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As We See It

One night, two stories: Slices of life from September 23

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Writer without borders: Stephen Elliott talks about murder, confession and bondage in a bucolic backyard setting.

Rising after an urbane wine-and-piano reception, Ricky Barlow took the stage to remind us of Las Vegas’ past: he grew up playing in the boxcars on the brownfield that is now home to the Cleveland Clinic-Lou Ruvo Brain Institute. He relayed this tale in a wordy and uncomfortable speech at the Fifth Street School Wednesday night at a reception for the Cleveland Clinic’s lauded CEO and heart surgeon Dr. Tony Cosgrove, whom he thanked as “Mr.” Cosgrove. For several minutes, Councilman Barlow’s speech teetered on awkward—“My seed was planted here and what you see standing before you is the fruit of that seed”—and some in the audience took the opportunity to look at their laps or swirl their wine.

But actually it was a keen reminder of precisely what this event marked. The prestigious Cleveland Clinic has come to Las Vegas, and the dichotomy is extreme. One doesn’t think of Vegas as a medical-research capital; it’s surreal to imagine that the vision of recruiting such an institution is actually materializing on that dirt lot. Today Vegas is appropriately represented by Barlow, politically and symbolically, and scenes like this one will occur innumerable times before—as Mayor Oscar Goodman said right before Barlow—Las Vegas is thought of as “a serious place, a place where serious things are done.”

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Barlow ended his speech by explaining that he had a son on the football field and a father who needed a meal, and so he’d be stepping out. Another hometown man spoke of his roots after the councilman. Larry Ruvo stood on the stage “75 feet” from where he attended fourth grade, conjuring more awe for the growth the Cleveland Clinic represents for Vegas, as well as some respect for Vegas’ gumption—Ruvo worked at the Sahara and Caesars, opened the Frontier, led Nevada’s largest wholesale liquor distributor and reinvested in the city.

Nearby, music students finished night lessons in the small practice rooms of the school, and down the street, a group of Downtown condo owners mingled by the Juhl pool. A hint of fall slid into the air, and a change in seasons seemed welcome. –Stacy J. Willis

Shouldn’t more literary events occur in backyards? As writer Stephen Elliott, barefoot and wearing a gray T-shirt, leaned against the table on Laurenn McCubbin’s Downtown porch, two dozen listeners arrayed intently before him, reading a true story about posing in a bondage photo shoot, the answer certainly seemed to be Sure! It felt vaguely undergroundish. DIY. Out from beneath the oozy spread of corporatized culture that—hey, you’re cool, I don’t have to explain it to you. I mean, how many household pets wander around a Barnes & Noble book-signing? (Shout-out to Trixie, the McCubbin cat.)

Indeed, while introducing Elliott, McCubbin (a local artist) linked the noncorporate nature of the evening to the current peeve of her nabe, the Luv-It flap and “people talking shit about our neighborhood lately.”

Elliott, who’s couch-surfing across America in a series of such house readings to promote his seventh book, the affecting, oddball memoir The Adderall Diaries, certainly preferred this low-impact approach: “At a bookstore,” he told the crowd, “you have cold, impersonal lighting, you read for 20 minutes, then go back to your hotel and, uh, masturbate.” (He was spending that night on McCubbin’s couch instead.)

But on this night, after the reading from The Adderall Diaries—an improbable mash-up of family memoir, true-crime story and meditation on writing (Vanity Fair: “Elliott may be writing under the influence, but it’s the influence of genius”)—the reader and the read-to all hung around, traditional barriers dismantled by the intimate setting. Elliott fell deep into conversation with a willowy brunette curled into a porch chair beside him; sceney poet-lawyer Dayvid Figler chatted up a poetry grad student from UNLV; jazz DJ Ginger Bruner milled around with Sun culture reporter Kristen Peterson; inside, writer Joshua Ellis was saying something about The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Author and Weekly contributor Rick Lax was urging me not to eat the crumb-cake cupcake. Those lingering exchanges, facilitated by the reading, finally seemed more important that the cultural politics of frozen custard. “That’s the thing,” Elliott said later, making the rounds. “We’re all still here.” -Scott Dickensheets

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