Viva Las Vegas – Part 2

The next morning I got to do what every child of 5 dreams of doing. No – not go to Disneyland. This was even better: I got to  gamble for the very first time when my dad let me pick out the numbers for a game of Keno.  My first ever illegal wager in a legal casino was ten cents. Dad let all of his children break the law by allowing each of us to play 1 game over the course of our 69-cent breakfast at the Castaways.

Castaways 1

The 13 of us filed in to the coffee shop, animosity thick between the adults. My parents and the Anderson’s smoked and drank coffee silently while we waited on our food in the busy coffee shop. The sound of bells and the clank of change hitting the metal coin trays in the casino beyond came through the large open doors and drowned out the unspoken accusations.

Stubbing out his cigarette, my father reached over and fished a black crayon out of a tray on the table. He handed me the crayon and a small slip of paper that had 2 grids of numbers on it: 1 through 40 on the top, 41 through 80 on the bottom. ‘Win $25,000!’ it promised. He told me to pick 6 numbers, and put an  X through them with the crayon. I studied the numbers intently. I began by crossing out the number 4 – because my birthday was on the 4th of December.

Funny thing about that first bet: It turns out that my birthday isn’t actually December 4th, after all, and my folks forgot what day I was born. True story. But that’s a story for another day.

When I had finished picking my numbers and crossing them out with child-like precision, an attractive young woman in a tight mini-dress came into the coffee shop calling, “Keno! Keno!” and Dad had me wave her down. She came over and I handed her the marked up Keno card importantly, using both hands, and then solemnly put a dime in her palm. Using her tray as a desk the young woman with the giant hair scribbled something on the card, and then put my dime in the plastic bank that was strapped firmly to her tray. She repeated the ritual with my father, snapping her bank closed as she moved on shouting, “Keno! Keno!” She was moving quickly through the room, collecting all the cards and bets from the players in the diner, rushing to get them registered with the Keno Writer before the next game was called.

A few minutes later the Keno Runner in the mini-dress with the big hair returned the sheet to me. I saw that a game number was stamped in the upper right corner, and along the right side was scrawled ‘10¢’. Below that the number 6. She handed it to me with a perfunctory, “Good luck,” barely glancing at me. I clutched  the flimsy sheet of paper in my tiny hands, impatiently watching the electronic Keno board with rapt attention.

The board cleared itself, and then a game number appeared in the corner that matched the one stamped on my card. It was to be the only thing that matched that morning. The numbers began to light in rapid succession, and soon I was puzzling over 20 blinking lights on the board but not a one of them was mine. I busted flat right out of the gate, and before breakfast at that. Welcome to Las Vegas, Pardner!

Castaways 2

All of my brothers were allowed one game each, as well. All of us lost interest after our game was over and we began using the backs of the Keno cards to play Hangman’s Noose and Tic Tac Toe or to draw pictures of drag racers or airplanes. I wanted to draw horses or snowmen, but those suggestions were met with a flat stare from my 5 brothers.

My dad played Keno along with us and then a few more while we ate, which meant that during breakfast he gambled a bit more than what it cost to feed two people. We won nothing.

For the next 15 years my father and I would play Keno whenever we ate our meals in a casino. It was a game my mother cared nothing for, and as I recall neither did my brothers. But, my father and I would pick our numbers and watch the blinking board on the wall as we dined in cheap restaurants across Nevada. We enjoyed playing glorified Bingo and the occasional stroke of good fortune. I won $40 on Easter Sunday the year I was 15; it happened during a breakfast game in the Boomtown casino, just outside of Reno. That was like winning $150 today, and you should have seen the looks on my father’s face and his friend Victor from A.A.. It was priceless. But I digress.

By the end of breakfast the morning after my Dad and Mr. Anderson fell down the rabbit hole, a tenuous, grudging truce had been declared between the 2 couples. In a show of thinking about the children the decision was made to go to that holiest of holies: Circus Circus.

Circus Circus 5

How can I describe it? I can’t do it justice. But, if I may quote the great Hunter S. Thompson from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:

“The Circus – Circus is what the whole hep world would be doing on Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war. This is the Sixth Reich. The ground floor is full of gambling tables, like all the other casinos … but the place is about four stories high, in the style of a circus tent, and all manner of strange County – Fair/Polish Carnival madness is going on up in this space. Right above the gambling tables the Forty Flying Carazito Brothers are doing a high – wire trapeze act, along with four muzzled Wolverines and the Six Nymphet Sisters from San Diego … so you’re down on the main floor playing blackjack, and the stakes are getting high when suddenly you chance to look up, and there, right smack above your head is a half – naked fourteen – year – old girl being chased through the air by a snarling wolverine, which is suddenly locked in a death battle with two silver – painted Polacks who come swinging down from opposite balconies and meet in mid – air on the wolverine’s neck … both Polacks seize the animal as they fall straight down towards the crap tables – but they bounce off the net; they separate and spring back up towards the roof in three different directions, and just as they’re about to fall again they are grabbed out of the air by three Korean Kittens and trapezed off to one of the balconies.”

He really wasn’t that far off: It wasn’t wolverines – it was bears, and I recall the barely pubescent performers as being from South America, not Poland.

 

Circus Circus Bear 2

 

Circus Circus had opened up 5 months before, the first of the casinos that marketed to families. It had no hotel for the first year or so, but something much better: A Midway to squeeze money out the gambler’s children and act as an ersatz babysitter while their parents set money on fire. The Midway ringed around above the adult gaming floor, and high above them both was a trapeze where hourly shows took place and scantily clad women were thrown between men in cod pieces. Above even that was a high-wire.

A giant net kept the performers from falling onto the gaming floor when they inevitably failed to pull off a stunt. At the end of the performance they would do a triple somersault into thin air, and drop breathtakingly into the net below. The net would pull down close to the card tables and then slingshot the acrobat back up into the air. They would keep doing somersaults and bouncing above the players until gravity kicked in.

When we walked in the show was underway. Immediately our heads snapped up. My mother instinctively clutched the enormous Mexican leather purse she bought at the swap meet to her side, distrustful of pick-pockets in large crowds. A man was yelling into a P.A. at top volume about the people twirling above our head. There were flashing and blinking lights everywhere, and a pall of cigarette smoke hung above the gaming area. People pushed and milled. Music came from somewhere.

Eclipsing all that was the noise of the slot machines: The relentless clang of coins dropping into metal cash trays and the endless ringing bells. That sound surrounded us as soon as we entered the building. It is a sound today’s slot machines can only try to replicate: You could actually feel the sound of coins hitting the cash tray.

It was the sound of winning.

 

Circus Circus 3

 

 

My mother grabbed my hand as the group of us walked along the outer ring of the casino until there was a place for us to stop, out of the stream of people. There was a brief discussion among the adults and I craned my neck to look at the inside of the tent, expecting to see the pink and white I had seen outside. Instead of cotton candy stripes my eyes were met with unfinished grey cement. It was just Hollywood magic on the outside, after all – a phenomenon I was all too familiar with.

While the adults were talking the show suddenly ended. Dammit! We’d missed it. I was nearly in tears when, without looking back, my father and Mr. Anderson disappeared into the press of people on the casino floor. It was just too much, watching the crowd swallow them.

