Life in the Real Desert: Sleeping in a Cloudy Oven

Cloudy sky in Quartzsite, AZThe real desert is cloudy today. It has a solid covering of dark hues which cries occasionally and lets a few dry tears plummet to earth. Striking tin roofs with a clunky, non-melodic rhythm that is short lived yet oddly comforting. The covering floated in yesterday, slowly filling the vast Arizona sky with something that resembled peaceful candy floss (cotton candy) with varying tints of color. The temperature was a cool 106 degrees Fahrenheit despite the lack of direct sun and sleeping in this stuporous heat felt like being in a cloudy oven.

I tweeted, at half 10 last night, that the temperature was a staggering 91 degrees. I watched RIPD, with Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Mary Louise Parker (whom I have a huge schoolboy crush on, sorry Mary) and Kevin Bacon while baking on high for the duration. The heat from my laptop was a little worrying on top of all that external heat. I checked and the mercury inside the house was standing at 99 degrees and I switched the thing off afterward.

Until then, I sat with all windows open and a pedestal fan scant inches from my face and the laptop. I sat oozing sweat and battled the elements in order to be fair to the comedy action film. (After all that “suffering” I found I did enjoy the film after all.)

Around midnight I gave up waiting for the heat to drop much further, the gauge outside on the porch read 82, and I crawled, sans PJs into bed. I lay on top of the sheets with fluid leaking in a steady stream from the back of my neck. By the time morning came, a cool 78 degrees for around two minutes, I was semi-rested from sleeping in a giant Arizona-sized oven and my top pillow was drenched.

I have been told that July and August resemble hell on earth and I must agree with that description after living in Vegas last year and seeing that Quartzsite is hotter than the casino town on a regular basis. Still what does not kill you, or dehydrate you, makes you stronger they say and after last night’s turbulent sleep I am not too tired this morning.

Unfortunately I will not be heading to town today as thunderstorms have been forecast and I do not want to cross the desert on a metal bike inviting lightning to strike me and my Schwinn. Of course there is the paranoia that my MacBookPro gets soaking wet thereby stopping my sporadic memoir writing and the chances of being paid by another content mill for journo pieces. I do have a waterproof bit of stuff that I wrap the thing in, but between the wind, rain and lightning, sitting today out seems wise.

It was interesting, and not a little disturbing, to see that the cloud cover kept the heat in over night. Generally on a clear day, besides being able to see “forever” the heat dissipates once the sun goes down. By half 11 or so the temperature has lowered enough to allow something resembling sleep. Even on the hottest clear day, the mornings are pleasantly cool.

Sitting here now, in the Arizona room, I can see the wind pick up. The sound of rain hitting the roof is slowly increasing in volume, not of a decibel level but amount, and the sky is becoming a more uniform color, grey without so much black mixed in. Rather interestingly there has been a lot of rain since my arrival.

Meanwhile, life in the real desert goes on and tonight I’ll wager that sleeping in a cloudy oven will not be an issue since the weather has driven the mercury down for the day. Looking at the forecast, the average temperature will be around 106 over the next week or so which means spending a lot of time in Burger King and the public library. An unexpected bonus of living in this environment is that I’ve met some lovely folks at the local eatery and managed to lose most of the tummy pod that I’ve carried with me for years.

9 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Life in the Real Desert: The Wind Down

Town sign outside of Burger King

Somewhat amazingly, the big wind down has already begun in Quartzsite, Arizona and Life in the Real Desert is about to change once again. Riding down the main drag in town the first noticeable thing is the lack of big tents and vendors who have been present since at least the start of 2015. Apparently this mass evacuation will continue until the end of March and the sleepy burg will go back to being semi deserted once more.

I stopped here last year in February/March and was told that I’d missed the rush. Having been here for the busy time, I am quite anxious to see just what the quiet times will bring. Of course there will be less snowbirds for a start. There are not that many who opt to live here year round. Those that do, immediately lose their feathered status.

Summer temperatures soar, as they did in Vegas, but at night they do drop dramatically. The folks who opt to stay are used to this drastic see-saw effect of hot and cold. Of course in the Nevada gambling town of Vegas there are enough buildings, pavement and people the sun going down does not equal a huge drop in heat.

