I am willing to love all mankind except an American. – Johnson
Routine is underappreciated and misunderstood. The common response, or thought, toward it is that it is very plain or dull. On the contrary, routine is an exceptionally vivid thing. A man who walks the same route every day sees the gradual, and thus violent, change that takes place. Are not all the most violent of changes gradual? And only the calm, consistent, unchanging man can truly perceive, and appreciate this violence. Why, violent men never notice violence – they are too busy yelling, beating, smacking, slapping, shoving, or throwing. And likewise the man who constantly shifts and moves around can’t notice change any more than a runner keeping up with the sun can see it move. Moreover, the man who constantly changes may be the last person to change; the steady man changes though, for he has an environment in which to change. But I suppose all this is merely a prelude to the fact that I have a new routine, now that I’ve moved. And it is rather plain. One might even say it is rather plane. For I decided a week ago that I would engage in a new ritual and sit on the plank of the Jolly Mariner each Sunday morning with my coffee and watch as the planes leave Vegas in droves, as they had the prior Sundays. I made this decision, decided that each Sunday morning, for the next twenty years – when I finally complete my PhD and have a job – I would observe these planes take their exodus, as men flee the town with little cash, a new wife, and a throbbing headache. I decided all this, and was firm in my conviction. So this morning, a Sunday, I prepared and gathered my French-pressed coffee and sat in my lawn-chair. I sat and I sipped. I sat and I mused. I sat and I observed. I sat and I waited. I sat and I saw. I say, I saw nothing but bright blue skies empty of airplanes.
There is this terrible rumor going around that an election is taking place. I wouldn’t know but for the distress texts I receive from people. I wish not to get too political – though maybe a little – this year. I know little about the issues bar two and will thus content myself with ad hominem attacks, which, I hear, is par for the course this year. Anyhow, I was minding my own business one fine evening at the Desert Schooner this last January, just before the Iowa primaries. (Anyone from Iowa will declare their primary is “first for a reason!”) As I was content and happy, thinking little of politics, I received an unfortunate text from a family member asking if I was watching “the debate.” My gut told me to sarcastically replay, “yes, I purchased a television and signed up for cable just for this meaningless debate.” Instead, I pulled out the ‘ole radio and dialed in. If you’re bored some day, get twenty or so white guys (and one black guy and one gal) in a room together whom you’ve rarely, if ever, heard speak and try to figure out who’s speaking when. One truly goes for “the issues” when listening to debates on the radio. I was proud of myself, though. By the end I had about half of the voices fitted with faces (the black guy and the gal were rather easy to peg). But, now, that is neither here nor there. What shocked and disturbed me was the opening address by the first candidate, who with this silly little speech lost any of what little respect I had for him. Addressing a group of Iowans, the man said these ghastly words: “When I’m president, Iowa will no longer be a fly over state; it will be a fly to state!”
What that means, or how it will exactly be accomplished, is disturbing enough. I imagine that man making Iowa a type of prison, forcing convicts to fly to it. But though disturbed by his words, I am more disturbed by the applause that followed. Iowans should know better. Iowans should know that what makes Iowa special is all too obvious: Iowans are special because there are not that many of them. The pride of Iowa is “more pigs than people!” The pride of Iowa is their corn and soy; John Deere versus Case; tractors, combines, and silos, that huge I-80 truck-stop and an unreasonable devotion to irrelevant and mediocre sports teams. And the pride of Iowa is that those who come don’t feel some insane obligation to immediately leave. The pride of Iowa is not in drunk tourists falling off combines and tweeting about it, then leaving. No, I say. If you’re ever in Iowa, it’s probably because you live there, for its too special to merely visit; If you're in Iowa, it’s probably because you’d die for it not treat it like a mistress; it’s probably because you have firmly decided, "till death do us part"; and it’s probably because you have a bumper sticker that says, “Iowa: Is this heaven?”
But I personally couldn’t help but think of Kansas. If I am ever president, I will do things differently than that horrible man. Kansas will not be a fly over or fly to or even fly from state; nay, it will be a no fly zone. That will be the first item of business, the first thing to sign into office when I’m sworn in. Then, I will annex the state and give it its long overdue liberty, and I will then immediately cut off any trade relations between Kansas and America. This, my second executive order, will make Kansas a free-country. I will then begin my great project. I will build a wall – a wall all the way around the border of the United Counties of Kansas. And I will make America pay for it. By now, February 2, there will be talk of impeachment or assassination, so I will call a press conference and give the very first “State of the State” speech by a president, further solidifying the liberty of Kansas. Then, I will go ahead and impeach myself, give the White House keys to the vice president, fly to M.C.I., run to the border, and climb the wall, helped over by Bill Snyder himself, as the last brick is laid and I become the first illegal immigrant.
And we will finally be left alone. And all will be well.*
Another day allows me the opportunity to observe the exodus. It’s a chilly, Iowa-like, late-April afternoon as the clouds conquer the skies and the ground is damp from overnight rains. The birds seem to chirp louder after a rain. Or maybe they chirp for another reason.
It’s odd to watch each plane take off, considering each holds roughly two-hundred people. If but ten planes leave, and the number is much higher, that’s two-thousand people. That’s Clarksville, Iowa sitting in a seat, hovering on air. Each plane is just as wonderful as the next. Each plane holds almost two-hundred stories. Where are these people headed exactly? Do they leave loved ones or head to them? That one’s San Francisco, I say to myself. Seattle, that one. Boise, Salt Lake, Denver, Kansas City. Kansas City. If I could but stick a note on that one and let the fair city know she's in my thoughts.
The Midwest is special because of its unattractiveness. They don’t have these silly tag-lines that declare, “what happens in Kansas, stays in Kansas.” They don’t have them because they would be too true. What happens in Kansas does stay there because Americans are too snobbish to care. But any fool knows that what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay here. It goes online or becomes Monday’s water-cooler conversation. And it leaves because those who visit, in thinking they’re doing something new, do the same exact thing millions have done before, so that whatever activity they engage in is news to them but old to us. And these silly tourists are quarantined on the strip. They think they’re visiting Vegas when they’re really only visiting Las Vegas Boulevard. We pray they stay contained during their short stay. We locals look at the strip like a painting, some backdrop to an old movie, or a valley of death that no one dares visit because the dregs of the world are there. The rabble on the strip is a rabble of ruffians who do nothing they couldn’t do in their own city; yet they wish to corrupt ours. But, we know better. If the locals are anything like me, they too raise their glass and sing with the birds as the planes depart in droves. They too wish them a hearty good riddance; they too are reminded that though America owns and corrupts the strip, we own and bless the city.
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
April 24-25, 2016
Painting: "Cornfield in Surrey"
By William Linnell,
OIl on canvas, 1860
*I am anticipating your concern regarding the inevitable counter-revolution that would occur in Douglas County. Of course, the new United Counties of Kansas, though difficult to enter, will be easy enough to leave. One may will themselves away or be kicked out by popular vote, tarred, feathered and driven out on a bull. The possibilities are endless, and “If you don’t like it, you can leave!”