Thursday, January 22, 2009

CHAPTER 1

The back of Leroy’s head is on the check-in desk at the MGM Grand hotel. He’s laughing and shaking his head back and forth, his upper body and limbs pulsating and writhing like the exposed pipes and gears exploding from the guts of a cuckoo clock gone berserk. His eyes are even laughing, and his legs are wobbling and splaying and almost buckling under him while he arches his back, as if almost wanting to attempt a back dive but not quite being able to extend back far enough. There’s something fizzy, maybe froth-like in his mustache, which I take to be some sort of illicit substance, or maybe just foam from the warm beer in his dangling left hand. The desk clerk pays him no attention. Chet’s trying to check us in this whole time, and I decide suddenly that I need to take Leroy away from the desk. He’s spry and reckless. Something about the whole situation seems dangerous, like at any moment something will just crack and send him over sanity’s Maginot line, or over the desk to strangle the attendant or a baggage handler, or attack the lady in a pantsuit who is hovering about the lobby clutching a clipboard to her chest and eyeing us suspiciously. So I grab him and mumble something about a cigarette. He jumps up like a break-dancing Gumby and high kicks at the domed glass ceiling way above us, tearing free of my grip and darting off into the Byzantine ornamentation of the lobby. I follow.

After consoling him with a smoke we stumble around an extravagant flower planter in the middle of the lobby. A good-sized, gold-coated statue of a lion is perched on it guarding things. It looks bored. The planter is an elaborate, well-kept garden filled with diverse plant life of many petals of vibrant colors, and shapes of stem and leaf, a wild collection of flora and inflorescence from all over the world. Bermuda Buttercups unfold in careful yellow curls, while the pristine white swirls of Lilies mingle with the scented wings of Roses and spikes of violet Hyacinths whose star-shaped leaves tremble in the breeze of the air-conditioning. A Blue Pimpernel’s petals are the soft shade of a chalk drawing’s sky. Leroy starts ashing in the flowers. And then there’s a moment where I glance up and see the clipboard-hugging woman coming over to us and I just know she’s up to no good. I try to grab Leroy but she beats me to it.

“You know there’s no smoking in the lobby.” Her lips are thin and tiny and crusted over with some brown flakey matter. They barely spread wide enough to let air pass through. Everything about her is tight and constrained. The pantsuit is only about four sizes too small for her. “You can only smoke over there on that side, where the red carpet is.”

We look over to where she is pointing. I strain my eyes trying to find some rigid, insuperable non-smoking parapet, this supposed bulwark of the lobby’s pristine atmosphere. It’s only about twenty feet away. We don’t see any physical barrier there. It’s just the place where the red carpet ends and the lobby’s tile floor begins. This strictly enforced regulation makes no sense, but maybe the smoke can’t penetrate the tile floor’s zone of smokeless air. Maybe an invisible wall emanates from the carpet’s edge and is made of fibers too porous and resilient for any carcinogens to pass through.

Leroy arranges his face in a serious manner and, with much savoir-faire, deeply inhales on his cigarette. As he blows the smoke out he says, “We are deeply sorry. Our most sincere and humblest apologies to you and the great lords of MGM Grand. Though what you say makes absolutely no sense, we agree, we acquiesce, we concede that we are most egregiously wrong and will sashay over to the carpeted area to partake in our nicotine indulgence.”

We begin walking away as he continues talking in this odd way. The lady just smiles and nods and holds her clipboard a little tighter to her chest. I start to wonder what the hell is on that clipboard. If I could just get it away from her. Maybe it’s filled with her penciled sketches of the lion statue, or maybe a manifesto outlining the only sure fire way to win at Black Jack, or good recipes, or maybe just the names of people that MGM is keeping a watchful eye on. Maybe my name is on there.

Leroy is now smoking on the carpet and wandering around checking out all the slot machines, his arms circling like the cracked and crooked blades of a broken windmill, his head cranking around energetically looking all over the place at once. I come up behind him and stick a finger in his back. “I told you not to ash on those fucking flowers. You mindless twisted shit-licking idiot!” Leroy puts his hands up and tilts his head back nodding from side to side. He finishes his gesture with a crippling flourish, a frazzled cadenza of his limbs like the last surge of motion in a windup toy, and then every twirling thing comes to an abrupt stop. He stands there frozen in a very awkward pose, his arms hanging out like thin, crooked, gnarled tree branches. A bent and squashed cigarette is sticking out of his mouth. He seems to be chewing on it slightly. Somehow, through all of this, he has managed not to spill a single drop of beer from the can that he is now slightly crushing in his left hand. He looks like the Tin Man, all rusted in place before Dorothy comes along and oils him up.

I try some more abuse. “Come on man. Keep it together. We need to get into our hotel room. We can’t make any more mistakes. Just look. There’s Chet over there trying to convince that damn clerk to give us the keys. Look at that poor fuck.”

Chet is gesticulating madly at the clerk and seems to be having quite an animated conversation. It worries me. I decide, in a sudden epiphanic flash, that he needs some succor. I grab Leroy’s chewed and flattened cigarette from his mouth and put it out on the plush red carpet. While giving him a menacing glare I direct a hushed stern voice towards where his face is. “Come on man. Look at Chet. He’s in trouble. He needs our help.” The ends of his mouth turn down making his mustache droop like a black hairy caterpillar. He glances lazily towards the lobby. I take the hush out of my voice this time. “And wipe that spume off of your mustache. It’s making me sick.”

So we start running like purse snatchers over to Chet at the desk, which is longer than any football field, like a baggage check station at an airport. We speed by the long marble countertop. Only a few clerks are standing behind it, and they’re busy punching keyboards and looking at computer screens. Chet is all the way at the other end.

I see immense cream-colored drapery suspended from a gold banister. I stop and stare at it. It is lovely. It is flowing down in all kinds of folded egg-white textures. I am lost. My head is melting in meringue. There is no escape. This body doesn’t seem to be holding me inside of it anymore. I want to reach up and grab all that fabric, let my hands run all over its milky marshmallow skin and then pull myself up into to it, hang from it like I’m catching a ride on a cloud, kick my feet in the air and laugh at all the middling creatures twittering and bustling around below me. You don’t need a body to do these things. Mine will be alright without me. Let me just get out of this skin here and…There is no place to put things here. There is no here here. No space to be in. Drowning in drapes. No air to be…can’t be…falling…down.

Damn. I can feel my toes again.

I start back up with the running.

Leroy beats me to Chet by a first down and puts his face right up in the Desk Clerk’s face. “Is something wrong here what seems to be the problem gentleman can I be of any help here?” He breathes it all out at once with his last puff of smoke just before I show up. Shit. I’m too late. This could get ugly. I try to stand very still and quiet. I try to make my face look resolute.

Chet seems calm. The Clerk seems okay. I can’t figure it out. I give Chet a confused glance. He just smiles and says, “Oh. We were just talking about this blind girl I work with and how fast she types, and how the computer screen can’t even keep up with her and it just goes blank.” Leroy and I just look at each other and then we stare back at the Clerk who doesn’t look even slightly amused by anything happening. Nothing makes sense, but soon we have our room key and some oleaginous guy with a pencil-thin mustache comes over and puts all of our luggage onto a cart for us. This is good. I don’t feel like carrying anything up to the room.

