On my long list of the last people I want to talk to over the telephone, receiving an unsolicited call from a telemarketer trying to pimp me “advance cremation arrangements” has to rank somewhere between the fake IRS agent with the indecipherable Nigerian accent threatening to imprison me, and a robocall from Republican Danny Tarkanian, who has lost eight straight political races in this state and runs for office every time there’s a full moon.
I don’t bother with answering the phone anymore. It’s always either an annoying salesman, a bill collector, or someone wanting something from me that I don’t have — like money. I don’t work a full-time job, so why bother reaching when the phone rings? Hell, even when I was working two jobs, I never answered the fucking phone. Hmm, maybe that’s why I don’t have a job anymore.
So last week, I opened up an envelope and there was a surprise inside. It was a check for $129.85. The check was made out to me, as in….
“Pay to: NOLAN DALLA….The sum of: ONE-HUNDRED TWENTY-NINE DOLLARS AND EIGHTY-FIVE CENTS.” Gee, I’m sure glad I didn’t toss that envelope without opening it. Usually, when mail comes and I don’t know where it’s from, I trash it — which may explain why the bill collectors phone so often.
The surprise check was a mystery. I didn’t understand why I was getting a payment for $129.85 from a company I’ve never heard of. Sometimes when you cash those things that come in the mail and don’t read the fine print, you later find out that you’ve just bought a timeshare. I did some deep investigating, which basically involved reading a letter tucked inside the envelope. The letter informed me this was a settlement from a class-action lawsuit. I guess my side won the legal case. Shit, I didn’t even get to testify. Please, put me on the witness stand. Surely, I can tearjerk them for at least another fifty.
Come to find out, some company that does cremations did something really, really bad, which is kinda’ twisted since their entire business model basically consists of baking dead people in a brick oven until they turn into jar of ashes. Apparently, some overly aggressive cremation telemarketers for a private entity called the Neptune Society [READ MORE HERE] violated the federal “Do Not Call” consumer protection act and agreed to pay out a $15 million settlement. My cut amounted to $129.85. Hell, I didn’t even know I was on the “Do Not Call” list. I don’t remember getting the phone call or filling out any paperwork.
No worries. I ran to the bank and cashed it immediately. The check cleared, which now means I get to keep my cable television package with HBO for at least another month.
Winning my class-action lawsuit got me to do some serious thinking. I even came up with an idea. Hopefully, some other cremators pitching their cremation stuff will give me a call at home. Hey, call me as often and as many times as possible. I’ll even pick up the phone. Football season’s right around the corner and I could sure use the money.
Every big city in America has its own peculiar set of rules for driving a car:
In Los Angeles — make sure each drive begins with a full tank of gas. You might need it. Sitting in traffic for hours with the engine idling away is a part of daily life.
In Philadephia — always keep one hand on the steering wheel, while maintaining the other hand in a locked position with the middle finger extended, fully prepared to engage any violators.
In Chicago — get bulletproof windows.
In Dallas — make sure your collision insurance is up-to-date.
In Miami-Ft. Lauderdale — prepare for a constant game of dodgeball, since half the population is over 85 and the rest are nuts.
In New York — don’t drive.
Las Vegas can be a really strange place, especially when it comes to driving.
Our auto insurance rates are among the highest in the nation. Driving on freeways here can be like racing in the Daytona 500. Everything is a competition. Cutting off someone is traffic is personal and demands revenge. Other cities with heavy traffic slow down when it’s bumper to bumper. In Las Vegas, we hit the gas. Flashing neon lights up and down the casino strip is a particularly bad influence on drivers; turn signals are used merely for ornamentation. When it rains, which is almost never, forget about it. You might as well pack up and leave town. When the roads are slick, everyone drives faster. It’s madness.
We do love to gamble. Especially behind the wheel.
For tourists who rent a car, local residents, or god forbid pedestrians and cyclists (how are you not in a coma?), what follows are some helpful hints enabling you to survive the unique Las Vegas driving experience.
A Dozen Rules for Driving in Las Vegas:
Rule #1: There are no rules.
That’s right. There are no rules for driving in Las Vegas. Well at least, no one pays attention to them. So, neither should you. Ignore traffic laws relating to speed limits, school zones, and areas under constructions (which basically applies to every expressway in the city). Do whatever you want.