Last March, in Las Vegas, I was sleeping with windows open and a sheet on the bed. Coming to Quartzsite, I was offered heavy blankets. I turned them down, explaining that I could take it.

Wrong.

When the sun set here, I immediately froze. There was no gradual decrease of temperature, one moment it was hot and then, BAM, cold. By the time morning came, I was wearing every item of clothing that I owned and had desperately wrapped the dogs’ blankets around my shivering body.

I will, in fact, welcome the increase in heat and pray that the nighttime hours in summer do not drop to what feels like sub-zero figures. While I’ve gotten used to the increased Fahrenheit readings, I’ve learned that less clothes, more fluid and a change in operating hours equates to more comfortable living conditions. Cold, however, is a different aspect completely.

Although the reaction is amazingly similar, more (rather than less) clothes, more fluid (of the hot sort) and a change in operating hours, the end result is nowhere near as satisfactory. I do not like the cold, my body despises it and my operational capacity is cut down accordingly. It is hard to type when you cannot feel your fingers.

Granted, extreme heat also results in less productivity. But, regardless of what the climate is, I would still rather battle heat.

While the town is winding down and the snowbirds are slowly following the vendors lead and heading out, I have learned that a new bike with new gears is easier to ride than a cheap second-hand one. My initial bike was a Chinese knock-off of a BMX and it damn near killed me.

My new bike, a 700c Schwinn, is a dream and apart from the fact that I have to keep centering the front tyre is a lot easier to ride. I am now in the process of getting either saddle bags or a box for the back to facilitate grocery runs.

I will, hopefully, have sorted out some sort of television and Internet within the next month. Both quite important as my writing income for the new site has rather disappointingly worked out to considerably less than I was hoping.

Things will even themselves out eventually. Getting used to the different setting, sorting out living conditions and becoming a recognizable figure around the local area is helping to at least make me feel a little less disoriented. Some setbacks are very temporary. Having to cancel Hulu and Netflix has hurt, but I can rejoin as soon practicable and will do so.

The reality is that I’ve missed so many episodes of shows I wrote reviews and recaps for that I am hopelessly behind and will not catch up, even with serious binge watching. Hopefully TV will be restored in time for summer replacement programs.

Until things are back to “normal” my immediate goal is to write two articles a day for my personal blog and the same again for the new website. On top of that, I have plans to write a certain amount each day on my own books.

The move from Vegas, while necessary, has been almost catastrophic in terms of output. Other factors, which I will not go into here, have also upset the balance of work and “off time.” While I struggle to maintain a certain status quo, I will continue to write and keep practicing what I have learned and continue polishing my output.

6 March 2015

Life in the Slow Lane

Las Vegas Sign

I returned to the USA last year on January 15. I flew into the airport in Las Vegas to meet a man I’d only encountered on Skype and the Internet. The promise of working as the head of Entertainment for a relatively new “news-site” seemed like a dream come true. The job, and the publisher, appeared to be legit. After all, I had been sent to South Africa to speak to sources who told our “reporter” in-country that Nelson Mandela had died in June and was not still alive as the SA government and the rest of the world were reporting.

That was in 2013 and everything certainly felt like it was “above board.” However, what seems all too real over the Internet can turn out to be something altogether different in the flesh. But this article is not about the fall, and continued fall, of the publication where I worked for 18 months, I’ve already written about that. This is more about my sudden change of lifestyle and working conditions, the second in a two year time period.

I jumped at what seemed like a generous offer to come over and live with the publisher and his wife until I could get settled. Working and living in Las Vegas was, a lot like my job in Her Majesty’s Prison Service, not something I’d ever planned on or dreamed of doing. It was another of those, “just turned out that way” moments.

After being ill health retired from HMPS I was in a bind. I’d stupidly spent my way through the one-time cash payout from “her majesty” and was down to trying to survive on £255 per month via my tiny ill health pension. Time to leave my adopted, and beloved, country behind and come “home.” Leaving my daughter behind with her boyfriend, I boarded a small plane in Norwich and began my journey back to the US.

Again, I digress, I am pretty sure I’ve covered this before so I’ll move on. Once I arrived in Vegas and got the lay of the land, I slowly began covering events and doing interviews with celebs and authors and got to attend my first ever Comic Con.