The mustachioed bellhop is like a crane, gaunt and towering over us. He is all knobby elbows and knees, with Nile-long, skinny drumsticks for legs. Leroy pulls me aside and whispers in my ear through a cupped hand, “This lummox of a man is filled with paranormal activity. He’s a walking nuclear waste dump. Don’t follow him too close. We could be sprouting ears from our necks soon. He may be an apparition, a slim poltergeist, some sort of lost figment of the ether spiriting around this place like a… ”

A severe and mechanical look from this gangly fellow stops Leroy mid-sentence. Then the bellhop smiles, again rather stolidly, and I push Leroy away from me, trying to distance myself from his lunacy, and Chet is walking up ahead towards where we are told the elevators are. The skeletal Bellhop stretches his long arm out for us to go on ahead with Chet. This seems like a good idea. We go on ahead hoping the guy will come up with our luggage behind us. There’s no way to know for sure.

I start imagining ways to grab that clipboard away from the irascible lady in the leotard-tight pantsuit. I mumble to myself things like, “Got to just…burglar it away…somehow…burglar the damn thing. Just have myself a little…looksy,” as I swivel my head around like a blind man playing the piano, casting my eyes her way. She’s still standing in the lobby behind us, which for some reason has gone all out-of-focus. The planter, the ceiling festooned with lines of many bright light bulbs, the tiles glinting under them, the gilded lion baby-sitting the planter, and a thousand other stippled explosions of gold and coruscation are all just a woozy blur. This does wonders for her appearance. The faceless-blob-look suits her well.

Everything is mashed-up. Some kind of flocculation going on. Not sure. I start to say something resembling the word, “quicksilver,” but all that seems to come out is a dull moan. Am I here? Where’d my…how’d I get to this…walking? Walk. Yes. I must walk to the…Damn! Clipboardhuggingwoman…where? Gone…dematerialized. Now, if I keep this…watch out! Buttons…el…E…Vador? Numbers and lights, murders and fights, lumbers and nights…well, well. Hello there Mr., um, W.A. Spooner I presume? Stop it! Got to keep things…that thing, that giraffe, that thin man pushing that luggage cart…got to keep him away from me…he’s stealing our…clothes? Just the clothes on my back…Run! Run you fool! The carpet needs a shave. A mow…needs to be mowed…mowed down…lower its damn ears…toast popping up, a fire alarm, a dial tone, a blip, a beep, a bong on a gong…time’s up…soup’s up…order’s ready…somebody’s at the door…no! The opening of a tomb. Get in that little room. All aboard. Cram in there. Hold the door! I’ve got to go…Up…Up…and…away…

This is not then. This was now. Either way I start to, started, I start, I am starting, I will be…I started yodeling.

We got a place up on the 20th floor. We are strangers here. They gave us keys. They were given to us. There we are, and there we were, walking all together, lost in stunned disbelief as we ride up, then, in an elevator, now. The room was, and probably still is, a fucking miracle of air-conditioned splendor. Immaculate. Commodious. I am content at last. I was content then. When is it now? When is then? What is this now? Where are these things, this television, this incredible view of the Las Vegas strip, New York New York out the window? Is there a now? The beds are huge and luxurious. Is this a Sunday? The bathroom is clean and large and I want to shower in very hot water for a very long time. There are clean glasses and an actual ice bucket. I appreciate every last beautiful detail of this clean large and plush room. I was there in a when that seems like now and there are many pools below and maybe a tropical paradise and 110° heat. Cool air, clean air, a remote control, a large metal tray of unknown use, my face is no longer melting off of my face. This is nice. This was nice. This will be a good thing.

CHAPTER 2

Everything began for me at 5 a.m. Friday morning in San Francisco’s mission district. I’d fallen asleep on somebody’s couch and was awoken by a cat licking at my face. After that I couldn’t get back into any dreams so I just lay there waiting for time to go by. I was planning to go to Vegas that day anyway with Leroy and Chet, who were roommates and lived only 7 or 8 blocks away from where I was, and we were supposed to leave early. I stared at the ceiling for a bit and awaited a phone call from them. After a while I got tired of that and got up, put on my shoes, and went out to get some coffee. The sun was bright and it felt good to be outside early and walking in the sun. I wasted some more time sitting outside the coffee shop watching buses go by, trying not to stare at other people, and trying not to drink my coffee too fast. It was exciting stuff.

Soon eight o’clock rolled around and nobody’d called, so I went back to the apartment I’d fallen asleep at the night before and rang the bell to be let in. After much buzzing and noise and confusion, somebody let me back in and I went back to my supine position on the couch. Lying there, not thinking much, not sleeping, I started getting anxious and soon turned on the television. People kept trying to sell me things I didn’t want, making it seem as if I needed these things when I really didn’t. It got tiresome. I clicked off the TV and stared at the walls.

I finally called Leroy around nine or so, and he answered in a gravelly, unslept growl. When he said my name it sounded like a needle being obstreperously scraped across a badly warped record. It turned out he was on his way to score some cocaine and that Chet was on his way to pick up the rental car. I knew this would take a while. I resigned myself to a long morning of waiting. Staring at the walls wasn’t so bad.

They finally showed up at about eleven. They’d rented a Mercedes. The place had somehow run out of Cadillacs, which is what we’d originally wanted. Turns out the Mercedes was a great choice. It was a nice big car and it fit all of us nicely, including the girl Leroy had spent the night with, who was, for some reason, sitting in the front seat. I got worried for a moment that we’d be a foursome for the weekend, until Leroy started telling Chet how to get to her house. This turned out to be quite an ordeal unfortunately, as Chet was not used to driving and Leroy was confusing everything with his distracted outbursts of, “Turn here!” at the last second. I just sat back and tried not to worry. Eventually we made it to her house and Leroy hugged her and said goodbye and we were finally on our way.

So, Leroy had been up all night ingesting various illegal and dangerous substances into his system, and now he was just aching to break open the bag of cocaine he’d purchased that morning. I advised him against it, as being on any kind of a stimulant in an enclosed environment sounded about as fun as getting locked in the trunk of a car to me, but since he’d let me ride shotgun I stopped caring and told him he should do whatever the hell he wanted. Chet’s erratic driving was starting to make me a little edgy, so after our first stop at a Burger King off the I-5 I offered to drive. He said he hated driving and gave me the keys, and we all went in to get some breakfast. After ordering, Leroy went into the bathroom and stayed in there for a long time. I ended up eating all the fries he’d ordered. It was good service. They brought the food to the table for you. Chet and I ate our soggy fast food while Leroy finished doing whatever it was he was doing in the bathroom. I felt bad for the person going in after him. It wasn’t going to be pretty in there.

When Leroy finally emerged from the bathroom and sat down at the table we decided to head out. Chet and I had eaten all of the food. I backed the Mercedes out of our parking space, after taking a long time figuring out how to shift gears in the damn thing, and then we were off onto the freeway and onward on our journey into the lights, glitter, mayhem, bloodlust, and insane heat that are Las Vegas.

