Saturday, October 31, 2009

Poop, and God, and Elvis

Dealing poker this week has been a blast. I ended up getting a few extra shifts because Steve got terminated. I really like him, for the most part. When I first started work there, he constantly made me laugh. When he bacame a dual-rate (part-time dealer, part-time floorman), he almost never made me laugh. So, I really do like him, for the most part. And I'm sorry to see him go, and I'm sorry he lost his job, especially in this economy. But, for me, it meant more poker, more money, and more stuff to write about.

It's been six days since I wrote about my job, and of those, I worked four. Here are some highlights from the week:

On Monday the 26th, while out on break, I run into the Lightening Lady and another woman from the EVS department. (That stands for Environmental Services - they clean the casino) They are having a conversation about the other woman having new bathroom-cleaning responsibilities. She says to the Lightening Lady, "I have no problem diving in to master the turd." And she's serious. This makes me laugh, and then we all laugh. The Lightening Lady then gets disgusted about the diapers the old ladies leave in the stalls. Her face contorts around and she chokes a bit on her cigarette. "They're just nasty old bitches," she says. "I wonder if they leave them diapers on all day sometimes - and just sit in it."

Later that day I text my brother to tell him some good news about something - I don't remember what. He tells me he's sick. He texts me, "Got the squirts - gotta go." And I wish him a speedy recovery.

Sometimes when I see A.J. around the casino, he tells me he has to go "make something". And, the first time he said that, I said, "what?" When he said, "I gotta make a poo," it didn't really surprise me. Some days it seems like poop comes up in conversation a lot.

On Tuesday the 27th, the players at the table during the day were actually fun - and in a good mood. I almost always sing along to the casino music, or to other music in my head while I'm dealing. We (the players and I) decided that in order to bring more business into the room, we should have Poker Karaoke. Everyone could pass the mic around the table and sing a little ditty. The only thing we were split on was the name of the game - Karaoker or Pokeroke. I voted for Pokeroke.

Watching the game from too far away to see anything is Elvis. Or what I suppose was Elvis at one point. There's no white, sparkly, bell-bottom get-up with a big belt buckle, no guitar, no microphone, no "thankyouverymuuch". Just the hair, the glasses, the cigarette, the swagger. I see him later in the high-limit slot room, standing/gyrating alone. At first I think he is singing along to the casino music like I do, but upon closer inspection, I spot an Ipod. I don't think Elvis ever had, or needed an Ipod. And I think, "What's the world coming to?" And I walk outside to have a cigarette.

On Thursday the 28th I run into Jason from Security. He's inside, and this throws me off a bit. Usually he is in a yellow and black outfit outside on a bike or one of those people-mover things - a Segway I guess they call it. But Thursday he's in the brown security uniform, with no helmet on, and I can see he's letting his hair grow out. Jason is so funny because he says anything. And most of the time every other word, literally, is f--k. I say, "Hey, J-Dog, I haven't seen you in forever! How ya been? I thought you might have finally quit." Jason hates his job. And Jason says, "Naw, man, I'm still here, f--k, I hate this place, these f--kin' people. I mean, it's all f--kin bullshit, ya know? I hate this f--kin place. It's just f--kin'...." He doesn't finish his sentence. He doesn't need to.

While I'm on break I get a text from my cousin Aimee that says, "i think i need to fast so god can hear me better". I tell her I don't think it really works. She says she needs to figure something out.

On another break I am outside at the front of the building, around the corner, where we used to smoke before the new General Manager came in and took our ashtray away. Some of us still go there out of rebellion or laziness. I just wanted a change of scenery. There is just a little breeze, but swirling around on the ground is a plastic grocery bag. It's jumping around, floating in circles, and sliding to and fro in the wind. It comes to my feet and stops. It looked like it was having fun, so I move over to let it swirl some more. It follows me. I move. It follows. This happens at least a dozen times, to where at one point, I moved about 15 feet from where it had last landed at my feet, and it followed me. I began to wonder if the plastic bag was the spirit of someone I knew, trying to tell me something - or just say 'hi'. But then I thought that no one I knew that had passed away would come back as a plastic grocery bag - even on a temporary basis. So, I flicked my cigarette into the street and went back to work.

Back at the poker table, one of my favorite players - Al - and I are joking back and forth about some 'inside stuff'. I get a mild case of the giggles when a woman that was sitting next to him gets up to leave. She makes a comment about how no one should mess with her because she's from Bulgary. And Al says, "NOT a BULGARIAN! Oh, those are the worst!" And he means it. And he starts talking about how he met a Bulgarian woman once and how horrible she was - the worst, he says again. And my giggles turn into full-blown laughter. And I can't think of any time that I've ever met a Bulgarian before today. And I wonder if Bulgary is a real place.

Shortly after that, I see Santa at one of the machines right in front of the poker room. He is sitting there, bowl full of jelly, pipe in mouth, white beard reaching down his chest, all in-tact but the suit. I tell the floorman that this is where Santa comes to make all his money for Christmas presents because he had to lay off the elves this year. And though it was supposed to be funny, I feel a bit sad.

After Elvis, Bulgary, and Santa, I am more than ready to leave for the day. I see Security Jason in the parking lot. He says he thinks he's gonna go play poker somewhere. He tells me he played somewhere yesterday and that, "those players were f--kin stupid. F--k, I almost f--kin strangled one of 'em 'cause of how f--kin stupid he played." I tell him to play somewhere else and get in my car.

Somewhere between poop, and God, and Elvis, I actually made some decent money. Things are looking up for sure.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

KitchenAid Mixer Anxiety

I received my new KitchenAid Mixer yesterday, courtesy of my wonderful mother! I am very excited about this, as it's an item I have been coveting for a very long time. And I know it's going to help me tremendously in my pumpkin bread production.