After working very hard to fix a communications problem with the local studio reps I also got a slew of invites to film screenings and reviewed each one attended. I was busy building up our Entertainment section and having a ball doing it. Sure there were problems, money being one of them, but I was enjoying the act of meeting and talking to actors I had admired from afar for years.

I also got to meet new actors and celebs from television as well as from the world of literature. One happy accident was getting to meet the Winner Twins. Two delightfully talented, and damned nice, girls who rock it in the world of Science Fiction. Award winning authors, the two young ladies were positioned diagonally near two ladies I was desperate to meet and interview from the SyFy channels series Heroes of Cosplay. Brittany and Brianna Winner started out in this world as two dyslexic children whose love of stories, and their father’s encouragement, learned to overcome this problem by writing their own tales.

Las Vegas Amazing Comic Con
The Winner Twins and Moi

The two ladies from the SyFy channel, Jessica Merizan and Holly Conrad, were two of my favorites on the show and are partners in a business related to cosplay. Both were very friendly and I owe the both Holly and Jessica a bit thank you for telling me where to find British food in the country. Especially Heinz baked beans.

Both pairs of women were lovely to talk with and I was pleased to find that both Jessica and Holly had been reading my reviews of the show. Later on I would meet a very busy Chloe Dykstra at another convention who, while not quite so eager talk, did allow me to take a quick snap of her at the Star Trek Convention.

I met a number of well known folks at my first ever Comic Con and got pictures taken with as many as I could. Later I would learn that this was a unique opportunity. At year two of the Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con it was relatively easy to access the celebs. At the Star Trek convention I learned that interviewing the “stars” was pretty much verboten unless set up before hand. I did “luck out” and got to speak (illegally) to the late Richard Kiel, just a month before his death, and a number of other stars I have idolized since childhood.

Tony Todd is a brilliant chap who spent hours talking to me and was one of the most fun interviews I have ever done. He made me laugh so much that my cheeks hurt. This Horror genre icon has a tremendous sense of humor and really enjoys interacting with his fans. I even spent two seconds, well maybe a bit longer, with the wonderfully intimidating Peter Weller (the other baddie in the last Star Trek film in case you’re wondering).

Weller, whom I adore, was giving “private” autographs to fans who spent a pretty penny to get the opportunity. A minder stood outside the room where Peter was ensconced and I asked if he thought it was alright to take a picture from the hallway. He went in to ask and the great actor looked up and saw me hovering in the doorway. “RoboCop” motioned me to come forward.

“You realize,” he said, “that people are paying a lot of money for pictures and autographs, don’t you?” I replied that I was not a fan attending but a member of the press and only wanted a snap to pop on Instagram for our readers. He then smiled and said, “Sure.” I stepped back toward the doorway, as I really was not supposed to be in there, to take the photo and he stopped me. “Oh no,” he said, “Don’t take it from there, take it here. The light is much better.”

Peter Weller Star Trek Las Vegas Con
Peter Weller the light WAS better…

What a guy.

There were many stars and things were so hectic that I missed half of those I wanted pictures of and hoped to have a word with. On one evening while leaving the venue I bumped into Walter Koenig. He was dressed in a flat cap and long jacket. He walked feebly between two people who were apparently holding him up. I stopped and put my camera away. I told him that I admired his work and was so pleased to see him at the conference. He smiled and shook my hand and moved slowly away.

The next day he was onstage and there was nothing feeble about him. I realized that his two minders were part of his “act” and kept most fans at a distance. The night before only one other person recognized “Chekov” and if she had not spied him, I would have walked right on by.

Almost all of 2014 was full of meeting people I never dreamed of ever getting close enough to speak to. I met and interviewed Tommy DeVito from the iconic group The Four Seasons and on the same night got close enough to his best friend Joe Pesci to smell his cologne. The press were not allowed to speak with Joe or take his picture unless it could be done without bothering him. Short of stature both men might be but the aura they both put off was that bigger than life projection that only stars can manage.

I met many more, got pictures of a lot, selfies with some others, and spoke to more. The publication I worked for might not have been “the real deal” but it provided me a banner to work from and to fulfill part of a dream. I got to meet the rich and famous, and not so famous, speak with them and write about them.

