Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Wonderful, Horrible Day at the Animal Shelter

Today, my photography partner Brandi wasn't able to make it to the shelter, so I decided to go it alone. Each week, we take photos of the dogs at Lied Shelter for the Animal Foundation's Web site to, hopefully, help get them adopted.

As I roamed the bungalows today, I was mostly looking for a puppy to cuddle. We get to pretend we're helping socialize them, but puppies are adopted easily, so it's pretty much just us getting playtime and love.

I passed by a cowering pit bull to pet a sweet black lab puppy. As I was interacting with the lab, the pit bull wouldn't make eye contact and kept her head down. She was shaking. Most timid dogs move to the back of the cage, but this girl stayed up front. Wasn't sure what that meant, but she seemed to have no interest in me. And she growled. This doesn't bode well for dogs at the shelter.

It turns out the pit bull's name was Duchess. I don't like learning the names of the dogs we interact with. Because it's an animal shelter, and sometimes bad things happen. Duchess was so skittish and jumped at the slightest sound.

I decided to just hang out. I pet the lab with one hand, and talked to Duchess for what must have been an hour. Little progress, but her head lifted up after awhile. It was something. I tried to touch her foot at one point, but she wasn't having any of it. Or so I thought.

When dogs at the shelter are timid, you tend to be careful, if you like keeping all your fingers.

Eventually, a young woman came in with a friend, and asked if she could sit down, too. This happens all the time. Dogs people would normally walk right by suddenly become more interesting if someone else is interested in the dog. Weird.

It took awhile, but eventually this woman was able to pet Duchess through the bars of her cage. I had wanted to take her out into the play area, but was nervous about it (pit bulls are really strong, and any dog that seems very scared can be unpredictable as they're walked along the front of all the other caged dogs).

I grabbed another volunteer to help bring Duchess out. She thought it was funny that I was such a big baby. I can't disagree.

I worry when I take dogs out that they'll lose it with all the dogs barking and try and bite. I don't want to get bit and don't want anyone else getting bit, of course. That's why I let Brandi do all the wrangling for our photography sessions.

So, we get Duchess out into the playpen, and what happened next happens so often, it's amazing. She took 5-10 minutes to smell everything, then just absolutely transformed into an entirely different dog. She was so loving and playful. Whip-smart. Docile, with no aggression whatsoever toward children or other people or other dogs. Not a single bark the entire time we played. I think this dog thoroughly understands the entire English language.

And we played a long, long time. Probably for an hour. The girl who pet her agonized over whether to adopt her, but her companion was reluctant.

After awhile, another family began to circle the enclosure. (Like I said, once people see interest in a dog, they become interested, too. It's sort of the same thing with people, come to think of it.) They'd seen Duchess in her cage and remarked about how dramatically different she was outside her cage. I'm betting one of these folks will be back to adopt Duchess, but there were no takers as the shelter closed for the evening.

The horrible part of the day was taking Duchess back to her cage. She clung to me, and as I took her leash off, she grabbed it and pulled, as if she was making one last desperate attempt to stay with me.

While heartbreaking in some ways, I'm confident the time we spent outside her cage has changed her view of being in it, and she won't be so fearful now, because she realizes people aren't always abusive or poking and prodding her with medical instruments. She was reminded what it's like to be be out with people in the sun, playing and chasing birds. She is just the sweetest, smartest dog, and I almost walked right by.

As I left her bungalow, I sort of lost it. There's a reason I don't do this alone, and there's a reason I don't learn their names. I was glad it was the end of the day and none of the other staff or volunteers were around to see me blubbering like an idiot.

There are moments when you're volunteering that you're overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the dog overpopulation problem, and you realize you can't help everyone. A phrase kept repeating in my mind, "There are just so many." So many sweet, loving animals don't make it. There's simply no way to deal with the tidal wave of abandoned, abused dogs.

So, as a volunteer, you decide to help who you can help, and try to put the realities of the problem out of your mind. Sometimes it creeps in, and that's when the blubbering starts.

After my therapeutic cry, I left unable to shake that sense of overwhelm. The sadness of there being untold others very much like Duchess. Animals for whom a few minutes of love and trust make all the difference in the world.

Just please find a home, girl. So I can stop sitting here, typing furiously and crying my eyes out again. Because trust me, blubbering is not a good look for me.

