Gambler, No. 41 [The Cabby]

“Why, Sir, consider how much easier it is to learn a language by the ear, than by any marks. Sheridan’s Dictionary may do very well; but you cannot always carry it about with you: and, when you want the word, you have not the Dictionary. It is like a man who has a sword that will not draw. It is an admirable sword, to be sure: but while your enemy is cutting your throat, you are unable to use it. Besides, Sir, what entitles Sheridan to fix the pronunciation of English? He has, in the first place, the disadvantage of being an Irishman.” – Johnson

Elwell, Frederick William, 1870-1958; The Last Cab

It was brisk but not cold, and I held my jacket in the nook of my curved, right arm. I set my bag on the curb and waited. Not long though. The cab sped my way, cutting off another cabby who honked. As he pulled forward and parked, I reached and grabbed ahold of the back door handle. Before I could squeeze my old, tired bones into the vehicle, the man stopped me.

“Wyanna pyut ’em byack here?” he asked. “Yit wyould be a lot easier fyir ya.”

“Oh, sure.” I placed my luggage in the trunk. “I appreciate it,” I said, as he shut the door. I shuffled into the back seat, and he took the wheel. Inwardly, I smiled. I knew the accent. It sounded like the many horns of heaven trumpeting across the automobile, and it was beautiful, if not divine. For it was the all too distinct nasally noise of the North. Of long, blustery winters and short, steamy summers. Of ominous autumns and reluctant springs. The sound brought pines and lakes and geese to mind. The sound brought ice, and fog, and pastureland to mind. The sound brought memory. It came equally from his mouth and nose, and it piped and resounded in my soul like the final flourish of a Rachmaninoff concerto.

“Whya’re tyo?” he asked, fiddling with a phone. The crackle of a radio noised behind him, and I gave him my address.

“Eh? Whyat’s thyat?” I repeated it.

“Sorry it’s not an easy casino.”

“Nyo, nyo. Nyo problem. Jyust gyotta gyet yit in my phone. Thyat’s how thyey’re doin’ it these days, ya know. Whyen I was a Kyid, ya know, ya hyad to pull out a myap and fyind the streets all on yer own. Nyow these phyones jyust tyell ya whyere to go.”

“Well, you’re a better man for it.”

“So, East Rochelle? I’ve nyever byeen to East Rochelle, only Wyest Rochelle, over by Jyones and Ryainbow.”

“I’ve never been to West Rochelle.”

“Yyeah, I jyust moved hyere. I gyot a plyace in Summerlin.”

“Summerlin’s very nice.”

“Yyeah. Moved hyere from Minny-soda.”

“You know. If I had to guess what state you were from based on your accent, I would’ve said Minnesota.”

“Oh, yyeah? Wyell, I lyived myy whole lyife thyere before I moved hyere. I retyired and thyen thought I’d pyick up thyis gyig. Thyere’s nothin’ to it.” He honked at another cabby. “Excyept fyir thyat gyuy. So, whyat would be the easiest wyay to East Rochelle?”

“Probably Swenson to Trop to Maryland.”

“Swyenson, Trop, Myarylyand…” He said somewhat trailing into space. He sped down Swenson, looking as much at his phone as the road. I kept an eye on my rising bill, blinking at me in red from the dash. He turned right on Tropicana.

“So what part of Minnesota are you from?” I asked.

“Minny-yappolis. Lyived thyere my whole lyife.”

“I lived in Waterloo, Iowa for three years; northeast Iowa for five years.”

“Iowa? Yyeah, Lyots of cyorn thyere. Lyot’s of pyigs too. “

“More pigs than people.”

“Yyeah? Yyeah, I thyink I’ve byeen to Wyaterloo. Once ’er twyice. I knyew a gyuy who wyent dyown to the Yiowa byorder, ryight thyere on the thyirty-fyive, yand he’d brying me byack a hyalf a hog. Gyot a real gyood byargain. Syome asks, wyell, whyy do ya go dyown to gyat hyalf a hyog fyer? Byut, if yit’s a gyood dyeal, wyell, ya know, thyat’s a tyon of myeat.”

I agreed with him on this point.

“I’m drivin’ byack to Minny-soda, yand whyen I do I’m gyonna styop thyere off the thyirty-fyive and gyit me a whole hog!”

We sped passed Maryland, and I saw he was taking Spencer instead. I thought about how I knew more than his phone. He ignored the fifteen-mile-an-hour zone on Spencer and continued chatting in his glorious, high pitched, speedy Minnesota accent. I almost asked if I could take him home with me, but then said,

“Hey, have you ever been to the Blue Ox?”

“The Blyue Ox? Nyo. Whyat’s thyat?”

“It’s a bar, but it’s Minnesota themed.”

“Oh, ryeally? Whyere’s yit yat?”

“Well, there’s one right by the airport. Another on Flamingo. East. Not sure if there’s one in Summerlin or not.”

“The Blyue Ox? Ya know, I’ve byeen lookin’ fyer a byar, but all the byars hyere are casinos.” He laughed at this. “So the Blyue Ox. I’m gyonna hyave to chyeck thyis out.”

“Yeah, it’s a very comfortable atmosphere. Very laid back. Good prices. Pictures of Minnesota on the wall. They even play the Viking’s games on Sundays.”

“Yyeah? I styopped chyearing fyor the Vyikings yafter the Hyershyel Wyalker tryade.”

We were on East Rochelle, and soon parked at my apartment complex. The cabby grabbed a tablet of some sort.

“Whyat’s the myatter hyere?” he said fiddling with it. “Yit’s nyot totalin’ yit up.” I looked at the screen, which read that I owed him nothing.

“I like that total.”

“Yyeah. Yit wyas dyoin’ thyis tyo me thye yother dyay. I wyas in thyis cyar. Thyey’re myust be somethin’ wryong wyith yit. But ya shyoud owe me abyout fiftyeen. Syee?” He pointed to the red figures on the dash. “The tryip wyas twyelve nyinety-fyive, yand thyere’s a two dyollar yairport fee. Syo thyat’s fyourtyeen nyinety-fyive.”

I pulled out a twenty and told him we’d call it good. And now, as I write this, I realize I gave him an outrageous and possibly undeserving tip. But I stand by my weary, knee-jerk, Christmas-spirited decision. For it is only fitting to pay a man too much who speeds around town, talking in a high, nasally voice. I know too that someday I’ll be at the Blue Ox, hungry and alone. That day a certain cabby will show up, and because he is from the North, and from the Midwest, he will remember me. And we will split some Minnesota cheese curds on his tab, as he tells me all about his latest hog.