Rule#2: Keep up with the flow of traffic.
If there’s a speed limit posted, add 20 mph to it. That’s the real speed limit. The 20 mph “over” rule especially applies to delivery trucks and city buses, which all drive batshit crazy. If you don’t drive at the common speed limit, you might get run off the road. So, keep up with the flow of traffic. Note: In Sun City Summerlin, which is a sprawling “over 55” community, reverse everything written above. Subtract 20 mph from the posted speed limits. Better yet, buy a golf cart.
Rule #3: It’s always rush hour.
In Las Vegas, there are no clocks in casinos. Moreover, there are no clocks on the roadways. Normal times of day don’t apply here. 9 to 5 isn’t the workday. It’s the odds on a craps table. This is a 24-hour city where anyone can order a steak, smoke a bowl, shoot up, or down half a dozen martinis — day and night. You might think it’s safe to drive the streets at 10 am. Not true. The morning drive means the graveyard shift got off work and already had three hours to party. Las Vegas’ rush hour is midnight until 11:59 at night.
Rule #4: Never brake on yellow.
Yellow traffic lights aren’t what they mean in other cities. Yellow does not mean — caution or slow down. In Las Vegas, yellow means — pound the gas pedal. Braking on yellow in this city can get you rear-ended, assaulted, or perhaps even shot.
Rule #5: A green light does not mean “go.”
Green lights at traffic intersections do not mean “go.” In Las Vegas, a green light means “proceed with extreme caution.” When stopped at a traffic light, upon seeing evidence of a green light, wait at least five full seconds before accelerating. Allow several vehicles caught in cross traffic to race through the intersection as the light changes from yellow to red. Otherwise, you’ll probably get sideswiped by an uninsured driver with expired out-of-state plates.
Rule #6: Handicapped parking spaces are for handicappers.
All the casinos have plenty of handicapped parking spaces. Most of them are empty. This is most convenient for sports gamblers caught in a time crunch. Why risk missing the tip-off when a handicapped parking space is just a few steps away from the race and sportsbook betting window, and the game starts in 3 minutes? The chances of a disabled person needing the space are small, anyway. In Las Vegas, handicapped parking applies to both “the handicapped” and “handicappers.”
Rule #7: What to do if your car breaks down.
If your vehicle breaks down for any reason, remove it from the roadway, immediately. Otherwise, a car thief will come along and remove it for you. Also — don’t even think of changing a flat tire on your own. You will be run over and end up in a coma.
Rule #8: Learn the local language.
In Las Vegas, the three most common ways to communicate are as follows —  English,  Spanish, and  Texting While Driving. If exceeding 80 mph, the ten-second rule on replying to phone text messages does not apply. Do not text while driving more than 25 mph above the speed limit. That’s what school zones are for.
Rule #9: Learn how to properly use the horn.
Sometimes, honking the car horn may be necessary when driving in Las Vegas traffic. However, one must also practice the proper discretion. So, it’s best to follow the local customs. Your car horn has a clear purpose and it is to be used — as a weapon.
Rule #10: Always be prepared for the danger of a traffic stop.
Take extra special care when being pulled over by the police during a traffic stop. Making a mistake can be very costly. Here’s some advice: A personal flask is much easier to hide under the front seat than either a beer can or a beer bottle, especially if the beverage is full. No one wants to spill good liquor just because a tail light is out and you get pulled over. So, prepare accordingly.
Rule #11: Weaponize your car stereo sound speakers.
Young people in Las Vegas enjoy blasting their shitty music. Worse, they make sure everyone else can hear it. At busy intersections with extra-long red lights, be prepared for rap lyrics loud enough to sound like you’re chained next to the speakers at a DMX concert. The optimal countermeasure to this auditory pollution is establishing a good defense, a.k.a. “amping up,” sort of like how nations stockpile nukes. When confronted with booming rap music at a traffic light, put on your favorite music, roll down the car windows, crank up the volume, and blast the fuck away.
Rule #12: Learn what the road signs really mean.
In Las Vegas, traffic signs are meant as suggestions. Sort of like your waiter reciting the nightly dinner specials. No one pays attention. Everyone will do their own thing. Here’s the real road sign menu, with descriptions:
STOP = Slow down.
