It seems odd to be in Las Vegas and not playing in the Nationals, to sleep in as my husband rushes out the door for Day 1, to read a pleasurable novel about New Yorkers and their dogs instead of studying my high probability six-to-make-eights.It feels strange to feel relaxed instead of anxious.
I made the decision not to play several months ago. I knew I had to write a paper for the Baltic Studies conference in Estonia in June and that I wanted to spend time in Helsinki sightseeing as well. I knew that my autumn semester would be busy: new classes, new committees, paper and essay deadlines. In between the conference and the beginning of school in mid-August, I was hoping to accomplish the following: finish my memoir about love and Scrabble, continue walking three to five miles a day, get over my fear of flying through the process of systematic desensitization, prepare for classes, clean out my closets, and learn Finnish.
And because I take Scrabble seriously—last year I studied for the Nationals and did quite well—I did not want to be put in the position of wondering whether OUTGNAW is valid (it is), whether HIC takes an s (it doesn’t), and what my mnemonic is for ORGIES (HOT MONOGLOT PORN.)
I could have just stayed home in Charleston, but I get lonely without someone to argue with.
Also, I haven’t been to Vegas since I was in sixth grade; I wanted to see how much it had changed. I was twelve when my parents decided to take a cross-country trip from Chicago to California. My memories of Sin City are vivid and glamorous. My parents chose to spring for a hotel room instead of camping in our flimsy tent. The hotel room had a color television. My parents left my sister and me in the hotel room with the color television while they went out gambling. I remember jumping up and down on the big hotel bed the minute they left and then watching some forbidden show on the wonderful TV.
I can visualize the Las Vegas of my sixth-grade trip: a long street with brightly colored lights forming pictures of palm trees, flamingos, and an Aladdin’s lamp. I see my father driving past the long street with brightly colored lights, my sister asking, “Dad, are you and mom going to see some strippers?” My father ignored the question.
I walked down Las Vegas Boulevard yesterday. It seems the city has shifted in the past forty-five years or so, though the hotel concierge reassured me that the “old town” still exists just a few miles away. This “new” Las Vegas was frightening; monolithic buildings connected by walkways, people walking around looking dazed or anxious or sad, huge billboards of Donnie and Marie. There were smaller, sadder billboards for entertainers I thought were dead, such as Rich Little and Dion.
Cigarette smoke mingling with gasoline fumes was the prevailing smell on the streets. The 110-degree temperature didn’t do much to enhance the quality of the Las Vegas air.
I don’t belong here, I said to myself. I don’t drink and I don’t gamble. I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Arc de Triumphe, the real one, not the one with Gordon Ramsay’s larger-than-life face super-imposed on it. I’ve been to Venice and even to Luxor, Egypt.
Maybe I should gamble. Maybe I’d like Vegas more. But I just don’t think Vegas is a good place to BEGIN gambling. I couldn’t even get in through the door of one of the casinos. It was one of those revolving doors and was revolving too slowly for my taste, so I gave it a little push, which stopped it from going anywhere. A girl who couldn’t have been more than seven informed me sternly that I didn’t need to DO anything, that it revolved on its OWN. Once inside I was confused by all of the machines. I wasn’t sure whether I could just put money in or whether I had to get special coins. I was too embarrassed to ask.
I did get some good writing done today, but it was slow going at first. I sat around the hotel room of our very elegant hotel, drinking coffee, looking at the planes landing, amazed at their grace and precision and the fact that not one of them crashed. I got up to sharpen some pencils but then realized that I write on a computer. I spent an hour reworking two sentences.
What made me think that putting words down on paper in a coherent and interesting manner was easier than playing Scrabble?