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Fifth Street

October 22, 2020

In this issue: How to Vote During the Apocalypse | Remembering Rhonda | The Challenges of Police Reform | My Kitchen Gadget Addiction


WELCOME TO the 2020 election! If you’ve been following the news — or the Twitter feed of President Trump — it promises to be a dystopian saga of paramilitary poll-watchers, disrupted mail-in voting, and rich, simmering constitutional crisis.

Can you feel confident in voting by mail? Will casting your ballot in person be a nightmare conga line of COVID doom? How many “I Voted” stickers will the nice lady at the table really let you have? We discussed these burning questions — and our own voting plans — on Slack. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

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Andrew: Have you two voted yet? Or made plans? Or had general feels about voting?

Scott: My plan is to gulp some coffee, strap on a bad mood, and go vote on Election Day morning.

Andrew: Bold, Scott! Why election morning?

Scott: Curiosity, really. About my neighborhood. What sort of people will be there? Who’ll be peacocking their Trump bona fides with red hats, Gadsden flags, and openly carried handguns? No doubt I’ll see the guy with the Trump 2020 paraphernalia on the monster truck he insists on parking in two spaces right in front of the convenience store doors because that’s freedom. No way he’s gonna vote with some nonconfrontational mail ballot. Who’ll be Bidenizing? I want to see it in person. Like immersive theater. Will there be any belligerence on display, other than my own pre-emptive anxiety? I hope not!

Heidi: I salute your gameliness, Scott. Do you need a personal security detail? I can lend you my pit bull. He’s actually quite friendly, but intimidating-looking.

Scott: I have a fierce Shih Tzu and a black face mask. Hopefully they’ll shield me.

Andrew: How about you, Heidi?

Heidi: I haven't voted yet. Originally I planned to early-vote in person, but then I saw a PBS report with some election officials saying they liked receiving the mail ballots in person (not by mail), because it gives them a tangible thing they can record. So, I think I'm going to do it that way instead: Fill out my mail-in ballot but drop it off in a polling location drop-box. I like the idea of giving a volunteer a piece of paper to physically count and file somewhere. Suddenly I sound 80 years old.

How was early in-person voting, Andrew? I thought of you standing in line when I saw all the fanfare in the daily news media. Elected officials dancing up to the ballot boxes and whatnot.

Andrew: I think I was wanting the same sense of security that motivated me to early-vote this weekend. It took three stops, but done. Objectively, a breeze, but psychically, an epic quest-ordeal I had built up in my MIND mind mind mind. Yeah, given all the ambient disinformation and viral news undertows regarding postal disruption and stories about fake ballot collection boxes, I wanted to definitely vote in person.

Heidi: Why did it take you three stops?

Andrew: On Saturday, I originally chose the Las Vegas Ballpark in Summerlin because I thought it would be huge and accommodating, but it was thronged! So, went to the Veterans Memorial Community Center up the street ... looooong line cha-chaing out the door and down the walk. Finally picked a nondescript recreation center on Bruce and Owens and was in and out in 15 minutes. But I was bracing myself for self-appointed poll-watchers and mall-ninja militia-wannabes roostering around, but everything went smoothly.

Scott: Likewise, I’m probably over-imagining the level of baroque confrontation I’ll experience on Election Day. This is the suburbs of Henderson, after all. They type a tough game on Nextdoor.com, but most are decent enough, I think.

Andrew: But it says something about the warping norms of American representative democracy that I’ve never felt such anxiety about a national ritual/responsibility that we consider not just sacrosanct, but fundamentally secure. I really wanted to make sure my vote was properly ingested!

Heidi: Yes indeed. I wonder how many people will stay away Nov. 3 because of these fears. What was the COVID situation? Mostly masked people?

Andrew: At the rec center, yeah, masked to the gills! Scott, do you have a mental plan in case you come across faux poll-watchers or vote disruptors or general strident unpleasantness? You’re usually a pretty chill person.

Scott: My only real option is a kind of Bartleby overchill — a blank-faced refusal to engage with Militia Joe, and an implacable insistence on doing what I came to do. If that doesn't work, release the Shit-Tzu!

