The Double Down is a dive bar somewhere in downtown Las Vegas right across the street from a liquor store and a cheap motel. Photocopied flyers for bands covered the fake brick wall of the front entrance. Two beefy door guys guarded that entrance and took five bucks from you before you were allowed to go in, giving you an odd black stamp on your hand of an eagle eating a dove to prove that you’d paid them. Outside there was a kind of porch where a bunch of juvenile types were standing around smoking and trying to look irreverently hip. It reminded me of a dirty coffee shop I used to frequent when I was a teenager. All kinds of young people were hanging out there when we entered and there was some kind of psuedo-neopunk band playing. The guitar player looked like he was about fifteen and the others weren’t much older. There was a square bar with an angry, thuggish bartender in the middle. He had a long goatee and many piercings on his prematurely weathered mug. Strange tattoos colored his arms like sleeves. We all found beers there and sat down in the corner on top of some fold-up table. A lot of the furniture was of the lawn-set-deck-chair-collapsible variety, and was mostly in its storable form, many card tables on their sides with their legs drawn in and chairs stacked on each other. It was like a meeting hall waiting for a meeting. I covered my ears and cringed thinking about how shitty live music had become for me. The band was fast and loud. The bass player was wearing blue wristbands and screaming into the microphone. I had to get away and went to the bathroom. Bad graffiti done with all kinds of Sharpies or Magic Markers, and even in pencil, covered the walls, and of course band stickers were all over the place, on the mirrors and stall door and the trashcan and so on. It all seemed kind of generic and dull, this attempt at rebellion nothing more than an imitated rage, a kind of aping of real emotion that had been being done for so long that it was only a simulacra repeating itself with no tie to anything real anymore. There wasn’t even a memory left of anything real ever having been there. It was all a dumb show played out with some kind of amped up impersonation of recalcitrance, signifying nothing. Sound repeating another sound that’s repeated the same sound over and over so many times it’s lost all sense of meaning. It made me want to vomit blood. My ears weren’t made for taking loud music, and I got some toilet paper and shoved it in my ears. That made me feel a little better and I finished pissing, washed my hands in the filthy sink, and went back out to watch the little runts grunt and scream their innocuous vitriol. Voices lost and screaming in a paper bag, guitars thrashing in a sea of spit hawked at nothing for no reason at all, like a cover band trying to appear angry at the world. I knew I would need more beer to make it through the set. I felt like I was at a high school pep rally. Somebody handed the singer a Corona, which he shook up with a lime and started downing like some dude on spring break. I yelled into Leroy’s ear, “He’s drinking a Corona! What the hell happened to punk rock?” Leroy just laughed and kept shaking back and forth, happy just to have the noise to move to. After retrieving some beers from the bar I spotted some seats at a table and motioned to Chet and Leroy to join me, which they did. We sat and drank and watched the band go through their motions. I tried to cover my ears as much as possible. The bass player with the wristbands started looking a little sick between songs. Some girl ran up with a plastic cup and kept trying to shove it in his face, and they guy kept pushing her away with his cheeks all puffed up, and he then turned and puked all over his amp. Now it seemed like things were starting to get good. Leroy and Chet were cheering madly and raising their beers in a lively toast to the guy. I wanted some more coke and I managed to mention this to Leroy between all the noise and activity. He had a little more left and we went outside to find a little more secluded place.
It turned out that place was the parking lot outside. I leaned up against a brick wall, and Leroy kept saying, “Just calm down. Not here. Shit. No. Not here. Fuck,” and things like that. I kept saying, “Come on. Just real quick. Right here. Nobody fucking cares,” and things like that. Eventually Leroy ended up shoving a coke-filled pen cap up my nose, cutting up my nares something nasty, as we stood and jabbered and looked all around the crappy parking lot outside the bar. The liquor store across the street seemed like a busy place. I kept expecting some underage kids to come up and ask us to buy them beer. We would have done it. Sadly, nobody asked. So we smoked a few cigarettes, our ears still ringing from the loudness of the band, and watched people come and go. The door guys or bouncers were big and burly, as all bouncers should be, and they interrogated everyone coming in, trying to get back in, or just standing around the entrance. I didn’t want to go near them just yet so Leroy and I kept our distance, pacing around between parked cars on the farthest edges of the lot.
“I should’ve been a painter,” I said rather somberly.
Leroy gave me a wistful smile. “You?”
“Yeah. I know some things about light and shape…and color too.” I looked at my tattered shoes. “Should’ve bought some paint, brushes, canvas, that kind of stuff. But I never did. And here I am stuck staring at all these things. And this moonlight all over everything…in a parking lot. And I can’t do a damn thing about it. Because I never learned how to paint. It’s a damn shame. It’s a misery I tell you.”
“What do you know about painting?”
“I know what chiaroscuro is.”
“Shit. Everybody thinks they can be an artist.” Leroy stiffened up for a moment and gave me a heavy and almost menacing look. “Things always seem so easy when you don’t have to actually attempt to do them.” He took a long thoughtful drag of his cigarette. He was shaking his head at me and I knew I was acting the fool again, letting things outside that should’ve been kept, malformed and defective as they were, inside, locked away where they’d never be found. “Keep dreaming. That way you’ll never have to fail at anything. You’ll never have to try and be disappointed when things don’t work out.”
He smiled at me, his mustache curling up with his mouth, seeming to stretch around his head. All kinds of things were going on in that expression. Not the least of which was a disenchanted but also steadfast optimistic belief in the reality of himself.
I said, “I want the experience that comes from doing things without ever actually having to do those things.”