However, I have some anxiety about it. Will my bread have as much love in it with the flick of a switch, as opposed to the turn of a spoon? Will it taste as good having been mixed by a machine? There's a lot I think about, and a lot of memories come flooding in when I've got one arm wrapped around a mixing bowl, and one wrestling with the contents, stirring, smushing, melding. The muscles in my arms tire with the effort, but I think I'm gonna miss that.

My Grandma had a mixer, and that's when I first wanted one...way back when... And now I've got one. But, the majority of the time we baked together, we stood over bowls bigger than me. With wooden spoons in our grip, laughing, talking, stirring silently sometimes, thinking, dreaming, humming, hoping. I hope I'm not abandoning something. I hope I'm not losing anything. I hope I don't forget.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Poker - Entertainment or Work?

Sometimes I think I go to work purely for the entertainment of it all.

Though it was quite slow for the first half of the day, there was something interesting happening during every hour.

10:00am-11:00am - Julio, my favorite bald, Cuban poker dealer and I sit around for a few minutes before the tournament starts (late) and he tells me that Mr. P. has been fired. Surveillance finally caught him sleeping at the poker tables during the day. Then the tournament starts. There are some new players and some old players. Tantrum Doug is there - and almost throws a fit because he starts out losing. Then he ends up winning second place in the tournament and leaves smiling and happy and not throwing anything.

11:00am-12:00noon - The tournament is over, and no one stayed to play a live-action (cash) game, so Julio and I, and Steve the floorman, sit around and chat some more. Steve looks remarkably like the main guy on "Revenge of the Nerds" and I like that. I text back and forth with my cousin, Aimee while Julio rambles on about the good ol' days. And Steve mostly just listens and laughs once in a while. We talk about Mr. P. for a few minutes, and Steve says it's "final", meaning no second chances. There's almost always a second chance here. They should call it Second Chance City instead of Sin City. But I guess Mr. P.'s sins outweighed his chances this time around.

12:00noon-1:00pm - I get bored so I go out to smoke, but stop in A.J.'s department first to say 'hi'. He looks like his dog died. I ask him what's the matter and he says he doesn't know. He says he thinks he's depressed. He asks me where I was Saturday night. That was over a week ago and I can't remember. I say I must've gone to the store or something. He says I wasn't home, my car wasn't there. And he asks in a very prying, jealous, disappointed way. And I'm supposed to think everything's alright with that. I smile and say I don't remember where I was, hmmm...Saturday... He lowers his head and says he should've just called me. I tell him that would've been a good idea. He comes in the poker room a bit later and creeps up behind me. Then sits two seats away from me and plays with his phone for a few minutes. I wonder if he's texting me while I'm sitting two feet from him because he likes to do strange shit like that, but he's not. Then he leaves.

1:00pm-2:00pm - I go outside to smoke again, and a lot of the regular smokers are there. The lovely banquet lady who's as sweet as pie. A couple of food server people, the Liberace-gay black guy with the camel boots and camel suit and loud, loud voice. And the Phillipino kid with one eye is there too. I say hello to everyone. No matter how many times I see that kid and his crazy face, I can't get over it. And it makes me feel bad. Something terrible must've happened to him, I'm sure. But it's not like he just doesn't have an eye. Whoever fixed him up after he lost that eye had to pull some face skin up over it and covered the whole area up completely. No eye, no eyebrow, no hint of an eye ever being there. It's freaky. And I'm shallow. I text A.J. that I wonder if he is busy tonight, and if not, is he going to come by my place and say 'hi'. I go back in to the poker game that just started and begin to actually work for the day.

Vinny and her large arms are there. Her husband is playing too - yikes - he stresses me out when he plays. Constant, and I mean constant - I don't even think he breathes - chatter, mumblings under his breath about how horrible the game is for him. Even when he wins, it wasn't a big enough pot, or he thought so much that he was gonna lose that the shock of winning is even a bad thing. There are also four other players, one of which is a large elderly man who reeks like parmesan cheese and hospital cleaner, and when he gets up, it's like a cloud of vomit-antiseptic explodes all around us.

2:00pm-3:00pm - The big-hair lady I had seen wandering outside the poker room earlier decides to play cards with us. I had thought it was a wig, but it wasn't. Big, thick, wavy, bobbed black hair on a slender woman in or around her early 70's. She drew the short stick and had to sit by the drunken pervert loudmouth in the middle of the table. Her name was Marilyn - and the drunken loudmouth let everyone know that, though I think she would have preferred to go unknown, incognito. A.J. comes back in the poker room for visit #2, but I'm dealing, so he paces back and forth in front of the table a few times, stares at me for a few minutes from every angle of the table, then walks out of the room staring behind him, at me, still.

3:00pm-4:00pm - I go on break one last time and check my phone for an answer to my text. There isn't one. There won't be one.

4:00pm-5:00pm - Jason, the swing-shift floorman comes on duty and begins watching everything like a hawk. He's good at that. And no one is ever going to accuse HIM of sleeping on the job. He catches me writing a note on my hand while I'm still dealing cards at the table, takes my pen away, and whispers in my ear what a horrible offense I have just committed. I laugh and laugh and say it was important. I had to remember to bake Julio's pumpkin bread tonight, I didn't want to forget.

5:00pm-6:00pm - I'm actually working this entire hour - it's a miracle. And it kind of is. Because I end the day making $110 in tokes (tips) and thought for sure I wouldn't even break $40 for the day. I stop on my way out to chat with Nadine and Syble, my two favorite old-lady-poker-sisters. I tell them about my pumpkin bread and they want to buy some. Yey for me! We exchange hugs and short stories and phone numbers. And then I'm free.

