Thursday, January 22, 2009

CHAPTER 15

I awoke sometime around eleven to a loud knocking on the door. A woman’s voice screeched, “Are you checking out? Maid service!”

Leroy ’s scratchy voice screamed back, “Ahh! What? Ahh…Get away!”

“Maid service,” the female voice chimed again. The knocking continued. “Check out time.”

We’d both read a sign downstairs declaring in very big, bold letters that check out time was noon. I couldn’t rouse myself from bed and my eyes were glued shut. I heard Leroy shuffling around and stumbling and knocking into things. I think he finally found a clock and he screamed again, “Check out time is noon. Get away from here! Leave us alone!”

I had a really bad sinking feeling about this whole situation. All I wanted was some sleep. I just wanted that damn voice to go away and leave us alone.

The knocking continued.

Once again Leroy screamed, “Go away!”

The voice said, “Check out time is eleven.”

Leroy made his way to the door muttering, “No it isn’t…what? We read that god damn big old sign downstairs.” He opened the door a crack.

With my eyes closed I tried to wish it all away but instead I heard this conversation.

“Sir. Check out time is eleven. You have ten minutes.”

“What? No. It said noon on that sign above the check-in desk downstairs. Don’t lie to me. I’m not in the mood. We need sleep.”

“No. Look on your table at the card. That sign is out of date sir. Just look at that card in there and you’ll see.”

“Umm. What? Let me see. Card? Oh. This thing? I can’t see. It looks like somebody’s crossed out noon with a pencil and written eleven in there. Not very good penmanship I may add.”

“Sorry sir. I’ll be back in ten minutes. You better not be here or you’ll be charged for another night.”

The door slammed and it was dark again for a minute and Leroy stumbled around picking things up off the floor or something. I was glad that lady was gone. I wanted her dead. Then Leroy hit the lights and started yelling and thrashing around telling me we had to get the fuck out of here now. I somehow got up and started throwing clothes and various sundry items into my suitcase with my eyes barely opened and my legs hardly supporting me enough to stand. I was damn dizzy. It was like some alien force had sent orders to all my limbs to do things, but I had no control over what they were doing. My arms picked up shirts and pants and put them in my suitcase as I watched helplessly. Somehow I got my clothes on and put my shoes on and also threw my toothbrush and deodorant into my bag. All the while Leroy was throwing things around the room and telling me to hurry up as I made my zombie-like way around in the lamplight. I couldn’t see very well so I ripped open the thick curtains and let the sun in. It blinded me and woke me a little more. Leroy showed me the card where some sneaky bastard had crossed out noon and written eleven in the slot where it said checkout time. The penmanship was deplorable.

Our bags somehow filled with all of our stuff. We slid out of our room at 10:58 and were on our murky way down in the elevator when I finally realized what was happening. I’d been dead asleep, dreamlessly sleeping the sleep of the dead, when this had all started, and now I was standing in the stuffy, hot, little elevator with Leroy and a small family. There were three little kids in that elevator and they were jumping all over the place. The dad was eying us and the mom looked scared. They tried to keep their kids as close as possible to them. When the door opened they got out really fast.

I let Leroy do the checking out. I just worked on trying to stand up. I tried to light a cigarette, but it got way too complicated and I decided to go back to just standing. After a brief argument of some sort with the check-out girl we made our way out into the heat, carrying our bags, lost, and feeling pretty damn miserable about things.

It wasn’t even noon, I hadn’t showered nor slept much, I was already sweating and hung-over, we had no place to stay, and in fact were supposed to be driving all the way back home this very same day, for I had to go back to work the next day, and now here we were trying to figure out our next move carrying our luggage and walking down the sidewalk blinded by the white-hot sunlight reflecting off the pavement. I was really thirsty. We tried hailing a cab. They just kept going by. We kept walking and trying to whistle and were throwing our free arms in the air and making all kinds of odd noises, complaining about how hard it was to catch a cab in this damn city. Finally we came to a place where there were all kinds of cabs lined up on the street. Leroy knocked on one guy’s window but he wouldn’t let us in. It made no sense. Were these guys all on a break or something? We got angry and kept moving down the line, knocking on windows and trying to pull locked doors open. Finally some misanthropic guy in a Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses, who was reading a newspaper and eating a foot-long sloppy meatball sandwich, begrudgingly let us into the back of his cab. I couldn’t make sense of anything and I was beginning to feel like I had heat stroke. The cabbie threw his newspaper down on the passenger seat, along with the remainder of his sandwich, and turned around to glare at us. His sunglasses were silver mirrors and we saw a fish-eyed version of our selves sitting there all bloated and distorted in the reflection. He laughed at us, snorting a little, and then turned around and started driving very fast.

