A match made in the heavens and a love for all the ages: Why Madelyn Nguyen’s always gonna win.

Madelyn Nguyen sat very still for a long time, a finger by her mouth, her eyes aimed nowhere, lost in thought. She said, “It sounds kind of like the neutron stars.” Forty-five months old.

A Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie story

Thursday, October 19, 2017

“Tell me a story,” the little girlchild said.

Her name is Madelyn Nguyen, and she can have anything she wants from me.

But I’ll tell you a story, instead, the story of Madelyn Nguyen’s stellar origins – and how they foretell her perfect destiny: Madelyn Nguyen’s always gonna win.

I have faith in nothing men swear faith to, and yet I believe beyond every doubt in this simple proposition: Madelyn Nguyen is always going to win.

I’ve felt that way since I met her, six months ago. She was just thirty-nine months old then, with her nose and my knee about the same distance from the floor. How she got the name Madelyn I don’t know, but she’s as Viet as Viet kids get: Golden skin and dark, penetrating eyes and enough rich, black hair, that, had it been distributed more equally, every bald-headed baby in the mall could start to look halfway human.

And she was awake then, too, already – the youngest all-the-way-self-aware child I’ve ever met. She was with her cousin – a year older than her, but you’d never guess it except by his size. It wasn’t so much that she was bossy but that she was clueful and he was simply rueful: She knew what she wanted, and he knew he didn’t want to fall too embarrassingly far behind.

They were with their parents, of course, two very loving, very involved, very indulgent Viet couples, but it was Madelyn Nguyen who led the troupe to my world, the Choo Choo Train kiosk at the Arrowhead Mall in suburban Phoenix, and it was Madelyn Nguyen who negotiated our transactions – everything but the credit card.

She took care about it, though. She walked all around the kiosk, lost in absent-minded concentration as she took everything in: The train, me in my Loco Willie outfit, all the candy and merchandise in the glass case (more…)

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Humanizing the Harvey Weinstein saga, thus to find redemption – and #MyKindOfBenedy – everywhere.

There but for the grace of fortune go you.

The headline isn’t even a challenge: I did it Saturday. I left most of the work on Harvey’s desk, but I showed you how the man can still be lovable and human, despite his current shame and his past shamefulness.

That matters, I think, because that kind of instant universal ostracism can happen to anyone. There could not be a better time to distinguish storgic love – the enduring love of families – from the other kinds.

And that much is me playing #MyKindOfBenedy games: Deploying the tools of satire to make farce, instead. Especially family farces. Especially family farces that defy common expectations of family.

I like those kinds of stories for two reasons: Second, I want to help build an Island of Less-Broken Toys – not alone because this is the only way back to better, stronger families. But first, I just like the idea of stripping away the romantic and erotic love from families, so we can see how storgic love actually works.

Regarding the massively-reviled Harvey Weinstein, I wrote this on Facebook:

I can give you three movies:

1. Grandpa’s redemption.

2. A farce about a lummox who lucks his way into catastrophe – very much the actual news, I think by now.

3. A Sophoclean war of rivalrous brother-kings.

I wrote a piece of the first one, but the full story would be charming – revisiting “Regarding Henry.”

The second one suggests a sort of John Candy vehicle – and obviously the outrages have to be a lot less outrageous.

The third one is most interesting as story – Menelaus and Agamemnon turn on each other – but that’s not something I would want to write.

But the second and third stories could be combined into a Toby Belch/Andrew Aguecheek kind of farce: A war of ineptitudes. From Laurel and Hardy to Abbott and Costello, that comic match-up works.

There are two points for me – here and everywhere:

First, everything can be made into a #MyKindOfBenedy story if you quarry for the humanity of the people involved.

And second, there but for the grace of fortune go you.

Few (more…)

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Driving the conversation: Here’s to better days for The Movie Mogul.

“Here’s to better days! All aboard!”

A Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie story

Saturday, October 14, 2017

“Here’s to better days.” I said that to The Movie Mogul. It seemed like the thing to do.

He was shocked, to say the truth. It wasn’t the startle reaction of interrupted thoughts, and I was sure he hadn’t recognized me. I think he was just surprised to hear words unladen with scorn.

He said, “Yeah, well, what are you going to do?” That’s Jewish – Yiddish? there is no name for this language – so you have to work it a little. The question itself means nothing. It’s a decoy phrase that actually means “What’s the use?” But the expression also implies a desire to change the subject – or to shut down the conversation entirely.