It could feel my throat begin to tighten and the sting at the back of my eyes as I held my mother’s hand and adults pushed past and bumped into me on their way to the casino floor. But I knew there were serious consequences for complaining and crying:  Keep it up and Mom would give me something to cry about.

Moments later Dad was as forgotten as we’d been the night before, because my mother and Mrs. Anderson were leading us up the ramp to the Midway.

Flashing lights and fluorescent colors met us at the top. The garish patterned carpet made my peripheral vision strobe and it was hard to focus my eyes – I blinked and shook my head. Children were running everywhere, screaming and shouting, pushing each other for a better vantage point at the games that ringed the walls as far as the eye could see. I smelled popcorn and cotton candy. There were ringing bells, slide whistles, popping noises and screeching calliope music: I was slightly dizzy from the absolute deafening sensory overload, and it was glorious.

 

Circus Circus 8

 

Everywhere I looked was a something I needed to try: There was Skeeball, bumper cars, and a bb-gun shooting gallery. You could win a stuffed animal at a dozen rigged games like ring toss and dime toss, or you could try to shoot a basket with an over-inflated ball through a too-small hoop, or pop an under-inflated balloon with a blunt dart, or knock over weighted metal milk bottles with a squishy softball, or throw a ping pong ball onto a small fish bowl. There were *endless* ways they could take your money.

 

Circus Circus 7

 

We circled around the midway, doing one full lap just looking. There were 9 children, so everyone had a different interest.

We Lambs were all given the princely sum of $1 to spend how we pleased. There were nickel, dime and quarter games, so we began our judicious choices on how to spend our money on our second lap. What to do? What to do? How to spend our dollar – how to stretch it out?

My brothers and the Anderson kids decided on the bumper cars to start with. I wasn’t big enough to go on the original Tooth Chipper by myself, and my mother rightly refused to give herself whiplash. A few years later the bumper cars were yanked out unceremoniously because of the liability and the number of lawsuits. One of the suits involved the 10 year-old daughter of an acquaintance of my mother – the girl lost her front teeth on the metal, unpadded steering wheel one fine Sunday afternoon.

While the big kids stood in line to tempt fate, and Mrs. Anderson found a seat from whence to watch them, my mother and I went in search of something for a child my size. I settled on a game that involved shooting a water gun into a clown’s mouth to make a balloon inflate and be the first to make it pop. I stood and watched the game in process, and soon a smiling child was leaving with a small stuffed animal. The barker running the game shouted, “There’s a winna every game!!” I liked the odds of that a lot better than Keno.

 

Circus Circus 14

 

I came forward and handed the man my money. It was the second time that day I was playing a game of chance with a dime, but only the first time legally.

Incredibly, in that packed place, I managed to get a game with just 3 people playing. (I suspect a soft-hearted carnie), and I was able to shoot the most water into the clown’s mouth fastest (I suspect a rigged game), and my balloon popped first.

“Winna!!” shouted the carnie ecstatically as I squealed, jumping up and down. He placed a blue stuffed bear into my hands.  I clutched it in my left hand while he raised my right in Victory, shouting, “There’s a WINNA every time!!! Winna, winna, winna!!!” A crowd began to gather around the Carnie and the beaming child – a child fit for Hollywood holding a stuffed animal not a one of them would win if they spent $5. Money began to come out of pockets, and my benefactor patted me on the head, sending me on my way.

 

Claudia0032

 

Now you’re talking’ I thought in the euphoria of winning. Lady Luck had finally found me after running late at breakfast. I clutched that bear like it was 5 black chips at the tables. I was on top of the world.

My brothers and the Anderson kids came back, boisterously replaying the hits and misses of the bumper cars, admiring my bear  – we were all flushed and excited.

The whole time this riotous carnival is going on upstairs on the Midway there is music and the clanging slot machines down in the grown-up Midway below, with nary a glance upwards.

Then, above the sound of all the games and shrieking children and clanging slots starts the blaring of Entry of the Gladiators, that most famous of circus music. A distorted voice crackled over the cheap overhead speakers, shouting unintelligibly. Suddenly, people are flying through the air, spinning, twirling, defying death.

We all run to the rail so that we can watch the circus show that is going on over our heads. Utterly thrilled, I hug my bear and I am rapt at the soaring people doing somersaults and barely catching one another.

It is a circus family of some exotic name, whose skin and hair are darker than mine. The men throw the women, the women whirl and flip. A man walks on the high wire. We stand, transfixed. No one the casino floor looks up.

I am envious of the 2 children on the trapeze and the adoring, gasping crowds below.

For the finale a man rides a bike across the high wire with two women balanced on either end of a pole. The announcer shouts for more applause as the performers swan dive into the net, bouncing, bouncing, bouncing, and then grabbing the edge to flip off of the side and be caught by a spotter on the floor. The people crowding the railing clap madly for a few moments and the applause dribbles off as they begin to focus on the flashing lights of the midway, and drift back towards the games. The people on the floor have still not looked up.

 

Circus Circus 4

 

When our dollars were spent and we had exchanged our Skeeball tickets for cheap rings, wax teeth and plastic kazoos we rejoined the men near the teeming front door.

The adults decided to drive on to another casino. The unanimous decision was Caesar’s Palace. I didn’t want to leave Valhalla, but I was dying to see the inside of a real castle, so I followed willingly.

Besides, there was the promise of one more surprise: A ride on the carved wooden carousel out front. We made our way to the street, but the Merry-Go-Round wasn’t running. In fact, I can’t ever remember seeing it run, although I was told it was supposed to work. I chalked it up to more show business fakery.

As we stared dejectedly at the carved, brightly painted animals on the carousel a howling wind kicked up and blew the spray from the fountains on us. I remember our eyes widening at the surprising sting of water and our lack of coats. And somehow that moment was hilarious… We all shrieked and laughed and ran from the impromptu ice-cold shower, the mist wetting our shirts. My hands were ice cold, my brothers hooted in laughter. We were all in on the joke as we made our retreat, wiping our eyes.

Out of the push of the crowd a woman with bright red lipstick, turquoise eye shadow and too much rouge approached my father and put a hand on his arm. She was dressed in a cheap evening dress and stiletto heels. “You looking for a date?” she asked with a heavy New Jersey accent, her grip tightening on his arm.

“Excuse me!!” my mother choked out an objection after half a beat of stunned amazement. “He is with his wife and 6 children!!”

“I wasn’t talkin’ to you, bitch” this most genteel Lady of the Evening shot back, eyes narrowing.

Thus endeth the Entertainment Portion of my first trip to Las Vegas.

 

Coming up: A study in 6 children openly playing slots – Learning Poker at the kitchen table: A How-To guide for Minors –And Never chase the numbers: A fool proof strategy for a game of chance

 

Vegas Circus Circus 1

 

Viva Las Vegas!

 

Viva Las Vegas – Part 1

Herbert William Lamb, Jr. was a child of the depression. He was born in Detroit in 1930 and raised by his maiden aunts after his parent’s divorce in 1937. He went to Catholic school where the nun’s ruled with rage and fists – but were never able to beat the left-handedness out of him.

