The Flotsam Society

What am I thankful for? Two years residing here in Transient City and some personal circumstances have improved.

When I settled in Las Vegas the housing market had bottomed out. The city sat poised for a rebound. Fortunately, I bought just before the spring sprung.

My address sits on the fringe of downtown. Unlike the Strip’s clamor, bustle, and crowds, to a lesser extent Downtown as well, this neighborhood, much of Vegas is quiet. Regard these environs as an expanded Mayberry.

I slipped the Mayberry reference onto a young woman with whom I’d been chatting and it zoomed over her pretty, vacant head. Doesn’t it just spoil the shorthand reference when relevance must be explained? Like who Mel Tormé was and his meaning to this city and the American songbook? That’s always somewhat disheartening. Younger audiences only know of Tony Bennett from his duets with Lady Gaga.

As my conversant blithely answered, “It must be a generational thing.”

Good thing I refrained from introducing Petticoat Junction into our discourse. She probably would’ve whipped out her device and sought out the place’s location.

Luck played a good part of my prosperity. The Realtor didn’t know of this address’ availability. An online search revealed it to me. Not only was it priced to sell but the owners wanted to shake off Vegas’ dust as soon as possible.

They shouldn’t have been so eager to leave. A few months more patience and they would’ve realized a far better return. Unknown to them, to anyone really, a windfall from the West was about to sweep in and double this property’s value.

Nevada has become a safety valve of sorts for Californians. Much like Northeast burdens and weather drive residents there into the Southeast and Florida, Golden State taxes and regulations transform fed-up Californians into refugees. They believe Nevada offers refuge.

Um, yes and no.

If the prospective resident doesn’t have school age children and demands little of social services, then Nevada is Promised Land. Taxes, as are numbingly repeated, are bargain basement. The obverse of that, though, is public education endures low priority. Also thanks to a selective libertarian ethos regard for the public welfare is at best minimal.

Isn’t there a Bible psalm stating “The poor are always with us”? Not so much on our side though certainly among us.

Bitch about taxes as those living in high tariff regions love doing, much of that money does go toward maintaining orderly and mannered societies. The two-legged vermin were less noticeable among us. Outlays were worth the price since these eased our consciences. Mocked as the Northeast and Midwest are for their financial impositions on taxpayers, we cared better for the indigent and other simple unfortunates.

Resembling some predominantly paleface third world nation, the affluent and tragic not only reside side by side but interact in discomforting proximity throughout Las Vegas. This disparity creates the greatest difference between here and Metropolitan New York.

Climate and belief money must suffuse the air have lured itinerants. The former condition helps feed the latter certainty; that with so much cash floating around one can live out here simply by plucking greenbacks out of the air.

Must be the modern version of streets paved with gold. Similar to that legend this one also has zero truth to it.
Relative to New York sidewalks, Vegas streets are full of such hollowed out people. Initially I wondered which inhibition overtook them. Gambling? Boozing? Betting? Methamphetamine?

Las Vegas’ most alluring charm isn’t the tease of sudden wealth, but that inhibitions may be indulged here. Unseemly elsewhere is lovingly catered in this city – that is as long as the means to afford them lasts.

And while the vast majority of visitors and adventurers make do with nips of the forbidden, taking these “transgressions” home and squirrelling them away as proof of a short tame walks on the wild side, a good many succumb whole hog. Not only did they peer into the abyss, they fell in love with the black and dove in head-first.

I suppose in earlier iterations these forfeited souls were seen as vagrants. Then deadbeats. Now the homeless. Semantics plays a vital part in interpretation.

It prettifies the otherwise unpalatable.

Aren’t areas which enjoy mild weather catnip to those who’ve pretty much kicked aside productive and aspirational lives? Winter certainly contributes to the ebb and flow of drifters in the Northeast and Midwest. Unlike here, there thin clothing and flip-flops won’t make the cut when the Hawk blows off any Great Lake or nor’easters howl down the New England and Mid-Atlantic seaboard.

No, generally kind Southern Nevada temperatures make down-and-out legions a year-round nuisance and eyesore. Particularly so because Las Vegas, unlike, say, Cleveland, is a tourist destination.

Among the happy multitudes of out-of-towners clad in their finest glad rags, seeking to test their own personal limits regarding the “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas!” slogan, a dose of the worst reality ever in the bedraggled forms of grime-encrusted, some level of crazed, drug and/or alcohol addled panhandlers.

Try as authorities do to at least fence off these embarrassments from tourist areas, they, like incessant Mojave grit, seep in. These human tumbleweeds surely start piling up along the sidewalks and streets a few blocks either side of the Strip.

Out in the city these wanderers remind of so many living ghosts. Breathing spirits incorporated in flesh. Residents cannot negotiate Las Vegas without encountering them and their little cardboard signs beseeching “a little spare change” or plaintively asking for the same.

What variant of homeless person doesn’t besiege locals with daily pleas? Many supplicants claim they’re veterans. That may be. It’s no secret that a good number of ex-service personnel have descended into poverty. That’s the shame of our nation. But how to tell? How to differentiate the one-time stalwarts from poor devils who’ve surrendered themselves to addictions or mental cases suffering psychological maladies exacerbated by desert sun? The profusion is so relentless, one becomes numbed to their plight.

One should. Plenty of them have elevated their pitifulness into quick scams. Some of the slyer ones work so finely on the feelings of the susceptible they’ve turned guilt-tripping into an art.

The baldness astonishes. They’re shameless, absolutely.

Admire such moxie as I ought, the responsible working man in me easily refuses their blandishments. That sympathy I could muster has been crushed thanks to my imbecile ex-employers blithely disrupting mine and my former co-workers lives. Ah, suburban splendor, Quarropas vanished.

In a just world the foolish old boss and his drug-abusing alcoholic sow daughters too will have fallen low. They will have landed on hard unforgiving pavement where coins must be cajoled from dismissive pedestrians or wary drivers stopped at traffic lights.

In Las Vegas, the play as performed – especially when suckers reward it – ultimately galls me.

Why should I consider those who’ve chosen their own grief? Therefore, avoidance is my best first reflex. So I ignore these two-footed cesspools like a heartless longtime Nevadan.

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