Broom Snow
East Rochelle
The Orange Tabby on my lap
Friday, December 30, 2016

Painting: “The Last Cab”
By Frederick William Elwell
Oil on canvas, 1931-36

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Gambler, No. 40 [The Pace of Man]

“Surely nothing is more reproachful to a being endowed with reason, than to resign its powers to the influence of the air, and live in dependence on the weather and the wind, for the only blessings which nature has put into our power, tranquillity and benevolence. To look up to the sky for the nutriment of our bodies, is the condition of nature; to call upon the sun for peace and gaiety, or deprecate the clouds lest sorrow should overwhelm us, is the cowardice of idleness, and the idolatry of folly.” – Johnson

I

The sun was nigh fully set when I rolled up to the corner of Maryland and Harmon. I pressed the walk button, and waited on my bike for the green man to beckon me. I was alone and contemplating something, when I observed a lady crossing the road on my right. Like most ladies, she shone brightly against the blue-black night and walked with queenly authority. She held her head up high, and though taken aback by her majestic gait, I managed to unblock the sidewalk by awkwardly backing up. It was far less heroic than had I dashed out the opposite direction; but I comfort myself that it was heroic. In any case, my gallant act was recognized.

“Thank you,” she said, smiling and pressing the button. I squeaked out a “you’re welcome” or, worse, a “no problem.”

“You ride everyday?” she asked. I answered in the affirmative. “You ought to ride with a light. It’s very dangerous not to, and they are not that expensive.” I agreed, and shamefully explained I had forgotten it at home. “You’re lucky,” she continued. “Be thankful you aren’t disabled. I wish I could ride everyday.” As she spoke she stared off into the traffic and noise, and I furrowed my brow inquisitively. Surely, I thought, she is not referencing herself. She walks as well as any abled body I have seen. I nearly asked, rudely, why she couldn’t bike. Then, catching myself, I said the more sensible thing.

“Ah, but walking is better, I think. I’d rather walk.” As the words came out, I realized my hypocrisy, mounted on my bike.

“Well,” she countered, “walking is slower.”

“True,” I replied, “but, you know, God gave us feet.”

“This is true,” she said, still aloofly staring out. I nearly wept for the subtle reminder that a gaping and growing divide exists between me and the world. But yet I heard two words. “He did.” Then, I saw a very beautiful thing – a flash of light in the dark, a faint and happy smile forming across her face.

II

Nearly two weeks ago, I left the UNLV English building, now well after dusk. I fiddled with my lights, unlocked the beast, flung a leg over the seat, and mounted my way homeward. But something felt off. I did not go one whole revolution when I saw before me a young man. He stared as a deer in my Cyclops-light, frightened. He ambled to his right, but by then I was wobbling left. We shared ideas; he ambled left now and I countered his act with a right wobble. His fear cemented itself across brows, down to chin. But he outsmarted me. In what felt like minutes, our tussle quickly ceased. I re-wobbled left to remain mounted, and he, now mindful that I was wayward on my stallion, juked right yet kept left, strolling out of harm’s way. I then wheeled myself, dismounted, and checked the front tire.

Flat. Drat, I thought. Now I have to walk – hold it. I was nearly about to curse my circumstances but stopped just in time. I get to walk, I thought. With great passion, I grabbed the neck of my bike and slowly pattered my way home at the only pace my body has ever accepted: the pace of man.

III

“Come now,” I said, leaning back in my chair. “God gave you a foot for a reason. There’s a reason you weren’t given a wheel. There’s something about this motion.” I raised my hand and flapped it like a foot. The image recurs often, as I foot my way to work in the mornings or take an evening stroll at the park. The walk, unlike any other form of transportation, is the most reverent, the most humble. There is a good reason why we measure in feet. Because the size of the world is best understood by the way of our human propellers. Imagine a world in which all was measured by feet. It’s the most exact measurement because it is the most in tune with our flesh. To say, “I will travel five miles today” obscures what will actually occur. For that man will travel 26,400 feet. That is, he will travel 13,200 humans, for humans have two feet. Suddenly, I better recognize both my smallness and my potential. I am but one man, but I am capable of conquering so many more. Herein lies the secret to humility and courage. A man must be small to conquer. He must see the world for what it is to see how large he can grow.

IV

Our bodies were obviously created for a specific pace, and that pace has become a sort of exaggeration. Walking exaggerates the world by merely existing in it. Wind might be more treacherous on a bike, but the walker endures it longer. Rain, sleet, snow are not mere nuisances but substances. The world suddenly becomes, not some passageway through which we travel, but an expansive and exotic room we enter. It is the least safe of spaces, for in it we control so little – noises, weather, humans. Yet for all its uncertainty, all its potential violence and lack of comfort, walking is the most peaceful form of transportation we know. In it we do the least amount of violence to our bodies, though we enter such a dangerous world.

I wonder if our souls were not made for a specific pace; if like our bodies, the soul longs for proper pacing. I often cry with Donne, “batter my heart, three personed God” or sigh with the psalmist, “how long, Oh, Lord?” Might I not instead say with Herbert

this soul doth span the world, and hang content
from either pole unto the center?

Might my soul, so fond of running, need but to learn to walk again?

V

I listened as the Rebels were getting hammered by Reno. Turning off the radio, I thought, I should go get swoll. Then, I thought further. My bike is out of commission, and the gym lies on the opposite side of campus, a healthy mile jaunt. Suddenly, working out took on new significance. The event swelled, and I realized, once again, my limits. Man cannot do all, for he was not created for such things.

I kicked off my slippers and put on some sneakers. The night was windy and chilly, but I did not mind too much. The sun was just setting to the southwest as I sauntered slowly. I listened to the wind push trash and men talk, huddle around a shopping cart. The cars were noisiest as I neared Maryland, but I crossed safely onto campus. UNLV is a type of sanctuary, for no cars are allowed. Men walk or bike or skateboard, and all is relatively peaceful, and safe. I’ve taken to listening to the sound of my shoes patter along the cement in the quiet, and I did so this evening. The patter of footsteps sound gigantic in silence. The echoes bounce off one another; our bodies become bows, the cement strings, and a steady rhythm of music reverberates around us. I made two quick stops at the English Department and Lied Library then headed down to the gym, one clop-clop at a time. It had been several days since I had lifted, and my body, mind, and soul were eager. I decided I would enjoy a full upper-body day, and I saw myself hoisting metal above my head and turning heads. I did mental crunches and curls and presses. I passed the bike racks and thought about how invigorating my walk was, how mentally prepared I was now, having covered such a great distance, having thought so deeply. I grabbed the door handle and pulled. Nothing happened. I tried the next door. Nothing. I saw the sign, read the words “closed,” and postponed my work out for another day.