Leroy reached into his pocket saying, “You’ve got problems.” He took out a plastic dime bag with a tiny amount of white powder in the bottom. “Not much left.” He dipped a key from his key ring into the bag. It came up with a little hillock of cocaine on it. He lifted it up and brought it close to my face. “Here. One last bump. It’s all yours.”
I hesitated. “That’s it? We’re all out after this?” Leroy shook his head up and down. “You don’t want it?”
He continued holding up right by my face. “Nope. Come on. Hurry up. I think you might need it the most right now.”
I stopped hesitating. He was right. I needed a little pick-me-up for my nose-diving spirits. Holding one nostril closed I leaned down and put the key up in my nose, inhaling the last of that soft white powder. Then I told Leroy I was glad he’d abandoned the pen-cap-in-the-nose method we’d been using earlier. He was busy rubbing the last remnants of the powder he’d gathered on his spit-wet fingers from the inside of the bag onto his gums.
I looked up and the stars were still there, not a lot a of them, but a few, and it felt good to be standing out there in this crappy parking lot, a little drunk already, the coke starting to kick in, and the sky still up there with a few shiny yellow boils on its bowling-ball black skin. Leroy was shimmying around, kind of like a moonstruck incarnation of Fred Astaire with two broken kneecaps and a head full of acid, jittering and scowling and laughing and talking in a rushed and lyrical daze. I was happy to be there leaning against the wall, away from all the noise inside, the desert heat not so bad this late at night, breathing cigarette smoke and staring at the moon. Reality seemed good, like a place I could maybe start doing some living in. Some of the clutter in my head was shifting around and leaving some space for me to move in, making me feel less insulated and a little more opened-up, free, and connected with the things going on around me. I started to agree with Oscar Wilde that all art was quite useless. After putting out my cigarette against the wall, I motioned to Leroy that we should head back in. I was ready for more of something, but of what I wasn’t so sure.
The door guys were actually rather pleasant letting us back in. We showed them our smeared hand stamps and they waived us in. I guess they were glad somebody actually over twenty-one was coming into that place. Thirty finally seemed old to me. It felt good to be old. When we got back to the table Chet was immediately upon us and talking. He had been in the bathroom when, “This guy comes in…and I’m pissing at the urinal…and it’s hard enough to piss in there, Jesus, all that mess, fucking scatological or whatever, and this guy comes in and looks at me and he’s like, ‘I’ve really got to fucking piss man,’ and so, well, what can you do? It fucking stinks in there too. And so I just keep trying to piss with my back to him and I keep thinking, ‘please whatever you do, do not piss in the sink,’ you know, the sink being right next to me there. And so I kind of look over and he’s unzipping and starts fucking pissing in the trashcan! I can hear the fucking piss hitting the bottom of the can. He’s laughing and going, ‘Sorry dude,’ the whole time. I just kind of ignore him and pretend it’s not happening. So, you know, he zips up when he’s done and he leaves and I’m like, ‘what the fuck is going on here?’ you know? So I keep pissing and then this girl kind of cracks the door and pokes her head in. Yeah, so I’m like fuck, what next, you know? So she says, ‘Sorry. I just need some paper towels. The girl’s bathroom is all out.’ And she reaches in the trashcan, the same trashcan the guy has just pissed in mind you, and grabs a few paper towels out of it and leaves. I wanted to say something but it was too late. She was gone. And what am I going to say anyway? ‘Um, maybe you shouldn’t use those because some dude just fucking pissed all over them.’?”
After the bands were done, I guess around one AM or so, the place started to empty out a little, and we played the jukebox and about a hundred pinball games, smoking and drinking and having one hell of a time really. There were a lot of young girls around. One of them came up to me and asked me if I had a cigarette. I said, “Are you 18?” She got kind of offended, but hell, I didn’t know. I gave her one anyhow. There was a mirror right there by the pinball game that Leroy was currently banging the shit out of. I looked into the mirror at this young girl standing next to me, who was now smoking my cigarette, and said to her, “Hey, that girl in the mirror there is really hot. Do you know her?” I’m not sure if I realized that I was looking into a mirror. I have a tendency to fuck around with people in these types of situations, and may have just been trying to be funny. Either way she got real pissed-off and called me an asshole and old man and a bunch of other things, but I stopped paying attention to her and she walked away with my cigarette.
Feeling rather jocular I made my way over to the jukebox, which was filled with a lot of old punk albums. I put in ten bucks and started excitedly pushing numbers and letters, grinding my teeth and hoping the buttons I was pushing were corresponding with the songs I wanted to hear, The Ramones, The Weirdos, The Vibrators, Stiff Little Fingers, 999, Generation X, and a bunch of other stuff like that. I was in a mood for nostalgia. After putting on many songs I went over to the angry bartender and ordered three shots of Jameson and a beer for myself. I brought the shots over to Leroy and Chet, who were now sitting at a table in the middle of the place. I joined them and we all drank down the whisky and went on talking and listening to all the old songs on the jukebox well past what would have been closing time in any other place but Vegas. They never stopped serving alcohol and we never stopped drinking it, making the pilgrimage back to the bar to refill our glasses with beer many times. After 3 a.m. or so we were about the only ones left in the place and at some point after that we decided to call a taxi, which took a very long time to come, and which Chet jumped into when it finally did arrive leaving Leroy and I standing in the now almost empty parking lot by ourselves. Leroy called another cab. When it came we somehow managed to tell the guy where we were going, probably just saying the words, “gold,” and, “spike,” at some point during the ride. We made it back and stumblebumbed our way merrily through the lobby and into our room.
I finally fell asleep around 6 a.m. or so. Leroy stayed up for a while at the bar downstairs, drinking tecate and looking through the myriad advertisements for prostitutes in free Las Vegas papers. He ended up not getting one.