Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Memory Dirty Back Alley: I Shot A Man In Reno Just To Watch Him Die

There was a day when I used to be ashamed to admit I'm from Reno. Mostly those were the days when I lived in California and people got snootish about stuff like that.

Now I don't give a shit. I also freely admit I never got over Bon Jovi. Just go ahead and shut the fuck up. I'm too old to care.

Within a few months of moving to California, I'd made my Reno accent go away. And then I moved to Oregon where it's a dirty taboo to be from California, so I put the Reno accent back on. This was when I was working at the food bank and directing people to their nearest food box agency. Most of them didn't take kindly to having their desperate food needs being seen to by a poncy over-educated California type.  Speaking the Reno way was like putting on an old, dirty paint-stained pair of sweat pants that fit just right around the waist.

Now I don't know how I speak. I'm sure it's kind of weird, though. Too many years of proper enunciation and not using phrasal verbs for the non-native speakers. A few words from British English and I always hesitate before mentioning anything to do with pants. Language strangely locked into whatever was contemporary 10 years ago and I can't bring myself to start saying "awesome" again. Plus I talk to a kid a lot.

$4.99 breakfast special, oh yeah. It came with Keno and a fortune cookie.
Sometimes I accidentally go all Reno and my dad gives me dirty looks for dropping the 'g's at the end of gerunds.

Anyway, part of this trip home has involved a trip to Reno. I have family there, some of whom I haven't seen in years and some of them even longer than that. My cousins have kids that are grown up or growing up, with opinions and social lives and jobs and cell phones and stuff like that. Most of them have never seen my son.

This is what happens when you leave. And you just try to carry on like it's not such a big thing.

In Reno, it's cool if kids sit at the bar to watch baseball, so long as they're not actually at the bar. And actually, I don't think they would have cared at Louie's Basque Corner, the second choice Basque restaurant because Santa Fe is closed on Mondays. The food was way better than I remembered, and they've redone the interior so it's not creepy at all. Plus I'm grown-up enough to know ox tails are yummy.

But it kind of matters. When we were all little and my grandparents were still alive, we hung out all the time, all the cousins and aunts and uncles. Eventually, people moved away and started doing other stuff and we didn't see everyone so much. One thing that always strikes me when we get together with that side of the family is how their faces and voices resonate so much with me, a weird kid feeling that just says, "Good! Comfort! Something fun is gonna happen!" and it feels fine, having everything back to an odd sort of normal that hasn't existed for over 30 years. To me, everyone looks and sounds exactly the same and it doesn't matter about the time and other stuff that has passed in between.

And then I got to see them having the same effect on my kid and that was cool.

I debauched plenty here. When I was 8. It was cool.
Upon arrival in Reno, amid the flashing signs and sexy billboards and fading gaudiness, I felt a rush of pure debauchery. I suddenly wanted nothing more than to go out and get rip-roaring drunk and, I don't know. Go to a strip club or something. Find some sort of seamy underbelly and go wallow in it for a few days' blackout. Our hotel had an ad out for some sort of titillating hypnotist and I wanted to go to that. I wanted to see some showgirls in giant feathered hats and use my teeth to drop dollar bills between their sweating silicon breasts.

The radio in the rental car wasn't helping. Apparently, they haven't changed the radio music in Reno since I left there 25 years ago. It was all Whitesnake and Aerosmith and Bonnie Tyler and Air Supply and Ah-Ha. I was completely cool with that, believe you me.

But it didn't take long for all that to wear off. Reno has even less spirit left than I do. The depression has hit Nevada a lot harder than most places, and apparently all the cool people are taking their gambling business to the Indian casinos elsewhere. On the strip, there were quite a few boarded-up retro-looking casinos, lots of grubby liquor stores, a bunch of pawnshops and places that buy gold, and one scabby, shuffling meth addict after another.

Those bright lights are a pho restaurant.

