Exit Stan Lee

I didn’t grow up as a fan of Stan Lee.

In fact, it’s fair to say that as a kid, I didn’t “get” Marvel at all.  Weaned on Superman and Batman, I viewed superheroes as unflappable paragons of confidence, competence and moral certainty, whereas Marvel’s heroes were conflicted, insecure, short-tempered and at the end of the day not always even sure they were in the right.  On meeting each other, their first impulse was to trade punches; even when they cooperated, they bickered and griped.  More than that, Marvel the company was flagrantly, brazenly after my money.  Individual issues of their comics almost never told a complete story, being just chapters in sagas that had begun long before I showed up and would end…well, maybe never.  If you bought a Spider-Man book, you were apt to be presented with a guest appearance by Daredevil or the Human Torch or some other character in the middle of a story of their own; if you wanted to fully understand what was going on, you had to go buy their book, too.  Marvel wasn’t satisfied with just some of my money, they wanted it all, and even if I obliged, I probably still wouldn’t get a complete story.

A banner across the splash page of all Marvel books yelled, “Stan Lee Presents…”  putting a name to the mastermind behind this Machiavellian money-grab, doubtless a corporate mogul who sat like Uncle Scrooge in a vault piled high with quarters coaxed from the pockets of me and my pals and millions like us.   At this stage of the game, Stan wasn’t really writing stories for the comics, so I only knew him as that guy “presenting” everything, and I only “heard his voice” through his “Stan’s Soapbox” editorials, which often as not could be summed up as, “We’ve got another book out, so what are you waiting for? Go Buy It!”  There was just a shameless hucksterism to the guy that rubbed me the wrong way.  After about the hundredth time I saw Stan use the word to close out a column, I finally asked my Dad what “Excelsior” was, and he laughed and said, “Wood shavings!”  Somehow that fit my impression of this guy who was selling us a bill of goods.

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But then in the late 70s, things changed a bit for me when a series of paperbacks from Pocket Books reprinted the early adventures of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk and Dr Strange, and finally I got to “meet” Stan not as a publisher or promoter, but a writer.  That’s when I finally “got” the appeal of both Stan himself and the company he built.  Stan’s Spider-Man took a character that had never appealed to me beyond his cool costume and power set and made him dynamic and funny.  Early Spidey was almost like a parody of conventional superheroes: living in his aunt’s house instead of a mansion, dealing with homework deadlines between crimefighting missions and stuck repairing his own (lone) costume with a needle and thread.  Stan’s successors — writing the 70’s Spidey I saw on the spinner racks — had picked up the baton and doubled down on the misery and suffering while losing the (for me) crucial humor, Stan’s implicit message that even Peter Parker’s Job-like suffering was part of the over-arching. playful poke in the eye to staid, conventional superheroics. With Steve Ditko putting Spidey through insane contortions and Stan providing him with genuinely funny and rarely repetitive one-liners, the first 38 issues of Spider-Man (or anyway the 21 I got to read in those books) became favorites.

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To really appreciate Stan’s contributions, though, you needed to experience the whole comic, not just the story itself.  The letter columns featured lively banter with readers who were clearly loving the opportunity to put in their two cents and see their names in print.  Some of the letters could even be harshly critical, especially of Ditko’s art, which is undeniably an acquired taste, but that didn’t stop Stan (in his “editor” hat) from printing them, anyway.  On the “Bullpen Bulletins” editorial pages, in the lettercols, in the cover blurbs and “editor’s notes” at the bottoms of panels as well as the word balloons and captions, the “voice of Marvel” was consistent in its convivial, inclusive, upbeat and playful approach, and the “voice” was Stan’s.

Stan established the “Marvel style” of comic book creation, which involved supplying an artist with a basic story idea (if even that) and letting the artist plot it out and make his own decisions about how to pace and structure things.  Then Stan would supply all the captions and dialog to flesh out the pictures on the page.  This allowed Stan and his small stable of artists to churn out an amazing amount of content on a monthly basis, compared to the established industry practice of having a writer put down every word as Step One, then provide detailed instructions to the artists on how to illustrate each panel.  Looking at those early books, you can see where artists like Ditko and Jack Kirby reveled in their new freedom to contribute their ideas, but over time these blurry lines between who did what would lead to hard feelings and feuds that played out publicly.

