The Daily

First Person

Mr. Brooks

July 8, 2016 | by

From the cover of In Pieces.

I saw Garth—that’s what we called him, just Garth—with three friends when we were in the fourth grade, maybe fifth. He was touring in support of 1993’s In Pieces album. A Nashville native, I had been listening to country music for as long as I could listen, but Garth was the artist that had turned me from a passive listener into an enthusiast. My grandfather had had Johnny Cash, my parents Alabama. But Garth, Garth was mine.

As far as they were concerned, I could have him. When the guitar arpeggio at the start of “Friends in Low Places,” his first hit, came over the radio, my parents would switch the dial from 97.9, which played Top 40 country, to 95.5, which played the classic stuff. “Blame it all on my roots / I showed up in boots,” Garth sang, in a lyric that seemed to announce a changing of the guard, “and ruined your black tie affair.” Read More »

One Night Only!

June 23, 2016 | by

The implosion of the Riviera’s Monaco Tower

Casino-implosion

All photos by Gene Blevins © 2016 Los Angeles Daily News.

“Used to be I could get a free pack of Marlboros at the blackjack table when I was nineteen,” said a deep voice behind me, on the bus from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. “Now you can’t even get a hot dog.”

“You heading to town for the Riviera implosion tonight? Should be a good fireworks show, a good blast. Careful of that dust, though. Lot of asbestos. Yeah, they don’t give a shit in Vegas.” Read More »

Habitat for Humility

June 22, 2016 | by

Voluntourism in Lesotho, Africa.

Via Pixabay.

Lesotho landscape. Image via Pixabay.

Lesotho is a tiny country surrounded completely by South Africa, and that’s about all I knew about it when I arrived in the summer—their winter—of 2005. I was a college sophomore, and I’d come with fifteen or so classmates for five weeks of volunteer work and research, or what passes for research among college sophomores. I was minoring in Africana studies in those days, originally as an excuse to read more James Baldwin, but the prospect of actually traveling to Africa enthralled me—it didn’t matter where. The paper I produced at the end of the trip, with feminist intent but offensive result, was titled, “No Bras to Burn: A Time of Change for Basotho Textile Workers.” Read More »

Gunplay

June 20, 2016 | by

Illustration by Eric Hanson. Click to enlarge.

Indianapolis, 1964. My younger self owned a bandolier full of bullets; three revolvers, two with bone handles to fit a holster; a rifle; knives; a sword; a full Civil War uniform; a genuine U.S. Army helmet. From age eight to ten, I fought and died a thousand times for fun. My friends and I knew all the best ways to fall down dead, exhaling sighs of pleasure. Awaiting nuclear annihilation, we acted out gun ballets like period folk art. Here, in America’s “Gun Belt,” boys used to get their first squirrel rifle at eight, nine, ten years old; now they get pint-size assault rifles. Get them early, so they can learn to handle the violent kick of firing, learn not to hold the part of the weapon that gets so hot it smokes. And it’s not just boys. Parents can purchase special pink assault rifles for their junior misses.

In my own backyard, I was always alert for enemies. I moved with a stooped, serpentine grace, darting, pausing, looking around for people to shoot before they shot me. There was something adorable about it. We had very convincing submachine guns then. They were made by Marx out of hard molded plastic and came in black—the conventional color, suitable for playing Chicago gangsters or warriors in the European theater—or brown-and-green camouflage, for war in the tropics. There was a knob along the side to unleash a machine gun rat-tat-tat whenever we encountered the enemy. I was unaware of the irony in the brand name: we were training for our turn to halt the march of Marxism, but we were unfamiliar with Marx the mastermind. Every Friday I looked forward to the latest photos of the Vietnam War, counting the dead in LIFE magazine. Read More »

All In: Susanville

June 9, 2016 | by

The first part of “All In,” by Brandon Hobson, ran yesterday.

Martin Hyers and William Mebane, Vegas 009904, 2008

Martin Hyers and William Mebane, Vegas 009904, 2008, color photograph.

For three humiliating months, I lived in a yoga studio behind my parents’ garage, in Los Angeles, while I was looking for work. The only job I could find was teaching developmental reading and writing in Susanville, California, a remote mountain town in the Eastern Sierra that is known, if it is known at all, for the state and federal prisons nearby. Classes began in just a few days, so I threw clothes and a few books into my car and began the long journey that took me through the mountains and high desert of Nevada and California. As I drove the desolate stretch of Highway 395 that carried me north out of Reno, I tried to convince myself the isolation would prove restorative.

It was a nice thought, and a brief one. When I arrived in Susanville, late at night, the sky was raining firebrands and ash from a massive wildfire. The fire had taken down the power lines that brought electricity through the mountains, and the town was completely dark. People were walking the streets with camping lanterns. I pulled into the parking lot of the first motel I saw to ask about a room. The desk clerk was registering guests—mostly firefighters from the state forestry department and from around the West—by candlelight. Read More »

All In: Oklahoma

June 8, 2016 | by

The second part of “All In,” by Eric Neuenfeldt, will be published tomorrow.

Martin Hyers and William Mebane, Vegas, 2008

Martin Hyers and William Mebane, Vegas, 2008, color photograph.

There are more than a hundred casinos in Oklahoma, more than there are in Germany, more than in Canada, the UK, or in all of Central America. Within half an hour, I can drive to at least seven of them. Fifteen miles to the north, just before the Kansas state line, two massive casinos sprawl on Indian land. One has a hotel. To the southeast is Osage Casino, which was once a small, smoky trailer. To the south are 7 Clans Paradise Casino and Two Rivers Casino. To the west are Tonkawa East and, right off I-35, the newer, larger Tonkawa West Casino. I remember reading a few years ago that Oklahoma was the nation’s second-largest gambling market, with nearly four billion dollars in revenues. Thank God for tribal land, Oklahomans say. No need to plan a vacation to Las Vegas anymore, not when you can stop at, say, the 7 Clans Deli Mart/Travel Plaza on Highway 77 just outside of town, a convenience store that has more than a hundred slot and video-poker machines inside.

Oklahoma has plenty of large casinos—with hotels, restaurants, valet parking, and players who wear suits with loosened ties—but I liked the small, gritty places. I had a theory that most of them had looser machines, which paid out more frequently. I favored one spot in particular, a dim and smoky casino in Tonkawa that played loud rock music. It’s the size of a small warehouse, tucked away down a desolate road in the country with open plains stretching out for miles. Wednesdays it had cash drawings every hour after five in the afternoon, but it was never very crowded. Read More »