When the Dealing’s Done
William N. Thompson’s Legalized Gambling: A Reference Handbook is something of a dry read, but the book is unique in its comprehensive coverage of the history of the gambling debate. Thompson chronicles the fights over our nation’s other pastime, from colonial times, when Protestants condemned it as “a contributor to idleness and debauchery,” to today’s high-stakes political battles over Native American casinos.
The National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling isn’t shy about declaring its objective: to oppose the gambling industry at every level. Its Web site is no-frills but practical — supplying tips on how to testify before Congress and how to write an effective lobbying letter. It also tracks how much high rollers in the gambling industry are pouring into political coffers.
Back in the ’50s and ’60s, the rattling of coins and the ricochet of dice were not the only sounds in Las Vegas. The Glitter Gulch’s true kings and queens were the swingers and crooners who ruled the showrooms of the Sands and the Dunes with polished pop schmaltz. The CD Jackpot! The Las Vegas Story is a nostalgic musical trip through Vegas lounge history that includes some of the era’s most unforgettable performances: Sammy Davis Jr. gushing “I’ve Gotta Be Me,” Eartha Kitt camping up “C’est si bon,” and, of course, Wayne Newton gliding through “Danke Schoen” as only he can. Rhino, 1996
All Work, No Play
Sadly, one of the best films ever made on the cinematically neglected subject of work, American Job, has barely been seen. Directed by Chris Smith, a young Milwaukee filmmaker, the film stars writer and errant minimum-wage worker Randy Russell, who essentially plays himself: a wage stooge who’s had more lousy jobs than McDonald’s has employees. As Russell goes from plastic factory to chicken joint, he meets other “hourlies” who clue him in to the mind-numbing tasks ahead, all the while telling him hilarious stories. That Smith could get his performers, many of whom actually work at the places portrayed, to be so at ease without compromising his cinematic vision, reveals real directorial talent. If the film sounds dispiriting, it is. It’s also funny as hell. American Job was shown on Northwest Airlines earlier this year (as part of its “Independents in Flight” series) and is set to tour selected U.S. theaters this fall with three other indies. Don’t miss it — on the way out of the theater, you’ll look differently at the people who sold you popcorn. Bluemark Productions, 1997. Call (414) 291-0268 for more information.
Reading The Cliff Walk: A Memoir of a Job Lost and a Life Found is as close as many of us will come to the experience of redefining a life from scratch. But that’s close enough, thanks to Don J. Snyder’s insightful story of his emotional free fall after a midlife layoff from a successful job as a college professor. Snyder conveys his mounting desperation with honesty (as he remembers lying to his family out of pride) and biting humor (as he admits to crank-calling former colleagues). Only after some tough times does he move beyond his ivory tower past and forge a new beginning — finding happiness as a manual laborer.
If you feel like you’re working harder for less, you’re not alone. And if you’re told that it’ll all pay off in the end, don’t be fooled. In The State of Working America 1996-97, Lawrence Mishel, Jared Bernstein, and John Schmitt of the Economic Policy Institute paint a bleak but convincing statistical portrait, in which the typical American is worse off today than at the end of the ’70s. In the ’80s, blue-collar workers faced deteriorating wages and the loss of their jobs; now these troubles are spreading to high-wage, white-collar workers. The authors contend that we are seeing a large-scale redistribution of power, wealth, and income. And without a major shift in government and management strategies, the average American’s living standard will continue to fall.
—Julie Felner, Scott Hamrah, Cynthia Joyce, Josh Kun, Jay Murphy, and Leah Shahum.