Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Month That Was - November 2006: Sorry to be so late this month, but the football column has once again taken over my life and probably will own me through the end of the year. At least that's my excuse.

The end of the year. As I write this there is less than a month left in 2006. As you know, unlike many who blog, I scrupulously avoid delving into anything deeply personal (otherwise it wouldn't be personal -- see how that works?). If I did, however, you would probably understand why I will not miss 2006.

As you get older, years become a scarce commodity and that means the cost of a bad one is higher. Frankly, I think it's grotesquely unfair that years like 2006 count against the total. I call do-over.

Cruel Vegas
Au Revoir The Wire
That Book That Shall Not Be Named
Cruel, Cruel Vegas: Vegas was brutal this time around.

It started out when the cabbie felt so sorry for me being single, that he told me he would marry me if he was a girl. He had spent most to the trip to the hotel giving me stock investment advice. I congratulated him for being such a genius as to make some good investments in the middle of a bull market. He then asked me if I was married and next thing I know he was making the proposal. (I'm sure he thought he was complimenting me. They guy sounded like a relatively recent immigrant from Eastern Europe, which explains the malapropism.)

Thing is, I didn’t find it humorous. It just annoyed me. And it shouldn’t have. It was one of those comical things that always happens to me on the way to Vegas, but apparently I was not in the most positive frame of mind, which is weird for me going to Vegas. Maybe I had an inkling of what was to come.

I checked into “the T.I.” That is what they are calling Treasure Island now that it has been re-positioned for hip grown-ups. The T.I. is fine -- good quality, good location, good price. A prime spot for a winter weekend on a budget, but would not be my first choice if pool time was possible.

Spent the first day scouring the casinos for the best lines on the football games and made a few bets. In the intervening time until Sunday I hit the tables. Or rather, the tables hit me.

I have never had such a bad run of luck. I happened into Barbary Coast where I played Three Card Poker for the first time, and lost something like 12 hands in a row. It was not my playing. Three Card Poker has a dead simply optimum strategy and I knew it and played it. I just got reamed by the cards. So I switched back to blackjack where I proceeded to lose my stake in record time. Not good. That was enough for that day. I needed to back off. Things had to change tomorrow.

I took a walk on the Strip. The weather was actually pretty good; in the 70s for the most part. Not swimming weather, but I could at least walk around in my shirtsleeves. I had a couple of excellent meals. Dinner at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill -- always tasty and creative. Lunch the next day at my old stand-by, Olives -- as good as ever.

Satruday afternoon I caught the Deuce to the south end of the Strip. The Deuce is a double-decker bus service that trolls the Strip up to downtown and back. Not a bad foot saver. Less expensive than the somewhat inconvenient monorail. Anyway, I ended up at Tropicana playing at an infinitesimally low stakes blackjack table trying to recapture my mojo. I failed. The stakes were low so I was able to play a while, but it was still a steady stream of losers. Enough of that, then.

Over to the Luxor where I dove into an el-cheapo Hold ‘Em session and didn’t do too bad, but still came out behind. Just to give you some idea of how the weekend was going, I caught a flush on the Turn in one hand and not one but two of my opponents filled a full house on the River. Good grief. At least I got to play for few hours.

The next day was football day. I had bet on eight games. I lost five, including two at the last minute. It was like slow torture. At least I was smart enough to be spending the day in the brand new spa at Caesar’s, Qua, where I was snacking on healthy food and juice (instead of deep-fried grease rolls and lukewarm Bud Light) and drowning my sorrows in the whirlpool and cold plunge.

Fun story: Also visitng Qua was King Faruk, as I had come to call one nebbishy fellow who was fixed in a comfy arm chair in the tea room. He was making the most of having spa servants. In the span of about fifteen minutes he had pestered the spa staff to get him a new bathrobe because the one he had was wet; had about three different flavors of tea delivered to him until he found one he liked -- bear in mind the tea was on a counter not more than five feet away from him, but he was not going to move from his comfy chair; sent the attendant off to peel an orange for him; complained about noise coming from the showers (all that water splashing...); asked one of the attendants to turn the channel from football to basketball, quickly adding "at half-time" when I gave him the evil eye. Just hilarious. I kept waiting for him to ask for a cup to pee in so he didn't have to get up. The attendents took it all in stride -- I would've clocked the guy. There are people who remain children their whole lives; this guy remained an infant.