CHAPTER 3

The drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas is a long and strange journey. We’d chosen to take the 5 down to the Lost Hills exit and then head east from there, eventually going through Bakersfield and taking the winding ways of highway 58 through the Mojave desert until we met up with the 15 around Barstow, making a beeline for Nevada from there. It’s about a 8 or 9 hour drive, and there are a lot of points where you stop and go through odd desert towns that seem like they should be in Mississippi or something, and you drive on some two-lane highways where semis won’t let you pass. It’s a strange country of hicks and unimaginably squalid liquor stores and one-pump gas stations in places with unpronounceable names like Tehachapi. Chet bought a model Cadillac at one. The bathrooms were all hot, humid, and fetid, stunk-up like the plumbing had had a heart attack many years before and nothing had ever recovered. After standing in line for the crapper under the hot sun for way too long at one of these sorry-looking filling stations, all three of us went in at once and just pissed all over the place. The obese gentleman who had been using it before us had stunk it up to high hell in there, and we all had to hold our breath while we wildly micturated like befuddled clowns in the clouds of brown steamy gas. But we drove on. Leroy broke out the cocaine and started doing lines off a cheap plastic ashtray in the back seat, and I drove and drove into that desert heat. I kept seeing motorcycles crashing on the road in front of us, skidding out in wavy blurs against the macadam—nothing but mirages fooling my eyes in the sun. Chet did a few lines after a while and those two started jabbering on wildly. Leroy kept blowing his nose like a out-of-tune trumpet every five minutes into a waded up old handkerchief that was caked with old dried snot. He’d shove it back in his pants pocket when he was done. The thought of it made me nauseated so I tried to ignore it.

I’d met Leroy through and ex-girlfriend of mine a few years earlier and we’d become fast drinking buddies, staying up all night many times running from bar to bar and through the streets of San Francisco howling, crashing hipster parties, getting kicked out, one of us trying to balance on the handlebars of a bike while the other drunkenly pedals away, hanging out in his garage playing records, smoking many cigarettes, falling down stairs, starting fights and running from cops, watching the sun come up from a barstool, losing what was left of our inhibitions and our minds. We both liked hanging out in dark bars during the day, and we both liked our liquor a little too much. We got along swell from the get go. Leroy ’s the kind of guy that will do any drug you put in front of him. He’ll even get high on the nitrous oxide in an aerosol can of cool whip if you leave it out too long around him. There’s a robust and deeply unaffected confidence in him, a feeling that everything’s okay, an eternal rhythm of some sort that keeps you ticking right with the primordial it of all things when you’re around him. A kind of intensity seems to emanate from him and surcharges the air around him with a kind of importance and excitement, like a chainsaw’s buzz of perpetual and frantic locomotion. He is also the most flexible person I’ve ever seen. He can contort his wiry limbs in all kinds of fantastic ways, and walks as if he were playing a game of Twister on a busted, torn trampoline. Sometimes we’ll be hanging out in a park and I’ll look up at a tree and see Leroy hanging there by his legs, his shaggy head lobbing back and forth like a metronome. He climbs up telephone poles, balances himself dangerously between barstools and walls, rolls himself up into a ball and goes barreling downhill on crowded sidewalks, and he is a damn good arm wrestler to boot. But mostly he just smokes cigarettes, closes bars on weeknights, and growls a lot. He usually sports a large black mustache and black glasses, along with an ever-changing array of bandages and scars on his face. He sure is a damn gritty sumbitch, as my grand pappy used to say.

Leroy was growling and twitching in the back seat. “This coke is barely keeping me awake, I hardly slept and it’s just making me feel like I’m just sinking into my seat back here, look really, like I’m just slowly slipping and melting into the fucking seat. My eyes. Everything’s wide open you know. Shit. That Gina girl. She’s built. So I don’t care about trying to dangle around with this one. I’ve got to cut out somebody, can’t keep doing this, but I don’t care, so, I’m gonna keep with her I think. It’ll help me do less coke, you know, because she’s got a heart murmur so I can’t really do it around her anyway, well, I guess I could, but she couldn’t, so that might stop me from doing it so much. Ahhhh. I’ve gotta stop, but I can’t keep staying awake like this all the time. We’re going to make it not too late of a night tonight, right? I mean I want to go out and fucking go wild and all, but we can’t stay up all night. I need to fucking sleep! At least some. But, I mean, Saturday’s another story. We can go all night Saturday. Or, fuck it, whatever. Why limit ourselves? Shit, did you see that guy in the liquor store back there with his shirt all unbuttoned and he’s walking around smiling with his gut hanging out and those fucking shorts on like he’s Tom Selleck or something. Shit people around these desert towns are fucked-up. Anyone got a snack or something or some gum? I’m going crazy back here. I need another line. You guys want some? Oh shit, I love this song. Turn it up. You guys seen my lighter? I need a cigarette. Ahhh. Shit. Can I roll the window down? Ahhh. It’s fucking hot out there. Hot fucking wind. Arghhghghg!!! Shit. I need a beer. We should really stop and get some beer. Should I have more alcohol right now? Ah. Yes. Yes that’s what I need. Pour a little beer over all this shit in my stomach. You guys wanna stop somewhere? Get us some beer or something?”

We did stop, to get gas, and Leroy bought a 16 oz can of Budweiser in a paper bag at a rundown little liquor store in some arid, dust-covered place off of Highway 46 called Wasco. So now Leroy was sitting hunched over with the brown-bagged Budweiser in-between his knees while he continued his garrulousness and inveterate smoking. I started thinking about slowing down, I’d been keeping the Mercedes around 90 the whole way, just in case a cop came creeping around flashing his lights at us, as we did have a lot of illegal substances in the car, now including Leroy ’s opened beer, and even though Leroy said he’d take the rap, and I was completely stone sober at this point, I still didn’t want to push my luck too far. I lifted my foot slowly off the accelerator right in time to blow by a speed trap just above the legal speed limit. I kept checking the rearview for lights. Luckily they never came.