Broom Snow
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
November 23, 26, 2016

Painting: “Breeze on a Cliff”
By Arthur Hopkins
Oil on canvas, 1910

Gambler, No. 39 [The Emergency Room]

Boswell: “But is not the fear of death natural to man?” Johnson: “So much so, Sir, that the whole of life is but keeping away the thoughts of it.”

Matthews, Donald; Waiting Room

I

The Orange Tabby looked in my eyes, and I gave a half-promise to return. I entered the dark and wheezed my way to my car, fell into the seat, dropped keys into ignition, and wheezed my car away. I crossed my chest and prayed. When I parked, I stumbled my way to the door, hunched over and wheezing. My chest felt as if a fat man sat on it. My labored breathing caused additional pain. Then, I arrived at the door. “Closed at 8:00 PM. Enter by Emergency Room Entrance.” I wheezed and sighed. Is this an emergency? I asked myself. I walked down the sidewalk, hunched over and hoping. At the end of the sidewalk, I stopped. Across the way a large sign read “Emergency Room” with an arrow pointing down a dark road. I huffed and puffed my way back to my car, drove down the dark, followed a few road signs surrounding construction. Then, I saw the emergency room and went to park.

But the lot was small and every space was handicap. I cursed Something and parked at the door.

“Where does one park?” I wheezed, frustration on my face. I held my chest. “I’m having chest pains. I don’t even know if this is an emergency.”

The nice lady pointed me to a back lot, behind Do Not Enter signs. I passed them, parked, and stumbled passed ambulances, back to the Emergency Room, avoiding long draws of breath.

II

I looked the man, Donald, in the eyes and explained myself. He nonchalantly looked back at me, as if surprised I was there.

“Oh… Sign in please.” He casually pointed to a small pad of paper, keeping his eyes on his computer screen. “So what’s the matter?” he asked when I sat down.

“My chest hurts. It’s painful to breathe.” I answered.

“Okay… how tall are you?”

“Five-ten,” I said confidently.

“How much… do you weigh?”

“One-forty,” I said, take or take a few, I thought.

“On a scale of one to ten… how bad… is the pain?”

“Uh, seven,” I said, trying to associate pain with numbers.

“Okay… wait over there. I’ll call your name when we’re ready for you.” Donald pointed to a waiting room, eyes locked to screen.

I rose to leave, then Donald resumed.

“Hey… do you smoke?”

I sat with my back to the television, facing most of the Others, about twenty. I sat hunched over and tried to distract myself without pulling out my phone as the Others did. I studied the floor panels and thought about how cheap and new everything looked. I watched an old man pace in sweat pants. Gray hair poured out behind his black cap. He wore what looked like an old Sand Diego Chargers jersey, numbered eighty-five. That’s not an Antonio Gates jersey, I thought. Looks like he’s kept it since ’85. A few seats down, a homeless man in athletic pants and a black hoodie spread butter or jam over a slice of wheat bread with his finger. He had a jazz patch and black hair. In between bites, he drank Sprite from a small can. I prayed. Then, I heard Donald call a name. For the next hour, Donald called several names that rose, entered two wide doors. Every now and again, Donald rose. He was a tall, aging man of about fifty. He walked with hunched shoulders, more quickly than he talked.

III

I gave in to my phone, but justified it with the reading material. I read an essay of ghosts, witches, and blood.* I looked at the Others. I resumed reading of zombies, downtown screams, pulled hair, emergency lights, chins-on-chests, gurneys, lead-foot runs, zombie stumbles, faux blood, human blood, red eyes, eyes, vomit, empty smiles, sirens – I heard my name and saw Donald looking at me. I wheezed over and saw him holding a white paper bracelet with words on it.

“This you?” he asked. It was. He placed it on my wrist, and I felt trapped, felt like one of Them. When I returned to my seat, my stomach knotted. I noticed other bracelets and felt as if in a secret club that no one wanted to join. I went back to my essay and felt comfort with the ghosts. As one does in waiting rooms, I looked at my comrades and thought about my death. I thought about how its quite un-human, nearly blasphemous not to fear it.

“Donald… Donald! Where’s Donald!?” Donald looked up from his screen at us. One of my comrades pointed to the lobby. “Oh… Donald went that way? Popular name you know. Donald… It will be the name of our next president.” Mild chuckles. I winced.

My essay ended, and I switched reading material. A play about abortion and life. For several minutes, I lost myself in dialogue and prayer. When I finished, I looked around at my comrades and thought that maybe the pain was receding. Why am I here? I asked myself. The old man in the Chargers jersey now sat, jittery. The homeless man slept, slouched greatly. I prayed. I convinced myself the pain was receding and tried to take large, labored breaths. I rose, went to the desk, and explained that I would just leave. “Huh? You’re next. Come with me.”

IV

I followed Donald down a quiet hallway where he motioned to a second, empty waiting room. I asked where the restroom was.

“Restroom?… two doors down on the right.” He pointed.

I walked to the second door. It read “X-ray.” My brow furrowed, and I looked for Donald, but I found myself alone. I sank into a seat and listened to silence.

I was ushered back to the first waiting room. “How long will the results take?” I asked. I was told an hour. I sighed.

“Is the restroom down that way?” I asked another man at the desk, afraid to ask Donald.

“Yes, just down on the right.” I followed his orders but did not see a bathroom. Eventually, I entered a large, lonely foyer. I looked in vain for a bathroom then saw a large blue sign, reading “Restroom” with an arrow. I walked down a hallway, looking left and right. The hallway veered left, and at this junction was a large blue sign that read “Restroom” with an arrow. I followed this arrow, and came to another blue sign that read “Restroom” with an arrow, eventually wheezing my way around to a familiar looking waiting room. I was again alone and thought about Donald. Then, I saw a doctor appear in a white smock.

“Sir. Excuse me. Where is the restroom?”

