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THE BIG BAMBOO-ZLE?
Jan 7th, 2000 by Clark Humphrey

SOME WOMEN SPEND FORTUNES trying to look sexy. But none would ever spend a dime directly for sex.

That’s the message of an article in the print version of the sex-workers’ zine Blackstockings. (It’s not available on the zine’s website as of this writing.)

The piece’s writer wants to be mean to any het-male readers of the zine–men who are probably picking it up out of support and/or sympathy for the women and gay men in the escort, stripper, phone sex, and porn trades, and should be thanked instead of scolded.

But no, this writer wants to talk trash to any guys out in her reading audience who have the common but unrealistic fantasy of sexually servicing women for money.

It’s an intriguing dream, to imagine oneself such a great lover as to charge cash from ladies. As long as you don’t think of having to go through some of the everyday hassles women in the sex-biz face–from having to mate with unattractive people (as spoofed in the recent farce movie Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo) to legal troubles, cruel pimps, personal-safety threats, and the other stuff Blackstockings regularly reports in detail.

While women directly buying sex is rare in North America’s cities, a lot of more common transactions come close. Women have often “paid” indirectly to satisfy their hormones–day-spa treatments from Senor Bruno; costly singles-bar apparel; affairs that put a woman’s marriage and/or career at risk; abusive relationships a woman might stay in because of her addiction to the intense sex; seductions that lead to confidence-game scams.

Some of these costly behaviors might theoretically be better replaced by discreet, professional encounters with men trained to completely please a woman and to expect nothing in return but the bucks. (That could also be a potential godsend to older or shier women, or professional women who don’t have the time or patience for the dating grind.)

And it is happenning; just not anywhere around here.

Early last year, I mentioned how, in the Caribbean, the sex-tourism industry had discovered female customers. There’s an extensive item about it in the latest Utne Reader, called “In Search of the Big Bamboo.”

The story describes island “beach boys” who troll the resorts and tourist zones, offering their toned, dark-skinned bodies to visiting women in exchange for “gifts,” some of which are in the form of cash. The story adds that similar scenes take place in Brazil, the Philippines, Greece, Spain, India, and that sex-biz stalwart Thailand–spots where the weather’s warm, the scenery’s exotic, no gossipy neighbors are around, and women with money can meet studly young men with much less money.

This means certain females, under certain conditions, will indeed behave as “johns–” the behavior certain radical-feminists used to point to as evidence of the universal ickiness of all males and the universal victimhood of all females.

But it makes a little more sense if you can abandon such narrow gender stereotypes and accept that women really can do everything men can; including things an ’80s radical-feminist might disapprove of.

As for the ’90s “sex-positive” feminism of Blackstockings, the existence of overseas “beach boy” hooking proves that females have (1) females have desires, and (2) in a monetary-based society, desires will be traded for currency.

It just probably won’t involve any would-be Deuce Bigalows in the Blackstockings readership, at least not soon.

MONDAY: More on the MP3 glut.

ELSEWHERE:

A MESS IN A 'CLEAN CITY'
Sep 13th, 1999 by Clark Humphrey

LAST FRIDAY, we discussed the beauty that is the Amtrak Cascades train to Vancouver, B.C.

Vancouver itself is also still beautiful. But it’s not exactly running with what old Hamilton Watch ads used to call “Railroad Accuracy.”

I’d been intrigued enough to go there by the headlines back in late August: “Clark Calls It Quits.” Turns out my northern namesake, Glen Clark, was being forced to resign as B.C.’s Premier.

It came after RCMP investigators found documents showing he’d been arranging for sweetheart deals to well-connected pals who wanted a casino license. It was one of a series of influence-peddling and corporate-welfare scandals that had befallen many B.C. politicians in the past. One such prior scandal had led to the demise of the Social Credit Party, which had run the B.C. government with an iron hand for most of the ’70s and ’80s.

Mr. Clark’s party leadership appointed a new premier, who announced immediately he wouldn’t run for the post in the next election; which means the province will have had at least seven premiers in a 10-year span.

Without going too far into the wacky realm of Canadian politics, let’s just note that it’s a Parlaimentary system. The party that elects the most legislators picks the chief executive, who has nearly full reign over the government for five years (but can call an early election if the opinion polls look promising). Political parties can be national or regional, and can come and go in a single election cycle.

Currently there’s only one dominant national party, the Liberals of national Prime Minister Jean Chretien (who, like the Democrats south of the border and the Labour party in Britain, have become a lot less liberal lately).

In B.C., provincial politics is divided between the Euro-Socialistic New Democrats (which Mr. Clark led until his forced resignation) and a pro-corporate Liberal Party branch (heavily backed by right-wing publisher Conrad Black’s daily papers). As long as voters keep electing NDP governments, Black’s papers will keep sniffing for any potential scandal and the Mounties (ostensibly an apolitical organization but ultimately answering to the federal Liberals) will keep getting called in to investigate the papers’ allegations.

Now you know just a little of why commentators regularly call B.C. politics “a blood sport.”

Of course, premiers like Mr. Clark might have a little stronger hold on power if the local economy were doing well. It’s not.

The Asian recession and the Canadian dollar’s pitiful exchange rate have depressed the import-export trade, one of B.C.’s economic stalwarts. Another big sector, timber and other resource-based businesses, has struggled under the manipulative hands of global financiers (the big logging firm Macmillan Bloedel just agreed to sell out to Weyerhaeuser).

Canada’s #2 department-store chain, Eaton’s, is folding. (Vancouver’s only home-owned department store, Woodward’s, folded a few years ago; its downtown building’s still vacant.) The country’s #2 air carrier, Canadian Airlines, may disappear in a merger deal currently being worked out. Vancouver’s most venerable bookstore chain, Duthie’s, just closed nine of its ten branches.

Things are even scarier in the downtown East End, the only true “bad area” in all of Canada. A Green River-like serial killer’s been stalking the neighborhood’s addicts, streetwalkers, and down-and-outers in recent years; taking lives and causing some British Columbians to start questioning their land’s quiet, harm-free reputation.

TOMORROW: The rest of this story: What’s still great about Vancouver.

ELSEWHERE:

  • As I keep telling you: Life is complexity. Deal with it. (Found by Lemonyellow)….
  • Just like you used to hear about in the gas-shortage ’70s, here comes a new alleged miracle power source. Now all we need is hints of a government/oil-company drive to suppress it….
  • Two Guys, A Girl and A Pizza Place loses the pizza place and becomes Two Guys and A Girl. The pizza place reportedly asked too high a price in negotiations….”
MAKING TRAKS
Sep 10th, 1999 by Clark Humphrey

TO OUR OUT-OF-TOWN READERS: Who sez nothing really exciting ever happens in Seattle?

TO OUR LOCAL READERS: By all means, get thee on an Amtrak Cascades train as soon as feasible.

The train itself is fine enough. It’s a spectacular-on-the-outside, comfy-on-the-inside long passenger vehicle. The passenger cars are like a modern airline cabin, only with legroom. The dining and snack-bar cars allow for pleasant stranger-meeting during the consumption of only slightly-overpriced foodstuffs and microbrews.

(The snack-bar car also features a luscious Northwest satellite map on its ceiling, with cities and towns denoted by fiber-optic points-O-light.)

The service is impeccible, too. Particularly the customs and immigration routines on the Seattle-Vancouver route. In Vancouver, the legal rigamarows are handled at the train station upon disembarking (like it’s done on planes but not on buses). Heading south, the U.S. border cops do their interrogations on the moving train between Blaine and Bellingham, meaning no delays (except for those unfortunate travelers detained in B’ham for further investigation).

