“Some very delicate frames, indeed, may be affected by wet weather; but not common constitutions.” — Samuel Johnson
The first drop is the wettest. It’s God’s tear-flood, falling from a pregnant grey cloud. A drop on a dry head creates transition – a man looks up not down. He regrets this decision immediately, but a skyward gaze always follows the first drop. A world is interrupted. Plans suddenly flounder in the wet. Paces – and hearts – quicken. The ants scurry this way and that, looking for shelter. Objects cover heads, umbrellas unfold and spring free, coats cling to arms and backs, hoods fold over heads, lovers sacrifice jacket-sleeves, bikers pedal faster. All due to a single drop. Once the world has transitioned though, a calm sets in. Men without objects to cover their heads – umbrellas, jackets, hoods – are either safely drying off in some weather-proof structure, or they are so wet, that drop one thousand is no wetter than drop five hundred.
This is not the case for Vegas. The Vegas-man is conditioned for disappointment. A drop? He continues on his way. Eight months I have been here. It’s rained – truly rained – maybe ten times. I don’t believe we’ve seen any grand succession of drops since December. The clouds mock us: they jeer and laugh and roll their swollen bellies to Flagstaff. Though Flagstaff’s higher, we’re left high and dry. Our flags blow in the dusty wind that pushes the clouds, and our staffs smolder and brown under the unrelenting sun.
A few months ago I had the pleasure of watching my car slowly overheat and disintegrate in the sweltering October sun. I say pleasure because the death of a car is the death of a demon, or tyrant. But anyways, the tragedy led me to purchase a bike, so named Snowmane, which I have written about elsewhere but who, like other bikes of my past, was used sparingly. That is, until now. I have since moved, and now good Snowmane is used nearly every day. Residing three-quarters of a mile from work has nothing but benefits – a man should, as best he can, seek to live within a three-mile radius. It can be done. And it is a joy. It is pure joy to wake up, drink my coffee, eat my pastry, and pray to my Father; it is pure joy to shave and dress, to give the cat food, water, and a goodbye kick; it is pure joy to gather my belongings – a satchel and some books of poetry – to place these items in my little basket, fitted onto Snowmane’s backside; it is pure joy to enter second childhood, hop on my bike, ride down the sidewalk, hop the curb, and give a defiant, over-confident, proud, disdaining glare at my wretched car, knowing he can’t prevent me from living my life.
It is another thing to receive the following text from my dear mother seconds before I pack my belongings:
“It is raining there? Looks like you’ll get rain all weekend!!”
Only in our dystopian nightmare does a woman in Western Kansas know more about the weather in Vegas than her son who lives there.
While it is certainly true that the Vegas-man has grown indifferent to and skeptical of the rain-drop, there is another, more serious truth concerning Vegas rain: when it rains it pours. I should be more accurate. If it rains, it pours. Sure, it might, as my fellow Kansans say, “start spittin’,” but in my eight months here, I have not experienced the slow, methodical, twenty-four hour drizzle that Kansas so often gets.* It seems to go all or nothing – just like the players at the Strip – which, frankly, I do appreciate. But it comes with a peculiar disadvantage here: Vegas has no drainage system. Thus, every time it rains, the streets and sidewalks and campuses all flood as if we lived in some dike-less, down-river, valley-town.
This prior knowledge alerted me to the potential dangers I faced heading into work. I grabbed a grocery sack to cover my seat. I covered my flesh in a dusty rain jacket. I dashed off to campus at the speed of sound, listening for rumblings, sniffing for signs, feeling for drops.
That first drop collides with earth – or one of its creatures. But the first drop is not just earth-shattering. The heavens are, in a sense, split open at the seems. Anyone who has observed a leaking face knows the first drop floods both faces more than any other drop. For the first drop alerts the press: something is wrong; the face is broken; both faces are present in the first drop. It reflects all. The river of tears that follows is too streamy to have such a reflection. So too with the clouds. While the other drops are lost in the crowd, reflecting each other, so reflecting nothing, that first drop has no impediments. As it drops it contains the world in itself. Until, with sudden violence it crashes upon that world, explodes, and is no more. Then the storm begins.
There was slight evidence that it had drizzled. But if it did anything more, the warm ground already concealed the signs. I tore the grocery sack off my bike seat and glanced upward: grey clouds. I proceeded through my new routine, freeing my bike from its post, placing those same objects back in the basket, backing up the bike, and awkwardly mounting. Then. I felt it. The first drop. I looked at the other humans around me, but none moved, none scurried about or ducked for cover. But I had library books and a new leather satchel in my basket. I couldn’t risk it.
Rising up on my calves I tore through campus with hooded-head, weaving my way along the shortest route – past the Alta Ham fine arts building, through a parking lot, onto the Maryland sidewalk. More drops. I pressed the button for the pedestrian crosswalk and sneered at automobiles as they were forced to stop. (I knew they were upset and it pleased me.) Winding my way onto University, I felt even more drops, for I picked up speed – now on an open, quiet road free from humans, I rose and flew like the Wicked Witch of the West. I crossed Escondido with little issue, but had to slow at Tamarus for fear of getting blasted. I hanged a left on Caliente. One more block. There was my gate just across Rochelle. But, drat, it was closed.
By now the drops had completely ceased. I and my items were pretty dry. The actual tension was non-existent, but the thrill of racing the weather on my bike consumed. The last thing I wanted to do was stop like some civilized human to get out the gate-opener. That wouldn’t look cool at all. So I coasted and straightened my right leg out, and wiggling my bony hands into my pocket, I grabbed my keys, found the gate-opener, and pressed the button. She opened on command. Boy, was I good. Looking left and right as I neared Rochelle, I crossed and headed toward the open gate.
The entrance to the parking lot at my apartment complex slopes upward and has a slight ridge at its base, but if one enters on the right or left, it’s less severe of an incline. I knew this. Yet for some reason, perhaps still trying to impress, I proceeded directly to the center. Fumbling with the keys, I hesitated, slowed, hit, and road over the ridge – a very small ridge all things considered. But I am still new at this bike thing. And I’ve never figured out multi-tasking. As I watched the gate open, a cloud came over me: I had a vision of myself, flying through the gate just as it opened; I saw myself jump the curb and do a little kick with the back tire; I saw myself roll on up to my apartment, ascend the stairs, hold my bike over my head with one arm, enter my apartment, and greet the cat with a hello-kick just as the clouds burst and thunder roared. Instead, I was so bewildered with keys, one-hand steering, gates, bumps, and possible traffic, that in reaching for the breaks with my key-heavy hands, I dropped those keys on the ground. And as with most first drops, this one was followed by another. For I stumbled and lost my balance until I too dropped off my bike. But, dear reader, I emphasize that I dropped and did not fall.
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Listening to the rain,
Friday, April 8, 2016
Painting: “The Rain it Raineth Every Day”
Oil on canvas, 1889
*Until, naturally, the day after I wrote this post.