It's All In The Game
by A. Charles Corotis


It's All In The Game: A selected Collection of Gay Essays
on Life, Love, and the Pursuit of Mnemosyne,
Assayed from the Provocative Pages of
New Jersey's Literate Review Weekly, The Argus

By A. Charles Corotis



The colossus of Rhodes? A midget.  
         Babylon's Hanging Gardens? Mere window boxes.
         The Pyramids of Egypt? Children's toys.

         The Pharos Lighthouse . . . Temple of Diana . . . Mausoleum at Halicarnassus . . . Statue of Zeus? These were wonders?

Pigmean they were, pikers, all seven of them, compared to the prodigy that is America! This is the miracle of all history, this fabulous United States; this prodigious prodigal Uncle Samson the Samaritan, as lavish with his land as with his money.

What other nation ever has been so rich in resources, so profuse in production, that it can afford to contribute half its area to theatrics, write off thousands of square miles of its territory for scenic display?

From the Continental Divide across the enormous states of Wyoming and Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, Utah and Nevada, this country of ours devotes itself to spectacu­lar splendor. Mountains and canyons, deserts and salina combine to form an awesome, wondrous panorama viewed from four miles up in the troposphere.

What wonderful waste! What portentous profligacy!

Even California—sumptuous, summery Cal, with its sun­drenched slopes and vinous verdure—still gives up most of its acreage to wild mountainry and bleached desiccation, equally barren, alike unproductive, unpopulated.

This, it seems to me, is the overriding impress fixed so indelibly on the mind of the transcontinental novitiate. I know that as I winged my way for the first time over mile after mile of geodetic dramatics—black hills and brown sands, forlorn gorges and pathetic arroyos, schistose formations of an immensity beyond the dimensions of a dozen states like ours, of a character that absolutely defies description—the thought impinged upon my enthralled consciousness with the violence and vehemence of a whiplash: what a country is ours that we dare dedicate so much of it to non-utilitarian use, and still remain the greatest on earth, the richest in the annals of all mankind!

For hours on end my fascinated gaze fixed itself raptly on—nothing—nothing except extravagant splendor, wasteful magnificence, spendthrift grandeur. No sign of life met my probing eyes, no smoking factories or tumultuous cities, nothing but rugged vastness, multi-hued, vari-shaped pageantry, awe-inspiring, breath-taking in its sublime stillness.

Oh, 1 know we dredge oil and ore from some of it, mine metals and mill lumber, but mostly it's waste, intrinsically speaking: rude, rough, unrefined, only for great things good, such great things as shame the seven celebrated marvels of the ancient world. Nowhere is the prodigality of Nature so calculated to excite wonder and exaltation as here. Inspired by the limitless reaches of our wanton West, the giddy Dame pulls out all the stops, really lets herself go. She doesn't know her own strength.

On what lavish a scale does Nature the exhibitionist per­form here in this ennobling setting! She thinks nothing of flinging billions of tons of rock across Uncle Sam's face to raise livid welts, gouging out vivid pock-marks of canyons and craters, digging arroyo scars with her scratching fingers. Exuberantly she yanks out forested forelocks by their hir­sute roots, leaving stark patches of sterile baldness, only an occasional cactus and chaparral where there should be healthy, luxuriant crops. Almost exultantly she turns his own salty tears into excrescence that pollutes his pools, sali-nating his sorely-needed water supply.

Oh, she can be hard, can Nature, a relentless Niobe who would destroy all she bore. But she can be kind and gentle, too, can this lady of many moods, and even at her worst, her most ruthless, she offers something extraordinarily inspiring in the very majesty of her misbehavior. Vixen she may be, but yet she is an artist, a recusant regnant whose optigraphic masterpieces have been wrought by aeons of unbridled, un­restrained caprice.

We mere mortals accept her didactic dictum unquestion­ing, uncomplaining, satisfying our sensuous sentiency on the visional feasts she spread tantalizingly before us, caring little about sensorial sensibilities.

Not so old Sam. He's not without an appreciation of the scenic splendent, but he's a practical cuss, too. And he's not taking such cavalier treatment lying down.

I saw him fighting back there in the once forbidding Black Canyon hewed by the fearsome Colorado out where the westernmost Rockies come to grips with the desert.

