Homecoming

    Before relocating to Las Vegas I considered resettling in Southern Arizona instead. An Arizona graduate, the university I proudly attended had been considered a gem in America’s higher learning crown. Now lorded over by a blithely unaware administration, alma mater is just overpriced and being overbuilt.

    Hmm. Maybe this post should’ve been titled Leave-taking.

    Only intuition kept me from reestablishing myself in Tucson. With rue let me state Homecoming 2013 proved my hunch and subsequent detour correct.

    Las Vegas turned out to be a good choice because it holds few remembrances. Actually memories lurk here, but these are minor. Mine simply encompass party times.

    Funny. Until relocating here I never knew mountains ringed the city. Considering the rugged, sere terrain in which Nevada exists shouldn’t the saw teeth been expected? But that’s how strongly the Strip, its neon, intoxicates and distracts.

    Residents seem to believe they, uh, we, reside in a valley. That’s good marketing which has nothing to do with the actual setting. The Intermountain version of beguiling suckers with Florida swampland, I suppose.

    My Vegas recollections coincide with the mob’s waning influence over the city. The pleasure dome before it succumbed to corporate America’s infection. Approximate to that era’s demise a line from the movie Atlantic City neatly sums up what’s been lost. An aging low-level zip played by Burt Lancaster wistfully recalls the former seaside paradise: “I knew the town when it had floy-floy.”

    This Las Vegas fits what his Atlantic City had become.

    Sure, floy-floy brackets plenty. Licentiousness. Illicitness. Illegality. The sort of attractions that lure looky-loo’s from, say, Wazoo City seeking proximity (but not close enough to singe) to deviance that briefly diverts them from their humdrum lives. Instances that let them know for at least hot moments they lived

    For the longest Las Vegas had floy-floy. Today it has a past whose present pales against. Then, it was a Mecca for sharp grown-ups seeking “diversions.” Now, it’s quite apt to describe this former Rat Pack playground as a hostelry for meek adults merely looking to be entertained.

    Tucson, like Quarropas, my abandoned New York home, contains memories. Admittedly the Arizona overflow falls far short of New York’s. After all I spent nearly 50 years growing up and getting older in the Northeast.

    Nonetheless, Tucson also contributed chunks to my development.

    Only by coincidence does Iran fill current headlines. In late 1979, campus Persian libertines who shared many of their American fellow undergraduates’ looser inhibitions became doctrinaire Iranians overnight. Until Khomeini who even knew most Iranians were Muslims, much less Shiites?

    Before that regime change, I’m certain a few of the more aware exchange students, those possessing a sense of their nation’s history, emphasized 1953. (See, there is a difference between nationalism and communism. Have we ever learned this lesson?) Didn’t these earnest ambassadors attempt engaging their more conscientious 19, 20-year-old classmates in adjusting our view of the world and the roles we played?

    Talk about a futile gesture! To think we acted when we directed. Americans then were so locked in our views, our destinies and the roles we ascribed others, it takes little imagination seeing that grime-covered aperture rusted into place. 

     Doubtlessly a number of our Iranian contemporaries now occupy various levels of Iran’s power apparatus. That is those who swallowed the hard line instead of choosing and finding freedom and prosperity here among us Great Satan worshippers.

    Given what’s chafed our two nations across subsequent decades, I sometimes wonder whether the whipsawed fundamentalists harbor regrets. Or at least acknowledge the values behind those unrestrained hours coolly lounging poolside wearing one-piece suits being clearly observed under longing male gazes; or consecrating idle afternoons with Jack Daniels before drowning themselves in even more whiskey later during those busty-blonde hunting disco nights, weren’t such evil infidel pastimes after all.

    Sinful, maybe. Bad? Never!

    Didn’t our “decadence” make them fuller people? The dichotomy between yesterday and today gives them grounds upon which to contemplate. Their one vast advantage over Iran’s crackpot mullahs: having lived the other side before submerging in shadows.

    While my Tucson years are compressed against those of a Quarropas lifetime, many dissolved or departed Arizona acquaintances strike with near equal depth of loss. But then what isn’t intensified during our first flushes of real independence, investigation and discovery?

    Threaded throughout recent posts, I’ve suggested what remains of Quarropas insists upon transparencies. (A transparency is the plastic sheet lain upon an overhead projector glass. Have these devices also gone the way of rotary phone dials?) Despite being razed and renovated into unrecognizability, my familiarity with the environs could always, and often did, summon restorative overlays.

