Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Interesting People of Las Vegas Never Lessen

It was exactly 2 p.m. when I started for the clubhouse near the entrance and exit of our mobile home development, to return Milo Talon by Louis L'Amour to the bookshelves inside, near the pool table (I can't read it yet since it's part of a series), and to see if perchance the mail came early for once.

I put Milo Talon back where a few other Westerns had been, and then noticed that Gennie, one of the clerks of the development (she's lower down on the management totem pole, but among us residents, is the most recognizable face and personality besides Margaret, the manager), was reading across from the door to her office, which is also where people come to at the window to pay their rent.

We started talking about Halloween, the few decorations around the neighborhood, how the rest of the neighborhood probably doesn't want to decorate because it's so much work and then you have to take it down again. There's one home on my block that has such elaborate decorations, including spider webs in the trees in the front, and skulls and cauldrons, that makes me think that they've got to be really passionate about Halloween to plan all that out and then do it. Makes me wonder if they're planning the same detail for Christmas.

Then we went on to the food of Las Vegas, and I don't remember what the segue was into it, but I learned that Gennie is from Bosnia, Croatia, somewhere in that part of the world, and I was talking about how a friend of mine here in Las Vegas, who gave me a lot of info before we moved here, lamented how there's no Polish food here, nothing like he had in Chicago. There's Italian, there's Greek, there's so many Chinese, Korean, and Japanese restaurants that it would take you a few years to try them all. There's even Italian and Greek food festivals, as Gennie told me and promised to give me the flyers for them, and Filipinos in Las Vegas have Seafood City, which offers a massive selection of Filipino cuisine. All kinds of fish that I didn't even know existed until we got here. But no Polish sausage, nothing like Chicago has. I told Gennie that my family and I have the same kind of problem, since there's no White Castle in Las Vegas and there should be, preferably in New York-New York since they have a Nathan's there, which also has other locations in the valley, but it means more at New York-New York, and so White Castle should consider the same, because I know they would make more profit in one day than they do the entire year, owing to the sheer number of New York expatriates here. I've had White Castle on the east coast, where it actually is, on a visit in 1994, and I know what my parents mean with their desire for a location here. It's that good.

After that conversation, which included learning where there's a Bosnian store that sells food from that country (I didn't even know there was one, and Gennie said that they're in the northwest valley, and they don't even advertise enough), I went to check the mail, which of course wasn't there, and talked to one of the maintenance guys who was sweeping, and we chatted a bit about the weather finally getting down to a comfortable temperature, where it's warm, but not overly warm, as it has been the past few days, even when it's just 79 degrees.

Rounding the corner from the mailboxes to the entrance of the clubhouse, I saw Alfonso, the maintenance guy who helped out a lot in our house when we first moved in, making some desperately-needed repairs, and we also chatted about the weather, with me saying that this weather right now will be enough to tide me over until spring, but I dread having to fold up a good number of my t-shirts and put them on the shelf above the hangers, and then bring my sweatshirts down from the same shelf and hang them up. He then asked how we were all settling in, and I talked about how Dad was well settled in, and Meridith was at his school today, meeting everyone, since she'll be working there soon in the cafeteria, much like I hope to be working there soon as a campus security monitor. I then told him about when Meridith and I went to Sam's Town when Mary Poppins was playing for two showings at the Century 18 movie theater there, we went to get players' cards, and we told the person helping us about how Dad was in the school district and we were looking for work in there too and she said, confidently, "Oh, you'll get in. No problem about that." Even the people who don't work in the district know. People are really tapped into their city here.

After Alfonso had to get back to work, I walked up one street, next to the pool, playground and basketball courts, and then rounded a corner and went down the street next to it, between mobile homes that were closer together than in my section of the development. It felt very cozy, and I wondered why we hadn't moved to this area, but remembered that where we were living was only one of two properties available for rental at the time. I liked how neighborly it felt, and there were a few trees leaning over the street a little bit, and it would have been perfect to have a porch right there, to just sit and enjoy the afternoon, to feel the genuine peace that that street gives off. It's like nothing can ever bother you there, that there's nothing that can interrupt that peace. I loved it, but I also like where we are because it's like a gateway to the rest of the world, that there are so many questions asked, so much to be curious about, such as the empty plot of land next to our mobile home, and the other empty plot directly across from us. I remember that Alfonso once said that the plot next to us has been empty for six months and the one across from us for more years than he's been here. Something like that. I would love to know who was here before, how long they lived here, what they did in their lives here.

