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Reno: What’s a Non-Gambler to Do?

My mother-in-law lives to gamble. She comes over from Taiwan once a year to visit for a few months, and the inevitable trip to Reno makes her eyes light up more than if I’d ever make her a grandma. Maybe if I was as lucky as her I’d like to gamble, too.  The woman is a winner. Hours on hours spent in front of slot machines and she always comes out ahead. Maybe it’s persistence, or intuition, or just plain luck, but whatever it is, I don’t have it.  I blow through the twenty bucks I’m willing to part with in five minutes and then I’m twiddling my thumbs for two days while she pushes magic money buttons to her heart’s content.
This year, I decided it was going to be different. I wasn’t going to sit in the smoky casinos soaking in the sadness of “The Biggest Little City in the World”, aghast at the haggard leathery regulars clocking in at their favorite machines with a highball at 10 am. No, this year, I was going to see the sights.
True to form, Mama Money Buttons got the first one-cent slot machine she sat down at to sing. Five thousand pennies within five minutes of setting foot in Reno.  Once I rapidly established that my luck hadn’t changed since last year, I got down to the business of being a tourist. Lucky for me, Artown was going on. Every July, a month long festival is held all over town showcasing local visual and performing artists.
I picked up a listing of the events and followed the map. It led me to Lavender Ridge, a surprising patch of beauty surrounded by the barren desert landscape right outside Reno proper.  Rows of bee-covered lavender in many varieties filled the air with its comforting scent. It wasn’t a huge venue for Art with a capital A – a few photographers, potters, jewelers, and clothing designers had booths set up with their wares, but the real draw was the purple stuff – everything lavender on sale from plants to cookies to crafts. A nice stop to smell the flowers.
My next stop was the McKinley Arts and Culture Center, and the big surprise there was the view. It sits across the street from the Truckee River and the gorgeous Reno Riverwalk District, a lush tree-lined oasis for people to jog and walk their dogs and just stroll along looking at the many historic buildings alongside the river’s banks.
Inside, the Friends of McKinley artists proudly displayed their work, giving a percentage of the profits to maintenance the Center.  Janis Ni’s paintings stood out from the rest of the amateurish work, her vibrant landscapes making surrounding Nevada look like a wilderness wonderland. She moved to Reno from Vegas. “It’s smaller and more community-oriented here, much easier to organize artists for an event like this.”
Before I make it sound too much like a country fair, though, there were some high-end highlights, like the ultra-modern Nevada Museum of Art. The stark black curvy building housed some quality exhibitions in four levels of well-designed spaces – from the rooftop sculpture garden to the discovery center where you can sit and draw and play, from experimental galleries and an extensive art library to the airy café at the bottom level. The Stremmel Gallery down the road was also a haven for contemporary art. Gallery Director Turkey Stremmel is on the Board of Directors for Artown. “We’ve been doing this now for thirteen years. It’s one of the neatest things we do all year, and people come from all over to see it.” Coming from San Francisco, the provincial art scene in Reno seemed mediocre at best with no visible throngs of visitors lining up to see the Art in Artown, but it was well worth getting off the smoky strip to see what else the old boomtown had to offer.
My husband took a break from the casino, and we sat in the warm sun back at the Riverwalk dipping our toes in the cool water.  We watched kids jump off rocks into the mild rapids, families float lazily by on rafts, and one man even catching crawfish. There was so much more to do there than gamble, and enjoying a true summer day in the water is one very good reason for a San Franciscan to go.
I couldn’t avoid the casinos completely, having to return to remind our Lady Luck that she couldn’t live on pennies alone. After the ding-ding-ding daze wore off, she wanted a buffet, another all-American pastime she can’t get enough of when she’s here. Being a culinarily spoiled San Franciscan, I just had to grin and bear the quantity-over-quality mentality and load up on lackluster lettuce, then disappointing desserts.
One casino staple did not disappoint, however. Rum Bullions the Island Bar at Silvery Legacy has a dueling pianos show every Friday and Saturday night. We bellied up to the bar and got a giant flaming Kava Kava rum drink with straws to go around, then watched the fun as two eccentric and thoroughly entertaining pianists took song requests and sang them with not-so-subtle innuendo, embellishments and hand gestures, occasionally bringing birthday boys and brides-to-be up on stage for hilarious all-in-good-fun humiliation.  We laughed. A lot. Even our non-English speaking gambling machine clapped along, until she heard the call of the fake coins and rushed off to resume her post.
On our way out on Sunday, I was thinking how happy I was to be going home to our metropolitan mecca, when my mother-in-law looked longingly out the window at the surrounding suburbs and sighed. My husband translated her sentiment, “How lucky these people are to live so close to the casinos that they could go there everyday.” To each her own, I guess.