Since the dawn of time the old Dame had delighted in brushing the snow off the mountains with one wide sweep­ing seasonal gesture, tossing the ermine mass into the river, to send it cascading rampantly, swollen in its own conceit like Loki gone berserk, through the countryside, destroying all in its rampaging way. In between these cruel, destructive sorties the parched land wilted and burned and produced nothing but mesquite and sage brush.

President Hoover and his commissioner of reclamation, Dr. Elwood Mead, threw down the gauntlet twenty-three years ago. In an inaccessible spot at the foothills of Fortifi­cation Mountain where sheer walls of mighty rock astride the boundary between Arizona and Nevada compressed the Colorado into a narrow enraged maelstrom and only the most intrepid of explorers ever had set foot, Sam went to work.

A road was thrown across the desert, the town of Boulder City was built to house the workers, millions of tons of gla­cial stone were blasted out of the canyon in simultaneous trinitrotoluene fusillades to fashion the v-shaped support for what today is Hoover Dam, greatest undertaking of its kind ever dared.

On the last day of my westward adventure for the con­vention of the National Association of Real Estate Boards, I visited this miracle of modern techtonics only thirty miles from Las Vegas in the heart of such scenic classics as the Bryce and Grand Canyons, Death Valley, Pike's Peak, Zion National Park, Kaibab Forest, Pueblo ruins, ghost towns of the old mining days.

Some 550 feet—the height of a 46-story building— I de­scended to the massive power plant, down into natural rock tunnels through which the raging waters of the Colorado once surged, down at the base of the dam where the con­crete is 660 feet thick because the water pressure is 45,000 pounds on each square foot, where the air escaping from the turbines churns up an agitated two-tone green show.

I was the 414,353rd rubberneck last year to view this largest of all dams that rises 727 feet above bedrock, is 1244 feet long at its crest, with a power plant capacity of 1 !/£ mil­lion kilowatts. Its production exceeding the combined out­put of Muscle Shoals and Niagara Falls, it furnishes elec­trical energy to Nevada, Arizona and Southern California, including Los Angeles.

But low cost electricity—which incidentally makes the gigantic project self-sufficient—is only one of many benefits wrested from Nature in this operation that excavated 6i/£ million cubic yards of stone and sand, employed 96 million pounds of steel and metal, 33 million of valves, gates and hoists, and 41/9 million cubic yards of concrete.

It provides desperately needed flood control and silt con­trol, too, and water storage and irrigation. Lake Mead, the inland sea created by the dam, a spectacular sight in its can­yon setting, is the world's largest man-made reservoir, 115 miles long, 58 feet deep with a capacity of 31 million acre-feet and a flood-control reserve of 9i/£ millions. With the Colorado capable of a flow as great as 300,000 cubic feet of water a second as Spring warmth melts the snowpack on the Rockies, Mead can impound two years' average flow within its spillway gates. An acre-foot, incidentally is the water necessary to cover an acre of land to a depth of one foot, which you probably knew all the time. I didn't.

The Lake, named for Commissioner Mead, contains 550 miles of scenic shoreline abounding in vari-colored lava deposits like the famed paint pots of Yellowstone. The Newark News' Jack Kempson, supposed to be fishing for the bass and bluegill that abound there, was more interested in scram­bling along the shore for exotic pieces of odd-shaped driftwood and bizarre chunks of petrified rock. Even the sight of a coyote leaping into the water and paddling out to seize a gamecock shot down by a hunter didn't feaze him. Acquisi­tion of choice driftwood seems to be a hobby as insidious and sometimes invidious as golf. Another caught in its toils is Ray Balasny, my preceptor and guide—in absentia—on this trip.

Hoover Dam impressed me not only by the enormity of its undertaking, the daring of its conception and successful translation of a bold dream into reality, but as an excellent example of government's proper function.

Anti-federalists like I, who fear and oppose concentration of great power in Washington, often are chided for alleged inconsistency: we favor a little government aid, or indirect aid, or aid that helps us specifically, we're told and scolded; we're constantly being challenged to spurn all help and intervention of any kind in proof of our sincerity.

Exemplimatic was the press conference, near the close of the convention at Los Angeles, with Al Cole, who heads the government's housing program.