I may have that chance yet, depending on when I'm outside next, and when he's outside. By he, I mean the apparent patriarch of the Lundy family, who lives catercorner from us. I was at the end of that comfortable street, saw the New Mexico license plate I like so much on an SUV parked in another unit, rounded that corner, and walked past the few parking spaces for guests. The patriarch, a grizzled older man, saw me and said, "I guess that means the mail hasn't come yet?" Mind you, I never met him before this, never talked to him, but it didn't jar me because I like talking to anyone. I said to him, "Nope. I think this mailman straddles a fine line between organized and OCD." You see, this mailman seems to never get more than one section of mailboxes done every half an hour. He's the slowest I've ever seen, and while it is nice that the mail's at least put in our box nicely, you can't expect to have it any later than 2:30 to 3. That's generally fine with me since I don't take a walk to get the mail as often as I did in our first month here, but today I did because I wanted to return that Louis L'Amour book and see if those goodie bags in the front office were available for everyone, or just for us. Gennie told me that they were all gone already, and it was probably for the kids. Makes more sense. Besides, when we moved in on September 14, we already got our goodie bag, which was a huge welcome basket with a lot of stuff in it, that I'm sure I'll write about some time soon.

Anyway, the Lundy patriarch told me that the mailman used to deliver the mail by 10 or 11 a.m. I asked him how long he'd lived here, meaning the city, and he said 19 years. I asked how long he'd lived in this development, and he replied, "Like I said, 19 years." Now this is the man whose brain I want to pick! I want to know what this development looked like all those years ago. I want to know more about those empty plots of land, who lived there, what they were like. I want to know all this history. He's usually outside in the afternoon, sometimes in the evening, especially now that his stepson (who he's not fond of at all) is installing new brakes on his truck, and started on the left side last night, then quitting and saying he'd be back in the morning. Except he wasn't back in the morning and still hadn't arrived when I was talking to the patriarch.

He's nice enough, but the sort that you talk with once in a while. You do not want to cross him. There was one night before I knew him when the cat had gotten out, and the stepson ran after it, cursing loud enough for the neighborhood to hear, and the patriarch followed, yelling at HIM!

But 19 years, though. He's been in the Las Vegas I've never been in, and I want to learn more from him, especially about my immediate area. Obviously, with him having lived in that mobile home for 19 years, this mobile home park has been around for a while, but what was its management like before Margaret and the rest of the current group? Were the policies stricter or more lax? I hope he's willing to chat more about all that. To me, history is very important in this city, and the more I know, the closer I can be to it.

I got back to our house, and decided to walk Tigger because we were planning to go out right after Dad and Meridith got home. My favorite house is on my side of the street, the last one before that wide area that includes an industrial-size dumpster, and a side gate leading into the senior mobile home park, that some use illegally to go between both parks, and that security uses during the day and well into the night. This house is right next to that area, and I love its porch because it has a few plants dotted throughout, one next to a bench, another next to a table on the far end, and another, a taller one, next to a bench that backs up to the window next to the front door. This is my favorite space in the entire mobile home park, because there's such a wonderful balance that few other porches in this park achieve. For sheer peace, for a sense of place, you can't get better than this. And that's why I walk Tigger and Kitty near there, to look at that all the time, and especially at night, when it's there, spreading its own spirit in the air around it. I feel it every night.

This time, walking Tigger past there on the way back to the house, a man was sitting on the porch and asked me what kind of dog Tigger was ("What kind of dog is it?" he asked). I told him, and we got to talking, and by the end, this man became my favorite in this entire development because of how far he came to Las Vegas, his history, his life. His name's Michael, and he's got 10 years to retirement. He works in construction as a carpenter, going where the work takes him, sometimes in Nevada, sometimes in Southern California, but always steady work. However, his biggest passion is his own woodwork. He makes clocks, he carves family trees, carving names into it, he even carves brass! He likes to go to Northern California whenever we can to collect from rivers driftwood that he uses for his carvings. Whenever he has spare time, this is exactly what he does.

