From The Duck Hunter Diaries, Vol. 3
September 14, 2006–8os today, seems almost cool. Still surreal — city streets full of NASCAR wannabes in expensive cars that glitter under the dust. The local newspaper is full of stories of violence that read strangely in this gated enclave with the lazy pock of tennis balls coming from courts and palm trees swaying in a desert breeze; it is more like a resort at an oasis than apartment complex.
Sore throat, bloody nasal discharge for us both; N. already visited an emergency room with severe asthma-like symptoms. Who knew Vegas was the asthma capital of North America? Dust liberated by constant construction of new buildings seems poisonous. Breathing is difficult, fatigue constant; like trying to adapt to an alien planet. I drove out Town Center Parkway past Flamingo. On the right, raw desert comes down to the sidewalk; on the left, another improbable gated resort-like complex, lushly landscaped and green. Across the flat land, the distant flare and pulse of neon on the Strip; the other way, rugged hills with an occasional Joshua tree, not a single light. The city is growing like cancer in a petri dish.
The Hush Puppy Restaurant, on Charleston, is a find: catfish and shrimp and yes, hush puppies — exceptional fare — inside the desert doesn’t’ exist. There is a Mr. Bill’s pipe store that stocks excellent tobacco. Drug stores, mini marts, chain grocery stores are open all night — and every one of them has slot machines. We avoid the Strip. Small neighborhood casinos offer excellent cheap eats; a chain of large casinos is in easy driving distance with free parking and good food.
A newspaper story reports two blondes went missing a year apart on the Strip. Both were hookers. The cops shrugged it off as missing adults, no evidence of foul play; no big deal. Each was recruited by a pimp talent spotter; one in New York, the other Toronto. If Gary Ridgeway wasn’t in jail I would think the Green River Killer had moved to the Strip. The paper says seven thousand new people arrive in Vegas per month; three thousand leave. Given such turnover plus hordes of tourists, the Strip is ideal hunting ground for a serial killer. I can’t believe it hasn’t happened, isn’t happening. Who would notice as long as the bodies stay gone? Next up is a story about a cop with a cadaver-trained dog who on his own time hikes the desert with his pooch looking for bodies that await discovery. Or is it white slavery? A story in the “alternate” newspaper (owned by the Vegas daily) ruminates about blondes sold to Arab or Japanese high rollers as a memento more interesting than a T-shirt…Vegas, baby!
October 5, 2006 — Four days ago it rained five minutes, just enough for individual spots to dampen dust and oil. It rained this morning too, on my way to Foothills Casino to watch a Yankees-Tigers playoff game. The steady rain hisses through the palm trees as I sit on the deck writing. I won 54 quarters on the old-fashioned one-armed bandit in the Hush Puppy lobby waiting for a takeout order. N. is sick and off work more than at work; the bad air is wrecking her. I am tense, depressed, feel utterly displaced as the weather gets an autumnal feel.
I soaked in the hot tub today and splashed in the pool and smoked a good cigar and chatted with the Scot in charge of maintenance who hates ”the bluddy sun,” flees home to Glasgow every vacation and yearns for four real seasons as soon as he can retire. Had a long confab with the Foothills blonde with silicon wonder breasts who shared life details: a cancer survivor who rides motorcycles but not in the rain and is waiting for her mother to die, but hopefully not on her own birthday tomorrow “to keep haunting me forever.” I used to say every new place was a caravansary. Vegas certainly qualifies, for thousands of refugees from elsewhere.
October 19,2006 — I spent an evening skimming books about Nevada. Found a factual account of a sociopath versus a frontier lawyer who later served as U.S. Senator and wondered if it inspired “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.” In real life, a German immigrant with a scattergun took the bad guy off (seven buckshot recovered) not John Wayne with a Trapper carbine.
I am ready to drive home to lease my Seattle apartment. The newspaper reported somebody stole all the pumpkins from a community garden; all the sports wheelchairs were stolen from the Parks Department. The local paper covers cops the old-fashioned way; knifings and shootings with vivid detail. Like the man on his knees praying for his life before the gun went off, then slumping down, hands out together on the sidewalk as if praying…
Political news is no less colorful. A senior female deputy was tape recorded by a higher-ranking male — both failed candidates for sheriff — as he led her through damning statements about a third deputy still in the race, against an outsider who owns a helicopter company. The tapes were leaked. The woman, not the illegal tape-recorder, bore the brunt. The outgoing Nevada attorney general lambasted the county council, chapter and verse, in a report citing rampant corruption; the council voted to “study” his report. The senior U.S. Senator, a local, is beleaguered by reports of a shady land deal that made him wealthy. A public golf course was turned into another housing development for business partners of council members.
