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.


  1. I'm so happy you're getting to know all these new people. What about Gennie? Is she the right age for dating? (Dating you, not me.) I have Elvis Aaron Schwarz.


    1. Oh definitely not. She's much older. Late 40s, early 50s, I'd say.

      Besides, I'm content with how things are, getting to know the neighbors, exploring my city, putting my library card through the strain. There's so much to see here every day, so much to do, and nothing that should be missed. That's how I like it.