He hails from Charleston, South Carolina, and wants to move back. When he moved out here, his parents asked him if he was sure about being out here. He's been here for nine months (When I told him that we've been almost two months, he said, "So you're in the same way I am."), and plans to give it three to four more months to see what he wants to do, if he wants to stay here longer. When I told Mom about him, she said that Margaret had said that there are a lot of transients here, people who stay for a while, but don't stay much longer than that. I knew of this before we moved, but had never seen proof until now. I understand Michael's desire, though, because he's really passionate about home, talking about how hurricanes barely touch where he lived when they pass through. I told him that I was born in Florida, but am not Southern by blood, being born to parents who are from New York, but I love Southern culture, such as the antebellum mansions that I wish I could have. Then he reminded me of the cost of those, and to maintain them, and they're fine for history, but it's impossible to have them any other way.

Michael's an example of one of the things that I love about Las Vegas: No one really conforms like they do in Southern California, when they're either trying to be something else just to survive or just to be part of the crowd. There's too much of that there. But Michael, in his passion for his art and his life, shows that people are who they are in Las Vegas. They know where they came from, they know who they want to be here, they know what they want to keep from what they were, and what they want to create anew. You can reinvent yourself here, but you never lose sight of your identity.

The transients are just as important as the residents. They bring a little something from their respective cultures and they leave it behind to enrich our city even more. I never thought anything about wood carving before I met Michael today. I've seen examples, but never considered it at length. I never even knew brass could be carved into more than just merry-go-round poles. I've been on a lot of merry-go-rounds, and that's all I've ever really known of brass. And yet here is a man who makes it his life, who loves working at it.

Las Vegas, no matter if you're a tourist or a resident, is about new experiences every day. Each day, you see something new, while also hanging onto what you like every day, and you decide if you want to add that new thing to your life, to hold it, to know it every day. I love the Whitney Library, I hang onto it every day by dint of the books I check out from there each week, and I have a lot of new experiences. But I also get new experiences from what's around me, from the foliage I see, from the rocks and pebbles that make up the landscape of this mobile home park, from the lights of Sam's Town far off, from seeing the Eastside Cannery's lights every evening. Learning a bit about wood carving and brass carving from Michael is new to me, but now I want to know more. I want to add more. And tomorrow, who knows? I may meet another neighbor, or see something I never noticed on one of my local streets, or find a slot machine I've never seen before, even though I've seen a lot of slot machines. Anything's possible here, and the interesting people of Las Vegas help make it that way.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Neighborhood Opens Up

Most visitors to Las Vegas will dart between casinos on the Strip and maybe see what lies beyond the Strip, into the actual, real-life city of Las Vegas, but they may never know the supermarkets Las Vegans shop at, the Walmarts they visit, the businesses they work at each day. Not everyone in Las Vegas works on the Strip or for casino corporations.

The tourist's view of Las Vegas depends solely on where they've been and where they might go the next time they come here. The view from various points on the Strip is expansive, but all of Las Vegas itself can only be truly known by its residents. I am one and so is my family.

When we were tourists here, we had that exact mindset. We had to go here, we had to go there. Even when we were in Las Vegas to seek work for Dad, we still dashed. We, and then Mom and Dad, slowed down only long enough to figure out where we were going to live. And now that we live in Las Vegas, this city, this valley, this desert expands even more than we had thought possible. We thought that as tourists, we had covered a great percentage of Las Vegas. We had seen it, we had played it, we had experienced it. As residents, I don't think we've covered even one percent of what Las Vegas offers, but that doesn't cause despair because now we have time. We don't have to go back to Southern California after a few days here. We live here. We are here for good.

We're now month-old residents (we arrived on Friday, September 14), and the frenetic zigzag of moving has mostly faded, save for still decorating sections or our mobile home. I still have to get a bookcase, a lamp, and a reading chair for my room, and some kind of couch and lamp for where my TV, DVD player, VCR, and sizable DVD collection is, in a separate room for all of it, next to Meridith's room. I haven't found what I want yet, but all that is workable. It takes time, but we have that now. And being settled in, so much more of the city is possible to explore now.