Heidi: SHIH-Tzu. Sounds more martial-arts that way.

Scott: On the other hand, this isn’t the first seismic election we’ve faced, though it feels that way now. I thought there might be some minor skirmishing and in-yer-face BS at my polling station in 2016, but it was a breeze. Encouraging precedent!

Andrew: I ask because before we embarked on Saturday, I said to my voting buddy, “Now, if we’re confronted or there’s yelling jerks or livid Trumpers or anti-maskers, we’re just gonna not engage. If things escalate, we’re gonna walk away.” The fact that I felt compelled to prepare on several levels speaks to how much sketchy provocateurs, one of whom is president, have eroded faith in democratic institutions, to say nothing of the institutions themselves.

Heidi: One thing I thought I caught in the first (and maybe last) Biden-Trump debate was Biden replying to the question about a peaceful transition by saying to host Chris Wallace something like, yeah, Trump will lose and he will leave office — implying that all the Armageddon talk is just bluster. I found this weirdly reassuring. He must have used his grandpa psychic voice. “Don’t worry, kiddo, that storm is headed east of here.”

Scott: Yeah, radical nonengagement is my plan, for sure. But whatever happens, I’m determined to get my vote counted. For exactly the reason you’re alluding to: As a decisive gesture in favor of stable norms and institutions. I’ve got grandkids to think about. I’m less worried about Trump’s bluster than the crazed commitment of some of his let’s-kidnap-a-governor followers.

Andrew: Heidi, do you feel like you’re missing anything in voting by mail, in not standing in line with fellow citizens, some sense of shared civic tradition, etc.?

Heidi: I’ve early-voted since it was possible, and I’ve never really stood in line with a crowd. I’m not someone who thinks you should wait until day-of just to have all the information. If I’m missing something, I don’t know what it is

Scott: Also, a scrum of voters on Election Day will probably constitute my major social event of 2020, so there’s that.

Andrew: I had to sign a statement affirming I’d destroy my mail-in ballot. I have to say, I’m going to destroy it reluctantly. It has a nice, reassuring, satisfying, institutional, talismanic heft.

Heidi: It is super weird to walk my dog around the neighborhood and see ballots sticking out of people’s mailboxes. Votes. Just sitting there.

And since I know you’re thinking it, Andrew, I’ve also learned my lesson about election-night watch parties.

Scott: Election NIGHT is where I have a plan: a handful of Xanax and into bed at sundown — I’d rather wake up to the news than deal with the slow-drip anxiety of network coverage!

Andrew: You have Xanax?

Scott: I know a guy who knows a guy. That’s also where I got my extra ballots.

Andrew: Too soon!

Scott: Wait, did I type that or just think it?

Heidi: But the thing is the decision won’t come on election night, right? That’s part of the problem — the days or weeks that will be needed to count all those mail-in ballots.

Scott: True. I gotta get more Xanax!

Heidi: Like, a month’s worth. Maybe November will just be like one long, drawn-out election-night watch party.

Scott: Gonna need more chips and salsa, too.

Andrew: Well, fwiw, the long but orderly lines in Summerlin, and the smoothness of voting at the rec center, did reassure me that a lot of my fears are perhaps the result of viral bluster. So, I was a bit heartened that it went smoothly. And perhaps from this I might extrapolate some faith in our other systems in handling an extenuated election process.

Heidi: It’s not Nevada I’m worried about. (What’s up, Florida?)

Andrew: Hear that.

Heidi: Well, the three of us will be able to nestle smugly in our Xanax-induced calm and know that we did our part.

Andrew: Yeah, thanks in advance for sharing, Scott Dickensheets! Or should I say Candysheets?

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ANYONE WHO'S BEEN to the Brenden Theaters inside the Palms has probably heard of Rhonda Fleming, even if they can’t remember why. The actress and singer, who died on October 14 at age 97, was awarded the first Brenden Celebrity Star on the lobby floor during the 2005 CineVegas film festival, as a tribute from theater owner Johnny Brenden. Fleming was married to Brenden’s grandfather Ted Mann for more than 25 years, and Brenden has cited both Mann (who founded the legendary theater chain that bears his name) and Fleming as influences on his passion for the movie theater business.

