from Sandy Needham

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Las Vegas/Los Angeles Dispatch

I had several days in Las Vegas with Jake, his beautiful girlfriend, Larissa, and roommate, Charlie, both before and after our family cruise from LA to Mexico. The house was looking pretty good, especially after I did a marathon garbage and recycle haul to the curb to open up space on the kitchen counter and in the dining room. They had organized everything, just never knew which day was for recycle pick up, being very late sleepers. The house was surprisingly clean and neat, and I only succumbed to scrubbing the kitchen out of a rare compulsive flare-up. Larissa is there for the summer between graduate school semesters in Idaho. There are no jobs available, so Jake has deemed her his ‘personal assistant!’

It was a relief to have a computer again and catch up on e-mails and news, both after Tulsa and after the cruise. Thanks, Larissa, for the use of yours.

Jake was playing in a preliminary tournament at the World Series of Poker venue – the Rio – and only had some minutes left after the dinner break before running out of chips. Larissa and I went in to watch. Either because he only had a few chips and not much chance of staying in, or because he has discovered that friendly conversation is more disconcerting to fellow-players than the studied seriousness of a poker face, he was in a very relaxed and communicative mode at the table. Our son is easy-going and level-headed and has great powers of concentration – a good professional poker profile!

Jake & Larissa In this case, his loss was my gain, as this freed him up for a little hike, sushi, gambling  on electronic screens with free drinks at a dive, Italian food, and playing games of trivia, Boggle and Anagrams. Charlie’s brother, a Boggle aficionado, came to visit. He managed to beat Jake at the Boggle word scrambling game. Perverse as it may seem for a Mommy, I am always happy when someone can beat Jake at a game, as if there is some balance to life…or perhaps it is just out of personal sour grapes, since my record is dismal. Jake prevailed as the invincible Anagrams champ. He stole ‘nave’ from me and eventually made ‘naiveté.’ I only stand a chance at trivia, and that is if the questions are not about teen TV shows from the ‘80’s on.



Jake & I I always opened my guestroom shades in the morning for light and a glimpse at a sparse green tree across the street. There was an adolescent boy shooting baskets next door with headphones on – obviously an MP3 player in his pocket. Is it just me, or is there a season to everything and a time for every purpose under heaven, turn, turn, turn? I could only think of my father who, before taking up tennis later in life and becoming a seniors champion in Oklahoma, came home from work and shot baskets every evening into a hoop he had mounted on a tree. He could sink twelve Zen-like swishers in a row, and even taught me the secret: “See the ball making an arc right through the middle of the basket; concentrate on this.” Chances are, there is music that is appropriate to shooting baskets or enhances one’s ability, now that listening and shooting is even possible. I guess I should be impressed that the kid wasn’t speaking on a cell phone. I’m one of those people who thinks when one goes to a restaurant with friends or family, for example, it is the time for eating and conversing with them, turn, turn, turn, rather than the time to speak via cell phone with somebody who’s not there, convenience and emergencies aside. I sound like a dinosaur, but I’m sticking to my belief that I’ve got this right, turn, turn, turn.

mojave_desert-4 Jake, Larissa and I drove for four hours across the Mojave Desert to Los Angeles on a Saturday to meet up with Newton, who had flown in from China the night before, and Elise, who had arrived from New York around the same time on Friday night. Together at last. I get a mental picture of far-flung points on a globe and marvel at those moments when we arrive in the same spot. My friend Rossana in Natal, who used to live in LA, gave me all sorts of great information about where to go and what to see there. This led us to Santa Monica for an absolutely great evening. Strolling along beautiful Main Street after dark, we started out in a youthful, semi-rowdy bar, had a great dinner outside in the gorgeous World Café patio, then ran into some guys in Beatle wigs on the sidewalk in front of a very lively bar, about to begin their next set. Elise and Jake were die-hard Beatles fans in elementary school, reading the biographies, collecting memorabilia, having a multi-age Beatles-theme slumber party. I took them to Radio City Music Hall to see Ringo, though the performer was a mystery to them till we got there. I remember their asking me if I thought they could stand up and scream when he came out, and just as I was saying, “Well, let’s see what the crowd does…” Ringo came out and I bolted up, screaming my head off. Newton and I took the kids to an annual Beatles Fest at a hotel in New Jersey. It was one of our favorite days, ever. Later, a Paul McCartney concert blew us all away. We followed the wigs into to the Santa Monica bar! Now, at that New Jersey Beatles Fest years before there was a fascinating contest to see who could replicate the Beatlessound of the Beatles most faithfully. A group of pudgy middle-aged men won with a dead-on rendition of “I’ll Be Back Again.” Newton and I love a local Natal group, Mad Dogs, who have performed their own, very different original interpretations of Beatles’ songs four times at the annual Liverpool Beatles Fest. But these guys in wigs at some crowded Irish bar in Santa Monica wowed us with song after song in nearly exact Beatle renditions. The crowd was extremely happy about this and sang along, one and all. We made friends with a middle-aged couple from New Zealand; a young man came up to me at the surprisingly early closing hour of the bar to say I had the most beautiful daughter he had ever seen; it was good to be together again.