And there’s entertainment, sorta, in the form of on-train movies. Some of them are dull recent big-studio “comedies” like you’d see in-flight. But on the first half of my round trip, they showed It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, considered something of a slapstick classic. (It also just so happens to be a movie in which bad things repeatedly happen to people in cars, trucks, and airplanes; i.e., not on trains.) Before and after the movie, the video monitors display regularly-updated status screens with the current time and temperature and a map of the route showing how far you’ve gone thus far.

But the real star of the two Amtrak Cascades routes (Seattle-Vancouver and Seattle-Portland-Eugene) is, natch, the scenery.

You don’t just see more of the scenic PacNW beauty, up close, than you can by plane or car.

You see a vision of what North America was like before the Interstates and the subdivisions.

What you will see on Amtrak:

  • The countryside: Beautiful. Long stretches of fields, shoreline, rivers, cliffs, hills (so close you can see the clearcuts), and mountains. Depending on the time of year, your sunset will occur as you traverse past the Skagit Valley, the Everett jetty, or the Willamette Valley at field-burning time.
    • Industry: Beautiful. Rusting warehouses, storage yards, gravel mounds, oil storage tanks, low-slung steel and wood buildings of all vintages, grain elevators, freight-car staging areas, Lego-like stacks of cargo containers, smokestacks, sawdust piles.

      <Tunnels: Beautiful, in the manner of the empty space full of possibilities.

    • Towns and cities: Beautiful. Old-time residential blocks. Stoic working-class hovels. Real waterfront cabins (not the Bainbridge millionaire palaces sometimes called “cabins”). The ultramod waterfront playspace that is White Rock, B.C.
    • Stretches parallelling old Highway 99: Beautiful, mostly. Old-time drive-in restaurants and dark, tiny roadside taverns. Farm-supply stores and tractor lots. Hand-painted billboards for backhoe services and storefront churches.
    • Stretches parallelling Interstate 5: Much less beautiful. Fortunately, not too many miles of the routes force you to look at the all-too-familiar realm of malls, strip malls, chain motels, and other small buildings surrounded by huge parking moats.

    Then there’s the train-travelin’ experience itself. It softly lulls you with the hypnotic click-clack, the size and comforts of the train car, the perfectly-maintained interior temperatures (getting hot only when late-afternoon sun bursts in thru the huge windows).

    It’s enough to make one forget that, in the Golden Age of Railroading (roughly 1865-1950), the RR biz in the U.S. epitomized some of the worst examples of corporate power–and, in the western states where railroads were given huge “land grants,” the government subsidies some folks nowadays call “corporate welfare.”

    Today, you’re not riding with the likes of the old Great Northern or Union Pacific (who could make or unmake whole communities by the service they chose to offer or the freight rates they charged to local shippers). You’re riding with friendly, scrappy li’l Amtrak, a publicly-supported enterprise that’s worked nearly three decades to make passenger rail service a viable alternative means of travel, and which is finally starting to succeed at this goal.

    MONDAY: Arriving in glorious Vancouver, where political regimes have lifespans akin to those of fruitflies.

    IN OTHER NEWS: Washington’s own role-playing game kings Wizards of the Coast are selling out to Hasbro, which over the past decade has grown from Mr. Potato Head and G.I. Joe to buying at least half of the toy-and-game biz’s best-known names, including, appropriately, Monopoly. Wizards’ owners will get $325 million, plus 100 Strength Points… and the saddest news of the day by far. Game over. (Found by EatonWeb)

    ELSEWHERE:

    • “I was out to dinner with my dad and boyfriend, but an ultra-fine waiter kept distracting me from our conversation. When my boyfriend went to the bathroom, and my dad got up to chat with a friend, I saw my chance to slip the hottie my digits….”
    • “The best performing trouser you’ll ever own….”
    • Buried at the end of a story about dumb newspaper feature sections on luxury goods, something even more disturbing: News of a thrift-store magazine run by and for millionaires….
  • BARRY YOURGRAU BOOK REVIEW
    Apr 28th, 1999 by Clark Humphrey

    Journeys of the Mind:

    Yourgrau, Mygrau, Ourgrau

    Book feature, 4/28/99

    HAUNTED TRAVELLER:

    An Imaginary Memoir

    by Barry Yourgrau

    Arcade Publishing, $23.95

    Barry Yourgrau, as he insists on telling us (in the least interesting segment of his latest collection of “sudden fiction” sketches), is, in real life, yet another middle-aged, N.Y.C.-based author whose existence is centered around the old home office and whose “adventures” tend to involve sitting at the keyboard, trying to think stuff up.

    Actually, his life’s been a little more exciting than that. He’s had side careers in acting and performance art (the latter basically involving telling his stories to live audiences). The bulk of the press packet for his new book,Haunted Traveller, consists of article clippings regarding the ill-fated film version of his last collection, The Sadness of Sex. (The movie, which alternated between readings and re-enactments of Yourgrau’s surrealistic mini-tales of obsession and low-key angst, remains unreleased after only a few producer-paid screenings in L.A.)

    The Sex book, however, was and is a triumph. It can essentially be described as a sequence of brief, finely-described dream/nightmare imageries, mostly built not on erotic excitement but on sexuality’s other easy-to-push buttons–despair, loneliness, frustration, fear, embarassment, farce, compulsion, emotional turmoil, and the particularly hetero-male metaphor of finding oneself lost within an alien (and potentially unfriendly) environment, apprehensive yet compelled to continue surveying.

    It’s no big stretch, then, for Yourgrau to switch to deconstructing travel-memoir cliches in his newest themed collection of fiction-oids.

    I feel I’d spoil it if I mentioned too many of Yourgrau’s ingenious story premises here, because their downbeat, Kafkaesque revelation forms the whole point of many of his pieces. Like that mythical Japanese tour group that spends days on a bus to the Grand Canyon and then turns back after taking a few snapshots, Yourgrau never spends more time in any one fictive place than he deems necessary.

    I am comfortable saying all the stories are based on the same premise: A first-person narrator travels, usually by foot, across strange and distant lands where he happens to speak the local language well enough to get involved (usually against his better judgement) with assorted citizenry and strange phenomena. It’s a classic storytelling setup (used everywhere from The Odyssey and Gulliver’s Travels to TV’s Route 66 and even Pokemon). But in Yourgrau’s deft hands, it serves less to introduce colorful short-term characters than to illuminate glimpses of his unnamed protagonist’s own persona. Through the 40 or so vignettes, we end up learning a lot less about the assorted places and people the Haunted Traveller meets than we do about the Traveller’s own rootlessness, his restlessness, his need to keep seeing more and more places and to never see too deeply into any one of them.

    I will also reveal that the last piece, “Music,” finds the Traveller’s soul finally at rest, only after he’s no longer capable of continuing his lifelong escape from his own mortality.

    In The Sadness of Sex, Yourgrau deconstructed lust. In Haunted Traveller, he deconstructs wanderlust. In both collections (and in two earlier books Arcade’s reissuing), he uses the precision techniques of the short-short story to provide a well-balanced exhibition of tiny glimpses into the human condition. Think of it as literary pointillism, or as the use of breadth to tell what depth cannot.

    THINGS TO LEARN AND DO
    Aug 24th, 1998 by Clark Humphrey

    AS PROMISED three weeks ago, here’s the official Misc. list of the 64 arts and sciences a modern person should learn; as inspired by one of the nonsexual parts of the Kama Sutra. (Here’s the original passage; here’s how to get the whole book.)