There are just so many.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Turning Point in History

My mother recently gave me a remarkable letter I once sent to my parents, way back in 1988.

It's remarkable because it pretty much marks the moment when I got my first computer. The dot matrix "near letter quality" print is awesome, but my astonishment at the wonders of computer technology (spellcheck, text you can easily edit!) is sort of hilarious.

Check out this letter I wrote on my very first computer, 26 years ago, almost to the day.

Had I purchased a word processor as I'd intended, I think my life would have been very different.

What an incredible time to be alive, straddling a time before computers and a time when you can hold multi-terabyte portable hard drives in the palm of your hand.

Thanks for saving this letter, Mom! It's a moment in time that reflects the direction my life was to take, for better or worse.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Hummingbird Baby Takes Flight and We Got to Watch

I haven't written a post for this blog in some time, probably because I have been busy blogging about Las Vegas instead.

Today, however, I witnessed something pretty amazing, and wanted to share it.

A few weeks back, a hummingbird built a nest in a bush outside our front door. This was fairly spectacular in its own right as I'd never seen a nest and happen to love hummingbirds, thus ensuring my rep as a streetwise tough guy.

So, every day I'd check on the nest, pretty much acting like a nervous parent every day. I saw an egg. I saw what looked like feathers, but which might have also been a caterpillar of some sort. It was all new and exciting for me and my girlfriend, Maria. We got to share the progress, and fret over the welfare of the mom and babies as rain came and went, and day after day of wind buffeted our adopted children.

Well, recently, we'd noticed two babies who seemed to be alive and well. The mom fed them frequently, and Maria even got a photo of their beaks protruding from the nest.

Today, however, was incredible, because we got to watch as one of the babies took its very first flight.

The little bugger flapped like crazy and made it about five inches from the nest, then clutched awkwardly to a branch, seemingly baffled by the whole thing. I must have held my breath for 10 minutes as this was unfolding. Yeah, the tough guy thing again.

Then, the baby flew to another branch, nearby. Not exactly graceful, but getting there.

Nothing to it, right?

Well, I had reason to hold my breath again as the mom came over to make sure everything was cool. This mother hummer has been such a dedicated mom. Scaring away other hummingbirds from "her" nectar feeder, all that.

Then there was this. These babies have been so pampered, they figure whenever mom's near, it's feeding time. Just wow.

This checking-up ritual happened a number of times as the baby started to get its footing outside the nest.

The babies were getting so big, the mother bird couldn't even fit into the nest with them. No idea where she spend her nights, but she's dutifully stuck around through the whole process.

While the mom checks up on the baby often, she seems to keep her distance, too. "Time to fend for yourself, kiddo."

As I mentioned, two babies were in the next. The sibling of the flyer seems littler, and appears to be content to just keep hanging out in the next until it's time to give those wings a test drive.

The other baby eventually made a few rounds of the yard with mom, then ended up on one of her favorite tree branches.

The mom usually sits up in the tree to keep an eye on the feeder, the nest and us. She's not shy about letting us know when we get too close. (These photos were taken with a long lens. She seems OK with that.)

The baby hummingbird definitely looks like a baby. Or at least a gawky teen.

The mom keeps a close eye on her first born, but has also kept up the feeding schedule of her slacker back in the nest.

It has been utterly mind-blowing watching this ritual unfold up-close.

There's a serenity that comes over you as you watch these simple interactions and seemingly miraculous feats of nature.

There's nothing much to do other than keep the crows and stray kitties away, and just sit and wonder about the complexity of life, and how fundamental some things are to life on Earth, like that unmistakable maternal instinct, and the bond between mothers and their offspring.

We're so lucky these amazing creatures chose us!

Update! Three days after the first baby left the nest, the second took the plunge.

A great end to a wonderful, miniature saga.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

My Quasi-Epic Brush With Internet Immortality

When I refer to myself as an "Internet Icon," tongue-in-cheek, people tend to laugh. Which is fine, and kind of the goal in the first place.

Along those lines, here's a quick story.

Back in the day, when my humor site was at its most robust, my billboards were one of the first Internet memes. (Although, back in 1999, memes weren't called that yet.) They were widely shared, widely emulated, and they prompted the publication of my book, "Twisted Billboards."

