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20 October 2009

Scratching the Itch

It’s as windy as all get out in Las Vegas tonight. As usual, I am tucked away in my hotel room with a bottle of Fresca and some macaroons I bought at the grocery store earlier today. I’m not exaggerating-this is usual for me when I am on the road. Another favorite of mine is boxed wine and kettle corn, if I happen to be in a suite with a microwave. Just call me the Duke of Decadence.

Along with my nighttime snacking preferences, my emotional trajectory on these trips is nothing if not predictable. Preparation for travel involves my masking a deeper excitement with bitching and complaints, which melts away once the actual traveling has begun. When I arrive, I slip into solitary observation, a sponging of my new environment. I then bop along for the duration, occasionally thinking about returning home to Taylor, Tula, and the house of cuckoos that employs me. It’s not until the day or two before I am to go back that I start to feel the pull, as it were.

However, this week has felt much different. I think I missed some kind of emotional beat. I touched down at McCarran and honestly felt like someone had just whipped the pillowcase off of my head after a long and frightful drive in the trunk of a nondescript black sedan. I find myself walking around Sin City like a dazed victim, not quite able to explain what has happened to me.

It doesn’t help that I am in a place only tentatively connected with reality. Today, in the midst of working, I made pit stops at a grocery store, a smoothie shop, and a Chinese food restaurant, all three of which had a sizable area set aside for slot machines and at least one woman with an airbrushed kitten t-shirt.

When I travel alone, I am bound by this private “duty of awareness”. Without the proper preparation and mindset, I don’t feel completely connected to my surroundings. For whatever reason, my focus has left me, and I’m left floating on the surface of Las Vegas like so much casino flotsam. Over time, the result is intense j’amais vu. This, I’ve recently learned, is the opposite of déjà vu, and involves a feeling of newness or unfamiliarity about a person, place, or situation one rationally knows should be familiar. The most common example is that of saying a single word over and over again until you no longer recognize its meaning, despite knowing what the word is and what it means.

My own personal jamais vu has been happening over and over again this week, and revolves around recognizing myself. Standing beside the slot machines at Albertson’s supermarket, opening my hotel room door, watching a report about a Carl’s Jr. to be built atop of an old pet cemetery here in Vegas; all of these moments somehow forced me outside of my body for a moment and created that sense of disconnection. And it keeps happening with increasing frequency.

The sensation is like watching a film out of sync. I know that if I can just start the trip all over again, I can align myself and all will be well with the world. But I can’t, and the drift just grows worse, and it makes me feel anxious and itchy inside, and a little afraid. How much worse will it get? I am leaving for Kentucky tomorrow, so maybe the next leg will set things to rights and reset me.

I had a dream last night that I was wandering around the car rental return plaza near the airport, looking for a friend, who I eventually found hanging from a hook in a public restroom. Don’t worry, he turned out to be a lifeless blue jumpsuit with an oddly corrugated and expressive cardboard box for a head. I had meant to take him home to LA with me in the dream, but ended up forgetting him in the trunk of my Suzuki Forenza.

So…I don’t know. Even now, I’m not really sure where this whole blog entry is going or how to end it. Shit.

It’s 7:00pm in Las Vegas. No matter what, I am gone tomorrow. Maybe it will be me. Maybe it will be a blue jumpsuit with a cardboard head. Maybe it will be mostly me, with some left behind, buried under a Carl’s Jr. with a bunch of dead dogs and gerbils and such, and only an airbrushed kitten t-shirt hanging outside of the restrooms as an oblique memorial.

04 October 2009

Feets Don't Fail Me Now!

Haven’t shit your pants in a while? Try being a pedestrian in the greater Miami area.

Let me throw it in reverse for those who need some background: whenever I travel for work, I try to set aside an hour or two in whatever city I am visiting for an exploratory walk. This usually happens on a weekday afternoon, and usually leads to such exotic destinations as the nearest Wal-Mart or Chili’s.