    I’m not claiming to be an expert on all of these, or any. They’re just things I, and some of you, feel folks oughta know a little better, in no particular order:

    ———————–

    Subject: 64 Arts for the Modern Person
    Sent: 7/27/98 9:20 AM
    Received: 7/27/98 12:45 PM
    From: erinn kauer, eakamouse@webtv.net
    To: clark@speakeasy.org

    Interesting topic. All modern persons should bone up (no pun intended) on the various methods of BIRTH CONTROL. To include: proper condom etiquette, taking the pill on time, abstinence, getting off without actually having intercouse, and covering one’s butt by always having a supply of the newly available emergency contraceptive pills (actually just the regular pill, taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse, it reduces the chance of actual conception by about 75%… this is not RU486, and does not abort anything, it just does not allow the conception to take place). PLEASE include this particular item in your list, there would be far less unwanted pregnancies occuring, either resulting in having the child because the misguided fool believes so strongly that abortion in wrong (like having a child unprepared and setting them up in this world on a shaky base is right) or in having the costly and scary and stigmatizing abortion and suffering needless guilt because of it. However, abortion is not the end of the world, and should be seriously considered if all other options are not viable at that point. Please call the FDA at 301/827-4260 and ask for Lisa D. Rarick for more info on the 72 hour emergency contraception pill, or 1-800-NOT2LATE, or your local pharmacy. Do not let the pharmacy give you any bullshit about having to get it through your doctor, it is available WITHOUT a prescription and is perfectly legal, etc, etc, etc. I found that my pharmacy balked at the notion, but this has only recently been approved and they are simply not used to it yet. They need to be shaken though, they are needlessly telling people to go through their doctor, but you DO NOT HAVE TO, this should be available OVER THE COUNTER.

    Besides contraception, folks of the modern age should study organic gardening, meditation (stress-buster, dream fulfiller, life lengthener), keep an eye on politics and actually know something about the world and the U.S. of A., and how to make a good latte…

    I am sure there is much more, and my list is pretty lame, but the CONTRACEPTION/ FAMILY PLANNING is extremely important.

    Thanks for hearing me out!

    Erinn Kauer / eakamouse

    P.S. Concert ettiquette, Gourmet Camping, and the fine art of bodybuilding (look good now AND later!). Whatever. Bye.

    MISC @ 12
    Jun 11th, 1998 by Clark Humphrey

    It’s the 12th-anniv.Misc., the column that wonders if Vancouver essayist Brian Fawcett was right when he said malls and subdivisions are typically named after the real places they replaced, whether a corollary might be made about car commercials promoting further traffic-jamming steel tonnage with images of the wide open road, or (even better) SUV ads using nature footage to sell landscape-ruining gas-guzzlers.

    OUR FAR-FLUNG CORRESPONDENTS: Loyal readers have been sending junk food samples from far and near. Scott McGrath, though, takes the no-prize for the biggest cache of snax from the furthest-away place. The centerpiece of his shipment: a hamburger (made with chicken) he found at a Beijing convenience store, in a sealed envelope complete with bun, lettuce, and “salted sauce.” The English half of the envelope’s back warns of a two-to-three-day shelf life for the product, depending on the time of year. The bun got squished in transit, but it’s otherwise a normal looking way-past-pull-date meat food. The rest of his box contained Japanese, Filipino, and Taiwanese products he found in Guam: Banana catsup, dried squid and cuttle fish, soybean and herbal-jelly soft drinks, and Marine World Biscuits (shrimp-flavored animal crackers in fish shapes labeled, in English, “Tuna,” “Dolphin,” and even “Sea Lawyer!”). Many of these are more conveniently available at Uwajimaya and other local Asian-food emporia, but it’s the thought behind the gift that counts.

    ANOTHER YEAR OLDER: I’ve traditionally used this, the anniversary week of Misc. (begun in the old ArtsFocus tabloid in June 1986), to take a look back at the column, the changes in Seattle, or my journeys. This time, I want to look ahead. This li’l corner-O-newsprint ain’t my sole ambition in life. There’s plenty of other things I’ve always wanted:

    • My own restaurant. Under the big neon sign that just says EAT, the Merry Misc. Cafe would serve honest grub at honest prices. On the menu: Burgers, cheese steaks, whole-cut fries, meat loaf, fruit-cocktail salad. In the lounge: Old fashioneds, Brew 66, naughty-joke cartoon napkins. On the walls: framed drawings by alternative cartoonists, a Silent Radio LED displaying post-postmodern aphorisms, a TV displaying old-time car commercials or women’s bowling coverage.
    • My own cereal. Frosted Miscberry Crunch would have the taste, and the crunch, that wakes a person up after a long night of arguing in bars about macroeconomic trends. Each box comes with a mini-Mensa exam on the back and a “Great Postpunk Singer-Songwriters” trading card inside.
    • My own hydroplane. Watch the valiant Miss Misc. roar in the time trials, with rock-band bumper stickers strewn over its sponsons! Shudder as it flips on a harsh turn in Heat 2A! Cheer as the underfunded, underequipped pit crew uses duct tape and extra stickers to fix it in time for a come-from-behind victory in the Consolation Heat!
    • My own travel agency. Misctour would arrange charter bus, train, and air journeys to all the truly great vacation spots–Tacoma! Ritzville! Bend! Wisconsin Dells! Akron! Tulsa! Moose Jaw! Dollywood! Wall Drug! And only the finest traveling amenities–clothing-optional planes; scat-singing tour guides; the Game Show Network in every motel room; complementary copies of DeLillo’s Underworld; emocore karaoke parties; free ice.
    • My own (commercial) TV show. I’ve actually tried to make this happen, rounding up crews and shooting test footage on three occasions in the past two years. But it’s proven a tough nut to get an independently-produced series onto a regular broadcast station (not cable access). I’ve heard from producers with much more experience than I, who’ve all told the same stories of stations afraid to take a chance. Still, I believe broadcasters will eventually realize local programming (of all sorts, not just sports or mayhem-centric news) is their best competitive weapon against the growing horde of cable, satellite, and (soon) Net-based video feeds.
    RETRO-FUTURISM
    Dec 4th, 1997 by Clark Humphrey

    MISC. HEREBY BREAKS its policy against weather jokes to allow you to go do what many of you are already doing–blaming El Nino for everything. Raining? It’s El Nino’s fault. Not raining? It’s El Nino’s fault. Internet connections really slow today? Can’t achieve orgasm? Sluggish, achy feeling all over? Waxy yellow buildup? You guessed it–that pesky El Nino again.

    THE BLOB REMEMBERED: Ultimately, the beloved (by me, anyway) Lower Queen Anne restaurant building’s clever (though cheaply built) false front wasn’t what did it in. Essentially, it was one of those “restaurant graveyard” sites nobody could make a go of, before or after the fun façade was added to it. Still, it’s a shame the condo developers who now have the land won’t install any of their own molded-white-plaster turrets or protruberances as a Blob remembrance.

    DEMOGRAPHICS ON PARADE: Austin, one of the towns billed a few years ago as a potential “Next Seattle,” has achieved that dubious goal, sorta. According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the Texas state capital (and “alternative country” music center) has just surpassed Seattle as the 22nd most-populous city in America. They’re up to 541,278 folk; we’ve just gotten up to 524,704. (We had over 550,000 in the 1960 census, back when the households in our vast single-family neighborhoods were having more kids; we declined in the ’70s and started climbing again in the ’80s.) Of course, they’re benefitting from immigration more than we are, and they’re in a position to annex some of their outlying sprawl. Other towns you might not know are bigger than Seattle: San Antonio, El Paso, Memphis, Milwaukee, San Jose, Indianapolis, Columbus, and Jacksonville, FL. Towns you might not know Seattle’s bigger than: Nashville, Cleveland, New Orleans, Kansas City, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati.

