|We are a military
family and live in Las Vegas for one formative year, but then move back to the
bland unenchanting load zone of Springfield, Virginia, where no one shows their
boobs and where every median is lined with azaleas.|
In Las Vegas we live in a Knots Landing-like cul-de-sac next to the highway ribbed with billboards, and we have a basketball court and a pool and a water softener, a tube-shaped machine that hums like a refrigerator. No one in my family knows what it does exactly. It filters salt either into or out of your drinking water, but then why does everyone want soft water so badly . . . ?
What is soft water?
Everyone around us is divorced. Constant traffic of separated parents visiting or dropping off their children. One time a girl I don't know is kidnapped by her father a few blocks away from me. On my way to William E. Ferron Elementary School I see this girl Natalie who I really want to be friends with because she seems well-known or something. I try to bring up something serious to start talking to her.
"Did you hear about the girl who was kidnapped?"
"Yes," she says. "That was me."
My mother finds freedom in her rootless Las Vegas days. She decorates every room into a contempo, Southwestern tepee place. She waters cacti until they look plump and waxy like apples. Our whole house is covered with Native American rugs and horsehair sculptures and cactuses and kachina dolls, grass-cloth wallpaper in salmon and rust colors, and a cute miniature papoose door-knocker.
But in Las Vegas everyone coopts Native American culture. This is before traffic and overbuilding, before the MGM Grand Hotel fire, before the Strip is enclosed in a bubble, before Showgirls, and before Las Vegas cleans up and focuses on family entertainment and casinos drip with kiddie attractions.
My mom and dad go to casino shows and bring back brochures and programs and leave them on the kitchen table. The next morning, I eat cereal and stare at pictures of Wayne Newton or Robert Goulet or Rip Taylor, flitting his flippy hands in the air filled with his confetti and frills. On the inside, there is always a shot of a topless showgirl, with her huge boobs and peacock headdress.
My family takes walks on the Strip almost every weekend. We go up the tall, tall Dune casino in a glass elevator, climbing soundlessly up the side of the skyscraper, higher and higher above the blimming lights in grids. I stand close to my dad and we stare at the daylight light. "Wow! Neato!" he says, hands patting my shoulders. He smells like the offices he comes from.
The television is very different here. They advertise casino shows and something called Boylesque that I cannot quite get my mind around. Also, there are lots of commercials for carpet. The Carpet Barn, CarpetMania, Rug Room, All Carpets. During every commercial break, there is an ad for Gus Dupre's Buffet at Caesars Palace. "Come to my boofay," he says on the TV ads. "It's an orgy of food!"
All my questions about how real television is are answered when we actually go to Gus Dupre's Buffet. My dad drives us there almost every Sunday. It's in one casino's tiered showroom, deep in the back of its gambling hall. I am extremely afraid I will be arrested for looking at all the adults lustily gambling. I walk behind Mom and Dad as if I have blinders on, never stopping, but taking in as much information as I can with peripheral vision. I hear the fresh tinkle of coins and perceive only a smear of lights that it may come from, imagining their source: plastic chips in edible colors, dealers shuffling wildly, cherries and lemons spinning in slot machines, clinking showers of quarters pouring out of their mouths, and sweaty gin drinks.
The buffet is huge. We sit in a curved booth and walk down and fill our oval plates from trays of log-shaped omelettes and massive platters of pineapple wheels and tumbling grapes and perfectly pinafored cold cuts. Chefs carve giant slabs of beef that glow under red lights, or create fruit-filled crepes to order, swooping their arms into stainless steel buffet troughs for glutinous scoops of blueberry and cherry filling. My parents even let me drink the mimosas. I actually learn the word "mimosa." It becomes one of the large words I know that I am proud I know, like "biodegradable" or "liquidation sale." I dip my plastic cup into a fountain of champagne. Every Sunday I gorge myself until I have to hold my stomach in the station wagon, exhausted and sick with food. "Mike's drunk! Mike's drunk!" my brother says.
There are several huge, barren lots in our neighborhood -- big squares of trashed, worked-over desert. One near our house takes up a whole block, and kids converge there, speeding around on this muddy, dipping trail with their dirt bikes. Kids disappear there, abducted by freaked-out hippies who feed them angel dust and LSD and turn them into feral hippie children. I go there often, always cautiously, with my friend Wade Gregory. I go there with my fate in mind -- thinking that I may very well never return.