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In a big-screen career that spanned only a little over 20 years, Fleming appeared in classic films including Out of the Past, Spellbound and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, worked with stars from Bing Crosby to Bob Hope to Kirk Douglas to Charlton Heston, and earned the nickname “the queen of Technicolor” for the way she shone onscreen in vibrant color. She debuted onscreen in 1943, and by the mid-1960s had effectively retired from acting, save a handful of cameos and TV appearances.

Beyond her acting career, Fleming was a regular performer on the Las Vegas lounge scene, starting in 1957, when she helped open the Tropicana. Even after largely leaving acting behind, she continued to sing onstage, for audiences in Vegas and around the world. In film, Fleming did her most notable work in noirs and Westerns, although she dabbled in nearly every genre. Here’s a look at five movies that showcase Fleming at her best.

Spellbound (1946) Fleming makes quite an impression in her first credited role, playing a sexually voracious patient being treated by psychiatrist Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman). Fleming’s Mary Carmichael is the first person shown onscreen in Alfred Hitchcock’s trippy psychodrama, seductively (and then aggressively) pawing at an orderly as he brings her to see the doctor. There’s a manic glint in her eyes as she tells Dr. Petersen about the time she nearly bit off a man’s mustache when she grew tired of his affections. It’s about as memorable an introduction as any actor could hope for.

Cry Danger (1951) Fleming’s best noir work comes as the deceptively friendly femme fatale Nancy Morgan in this clever, twisty thriller starring Dick Powell as a wrongly convicted man trying to clear his name. Nancy is both the ex-girlfriend of Powell’s Rocky Mulloy and the wife of Rocky’s former partner, and Fleming plays her as seductive yet wholesome, with genuine romantic intentions even as she’s clearly hiding something from Rocky. She provides an emotional anchor to the typically convoluted noir story, bringing the screenplay’s sharp dialogue and murky motivations to life.

Tennessee’s Partner (1955) Director Allan Dwan makes great use of Technicolor and widescreen to create some gorgeous compositions in this lively Western, featuring Fleming (and her eye-catching red hair) as a brothel madam known as the Duchess, who runs a “marriage market” in a small California boomtown. The Duchess is savvy and quick-witted, and Fleming brings a sparkle to the role that outshines some of the dustier Western clichés. The romance between the Duchess and inveterate gambler Tennessee (John Payne) pales in comparison to the smoldering homoerotic tension between Tennessee and his cowpoke “partner” (Ronald Reagan), though.

Slightly Scarlet (1956) Fleming, Payne and Dwan collaborated again on this James M. Cain adaptation, which is predictably hard-boiled but also takes an emotional, almost melodramatic approach to the crime story. Fleming plays June Lyons, secretary to an upstanding politician running for mayor of an unnamed California city. She gets entangled with mobster Ben Grace (Payne), who manipulates her to his own political advantage, but also develops true feelings for her. June is a bit naïve and trusting, both with Ben and with her ex-con sister Dorothy (Arlene Dahl), but Fleming gives her a sense of integrity and a fiery spirit.

Home Before Dark (1958) Fleming herself called this her favorite role, although the movie really belongs to Jean Simmons as a woman attempting to readjust to normal life after spending a year in a mental institution. Fleming plays Joan, the outgoing and rather insensitive stepsister to Simmons’ Charlotte, with obvious designs on Charlotte’s weaselly husband Arnold (Dan O’Herlihy). The surprisingly multilayered movie shows how mental instability can be a product of toxic relationships, as selfish family members take advantage of Charlotte’s vulnerable state. Fleming expertly embodies the passive-aggressive step-sibling who claims to be supportive and understanding while undermining Charlotte at every turn.

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THE MINNEAPOLIS POLICE killing of George Floyd in late May has brought renewed calls for criminal justice reform. Specifically, the egregious actions of officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt with his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd died, have made police departments more susceptible, and legislators more receptive, to police reform.

