RIP Capozzoli’s

And now I see that Capozzoli’s Italian restaurant is a pile of ashes. What next? Komol? Lotus of Siam? The Mediterranean Café?

RIP Center Stage

The corporate Mob has carried out another hit, this one particularly brutal and personal.

Center Stage was a steak and seafood restaurant on the second floor of the Plaza hotel-casino that featured horseshoe-shaped booths, a glass dome and a shotgun-barrel view of the Fremont Street Experience. (You may remember it from Casino and other movies.) It was dark, dingy and strangely romantic. The food was good. The service was good. The prices were fair.

So it had to go. And it’s been replaced by a – blush, blush – sports bar. Christ. A keno lounge would’ve been more merciful. Or even slot machines.

The only good thing about Center Stage closing, as far as I’m concerned, is my last night at the restaurant was a memorable one. After my book-launch party June 1 at the Arts Factory, about 30 friends and family members got together there and drank and ate and talked. My mom and dad were there. My sisters and brother. My sister-in-law. Ingrid. Joey. Mark. And a whole lot of other folks I care about – a lot.

So, it sometimes seems, that’s all you can ask for in Las Vegas: When a person, place or thing leaves you, it leaves you with good memories.

Some post-signing thoughts

When signing at a bookstore, an author encounters three kinds of people: those who won’t even look at him, for fear of turning to stone; those who nod or quietly say hello; and those who actually approach the signing table and ask about the book. (This last group includes many fellow authors, who know the naked loneliness of the table.)

I made this observation at some point during my latest book signing, held Sept. 15 at the Henderson Barnes & Noble. It was quite interesting, actually, watching people stream into the store and seeing how they reacted to the author – wide-eyed and hopeful – stationed just off to the side. A lot of people stopped, which means I’m closer to perfecting my I’ll-jump-off-the-Stratosphere-if-you-don’t-buy-my-book look. And no one asked me where the restrooms are, which is also an improvement.

A few familiar faces came beaming through the double-doors: Linda Lera-Randle El, Angela, Jim, Randy Shelden, and Yolanda. (Thanks, y’all.) I made some new friends. And I had to fend off one or two crazies.

It’s all in a day’s work at a Las Vegas book signing.

My next book signing is Sept. 29 at Reno’s Sundance Bookstore. It’ll be interesting to compare a Reno signing to a Vegas signing … and to see who walks through the doors, what their body language is saying and how they react to the author at the table.

Book signing Saturday

If you live in the southeast valley, drop by the Henderson Barnes & Noble on Saturday, Sept. 15, and say hello. From 1 p.m. till around 3 p.m., I’ll be signing copies of Beneath the Neon at the bookstore, which is located at 567 N. Stephanie St. (between Sunset and Warm Springs roads). Second-print copies of the book, which are a little cleaner and leaner than the first, should be available.

See you Saturday!

A Majestic trip

I just returned from the South – Decatur and Atlanta, Ga., specifically – where I walked in the footsteps of my youth. I shopped in Little Five Points, spending some time in A Cappella Books. And I ate an early morning, bad-for-your-heart-but-good-for-your-soul breakfast at the Majestic.

I was in the area for the Decatur Book Festival, which ran from Aug. 31-Sept. 2. The festival was cool. I met a lot of authors, bought a lot of books and drank a lot of beer, which was much needed after several months of near-sobriety. The panel discussion went well, I think. To recap: I rambled about myself and my book; Karen Abbott rambled (most eloquently, I should note) about herself and her book, Sin in the Second City; and then we took questions from the audience.

There were two disappointments: Several people weren’t allowed into the venue, because of limited space; and the bookseller was only able to scrounge up 15 copies of the book, two of which came from my mom. If you weren’t allowed into the venue, I apologize (except to that fool Ned, who would’ve heckled me mercilessly). If you weren’t able to get a signed copy of the book, we can take care of that: Simply e-mail sales@huntingtonpress.com, let them know how many copies you want and the full names of the people you want them signed to. I’ll drop by the office and sign the books. Then they will be mailed to you, with no sales tax or shipping and handling fees.

