Walmart and Vegas, Actual and Not, Like You and Me

21 Feb

Whereas: in the desert you can remember your name, in L.A. you invent a new one.  It’s too bad that I don’t yet know my name,  because I need a card. It will say something like Woman Formerly Known as Kirsten: Traveler, Juice Girl, Other. Out here everyone has a card; I’ve collected fifteen already, some from people I don’t remember meeting–like Portia, whose card I got in Las Vegas; it depicts her playing pool in  garters and stockings. Portia’s  title is Actual Entertainer.  Don’t remember meeting Portia, but her card somehow wound up in my purse. An Actual Mystery to Actual Me–who is that, and who is actual you, Dear Reader? That’s my name for you, but you don’t  think of yourself that way for more than a few seconds a day (if ever.)IMG_0134   Dear Actual Sexy and Brilliant Reader, if you got a name and a card you’re comfortable with,  could you please put your mind to What My Name Should Be? (As for my title–no, a species of wild feline whose genotype rhymes with “shoogar” is no good–too obvious.)

Whereas: in Ithaca everyone knows who you are, who you’ve dated, and the name of every  soy product you ever bought or didn’t, in L.A. there’s a particular mind4*&2 (this is a family blog) about identity. Most people tell you impressive stuff about themselves, like the taxi driver who was trained at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, had a multimillion dollar internet company, and is in negotiation to produce a movie that James Franco will direct (taxi driver was worried about JF being able to direct.) Anyone might be someone, like the pretty girl at Pinkberry who turned out to be Whatshername. Actual Whatshername!

So while you figure out for me, Dear  Soulful and Stimulating Reader who and what I am, let me, or “me” (whatever!) just say that some days here it’s all Candy Land and some days it’s more like Chutes and Ladders, Smoke and Mirrors, Balderdash Bruhaha, or even worse, Carrot Juice without Bee Pollen. Like yesterday when I was  excited about going to a party of some friends of an East Coast pal.  Unwilling to navigate my way there at night (lost my glasses, another non-story story) I called a cab. I knew it would be pricey but worth it, and I hoped I could catch a ride back.  The driver had a heavy Russian accent and had an heavier smoking habit. When I gave him the address, he asked how to get there. Then he called someone and asked for directions.

For ten minutes he wrote down what was dictated to him. Then he informed me the cost and the amount of time it would take, both way more than I’d realized.  Five minutes into the drive, I bailed. The smoke was making me–already queasy with anxiety–feel like throwing up. I am going to be very late and this will  cost a fortune. I gave him a ten, jumped out into the rain at a stop light. A taxi driver smoking in the car? A taxi driver not knowing where he’s going, and without a GPS? Even the cabs in Ithaca have them! But the real problem was me.  I hadn’t calculated cost or time of travel accurately. I don’t understand so many things here.  The hosts of the party explained later that, “rain in L.A. makes everything run amok.” I hadn’t even thought about the rain, what did that mean?  The unfamiliar invites instability?  Oh, like me in L.A. . . .

What’s My Name, Dear Sensitive and Insightful Whoever You Are? (You are who you say–or more importantly who I think you are, right?) While you invent me, I’ll tell you this:  there are more than one actual L.A.’s.  I learned this by going to Walmart. “WHERE is Walmart?!” Natasha wondered.  In Ithaca, Walmart is in one of our six strip malls, and inside there are a lot of people there who look fairly economically disadvantaged (Poor Actually), mostly white. Because buying things at Walmart is politically incorrect, when shopping there we lefty academics (also mostly white), don disguises or  pretend to be doing research on injustice.

The The L.A. Walmart is far, to put it mildly, from Beverly Hills (a cab ride there would be about two hundred dollars, but that’s not exactly what I meant about the distance.)  I drove to Walmart,  and the first thing I noticed about the neighborhood was that almost everyone on the street was black or Hispanic.  In the parking lot I saw a guy huffing an aerosol can.  The third thing I noticed was similar to the first, namely most of the Walmart customers were black or Hispanic.  In thirty minutes of shopping, I saw four other white people. If you’re Caucasian and you know it, clap your hands. . .yes, you sir, and me, right here in the mattress pad aisle. Race is a construction of course, but economic privilege and the connection between that and assigned ethnic identity is pretty real, as in an Actual Ugly Truth in The Land of The Free and And Home of The Brave.