He joined the Army at 18, married my mother at 21, and was the father of 5 boys by the age of 30.

Herbert Lamb never used the suffix Junior, never passed his name along to his 5 sons and was estranged from his own father for more than 15 years.

He spent the last 30 years of his life sober, and died in 1990 at the age of 59 from emphysema, the result of a 4 pack-a-day smoking habit – Salem was his brand.

My dad was often an inscrutable man whose hard eyes missed nothing. He was given to sarcasm and black humor. He was a jazz snob and a smart dresser who would not be caught dead in public in a t-shirt.

My father was also a gambling addict. He favored cards, but would play the one armed bandits, too. Having a wife and 6 kids didn’t stop him from taking money meant for the family and frittering it away in a casino. As I gained success and eventually made a bigger paycheck than him, he spent that, too.

We lived in Los Angeles and since there were no casinos there he would pack us up and drive across the desert to Las Vegas to indulge in his addiction. I recall only one childhood vacation that didn’t involve a casino. All the others were either in Vegas or involved a side trip to Reno, Lake Tahoe, Virginia City, Hawthorne, Mesquite or Carson City.

The earliest trip I remember is the one we took in February of 1969. The eight of us packed into the rattling bucket of bolts that was our 1962 white Ford Fairlane Ranch Wagon (with the blue plastic seats), and headed across the barren landscape of the high desert. I sat in the front between my chain smoking parents, with 3 of my brothers in the back seat, and the other 2 in the rear-facing jump seat in the way back.

As the Fairlane struggled up Cajon Pass the engine burned oil and billowed white smoke, while the radiator threatened to boil over even though it wasn’t hot outside. The only radio signals in the high desert were country music and the occasional Norteña station bleeding up from Tijuana. The only thing my father hated more than Mexican Polkas was Country Western – so that meant no music to make the time go faster. It was just hours of desert, plastic seats and cigarette smoke.

Half way to Las Vegas we stopped in Barstow to buy gas, cool off the car and gird our loins for the next few hours’ drive across the desert.

 

Barstow 1

 

Barstow was a mean little town in the middle of the Mojave Desert where Interstate 15 and 40 meet. It had been a transportation crossroads since the 1880s, when 20-Mule teams from Death Valley hauled borax to waiting trains. Trucks replaced the mules after the turn of the century, and in the late 1920s Route 66 and 91 paved over the dirt roads that went to Chicago and Canada. Finally, the Interstates made the highways and passenger trains obsolete. There was a moldering train station built in 1911 that saw few travelers. The Greyhound bus station was on the main drag, which had a tiny Sears, a bank, a pharmacy, and a few coffee shops and motels from a bygone era. Barstow was a poor and hard town, the buildings bleached beneath the relentless sun and weathered by the wind. Barstow wasn’t a destination, so much as it was a place you went to get to somewhere else.

 

Barstow 2

 

There were pawn shops where you could sell your watch or other jewelry for a tank of gas to get back to Los Angeles. Some of them promised you could buy your things back. I saw these so often as a child that I grew up believing people routinely needed to sell valuables so they could buy a tank of gas to get home.

We pulled off of the interstate and into the Shell station, us kids spilling out of the car, going straight to the bathrooms and stretching our legs on the way. The women’s room was filthy in a way only gas stations can be – with the special added bonus of drifts of dead Mormon Crickets that swirled around the corners when the door opened. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. My brothers and I drank warm water from the fountain attached to the wall, rinsing the dust and cigarette smoke out of our mouths.

 

 

As I rounded the building I saw my father staring off in the distance while the car filled, one foot on the bumper of the wagon while he absentmindedly smoked and defied the whole damn station to blow up. Releasing a mushroom cloud of carcinogens, the old man flicked the butt off into the street, watching it smolder. When the tank was full Dad paid the owner, and got a steak knife with a white plastic handle as a loyalty premium for buying a tank of gas.

 

Shell Steak Knives 2

 

Dad barked ‘get in’, and we piled back into the car while he lit another cigarette. Off we went, back out on to the interstate and across the desert. We passed the exits for a ghost town called Calico, and for the mysteriously named Zzyzx. But there was nothing to see until you came to Baker, a speck of a rest stop off the interstate, still 100 miles from Las Vegas. It is also the southernmost tip of Death Valley, where inside the National Park they recorded highest ever temperature on Earth of 134 degrees. Five months a year Baker’s daytime temperatures never dip below 100 degrees, and the area is so rocky and inhospitable that NASA tested the Mars Curiosity Rover there.

We sailed right by the off-ramp to Baker, and a chance to stop at Bun Boy (Established 1926!), continuing to travel this godforsaken stretch of road without an ounce of water for 8 people, and only a bag of candy to hold us until dinner.

Let me repeat that: My father was driving his 6 young children and wife in a wheezing station wagon 200 miles across an area that simulates the conditions on Mars, with nothing more than penny candy and an extra pack of smokes in the glove box.

Dad was nothing, if not a gambler.

 

Bun Boy 4

 

 

We began the long drive up Mountain Pass. There is an elevation rise of 4,000 feet between Baker and the top of the pass. It was a grueling grade for most cars back in the 60s, and off to the side of the road was the occasional abandoned car: Some heap that had broken down and was worth less than it would cost to tow it back to Barstow and get it repaired. The owner had hitched a ride, leaving it in the dirt and weeds past the shoulder. The air was too dry for it to rot or rust, and the hulks sat out in the desert like dinosaur bones.

We struggled up Mountain Pass at 25 miles an hour, my father cursing and smoking even more than the Fairlane. It was tense, and to my child’s sense of proportion the grade seemed endless. My father pointed out the mirage on the road that looked like water, always off in the distance in a place we couldn’t reach. We finally made it to the top, and were soon crossing the state line into Nevada. It was my first time out of California – and it seemed like a special occasion. I was quite excited.

There was a forlorn casino and gas station just inside Nevada called: ‘State Line Bar: Slots’. It was tiny and appeared to be made of wood, and looked so dirty and unsavory from the road that even though I needed to use the bathroom I didn’t ask to stop. There was a tow truck and one car parked out in front as we continued down the freeway, getting closer to our destination.

25 miles or so from town the billboards began: “See Lido de Paris at the Stardust!” said one, with half-naked women wearing elaborate headdresses with feathers and jewels. “Sammy at Caesars!” shouted another. “Liberace at the Riviera!!” promised a third. Then there was simply “August: Elvis Live at the International!!!” Everything had exclamation points, as if the entertainers weren’t draw enough.

There were also billboards advertising cheap rooms and even cheaper food. A $5 room was common for bottom tier motels. I remember a red billboard with black writing that mimicked a slot machine face advertising a $7 room at a brand new hotel – $7!! $7!! $7!! the billboard screamed, but time has erased which casino it was. (The Hilton?) There were ads for free hot dogs and beer, 50 cent shrimp cocktail and 99 cent buffets. Steak and eggs could be had for $1, and prime rib for $2. If you could get to Vegas it was dirt cheap to stay and eat – and free to drink. The casinos were willing to take a loss on those things, because if they could get you in the door you’d leave your money at their tables and in their machines.