Whether it's for entertainment, or for cash in my pocket, I go to work. But somehow I think maybe there's more to the story. And I dream about some of these people weeks after I've met them. I'm a poker player, maybe that's why. On one of my breaks, a buffet server guys said to me: "poker people are a strange, quiet little group". And, except when they're drunk, I think he's right.

A Perfect Heart in the Suds

When I first moved to Vegas, I met and became instant family with Chef J.B. He is the cousin of Kelly, one of my poker players from back home. Three or four days after I arrived in Vegas, he put me to work doing catering with him. All summer long last year, we catered events all over Las Vegas, out in the hot sun, sometimes for 10 hours in a day, five or six days a week. I don't know if I'm just out of practice catering since I've only worked a few parties over the last several months, or if it's something else, but yesterday was the worst catering day I've ever had.

It was hot, I was in the full sun for the better part of 5 hours, and I had virtually no help in my funnel cake/corndog booth. When you have a crowd of 1000 people, all wanting a funnel cake - and you can only cook 8 of them at a time, things can get kinda sticky. By the end of the day, I was burnt to a crisp from the sun and fryer, mildly heat-stroked, and just plain over it. Needless to say, when I got home, I was ready for a shower and a long, long sleep. But for some reason, I decided to take a bath.

The tub in my bathroom is the size of a small semi-truck. I have only once before taken a bath here because it seems a wasteful expense of water, and takes a long time to fill. But I wanted to soak the grease off my body, out of my pores, and sand the blisters off my feet. Every muscle in my back and neck and legs and arms was screaming for a good, hot soak and a bubbly reprieve. And oh, it felt good. If only I'd had a glass of wine and a good book, I'd have been in that tub still.

But I did get out, wrapped my hair and body in towels, and let out a whopper of a sigh. As I turned to shut the shower curtain, right there in the middle of the tub, still floating in the draining water, was a heart, a perfect heart in the suds. I couldn't take my eyes off it. It never wavered, never changed shape, never melded with the other bubbles nearby. It stood alone, about 10 inches across, and filled me with comfort. I watched it until all the water had drained. It slipped, tail-first, into the drain, but stopped short at the fat part of the heart, and waited for it's bubbles to burst. Too big of a heart to fit down the drain.

I thought of Stacie, and if this was her way of telling me that everything would be okay. That a shitty day could end with a big fat soapy heart. That I'll manage with only 2 days of work per week. That my pumpkin bread business will reach the stars. That I'll find someone to love me soon. That it will all work out somehow.

There were hearts everywhere after Stacie passed away. In the fireworks on the 4th of July, in the clouds, in sun shadows, in pictures, everywhere. After 7 years, there are still hearts, in the most unexpected places, at the most needed times.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

32 Things - A Reminder

Well, as my brain's swirling with all things "pumpkin bread", I have lost sight of my "32 Things" list a bit. I did attempt some stretches the other day, but no exercise lol - unless you call walking to the apartment office to mail pumpkin bread exercise lol. I haven't been on any dates. I haven't seen a movie or taken any photographs. Apparently, I'm just a big slacker! But I've still got a little under 9 months to get it all done - and this pumpkin bread stuff is just way too fun!

Anyway, as a reminder to myself, and perhaps to everyone else (who can help me keep on track), I am reposting my original "32 Things" blog today:

Recently, my Mom turned 60 years old. We talked about starting a blog and I suggested she write a list of 60 things she wanted to do as a 60-year-old. I took my own advice and made a list of 32 things I want to do as a 32-year-old. It's in no particular order, but I plan on trying to achieve them all during the nine remaining months of my 32nd year of life. Here's the list:

1. Lose 32 pounds
2. Read a book a month
3. Start my pumpkin bread business - DONE 10/17/09 YEY!!!
4. Quit smoking
5. See the Grand Canyon
6. Get a massage at least once a month
7. Do a fundraiser
8. Pay off 2 personal debts
9. Attempt to publish a poem I wrote into a children's book
10. Stretch 5 times a week
11. Clean my fish tank
12. Plan a trip to Norway to meet my brother Geir
13. Go on 10 dates
14. Write a cookbook for single people
15. Create a blog - DONE 10/14/09 :)
16. Plan a friend retreat with my 10 closest friends
17. Take artistic photos once a month
18. Start painting again
19. Write an article for a poker magazine
20. Play one poker tournament a month
21. Do NaNoWriMo
22. Buy a house
23. Rebuild my credit
24. Learn yoga
25. Learn how to dance
26. Take a class
27. Exercise 3 times a week
28. Go to a movie bimonthly
29. Try a new food each month
30. Start writing a book
31. Explore Las Vegas bimonthly
32. Have lunch with Oprah and chat about life

Friday, October 23, 2009

Love Baking

My house smells like pumpkin bread every day now.

Baking means more than mixing up ingredients and putting them in the oven. Baking, for me, is the essence of my Grandma wafting through the air, tickling my memory, and turning my face happy no matter what else is on my mind.

My Grandma passed away when I was 10 years old. There are only two things I regret about the time we spent together. I remember clearly being at her house, I must've been around 8 years old at the time. We were in the living room, watching "The Price Is Right" and relaxing. For some reason, we got in a fight. I wanted something and she wouldn't let me have it. I don't even remember what it was, but I remember distinctly what happened next. I yelled at her and told her I hated her, then stormed out of the living room. Moments later, realizing the mistake I made, I peeked around the corner, afraid. Afraid of a spanking, afraid of what I imagined would be a very angry Grandma, awaiting my return with punishment ready. What I saw instead, was my Grandma crying. A punishment that fit the crime.