Probably the ideal collaboration, for me, came when Lee and Ditko teamed up for Dr Strange.  Providing a perfect complement to Ditko’s trippy other-dimensional landscapes and bizarre creatures were Stan’s brilliant spells, name-dropping arcane powers, demons, mages and worlds we couldn’t wait to learn more about, and expanding the scope of Strange’s universe by the mere power of suggestion.

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Part of the fun of those early stories, for me, comes in the palpable tension between creators, the sense that artist and writer are pulling in different directions.  There are many times when it certainly looks as if, say, Jack Kirby drew a sequence with a particular idea in mind, then Stan came in and changed the tone and momentum of the scene entirely.  It’s fun to speculate on why he took things in a different direction; did he misinterpret Jack’s intentions?  Did he simply disagree and exercise his power of having “the last word”?  Did he make things better or worse?  People often compare the Lee/Kirby team to Lennon and McCartney, and while it’s far from a perfect analogy, I agree it’s spot-on in one regard: sometimes the pairing of two competing geniuses creates a magic that’s never recaptured after the team splits.

Probably to acknowledge the huge contributions of his collaborators, Stan broke with tradition and ran credits for every Marvel story, letting fans know who wrote and drew them, and for good measure who lettered and colored them, as well.  Just letting us know comics were in fact penciled and inked and lettered and colored pulled back the curtain on how these things managed to appeared on the spinner racks each month as if by magic.  Now when young fans got tired of arguing over whether The Thing could beat The Hulk, they could argue over who the best artist was.  More importantly to the industry, new generations of fans could start considering a career in making these things, themselves.

I confess I gave up buying monthly comics a long time ago, but I still go back to those vintage adventures often, and I find I keep purchasing them over again in new formats every few years.  I continue to be impressed with Stan’s writing, given that he still seems generally regarded as a promoter first, editor second and writer a distant third.  But as celebrated as his Spider-Man continues to be, it’s impressive that Stan wasn’t a one-trick pony.  He didn’t try to fit all his heroes into the Spider-Man mold, and he could write in different styles.  The Thing could be as funny as Spidey, but his humor came from a more tragic place.  It was well-nigh impossible to imagine Dr Strange ever making a joke, but he was every bit as entertaining to me for all his sober-mindedness.  And while Daredevil could sink into Parker-like depressions and even the old-school Captain America tended to mope about his dead sidekick, The Mighty Thor had a wonderful lust for life and couldn’t have been happier to be who he was.  (The arrival of cosmic threats that would have had Superman thinking, “I’ve never battled a foe so powerful…[choke!]…I may never see Lois and Jimmy again!” found Thor wading in with near-giddy enthusiasm: “At last a worthy opponent!”)  And since they were all different, things got interesting when these heroes crossed each other’s paths.

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As noted elsewhere, this is probably Stan’s most enduring contribution: the concept of a cohesive, interconnected universe that lends itself both to stories of individual heroism and sweeping sagas on a cosmic scale.  If (for me anyway) a lot of the old fun is gone from the comics, it’s found a second life on the big screen, where Stan’s storytelling approach is playing out in blockbuster movies unfolding the saga of an interconnected universe that blends spectacle and emotional stakes with a pervasive sense of humor and fun.

Anyway, every story has to end at some point, and Stan’s ran on longer than most. He had a good run of 95 years and left behind a huge legacy that involves making people happy.  A fella can’t ask for much more than that.  And if I missed out on being a Marvel kid the first time around, at least now I can feel like a kid every time I read those old tales from Stan and Jack and Steve (and John, and George, and Marie and Bill and Joe and the rest of the Bullpen).  Thanks for that, Stan, and godspeed.

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It Came From Outer Space (Maybe)

A recent Boy Scout camping trip took Jason, Scott and me to a part of Virginia where I spent several years of my youth.  But then, what else is new; by now the boys are doubtless getting tired of me saying, “I used to live here.” So far I’ve used that line when visiting the Eastern Shore, Lynchburg, Middlesex, Matthews, Lunenburg and now Mecklenburg.  Sometimes I forget just how much I moved as a kid.