Take Sam's Town, on Boulder Highway, which is only 5-7 minutes away by car, and is therefore our neighborhood casino. We went there for the first time in our second week as residents. On our first day in Las Vegas, that Friday, Dad had gotten back from the bank with cash to tip the movers that had helped move all our stuff in. And this was after a four-hour drive, starting at 7 a.m., from Santa Clarita to Las Vegas, with stops in Barstow and Baker on the way, with two dogs and two birds in the car. Mom and Meridith and I had been chatting with the movers while we were out, and one of them mentioned players' cards that you can get for free at casinos all throughout Las Vegas, on and off the Strip. I'd heard about them, but was unsure because even if it was free, wouldn't they pressure you to play more? I don't mean having the card would pressure you, but the casino itself. Wouldn't there be some kind of hidden charges later on? A former co-worker of Meridith's in the cafeteria kitchen at La Mesa Junior High is a heavy-enough gambler that she's gotten so much comped in Las Vegas, including hotel rooms, meals and shows, and she has cards to so many casinos. But even so, aren't those cards for people like that woman? Doesn't seem like they'd be for us. The mover said he has a few and he uses them for discounts at buffets, restaurants, and other things. I still wasn't sure.

In our second week, we went to Sam's Town to get one of those players' cards, called B Connected, since Sam's Town is one of many Boyd Gaming casinos. We went to the B Connected desk and Dad got his card, but I didn't get one, because I still didn't feel comfortable about it. Then we went to the Mystic Falls area to watch the water-and-laser show they have in the evenings, and I loved it. I loved the animatronic animals, the lasers showing images on the rocks, the loud music, everything. I felt very comfortable here right away, feeling that this could become a regular haunt for me. Yet when we walked through the rest of the casino that night, past the blackjack and roulette tables, I was a little overwhelmed by it. Not because I didn't like what I was seeing, but it just felt strange. Was I really here? Do I really live nearby? Is all this actually available to me whenever I want? When you've spent five years trying to get here, it takes a little time to believe that you're here, and you don't have to leave the next day.

At South Point last week, where we went to Steak and Shake for the first time since Florida, I saw on the digital billboard on our way out that the Century movie theater there was showing a few classic movies. Gone with the Wind was the first on October 10, and then I was stunned: The next movie to be shown was....Mary Poppins! I couldn't believe it. But more than that, I needed tickets! I needed to go to see my favorite movie on a bigger screen with bigger sound!

The next day, I found out that Gone with the Wind and Mary Poppins were part of a five-film series put on by Cinemark, called the Cinemark Classic Series. And even better for me was that one of the participating theaters was Century 18 at Sam's Town. Of course I needed to go, but I debated when to go. It was showing at 2 and 7 p.m., on October 17. Yesterday. The 7 p.m. showing meant that Dad could drive me there, or me and Meridith if she wanted to go too, but we'd get out at 9:30. Far too late to do anything else, since Dad works the next day, and we're residents, not tourists.

The 2 p.m. showing had more possibility. Sure Meridith and I would have to walk to Sam's Town, but at least the scenery is more interesting here than it ever was in Santa Clarita. We could either walk the front end, passing Taco Bell, Fresh and Easy and other stores along the way, or the back end, taking a right after we walk out of one of the gates at the front of our neighborhood, across from the clubhouse. There's more dirt and empty land on that route, but still interesting to see, plus less traffic and therefore safer. Most important was the weather, the temperature. If it was going to be 91, it would be taxing on us. But in the 80s would be better, and I found out it would be 83 on the Wednesday that we would go.

And then Meridith remembered that each ticket stub from the movie theater is good for a free game of bowling at the 56-lane bowling alley downstairs at Sam's Town. So we could go see Mary Poppins and then go bowling! What a way to spend a Wednesday afternoon!