Twenty four hours after visiting Walmart I was visiting Las Vegas. Talk about blurring boundaries and losing my bearings:  the Land of The Free Drink and Home of the Brave Slot Machine Player In His/Her Wheelchair and With Oxygen Tank at One Am. And the next day the Sistine Chapel Ceiling, a canal in Venice, the Eiffel Tower…As Marcus pointed out, “We just do it better here.  Only in America can you see three European cities in ten minutes and then wind up at Wolfgang Puck’s Take Out.” If you’re North American and you know it clap your hands!”

Fake Venice with NicolleIMG_0131Nic with statue in Las Vegas

I admit it, I had fun in Vegas. Mostly because Natasha and Marcus are great company and make constant fun of me. We are planning on opening a small boutique hotel in Vegas with an Urbana, Illinois theme. The Embassy Bar, the cow stench, a special V.I.P. room named after our heroes–at first we disagreed about this until we realized:  Tyke Peacock. Olympic athlete and Man of Integrity. All in our own former circles at Urbana, he was and is an Actual Class Act.

Dear Reader, I still don’t know my name. Nevertheless, I’m getting a card: Kirsten, Actual To Be Determined. I am doing research, or in disguise, or. . .Let Me Entertain you (the playing pool in garter thing withstanding.) Whereas: I was something, now I am seeking. Actual Outsider.  Hands clapping.Las Vegas menage a troisGrover and meFake Volcano in Vegas


13 Responses to “Walmart and Vegas, Actual and Not, Like You and Me”

  1. nic February 21, 2013 at 6:50 pm #

    You just do it better with here. I’m clapping my hands!!


    • kwasson2012 February 21, 2013 at 11:53 pm #

      I know, I can hear you from across the hall.


  2. Susanna McColley February 21, 2013 at 11:10 pm #

    Kirsten Anna Wasson. Urban anthropologist. Girlfriend-at-large.


  3. Robin Botie February 22, 2013 at 9:55 pm #

    How can you possibly keep this up for 6 months? Outrageous sheer fun. Trying to name you is harder than trying to name my book. I get a headache thinking about it. It’ll come to you. brava!


  4. Elizabeth Sachs February 23, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

    For some reason, “Heidi” makes sense to me. It’s cute, lite but not too (not that you’re “lite”! But the mood you’re calling up is (with notes of extremely appropriate L.A. weirded-out tension)). Maybe you could make the “e” into a star? Or, dot the “i”s with stars (reference: L.A. STORY, Sarah Jessica Parker’s character). Plus, Heidi traveled, in the children’s books. If you had an urge to store a bunch of rolls in your closet, to take back to your Eastern friends and relations, I would not blame you; I did something similar, in L.A.–except with utterly-un-Eastern majolica and Italian pottery, from . . . I think it was called “Cuccina.” Some very toney and very So. Cal. shop at. . . . what was it called. . . Fashion Island. Which wasn’t an island at all, but rather an oddly-situated mall in Costa Mesa–I think it was Costa Mesa).


    • kwasson2012 March 3, 2013 at 11:37 pm #

      Just call me Heidi. Buncha rolls in the closet; I love that detail which had slipped my mind until now. . .Cuccina now on my list. I have bought two plates, and two glasses so far. At Rite Aid.


  5. Andrés Nikolas Ordorica March 1, 2013 at 1:18 am #

    Kirsten, My Hero!


    • kwasson2012 March 3, 2013 at 11:39 pm #

      I don’t think I’m hero material, but I am wearing tights and a cape on Wilshire Blvd.


  6. elainemansfield March 2, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

    Kirsten Wasson: Fearless Explorer
    When I visit a friend in Santa Monica, we walk at Venice Beach and in the foothllls and eat salads large enough for a family of baboons. She’s taking me to the wrong places! Keep telling me about your world.
    Warmly, Elaine


  7. kwasson2012 March 3, 2013 at 11:41 pm #

    I’m definitely having some crazy times here. . .in fact, I recently encountered a family of baboons eating salad (at Whole Foods. They recommended the kale with mushrooms, and so I followed their lead. )Thank you for reading.


  8. Parveen Talpur March 26, 2013 at 1:53 am #

    That taxi driver reminds me of desperate characters described in The Day of The Locust..


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