We decided to take the taxi to the Tropicana to try to find Chet. The ride was very uneventful and very expensive for some reason. Neither of us was paying much attention. We were just glad to be sitting down in a nice cool place for a bit. I let Leroy pay. Getting money out of my wallet was beyond me. We plopped out of the taxi and into the Tropicana with our suitcases in tow. I was starting to shake a little. I hit the ATM and Leroy trudged over to the bar area, where they have a stage and tables to sit at while you watch whatever show happens to be going on. There was no show. But there were a lot of TVs to look at and there was a baseball game on. Baltimore was playing the White Sox. After grabbing as much as I could out of the ATM I joined Leroy at the table. We ordered two Bloody Marys and Leroy went off to find a bathroom. I sat there and drank my Bloody Mary and started to feel like a human again. The Orioles hit a homerun and I cheered inside my head. Everything started to feel a little better.

When Leroy came back I was starting to get a little surly for some reason, and I kept flagging down the waitress to tell her to bring more peanuts. She was starting not to like me. My arms seemed to be flailing around a lot at this point, and there may have been some spittle flying from my lips when I flapped them, which I was starting to do a lot. The waitress started finding me comical and calling me honey. I ordered another drink. I knocked over the bowl of peanuts and a man who looked quite soigné, and like he probably worked for the Tropicana, came over and stood by me. This made me nervous and I started quaking, squawking at him, saying things like, “Hey, man, you, keep standing there. You’re doing a hell of a job. Nice duds. Can I get a suit like that at the gift shop?” And finally, “Sorry, you just don’t do it for me. Can you do your standing somewhere else?”

The next thing I knew his arms were grabbing for my neck and pulling me up out of my seat. I started screaming of course, and, becoming apoplectic, knocked over a few chairs as he started to drag me a little bit. This was disconcerting. He kept at it though, pulling me along from under my armpits. Then I went limp and he began having a hard time of it. Luckily Leroy returned just in time. He took control of the situation saying to the well-heeled man, “This man suffers from delusions. He can’t control what he says when he’s having these episodes.” Leroy tried to pry me away from the guy’s iron grip. “What you are doing is highly opprobrious, attacking a sick man like this.”

“He’s not sick. He’s drunk,” the fancy dresser scoffed. His walkie-talkie was making all kinds of sounds in his jacket.

“This man needs help, not harassment. Unhand him or I will be forced to call the authorities. His psychiatrist will not be happy about this, let me tell you.”

Leroy kept pulling at me and finally was able to tear me away, dragging me back towards our table. The guy made a very odd, and kind of scared face, and then reached into his jacket pocket to take out the walkie-talkie. He said something into it as we walked off, pretending like he was being called away, something very urgent, some pressing Hotel Tropicana concern that out-weighed our picayune situation there in the bar. He looked back at us one last time from across the room as he was exiting. Leroy threw a whole glass of ice water in my face and I pretended to calm down. We both sat down in our chairs and started drinking our Bloody Marys as if nothing had happened. My shirt was soaked.

While Leroy was away he’d managed to get a hold of Chet, and soon he came down and joined us. He looked a bit haggard himself, unshaven and crapulous. His luggage joined ours under the table. We all sat there and commiserated as they played baseball on the television sets. The stage was empty. The bar was almost deserted. Chet was out of breath.

My Bloody Mary became empty as we sat there. Chet told us how he’d been rushed out of his room just before checkout time, as we had, and now was supposed to join his brothers for breakfast at the Rio. They had some famous buffet there. So we were all supposed to throw our stuff into the Mercedes, which was parked somewhere in the cavernous parking structure there at the Tropicana, and which Chet was going to pull around front as soon as he got another burst of energy, that is another drink, and Leroy and I were to wait where we were for his call. This sounded like a grand plan to us. I ordered two more beers from a waitress with a little more chutzpah than the previous one, whom I had now scared off with my wild antics and ravings. Leroy and I toasted to our newfound good fortune. Things were looking up. Chet was coming with the car, we could unload our stuff, and we were going to have breakfast.