This man looked confused, as if I should know, or that I was living. But he pointed down the hallway, the same hallway Donald had sent me. Two doors from the end, on the left, was a restroom.

V

Back in the waiting room, I watched and listened while Donald grilled a new comrade. The man was bent over, sobbing and holding his shoe, and Donald asked him the usual questions: height, weight, pain. Then, just as the man was going to be sent to the waiting room, Donald asked, “Hey… Do any drugs?”

“Meth,” the man sobbed.

“Okay… wait over there.” The man walked to his seat, sat for a few minutes but slowly sank until he lay on the floor, sobbing. Minutes later, he was taken away.

A security guard entered and Donald pointed to the homeless man. “Yeah… he needs to go. Been here too long.” The homeless man was woken up. He asked the guard for five minutes and if he had change for a twenty. I have learned that the question is properly interpreted, “Do you have a twenty?” Five minutes later, he grabbed his belongings and left. I prayed.

VI

At midnight, I was discharged a healthy, sane man. I slept and woke six hours later. With blurry eyes, I mounted my bike and headed to school. My chest was still sore, but I now at least knew my heart and insides were healthy. I thought about Donald, single-shoed men, spreading jam with fingers, the living, and the last ten hours. I decided to take a deep breath to test my chest and heart. It stung slightly. But I felt also that I inhaled a great gulp of life.

Broom Snow
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Painting: “Waiting Room”
By Donald Matthews
Oil on board, n.d.

______________________

*That is, R. Eric Tippin’s Trifler, No. 30 [On Halloween]. The following list is taken directly from this Trifler.

Gambler, No. 38 [The Orange Tabby]

This reminds me of the ludicrous account he gave Mr. Langton, of the despicable state of a young gentleman of good family. “Sir, when I heard of him last, he was running about town shooting cats.” And then in a sort of kindly reverie, he bethought himself of his own favorite cat, and said, “But Hodge shan’t be shot: no, no, Hodge shall not be shot.” — Boswell

Cooper, Abraham, 1787-1868; Study of a Cat

I

I heard sounds. It was evening, and a single lamp lit the room. I sat at my desk, writing some trivial nonsense, when the saddest, most dolorous noise sounded from the sliding door, which leads to the plank. The long, plastic blinds were shut, but I observed a small bulge where they met the floor and an orange tail wagging. From the bulge came sounds. I had heard them before and sauntered over to the blinds, swiveled the rod to twist them, and saw the cause of the woeful mews: Rocky, a white and black cat.* He was on the plank, hissing at the Orange Tabby as if taunting him to fight. I chided the Tabby, for not hissing back and sat on my coffee table to watch. When I could take the mews no longer, I opened the door, shooed Rocky away, and returned to my desk.

I am the Orange Tabby’s Lord Protector. He’s taken to calling me such names, I think, because he was raised Roman Catholic. Little does he know my lack of sympathy for Cromwell. I’m convinced that he now follows Vegas ways, fully devoted to Pan. He fits in with the Vegans, his left ear tattooed. At least, unlike the women here, he has not died his hair blue or green or red or rainbow. On the topic of religion, I have concluded that something eternal must exist in animals. They seem to have some sort of personality about them. Or, in the case of the Tabby, odd quirks. As for instance, when you pull the his tail just right, he lets out something between a gurgle and a murmur. Or when he grabs a tennis ball with forepaws, curves into a crescent, and attacks it with hind-paws. Or, when he places his head under running water. Or, when you lightly step on his back with a shoe, he swivels and wars against it with all four paws.

II

My first memories of the Tabby are associated with cheap Canadian beer. The Tabby is on loan, and I watch him for a good friend. Many moons ago, he was brought home by her in a Labatt Blue beer box, his little orange head fearfully looking through holes. Moments, or days later, he fell asleep, riding my chest like a ship at sea. His purring motored me to sleep, and it commenced a common napping routine. The Orange Tabby is a Kansan. He once mimicked the noises of his neighbor squirrel, scurrying up the tree, outside the screen door. He studied the ways of robins rustling in the grass near the garden posts. He watched, wonderfully, the rainfall, desiring to place his head under the drops. Sometimes, he felt the grass beneath his paw like a cold, wet carpet. Other times, he slid across wood floor, smashing into boxes. He no longer slides. But he does run. On occasion, when I am roasting coffee or scrambling eggs, tucked back in my kitchen, I will hear nothing but the distinct scratch of paws and claws against carpet. If I catch a glimpse, I see nothing but an orange blur of fur whiz – a orange cloud-puff streaking the sky at daybreak.

The Orange Tabby does not drink cheap Canadian beer anymore. Living with me has matured him, and now he drinks cheap brandy. Pretentious, like most cats, he believes that I am the roommate. So, he sits in my rocker and glares at me with a face that says, “I am where I ought. You stay put.” Or, he scrunches his face against the rails. I humor him and continue reading my Sherlock, smoking or sipping tea, while the Tabby rocks with assumed authority and enjoys his brandy. Cats are too much like feminists. They believe that whining, scratching, or biting will make them more powerful. But the Orange Tabby never has more power than when powerless, when he lays on his back with his forepaws curled, wide-eyed, hoping I won’t scratch his belly. Then. Then is a cold heard melted like wax.

III

One night, just as I was to cover under covers and sleep, the Tabby and I threw. The yellow felt of tennis ball skirted across carpet, as the orange beast prowled like a tiger. The Tabby crouched, covered, waited to pounce as I wound to throw. Then, I faked. The Tabby stopped. He turned to look, to question. I faked another. The Tabby crept forward. I faked yet again. The Tabby anticipated the throw and ran. Then, he stopped. He stood stern and tall, ferocious even. He looked almost mighty, near majestic. He swiveled his neck and head back to me, over shoulder, and looked. I let go mid-fake. I threw with a backhanded sidearm, as a diving shortstop to second. Aiming for the far wall, I held nothing back. River-veins coursed beneath my flesh – breathing rivers muscling blood. Those muscles tightened, bulged, propelled arm, wrist. That wrist snapped sharply, the bones working on swivels, and I felt the felt roll of fingers and thumb and nails. I felt the misfire as the Tabby remained turned, his orange head whisked back to his caretaker. Eyes wide, whiskers spread, he may have seen the ball leave the hand. Or, he saw nothing but a bright yellow ball flying at his face.

