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.