Reformers’ wish lists are long. For instance, Forced Trajectory Project, which advocates for the survivors of those killed by police, has issued 40 demands ranging from the small and personal (returning victims’ belongings after an investigation) to the big and public (resignations of District Attorney Steve Wolfson and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Sheriff Joe Lombardo). What follows is a selection of groups like FTP’s demands, as well as thoughts on the subject by a defense attorney, a criminal justice professor, Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice, and the panelists in the Mob Museum’s August 20th public forum, “Reinventing Law Enforcement: Changing the Culture of Policing.” Each idea is distilled into its main goal, existing law or pending legislation (if any), and barriers to its acceptance.

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This list is only a start. Sources discussed abolishing police unions, eliminating school cops, restructuring recruitment and training, and more. Other ideas, such as decriminalizing traffic violations, fit into the broader conversation about criminal justice reform. If this serves to further discussion, it’s done its job.

1. Repeal the police officers “bill of rights.”

Goal: Overhaul Nevada Revised Statutes Chapter 289 pertaining to “peace officers and other law enforcement personnel.” The law restricts agencies’ options for punishing police officers who engage in misconduct and hampers outside scrutiny of the investigation process. Changing it is key to reform.

“Independent investigations of police killings and transparency,” FTP founder Nissa Tzun said, “Those are really the main things.”

Legislation: Nevada Senate Bill 242 passed in the fall of 2019, and the Governor Steve Sisolak signed it into law. It strengthens officers’ rights by limiting the time an agency can investigate an officer to one year after alleged misconduct, requiring officers’ faces to be redacted from body-worn camera footage, prohibiting the use of statements officers make during internal investigations in civil suits, and more.

In this spring’s special state legislative session, Senate Bill 2 passed and was signed by Sisolak, undoing some of SB242. It allows officer statements from internal investigations to be used in civil suits and extends the statute of limitations on investigations to five years. Reformers would like to see SB242 completely repealed.

Barriers: Police unions. Agency leaders dislike officer-bill-of-rights laws, because they make it hard to get rid of bad apples. At the Mob Museum event, Metro Assistant Sheriff Christopher Jones said, “It was very frustrating to have these laws like in Senate Bill 242 pass, and we saw the effect in a short period of time … It does tie our hands. The union has a purpose; all unions do …  But when it comes to protecting the bad ones, that’s where it has to stop.”

2. Defund the police

Goal: Varying proponents’ interpretation of this idea range from radical (disbanding current departments and reallocating their funding to community-based patrols and social programs) to conservative (redirecting part of the police budget to mental health crisis response).

Legislation: None appear to be in the works in Nevada.

Barriers: You need only invoke October 1st to capture why most people want armed and trained professionals on call 24/7, not to mention more common rapes, robberies, and other violent crime.

As for funding reallocation, it can backfire. On average, at least three-quarters of an agency’s budget goes toward salaries, benefits, and other employee expenses. To save money “agencies will pull back on proactive programs, such as community policing, and put officers in cars to respond to calls,” Bill Sousa, director of the UNLV Center for Crime and Justice Policy says. In other words, officers become reactive, rather than spending time building the relationships that help them prevent crime.

3. Demilitarize the police

Goal: “Prohibit the use of military-style weapons and tactics, including chemical agents and rubber bullets, against peaceful protesters,” says Sarah Hawkins, vice president of the southern branch of Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice.

Legislation: In response to the protests over Floyd’s killing, the U.S. Congress has revived a push to scale back, or repeal altogether, a Pentagon program known as 1033 that transfers military equipment to local law enforcement agencies.

Barriers: There don’t seem to be any to the idea as Hawkins framed it. However, both Metro’s Jones and UNLV’s Sousa said military equipment is necessary to rare situations, such as a natural disaster or shooter who’s barricaded himself with a hostage. The key, both argued, is good policies governing when such equipment can be used, and how.

4. Reduce use of deadly force

Goal: To stop police from injuring and killing unarmed people

Legislation: This year’s special legislative session also produced Assembly Bill 3, signed by Sisolak in June. Some aspects of the law fall more broadly under police accountability, such as reaffirming the legality of filming the police, and mandating data collection about police stops. Others, however, are specifically geared toward use of force, such as the ban on chokeholds, mandate that officers be tested for drugs and alcohol following use-of-force incidents, and requirement that officers intervene if they see others using excessive force.