OK. That’s all for now. Back to reality: work, promoting the book and trying to avoid that mean Mojave sun. He’s out there waiting for me, glaring down like a prison guard in a watchtower, making me miss the soft dew and cloud cover of the South all the more.

See you soon, Atlanta!

The Decatur Book Festival schedule is posted at www.decaturbookfestival.com. From 1:15-2 p.m. Sept. 2 at the City Hall stage (next to Eddie’s Attic), I’ll participate in a panel discussion with Sin in the Second City author and Atlanta resident Karen Abbott. The discussion, titled Chicago and Las Vegas from Below, will be moderated by Southern playwright and novelist Joshilyn Jackson. I’ll sign copies of my book immediately afterward.

I fly into Atlanta the morning of Aug. 29 and leave the night of Sept. 2. A nice long stay, with lots of free time (and very much needed, though the temperatures in Atlanta are rivaling Las Vegas). I’d like to catch up with everyone. So call me at my parents’ house, on my cell phone or drop by the festival and say hello.

See you soon!

B&N focuses on BTN

Quarterly, Barnes & Noble picks a book to focus on in each sales district. This quarter, which runs into November, the local district picked Beneath the Neon.

What does this mean? I don’t know exactly. But apparently, it means better placement in the four local Barnes & Noble stores and staff recommendations.

It also means if you’re looking for the book, B&N is the place to find it.

New sergeant in town

Independent American Party patriarch Christopher Hansen, dressed in an American flag shirt, working up a sweat talking about the Communist Manifesto and silver coins. Personal injury attorney Richard Harris telling me about his Ticket Busters business. PRmeister and b-baller George McCabe showing up with his little boy Casey.

Yes, my book signing Aug. 11 at Barnes & Noble had some highlights. There were also lowlights.

Some half-blind woman, mistaking me for a B&N employee, asking me where she could find the calendars. Ten-minute stretches of no one dropping by the table. Rereading my book for the millionth time. (Nice pictures, Danny!)

Indeed, four hours may be a bit long for a book signing. Another lesson learned.

Note to authors: If you want to do a book signing, you should contact Community Relations Manager Tracy Shouse at the West Charleston Barnes & Noble. She’s remarkably professional. Promotional posters and newsletters, great table placement and presentation, attentiveness to the author – Tracy does it all.

The slow moments on Saturday weren’t her or the bookstore’s fault.

Finally, congrats to cop-poet Harry Fagel. He showed up Saturday, flashing a new sergeant’s badge.

Now if we can just get him to run for sheriff.

R-J commentary

The Las Vegas Review-Journal published a commentary I wrote about flood season and life in the storm drains. Here’s the commentary, which is a combination of stuff from Beneath the Neon, the media materials and original writing:

It’s flood season in Las Vegas, the time of year when sidewalks become streams, streets rivers and intersections lakes.

Despite its aridity – only 4.5 inches of rain a year – Las Vegas has a long and ugly history of flooding. In July 1905, two months after the city was founded, a thunderstorm soaked the dirt roads and wooden storefronts and sprawling ranches. A series of floods swamped stores and homes, shorted out phone and power lines and shut down roads and railroads in the summer of 1955. And a July 1975 flood swept hundreds of cars from the parking lot of Caesars Palace, closed down a section of the Strip and claimed at least two lives.

Between 1982 and 2002, at least 19 lives were lost to floods in Las Vegas.

The city’s most destructive modern-day flood occurred in July 1999, when three inches of rain fell in an hour and a half. The Las Vegas and Clark County fire departments performed more than 200 swift-water rescues and the water caused $20 million in property damage. A week after the flood, President Clinton declared the county a disaster area.

An August 2003 flood crippled northwest Vegas, causing millions of dollars of damage.