Unfortunately things are rarely as simple and easy as you think they’re going to be. By the time we got Chet’s call we’d already had a few more beers, and had gone outside with our luggage, after downing the last of the beers really quick, almost finishing them in unison and slamming the bottles down with an authoritative plunk on the plastic-coated wood of the table top. Upon exiting the Tropicana we’d been, of course, blinded by the bright sun, and shielding our eyes, almost falling over many times, and even once I did go ahead and stumble and fall and turn my ankle, throwing my suitcase high in the air, to the chagrin of many tourists standing around waiting for taxis in their Bermuda shorts and sockless shoes, many of whom covered their heads or turned and ran to avoid being hit by my falling luggage, that was now coming down like a rocket bomb from the sky. Luckily it landed on the sidewalk and nobody was hurt. I scowled at a small child holding tight to his mother’s hand as I grabbed my fallen personal effects. My ankle was like rubber, very pliable and durable from so many turns and sprains skateboarding as a teenager, so I was walking alright, and I tried to make my way to the Mercedes where Leroy and Chet were loading up their stuff into the trunk, oblivious of my ill fortune on the sidewalk. The car was parked in some kind of loading zone. Things were very confused. Valets were running back and forth across the macadam and super-sized SUVs sped by almost knocking me over as I walked, swaying and tilting from side to side like a man on a small boat out on the stormy seas. It was hard to negotiate distances. The car would start to seem very close to me, and I would see Chet and Leroy there talking with the trunk open, and I would think, ‘Hey, that was quick. I made it.’ And I would start to hand them my bag, when all of a sudden I’d realize I was holding my bag out to some cantankerous old man, whose foot I was stepping on, and who was screaming at me to, “Get the hell off my foot you little bastard!” So I’d try to apologize and would go on walking and look up ahead only to see that the Mercedes was really far away, impossibly far over great distances of time and space and endless sweaty toil, and Chet and Leroy were just tiny ant-like figures in the shadowy mirage of distance out there somewhere in that wasteland which was the Tropicana loading zone. Things were going in and out of focus. I was aware of a man’s lips flapping in slow motion at me, seemingly asking me if I were okay, but I couldn’t make out the words very well. It was as if they were frozen in cartoon bubbles suspended in the air and gingerly floating by me, unpopable. I pushed my way by him and kept going. I knew I had to make it to that car, and time was moving very slowly, and Chet and Leroy were not paying any attention to my whereabouts. They might leave without me. I’d be screwed, left here by myself with all these spittle-lipped monsters, holding my suitcase out here on the hot concrete, whispering to myself like a crazy person, which was what I was starting to feel like anyway, waiting for something to happen, as they all ate a grand buffet breakfast at the Rio and laughed and indulged their appetites and then drove home in the Mercedes without me. Would they even notice I wasn’t in the car? Would I have to live the rest of my life in this stinking, rotting, money-sucking greenhouse of a city? No! I must trudge on. I must gather my courage and perambulate with great temerity towards the Mercedes. It was my only hope. Either that or, as Rensch once said of land snails, grow a thick shell over myself.

Again the Mercedes appeared. Unfortunately it made its appearance after I’d rammed my knee right into the back of it, sending a riveting jolt of pain right through my kneecap, which in turn sent me back peddling and back down on my ass. I could hear Chet and Leroy laughing, and their laughter got close, and they picked me up and put my luggage into the trunk. I was thankful and I felt relieved, looking forward to finally being able to sit down in a nice air-conditioned car. But, alas, this was not to occur. I looked in the backseat and saw Chet’s brothers and one of their girlfriends back there. The other girlfriend was up front. Chet went into explaining some plan he had, of which I comprehended nothing, and just shook my head and walked back to the sidewalk with Leroy.