It was grim.
A simple "No Loitering" would not cover the problem, apparently.
 Awhile back, the casinos started using slot machines that worked on credit, which means that even when the casinos are crowded, there's no constant jolly tinkle of coins along with the Atari music and mind-boggling lights and mirrors.

Retro, and sort of chic but also not because it's pay-by-the-week.

 But all the casinos we went into were desolate. Few things in the world are sadder than a desolate casino.

This hotel is retro sad. It's not feeling the love anymore for sure.

Oddly enough, many of them seem to have opted for natural lighting during the day, and you could actually hear the piped-in Elton John and Erasure. "They're pandering to your age group," my dad told me as we passed an empty beer pong display. Apparently, my age group has way better things to do. Most of the scattered gamblers weren't a day under 75. The few that were younger were either scabby junkies getting cautiously eyed up by lurking security guards, or people who looked like their lives would be a lot more enjoyable if they'd gone the scabby junkie route.

"WTF is beer pong?" asked my dad.

I wondered how they could even afford the electricity to run these places.

It's 10pm on the strip. Uh-oh.
Not much better by day.

When I was a kid in the 70s, there used to always be a few bedraggled, sleepy-looking children sitting out front of most casinos at night. Their parents would just leave them there while they went to gamble. It was like some sort of fucked-up cautionary tale my parents never told us. In the 80s, the video arcade was invented so parents left their kids there instead, with a handful of quarters. I think we went into one of those arcades just once and it was absolutely terrifying, way scarier than Lord Of The Flies. We had no chance against those hardened casino kids.
We'll try to get you here by offering to let you win something useful!

Remember the glory days? When FRANK SINATRA Jr. played here?
This is Reno-ese for "Early Bird Special." Because you can be sure there was no fun going on after dinner.
You're welcome.

And honestly, I'm having trouble writing about this whole visit because now I know exactly how many of my family members read the blog. It's not like there's anything bad to say about anyone that I can't be honest about. It's more that I have a lot of gushing that I want to do about how nice it was to catch up with everyone, and to talk about my cousin that died last winter, and I'm afraid I'll leave someone out and make them feel bad. So I'll just have to leave it at that. There were a great many things that affected me so much I can't bring myself to splash them all over the Internet. And despite my fixation on every depressing Reno image, it was a really good trip and I'm glad we went.

Had no idea what a depressing place we went to because all the people we visited were so loving.

I just don't know how to say it is all.


Aunt Sis said...

I love you so. What great comments, Sarah. You're right about how we all just can't wait to see each other. And we got to meet Ender, who is no longer a baby, but a thoughtful little boy, fascinated with life and ready to take it on. And yes, downtown Reno is sad, although it's so much improved over the last few years. So sorry you didn't get to the river and the pretty part. Also sorry I had to leave early without too much fanfare goobyes.
You're such a good writer. Thanks for coming to Reno!
Love, Aunt Sis

Stranger said...

Thanks, Aunt Sis.

It was okay without the fanfare. That would have just been sad.

The river was definitely pretty.

And thank you! It was a pleasure spending time in your home, and not just because of the ribs :)

John Metzker said...

Ah, Sarah, so incisively and and accurately written. A good description of Reno, the town I grew up in.
I enjoyed so much the time I spent with you, here in Reno. Ender is just a real pleasure, and he and Zach had so much fun together.
Uncle John

Stranger said...

It was so good to see you too, Uncle John, and catch up on everything finally.

And Zach is such a lovely kid. That's saying a lot because I don't generally like kids that much, but all the little Metzkers were interesting to talk to and a joy to hang out with.


Anonymous said...

Yeah! I can finally comment on your blog! The things that make people happy... I just cannot reproduce the things I wanted to say, so I thought at least I'd share this meaningless comment. Anyways, I hope you'll see my email and when you get back on track after your return you might drop me a line and maybe we can meet and maybe we can go for a drink and maybe it will be fun. Btw, I am that dream mate of yours from the baby dolls immiating real babies department.

Stranger said...

I'm glad you're happy.

Even though I'm not sure who you are.

Should I have an email from you?