YIELD = Accelerate to beat other cars into the traffic circle.
DO NOT ENTER = Be sure no one is approaching, then proceed.
NO PARKING = Free parking.
DUCK CROSSING = 1 duck – 1 point; 2 ducks – 2 points; 3 ducks – 3 points; 4 ducks – we don’t believe it….post video on YouTube.
ROAD WORK AHEAD = Speed up now to make up for lost time.
MERGING TRAFFIC = Ride the tail of the car in front so no one can cut in.
SCHOOL ZONE = Check your text messages.
Finally, thinking of renting a car? Here’s a one-word suggestion, instead: Uber.
Talkers vs. Texters: What’s the Social Protocol Inside Cafes and Coffee Shops?
Last time I went to a Starbucks, I got shushed.
As in “Shhhh….be quiet.”
The shusher wasn’t out of line. I was talking to a friend, probably too loudly. That’s been a problem for years. I’m still working on it. I’m really trying to be more courteous to others, even to people I don’t give a damn about and will never see again.
So, our chatter may have been annoying to some strangers. But that’s because no one else in the place was talking. Everybody was looking down at their smartphone or pecking away on a laptop. So, our conversation echoed. Sort of like talking inside a cave. They can hear you from 100 feet away. Every word could be heard (including all the cursing, I suppose). In a bar, no one would have even noticed it. This justifies me spending a lot more time inside bars than cafes.
The encounter got to me to thinking about the ways electronic devices have come to dominate our lives at the expense of normal activities. Laptops, tablets, and smartphones aren’t merely conveniences anymore. They’ve become extensions of our personalities and for some — an identity. In public places such as coffee cafes, which were once bustling crossroads of human interaction, routine conversation has been stifled by the reticent language of social media. For some, Starbucks is the new library. For others, it’s an office.
Inside just about any Starbucks or coffee chain, people have become absorbed by a whole new dimension — cyberspace. No one talks anymore, except at the counter when it’s time to order. These millions of androids sipping their lattes aren’t anti-social. To the contrary. They’re often quite engaged in lively online chat and exchanging texts, or reading Twitter or posting on Facebook. They are very much connected to other people — perhaps many people at once, from different parts of the country and all over the world.
Still, critics are surfacing. Social media has become a popular punching bag because it has fundamentally changed who we are and how we act, and not always for the better. Those who spend many hours posting or exchanging thoughts each day increasingly face derision from non-social media followers. Sometimes, deservedly so. Certainly, if you’re no longer bathing yourself or feeding the baby, maybe you’re spending too much time online.
A recent article in The New York Times [“Cafes face dilemma when laptops, silence take over”] framed this new debate about social protocol in cafes and coffee shops. Some owners and managers are becoming increasingly perturbed by squatters. Customers come in, buy one cup of coffee, and then camp for hours.
“Three hours for one $5 cup of coffee is not a business model that works,” one cafe owner complained in the article.
He’s right. Who among us hasn’t abused the privilege of hogging space that either we’re renting or doesn’t belong to us?
Still, Starbucks seems to be doing more than okay with 11,039 stores inside the United States and 26,792 worldwide. That doesn’t count even the number of Coffee Beans and other similar chains, nor privately-owned coffee shops and cafes which have put a coffee joint on every corner. Clearly, there’s lots of coffee drinking happening, but also far less talking.
Fact is, most of us would much rather read and peck at smartphones at our leisure than engage in the captive prison camp of being one-on-one with someone who might be detestable, or far worse — boring.
Unfortunately, some otherwise smart people don’t understand this at all. The same cafe owner quoted in The New York Times article who lamented the proliferation of squatters announced his business would no longer allow laptops inside nor even let customers wear earphones. He wants people to start “talking to each other.”
Oh, my God. Have a conversation? Talk to a real person?
Sounds like a nightmare.
Frankly, I kinda’ like my private isolation chamber. I can turn on, tune in, or drop out anytime I want — a practitioner of the Timothy Leary philosophy, 24/7. I can ignore those I don’t like, nor respect. I can bark. I can bite. I can listen to my music while I’m arguing in favor of gun control (Five Finger Death Punch is a particularly nice serenade). I can pretty much do anything or go anywhere or engage with anyone I wish. It’s paradise!