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Adventures in Dogwalking – Pug-Pug

Of the cast of characters who play in my dog walking pack, the one that entertains me the most is the Pug. I won’t use his real name here, not so much to protect his identity, but because it is a mouthful, a dissonant hodgepodge of letters that don’t go together belonging to an obscure Reformation theologian, perhaps a heady wish by his owners that he would be an intellectual sort. The name could not fit him less nor could it be harder to say, so I just call him Pug-Pug.
He is a roly-poly little bundle of energy, stubborn as all get-out, with a tail that uncurls when he’s running around like a maniac. He’s a good-looking Pug, if you like that sort of smoosh-faced alien thing. Pug connoisseurs are always commenting he’d make a good show dog, but were he ever to go that route he would be disqualified as only one of his testicles ever descended, lending him one of his many nicknames, The Uni-baller.
He is a quirky little guy, and has gone through many stages of odd behavior, including standing and staring at the floor in a corner, then pouncing suddenly at nothing, also going through the house and scratching at closed doors, and eating dirt, twigs and rocks as we go on our walks. I couldn’t quite decide if he was a neurotic special needs pup with pica, or an eccentric misunderstood genius.
When he got his sole testicle removed, he had to wear one of those embarrassing Elizabethan collars for about a week to keep him from pulling out his stitches. Most dogs cower in the big pathetic plastic cone, but not Pug-Pug. He used the satellite dish on his head to his advantage in the game of fetch, knocking other dogs out of the way and cupping the tennis ball to the ground so no other contenders could get to it. It was things like this that led me to believe he might be smarter than he let on. But the following incident proved that theory wrong.
Pug-Pug has a buddy in the pack, a large Doberman Pinscher who uses him as a chew toy, gnawing on Pug-Pug’s juicy neck rolls. At first I was afraid Pug-Pug was getting mauled, but he always went back for more, kind of like a little brother who dotes on his older sibling so much he’ll take attention anyway he can get it, even if it means getting pummeled. Once Pug-Pug’s neck was protected by the plastic collar, however, the Dobie had no interest in him. Pug-Pug followed his every move trying to get his best buddy to play with him, but to no avail. It was at this moment I witnessed how dim he really is.
Tagging along at the much larger dog’s heels, Pug-Pug crashed into his ankles with the cone as the Dobie came to a sudden stop. Pug-Pug looked up and sniffed with great interest the nether-regions of the Pinscher, who I saw begin to squat and hunch his back in the “about to do my business” stance. Pug kept sniffing away, and sure enough, “Plop!” a gigantic Dobie doo as big as Pug-Pug’s head landed on the brim of his cone. I saw panic in his eyes, and he began to retreat, backpedaling as if he could get away from this offensive intruder into his personal space, but everywhere he went it hotly pursued. He backed himself into a wall, and stood there, paralyzed by the inescapable poo.
After making sure someone else had seen this to share in fits of laughter and cursing not having a video camera for what would be a sure thing on America’s Funniest Home Videos, I helped Pug-Pug out, ridding his cone of the consequences of his curiosity. I thought for sure, he’d learned his lesson, but the very next day, cone-free after a week of confinement, Pug-Pug perched himself at the tail end of his best friend for round two of his exploits into dog doodom. This time he stood back carefully until he thought the Dobie was done, then leaned in to investigate the steaming pile on the ground, only to receive the second helping square on the back of his empty little head.
I never again overestimated his powers of reasoning. The moral of the story is that you can judge a pug by his collar. That, and carry a camera. And handy wipes.

