Beginning of My Book... (A 15-year project, god I'm slow!)
One time I drove to Las Vegas to escape the industrial rains and dull gray of Dark City, my home town, and that trip knocked my path in a whole new direction. The desert filled my eye with rock, sky and wide-open vastitudes full of wild, warped, curvaceous slopes, and I wondered what they looked like at twenty miles out, or sixty. There had to be trails out there.
In the Nevada desert, which seemed halfway around the earth, my throat dry as dust, a rustic oasis materialized, a beer sign in a window. The room paused as I entered, but no overt signs of local drunken menace, so I sat down at the bar. The bartender's name was Clara, and she spoke in a smoker's husky rasp and called everyone hon and set down a Bud as a TV over the bar beamed in a debate about legal brothels in Nye County and poker fiends and slot zombies sat hunched over machines that emitted delirious bells and beeps, all immersed in a heady cloud of cigarette essence.
Frank, the ex-rancher, sat across from me. His deeply furrowed, sun-baked face recalled a maze of burnt canyons I'd passed through two hundred miles earlier. Beside me sat Josephine, a mountain of a woman, robust and rosy. The cigarette cloud could never touch her.
"I aim to be a desert rat," I told her.
"Are you a geologist? Or a paleontologist?"
"Am I what?"
"Which ridge do you study?"
"I just got here."
"I want to be a geologist too."
"But I'm not a geologist."
"So you study dinosaurs?"
I had found a saloon below a boarded mine shaft, something like the West itself. No, not spittoons and rot gut cut with gunpowder, just a few boots and hats on a break from long horizons. Josephine got up and threw darts at a wall and sat down again and yelled across the room, and out of nowhere she turned to me and warned about going into old mineshafts.
"Never go alone."
"I didn't plan on it."
"That's what I thought."
"Watch out for drop shafts."
"You go into old mineshafts?"
"Sometimes a mile."
"Never go alone."
"I didn't plan on it . . ."
"Always take six flashlights."
"But why do you go?"
"Like the ones up here?"
"So you're a geologist?"
"No, not a geologist . . ."
"Oh right, dinosaurs."
"Hey guys, I want you to meet a paleontologist."
Fortunately, the bar had no interest in paleontology that day.
Then Bernice sat down. She was seventy and happy, a sweet spirit who laughed continually. She had a mouth like Gary Busey, upper lip curled up over two front teeth. She said her house was cut off in the flood of '99, but she was lying. It never rains in the desert, I looked into it. A cowboy paid the jukebox and I thought we'd get a smoky good old Hank tune, but soon the screech of some eighties hair band fouled the airspace . . . yet it made more sense than Hank. The desert was too far gone to be "country," a realm of eccentrics and leather-skinned pioneers trying to raise something in all that parched vastness.
A guy called Rooster sat down. He too had teeth similar to Gary Busey and eyes about to jump out of their sockets and shocked white hair similar to Einstein. He told a manic story about a pit bull and a rattlesnake as he waited for a drink. And then a quiet man named Micah sat down. He was five-foot-six with black hair, 82 years old but he looked only 45. He said he fought the Japanese on Saipan in 1944 and was nearly overrun. He was a haunted man, his soft-spoken solemnity nearly overrun by the drunken din around us. He spoke of the war, irrational speed and lulls, flames and inhuman eyes. I leaned in and tried to hear him.
Las Vegas could never top that place, but I rolled on. The sun crashed into a mountain range but dusk put out the fire. I saw the Las Vegas glow at a hundred miles out, and when I got there I basked in the absurd, well lit. I drank in sensory overload, drinking properly to view it. Everything was overblown. Nothing less is acceptable. Ghost towers loomed in the sky, completely out of scale, true to their desert roots of indeterminate space. A casino cop told me that it cost two billion dollars to build the Bellagio and I wondered if I could still get a free drink. At the MGM Grand I nearly tripped over a guy passed out on the floor.
It fit ideas I'd heard before of the desert as a wasteland, a kind of depository for base instincts, dotted with bombing ranges and waste dumps . . . but Las Vegas meant more than that. It was merciful relief from reason, an alternate reality port full of tall monuments to irrational excess that continually reinvented their giga-dollar ruse while we lost ourselves within that crazed reinvention. It was a disposable sort of plastic zone where towers are demolished to be replaced by even taller towers, a craven sort of social experiment or temporary insanity to be reclaimed by the desert inside of a hundred years, but who could object after a three-quarter pound hot dog for 75 cents washed down with free beer? In short, a perfect snapshot. Navigate well.
Beginning of my Book
Prose, including snippets (mini-memoirs).
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Re: Beginning of my Book
Re: Beginning of my Book
Thanks Judih. It grew out of the book that Doreen helped me publish a few years ago (2010, I think?)--though actually, by now it's mostly new material. 2010-2012 were kind of rough for me, after losing both parents only months apart and struggling to "resolve" their estate. I liked the first book, but after I read The Dharma Bums back in 2013 I decided that ultimately, I need to write about this long trek more as a roadgoing story rather than the grab-bag of essay-ish short stories that populated the first book. I added stuff from my 2010-2014 writings, only to take a lot of those elements out. I experimented with second-person narrative and went back to first-person. I endlessly moved stuff around (thanks word processing!), but strangely, things ended up in (almost) chronological order after all of that fiddling. Funny, that. I thought I was "done" in 2015-ish. Right. I CAN'T BELIEVE how long it's taken. Having a full-time job didn't help I suppose. One thing I like now is that I only have 3 "chapters":
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