Anyway, in this case we saw not only Victoria, where I spent my middle school years and one year of high school, and Chase City, where my grandparents lived, but also South Hill, where I arrived on this planet right around the same time as an extraterrestrial visitor…maybe.

In a fun little museum that spotlights vintage dolls, model trains and local wildlife (!), I was admiring an enormous HO-scale train layout when I came across a display that didn’t seem to tie in exactly with any of the three themes of the museum.  Featuring a complete article from a magazine called UFOs and Flying Saucers 1968, it recounted an incident that briefly put South Hill on the national map with ufologists, curiosity-seekers and the US Air Force. Even though I’d heard the story a few times growing up, this was the first time I’d seen any documentation beyond mere word-of-mouth, so I took a photo of the display to help me search out the magazine online.

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The only remaining piece of the cover was the title, but once again, the internet came through for me and I tracked down an image of the full cover.

 

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So anyway, the gist is that a South Hill warehouse manager leaving work in the wee hours of April 21, 1967 saw an object more less resembling a large water tank on four legs resting in the road, and when he shone his headlights on it, the object took off with a blinding flash of white flame.  Subsequent investigations revealed a strange depression and scorch marks burned into the surface of the road where the reported object allegedly sat. Having produced physical markings, the sighting is elevated to what we’d call a Close Encounter of the Second Kind, as opposed to the more common (and more easily dismissed) visual sightings of the First kind.

Here’s a brief article that appeared back in the day:

 

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While I wasn’t able to unearth a digital version of the magazine article (with photos of officials investigating the odd marks on the road), I was thrilled to find the complete original case report filed by the US Air Force officer assigned to catalog the sighting for “Project Blue Book,” complete with witness accounts, diagrams and the works.

A decades-long government investigation into UFO sightings around the country, “Project Blue Book” also inspired a TV show I used to love,  “Project: UFO” (renamed to eliminate confusion, or because “blue book” sounds like it could be naughty, I guess).  It was a curious show; trading on the sensationalized UFO-mania of the era, it showcased “amazing” spaceship model work to draw in the Star Wars crowd, but with Jack Webb producing, it wad performed in the same no-nonsense, procedure-bound style as “Dragnet.”  Typically there were three investigations per episode, two of which would invariably end in “logical” explanations (hoaxes, optical illusions, weather balloons and the like).  After a while it got to be unintentionally hilarious, seeing highly-detailed spaceship models hovering before us as plain as day to illustrate a witness account, only to have the investigating officers declare, “What you saw was a trick of the light, caused by swamp gas.”  Ah, but then there was always a third investigation that would end up “unexplained,” just to toss us conspiracy nuts a cookie so we’d come back again next week.  The Joe Friday-like USAF officers weren’t about to admit it was a real flying saucer, but then they couldn’t definitely say it wasn’t, either.

Imagine my pleasure, then, on discovering that “Blue Book’s” final ruling on the South Hill sighting is “unexplained.”  As a kid, I lived for this kind of thing: not so much the confirmation of things extraterrestrial or supernatural (because hey, if science ever agreed Bigfoot or aliens were real, they’d just become part of the boring world of known facts, and lose their allure), but rather the admission that experts (ie: grown-ups) do not and can not know everything (“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio…”).

Over the years, I mostly lost interest in UFOs.  I remember a few years ago trying to watch a nine-part series on Youtube that traced the history of UFO sightings over the millennia, and somewhere around episode six I gave up, realizing I don’t really care if they’re real or not, because even if they are, what difference does it make?  Consider: if you were writing a UFO-themed screenplay, Act 1 would revolve around spooky sightings of alien spacecraft by heroes and heroines who are disbelieved and scoffed at.  Act 2 would see their claims verified as a horde of invading saucers assault the Earth and lay waste to civilization.  In Act 3, we’d either beat them or go down fighting, but the point is  in “real life” we’ve been stuck in Act 1 since Bible times (when “Ezekiel saw the wheel.” ) It’s always  “I saw this, I saw that, I talked to aliens, aliens abducted me, aliens killed my cow, the government’s covering it up”, yadda yadda.  But it never goes any further.  After thousands of years, all the alleged ETs are doing is watching us, or at worst playing pranks on random rednecks; they’re not scouts for an invasion force or they’d have attacked by now.  And if they’re just tourists, then let ’em come.  They’re not hurting anything.