Sometimes I have managed to stumble upon a hidden treasure. The Denver Museum of Dolls and Miniatures was an amazing find, though I could have done without the ancient docent who showed me around the place. She looked like an almost life-sized crone doll who’d spontaneously awakened one day and started running the place. And I still think she had two glass eyes. And a wooden leg. And an unhealthy thing for dollhouses. As opposed to the standard creepy older gal thing for dollhouses.

Be that as it may, I embarked upon another journey this Tuesday afternoon in southern Florida. My expectations were set as low as possible, which is standard operating procedure for me when on an outing of this type. The most I hoped for was a quirky souvenir shop that dubiously advertised “all items made from assorted alligator parts”, or a Boba shop. I am always looking for Boba on the road.

Instead of either of these things, the walk was cut short by a two…setbacks. The first of these was a road and sidewalk closure within 20 minutes of my sojourn. The second was my attempt to cross the aforementioned road to the open sidewalk on the other side. Apparently in Miami, pedestrians must give way to cars making rubber burning, 50 mile an hour U-turns in order to avoid taking a detour.

We’ve all seen some version of that movie moment when a character is forced to lunge into the air in order to avoid some imminent threat-an oncoming bullet, a falling chandelier, a catcher’s mitt in front of home plate, a kiss from Charlotte Rae (sorry Charlotte), etc. Let me say that much like CPR, or fly-fishing, the skill and precision involved in executing such a maneuver in life cannot be learned via the silver screen.

I hobbled down a nearby side street, seeking a shop, or even a shaded curb, to sit and recover further from my brush with the Kia Sorento of reckless incompetence. I looked up from my shredded hands and knees and caught sight of a flickering neon sign in the shape of a palm tree. As a tanned and heavily eye-shadowed woman exited, a blast of frigid air hit me, and I was sold.

The interior of the shop was long and narrow, and crammed with every kind of chintzy beach crap that humankind has thought up since the beginning of tourism. Keychains, magnets, postcards, towels, sandals, water toys, earrings, pewter memorabilia, shot glasses, and much more surrounded me. The only other patrons were a middle-aged couple in the t-shirt section. The wife, who was most certainly a woman who lived and died by her shopping choices, held one shirt in her hands and had another unfolded and slung atop a rack of its pastel-hued brothers and sisters.

“You said the blue is better than the yellow?”

Her husband didn’t react physically except to exhale ever so quietly.

“Yeah, sure”.

“Really? What about,,,which one, then? Blue? Yellow?”

“Yellow, I mean blue, blue.”

She stared. And stared. And stared. And so did I, forgetting briefly the raw pain on my palms, and the definite cut on my leg that was bleeding.

We were both interrupted by the entrance of another woman, obviously the t-shirt waffler’s sister (it was the stubby nose that gave it away).

“Hey, are you almost done?”

“Sure. Are you goin’ back now?”

“We just ran into Allen.”

At this the husband came to, awakened from his “wifey’s shopping” trance. He moved closer to the two sisters. T-shirt lady put looked up, and all three…

Once, when I was in high school, I was walking home after a yearbook meeting and witnessed a cat get run over by a pick up truck, which sped away, leaving me and one other person, a girl my age, stunned by the side of the road, We both stopped, but didn’t approach each other, or the cat. We just looked at each other…

“How does he look? Wait, I’m just gonna ring out here.”

By this time I had grabbed a few impulse buys-a beach towel and some postcards, but giddiness really took hold when, while waiting for wifey to put back the blue t-shirt and get the yellow one, I saw that this little shop of less than wonders also sold homemade ice cream, right there next to the rack of beach animal beanie babies.

I bought a cone, went outside and found a clean-ish spot of curb to rest my dogs. My hunger and the 90 degree day made short work of it, and the melting vanilla felt good on my sore hands.

I never found out how Allen looked. I never got my alligator hide pencil case. I never got the license plate of that Kia Sorento. That’s the life of a traveling pedestrian.