November 27, 2007
And We're Back!
Howdy. So much has happened since last we spoke. How have you been? Is that a new scar? Well, it's your fault for not reading the signs at the meat processing plant. Way to ruin the tour for everyone.
Me, I've been all kinds of busy ...
1) George Eastman House
During my trip to Syracuse, I did probably the most enjoyable thing that city has to offer: I drove to Rochester. HA! But the George Eastman House is in Rochester. If you don't know the name offhand, he's the guy who: 1) invented Kodak cameras and dry-plate film developing; 2) was marginally insane.
He was insane in a good way, though. It mostly manifested as perfectionism. The best story: Eastman had his house built (around 1905) at a cost of $300,000. It was a swanky spread, since he was something like the sixth-richest person in America. Every morning when he was home he would read the paper in his conservatory room while listening to his personal on-staff organist (again, crazy) kick out the jams on his in-house organ. After a few years of this, Eastman decided he didn't like the dimensions of that particular room, so he came up with a plan to saw his house in half, move one half about 9 feet away, and then bridge the gap with more house. The original contractors, on hearing the plan, told him "no way in hell." So he shopped around and found a company from Pittsburgh to do it ... for $700,000, more than twice the original cost of the house. Yeah.
- Eastman loved the color green, and several rooms in his house were that color. At Kodak, he made all of his notes in green pencil, and no one else in the company was allowed to use that color. If you saw a green note on your desk, you knew who it was from.
- He latched on to a movement which pushed for a calendar made up of 13 equal 28-day, 4-week months. He lobbied Congress heavily, saying it would make accounting and other recordkeeping much easier, especially when trying to make projections or compare time periods. The extra month would be called "Sol" and it would go between June and July. While this was never adopted, the Kodak corporation used the 13-month calendar until the 1980s.
- Eastman was an avid hunter and kept a mounted elephant head in his conservatory. By my count there was at least one dead animal per room, including the always classy "animal foot ashtrays." Plus an elephant-foot waste basket. He used all parts of the elephant, did George Eastman. All this might explain why we call photos "snapshots" -- since snapshot is a hunting term meaning a shot fired without aiming, and the original Kodak camera had no viewfinder.
- Eastman's father died when he was relatively young; he lived with his mother and never married or dated. His mother was stern woman. When he told her that he had become a millionaire, her response was "That's nice, George."
Next time you're in Rochester stop in. The house tour is great, plus they have excellent displays on the history of the camera and some photo exhibits as well. In the grand scheme, Eastman is propably as important to America as the Rockefellers or Morgans. He democratized memories. You can't have a cultural impact much bigger than that.
Sad epilogue: Eastman killed himself. He was suffering from fatal diseases, and so he (gulp) shot himself in the heart with a Luger. Yikes. They actually have his suicide note on display at the house. Here it is:
2) Millard Fillmore
If you didn't see the totally awesome video, I stopped by the Millard Fillmore birthplace in Summerhill, New York (about 50 miles south of Syracuse). There are better Fillmore sites in Buffalo, but I'm not working in Buffalo anytime soon. So you get Cayuga County. Deal with it.
The hard part was actually finding the site -- it's not easy to pull a street address and directions off the Internet for this one, probably because the Freemasons have suppressed all Millard Fillmore lore. There's a replica cabin at Fillmore Glen State park, which is 5 miles away from the site, but no one was working in the park office when I arrived. I had to go to a gas station and ask the person at the counter about Millard Fillmore. If you ever want to feel like a nerd, that's a good way to do it.
Once you actually get there (it's way up on a hill), there's nothing to see. The log cabin is long gone. There's a flag pole, a sign, and some picnic tables. The flag is tattered. There aren't any animatronic robots or anything of the sort. So you have to make your own fun:
3) Lake Onondoga
I went jogging twice along what Syracuse locals proudly call the most polluted lake in America! Here it is:
Nice, huh? As long as you aren't touching the water or ingesting anything that lives in it, it's actually pretty. This also marked my first attempt to transition to cold-weather running, which involves more clothes that warm-weather running. This is sad, because now I can't wear my skin-tight spandex tops and wow the ladies. But it's also happy, because now when my face turns beet red after running one mile and I'm sweating out half my body weight (not my most attractive look) I can pull up the hooded sweatshirt and run in anonymity. I am not traditionally a "jogger," but here are some of the places I've been jogging this year: Lake Huron; Lake Superior; the Tahquamenon River; Lake Onondaga (the most polluted lake in America!); the Las Vegas strip. Hmm. That list wasn't as impressive as I was hoping. Maybe it's because I left off: Uzbekistan; All up in yo' area; On a treadmill powering a mechanical heart for an orphan; the Sea of Tranquility.
Whew. Much better.
4) The Carousel Center
I asked everyone I know from Syracuse for things to do while in town. They all said "The mall." That means the Carousel Center, which is very large and strives to one day surpass the Mall of America for the title of "most depressing white trash vacation destination."