    WASN’T TOMORROW WONDERFUL?: Two weeks or so ago, I asked for your ideas as to which late-’90s popcult trends would be the likeliest nostalgia fodder in future decades. Reader Ian Morgan expressed doubts on the whole idea: “This entire decade has been a flaccid rerun of the seventies! A second Woodstock, Sex Pistols reunion, platform shoes, bellbottoms, etc. Don’t forget grunge. Sorry, the punkers did nihilism better the first time around. If history is merciful we’ll all forget the ’90s. Everyone here wishes they were sometime else.” Kim Adams was more hopeful, sorta: “Future generations, inundated with a gazillion sources and sites for information and babies whose first words will be ISDN or TMI (too much information), will long for a return to the simpler times of single-phone-line households and mere 33.6k modems.”

    AS FOR ME, a few passing fancies are evident. DVDs will make today’s CD-ROM games seem quaintly primitive (such small video windows; such choppy animations). When digital video lets anybody become a moviemaker, today’s big-budget action films will become popularly disdained as bloated dinosaurs, then later inspire subsequent generations as mementos of a second Hollywood Golden Age. And 21st-century genetic engineering might make both tattoos and breast implants seem positively retro-chic. Of course, all this depends on what the future generates, then finds missing. Maybe there’ll be a huge hammered-dulcimer mania in the 2010s, causing kids in the 2020s to yearn for the good old days of techno.

    BUT FOR NOW, it’s time for all good Misc. readers to think shorter-term and send in their suggestions for our annual In/Out List, not to be confused with any similar-looking feature which may or may appear in this or other print media. Send your nominated people, places, or things to clark@speakeasy.org.

    ‘TIL THEN, visit the new downtown clothing store New York Exchange (apparently meant for folks too urbane and downstate to shop at Buffalo Exchange); ponder whether, considering the former reputation of 2nd and Pike as a center for intimate commerce, it was really wise to rename the carton-cigarette store there the “Bangmi Smokeshop;” and consider these equally-urbane thoughts from the website of local photog Kim Rollins : “There are eight million stories in the naked city–and fifteen million in the greater naked metropolitan area.”

    HEAVING LAS VEGAS
    Oct 16th, 1997 by Clark Humphrey

    AFTER LAST OCTOBER’S COLUMN about a trip to Reno, several readers suggested I go to Las Vegas next time for the real gambling/ tourism/ party spectacle. I did. Some pseudo-random thoughts:

    It’s hot. A hundred degrees in the afternoon, eighty at night, seven to nine months a year. No wonder so many tourists are willing to stay indoors, inside their all-under-one-roof hotel-resorts. It’s amazing the Strip has as much foot traffic as it does.

    It’s large. Much larger than you think. The bigger of the two main tourist zones, the Strip (a highway built parallel to a railroad from L.A.) is four miles long and a mile wide.

    It’s modern-day capitalism laid bare. Incessantly gaudy and hyper, devoted to redistributing wealth from the many to the few. If Seattle’s official mindset is mandatory mellowness, Vegas’s is mandatory excitement, unending “fun.” (Fortunately, I stayed at the Horseshoe, known as the most serious of the downtown hotel-casinos.)

    On the plus side, it’s what Republicans and capitalists can accomplish when they don’t have to buy votes from Christians. It’s loud yet clean, gaudy but slick, naughty in a thoroughly businesslike manner.

    While the famous Nevada brothels are zoned way outta town, Vegas generally treats sex not as a natural aspect of life: i.e., as something to make cash from. Bigtime skin shows operate in some of the same casino theaters as “family” shows (magicians at 8, breasts at 10). Honeymooning brides from Japan line up to get their photos next to the seven-foot nude male statue in front of Caesar’s Palace.

    The #1 category in the Vegas yellow pages is 150 pages of “Entertainers–Adult” (hotel-room strippers). I’m told most don’t fuck for money, though some will let you think they might until after you’ve paid them. I didn’t find out for myself.

    I didn’t gamble either. Like veggie burgers or sex with men, it just didn’t personally attract me. Instead, I watched other humans of all adult ages, genders, and nationalities feed coin after coin into hungry slots, hoping the machines would come down with a sudden case of coin diahhrea.

    On the strip you can visit ersatz versions of nearly every spot on the world: Latin America (Rio, the small Aztec), Europe (the Riviera, plus Paris and Venice resorts to come), Britain (Excalibur), the Caribbean (Treasure Island), the U.S. East (New York New York), the U.S. South (the Orleans, Texas Station), the U.S. midwest (Countryland, soon to come), north Africa (Luxor, the Sahara). But not Australia, Canada, or the Northwest (except for some totem poles outside a downtown ethnic-art store). But the weirdest work of cultural appropriation is the MGM Grand, “honoring” the movie studio that was dismantled and sold in pieces to finance the casino. But Vegas is always engorging on its former selves; witness the just-demolished Sands and Dunes. Next to go: the Aladdin, this Xmas.

    Just beyond the Strip is street-level Vegas: bars and liquor stores, industrial buildings, wedding chapels, one or two real churches, motels, trailer courts, malls, strip malls, strip clubs, cul de sac subdivisions, gas stations, panhandlers, industrial businesses servicing the casino trade. More human-scale than the resorts, but little more heartwarming.

    The casinos’ “sports book” areas became my idea of a potential full-time life environment. Imagine a cross between Number Two’s office in The Prisoner and a network TV studio on Election Night. Eighty-seven TV monitors, streaming news tickers, huge odds boards. I fantasized about the life of a casino pro: sleeping any hours I chose, eating at the buffets, gathering all available info about the teams and the horse races, living off the only consistantly winnable games in town (sports bets and poker). Watching the Ms’ first two losses on multiple big-screen TVs was a heartbreak experience, and a sign beckoning me home again. I realized I couldn’t live there, even if I could take the heat. So much of my life here doesn’t exist in the city that supposedly’s got everything (or exists only in scattered locations, far from the tourist areas)–things like bookstores, indie coffeehouses, fringe theater and performance art, anything that’s not part of the unending hustle for money.

    Online Extras:

    To imagine the size of The Strip, think of the I-5 corridor from the Montlake Cut to Northgate Mall. Or for you out-of-Seattle online readers, imagine one-third the length of Manhattan Island, devoted entirely to tourism and specifically to one mega-resort after another, interrupted only by a (very) few side streets, gas stations, fast-food stands, a handful of strip malls, a few surviving indie casinos, and some huge vacant lots where new mega-resorts are about to be built.

    The Horseshoe hotel, where I stayed, is in the downtown area, the second and smaller casino district. (There are also individual resorts along other arterial highways and scattered other spots throughout Clark County.) Downtown Vegas was started as a railroad company town in 1906; above-ground casino gambling began there in 1931 as a Depression-era gimmick. But because the city had slightly more stringent licensing rules in the ’40s and ’50s than the state and county governments, most of the Mob and Teamster money that built the initial core of today’s Vegas went to developments on The Strip, just outside the old city limits. In the early ’90s, the city took the step that’s proven fiscally fatal in other towns, and turned its main street into an outdoor mall. Somehow, it worked. The giant canopy over five blocks of Fremont St. helps block the punishing desert sun, and the nighttime light shows on the canopy unite the 11 casinos on it into one entity of closer-to-human-scale thrills. Particularly cool is the block of the mall devoted to the “Neon Museum,” a half-dozen achingly cool old casino, motel, and milk-plant signs now removed from the buildings they once drew people toward. Walk outside the malled area downtown and you’ll find, well, not much. Just governmental buildings, law offices, a Kinko’s Copies, a couple of squatty six-story bank buildings, some of those famous picturesque wedding chapels, a city transit center, and a freeway separating the district from the residential zones to the north. How complete is the economy’s dependence on entertainment travel and gambling? When the local minor-league baseball team sought relatively modest public subsidies for a new stadium (which would also be offered as a spring-training site for major-league teams), authorities rejected the request on the grounds that it wouldn’t bring in enough out-of-towners.