IV

If there is anything good about the final spring months in Vegas, I am unaware of what it is. They say Kansas is backward, but truly Vegas is. The spring in Vegas is dreadful, a harbinger of death and depression. In the spring, men walk slower, without spring. And cats proclaim the coming heat with vigor. The Orange Tabby has very thick fur. This fur, come April, when that first ninety-five degree day hits, must go somewhere. And so he sheds. He becomes a living, breathing, mewing cottonwood – every movement a new puff of fur clouds the air. Fur balls pocket the apartment like land mines. Then, he rubs up against his caretaker’s face while he’s trying to read or write. And I see as throw a blanket dimly.

V

This morning, the Orange Tabby again looked out the window and let out a sad mew. I approached, holding my coffee, and gazed with him. At first, I saw nothing. No cats were about to rouse his curiosity. No squirrels to mimic, no robins to study, no wonderful rain. I wondered to myself what could possibly be upsetting him. Then, I saw in the distance three birds playing on a tall post, a post wrangled with ugly electrical wires. Then, I knew. Cats probably can’t remember too much. But I imagined that the Orange Tabby saw only what I saw: a garden-post outside the old screen of the Ole Midshipman, so many leagues away. I perceived he mewed the mew of memory. That those birds who played upon a post out our window, were only the ghosts of the robins who once played upon a post in Kansas. Or, maybe, they were harbingers of a future post, a post away back in times yet revealed. Back home.

Broom Snow
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
Saturday, October 29-November 1, 2016

Painting: “Study of a Cat”
By Abraham Cooper
Oil on panel, 1817

_______________________________

*See Gambler, No. 28 [The Neighbor]

Gambler, No. 37 [The Shift]

“Surely, nothing is more reproachful to a being endowed with reason, than to resign its powers to the influence of the air, and live in dependence on the weather and the wind for the only blessings which nature has put into our power, tranquallity and benevolence. This distinction of seasons is produced only by imagination operating on luxury. To temperance, every day is bright; and every hour is propitious to diligence. He that shall resolutely excite his faculties, or exert his virtues, will soon make himself superior to the seasons; and may set at defiance the morning mist and the evening damp, the blasts of the east, and the clouds of the south.” – Johnson

I

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.

II

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.

III

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?**

Broom Snow
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
October 23, 2016

Painting: “Night”
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.

Gambler, No. 36 [The Lockdown]

“They have seldom any claim to the trade of writing but that they have tried some other without success; they perceive no particular summons to composition except the sound of the clock; they have no other rule than the law or the fashion for admitting their thoughts or rejecting them; and about the opinion of posterity they have little solitude, for their productions are seldom intended to remain in the world longer than a week.” – Johnson

Price, Alan, 1926-2002; Iron Bed Fence

I

The day splits and sighs. It afternoons, and I yawn and stretch between sips of tea. My fingers, like two pale spiders, scatter across an Apple, and my mind ponders past centuries. Then, voices. After cleaning the inside of my mug, I dispose of a tea bag. A backlight tells me the time, and I pack, strap bag to back and shoulders and saunter out of the room.

II

It’s cloudy, and the desert’s tan shimmers into silver-gray. The wind seems to add to the gray, as if air colors when the sun hides behind clouds. Men walk with hands on head, and my thighs ache, pumping bike pedals. I wonder, in between thirty-mile-an-hour gusts, if walking wouldn’t be faster. The parking lot is full, and I’m faster than those cars anyways. The asphalt changes to concrete, and the wind increases. The concrete is an open walkway, on one side, sheltered on another by an eight- or nine-foot chain-linked fence, the final two feet slanted with barbed wire. It is held down by dark sand bags, as if it was only recently placed. I hug this fence, perhaps telling myself it will offer relief from the wind. It doesn’t. Four or five buildings are on the other side. Every fifty or so yards, an opening appears in the fence, parts of its structure peeled back so humans can enter, or leave. Few are out, luckily.

I pedal to about the end of this walkway, and seeing another opening in the fence, I enter in, park, unlock then lock my u-lock, making sure the tire is snug with lock, rim, and rack. A young woman slouches against a pole, and I look at her, wondering if she knows more about the fences. But she’s locked in, staring intently at her phone, unaware of my existence. I sigh and head toward the building.

III

My fingers again find the Apple, and I stare intently at an LED screen. An older man shuffles by my office door, and I hear him sigh loudly, as if weary. I’m not the only one.

“Hey there. Hey, you alright?” A female voices questions the man.

The man responds as if woken from a nap.

“Yeah, I just heard you sigh really loudly. Everything okay?”

“Oh!” he said, as if realizing. “Yeah, it’s just the whole… I can’t wait until it’s over.”

“I know. It’s draining people.”

“It really is. And… I’m leaving today. I’m not coming back for a week. Don’t turn on your television… It’s just sad the baseball season will be over… I’ve started taping games so I can watch next month.”

The divine wisdom of this last statement is overpowering. His speech, though, is heavy, like a man bogged down with several responsibilities. I think about how baseball relieves the burden. I nod in approval and remember last October. Then, my fingers find the Apple and I am lost in another period.

IV

I leave the building refreshed and awake. I glance at the fence, glad they didn’t lock me in. I get on my bike and think about one thing: home. I hug the fence again and notice an opening to a side street. Further in, I think. Surely, I’m on the outside. A few souls enter this gate, and I watch them glide down the road. At the end of the fat, short road, I spy another gate. This one is a dark green, and it is difficult to see through it, though I know what lies beyond. Two guards wearing yellow tops and black pants stand at the gate, checking those brave souls who entered in. I watch as they walk and wonder if they will ever return.

V

I decide to walk my bike for a bit. I spot a black man with a clipboard and look the other way. He calls anyways.

“Hey, you registered to vote?”

“Yes,” I said, giving him a thumbs up, hoping that will silence him. It usually does.

“Oh, well then will you sign my petition?”

“No thanks,” I say moving on. I see another black guy in a tie without a clipboard. He clearly heard my answer. He eyes me and asks the same question. I tell him no in the only way I know, though I’d like to smash a clipboard over his head.

Then I pass a large podium with hundreds of televisions. A stadium-size big screen hovers over grass, and men sit in chairs on the podium with their backs turned to us. I glare at them through sun-glasses. I think about how the journalists are the scum of the earth; how their entire existence consists of bad writing, loose facts, ridiculous logic, and lies. The journalist writes from compulsion or for fame, not love; he has no substance, for he has no thoughts, and his paragraphs show it; he is a gossip, a mere fly on the wall, who squeals about his story like a middle school girl; he only writes what conforms to his presuppositions, which always conforms with current fads. He is the very definition of ephemeral, and the only hope his writing brings to anyone, is that it will never be read after he is dead.