The weird part is I once experienced a sighting myself.  Sometime around 1973 in the small town of Saluda, VA, I was watching a show on TV (surprise!) when the electricity went out in our house.  A glance out the window showed the power had also failed in all the other houses on our block and across the street, as well as the traffic light at the intersection two blocks away.  There was one light, though, coming from behind the house, about 100 yards away, bright and round and hovering maybe 35 to 50 feet off the ground.  Not sure for how long, but long enough for me to notice it, get up, walk to the back window and stare at it. And then suddenly, it shot off and upwards very fast at an angle, and once it was out of sight, the power came back on.  I told the story a lot as a kid, to the point where I later decided maybe I’d made it up, but I asked my Mom a few years ago, she said, “No, that happened and I was terrified.”  So there’s that.

And that’s cool. In the end, I like my UFOs mysterious and unexplained, and it’s fun to know my birth town was once (and may still be) one of the great historical “hot spots” for ET activity.  However, I confess it’s a bit disappointing to learn the actual date of the sighting was some two years and a couple weeks after my birth.  The idea that a flying saucer and I may have showed up at the same time seemed to explain so much…

 

Anniversaries and Hurricanes and Twisters, Oh My

Well, this blog is long overdue for an update again, so I’ll try to recap some recent adventures in digest form.

First up, Laura and I celebrated our 25th (!) wedding anniversary at the end of August with a trip to Boston, marking our first trip together away from the kids in 15 years.  (Thanks to Laura’s mom for minding the home front!).  We’d had vague plans to return to Nova Scotia, where we honeymooned way back in nineteenmumblemumble, but with all we’ve had going on this year, plans just never came together.   It’ll happen one day, though.

Anyway, Boston’s always been on our “someday” list, and it turned out to be a very enjoyable visit.  Of course, we took the Virginia heat with us: highs were in the 70s before we arrived and after we left, but the entire time we were there, the city suffered record heat (upper 90s). That seemed fitting, given that our wedding day was also a sweltering record-setter, but such was probably small consolation to the people of Boston.  (Sorry, folks).  The heat wave meant the Bunker Hill monument was closed to visitors out of safety concerns (it’s basically a giant chimney) but it was still an interesting place to see, especially since I’d just read James Nelson’s account of the battle, With Fire And Sword, earlier this year.  Other than that, we got to see all the historic sites on our list, including a walking tour of the Freedom Trail with a costumed guide and a visit to “Old Ironsides” herself, the USS Contitution.   Then we just concentrated on attractions that would keep us  indoors, like the truly remarkable Museum of Fine Arts (where I fell in love with Van Gogh’s Houses At Auvers) and the very impressive Public Library, where a free tour highlighted the architectural genius of Charles Follen McKim (who I was interested in from his designs of NY’s old Pennsylvania Station and the Agricultural Building at the 1890 Chicago World’s Fair, as featured in Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City) and murals by John Singer Sargent.   And of course we fit in a lot of great seafood, though we broke the rules a bit and skipped the Italian restaurants;  all that heavy fare just didn’t appeal in the heat.

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We skipped the rental car and used Lyft, which quickly started adding up, but once we got a gander at what passes for urban planning in Boston, we were happy not to have to navigate those byzantine streets, deal with the crazy drivers or try to find a place to park.  Between that and staying at an AirBnB, this was our “Internet Age” vacation.

On our return, we celebrated Grace’s 10th (!) birthday, another reminder of how fast life’s speeding by.  Grace continues to be a source of great joy in our lives, of course, and I think she had a good time on her big day, which she shares with her fish, Ballou (who’s only 1).

Then it was time to start fretting about Hurricane Florence, advertised as the worst weather event since Noah gathered the animals.  In the end, it bypassed us completely in favor of hammering the crap out of the Carolinas.  We spent one night camped out downstairs in the room furthest from any trees, but about 2AM I woke up to dead silence and a general feeling of foolishness.  VCU closed for two days out of an abundance of caution so I got a four-day weekend, but all we ended up with were intermittent showers.