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Delaine Derry Green Dishes on the Dating Issue

We’ve all been there. We all have our tales of dating drama – lonely nights, blind dates, and bad breakups. It’s a theme everyone can relate to, and Delaine Derry Green tapped into this well of woes (and some happy endings) by making it the theme of her latest issue of Not My Small Diary.
NMSD is an anthology of autobiographical comics Delaine has been putting together for 12 years now. Over the years, NMSD has been a meeting place for established and beginning comics artists and zinesters alike. John Porcellino’s contribution this year is proof of that, documenting how he even found love through the pages of NMSD #8. In a field where many zines have come and gone, and when blogs threaten to take the place of small press print, how does Delaine keep up her zine queen momentum, pursuing her passion without much profit?
I asked her a few questions fans will want to see, and if you haven’t yet, check out NMSD #14, a two part issue full of dating angst, despair, dirty deeds, and even Delaine’s own story of dating success, as told by her and her husband, Lee. Who knows, you may find your own love on the pages…
CL: Why did you start My Small Diary comics, and how did it become Not My Small Diary?

DDG: I started doing My Small Diary comics in 1993, after graduating college. After I moved to Birmingham in 1996 I met a few more zinesters in “real life” and I decided to do the anthology format. The idea of gathering artists to do diaries just came to me in a flash and I was excited about it!

CL: What steps did you take to grow it? How did you get so many great contributors to participate?
DDG: I started making contacts the second I started getting into zines. From the beginning I was contributing to other zines and writing to other people appearing in those zines. The biggest help I had from the start was Maximum Traffic (White Buffalo Gazette, Truth Be Known). He was a great resource and knew SO many people in the small press arena. His contacts became my contacts and now vice versa. Max now writes to me and tells me I am the queen of the small press and he uses my comics to find new artists to write to! I forged real friendships during the age of “no internet” and that makes my network even stronger in this day of instant communication. I can’t deny that the internet has helped get more contributors faster. Since NMSD has been around a long time it’s easier to get new and better artists every year. It’s a name people in the small press usually recognize.

CL: What kind of formal training, education or experience do you have in comics/art?

DDG: As a child I was always making comic books so it’s in my blood. I’ve always been a creative person and always liked to produce things like comics & little books and I always liked pen pals and the mail. Those things combined meant that doing zines was a natural transition for me. My college degree was a BFA in Graphic Design so that knowledge helped me design the books effectively. Since graduating, all of my jobs have been in graphic design and I have added “artist” to my list of activites. I do paintings and mixed media pieces and I’m featured in a local gallery here.

CL: Do you have a day job? If so, what is it?
DDG: My current day job is graphic designer at a tradeshow display company. I’ve been here since August, 2001 and I love it! I used to work at Kinko’s which was awesome since I could make free books! I still have dear Kinko’s connections.

CL: What’s the best part of putting together NMSD? The most frustrating or hardest?

DDG: The best part of doing NMSD is finding and getting artists that I want to contribute. I’ve been very happy with the introduction of theme issues, I think it often brings out the best in people. It’s frustrating getting people to meet a deadline, but I’m very laid back about it. It’s not fun to scan and clean up comics, but with the “digital age” I often receive emailed contributions all ready to go – I love that. I really love when the issue is done, gets sent out and I get good feedback.

CL: How do you feel about NMSD #14? Do you have a favorite piece in it?

DDG: NMSD-14 is my favorite issue so far. Maybe I just like the extremely personal nature of dating stories. There are so many pieces to love in 14. It was cool that my husband contributed for the first time. I loved Nicole Georges, Max Clotfelter, John Porcellino, Geoff Vasile, Andrew Goldfarb – that’s off the top of my head.

CL: It’s been 12 years! What keeps you going?

DDG: I guess I’m a “lifer” in the zine world. I’ve never gotten tired of doing NMSD or doing graphic design. I thrive on the creativity and feedback. I feel like people really appreciate NMSD and that helps me continue. Also, over the years I have visited and grown close to quite a few zinesters. It’s almost like I’ve built a little world with friends all over the globe and I would never want to upset that!

CL: Does NMSD support itself, or is it a labor of love?

DDG: I can’t say that NMSD supports itself anymore. My Kinko’s contact does all he can to give me a super deal on copying the books, but it’s not totally free like the old days. It’s definitely a labor of love and scant profit!

CL: Any future plans for NMSD?

DDG: I plan on sending out a call for NMSD-15 this summer. I came up with the theme “15 minutes of fame – brushes with celebrity” and I hope that inspires people. Someday I want to release a “real” book compiling a “best of” NMSD.

Visit Delaine’s website for more information and to find issues of NMSD – www.mysmallwebpage.com.