This is a guest post from Will Blathe who contributed in response to the American Vignette call for submissions. This piece originally appeared on his Cognitive Failure blog. The setting is Nevada. Enjoy!
I remember Wingfield Park. I remember green grass, which is strange for an almost-desert, but we do love our grass. The sun was out and beating down with an already dangerous strength in early May. There were a lot of people taking advantage of that sun. Many were strolling or jogging through the park. In the afternoon there were few couples; some groups of thirty-somethings with quite a lot of singletons out on break from their jobs.
I took some time after lunch to take my own stroll in the park. I walked along a concrete path near the Truckee. I saw a sign that read:
I thought about my empty pockets while I asked the man holding the sign if he had any luck at the park. He shook his head, saying, “No. IBM’s monitoring me.” He went on to marvel at how we have so many hair colors. Where he comes from there’s just blond. He added that there was no Italy, only the country of Rome. There were no jumbo jets either, no helicopters, or any such things. He told a few other facts about his other-planer life before I waved goodbye.
There was never a truer Nevadan. Independent, entrepreneurial, sure of himself in the face of everything. He took care of his own affairs regardless of the situation. And, he was alone.
This is a wilderness, drab compared to the northeast, but a wild enough place to be exciting and more than little scary. The man with the sign may never have gotten to see Lake Tahoe, but he only had to walk a few feet to see the river that springs forth from it where summer kayakers play in the middle of town. Really, it’s all wilderness from the cardboard metropolis of Las Vegas to the hinterlands of Ely or my own “biggest little city.” You are alone to fend for yourself, or, if you’re lucky, you may find fellow travelers to help you navigate the state’s strange ways.
The man with the sign sticks in my own brain. Only now his sign says “I’m a Nevadan!” And, it’s true. He’s a lonely reflection of the Nevada ethic. Here, every man is an island, each woman, alone, and every child has to fight off the dogs. It’s liberating to be free of the speed bumps that keep us in line elsewhere, but it can be lonely out here in the almost-desert.
I don’t mean to say that Nevadans are a surly lot, but Nevada is a vast space, dotted with people here and there. That’s a lot of lonely in a desert that stretches way past the horizon. Maybe that’s seeped into the Nevadan brain, stamping it with a mild case of misanthropy. Some call it independence, but it seems a little cold sometimes.
After my encounter with the wise man, I went to the grocery then home, passing a few businesses that closed down and many more that have sprung up around them. Maybe it’s that internal fight to keep moving forward, but whole new districts pop up overnight, transforming neighborhoods with little apparent planning. Restaurants erupt like Jack’s beanstalk which the locals devour like locusts. Not far from the center of town, a farm sprouted, and from it, tons of vegetables. There’s no small amount of pride in seeing that happen all about town. I just can’t figure this state, or this town, out. After nearly a decade, I’m still on the outside.
Nevada is a land of emigrants in a nation of immigrants, and the locals let you know it. Outsiders are kept at arm’s length by the middle vowel of the state’s name thrust in your face like a middle finger.
goes the bumper sticker that rubs it in my face. It’s a land that takes pride in being proud.
I feel sorry for that man. But, I looked around and saw a lot of people with suit, tie, and briefcase who seemed just as isolated in a sea of change. Is this any surprise where sex is a commodity, money changes hands by caprice, and marriages last an hour? Everyday I marvel at the changes happening to my adopted home. Some make me sad with the erosion of history, but I can tell that people are happy, so who am I to judge? I worry about that man and others like him, because being alone in a place that sees the loner as virtuous is a deep hole that no one’s going to help you out of.
Will Blathe is a new and unpublished writer of poetry, essay, and prose fiction. He is learning his craft through working with online communities of writers. The writing process is his way of coping with ADD and its profound effects on life. He writes poetry on his blog, Cognitive Failure. Will is a a transplant from the Midwest to Nevada, a dog lover with two cats but no dog, and an avid fan of the outdoors.