Monday, June 9, 2014

This Is How You Remind Me of What I Really Am

Songs that call forth certain times, certain places. I have three of them:

Wichita Lineman by Glenn Campbell

Photograph by Nickleback (the only song of theirs I have listened to more than once, and still do)

Set Fire to the Rain by Adele

Wichita Lineman reminds me of Florida, the sonic vibrations in the song meant to evoke wind blowing across wires bringing back those long roads seemingly to nowhere, even though we always knew where we were going there. There was an orange juice stand that I swear was halfway between Pembroke Pines and Naples, where we went sometimes to visit Dad's aunt and uncle. I don't remember the name, but I do remember the free orange juice samples, and the seemingly endless cups available.

I also think of Orlando, those roadside shack tourist attractions, and Old Town in Kissimmee, with that candlemaking shop I always stood inside in awe, watching those candlemakers draw forth colors from that wax that somehow was possible after dipping the wick in those different colors numerous times, carving them, and showing off wax rainbows. I do think about Walt Disney World during this song, and that one trip to Universal Studios in 1994, but mostly, while listening to this song, I think of the land of Florida, what was always there when Walt Disney World couldn't always be there. I remember our backyard in Casselberry, running out there through the patio to see the space shuttle take off, so close that you could see the American flag and "USA" on one of the wings. I remember the large tree in front of our house there that I always thought of building a treehouse in, but that didn't happen, not least because I fell out of that tree once. And there was the basketball hoop at the side of the driveway, the only time I had a basketball hoop of my own, but I don't mind it because I spend more time these days watching basketball than playing it. I was never one of those who went on a tour of the Everglades, but I remember the gnarled branches and the small canal, and the mess of leaves and all that was behind our condominium in Coral Springs, and, when walking to Borders back then, seeing that canal with all of nature around it, the fortunate mess it created and not always by litter.

I also think about The Bubble Room in Captiva, that beautifully-kitschy restaurant with bubbles blowing all around and pop culture memorabilia, the toy train running throughout, and incredible cakes I haven't been able to match either in Southern California or here in Nevada. The list goes on, but Wichita Lineman always brings all of Florida back to me.

Photograph was a coincidence when we first visited the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. It was playing on my mp3 player when we were riding up the winding hills to the Library, happy to be away from the nothingness of the Santa Clarita Valley (to do anything interesting there, you have to leave). I was not yet as deep in my love of presidential history, but I was curious to see what a presidential library looked like, what it had about a presidency, and I was especially interested in an entire presidency being summarized in one library. Not every event could be covered at length in the museum, but they made sure Reagan's love of jellybeans was prominently displayed, in the souvenir store in jars you could buy, on the desk in the Oval Office replica, and aboard the old Air Force One.

Photograph is about looking back at the past, wondering if you should have done things differently, and missing all of it. I guess it's the music that gets me thinking about the Reagan Presidential Library, that reaching back, and I think about every single time we've been there. We went once for the museum and the Air Force One exhibit, and every other time, it's always been for the greatest freshly-made potato chips we've ever had at Reagan's Country Cafe, which is one of the two reasons we went back often. The other reason was the view from the South Lawn replica, of those small mountains in the haze, of the building going on in the hills below the Library, unrelated to the Library.

Mostly, whenever I listen to that song, I think of the exhibits in the Library, which are positively primitive compared to the digital upgrades the Library has had, which happened after we moved to Las Vegas. I liked the State Dinners exhibit as it was, the table replica, the place settings, the information about the various State Dinners held in the Reagan White House. I also particularly remember a covered, outdoor exhibit that showed off Nancy Reagan's many dresses, and the fabric and the designs made me wonder how closely she kept tabs on the making of each dress. Probably very closely.

And of course I think about Air Force One because of my love of aviation, walking through the tight quarters of that Boeing 707, marveling at how many hundreds of thousands of miles that plane had traveled, and also looking at the adjacent exhibit diagonal from the plane which tallied up those miles and pointed out exactly where Reagan went in his eight years.

I of course have my opinions about presidents, about their effectiveness as leaders. But for me, a president is a president is a president and they all interest me no matter their political affiliation, no matter what they've done or didn't do for the country. I think the Reagan Library is what set me off on my lifetime goal of visiting every presidential library in the nation. A few years after that first visit, we went to the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, and I marveled at the stark differences between the Nixon Library and the Reagan Library, namely that the Reagan Library had a lot more wealthy donors and was therefore able to create an essentially theatrical experience of Reagan's presidency, whereas because of the shadow that Nixon left under, his library did not have as many wealthy donors, although they were undoubtedly devoted to him, and so there seemed like a more honest assessment of his presidency, or at least one in progress, being that the Watergate exhibit was being torn down to make way for a more straightfoward, non-biased one, which the previous one had been, mounted by Nixon loyalists. There, I liked the exhibit on Pat Nixon, the gifts sent to the Nixons that were in glass cases, the replica of his desk in his New Jersey office, stacked with books (I once e-mailed someone high up in the Nixon Library, asking for a list of the titles that were on Nixon's desk, but I never got an answer back. I was genuinely curious, always interested in what a president reads). I liked the films they showed about Nixon's life, and the low-key feeling of the entire library, that you could explore whatever you wanted, go back to it twice or three times, and you'd have all the time you needed without being prodded by theatrics. There was also the house Nixon was born in, right on the property, as well as the helicopter that Nixon flew off in from the White House lawn during his final morning as president on that day, also the one used for the same scene in Frost/Nixon.