This year I have faded back into the woodwork. Obscurity beckons as I wait, not so patiently, for decent Internet and the ability to write enough articles for a new site to make a little money. I still have the odd film to watch/review and the odd interview to schedule, but this is life in the slow lane and I’ve got to say, despite all the negative aspects of working in Vegas, I kinda miss it.

Hopefully, once things are sorted out, I’ll be back in the thick of it. Nervously interviewing those talented people who entertain or inform for a living by directing, acting, writing or a combination of the above. While I have not met a number of folks I’ve interviewed in person, I have spoken to some brilliant people: Stephen Bishop, Jordan Hayes, Tiny Lister, Terry Kiser, Dr. Cyril Wecht and a number of other folks who were great fun to meet “over the phone.”

James Darren Star Trek Las Vegas Con
James Darren another man who knew where the good lighting was!

I would like to do an Arnold Schwarzenegger and say firmly that I’ll be back, but I cannot do so with any degree of certainty. What I can say is that even with all the negative things that were going on in the company I was attached to for 18 months, I had one helluva good time and met some great people. For awhile there I was doing the dream job. It was nice while it lasted but sadly it was not the opportunity it was advertised to be.

Joys of Withdrawal in the Real Desert

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Screenshot
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

 

Keeping to the theme of writing about my new, temporary, abode in the great Southwest desert, or the “Real Desert” as I like to refer to it, I’m now dipping into the less fun aspects of my refuge from the criminal element of Las Vegas and the Internet. The above title is a bit of a misnomer, anyone who has gone through withdrawal knows that there are no joys involved.

Just a lot of suffering.

This is not a complaint, just a fact. While the discomfort is not fun, it is nothing compared to the original ailment that required the painkiller to be prescribed initially. Regardless of pain levels, as any addict will tell you, getting off any drug, or pharmaceutical medication, is damned hard. Even more so when the tapering off procedure is inadvertently bypassed  because you have run out of the substance  that has taken up residence in your system for far too long.

Years ago, when I was taking a plethora of pain medication for a back condition that was finally sorted out with surgery via the NHS, I became addicted to several medications. I was naive back then; despite reading about various celebs who were all “fessing up” to being hooked on prescribed medication, I thought that becoming addicted had to do with illegal substances like, crack, heroin and so on.

I soon found out that when the stuff the good doctor has shoved in your system, via pills and potions, runs out, addiction is not so close minded or choosy. Whether the drug of choice is cocaine or valium, or Tramadol (a man-made morphine substitute) or Percocet, when you run out or try to wean yourself off the bloody stuff, life becomes upsetting and pretty unpleasant.

My retreat into the joys of withdrawal in the real desert started with giving the wrong address to the VA, after inadvertently either suffering from numerical dyslexia or just “old man idiocy” I swapped out the last two numbers in the temporary PO Box number I now have. As a result, my pain meds, and more importantly, one of my heart medications was kept for four days at the local USPS and then returned to the sender. Through a series of misinformation and a non-caring Hitler-ish type woman who runs the local post office and a ticking clock, I have been without one of my heart meds for over two weeks and my pain meds have been drastically cut down from my usual 300 mg per day to nil.

Ironically, I went in the day before the meds arrived and asked about the medicine coming in and since I  could not open the post box, could they please check for the parcels. Firstly, she refused to look in the actual post office box and then she went back in the sorting area, stood in plain view of me and the rest of the customers looking blankly at the room behind the service desk and announced, “There’s nothing back here.”

I went back a couple of days later, when my medicine was there (according to the tracking numbers) and got the same song and dance, even after explaining about my getting the PO Box number wrong, so “please, can you actually look for the parcel.”  No dice,  the woman lied to me and did not care that my heart medication had run out. I’ll deal with that later, especially since the “big” USPS office told me that the packages should have been kept a week at a  minimum and not four days.

My heart meds came in today. My pain meds are yet to arrive, but hopefully will be here tomorrow. I’ve got to take my hat off to the beleaguered VA. I rang them yesterday, the first day after President’s Day and reminded them of my plight, the lovely lady I spoke to said she would pass the details of my dilemma onto the pharmacy, who by then had my “drugs” with them.

On a side note, as stated above,  my heart meds arrived this afternoon. They’d actually been posted on February 13, the day I first rang, quite panic stricken at my dilemma, before I rang yesterday to see if they were paying attention. Way to go guys!