Like that would happen.

He was sitting in the little alcove behind the Choo Choo Train kiosk at The Arrowhead Mall in suburban Phoenix. I call it The Scroungy Lounge of Depressing Browns – brown carpet, brown loungers, brown tables – but mall management hasn’t come to me for signage suggestions.

And The Movie Mogul completely overwhelmed the space. He’s a big guy to begin with, and he has grown in time to become a man of appetites. He was wearing a pricey sweatsuit ensemble, but this distinguished him in no way from the other monied middle-aged men at the mall: How will people know how rich you are if you don’t overspend for overpriced misplaced pajamas? Anyway, if you didn’t know who he is, you’d never it guess it by looking at him, but that’s true wherever he is – except in his office or on a red carpet somewhere.

He’d been hanging around the mall for quite a while. I had seen him wolfing down a bagel at Chompie’s Deli when I came in at 10, and he had been stalking all around the place since then – typically-busy guy impatiently killing time. It was when he sat down behind my kiosk – huffing a little from his exertions – that I took my chance to speak up.

“What are you going to (more…)

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Las Vegas redeems who? Meet Pastor Trey Coyle, televangelism’s only nerd bible-thumper.

Flip around the TV dial. Early morning, Sunday morning, your local religious-broadcasting affiliate, cable channels. Try to find another nerd televangelist. There are nerd Baptists and nerd Catholics, sitting behind desks and reading from books. But a nerd bible-thumper is a contradiction in terms.Photo by: Josué Goge

“Las Vegas Redemption” ain’t easy. It starts with a chase scene: A pitiful old man being pursued by the world’s best-known bible-thumper, Cornelius Tecumseh Coyle III – TV’s Pastor Trey Coyle:

“There’s no delicate way to say this, so I’ll just come out with it: What brings you to Vegas?”

He took his time with that question. The man is no fool. He goes out of his way to look dumb on TV, but that’s just country-dumb – aw-shucks, just-folks, a simple creed for a simple man, y’all.

His show is “Trey Coyle’s Redemption,” if you haven’t seen it. He’s a third generation revivalist – tent-show Carneys made good – but his theology, to the extent there is any, amounts to a sort of confectionery Calvinism: If god doesn’t love you, why did he make you so rich?

And he might seem to be the worst possible messenger for that notion – but instead he’s the best.

Trey Coyle is a first class nerd, which should disqualify him entirely as a TV evangelist. He’s tall and thin with a long, lean face, and he has the nervous mannerisms nerds bring to everything – the sort of ground state habituated fear that suggests that gravity itself might fail were it not for their constant oversight.

His grandpappy was Cornelius Tecumseh Coyle, this because his real name – Charlie Coyle – was too well known in the taprooms of Philadelphia. Standing on the roof of his old Ford Woody with an amplifier plugged into the cigar lighter, the O.G. Pastor Coyle thundered his way down to Harris County, Texas – that’s Houston to you.

And say what you want about revival preachers, Coyle the eldest was a hard-working dog. He worked his way up through tent-shows and ‘special-guest’ church appearances, eventually setting himself up with a small church and (more…)

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A Las Vegas redemption? See it when TV’s Pastor Trey Coyle takes on Sarno’s Ghost – at Caesars Palace!

“Is there anything else people can do at casinos – besides, you know, winning?”

I was working on a farce set in Las Vegas when the town got shot up. It’s a Willie story, a #MyKindOfBenedy called “Las Vegas Redemption: Pastor Trey Coyle and the reincarnation of Sarno’s Ghost.” It publishes today as a Kindle book, an hour-long read. Writing it was a tonic for me, and I hope reading it is for you, as well.

Here’s the promo copy from Amazon:

Want to get back to Las Vegas when it was FUN? Pastor Trey Coyle has father issues – while Sarno’s Ghost, his partner-in-Sin-City-slapstick, just has issues…

The trick to being a trickster is not trickiness, it’s persistence. You’ll never get a better laugh than the one you reap from simply tickling someone who trusts you. What’s the secret sauce? The indescribably-delicious comedy magic? Keep tickling.

“So I race in the back of this casino, and there’s your friend, and he’s on his knees and I swear the man is praying to these giant statues of… I don’t know what to call them… The Pride of Lubbock, maybe.”

I grinned. There ain’t no snob like an East Texas snob. “You were at Harrah’s – and, yeah, I think Sarno’s Ghost was playing with you. The gods of his idolatry are Buck and Winnie Greenback, and their little dog Chip.”