So fast forward to late yesterday morning. Meridith and then Mom looked at the Sam's Town website to be reminded of what kind of eats they offered there, and Mom suggested maybe the Firelight Buffet at lunchtime. Two Saturdays ago, we went to the breakfast buffet there. My rule of thumb about a breakfast buffet is that if there are grits, it's ok by me. And it was. It also happened to be the second day of the Age of Chivalry Renaissance Festival at Silver Bowl Park, near our home, since the festival's regular location was undergoing refurbishing and new construction. At the table behind us were a troubadour with a guitar, a court jester, and a large woman who looked like she'd work at one of the pubs in olden times. They were all dressed in full costume, even the court jester with the crazy hat. But what made the morning most delightful was that because all three were performing at the festival, the troubadour, in order to warm up before it was time to go, strolled through the dining areas, strumming his guitar, and singing. Find me this anywhere else. Find me any other city where people are totally unafraid to be themselves, to live their lives out loud if they so desire. San Francisco may be one, but don't they spend most of their time worrying about rent?

A few minutes before 11:30, we set out for Sam's Town. Meridith asked which way I wanted to go, and I asked her which way she wanted to go. Automatic impasse, but then, not really, because in our first full week, we both turned left after we walked out of one of the gates, walked down that sidewalk, made another left, and walked all the way down to the intersection that has a Rebel gas station on the left, a Terrible's gas station/McDonald's combination on the right, a 7-11 right in front of you, and a shopping center to the right of that. We walked to see what was further down from our immediate area, and found that Fresh and Easy, in 91-degree weather, which is not as comfortable as I thought it would be, mainly because there was no wind. Just a blazing sun at the end of summer.

So we turned right out of the gate. In the past four weeks, we've driven wide roads, wider than I ever saw in Southern California and even Florida, but I've never actually seen them. When we walked to what we found was Fresh and Easy that first time, I was looking at what was in front of me, directly ahead, not the road itself. I never looked down, never noticed the lanes, the ease of the cars moving from lane to lane, or turning at the intersection. I was just amazed that all this was mine, that I could do with it whatever I wanted, within legal reason of course.

Walking that long sidewalk to a nearby intersection and then crossing the street to the sidewalk on the other side for more shade, I was in awe of this road. It was so wide. Even without having a car right now, I know I can drive these roads. I can make those turns, I can change lanes, I can make u-turns. Just don't ask me to parallel park, because I would like to go through the rest of my life without ever doing that. I believe in parking in a regular space, and then pulling out, aiming the car at whatever exit I need, and driving away. I want it that simple.

Meridith reminded me that the entire population of Nevada, a little less than three million, is less than the population of Los Angeles. No wonder we have museums devoted to city and state history. No wonder people seem more relaxed here. We have time. We can do whatever we want. We can take each day and steer it wherever we feel like going. Time is never an enemy here because we use it all up. Casinos open all the time are proof of that.

It took us 43 minutes to walk from our development to Sam's Town. And in that time, I finally knew where I was going, because the weekend before, when Dad drove the same way we were walking, Meridith and I studied every inch of it to figure out how to get there and what would be the best way. It turns out that the only difference between walking the front way and the back way is that you have to cross two streets on the back way to get to Sam's Town, whereas with the front way, you only have to cross once. Both are the same distance.

When we drove those roads in our first week, having to go to the Walmart Supercenter across from Sam's Town to get a few things, or going further out just to see what was around, I only knew that when I saw the post office next to the Terrible's gas station, we were getting closer to home. I hung onto that because I didn't know any of the other roads around us, or how to get to the Smith's on Sahara which is in the same shopping center as a branch of the Las Vegas Athletic Club, Capriotti's sandwich shop, and a counter-service Chinese restaurant whose name I keep forgetting. I think, with how much I read about Las Vegas in the five years before we finally arrived, and reading all the issues of The Henderson Press up until we moved, that I expected to know everything right away, know where I was, know where I wanted to be often. That was definitely an egregious assumption. But now, four weeks later, these streets and sidewalks have gone from intimidating to comfortable. I know more about my area, I know where the streets away from it goes. I'm not yet sure how to get back here from anywhere in Henderson, but I'll get there. I almost know how to get back here from the Strip. I've seen it many times.