    As noted in Peter Rock’s novel This Is the Place, a large part of the Vegas mentality is based on notions of rebellion against a specific type of conservatism, that of the Mormons who populate much of the lightly-populated inland west (and who briefly had a mission at what later became today’s Las Vegas). The bright lights, the larger-than-life ostentatiousness, the endlessly-flowing booze, the intense freneticism, the strip shows, the uniformly “naughty” vision of sexuality, the insistent “bad taste,” and the total immersion in the idea of pleasure thru spending–all directly relate to universal human temptations the Mormons (and the Mormons’ arch-rivals-in-the-same-league, the Fundamentalists) devote their lives toward repressing.

    Vegas, however, could use a little more of one positive Mormon trait, their sense of community. Public spending hasn’t kept up with the area’s massive population growth (now nearing 1 million). Not just the public schools but even the police and fire departments have had to resort to special levy elections, which invariably lose. School buildings either run year-round or on double shifts to pack in all the kids of workers at the casinos (and at the supply and construction companies servicing the casinos, and at the secondary and tertiary employers like car dealers and pawn shops). Meanwhile, the more affluent residents and newcomers (mainly from California) hole themselves up in new gated subdivisions patrolled by private rent-a-cops, steadfastly unwilling to consider themselves part of a larger regional tribe.

    And forget about finding any of the lounge music associated with historic Las Vegas by latter-day hipsters. There’s still plenty of lounges, but they’re almost all devoted to “high energy” Earth Wind and Fire cover bands.

    BEAVER TERRITORY
    Jun 26th, 1997 by Clark Humphrey

    I just spent half a week in Corvallis (Latin for “Heart of the Valley”), the Oregon hamlet where I’d spent some of my post-adolescent years. I was there to revisit childhood memories (unlike Seattle, most of the buildings there in the late ’70s are still there) and to meet my aunt and uncle. Uncle Kurt looks just like the late Days of Our Lives star Macdonald Carey; like Carey’s character, he was (before his retirement) the leading physician in an isolated college town, a pillar of kindly authority in a place that valued such things. Unlike Days’ fictional town of Salem, Corvallis has no known international spy rings or demonic-possession cases (there’s more treachery in Oregon’s real Salem, the state capital).

    Corvallis is a place you have to want to go to, deep in the fertile Willamette Valley. It’s 10 miles from the freeway and Amtrak (both at Albany), 50 miles from commuter air service (at Salem or Eugene), 100 miles from Portland. It’s a place of unbeatable scenery, especially with the low cloud ceiling and the summertime field burning. It’s a real town, a feat of collective architecture/ planning/ whatever. Narrow streets are lined with big trees and shrubs. The buildings are human-scale, mostly amiacably rundown. Downtown’s still intact and prosprous, despite the loss of a few big chain stores (the Penney’s storefront now holds a Starbucks and a Noah’s Bagels). The outlying cul-de-sac streets are still part of the town, not elite-retreat suburbs.

    It’s a company town, and the company’s Oregon State University (née Oregon Agricultural College), home of the fighting Beavers. It’s a damn handsome college, with low-rise ’20s brick classroom buildings built close together. At the campus’s heart is the Memorial Union (“Vnion” in the exterior stone lettering), an elegant, state-capital-like student union building.

    It’s a place where small-town kids arrive, learn a trade in concrete, physical-plane-of-existence stuff (food growing and processing, computers, machines, chemicals, earth sciences), and in the process learn about getting along with people. One of the things they learn how is interracial dating’s no big deal–the college imports out-of-state black athletes (like future Sonic Gary Payton), who invariably end up dating white women (Af-Am females being scarce, even with the rise of the women’s basketball program). (One of the few Af-Ams to grow up in Corvallis was ex-Mariner Harold Reynolds. No, I don’t know anything gossipworthy about either Reynolds or Payton.)

    State budget cuts have hit OSU hard. While private funding is helping keep the physical plant up (with several big new buildings going up this summer), enrollment is now less than three-quarters of its 1990 peak of 16,000. Fewer students mean local merchants sell fewer kegs of beer, fewer copies of Penthouse, fewer jogging bras. What’s kept the town going are the office-park businesses that like to put down roots near tech schools, such as the Hewlett-Packard plant and the CH2M-Hill engineering firm.

    Also, there’s not much nightlife (though they’re finally getting regular punk shows and have an improving college-radio station). There’s a granolahead scene, but it doesn’t rule the town like in Eugene. There is a “Music of Your Life” radio station (the network KIXI used to belong to). The yellow pages list more multimedia production companies than video-rental stores. There’s a feminist small press (Calyx), and a strong gay-lib movement (surrounded by Lon Mabon’s notorious anti-gay crusaders elsewhere in the valley).

    Despite these struggles, Corvallis was recently cited in one of those “top places to live” books as one of America’s most progressive towns. I don’t know if the honor’s deserved, but it is a near-perfect example of the kind of strait-laced yet “mellow” place Utne Reader readers might love. Oregon was always Washington’s older, more patrician sibling; Corvallis is a jewel-box setting for this staid “civil society” attitude. It’s the sort of town where almost nobody’s too rich, too poor, or too dark; where everybody (in certain circles) has some post-high-school education, where everybody wears sensible shoes and drives sensible cars; where even the frat houses separate their bottles for recycling; where Lake Wobegon and Reagan’s “Morning in America” prove to be the same fantasy–soothing for some, scary for others.

    RENO-VATION
    Oct 17th, 1996 by Clark Humphrey

    I spent three days in Reno last week because there’s a hotel price war going on, that finally led to the ultimate discount–free. The Circus Circus hotel-casino (the one that used to sponsor a boat at the Seafair hydroplane races) has been giving away free nights online, at www.cybernetwork.net/c/circus/.

    I hadn’t been to Reno since I was 12. Unlike other revisited childhood-memory sites, Reno is just as overwhelming now as it was then. The big hotel-casinos have gotten bigger, building huge hotel towers and parking garages. The Circus Circus is one of three casinos interconnected by skybridges to form a continuous quarter-mile-long space of slots, card games, and buffets.

    But gambling profits in northern Nevada have stayed flat (as they’ve been, minus inflation, since 1970). The big new casinos have merely drawn business from independents (even the legendary Harold’s Club is now a deserted storefront); cheap hotel rates have merely drawn business from motels (which have compensated by renting at weekly rates to underclass families arriving in search of casino jobs).

    Indeed, walk too far from the high-rises and you’re smack in a typical depressed inland-west town (there’s even a Spokane Street), with white and Mexican street kids boasting of their machoness, seedy bars where no microbrew has ever touched a tap, trailer parks, used-car lots that don’t bother to mop up the fluids leaking from the cars onto the concrete, and privately owned all-nite liquor stores.

    Despite its problems, Reno remains a great destination with rich heritage. It was once the gambling capital of North America, before Vegas shot ahead in the ’50s. More recently, Vegas has reacted to the nationwide gambling explosion by turning itself into a collection of family theme parks, just as a new generation has become fascinated by the sinfully swingin’ culture Vegas used to symbolize. Reno’s still got that culture (or much of it).

    What’s more, Vegas is a thoroughly suburbanized experience, with self-contained resorts strewn down an airport highway. Reno, in contrast, is an urban experience; 16 of its 25 major casinos (and six smaller storefront casinos) are on or near a real main street. It’s a place for strolling and watching the passing parade of giddy young honeymooners, world-weary middle-aged men in vintage suits, and troupes of exuberant senior ladies bussed in from across the west.

    If Vegas is now a city for families, Reno is a city for women, specifically older women. At any given time, any given row of slot machines will be dominated by over-60 ladies emulating the grandmother in Dostoevsky’s The Gambler, gleefully losing her fortune at the roulette tables while her descendents impatiently wait for her to die.