For a while I started daydreaming. It must have been all those barren hills going by with all those jagged rocks jutting out like tumors on the desert’s skin, or maybe it was just the sun burning my eyeballs, or more likely it was the influence of my rancor at being stuck behind Big Rigs, but I somehow got to thinking about some odd things. I began wondering about what it would be like if I were somehow to invent a way to run vehicles without gasoline, or maybe invent isn’t the right phrase, maybe more like buy, and at this point I had to explain to myself in a vague but not impossible kind of way how I would come across this ridiculous sum, though thinking about Vegas always gives you a kind of gambler’s delusion of the big win I really wasn’t too big on getting my hopes anywhere near what someone might refer to as “up” before heading out to the cash burning town in the desert, and instead I contented myself with the even grander, though blithely less realistic fancy of winning the Lottery or some such thing, even though I know it’s about a thousand times more likely to get struck by lightning when there’s not a cloud in the sky, or to randomly punch seven numbers into a phone and get the Vice President’s daughter on the line, than it would be to actually win this imaginary sum, that I had for some reason settled on, of $332 million. In my oneiric sunstroke sapped head it seemed like a good place to start from. So I would take a bunch of money and invest in this new alternative power, maybe something like solar power but way more efficient and completely pollution free, or yes, maybe just a really super powered kind of solar power, like taking 10 minutes of sunlight and turning it into enough power to make a large Mercedes run at 90 MPH for 8 hours. After getting all this technology together I would then start a trucking company. Chet had been talking earlier about trucker unions and how they had a lot of power in keeping a large amount of trucks on the road, clogging up the freeways, causing a majority of the traffic accidents, sucking up gas, and causing much air pollution along the way. I don’t know even the first thing about starting a trucking company, but that didn’t stop the fantasy. There’s a point you reach when the reality of things starts to matter less and less, and you don’t sweat the small stuff, when you’re getting involved in this kind of stuff. It’s mostly just a nice distraction from life. Anyway I figured I could undersell all the other trucking companies because my truckers would never have to stop for gas, and my company would never have to spend a dime on fuel. I figured I could pay my guys more and reap profits at the same time. Pretty soon truckers everywhere would want to work for me. At least that’s what I told myself. Like I was some munificent God trying to free men from the bonds of wage-slavery and oil dependency, or something stupid like that. I was pretty sure I’d have to take on the trucker’s union, who I took to be some pretty badass thugs of some sort, but I figured I’d just hire bigger goons to protect me and let my money do the rest. At some point I would start to buy out other trucking companies that were going under because they couldn’t compete with me and my line of NoGas 18-Wheelers. Soon I’d own almost every truck in the state, somehow keeping my new solar technology a secret from everybody else. Maybe the hired goons would guard it with machetes and crossbows, hands clenched and ready to squeeze the life out of any spy sent to purloin my “solar papers.” These things would just work themselves out. After I’d cleaned up the trucking industry I figured the whole oil industry would go into a tailspin. Just think of how much money these long haul truckers spend on gas. Gas prices would have to leap so these damn oil companies could keep reaping profits, and this in turn would really piss-off consumers. With gas prices soaring over 5 dollars a gallon and drivers all over the nation ready to look anywhere for relief I would then unveil my NoGas line of cars. Somehow, again I overlooked many things I didn’t know about, like the causes of gas prices rising and their relation to oil prices rising and probably the relation of the free market to less demand for gas, but somehow I would figure out a way to start manufacturing all of these solar vehicles. It seemed simple. And because they didn’t require gas, and you could drive them as far you wanted on just a little sunshine, people would pay a little more for them than the average gas-powered car. Now I started to worry about the government coming in on the side of the oil companies, but I figured with all my money and my goons, and with people buying these cars in droves, that I’d be able to win that fight. So my little company is now growing into a behemoth, a gargantuan of sunlight if you will. I started to think that I would then somehow, after investing much of my profits in new technologies that would turn any regular car into a solar-powered one, start to open up car converter shops all over the country. Maybe just start out with a couple here, a few there, maybe buy out a few auto body shops, train the mechanics to retool any car into a brand new “Heliocar” at a three-week camp where they’d learn all they’d need to know about this new field, and get to cook hot dogs and sing by the campfire too, like some kind of new age heliolatry or something. Then people would start to come in and get their cars redone, for what I figured to be a reasonable price, I mean considering the savings of never having to purchase gas again. With oil prices rising higher than ever this would appeal to pretty much everyone, and soon I’d have thousands of the converter shops running day and night just to try to keep up with demand. I would then, after pretty much dismantling the way we think about driving, start to invest a lot of my profits to use my new and always improving technology in the mass transit systems of every major city in the country. Imagine a solar powered subway, or a bullet train that could run from Los Angeles to New York on nothing but the sun’s juice. The possibilities were endless. What about putting solar panels all over Las Vegas? I dreamed of solar-powered slot machines. And what about Taxi cabs? How could I have forgotten about all the cabbies? Shit, they’d be broke with gas prices that high. So I’d start a cab company too, and put all the other guys out of business because my cabbies would never have to pay for gas, and they’d make much more working for me than anyone else. After a while I’d start buying out other taxi companies too and, well, the same thing as with the truckers, I’d own every cab in the city. Or something along those lines. It all started to get a little fuzzy around that point, as I was swerving in and out of traffic and madly stomping down on the gas, probably drooling a little bit, and Leroy spilled some of his beer when I hit the brakes to avoid running into the back of a pickup truck, so I had to flip back to reality.

CHAPTER 4

Out the window hundreds of white wind turbines were turning in the desert wind. A lone tree stood on an otherwise barren mesa casting a ridiculous shadow on the tawny land. Chaparral filled up the distances along with a few Joshua trees. Chet was sitting sideways in his seat next to me, his head craned back and his body almost completely turned around, twisted in what must have been a very uncomfortable position, with his knees sometimes coming up onto the seat as he excitedly talked over many wondrous things with Leroy. They would pass the plastic ash tray with lines of coke on it back and forth between them, holding it very delicately, and sometimes offering it to me by mistake, which I refused with a strong-will and almost puritanical fastidiousness and dedication to my purpose of getting this vehicle to Las Vegas as efficiently as possible with all of us still alive inside of it. I looked out at the clouds. They were drifting by like continents, all cracked apart and torn ragged at the edges, just a lispy whisper of sky like oceans between them. I felt at ease. Gripping the wheel tighter, with no obstacles in my way now, I slammed down on the accelerator and pushed the Mercedes up past 90, sending Chet and Leroy flying into the back of their respective seats. Luckily, no cocaine was spilled. I smiled and sped on.

Turning the scanner control knob on the radio, as reception got bleary in the middle of all the nowhere we were driving through, I said, “You know, there are only two types of people in this world. People who find a good song on the radio and leave it, and then those people who keep turning the dial, changing the station, always thinking they’ll find something better on the next station, never satisfied with where they are, always thinking the next place just up ahead will be better than where they are.” The radio went all the way up from 88.1 FM to 107.9 FM without ever stopping. “No reception out here in this depopulated land of dust and wind. The thing’s gone kooky. It’s lost its mind! Flipped its lid! Lost touch with its innermost self and come back a stranger, tremulous, wacko, blowing all its damn gaskets.” I turned off the radio. “There. That’ll teach it!”

Leroy leaned up into the front seat, his head right between Chet and me, his eyes staring straight ahead, his tongue hanging out, panting, kind of reminding me of a dog that’d been in the back seat too long and wanted out. He said, “What kind of person does that make you?”

“A nihilist I guess.”

Chet fed a CD into the stereo system’s thin mouth and Leroy went back to the backseat. I could hear him snorting up some more of the coke, a brief and nasal-ripping cacophony followed by a few hacking caterwauls of phlegm. Chet turned up the volume and rested his head against the palm of his right hand with his elbow propped up on the windowsill. His eyes closed behind his sunglasses and he began to nod his head to the music.