Wade is tall and has a crew cut with golden hair bristling on his crown. Wade has all the Heart albums and wins ribbons in sports like soccer and sometimes wears shin pads casually, like bracelets. If tougher, messy-mouthed, and scabby Dirt Bike Kids are around, Wade will throw something at me and move away a credible distance and I must pretend to myself to be satisfied playing alone.
Dirt Bike Kids are the kids who like to yell and bleed. They kick the sides of cars as they whizz by on their Huffy bikes. They can throw things far and bash in lizard's heads with their canvas high-tops.
Wade, who likes to blow up anthills with firecrackers, is much calmer. He is an adjunct member of the Dirt Bike Kids. If I seem scared of his explosives he will tell me to shut up, Jolly Ranchers clutched in his fists. I just put my fingers in my ears and say, Oh well, in my plugged-up-nose voice because in this weird natural way, I know I must act like a geek, the sissy, and I know that to achieve a convincing portrait, I must have a plugged-up-nose voice. We go to the lot to find buried Penthouses and Hustlers. We excavate parts of the lot that look like places where the hippie teenagers gathered at night -- little grottos with underbrush and beer cans slanted in the sand in a Stonehenge circle. We dig and dig. Sometimes we actually find something, a worn page of some cartoon woman with monstrous breasts riding a sexually frenzied horse, or parts of photos: a thigh, a made-up face, a tongue sticking out, a drawing of a vagina that makes us giggle nervously in awe of its huge hairy capacity for horse dicks and missiles and penis cars. We also look for lizards. They dart out of their holes if you stomp on the ground. We throw cans at them or try to capture them. I catch one by its end and it detaches itself from its tail, which wriggles in my hand like a finger.
I make a time capsule and bury it next to the dirt-bike path. My mom gives me a washed-out Jif peanut butter jar and I fill it with empty Pop Rocks pouches, a Sprite bottle cap, a William E. Ferron Elementary School pencil, and an extra, detached hand from the Galactic Man Interchangeable Space Play Center. I write a paragraph about my life and draw pictures of what people in this time period wear: drawing this bearded man and beehived woman decked out in Bedazzlered pants and rainbow bathrobes.
Dear futur peopl who pick up this capsil,
It is very hard to live in this time period.
I sure hope you make alot of changes!
Our school is white, one-story, and round. Rooms are not rooms, they are "pods." Classes are not classes, but "groups," and we gather in large carpeted areas with retractable walls. The school's hallway is perfectly circular, and when I'm lost I walk in loops around and around like an ohming Hindu until my pod emerges. I spend all my time with my girlfriend Christi, who is obsessed with horses. She has a blond, bright pixie cut and blue tessellated eyes. She, though, sees herself with a chestnut coat, and a white star on her forehead and snout. When we walk through the playground she harrumphs and clomps her feet with purebred pride. I have to call her Cloudy. I am not embarrassed to walk beside her. She takes me to the least-used edges of the playground, hidden by hedges, where she has me pretend to feed her sugar cubes and carrot tops. She licks my hand and talks about getting "lathery." We are a very popular couple and we spend much of recess walking around holding hands, making appearances at the jungle gym or gravel section, stopping by the old dodgeball court to see the old dodgeball gang, still single and smacking the ball around. We have an unspoken, solid relationship until one of the tetherball kids asks us if we are going to be married. Yes, definitely! I hear myself say, but inside I think, I am living a lie.
Everyone in our neighborhood has a pool. Wade's parents, the Gregorys, are a swinger couple who live next door to us and have a pool with a Greek-ruin design: crumbling columns, naked statues without arms or noses, and water trickling out of a burst urn. You can see it outside my brother's window. My brother says that at night they have all these people over and have orgies. I didn't know what an orgy is, but I know it has something to do with a buffet table.