It's like any neighborhood in Las Vegas is suspicious of you when you move in, not yielding an inch, making you prove yourself, that you're not going to be moving in the next few months, that you're here to make a life for yourself. And then when it senses your honorable intentions, it shows you just a little more, and then the next week, more still. That's what it felt like, but I'm relieved my neighborhood has finally opened up to me, that I know where I am, who I am here, and how I want it to be. So far, it's working well.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Rain in Las Vegas

Back in late June, on their way back to Santa Clarita from Las Vegas, Mom and Dad encountered a flash flood in Baker, the first time they had ever seen one. Jagged staffs of lightning flashed all over, sometimes close enough to them, and while waiting it out in the parking lot of the Grewal Travel Center, which is situated right at the edge of Baker before you enter the Mojave Desert, the rain from the sudden storm creeped up the tires of the PT Cruiser, halfway up. Mom told us that she was frightened, and I had no reason to believe otherwise. I would not want to be in such a situation with so much open desert in front of me and all that water gushing through. There is always the chance that when it rains, flash floods could very well happen in Las Vegas, and they have over the decades, most recently on September 11, with a few million dollars of damage, and dramatic images, such as one taken in a Kmart parking lot, where a woman was nearly swept away by the floodwaters, had it not been for a man grabbing onto her, and her holding onto a tree there. Not a big tree, but strong enough to keep her steady.

Today, we went to the nearby Southern Nevada Health District office for Meridith to get her health card so that she can finally begin working soon in a school cafeteria, as she's wanted. The day before yesterday, I submitted my application to begin the process of becoming a campus security monitor on a middle school campus. In Santa Clarita, the position was called "campus supervisor," but here, it's "campus security monitor," which works for me. Gives me a stronger title.

After Meridith got the card, we drove around for a while, into desert that we had no idea was filling up with houses, new developments, new ideas, really. There's a technical high school that offers many different disciplines, including culinary, and even has a cafe open, which looks like it's for students to test out their skills and have people come in to try out those skills. Then we got further and further out, looking at a direct view of the Strip that was nearly overwhelming to me. I've seen the Strip from so many locations, so many angles, and have even gone past the back end of it, which is how residents get around if they're in the area. But that view, like tall soldiers standing even taller in the desert, it gave me a great sense of civic pride. And yet, I couldn't bask in that entirely because approaching the Strip, and what we saw further out, were storm clouds. We could see it raining in the higher altitudes, and that's the first thing I noticed: You can see rain a lot more clearly in the desert. You know when it's coming, and you know what you have to do. You can't be sure of the exact time it's coming, but it's coming.

I fully understand now why Mom hated being caught in Baker like that. As I was walking Tigger and Kitty in our semi-gated rock-and-pebble-laden backyard (it's only gated on one side, and we want to get a gate for the other side so Kitty can finally sit in the sunshine if she wants), I saw in the distance, over a section of our wooden fence, lightning flashing near the Luxor. I don't think I've ever seen lightning like that before in my life, not even in Florida. The worst that happened to me when I was little was fireworks going off at EPCOT Center at Walt Disney World when we were getting our annual passes renewed, and Mom was holding my left hand, so with my right, I used my stuffed bunny blanket (the small blanket had a bunny head on top of it) to try to block out the noise by holding it against my right ear, and pressing my left ear against Mom. I hated that.

At this very moment, as I type this, thunder just rumbled and the rain is coming down harder than it did last night. Lightning just flashed and the thunder responded yet again. And then the sky opened up to rain that I never heard even in Southern California. Oh, it was hard enough, but it was never steady like this. A steady, hard rain. And of course, now it's settling down a bit only to likely roar back again either a little later or later today. With the storm clouds darkening early yesterday evening, we went back home after looking at those developments further out in the desert, and even reaching Nellis Air Force Base pretty quickly in North Las Vegas, because we didn't want to take any risks. We didn't want to be caught in any storm, especially not with the PT Cruiser, which has gone through enough as it is. Plus, this being our first Vegas storm, it was best to wait it out if it was going to happen that night, except it has happened now, and probably in the morning, which is predicted to have a 70% chance of showers and thunderstorms. I hope Dad drives more carefully in the morning than he usually does when we're out with him. It's not worth taking any chances. I hope the weather doesn't turn into flash floods like it was before we got here (we arrived a mere three days after those flash floods), but you've got to be cautious here no matter what.

I wouldn't mind rain if it didn't come with the thunder and lightning. But that lightning is unnerving. This is the first time I've seen such angry lightning. Las Vegas does things big here in the desert, including the lightning, which I know is no creation of the Strip, but it fits in with what's constantly available here.