At her funeral, my cousin Brad and I got in trouble. There was this man singing some sort of operatic ballad and it tore us up. We started giggling and couldn't stop. We were chasing each other around the somber crowd as if it was a carnival, not a funeral. When I apologized later, my Mom said it was okay, that everyone deals with death differently. But it wasn't okay. The only chance I had to pay my respects, I was laughing instead.

Most of my memories with my Grandma are in the kitchen. We baked pies, and breads, and cakes. We made applesauce at the old porcelain sink, watching my Grandpa and the boys through the window, bringing down apples from the orchard and grinding them into cider. We picked blackberries along the drive for pies and jams. We made sandwiches and tea for all the men working on some thing or another. My Grandma took me to the dentist for the first time and bought me a hamburger and ice cream right after. We used to go shopping at the thrift stores to find treasures.

And my Grandma took me with her to put together and deliver food to the elderly for "Meals on Wheels". What a grand adventure! We put together the meals at the old Grange Hall in Scio, a million women in the kitchen, slinging cornbread and mashed potatoes and meatloaf and green beans. The heat and energy there was mesmerizing. We loaded up Grandma's old red pickup truck and headed out for deliveries. At the first house, Grandma made me deliver the food by myself. A very old woman with hollow, wet eyes answered the door. I was instantly sad for her. I told her I had a meal for her, and the styrofoam box grew heavy in my hands. She told me she didn't really eat much these days, handed me a check for $4.00, and asked if I would come in and look at something. In that moment, fear and compassion were pulling me in two very different directions. I looked in the house, looked out at Grandma in the truck, looked at this sad, sad woman, and went inside. The hot food was burning my hands and I set it down, at last, on a corner of her coffee table. The rest of the table was covered in old photos.

"This is my daughter," the old woman said, holding up a photo of a brunette about my age. "I don't see her any more. And these are my boys...they haven't been up to see me in more than...well, seven years I guess." She went silent and still.

"There's meatloaf and mashed potatoes in there," I say, because I don't know what else to do. And I just want to leave this sad, smelly place.

"Oh, I don't eat much, really." I open the box and steam flushes out. I take the plastic fork and knife and cut a piece of meatloaf and dip it in the potatoes.

"You should try a looks really good." I move the bite towards her and she closes her eyes, opens her mouth, and lets me feed her.

When her eyes open again, a tear comes sliding out and down her cheek. The hollowness has disappeared and I see her children dancing there, laughing, playing.

My Grandma came through the door, told me we need to get to the rest of the deliveries, told the woman to make sure and eat every bite, and before I know it we were back in the truck. Though I am usually full of things to say, we drove on in complete silence for what seemed like a very long time until we got to the next stop on our delivery list.

That next stop came as quite a surprise, as Grandma liked to drive fast, and almost missed the turn-in to a very strange place.

"Hold on!" Grandma reached across the seat to hold me in, slammed on her breaks, cut in front of a rather large truck, and skidded to a stop in a dirt turn-around nearly covered in blackberry bushes.

"Geesh, Grandma! What is this place? Does someone actually live here?" There was a very small trailer, covered in blackberry bushes with newspapers stacked from the ground to the top of the trailer, all the way around it.

"Hello Ma'am, Missus," a little crooked man had come out from somewhere in the tangles of that trailer to greet us. Grandma and I got out of the truck and said hello. I handed him his meal and he smiled, sort of. Is it still considered a smile if you only have three teeth? I wondered. "Thank you, Missus, just you wait here a sec, I've got something for you." He disappeared into the tangles once again, and came out with two full bags of newspapers which he set at my feet.

"What's this?" I asked, totally confused.

"It's all I got." He hung his head and turned up his palms. "Here, lemme bring some more for you," and he turned to go back to the trailer.

"No, no, this'll be just fantastic!" Grandma chimed. "You wanna save some for next time, right?" She smiled at him as he turned back to us, and he nodded in agreement. We all looked around then, at the thousands of newspapers piled everywhere, and got the giggles. My Grandma gave him a hug, whispered something in his ear, and once again, we were down the road.

On our last delivery, we came down a long, rutted road that bumped and rattled us for what seemed like miles. A ginormous mansion sat at the end, and I thought 'who could possibly need food that owns a house as big as this'? A very bouncy woman with long, wild, silver hair rushed out to meet us in the drive. My Grandma jumped from the truck and embraced her as if they were old friends reuniting, and they hugged and talked and held hands and walked. And I was forgotten, and meals were forgotten.

On my own in this wonderous place, I wandered around and looked at everything. The house was huge, but looked as if it was held up by a string. It was the color of this woman's hair, grey and black, and would make a good haunted house for Halloween. There were chickens running around all over the place. The property was lush and green, damp and secret. It was a treasure, not found at a thrift store, but at the end of a very bumpy road. I found a black and orange caterpillar on the ground and picked it up. Usually they curl up in a ball, afraid they'll be eaten. But it just crawled around on my hand and arm like I was part of the terrain. Maybe it knew that nothing could be harmed in this place. Maybe it knew it lived in wonderland.

Grandma finally came back to the truck with Millie - the smiley, wild woman - who was carrying five flats of fresh eggs. I don't know how we ever made it back down that road without breaking one of them.

I hope these days, that my Grandma knows I didn't hate her, and that I don't hate anything. I hope these days that my Grandma can see me happy, see me baking, and feel my respect. And I know, true in my heart, that her hand is on mine with every stir of the spoon. That I can hear her absently humming in the kitchen while I bake. That love is the most important ingredient in any confection. And that she taught me how the smell of love baking lingers long after the crumbs have been wiped away.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I have 23 Usernames and Passwords, and the list is growing.

