“A great city is, to be sure, the school for studying life; and the ‘The proper study of mankind is man,’ as Pope observes.” – Dr. Johnson
I needed four eyes, or I needed at the very least a second glance. And because I’m a timid, Midwestern boy, I couldn’t help but stare. Truly, I wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place. I had already been through the produce section once. A man should never shop for food right before dinner. He should eat something first. But I suddenly craved a salad and thus found myself traveling through the valley of veggies and fruit. I eyed the head of lettuce, grabbed it, placed it in my cart, and started back to the frozen foods section. The ice cream, naturally, was the reason I came in the first place. But, like many other trips to the supermarket, I saw the unexpected. He looked as if he was winking at me. He was rather tall, somewhat lanky, I suppose. An old man with no hair, or very little. Truly, I don’t remember much of the hair, or what remained of it. I remember that his right eye looked as if it was winking at me; then I realized it wasn’t winking but wide open; I realized, to my initial horror, that there was no left eye, only a hollowed out cavern, like a crater on the moon. Averting my eyes, I passed the one-eyed man and turned my thoughts to ice-cream.
Every city, every town, is like some three-dimension stage; each has its own characters playing their parts. Through our LCD screens, our stupid modern culture is trying to hack these characters to bits of conformity with a hatchet, but nonetheless, I am not despairing. I do not believe that we have murdered all of the characters just yet. And every town has certain nooks, certain places one can visit to see these interesting men in all their glory. But while every city has its unique nooks where the characters come out and act as one, each has the same general place where society is, in a sense, forcefully flung together. If the dear reader of this essay ever makes it to Las Vegas, he must not suppose that he will taste its spirit on the Strip. He might taste spirits of a certain sort on the Strip, but it will not be that of Vegas. The spirit of the Strip is more like the world stripped down and laid bare. It is, I suppose, a caricature of the world, but an ugly one, perhaps a cartoon. It is more like the false spirits of Macbeth than the true spirits of Scrooge. And the same goes for the casinos in general. There are several nice casinos here where the locals play. The Station casinos are perhaps the most popular, and I personally am biased toward Boulder Station because of its cheap yet quality buffet. But even here you don’t see Vegas. You see mainly old people in Hawaiian button-ups, smoking cigarettes, and drinking whiskey, which is certainly a part of Vegas but not the whole of it. Mainly, it is not Vegas because it is largely white. Mainly it is not Vegas because everyone is generally sober, everyone generally has all their appendages, no one is doing what I’m deciding to define as a “dalk” – a mixture of dancing and walking, often practiced on crosswalks by drunks or homeless but not limited to them. This “dalking” is a flailing of hands in the air and feet stretching outward to the side. It’s truly a wonder the body doing a dalk moves in a forward direction at all. Some don’t. But, as I was saying, the casinos are far too tame to be Vegas. There’s no dalking. The spirits there are on their way out even if the bodies stay put. No, I say. If one wants the madmen of Vegas, if one wants to see a dalking, one-eyed elderly man, a wide-eyed PhD student, and a blurry-eyed lady-of-the-night with blue hair and high heels all approaching a black guy whose pants are falling off, a homeless man whose rags are falling off, and a biker whose skin is falling off, while a drunk, toothless one-legged woman with lime-green hair rides in on a wheelchair from the right, smoking and swearing, while two Jehovah’s Witnesses ride in on bikes from the left, smiling and killing with their kindness – if one wants to see this exchange of characters more maddening that a madhouse, he need not go too far. No. He need only walk down to his local Las Vegas supermarket.
Every human has to eat. This is a primal fact. I was hauling in a load of grocery bags the other day when my neighbor, whose name is Peter, stopped me and asked several questions. Peter is a nice guy. He asks a lot of questions, often repeating ones he’s asked several times before. And while he questions, his eyes roll to-and-fro in his head. He’s either got a mild case of cross-eye, or he’s recently murdered someone. But I’m always happy to chat with him. And on this occasion, he asked me where I get my groceries.
“I shop at Smith’s,” I said proudly defending my supermarket.
“Oh?” he questioned loudly. Peter does not speak. He only yells. “Where’s that? Where do they got one of those?” His eyes batted back and forth with each question.
“Well, its out on Flamingo and Sandhill,” I said.
“Flamingo and Sa– Say why do you go all the way over there? Why not go to Albertson’s? It’s right there (pointing). It’s cheaper. And closer. It’s just right there (pointing). Why do you drive all the way out there to get your groceries? Is it cheaper? Albertson’s is just right there (pointing). I think it’s cheaper. Why don’t you just go to Wal-Mart if you’re going to drive all the way to Smith’s? Wal-Mart’s the cheapest for food, you know. But why don’t you just go to Albertson’s? Is Smith’s cheaper? Smith’s has always been the most expensive for me. Why don’t you go to Albertson’s? It’s right there (pointing). I mean, right there (pointing). That’s where I go. I think it’s cheaper.”
I didn’t feel like debating store prices while holding all my groceries and watching my ice cream melt, so I merely began explaining, rather sheepishly, my reasons for driving out of my way to get food. And as I explained myself several images entered my head. Images of the Albertson’s nearby on Flamingo and Maryland. Images of a cramped, dirty supermarket; images of rotting produce; images of bikers pulling up next to me and pulling out their bags to fill up; images of tattooed white guys wearing bandanas; images of women falling out of their clothes and clunking around in high heels; images of more women with blue, purple, green, pink hair, more piercings than teeth; images of black guys with pants falling off and headphones jammed into their ears, hearing something but listening to nothing; images of homeless asking for change or just dalking aimlessly; images of old men unable to speak English to the cashier; images of cashiers unable to speak English to old men; images of a certain man whose knee bends sideways, something I never thought the knee could accomplish; images of this man making his way forward nevertheless, observing a sort of forced dalk; images of me following, wondering how I got here. And after these images flashed through my mind, I thought next of Smith’s: how it was bigger and cleaner, how it looked like my supermarket back in Manhattan. How the other day I saw a man wearing a Royal’s cap pushing his cart. And then I knew, perhaps with an odd mixture of shame and pride, why I drove out of my way to get food. Then I knew that I would always hold in my spirit the prejudice of the Midwestern, of one who drives out of his way once a week, if only to taste home for an hour. As with other myths, even my faux homeward journey is at times interrupted by the Cyclops.
The Jolly Mariner,
Las Vegas, Nevada
Sunday, May 29, 2016
Painting: “Leadenhall Market, London”
By Andries Scheerboom,
Oil on canvas, 1865