Column: A MacGuffin with a side of chips

Sadly I am quite unapologetic about my book addiction. The piles of read and unread books that line the wall beside the bed are a testament to my devotion to the favorites and to the discovery of new ones. Some make their way up to the small library upstairs, but others sit at the ready on the floor to the dismay of my husband, Doug, who would prefer a more spartan existence without the clutter and falling hazards.

BY CARLA BARNES

One book I can’t seem to put away is “The Pocket Muse: Ideas and Inspirations for Writing” by Monica Wood, which I picked up a year ago. I read one of the bite-size passages from it almost every day. It is the type of book that provides the metaphorical paint thinner to clean the oil paint off the brushes to enable the artist, or in this case the creative writer, to shake loose new ideas and keep on writing.

One page in particular with the words “Get out of town” in bold typeface was burned on my brain when my boss announced I would be attending an upcoming trade show. I was delighted. I imagined working during the day, eating a great dinner with friends at night, making calls to catch up with long lost friends in that time zone, and after all of that was accomplished – I would write. My plans had merit, but when you consider where I was headed —Las Vegas, it was pure tomfoolery, as one of my friends would say.

There is plenty of tomfoolery to get into in a city like Vegas. To be up close and personal with a place you have only read about or seen on a 42-inch TV screen almost seemed too much for me to take in.

Days before the trip I developed my short list of places I would like to see which included the Dale Chihuly glass ceiling inside the Bellagio Hotel and Casino, and historic Fremont Street with the iconic neon cowboy and cowgirl. I also wanted to play my first slot machine even though they don’t have the handle you pull down on anymore. It was my twisted Vegas version of “Walden.”

I would get to experience this incredible city, but still have a couple of hours of writer’s solitude each night with a view of the blinking Luxor pyramid from the window of my hotel room. This idea had all but disappeared from my mind before the plane even took off from Atlanta.

You see I had already unknowingly developed a MacGuffin in the plot of my Vegas story. The term MacGuffin is credited most often to Alfred Hitchcock as a plot device – some goal or desired object that motivates the actions of the characters in the story.

What was my MacGuffin? Was it seeing Vegas itself? Or was it seeing the Chihuly glass? Touring brightly lit miniature versions of the global wonders of the world or winning big at a casino game?

For another member of our party the MacGuffin was clearly the search for a lucky table. We walked through an endless flow of casinos passing by the empty blackjack tables with bored dealers waiting for action and the packed craps tables where we tried to peek over the shoulders of the crowds lined up around the come line to see what was happening.

I wondered at what point does the MacGuffin resolve itself? Is it when the story is over, or when whatever “it” is has been satisfied? My aching, blistered feet called an end to my MacGuffins and the endless walking spree. Perhaps my MacGuffin should have been the pursuit of a pair of shoes that would not fail me?

With MacGuffins on the brain it is an interesting coincidence that I happened to read an article in Vanity Fair magazine featuring one of the most famous ones – “The Maltese Falcon.” In the article the writer explores the unusual occurrence when art reflects reality. Like the fictional characters in the movie, people still want to get their hands on the statuettes — preferably the ones of value.

MacGuffin or not, I came away a winner in Vegas. I made incredible memories and laughed until my sides hurt. And my friend, well he did find his lucky table and we got to watch his face light up when he cashed out.

To steal Humphrey Bogart’s famous line from the 1941 film, the trip was “the stuff dreams are made of.

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