The billboards continued along, a picket fence of advertisements. The newest and sparkliest were for the biggest casinos. There rest were timeworn signs with sandblasted paint promoting dying casinos downtown like the Golden Nugget, the Mint and the Pioneer Club with its Not-Creepy-At-All Clown. Each one brought us closer to our destination, and being set free from the purgatory of boredom and cigarette smoke.

 

 

After a long day in the car we saw Las Vegas on the horizon – a small town in a big desert. As we rolled toward Sin City my father told us that when The Mob caught petty thieves stealing from visitors they would take the unfortunate larcenous soul about a mile from town, kneecap them, and leave them in the desert. The thief was able to hobble back for help, but only after roasting for a day in the unforgiving sun, without water. It was a clear warning to anyone else who might think tourists were easy pickings. It was a sobering story for a 5 year-old: Something uttered half a century ago that sticks with me like a real-life ghost story.

 

Welcome To Las Vegas 2

 

We finally – FINALLY – arrived late in the afternoon, after a 7 hour drive. The ‘Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas’ sign was a lone sentry in the median of the highway, surrounded by blowing sand and wide open nothingness. A half a mile later we came to the first casino: The Hacienda. The enormous neon sign had a vaquero on a rearing palomino, he had one hand on the reigns, and the other was waving to all the weary travelers just arriving in town. The casino sat back from the street, with an enormous parking lot, and nothing behind it.

At the south end of Las Vegas Boulevard the lots were dirt, devoid of structures. As we traveled further up the Strip the casinos began to appear more frequently. Sitting between my parents in the front seat I tried to take it all in. There were so many things to look at and so many signs to read.

 

 

We passed the Dunes with its minaret-shaped marquee. The Aladdin had a neon magic lamp, the Flamingo had pink neon birds, and the Stardust had a thousand neon stars next to Slots O Fun. The Sands’ round, stylized tower jutted up from the desert floor. I loved the giant, rotating woman’s high-heeled shoe in front of the Silver Slipper Gambling Hall, which was lit up with large white light bulbs, even during the day.

My parents were most impressed with Caesar’s Palace – a jewel situated far back from the road, an opulent hotel sitting on 34 acres. 18 fountains stretched from the street back to the Porte Cochere, lined with statuary and imported Italian cypress trees. My mother pointed out the Venus de Milo as we went by. I was puzzled why she was so impressed with a broken statue.

But, above them all was Circus Circus: An enormous pink-and-white striped circus tent with a carousel in front, and 5 fountains along the street. I had to see this inside of this wonderful place.

 

 

Suddenly, there was a problem. My mother couldn’t find the name and address of the motel where we would be staying, and where we would meet The Anderson’s, our family friends from the Catholic parish of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary – otherwise known as Holy Rollers. Mom had not put the envelope with the information written on the back inside her purse. My father began to cruise Las Vegas Boulevard looking for the Anderson’s car, but there were dozens and dozens of cheap motels in Vegas in those days in between the top of The Strip and Fremont Street downtown. It was the proverbial needle in a haystack.

An argument ensued between my parents, which was terrifically useful and terribly comfortable for those of us trapped and forced to listen. I remember being sick to death of riding in that station wagon – my head hurt, my legs were stiff and I was hungry because we hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Mostly I just wanted to get away from the smoke and the arguing. I pointed to the bear in the nightshirt on the Travelodge sign, and asked if we could get a room there. That was absolutely out of the question, and we had to find the Anderson’s. It felt like we would never be out of that car.

In an act of desperation my mother made a long distance call to the Anderson’s home phone from the phone booth at the Union 76 station. She dialed the number from memory and waited for the operator to tell her how many quarters she would need to feed the machine. My mother pumped a few dollars in quarters into the slot, and as luck would have it their house sitter answered and told her where we would find them.

The Holiday Motel was on the far end of the strip, in a row of motor hotels built in the early 1950s. These motels served visitors uninterested in or unable to afford the hotels along the strip. The rooms were nowhere near as cheerful as the brightly colored signs would suggest, with worn furniture, stained sinks and rough sheets. But the price was right for a frugal traveler. And who cares about black and white TV?

Mr. and Mrs. Anderson waved us down as we pulled in the parking lot, and my father finally parked the car. Mom and the Anderson’s stood together and smoked – agreeing it was lucky we found them – while dad checked us in and we kids fidgeted, finally set free from the car.

The short wait while Dad registered us seemed interminable to tired children. Eventually the men unloaded the car, taking our bags and us to the 2 five-dollar a night rooms the 8 of us would be sharing for the weekend. We had arrived.

 

 

I wanted to go swimming right away, but was crushed when told it was too cold and that the pool was closed for the winter. It just wasn’t fair.

We went to the Anderson’s room, where their 3 children were glassy-eyed and watching TV. They didn’t look away from the screen when we greeted them, making no room on the bed for us to sit and watch with them.

Dad and Mr. Anderson decided to go scout the area to find a good place for us all to eat dinner on the cheap while the rest of us washed up. A half an hour went by, and then an hour with no sign of the men. Mom and Mrs. Anderson went from being worried to angry, and back to being worried again, as still their husbands didn’t show.

I remember standing out on the sidewalk in the dark next to my mother as she scouted up and down the street for any sign of the Fairlane. I was scared and trying to figure out what was happening. The wind was blowing like crazy, and I was cold. I could see the Thunderbird casino sign blinking in the distance as I shivered, the neon wings winking in the clear desert night.

It was hours before the men returned, contrite and full of explanations. The short version was that my father, who was driving, had stopped at a casino instead of looking for a restaurant. ‘A few quick hands’ turned into a few quick hours. I have no idea if Mr. Anderson was oblivious of his family, too. (They stopped socializing with us after that weekend) I only know that my father got to the table and lost track of time, never thinking once about his hungry family sitting in a motel room waiting for him. Or, if he did think of us he chose to stay and play cards instead of feed us.

Thus, I was introduced to Dad’s gambling habit, and Las Vegas.

Stay tuned for Viva Las Vegas – Part 2: In Which A 5 Year-Old Learns To Gamble During Breakfast

 

LAS VEGAS THUNDERBIRD 1965_LI

Trump Zombies and Violence

Greg Gianforte’s election to Congress in Montana after assaulting a reporter has exposed the violent truth about Trumpers: They have decided they didn’t want to have to think critically and wanted a lawless bully to clear out a safe space for them using force.

45 would be NOTHING if not for his Cult followers. They aren’t misunderstood souls who have been led astray. No – these people have waited their whole lives for a stupider, meaner, more vindictive version of Reagan.

They fucking LOVE him and his scorched earth policy.

These were the people in school who stood behind the bully and egged him (or her) on. They often lacked the intestinal fortitude it took to be an honest-to-god bully, but could be counted on for malicious snickers and ostracizing as well as violence under the cover and protection of a group.. They were conferred power and status through their association with said Bully and flaunted it when the Bully was not around.

They are the tribe in Lord of the Flies that put Jack in charge and followed him into savagery.

They willfully and with malice choose to support a corollary of anarchy – it’s not that there are no rules, it’s that they are ignoring any that don’t suit their purpose of regaining a position of being the shitter and not the shittee. Oh, sure, they’re still getting shat upon in spades, but they’re okay with it if they can do a little shitting of their own.