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Just when we thought we were in the clear, though, what was left of the storm swung North and sparked seven tornadoes in the Richmond metro area, an unprecedented occurrence here. The most powerful of them touched down about two miles from our house in the parking lot in front of our favorite pizza shop, damaging a gym and flipping over a car before crossing all six lanes of Hull Street and demolishing a furniture store and a flooring warehouse, the latter sadly resulting in a fatality.  Good Minnesotan that she is, Laura’s twister radar was up and she crammed herself, the kids and several visitors into the laundry room until things died down, while I obeyed VCU’s (seemingly endless) alerts and stayed put in my office.  For once I was glad it’s in a basement.

Anyway, that should bring us more or less up to date.

RIP Steve Ditko

One of the key architects of the “Marvel Age of Comics,” Steve Ditko passed away last week at age 90.  I was going to write that he “left us,” but for most of his career he wasn’t really among us, choosing a life of privacy over celebrity, shunning conventions and interviews and earning himself (fairly or not) a reputation as a hermit and recluse, “the JD Salinger of comics.” Unlike his collaborator Stan Lee, who’s basked in the limelight longer than most people have even been alive, Ditko never seemed to feel comfortable in the public eye, preferring to let his work speak for itself.

It certainly spoke to me, and rather against the odds.  Young Me was a DC fan, whereas Ditko’s most notable works were produced for Marvel.  Further, I was a devoted fan of Neal Adams and the “realistic” approach to comic art that took hold in the Bronze Age, whereas Ditko’s style was pretty much the opposite of all that; quirky, cartoony and what you might call “oddball.”  Nonetheless, when I saw his work on “Shade: The Changing Man,” “The Creeper” and one of the million-and-one variations on “Starman,” it was oddly compelling.

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Some time in the late 70s, Pocket Books released a series of paperbacks collecting vintage Marvel comics in vivid color, and for the first time, I had an opportunity to read the earliest issues of The Amazing Spider-Man.  I’d always liked Spidey’s costume and power set, but I was turned off by the never-ending sob story that was Peter Parker’s life by the 1970s.  Nevertheless, I took a chance on these little books and was blown away.

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The earliest Spidey stories, I learned, were inventive, energetic and delightfully quirky.  A lot of that came from Stan Lee’s distinctive flair for witty dialog, but it was Ditko’s art that signaled this was not your average superhero book.  Where other heroes flexed massive chests and biceps and stood around with their fists on their hips, Spidey was a spindly little teenager who moved in spider-like ways that made him equal parts “cool” and “icky.”  He had a degree of super-strength, but he didn’t plant his feet on the ground and deliver haymakers; he did back-flips and somersaults and stood on the ceiling to punch down at you.  And while Lee and Ditko’s Peter Parker had problems, they often had a sense of the absurd about them, making the book seem almost like a spoof of the superhero genre.  Unlike Bruce Wayne and a host of other millionaire playboy heroes, Pete had to worry about paying the rent.  Superman had a Fortress of Solitude, but Pete was relegated to a cramped room in his Aunt’s house that afforded little privacy. Batman had a cave full of costumes for every occasion, but Pete had just one and he had to sew it himself.  When he lost it, he had to borrow a copy from a costume shop, only to find it didn’t fit and had to be held together with webbing.  When Ditko left the book, Pete’s problems persisted — and multiplied — but that sense of the absurd left, replaced with soap-opera melodrama.  Pete turned movie-star handsome, pretty girls filled the book and in short order, Spidey was as muscular and hunky as any other superhero.  Everything looked glossy and beautiful, but the soul of the feature was forever altered.

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Those little Pocket Books also introduced me to the earliest adventures of what would become my favorite Marvel character, Dr. Strange.  Dealing with sorcery, demons, nightmares and journeys to dimensions unbound by earthly rules of logic or physics. these stories gave Ditko’s imagination free reign.  Doc’s expressive hand gestures and the swirling, pulsing, crackling light effects they generated created a sort of guidebook for future artists tasked with illustrating “magic.”  His trippy extra-dimensional landscapes were equally definitive; with no “ground” to stand on, characters moved about on pathways that hung in the air like unfurled scarves, meandering at times through the disembodied jaws of serpents to little “islands” that seemed to be melting away like warm ice cream, while the “skies” were filled with spheres sprouting slithering tendrils of who-knows-what.  In Ditko’s hands, landscapes seemed not only alive but predatory.