Now it's quiet again, like the rain and thunder and lightning never happened. However, I have noticed that rain does last longer here, particularly because the desert does not know what to do with rain, hence those recent flash floods. The ground, the dirt, the sand, the rocks, the pebbles, all of it has been baked so hot by the sun this past summer and in other summers as well that it has become so tight, so as not to take in any water at all. It just sits on the surface. Little pockets of the desert can take it, like how, when we water the tree in our backyard, that water disappears quickly, but not overall. I can go to my room right now, turn the blinds, and look out at rain on the street (by the way, my room is right next to one of the speed bumps in the neighborhood, but the cars driving by in the early morning don't wake me), and see it slick, with a slight river of water snaking its way to the rocks and pebbles under my window. I don't think it'll be gone by morning, what with more rain expected, but being that this will be over by Friday morning, it should be gone by that afternoon, sucked up by those parts of the desert that know what to do with it. Maybe a little more greenery because of it.

Two weeks ago, we were talking about where else we could have moved to. Mom said that she had thought about Seattle, amidst many other possible cities, but all of that rain, nine months out of the year. We easily handled afternoon rain in Florida, but I don't think we could have endured all of that. I considered it too, before even knowing that Mom had thought about it, and it seems like a nice city, but after seeing this storm, hearing that rain coming down, battering our mobile home, I can't deal with that nine months out of the year. I'm not sure I would even be able to get used to it, because I also need sunshine. I was born in Florida, after all. It's what I'm used to. I like rain once in a while, but I prefer my desert dry. This was a little bit harrowing, and I hope that's what the weatherman on channel 13 meant by there being rain this morning, because this is technically the morning. But if there must be more, I hope it's less forceful than this.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Former Presidents, the Painting, the Backpacker and the Banana All Lead to This

Logically, after three weeks of radio silence (the three weeks that we have been residents of Las Vegas), I should begin with the night before our move, sleeping on the floor, the entire house empty, and then the next morning, driving from Santa Clarita to Las Vegas, stopping in Barstow and Baker on the way, and, four hours later, reaching our new home, our mobile home.

But I can't. Not yet. I've an image I can't get out of my mind, and I need to write about it. However, it begins with something solved, the reason why, whenever I have a reasonable stretch of time, I log onto Amazon and watch 'The Stormy Present,' the episode of The West Wing that has President Bartlet, Former President Newman (James Cromwell), and Former Acting President Walken (John Goodman), flying to the funeral of President Lassiter, who, it seems to me, served eight years before Bartlet took office. Lassiter's presidential library is in Costa Mesa, California, and so we get these views of gardens, vines wrapped around poles, very pleasant, and very sad. I watch it all the time to absorb that atmosphere, to think about what it must be like for a former president to have his entire life and political career encapsulated in a library, a museum, a place for people to come and examine his life, however he, the library director, and other staff members, want the public to examine it. There are two books about post-presidential lives, one called Second Acts: Presidential Lives and Legacies after the White House by Mark K. Updegrove, and the other called After the White House: Former Presidents as Private Citizens by Max J. Skidmore. I donated these two books to our future mobile home park, sending them along with Mom and Dad on what would be their final trip to Las Vegas as tourists, to cement our arrangements in moving here, to be sure that they were still holding property for us. It's a rental; no more dealing with a house, but just the same, we wanted to be absolutely sure that everything was ready, that we wouldn't have to stay somewhere else in the meantime. That would have been too much with two dogs and two birds in tow, as it was on the day we moved, September 14th, by the way.

I think I read Second Acts many years ago, but I need to reread it because yet again, I have an idea for another novel. I want to see where this one goes because there are two presidential history books I want to write, but this one can really get me into the area I want to be in. This spark began on Saturday, when we went to Colleen's, a consignment store in Henderson. (By the way, as a resident of Southern Nevada now, Henderson feels a lot more vast, a lot more spread out. It's good to visit, to pass through on the way to see Lake Las Vegas, as we also did on that same Saturday, or to visit Boulder City, but I'm glad we ended up where we are, surrounded by apartment complexes, another mobile home park nearby, and businesses all around.) We walked around, looking at bookcases and wooden wall units for living rooms, and dining room tables, and chairs, and recliners, and everything else that was being sold "as-is," "All Sales Final."