This was about a decade ago, and I always took a lot of pride in the fact they'd been part of early Internet culture. Tonight, I attended a new show at The Venetian in Las Vegas, "Rock of Ages." The show has been a hit on Broadway, and was made into what I understand was a not-great movie.

The show takes place in Hollywood, and one of the elements of the set are (wait for it) billboards. Among the billboards was one that, when I saw it, sent a chill up my spine. The giant mock billboard was, in fact, one I'd created for all those years ago, albeit with a minor design tweak.

Below is a pic with both the billboard onstage in "Rock of Ages" as well as my original billboard, dating back to 2002 (at least).

Needless to say, I had difficulty concentrating on the show. I went into mild shock and was honored, stunned, baffled and, yes, a little miffed (no credit was given as to the source or creator of the billboard).

Mostly, I was just plain blown away. I wondered if someone involved in the show, possibly a set designer, thought the billboard was real (I get asked that all the time about my billboards, even after all this time). I wondered why that billboard stood out enough to be used in the show. I wondered if it had occurred to the creative artists in the show to seek out the creator of the billboard so permission could be requested and appropriate credit given. (Although, if they thought it was real, perhaps they didn't think that process necessary.) I wondered how many people will see my joke, blown up to larger-than-life proportions, during the run of "Rock of Ages" and perhaps beyond.

More than anything else, though, I was struck by the amazing coincidence I'd encountered. All those people in attendance. All the funny images floating around the Internet. How many shows blow up Internet images and use them in their sets?

All those variables, and there I was, face-to-face with a joke I'd written a decade or more ago, a joke that somehow lives on in a stage musical in Las Vegas, my favorite city on Earth and the place I call home.

I may not be an Internet icon, as my friends often remind me, but maybe if one's work is entrenched in the zeitgeist, that's close enough. And even if it doesn't make someone iconic, it's still pretty flipping cool.

Update: In June, 2014, the below photo was taken of the set at "Rock of Ages." It appears the show may have had second thoughts about a billboard with a specific brand of liquor on it, especially one implying that liquor has inspired incest of some sort. Maybe Jack Daniels contacted the show, maybe not. Perhaps the show wanted the billboard to be less identifiable as one created by, you know, me. Not having the liquor bottle sort of ruins the joke, and must leave audiences scratching their heads. But you know the real story.

If you'd like to see what I do in my day job, check out I work as the Interactive Marketing Manager at Fremont Street Experience and write a blog about all the best things to do in Las Vegas.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Life's Too Short to Travel

There never seem to be enough hours in the day. Here's an example. I had a lot of grand ideas about chronicling my visit to Europe in 2011. I lugged my good camera all the way over there took hundreds and hundreds, many of which I loved.

I was going to share many of those photos, telling the stories of the people I met, the adventures, the sights. I posted a few on Flickr, but live got busy, and most just sit on my hard drive.

Here's a photo (two, actually) I remember taking on the Amalfi Coast.

I want to make time to share more of these photos. The faces. The door knockers. The churches. The color. The peril. The oldness. I just need a few more hours in each day.


I'm pleased to report my image of John won our photo club challenge for April 2012! That's three wins out of the last four months, and this time, there were 34 entries (the theme was "black and white").

I don't think I ever shared my winning pic for February 2012. The theme was "gadget."

I'm not really posting these to brag so much as to have a way to remember image won for each month. January 2012 was "expression." See it here.

I think I'm going to retire from the group and go out on a high note!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

My Picture's in the Paper

One of my photos appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal on March 28, 2012. It's a picture of food.

You can view the article online here, although I'm not entirely sure why you'd want to do that.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Strip's Newest Hotel

Love the Cosmopolitan hotel here in Vegas. I don't get there often enough, and the craps tables minimums are a tad high for it to be a regular hang-out, but they're doing a lot right. Or, as their tagline says, "The right amount of wrong."

It's Spring in Las Vegas

And when it's spring in Vegas, people go to the Bellagio to look at flowers that don't grow in Las Vegas because it's in the middle of a desert.

Check out more pics at the Pulse of Vegas blog.

Oh, Personal Blog, How I Neglect Thee

Yeah, it happens. But here's a photo. That's some consolation, right?

