttock, but I can keep up.
Cunégonde: But what shall we do for money?
Candide: Well I picked up some military skills from the Prussians. So we’ll join the Spanish and Portuguese armada heading west to fight the renegade Jesuits of Paraguay. The New World: That’s where we’ll find the paradise promised by Pangloss. The Best of All Possible Worlds at last!
Cunégonde: This New World will surely be better than the old. I’ve certainly suffered enough in it.
Old Woman: Suffering, huh? You don’t know the half of it.
Candide: Yeah, about that butt of yours…
Old Woman: Exactly! It didn’t always look like this, you know. Once I was the gorgeous daughter to the Bishop of Rome: a real-life pope-pop! And I was engaged to a gorgeous dude too. But then my fiancé gets killed, and my mom and I get captured by pirates – and searched for jewels in places I’d never think to hide them – and then we get taken to Morocco and promptly cut to pieces. Well mostly. I managed to survive, only to be captured by an Italian Castrato diplomat who sold me into slavery in Algiers. From there I took a grand tour of Africa and Asia, sold from tyrant to tyrant. And when famine struck, and the eunuchs started getting eaten, I was spared. They only ate one of my butt cheeks, which was a nice compromise, they told me. Then I was taken to Russia. From there I managed to escape and work my way back across that frozen land to Europe, which led me here to meet you. So, yeah, I know a little about suffering. But show me someone who doesn’t and you can throw me off this boat.
Candide: That was quite a story. Say, it looks like we made it to Buenos Aires.
Governor [in his best Lando Calrissian voice, speaking to Cunégonde]: Hello. What have we here? Welcome. I’m the Governor. I’m the administrator of this city. And who might you be?
Candide: Her name is Cunégonde, and she’s my fiancé. Can you marry us?
Governor [twirling his mustache like a silent movie villain]: Go drill your troops, Captain Candide. And I’ll do some drilling of my own.
Old Woman: Uh oh. Cops are coming. Looks like they found out about your exploits back in Lisbon. Better hit the bricks.
Cacambo: Better listen to the Old Woman, sir.
Candide: Who the hell are you?
Cacambo: Your valet, sir. I sailed with you from Europe?
Candide: Oh yeah…
Cacambo: Yeah. So let’s head north to Paraguay. They’ll treat us right.
Candide: But what about Cunégonde?
Cacambo: We’ll leave her with the Governor for now and find a way to rescue her later.
Candide: Hmmm. Well, I do enjoy traveling. So here we are in Paraguay.
Commander: Candide, is that you?
Candide: Cunégonde’s brother! I can’t believe it! You’re alive!
Commander: Amazing, isn’t it? I was left for dead back at our castle but then rescued by a Jesuit. Turns out he had a special interest in young boys. Anyway, I got passed along from station to station until I was sent here to serve the Church.
Candide: What a story! And with Cunégonde and I about to be married. Maybe you can serve as –
Commander: – You want to marry my sister? I don’t think so, dude. But you can have a taste of my sword!
Candide [stabbing the Commander in the belly]: Yo, it’s my treat!
Cacambo: What the hell?
Candide: I know! For a sweet innocent boy, I certainly have killed a lot of people lately.
Cacambo: Well, unless you want to join them, we’d better flee. Come on, I know a place!
Candide: Great idea, let’s ride and – what do you see up ahead? Monkeys chasing after two women?
Cacambo: Yeah, that sort of thing –
Candide: – Just in time to rescue them and redeem myself!
Cacambo: Nope. Like I was saying, that kind of thing isn't all that rare. The girls around here like monkeys. All the world isn’t like Europe, you know.
Savage: And those monkeys were friends of ours. So we’re gonna boil you up. Teach a lesson to you Jesuits.
Cacambo: But we’re not Jesuits. Honest!
Savage: Well alright then.
Candide: Wow, Cacambo, you really do come in handy.
Cacambo: Yeah, but don’t look now. I think we’ve just found Elderado!
Candide: Amazing! Gold seems to mean nothing to these folks. They have more than they can handle. Jewels too! This must be the Best of All Possible Worlds!
Old Man: Yes, we’re quite happy here, and we never want to leave. Nope, we spend our lives in gratitude to God for His many blessings.
Candide: Led by priests, I presume…
Old Man: Who needs a priest?
