Distressing Displacements

Was the summer heat so relentless in Southern Arizona, in the Sonoran Desert, as it is in a Las Vegas set amidst the Mojave? Just as likely. Possibly even more so. The Sonora sits at a lower altitude. Its desert classification aside, it’s also a less arid ecosystem than the Mojave.

Youth, accompanied by more involved living, frequent insobriety, and greater disregard of nuisances like heat and lack of sleep, probably registered those Arizona Augusts on some lower discomfort scale. The escapades immersed in then must’ve somewhat negated the arduous climate.

Almost five years living in Las Vegas and I’ve learned to evade a trap that snares too many willing natives and long-time residents. I’ve managed to look through the transients, deadbeats, and bums littering the street corners and raised medians.

The effects of environment, narcotics, and living without care so harsh, these street skeletons easily call to mind those mannequins seen gutted in Cold War Era nuclear test films. Yes, an appropriate comparison. Many of those tests occurred in the Mojave within view of Las Vegas. Except the long-ago explosions were filmed in black and white while the people among us today are quite colorless.

While temperate weather alone should suffice to draw down-and-outers to Las Vegas (better to beg in Las Vegas during the winter than Salt Lake), that so many of the targets are soft touches makes it an ideal hunting ground.

Who among us doesn’t believe we’re susceptible to debilitation through complete surrender to the right (wrong?) kinds of inhibitions? This is why most of us work like hell to distance ourselves from such ruinous compromises.

Invading Las Vegas intending to prey upon the weaknesses and decency of the presumably good and responsible citizens who’ve made this home, why not present the visage of some absolute devil who’s succumbed to Sin City temptations and lost him- or herself among them? In the back of countless residents’ minds exists the possibility that they too may career off the paths of moderation which allow us to gently indulge in the city’s amusements, but stops long before indulgence utterly devours and destroys us.

Even before moving here, I understood the power of the Big Mayberry’s temptations. Nonetheless having witnessed it the problem apparently resides in individuals who’ve succumbed.

The idea that Square John or Jane can suddenly be transformed into the same dirt-encrusted, hollowed out meth creature, skeavy street wreckage one wished invisible, though if must be acknowledged, prefers doing so from peripheral distance (the better to banish them from our sight and consciences) than nearness where the whimpers of “Got any spare change?” are more disturbing. To become that devolved a human being takes effort.

Such perilous descents don’t occur overnight or over a weekend. Numbing flights of stairs need stumbling down before one becomes a wretched and despised dreg. And until reaching a certain depth, there are still ways of turning around, climbing the same path, and rescuing one’s self.

One bender weekend, one dissolute incident, isn’t going to result in our living rough on unforgiving pavement and drawing sparse sustenance from begging alms. It takes dedication to become the sort of piece of shit who reviles somewhat sober, hardworking people into convincing themselves that, ‘hey, a few bad breaks and that could be me with filthy hair, mangy, hollow-eyed, barefoot, and bedraggled.’

Those viewed with disgust aren’t victims of misfortune. They’re living an extreme lifestyle.

Sun and drugs have untethered them completely from awareness, made them strangers among functioning society.

I’ve managed to ignore the wasted devils cluttering city pavement. When aren’t they among us with their ubiquitous cardboard placards beseeching “Homeless. Hungry. Anything Will Help. Please. God Bless”?

The destitute can afford marring their bodies with tattoos, care for mutts – one wonders as pets or “service animals” – yet seek handouts to scratch up meal money? Being entirely practical as well as heartless here, let’s recommend they forsake further ink and eat the dogs.

By the way, how does the Almighty invariably get dragged into these fallible human dilemmas? Surely it wasn’t in His plan that these poor specimens of revulsion appear and pollute our horizons?

Really? Do those of us already toiling hard to keep wolves away from our doors need further incentive? After all, imagination is the most effective terrorizing force of all. Why, if it weren’t for the abominations we conjure ourselves, we wouldn’t have any organized religions, would we?

Steps before yet seemingly approaching the fork in the road between salvage and abandonment in desultory limbo are people who’ve come to Las Vegas, were successful for a time, but then fell on true hard times or bad luck. Maybe they spent extravagantly and sunk in deep arrears. Likely they fell afoul by somehow losing their jobs and with that loss also their residences.

Or more probable, people still employed but whose rents have increased beyond their budgets.

When I relocated to Las Vegas almost five years ago, the Big Mayberry was still in the throes of deepest recession. Unemployment was high and costs of living were generally dirt-cheap. Since then the region has rebounded mightily. After a lengthy financially fallow period, what enterprise isn’t looking to recoup curtailed profits?

Therefore, adios poverty-level leases. Say hello to landlords charging higher rents an improved market can bear. The only problem with that is the wage lag. Incrementally rising costs might be borne easier. But sudden jolts are enough to jar the lives of those earning lower-middle and lower incomes. Those wages have yet to rise appreciably. Likely these never will.

And don’t let an emergency splat on the doorstep.

There is a study showing the disaster threshold for Americans is $400. Meaning a high percentage of us couldn’t draw into our pockets and yank out 400 bucks to cover an unexpected expense of that amount or less. Four-hundred dollars. Think about it. How narrow must one’s margins be if life demanded several sudden hundred dollars and we find it impossible to meet?

So, a familiar and stressing sight on Las Vegas sidewalks are unfortunates who’ve lost their addresses yet may still work. Their modern malady has them resorting to couchsurfing among relatives, friends, or co-workers. Good parts of their lives are folded and packed in rolling suitcases. Doubtlessly portions of these wanderers have placed the rest of their lives in storage.

Amazing. Worldly goods can still find protection because storage is cheap whereas housing body and soul is costly. Such are our values.