It’s a gorgeous piece of statuary, for what that’s worth, public art expressing this subliminal marketing message, in its abbreviated form: “And the horse you rode in on, Jasper!”

Buck and Winnie are dripping with money, first because that’s just what happens when you come to Vegas, and second because, “Who the hell are you to call me gauche?” Buck is settled, satisfied with his spending displays, but Winnie is just about to ask an I-hate-to-be-a-bother question: “Is there anything else people can do at casinos – besides, you know, winning?”

The simple, subtle message? Throwing away your earnings at Harrah’s is the perfect revenge to take on all those snooty know-it-alls in your life. The casino takes your money as your ransom on your own (more…)

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The practical ontology of mourning undead poets: Which Tom Petty song sings loudest from you?

“Don’t let it kill you, baby.Don’t let it get to you.Don’t let it kill you, baby.Don’t let it get to you.I’ll be your bleedin’ heart.I’ll be your cryin’ fool.Don’t let this go too far.Don’t let it get to you…”Photo by: Takahiro Kyono

I got Vegas out of my head yesterday, which is helpful, because right now I need to see Las Vegas as it was in 2013. But meanwhile, I want to say goodbye properly to Tom Petty.

How? With a game, of course:

The practical ontology of Tom Petty.

You can play along if you like. The game is simple: The Tom Petty song that matters to you most is the one you have sung the most. Not listened to. Not rhapsodized to others. The song you have actually sung the most times – along with the radio, in the shower, all alone with your best-beloved. Which one won’t your heart keep quiet about? That’s the one that matters.

This is it for me, “The Waiting.” It’s an endless shaling for the full-on storgic love of a fulfilled family life, and I love every piece of that. Big blue balls, like all good rock ’n’ roll, but it’s love, marriage, family and hanging-in-there, all of that – good love for a good father.

And that’s the way I love it: I sang it every night as a lullaby to my children. I still sing it that way, when I am lucky enough to have a snoozy kid in my arms. I sing it to Cathleen, too, because The Waiting’s balls are even bluer than Pretty-Pretty-Pretty-Pretty-Peggy-Sue’s, but it’s always been a song about the whole family for me, not just the baby-making business.

So that’s mine. You have to figure out what’s yours. You don’t have to tell me, if you don’t want to, and you cannot hope to hide yourself once you have revealed what your ever-secreted self can’t shut up about.

But it pays you to answer the question, anyway: Which Tom Petty song sings loudest from you? Work out that simple little bit of practical ontology and you will have learned something (more…)

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#LasVegasShooting: Looking for the backstory behind the Massacre at Mandalay Bay.

So here’s a theory of the crime for Sunday night’s Massacre at Mandalay Bay. No, that’s over-stating things. What I have is less a theory than a backstory, a way of explaining how this could have happened.

This is all strictly conjecture, but I thought Video Poker might be the problem from the first.

A ‘Local’ in Nevada is someone whose gambling addiction is daily and constant, not simply periodic and episodic.

Are there non-gamblers in Nevada? Plenty, including the world’s third biggest supply of Mormons.

Do (non-Mormon) non-gamblers move to Nevada by choice? Not so much. When people move to Nevada by choice – not in the military, not for a job, but as a freely-chosen relocation – it’s likely they are doing so for Nevada-ish reasons.

At a minimum they may be genial Georges, people who get a kick out of paying better for better service. Georges are lonely, and it is often the case that the people they are essentially paying for companionship are the only semblance of family they have left.

Yes, that is de facto prostitution, but you don’t have to go to Nevada to find it. Every waitress with a cadre of daily regulars is banking on her smile – and making the world richer for it.

Georges gamble, too, of course, but their prize is the companionship, not the gambling. Most of the people who move to Nevada by choice are true Locals – people who were already coming to gamble a lot and who relocated so they might gamble at will.

And the game of games for Locals is Video Poker. It’s the game all the toothless addicts out in the Vegas Valley cadge quarters for, and it’s the game that solitary Georges deploy at any stakes – anywhere – to stave off the boredom of dissipation.

All gambling is negative-expectation: In the long run, your net return-on-investment will always be lower than your initial investment. The ‘hold’ – the negative interest rate, as it were – can be small or large, but this loop, illustrating a 3% hold without all the hoopla

while (MyBankroll * .97);

terminates when MyBankroll equals zero – which (more…)

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