Friday, January 27, 2012

An Important Lesson About Photography

Each month, the photography club I'm a member of, the Las Vegas Photographic Society, has a photo contest. They call it a challenge, but it's a contest.

I try to enter each month, and won early on, but in recent months haven't had much luck. I grew frustrated, because my photos were clearly "better" than the others (objectively speaking, of course), but the voting by club members just didn't go my way. I'd spend hours on coming up with concepts, and hours more making the photos happen, including even more hours doing extensive editing of the images in Photoshop to ensure their perfection.

Last month, the theme of the contest was "expressions." That was it. Having grown weary of spending lots of time submitting losing entries, I looked for a candid shot that would even remotely fall under the category of "expressions." I submitted this shot on a whim, despite it not being a great photo, technically.

Stuff on his face. My niece's arm in the background. My nephew's hand cut off.

But here's the lesson. The photo won the contest. Not just the club vote, but also the vote of some objective, third-party folks who said it was the photo they'd be most likely to shell out money for.

In the end, it's necessarily about technical perfection. It's about evoking an emotion. It's tough to know what people are going to connect with, but most often, ordinary humans aren't going to care about the little details photographers obsess over. They want an emotional connection. Who knew?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

It's Time to Sip From the Dribble Glass (Again)

Man, alive, it's been awhile since I've blogged here. The reason for that is fairly obvious. I now blog for a living for Caesars Entertainment. I've thrown myself into the Pulse of Vegas blog, and am probably putting in about 60 hours a week on it. And those long hours seem like almost nothing because I truly love what I'm doing. Day in and day out, for the last two years. It's been a blast, and continues to be.

I had no idea I wanted to blog for a living. Especially not a corporate blog. But come to find out, it's an ideal occupation for me because it almost never feels like a job. I love Vegas, and can't really imagine being so passionate about blogging were it not for my subject matter.

Note: I know I haven't been making time for personal blogging because I don't even think I mentioned I won a "Most Valuable Las Vegas Blogger" award from CBS Local and KXNT News Radio. Most valuable. In Las Vegas. All of it.

My personal blog has always been an as-time-allows kind of thing, and time hasn't allowed for much lately. I've fallen for a young woman who's turned my world upside down. (Much more about her soon, I suspect.) She's also a handful, and that can be a full-time job in and of itself.

I'm thinking, though, I should make more time for my personal blog. I'm learning so much about the power of blogging, and I have a lot more to say, so I should probably say it here.

I fear my loyal readers have all drifted off. I get that. Same with the visitors to my site, That's OK. I haven't updated it in ages. We just kind of grew apart.

These days, I live on Twitter and Facebook, for the most part. And occasionally I post on Flickr.

Yep, that's Maria. I didn't say it would be too much later before you heard more about her.

So, today, I'm changing the name of my blog to "Sips From the Dribble Glass of Life." Because it's a metaphor that's always kind of summed up my core belief about life and the world. It all feels like a bit of a cosmic joke, and it's really important that we all make the most of it, while keeping a sense of humor about, well, everything.

Thanks for reading this far, and I intend to keep the words flowing, even if only to highlight some of my work on the Pulse of Vegas blog. Or to share photos of Maria. She's kind of into that.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fifty Years of Patience, Love, Patience and Patience

On November 23, 2011, my parents Coleen and Robert Roeben celebrated their 50th anniversary. Amazing.

My sister, Patty, spent weeks scanning photos of my folks during their 50 years of marriage. I strung them together for a video which my parents seemed to like.

Here's a look at the photo book my sister made. She found pics for 48 of my parents 50 years together.

Here's another book of family photos. Lots and lots of them. I'm the cute, stout one.

I'm so thankful for having the continuity of parents married 50 years. I've had the benefit of a lifetime of love and support and guidance and a safety net.

My parents have always known the secret of a lifelong marriage. It's simple to say, but I don't suspect it's as easy to live. All you have to do is put the other person first. Day after day and year after year. Til death do you part. That's all.

It's Gotten Chilly Here in Vegas

Caught this fellow trying to keep warm outside M&M World here in Vegas.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

It's Been Awhile

Wow. How long has it been since I last posted in this poor, neglected blog?

I guess doing a Las Vegas blog all day makes it less likely I'll want to blog when I get home.

However, I don't want this blog to die, so here's a photo.

Hey, it's something.

Saturday, July 23, 2011