I got paroled from the Hotel California 50 years ago this Saturday. It was kinda ordained in the stars if not myself.
My erstwhile fiancé took me to a lecture at a little church near Fresno State in late 1968. The speaker was a tall, silver-haired educator, elegant in a full length sweater dress.
She spoke of electric auras, astral projections and all things spiritual that the 1960s counterculture made mainstream. Today, you would recognize it as basically Buddhism. She passed around a collection basket not for money but for “any metallic object that has been close to you and no one else.”
I put in the St. Christopher medal my mother had given me.
Holding the items to her solar plexus one at a time, the elegant doctor accurately told people things about themselves.
When she got to mine, she held it up and said “this appears to be a round amulet of some sort. Whose is this?” (She never said “St. Christopher medal.”)
I raised my hand.
“I sense discouragement, unhappiness, frustration. Is that correct?”
“Yes,” I said. I had just gotten my business degree but my executive prospects in my home town were proving increasingly thin.
“Be patient until the time of the Vernal Equinox and your life will change,” she told me as she handed back my “amulet.”
I never gave it another thought. In late March of 1969, I got home early and had barely grabbed the mail when my lady called.
“Guess what, I just got a letter from the Selective Service System,” I said, adding that “my football knee has made my body unfit to be shot in Vietnam.”
On the other end of the line, only silence.
“Oh…my…God,” she stammered, “today’s the Vernal Equinox.”
All of a sudden on that first day of spring, Fresno started looking very small. Ten days later on March 30, I had my last Sunday dinner with my mother and father at the old house next to the family café (my brother was in ‘Nam taking Agent Orange showers). I got into my freshly tricked-out ‘63 Riviera and hit the freeway to work through the summer in Las Vegas. It proved an endless summer.
Compared to Fresno, Gomorrah south was fascinating. Casinos. The Mafia. Hank Greenspun’s Las Vegas Sun. Crazy follytix. Billionaire Howard Hughes hibernating on the top floor of the Desert Inn Hotel.
I worked Culinary Union cooking jobs six days a week and bought a typewriter for my off hours. To this day, the best comedians in the world labor unheralded in 150-degree kitchens with foodservers yelling at them. I learned from those old men and have used their jokes and stories many times.
It’s now 50 years down the golden road. I found love and lost love. I made money and lost money. I got some laws passed, did some good things, made good decisions, made mistakes and elected a few.
I have become what I always was. Decades ago, the subject of my first professional photo shoot advised that “when you go to see a comedian, remember you’re seeing a shy person reaching out to you by making you laugh.”
Johnny Carson didn’t know it, but he described me.
The best advice I ever got about Reno came from a dapper car salesman named Bert Strassheim: “Reno’s a good town. You’ve got to give it time. If you treat it right, it’ll take care of you when you need it.”
In his book about Red Auerbach, basketball hall-of-famer Bill Russell related an early conversation with his legendary Boston Celtics coach.
“I’m black and you’re a Jew. How do you expect to make it in this town?”
“I’ll outlive them all,” Auerbach matter-of-factly replied.
I’ll try to resemble that remark in the next 50 years, starting tonight at the annual César Chávez celebration at the Grand Sierra. I will greet Gov. Steve Sisolak and behold Lacy J. Dalton previewing her new album. Old friends and new, the living and the lost, life and transition.
Success remains for others to judge. The great romantic poet John Keats died young, thinking himself a failure. He wrote the most moving epitaph I’ve ever read, in perfect iambic pentameter, of course: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.”
How can you keep your name above water? A wise friend recently advised that we should continue helping people we will never meet.
If you can say that about yourself, you’re ready to graduate with honors from Big Blue Marble High.
¡Sí se puede!
Be well. Raise hell. Esté bien. Haga infierno.
Andrew Barbano is a 50-year Nevadan and editor of NevadaLabor.com. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.