Chet has a reserved kind of stillness to his movements, a sort of mellow and soft way that he treads through the world, almost invisible in his shadowy ways, though he never seems to be hiding from anything, just kind of part of the scenery, not rocking the boat. That is most of the time. There are times when he can also be just as ribald and disastrously rambunctious as Leroy, only it’s in small bursts, like a mechanism for releasing all of this bound up energy that’s gathered inside of him from attrition during the mostly laidback and unassuming moments of his life. He nods and smiles a lot, is agreeable to most things without saying much, and seems to kind of just be going along for the ride most of the time. But in those rare moments when he goes ape-shit, well, he really lets it all hang out, screaming and throwing things, kind of like a comatose schizophrenic during a manic episode, releasing himself from the bonds of his easygoing, cool and composed existence, this bonhomie and tranquility that determines his path-of-least-resistance lifestyle. He has stramineous hair, which is usually a bit unkempt and shaggy looking, and most of the time there’s a reddish-blonde trim layer of beard growing on his pale face. Hidden behind sunglasses is the liquid-Tide blue of his eyes. He’s unkempt without being slovenly, and good-natured without being overly amicable. There’s a texture to his speech that reminds you of a surfboard bobbing softly up and down on the ocean in the lull between waves. When he’s manic it is more like a Tsunami has hit and all hell is breaking loose. You just run for cover and try to ride out the storm. Or you jump in the water and start splashing around with him, maybe losing a few teeth and banging yourself up pretty good in the process, but you’re a better person for it, and no worse for the wear as they say. Luckily it’s mostly the calm and not the storm that you get from him. I guess everything evens out in the end. I’d just rather not be there when it does.

So the sun baked the windows and I navigated our way along unfamiliar highways that seemed to unravel and float away and flap around like over-cooked spaghetti whipping against the mountains in the distance. The Mercedes was fun to drive. I took it up close to 100 a few times. It didn’t feel that much different from 70 really. I tried to make a big deal out of it, announcing the speed in intervals, creating tension as the hand of the speedometer moved up, but in the end we were all still just sitting inside of a car listening to music. I rolled down the window and screamed at the pounding wind.

This was how most of the first part of the trip went. At least as long as I was driving. Somewhere around Barstow my leg started to cramp up. My back was killing me and I was really starting to see a lot of those imaginary motorcycles skidding out in front of us. So I pulled off the highway and stopped in the ravaged parking lot of some closed, burned out, decomposing old diner and handed the keys to Chet. All the diner’s windows were knocked out. All the walls said DO NOT ENTER. I walked over the broken glass and pissed on the ripped up leather remains of what used to be a booth in the diner. It was so hot out I swear my piss started boiling. I looked around at all the old cracked bulb-less lamp fixtures, broken beer bottles on the floor, paint peeling off the walls, sand strewn all over the place, barstools with legs of coral-reef-like rust the color of dried blood, their vinyl seat covers worn thin and cracked with little patches of yellow fluff poking out—the ruined remains of what was once a quaint and cozy little diner off the highway in the middle of the American night. I wanted to stay there for a while and look around, but Chet and Leroy were ready to move on. I told Chet not to drive over any glass and made sure Leroy didn’t drop anything out of the car when he moved into the front seat. I took my seat in the back, wiped some coke off of the leather below me, and tried to relax for the rest of the drive up the 15.

That’s when Leroy picked up an old copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas that I’d brought along just for luck, and started reading from it out loud in a very theatrical, boozy, cigarette-shot voice. It was perfect. All that superfetation of drugs and travels down the fistulas of a paranoid and chemically altered mind. Leroy’s smoke-coated, cocaine-stained growl grew more intense as it built from page to page, rendering Thompson in all the glory of his prose with an almost cartoonish intensity. He was smoking cigarettes and reading at an incredible pace, and barely stuttering or skipping words at all. Chet and I just sat there and listened to this stunning feat of stertorous oration coming at us from the passenger’s seat. It was like Hunter S Thompson was alive again, and his every cadence, every nuance of his rabid style was being brought into a spluttering, disastrous, and mind-blowing being. His hyperkinetic voice, more raspy than a turpentine-gargling Aldo Ray, filled my head as I watched all that tamarisk and cholla and larkspur and yucca and saltbush and creosote bush and whatever the hell else was out there among the dry winds and sand of the Mojave go rifling by out the window.

He’d gotten through almost half the book by the time we reached Vegas. We put AC/DC on the stereo as the thousand-room hotels lit up off the freeway all around us. It felt like we were floating by on some hallucination of wings and smashing guitars wailing and all these things that seemed like they were gushing and banging on our senses like some montage or opening scene in a movie where everything just happens right in time and is perfect with the music and the way your feeling and all the things going on around you. Chet steered towards downtown and the electric thermometers all read 110° high up in the twilight onion-red skies of Las Vegas. The streets were not empty or ancient or dead for dreaming. They were alive and singing and sharp with excited waves of light, unfurled, unleashed, like the chaotic flickering splinters of fireflies trapped in a glass jar. With a bottle rocket’s force shooting fecklessly at the moon the streets flooded with energy and shotgun blasts of movement, the constant stream of dynamic and irreconcilable motion headed in all directions at once. The billboards sang the price of admission like a love song. As the music rang in my ears like an angry beast, I looked out at all the tremendous sights outside the window. There was good old New York, New York with its plasticine Lady of Liberty and imitation skyscrapers faking a city skyline. Paris’s Eiffel tower was shooting up like an oil derrick right next to a King-Kong sized blowup of an almost naked dancing lady with a top hat on who hovered over Ballys’ 50-yard plasma screen, which was hectically flashing advertisements and pixilated million-dollar smiles. Luxor’s sleek and dark pyramid made of a million sleeping computer screens seemed to need its own zip code. The crenellations and red, blue, and gold turrets of The Excalibur’s many castle towers jutted up like pointed witch hats in a children’s book. It was all an enigmatic cartoon, a universe of its own where everything was portioned out in heaping, ululating spoonfuls of electric and incessant activity for the ever-expanding appetites of the masses who journeyed through its maze of lights like ants in an ant farm that some kid has just shaken up. We drove on past it all as Chet steered us uneasily towards the Downtown exit. The music died down and my head filled up with static.

CHAPTER 5

Leroy had secured a room at the Gold Spike just off Freemont Street downtown for only 26 dollars a night. Though we knew our pockets would be picked by strippers and slot machines and bartenders and overpriced buffets, this seemed like the best deal in the world, as just down the street rooms were going for 150 dollars a night at the Plaza Hotel. But, as we were about to find out, The Gold Spike wasn’t quite the Taj Majal. After circling around to find the makeshift parking lot we found a spot, jumped out of the car, and stretched out in the unbearable sunshine, almost immediately weltering in this sun-blinded vision of Eden set on fire. The concrete felt like it could cook a pizza. Heat rose as if from hot coals under our feet. We grabbed our bags. Every inch of my skin was instantly sticky with sweat as I cowered and lost my footing a few times, almost spilling over to be roasted on the ground. But I righted myself and regained my composure by chanting many times very loudly in my own head, “Into the breech once more my friends, into the breech once more, once more!” I put on my Huey Lewis sunglasses and began staggering, with my bag slung over my shoulder, towards the lobby.