VI

I’ve always liked fences. Boxes. As a child, I rarely ever felt fenced-in. Fences were protection, and offered a sort of freedom one can’t have without boundaries. A sort of free will exists with a fence. A man can climb it. A man can look through it and long, or look through it and be thankful. Fences and their popularity are the very evidence the balkanization party will eventually overtake this country. Everyone, deep down, is a Balkan. Each man has a fence, or a wall, if not around his home than around his heart, which is essentially the same thing. And when this country crumbles, they will clamor for fences.

But a good thing may be ill-used. And as I ride, I think about how freedom is messy but the messiness is necessary. I think about how policy rarely changes a heart, for a heart is always free. I think about the clamor of journalists with their false statistics, their blind belief in policy to change the world. I think about how that is rarely the case, how lives are changed human to human, soul to soul, or words written by the wisdom of the dead. And I think how legality does not suddenly make sins sensible or virtues vices.

VII

My course continues. I leave the fence for greener grasses. Several banners wave in the wind like flags. They are red and white, and I feel as if in a strange land. I’m at the corner of Maryland and Harmon, waiting for a light. It dawns on me that the leader for the free people is the most fettered man alive. That before he is ever free he is caged like an animal, constructing fences around the walled-auditoriums in which he will speak. It dawns on me that beyond the screaming fans, the masses receive him with a deep groan. And it dawns on me that my university looks more like a concentration camp at the moment than a university. And I wonder if that is not fitting given this current election, operation self-destruct. Then, I pause, as usual, and wonder if I am not overreacting. I realize it can get worse. And so I determine to react instead of overreact; to act instead of despair. And then I see a green-lighted man beckoning me home, and I move, thinking about baseball.

Broom Snow
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
October 16-17

Painting: “Iron Bed Fence”
By Alan Price
Oil on canvas, 1956

Gambler, No. 35 [The Age of Chivalry]

“The works of fiction with which the present generation seems more particularly delighted are such as exhibit life in its true state… it is therefore precluded from the machines and expedients of the heroic romance, and can neither employ giants to snatch away a lady from the nuptial rites, nor knights to bring her back from captivity: it can neither bewilder its personages in deserts nor lodge them in imaginary castles.” – Johnson

Good, Thomas Sword, 1789-1872; Examining the Sword

I.

“Be careful where you unsheathe your sword!”

To my left, but almost directly behind me, a pock-marked lad of about nineteen stood. His face had more red than white, and he wore wire-rimmed glasses and a brown pullover with a hood. On his back a quiver strapped with arrows and a bow glistened with his short golden-blonde hair in the glow of our lighted tent. Across his chest lay a leather strap wrapped around his shoulder to his waist. Attached to his leather strap was a long sheath, as for a sword. A sword that was held firmly in his right hand and pointed across my body at my comrade. This individual also had an unsheathed sword, but he only gazed at it in admiration, its tip pointing to the grass. And when he heard the words of his challenger, who it seemed popped out of the ground, he could only stare at him in wonder. He was, I imagine, grateful at the gracefulness of this lad. For had the lad merely assumed his doctrine of sword-sheathing, instead of warning us, my comrade would surely be headless.

“This is Gandalf the Grey’s sword,” the lad continued. “I paid more for it than if I had got it here.” He made a motion with his head to the rack of swords before us but did not seem upset at having paid too much. “That is Gandalf the White’s sword.”

“Well, you’d want that one,” said my comrade.

“Yes, except that it will get dirty faster. See the white handle.”

“Ah, yes,” I chimed in. “For all the men you have to slay.”

I grabbed the sword. Its handle was overlaid in white leather and its silver hilt curved and had small knobs on its ends. I compared it with the lad’s sword, which was now pointed at us with the handle. Then, my heart fluttered, and I began to unsheathe, checking myself and not unsheathing completely, lest any more challengers should set upon us. The blade was very sharp, and after further study, my comrade observed ruins on the hilt.

“And that one is Aragorn’s.” The lad pointed to another racked sword. My comrade wasted no time unsheathing it. “But, it is not as long as the actual sword.” There was disappoint in the lad’s voice at this thought.

“Whose sword is this?” I grabbed one that had an insignia of a lion on it. The lad did not know and gathered it was just a sword.

“Here, this one, though, you see,” he quickly – and without care, I thought – unsheathed a curved, golden sword. “This is an elven blade. Legolas’s.”

At the word’s “elven blade” I knew we had entered new territory. There’s a fine line many men cross, and this lad cross it several years in his past. We meandered on two sides of a long table, fitted with swords and daggers. A holed partition separated each side.

“Say, are you guys Star Trek fans?”

No! I thought. I have my limits. “Well, yeah, I’ve seen it,” my comrade said indifferently, gazing at the lad through the partition but fondling a few daggers.

“See this?” he grabbed a large curved, hilt-less blade with two hands and held it up to his forehead. The ragged blades poked out of his pock-marked face like several silver horns. He transformed suddenly from a young lad of nineteen to some horned beast with fire shooting out of his face. Whatever he said was either inaudible or forgettable, and we carried on looking at daggers.

II.

“It’s king Volpone.”

One a bench by a tree, a fox stood wearing a long cape and golden crown, surrounded by children looking upwards at him. My comrade stalled and started near it, but the rest of us held back.

“Or, perhaps it’s the Robin Hood fox,” said his wife. “Prince John was a lion though, wasn’t he?”

“Yes,” I said confidently. “The kings were lions. That was my favorite movie as a child.” And as we passed the fox-king, I thought about that movie. I thought about Romance and the battle of life. I remembered, through its own film, my fifth birthday. I clad myself with a new sword, shield, and beaver. I planned an attack and rescue. I thought, not for the first or last, that my fellow Romantics are daily persecuted. We sauntered under a crescent moon, slightly hazed with thin clouds, surrounded by men wearing capes; Viking-horned helmets that glowed purple and red; men with swords, battle-axes, clubs, daggers, or wands. I thought about how I live in a renaissance fair. I thought about Romance and how we still must fight with swords and rescue women from towers. Only, the towers are ivory and the swords as mighty as pens. It will take a sword and bloodshed to destroy some Romantics.