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Years later, I would buy this material again as a hardbound “Marvel Masterwork,” and then again as a “Marvel Omnibus.” And odds are the next format it’s released in, I’ll buy it again.

When he left Marvel after a dispute that will forever be shrouded in mystery (because he thought it was none of our business, and didn’t care if we were on his side), Ditko went to Charlton Comics long enough to revamp Blue Beetle with a new man behind the mask and a new costume as eye-catching as its predecessor was deadly dull.  Like Spidey’s costume and Strange’s, it remains in use to this day, fully 50 years after Ditko designed it, and despite the fickle tastes of changing fandom.

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Designing enduring costumes was something of a specialty for Ditko.  Somewhere along the way, he also re-imagined Jack Kirby’s clunky, “walking tank” version of Iron Man with the streamlined red-and-gold armor that has survived, with variations, through decades of comics and films.

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In fact it’s fair to say that no matter what “superstar” artist works on Ditko’s creations, whether it’s Spidey or Strange or the Creeper or Blue Beetle or The Question, there always remains some intrinsic “something” that draws a straight line back to the creator.  His fingerprints are unmistakable.

On the flip side, there is also the matter of Ditko’s politics, or maybe I should say his worldview.  As a devoted admirer of Ayn Rand, Ditko’s most personal works reflected his Objectivist beliefs, most notably in the form of his self-owned character “Mr A,” who saw life in black and white with no shades of gray.  In his first story, Mr A refuses to save the life of a villain about to fall to his death, noting that “to have any sympathy for a killer is an insult to their victims.”  To put it mildly, this sort of approach proved divisive in fandom, but it’s pretty clear the mind behind this material isn’t interested in seeking approval from anyone.

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Apparently, Ditko died as he’d lived: alone and in privacy; as much as two days may have passed before anyone realized he’d expired. I can’t help but feel sad about that.  But then, the only way I’d ever “known” him was through his work, stories that are still on my shelf to be pulled down from time to time and be found exactly the way I remember them. So in a way, I guess nothing’s really changed much for me.  But somehow, it was cool to know that holed up in a little apartment somewhere was a genius artist who changed pop culture with his talent, then disappeared because he felt like it; a guy who valued his own personal belief system more than applause and fame. To some folks, that would make him kind of a nut, but then guys who think like the rest of the world are never going to give us something like Spider-Man or Dr Strange.  And even if he wasn’t the type to mingle or grant interviews or show up at premieres of multi-million dollar films based on his creations, he somehow seemed paradoxically “there” all my life.  Knowing that he’s not anymore makes the world feel a little emptier.

Anyway, whatever dimension he’s moved on to, I hope he’s at peace.

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Interlude in Vegas

Last week saw me at InfoComm for the first time in six years, and in Las Vegas for the first time in 16.

The show itself was fascinating as always, showcasing all the latest gee-gaws in production, presentation and display technology for live events, schools, churches and so on.  In particular, video displays seem to have no limits to how big, how thin and how sharp they can get.  In that respect, Vegas is a logical host city for the event, with all the gigantic video billboards dotting the Strip.  Just outside my hotel window I had a never-ending cycle of ads for Jennifer Lopez’ live act, a nightclub called “Jewel” and the bizarre, cycling animation that served as a “masthead” atop the Cosmopolitan hotel.

The trip out took about 8 hours all told, followed by a shuttle ride from the airport that ended in a fender-bender and a walk the rest of the way to my hotel (Bally’s).  I was ready to take the accident as an ill omen, but then who should come puttering past but Elvis himself, all 300 pounds of him in a white, sequined jumpsuit with high color and cape, and riding on a “Rascal” scooter.  That’s when I knew everything was going to be alright.

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I’d forgotten a lot about the town in the 16 years since my last visit.  For one, the smoke in the casinos.  Cigarette smoking is so out-of-favor now in the US that it’s hard to believe I  used to work in an office where folks would light up right at their desk, and eat at restaurants that didn’t even bother with smoking and non-smoking sections.  Vegas is still firmly stuck in that Yesteryear, with folks puffing away at the slot machines day and night.  I noticed a “Smoker’s” area in the airport that came complete with slot machines and figured it was a brilliant move, since a Venn diagram showing “smokers” and “gamblers” would probably have about a 90% overlap.

