Monday, November 26, 2007

Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200

Back from relaxing for a couple of days in Atlantic City. (The photo below isn't mine - in fact, I didn't take any this weekend - but it will do for now.)
I hadn't been there in quite some time, maybe four years, and for all the building and rebuilding the place remains a great constant. For international readers, Atlantic City is a small beach town in southern New Jersey that over the years has become the east coast's answer to Las Vegas, with better fudge and salt water taffy.
It's a curious place. A boardwalk lined with the gaudy lights of big-money casinos. There are some big-name chi-chi stores with high end jewelry, clothing and such for that day's lucky big winners, punctuated by junk shops and greasy food joints for the rest. Lots of storefronts featuring oriental foot and back massages. (These, as far as I know, are actual massages, as opposed to the "massages (nudge, nudge, wink, wink)" one can get in Las Vegas, where "massages (nudge, nudge, wink, wink)" are legal, a code word for taxable.) And, of course, souvenirs for everyone to remember the trip. What is life without a "someone I know went to Atlantic City and all I got was this t-shirt" t-shirt?
There's a Korean War Veterans memorial that's powerful even if the boardwalk does seem a curious location for it. It includes plaques for each of the native New Jersey recipients of the Medal of Honor, with a brief description of what each did to earn that distinction. The descriptions read like the heroic scenes from a big-budget action movie, and then you remember these guys did it for real and without knowing if the script would bring them out alive. In most cases, it didn't. If you visit Atlantic City and think looking out at the ocean leaves you feeling awestruck and humbled, turn the other way and read the plaques. I'll never call some guy who hits home runs or makes 3-point shots a hero again.
When first built-up years ago, the casinos were supposed to benefit the city, in particular the schools, but travel a couple of Monopoly-named streets past the boardwalk and the poverty tells a different story. Visiting high rollers, rooms and drinks provided free in return for dropping a couple of thousand dollars at the craps tables, walk past glitzy casinos alongside the busloads of regular folks who could probably be doing better things with their money than trying to double it at a slot machine or blackjack table. And together they pass local folks trying to get a few dollars by singing, playing plastic-bucket percussion or just by being there. It's very democratic, in a sad kind of way. Most sobering for me have always been the pawn shops, right across the street from the casinos, with big signs offering immediate cash for gold jewelry.
Still, the boardwalk has things to offer the non-gambler. Fresh air. Good shows too, though it's a bit off season for entertainment until it's closer to Christmas. The only big-name show this weekend was Jay Leno at Caesars (top ticket price: $175). We decided on a Beatles tribute band concert (top ticket price: $25). So realistic I almost yelled out, "Don't marry Heather!" Afterward we went back to our motel (about a twenty minute drive from the pricier hotels on the boardwalk) and watched a Letterman rerun.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Life Soup

Some moments to write, finally. It's just been that kind of couple of weeks. But enough chit-chat...on to the issues.

Issue 1: Barry, We Hardly Knew Ye

So now we find out Barry Bonds took steroids. Who would have thought it? It's a sad day for baseball, of course, but an even sadder day for the legions of young boys and girls who look up to sports figures like Bonds and believe in their young hearts that if you work hard and never lose sight of your dreams, it really is possible for anyone to grow large muscles and increase their head size in a matter of weeks.

In Tom Wolfe's great book about the American space program, The Right Stuff, he describes the mindset of a group of test pilots whenever one is killed in a testing accident. They're saddened, of course, but each man's mind also invariably finds all the reasons he wouldn't have crashed the way the doomed pilot did. I think a similar thing can happen when someone is too long on the pedestal of public adulation, thinking that the laws (of man as well as physics) only apply to regular people.

The charges against Barry Bonds aren't for taking steroids per se. Rather, they are for lying about it under oath. It's the same kind of thing that sent Martha Stewart to the big house when she decided to mislead investigators looking into those insider trading allegations. I've never agreed with those who said she was sent to prison because she's a celebrity. First, since when has that ever gotten anyone hard treatment in court? Second, taking it upon yourself to hamper a criminal investigation is a serious matter, sometimes more serious than whatever the original investigation was about. Where do these people think they are, FEMA?

Nixon lied about Watergate and became synonymous with political evil. (Considering our politics and politicians, that's really saying something.) Conversely, Reagan owned up to Iran Contra and ended up all but beatified. Clinton...well, he's Clinton.

With Bonds being a free agent I have to think no team will sign him with this indictment hanging over his head. We'll see how it all plays out, but it's starting to look like we won't have Barry Bonds to kick around any more.

Issue 2: This Will Sleigh You

A news item today reported that some Santa's (Santae?) in Australia have been directed not to say "ho ho ho" because it could be considered offensive by some women. Even if Santa were pointing at the perp walk from a brothel raid when he said it, I'm not sure the average three or four year old would get the inference. (Though I've known a few who probably would.) I think when someone created the expression, "You can't make this stuff up," this is the kind of thing they had in mind.

Issue 3: Residential Demolition, While You Wait

This is the latest photo of Willie (on the right) and Lily (on the left). (Yes, we decided to fix the spellings of their names.) Pulling clothes off hangers, throwing laundry around the bedroom and running around in a way that recreates the sound from every cowboy movie ever made wherein a herd of horses gallops in from the plains is hard work, and they need to rest sometime. Seeing them this way makes me think of a lot of things. Mostly about how witnessing life in its pure, innocent form underscores how very badly we've screwed up everything else.