Some of the boys gleefully pounced upon a NAREB reso­lution calling for the disposal of all public housing by sale to private, taxpaying ownership, and its interim "competent and efficient private management" to eliminate political extravagance from operational costs. This was construed as a willingness by realtors, vigorously free enterprise minded, to themselves accept public funds, and Cole was induced to voice his disapproval of the idea, to the ill-concealed satisfaction of some of the newsmen.

I, of course, opined that maybe the National Association of Real Estate Boards is naive enough to accept at face value the representation that we are a nation which fosters individual opportunity and that the proper role of government is to encourage and stimulate private effort, not substitute itself for it by stretching unduly its own powers at the ex­pense of the citizen.

That day at lunch at the Biltmore I heard Governor Bracken Lee of Utah say unequivocally that there are only two ways in which people can prosper: under a system of complete free enterprise or a complete dictatorship; that we've nourished under the first but are heading rapidly toward the second.

This thought intrigued me, and I meant to explore it in conversation with Governor Lee after the luncheon, but it happened that Ginny Simms was present, and she looked so sweet and lovely and not a day older than when she began singing many years ago that I couldn't resist chatting with her, and when finally I sought out the Governor he had de­parted, presumably for Salt Lake City.

But when later I stood on the crest of Hoover Dam and looked down its mammoth, monolithic gleaming white wall on the swirling black-green waters of the harnessed Colorado River and gazed out over Lake Mead where billions of gal­lons are stored to assure a stable supply of domestic and in­dustrial use to the seven states which are signatories to the Colorado River Compact, and I saw the All-American Canal wending its serpentine way across desert wastelands to serve California's Imperial and Coachella and Palo Verde valleys, Arizona's Yuma and Gila areas, and I realized that the re­gion below Hoover Dam receives no more than five inches of rain a year and without irrigation crop production is impossible, and I see the steel derricks anchored into the moun­tains stretching as far in all directions as the eye can see, carrying electrical power from this once vicious, totally useless river, then I understand plainly enough government's role.

It is to fight wars. Not necessarily or exclusively wars against external enemies, but wars against famine and fear, and against Nature herself. When a natural menace like the Colorado can be tamed and converted into a national re­source, government is doing its job.

For only government could tackle so formidable a foe as the Dame. And in doing so it employed to best advantage the product of private enterprise in a working partnership: the unbelievable accomplishments were performed by firms on contract. But the impetus, the stimulation, came from government, and so did the financing and, of necessity, the land acquisition, utilizing its sovereign right of eminent domain.

Never, I might mention parenthetically, was $172,000,000 spent more judiciously. The investment is being repaid through annual amortization of fifty-year bonds bearing 3% interest, mostly through the sale of electrical energy, supple­mented to a lesser extent by water storage charges. Thus power and water are picking up the tab for a project that is reclaiming and developing a tremendously large and impor­tant part of our land.

That $172,000,000, it should be pointed out, is equivalent to half a billion by today's standards. Indicative of the economic trend this past generation, the huge turbo-generators which originally cost $21/4 millions each now cost $7 millions. Their number has been increased as population and industrial growth have expanded, stepping up demands for electricity.

Its herculean task achieved, government now is edging out of the picture. The dam is paying its way. Boulder City is to be disposed of to private interests and soon will take its place among the incorporated municipalities of Nevada. Through the years it has been publicly-owned, a neat, clean little community faithful to the careful planning that created it as a model. Lawns and hedges are kept trimmed, flower gardens vie with Joshua trees in eye-appeal, houses are mod­ern and attractive. And— strange as it may seem for Nevada- there are no cafes or liquor stores; stranger still, gambling strictly taboo!

Those bans may end when Uncle Sam relinquishes his landlordship, but it is altogether fitting and proper none­theless that Boulder City should be loosed of its federal reins, set free to determine its own destiny.

The battle is over. Nature has been licked on the Colorado River front, has capitulated to the combined forces of governmental initiative and industrial genius.

The war continues in other sectors, pitting the co-operative teamwork of governing and governed against the wild might of Nature which has reigned unchecked, unhampered, these many millenniums since the dawn of day.

Hoover Dam— symbol of progress, exemplification of leadership's proper role. For a government cannot have too much of the kind of activity which does not impede or supplant, but rather aids and stimulates individual exertion and development.