    As a city for women, Reno has nothing like the sex industry of Vegas (or even of Seattle). Porn shops are zoned far from the casino district. Strip clubs are few and small. The town’s only casino skin show (Playboy’s Ecstasy, produced by Seattle’s Greg Thompson Productions) gives almost as much emphasis to bare-butted men as to bare-breasted women.

    There’s one island of unabashed masculinity in Reno–the sports-wagering area at the Cal-Neva, the biggest surviving non-hotel casino. Brown rec-room paneling. Thirty-six TVs, showing every available live game or horse race. Heinekin bottles for $1.25. Guys of all races (but only one waist measurement–XXL) arguing passionately about the baseball playoffs (“Good pitching ALWAYS beats good hitting!” “BULL-shit!”), but all agreeing the Ms would’ve won it all had Randy Johnson been healthy.

    Proud yet unpretentious, loud yet inviting, the Cal-Neva (along with other indie casinos like the Nevada Club and the Original Nugget) is an honest goodtime place and a perfect Cocktail Nation destination. This, not hotel high-rises with marble shower walls, could bring the neo-hipsters and the young adults. They’d come for the old-time American sin and return for the skiing and the National Bowling Stadium. If Reno can reach out to a new generation by building on the best of what it still has, it could thrive again.

    ONLINE EXTRAS

    * Southwest Airlines is in many ways the Stranger of passenger air carriers. It goes out of its way to extol an attitude of fun and informal cameraderie, while actually scrambling hard and thinking cleverly to keep costs down and revenues up. Sitting in a crammed 737 without the sedating schticks used by the rest of the industry (headphones, movies, meals, warm interior colors) can be an ordeal. To Reno, it’s at least a relatively brief ordeal (95 mins.).

    * My hotel room had a posted rate of $175/night. If I’d paid for it I’d feel cheated. No HBO (just a few dumb pay-per-view hits), no complimentary morning paper, no in-room coffeemaker, almost no room service (just continental breakfast in the morning, pizza and Cokes at night). The place doesn’t even have a swimming pool. You’re expected to use your room strictly for sleeping, bathing, and fucking, and to spend most of your time feeding cash to the slots and the card tables.

    * To give an idea of the town’s one-industry status, there are almost 28,000 hotel and motel rooms in the Reno area, one for every nine residents. The only important non-tourism employers are the state university and the state capital (the latter in nearby Carson City). Any dip in tourism revenues wreaks havoc on local tax proceeds, further tattering social services.

    * One problem affecting the tourism industry there is that the big operators have deliberately underbuilt non-gambling attractions. They haven’t even tried to attract conventions, believing conventioneers to be lesser gambling prospects. So there’s not much for families with kids (except the Circus Circus’s midway games and acrobat acts, the still-running Bonanza theme park, and a couple of ghost towns). Only one of the casinos has even a small shopping arcade; to buy most stuff, ya gotta go out to the mall.

    * Tourist souvenirs, though, are happily available at many sites. (There’s even still a Woolworth’s in Reno!) This means you can get your boyfriend (or girlfriend) an “I Ate at Mustang Ranch” sweatshirt without visiting the legal brothel, situated in the forlorn hills across the county line.

    * The aforementioned Playboy’s Ecstasy revue is just the kind of unabashed bad-taste experience a tourist could hope for. Male and female singers gave appropriately dumb, “high energy” renditions of Billy Joel’s lamest hits. A male magician told dumb phallic jokes while blowing up balloons (though his trained cockatoo was cool). The three boy dancers and five girl dancers were predictably frenetic and largely unerotic, through at least four changes of mini-costume. The set design looked “industrial” in an MTV/Eurodisco sort of way. The waiting area outside Harrah’s intimate 500-seat showroom featured a wall of Sammy Davis Jr. memorabilia.

    * The rest of Reno’s live entertainment is disappointing at best. That plague of neo-easy-listening tripe sometimes known as “Young Country” has taken over most of the showrooms, except for the ones hosting Madonna or Motown impersonators or surviving ’50s crooners.

    * My final status: $18 ahead.

    (My sources include the Reno Gazette-Journal and the Utah-based magazine Edging West.)

    FRESH PRINTS
    Sep 19th, 1996 by Clark Humphrey

    KISS THE PICTURES! LICK THE PRINT! CHEW THE STAPLES!: After a seeming lull period, local zines and periodicals are again popping up. Here are a few that have slipped by lately:

    How to Tell If You’re Dead, by Michelle Beaudry and Lord Carrett: There are worse illustrated-joke books out there, but this at least qualifies for dishonorable mention. “You’re Dead If… Minnie Pearl’s price tag is on her toe.” ($6 from Laffbooks, 6201 15th Ave. NW, Seattle 98107.)

    The Movie Marquee. Somebody tries to start a self-published mainstream movie-review zine just about every year. This one’s from local freelancer Doug Thomas. It’s little better or worse than any of its ilk, desperately seeking artistic or at least financial significance the action thrillers made by the studios it wants to advertise. ($15/6 issues from 3015 NW Market St., #B115, Seattle 98107.)

    Replicant: A Journal of Seattle Area Industrial & Darkwave Musings. Small, personal, infrequent newsletter for Goth and industrial-dance music lovers. Recent issues have featured DJ Webb’s series “Name Calling,” offering handy intros about the confusing genres and sub-genres in recent dance music. (Pay-what-you-can from P.O. Box 48213, Seattle 98148.)

    ReAct: Practical Strategies for Ending Violence. Py Bateman ran the Alternatives to Fear self-defense school for umpteen years; her new monthly newsletter goes beyond the specific tactics of her classes, into larger issues of personal safety, power, and fear. In issue #3 she breaks with her profession’s traditions by including one story about a male assailee. ($25/year from P.O. Box 23316, Seattle 98102.)

    No Apologies: The Best of Real Change Poets, 1994-1996. I’ve never claimed to be a qualified judge of modern-day poetry, but this is the Real Thing with a capital RT. It’s not grad students sympathizing with (or slumming among) down-and-outers, it’s down-and-outers talking for themselves, with pride, anger, humor, wistfulness, nostalgia, and not a speck of malaise. The highlight is Dr. Wes Browning’s memoir “Art in Balance,” about (among other things) meeting Betty White at a USO show. ($6.95 from Real Change, 2129 2nd Ave., Seattle 98121.)

    Code: The Creative Culture Magazine. For some reason, this is the first issue I’ve seen yet it claims to be #5. It’s supposed to be the “Work Issue,” but at least half the 44 pages (on heavy-slick paper) seems to be about the personal life of the staff, particularly editor Lou Maxon. Squint past the sub-Ray Gun typography (hint: Adobe Courier is not a suitable magazine text face), and you read about how Maxon left the NYC rat race to end up working at a trauma center (presumably Harborview’s) while noblely struggling to get his friends’ names into print. You also get a lot of house ads, scattered around plugs for other people’s zines. ($3 plus postage from 2400 Westlake Ave. N., #21, Seattle 98109.)

    Steelhead: The Handbook of the Next Northwest. As ambitious as Code and more serious. Its 48 densely-packed pages are mostly devoted to cultural regionalism, to taking a hard look at the world directly around you and networking with like minds nearby; even though its second-longest piece is a semi-fiction story set entirely in California. I also don’t get the editors’ obsession with that dumb fashion mag George. Still, at least an attempt to ask some big questions about the Big-Big-Big Picture. ($3.95 from 4505 University Way NE, #420, Seattle 98105.)

    Slant. Issue #7 of the out-of-state zine that publishes more Seattle writers and artists than some local zines is about travel, foreign and domestic. The gargantuan newsprint rag includes words and/or pix by locals Charles Peterson (photos from Vietnam), Jan Gregor, Tom Kipp, Andy Cohen, Tim Midgett, Keith Bearden, and Leslie Talmadge Woodward, plus a visit to James Acord’s atomic art in Richland by Toronto writer Brian Freer. It’s free at Urban Outfitters (which publishes it), but if you subscribe you get a darling mailing label with the defiant slogan, “We Are Not An Alternative Publication.” ($4.50/3 issues from 1809 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19103.)