When you walk into a casino in Las Vegas you expect to be immediately hit with an ice cold wind of air conditioning, to be able to breathe a sigh of relief at being out of the sweltering heat and inside where the slot machines ring and the beer is ice cold and the weather has nothing to do with being out in the middle of the desert. It should be like stepping into a wintry country, an arctic chill should rush at you and console you and make you feel sufficiently better about the world. The air conditioning system at the Gold Spike must have dated from, well, the invention of air conditioning by Willis Haviland Carrier, and it probably hadn’t ever been repaired or upgraded through all the summers of its existence, eventually falling into a fuliginous desuetude. Needless to say, it wasn’t a big difference going from the calescent world outside into the inside of this place, and we began to see some reasons for our big savings on the room. All around were degenerates of myriad kinds, mostly of the senescent and chain smoking variety, anachronisms of some seedier era of Las Vegas history who were shoving nickels into slot machines and staring off at some lost vision of the nothing that had become their lives. Old men with bristly eyebrows and rugose faces filled with bulging bluish veins, slumped over at slot machines, which they were not playing, instead pondering highballs in which the ice had long ago melted. The small bar at the edge of the place was a hodgepodge of young Mexicans drinking dollar Tecates; amphetamine junkies, all bandanas and ripped jeans and sweat crusted T-shirts, with bad teeth, sallow scabrous faces, jumping eyeballs, and disastrous tangles of dirty hair; lepers; escapees from nut houses; older ladies with pot bellies and fake boobs; and the shadowy, half-dead, wan and gaunt, white-haired remnants of what used to be somebody’s grandfathers slithering around and half-watching the three television sets above the bar while they waited for a bar stool to open up.

We carried our bags in and sat down by the checkout desk, oddly exhausted yet filled with some sort of expectant energy that kept us from passing out right there and letting the world do with us what it may. There was a sign over the check-in desk that read, “A ten dollar deposit will be required for any guest wishing to have a remote control for television set in room.” Considering the place didn’t even have cable this seemed like an unnecessary luxury. We signed some forms and made our way upstairs in the ancient, humid, and slow moving elevators that seemed to mechanically grimace under our weight.

Chet had a room at the Tropicana with his brother, who was celebrating his 30th birthday and was our ersatz reason for going on this trip in the first place, as if we needed an excuse to load up on drugs and booze and drive out to this mad place in the desert for a weekend of profligacy. So after we checked in Chet bolted for his better air-conditioned accommodations, leaving us with a bottle of Jameson that was so hot I thought it might start boiling at some point, and a plastic container full of pot cookies. We also had a surprisingly large amount of cocaine left, even after Leroy ’s binge on the trip in. Our room was small and smelled musty. It was clean on the surface, and I didn’t want to contemplate anything beyond that. So we threw our bags on the beds and checked for an ice bucket, as Leroy had proved that the Jameson was way too hot to drink when he’d mistakenly taken a swig from the bottle and burned the hell out of his mouth spitting the hot umber liquid all over the already multifariously stained carpet, and then screaming, “Damn it! We need ice. This shit is on fire.” There were two cups in the room, plastic and wrapped in cellophane, but no ice bucket. Leroy was beginning to freak out a bit.

“Ahh. I can’t handle this. That fucking damn air conditioner, is that what that is? Ahh. It’s so fucking loud! Can we shut that thing off? Uhhh. It’s so damn hot. My face is peeling off.”

I decided to take charge. “Don’t worry man. I will get ice. I will find something to put it in. I will bring cold beer from the bar and ice for the whiskey.”

“Okay. Okay, I just need to shower and just relax and just lie here for now. God this room is almost as hot as it is outside. Hurry with that damn ice.”

“Just relax. Wash yourself in cold water. I will return with beverages.”

I made my way back to the bar downstairs, hoping that I could at least find somebody that would know how to get ice back to our room, as I’d already scoured the floor for an ice machine and only found an ancient stentorian air-conditioning unit that seemed to bellow at me to get away quickly, which I did. The first thing I did downstairs was to go to the bar and grab some beers. I was damn thirsty. It turns out the Tecates at the bar were only a dollar, and they were ice cold. I pushed my way threw the throng of ne’r do wells and smoking septuagenarians to the bar where a curly haired, walleyed woman— who looked like she was born during The Hoover administration—tried her best to ignore my little hand signals for service. Finally she came around to me, after playing with the computerized screen of the cash register for what seemed like hours, and informed me that I’d better have exact change because the register wouldn’t open. All I had was a twenty. Could I really get a dozen or so beers and carry them up to the room? I was in a state of total muddled confusion. I tried to talk but all that came out was, “Um. Oh, I can, whaa…change? Could I may...be…um. Two beers?” So she walked away and I cursed my damn luck. Shit. Where the hell could I get change around this damn place? All I wanted was some beer. I considered buying a whole bottle of whiskey, but that didn’t seem possible at the bar. Then I thought about getting a few really fancy drinks or a bunch of souvenir shot-glasses maybe, but I’d have to carry them back up to the room, and I needed ice too damn it! But then, like the parting of the red sea, the cash register banged open and the bar tender let out a little whoop of what I thought to be joy or maybe just relief or surprise, or a mild orgasm. The next thing I knew I was walking away with two Tecates and shoving 17 dollars into my pocket. I left her a dollar tip for her trouble.

Now for the ice. I stacked the beers on top of each other, carrying them in my left hand, and wandered around looking for somebody who looked like he might work at the hotel. There were some older gentlemen walking purposefully around the lobby all dressed in the same way, a kind of dusty croupier style with suspenders and what I think might have been money belts filled with change tied around their waists. I asked what I took to be one of these attendants—or maybe he was a retired attendant who still hung around the hotel because he had nowhere else to go, nothing else to wear, and had gotten so used to being at the hotel every day of his life that he just couldn’t leave—where I could find some ice for my room. He told me to go into the diner, ask the server for an ice bucket, and then go to the soft drink serving machine and fill the bucket up with ice. It seemed like a reasonable idea so I headed over to the diner.

It felt like the whole place had been lifted out of 1972 and then set back down with all the same people and things still inside of it upon my arrival there 35 years later. On the wall there were pictures of the food. Almost all the pictures showed a bag of chips with a sandwich on a paper plate and had a generic Styrofoam cup with a straw poked in the lid to the side. The sandwiches were all on white bread and the chips were mostly Lays or Fritos. There was a small Filipino guy behind the counter. I tried to get his attention, but to no avail. He seemed to be taking the order of a bald man seated at the counter who was about the size of a sumo wrestler. But the chunky fellow wasn’t speaking. Maybe he was grunting or something. The Filipino guy was starting to get pissed for some reason, and soon the big dude threw some bills and change on the counter and there was some hissing and general vituperation. Big bald boy just sat at the counter staring and the other guy started walking my way. I made some kind of strange semaphore with my arms, as I was balancing the two beers in one hand, like I was signaling him without really trying to seem like I was signaling him, and he cussed and called the other guy an asshole or something, and I think I said something about ice for my room, though it didn’t seem like he was paying me any mind. But then, like a miracle, Lazarus rose from the dead, and the short Filipino server filled a small bucket with ice while he continued to curse Bald Fat Boy, who sat steely eyed and staring ahead at the counter. He gave me the ice-filled bucket without even looking at me and walked away again. I took the bucket and kept balancing the beers and was on my way.

CHAPTER 6

I couldn’t reach my keys to get back in the room so I knocked on the door with my head, and a noticeably less frazzled Leroy pulled it open with a big greasy smile under his mustache. He was happy to see the beer and immediately pulled one from my hand and started downing it. I popped mine open as well and the cold liquid going down seemed like the sweetest nectar in the world, and for only a dollar too. What a deal.

So we sat around for a while drinking our beers. I’d put the Jameson in front of the mediocre and deafeningly loud air conditioner before I’d left the room earlier, and it had cooled down a bit. Soon we were filling the plastic cups with the quickly melting ice cubes and pouring ourselves whiskey that was slowly becoming a more drinkable temperature. We lit up some cigarettes and finally lay back and relaxed in our beds. There’s just something about being in an old hotel room, smoking, having a drink, and watching the fuzzy reception of one of the only three channels on a 1982 television set that makes you feel good about life. I smiled and lay there smoking, waiting for our adventures to begin.

