Thursday, December 29, 2016

Four Taxing Years for Roast Pork

Factor in the rush to get to a mobile home park set back from the heart of Las Vegas for a teaching job, my father's teaching job, beginning very soon, from a house-looking condo in Saugus, California, in the Santa Clarita Valley that went for $430,000 when purchased in 2004, and left behind for a little under $200,000 in 2012, just to leave.

Add in that frustrating struggle to apply to be a substitute anything in the Clark County School District, how many months and phone calls and resubmitting documents that were correct the first time, before finally being accepted in January of 2013.

There was that terrible first job at that elementary school closer to the gloomy heart of Las Vegas, that poorer heart than what the Strip lets on.

That vicious elementary school librarian who clearly hated her job and lashed out at anyone with even the slightest notion of being happy in a library, including students, not too different from the full-time job there is now, as an aide to the same kind of elementary school librarian.

Remember to pile on that first apartment in Henderson, a year after the mobile home park in Vegas. The neighbors upstairs who smoked inside, and the neighbors next door who smoked inside, and the smoke that came through the vents, and the front office that claimed they couldn't do anything about it, or wouldn't. People are free to do whatever they want inside their apartments, they said. Who cares about the health of those affected by it? It could have been one of the things that led to the cancer that Dad has now nearly fought off entirely.

Remember the second apartment, going south on Green Valley Parkway, billing itself a "country club" when it was obviously nothing of the sort. That first apartment there with the noisy kids from upstairs screaming around on the grass in front of our windows, who used our car as a scooter ramp and scratched it up. Another front office that wouldn't do anything about it except offer us another unit, a bungalow, almost directly across the street from that current apartment.

The bungalow. Drafty. Terrible that winter. Badly-installed, trash-quality carpet that got too dirty too fast. Leaks all over the place, including from the overhead air-conditioning unit next to the washer and dryer. 11 leaks. All the maintenance guys that trooped through denied that anything was wrong, even the 11th time. And then the air conditioning broke down the night before the hottest day of the year, and it took them hours to fix it enough the next morning, into the afternoon.

The apartment now. The same complex as that secondhand smoke apartment. The front of the complex now, although the back was better because you couldn't hear the Green Valley Parkway traffic at all, only see it from a distance.

It's not much better here now. The upstairs neighbors who stomp around, and we can hear them in surround sound down here. Maybe they're pissed that the apartment we took, the woman upstairs hoped that her granddaughter could move in below her with her great-grandson.

Oh, the great-grandson, the tyke, who the grandmother and others in the family have turned into a little asshole just like them. The most this complex did this time was replace their worn flooring so that less noise could be heard from down here. It only made all that noise much clearer.

The shitty jobs. That first full-time year for me at that elementary school near Tropicana and Boulder with the psychotic principal who would scream at the staff about anything, even the most innocent thing. The same principal who screwed with my dad's payroll after he, a resource room teacher, and I left that school and he moved on to teaching again in high school for the first time in 30 years. People in Las Vegas cause only headaches, strife, and much undue stress.

I was a resource room aide at that elementary school. I'm a library aide at this elementary school here in Henderson, which I always wanted to be. But I burned out of this job back in September, the beginning of my second year there. If I had been working with an infinitely better, vastly more dedicated, highly qualified elementary school librarian, I would have burned out a year or two later, and gracefully.

I can't see hawking Charlotte's Web for the rest of my career. I want to go higher the next time. I know now, completely, what kind of libraries are home.

After all this, with one foot out Nevada's door, pointing to California, were these four years worth it to reach the one thing that was as close to heaven as I will ever get here (The Cosmopolitan, formerly my favorite hotel-casino on the Strip, would have been that, if it had kept the open, welcoming, cool artistic vibe it fostered for five years before it was sold off)?

