Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Book Found in the Saddle Ranch Chop House Men's Room

It's not something I think about at all, at least not until late this afternoon. My sister's love of cooking and food rubbed off on me only in that I read a lot of food-related books, but not necessarily cookbooks. For example, I'm currently reading Ivan Ramen: Love, Obsession, and Recipes from Tokyo's Most Unlikely Noodle Joint by Ivan Orkin, which is part cookbook in the way of ramen, but only part. However, my sister's interest in restrooms anywhere, everywhere, doesn't burrow that deep into me. It made me think today, though, when we went to Sunset Park, across from McCarran International, in Las Vegas, for the food truck festival they were having.

On the way to the grounds of the park where it was happening, I stopped in the men's restroom on the way because of all the water I had had earlier in the day. Even after a year here, I'm still learning about proper hydration in the desert. Not that I don't drink enough water, but when you're in your apartment most of the week, like I am, in my family's apartment, still searching for work and waiting to see what happens with various possibilities, you don't feel the need for so much water, since you're inside. But today, with all the roads driven and the next possible apartment complex looked at in an older stretch of Henderson, near the historic Water Street--more activity, essentially--I needed more.

While standing at the urinal, doing the expected urinal thing, I started thinking about the restrooms I had been to, inside such casinos as The Cosmopolitan, the MGM Grand, the Mirage, the M Resort in Henderson, Ravella at Lake Las Vegas back when it was Ravella at Lake Las Vegas, and the Hacienda near Boulder City, as well as the restroom at Tire Works, once or twice at Fry's Electronics, and so many others. There are stories in all those places. Not necessarily the restrooms, but I mean the places themselves, the moments before and after that relief, the discoveries you make even when you're just going to the restroom for nature's grand purpose for us in there.

In short, I was reminded of the Saddle Ranch Chop House in Universal City, California, pretty much next to the entrance to Universal Studios Hollywood. We went there in 2009, and I remember the fresh fruit kettle they had available, which looked like a little cauldron, and contained the freshest fruit I had ever had in Southern California. No piece of fruit after that experience ever matched it. I think I had their "Create Your Own Omelette" as well, part of their All Day Ranch Brunch section of their menu.

Now, I have been in restaurants, such as Buffalo Wild Wings, where there are small TVs behind plastic, above the urinals. I think at a Hooters or two, there were sports sections taped up above the urinals. It may have been there, or it may have also been at Buffalo Wild Wings, depending on the location, either here in Henderson or the Buffalo Wild Wings in Palmdale, California. I'm not sure. But I'll never forget what I saw above the urinal at Saddle Ranch Chop House, surprising because of being in Southern California, where books and reading don't always feel like major priorities, if at all.

Above the urinal I was at, there was a small poster for a book called Down at the Docks by Rory Nugent, which intrigued me immediately because the author and I have the same first name. In fact, seeing Nugent's name there inspired me to read all the books by those with my first name. I've yet to make a great dent in that desire, but I will.

Never mind that the book's about New Bedford, Massachusetts, a fishing port in dire straits, not at all wealthy as it used to be. Any subject, written interestingly enough, can capture me all the way through. Plus a Rory wrote it, and therefore I wanted to read it.

I checked it out of the Valencia Library in Santa Clarita, back when I had a library card there, before they cut off connections with the other libraries in Los Angeles County as part of that system, and privatized the three library branches in the valley, forming their own library system. In protest, I refused to get a library card in the new system, but in hindsight, maybe I should have, as it would have made those final years in Santa Clarita easier to bear. It's just like the annual pass to Six Flags Magic Mountain I was thinking of getting year after year, but was told that I shouldn't because we would be moving. But then we didn't. And I thought again of getting the annual pass, but was told the same thing. And then we didn't again. And in hindsight, maybe I should have anyway. Now a year and two months removed from the Santa Clarita Valley, I'm relieved to be out of there, but perhaps I wouldn't have been so scarred by that too-long existence there if I had had the library card and the annual pass.

Anyway, I started Down at the Docks then, but didn't read it all the way through. Not that it wasn't interesting, but other books got in the way. Then after we moved to Las Vegas last year, to the Valley Vista All-Ages Mobile Home Park near Sam's Town, I checked it out of the Whitney Library. Same thing. Other books again.

We've been living in Henderson, in an apartment complex along North Green Valley Parkway, for two months now. And neither of the three major branches of the Henderson District Public Libraries has a copy of Down at the Docks. And I didn't feel like getting it from any of the Las Vegas-Clark County branches because I'm not near any of those libraries anymore and I don't want to ever go back to the rundown Whitney Library, which, in the year I used it, was only a refueling stop for me. I didn't use it for anything else because I never felt comfortable there, what with not only the two security guards on duty at different times walking around often, but also the cops occasionally. It was not in a good neighborhood, but it was the closest to our mobile home park, and therefore the one I went to every Sunday.

So this time, I ordered a copy from at the end of October, cheap enough for $3.95 since I'm still looking for a job, and I fortunately don't buy as many books anymore, since the Green Valley Library is within walking distance, on the same side of the street as my apartment complex. I call it my annex, where I keep my other books.

The copy I ordered was the original hardcover edition, since paperback was a tad pricier, and I always liked the hardcover design more. It came from Blue Cloud Books in Phoenix, Arizona, although when I received it, the return address was somewhere in Oregon. Go figure. But I got it, and that was the important thing, and I had no need to return it anyway. However, when I turned the book over, I had the biggest laugh in quite a while.

Blue Cloud Books. Phoenix, Arizona, Arizona being next door to Nevada, close enough that you can enter Arizona past Hoover Dam and go an hour ahead in their time zone, turn around, drive back across the Nevada border, and you're an hour behind again. You can cross time zones that fast in that part. So yes, I would expect that some books from Nevada would end up with Blue Cloud books. But I didn't expect that it would be a discarded library copy in fine condition, nor that above the barcode on the back, it says "Las Vegas-Clark County Library District." I laughed aloud for a while because this book found its way back to Nevada! It could have gone to Tampa, Florida, or Austin, Texas, or Montpelier, Vermont, but no, it arrived here, back where it had started from.

I don't think I'll get anything quite as funny from my brief stop in the Sunset Park restroom, but it got me thinking about those different moments, thought processes while doing your business. Perhaps not as detailed, but there are those instances such as this one. They don't happen often, but I pay close attention when they do. And I think back to other such pit stops, and there's nothing I can think of that's like this, but there are stories to be mined, possibly short stories. I think part of this interest may also stem from Sam Shepard, one of my heroes. I didn't think of it until just now, just this sentence, but I went to my main bookcase and pulled out Day Out of Days, his latest short story collection from 2010. In it, starting on page 67, is a 2 and a 1/4-page story called "Cracker Barrel Men's Room (Highway 90 West)", a story heard about a man mistakenly locked in the men's room at Cracker Barrel for the night, with Shania Twain songs playing on a loop, driving the man crazy. To me, Shepard is one of the few writers who gets the American West, who can find depth in different parts of the deserts, even when there seems to be nothing there. It's an incredible gift, particularly when you're trying to make sense of it, wanting to know it, wanting to understand it, like I do, and you need a guide. Shepard is my guide.

So maybe Shepard inspired this line of thought. The subconscious brings up things that you don't expect until you're in whatever you're in in a different approach. But I still think it's my sister. Just like she also looks at the back of products to find out where they're from, like I always do, I believe I thought about this closely because of her interest in restrooms. I don't think I would have looked so closely at the opulent detail in the men's room at the Cosmopolitan had it not been for her influence. And you know what? It is pretty interesting. I wonder what I can do with it. I'm sure I'll find out soon enough.