Contrast this with the imaginary alternative — those crusty online trolls sitting next to you at the coffee shop. Imagine having those you see each day on social media instead at the next table spewing their nonsense. Hey, would you rather argue with Larry Greenfield online on your own terms, or have him sitting next to you preaching the economics of Milton Friedman?
Good fucking Christ man, I’ll take my Larry Greenfield online, preferably in small doses and with an alcoholic beverage in hand, thank you very much. [SEE FOOTNOTE]
Think about it. Would you rather talk to the people you see online in person, or engage them at an arm’s distance on your own terms? The answer seems rather obvious. How many online posters and conspiracy trolls could you bear to spend more than 15 minutes with and not want to storm out screaming? Hell, I don’t even want to spend 15 minutes with the people I like. The internet is the perfect firewall.
Sure, some people bitch and moan that a cup of coffee costs five bucks. Truth is, given what we are getting in return, including maintaining our sanity, that $5 latte your sipping for three hours is a steal.
Now, leave me alone.
FOOTNOTE: I’m having some wicked fun here at Larry Greenfield’s expense. In reality, Larry is a dear friend who I have dined with and argued with many times, always respectfully.
Much of my life has been dedicated to selfish pursuits.
Gambling. Making money. Pursuing opportunity. Drinking fine wine. Enjoying leisure.
I don’t like to admit this, but it’s true.
Age and wisdom aren’t necessarily linked. There are no guarantees that as one gets further from the beginning and closer to the end some great enlightenment awaits us with open arms. But I do believe compassion is an evolutionary by-product of getting older.
I was lucky to marry someone better than myself 26 years ago. She made me do things I initially didn’t want to do and didn’t like to do. Over time, I came to not only appreciate these forced distractions. I began to value them as an absolute necessity.
Charity isn’t something I’ve written much about. I don’t believe giving of either one’s time or money should be publicized by those who do good deeds. Calling attention to oneself for volunteering or making a donation strikes me as a tainted benevolence. Yes, it’s a good thing. But the motives are suspect. I realize not everyone will agree with me and that spotlighting acts of kindness can promote even more giving. I totally get that.
With that disclaimer, I’ll share two deeds with you now — one big and one small.
The bigger act of charity was entirely Marieta’s idea. It was an accident, really. I can’t elaborate too much on the particulars because there are some risks. If too many details were divulged on social media, I could kill the golden goose of charity. So, I will be intentionally vague for reasons hopefully understood.
Last week, Marieta and I delivered our 150th shipment of produce (fruits and vegetables) to those less fortunate here in Las Vegas. Sometime in 2012, Marieta established a connection with a supplier who was about to throw out boxes filled with “old” food — like carrots, corn, potatoes, celery, etc. — which were about to expire. By law, they had to trash the stuff before its expiration dates. Rather than toss away perfectly healthy food, Marieta went out of her way to establish a network of contacts which got the fruits and vegetables to a countless number of needy families, including a local shelter. About once a week, we deliver 6-10 boxes to various people who do good work for hungry people. Sometimes, the people come to our house and pick the boxes up after Marieta has gathered them. This isn’t a sacrifice for me. Marieta does all the work.
Before anyone accuses me of false modesty, let me make it clear my generosity has its limitations. A few years ago, I wrote about my dear friends Linda Johnson and Jan Fisher and the sacrifices they make during the holidays. Every Christmas morning, going back many consecutive years, Linda and Jan drive downtown and set up a table where they give away boxes of clothing to homeless people. They arrive at 6 am. This past Christmas, it was 34 degrees outside at that hour. My reaction is — I love Linda and Jan and love what they do. But I’d rather be at home in a warm bed. Call me a dog.
I tell this story about giving away the boxes of food because it happened entirely by accident. We didn’t wake up one day and decide to start helping people. It kinda’ just happened.
Here’s a picture of the back of the car I took some time ago which shows the typical “shipment.”
The smaller act of charity was also an accident. Here’s what happened.
I woke up yesterday morning and was greeted by one of those annoying pop ups on Facebook which asked me if I wanted to set up something called a “birthday fundraiser.”
