“As we walked along the Strand to-night, arm in arm, a woman of the town accosted us, in the usual enticing manner. ‘No, no, my girl,’ (said Johnson) it won’t do.’ He, however, did not treat her with harshness, and we talked of the wretched life of such women; and agreed that much more misery than happiness, upon the whole, is produced by illicit commerce between the sexes.” – Boswell
The scorching sun brightened as it dipped, and I followed the man closely. The man walked with a hunch – sun-glasses on, head down – clutching a cat-carrier and entering an apartment-door. I checked surroundings. Broken, barred windows, metal railings, strewn-trash and junk outside what were homes. I approached, closed the door to one of them, and the pitch black blinded me. I heard voices.
“Gee, it’s dark in here, you gotta – ”
“A light! Hit a light,” a woman’s voice carried from across the way. For a moment, nothing happened. Then, the flick-flick, of a bulb from an adjoining kitchen and a soft buzzing. I saw clearly what I first saw in shadows: boxes, shirts, shorts, socks, jackets, video cassettes, televisions, shoes, pictures, frames, chairs, all covered in dust, material life-remains molding in a living room. Three figures appeared. A fat woman rolled out of a hallway; her daughter looked at a cat, cowering in a carrier, held by the man. The only light came from the long bulb in the kitchen, one-half the world sunk in a dark greyish-blue, and the figures stood with one foot in, one out of the little light. Three dream catchers loomed at me on the wall. The largest, perhaps five-feet in diameter, pictured a howling wolf, whose howling was interrupted by the man with the carrier.
“Hey mom! We had to take him to the vet – this is my friend, Broom. He’s getting his P-H-D. In English! Look at him isn’t he huge? Look at Smoky! You remember Smoky don’t you? He’s twenty-two friggin’ pounds. Isn’t he huge? Twenty-two friggin’ pounds. I called it. That’s twice as big as he should be. Smoky’s going on a diet! Aren’t you? Look at him. He’s huge! I knew he was too fat, just knew it. Twenty-two pounds. I called it didn’t?” Looking and pointing at me. “He’s friggin’ huge. He’s supposed to be twelve pounds. Only twelve. Maybe thirteen. Not twenty-two. But he’s twenty-two friggin’ pounds. That vet said he’s got to go on a diet. Don’t you?” The young girl now held a blind, black cat and looked at Cephas, my neighbor, as he spoke. Smoky remained buried in the bag. And I stood idly on, observing this mighty clash of humans, illuminated and glowing in the dark.
Now, the evenings cool the desert, and nightly walks become necessary parts of routine. I left home and rose with the hill on Caliente. The wind noised that noise that sounds like the closing waves of oceans; and if one closed his eye-lids and rocked himself slowly, he may just imagine himself at sea. Then, descending, I turned west on University, dodging the dodgy apartments across from my own on Rochelle. On University, I clung to sidewalk, not the only man milling about. Bikers and walkers lined the streets, and I knew now that Vegas has its yearly coming out. And I knew now that Vegas was sometimes brighter at night.
And men were out in the cover of darkness; and men were out cowering in the dark, ashamed of their wicked deeds. And men were reminded on every street corner that their fall may come in nicely wrapped packages, that a small price may constitute the highest price. And the Luxor’s beam warned the locals, warned them that even in the dark their sins would be exposed. And like some Luxor-light shooting from the door of a second-story apartment, I was overtaken by brightness and shielded a beam with palm and fingers.
“Bright. Isn’t it?” A large black woman said, now moving it out of eyesight, now back in. I agreed, smiling, still fighting her beams but catching her figure. “Having a good night?” she continued. I again replied casually in the affirmative. A few bikers were about across the way and a human or two strolled along the opposite walkway. My pace remained and I meandered under and beyond the beam, which followed. “I’m looking for pretty faces,” the woman said. I wonder, I wondered – She spoke: “Say, you’re a pretty face. You single?” Her beam followed like a fishing line and hook attached to my throat. Without affirmation or a word, I lit out and crossed the road into darkness.
The glow of Vegas contrasts. The sun sets it afire by day, yet by day, the citizens cling to darkness. Humans huddle under desks in dimly-lit offices; shades are pulled and homes enclosed in black; the casinos look pale, stale, and the Strip browns over. It’s creams and tans and off-whites blur together, and one sees it as nothing but a long yawn of buildings, oddly jumbled and placed on sand. Any novelty, any irony, any wit the buildings may have, individually evaporates with the heat of the sun and only looks too obviously out of place.
The mountains turn blue, grey, and purple as the sun recedes behind them, and the Strip blossoms into a rainbow: yellows, reds, blues, pinks, purples, reds, oranges flash and flow with a resounding and harmonious discord. Most skylines look put together, arranged, planned, to some extent. The typical downtown buildings pyramid and make an inverted V-shape. One gets the sense that the city arranges itself and so points somewhere, as if the locals are going somewhere. But Vegas locals aren’t going anywhere. They have already traveled the world over. Their skyline has not one office-building, does not make any shape but a line. Any line really suggests captivity more than anything. Mazes are made out of them. The Strip suggests a great wall a man must get around to get out; or, if once inside, hope for the thread of Ariadne to leave the line-Labyrinth. Indeed, Vegans are stuck in some everlasting queue, stuck in a straight and monotonous maze, like a straight western road receding into the blue backdrop of mountains.
But a Vegas night is also hopeful. A Vegas night is never dark, never lonely. Vegas, in a sense, has its large white woman, always there to turn the light on for you, if you happen to be carrying a gigantic cat in a forest of cardboard. And even if a man is horrified at the thought – as horrified as seeing a ghost – a man may oddly be comforted in his singleness, even interrupted singleness, creeping along the dark Vegas roads, even in interrupted singleness. A man may be comforted that though he is a bachelor and almost lonely, he has not despaired. He may, at times, abstractly consider the abstraction of an online date. But he has yet to resort to fishing for a mate from the loneliness of his front porch, waiting to see what he sees, with nothing but a flashlight.
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
September 2, 13, 18
Painting: “New Walk at Night, Leicester
By Phyllis Ray Reynette James
Oil on canvas, 20th century