The other thing I was reminded of was the “showgirl waitress” uniform.  Whether it was cocktail waitresses in the casinos or waitresses in burger joints or sports bars made no difference; if they were on hotel property, they had to prance around in a teddy, period.  This rule seems iron-clad, irrespective of whether you’re 20 or 50, heavy or thin, college co-ed or mother of eight.  Because, hey, hiring someone based on their physical appearance would be sexist, right?  But now that you’re on the payroll, get into that teddy.  Frankly, I felt pretty bad for these gals, given that the male staff wasn’t asked to wear leather briefs and fishnet t-shirts.  But who knows, maybe they’re cool with it.  The Paris hotel even had a girl dancing on the bar.  I’m pretty sure I’ve only seen that in movies before.  From the 60s.

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I guess I lucked out with the hotel room; Bally’s ran out of single rooms with King-size beds so I got a double with two Queens for the same price.  Just outside my window was the “Eiffel Tower” with a clear view of the Bellagio’s twice-hourly fountain show, which seemed like a good thing until I tried to go to sleep, and had to listen to those jets of water shooting off to the tune of Celine Dion belting out the “Titanic” theme at about a thousand decibels.

I opted to take the Monorail to the Convention Center, which was pretty cool.  Lots of interesting sights out the window, like a golf course that I understand has actually been closed for 6 months but is still watered and maintained so as not to scare off hotel guests with a view of it.  The plan is to tear it up and put in a man-made lake for visitors into boating and skiing.  Take that, Lake Mead.  Way off by itself (it seemed) was the Drumpf Hotel, trying desperately to look more impressive and important than everything else with giant gold lettering, which seemed apropos.

The heat hovered between 100 and 107 but the old saw is true; it’s not the heat but the humidity.  I found it pretty tolerable.  Along the sidewalks every now and then were these misting “showerheads” to keep you cool; I avoided them at first because I didn’t want to get wet, but eventually realized I wouldn’t, anyway.  The water they shot out evaporated immediately, creating a sort of cool fog.  If they did the same thing in Richmond, I’d come out sopping wet.

While I was in town, the Golden State Warriors finished off the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA finals and the Capitals beat the Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup, so there was plenty of betting going on, I’m sure.  Certainly there was a lot of yelling at TVs in the restaurants, especially with the hometown team in the mix and playing in an arena just down the street.  I’ve never been that into sports, but it was easier to feel the excitement in a place where everyone in the room is a potential winner or loser.  On the other hand, it was vaguely depressing to realize no one in Vegas probably ever enjoys sport for it’s own sake, since it all comes down to wagers.  Anyway, it was cool to see lot of Caps fans walking around and feel a bit closer to home.

On the walk to the monorail, I saw a poster for Wayne Newton’s “comeback show.”  I’m not sure how old he is at this point, but by now he’s had so much surgery he looks like Jack Nicholson as the Joker, with his mouth in a permanent smile and one eye apparently unable to open.  Barry Manilow did a little better job of finding a promo picture that made it look like his age is still in the double digits.  I also saw ads for shows starring Donny and Marie, Rich Little and something called the “Australian Bee-Gees,” so basically if you were a big deal forty years ago or can do a reasonable impersonation of someone who was, you’re a potential Vegas headliner.

wonder-slots

I didn’t spend much time on the slots, but I did spot a fun machine with graphics of Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, and that claimed a couple of bucks.  Mostly I spent time at a virtual Blackjack table.  “Virtual” because the dealer was a lady who exists only as a video recording, but the money involved was all-too real.  After doubling my stakes the first night, I was hooked, then of course it was all downhill from there.

Much ado was made about a party hosted by an AV vendor, but once I got there it was too crowded and noisy for me, so I lasted all of ten minutes.  Just in general I think I’m not the Vegas type.

All things considered it was one of those trips where you’re glad you went but the best part is getting home.  I tend to most cherish time spent at home.  So naturally it’s off to Summer Camp in a week.