    NICO-TUNES
    May 29th, 1996 by Clark Humphrey

    Misc. was naturally bemused by the Newsweek hype piece about a Seattle only faintly resembling any real-world town, a town whose supposed biggest celebrity is New Republic/CNN Crossfire vet Michael Kinsley, esconced in Redmond to start Microsoft’s pay-per-read website Slate (presumably not named for Fred Flintstone’s boss). But we’re even more perplexed at what Kinsley told the Times a few weeks back, that Slate readers shouldn’t expect “a left wing magazine.” As if anyone familiar with his Reagan-Democrat views ever would.

    A FASHIONABLE FORM OF CANCER: Tobacco companies are paying “hip” bars to sell their cigarettes. R.J. Reynolds paid Kid Mohair to exclusively sell Camels. Moonlight Tobacco (RJR’s “hipster” alias company) struck a deal (exact terms not publicized) to have its brands be the only cancer sticks sold at Moe, whose upstairs room has been renamed the Moonlight Lounge. (Both parties claim the room’s naming is a coincidence, not part of the deal.) At the opening party for the Moonlight Lounge, two Moonlight Tobacco PR drones walked around giving out long cigarette holders, wearing military-style jackets with the name patch NICK (as in -otine). Since nightclubs can be perennially on the edge of solvency, even a modest “promotional allowance” plus free ash trays is too good for many owners to resist. Speaking of club ups n’ downs…

    OFF RAMP UPDATE: Here’s what we know about the glorious Eastlake dive where so much local music history was made and so much cheap Oregon gin was swilled. The old owners ran out of cash and agreed to turn the place over to new owners. But there was a snag in the liquor-license transfer process, so the place shut down at the end of April. The wannabe new management’s still trying to execute the financing and paperwork to reopen the home of “Gnosh Before the Mosh” soon.

    But a revived Off Ramp will face the same problems other clubs now face. The explosion in touring indie bands these past two years has drawn audiences away from regularly-gigging local acts, whose once-steady appeal had brought a small degree of stability to the club circuit. Clubs have added an array of DJ nights, geared to draw specific sets of regular patrons, but that market’s spread increasingly thin by competition. We’re also coming on five years since the Seattle music eruption hit big; the original Mudhoney and Fallouts audiences are aging beyond the prime club-hopping years. Maybe a new Off Ramp management can figure a new recipe for sucess, one that can help the scene as a whole. Speaking of the “maturation” of indie-rock…

    STOCK IT TO ME: Stock-music production companies are now coming out with “alternative rock” production music for use in commercials, TV shows, low-budget films, industrial films, video games, porn, etc. The Minnesota-based HyperClips company offers “Alterna,” a package of 40 “alternative rock and dance tracks. Give your project an edge with these grungy and atmospheric pieces. With all the moodiness and aggression that the Alternative styles have to offer, with everything from mellow acoustic grooves to hardcore distorted jams.” The Fresh Music Library, meanwhile, claims its “Alternative Rock” CD features “production values heard on today’s college and alternative rock radio stations… These themes evoke U2, Nirvana, R.E.M., the Smithereens and others. Exactly the disc for youthful energy.” Speaking of commercialism…

    AD VERBS: You may have seen the cutesy ad for Seattle’s Westin Hotels, with a jealous-sounding female narrator accompanying butt shots of a stud: “Broke his neck to get the job, then broke the corporate sales record. Even broke the corporate no-jeans rule. Who’s he sleeping with?” The closing: “Choose your travel partner wisely.” Never before (to my knowledge) has a major hostelry chain so brazenly teased at the aura of naughtiness that’s always surrounded the industry.

    (You’ve four days to rearrange your schedule, obtain the swankiest outfit, and leave room in your diet for the splendiforous Misc.Tenth Anniversary Party, 7 pm-whenever Sunday, June 2 at the Metropolis Gallery, downtown on University St. between 1st and 2nd. Odd video, fine food and beverage, games, entertainment, and fine memories will be had by all. More on the Misc. World HQ site, <http://www.miscmedia.com>. Be there. Aloha.)

    SCHRAMSCAM
    Jul 26th, 1995 by Clark Humphrey

    CLARIFICATION: When I said the branch of the Left that the local Freedom Socialist Party descended from was now the least-active aspect of the Left, I should’ve added that the FSP is a major active player in comparison to other outfits with the S-word in their names.

    WHAT A CROC: Somebody opened a Crocodile Cafe in Bellevue Square. It’s not only unrelated to the Seattle Crocodile, but our Croc only found out about it when the mom of a Bellevue Croc worker called the Seattle Croc demanding to speak to her daughter. The Seattle Croc was originally to have been called the Live Bait Lounge (as listed on pre-opening posters), until owner Stephanie Dorgan (an ex-lawyer) made a trademark search and found the “Live Bait” name was already owned by some joint on the east coast.

    NOMENCLATURE DEPT.: While recently heading back to the safety of town from Darkest Redmond, feeling the sensations of comfort I always feel when I make it to the west side of the bridge, I tried to devise an alternative to Tricia Romano’s description of suburban dance-club goers in a recent Stranger as “tunnel people.” That’s a term used by Manhattanites to insult those who live in other NYC boroughs or Jersey. If we have to use an NYC term to describe Eastsiders, it oughta be one based on the NYC meaning of the name “Bellevue” (look it up). I suggest “floaters.” It symbolizes not only the floating bridges and certain airheaded attitudes, but also compares the suburban everywhere/nowhere experience to the old Japanese floating world, the culture of aristocrats and courtesans who traveled around in leisure, unconnected to the land surrounding them…. More suggested new terms for Net use: “schlepping,” “tangling,” “netting off,” “cavorting,” “crawling,” “gallivanting,” and my fave-of-the-week “hydroplaning.”

    DIY-TV VS. THE OLD ORDER: KOMO Town Meeting host Ken Schram has never let the details get in the way of contrived moralistic posturing. Latest example: the “threat or menace?” episode about public access cable. Producers of access shows that, in Schram’s staff’s opinion, weren’t “controversial enough” didn’t get to be on the show. He ignored all the religious, political, cultural and just-plain folksy shows so he could use a few examples of body parts and bad words as an excuse to call for censoring access (i.e., reining in an alternative to corporate media like KOMO). The way he did it just proved one reason why people are increasingly looking for alternatives to corporate media. His attempted bombast was frequently attacked and occasionally deflated by a studio audience packed with media-manipulation-savvy access producers (betcha never thought you’d see Philip Craft (Political Playhouse), Donna Marie (Hot Tub TV) and the Rev. Bruce Howard in the same place at the same time!).

    JUNK FOOD OF THE WEEK: AriZona iced teas, previously mentioned here, now come in bottles. The one to get is the ginseng flavor, with the most exquisite blue bottle, useful for dried-floral arrangements and as future yard-sale bricabrac.

    GETTIN’ BUFFALOED: Found a flyer on orange paper on a downtown street, purportedly from the National Park Service. It warns Yellowstone visitors not to not approach park buffalo: “Many visitors have been gored by buffalo. Buffalo can weigh 2000 pounds and can sprint at 30 mph, three times faster than you can run. These animals may appear tame but are wild, unpredictable, and dangerous.” At the bottom is a line drawing of a camera-toting tourist being tossed into the air from a buffalo head-butt. Some folks I’ve shown it to think the flyer has to be a fraud done up by those Cacophany Society people or types like them. But I wouldn’t get close to a buffalo anyway.

