Memories of Exotic Places—Clark Humphrey
I don’t do “exotic destinations,” at least not very well.
Truth is, I can find the mundane most anywhere. Show me an elegant black tie party and I’ll be trying to hang out with the waitstaff and the bartenders. Show me a Vegas resort and I’ll be most at home at the buffet. Send me backstage at a big concert or show, and I’ll want to be with the crew and the roadies. When “guided relaxation” audio tapes ask me to imagine I’m lying on a beach, I imagine I’m on one of OUR beaches, in February, with cold winds and probably a washed-up seal carcass.
The following are among my most vivid memories of New York: Coney Island. Heavy-set old women in one-piece suits at a beach. The subway. The far west of the Upper West Side. Camera stores where they wouldn’t stop trying to sell you more and more stuff. The dying vestigial remains of the sleaze-era 42nd Street. The New York Public Library’s periodicals annex. A woman who chatted me up in a bar next to Madison Square Garden, explaining why the Yankees always deserve to win, while her boyfriend sank deeper into his drinks at the next stool. White Castle burgers for breakfast. Trying to lean to one side at the Guggenheim in just the right way so I could see the art “right side up.”
The following are among my most vivid memories of Las Vegas: Two drunk hookers failing to hook me. The father and son on a bus from a Spice Girls impersonators’ show, talking about the point when “Posh” had sung directly to the son. The rooftop swimming pool at the Horseshoe, the 100 degree temperature sign, and the sullen teenage boy lifeguard. The large, tacky convention room where the World Series of Poker had begun. The giant Pepsi-Cola neon sign right across the street from the “World of Coca-Cola” tourist attraction. The slow-moving parade of older women inhabiting the more “downmarket” casinos such as Slots of Fun, clutching their plastic cups of clot machine tokens. The excessively detailed mural map of the U.S. at New York New York, complete with mountains, rivers, cities, and Interstate highways. Liking Reno (where I’d been the previous year) better, because it hadn’t lost as much of its old grittiness.
The following are among my most vivid memories of Chicago: The El train. Rushing through the Art Institute museum to try to see all the major paintings in the last half hour before closing time. Spotting bootleg merchandise sellers outside Wrigley Field, and insisting to my hosts on getting one of their T shirts instead of an official one. The “Lotto Diner” (at least that’s what its sign said it was). Marshall Field’s, before it got Macyfied.
The following are among my most vivid memories of Los Angeles: Upper middle class living rooms with velvet rope barricades against the households’ own children. How far everything seemed to be from everything else. The fake Liberty Bell at Knott’s Berry Farm. Not getting to go on any studio tours. A single day in Disneyland, during which I kept looking for the machinery that made everything happen and my mother continually “joked” about how the whole place being dry. My mother joining AA within a month after coming home, and staying in it for 39 years.