Things were beginning to get difficult again. I’d had enough. The morning was getting to be too much. Little dust storms were starting to stir up with microscopic insects inside copulating by the thousands, dying and regenerating, multiplying right there before my eyes, as I waded into what were starting to seem like concrete waves of sidewalk melting and undulating in the sun. I stood there on the curb and waited, not knowing what I was waiting for. My head was really starting to spin and I could feel my heart throbbing in all of my limbs. I thought my fingers might explode and gush blood all over the street, and me standing there with my hair sticking up and my tongue hanging out, all kinds of unusual stains all over my pants, shoes filled with holes, my face melting, the alcohol starting to wear off, and my ride gone somewhere without me, standing here with no sense to make of anything, hoping that Leroy would lead me where I needed to go. On top of it all my stomach was starting to become a bit disagreeable, like someone had just shoved a can of motor oil and some Tabasco sauce up my ass. Leroy was talking but I couldn’t hear anything. I had this strange thought that I might faint, but I didn’t. Leroy kept talking and I followed him down the sidewalk and up to an intersection that was about the size of the Gulf of Mexico. There must have been eight lanes going each way from all four directions. It was like looking across a massive freeway where all things came together or rose to collision with all other things. Things were shining and flashing, sudden flares of sun streaks shooting off of metal covered surfaces and street signs and windows, sidewalks and sunglasses, cheap decals and rubberized souvenirs, all shooting like a firing squad’s bullets into my guts, and everything went whizzing past, all this automotive metallic bulk screaming, sparks seeming to flash everywhere as if a chainsaw were cutting through an imaginary layer of metal covering my head, and the sparks were shooting up and over everything like a cheap fireworks show, and everywhere there was this constant buzzing like the noise of a thousand June bugs banging into each other in a tiny, inescapable cage. I felt like curling up into a ball right there on the sidewalk and saying to hell with it. But I had to piss. And I kept walking and following Leroy, hoping he would lead me to cool air and a nice bathroom where I could relax and relieve myself and run cold water over my head and feel good again. We kept walking up dead escalators on the street corners and going over the streets on pedestrian bridges. I needed water. I couldn’t communicate. We came to a man with a water cooler filled with ice and bottled water at the end of a bridge. I made a motion to Leroy with my hands signaling my thirst and its need of slackening. He grunted and got out some money and exchanged it for a dripping ice-cold bottle of Aquafina. I grabbed the cold hard plastic thing and unscrewed the white top, tossing it over the bridge, and tilted the bottle back, letting the cold water spill unnecessarily all over me. It turned out Leroy had given the water vendor a twenty for the bottle. I’d noticed this but in my haste to drink had not thought to mention it, figuring he knew what he was doing. He didn’t. Another twenty bucks down the drain. Leroy was not happy. “God damn it! Why didn’t you tell me? Do you think if I go back he’ll…”

I stopped him. “No. It’s too late. Let’s keep moving.” And I then took another swig of the cool water. It was damn good.

“Hey. Give me that. If I’m going to spend twenty bucks on a bottle of fucking water I’m at least going to have some.” He took the bottle from me and gulped the rest of it down. “That’s some pretty good water. I’m not sure it’s twenty dollars good. But that’s some damn tasty water.”

“Hits the spot. By the way, where the hell are we going? Why do we keep wandering around in this hot fucking sun like a couple of idiots?”

“I told you. God, don’t you remember anything?”

I didn’t.

Leroy relayed most of the story to me as we rushed along down onto the sidewalk again. The roller coaster at New York New York thundered by above our heads. Chet was taking the car to drop off his brothers and his other passengers at the MGM Grand where they needed to checkout and maybe do other things that Leroy seemed kind of hazy on. The gist of it was that Chet would meet us at the MGM hotel lobby, which we were now supposed to be walking to, and we would drive over with him to the Rio to have a breakfast with everyone all together like one big happy family. I told Leroy I knew how to get to the Rio. Somehow in my diseased, feverish, and sun-damaged brain I had convinced myself that I knew how to get there. It seemed like I should have known. The Rio. I’d been there before. I thought that I had at least. It seemed likely that I had. Was that the hotel with all the lions in the cages? The rainforest? Um. I didn’t need a map. I’d be able to find it. What I really wanted was to get into that damn lobby at the MGM and meet up with Chet, after using the nice, plush restrooms of course. So we walked on and found the damn hotel and went inside and wandered around, used the bathroom, ran cold water over our respective heads in the sinks, cleaned up a little, and felt better about things for a swift moment there. That was before things got really bad.

