That’s a strange picture of me, sitting in the electric chair at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas. You may recall I wrote about the museum a couple weeks back (click here). Martine and I visited it last Tuesday and spent all day walking its three floors of organized skulduggery.

Little did I know when I sat down on the electric chair that my head size (normally I wear a size 7½ hat) would shrink by half. Now, instead of a hat, I go around wearing a thimble on my head. There was also a gas chamber chair, but I resolved not to sit in it lest my head size would shrink even further.

I thought that the museum would concentrate on crime in Las Vegas, but it actually covered the whole spectrum, concentrating particularly on the Mafia, but also including such figures as John Dillinger and Machine Gun Kelly.

We liked the museum so much that we think it is one of the best historical oriented museums we have ever visited. It ranks right up there with the three Presidential Libraries Martine and I have seen (Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and John F. Kennedy).

America as Seen from the “Fremont Experience”

The Fremont Experience at Night

I fully expected that our trip to Las Vegas last week would make for some great people watching. That it did, in spades. We were in the downtown area at the Plaza Hotel, which is at the west end of Fremont Street and of the four-block Fremont Experience. Even though we were in town on a Monday through Thursday after a three-day weekend, the Fremont Experience was crowded. I attribute this partly to the cold temperatures and biting winds, which made the enclosed space a particularly desirable destination.

Here’s what I noticed about the tourists in downtown Vegas:

  1. Most of the tourists were obese. Those who were proud of their fat congregated in large numbers at the Heart Attack Café, where they sat in wheelchairs wearing hospital gowns and being waited upon by sexy “nurses.” By the way, the restaurants went in for quantity more than quality of food.
  2. Among the men, a large percentage had beards and frequently extensive tattoos—and not a Maori in sight!
  3. Many of the older tourists (and some of the younger ones) were in fancy motorized wheelchairs. Some of these disabled visitors (or did they just get tired of walking any more?) were grotesquely obese.
  4. It seemed to be de rigeur for most of the males and some of the women to be always clutching super-sized cocktails as they walked around. In fact, I was surprised how much drinking was going on at all times.
  5. Very few tourists were to be seen even one block north or south of the Fremont Experience. Martine, who did not like the Experience, was happy to walk around it to get to our destinations.
  6. There was loud pop music everywhere, mostly of the “Wall of Sound” variety, which gets on one’s nerves after a while.

Probably the tourists we saw were not representative of most Americans. If they were, I think I would feel even more isolated than I usually do.

Fortunately, Martine and I enjoyed ourselves even though we were not obese lushes tattooed liked escapees from a carnival.

Putin Screws the Pooch

I cannot help but think that Vladimir Putin has made a serious misstep in his assumptions regarding Ukraine’s willingness to abide by his thuggish behavior. The Russians made the same assumptions that Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney made when we invaded Iraq in 2003: We were not in fact welcomed with flowers and candy, and, moreover, we are still there.

Ukraine has been an independent republic for some 33 years, and their independence as an idea has taken root among the Ukrainian people. Also, I don’t think the Russian army will be 100% behind committing atrocities against fellow Slavs who are also Orthodox Christians.

My guess is that Putin has also underestimated the will of the United States in opposing him after dealing with the likes of Donald J. Trump for four years. Biden may not be a genius, but compared to the Lardfather, he has a four-digit IQ.

The Long Way Back

Back in the mid-1990s, Martine worked as a civilian employee at the Twentynine Palms Marine Air Ground Combat Center in the Yucca Valley. I remember when I picked her up there shortly after the 1995 Oklahoma City terrorist bombing and went with her through back roads in the Mohave Desert to Las Vegas.

On Monday as we were driving to Vegas on Interstate 15, Martine wondered how far we were from Twentynine Palms and expressed interest in seeing it again. So on the way back, I took the same route through the Mohave. Going southwest from Vegas, we took the I-15 south, got off on the Nipton exit and after several miles, turned right onto what was posted as Cima Road. From there, we turned onto the Morningstar Mine Road and took it until it ended at Kelso. There, we turned left onto Kelbaker Road headed south to Amboy. That ended on the old Route 66, the so-called National Trails Highway. Turning right, we drove several miles to Amboy, site of the Bristol Dry Lake, which is mined by National Chloride. After Bristol, we crossed the railroad tracks and turned left on Amboy Road, which took us into Twentynine Palms.

