It was one of those cloudy days; one of those spectacular days when everything grays and one feels wrapped in a cloudy blanket. The air had that smell of existence, of trees mixed with moisture and life, which battled and conquered the usual Vegas smells – garbage, gas, body odor, dust, cigarettes, stray cats, stray humans, and pot. Which heralded the coming of rain. I say, the air smelt fresh and living, almost wet, as I waited for the crosswalk on Maryland and Harmon. The air was Something. I thought of rain and pleasure, and those odd moments when existence suddenly dominates man’s thoughts. When a building about a gray backdrop reminds one of downtown Kansas City and visiting the dentist, of specificity; when man feels that sensation and only knows its real and good but could not explain how or why; when all there is left to do is exist and appreciate – to value without that need to argue. For existence is a good, and in that moment, everything bulges and feels quite like something.
I left the gym that late afternoon and decided I would enjoy a longer bike ride home. I cut through the Thomas and Mack parking lot, noticing the carnage from last week. They came, they saw, they certainly did not conquer, I thought. The Mack looked no worse for the wear, in any case, and I cast my eyes to the Strip. A few clouds change much, but one cloud changes everything. That day Vegas experienced a rare single-cloud day, in which the whole sky was a single slab of gray; it felt oppressive, yet inviting, having been away for so long. A Vegas cool is warmer than anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s the type of chilliness that makes the heart pump faster. Man feels a slight burning sensation as he pumps into work with his two tiny legs, fighting against the sphered globe. And the mountain’s change colors under those clouds – they look like real mountains rather than large tan and red rocks. When the slab is out, they tint blue and green, good warm colors, and I pretend they hold trees like blankets. I pretend I’m somewhere else, much like I used to do on prairie mornings, when the clouds billowed in the distance and looked like puffy, intimidating mountains. I pretend, for half a second, I am in the Northwest, and suddenly the Strip changes too, and I realize more fully, I live in the West.
Sometimes, I forget that most obvious fact: that I am living out West. It’s easy to do, I suppose, in Vegas. Sometimes, on a Saturday afternoon when I sit outside on the plank of the Jolly Mariner, I feel I am in Mexico. The chatter of Spanish and Mariachi fills the air below. Other times, when I seek beer at the local supermarket, I feel I am in an insane asylum;* in other moments, I wonder if I’m in a furnace, the ghetto, a circus, or even the Inferno. But the moments I think to myself, I am in the West, do not occur too often. I rarely leave town, and this may be why. I hear the smaller Nevada towns have kept more of their Western charm, while Vegas is, truly, still being born. But, then, I have those moments. Those moments I see a Mexican walking down the scorching sidewalk, hands in denim pockets, head down low covered in a large cowboy hat. His long-sleeve button up only needs a bolo tie around the collar to match the cowboy boots. Or, when I now visit the dentist, only to double check I’m not entering an old Spanish mission. Or, when I catch a glimpse of the Strip just at the exact moment, when I’ve ignored it long enough to forget it, and sight reminds me that I’m somewhere else. The Strip is West. It would not take in the Midwest or Plains, the South or Rustbelt. I think the East is yet too pretentious. One might at times see the Strip as a great barrier to the Greater West and beyond, the sea and the end of the world.
Sometimes, when the breeze is just right, and the terrors of the gym fully behind man, he must simply let go. So, I sped up the slanting slope of sidewalk, out by the empty football practice fields, and I let go. I’ve been practicing lately, and now I can nearly steer straight without holding the handlebars. I zigzagged like a drunkard, though, knowing it mattered not. For in that moment I simply was. A grown man riding his bike with no hands. Then, I flew past the ball field and reentered campus. I leaned back, let go and nearly shut my eyes in the ecstasy of the moment. A coolness wrapped its arms around me, and I thought about he goodness of existence. The shifting of seasons, when man discovers he is right on the edge of it. However anticlimactic it is in the desert, it reminds man of that truth, that life is gloriously splendid. Is there anything better than an early-autumn walk in the park? The cool air blowing through one’s jacket, the leaves shouting before they leave off for the winter, children screaming with delight away and beyond; or diving headfirst into a mountain of maple leaves? Or then, then there are those lovely evenings, when all but one light is lit in the home, as if hiding under a bushel; when all that is heard is that same cool air winding through wind chimes and an orange tabby munching his food, while you in your brown-slippered-feet warm your inner man with a small glass of brandy; or yet when man walks in those evenings, stretching his sore legs to see how far they will go, hunched and huddled with hands in his pockets. And he is submerged in the joy of Moment. Better yet, when the music is low and subtle, and the Blue Ox full of regular folk – old, white, men, smoking cigarettes as they place a bet or two; when the conversation swells to something worthy of love and devotion, and every man holds his pint as if it’s his sword. Or on those lonely nights, when the moon peaks about the stars and a young man lurks in a park. Away, a few lights glow in the distance, but his way is dark. Bunnies scurry into bushes to his left, an open plane that looks blue-green in the night opens to the right, and he only thinks, what world have I wandered into now?**
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
October 23, 2016
By James Arthur O’Connor
Oil on Canvas, 1828-40
*Please refer to Gambler, No. 20 [The Supermarket].
**Question, I think, subconsciously taken from a Trifler.