It has been said that you’re not really dead until no one remembers you. And nowhere will said death come quicker than it will in Jackpot, Nevada.
For those who may have forgotten, Jackpot is one of those border towns that owes its existence to legalized gambling. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find a single citizen there whose livelihood derives from something other than gaming. The late Carl Hayden was no exception, yet in my mind he was exceptional in that he was driven by something other than a burning desire to accumulate money. In fact, I suspect he didn’t even draw a paycheck.
Carl was Jackpot’s self-appointed publicist, or, as he preferred to call himself, “scribe.” When I first met him, he was working out of a cluttered room at the Horseshu Casino. There he busied himself making phone call after phone call and scribbling notes. Once a month he cranked out a newsletter—the closest thing to a newspaper Jackpot ever had. Whenever there wasn’t anything exciting going on in Jackpot, Carl would think something up. He’d dredge up a bit of local history, perhaps resurrect an erstwhile forgotten figure such as Diamondfield Jack. As nearly as I can tell, Diamondfield Jack Davis never did anything of significance during his entire lifetime, but no matter. At Hayden’s urging, once a year the citizens of Jackpot would dress up in cowboy garb, saddle their horses and recreate Jack’s “famous ride.”
And that was just the beginning. Hayden also instituted a rock hound rendezvous, a big fish tournament, a private airplane fly-in, a carrier pigeon race, a buffalo chip toss, a hollering contest—even a golf club throwing contest! I use the exclamation point against the advice of my English teacher, but the fact is, Jackpot’s golf club throwing contest was indeed exciting—inasmuch as a Swede with a typewriter can make anything sound exciting.
I wasn’t Carl’s only fan. Advertising Age deemed him “a legend,” and after his passing the Cactus Pete’s organization sponsored an essay contest in his honor. For a time there was a summertime festival dubbed “Hayden Daze” and the local airport was renamed Hayden Field.
I’m sad to report the essay contest is no more, nor is there a hollering contest, a buffalo chip toss, a pigeon race, a Hayden Daze or a newsletter. Still, I was hopeful that someone in Jackpot would be pleased to learn that I have preserved Mr. Hayden’s legacy in a book that I wrote. Which is why I took a copy of “Passing Through” with me as I passed through day before yesterday.
Since there is no Jackpot public library and no local bookstore, I settled upon the gift shop at Cactus Pete’s Resort Casino. There I showed the young lady at the counter my book and asked if she might be interested in adding it to her stock in trade. Before she could answer, her supervisor rushed over and cut me off.
“Where’s your vendor’s license?” she said. “You need a vendor’s license.”
“I’m not a vendor,” I answered. “I’m an author—or what you in this part of the world might call a ‘scribe.’ I’ve written a book, a chapter of which deals with a local man named Carl Hayden. I’m sure you remember him.”
“The name sounds vaguely familiar,” answered the younger woman.
“If you don’t have a vendor’s license, you can just get yourself on out of here,” interrupted the older woman. “We don’t buy stuff from just anyone who walks in the door.”
“But I’m not a salesman,” I protested weakly. “I’m an author. A…scribe.”
So I went. Evidently the folks in Jackpot, Nevada, have no interest in what happened yesterday. At the nightly all-you-can-eat buffet, no one ever bites into a madeleine and is suddenly reminded of temps perdu. There’s no grave site to visit because there is no graveyard, nor is there a public monument of any kind. The only evidence I could find of my old friend’s existence was a fading sign posted at the entrance to the municipal airport. And once that sign has faded away completely, Carl Hayden will be forgotten. And, therefore, dead.