The nights now are actually chilly, with dry desert cold. I drove to a hill near the 215 bypass north of Summerlin where I could see the obvious basin in which Vegas sits, outlined clearly by the million orange-hued street lights and galaxial glitter of the Strip. The amount of space the city covers is almost exactly the same as Potholes Reservoir in Eastern Washington. Squint just right and the undulating orange creates an impression of lights reflected in water. If I were looking at Potholes, the shimmer would be black water with reflected starlight and the distant twinkle of Moses Lake; here the brilliant gash of the Strip makes a reef of light where Potholes sand dunes would be. Tomorrow: road trip alone to Seattle!
A year crawled by…
October 2007 — Two years since my goose hunt with Beau; no prospect of another hunt. I read that Browning Arms offers a prize for best contest entry about its “Buckmark” trademark. My Buckmark adorns a Browning baseball cap with 100-percent straw crown and camouflage brim, purchased at the BassPro outdoor store that shares a roof with Silverton Casino (only in Vegas!) not far from the Strip. The straw cap seemed a fitting chapeau for an arid land where Southern Paiutes in the old days wove “basket hats” against the desert sun, while their Northern Paiute kinsmen wove reeds into cunning canvasback decoys. BassPro has decorative pools where it floats sun-bleached plastic decoys, a bitter joke on exiled duck hunters. Descendants of the basket-hat Paiutes live on a small enclave totally surrounded by the mean streets of a gaudy desert Gomorrah. No place for a duck hunter.
I closed the deal on my apartment in Seattle a year ago and got violently, explosively ill. Beau had to call 911 and help firemen load me on the stretcher because I was so damned heavy — 370 pounds! I was flat on the floor, unable to move, when the firemen came. They took me to Enumclaw ER. I was transported by ambulance to the only hospital, in Tacoma, with a bed available. I’ve read too many thrillers about hemorrhagic fever; I felt mortality brush very close. The hospital never told me if it was food poisoning; all they could harp on was discovery of Type II diabetes, another damn disability. With Beau to run interference, and N.’s insurance to cover costs, I recovered. Beau sneaked me ice cubes in the ER after medics forbade me water for dehydration while they consulted their navels.
The illness ended any hope of hunting with Beau that trip. After they released me, I used a grocery-store electric cart for the first time and fixed cheap food in the microwave. As 2006 wore on, N. got so sick I thought she might be a goner. The white Bronco died in Vegas the week before Christmas with a cold desert wind blowing. A rental agency refused me a car because I didn’t have a credit card. I daily walked a mile to a mini-mart to carry home groceries in a backpack. That I could, so soon after hospitalization, was encouraging. N.’s mom paid to fix the ignition problem so we could be mobile again.
I left my ’88 Bronco in Glen’s safekeeping at H.A.T Auto Repairs; he’s a big science-fiction reader and I gave him one of my last sets of ANALOGs containing Sleeping Planet. When H.A.T. went under financially, Glen took the keys home but the battery was dead; the shop was abandoned and he was worried. Beau retrieved it on his car-trailer; god knows how. He never got the key from Glen and I sent him the wrong one — probably a white Bronco spare. Someone stole the ’88 spare tire while it languished on Pac Highway.
On a trip to Vegas after I was in the hospital I saw duck boats all over Northern California; even in Hawthorne. I found a large duck-hunting club near Fallon frequented by Reno duck hunters a full day’s hard run from glitter gulch. I took a quick tour, hoping to plot a hunt; didn’t happen. I saw a nine-snowflake “blizzard” in Vegas. Nine, count ’em nine, though there was snow on the mountains. N. watched hummingbirds hatch, named the last one to leave the nest “Spike,” and bonded with him. He sipped nectar from the feeder in her hand.
I was back in Seattle this year, still fighting for Social Security disability. A federal judge ruled in my favor on my pro se brief against SSA, and kicked their negative decision back for another hearing. The white Bronco gave up the ghost in Burien; fuel pump. AAA towed it to Enumclaw. Taxis had stopped running. I thought I was going to have to walk to Buckley and knew I couldn’t; and didn’t have money for a motel. Never enough money for anything — that is the short story of disability: no job for years on end, and resultant poverty. I lucked into catching Beau, who took me to Buckley to resurrect my ’79 pickup.
I drove back toward Vegas through a golden Eastern Washington afternoon with all the circle irrigation wheels in action; homesick for Potholes and Northern mallards. N.’s mom was in Vegas while N. went under the surgeon’s knife for a deviated septum. The surgery was a success. Persistent nasal infections that wrecked her — and her Vegas career — were finally cured. I brought her back to Seattle to look for banking work at home, and that’s the last time I saw Vegas.