Noone Column: Customs I’m not accustomed to … yet
I’ve been around, and I’ve seen and done some things.
As a reporter, I watched autopsies, went through a firefighters’ academy, spent a (very long) weekend at Marines boot camp, even piloted a Blue Angels jet. I’ve covered gruesome accidents, uncovered wrongdoing at high levels and been moved to tears at citizenship ceremonies. I was born in the Big Apple, raised in the Golden State and spent a lot of years in the Lone Star State. I’ve been around people who thought fast and talked faster.
But nothing I’ve done and no place I’ve been has prepared me for the phenomena that I’ve encountered since coming to Nevada last summer – and I only wish I were referring to Area 51.
For instance, when I first heard about the annual ritual here involving eagles and agriculture, it struck me as a somewhat bucolic but innocuous celebration of the flora and fauna of Northern Nevada. What I didn’t imagine was that the observance was keyed to an avian smorgasbord in which the eagles descend on the valley after calving season and dine on the bovines’ afterbirth. What?!?
What struck me as even odder than that phenomenon was the matter-of-factness of the explanations I was given by locals – as if it’s an everyday thing to celebrate one species’ consumption of another species’ postpartum odds and ends. Now, having had some months to think about it, it does have a certain Circle of Life sensibility to it. It’s Mother Nature’s own recycling program in action.
Then there’s the hunger-hampering grimness that is Virginia City Mountain Oyster Fry, more familiarly referred to as the “testicle festival.” Though my travels have acquainted me with the terms “prairie oysters” and “calf fries,” a now-regrettable Internet search just now also yielded such gems as “Montana tendergroins,” “cowboy caviar” and the overtly literal “swinging beef.” Anyone who eats such cuts must feel offal.
Similarly off-putting to me, at least at first, were the Outhouse Races in Virginia City. Yes, it’s a colorful event. Yes, it’s an homage (sort of) to the Old West. But it’s also ridiculous.
And then there are those things that many here consider virtues (at least economically) that are considered vices in most other places: gambling and prostitution. As a lowercase libertarian, I fully endorse Americans’ right to pursue happiness, in whatever form that may take, as long as it doesn’t impinge on anyone else’s pursuit.
On gambling: Safely whiling away a few hours at a Casino Fandango or a Nugget isn’t necessarily a passport to perdition. A poker hand isn’t necessarily victimless (especially when played well), but neither is it a crime – at least not in Nevada and growing number of other states.
As for prostitution, it’s a victimless crime when it’s legal and regulated and not situated next to a grammar school or a church. Still, I had an “Ah ha” moment recently while giving a visiting relative a tour of town. The question came up: “Doesn’t Carson City have a red-light district? Why not?” Because it’s legal here, its practitioners needn’t expose themselves and their clients to the related crimes that usually accompany illegal prostitution. Makes perfect sense – but I still felt a little self-conscious when, in my second week on the job here, I got a friendly “Welcome to town” phone call from Sam, who handles public relations for the Moonlite Bunny Ranch.
I’m trying as hard as I can to adopt Nevadans’ matter-of-fact, almost defiant live-and-let-live attitude toward the Silver State’s eccentricities, its oddities and its charms. But it may take awhile until I can look a calf or an eagle in the eye.
• Editor Dennis Noone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.