My Mom used to ask me all the time why I let my friends use me. Sometimes I didn't even know it was happening, but most of the time I did. Whatever my excuse was, the real reason was that it felt good to be needed. It took me a long time to figure out that being genuinely needed and being blatantly used were two very different things. The resolution to this issue is that now, I know instantly which thing a person is after, and I act accordingly. If someone needs help, I offer help. If someone wants to use me, I evaluate the situation, and if I can, in turn, use them for something too, I let them.

I don't have many "user names" in my address book these days. But that hasn't always been the case. There have been several "I call you to talk about ME" friends. You know these say, "my dog died" and they say, "my dog died worse than yours". There have been countless work associates throughout the years who smile in my face and stab me in the back five minutes later. And men, that's a whole other book altogether. There's not enough space on this blog to delve deeper into the topic of "Men Who Use Women and the Idiots Who Stay With Them". Alternately, and to be fair, there's an unfortunate amount of women who use good men and spoil it for the rest of us.

When I was about 10 years old, I cut my hand trying to slice some cheese for a sandwich. My Mom was at work and I ran to my brother's room with tears in my eyes. After finding the door locked, I pounded on the door with my good hand and screamed for him to let me in.

"You can't come in unless you know the secret password!" I don't have time for this, I am going to bleed to death, so I kick the door a few times and scream some more.

"Let me in, Scott!! I'm hurt!! Pleeeeeaasssee!"

"Not until you say the password."

"But I don't know the password."

"Well, then, you can't come in."


"Nice try. Not it."

"Please, Scott, I think I'm gonna die. Let me in."

"Say it."

"I don't know it." By this point, my voice is barely a whisper. I have slid down against the door and am absently knocking on it with my good hand, and saying my final goodbyes in my head.

"Say it."

"Scott is the coolest person on the planet." The door flies open and I fall into my brother's room with a squeak and a thud, now laying on the floor, bleeding to death I'm sure. "I cut my hand." Scott looks at my outstretched hand, blood now running down my arm.

"Shit, Julie, why didn't you just say something!"

In junior high I went to a summer camp called Camp Wilani. Several of the girls from my CampFire group went that year. We were almost too cool to go to camp, but thought we'd give it a try anyway. I remember one day we found this trail in the woods, that led down to the most beautiful little forest oasis you ever saw. The tree cover just barely let in enough light to see, but what light did come in made everything sparkle and dance. I imagined a little world of fairies probably lived there. That this was the place where animated birds and squirrels came to retire and sing all day.

The girls and I used to sneak down to the trail and go to our secret place when we were supposed to be canoeing or crafting bookmarks out of yarn and plastic. No one said anything mean in this place. No one knew what time it was, or cared. Not one of us tore a leaf off a tree or pulled clumps of grass or picked a flower. It was a sacred place, pristine, and damp, and beautiful. And ours.

About 20 feet down the trail toward our secret sanctuary, there was this old, torn and soaked-through bag of mixing cement. It was the only thing that didn't belong, and was so out of place that it almost fit. The wording on the bag was beautifully ironic - ALL PURPOSE WET/DRY WATER-PROOF CEMENT. We studied the cement bag thoroughly on our first trip out of the forest - kicked it with the toe of our shoes, poked it with a stick, and brushed the leaves away to read all the words. But we didn't try to move it. It was our landmark. It told us we were on the right trail, and soon all would be quiet and peaceful and calm. And so it became, that our password into this secret place would forever be: ALL PURPOSE WET/DRY WATER-PROOF CEMENT. No one who didn't know this password would ever be allowed entry into our safe haven.

Now I have 23 usernames and passwords - to pay bills, manage bank accounts, for social networking, to run a business, to make lists of music, to create photo slideshows, to report maintenance issues to my apartment complex, among other things. Today I had to make a list on my computer of all of these usernames and passwords because sometimes I forget them, or get them mixed up with each other.

Funny that a lot of other user names are burned in my memory, and I can still remember passwords from way, way back.

Thank You!

I need to stop a moment to say "Thanks" to a few folks...

To L.B. at for featuring me and my pumpkin bread in her blog, which highlights "Top Etsy Finds" she searches out. An altogether altruistic and sweet woman, she also was the first to donate to my "32 Things" fund. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

To J.O. at for being my very first out-of-state pumpkin bread buyer! Wahoo! Thank you!

And to my Mom who is one of my #1 fans. Beside being a source of constant encouragement, support, and premier editing help, she has graciously ordered me up a vacuum-sealer and a Kitchenaid mixer for supreme pumpkin bread production efficiency!

Lastly, to my brother Scott, who is my other #1 fan. Also an encouraging force who has been supportive in many ways, including helping to pick out the perfect pumpkin bread mugshot.

To everyone else, from Facebook, Myspace, and beyond...I'm not for a moment forgetting how wonderful and supportive you all have been this week. It's truly amazing that only 6 days ago I started this blog and since then; a business (with profit already!), new friendships, and new hopes, and new dreams, and new purpose.

Another Day at the Office

I arrived at work today, completely cracked out on this new coffee I bought and the delirium of 3 1/2 hours of sleep. Something was wrong with the floorman, we'll call him Mr. P. He seemed a bit somber, and very quiet. I asked him repeatedly throughout the day what was wrong, to no avail. But the swing-shift floorman seemed to think it was because Mr. P. might be catching some flack for his laziness on the job. I was delighted.

A little about Mr. P... He has been in the business too long, has gotten comfortable, and that's never good in the casino industry - or in Vegas as a whole. You always need to look over your shoulder and keep your ears and eyes open. Everyone is replaceable. Everyone is expendable. Mr. P. has been doing less and less of his job every day. On a daily basis, he actually closes his eyes and sleeps sitting up at one of the empty poker tables. Several of us have taken pictures on our camera phones - evidence, just in case.