I almost deleted this on the spot but then got to thinking. Birthdays don’t thrill me (not with #56 approaching). I don’t send birthday greetings to anyone. It’s just another day to me. I don’t care.
However, every February 6th — I receive hundreds of birthday wishes, all by friends and family and associates who mean well. I do appreciate these kind thoughts. I really do. I just don’t fancy the ritual and routine of it all. If I could delete this invasion of privacy, I probably would.
So, I decided to use the Facebook prompt and set up a “fundraiser.” I presumed that in lieu of the usual birthday balloons which kinda’ scream — “hey, look at me!” — instead all that attention would go to the charity I picked.
I’m a cynic. I’ve bashed countless “charities.” I am suspicious by nature. But another accident happened to me about 15 years ago while I was working a major poker event in Tunica, near Memphis. I got to visit the local St. Jude Children’s Hospital. That was a life changing experience that brings a tear to my eye as I write this sentence constructed upon that faint memory of a cold January 2001 day. I learned that everything at St. Jude is free. The children are given every available treatment. The families are even housed free of charge. Meals are provided. This was the charity founded by the great entertainer Danny Thomas, now chaired by his daughter, Marlo Thomas (best known as “That Girl!”). I don’t believe in god. I don’t believe in saints. But I believe St. Jude does god-like miracles for people who could sure use a miracle.
That’s why I picked St. Jude. [Note: Contrary to its name and the late Danny Thomas’ strong Catholic faith, St. Jude is not affiliated with any religious organization.]
So, I hit the “approve” button and expected the post to appear on February 6th.
Well, of course it hit the page instantly.
Annoyed by this, I tried to go back and delete it. How ridiculous this all seemed. Me posting a request for money nearly two weeks before my birthday. I was mad, actually.
Then, before I could delete the page, I noticed someone had already hit the link and sent in $20. John W. L. Berry might not know it, but his quick reflexes was another “accident” of good fortune. Oh well, cat’s out of the bag. They are already donating. What have I done?
I set the fundraising bar modestly low. Not wanting to making some major campaign out of this, I figured a couple of hundred dollars would be a nice nest egg of a donation — each and every penny going straight to St. Jude. Well, it’s been 24 hours now, and so far 14 nice people have made a donation. Here’s the very thoughtful people who sent a donation in to St. Jude:
Earl Burton, Ken Kubey, Marissa Chien, Larry Greenfield, Tom Booker, Michael Hunter, Matthew Moring, John W.L. Berry, John Butremovic, Bruce Frank, Dave Tuley, Jennifer Winter, Brad Willis, and Ross Poppel
The $200 fundraising goal was obliterated within the first hour. Now, another 11 days remain to raise a few extra dollars. Every little bit counts. See the link to the “accidental” Facebook page below.
This all got me to thinking about what the sum of $200 raised means to just one family at St. Jude. It likely means housing and feeding them for a day, with a little left over to spare. Just a day. It’s small. But’s it big.
Sure, we need more big acts of charity. But we also need small acts of charity, which are easier and can be done with little or no sacrifice. A parting thought — if there are enough small acts, it can even become a big act.
Here’s a link to the the accidental Facebook page I created should you wish to give a small donation to this wonderful charity that helps so many children and their families. CLICK HERE
‘Tis the Season to be Folly: Christmas Cards for Grinches
Earlier this week, we received our first Christmas card of the holiday season.
We get lots of cards every year because we’re lucky to know so many friends and insurance agents. Nothing tingles me with Christmas cheer more than opening a card heralding “Peace on Earth” while soliciting an appointment to update my life insurance policy.
On the bright side, in another card that arrived this week — I got a 20-percent off coupon to change the oil on the Volvo, which was supposed to be done 8,000 miles ago.
Since this is the season for giving, allow me to me strike a preemptive bell and express my most sincere gratitude to all who will send a Christmas card this year, or as the politically correct would say — a “Holiday Card.”
It might surprise many to know that I celebrate the Christmas season with joy. Mid-December means the playoffs are about to begin. I love opening up presents, everything except for the stale cheeseball from the Omaha Steaks catalog someone in my family sends every year that hits the trash can the instant I open the box. Gee, I sure wish Aunt Rosemary would send that fucking cheeseball just one week earlier. That way I could re-gift it to someone I can’t stand.
See, I do understand the true meaning of Christmas.
