“Why, Sir, all ignorant savages will laugh when they are told of the advantages of civilized life. Were you to tell men who live without houses, how we pile brick upon brick, and rafter upon rafter, and that after a house is raised to a certain height, a man tumbles off a scaffold and breaks his neck, they would laugh heartily at our folly in building; but it does not follow that men are better without houses. No, Sir, (holding up a slice of a good loaf,) this is better than the bread tree.” – Samuel Johnson
Any man who believes and declares that Las Vegas has no wildlife is certainly mistaken. He has certainly, perhaps intentionally, overlooked the too obvious fact that life here is wild. Why if a man leaves the Jolly Mariner, walking on his two God-given feet, he is more likely to be slammed into by some mechanical beast and hurled to the next world, than greeted by amiable humans. It is likely yet that he will see a great variety of men. Nay, he will not see men; he will see humans – limping, begging, scrounging, crawling, sprawling, tattered, battered, beaten, bruised, tired, frazzled, cracked, down-and-out men; men who hobble this-way-and-that under the sun, wandering to-and-fro until they reach whatever obscure destination they may have in mind. From all corners of the globe they come, but where they are headed, no one really knows. I often wonder if they know where they are headed. And then I check myself. Then, I ask if I know where I am headed.
Then, the sirens are heard – two, three, sometimes four a week one will hear them calling. Seven times a week is likely if the man stood on any street corner to listen. Four is common if he makes no attempt. The tame men know not to heed their call; but the wild humans. Those wild humans are so attached to the siren-calls, that it is not even a siren-call but a human-cry that begets the relationship. The humans let out their cry under the sun, amidst their meaningless toil and travel, and the sirens come obediently. The cries are often very painful. They are often muffled. I remember one day in particular I was driving my car just north of downtown, near the Las Vegas Review Journal, when lo-and-behold, I heard the siren-call. I’m tame, and so I merely pulled to the side as an ambulance whined and whirred by me. I continued on my way until I drove through an intersection only to observe one of those wild humans lying face-down on the sidewalk, his muffled cry heard as the sirens neared him and I said a silent prayer for his soul.
When I was just a lad ambling around my Kansas City cul-de-sac, I very rarely had the opportunity to observe wildlife. In fact, I thought that those individuals who lived in smelly rural towns or, worse yet, on farms were somehow beneath me. Why I had, and I suppose still have, these relatives who proved my point. They lived on some farm outside of some dead I-35 Iowa town. They didn’t own a television, or if they did, they certainly didn’t have cable. They didn’t play video games or watch sitcoms or movies or sports; how they lived with themselves was beyond my comprehension. How does one survive being ignorant of the Chief’s win-loss total? (I’m too aware, now, of this irony.) What does one do for fun exactly? How ignorant, how enslaved they must be to the boredom and tedious monotony of “living off the land”!
But they were, and are, some of the happiest people I’ve ever known.
One day, we visited. I was just beginning to look down at my cousins for their ignorant and simple lives, as we entered their little shed-of-a-home without cable and perhaps running water. I was probably just about to show off my knowledge of some meaningless sports fact, such as Elvis Grbac’s height and weight, when I was invited to play some game in the woods. Now, I knew about woods. We had a wooded area behind my own home back in Kansas City. I had both worlds. I had cable and adventure. But then I saw what they meant by woods. For perhaps the first time in my little, prideful existence, I realized that the wood behind my house in Kansas City was really a mere grove of trees, tucked in between sewers, ATV-paths, and a dump. No wildlife – no deer, usually. No cows and goats and chickens. Why, this Iowa forest was, moreover, theirs. No cops telling them to leave, no capitalists scheming a strip mall; nothing but wild trees planted by a wild God for two wild boys.
“Say,” one of my cousins asked, “You want to milk a goat?”
Of course. The day just kept improving. We walked up to one of these lecherous beasts munching on some green Iowa grass; I pompously grabbed ahold of an utter; I pompously squeezed; nothing came out; I squeezed, a little less pompously; I squeezed again; and again; and again; until my urbanned-palms were shot and I could squeeze no more. And in my humiliation, I watched my cousin grab and squeeze just once, and the land flowed with milk, only lacking honey.
Another cold-front this weekend, mixed with small bouts of rain-drops, has made nightly ramblings a must. This night was enjoyable, so I walked aways before I would turn back to the Jolly Mariner, passing an elementary school. A shrieking bat can be heard fluttering about the school on many evenings, and I paused to spot it, but saw nothing. When the time came to turn and head back, I balked. “They’d like a visitor,” I said to myself.
So, I crossed Flamingo, on Burnham, staring pompously at the strip and the cars that were forced to stop. It is a great feeling forcing cars to stop and learn patience. Once across Flamingo, I darted over – trying to raise “Burnham” wood to Dusinane Hill. I wiggled my way with the road which becomes Saddle, leaving the noise and bustle of Flamingo, forgetting for half a second that the strip exists.
I neared another school and left the sidewalk, ducking behind a few evergreens. All was still and silent. To my left, a chain-link fence enclosed them. Chickens, all sleeping soundly on their perch. A few other birds, enclosed with the chickens, fluttered away at my approach, though the chickens remained still. But I wasn’t here for the birds. I walked on a little ways and then saw my prize: two goats, standing up and chewing hay. For a brief second I was back in Iowa, unsuccessfully squeezing their utters. Then, a car drove by, breaking the silence. As it sped away, another came, and I sighed.
I grabbed the fence with my urbanned-fingers, and rising on my back paws took a closer look at the goats. I thought for a moment about how bizarre the setting was. Two-miles away, the most gaudy, most over-the-top monstrosity was humming away like a twenty-four-hour factory, churning out decadence by the second. Two miles away was never-ending joy. Two miles away was glitz and glamour and girls – the Epicurean’s capital, where any twenty-six year-old bachelor would love to roam. For there, there on the strip, was lechery in all her array, in all her gaudiness, in all her nakedness.
And I fled to the goats. As I grabbed the chain-link fence with my urbanned-fingers, standing up on my back paws, I heard, once again, the siren-call. And staring at those goats through the fence I wondered which of us needed the visit more. I wondered, more seriously, which of the beasts were inside a cage.
Hearing the siren-call,
Las Vegas, Nevada
May 7, 2016
Painting: “The Goat Farm”
By Adrian Paul Allinson,
Oil on canvas, n.d.