Of all the times I urged Mr. P. to talk to me today, this was the incident where he actually had something to say:

I was at the end of my break, waiting to go to the table and deal when something on one of the t.v.'s caught my eye. An Afghani woman with stab wounds all about her neck and shoulders. I watched the news story with sympathy as the reporters delved deeper into the story. 90% of Afghani women are abused they said. Violence in Afghani marriages is rampant. There was a group for Afghani women to get support, and they were showing a room full of women sheathed in fabric, eyes scared, but sharing. Talking. Helping. My heart really felt for these women.

"Now you know why those Afghan women wear all that stuff over their faces, don't ya?" Mr. P. broke my reverie. "Ugly women."

"That's awful Mr. P." It's all I can say. I've known him to be somewhat of a bigot in the past, but this is ridiculous.

"Well, it's true. I mean, look at 'em. That's why they cover up their faces. It's gotta be."

"Stop, Mr. P, that's horrible to say." I look at the clock on my phone, two more minutes.

"Can you imagine if they had a beauty pageant with all those women in it? They'd have a really hard time finding a winner, I bet. Think about it, have you ever seen an Afghan woman win Miss U.-"

"Stop Mr. P., you are a horrible, awful man. It's enough." I cut him off, push early into the poker game and wish I'd never provoked him to speak at all.

Other than that, it was a pretty typical day with pretty typical player turnout. Tantrum Doug, or Little Doug, formerly Golfer Doug, was in for a few hours. Not throwing cards too much today, but the grumbly, mumbly constant commentary about losing on the river was thrown around quite a bit. Two Bobs, well, one Bob and one Robert spent a few hours with us. Mike that looks like Jesus, and Mike who has no poker etiquette. One very quiet Larry and one very verbal Larry were actually sitting right next to each other for quite some time. Today, I guess everyone came in twos.

Out back at the smoking patio, I saw the Lightening Lady. She had a story for me about a man at a slot machine the day before who either farted or pooped his pants, no one knew for sure. As she recounted the story, it made her laugh and laugh. Her face is like the desert we live in. Cracks and holes and deep, deep roadways and saggy folding skin over saggy folding skin. When she laughs it is a beautiful disaster. I love it when she laughs.

On my last break, Mr. P. told me that Marie, one of our elderly players, had a stroke. That she was in a coma and wasn't expected to come out of it. I told him I liked Marie and it made me sad to hear that. He didn't say anything else, but the look on his face told me that he was gratified, almost happy, to have brought me this terrible news. The more I learn about this man, the more I listen and keep my mouth shut.

I left the game a little early, leaving our 5:00 dealer the reins on a lame horse, a shaky game. I spent about 15 minutes gossiping and venting to the swing-shift floorman. And gathering info on what was to come with Mr. P. and the room in general. As I walked to my car, the wind picked up and was nearly unbearable.

But I was off work - for 5 days - and I was happy about it. All in all, just another day at the office.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Poker Games, Mind Games

Today was my first day back at work after four days off. It was a pretty uneventful day all in all, but there are a couple noteworthy moments to mention.

We have this player, Vinny, and her husband Alex. They are a strange couple, but fit each other quite well in mood and mannerisms. On the majority, they are both pretty quiet, but strikingly negative. Vinny plays poker while her husband looks over her shoulder at her cards, then paces in and out of the room until the hand is finished and new cards are dealt, ready for a peek. Vinny has a very small head in proportion to the rest of her body. Her arms are like overstuffed sausages at the brink of splitting. Around her left wrist is a very small, very tight ladies' watch. Around the right, two or three very small, very tight gold bracelets. Every finger on both her hands sports a giant ring with giant stones. Even her thumbs. But her hands are small, her head is small, or maybe it's just that her arms are so big.

The noteworthy event here is that I made Vinny smile today. I think it may have been the first time in a long time that this has happened to her. Between her arms and the smile on her face, I was sure something on her body would explode. But it didn't.

Most days, every half hour I am on a break. In the poker dealing world, this is called an "up-down". For 30 minutes I am "up" on break, and for 30 minutes I am "down" at the table dealing cards. Days like this are excruciating, but today my breaks were rather entertaining.

In the back smoking area, I walked up on a conversation three people were having about pot, sex, and coke. They kept looking over at me to see if I was going to have a reaction, but I didn't.

There's a manager at my work, in another department, who I have had "relations" with in the past, a few months ago. Let's just call him "AJ" for story purposes. Recently he's been playing quite a few mind games with me, and I've grown tired of it. The last time we spoke, he ended the conversation by telling me to look him up in the craigslist personals - that there was a picture of him there, from the neck down, naked. Then he hung up. I regret to say that I looked for the ad. But it wasn't there. So, I'm figuring he sent me on a wild goose (or goose neck) chase, just because he knew I wouldn't be able to resist a hook like that - especially involving him. I didn't call or text him, though I wanted to - just to tell him what an ass he is.

I guess my lack of reaction piqued his interest because he came by the poker room today while I was dealing, stood and watched me at the table, then called and left me a voicemail saying that he was watching me deal, while he was still watching me deal. Then he left. I texted him the following message:

"I'd like to actually hang out and talk with you some day. It seems like whenever we talk it's always brief or some obscure topic comes up. I'm tired of that game." To this, there was no reply.

