Friday, August 21, 2009

Viva Las Vegas, Viva "the Holocaust"

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In 1959, I was 11 years old, living frugally with my parents, both of whom were, as they say, gainfully employed.

My father ran a small supermarket, while my mother managed her rooming house for transients up on the 2nd floor. They were very careful about quickly paying off their debts and putting away their savings for a rainy day.

For example, if I asked for a quarter to go to the movies with my school mates on a Saturday afternoon, my parents, as often as not, would deny my request; sometimes, with a tedious lecture on my need to learn to exercise thrift.

One day, one of my mother’s transient lodgers moved out leaving behind a deck of cards. The man had used them to play solitaire, and had taught me how.

I was in the middle of a game of solitaire when my father came upstairs for supper and noticed me off in a corner, playing. He came over and brusquely interrupted me.

Gathering up the cards, he explained that playing solitaire was an unseemly actvity -- one that was worthy only of shiftless gypsies -- and relieved me of the deck.

Several years later, the Main Street property my parents owned quadrupled in value during a period of economic boom. They sold it, and went into semi-retirement. They travelled abroad. Travels that even included Las Vegas, where they spent a week gambling and going to shows.

It was in August in 1974 -- during the week President Nixon had resigned his office -- that my parents spent a week in Las Vegas. Since we had little in common, my father and I typically bridged the divide that separated us by discussing current events. I asked him how the Americans he met in Vegas reacted to Nixon resigning his office. He shrugged, so I asked instead about how he had enjoyed Sin City.

It was obvious the man was proud of the fact that he was able to afford to vacation there, for in his circle of friends it meant he had “arrived.” I have no interest in gambling or Las Vegas, least of all in gambling in Las Vegas, but I thought it polite to at least pretend to share his enthusiasm.

“What kind of gambling do you do?” I asked.

“I just pump a roll of quarters into a slot machine -- and hope to get lucky.”

“Any luck?”

“Naw . . .”

Naturally, I remembered the times I had to beg him for two-bits to go see a Western during a matinee at the movie-theatre down the street, and of the time he seized my deck of playing cards.

It is through this Las Vegas that-was-then, this-is-now peephole that I consider all of the hoopla that attends the release of Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, a Judeo-centric World War Two satirical sendup entitled Inglourious Basterds.

Against a backdrop of sober Holocaust pieties, Tarantino and his stars Brad Pitt et al. are perfectly free to blithely screw over the received version of the Holocaust narrative. Even as in Australia and Austria -- and, of course, in the German Fatherland -- daring revisionists languish in prison, punished for having demonstrated their temerity by challening the typical Hollywood-inspired version of the traditional Holocaust story.

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