The people who support him – the Public and Politicians – are all motivated by the same thing: The acquisition of Power

They are willing to allow 45’s destruction of the Constitution and looting of the Treasury if they can get a taste of the action.

Gianforte’s assholery didn’t spring up out of Zeus’s forehead. People *like* the tough talk and promises of cutting the safety net out from under other people – and they’re SURE it will never happen to them. Lest we attribute his victory to early voting, remember Gianforte raised $100K in the 12 hours after this hit the news cycle.

Whenever you’re tempted to reason with a Trumpologist remember that this is not an isolated incident. The Governor of Texas joked about shooting Journalists on Friday and it received a collective yawn. There are Press pens at 45’s events that are nothing more than modern day stockades. My god – POUTS assaulted the Prime Minister of Montenegro when he shoved him in the chest – and Trumpologists are *giddy* that he’s showing people who’s boss.

Assaults on and the arrest of Journalists are becoming all too common and not getting nearly enough coverage – by which I mean none at all on the Fox propaganda mill. 2 reporters in the last 10 days were arrested for asking politicians questions. Press and protesters at the Turkish Embassy were beaten by Erdogan’s goons and that goes by unprocessed in the never ending shit geyser.

Violence against political opponents and the press have become normalized and encouraged. It is only a matter of time before a member of the Press is murdered, and before this implied violence makes its way further than a murderous White Supremacist in Portland.

There is a serious mental illness problem in America. Its face may be Donald Trump, but its heart are Trumpers: The 2 in 5 adults who think violence is an appropriate response to questions or intellectual disagreements. Their brutality is vindicated by a man like Trump, and his “I’ve had ENOUGH of rules!!” behavior gives them permission to ignore facts and embrace their cruelty. The really frightening thing is they’re just getting warmed up.

 

Infectious Fascism and Someone Else’s Beer

Our local liquor store had been in business since the early 1980s, when the shopping center was built. The original owner passed it along to his 3 sons when he died, many years ago. There was nothing special or fancy about the shop, which had long, wide shelves stocked full of not-too-high-priced wines and liquor that tended to come in the Handle Size. They did a brisk trade in beer, $1 shooters sold out of an empty fish tank on the counter, and “Oh, jeeze! We’re all out of vodka/wine and I’m almost home!” purchases.

It had a coveted corner location on a major intersection with high visibility, and was next to a busy grocery store. The long floor-to-ceiling windows faced due west, which meant high cooling bills as the high altitude sunshine blasted in year round, roasting  the products on the front shelf and raising the temperature unbearably during the summer. A few years ago the Brothers balked at the raising utility prices from keeping the store cold enough to properly store their inventory, and slowly adjusted the thermostat upwards. The heat coupled with storing the wine upright – as one would store a fine vintage Yoo-Hoo – served to spoil their wares.

As if wine bottles that were warm to the touch weren’t enough, over the years the shop developed a nose-curling funk stank from their dogged insistence upon carpet, which served as a 1-way booze sponge when a bottle or case was inevitably broken, and because one of the brothers smoked indoors while doing the books afterhours.  Mmmm… the cheeky bouquet of nicotine braised in sour carpet wine!

We began shopping elsewhere, save for the times we emerged from the adjacent King Soopers, arms full of groceries (yes, we brought our own bags), and too tired or lazy to drive 6 miles round trip for a bottle of wine to go with dinner. Don’t judge me! The cork that crumbles like The Mummy is punishment enough.

Just before Valentine’s Day we found ourselves lacking the fortitude of an additional errand, the grueling 15 minute drive more than either of us could possibly handle, and so found ourselves choosing from wine bottles with dust on them.  I noticed a marked lack of champagne and other bubbly beverages appropriate for a manufactured holiday. “This is weird,” I told my husband, “Why aren’t there cases of cheap champagne stacked 5 high and 2 deep in here? In fact, there’s almost no champagne at all,” I gestured to the picked over front shelf, which was normally full of the boxed wine and cheap champagne that the Brothers counted on their clientele not being able to suss out were treated to daily solar pasteurization. It was a minor curiosity, one I chalked up to a screw up in ordering and went on with my evening.

A few weeks later, before St. Patrick’s Day, it was obvious something was up. The store was still very busy, but their stock had visibly dwindled – the shelves were no longer full, with empty spaces behind the wine and spirits.

“What’s going on?” I asked the young woman who worked there. “Not much,” she replied absentmindedly. “No – I mean ‘What’s going on here?’” She stopped and looked at me in confusion. She really had no idea what I was talking about. I gestured with my arm, “The shelves aren’t fully stocked…” She had a blank look on her face. “Are you guys remodeling? Selling?” Again, the clerk had a blank look, “No…” I left it at that, but told my husband changes were coming.

I wondered if they were going to finally move the stock out of the beating summer sun in the front window… Maybe they were going to set up a Growler station, or a tasting counter – moving forward  with the upwardly mobile neighborhood and appealing to the higher income residents who were replacing the middle income folks that had been a staple of the area when it was built 35 years ago. I had mentally moved the first row of shelves, replaced the nasty carpet with some easy-to-clean wood flooring that would brighten the space up, and show off the better selection of wine they would carry. I couldn’t wait.

At the end of March the only vodka left was bubblegum or peach flavored, the Bourbon shelves were flat-out empty, and most of the decent wine was gone. The Smoking Brother told me they were having distribution problems, but they would be getting a shipment in the following week. What he was telling me didn’t feel right – but I had been doing business with him for 16 years and gave him the benefit of the doubt by allowing him to assure me I wasn’t seeing what I was looking at.

We were gone most of April and upon returning we immediately noticed the barren shelves. Most telling is there was not a whiff of the upcoming drinking holiday Cinco De Mayo: No cut-outs of busty Latinas shucking gag inducing Lime-a-Rita beer, no garish plastic Papel Picado banners stamped with ‘Corona’, or posters of a Sombrero-sporting mustachioed stereotype peddling rot-gut tequila. You know – The Free Crap distributors beg store owners to take and give a price break for the best placement. But, there was still lots of beer – a good deal of it craft beer from start-up breweries & local brew pubs.

Several customers walked in and stopped dead, looking around at the long, mostly-empty shelves. They would do a 180 or full 360 to take it in; most left empty handed. It was clear the store was closing, but no sign indicated a last day or what was going on. I asked the only employee (someone I’d never seen before) what was going on and was answered with ‘Dunno’.

I suddenly realized: They must have sold the liquor license to King Soopers, the grocery store in the same complex. A recent change in the law allowed grocery stores to sell liquor, but only if they buy an existing license. I was happy for them in the distant way you can be when you hear good news from a stranger you’ve known for 15 years: It doesn’t change your life, but it gives you a pleasant feeling.

A few weeks later they were still open – somehow defying retail gravity. Richard walked the empty aisles with a curious expression on his face as he passed islands of bottles neatly arranged – 6 Rieslings here, 4 Moscatos half an aisle later, a lone bottle of gin in the next aisle. What stock was left would have neatly fit in 12 or 15 feet of shelf space, but instead was spread around the empty shop with the fastidious denial of a screamingly bad comb-over.