    Easy to do with property and structures. People are harder. We are not static. Absent people knife deeper than demolished landmarks.

    Maybe it’s good our forbearers found reason in believing remnants of our essence linger after life ends. Call them what you will, souls, spirits, ghosts, shades, do these apparitions inhabit us or are they our projections? Among the properties eye blink technology has robbed from modern mankind is scrutiny of states between life and death. Rural folks as my parents were, they reverently trafficked in such notions, parsing vague astral augurs and omens.

    Who doesn’t like instructive ghost stories? Isn’t Greek mythology replete with regular visitations from underworld specters? Skeptics as we’ve become, though, formerly otherworldly mysteries are now routinely roused and recorded at reliably psychic sites. These shows have become cable TV staples. But then what doesn’t look spooky through an infrared lens?

    Nonetheless in Quarropas there were occasions wavering along blurred and peripheral vision when presences from beyond may’ve manifested themselves. Appearances were always instantaneous, more akin to glimpses than cameos. Long enough to startle then vanish. No questions asked.       

    Well, back to brick and mortar.

    As stated in Bleed Red & Blue (4/24/12), during the last three decades, university chancellors have gone on building binges. Akin to pharaohs or French presidents, these rulers from on high have taken to erecting ever grandiose and less prestigious edifices than their predecessors. Usually on the cuff at the expense of manicured land.

    Perhaps concatenation is the intent, a la Manhattan. There, numbers and closeness form productive interdependences. Yes, that’s terrific for hyper-business. Education is a slower digestive process with an entirely different basis, no? Or is learning to be commoditized?

    Arizona being the West, more and more old structures are sacrificed to the new and modern. Admittedly few addresses deserve veneration and preservation. However, in the West destruction is thoughtlessly rote. There is scant distinction made between core and dross. A bad practice when an institution plays up its reverence to tradition. Or maybe giving lip service to tradition is the tradition. A new tradition. One faithfully repeated when past adherents have diminished to a feeble and muted few, thereby emboldening those charged with maintaining continuity to redact heritage.

    Loss of institutional memory is bad. Scheduled erasure of it should be criminal.

    During my undergraduate years, alums visited a virtually unchanged campus. As a younger alum, I haunted still familiar premises. Now, a too long absent visitor could become befuddled. What might’ve been tweaked before is today backhanded out of sight.

    Maybe if the pharaohs, ah, school chiefs excised their vanity construction projects they could devote energies into restoring the student body. Return the university to being a worthwhile, attractive, affordable destination.

    As it stands now why would anyone beyond Arizona’s borders assume added burdens of attending there?

    I gleaned current costs, and concluded I and few my cronies could matriculate now. We’d need full-time jobs to be full-time students. See, emerging from the sane part of the Baby Boom, the idea of financing an undergraduate degree through backbreaking loans doesn’t compute. Though I must admit how banks and schools have pulled this con is admirable in a larcenous manner.

    What alma mater currently asks for tuition needs having a house attached to it, not a diploma. That’s the only way to justify those mortgage payments.

    Aside from the usury, there must be a decline in the quality of those filling lecture halls and classrooms. (I do believe that’s a statement which may arouse some furor.) I state the obvious. (And there’s the nail which might infuriate a decent portion of Arizona’s current student body.) And yes, it’s cold-blooded. It’s also empirical.

    Education standards have sunk nationwide as costs have soared. In regions where residents prize book-learnin’, falloff has been minimal. (Every day I’m thankful my parents uprooted themselves to New York from the South.) In less dynamic areas where schooling is just another word for warehousing, the drop has been steep.

    Even before skimping on our nation’s future became common knee-jerk, tax-slashing policy, the Intermountain West sat on that roster. Today its effects are even more acute. Their toxic results as well as the additional burden of out-of-state tariffs have reduced Arizona’s national stature.

    This opens more seats for state residents, yes, but lowers a much more favorable amalgamation. Learning alloy is weakened.

    Outsiders disrupt insularity. We also freshen blood and minds. Rather than echo and mirror, our presence instills divergent voices and views. Who doesn’t that benefit?

    While no doubt these exchanges still occur, doubtlessly they now happen with less frequency.     

 

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