Road Map of the Mohave National Preserve

This route was picturesque, especially with the Joshua Trees along Morningstar Mine Road and the huge Kelso Dunes, but it added over a hundred miles to our trip back, and had me driving to L.A. on Interstate 10 during evening rush hour.

It was worth it, however. Martine got a chance to see how Twentynine Palms had changed over the years. In short, it was more populous, but still looked pretty much the same.

Martine Reminiscing with USMC Flag

I realize I haven’t said anything about Las Vegas yet. So I’m going backward. Stay tuned for more details about our trip, which will appear in the usual helter skelter order.

The Little White Chapel

This is my last posting until I return from Las Vegas, probably on Thursday. I will leave you with a poem by Brenda McGrath entitled “Little White Chapel”:

Little White Chapel

When my husband and I were in Las Vegas, I had a great suggestion,
To go to the Little White Chapel, and renew our vows in celebration.
I thought it would be such a lark we wouldn’t forget.
Having Elvis perform the ceremony would be the best thing yet!

However we never made it to the chapel, he refused.
To do such a silly thing did not leave him amused.
Maybe that was an indication of what was to come.
Divorce ensued, and sorrow beat its drum.

I want to go to the Little White Chapel with a new man.
We would have so much fun before our life began!
We could play a slot machine on our way out.
Then we would be man and wife with a payout!

When the Outfit Controlled Vegas

One of the places on our upcoming Vegas trip that I am most eager to see is the Mob Museum, more fully known as the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, much of Las Vegas was controlled by “The Outfit,” also known as the Mafia. Probably the best introduction to that history is Michael Scorsese’s film Casino (1995), starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Sharon Stone. It in turn was based on Nicholas Pileggi’s Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas, which I read with pleasure. There is also an excellent work of reportage by Dennis N. Griffin which goes over the same territory, but with more of a law enforcement point of view. The book that I read was titles The Battle for Las Vegas: The Law vs. the Mob.

All three sources follow the story of Lefty Rosenthal (called Ace Rothstein in the Scorsese film) and Tony “The Ant” Spilotro (Nicky Santoro in the movie). It took years to bring down the mob. In 1986, Tony Spilotro and his brother Michael were murdered by the mob bosses, who were tired of all the attention that was being focused on them, and buried in a Midwestern cornfield. According to some sources, they were first beaten and buried alive.

Since the mob days, Vegas has been Disneyfied. Big time real estate developers moved in and made it into a family destination—though there are still pockets of naughtiness around the edges.

“Big Daddy Tito’s Will”

Yousuf Karsh’s Portrait of Josip Broz Tito

One day after writing about the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, I came on a short, pithy, and intuitive summary written by John Le Carré in his last novel, Silverview (2021):

Six tiny nations squabbling over Big Daddy Tito’s Will. All fighting for God, all wanting to be top dog, and nobody to like.

In case you missed that lovely era, Josip Broz “Big Daddy” Tito was the leader of Yugoslavia from the end of World War Two to his death in 1980.

Doesn’t he look remarkably like Field Marshal Hermann Goering?

Stupid in Their Straightforwardness

Scene During the Siege of Sarajevo, Bosnia

Ethnic hatreds have in the last hundred years led to some of the most barbarous episodes in European history. I have just finished reading Brian Hall’s account of the beginning of the fragmentation of Yugoslavia into independent republics, The Impossible Country: A Journey Through the Last Days of Yugoslavia. Again and again, he is brought up short by the mutual hatred of Croats, Serbs, Muslims, and the other peoples of that sad Balkan land. Toward the end of his book, the author muses:

It had now become a truism among journalists, including veterans of Vietnam, Angola, Cambodia, and the Gulf War, that Yugoslavia was the most dangerous assignment any of them ever had, the principal reason being that the Serbs seemed to be deliberately targeting them. Croats and Albanians had a history of getting what they wanted by ingratiating themselves, sometimes shamelessly. with one or another of the great powers, and so, by extension, their natural inclination was to seduce journalists. But the Serbs, used to relying on themselves, felt such calculation was beneath them, so at first they had simply shut western journalists out, while Croats and Albanians had taken them to dinner…. Then, when the Serbs perceived in western newspaper reports what any fool could have predicted, namely a Croatian and Albanian point of view, they could only conclude that journalists were enemy agents, and the only response they could think of was to start shooting. In short, of all the elements of the Serbs’ self-serving self-image, the truest was that they were stunningly stupid in their straightforwardness.

The weird thing was that Croats and Serbs spoke the same language—Serbo-Croatian—though they insisted that Serbian and Croatian were separate languages. Croatians were mostly Catholic, and Serbians were mostly Orthodox. The Croatians used the Roman alphabet, while the Serbians used the Cyrillic alphabet.

Frank Gorshin in the “Let That Be Your Last Battle” Episode of Star Trek

I am reminded of the famous “Let That Be Your Last Battle” episode of the original Star Trek, in which space aliens whose faces were black and white were in a life and death struggle with those whose faces were white and black.

The Serbs were ultimately the biggest losers in the Yugoslav breakup because they constantly whined that other people did not understand them; at the same time they acted in such a way that nobody could side with them. The defining moment of their history is their loss to the Turks at the battle of Kossovo in 1389 AD—very much like many Southerners see their defining moment as their Civil War loss to the Union.

So beware of ethnic, racial, religious, and cultural prejudices. When they continue unchecked, violence is the inevitable result.

Waterless Tuesday

I woke up this morning to bad news. A notice was taped to our front door indicating that our water would be shut off on Tuesday between 8 am and 4 pm. That meant I would have to camp out for several hours where I would have access to a lavatory. What came to mind was the Westfield Shopping Center in Culver City, perhaps after I took my car in for an inspection of hoses, belts, fluids, and tires for next week’s trip to Las Vegas.

The apartment building management stated that the water shut-off was for “maintenance repairs,” never specifying the exact nature of the maintenance repairs.

Today meant even more bad news for the homeless encampment across the street. The police showed up with several trucks and disposed of a number of (but not all) the tents, and most of the associated piles of rubbish that accompanied them.

I have tried to avoid interacting with these campers, though I had a run-in when I returned from the desert two weeks ago. Tired from a 130-mile (201 km) drive from Palm Desert, I pulled into my parking spot only to find it occupied by a bicycle bum sitting on the pavement and eating a bowl of cereal. He was incensed that I asked him to move and urged me to go f—k myself. I returned the favor, and he left in a surly mood. When next I returned to my parking spot, I saw that my vehicle was decorated with spilled milk and some kind of multi-colored fruity cereal. Naturally, I had to get my car washed that afternoon.

“Nothing Is Easy”

Bengals QB Joe Burrow Grimaces in Pain

I am not known as a big football fan, but nonetheless I decided to watch today’s Superbowl LVI between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams. After all, the game was being held in L.A. and featured the home team.

While it was nice that the Rams won, I was very conscious of the physical pain that is an inevitable part of the game. In the Second Quarter, Rams receiver Odell Beckham Jr had a non-contact misstep which injured his left knee and sidelined him for the rest of the game—leading to additional defensive coverage on Cooper Kupp that made things rough on QB Matthew Stafford until the fourth quarter.

What particularly caught my eye was the sacking of Bengals QB Joe Burrow by Rams linebacker Von Miller early in the Fourth Quarter (above). For several seconds, Burrow lay on the field with his face contorted in pain. Fortunately for his team, he was able to recover, though I felt there will be something to pay for that takedown.

There was a lot of meaningless commentary by all the sports pundits, but only once did the truth come out when one of them said, “Nothing is easy.” No truer words were ever spoken in sport.