It didn’t take long for us to start in on the blow. A few more Jamesons on the rocks in my plastic cup and I was revitalized from the long drive. It was almost sunset. I went to the window, pulled the thick curtains opened, and stared out at a thermometer reading 105°. Clouds like strange cauliflower floated by in the now cupreous tarpaulin of purpling sky. I thought of taffy being stretched out and cotton candy and thin wispy strands of toilet paper dangling from trees in some unlucky bastard’s front yard. All the light coming in the room must’ve roused Leroy from his stupor and he began cutting up lines on the knee-high table by the TV. I watched the sky for a little longer as the sun sifted down the hazy edges of the horizon and slipped like a drowning golden apple into a pit of smoldering lava. I felt triumphant for some reason and wanted to celebrate. The cocaine was all cut-up into fives lines on the table.

I’m very affected by drugs. I say this full well knowing my affinity for them, and my lapses into the extremes of over indulgence when it comes to a binge. But then again I’m very affected by music, the weather, the sound of birds in the morning, car alarms late at night, cop cars, black & white movies, the people whom I happen to be around at any given time, popsicle sticks, rust spreading on old metal things, wind thrashing tree branches, talk radio, cats sleeping on a couch in the afternoon, fog horns mooing, bombs exploding, that particular pale inky heartbreaking blue the sky becomes just before sunrise, and, well, whatever else seems to be happening at any given time in this holy, diseased, beautiful, rotting, dead world of ours.

I sucked in some cool air from the air conditioner, walked over to the table, bent down, put a straw up one of my nostrils, held the other closed, and quickly inhaled a line of cocaine. I leaned my head back and screamed, “God damn!” I’m not sure why I did that. Someone once told me that your first line of coke of the night makes you feel like God for fifteen minutes. I disagree. It makes you God for fifteen minutes. I was pulsating with recrudescence to newfound internal rhythms, grinding my teeth and doing my jaw twitch, which is when I constantly push out my lower jaw like I’ve got an under bite, and talking and not listening and talking and rolling my unlit cigarette around between my fingers and looking for a light and then forgetting about it and then talking some more and then remembering that I wanted to light my cigarette and thinking just a little more just another tiny line and I’m done that’s it no more for tonight save it for to-morrow because tonight I’ve got to sleep and damn I need a drink I’ve got to calm down and where the hell’s a lighter in this place oh there’s one in my pocket that Leroy gave to me that’s right damn I’m a fucking idiot I just want to sit in this chair and smoke and slowly drink the whiskey with all this melted ice in it and shit Leroy stop doing all the lines maybe I’ll just do one small one now and then it’ll keep me going for a while and my great grandfather was a whiskey bootlegger and I want to sing in a Ramones cover band right now get me some fucking tight jeans and a leather jacket inhaling this cigarette smoke feels so good right now give me an air guitar and I’ll tune it to whatever song’s stuck in my head and I’ll start a band called Davy K and the Four Squares that plays weddings and covers old standards and Sinatra songs and I’ll croon like Elvis over it all.

Leroy ’s voice intruded on my inner monologue, “Hey. What the fuck’s going on with you? You keep fidgeting and mouthing words and mumbling. Are you playing air guitar?”

“No. I’m just…Wha…Is there another line or did you suck them all down?”

“What? No. There are three more right there on the table. What the hell are you talking about?”

“Nothing. Just one more small one. That’s all I want.”

I went over to the table and snorted up a thin line through my straw.

So there we both were sitting in our cheap hotel room in Las Vegas all coked-up and getting a little drunk and talking and talking and talking and starting to feel everything about what time really is and all its manifestations and machinations melting into the so-called now that we found ourselves swimming in.

“Hey man look at this.” Leroy was calling me over to the lamp on the nightstand between our two beds. He lifted up the lamp shade saying, “This bulb is like fucking melted and falling over.” It was hanging on by some miracle, one last thread of metal connected to the glass, the filament still glowing incandescent as the bulb lay on its side. It looked like some kind of trick photography. We both poked at it for some reason. Luckily it didn’t fall off and leave us in darkness. I told Leroy we better leave it alone.

I went back to talking. “So the whole reason Vegas was ever settled at all, I mean after the Indians left, was because of these Artesian springs that some explorer found here in like the 1840s. I forget his name. You know I’m not good with names, but, so they found this place with a good water supply in the middle of the fucking arid desert climate and they camped out here, and they started calling it Vegas and then Las Vegas which means ‘The Meadows’ in Spanish, and so eventually more people started stopping by and then the railroads came and that really busted the place open. This was a good stopping place for a lot of people taking the train from coast to coast around the turn of the century—shit, I need a light. Thanks. Damn good cigarettes. Are these Luckies? Anyways. Yeah. So that’s the last turn of the century, not this one, around 1900, you know? So the place started growing with all theses camps and saloons springing up and all the railroad workers started gambling in these place and drinking and doing all their wanton business, but eventually, around nineteen hundred and ten I think, Nevada made gambling illegal. I know. Fucking weird. So then, shit, I need another light. This fucking cigarette keeps going out. Somebody’s thinking of me. Thanks. This Jameson’s actually pretty good now. It’s getting back below room temperature. Um. Oh yeah. So at some point, I think in the thirties, gambling was legalized again. The state wanted all that tax money it had been going without for twenty some years. And during the great depression they started building the Hoover dam out here, and this place was really booming during a rough period for the rest of the country. So again Vegas becomes a kind of boom town, and I’m leaving a lot out, but eventually you get some gangsters like Bugsy Sigal coming out here to build resorts, and places like The Sands and The Dunes start popping up. I can’t remember the name of the first one but it was El something I think. All these former racketeer types started coming out from L.A. too, after the whole Clifford Clinton expose, the busting of this scoundrel Kynette who was head of the Police Intelligence Bureau and the corrupt Mayor, his name was Shaw I think. Have you ever eaten at Clifton’s Cafeteria? Indoor waterfalls…slide your tray along…on Broadway. Great place. It might not still exist. Anyway. And then in the forties you get all these hotels getting built and all this money coming in from gambling and entertainment and Vegas starts to become a kind of vacation destination. During the sixties a lot of corporations started buying hotels, I think Howard Hughes had something to do with this, and started calling gambling ‘gaming’ and looking at it as a legitimate way to make money. Then you start getting these mega resorts and things just start to explode from there, and then eventually… damn this is some good shit. Where’d you get it? I don’t think I want any more right now, but maybe later tonight, yeah. Bring it along.”

I took a breath.

Leroy was laughing his ass off. “Man. What the fuck are you talking about?” He fell down on his bed and started writhing with laughter. He kicked his legs up in the air and shook them like a beanbag man being electrocuted.

“Leroy. Let’s go. Shit. Let’s get outside. I’m getting a little claustrophobic in here.”

“Ahh. Fuck. What the hell? Okay. Let’s go. Let’s walk around or something.”