It's going to be an interesting fight. I've been to the Mall of America (in Minneapolis), and in addition to being a very, very large mall, it has an amusement park in the atrium. There are roller coasters and everything. The Carousel Center, on the other hand, has a carousel (just one) near the food court.
Dare to dream, Syracuse.
Two things: First, there was a maternity store in the Carousel Center, and the display out front was for "sexy jeans." At a maternity store. If you're really worried about attracting a man while five months pregnant, then you have much bigger problems than a lack of sexiness. Sexy is probably what got you into this mess in the first place.
Second: How long is it OK to watch a carousel? They aren't really that entertaining, but I figured, hey, I'm at the Carousel Center, I should check this thing out. I'm too old to ride it without taking a kid along, so all that leaves is watching. But do you really want to be the guy standing by himself watching a carousel? After about 30 seconds don't other bystanders assume you're a pervert? I'm pretty sure they do.
Bonus thing! Third: From a creepiness standpoint, is it better to be the guy hanging out in front of the maternity store or the guy watching the carousel? 500 words or less, have it on my desk in the morning.
This guy has a great name.
I was in Vegas from a Tuesday morning through a Sunday morning for The Comedy Festival. I had to perform a grand total of 14 minutes. I had free time. And I had friends in town. So here's what we did ...
5) Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden (The Mirage)
What's not to love here? First off, there are dolphins. They don't perform, do tricks, or talk, but they are definitely dolphins. They swim back and forth and look very dolphinesque. You can also go view their tank from below surface level. And as an added bonus, you can watch overweight tourists watch the dolphins. They are great.
But that's not all! Beyond the dolphins lies the Secret Garden, where Siegried & Roy keep their lions, tigers, leopards and ... alpacas. Yes, alpacas. The most fearsome of the ... uh ... furry herd animals. Do not bring little children or they will have nightmares.
The lions in the garden look like bottle blonds. Plus, you never see Siegfried and Roy in public anymore. We must therefore conclude that S&R are lycanthropic lions, living in their own Secret Garden during the day and crusing the white-trashy end of the strip at night. In wigs.
6) The Comedy Festival (Caesar's Palace)
I'm not just a participant in The Comedy Festival -- I'm also a client. I couldn't get (i.e. wouldn't pay for) tickets for the big names -- Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, etc. So we decided to go for the second-tier attractions.
Lucky 21. I watched all the other participants in the contest -- a veritable all-star team of comedians who voted themselves into a comedy festival. The best part was that everyone seemed to admit it. Also, since internet voting (in progress now, and by the way I'm not going to win) was the deciding factor instead of judges, all the competitors seemed to be pretty friendly / civil. The showcases were fairly well attended, which is shocking, because for paying customers, it would have cost $35 to see relative nobodies. I guess everything costs at least $35 in Vegas, though -- we were the cheap alternative. I liked a lot of the comics I saw, with special mention to Michael Palascak of Chicago and Eddie Pence of Los Angeles. I chatted with both guys offstage a bit and they seemed pretty solid. Not to imply that they might be holograms. They're just nice guys, is all. Plus, Eddie Pence's lawyer was Chunk from "The Goonies." I have a great job.
Broadband Comedy. The idea here is to take a bunch of internet videos, and then show them to a live audience. Sounds great, huh? Yes, it's all the fun of sitting at your desk and chuckling mildly, but now in a room full of strangers. I'd say the internet is a great incubator for the sketch and comedy stars of tomorrow, but I don't think the "internet funny" skill set really translates to live performance in most cases. Case in point, a part of this show as was a live performance of this video. I hated it live and I hate it only slightly less on video. It's not all garbage though: check out Every Eminem song. On the fence: they debuted a new "Funny or Die" video, now posted on that site. I was talking a club owner after the show and he hit it on the head -- these things aren't really equal to the talent level involved. They look like videos that celebrities made in 45 minutes on a dare.
Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job Live. About 5 percent of the audience thought this was hilarious. 95 percent despised it. After the halfway point there was a steady stream of people walking out in the middle of the show. One of the worst questions for me to answer is "what kind of comedy do you do?" I would love to see the people behind this answer the same question. It's smart people intentionally doing things that are grotesque, over-the-top awkward and utterly moronic. There seems to be minimal structure and minimal editing. Some people love this stuff and think it's astonishingly brilliant. I've never heard a great explanation as to why, and part of the problem is that once you explain comedy, it's not funny anymore. I guess you either get it or you don't.