Set Fire to the Rain is the newest addition to my list of reminder songs, and one that seemed fairly obvious from the start. If you walked through our massive mobile home in Las Vegas on an idle Saturday afternoon (so massive that the air conditioning bill was $300 a month and I hesitate to think about what heating costs were during the winter), there was always a radio on in the second living room that we never used extensively, near my parents' bedroom door, and Sunny 106.5 was always the station, which had, and still has, the habit of playing the same songs over and over throughout the day. When Skyfall the latest James Bond movie, was preparing to come out that November, they played Adele's song constantly when it was released, at least 20 times that day.

Now when I hear Set Fire to the Rain, I think about all of Valley Vista All-Age Mobile Home Park. I think about walking our two dogs at night, past that one streetlight that always winked off, the bulb going but no one replacing it until it was nearly time for us to move out and move on. I remember the bushes I always liked, the tall ones that for some reason reminded me of Boulder City and the Boulder City Library, which I always thought about whenever I saw them. I remember the tiny carport we had, when Dad had to stop the PT Cruiser (and then the Toyota Corolla) just before the stairs leading up to the laundry room, which was our entrance, because the car was right there and it wasn't worth walking around to the front door stairway. We'd walk up to the back door, walk through the laundry room, and there was the media room (where we kept the big-screen TV I owned, the DVD player, the VCR, the collection of DVDs, and not much else, not even a chair or a couch. It was easier to sit on the floor), my room, Meridith's room, and to the left was the kitchen, so it was always easy to bring in groceries. Plus, we always stored water bottles on the floor of the laundry room, another reason why it was easier entering that way.

Hearing that song, I also think about the few times Meridith and I walked around the entire park, and those days when it was cool enough outside that many mobile home front doors were open, and we passed one mobile home just past the clubhouse, and from inside were these incredible cooking smells, not just of dinner being made, but a history there. It smelled like someone was reaching from deep inside their heart and soul and bringing forth what they remembered fondly, what they wanted to recreate in their kitchen. I was so tempted to tell Mom and Dad that we wouldn't be home for dinner, to try to convince those inside that mobile home to invite us over for dinner. I wanted to taste what they clearly loved so much. There wasn't sauce out of a jar or defrosted meat coming from that kitchen. It all smelled fresh. It smelled like a brown sauce with something else, because a red sauce is noticeable right off, but a brown sauce takes time to understand.

I also think about that one mobile home in the back row, which made up the spine of the park, with all the Western decorations, including defunct kerosene lanterns, vases with steer skulls carved into them, statues of howling coyotes, and those beautiful statues of Indian women with baskets, kneeling at the river. I would have been curious to see how they decorated their home on the inside, but I saw from afar once that the couple who lived there were smokers, and I would have stayed on the outside just to ask. Last we went there, when the entrance gate was open because of a party in the clubhouse, all the Western decorations were gone. Things always change quickly after you leave.

And of course I think about the neighbors, the ones next door who were always loudly repairing air conditioning units (not ones connected to our park), and cars and whatever else their skilled hands could repair, as well as the family of neighbors diagonal from us who were always good for screaming at each other outside, but most of the time inside loudly enough that you could hear it. And also the guy I talked to occasionally who worked, and probably still does, as a custodian at the Thomas & Mack Center. When we were there this most recent time, I was tempted to get out of the car and knock on the door to see if he was available for a few minutes, but I surmised that he was likely sleeping, having to go in later that night. I wanted to see how he was doing, what was going on since he left, but maybe it's better that the past as it was remains that way.

I'm sure I'll have more to write about individual aspects of that mobile home park, and in fact, I should write more here anyway. It's been too long, and I always seem to let this blog go on too long without anything new. But this is a good start, the first inspiration I've had in a long time for this blog. With the latest book review for BookBrowse still to edit, and two books to read and review soon, perhaps it'll light a fire in writing more here. I hope so.


  1. I'm not sure where you live now. Did you and the family get an apartment? I would love to visit the Nixon and Reagan museums/libraries.


    1. Yep! We live in an apartment complex in Henderson now, after a year in Las Vegas.

  2. Hey Rory, I loved this post. Music is such a big thing for me...and like you, songs hold memories for me that I think of when I hear them...except for me it happens with almost every song. A lot of oldies make me think about my parents, or Cher makes me think about my step mom. A lot of country songs remind me of times from before my parents got divorced, cause thats all they would listen to back then. Some song remind me of times with friends in high school. I have entire playlists on my phone dedicated to memories of my freshman year of college. Kinda cool how music can do that.

    This was such a great idea for a post, I want to write a post like this one in the next couple of days, and when I do I will give you a shoutout on my blog :)

    1. I appreciate that, Corey. This post came to me when I heard "Set Fire to the Rain" and was also reminded of those afternoons in that mobile home in Las Vegas, wandering past the first living room and coming to the second on the other side of the fireplace (it was that big, and the $300/month air conditioning bill attested to its size too, one thing we learned very quickly about air conditioning in the desert), and hearing that song on the radio in the corner of the living room. We never used that living room for anything beyond storage of our new couches, which we sat on once in a while, but mainly used the couch in the first living room, because that's where the main TV was. We got rid of that smelly couch when we moved to Henderson.

      I decided to write this post when I was thinking about the idleness of those afternoons, when we were trying to get ourselves established in different facets after we moved to Las Vegas, yet there were times when it seemed like nothing was happening. And instead of panicking over it, while it did feel uneasy at times, we just went with it. What else could we do beyond what we were already doing?

      We've established ourselves more since then, with still more to do to make it complete. However, I'll always remember days like that, when it seemed like something had to happen soon enough, but in that moment, it was ok.