Thursday, May 7, 2009

Poverty With A View

The other day I found a stale old fortune cookie in the back of one of my kitchen drawers, so for shits and giggles I busted it open. It read, “It takes more than an accountant to measure the wealth in your life.”

So I started looking around. Maybe I’m dwelling in a cornucopia of riches and I just don’t notice it. What I need is a new perspective. After all, I live in one of the most beautiful locations on planet Earth: Lake Tahoe, Jewel of the Sierra, America’s All Year Playground. What could be better? I drift off to sleep every night to an eerily beautiful chorus of laughing coyotes. Raccoons occasionally scratch at my sliding glass door begging for scraps of bread, which I sometimes give them when I’m drunk and feeling large. A mother bear and her two cubs live in a little wooded area just beyond my back fence and often poke around my yard (they’re best neighbors I have, at least since they stopped digging in my garbage, which they promptly learned to do after figuring out there was nothing in it except empty beer bottles and cigarette butts, ha ha).

If you overlook the fact that there are no jobs here, no money, no opportunities, no culture, and fewer available women than in the fucking Klondike, it’s a swell place!

I’m exaggerating, of course. If it was that bad I’d pack up and move to Reno. But I do think it’s fair to say this town’s been going downhill ever since the white man booted the Washoe Indians out and installed casinos in their place. The main drag used to be called Bonanza Road because it was the principle thoroughfare between Sacramento and Virginia City, Nevada after the Comstock silver lode was discovered in the nineteenth century. (Now the only reminders of those spacious days down in Nevada are mercury polluted rivers and leukemia clusters, but I digress) (Oh yeah, and whorehouses) (Oh yeah, and Republican rednecks. I once got cut-off down there by a guy in a jeep with a bumper sticker that said, “Off-Roaders For Bush.” Ponder the meaning of that for a while: Off-Roaders For Bush. Talk about bein’ in Heaven! To these jaded eyes, that pretty much sums up Northern Nevada, so I’ll move on.) After awhile, the place was so badly logged out in order to provide lumber for the silver mines it was denied national park status. This lowered the property values, enabling wealthy people from the San Francisco Bay Area to buy it all up for a song and build gigantic summer homes along the shores of the lake. Sound familiar? Now Bonanza Road is just plain old US Highway 50, and it’s basically a dump (although the trees, of course, are back). It contains all the elements of an excellent trade route and little else; that is, of course, until you reach the California/Nevada state line and hit the casinos. You go from Appalachia to Vegas in one block.

Good times!

The casinos are glitzy mausoleums where washed-up performers go to die. It’s depressing. I think Beyonce hit town a couple of summers ago and it was the biggest things since boxed wine. This summer the decayed remains of REO Speedwagon are opening up for Styx, or Journey, or some other vestigial remnant of Rock ‘n Roll’s inglorious middle age of the late seventies, early eighties (you know, before Madonna and Cyndi Lauper came along to redeem the aesthetics of our culture). One of the clubs is called the Horizon, which we call ‘The Ho’. It used to be named the Sahara Tahoe and was Elvis’ turf. He used to buy all the female employees roses on Mother’s Day. Bill Cosby used to perform there as well, and someone who worked there told me he was the biggest prick in creation. On the other hand, I’ve also heard that Willie Nelson is the coolest guy in creation, and I believe it because I can’t live in a world where it isn’t true.

The most interesting thing about this place is the apocryphal tale that Jacque Cousteau took a mini-sub to the bottom of the lake and, upon re-emerging, declared that “the world is not ready to see what’s down there.”

That sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? The world is not ready to see what’s down there. Evidently, the mobsters who started the gambling racket up here used to dump their victims into the lake, where the cold temperatures suspend the bodies at a certain depth and prevent them from decomposing. In addition, the Washoe Indians used to swaddle their dead and heave them into the water as well (I don’t know if this is true or not; a drunk carpenter in a local redneck bar told me that once. I report, you decide). So the story is that the bottom of the lake is blanketed by a garden of corpses, frozen in place, some clad in pin-striped gangster suits, perfectly preserved for all eternity. But don’t call Geraldo just yet. It turns out Jacques Cousteau never came to Tahoe, and even if he had, any corpses in the lake would have been fish food long ago. A marine biologist from UC Davis looked into the matter. So that’s that. Besides, as previously noted, the most interesting corpses here are all above ground.

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