What follows is my “Ten Commandments” for those who partake in the annual tradition of sending me a Christmas card. Following these rules will greatly enhance my enjoyment of the holiday season. So, please read, take notes, and follow carefully:
 Mail your Christmas cards ON TIME — Try and get your cards to me by mid-December, if possible. If it’s not in my mailbox by around December 15th, chances are the card will end up buried in a pile of unopened junk mail, lost in a blizzard of overdue notices from bill collectors threatening legal action. I want to enjoy your card (especially if there’s a gift). So, snap into shape and get it to me on time!
 Flag your Christmas card if it contains CASH — If you’ve placed currency inside, please write a huge dollar sign ($) on the outside of the envelope so I can flag it, open it up, and use the money immediately. Note that these coveted cards receive a top priority. So, if you really want to make a positive impression and show your love, cash in strongly encouraged. I also accept checks.
 Send me a gift certificate I CAN USE — If you buy me a gift certificate, make damn certain it’s for somewhere I shop. Bookstores are good. Liquor stores are even better. A debit Visa card with a generous credit line works best. I also accept department store gift certificates (anything Macy’s-grade, or above). But remember — nothing says “Happy Holidays” with more sincerity and more love than cash.
 Religious cards ARE permissible — I promise to display your godly card prominently above my fireplace, provided your tithing of spirit is accompanied by an offering. Read your scripture. ‘Tis better to give than to receive. Please give. Generously. Jesus will reward you.
 ELVES are creepy — Anything with an elf on it gets trashed, that is — after I pilfer the inside of the envelope for money, first. I don’t do elves or munchkins or other cutesy freaky bullshit like that. Elves have no business on my mantel next to the Baby Jesus or Rudolf the Rednosed Reindeer cards. That’s sacrilegious.
 Be SURE to include your return address — That way, if I’m really impressed with your offering, I can rush out to a Dollar Store and quickly buy you something that looks like a lot of forethought went into the purchase. But don’t expect me to mail it from the Post Office. I don’t like to stand in long lines. I’ll hold your gift until the next time I see you in Las Vegas. That’s okay, right? On second thought, skip your return address. That gives me a convenient excuse.
 Foreigners hold a SPECIAL place in my heart — If you’re from a foreign country, I really appreciate your Christmas card, which probably cost another 35-cents to mail across the ocean. Wow, what a sacrifice. However, please note that there’s some reciprocal chance the card I sent you crisscrossed in the mail and accidentally got “lost.” Getting jacked for extra postage is one thing. But I’m sure as shit on snow not standing in a long line at the Post Office to mail a letter to Romania. Remember, you’re in my thoughts. That’s what really counts.
 I don’t want to read your LIFE STORY — Some of you will send me one of those nice notes, a snoozefest recap of what you’ve been doing over the past year. How nice. But stick to the highlights, okay? I can’t wade the second paragraph without balling my eyes out when I read your dog died last March. Spare me, please. If you climbed Mount Everest, walked on the Moon, won an Oscar, or hit the Powerball Jackpot — pray do tell me about it. This is especially true if you’re a distant relative, in which case I really have been really meaning to call you all these decades years. If you’re suddenly rich, nevermind the holiday season — I really would like to talk to you as soon as possible. In fact, it’s urgent.
 Make sure I can READ your handwriting — Don’t bother writing anything personal other than signing your name. That’s because most of the time I can’t read your handwriting anyways. As far as I’m concerned, the hacks who write the nice sayings printed inside Hallmark Cards are the professionals. So, leave it up to them. I’m sure the contract temp with no health benefits shackled to the drudgery of working inside a cubicle in a suburban Kansas City industrial park knows precisely what’s on your mind when he creates that catchy epistle about “world peace.” Call me a cynic, but I can’t even get peace in my own family.
 If you receive a card from me, expect it will arrive well AFTER Christmas Day — I’m a very thoughtful person. I figure that if I send out my cards out in time, they will be forgotten amidst all the other cards you receive. I want to truly stand out. I want to make an impression. So, mine will arrive late, as a surprise. Like an encore at a show. Besides, all the boxes of Christmas cards are 50 percent off after December 25th.
Happy holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Power to the People, Give Peace and Chance, and Happy New Year!