People swarmed all around us like ants spilling out over a pool of molasses. Chet was nowhere to be found. We circled and circled. We waited patiently by slot machines. We smoked many cigarettes. Still no Chet. We tried calling him but the connection was bad, and then his phone went dead. Everything was coming unglued, including the contents of my stomach, which sent me sprinting back to the bathrooms. Everything shot out of me with considerable force. The bowl below me had never known such rapid-fire ruin, such projectile velocity, such splattering and muddy fire-hydrant-like sprayings, and my own bottom had never guessed at the existence of such an insatiable burning as this fire-charred, scabrous cragginess of my anal canal. Many warm baths and many suppositories later I might be okay again.

After slowly reemerging into the crowded lobby I spotted Leroy standing idly by a roulette table watching the red and black numbers come up on the electric board.

“Hey. Sorry. I had to see a few men about a couple dozen horses.”

“Whaa…? Hey. I’ve been watching this roulette game for a while here. You ever watch one of these things? It’s fascinating. The numbers keep coming up on this board here, you see, and you can see all the numbers that keep coming up. I think I’ve figured out a pattern.”

I hated to ruin his fun but I did anyway. “That’s why they put those damn things up there. That’s what everybody who’s ever looked at one of those things thinks. There is no pattern. It’s not like the wheel knows what numbers have come up lately. Every time the ball is set into motion, every time the wheel starts turning, every time that damn croupier guy or whatever he is wipes his hand over the table and tells everyone that there are no more bets, the slate is wiped clean. The odds are always the same of any one number coming up. It all starts over with every roll of that damn little metal ball.”

“No way. I’ve got a system. Just listen. So…”

“No. You don’t have any fucking system. Do you know why they put those boards up with all those numbers on them? Because it increased their profit. Because it made people think they could figure out a system and people started gambling more money and in turn started losing more money at the roulette tables. It’s all a fucking ploy to get you to lose more money.”

“But,”

“Shut up. No buts. Let’s find Chet and get the fuck out of this place. It’s making me feel like a swine among pearls.”

“You, my friend, are a damn birdbrain,” Leroy said and walked off towards the doors leading outside. I followed him.

Chet was supposedly circling the hotel and looking for us. We saw the Mercedes drive by at one point, but unfortunately Chet didn’t see us standing there screaming like damn fools. It turns out the MGM has many different lobbies, and we had obviously gone to the wrong one. Leroy explained all this to me as we walked along the sidewalk, out in that murderous sun again. After walking up and down the really long block a few times I decided to stop and take shelter somewhere, leaving Leroy to try to find out where the hell Chet had driven off too.

I ended up standing outside of an open-air shop on the street. They had turnstiles loaded up with mini Las Vegas license plates that had male and female names on them, and I kept looking for names of people I knew and turning the metal frames around and around. At the edge of the store, where I was standing, a cool mist was coming down from some kind of device installed in the ceiling, a machine that blew a constant stream of cool watery mist down on people passing by. Also a nice air-conditioned breeze was blowing at my back from inside the shop. It was marvelous. I was right on the dividing line between the onerous 110° heat and the comparably arctic world of the store’s insides. Standing there, feeling all that cold air at my back, the mist chilling my forehead and forming tiny droplets of water that ran down my face in icy rivulets, looking at various postcards of Mega Resort hot spots, and various other multifarious tchotchkes of Las Vegas delight, I felt completely at ease with the world. Everything would work itself out. Nothing there was real. Nothing mattered. I would just stand outside that little shop and let the cool air blow on me forever. I’d just stay there.

My reverie was interrupted by some guy blowing his car horn a bunch of times in a row. Assuming that it was just a car alarm going off on the street I tried to ignore it. But the horn started really going, making some extremely long and jarring honks, and even blowing out a few tunes, like “Shave and a haircut, two bits,” and all those other car horn songs. Looking in the general direction of all the hullabaloo I noticed a Mercedes just like the one we’d rented parked right out on the curb in front of me. Jesus, that sure was some vehicle. Chet and Leroy were inside. Leroy was hanging out of the window screaming, “Hey. Retard! Space cadet! Yeah, you. Would you please hurry the fuck up and get in the fucking car you twit!” My ride had finally arrived, and just when I was finally starting to enjoy myself.