Suffered my first real pang of homesickness recently.
While New York offers plenty, or Nevada lacks a lot, I knew what I was leaving behind and venturing into three years ago.
In the 30-plus years before resettling West, I’d frequently visited the Southwest. And while visiting is never the same as living, these stays informed me. I wasn’t that tenderfoot or greenhorn who showed up in February who so beguiled by the gorgeous weather believed the Mojave Desert paradise only to discover it hell June through August.
Nor was I that New Yorker who bemoaned the region’s paucity of good pizzerias.
A woman tugged the old home heartstrings. One who wasn’t even from Metropolitan New York. She hailed from Boston. And unlike some longtime New York transplants who continue playing up their old neighborhood roots decades into living here, hers wasn’t some vocal caricature that should’ve been misheard as some kind of distaff Vaughn Meader.
Her accent was spoken without affectation. If asked, she would’ve proudly defended her Townie cadences and all the virtues she believed endeared it. Let’s call her Hub Girl.
She was short and trim, somewhere between her latest 30s and earliest 40s. Her features and coloring strongly hint at Portuguese or Southern Italian ancestry. Dense black ringlets coiled alongside an ovoid face until bouncing upon her shoulders.
By her bearing Hub Girl exuded pride in who she was, from where she’d come. She bore an attitude common to sure and assertive Northeastern women. To me hers was a natural presence. Hearing her explain temporary relocation to Las Vegas, I mustn’t imagine how disruptive she became among the locals with whom she dealt.
A seven-month Las Vegas resident, Hub Girl hadn’t troubled herself by learning any steps to the local social pas de deux. Like the Dixie Chicks it wasn’t in her nature to fake nice either.
“Nice” is a vital concept here in the Mojave. Rather than the blunt exchanges Eastern big city dwellers are accustomed, this desert’s culture insists on the sort of deference that frustrates anyone whose rhythm normally beats hard and fast.
Some Nevadans actually measure their words. “Chewing words” just isn’t a phrase here. The impact is considered. Few bother imparting meaning in the briefest, sharpest, most direct sense. Sometimes the thought process is so visible it doesn’t take all that much imagination to see gears grinding between ears.
Plenty of locals make great efforts not to offend … unintentionally. Although one appreciates the politeness, that sort of caution hampers communication. All the excelsior between words protects feelings, yes, but increases the distance until reaching the point.
That’s a waste of time. That’s also a contradiction in what Easterners understand as “the urgency of now.”
Baseball brought Hub Girl to Las Vegas. She had two sons, both of whom were teens who showed ability around the diamond.
Whatever the equivalent of a backstage mother suffices for jocks, Hub Girl wasn’t it. Rather than rabidly, she evenly and firmly ticked off her boys’ talents. Scouts had confirmed her views.
She envisioned each in The Show. The calm reverence of her conviction in this belief left scant possibility or room for contradiction. At least from me. Only a skein of light breaking through cloud cover above and bathing her in a beatific glow was missing.
Of course there would have needed to have been overcast skies. A far rarer condition in Southern Nevada than New England.
The men who’d evaluated her boys back East stated they possessed raw skills. These elements needed honing if either sought to rise. Massachusetts winters are long enough to extend deep into spring and autumn arrives early. Weather there did not favor practicing crow hops, developing soft hands, or working on the neighborhood play among many baseball essentials.
Scouts seeing that the mother truly believed in her sons (in a positive way) convinced her to move them where climate and coaching could improve any potential professional aspirations. Several recommended Southern Nevada. While California, Florida, and Texas are renowned for developing five-tool studs of all athletic stripes, Nevada’s comparatively meager population may yield a higher percentage of baseball players than the three giants.
Unsurprisingly, there are Nevada prep schools which promote themselves as just the places where these dreams of fields might be conjured. Hub Girl took the leap. A single mother, there was no husband to consult. She’d left his excess baggage back in Boston.
Almost out of the box her boys made the traveling squad. Traveling here isn’t a county to county bus ride, but overnights to Utah or Arizona and even California.
That they were interlopers horning in must’ve peeved the locals. After her guys’ presence supplanted two Vegas boys, it’s unnecessary to imagine the immediate enmity aroused. One should commend the coach. He recognized superior talent. Of course the local parents would’ve preferred the talent acknowledged came from among their own sons.
Let’s also recognize the coach’s bravery. A lot of Nevadans fetishize guns. An indecent number of them own end times stocks of shooting irons and ammo. So no doubt one or another player’s parents seethed loaded for lions and tigers and bears. Elephants, too. The particularly unhinged among them likely wouldn’t have thought at all, much less twice, about brandishing a weapon before the coach while emphasizing his or her displeasure.
But wouldn’t the coach have known this best?
Parents involved in their children’s sporting endeavors can easily become snakes in a bag. The New Englanders turned more than a few of their teammates’ elders into vipers.
Different attitudes further turned the parents’ already precarious associations adversarial. The Nevadans’ chariness might’ve come across to a recent arrival as sinister, insular, and distant. No problem seeing and hearing Hub Girl through their eyes and ears. Mouthy. Caustic. Profane.
Her lack of a filter, or what the locals might’ve taken as undiluted rawness, ought have been the trait that shook them most. No need to imagine she spoke her mind among them. Why not? They were adults, right?
She reasoned that “station-to-station plah-dahs like Hoss and Little Joe” should ride pine when her boys were “cuttin’ the pie.”
What we in the Northeast would’ve simply regarded as indisputable observation, the locals doubtlessly saw as confrontational. One knew her incapable of gradually wending to topics. To them, Hub Girl probably seemed like a frequent human detonation. That she also habitually dropped f-bombs as gerunds, adjectives, and adverbs, as well as proper nouns and verbs, doubtlessly scorched those moms and dads in the thrall of provincial propriety.
She sounded okay to me.
Given the West’s sparse settlement across vast lands, a popular thought has usually run that townsfolk were especially welcoming because they so seldom saw other people. Maybe in the Old West. If it were ever thus, then it no longer held water in the Hub Girl’s New West.
None of the other baseball team parents approached her. They barely could nod passable greetings at her. She became a flesh and blood apparition they preferred glaring through.
Car-less in Las Vegas, when the squad traveled Hub Girl remained stuck in town. Offer to pick up expenses as she did in exchange for rides, no one accepted.
Such cold shouldering didn’t stoke her resentments. Instead these gestures strengthened her resolution as well as made her all the more hopeful one or both sons reached “the Bigs.”
Anticipating immense satisfaction when either or both of her boys stepped onto major league grass wearing uniforms cushioned the present-day snubs. Hub Girl foresaw moments ahead which would let her smear her ass “in the faces of these fucking shitbags” high-hatting her now.