While the heart pills are not helping me to cope with the Tramadol withdrawal, at least now I know that I can, if needs be, exist without the heart meds for a pretty extended period of time.

I have also learned that living in the real desert, with no car, a bike out of commission, and miles away from the nearest VA facility, or bloody town for that matter, is not the best of all situations. I am away from the greedy vampire that was and is GLV and now different problems are cropping up.

On the bright side, and there is one, the weather is warm and my feet and ankles, which were so swollen from the ride back on the bike with the flat tire, have deflated from their Bugs Bunny hugeness and I can again wear something on them besides flip-flops. They still feel swollen and uncomfortable so my six mile trudge to town will have to wait for one more day.

There are other stresses that I am ill equipped to deal with, but that will change. Once the joys of withdrawal in the real desert are overcome, this old man will once more be able to deal with things that, right now, are urging a temper tantrum that would make North West at her daddy’s concert look like a fan.

Hopefully, the muscle twitching, nausea,  headache, weakness, cold symptoms and inability to think along with the struggle to not turn into a homicidal, foul-mouthed, maniac will cease by tomorrow, or the day after (Please? Big Guy?). Oh and before you ask the question of why I haven’t just gone to the local quack and gotten a prescription, answer me this, how would I pay for the visit and the drugs? Even if the VA sign off on using a non VA treatment arena, it is still co-pay. While these folks, Veterans Administration,  only charge me afterward, the doctor’s office will not be so obliging, not to mention that the stuff  not provided by the VA is damned expensive.

In the meantime, I’ll say a big “Thank you,” to the Nevada VA;  you guys rock and give the USPS another nod of thanks, they called me today, not the Hitler lady who runs Quartzsite, but the bigger more professional postal people,  to confirm that the VA had my drugs. To the large lady who runs the local USPS, I give you fair warning, address me in that tone of voice again and you’ll be amazed to see that there is an old codger who can vault your service counter and kick some manners into you. I’ll even wait calmly for the police to arrest me, from what I’ve heard from other customers, no judge in the local area will convict me.

18 February, 2015

Macy’s Believe and Make-A-Wish Delivers for Las Vegas Teen

Macy’s Believe and Make-A-Wish Delivers for Las Vegas Teen

On December 12, Macy’s held its sixth annual Believe Day and the Make-A-Wish Foundation joined forces with the department store to deliver a wish to Las Vegas teen Caden Roberts at the Las Vegas Fashion Show Mall. The actual event took place between 7 and 8 a.m. before the Macy’s store opened and a large crowd of family, well wishers, Macy’s staff, press and Make-A-Wish representatives were there to support the teenager on his special day. Caden was not the only child to have a wish granted on Friday, over 50 children who have been diagnosed with terminal conditions also had wishes come true on the day.

Burt Reynolds Las Vegas Auction: Buying a Bit of Pop Culture

Burt Reynolds Las Vegas Auction: Buying a Bit of Pop Culture

Burt Reynolds fans are of a certain age, looking at the people browsing the pre auction opening of Reynolds memorabilia at the Brenden Palms Hotel and Casino proved that the demographic who are interested in buying a bit of a pop culture icon, and pretty prolific actor, are not part of the 18 – 49 preferred target group of the Hollywood machine. This 78 year old star, who had to wait until the 1998 film Boogie Nights to get an Oscar nomination, has been a presence in Hollywood and on the screens of the world, big and small, since 1958. It has been said of the Smokey and the Bandit star that he has had more failed television series than any other actor in Tinseltown and while that may, or may not be true, it is unarguable that few in that town have as many credits under their belt as Reynolds. The “Bandit” has 178 for acting alone.

Victoria’s Secret 2 Million Dollar Bras on Show in Las Vegas

Victoria’s Secret 2 Million Dollar Bras on Show in Las Vegas

Victoria’s Secret held their last sneak peak of the two $2 million bras at the Fashion Show Mall in downtown Las Vegas and while a cash amount could be placed on the brassieres, no dollar figure could be placed on the two models who presented the gemstone undergarments. Adriana Lima and Alessandra Ambrosio flew into Nevada to be a part of the last chance customers had to see the items live. In a few short weeks the two gorgeous Victoria’s Secret Angels will be wearing these “coveted” Fantasy Bras while strolling down the runway on December 2, 2014.