Barriers: The qualified immunity doctrine shields government employees from liability for civil damages incurred while they’re doing their job, provided they’re not violating someone’s constitutional rights. The legal arguments for and against this applying to a police officer’s excessive use of force are complicated, to say the least.

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IT'S TRICKY to explain why I’ve come to love shopping at Cresco-Resco Restaurant Supply.

It’s not that I’m a terrible cook. The irony is more layered than that. It’s that I’m a species arguably worse than a terrible cook — I’m a suitably competent kitchen chef, but one whose threshold for a sense of culinary achievement is so low that I consider something like canned lentil soup poured over Fritos and sprinkled with uh this Parmesan should do the trick an inventive kitchen feat, the triumphal pleasures of which border on the metaphysical. (Don’t get me started on my utterly divine graham cracker-peanut-butter-and-banana dessert funwiches.) At home, I’m a routinized function eater who thinks the art of cooking is outsmarting gastronomic boredom with what I tell myself is mad-lad cupboard deejay improv. So, okay, I’m just mostly DIYing Lunchables. I’m fine with it.

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But where I really get most of my kitchen jollies is from the tools and preparation phase. No matter what I’m making, I insist on pre-organizing my gear on the counter with architectural precision. I wish I could say it’s a ritualistic stay against entropy or something like that, but I’m a vapid consumer who happens to love specialized kitchen gadgets, and it’s gear and gadgets, not aspiration, that drive whatever impulse I have resembling culinary ambition. I don’t think, I want a salad and then get the salad bowl. I look at my 12-inch woven-wood salad bowl from Cresco-Resco and think, Dayuuum, you’d look good with a salad up in you. Any dish that emerges from my kitchen is mediocre, but it is always precisely mediocre.

That’s why I love browsing and shopping at Cresco-Resco, a longtime restaurant supply shop on Charleston next to the old Huntridge Theatre. It’s a funhouse of specialization, a toy store of tantalizing professional seriousness that thrills me with the dream of perfectly executed food. Wandering the ancient linoleum aisles, you see elegant solutions to every cooking dilemma — wooden pizza blades as big as galley oars, fry baskets from minuscule to massive, spoons, ladles, strains, and whisks of every shape and proportion. (Behold the hefty “kettle whip” that looks menacingly gladiatorial — wishlisted!) You know that metal triangle people rang for dinner in the olden times? They sell that. They also sell industrial blenders, snack ovens, plating wedges, steak weights, pasta-drying racks, Bakelite ashtrays, napkin dispensers, coffee urns, plastic bartender practice bottles, and a tool that “easily removes coconut meat!” And, of course, there’s an aisle of pro-level cutlery that makes me giddy with that peculiar micro-fantasy that I’ll find a perfect all-purpose chef’s knife of such grave, redoubtable quality that it transcends being a mere tool and becomes more like a lifetime cooking companion who perhaps even warrants being named, like a pet. You might think you’d be bewildered by this epicurean library of Babel — so relentlessly, exhaustively iterative — but I find it soothing to know that every possible kitchen contingency is ingeniously accounted for.

There’s an added frisson of truancy and trespass for me. I’ve been shopping at Cresco-Resco for years (oh, that’s another thing: because I’m apparently 12, my house is embarrassingly accessorized with official-restaurant touches like amber plastic pizza-parlor tumblers, multifold paper towels, silhouette-figure bathroom signage, a “waitress only” bar mat, all from the store), but I still always feel like an interloping poseur who somehow snuck in unnoticed. Cresco-Resco is open to the public, but the cashiers, brisk and rote, always ask what company you’re with. It never fails to make me feel unmasked and exposed, but I certainly hope I sound convincing when I answer, “I’m a private chef.”

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Photos and art: Voting: Steve Heap/Shutterstock.com; Rhonda Fleming: Associated Press/Dave Smith; police: Christopher Smith; Cresco-Resco: Christopher Smith

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