A couple of breaks later, I went to the back again, hoping to come across some more entertaining conversations, but, lo and behold, there was AJ, practicing his bagpipe music. There was no reason for him to be there, in the smoking area. He doesn't smoke. He's never taken a break there before. I sat down at his table and stared at him. He laughed in between piping notes, and kept playing. He never stopped playing, but once asked me what's been going on. I told him a lot of things have been going on. He wanted me to explain. I told him there's too much to tell, and not enough time right now. He played and played. I asked him to stop, but he wouldn't. I stopped watching him for a minute and noticed a very tall black man staring at him, and then at me, and then at him again. This man's mouth was agape for several moments. Then he sat down at the other table and lit a cigarette and ignored us both. I was waiting for AJ to stop playing. Talk to me. Be normal. But he didn't.

On my way back in from break I saw the Lightening Lady in the bathroom. She's one of the nondescript, older people that wanders around the casino cleaning ashtrays and emptying trashes. On stormy days, you'll find her on break more often, staring at the sky, looking for electricity and eerie cloud formations. I rushed up to her and gave her a hug. We whispered in the bathroom about how bad things are at the casino, and she told me she's losing hope that anything's ever going to get better, that she's just moving in and out, day by day, just doing what she can. I nodded in understanding, told her that her hair looks really beautiful today, and went back to work. On my way back from my next break, I saw her again. She was wiping down a slot machine and shaking her head. I caught her eye and we both winked at each other in unison, and smiled.

When I got back to the table, the dynamic had changed a bit. Some players had gone, and some new ones had come in their place. About ten minutes in to my down, I heard the player directly to my right say to his friend,

"Look at AJ, is he hollerin' at that cocktail waitress? Oh my god, I think he is." And then he mimicked what he supposed AJ was saying to her, "If you wanna keep your job, you know what you gotta do, right?" And then he giggled like only trouble-makers do. I looked up to see AJ in a place barely in my view, between the slot machines, caught and tangled in this little cocktail girl's gaze. The first thought that came into my head was that he was spying on me. He is a voyer, likes to watch without being seen. And he hadn't been this close to the poker room for weeks - now twice in one day? The next time I looked up, he was gone. But in my mind, he wasn't.

I spotted one of my favorite poker players, Jessie, just outside of our poker room. He's got to be somewhere around 90 years old, but sharp, and sweet. We shared a hug and had a brief chat about where I've been lately. I lured him into the poker room with a mere mention of our doughnut table. We picked out a chocolate one for him because he is a self-proclaimed choco-holic. On my way out for the day, Jessie, still waiting for a seat in the game, stopped me to say goodbye and gave me another hug and a kiss on the cheek. I wish all my players were as sweet as this. But they aren't.

I work tomorrow, then am off again for five more days. I wish I had more hours to work, but I don't.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

PUMPKIN BREAD - #3 on the "List"

Well, everyone, I did it!!

I just started my pumpkin bread business!!! It is #3 on my "32 Things" list, and I've done it! I have my bread for sale now on Etsy at Soooo excited!!

It's quite possibly the yummiest tasty treat EVER and I would love for you all to enjoy some, so get shoppin'! :)

Thanks everyone for your support and encouragement! This is just wonderful!

Friday, October 16, 2009


How does a single person know when it's time to do the dishes?

Well, for me, it's when the dishwasher only holds a butter knife, one tupperware container, and two pot lids from the load before. And all the other dishes in my house are in the sink.

The hierarchy of dishes in my life goes something like this; coffee cups, bowls, spoons, plates, forks, glasses. Let me explain...

Since coffee and cereal are the two main staples of my diet (besides cheese), coffee cups and bowls and spoons are most important.

When I have used my favorite coffee cup, I move on to my Newport cup, then on to the small brown coffee cups, and lastly, the big white coffee cups. When all coffee cups are soiled, it's time to do the dishes. Drinking coffee in a glass, or from a bowl is too lazy, even for me.

And when I have used all plates, forks and glasses, things have gotten out of hand. This is the case today.

So, I'm proud to say, the dishwasher is running! I feel like somehow I'm saving the planet too...the fuller I pack my dishwasher, the less I waste water and energy, right? And soon I'll have a bowl to eat cereal from, and a spoon to eat it with. Happy day.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Is a baked potato still considered healthy if there's a half cup of cheese melted on it?

Those who know me, know of my cheese addiction. I don't really like to call it an addiction because of the negative connotations that word brings along. And cheese has to be one of the happiest things on the planet. I can't call it a cheese fetish because I don't do anything freaky with it. I think I just have a relationship with cheese, and we are getting along marvelously.

Think about it, cheese makes us happy, cheese is delightful, cheese is yummy. The only people whom cheese doesn't make happy are those unfortunate lactose-intolerant types. Cheese and I don't mention them often, as they make us both sad.

My friend Martha is a Cheese Master (I know there's a real word for this), and I envy her. But there are some cheese relatives that are banned from Cheese and my family reunions. Such cheeses shall only be mentioned once: Any cheese with visible mold (I don't care if you're supposed to eat it too), most smoked cheeses, and very, very strong pungent cheese.

Cheese is not supposed to be on breakfast sandwiches at McDonalds.

People who abuse cheese (leave it out to get crusty, forget to seal it properly before storing, cut it at strange angles) shall be forever registered in the Cheese Offenders Database (I'm trying to get this published so that you'll know before moving into your next neighborhood if offenders are nearby). Cheese abuse is no laughing matter.

And at the risk of sounding a little like Bubba, cheese is useful in so many ways; you can put it on rice, put it on noodles, there's mac 'n' cheese, broccoli 'n' cheese, cheesy potato chips, cream cheese for bagels, cheesecake, cheese and crackers, cheese sandwiches, cheese cubes, cheese fondue, cheese for spreading, cheese for grating, cheese in strings, cheese in spray-cans, cheese in jars for dipping. There's cheese sprinkles for popcorn, garlic cheese bread, Cheez-its, cheesy soups, cheesy biscuits, cheese scones, and so much more.