III.

“You can get your sword sharpened. The blades will get worn down after awhile. After you kill many monsters.”

“It will get worn down if you don’t use it? Keep it sheathed?” I asked cynically.

“No, man,” said my comrade, playing along. “When you’ve killed so many monsters and dragons and such. Then it gets worn down. Not if you leave it sheathed.”

“Yeah, it’s the constant hacking at their necks and the blood. That wears down the blade. But there are places where you can get it sharpened. I’ve had to get mine sharpened. I’ve killed so many.”

There’s a fine line. I almost cashed in, bought the unknown sword with unknown money to satisfy a deep boyish need. Then, I looked hard at this pocked-marked lad and knew there was a fine line. I knew that the only reason for owning a sword was Romance, defense, slaying real men and protecting real princesses. I knew and know that if monsters do exist, or if dragons do return to our world, that swords will be required. I knew that the last thing a grown man must do is buy a sword to fight an imagination. Children may do this; but men must mature. There is only one age a man should always be; the age of chivalry. Better, then, to buy a sword to fight your neighbor, than to fight the air. For a sword without bloodshed is a pen without ink. It is a pen without an audience, a knight without a damsel. Knowing this, I looked hard at the pock-marked lad and asked him sternly the only important question, the only requirement of knighthood and chivalry.

“Sir! How many men have you slain with that sword?”

Broom Snow
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
October 8, 201

Painting: “Examining the Sword”
Thomas Sword Good
Oil on panel, 1822

Gambler, No. 34 [The Radio, Part II, Or, The Game]

“I never take a nap after dinner but when I have had a bad night, and then the nap takes me.” – Johnson

Blacker, Elva Joan, 1908-1984; Radio Transmission, Biggin Hill

I

I awoke to men yelling. Voices carried as if from world’s end. A blue-gray haze accented the apartment room. One-half that world was dark, and the other half lit by a sun receding behind mountains and a few parking-lot lights. And I awoke to men yelling. I arose slightly, on an elbow or two. Movement in the dark-half of the room. Then, a moan mixed with the man-yelling and an orange tabby appeared from the dark, softly landing on the back of a couch. The tabby continued, moaning, then resting on the arm behind me, crossed paws and stared into the blue-gray, wide-eyed. And the man-yelling continued.

“Theo!” My eye-lids struggled to open and stuck as I blinked, yearning for moisture to wet my dry contact lenses. “Theo, when are we?”

He had nothing to say to this, but after several moments, he jumped onto a wooden coffee table. Then, he let out a depressing, groaning mew. I scolded him, trying to make out what the men were yelling about. Then, I remembered. Some teams were playing a game. I recollected. It was the championship. When was it? Early April. North Carolina and Villanova. It all flurried back to me in unconscious intervals. Villanova apparently won, I gathered from the yells. But how? I had missed it. I had dozed off during the biggest – and most exciting – game of the year. I grabbed my phone and asked a friend what I missed. It then struck me that the radio, better than any other form, allows us to observe that proper distance from sporting events.

II

I have experienced the above scenario several times listening to sporting events. Often, I have woken up just as my baseball team hits a few late-inning fastballs and starts making some noise. Waking up to a game is almost as exhausting as playing a game. A man never knows how long he has slept, and it is a natural and common experience to be relatively clueless after naps. It is the particular glory of the nap to wake as if born into the world like Adam. But when a man nods off to a sporting event, he has a sense of time. He is awoken by the very thing that lulled him to sleep and knows where he is. And his brain is bombarded with a series of questions in a particular order: Score? Inning? Still playing? Extra innings? Rain delay? Who’s on first? When are we?

Baseball is clearly and without a doubt the greatest sport to pair with a radio. I would even go so far as to say that baseball is enhanced by the radio. A man can easily perceive why this is the case. Golf and tennis, two noble sports, cannot possibly be described with justice to the ear. The glory of those sports resides in their exactness, which must be seen to be believed. Soccer and basketball have opposite, yet similar effects. One is too slow to understand audibly; the other too fast, its whole being blurring into an obscure racket, unpleasing to the ear. Football, most definitely, comes closest to baseball. But when we consider pacing, the slow, methodical rhythm of America’s pastime, as calm and relaxing as receding sea waves, we understand more fully why baseball is best heard. We understand more fully why men will rock to the noise with nothing but a pipe in their teeth, eyes closed, as if dreaming of the future. We understand more fully why grown men so often doze off, as if receding like those waves into another world, some field of dreams.

III

Baseball has been described by better men as a background sport.* This is an apt and just description. Baseball is a background sport because baseball is the closest rendering to life in sports, for most of life occurs in the background. Life, as well, is too short because we want more of it, and sane men naturally want more baseball. But in all its stages of life, all its moments, all external events surrounding it, we may see that a life is very long indeed. When we think of each individual game, each pitch, each out, each inning, each seventh-inning stretch, each win-streak, each loss-streak, each record, each comeback, each blown-save, the baseball season is a mammoth season. But it is not, as some suggest, a monotonous season, as if mammoths are monotonous. The glory of this game lies in the diversity that occurs within its structure. I suppose, if we truly consider it, baseball is most like the Catholic Church. It certainly upholds the number three. Like Rome, and like life, baseball’s structure grants it a diversity that is not achieved in other sports. The game is more than a game, it is an organism. It has its Pope and bishops, its priests and laymen, its rules, distinctions, counsels, saints, and heretics. They say that one steps out of time during the mass. That may be why baseball has no time.

IV

I fell in love with baseball before I knew I liked it, before I disdained it as a boring, slow sport. The game entered my ears as a child and subconsciously seeded in my soul. I remember each event as if it was one – sitting in our green Ford Aerostar, or silver Ford Tempo, with small head on hand, observing the flow of Kansas City traffic and listening. Another game, another loss. Post-game coverage on 435, leaving Kaufman; live-game coverage on 35, leaving soccer practice; hearing of Brett from days past; hoping, listening, longing, losing. But still listening. Even in the dregs of a long-gone September, that radio, that voice, entered life at intervals. When I hear that voice, I hear memory. It reminds me of summer, of few responsibilities, of freedom, of an eternity that couldn’t ever last.