7) The Festival Lounge (Caesar's Palace)
The best part about being a celebrity like me is that you don't have to pay for anything. There was a festival lounge set up where the beautiful people could hang out, play foozball, eat free food and drink free booze. There may have been call girls available but I never got around to asking. And celebrity sightings? OH YEAH! Hanging around the casino, we saw Chris Rock (who did not want to be bothered, judging from other people approaching him), George Wallace (who was trying to remember all the girls from En Vogue while getting on the elevator), Jeffrey Ross, Chris White, Mark Maron, Carrot Top, Ze Frank, Chris White (in a mirror behind the bar), Frank Caliendo, Nick Swardson, Chris White, Chunk, Wayne Newton, Jared Stern, Jim Florentine, Kevin Pollack, Patrice Oneal, Chris White ... Gliteratti indeed.
The main attraction of the lounge was the foozball table, where bookers were betting weeks of work against hopeful comics, and the many free Twix bars. Twix was a festival sponsor, and if the sight of me walking through a casino eating a Twix bar helps move some candy, then their investment was totally worthwhile.
The secondary attraction was watching socially inept comedians try to network and make connections. My advice to the lonely: 1) Shave; 2) Don't smell like pot; 3) Wear something dressier than an ill-fitting t-shirt; 4) Try not to ask for work or offer your card in the first three minutes.
8) Shopping (All over)
Vegas is not all about food and gambling and shows -- there are also luxury malls attached to just about every major casino. This seems odd, because most of the people in the casinos do not appear to be wearing luxury clothing, and judging from their actual dress, even buying one piece of luxury clothing would force them to make the tough choice between owning one dry-clean-only shirt and having enough Ramen noodles to feed their kids for the next five months. And so I give you this new slogan: "Vegas: Where Luxury and Ugly Do It In a Stairwell."
As it turns out, I didn't pack the right clothes for the trip; I had nothing see-through. Also, I needed more short-sleeved shirts. So my friend Allyson and I walked to the finest clothing store on the Strip: Ross Dress for Less. I had never been in a Ross with a neon sign out front, and I am happy to report that the glitzy sign in no way reflected a change in the values that Ross was built upon: cheapness and partially damaged clothing, mostly in ugly patterns. On our way back, we tried on some hats at an upscale haberdashers:
James Bond movies probably give you the wrong idea about gambling; that it's all table games and tuxedos and large-breasted women in cocktail gowns. Total crap. Gambling is all about video poker, played at great establishments like the Stage Door Casino (a hot dog and a Bud Light, $2.50).
For the record, I lost $80. I am seeking help for my very serious problem, the problem of being too much of a sissy to bet more. I mean, it's not like I have mortage or anything.
Fun note: All the ATMs in Vegas come with special signs posting numbers to call for gambling addiction. Also, most of the time, I take $200 out of an ATM, and it is the final option on the withdrawal menu. In the casinos, $200 is the FIRST option on the withdrawal menu, which goes to at least $1,000. If you try to withdrawal anything less than $100, security guards appear and punch you in the stomach on general principles. I swear, it happened.
10) Fine Dining
Do you want the key to eating cheaply in Vegas? It's free Twix bars. Sure, you'll start to get migraines and violent mood swings after three days of an all-Twix diet, but think of all the money you'll save for gambling!
Still, you want to have a few nice meals. My friends and I ate at Spago (Caesar's), Trevi (Casear's) and Noodles (Bellagio). And you can get a nice meal on the cheap, if you're smart -- the key is to have a waiter spill water all over Jared Stern, and then have the restaurant void out most of your bill in apology. You will have to travel with Jared Stern for this to work, but I hear he's open to this. Zap him an e-mail.
Now, you also might want a fine beverage or two. You can get alcohol almost anywhere. But there's only one SexxPresso. SexxPresso, for my uncultured readers, is a drive-through coffee place, shaped like a coffee cup, in which the workers are relatively young women in lingerie. Skanky, skanky lingerie. All the drinks come in "cup sizes": A, B or DD. They also all have dirty names, like "Slap-accino." I would show you a picture of the workers, but my overwhelming Catholic shame prevented me from taking one. So instead, here's my friend Becca getting ready to order an iced coffee. If you are businessman, there have to franchising opportunities here. Get down on it.
11) Shark Reef (Mandalay Bay)
They bill this as a "carnivore-based" aquarium, but do you see many things eating other things? The closest thing we saw was one moray eel trying to put its mouth around the head of another moray eel. But for all I know, those eels were just making out. If that is the case, then they should advertise it as a topless moray eel sex show. I want to know what I'm paying $15 to see.
But this is a neat aquarium with quite a few sharks, and also one of those super cool aquarium tunnels that you would totally put in your house if you were a rich, evil genius. I was thinking for a while that it would be neat to have an aquarium ceiling to your bedroom -- it's classier than mirrors, but just as sensual. But then you have to figure that some pretty romantic moments would be spoiled by shark poop settling on the glass. Sigh.
They also had a neat jellyfish tank, a stingray petting zoo, and the rare Japanese Soft Focus Fish, pictured left.
The only thing really missing: alpacas.
More tomorrow ...
Including the Atomic Testing Museum, Hoover Dam, and, time permitting, erotic topless vampires.