out in SM

dad's breakfast On Sunday morning we had a 50th birthday breakfast for Newton at IHOP (since the kids hadn’t seen him since before his April birthday). They gave him a new car radio, our previous Brazilian one having been stolen, wrapped in the only gift wrap at Jake’s house and embellished with a balloon dog, courtesy of the IHOP waitress. Newt went to return his rental car to the airport and catch a shuttle to the cruise ship. Now was our chance to sight-see. Elise and Newton had driven around LA on Saturday before we arrived and had seen the Hollywood Boulevard/Sunset Boulevard sights. See photo:




DDonald duck

I had been to Los Angeles once when I was three years old. I remember best the upside-down green bucket I sat on in the middle of the front seat between my parents, in order to see out. This was clearly the pre-seat-belt era, and I’m happy to say that my father was a careful driver. I can also remember someone commenting that “this is Lucille Ball’s house,” and some distant cousins staring at my green bucket. That’s it. The kids and I had to be at the cruise ship by 3:30. Disregarding all other sources of info available, we simply plugged “Hollywood Boulevard” into Jake’s GPS in Culver City and followed the Australian woman’s voice that Jake had selected for verbal directions. This put us on a generally non-descript street for a solid hour – unless one considers frequent pawn shops, endless traffic lights and a total of two attractive Deco buildings descriptive. We gave up on Hollywood Boulevard, considering our time constraints, and plugged some celebrity’s address in Beverly Hills into the GPS – at least something specific. We passed amazing purple trees.purple tree Finally, we were curving upwards around lovely green hills and stopped to admire the view at an overlook. Across the canyon we could make out the outline of smog-ridden downtown LA and the lovely, sprawling houses further up that must belong to the celebs. The problem was, our time was running out, so we got back in the car, plugged in the cruise address in the Port of Long Beach, and hit those famous multi-multi-lane freeways. We arrived at just the right time, parked and boarded. But the cruise is a separate dispatch.



Beverly Hills










On our return to Los Angeles early the following Sunday, we all headed to a hotel in Anaheim, where Newton had to attend a professional trade show that week. Elise, Jake and Larissa were no longer interested in sight-seeing, especially with Disneyland a couple of blocks away, so my knowledge of LA remains only slightly less sketchy than in 1953. Newton went to pick up a rental car and two minutes after driving away, got rammed in the passenger side by a guy running a red light. car accident Newton then hit a car waiting at the left-turn light in the on-coming lane, which in turn hit the car waiting behind it. He seemed to be all right, although now he is having some sessions with a chiropractor in Brazil for his neck. He was able to drive back to the rental car company and drive away in another car soon after, so we are big fans of Enterprise now. The two of us found a laundromat to catch up for the days ahead. Elise, Jake and Larissa could leave Disney Land and re-enter, so we had a great dinner on our last night all together before the kids returned to close Disneyland.

The next morning we headed out to Woodland Hills to see my niece April and family. We last saw her in 2004 with an infant, Ryan. Now he is six, and Addie, the most disarmingly charming extant four-year-old, has been added to the mix. Husband/Dad, Marty, builds sets for movies and TV shows. I got to see a video of the very dashing and smart Ryan playing with his ice hockey team. Addie and I had lots of fun playing with some miniscule dolls I brought from Brazil. After a while, the very open, imaginativeaddie and intelligent darling says to me, “You know, we talked a little bit and played a little bit, and then we became friends!” I also loved the moment when we were laughing and, having learned beforehand that I am her grandmother’s sister, she said, “You remind me of Grandma.” The girl simply steals one’s heart away with her openness…she is certainly related to her Great-grandmother Laurene, with whom she shares her middle name! Besides being a really sane mother, April is an accomplished horsewoman who even has a shot at the Olympics. She runs a stable in Topanga. We loved seeing the gorgeous views from her training ground and the beautiful horses, some of them hers and some, boarders.





Ryan & Jake






April’s brother, my nephew Todd from Manhattan, happened to be in town on business with his two boys, Sam and Ethan, so we had a family reunion! Todd just published his first children’s book, How About a Kiss for Me, which he was reading to Ryan’s kindergarten class that day. Todd has been writing comic movie scripts (OK, some of them are just the hilarious annual Thanksgiving family video scripts that are more comic to us than to the general public) and children’s books for some time, so we are all thrilled for him. The group had an Italian dinner together in Topanga, joined by Mary, April and Todd’s niece and my grand-niece, who dances with four different dance companies in LA (but who is about to move and join a company in Chicago). I am a proud aunt and great-aunt.

dinner roccos
















Then Jake drove Larissa and me back across the desert in the dark to Vegas, and Elise stayed one more day to make a video for Newton’s company with the marketing consultant.

Oh yes, about the cruise…




  1. This is a good one! Love the pics from Vegas, I hadn't seen those before...especially the one of you and Jake how CUTE!!! Can't wait for the cruise dispatch, ohhh boyyy.....haha

  2. Always love your wonderful descriptions! Derek is trying to relate his travels to China but doesn't quite have your flair....Janet

  3. Sounds like a great time. We were in the Mojave last winter and it was beautiful. What a great opportunity for you all to come together in LA. I can't say it is one of my favorite cities, but you seemed to find some of the best of it.

  4. What a beautiful family! And so accomplished! You must possitively pop all you buttons when you tell their stories. Perhaps you can tell us the Chicago Dance Company- Don and I love, love, love Dance- and would really enjoy seeing her perform.
    I'm so glad you had so much time together.

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