“We’ll go down to Freemont Street. I had a good time there once. I was on Ecstasy. It was like ten years ago. A bunch of us took it and wandered around the whole ‘Freemont Street Experience’ and had our own kind of experience watching all those fucking lights for hours.”

“Okay. Let’s do it. Let me grab some stuff and we’ll go. Then we can go meet up with Chet at the Tropicana and see what’s going on with his brothers.” Chet actually had two brothers who were both in Vegas for the weekend. “Let’s get dressed up.”

We’d both brought a few thrift-store-bought suits with us. So we got dressed in our plaid and paisley suits, decked out in full motley regalia with variegated accouterments of odd eccentric ties of many bright colors and stripes. I even had brown and black-striped socks on to go with my suit. Leroy’s yellow and brown suit jacket was frayed badly at the sleeves and mis-matched his red, blue-checkered pants horrendously. He had striped socks on too, and we both took a moment to compliment each other on our respective outfits. The top button on my shirt was gone. I hooked a safety pin in the top buttonhole, jabbed it through the other side where the button was supposed to be, and clicked it shut, so as not to expose the upper regions of my chest to the elements. I looked in the mirror at myself and all of a sudden hated my shoulders.

“Look at my shoulders. They’re so straight and, shit, they make me look so, I don’t know, stiff, boxy, like a robot or something. I always look stiff in suit jackets. Like I’ve got something up my ass. I want to look relaxed damn it! Like you. I want the suit to just hang off of me, lazily. Not like this. Shit.” Leroy came up behind me.

“You should take the shoulder pads out man.”

“I did!” I was inconsolable. I shouted at the mirror. “Bukowksi said, ‘Please let me lose my father’s face!’ I just want to lose my father’s shoulders! These are my fucking father’s shoulders. Please, let me lose my father’s shoulders!”

Leroy just stared at me.

Somehow I had an odd moment of clarity here. A strange compulsion seized me, and I grabbed Leroy by the worn lapels of his suit jacket. “Leroy. Remember. Your cigarettes are in your pocket. Your cigarettes are always in your pocket. Remember I said that. Keep repeating it to yourself. You’ll thank me for it later. The cigarettes are in your pocket.”

Leroy pushed me away and grabbed a pot cookie out of the plastic tub in my open suitcase. “These things aren’t even melted. I can’t believe it. You want one?”

“No. I mean, okay. Not right now. Well, maybe just a few crumbs. Pot makes me insane. I can’t handle that stuff. It might make me freak out and grind the gears in my head for hours. Remember when we were at that party and I ate a few of those pot brownies they had and then I was sitting in a chair sweating all night and rubbing my hands on my pants and trying to look directly at some imaginary point on the wall, and, well, I’ll just have a few bites I guess. I’ll be alright.”

Leroy ate a whole cookie really fast. I had a few bites of one and that was it. I’m not big on sweets anyway. It was just then that I remembered I hadn’t eaten any of the Pepto-Bismol that I’d brought along to keep the shits away, or at least keep them at bay. I didn’t want this trip to turn into a diarrheathon, running from one bathroom to the next, even though Vegas does have some of the best public bathrooms in the world, at least that I’ve ever done my business in. I ate a bunch of the pink chewable tablets really fast, and then downed the rest of my Jameson to get that damn peppermint taste out of my mouth.

CHAPTER 7

We journeyed down past the gambling machines and out into the blast of heat that was the Las Vegas summer night. Down Freemont street I grabbed two bottled waters—Leroy was too scared to venture inside the uterus of a Disney-like souvenir shop with me to buy the water—and we swilled them down fast, realizing that we were both really parched. I figured we would need as much water as we could if we were to survive in these hell fire conditions. Zigzagging back and forth we took long strides among the fat-bellied, fanny-pack-wearing, bad-T-shirted crowd of Midwest vacationers. The canopy above blocked out the desert sky, and there wasn’t even a light show to look at yet. I couldn’t really settle on a place to go into. We wandered by the Glitter Gulch with its booted gal eying us from her neon perch above, almost meandering our way in, but I told Leroy it was too soon for stuff like that, and that first we needed good strong drink. The Plaza hotel loomed at the end of the street where an old railroad station had once stood long before what happened in Vegas stayed in Vegas.

I motioned to Leroy, extending my forefinger in an exaggerated point, “Look. There it is. The Plaza. They’ve got a great band that plays there, this like Japanese crooner sort of band. Hard to explain. They might be playing. It’s Friday night. Let’s go.”

So we hurried out from under the fake white sky of Freemont Street and into the really well air-conditioned lobby of the Plaza hotel. It seemed kind of deserted in there, and everything was going by really fast. We must have been really moving through that place. At one point I shouted out, “Ah shit! The curtains are closed. The band’s not here. Fuck. That sucks.” Leroy wanted to keep moving towards a bar. I told him there was a really nice long bar at the back somewhere, but for some reason we kept not finding it. My head was kind of scrambled and I kept getting distracted by the buzzing hum and whirring roar of people hitting mini-jackpots on the gaming machines. But in an auspicious and very singular blink of the eye it shot out of the distance and I saw it and there it was and then there we were sitting at the bar and staring at the video poker screens there in front of us, and the bar tender was a really old guy who was just standing around not really doing anything or serving anybody drinks and we were the only ones sitting at this side of the bar and it was really long and he wasn’t doing a damn things and we both really needed a drink. The coke was working its furious way through my limbs and I was chomping at the bit and Leroy was freaking out and waving his arms to try to get the old slob’s attention and I put a fiver in the video poker machine and then finally the fucking moron ancient bartender guy comes over and we both are struck dumb for some reason and can’t even think of anything to order…

…and so then Leroy was saying, “Why yes. Hello there. My companion and I will have two Irish car bombs please. Yes. That will be all. Two car bombs. That will be just great my dear man.” So the guy kind of gave us a funny look and he didn’t really seem to know what the hell he was doing, and the last thing I wanted was a fucking car bomb in my stomach, but what the hell. I then became very immersed in the video poker, which was quickly draining the quarters from my five dollars. The guy appeared again seemingly out of nowhere holding two plastic cups half-filled with Guinness and two tiny plastic cups filled with some strange yellowish liquid that made me think of pineapple juice for some reason. Leroy and I both looked at each other in disbelief. Leroy tried to explain to the poor chap our situation, and ended up just telling him to, “Get some fucking Baileys in the god damn cup and some Jameson for christsakes! We want IRISH fucking car bombs!” The guy muttered something penitent and unintelligible and went back and did what Leroy had recommended. When he came back with the proper drinks he said something like, “Oh. Irish. I see. Irish cab bums.” We just looked at each other and laughed. The poor sap. Stuck in this dead end job serving shitty drinks to even shittier people who keep gambling away all their money on a video game. We decided to drink up. Most of mine spilled all over the table, curdling in boggy pools all across the video poker screen. About half of this diseased mixture was left in my cup. These cups were obviously not the proper size for this endeavor. I tried to drink the rest of it off, and ended up spilling most of it all over my pants. Leroy had his downed in an instant and was ready to go. He’s one of these people who can just open up his throat and pour anything he wants to down really fast. I’m not. I’m more of a sipper. So we were off to catch a cab over to the Tropicana on the strip, and I figured it would feel good to be outside again. The Plaza had almost destroyed us single handedly. We needed a change of scenery.