But when the lightning flashes, the thunder volleys and the rain begins to fall this flood season, I won’t be thinking about street closures and property damage. I’ll be thinking about Lawrence, Eddie, Ernie, Mike, Harold, Gary and the hundreds of other people who live in the storm drains.
Armed with a flashlight, tape recorder and expandable baton for protection, I’ve been exploring the storm drains for more than five years. It all started in the summer of 2002, when I explored a handful of drains with freelance writer Joshua Ellis. It culminated in the summer of 2004, when I surveyed the system in full. It continues today, as I return to explore virgin tunnels and escort friends and journalists through the black maze.

In the system – an intricate web that spans from mountain range to mountain range – I’ve discovered art, architecture and wildlife (crawfish, mosquito fish, stray cats and dogs). I’ve discovered access to the hotel-casinos and airports. And I’ve discovered a bunch of weird miscellaneous items, including a bowling bowl, safe and burned-out car.

But the most surprising thing I’ve discovered in the storm drains are people.

Lawrence, a Vietnam vet with a harelip and lisp, lived in a wet drain south of the Tropicana hotel-casino. Supported by bungee cords and baling wire, his camp was suspended at least 3 feet above a stream of urban runoff. He told me he lived in the drain because he enjoyed his privacy.

A former jockey with ears as big as detention basins, Ernie lived in a 3-feet-in-diameter lateral pipe for 11 years. He slept in the midsection of the pipe and painted it beige, so he could detect black widows (which really give him the creeps). A piece of cardboard served as his mattress, a candle as his reading light. When I met him, he was washing a T-shirt in a stream of runoff.

Bob and Jona (pronounced John-a), married 17 years and hopelessly addicted to heroin, lived in an open-air channel near Tropicana and Eastern avenues in the saddest little home I’d seen in my life. A box spring served as the outside wall and a bedsheet, weighed down by books, as the roof. A piece of cardboard somehow pinned the sheet against the channel wall. Garbage bags bulging with food, clothing, books, toiletries and trash surrounded the hut, like rusted cars around a mobile home.

And there are many others. Teens, baby boomers and senior citizens. Poets, artists and madmen. Hustlers, whores and Vietnam vets. Most addicted to alcohol, drugs or gambling. Some dying of diseases, including cancer and AIDS. All in danger of getting washed away during the next flood.

One of the reasons I explored the storm drains was to draw attention to the plight of the people living in them and get them some help. I hoped Metro would sweep the drains. The city and county would make outreach workers available to the displaced. And they would be placed in hospitals, rehab centers, temporary or permanent housing, whatever’s appropriate.

But, of course, things are never that simple in Las Vegas. Metro barely has the staff to investigate murder cases thoroughly, so sweeping the storm drains isn’t a priority. The city and county don’t have enough outreach workers to handle the aboveground homeless – much less the additional 200 to 300 people in the drains. There’s a shortage of hospital, rehab center and shelter beds. Affordable housing? Maybe five years ago … in Pahrump, Mesquite or Laughlin.

Additionally, politicians and hotel-casino executives don’t seem to want to acknowledge the problem.

So when the lightning flashes, the thunder volleys and the rain begins to fall on Las Vegas, I’m going to have to settle for thinking about the people in the storm drains. And hope that eventually someone else will think about them, too.

Book signing

If you live on the west side – or you need to make a Whole Foods run – drop by the West Charleston Barnes & Noble and say hello. From 12 p.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 11, I’ll be signing copies of Beneath the Neon at the bookstore, which is located at 8915 W. Charleston Blvd. 12 p.m.-4 p.m. seems like a long time. But that’s what they suggested, so someone please bring me a snack. Also, don’t feel obligated to buy my book. Just do what Las Vegans do best: hang out and look pretty. Plus, if you’re one of the five people in the world who hasn’t bought Harry Potter and the Deathly Halitosis, you’ll most certainly want to do that.