Mr. Gregory is part Asian and was either in Vietnam or from Vietnam. I do not know the difference. He has angry, angry hazel embers for eyes, and when I am going up to their door to ask if Wade wants to come out or to collect money for the William E. Ferron Elementary School UNICEF drive, he answers the door and never smiles. Wade asks me to sleep over and I bring my multidetachable Galactic Man toy collection and Merlin. I walk into the foyer of the Gregorys', and Mrs. Gregory is wearing a terry-cloth minidress with an elastic stringless top that bunches over her chest. She's holding up a little round tray with one hand like a waitress. "Hello, Mike," she says, looking me over. I feel like she is a little disappointed. "Wade's in the rec room. Do you want some Nutter Butters?" she asks, bending down so that her tan orgy breasts dangle in the terry cloth. I say Yes, thank you, but she thinks I say no and quickly turns away with the tray.
The Gregorys' house has a long curved aquarium that traces through the house, from the front foyer up the wide, banistered stairs and along the upstairs balcony hall into Mr. and Mrs. Gregory's huge sunken bedroom. It bubbles, underlit, with orange and blue fish swimming in a colorful, Froot Loopy landscape of rocks and plastic ferns. I cannot look at it for a long period of time, because it is too much -- it is a watery slot machine that is too much fun for me to behold and someone is bound to tell me to stop looking at it. The rec room is next to their bedroom. It is a large white room with toys collecting in all the corners like dirt. Wade is beating an Alfie the Talking Robot with a plastic bat. We set up his Matchbox car-racing track and pitch the cars through the plastic troughs. Wade is obsessed with his bat and tries to bat the Matchbox cars. We go down and eat mini-pizzas in front of the TV. Wade brings the bat. Wade wants Cheerios with sugar for dinner, so he gets that too.
We go back upstairs and I bring my Galactic Man backpack neatly packed with my Galactic Man Interchangeable Space Play Center -- Lightbeam and his comrade the Silver Soldier and all their various space-travel equipment of ships, globes, helmets, oxygen tanks, tentacles, and guns. I have named the Lightbeam figurine Roan because I am attracted to it (I suppose I think of "Roan" as a meaningless sound close to "moan" -- a sexually meaningful sound -- but desire is not that explicable, then or now or ever).
Wade grabs my Galactic Man Galaxy Pack. He twirls around the Space Moth Transport Tank by its wing, then he bats it. He rolls the All-Terrain Asteroid Land Cruiser down the stairs until there are loose pieces shaking around its hollow body. I try to inject a story line into Wade's destruction. Let's make them travel into another time where they can only float! I say. Let's have them get sucked into a frozen world! I say. I am more interested in making these figurines develop interpersonal relationships so that they must rely on each other for emotional support in tough times because then I can make the male figurines hug each other. I know I am being sissyish but I can't stop myself. Wade just rips off the arms of Roan. When he does this I swallow a sadness in me and let it be.
It is late. We build a fort out of sheets that we pin low over us. Wade is stiff and is clicking the flashlight on and off. He keeps poking at Merlin, making it hiccup with bleeps while it tries to keep up with his rapid jabs. I get scared because it is very late and I have never been up past twelve as far as I can remember. I smell Wade's upchuck Cheerios breath and it heats up the air under the comforter. He pulls out his penis and says, "Let's touch peenees!" which sounds strangely childish coming from him, even though we are childish because we are children.
I touch his little piece of rubber tubing and he touches mine and then he laughs again and suggests we kiss each other and he kisses my peenee and then I go down there and kiss his peenee and then suddenly his mom comes in and says, "Go to sleep!" and I quickly jitter back into a prone position. Wade falls asleep like a narcoleptic, making me look like a hungry maniac moving away from my prey. "Go to sleep, Mike!" Mrs. Gregory says. I look at her in the doorway and she is in a bra and panties, tweezing a cigarette between the fingers of her left hand. From then on, whenever I go to the Gregorys' I am treated like a sex offender -- like someone marked for life, who might explode and dive onto someone's genitals. From then on Mr. Gregory adds an annoyed mouth to his stern, staring face when he answers the door. I never sleep over there after that.
My family goes to another buffet, and I get loopy again on champagne. "Mike's drunk!" my brother says, but strangely I can tune him out. We are gliding through the streets in our plush station wagon. I am in the interchangeable trunk seat that faces the rear of the car, the waist belt digging into my stuffed stomach, the streets receding into haze. I am not sad or imagining anything. I am just full.