    HE’S NOT BAD, HE’S JUST DRAWN THAT WAY: An Olympia guy was arrested in Tacoma for trafficking in stolen animation cels. The fun part of the story came when the deadpan cops in a press conference monotoned in perfect lifeless Joe Friday-ese about the perpetrator and the evidence while surrounded by bright acetate paintings of Fred and Barney. The real fun part came when KING revealed that Hanna-Barbera cels legitimately released to the collector market contain a seal of authenticity, which contains a sample of Joe Barbera’s DNA!

    BAKED ALASKA
    Jul 19th, 1995 by Clark Humphrey

    My apologies to all those who sent letters, e-mails and voice-mails to me about the anti-homophobia initiative. Haven’t had the time to personally tell each of you “you got the wrong Humphrey.” I support my non-relative Steve’s work, but he deserves the credit for it (or the hate mail, or the rabid calls from clueless reporters).

    SHOW STOPPERS: My real brother’s in Alaska this summer, at his regular seasonal job driving tour buses. He gets to be the target of tourists’ disillusionment when they discover the truth about Alaska (and Alaskans), that the joint’s a lot more rugged and surly and a lot less “nice” and “wacky” than that mildly quirky fantasy Alaska on Northern Exposure.

    While he’s in the real Alaska, I finally visited the heart of the show’s fake Alaska, for the for-profit auction of the Northern Exposureprops and costumes. Hadn’t been to the set before, but did go to another building in the office park where it was once for a job interview. The show was essentially a boomer fantasy about a “return to community,” yet its operations base was in the most sterile, life-denying corner of suburban purgatory — exactly the kind of soulless modern environment the show offered an alternative to. Once you got past the gate and the parking lot and inside the huge plain white building, it looked much more inviting inside.

    The soundstages took up three large rooms of a humanely dank warehouse area, with carpet samples tacked onto the walls for soundproofing (making it look like the world’s largest band practice space). The sets had mostly been dismantled before the auction preview, except for a couple of big view-outside-the-window backdrop murals. Floor plans posted at the fire exits showed where the permanent sets had been (the doctor’s office, the restaurant, the town hall, etc.). The stages took up about 25,000 square feet, with more than that used by set-construction shops and storage in adjoining areas.

    I only went to the preview; I could tell I couldn’t afford a winning bid on any auctioned items I might potentially want, ‘cuz the preview was full of well-to-do couples making notes about props from their favorite episodes (“Look dear, it’s the plastic gloves from when the bubble boy went outside”). Still, I wouldn’t have minded owning a moose-head desk lamp, a flight jacket worn by the retired-astronaut character, or a matched set of log-dugout furniture. (Most actual filmmaking equipment wasn’t included in the auction.)

    AUGMENTATIONS: Some music CDs are beginning to be released with CD-ROM material stuck in at the end: A lo-res version of a music video, say, or an interview with the singer. Imagine the further possibilities: Dylan box sets with extra tracks of “scholars” claiming to have literal interpretations of every lyric. Heck, I’d rent a laserdisc version of a Madonna video collection if it had a Second Audio Program with a round-table troup of semiotics profs explaining every image to death.

    NOMENCLATURE DEPT.: Still looking for a new term for Internet/World Wide Web usage that isn’t “surfing.” Recent suggestions include “crawling” (there’s already a WWW search site, WebCrawler, originally developed at the UW but now owned by America Online), “cavorting,” and “gallivanting.” More to come, I’m sure.

    THE FINE PRINT (from a Rocket concert ad for Live and Collective Soul): “MCA Concerts is not responsible for, and has no control over, the contents of advertised performances.”

    UNHINGED AND ONLINE: The Misc. web site is now up. Those of you with computers (or who can get onto the computers at the Speakeasy Cafe (2nd & Bell), the Internet Cafe (15th Ave. E. next to the Canterbury) or the downtown library) will be able to read every Misc. written in the past nine years, as well as a few samples of my fiction and essays, a preview of my book Loser: The Real Seattle Music Story (still not out yet and I don’t know when it will be), and my X-Words (you do know this paper has a crossword and I make it, right?).

    WHERE, WHERE ARE YOU TONIGHT?
    Jul 12th, 1995 by Clark Humphrey

    Welcome to the All-Star Break edition of Misc., the only column that openly wonders what those pseudo-intellectuals are doing when they worship the only major league sport (baseball) that doesn’t even pretend to give its players a college education.

    PRE-COOKED FOR THIS TIME ZONE: A proposed Saturday Night Live theme restaurant in Vegas has been scuttled. Variety sez it was to have been part of “New York New York,” a $400 million hotel-casino being built by Kirk Kerkorian (the financier who dismembered MGM and tried to take over Chrysler). It was to have included a “cheeseburger cheeseburger” grill, a Bill Murray piano lounge, and shrines to the show’s old stock characters and iconography. But NBC (which, with SNL honcho Lorne Michaels, was going to get $11 million plus a share of the restaurant’s take for the rights) backed out. Some observers see this as a sign that the network’s finally getting hip to the utter unhipness of today’s SNL. Speaking of TV comedy once-legends…

    THAT’S ALL!: Hee Haw reruns were quietly taken off the Nashville Network (owned, like the show, by Gaylord Entertainment). The show’s been off the Gaylord-owned KSTW since last winter. The real Hee Haw ended in ’92, when the Kornfield Kounty set, most of the “Hee Haw Honeys,” and all the running gags were dropped for an “updated” format set in a shopping-mall nightclub and retitled The Hee Haw Show. The producers had to do it because those “Young Country” singers were refusing to be guests on the old show, claiming its Midwestern hayloft iconography didn’t fit their modern suburban New South personas. The new format was a bust, and the show’s been in reruns of old-style episodes ever since. The closest thing to the show’s old humor in today’s country universe is Jeff Foxworthy, that comedian whose whole routine starts with “You know you’re a redneck if….” Speaking of the detrius of cultures past…

    LEFT FIELD: The Wall St. Journal’s front page ran a wishful-thinking piece in mid-June about the death of the left, cleverly defining “the left” in the narrowest possible sense as groups descended from the Communist Party USA or the Socialist Workers Party–the least active side of US left-wing activity (including Seattle’s own Freedom Socialist Party). The piece sneakily ignored the entire environmental movement, the movements to reform organized labor, the various leftist third-party movements (the New Party, the Rainbow Coalition, et al.), all your single-issue groups, and the campus-intellectual left I’m always chastizing.

    THE TRUTH ABOUT `CYBERPORN’: The totally ridiculous exploitation story in Time only proves the same lesson Time‘s Pearl Jam cover proved: When you know the media are lying about a topic you know about, how can you trust them about other topics like politics? Yes, there are pictures of female and male bodies on the web. Most are put up on amateur home pages, though a few such sites are commercially run (by such firms as adult-video distributors, magazines, phone sex purveyors, lingerie catalogs, and “glamor photographers”). The sites aren’t easy to find unless you use search programs to find them. Most have introductory screens that ask you to type in your age before they’ll let you in further. But really the whole gamut of sexculture appears on the Web: ads for “educational” CD-ROMs, exhibits of neoclassical nude paintings, bondage stories, rambling essays about broken relationships, personal ads, listings of lesbian and gay community resources, pirated Celebrity Skin photos, video clips of topless pillow fights, and clips from women’s-mag ads of supermodels selling clothes by not wearing them. Sexculture on the Web is (almost) as diverse as in life, which is what they advocates of a commercialized monoculture like Time Warner are probably really afraid of. Speaking of the glamor of nakedness…

    WEB SITE OF THE WEEK: Body Doubles is a new brand of cosmetics and skin care products, sold thru an online multi-level marketing scheme. The promise implied in the company’s name (but not explicitly given in its advertising) is with this stuff, you can look better than the movie stars–you can look as good as the models who do the stars’ nude scenes for them!

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