“When’s the last day?” I asked Morose Brother who spent a decade and a half demanding I show my ID every time I used a credit card. “Before the end of the month,” he answered with his usual dourness. Looking into my eyes he said “We sold the business,” and then spit into his dip cup.  “I… did you sell the license or the business?” “We sold the business and we’ll be closing sometime before the end of the month,” he repeated with a finality that forbade further discussion.

“How could they be selling the business?” I asked Richard when we were in the car, “When there’s no business to sell? I mean… there’s no inventory – and they lease the space. The only thing of value in that store is the license on the wall.” I chalked it up to him being contractually prohibited from discussing the details of the sale.

The very next day the City seized the store for failure to pay Sales & Use Taxes.

A quick call to City Hall revealed that they hadn’t paid a dime of the taxes they’d been collecting since January, and they’d been sending in partial payments for months before that.

It suddenly became clear that the inventory sell down was really them stiffing their suppliers – everyone from Coors to small craft brew companies struggling to make ends meet – and pocketing the money.

They stole not only from their liquor distributors and the city, but from their customers as well, by not submitting tax revenue that keeps schools open, roads paved and a live voice when you dial 911.

In retrospect it was quite obvious what was happening, but I didn’t want to accept the grand theft in front of me, so I provided pretty stories about Growler Stations and wood floors that morphed into them cashing out big by selling the license for a keen profit. None of it made sense to the scene in front of my eyes, but I held on to the fable rather than accept the felony.

I had been performing Olympic-quality mental gymnastics trying to explain away the obvious because the obvious made me uncomfortable.

It was a personal microcosm of what’s happening around the country: How we’re all staring in disbelief at the emerging Fascism around us, willing it to be something else.

We’ve watched fanaticism morph into a Fascist Cult of Personality, yet refuse to name it as such because then we have a REAL problem on our hands.

We’ve heard friends, family and colleagues embrace a man whose beastly policies call for banning Muslims, gutting the EPA, drilling for oil in National Parks and Monuments, building a useless Wall, disenfranchising women, and simultaneously cancelling the insurance policies of 23 million Americans while making it unaffordable for tens of millions more.

These aren’t policy differences on things like how to best fund infrastructure improvements or whether schools should focus more on science and less on the arts. This is the fundamental rejection of the invisible frame of our Social Contract by an alarming number of Americans.

They *like* the idea that ICE officers ate lunch in a café before arresting the kitchen staff.

They’re THRILLED journalists are finally getting the beat down that’s coming to them.

They’re relieved they can stop acting tolerant and want LGBTQ folks to climb back in the closet and for anyone darker than a flat white to know their place.

These people who benefit so much from the Public Commons of Society honestly don’t care if you lose your job, house or insurance – they don’t give a tinker’s damn for anyone who loses their disability, Medicare, Social Security or any other safety net program.

“I DON’T OWE YOU ANYTHING” they shriek like a misunderstood teen, unironically running the Social Contract through Mom & Dad’s shredder after they’ve slammed the office door.

The toughest thing about watching acquaintances and those we love support such heartlessness is when we finally realize they understand fully what they’re doing. It’s much easier to deal with people when we convince ourselves they are ignorantly supporting evil policies, and that if it was properly explained they would be enlightened. Otherwise, we have to accept that an uncomfortably large chunk of America is okay with a semi-literate bully dragging us backwards 6 months for every day he is in office.

Accepting that this is actually happening is a real hurdle. None of wants to stare into *that* abyss and it’s ever so much easier not to court discord and just let sleeping dogs lie.

Please don’t be like me, though, when I watched the local liquor store go under and cheat its vendors, and I chose not to see it because I couldn’t accept the Brothers could do that. Don’t imagine people are constrained by your sense of decency, however well or little you know them.

Once we see the hard truth of Trumpers actions, we have to either accept this Fascist Cult of Personality or fight it. There is no middle ground. When you stop selling yourself on proverbial Growler Stations and wood floors to brighten the place up, you can’t unsee the unsavory and uncomfortable truth that 45’s followers heartily approve of a stratified society that plays out like Lord of the Flies – only, in this story line there are no adults to step in to save the day when things are at their bleakest. There is no higher authority to appeal to, because our current POTUS thinks laws are impractical to follow (his words, not mine).

Make no mistake that we are in dangerous territory with 45’s spreading Fascism, and we ignore it at our own peril.

During the election 45 promised the state sponsored murder of children, he promised to crack down on Freedom of the Press, and he promised to violate the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 14th amendments, as well as end abortion, civil rights, voting rights, marriage equality and the EPA.

When you look at it this way 45 had a spectacularly successful first 100 days, now didn’t he?

Trumpers voted for him *precisely* because he promised to abuse other people and break things. They are the groupies that enable a bully to prevail, and who become emboldened by their support of him.

Trumpers like the chaos, the angst and the destruction they were promised when they voted.

It’s hard to see friends and family infected by Fascism. Worse – when they demand our tolerance while spreading this virulent disease of hate.

But, it is no longer possible to separate the Message from Man or the Masses – they own who they support and his policies, and anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you someone else’s beer.

Happy Trumpers Day

My mother died with no regrets, incapable of imagining there was anything she had to apologize for – and yet my 5 brothers refused to speak to her as she lay dying. She died certain she was a Good Mother when she had been anything but that in the privacy of our home.

My mother was a sociopath & a narcissist who believed the world was hers and lacked the capacity to empathize with how her behavior affected others. It was a tough upbringing, but it taught me the skills to spot what an unforgivable monster 45 is. He really has no remorse about anything – and most people have never met someone like that.

These last 7 months have been an exercise in patience as people begin to understand *There is NO negotiating with someone who so capriciously changes their mind and never acknowledges it, nor can you hold a person to their word when their word is no good*

Dealing with people like 45 or my mother is crazy making. They accept no appeal to logic or goodness, their decisions are made solely on what fills their pockets, pleases them in the moment – or how best they can hit back or punish during one of their many rages. The abuse these people are capable of heaping on others is mind boggling.

And the Gas Lighting!! Oh, my! The Gas Lighting!!

Their continual need to insist facts are not facts, and lies are the truth is exhausting. They scream at you that you can’t believe your own filthy eyes, and if you do insist on what you know is true you’re disloyal and worthy of banishment.

It has been interesting to see people grapple with such an unforgivable and unrepentant monster. They so much want to believe there is a heart to appeal to in 45 – but there isn’t. Narcissists have no humanity because they can’t recognize it in others. They enjoy the chaos, and the more you explain how their actions hurt you the more they smile in glee.

Most people don’t want to believe there are Bad Mothers: They want to believe that deep down in their heart everyone has good waiting to get out. It’s not so – and in a larger sense the future of this country is teetering on people who want to believe the best in folks accepting that a toxic person is POTUS and we are in very real danger.

My own mother made me work from the age of 3, and stole most of my earnings – more than $1M. My. Own. Mother.

Now, ask yourself: If a Mother can do that to her own child, what will an Entitled Rageaholic Narcissistic Sociopath do to strangers he holds in utter contempt? He already thinks he can murder with no repercussions.