Let's not get confused though, cheese doesn't belong in cereal, or floating in cocoa. Cheese knows its place - and that's usually, thankfully, in my belly.

Prioritizing "32 Things"

I realize that in order to accomplish my "32 Things" list, I'm going to need to organize it a bit, so I've created three categories:

Lifestyle - #1, 2, 4, 6, 13, 24, 27

Adventure - #5, 10, 12, 16, 17, 20, 22, 25, 26, 28, 29, 31, 32

Creative/Business - #3, 7, 9, 14, 15, 18, 19, 21, 30

Some of these things I'm supposed to do weekly, some monthly or bimonthly, and some don't really have a schedule. I'll update my blog frequently with any progress I'm making - so wish me luck!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


When I first moved to Vegas, everything seemed to fall into place pretty effortlessly. I found an apartment within a day, I was working as a caterer by the 3rd or 4th day, and I even had my own personal human GPS (Chef JB) who answered his phone at all hours to give me directions around the city.

A few weeks in, I came home and at the foot of my stairs was a dead, naked, dirty Barbie doll. And an empty grocery cart. The grocery cart moved all around my building for months, parked in one pit of gravel or another - sometimes laying sideways in a bush. The Barbie doll lay prone in the dust for only a few days. She was blonde, like most Barbies, but her hair was all matted and frizzy, not the smooth sheen of Barbie at her best.

I began to wonder if these were signs of impending doom, or possibly good luck charms. I still haven't figured it out, but I do know that squishing a black cricket to death on your bedroom wall is definitely bad luck.

Dealing Poker - Meet My Players

I deal poker at a casino here in Vegas. It's off the "Strip", on the east side of town. Most days I enjoy my job, and my players. We have a lot of locals play in our room and one by one, I am giving them my own secret nicknames. Something to make me smile, my very own inside joke commentary while I work.

Frank reminds me of Fred Flintstone, but shorter.

Art laughs like Elmer Fudd, and kinda resembles him physically too, but older.

"The Missionary", Donnie, is the most missionless a--hole I've met at the table in a while. I don't yet have a real nickname for him, as I can't come up with one mean enough. And he's an idiot.

Greg makes me laugh all the time - the Comedian. Always commenting under his breath about people at the table or people walking by. Just plain old-fashioned degradation - funny as shit. He kinda picks on the old ladies that play and that bugs me, but most of the time it's still funny.

Ron #1 is my favorite teddybear trucker. Big ball of sweetheart.

Ron #2 is funny and inappropriate. He wants me to be his sugar-mama. Ha.

Doug is my favorite card-throwing, tantrum player. Gotta love him.

Tiny has his own nickname, an obvious one for a big, bearded biker.

There's a couple of Nick's too. Nick the Croatian. What an ego! But strangely attractive and altogether aloof. And Little Nick. He's got some disability that makes his body from the torso up exactly proportionate for a regular-sized man, but tiny, short little legs leave him about 4' tall - maybe. He reminds me of Benjamin Button in his early years.

There's more, tons more, but for now...welcome to my world at work - and the people who give me things to laugh about - and things to wonder about - every day.

32 Things

Recently, my Mom turned 60 years old. We talked about starting a blog and I suggested she write a list of 60 things she wanted to do as a 60-year-old. I took my own advice and made a list of 32 things I want to do as a 32-year-old. It's in no particular order, but I plan on trying to achieve them all during the nine remaining months of my 32nd year of life. Here's the list:

1. Lose 32 pounds
2. Read a book a month
3. Start my pumpkin bread business - DONE 10/17/09 YEY!!!
4. Quit smoking
5. See the Grand Canyon
6. Get a massage at least once a month - got one in Newport! (Dec. '09)
7. Do a fundraiser
8. Pay off 2 personal debts
9. Attempt to publish a poem I wrote into a children's book
10. Stretch 5 times a week
11. Clean my fish tank
12. Plan a trip to Norway to meet my brother Geir - in the works 1/8/09
13. Go on 10 dates - wouldn't call 'em dates, but....workin' on it ;) 1/8/09
14. Write a cookbook for single people
15. Create a blog - DONE 10/14/09 :)
16. Plan a friend retreat with my 10 closest friends
17. Take artistic photos once a month
18. Start painting again
19. Write an article for a poker magazine
20. Play one poker tournament a month
21. Do NaNoWriMo - Completed, 50217 words in 30 days! 11/1/09-11/30/09!!
22. Buy a house
23. Rebuild my credit
24. Learn yoga
25. Learn how to dance
26. Take a class
27. Exercise 3 times a week
28. Go to a movie bimonthly
29. Try a new food each month
30. Start writing a book - wrote one for NaNoWriMo in November '09 - does that count??
31. Explore Las Vegas bimonthly
32. Have lunch with Oprah and chat about life

Live, Hope, Create

I did ten toe-touches today. My Grandpa used to say that if you did a hundred toe-touches each day, you'd be in the best shape of your life. I guess it's a start.

Live, hope, create...what does it mean, really? Well, just what it says I guess. Hugely optimistic, I suppose, but ultimately the essence of my being. Deep, I know.

Why am I writing a blog? Well, I thought I knew the answer, but now I'm not so sure. Maybe I'm pretentious. Maybe I need therapy without the therapist and office and pictures of waterfalls. Maybe I'm bored. Maybe I just want to write again and this is the easiest way to kick myself into gear. Maybe someone out there can relate to something I say. Maybe I can change the world.

Jewel of the Lion's Shop on Etsy's Fan Box

Julie's Blog and Beyond - A Writer's Life's Fan Box


Aunt Helen's Pumpkin Bread - FOUR (4) LOAVES - ON SALE NOW!!