The mammoth season of baseball magnifies when a man follows the team, attempts to listen to every game. There is something particularly rewarding in following a losing team, even forgetting about them for a time. There is something rewarding about visiting the stadium, speaking of playoffs as if in a dream. There is something about resurrection in sports, something divine in hearing that same old announcer, some twenty years on, calling games as if from the grave. There is something to be said about a resurrected man being surprised. But so long as I’m on this side of the grave, I’ll never forget the shock of Denny Matthews’s voice during an early-November, ninth inning. “Play at first, Hosmer is – he’s running!?” Spoken like a declarative question. Spoken like a man certain in his uncertainty and uncertain in his certainty. Spoken like a man just waking from a very long nap unsure he’s not still dreaming.

Broom Snow
Listening to a baseball game – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
September 27, 2015

Painting: “Radio Transmission, Biggin Hill”
By Elva Joan Blacker
Oil on canvas, 1942

_________________________

*See R. Eric Tippin’s Trifler, No. 14, “On Entering a Gym and a Game of Ball, Or Two True Myths”

Gambler, No. 33 [The Lights]

“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

Reynette James, Phyllis May, 1911-1973; New Walk at Night, Leicester

I

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.

II

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.

III

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.

Broom Snow
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

Gambler, No. 32 [The Mountain]

“Human experience, which is constantly contradicting theory, is the greatest test of truth. A system, built upon the discoveries of a great many minds, is always of more strength, than what is produced by the mere workings of any one mind, which, of itself, can do little.” – Johnson

Leader, Benjamin Williams, 1831-1923; Mountain Solitude

I

“It sounds like a highway,” I said, listening to the wind. “Sad that my mind goes there.” My comrade, she concurred on both statements. We sat on the hillside and listened to the silence, the music of the gods. The rush of wind roared and neared for miles, entering and passing the canyon like several semis. Intermittently, a woodpecker banged his head against a branch on the opposite slope, and we spotted a Nevada blue bird with the naked eye. The ravine, dried and bony, echoed all, including the friendly voice from the evergreens above. We had dropped our packs, weary with trekking the ravine, and begun scouting for a campsite. Our leader knew the mountain best. We wandered back to the packs, but he lit out, into the denser brush and trees. We heard him, several times, from above, well engulfed in the thicket.

But his voice grew fainter, and I said, “He’ll come up the ravine, I bet.”

“That last noise, it sounded like he found the spot,” she said, hopefully. We hoped, watching the stillness of the mountainside. The stillness of a mountain, I have found, is the stillness of a man sleeping. It looks harmless, dead even, at times. An experience with it proves it lives. One wishes not to wake a sleeping mountain; especially in its winter hibernation; just so, one wishes not to wake a slumbering man too early.

He was away for nearly an hour. But, that man who seemed to slumber in the lumber above, now approached. He had descended, but now whistled below and slowly rose in the rocky ravine.

II

I was asked, recently, what people in Kansas are like. I thought for a few seconds and almost said that Kansas people are normal. Yet, I checked myself. Normal is relative; he needed a more exact word: “Plain,” I said. “The people of the plains are plain. They don’t have tattoos or pink hair; they don’t need mountains, or sees, or casinos, or skyscrapers; they aren’t wild or obnoxious; they aren’t loud or bumbling; they don’t smoke so much pot; they won’t talk to you unless they need to; they are down-to-earth, hard-working, faith-driven people who just want to live their lives and be left alone. The don’t need the false glimmer of casinos or nightclubs. They are the world’s hobbits.” I stopped and left the description to the man’s interpretation. But upon reflection and experience, the plain people of the plains are much like icebergs, and every iceberg is a mountain.

A man may devote himself to exploring one mountain range for his entire life, and at the end of his toil under the sun feel as if he never met the mountain but one time. The Spring Mountains, west of Vegas, if observed on any map, are a tiny range, easily overlooked and ignored. The tallest peak rests at twelve thousand, which comparatively looks like a little brother, even a child, to many mountains. Yet, it is twelve thousand feet; and I am less than six. The twelve thousand foot mountain may kill a man, or may shock him into existence just as quickly and effectively as any six foot man. When I was younger, I wanted to experience the world, to see many mountains and seas and cities. But my old bones now tell me that experience only occurs indirectly. One does not contrive an experience; one experiences an experience; one only does this one moment at a time. My old bones now remind me, with this visit to this mountain, that I am a very plain man. My body conquers gradual slopes with titanic energy and is conquered by steep inclines like a pigmy. My body can, and perhaps should, be content with its lone mountain.

III

It was my time to scout. I left my pack and comrades and bounded down the ravine. I left it on my right for a path, steeply ascending. As I rose, I felt the oncoming of a migraine. I thought of the woodpeckers, slamming their heads for food. I recollected that I had eaten little in several hours. My way inclined and met with a level path, which I took on the left, heading to a precipice we had spotted. The precipice was perhaps a hundred or so feet above the ravine, and I stayed away from the edge. I thought about how if there was a railing, I’d fling my throbbing head over with abandon. I thought about how I could be more free in life if I had railings.

The precipice turned grave at night. A bat flew above our heads, squealing. Its form shadowed against the stars and satellites and planes. The black hills to the right, and beyond, loomed. They looked as something beyond hills, as things, living and organic. Maybe they were only the plates of a beast, a stegosaurus resting as we played on its back. Distantly, two stars poked out of a chasm. They stared at us, and with the cut in the hills, the lower sky glared with the face of a frog. But the stars moved, eventually; or we moved, or were moving, and were moved, contemplating our rotation.

IV

But I awoke both new and old; I awoke changed yet unchanged, a new, plain man yet. In the cool mountain air, I sipped warm coffee in a tin cup, wrapped in fleece and flannel, a beanie covering my pounding head. And I looked dizzily at the trees and morning birds, the woodpeckers pounding beaks into bark. Sometimes, I long for their tongues – that wrap and blanket their brain, cushioning the blows. Then, my head pounded without any pounding. I did not need to fall to fall, for I am fallen, and fallen men seem to fall all the harder. It is as if they fall from experience and practice it well. They fall so hard they seem stuck in the ground like a rock. I needed but thin air, a good climb in elevation, to set a migraine, to blow my mind and spin my world in circles. Despair is damning, though. Even a fallen stone rises with the helping hand of man. Many a fallen thing, no matter how rooted to the ground, may rise and even bounce back, or slowly grow like an evergreen.

Broom Snow
Still reeling
Las Vegas, Nevada
Monday, September 5, 2016

Painting: “Mountain Solitude”
By Benjamin Williams Leader
Oil on canvas, 1873