45 is the creepy, vulgar and hurtful Step Dad who is abusing you and your siblings while Mom – Congress – looks on with stars in her eyes, smiling and nodding while 45 refuses to give your sister her insulin, just said your brother’s boss can fire him for being gay – and your cousin isn’t allowed to visit this summer because he comes from a middle eastern country that doesn’t have a Trump hotel. You know it’s eventually going to be your turn in this predictable game of Civil Rights Musical Chairs, where every new  loser faces horrible consequences. Meanwhile, Momgress is getting a brand new Tax Cut and turns a blind eye.

While I wait for a goodly chunk of America to accept that America is THE very definition of a dysfunctional relationship, I will be prepared for the Threats that come when Gas Lighting fails.

Bank on this: The closer 45 feels the walls are getting the more he will threaten. (See his Comey tweets)

I shudder to think what 45 will threaten the American people with if he is rightly Impeached and prosecuted on any number of Emoluments Clause violations, let alone something from a vigorous Russian investigation. But, we must disregard the fury of 45’s threats, and continue to speak truth to his Cult of Personality that too many have subscribed to, and has led to his wholescale abuse.

I have absolutely no clue how the Russian investigation will shake out.  None.

At this point Momgress is still sweet on the monster, and doesn’t see any reason to make him follow the law. So, for the time being we’re still at his mercy, and there’s precious little of that.

What I do know is that whether 45 is removed from office in handcuffs or serves 2 terms, he will never ever, ever, EVER admit that he has ANYTHING to be sorry for. Ever.

Balloon Boy, Baby Jessica and Newsertainment

Raise your hand if you remember Balloon Boy.

I lost what little respect I had left for my News Director that day, when he ordered us to take over regular programming and do a play-by-play of what was assumed to be an out-of-control weather balloon carrying a small child.

We didn’t know at the time that it was a hoax, but the ND jumped on the ‘Can’t miss a breaking story, even it’s not really news or verified’ bandwagon that was a creeping cancer in News Rooms across the country.

What we *did* know was the balloon was coming down from somewhere above 13,000 feet on a cold Colorado morning: It meant the 5-year-old child purported to be inside might have died of hypothermia, or might die on impact falling from such a height.

The News Director – KNOWING it could be coverage of a snuff shot – ordered the anchor on duty to describe a silver Mylar balloon being blown above barren fields as National Guard helicopters followed it, and Sheriff’s SUV’s chased it on the ground.

For 20 agonizing minutes this went on. I vaguely recall trying to get a physics professor on the line to fill time. I probably ended up calling Dr. Bill Wattenburg. It was agonizingly bad radio, I was embarrassed at the content and queasy about being part of a possible snuff shot play-by-play.

I remember CNN was covering it wall-to-wall, and several televisions in the News Room were on the live helicopter feed we were getting from TV downstairs, who was getting it from the ABC affiliate in Denver.

My ND stood with his hands on his head as the balloon crashed into the dirt and hooted out, “Oh! Oh-ho!! Look at that!!” It was so ugly when you realize he thought there was a little boy – the same age as his son – inside the basket of the balloon. Let’s not even talk about how unprofessional or undignified his reaction was.

His ‘spectating the train wreck’ approach to news was giving people a pass for death-voyeurism. He was treating presumed personal tragedy as entertainment.

That was the book (ratings period) we fell from 1st place in the Bay Area for the first time in 30 years, and stopped being the #1 station in the country. It was part of an inexorable downward spiral, as Cumulus picked the bones clean on a great station. First they cleaned the News Room out of the professionals who brought depth to their coverage and who might fight back against such lurid programming. Next they gave their listeners Balloon Boys and Singing Dogs. Finally they wondered why revenue was falling as listeners abandoned the station in droves.

My point is this: Fake News and Bullshit Stories have been around for a while. Balloon Boy himself is rooted in the Baby Jessica story from 1987, which was the start of 24 Hour Coverage of ‘Important Stories’ rather than actual News. It was the unleashing of Voyeurism-is-News school of programming.

CNN (gosh – those call letters again) covered Baby Jessica breathlessly for 2 1/2 days, as the country watched crews digging around the clock. But, what if rescuers had not been in time? What if the well had collapsed around Jessica and she was smothered on live TV singing nursery rhymes? CNN was A-Okay with broadcasting a tragedy or a happy ending – as long as they had eyeballs. Those eyeballs – a big slice of America – lapped up this personal disaster as amusement, and thus Newsertainment was born.

In the 30 years since Baby Jessica brought great ratings, News Directors push every story as if its lightening in a bottle, hoping to convince viewers to watch longer. Fox is an egregious abuser of this programming crutch, and their elderly viewers must be marinaded in cortisol from the daily stress response of being bludgeoned with cyrons screaming BREAKING NEWS!! at the bottom of their cathode ray screens.

In those 3 decades Newsertainment infiltrated every level of programming, giving birth to Reality TV: a format inexpensive to produce that the public confused with Actual Reality.

Reality TV took over television and bestowed upon the American public ‘Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire’ and such cultural icons as Mama June, Snookie and the entire Kardashian clan. The public loved to snicker about Ozzy Osbourne’s substance abuse, and D List stars talking about their addictions was a fine good time. Singing contests were better with someone like William Hung to humiliate. Nothing was too trivial or serious to make into Reality TV. You could watch a show about everything from a pre-pubescent beauty pageant contestant getting exploited by her mother (and the production company), to a vicious bully firing people arbitrarily.

People began to confuse the characters edited for broadcast with being real people. The lines between Actual Reality and Reality TV blurred.

‘The Media’ (not journalists) began to insert themselves into the story, hoping for ever more eyeballs. Expert panels turned into people shouting over one another – because who doesn’t like a good, mean fight? News became factoids and infotainment while Reality TV is nothing like Actual Reality.

In the end viewers tuned out of the experiment of Newsertainment. It’s as simple as that. The product became unwatchable and people stopped trusting news they get from The Media. And why should they? What little bit that isn’t fluff and glurge isn’t well researched or edited for want of researchers and editors in most news rooms.

The Media’s treatment of News as entertainment and Entertainment as reality blurred the lines to the point that it was inevitable America would end up with a POTUS #45.

Balloon Boy was just one brick on a path paved with bad decisions that brings us to the open grave of my beloved industry. It’s heartbreaking watching the few reporters left in the industry (there are 60% fewer reporters now than at the peak in the 1990s) trying to fill hundreds of hours of programming, or try to feed the continual beast of web site content. That content gets more and more diluted so gets fewer and fewer eyeballs, and the viscous circle continues.

I don’t know if I’ll ever see News recover. I do know that people like my News Director bashed News over the head with a shovel, and I’ll never forgive him for that.

I’d like to ask a favor: The next time you see a breaking story that’s not really a breaking story – don’t watch it. Perhaps you come across a grisly story of a tortured toddler – please don’t click. Trust me – you’ll live not knowing the gory details of how a dog mauled a baby, or exactly *how much* filth is caused by hoarding 50 dogs, or how terribly that toddler was tortured.

When a piece from a once-respectable publication (I’m looking at you Time) is ‘How To Find And Keep Love’ or ‘POTUS’ Top 10 Tweets Of All Time!’ could you just scroll past?