On the far back wall, way back, directly across from the front door, I saw a painting of a courtyard, with columns and vines and flowers, a small sliver of a lake showing, and a quiet, elegant white house pressed against the right side of the painting. I stared at it for a few minutes. Then I showed the painting to Mom, stayed a few minutes more after she left to look around some more, went back to Mom and Dad and Meridith to look at everything else the store had, then went back to the painting. What did it mean to me? Was it the presidential library aspect of that West Wing episode I was thinking of? Could this courtyard portrayed in this painting be part of a presidential library? Would any former president want something like this, so peaceful and unencumbered by who he once was?

Toward the end of our walkaround, Mom found a side table for $18 that she wants to put in a section of our home that needs something there. I'm not sure if she means next to the laundry room or somewhere in the hallway that leads to my room and Meridith's room, but her wanting that side table spurred me on. I went back to that painting, took it off the wall, and carried it back to where we all had been sitting. It was $38. Helen, who was a great help to us, did the figuring and the total, with 8.1% Clark County sales tax (worlds better than the 9.8475858757% sales tax prevalent in Los Angeles County), was $41. I didn't hesitate for a second in giving Helen my debit card. I needed this painting. It was mine.

Either later today, after Dad gets home from work, or during the week (he works from 7:15 a.m., I think, to 2 p.m.), we're going back to that Colleen's location to pick up the end table and the painting, since we couldn't take it with us right then because neither could fit in the trunk with all four of us in the car, still the PT Cruiser by the way, which Dad will soon trade in for another car.

Once I have the painting, I'll take a picture and post it here. I'm not sure yet where to hang it, since Mom likes it too. It may be best suited for the living room, and I'll be able to see it whenever I want, to probably study it even more closely than I already have.

The painting was only the beginning, though. Last night, at Smith's, which is our home supermarket (they have everything we need every week and the Kroger brand is excellent in cereal, yogurt, bottled water, and so many other things), Dad got ham, American cheese, olive loaf, head cheese, and Buffalo Monterey Jack cheese (for Meridith), and while that was going on, I went back to the produce section to get a slicing tomato for my daily salads. I had already gotten bananas, but I knew also that I needed to get a bag of Kroger spinach, which also has never steered me wrong in these three weeks, and I don't expect it to in the years to come.

I was examining the tomatoes, looking for the one with the least bumps or anything else on it, and a backpacker went to the bananas, the section right in front of me, took a small banana off a bunch, and presumably walked to the register. He had this look of grim confidence on his face. He looked like he didn't mind being alone, as he must be for days, maybe even weeks at a time. I wanted to know where he was going. Was he going to walk part of the way, get to the road where he knew the traffic was consistent, and hitchhike? Or was he heading for the Greyhound bus station on Fremont Street? Was he traveling the country? Did he have a destination?

I can't forget the vibe that came off of him, that utter self-sufficiency, like he knew to be wary of people, to rely on them insofar as conversation or brief company, but never placing his life in their hands. And I realized, watching him walk away, what I wanted to do: I want to write a novel about a former president. I want to research what Truman did, what Eisenhower did, what all the others did after they left office. How did they feel? Were they relieved? Did they miss having that power? Did they seek to keep people's attention on them or were they satisfied with relative obscurity? I want to know all of this, and then I want to tie it into what I think will be a story about a somewhat dissatisfied former president. Not so much dissatisfied with not being in power anymore, but not having been able to really do what he set out to do as president, what he was so passionate about that was lost in the screaming jet engine of the presidency. I'm not sure what that is yet, but it's part of what drives him in this novel, and I'm also going to research the cost of presidential libraries, wondering if the courtyard that's in my painting could actually be part of a presidential library. I'm also thinking of doing something with that house in that painting as part of this novel. Just yesterday alone, I devoured The Conviction of Richard Nixon: The Untold Story of the Frost/Nixon Interviews by James Reston, Jr. It shows that not only do I need to dive deeply into my passions and stay there, but I need to see where this goes. Fictional presidents have always fascinated me as much as the real ones. Now I need to explore what I can possibly do with my own creation.