At #1 Hawaiian Barbecue on South Eastern Avenue, across from Walmart, all next to the back end of McCarran International Airport, I've always been a menu wanderer. BBQ mix one time, with beef, short ribs, and chicken; the Chicken Lover plate another time with chicken katsu, BBQ chicken and mochiko chicken. I did try the Hawaiian BBQ beef plate another time, and I think loco moco was what I had the first time we went there, not that I hadn't had enough of it already with L&L Hawaiian Barbecue near that mobile home park that first year.

I never felt as attached to anything as my mother and sister are to ahi poke, and seaweed salad for Mom. I always went with whatever struck me in the moment.

Yesterday, I zeroed in on roast pork. Compared to how hard they push chicken katsu and and the barbecue offerings, it seemed like an out-of-the-way menu item, and I always like walking quietly past the rush.

Loco moco has gravy all over it, which is fine. That's just one element and there's no element of it that rises above another. The hamburger steak, the eggs, the rice, they all work together.

In Hawaiian culture, it seems, brown gravy goes over roast pork, too. You can use the rice to soak it up, along with any juices from the roast pork. But, to me, not that much gravy is necessary. To me, it feels like an insult to Hawaii to insist that, in much the same way it would be to jump behind the grill at a Benihana and insist to the chefs that "I've got this." This is Hawaii. This is who they are. I respect that. But, I suppose, being in Las Vegas, and hours and thousands of miles by plane from Hawaii, it shouldn't be as much of a factor.

In other words, the roast pork at #1 Hawaiian Barbecue is a revelation. I've since learned that the crust of a roast pork is the crackling, but to me, this wasn't so much crackling. Perhaps because there was so much brown gravy all over it, it softened the crispness of the crackling. Even so, there is a romantic confluence of flavors in the crackling alone that is merely the introduction to beautiful, beautiful pork, beautifully colored, beautifully roasted in the oven, to the exact point where you just have to touch the meat with a fork and it separates into heavenly layers.

I know photos would do it more justice, but I wonder: Having bowed down to the revelatory temple that is this roast pork, was it worth these four years to get to the point where I had this roast pork? Does it make up for the Lundys, who were diagonal from us in the mobile home park, fighting all the time loudly enough for a block of the mobile homes around us to hear it? Does it lessen the sheer number of police that always showed up in the complex of the noisy-kid apartment and the bungalow? Does it make up for The Cosmopolitan truly becoming a shell of its former self? In other words, does it make all the crap that we went through bearable in hindsight, even forgivable?

It doesn't. Not by a mile, not by infinity. This is not a friendly city for anyone. This is where people who can't make it anywhere else go. This is where those who would be fired within a week at any other school district in the country can reign supreme here. This is where various services can be neglectful in their individual missions, and nothing of consequence will come of it. The neighbors you do know in passing you would not want to know any further because they're making so much goddamn noise upstairs, and it seems impossible that they actually sleep. It's where apartment complexes can also be neglectful, and unscrupulous, and lie to your face, and nothing will happen to them either. No real apologies from them. No consequences either.

If it hadn't been here in Las Vegas, I probably would have found this roast pork in another form somewhere else. But I wouldn't have found it like this. I might have eaten it somewhere else, found it good, and then moved on without giving it a second thought. But after four years of these hardships and so much neglect, being knocked around left and right by so much shit in a given week, to find this even after all of that is incredible. To even recognize something as phenomenal as this after four years of shit stew gives me hope that I can recover all of my true self after we leave Las Vegas. And, as Sheryl Crow sings, "And I won't be back. No, no. No I won't be back." I've listened to that song for years, since it's on my favorite album, "Tuesday Night Music Club," but only in the past year have I fully understood it. And related to it.

It's because of The Cosmopolitan and The Wynn that I've become more interested in architecture and interior design. I appreciate that. I loved seeing Jeff Bridges, one of my heroes, live at Santa Fe Station one year. I'll never forget that. I'll also never forget Lied Library at UNLV and the Boulder City Library, two libraries I would live in if I could. And especially not the Pinball Hall of Fame, with its extremely rare Pinball Circus prototype machine, one of only two in the world, the other residing overseas, which is partly an inspiration for a novel I want to write.