Anyway, like I was saying, I lost everything I tried, even in the non-serious stuff. Drop a twenty into the slots -- gone. Slap a ten on a roulette spin -- gone. There was nothing I could do to win. Brutal is the precise word.

My only luck came in getting out alive. I may write up the T.I. and Qua for Hotel Chatter, but at this point, I don’t even want to think about it.
Au Revoir, The Wire: Slate interviewed David Simon, the man behind The Wire, one of the two best pieces of drama created in my lifetime. He comes off as something of an angry crank and, like most artistic types, he is confused about politics and economics. He makes common mistakes of assuming his world is everybody's world (if I lived in Baltimore I might be an angry crank, too), and that everybody is blind to what is really going on, and blames "capitalism," and uses all the well-worn cliches of the class-struggle pessimist.

When he's in his element, though, which is the deep understanding drama, he has no peer. The other best piece of drama from my lifetime is Deadwood, which I have gone about at length in past. Here is Simon on the comparison between the two:

...the portrayals in Deadwood are in the Shakespearean model. On The Sopranos, there's an awful lot of Hamlet and Macbeth in Tony. But the guys we were stealing from in The Wire are the Greeks. In our heads we're writing a Greek tragedy, but instead of the gods being petulant and jealous Olympians hurling lightning bolts down at our protagonists, it's the Postmodern institutions that are the gods. And they are gods. And no one is bigger.

By the way: If at any point any character on the show ever talks as I'm talking right now, it would suck. It's crucial that the characters can't lecture us.

Great stuff. He should give lessons in how to shut off the didactic impulse. I am so looking forward to season five, but it's hard to imagine it will be more affecting and human that the season that just finished. I am hoping that more character focus goes back on the Major Crimes Unit. I found them to be more interesting characters than the politicos and bureaucrats. I also hope we will follow the set of four kids who were the fulcrum of this year’s story. They were absolutely real to me.

Actually, the character I most hope they cover is Lester Freamon. The guy is a total Sherlock Holmes but we know next to nothing about him except that he likes to carve miniature furniture. Maybe that's intentional. We know that the characters sometimes are designed to represent concepts rather than be specific individuals. Omar represents the man uncorrupted by institutions. The Greek represents capitalism in its purest form (as imagined by Simon). Maybe Freamon is intended to represent pure reason, or maybe the narrow, task-focused view of Everyman. Hmmm.

Lucky for me, capitalism has provided for me to keep subscribing to HBO, because I can’t get enough of this.
That Book With the Unspeakable Title: A while back, I started reading a book with a title that is pronounced Low Lee Ta. I’m describing it that way so as not to set off any hypersensitive content filters. This month I returned to it and am nearly though it.

It is certainly one of the most discussed and debated books ever written. And as someone who read any number of critical appraisals, I can happily say it is not what I expected. It is both worse and better. Better in that the writing is amazing. Every sentence is a complex structure loaded with meaning. Wordplay abounds. There are times when Nabokov seems a little too in love with this elaboration but the majority of it is gorgeous from a stylist's standpoint. However, because of that, it is best reserved for an experienced and patient reader. This is not an airplane or beach book; it is probably best to break it up into short, closely focused reading sessions.

Worse in that it does not spare you one iota of the creepiness of the protagonist Humbert Humbert. And yet it doesn’t entirely spare the title character either. It is a truly savage appraisal of the ways in which victim and victimizer manipulate each other. But unlike most such stories, it is not really morally ambivalent. Humbert is the adult, his manipulations are evil. The girl is 12, and she manipulates like any 12-year old, except the context of it is sexual depredation. It’s just a very disturbing thing to read, more so because most of the emotions and motivations are similar to what any human being experiences, but the context makes them appalling.

There are about a million angles one could take on the story, and I may try to pass along a few in the future. If you're interested in giving it a shot, I offer a qualified recommendation. You need to be ready to deal with the fairly complicated prose. You need to suspend your expectations of what a story about a lecherous pedophile is supposed to be. But you do not need to suspend your sense of right and wrong -- that alone puts it above most modern works.