You don’t need to watch or encourage pregnant teens being exploited for their mistakes or their counterparts who wail and gnash their teeth because daddy bought the wrong color Mercedes.

Clicks and eyeballs will ultimately drive programming back to News. The only way we stop getting glurge, fluff and bullshit is if we stop consuming it. It’s that simple.

Keep clicking on crap and all we’ll get is crap. Idiocracy will look like a documentary and stories like Balloon Boy will win the Pulitzer. For the love of information – STOP CLICKING!

It wasn’t an agenda, dammit. It was information.

trump-rope-tree-journalist

Welcome to the post-fact world.

It is a place where your opinion is as good as empirical proof. You’re ‘feels’ count as much as peer-reviewed Scientific Evidence. And if what you don’t like is on tape ? Wave your hands and repeat this magic charm: “Lib-rul Mee-Dia, Lib-rul Mee-Dia, Lib-rul Mee-Dia” and suddenly proof of your candidate boasting “Grab Them By The Pussy!!” isn’t sexual assault anymore.

Don’t like those pesky ‘facts’ the Lügenpresse has inconveniently dug up? Vilify them and threaten them with murder! Why not? The GOP Presidential candidate is openly encouraging physical violence against the Press, saying they have too much freedom and should be jailed. It’s bad enough this bloviating Fascist (with a capital F) is saying it, but he’s doing so to the cheers of tens of millions of Americans rabid to destroy our First Amendment rights – and all with the endorsement and monetary backing of the Republican Party.

Now we are asked to indulgently chuckle when Deplorables wear shirts advocating murdering the Press, and the overthrow of our Constitution.

I know several journalists who are near the breaking point: Burnout, depression, disgust and hopelessness now have a new colleague: FEAR. They are all are asking if it is worth it to be constantly vilified and have your motives questioned or be outright disbelieved, all while being terrifically underpaid and having to face a shitstorm when they print actual facts.

At the same time I know dozens of out of work journalists who are dying a million deaths at this election’s coverage and the propaganda churning out 24/7. We feel helpless and wish we could use our expertise to bring some context to stories that are either ignored or blown out of proportion. We long to put a halt to the continual indignation cycle the News has become.

When corporations pulled the plug on Newspapers and quit funding Television and Radio Newsrooms adequately, and when they decided clicks were more important than truth they fired tens of thousands of people whose job it was to research and write about facts. Most folks don’t realize the skill it takes for a producer to research any given subject, and put together pieces and write questions for their anchors. It is a lost art.

People don’t realize it, but all of those unemployed people were the screen that separated the facts from the bullshit. We gave you a baseline from which to start the discussion about social and economic issues, as well as local and international events. It wasn’t an agenda, dammit. It was information.

But, you fired us – and they fired us. They couldn’t make enough profit by employing an adequate number of educated professionals to ensure accuracy and excellence. You couldn’t be arsed to pay for a quality product. Do you pay $10 a month for Netflix but won’t pony up $5 to subscribe to a news site like the New York Times? Congratulations – you’re part of the problem.

The collapse of Traditional News has left a void that blogs have filled, which has given rise and fed the needs of modern Conspiracy Theorists.

I used to deal with Conspiracy Theorists when I was a Talk Radio Host in the 80s and 90s, before Talk was all taken over by screeching hatred, thanks to the Mays brothers of Cheap Channel fame. People like this were a novelty and a hoot to put on the air. The longer they talked the more they just showed how bug-nuts crazy they were. FWIW: Just like today, the Conspiracy Theorists then glommed onto the New World Order, The Illuminati, The Jews and the UN taking over the US. I’ve been hearing that any day now the Dems are coming for your guns. Any. Day. Now. Oh, and Chemtrails are REAL, man (and fluoride and vaccines). None of that has changed in 30 years.

What has changed is that AM radio was taken over by the Alt-Right a quarter of a century ago, when the Mays Brothers shit canned anyone who wasn’t Frog Marching to their ultra-conservative tune. Liberal, Progressive, Middle-of-the-Road and Soft Republicans (those who believed in compromise) were no longer welcome in their 500 station cross-country monopoly that had a stranglehold on the industry.

Soon AM radio became a vacuum of hate speech and lies. Rush Limbaugh defended his pathological lying by saying he was an entertainer, not a news person. Glenn Beck simultaneously cheated thousands of old people out of their life savings in a bogus gold investment scheme, while managing to poison them with convoluted non-sensical conspiracies about Obama’s secret S.S. Civilian Army and the Boston Bombing ‘Cover-Up’. Anti-Journalist and Supreme Radio Hack Sean Hannity was rewarded for years of lying on behalf of the GOP with a plum job at Fox, where it appears Trump’s hand is up his puppet ass this very moment.

AM Talk Radio encouraged sick, gullible, uneducated and mentally unstable people to plumb the depths of their paranoia. No conspiracy was too obscure or far-fetched, and for these lost souls that conspiracy made them feel smarter than everyone else and in control.

The saturation of the AM dial with non-stop conspiracies is what tilled the ground for this current Conspiracy Theory movement.

The internet, which tends to make smart people smarter and dumb people dumber, has given these Conspiracy Theorists an echo chamber that validates them and gives their insane theories credibility. They are no longer at the margins of media, where people point out just how mentally unstable they sound. They don’t have to wait on hold to get on the air and be crazy – they can go online 24/7 and get their biases confirmed and their paranoia stoked. Now, people like Alex Jones are revered, instead of being revealed for the whack-job charlatan he really is.

30 years of encouraging the worst in people and stoking paranoia leads in a direct line to Candidate Trump, and the flaming Porta-Potty of his campaign this election cycle.

Sure, Trump may not get elected tomorrow, but the Conspiracy Theorists won’t be going away any time soon. They’ve been emboldened by a misogynistic, bigoted, racist, homophobic candidate. Their nuttery has been sanctioned by the GOP, and their hypocrisy encouraged by Evangelical Christians who apparently think the Commandments are actually the 10 Suggestions.

If Trump loses expect to see these people lose it mentally, because people in positions of power (I’m looking at you Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz and Mitch McConnell and John McCain) haven’t insisted on the Facts being recited any time in recent memory. They chose, instead, to endure the repeated lies for the sake of political expedience.

There’s a smorgasbord of conspiracies to choose from. Would you like a Truther, Birther or Vaxxer conspiracy? Can I interest you in some Jadehelm? Or, would you like something from Secretary Clinton? She is, after all, a dead, sick, Manchurian Candidate who murders political opponents.

Or, would you like the total bullshit conspiracy being screamed by Trump in full-throated rage that the election system is rigged if he doesn’t win– and that it’s being rigged by the Press? You know – the conspiracy that has called for the open murder by hanging of the Fourth Estate, while simultaneously choking the shit out of the Constitution until it dies.

Is it any wonder my friends still left working in the Press are disillusion and scared shitless?

If you’re not concerned you should be, because they’re just getting warmed up,  and no matter who wins it’s going to be a very long 4 years. I’ve a feeling they’re equally as poor at winning as they are at losing.

Oh, and don’t bother arguing the facts with these folks, it’s a waste of time.

Lack of evidence is proof of conspiracy.

It’s a Post Fact World, baby. Strap in.