But whenever I got home from these experiences, back to the mobile home park, or the secondhand smoke apartment, or the bungalow, I'd think to myself, "This is all there is?" Walking around The Cosmopolitan and The Wynn, seeing such inspiring elegance, or walking amongst the stacks of Lied Library and the Boulder City Library, and knowing that that's where I belong for the rest of my life, it was hard to land back at home and feel nothing of any of it then. None of it carried over to my daily life. It was still a grind. The feeling like a balloon blowing up inside me when I was at The Cosmopolitan and The Wynn, and even at Green Valley Ranch (which I call Henderson's only palace), never was there at work, nor even at my local library, where I still volunteer after three years. Was it that I couldn't make it happen in those places like I could at The Cosmopolitan or Lied Library? Or is it that where I lived and worked each day could not possibly compare to those sights?

However, the roast pork from #1 Hawaiian Barbecue stays with me. It's been two days and it's still on my mind, and it will always be on my mind. Not always as big as it is now. There are other things to do in my life after all, including more writing, and definitely more reading, including poems, which I discovered are a tonic for when you're in between books and get frustrated at not every book working from the start after you've finished a really great one. I've discovered that I get cranky afterward.

I want to know all about the different ways of roast pork, how it tastes elsewhere, certainly what recipe would work for me if I decide to make it at home one day. Not here, but after we move. Perhaps the roast pork is a culmination of everything I've loved in Las Vegas, while still loathing the entire city and the entire valley. Maybe it has all led up to this. But what an awful path to get here. Nevertheless, this is what I'll take with me from Las Vegas. Like that slice of pumpkin pie I had at Six Flags Magic Mountain on the day of free admission for the Holiday Toy Drive many years ago that I'm still searching for elsewhere, this will be with me as strongly as that.

It's not all that I'm taking with me of Las Vegas. There's a book of short stories I want to write that's set in Las Vegas proper, and a novel that goes between Henderson and Las Vegas. I'm sketching out the preliminary emotions for all the stories here, as well as research I need, so I can still write it from where I go next, and still be able to recall those feelings, at least the good ones I had in the places I liked. I believe, though, that you can only write about the Las Vegas you lived, either as a tourist or a resident. I'm sick of those journalists who swoop into Las Vegas for two or three nights, make blanket statements and assumptions about the city that are supposed to stretch backwards and forwards, and then leave. Make statements and assumptions in your moments, and only your moments. Don't speak for everyone. Me, anything I write about Las Vegas in the future, all fiction, will be set between 2012 and wherever I stop in 2017. Well, maybe not, because I don't like what Las Vegas is becoming with the corporations on the Strip now charging residents for parking, and how the quality of many places on the Strip have precipitously fallen. So probably 2012 to about August 2016, before The Cosmopolitan as I knew it ended. But that's all. I won't write about Las Vegas in the 1950s, I won't write about Las Vegas a year or two before I got here. Only when I got here, only based on what I experienced, what I knew every day.

Perhaps the roast pork, in the final few times I'll inevitably have it again, and in memory, will be a conduit to all this. Back in California, I can think about that roast pork (which, if we don't go back to #1 Hawaiian Barbecue before my birthday, if we're still here by then, will be my birthday dinner) and immediately be reminded of all the good experiences I did have here, that I can use for my own work.

Over the next weeks, I may delve into those experiences, as it feels like the time for reflection before departure. Even though I'm definitely less happy than when my family and I moved here, I am grateful for the experience I've had at work and volunteering at my local library that has gotten me to the point where I do qualify for at least one library position where we're going next. But what else have I gotten out of these four years that has nothing to do with the continuous problems we deal with here? That's what I really want to examine closely. You know, before relying on masterful roast pork as a gateway to it.