I had a feeling that Vegas was not exactly what I was expecting when I first stepped out of the apartment to retrieve my mail and said hello to the elderly man two doors down who chain-smoked Camels while constantly barbequing bacon on his patio.
"Yo fuck you, white bitch!" He growled at me through a cloud of smoke and continued to furiously flip the bacon with his hot pink spatula.
I'm ashamed to admit that up until that point, I was practically skipping down the concrete with my newfound love for Vegas. But his response put an immediate end to that. I blinked a few times and actually stumbled backwards. My brain fired off rhetorical questions. What the hell? Who is this man? What's his problem? Hold on a minute! I'm so loveable! Everyone loves me! How could he not love me too?
This was the first of many lessons to come for me, here in Las Vegas.
For instance, the weather doesn't change here. Oh sure, the temperature can range anywhere from a boiling 115 degrees to a bone-chilling 16, but I guarantee you this: It will always be sunny and dry. Painfully, overbearingly, sunny and dry. When we first moved here, people told us it rained about ten days a year. I think it's more like three.
But I digress.
You learn to adjust here quickly. You have to, I think, in order to survive. Our first night here, Josh and I laid on our backs, eyes wide opened, hands firmly clenched with one another's while listening to constant screaming and crying, lawn furniture being thrown, and those ever present sirens wailing. We had unsucessfully barricaded the door with my boxes of books and the flimsy cat carrier. If anyone were to break in, and they certainly could've if they wanted to, we hoped the cat would be enough of a hostage.
Neither one of us wanted to admit to the other that we were terrified that night. Or that we wanted to turn around and go home immediately.
But times change, and so do attitudes. About a month ago, Josh and I were getting ready for bed, and I noticed ten cop cars had surrounded the apartment complex across the street.
I wasted no time. I flung the door open wide and pointed out at the action.
"Incident!" I yelled cheerfully at Josh, and we both scurried out onto the patio to watch. Diet cokes in one hand, Marlboro Menthols in the other.
Maybe I'm becoming too hard and bitter for my own good, I thought to myself as I took a drag and watched three cops drag their kicking and screaming suspect out to a car. Maybe I need to try a little harder to not let this city get the best of me. Maybe I need to be the better person here.
I looked over at my neighbor, still smoking while barbequing his bacon. It's one in the morning.
"Hello," I called out softly to him and smiled. I even waved.
"Shut up, white bitch!" he hissed back, without hesitation.
And maybe I'm not becoming cynical. Maybe I'm adjusting to my surroundings in the way that I'm supposed to. Perhaps we make a joke out of the latest drive-by shooting because the reality of the situation is much scarier.
Everyday, I strive to be better than the last day. I can feel myself becoming wiser. Stronger. Happier. I am one step closer to being the person that I want to be.
And then I go and deteriorate rapidly, usually within a restaurant. In a 24 hour town, there are far too many choices to be had at any given hour. It's no secret that I love to eat, and now I can get anything I want at any given time.
In a one word answer, it's overwhelming. Two college degrees by the age of twenty, ability to converse in three different languages, IQ of 143...yet I can't even make a single decision on what to order at 2:45 in the morning.
"So what'll it be, hon?" the weary waitress asks me for the fifth time.
I've learned that there is such a thing as too many fucking choices in life.
"I'm starving!" I cry back, while desperately flipping through the sixteen page glossy menu.
And that there is something to be said for the limited late night menu at Denny's.
My whole life, people have always told me that you cannot change others. Rather, you have the power to change how you react to them. And this is true.
But just recently, I've come to discover that you don't have to let people change who you are. If you do a good deed and it goes unthanked, does this mean you should stop doing those good deeds? If someone doesn't say hello back, do we become bitter, angry and misanthropic in nature? Why give others that control in life? Why let them influence your true nature for the worst?
As I left for work today, I looked over at my nemesis two doors down.
Ghandi once said, "Everything we do is futile. But we must do it anyway."
I closed my eyes and sharply inhaled. I sauntered over to him.
"Hello!" I called out to him.
The man turned to me. His expression softened. For the first time ever, he removed the dangling Camel Wide from his mouth.
My breath caught in my throat.
"Hey white bitch!" he said cheerfully and smiled before jamming the cigarette back into his mouth.
Progress, I thought.
And I started to laugh.