4 – . . . But Your Pains . . .
I took a taxi to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Do you make a lot of trips there? I asked the driver. Oh yeah, he said.
I half-expected to be dropped off in the Mojave desert, but no, UNLV was a little city inside the big city, with buildings as big as the resorts on The Strip.
He dropped me on a corner of the campus. Brick walls stared me in the face. No inviting doors. Can you, I said, drop me at an information desk?
Oh yeah, he said. Off we went again. He dropped me at a busy driveway. No signs. No information desk. Just a parking lot kiosk. The driver sped away with my eighteen bucks. I approached a student. Try the Student Union, she said, and pointed. Just my luck . . . to get a driver who kept his distance from anything that reeked of books.
The Student Union had an information desk. Very helpful people. Where does the tour start? I asked. Oh oh. The shoplifter-caught-in-the-act looks, the teeth-sucking intakes of breath, the curt shakes of the head, and the silent self-addressed questions: Should we call security? Is this a crazy from The Strip?
I had read – notice I said “read” – that there was a daily tour for the public starting in 30 minutes. A good way to find the books, I thought. Never heard of that, they said, meaning the tour. But I could ask at Admissions. Where was Admissions? I got directions.
It was less than three miles away. I walked. I walked and I walked. Under the hundred-degrees-in-the-shade sunlight. The rays struck the back of my neck like rubber mallets. I arrived at the Student Services Complex where Admissions supposedly was.
Nope. A student directed me to another building in the complex. I arrived at Admissions.
So I asked a friendly face: Where’s the tour start? Same response, culminated by a suggestion to try next door. I couldn’t miss it. I missed it. I walked a few blocks inside a huge building and found an information desk. The guy checked me out, looking for contraband (possibly a book). No cavity search, though. He smiled and gave me directions to a building at the far side of the complex. It turned out to be the first building I had tried.
So I went searching. Searching for literature. Searching for literature at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
And lo and behold, in the distance, less than two miles off, was a tall building with a sign: Lied Library. I walked and I walked under the broiling sun.
My body was perfectly dry, but my crotch was drenched with perspiration. Only when I paused in patches of shade did my clothes start sticking to my skin.
I arrived at the Lied Library. ln my sweat-drenched clothes, I waded up to the research desk. What information do you have on my country? I asked. I was just curious. So I was set up with a computer terminal. I searched the entire Lied Library.
I learned that a company of gentlemen adventurers were trading into Hudson’s Bay. I learned that there was a canoe and wagon trail between Fort William and the Red River. I learned that Lake Superior is an American lake.
Wow. What an interesting country. Americans must be really curious about it.
I left the Lied Library. (Sorry — no jokes about the Lied Library.) I continued searching.
Something else of interest: I hadn’t seen a single book yet. Nobody in the research room was reading books. They were reading screens, or shuffling papers, or checking their smart phones. Most people — students, I presume — sported little backpacks, the kind that schoolkids back home carry books in. But I never asked anyone if I could peek inside. Perhaps they were carrying lunch bags, or water bottles, or first-aid kits with instructions for treating heat stroke. I don’t know. All I’m saying is that I hadn’t seen any books yet.
On the way back to the Student Union, less than three miles off, I finally, finally saw a book. A student was perched on a pedestal in the shade with an open book. I strained to see the title but I failed. Maybe it was Tom Clancy’s EndWar: The Missing. I just don’t know. From time to time he glanced up at passers-by. Perhaps he was reassuring himself that he was seen. Seen reading a book. Crazy, man. What was he? A rebel of some sort, obviously. About to launch a revolution? A Che Guevara of the Mojave, who would force peasants at the point of a prickly cactus to open a book. I could see it happening. CNN covering the conflict over a period of weeks, chronicling millions of bloody pinpricks, dissecting the agony of countless illiterate victims.
Whoa. I was feeling lightheaded. I was a little crazy, man. It was the Mojave desert sun, man.
I found the campus bookstore. It was next to the Student Union. It had books. Lots and lots and lots of books. Okay. That’s too many lots. They had a few books. Most of the floor space was devoted to sweatshirts and caps and sundry regalia emblazoned with the logo of Rebels. Presumably a varsity team.
There was a section with textbooks. Lots of textbooks. I think. The section was roped off. Security prowled the aisles. No one, and I mean no one, especially a student, was allowed to browse the textbooks. More than a little learning, apparently, was a dangerous thing. If you wanted a book, you had better know the title before you ordered. Produce your credentials. Submit to a cavity search. And no, there was no catalogue of titles. I looked.
I did stumble over a couple of racks of popular literature. All at discount prices. Where did they come from? I don’t know. Possibly confiscated from newly admitted students. Anyway, I checked them all. I found one title of interest: a novel by Craig Johnson, author of the Sheriff Longmire mysteries set in Wyoming.
I was tempted. I was sorely tempted to pick it up. But no. I remembered my oath. And besides, after a few minutes in the Mojave desert sun, the book would have been saturated with my body fluids.
I returned to the Student Union. Sure, said the information desk lady, she’d order me a cab. She did. She was very nice. I simply had to wait outside, in the Mojave desert sun. After forty minutes, I returned. No taxi, I said. Oh. Really. She’d try again. After twenty minutes I returned. No taxi? she asked. She’d try another company. I waited another twenty minutes. No taxi. Who would believe it? A whole cadre of Las Vegan chauffeurs who would never get caught dead at a university. Which had books.
In my damp shoes, I squelched my way to the main street. I flagged down a bus. For two bucks I caught a ride to The Strip. What will my stop be? I asked. The Strip, said the driver. Passengers piped up. You must get off at the MGM Grand, said one. Others nodded, smiling, agreeing. No, no, said another. You must get off at New York, New York. No, no, said others. A lively discussion ensued. The verdict: Get off at New York, New York. Just a good walk from there to Planet Hollywood. Less than half a day.
Such gracious people. Someone asked, What’re you doing down here? or words to that effect. I was at the university, I said, searching for books.
Silence. Dead silence. Not a peep. When I stepped off the bus, I thanked everyone for their assistance. Stony faces. A deep desert silence.
It was indeed less than half a day’s walk to the resort. In the Mojave desert sun.
What would the morrow bring?