Candide: Paradise, indeed. Cacambo, we should stick around, collect some jewels and gold, and then rescue Cunégonde!
Cacambo: Great. We’re provisioned with sheep bearing all that loot. Let’s head off.
Slave: Um, I couldn’t help but noticing y’all, and –
Candide: Good Lord! What happened to you?
Slave: Well I have the great fortune of working for one of your European plantations. That’s how I lost an arm and a leg.
Candide: Maybe, just maybe, Pangloss’s philosophy is too sugar-coated to be true.
Slave: Yeah, maybe.
Candide: Well trusty Cacambo, we’d had better split up. You return to Buenos Aires and buy Cunégonde’s freedom. Don’t forget the Old Woman. Me, I’ll meet you in Venice, where we’ll all be safe.
Cacambo: Great idea, sir.
Candide: I’d better set sail quickly. Seems like every time I turn around, someone is ripping me off. But before I depart, I need to find a companion, someone who has suffered enough to occupy my time with interesting conversation.
Martin: I’m your man. My wife robbed me, my son beat me, my daughter deserted me, my boss is a thief (worse, a bookseller), and now the local clerics are accusing me of heresy. The world is filled with evil, and I have no hope for a happy ending.
Candide: Then it’s off to Europe!
ACT THREE [ABBREVIATED]
Martin and Candide spend the trip discussing their varying philosophies of pessimism and optimism. In Europe they spend some time in Paris, where they are swindled by virtually everyone they meet. They consider a brief visit to London, but change their minds when they see an admiral executed for cowardice. Arriving at last in Venice, but finding no sign of Cacambo or his beloved Cunégonde, Candide appears to have finally agreed with Martin’s dismal view of the world. And yet when they observe a seemingly cheerful couple, a monk and a young girl, he proposes that there must be at least some happy people left in the world. Martin disagrees, so they invite the couple to dinner – where they will settle their despite.
Paquette: Don’t you recognize me?
Candide: Oh, yeah, you’re the girl that gave Pangloss that STD!
Paquette: And believe me, I have suffered since, reduced to becoming a prostitute.
Candide: Quiet, you. [Turning to Paquette]. But you looked so happy!
Paquette: Can’t turn a trick with a frown, dude.
Candide: Well what about you, Brother Giroflée? You must be happy in your life.
Giroflée: I’m as miserable as Paquette.
Martin wins his bet. Later Candide and Martin meet with Lord Pococurante, a Venetian nobleman who has gathered a seemingly sublime collection of art and literature and would appear to live in a state of bliss and comfort. But Pococurante is bored by all his possessions, criticizing each as a poor substitute for nature. Afterward they are astonished to meet Cacambo and learn that Cunégonde, now a slave to an exiled prince, awaits them in Constantinople. After a meal with six deposed kings, the trio boards a ship heading for Turkey. On board they find two people thought to be dead who are miraculously alive: Cunégonde’s brother and Pangloss (who maintains his philosophical optimism despite having been hanged and then dissected). Candide buys their freedom and orders the ship’s captain to make haste for Transylvania where they ransom Cunégonde and the Old Woman. Cunégonde has lost her beauty, but Candide remains determined to marry her. And when her brother attempts to interfere, he is sent back into slavery. The rest of the group, eventually joined by Giroflée and Paquette, settle in a garden where they debate the meaning of life. At one point they visit a nearby dervish, renowned for his wisdom, seeking advice. But he mocks them. Finally they visit an old man who explains that the secret to happiness is work, which protects people from the evils of “boredom, vice, and poverty.”
Pangloss: The old man is right. And his humility is an added key to happiness.
Martin: It’s better, I think, to work without hope of happiness.
Candide: Perhaps work is happiness.
Friday, August 21, 2015
Sunday, August 16, 2015
During a 2008 trip to Portland, I edited a video-celebration of the city's gorgeous assemblage of neon signs. The piece turned out OK, but I regretted not bringing a higher resolution camera to grab the footage. Ever since that trip, I'd awaited the opportunity to return to the Rose City and revisit those old haunts.
At last we made the return trip!
Some highlights - the Republic Cafe, Tip Top Cleaners, Holiday Motel, Billy Rays Dive Tavern, and Mt. Tabor Theater - no longer glow (at least not when we visited them during our four-day journey), but Jenny and I found some new places that give renewed hope that Portland loves its neon landscape.